Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Liberty Cart : NC outdoor drama in 1976

Here's a Facebook page I just set up about my time in the summer of '76 in a historical outdoor drama called 'The Liberty Cart' in Kenansville, NC.

An excerpt:

The cast was a diverse one, hired from all over but mostly from North Carolina. One of my best friends from college that year, Val McCall, was also cast in 'The Liberty Cart'. It was great to hang out with her, this was my first summer away from home, I was 19 at the time. Val was black (still is!) and, unbeknownst to us at first, the locals kept track of our whereabouts on CB Radio. The sight of a white guy and a black girl walking around town together was somewhat scandalous in '76 - after we made friends with one of the locals in particular the word go out that we were cool and everything was okay. I wondered why everyone in town were so cold to me in the shops.

The other professionals I remember were Tony Rivenbark from Wilmington, who was so angry at my getting the roles that he wanted that he tossed a refrigerator out of a two-story window during a cast party at his home; Don Williams, also African-American, he used to give me a hard time for being such a dork; Roger Jackson, a voice artist today according to his Wiki page; David Wells, a 16-year old local who now has an acting studio in LA and produced 'Elephant Sighs', a film shot in High Point starring Ed Asner; a good looking redhead who was very driven and a nice guy, can't remember his name; and Jane Barrett, a lovely actress. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

ABC 1973 Cartoon Fall Preview

The ABC 1973 Cartoon Fall Preview:

Superman II - The Donner Cut

Superman 2 on DVDOne of my fave movies, and the inspiration for Man of Steel, underwent a makeover in 2006. Here's the back story: In 1977, Richard Donner was shooting both Superman and Superman II at the same time. When the first film needed more work before release in 1979 Donner stopped working on the sequel when it was more than 3/4 done.

Before Donner could resume production the producers decided they didn't want to use Marlon Brando's already filmed scenes in the second movie, this way they could save a bunch of money. They also wanted a more campy approach. Donner balked, walked and Richard Lester (A Hard Day's Night) was brought in. The new director made numerous structural changes to the script and refilmed many of Donner's scenes, for whatever reason.

About 2/3 or so of the film we saw in theaters was Lester's and the rest Donner's. Twenty plus years later an editor went back to Donner's filmed footage and restored Superman II to something a lot closer to the original script and director's vision.

In Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman have greatly expanded roles (Brando was cut entirely from the theatrical release) and the result is a much more serious-and violent-film. Christopher Reeves' performance is much bolder as well. The slapstick nonsense in Superman II is happily exiled to the digital Phantom Zone, less than 1/5 of the Donner cut uses Lester's filmed sequences.

One has only to look at what came after for Richard Donner - the Lethal Weapon series for instance - to know who should have directed Superman II to the end. Even the music score by John Williams, culled from work done in 1981 and from the first film, is more pleasing than what was used in 1980. Sadly not everything could be restored, there were scenes never filmed, but it's absolutely incredible that we got another bite of this sweet apple and it turned out so tasty. Rent or buy the Donner cut of Superman II and experience one of the best superhero movies ever made.

Spoilers:

Creating the Main Titles for 'Robin Hood Prince of Thieves'

It was 22 years ago when my boss Tony Seiniger walked into the bullpen at 6:30pm on a Friday and asked if I would stay and storyboard the opening titles for Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. He had with him a beautiful antique weaving that he found to pan across for the background and specified white text for the titles. I had already done the typography for the poster and generally provided graphics for the trailers we produced.

The type didn't pop enough against the variegated background so I airbrushed on a yellowish-orange tint (not on the fabric on the storyboard) to flatten the colors just enough for the 'pop-ability' Tony insisted on.

When I showed him the finished art and explained the change he said, "No problem. We'll shoot it by candlelight." I was out of there by 7:30 - here's what Tony shot and what was seen on the screen:

Whatever Happened to Aunt Bee?


Frances Bavier, the Emmy-winning actress who gave life to Aunt Bee on The Andy Griffith Show was, by all accounts, the polar opposite of her alter ego. Hardly the domesticated matriarch, Ms Bavier was a sophisticate who resided in New York and Los Angeles her entire life, working alongside screen legends like Bette Davis and Henry Fonda. A Broadway and motion picture performer turned small screen superstar who, in 1970, abruptly decided to take the money and run a year before her Top Ten sitcom Mayberry RFD left the air. 

After fifteen years of the grind of a weekly television series she’d had it with the business of show. She didn’t care much for people either, one of the reasons she moved—alone at age seventy—all the way across the continent to Siler City, North Carolina where her biggest fan operated a family furniture store. In this mythical shire mentioned so fondly in scripts produced for her by former writers from Amos & Andy and Leave it To Beaver she hoped to find the small town goodness she herself came to represent in the minds of middle America. Something she clearly had no concept of.





She was warmly bosomed into this community of thirty-seven hundred aw-shucks-just-plain-folks. Grand Marshall in the parades, an honored guest at civic functions, a flower of verisimilitude as she maneuvered the narrow streets of Siler City in the very same pea green 1966 two-door Studebaker Daytona she drove on Mayberry RFD now seen five days a week in syndication.

But what began as an immersion in Americana collapsed into a menagerie existence, like a black and white Twilight Zone episode. On Saturday mornings school buses pulled up in front of her split-level brick home on West Elk Street to let the Cub Scouts out with instructions to, “Go find your Aunt Bee.” Folks were peering through her windows at all hours of the day, everyone expecting her to be in character at all times. A role she didn’t care for at all. Even the few townsfolk she was close to insisted on calling her “Aunt Bee.” Irritating, but she had to have some friends. 

In the South, particularly in that era, if people knew your family you were accepted in the community; newcomers were kept at arm’s length. Sure, it’s all kissy-kissy, ‘Can I get you some more sweet tea, Hon?’ but you will always be that person who moved to town in 1972… from California no less. They had a saying in these parts, “God turned the country on its side and all the nuts fell into California.”

A visit to the town center meant all eyes casting judgment on her every move, the ladies at the beauty parlor never forgave her for not joining their church. There were unceasing invitations to Sunday services wherever she went, “Don’t forget, you went to church in Mayberry,” delivered with a sickly-sweet, curt grin… insult to injury, that was one of Aunt Bee’s signature bits on the show.

Week after week the same goobers would bump into her asking, “Was that Opie I saw mowing your yard on Saturday?” She’d want to scream, “Why are you fixated on my yard?!?” Young couples would follow her down the aisles of the Winn-Dixie, “You’re not making pickles this summer are you, Ain’t Bee?” 

No wonder she took to living out of her back bedroom with fourteen devoted kitties for company. She loved her feline companions so much she converted her two hundred fifty square foot downstairs bathroom into a sprawling cat box. What few visitors she had in her final years, store clerks and deliverymen mostly, were overwhelmed by the peeling paint, filthy living conditions, and an atmosphere steeped in soft cream clouds of ammonia that hung over everything like a suffocating umbrella. 

Even her ‘Smart New Look’ Studebaker sedan fell prey to the furry Borg, the immaculate vinyl interior shredded, its Chevrolet 355 cubic inch V8 engine impossibly clogged with animal dander.

In 1986, on one of those sticky summer days three years after she stopped venturing out in public Andy Griffith and Ron Howard, her co-workers for a decade, made a surprise visit to Siler City’s reclusive cat lady. She refused to allow them in, talking only momentarily through the closed front door. She declined to be a part of their Mayberry reunion movie, she never cared much for Mr. Griffith to begin with.

When she died in 1989 Frances Bavier bequeathed most of her seven hundred thousand dollar estate to the community; to this day an annuity pays out a Christmas bonus for every Siler City police officer. But her true legacy was gestating as she was laid to rest. After her home was donated to a hospital those feral cats scampered for the countryside, causing one hell of a population explosion that is only now beginning to subside a quarter century later. Veterinarians in the county became all too familiar with someone bringing in, “One of Aunt Bee’s cats.”


BONUS:  Bette Davis vs Aunt Bee:

Groucho Marx on Father's Day

Groucho appeared on The Dick Cavett Show several times, on this episode he performed two songs from the Vaudeville era about fathers - 'Father's Day' and 'Everybody Works But Father.'



More Classic TV fun at TVparty!

CBS 1965 Saturday Morning Cartoon Lineup

Here's the CBS 1965 Saturday Morning Cartoon Lineup, the year Saturday morning ratings started a decade long climb upward:



You can review the entire network
Saturday Morning TV Schedules and 
watch video from 1966-1988!

Why Was TV's Captain Marvel Fired?

Jackson Bostwick starred as Captain Marvel in the hit Saturday live action series Shazam. The casting was right-on, Jackson wore the costume, as they say, it didn't wear him. Just as Christopher Reeve was the embodiment of  Superman in the 1970s so too did Jackson Bostwick inhabit the part of 'The Big Red Cheese'. This is an excerpt from an interview with the Saturday Superstar, you can go to JacksonBostwick.com for his official site where you'll find his book and photos for sale.

Any funny stories while filming?
I had a lady come up to me on Ventura Blvd. in Encino on the first day of preproduction filming. We were waiting to to get the Camera car rigged for some low level flying shots when she walked up from out of nowhere to the producer, Bob Chenault, and myself, and scolded, "Who does he think he is? A grown man, out in public ,dressed up in a silly costume like this at his age. Stupid, " then she turned and marched away. Must have been a "bad hair" day.

Jackson Bostwick - shazam - captain marvelThe show was a huge hit. Why were you replaced while season two filming was underway? The guy who replaced you wasn't nearly as good.
The "brilliant" Executive Producers at Filmation thought I was holding out for more money when I didn't show up on the set one day at the start of the second season. In fact, I had injured myself doing a takeoff the day before, and was at the doctor's office. The stunt boxes had collapsed on my landing, and I had snagged my eye and busted a blood vessel underneath it as I went piling through the cardboard onto the asphalt. I had the nurse call the studio to tell them where I was that morning at 9:00 AM, but Filmation said they never got the message. I go into detail of this event in my forthcoming book, "Myth, Magic, and a Mortal."

It was a precedent setting case at the Screen Actor's Guild, and Filmation had to pay me for all the shows they didn't use me on, plus residuals. Still, these clown's actions doomed a marvelous show. It wasn't John Davies' fault that he was suddenly thrown into the part of Captain Marvel. It was a rush job. I was fired at 1:00 PM that day, and he was out on the set at 3:00 PM. That's pretty darn fast, I'd say. One of the Execs' reasoning was "The kids'll never know the difference." Riiight. John's a fine actor, but he's no more Captain Marvel than I am Wonder Woman.



Read the rest of my interview with Jackson Bostwick here!

Shazam! on DVD:
Shazam on DVD

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Sexy Roy Krenkel ERB Paperback Covers

When I was a kid I collected Ace paperback editions of Edgar Rice Burroughs novels. Not so much for the stories themselves, although I enjoyed reading them for a period, but I was after the amazing covers by Roy Krenkel and Frank Frazetta.

Frazetta, who recently passed away, is a well know fantasy illustrator but Roy Krenkel, who was a big influence on Frazetta, has been largely forgotten. An example of one of Frank Frazetta's provocative ERB covers below, I scanned the back cover so you can see the art better.

Frank Frazetta sexy ERB paperback cover

These Roy Krenkel illustrations from the '60s came before the Frank Frazetta covers of the '70s that replaced them. Some of the 1960's books came with illustrations on the title page by Krenkel and they are truly spectacular; he was one of the greatest pen & ink artists of all time.

Here are some examples of Krenkel's sexy ERB paperback covers:

Roy Krenkle illustrations

Poor Thuvia, bad enough she's a maid on Mars but her pissed off employer looks pretty brutal. A marvelous use of typography.

Edgar rice burroughs illustrator Roy Krenkel

Gorgeous example of Krenkel at his best.

MORE ROY KRENKEL AFTER THE JUMP

When They Added Lyrics to the That Girl Theme

The theme song for That Girl, one of my all time faves, got a makeover for season 5, its last. Lyrics were added but I wasn't too fond of them - "She's everything that every girl should be?" Really? Because Ann Marie was a bit of a dip, at least at first.

Here's the original version, That Girl had the most inventive opening:



The US was still mostly a small town experience in 1966, that's why every shot in that opening, up to the last one, was designed to show New York City as small town America. Ingenious really.

Contrast that with the newer approach, depicting the small town girl in the big city:



That reflected the character and the show's growth by 1970. More classic TV at TVparty!

Bill Cosby & Groucho Marx

One of my favorite TV hours of the 1970s was The New Bill Cosby Show, a comedy variety series that lasted one season on CBS. Did you know Groucho Marx made one of his last network appearances on the show? This clip states it was his last but you may remember Groucho made a brief and rather pathetic appearance on one of those Bob Hope celebrity extravaganzas in 1976.

For the Cosby show, thankfully, Groucho still had his wits about him.

OOOH! OOOH! The Bizarre Life & Death of Joe E. Ross


TV Blog / Classic TV star Joe E. RossWatching Car 54, Where Are You? on DVD reminded me of how much I enjoyed the great Joe E. Ross. At least as a kid I liked him, one of those oddball performers that kept popping up here and there for no apparent reason. It certainly wasn't talent.

He started out life in show biz as a burlesque club comic, here's a cleaned up sample of his 1950's act as half of a duo with Dave Starr, crammed full of corny vaudeville routines but funny none the less. Since removed from You Tube darn it - so here's a ditty he recorded:



He shot to stardom on Nat Hiken's The Phil Silvers ShowSgt. Bilko as the imbecilic mess sergeant, Rupert Ritzik. His trademark phrase "Oooh, Oooh" sprang from an inability to remember his lines, he was stalling until the words finally came to him.

But sudden fame was like lighting a match to his flame, soon the unlikely TV star was gaining a reputation as a hard partier who was undependable on the set. His vivacious appetite for hookers, cigarettes, fatty foods, and booze were fueled by Hollywood's open embrace for that sort of behavior. He returned to the nightclubs when the Bilko series was cancelled in 1959.

TV Blog / Classic TV show Car 54 Where Are you starring star Joe E. RossStill, his charm was irresistable to the home audience so Nat Hiken, against his better judgement, cast him as one of the leads in his new series, Car 54 Where Are You, where Joe E. Ross proved even more difficult to control.

Car 54 was dropped after two seasons, a few years later Joe E. Ross landed the show I first saw him on, It's About Time. The kooky combo of Joe E. Ross and Imogene Coca clicked on the screen although they did not get along. Again his co-workers complained about his loutish behavior and that one season wonder was the comedian's last primetime series.



In the 1970s he was relegated to doing cartoon voices for Hanna-Barbera where he once again resurrected his "Ooh, Oooh" catch phrase to delight a new generation. Even that career was short-lived. He died in 1982 entertaining in an apartment complex clubhouse in Van Nuys, CA.

More Classic TV fun at TVparty!


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Sunday Morning Shows of the 60s & 70s

CBS and ABC had a slate of Sunday morning TV shows in the 60s & 70s that were popular but spottily broadcast around the country. Often the shows - consisting of recently cancelled Saturday morning cartoons on CBS and Bullwinkle, Discovery (later Make A Wish) on ABC - would be often preempted by local church broadcasts, especially in the South.



Discovery (the title of the show was followed by the abbreviated year, ie. Discovery '63) reenacted historical events and gave kids a peak into how things worked in the modern world. The series enjoyed a long run on ABC Sunday mornings, from 1963 until 1971, after an unsuccessful weekday run in 1962. The production was hosted first by Frank Buxton and Virginia Gibson, then Virginia Gibson alone, then by Gibson and Bill Owen. I would tell you more about it but this was one of the programs that was routinely preempted by Sunday devotionals in my TV market. Bummer.

Here's the colorful opening to Discovery '68.



This is a commercial for Hot Wheels that you might have seen on Sunday mornings in 1968, man those cars were cool - and made from heavy metal.



Discovery was replaced in the fall of 1971 by another show in a similar vein, Make A Wish, focusing on one subject during the half-hour rather than several as Discovery often did.

Liberace's Light Bulbs

TV Blog / Liberace TV shows of the 1960s on DVD

Driving home from work down Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles in the 1980s I would pass by Liberace's penthouse condo at the top of a nondescript (from the street anyway) brick building, about 3 or 4 stories up. It was very close to CBS Television City, across the street. It's depicted in the HBO drama 'Behind the Candelabra.'

It was kinda odd because his far east window facing south on Beverly was always open and you could see the top row of the enormous bulbs surrounding his makeup mirror, the kind you see backstage. And they were always on during the day and evening. Don't know why I found that interesting but it was a bit sad when the entertainer passed way in 1987, a few weeks later the curtain was pulled on that window.

If you're so inclined 'Ultimate Liberace' is a 3 DVD collection with his glitzy specials. I wasn't a fan, I never understood what his appeal was, a clearly gay man holding on to the fantasy that he was straight? He failed spectacularly at bonding with his TV guests or hosts. I was always left with no understanding of who this Liberace person was - but he could play the hell out of those 88s. What he did well was step back in a deferential way and allow other performers to shine.

Here's a camp teaming of Liberace and country comic Minnie Pearl from his 1969 special.



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The Beverly Hillbillies House Today


Paul Sonski writes in response to the 'Where Are the Sitcom Houses?' article, specifically the state of the Clampett home from The Beverly Hillbillies: "Based on the following www.maps.google.com (Bel Air, CA) aerial photo, I believe the house is still there.

TV Blog / Beverly Hillbillies House

"I used to drive by the house and gates in the '80s. They soon put up a stucco wall across the gate side of the property hiding the gates, and they may have created a new drive way behind and along the wall with access to the gate from the north."

Indeed the house is still there - but was gutted and re-designed in the 1980s. Thanks, Paul!

The Beverly Hillbillies House in 1964:

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

My 2 Questions for Alan Alda

In 2010 I participated in a conference call with the 30 Rock and M*A*S*H star -  here's my 2 questions with Alan Alda (Quicktime).

First I asked him about one of my favorite movies of the early-1980s The Four Seasons which he wrote, directed, and starred in with Carol Burnett, Sandy Dennis, Rita Moreno and Jack Weston. Then the actor tells us about how the cold weather helped the cast of M*A*S*H bond while shooting the pilot.

Petula Clark

TV Blog / Petula Clark TV SpecialPetula Clark was and is one of the most exciting performers of all time with a song repertoire that ranges from peppy pop to sweet romantic ballads. She had fifteen consecutive Top 40 hits in the US alone.

Here's one of those hits, 'A Sign of the Times' from 1966, don'cha just love those old sixties dance moves?



To wind down a bit, a number 1 pop hit in the UK in 1967 - 'This Is My Song'. I'm crazy about the bombastic musical arrangement.



After a string of international smash hits beginning with 'Downtown' in 1964 the lady was given a one-hour NBC special in 1968 filmed aboard the Queen Mary. After an intro here's the first segment, the video has been augmented for You Tube with trivia about the big boat.



There was a history making controversy that swirled around around that 1968 special. When Petula was singing a duet with guest Harry Belafonte she took his hand, a natural response. The sponsor (Chrysler) flipped, imaging all kinds of protest from their Southern dealers and customers. (Bad enough they were singing an anti-war song.)

Chrysler insisted another camera angle with the two standing apart be inserted but Petula's husband, the show's producer, destroyed all of the alternate takes making an easy swap impossible. The show aired as is and earned huge ratings while the switchboards at NBC lit up like a bonfire. Such was life then.

Petula Clark was an acclaimed motion picture actress as well as a winning guest on Dean Martin and Carol Burnett's variety shows. Because of her versatility, she was offered a weekly series in the seventies by ABC but she declined, reportedly because her kids hated LA.

Eartha Kitt

Eartha Kitt / CatwomanOne of my favorite entertainers of all time passed away Christmas Day five years ago - Eartha Kitt. What a grand lady she was. Although she told people she was the first, Eartha Kitt was the third actress to play Catwoman back in 1967. Her autobiography places that event in 1971, she was old school that way, stars couldn't admit your age.

She was indomitable, courageous when it came to speaking her mind as witnessed by her infamous blacklisting after criticizing President Johnson's war policy at a 1968 White House reception. When asked by Lady Bird Johnson about the  Vietnam War she replied, "You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot." This caused the First Lady to burst into tears. (What did Lady Bird expect? African-Americans were dying at a disproportionately high rate during that war.)

She was labelled "a sadistic nymphomaniac" by the CIA. Had Batman not already been cancelled you can be assured Catwoman would have been recast again. No one in TV would touch her for at least a decade, by then she was largely forgotten by American audiences. She instead wowed audiences in Europe and Asia where she blossomed into an iconic gay Diva.



"The thing that hurts, that became anger, was when I realized that if you tell the truth — in a country that says you're entitled to tell the truth — you get your face slapped and you get put out of work," she told told Essence magazine in the 1980s. Jimmy Carter invited her back to the White House in 1978.

If you ever get a chance to listen to any of her live concert tracks by all means do so - they're so campy and vampy, she never lost her hold on the audience which, in later years, tended to be very internationale and predominantly gay.

This performance is from a year before she died in 2008:



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Fantastic 1960s Green Lantern Comics Covers

I've mentioned before being a comic collector as a kid and I kept a healthy interest in the medium ever since. The crazy thing is that, as I matured in the 1970s, so did the comic book industry with a fresh influx of talent blooming just as I was coming to the age when it was natural to put the four color mags away. I bought the odd mainstream comic book all the way into the 1980s when the Hernandez Brothers, Pete Bagge and Dan Clowes and that crowd came to the forefront and revolutionized the industry in a fresh and exciting way.

I thought I would share with you some of my favorite Green Lantern (but not Green Lantern / Green Arrow) covers during the silver age of comics, the 1960s.

TV Blog / Green Lantern Comics #20 / Classic DC comics 1960sGil Kane and Murphy Anderson were two of my favorite artists from the DC stable. They were polar opposites in style but somehow penciler Kane's fluid style meshed well with inker Anderson's detailed, illustrative approach. Here's a perfect example, Anderson consistently put his all into everything he rendered.

These comics, along with Batman, Detective, Flash and Justice League, were edited by Julie Schwartz who had a unique talent for creating covers that I found intriguing as a kid.

So much so I had to buy them to find out how the hero solved that weird situation. Schwartz's comics mostly had a sci-fi influence, his heroes were generally faced with some perplexing scientific anomaly or a conundrum with a mystical bent.

GL 30 / classic comic books of the 1960s / TV Blog

GL 30 / classic comic books of the 1960s / TV Blog GL 30 / classic comic books of the 1960s / TV Blog

There were so many spectacular GL covers during this period it's hard to single out only a few. Just look at the composition on these. Kane & Anderson teamed for some great covers and a few amazing stories early on but the tales were mostly inked by the bland and stiff brush of Joe Geilla. Then Sid Greene took over the interior inks and spoiled Gil Kane's dynamic pages with his oppressive, gooey style.

GL 30 / classic comic books of the 1960s / TV Blog

Green Lantern was one of my favorites even though I started reading after the Kane & Anderson glory days. I was fascinated by the concept, a guy with a ring that can manifest almost anything instantly.

That's why the movie has a good shot at being good, it's a simple but effective idea.

By the time I came around to reading GL, around number 60, the title was being passed around to different second tier artists like Jack Sparling - until Gil Kane returned with a vengeance with this spectacular cover that he inked himself and a vibrant story sadly stifled by Joe Giela's graceless inks.

During his absence from GL, where he wrote & drew his own ground-breaking (on so many levels) publication His Name Is Savage and other titles, Kane had matured into a more dynamic artist.

GL 30 / classic comic books of the 1960s / TV BlogGL #69

The very next issue sported a bold cover illustrated by Gil Kane with a cool story by the great John Broome. Teamed with inker Wally Wood, the legendary EC artist, this comic blew me away.

The few times when these two artists were paired were always amazing, Wood had a way of bringing out the best in Kane, taking his expansive layouts to new heights while leaving his own distinct, high-gloss sheen on the pages. Another great example are the 3 issues they did together the year before, for a short-lived comic series based on the action figure Captain Action. Those are some of the best comics of the 1960s.

I couldn't wait until the next issue but, sadly, Wood was gone as quickly as he came.

GL #73 - (December 1969)
GL 30 / classic comic books of the 1960s / TV BlogAnother super all-Kane cover but the insides of this issue and the next were inked by Murphy Anderson and the results were probably the best of GL's run until Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams took over the tile with issue # 76. You can see why Kane became Marvel's number one cover artist during the 1970s.

I actually had the pleasure to interview Julie Schwartz and Murphy Anderson in the mid-1980s at a comic convention. It was a real thrill, I took a stack of Schwartz and Anderson's DC comics from the 1960s & 70s and we discussed the dynamics behind those publications.

Julie Schwartz in particular enjoyed the experience, they both had a great deal to be proud of in their past work. They created a vivid world of excitement for a generation of kids that resonates decades later in multi-million dollar movie productions.

1973 CBS Fall Season

TV Blog / Carol Burnett as Eunice of Mama's Family1973-74 FALL SEASON

Some of my favorite TV shows of all time aired in 1973, many of them on CBS. Here's the network's fall preview for that year - "This Year Like Last Year, the Best is Right Here, on CBS" was their not-so-catchy slogan - they also used "CBS is Easy on the Eyes".

Indeed the Tiffany Network had a great year in 1972-73 with several top-rated, high quality shows debuting that season.





RETURNING COMEDY SHOWS
(I'd happily watch any of these sitcoms today)

All in the Family - Season four, leading off the network's winning Saturday night lineup.



The New Dick Van Dyke Show - Third and last season. I really liked this show, especially this year when the production moved to Hollywood and Dick became a soap opera actor. Hope Lange was wasted on this series, she had very little to do as Dick's wife.

The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour - Last season for this top ten smash - the couple divorced so Cher got her own show on CBS and Sonny was banished to ABC.

Here's Lucy - The last year for Lucy. Did she quit or was she pushed?

The Mary Tyler Moore Show - Year four.

M*A*S*H - Year two, the series was very low rated the season before. CBS took a chance that the show would be a hit if it just got seen. Between All in the Family and Mary Tyler Moore the program zoomed from the bottom to the top of the ratings.



Maude - Season two, kicking off Tuesday nights.

Bob Newhart Show - Year two of one of the best sitcoms ever.

The Carol Burnett Show - Year seven.



NEW COMEDY SHOWS: CBS 1973



Calluci's Department - sitcom flop starring James Coco as a New York City unemployment office supervisor. Not fertile grounds for comedy...



Roll Out - Military sitcom with a predominantly black cast from the guys behind M*A*S*H - can you tell by the theme song? Followed Calluci's Department on Friday night, one of the first casualties of the season. Roll Out was replaced by Good Times which became an instant smash.


RETURNING DRAMAS

Hawaii Five-O - Year six.

Medical Center - Year five.



Mannix - Of all of CBS's private eye shows this was the only one I watched. Mike Connors was so cool as Joe Mannix, riding around in his Plymouth 'Cuda 340 convertible. For some unknown reason, Paramount never released the series' first and last seasons into syndication.


TV Blog / classic TV show The Waltons
The Waltons - Year two.

Barnaby Jones - Second long-running CBS TV series for Buddy Ebsen after The Beverly Hillbillies. For someone to succeed in a drama after being so heavily type cast in a broad comedy was unusual to say the least.

Cannon - William Conrad and CBS went way back, he played Marshall Dillon when Gunsmoke was a radio program.

Gunsmoke - Year nineteen, the penultimate season.


NEW DRAMA SHOWS

Kojak - Big hit for CBS this year starring Telly Savalas, filmed in the streets of a bankrupt, dirty New York City.

The New Perry Mason - CBS unwisely re-cast the title role with Monte Markham thinking Raymond Burr was too old. They were wrong, Burr returned as Perry Mason in a series of highly-rated TV movies years later.


Shaft - Richard Roundtree reprised his legendary film role but Shaft didn't make a ripple on TV with tamed down storylines and typical TV cop show plots.


Hawkins - Jimmy Stewart really wanted a weekly series for the money and stability it offered people like Lucille Ball. He tried several times and this was his last failure, this time playing a crusading lawyer. Why TV audiences didn't warm to the beloved film actor was a mystery.

CBS Movie - CBS scored big with their broadcast of Planet of the Apes this season, leading to a weekly series the next fall. Recent blockbusters being shown on TV was a relatively new phenomenon in 1973.

CBS Sports - Tennis and golf were very popular in 1973.

Specials - Barbra Streisand, Ed Sullivan, Peanuts, Perry Como, Carol Burnett, and Carroll O'Connor all had specials on CBS in 1973. The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman was one of the finest tele-films of the entire decade.

CBS really was "easy on the eyes" in 1973!

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The Great Strother Martin

TV Blog - Strother Martin in classic tv shows and moviesOne of my favorite motion picture actors is Strother Martin.

Most people would say, "Who?" to which I would reply, "What we have here is... failure to communicate." He's most famous for that phrase from Cool Hand Luke but I loved him for his brief appearances in many of the great John Wayne westerns of the 1960s & 1970s and for his shining moment as the co-star of a one of the best film comedies of all time, Slap Shot.



Strother Martin wasn't entirely satisfied with his second banana status but he was unequalled in his portrayal of broken down drunks and loudmouthed louts. John Wayne was especially fond of this grizzled character actor, casting him as cantankerous old coots in his later shoot 'em ups from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance to Rooster Cogburn. He turned up in small roles in all kinds of films like Cheech & Chong's Up In Smoke, The Shaggy Dog, The Wild Bunch, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Harper (Paul Newman liked the guy as much as The Duke, they both cast him in 6 films).

Can you imagine having all of those classic films - not to mention the experience of working with those great talents - under your belt?

TV Blog - Strother Martin in classic tv shows Lost in SpaceAnd then there was television. The first time I saw the irascible actor was on the spectacular second season opener of Lost in Space where he played an old miner who tricked Dr. Smith out of the fuel needed to escape an exploding planet. Watching Martin and Jonathan Harris chew the scenery and spit it out at each other was a delight to behold, it's one of my favorite TV memories of youth.

There was the western themed Twilight Zone episode, 'The Grave', with Lee Van Cleef and Lee Marvin; Martin was also seen on Perry Mason, Gunsmoke, I Love Lucy, Gilligan's Island, The Rockford Files - this guy stayed busy with dozens of TV roles in the '60s and '70s.

Where Strother Martin really displayed his acting chops was as the sleazy manager of the Charlestown Chiefs hockey team in Slap Shot. In fact, the film was almost over before I realized I was watching Strother Martin. His performance was a great deal more nuanced than usual but he still milks every laugh from the delicious lines his character was given.



His last role was as the host of Saturday Night Live in 1980, the year he died. He was 62.

Strother Martin was one of the greatest character actors of all time, a star every bit as big as John Wayne or Paul Newman in that there have been few who have equaled his body of work.

Bob Denver's Series Flop After Gilligan

There was a show on Fox called The Good Guys about a couple of mismatched cops that debuted a couple of years ago. I remember a sitcom by that same name that aired back in 1968, this one starred Bob Denver as a cabbie with Herb Edelman as his best friend, the owner of a diner.

The Good Guys was Bob Denver's follow up to Gilligan's Island. He'd learned a hard lesson - after watching the enormous popularity of Gilligan in syndication, which benefited him not a bit, Denver insisted on - and got - an ownership stake in the new show.



I never thought The Good Guys worked particularly well, mostly because Herb Edelman just wasn't a funny guy the way, say, Alan Hale Jr. was The chemistrybetween the co-stars just wasn't there. Edelman's stiff demeanor couldn't help but drag the proceedings to a halt.

In a nod to continuity, I guess, Alan Hale, Jr. appeared in a few episodes that first season, including one of the very first episodes, where he called Denver's character "little buddy."

Like Gilligan, The Good Guys relied on slapstick and broad humor but the production had a more theatrical feel to it, at least during the first year under creator / producer Jack Rose (writer of Road to Rio starring Bob Hope).

With a screen and playwright at the helm and Mel Tolkin (Your Show of Shows) in place as the story editor, this production felt more mature than you would expect, more like The Mary Tyler Moore Show than Bewitched. Denver had a chance to mute his over-the-top characterizations seen in previous shows, at least somewhat. (It looked like it was shot before a live audience but the laugh track was obviously sweetened.)

No doubt the network realized the series was off-kilter but ultimately believed in Bob Denver's appeal. For the second and last season Bob Denver's character became a partner in the diner, now relocated to the beach (gee, wonder why?). Now that Denver was back on the sandy shore, Alan Hale, Jr. returned with more frequency and Jim Backus turned up as well for even more Gilligan-esque appeal.



New producers were brought in, Bob Weiskopf and Bob Shiller, I Love Lucy vets. The show took on a flat, traditional sitcom look but it didn't help one bit. CBS yanked the show mid-season.

Denver lamented in later years that The Good Guys didn't attain the level of success Gilligan's Island did since he had a vested interest in one over the other. But how could it have sailed? Everything, from the seriously lame theme song to the unfortunate casting felt second rate, even to this pre-teen in the sixties starved for entertainment.

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Monday, June 10, 2013

TV's Funniest Old Ladies

Some time ago I was doing those ubiquitous countdown shows, 100 Funniest Movies, 100 Greatest Things About Christmas, blah blah... in that spirit, here are 5 outrageously funny TV Little Old Ladies, in no particular order:

Granny from The Beverly Hillbillies: Granny was the breakout character in this series, a genuine phenomenon, America's favorite TV character on the number one show in the nation. The episode where Granny finds a "Giant Jackrabbit" is to this day one of the highest-rated TV programs of all time, the most watched half-hour episode of a sitcom ever. Sadly Irene Ryan died just a couple of years after this production ended in 1971, while she was on the Broadway stage as an original cast member of Pippin, a final career triumph.



Mother Dexter on Phyllis: Judith Lowry wasn't just the funniest character on this show, she was the only funny thing about the program period. But that was enough to get me to tune in. Lowry didn't have much of a voice in terms of projection so you really had to pay attention to get her lines and that may have contributed to the success of the character. She got all the best quips and delivered sarcasm with a zing. Lowry died midway through the show's second and last season, the production couldn't survive her passing.



Mother Jefferson on The Jeffersons: This was another case of the old gal stealing the show. The Jeffersons was never so funny as when Zara Cully as Olivia "Mother" Jefferson was on screen with her cutting remarks aimed at her daughter-in-law and her obsequious devotion to her son. She was seen often in the first season but more sporadically during the second. She missed the first 17 episodes of the third season due to pneumonia. That's when I lost interest in the show. Cully died in 1978 during the show's fourth year, three months after her last episode aired.

Having two CBS shows in two years where one of the lead characters died early into the production's run (not to mention Ellen Corby's stroke and Will Geer's death plaguing The Waltons at the same time) made producers reluctant to hire actors in their seventies or eighties for a permanent role on a TV series in the future.



Sophia Petrillo on The Golden Girls: When this sitcom was cast producers went with an actress in her sixties to play a woman in her eighties. Like Granny before her, Estelle Getty became a national sensation with her caustic portrayal of a slightly demented old lady. Her character was so popular after Golden Girls and Golden Palace left the air she did two more seasons as Sophia on Empty Nest.



Madame from Madame's Place: The TV version was a watered down affair compared to Wayland Flower's raunchy and much funnier nightclub act but Madame's Place is all the more fun to watch because of the schlocky production values found on those 1970's syndicated shows. Flower's exuberant delivery and keen wit brought Madame vividly to life, here's an episode of their tacky 1980s syndicated sitcom.

Crazy Guggenheim and the Weird Death of Frank Fontaine

I was always fond of the great funnyman Frank Fontaine, who appeared on The Jackie Gleason Show in the early-1960s as Crazy Guggenheim in the Joe the Bartender sketches, most of which ended with Fontaine singing a Tin Pan Alley song with that beautiful baritone voice of his.

His appearances on the Gleason show have been scrubbed from You Tube (aaaaaw) but here's a commercial he did in the 60s:



Here he is singing in that lovely voice of his:



In 2010 I conducted a bunch of interviews for an oral history I was working on. I've got hours of stories that I can't use for the book but you might find some of this stuff interesting.

In this audio excerpt I'm talking to musicians Tim Fowlar and Jack Salley who were in their early 20s when they were out with The Roy Radin Revue, a vaudeville-like troupe that performed all over the northern east coast in the 1970s.

The Radin tour, which went out by bus two times a year over an 8 year period, would take an unlikely collection of stars, most of whom were at the butt end of their careers, and present them to the people in community theaters, VFW halls and high school auditoriums.

Donald O'Connor, Milton Berle, Sheila McCrae, Pinky Lee, John Carradine, George Jessel, Stanley Myron Handelman, Jan Murray, Jackie Vernon, Godfrey Cambridge, Joe Boatner's Ink Spots, The Drifters, and dozens of others endured the grueling travel conditions and iffy venues; it was truly Vaudeville's last gasp.

They would travel from town to town, a show a night (at least) for a period of 6 weeks with a mere 2 days off. Tim Fowlar was the musical director for most of the Radin tours and Jack Salley played guitar for a few runs around the track; both went on to successful careers in the music business.

TV Blog / Crazy Guggenheim from the Jackie Gleason ShowThe two guys reminisce about Frank Fontaine, he went out on a couple of Radin tours and suffered a heart attack during a 1977 run; he died the year after. The story begins with Jack Salley talking.

The 'Ancient Chinese Secret' Commercial

One of the most frequent classic TV questions I get is - "What was that commercial that talked about an 'Ancient Chinese Secret'?" It was an ad for Calgon laundry detergent in the early-1970s, here it is from You Tube.

Sitcom Starring Hitler & Eva Braun - What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Some might think it strange that a sitcom could be set in a Nazi Concentration Camp but Hogan's Heroes enjoyed a long run on American TV and is still rerun. But that was nothing compared to this -
 a comedy half-hour that aired only once back in 1990 on British Satellite Broadcasting, cancelled because of the outcry from outraged viewers.

It's Heil Honey, I'm Home, the trials and domestic travails of Adolph Hitler and Eva Braun, your not-so-typical suburban couple. The series was presented as if it were an unearthed sitcom from the past.

The first storyline centered around Neville Chamberlain coming for dinner and the couple's new neighbors who happen to be Jewish. A sendup of the 1950's American sitcoms, Heil Honey, I'm Home was actually kind of amusing but it has to be one of the weirdest TV programs ever conceived and holds the distinction of being the only UK show cancelled after only a single airing. There were a number of other episodes filmed but never shown.

45 years after the fact? Still too soon...

Don LaFontaine & the 5 Greatest Movie Voice-Over Artists

Don LaFontaine was the movie trailer voice-over guy with the deep voice ("In a world...") who passed away in 2008. What a pro, that guy made so much money every day it would make your head spin. How long does it take to record a few lines of text in the vocal style you created? Not long - and then it's off to the next job.

When I worked in motion picture advertising I always knew when Don was in the building because there would be a limo waiting at the east exit for him. Most of the stars when they came by the studio drove themselves, Tom Cruise came by motorcycle but Don always had his limo.

When everything went digital he took to recording at home, no wasted hours traveling around Los Angeles; that was far more time consuming than the jobs themselves. Of course, like all of the original cartoon characters, we'll be listening to imitations of Don's voice for the rest of our lives. Most people will never realize he's gone. While he was alive out of respect other artists would not try to mimic his voice but after his passing that's no longer true.

This is from a few years ago, you may remember it - Don gathers 5 of Hollywood's greatest motion picture voice-over talents for a limo ride to the Key Art Awards.

Interview with Bob Einstein

bob einstein - classic tv shows & stars
If you asked me for a list of people working in television that I'd most like to talk to, at the top of that list would be Bob Einstein. I've been a long-time fan, since The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour where he played Officer Judy. Since that time he's been a television variety show writer / producer and is today best known for two roles - Super Dave Osborne and Larry David's nemesis Marty Funkhauser on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Here's an excerpt from our talk, mostly about his stint as the producer of the best variety shows of the 1970s:
Bob Einstein: We did some great stuff. We did Van Dyke & Company and Redd. I started as head writer of The Smothers Brothers when I was 22. I've been around a while, I'm still alive but barely, I think.

Billy Ingram: That was a great era, the whole variety show era.

Bob Einstein: You know, it really was. It really was. It was interesting, creative, talented television. You know, there were a lot of talented people.
I mean, television scares me now. You used to hear about this 'fifteen minutes of fame' but now it's fifteen months. To turn on my television and see Jon and Kate on the NBC Today show - who gives a shit about these people? And Octomom and the sisters, what have they ever done? 
Bob goes on to talk about Bizarre, writing with Steve Martin, why Dick Van Dyke's variety show ended, and then tells me a story about Redd Foxx that I had to clip out per Mr. Einstein's request.

Listen to the 8 1/2 minute interview in Quicktime.

Early George Carlin

Here's a bit of George Carlin before he grew his hair out with his very funny comedy routine The Hippy Dippy Weather Man from the Tonight show with Johnny Carson in 1966.



Here's more of that bit... hilarious!

The New Andy Griffith Show?

New Andy Griffith Show adAndy Griffith Show Andy Griffith left one of the highest rated programs in TV history, a show so popular it continued in the Top Ten after the Andy Griffith in The Andy Griffith Show was gone. When his hoped-for movie career fizzled Andy decided he wanted his television career back and CBS was only too happy to have him return. In the fall of 1970 Andy returned to primetime with Headmaster, a 'hip' dramedy along the lines of Room 222.

Headmaster flopped big time, even Andy and his producer acknowledged the series was awful, so they pivoted mid-season to the concept they should have gone with from the start, The New Andy Griffith Show, a pale reincarnation of the previous production with a slightly shorter name.

Actually it was more of an inversion of his old program, everything was the opposite. In the new version Andy Sawyer had a son, daughter, and a lovely refined wife played by Lee Meriwether. Like  in the original series the family had a live in housekeeper - except the character played by Ann Morgan Guilbert (Millie on The Dick Van Dyke Show) was the opposite of Aunt Bee, always complaining, sickly and downbeat.

Here's the theme song:

 

In the pilot episode Don Knotts (playing an unnamed friend), Emmett and Goober from Mayberry RFD travel to the larger town of Greenwood (where the New Andy is Mayor not Sheriff) to use Andy's influence in moving a real estate deal their way. In conversations it seems to be Andy Taylor they're talking with. It was all very confusing, especially when the Mayberry residents don't recognize Don Knott's character, Andy's best friend - was Barney in the Witness Protection Program?

The plotlines were tired sitcom tropes - for instance, in episode four Glen Campbell guest stars. You see, Andy promised that Glen would perform in the big pageant but he booked the wrong Glen Campbell so he has to convince the real... oh, you've seen that one before, huh?

The New Andy Griffith Show got a huge tune-in for the first episode, falling just outside the Top Ten, people wanted to like it... but the production rapidly became one of CBS' lowest rated half-hours. The series was cancelled after 13 episodes, replaced by reruns of Headmaster.

 

Read the entire story of the end of the
 Andy Griffith Show and The New Andy Griffith Show.

Flipping TV Channels in the 1950s

Our imaginary television is set for the 1950s... let's see what's on!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Very First (Creepy) Ronald McDonald Commercial


Here's the very first Ronald McDonald commercial and it's down right creepy! Fortunately, they ditched the paper cup nose, the food tray headgear and toned down the disturbingly eager smile a bit.

That's Today show weatherman Willard Scott in the original clown outfit. Which is no less scary...

Never Fear, Smith is Here! An Evening with Jonathan Harris

Dr. Smith from Lost in Space, the Queen of Outer Space, dishes on Hollywood and Irwin Allen in a very funny one man, one robot show.

My Mr. Belvedere Is Not Yours

sitting pretty movie mr. belvedereMr. Belvedere Season Three arrived on DVD and somehow ended up on my doorstep, a faint reminder of an old celluloid friend I haven't seen for three decades. No, it's not the character played by Christopher Hewitt in the TV sitcom.

Unfortunately I can't review this DVD because of my profound love for the first two of the three Mr. Belvedere movies from the late-1940s which have only ever been released on VHS. I caught the first two on weekend and late night TV movie airings in the 1970s and they quickly became some of my favorite classic comedies.

These feature films starred the impeccably prissy Clifton Webb as Mr. Belvedere, it's the most well-rounded character of his career and a rare starring role for this popular supporting actor.

Mr. Belvedere Goes To CollegeThe first, Sitting Pretty directed by Walter Lang, is a riot as this erudite genius, who has seemingly been everywhere and done everything, goes to work as a live-in nanny for a typical American family so he can secretly write a tell-all book. Pretty modern concept, huh? Robert Young and Maureen O'Hara co-starred. It was a big hit with movie-goers.

Mr. Belvedere Goes To College was the hilarious sequel - it turns out the guy who knows it all never got his college degree so he enters the University as a freshman and proclaims that he will finish the four year curriculum in just a few weeks. The college allows him to join the students with the proviso that he attract no publicity, his book about suburban life touched off a firestorm, after all. A mostly grownup Shirley Temple co-stars in this totally charming and funny 1949 prequel to Animal House.



The third entry was the abominable Mr. Belvedere Rings The Bell wherein Belvedere goes underground to live in an old folks home in order to pen an expose. There are a couple of laughs but way too many maudlin moments - it's the film that killed the franchise. Zero Mostel co-starred. It might not have been so bad if the much-too-young actors playing the elderly folks weren't so phony.

Any other Mr. Belvedere just won't do. I understand the TV version was a solid family comedy from the 1980s ala Silver Spoons and I'm sure kids that enjoyed the show will get a nostalgic boost from seeing it again. Myself, I want to see the Clifton Webb Mr. Belvedere movies again.

The movie is no longer online but the Lux Radio Theater version is:



The character was revisited once again in 1952... sort of.



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Watch 300 of the Greatest TV Stars of all Time Gather Together in 1978

More than 300 super (and less than super) stars gathered to celebrate ABC's 25th Anniversary for a special that aired in 1978. Barry Manilow mutilates one of his hits to tell the story of the network...



Now watch as the biggest line-up of stars ever assembled parade in front of you- John Wayne even sings!