Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Nixon, Ford and the Fantastic Four


Spider-Man artist John Romita inherited Marvel's FANTASTIC FOUR when Jack Kirby left in 1970. Here, in his first storyline, we see President Richard M. Nixon, complete with a joking reference to his daughter Tricia. 

When this story was reprinted in the UK a few years later, however, Nixon had resigned in disgrace in the U.S. and Gerald Ford was then President. Marie Severin replaced Jazzy Johnny's Tricky Dick with Jerry, no problem, but someone accidentally left the "Tricia" reference in, making it seem as though Ford was consulting Nixon's daughter.


Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Donald Rumsfeld and the Great Society Comic Book


THE GREAT SOCIETY COMIC BOOK was one of the very first comics I collected and believe me it wasn't easy convincing my mother to pay a DOLLAR for a comic book at a time when they were all twelve cents. Interesting to note the last story here, an early appearance of Donald Rumsfeld, himself later to be widely targeted by cartoonists. 


Friday, July 16, 2021

Booksteve's Origins

Hitting local comic shops next week should be both of these issues from TwoMorrows. COMIC BOOK CREATOR contains the first of my regular column,  "Once Upon a Long Ago," (see above) while this BACK ISSUE features my history of Rocky and Bullwinkle comic books, "I Read the Moose Today" or "What's a Nice Squirrel Like You Doing in Comics Like These?" 


Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Heaven Can Wait (Here Comes Mr. Jordan)--1960

IMDB has incorrect info on this DUPONT SHOW OF THE MONTH from 1960. IMDB describes the plot of the 1943 movie with Don Ameche and Laird Cregar, HEAVEN CAN WAIT, when, in fact, this show was a TV adaptation of the earlier, 1941 movie, HERE COMES MR. JORDAN, which was based on the 1938 stage play, HEAVEN CAN WAIT. Got it?

Robert Montgomery fronted the original as Joe Pendleton, a boxer who dies before his time and is given the chance by the angelic Mr. Jordan and his assistant (Claude Rains and Edward Everett Horton) to go back, but in the body of a millionaire who happened to be the target of his own wife and her lover. He confides in his old boxing manager, played by the great James Gleason. 

A 1940s radio adaptation gave Cary Grant a chance at the lead.

In the 1950s, there were numerous revivals of the stage play under its original title. One, in 1957, actually starred future bestselling author Robert Ludlum as Joe.

In 1978, Warren Beatty switched the boozing background to a football field but produced a lovely, hilarious, and faithful remake which he also co-wrote (with Elaine May) and co-directed (with Buck henry) as well as starred in. James Mason admirably took on the role of Mr. Jordan with Jack Warden as the loyal football coach.

Chris Rock even did a version later on!

In between, though, and completely forgotten today, was the 1960 DUPONT SHOW OF THE MONTH adaptation of HEAVEN CAN WAIT. 

Tony Franciosa--not yet known as a problem actor--was Joe and the great British character actor Robert Morley was the new Mr. Jordan. TV's MISTER PEEPERS--Wally Cox--was his bumbling assistant and Joey Bishop the fight manager. Elizabeth Ashley made her TV debut in the show. 

As you'll see, reviews were mixed. Does the show still exist? Possibly, but not online as near as I can tell.



Sunday, July 04, 2021

Pilot Season-1965

The recent YouTube ad Facebook post of the previously ultra-rare Shirley Jones pilot from 1965, DREAM WIFE, about a wife and mother with ESP, got me curious about what other pilots MIGHT have become series that year.


One was THE WILLIES, with comic actor George Gobel as a man who buys a hotel that turns out to be haunted by two ghosts dating back to the Revolutionary War, played by Hans Conried and Kathy Browne. 


THE GOOD OLD DAYS was essentially, “What if THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS was set in caveman days?” As if that needed to be driven home, Dwayne (Dobie) Hickman’s older brother Daryl starred in the pilot. 


THOMPSON’S GHOST would have offered Bert Lahr playing his usual screen character, only here as a befuddled spirit. 


Ex-Tarzan and Italian peplum star Gordon Scott was cast as HERCULES in what sounds like it may have been a bit pre-BATMAN campy.


WHO GOES THERE? Was another supernatural comedy with a portrait of General Custer and his supposed Native American servant coming to life.


HEAVEN HELP US with TV’s original James Bond—Barry Nelson—sounds like it might have been about angels. 


The odd couple of Ed Wynn and Ethel Waters would have starred in YOU’RE ONLY YOUNG TWICE. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s about a fountain of youth type something. 


Two apparently serious ghost shows would have been THE HAUNTED and THE GHOSTBREAKER, the latter with former movie Sinbad, Kerwin Matthews. 


Polly Bergen was SELENA MEAD, a D.C. widow now working for the Secret Service.


Finally, THE MAYOR, a political drama, would have starred Chad Everett and Robert Colbert,  the future stars of MEDICAL CENTER and TIME TUNNEL. 

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Paging John Wayne

Here's a page from an early 1950s romance comic book, of all things, in which the Duke himself--John Wayne--supposedly answers questions written in to...where? Well, he had his own comic book from the same publisher, with that same logo, so this was likely meant to appear there. The art above looks like it MIGHT be by Frank Frazetta. 

The thing is, while you KNOW Wayne never actually wrote any of this, it sounds like things he would say, even if not the way he might say them. A press agent, perhaps? But then again, just because they'd licensed his name and image didn't mean they had any contact with him or his people. Ah, well. Fun reading anyway.


Monday, June 21, 2021

Sad Sack Meets Miss Lace-1947

Milton Caniff was just starting out n his new STEVE CANYON strip when he spoke in Chicago in 1947 and made this drawing of wartime favorites--His own Miss Lace from MALE CALL and George Baker's not yet known much outside the military, SAD SACK.

He's seen here posing with Chicago legend Marshall Field III, founder of THE CHICAGO SUN, in a photo that made the cover of the magazine THE QUILL. 


Saturday, June 19, 2021

New Peanuts Documentary


Producers Ron Howard and Bryan Grazer have a brilliant new PEANUTS documentary/animated special called WHO ARE YOU, CHARLIE BROWN? premiering next week on Apple TV. Check out my advance review here:

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Invisible Men Nets Eisner Nomination!

The 2021 Eisner Award nominations were released this week, the Academy Awards of comic books. In the running for Best Comics-Related Book is Yoe Books/IDW's INVISIBLE MEN, the indispensible comics history volume published late in 2020 by Craig Yoe, copy-edited by Randall Cyrenne, and researched and written by the indomitable Ken Quattro over a period of quite a few years.

INVISIBLE MEN is an important work of comics scholarship, revealing as it does the surprising number of African-American comics artists who have pretty much always worked in the field, albeit hidden for decades behind the anonymity of newsprint or four-color pulp paper curtains.

Chapter after chapter introduces the reader to not just the somewhat recognizable names of  Matt Baker or A.C. Hollingsworth but to more whose names had been covered up or forgotten: EC Stoner, Jay Jackson, Calvin Massey... 

I provided some info to Ken years ago as he researched this book, and then worked a bit behind the scenes  as part of my long-term commitment to Yoe Books, so yes, maybe I'm a tad prejudiced, but make no mistake, this is a book that has long needed to be written and Ken Quattro has written it.

If you are a current or past comics professional, you are eligible to vote in this year's Eisner Awards and we hope you'll consider a vote for INVISIBLE MEN. Voting is open now for a limited time. With no Comicon again this year, winners will be announced in an upcoming online ceremony as last year. 
While you're at it, if you don't yet have a copy, it is highly recommended! Since I was involved with it, however slightly, I never did a full review but any good collection of books about comics history needs to include INVISIBLE MEN by Ken Quattro! Order here: 

Shout out also to quite a few of my other virtual friends who have this year also gotten well-deserved nominations: Trina Robbins, Mark Evanier, Noah Van Sciver, Grant Geissman, Kim Munson, Michael J. Vassallo, Roy Thomas, and my BACK ISSUE editor, Michael Eury! I only had a couple of short articles in the mag, myself,  last year but I nonetheless share in the pride of the nomination!

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Rare Mitzi Green!--Mitz and Fritz of Germany


Actually, pretty much any Mitzi Green is rare since America's biggest child star of the early Depression years remains sadly forgotten. She made 14 movies for Paramount and RKO between 1929 and 1933. By that time, early puberty had hit and her child star days were over. She went on to a long, successful career on Broadway, radio, television, and in nightclubs, returning only twice to the big screen after her heyday.


Here we find Mitzi and her frequent adversarial co-star Jackie Searl in a completely forgotten a book! MITZ AND FRITZ OF GERMANY was part of a series of geographical books about and for children, written by Madeline Brandeis in the 1930s. To go along with her stories, the author hired young actors to pose for scores of photos in her various books and for this one, from 1933, she hired Mitzi Green and Jackie Searl to portray her characters. 

The book is available online via Project Gutenberg, along with several other books in the series. I was able to order an original 1933 copy for $6.00 off Amazon (as opposed to the $937 copy they show) but as of this writing it has yet to arrive. 

Below are some examples scenes from this rare "movie on paper." 


Friday, May 21, 2021

Christopher Lee Blogathon--Jinnah (1998)

Christopher Lee in 2002: “It is a very good picture and it is actually my best performance. No question. No question.”

  Sir Christopher Lee was an actor known for nearly six decades of commanding performances in many iconic pop culture roles—Count Dracula, Fu Manchu, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Mummy, Sherlock Holmes, Saruman, Count Dooku, Death, and even the Devil himself. At the end of the day, though, in interviews and personal appearances, Mr. Lee always said that his favorite role ever was as the real-life historical leader, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. 


“I know it’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” he said at a convention appearance in Belgium in 2002, “by a long, long way.” 

   The 1998 historical biography JINNAH also happens to be Lee’s most controversial film.

“It was very well received in Pakistan,” Lee emphasized. “The cinema was full every night, every day for three months.” While this was true, initially there were also threats of violence against all involved and threats that cinemas showing it would be burned to the ground. The newspaper, The Daily Khabrain, denounced the film, sight unseen, as “deeply objectionable” and ran a long campaign aimed at stopping it from ever opening. Hardliners denounced the film as a “Hindu and Zionist plot.”


As the picture was being made, the Pakistani government dropped all financial support from the film, with private sources providing the money to finish it. Rumor had it that veteran Bollywood star Shashi Kapoor, who appears in the film, put up much of the needed financing himself. 


Another rumor was than an uncredited Salman Rushdie had a hand in the movie’s script!


Although not as familiar to the western world as Mohandas Ghandi, the two men were contemporaries, both lawyers, and both playing similar roles in the complex politics that led to what is known as Partition, in which India and Pakistan separated in 1946 both from each other and from British rule.


A considerable amount of the pre-release controversy can be directly blamed on the casting of then-77-year-old Christopher Lee to play the title role of the nation’s beloved leader. Other than the fact that the imposing actor was six inches taller than the man he portrayed, Lee’s performance gets a lot of mileage out of the fact that his face has been made to strongly resemble the real man. 


The actor described Jinnah as, “a man of great vision, incorruptible, great integrity, brilliant man.” In present-day Pakistan, Jinnah maintains a near-mythic status, similar in some ways to how we in the US view George Washington.


With all births, there is blood involved, and the birth of Pakistan was no exception. A lot of blood was spilled in Christopher Lee movies over the years but in this movie it’s more impactful because it represents real blood from real people. Violence between the Muslims and the Hindus was rampant and the British, trying desperately and shortsightedly to hang on to their colonial conquests, were certainly of little help. Into the melee stepped Jinnah. As with many great leaders, he had no intention of doing anything other than leading a peaceful life but history had other ideas. 



JINNAH, the movie, although historically accurate, actually has a fantasy element to it. We start with the death of Jinnah, who ascends to a type of Purgatory where a mystical office worker/angel (Kapoor) has misplaced Jinnah’s files and cannot figure out how to work the computers that had been brought there from the future. Luckily, we don’t spend much time there. Instead, Jinnah accompanies Kapoor on a trip through his own life story, reliving events and actually encountering his younger self on a couple of occasions. Compressing the post-war politics of the region isn’t easy but with the emphasis on the Muslim need for a free and independent state, we ultimately meet such other historical figures as Ghandi, Nehru, and Lord and Lady Mountbatten, and witness some of the political scheming designed to keep Pakistan from happening.


But eventually, as it did in real life, it does happen, and Jinnah gets one last moment to be shown that despite the violence, despite the blood, and despite the anguish, his work and his sacrifices still matter.


Lee is an actor known for his sometimes less than subtle performances but here he is as subtle as one could be, portraying deep emotions without even a raised voice—anger, fear, anguish, determination. For all that he is playing outside his race—another source of controversy, then and now—he brings to the role an elegance, reverence, and deep connection that I suspect even surprised him. 

All of the other actors are good as well, particularly another veteran star, James Fox, as the haughty Mountbatten, clinging tightly to antiquated concepts of colonialism even as his world begins to collapse around him.


Critics actually quite liked the film when it was finally able to be viewed. Although some felt the story’s presentation was not as epic as the story deserved, Lee was universally praised. Pakistani audiences bowed before Christopher Lee’s portrayal and the film became a major triumph in his long and exciting career.


JINNAH was, however, never released in this country and remains almost completely unknown to even the biggest fans of the great Christopher Lee.