Saturday, June 8, 2013

STOP CABLE TV! (in 1969?)

My love of television was no doubt fueled by growing up in one of the first communities in the USA to have cable TV. Although Cable originated in the late-1950s, the Triad area of North Carolina was chosen for a rapid expansion in the late-1960s.

A multi-channel concept was a no-brainer for folks in New York or San Diego but would people in the 'fly over' states actually pay for something they were essentially getting for free? It was thought at one time that only folks who got very bad reception would even want Cable.

An aggressive campaign against cable TV was waged in 1969 by local TV broadcasters and movie theater owners who felt threatened by the idea of multiple channels and clear reception. There was even an alarmist ad that ran with the movie previews in the theaters that warned of the slippery slope that would come with the dreaded wire.

Oh, you don't believe me do you? Here it is:

TV blof - cable TV 1973For whatever reason my dad subscribed to Cablevision (as it was called then) so we were treated to Superstations in Washington and Chicago as well as our locals (we had three UHF independents). Eventually WTBS replaced WGN.

Here's an ad for the Cablevision service from 1972 - 10 whole channels! We also got HBO when it was first offered in 1973 or so -  they seemed to play the same 30 movies over and over, month after month. It took a long time for HBO to shake that image and win over subscribers.

I saw a headline, 'Remember When TV Was Free?' When everyone cuts the cable, TV will be free again... hell, they'll pay YOU to take it, they'll force you to have it. The absurdity of paying to have 20 minutes of commercials dumped into your home every hour? One day they'll laugh at the idea. I am already...

One of Carol Burnett's Favorite Skits

TV Blog - Carol Burnett ShowThere were few shows on television that I enjoyed more than The Carol Burnett Show. I remember in the mid-'80s sneaking away for lunch to the Shakey's Pizza on Santa Monica Blvd in Hollywood because they not only had a killer buffet but the TV above the bar was tuned to reruns of Burnett's show (Carol Burnett & Friends). Man, I'd like to have some of those fried potatoes now - and I was always fond of their pizza as well.

Not as good as Round Table's pizza was, but I'm digressing heavily.

Anyhow, one of my favorite Burnett show skits is also one of Carol Burnett's faves - this 1976 Family bit with guest star Madeline Kahn as the director of Eunice's play.

'Shuffle Off To Buffalo' from 42nd Street

Here's a bit of Broadway history, with a cast of legendary New York City talent, in a delightfully staged musical number - 'Shuffle Off To Buffalo' from 42nd Street. This was taped in 1986 for Japanese television starring NYC local kid show host Joe Bova, Beth Leavel, and Lucille Ball's protege the wonderful Carole Cook.

Laverne (Without) Shirley

Here's the final theme song for Laverne & Shirley, notice what's missing - Shirley. She got tossed off the series for, in part, circumstances surrounding her pregnancy. There was also no Lenny - Michael McKean left the cast before the end of the last season as well, though he was still was seen in the opening titles. Which is kind of odd, wouldn't they have to pay him?

What this meant was Penny Marshall was free to make the show she wanted all along - basically, a revival of The Lucy Show. The production was still in the top 25 when it was canned but fans of the early years were long gone by then.

The Supremes Without Diana Ross

Almost immediately after The Supremes began their phenomenal run of top ten hits in 1964, lead singer Diana Ross and Motown began treating the other two girls, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard, like the help. Three years later Ballard was dumped for Cindy Birdsong; it was telling that neither were singing on Diana Ross and The Supremes' last single, 'Someday We'll Be Together'.

Here are the original Supremes with "Where Did Our Love Go" & "Come See About Me" from 1964. This was before Diana had the backing vocals mixed down so low poor Mary and Florence had to scream out just to be heard on stage.

Another hit from Diana Ross and The Supremes, 'Reflections,' taken from their last concert together at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas on January 14, 1970. Listen to how loud Cindy and Mary are singing, and yet...

After Miss Ross left the group in 1970 the Supremes carried on, reinvigorated with the addition of Jean Terrell. She and Mary Wilson traded on lead vocals, recording some of the group's funkiest tunes including 'Up The Ladder to the Roof', 'Stoned Love' (both top ten hits), 'Floy Joy', and 'Nathan Jones' (top 20 hits).

'Bad Weather,' was a song written and produced for The Supremes by Stevie Wonder. It didn't chart that highly but it's a great number. I met Mary Wilson backstage after her first show one night and asked if she ever performed 'Bad Weather.' She was delighted someone remembered it, she hadn't done the song in years. She performed a rousing version that night, the audience was ecstatic. I understand she added 'Bad Weather' back to her repertoire after that point.

The Jacksons 1976-77 Variety Show

On June 25, 2013 it had been 4 years since Michael Jackson passed away, and just a few days after his child Paris tried to commit suicide. I can't think of anyone who reached such heights in his career and made more of a mess of things than MJ. Only Elvis comes close.

Remember The Jacksons 1970's variety series? Not many people do. It debuted in the summer of 1976 and did fantastic in the ratings, well enough to return in the spring of 1977. CBS was hoping for a long run, Michael was not. He wanted to embark on a solo career - despite his 1975 solo LP landing with a thud.

The Jacksons was your standard 1970s variety show fare, a song and comedy dialogue opening like Sonny & Cher, mostly unfunny skits like Tony Orlando & Dawn.

Michael wasn't sorry to see the series go, he didn't want to do it in the first place. It wasn't long after this variety show ended that his phenomenal solo hit with Quincy Jones Off The Wall was released and the era of Michael Jackson was underway. If he'd been on TV every week I doubt if 'Off the Wall' would have had half the impact it did... and 'Thriller' might have been dismissed outright as a joke.

MJ was too big a talent for the small screen - and his brothers.

More Classic TV fun at TVparty!

Greatest Phone Prank Ever!

Some guys live pranked a Belgium phone company from inside a container dropped in front of the company's parking lot. When security calls to complain about the large metal object blocking the entrance, the pranksters employ the same dodge and duck tactics we're so used to from phone companies. It's deliciously hilarious - watch as the hours tick by and the cars stack up.

Kathy Bates Remembers the legendary Jessica Tandy

TV Blog / Kathy Bates interviewIn 2011, I participated in a conference call with Kathy Bates for her drama series on NBC, 'Harry’s Law'.

I used the opportunity to ask about Jessica Tandy and the shows she enjoyed growing up. You can listen to it here.

Billy Ingram: Hi Kathy. In my previous life I was a movie poster designer and worked on a bunch of your movies. One of them was 'Used People'. I have a picture here of Jessica Tandy from the photo shoot that we did. She's got her hands raised and she's feisty and full of life... I wonder if you could tell me what it was like working with her—and if you learned from her as an actress?

Kathy Bates: Well she was great. She was a one of a kind great lady, a great dame. And she always told me to go back to the theater. That was her way of staying connected to what she was so passionate about which was acting.

And the one thing I remember the most about her was how - what a source of life her work was for her. When we started working on 'Fried Green Tomatoes' she came to work with jeans and a little jean jacket on. And she looked like a 16-year-old girl out of drama school with her first role. And she was 84 at the time.

And that taught me more than anything that you stay in love with what you do, you know, right the way through and it'll support you.

Billy Ingram: And were there TV shows that you enjoyed growing up?

Kathy Bates: Yes Route 66 was one of my favorites. I used to watch Bonanza. I went more for like who was the guy that was Paladin? Was that a show?

Billy Ingram: Yes, Have Gun - Will Travel.

Kathy Bates: I'm talking way back there in both phases.

Billy Ingram: Richard Boone I think...

Kathy Bates: Yes... right, yes. And Perry Mason. I used to watch Perry Mason. I think a lot about Perry Mason when I'm doing this show and those types of things.

Billy Ingram: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

Kathy Bates: You're welcome.

Here's the great Jessica Tandy in a Bicentennial Minute from 1975.

Dean Martin & Frank Sinatra & Jerry Lewis

TV blog / Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis on TVEveryone prolly knows about Sinatra bringing together the bitterly divorced comedy team of Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis on the MDA Telethon in 1976. While Jerry sincerely wanted to reestablish a bond with Dean, Ol' Red Eyes basically had no use for his former partner. Even on the MDA Telethon Dean's banter with Jerry had none of the zing that he normally displayed on stage. Dean being in the tank probably didn't help... still, even a blasted Deano nearly always managed to be funny.

It's widely believed that Dean & Jerry never got together again but that's apparently not true as you'll hear in this exchange from a benefit concert headed by Sinatra & Martin. Who should wander on to the stage at The Aladdin on August 23, 1977 but Jerry Lewis. Again, Dean mostly just sits it out without much regard to any back and forth with the over the top comic, but listen to that audience cheer when Jerry takes the stage.


TVparty! is Classic TV!

Liz Taylor's Drunken Bloopers

Just for fun here are some bloopers from Elizabeth Taylor's guest turn on General Hospital in 1981, this was a period when the actress was popping pills like candy. Keep in mind, Soaps almost never did retakes, they had been broadcast live up until 1970 or so and continued to shoot as if they were live for years after that. But Liz Taylor was a huge 'get', she was a fan and asked for a role on the show, it was worth any delays that might take place.

And through the magic of editing, here's the final scene:

1970 Sugar Ray Robinson Interview

In 1969 a failed attempt to resurrect Art Linkletter's daytime career was launched, Life With Linkletter only lasted a portion of one season but there were some interesting guests. Watch the opening and first commercial break:

Sugar Ray Robinson was one of those stellar guests; in January 1970 he talked about going broke and showed extensive footage of his 1950 bout in Paris with Jean Stock. Robinson had a troubled life and a problematic career, racism could stain a professional in the most insidious ways, but he remains a giant in his field, some claim he's the finest boxer to ever enter a ring.

Another interesting aspect of this episode - a look inside the Nixon White House and, lo and behold, there's Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld.

Read all about Life With Linkletter at TVparty!

Andy Kaufman's TV Meltdown

Andy Kaufman's most outrageous alter ego (emphasis on EGO) was Tony Clifton who caused a scene on Dinah Shore's weekday afternoon talk / variety program, as he was want to do. Poor Dinah and her staff had no inkling that the star of one of TV's hottest sitcoms, Taxi, would insist on doing the program in character as the highly obnoxious lounge singer Tony Clifton. Kaufman was essentially doing performance art but no one, absolutely no one, appreciated the humor behind his crude insults and lousy singing.

Unfortunately the best portion of this taping is long gone, the part where 'Tony' forces Dinah to sing with him even though she begged off due to a sore throat and, at the end of the segment, he dumps a bowl of eggs over her head (the show's producer destroyed that portion of the tape). Can you imagine the calls to Andy's manager after that?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Beginning of the End for Polite Society (Thanks TV)

Ah, the 1980s, were we really ever like that? Did we really sport those hideous hairstyles and awful trendy clothes? I sure did! The 1980s was the era that television changed; local TV was supplanted by cable, new networks appeared by the dozens and syndicated shows began to earn more money than primetime programs.

There's no better peek into that era than the syndicated game show Love Connection, a cheeky program that purposely went after the lamest possible contestants to pair up for crass, kiss-and-tell dates.

I can say that because I actually auditioned for this show as a lark in the mid-'80s. A friend of mine in LA wanted to get on a game show so I went with her and we tried out for a bunch of shows all in one day - Joker's Wild, Card Sharks, Jeopardy, one I can't remember (but they wanted me to come back) - and Love Connection. Would you believe it, they gave us exams for each show and the one for Joker's Wild was the most difficult but the actual questions on that show were always the dumbest, celebrity trivia type. The SAT test was easier.

It was clear to me from the start that Love Connection was looking for people to make fools of themselves, they were especially fond of out of work (or never worked) actors, the bilge water of LA's entertainment industry. Before reality TV, the idea of humiliating people on the air was a fairly new concept. Sure, on games as far back as You Bet Your Life, Candid Camera and Truth or Consequences contestants would generate audience laughter, but, in those days, producers weren't looking for folks to publicly self-immolate or viciously attack someone. That changed in the mid-1980s with Love Connection.

Love Connection got away with it largely because host Chuck Woolery was such a affable, congenial host, he could gently coax the contestants back to sanity... or to battle, whichever was needed. He was frequently at a loss for words over some of the heated verbal exchanges - and Wollery was / is one of the fastest wits in the game show biz. Here's a pretty good example:

After Love Connection it was just a hop, skip and a jump to Cheaters.

Classic TV is TVparty!

Lee Marvin on John Wayne

In my opinion, John Wayne is /was the greatest movie star of all time. In terms of personality, box office, longevity and public adoration he may never be topped though Harrison Ford and a couple of other moderns may come close.

Another legendary western star, Lee Marvin, talked about working with Wayne and John Ford in this excerpt from an interview with John Gallagher who really knows his stuff. This was recorded a year before Marvin's death... what a great star he was and he kept his rugged good looks to the end it appears.

Lee Marvin makes a great point on film acting and what an insightful director Ford was.

The Two Mrs. Kravitz, Mrs. Tate & Mrs. Ziffel

There are classic TV shows that we are all familiar with wherein key supporting cast members were replaced with another actor and you may not have noticed.

first Gladys Kravitz on BewitchedOf course, the story of the two Darrins on Bewitched is well-known, but did you notice there were two different Mrs. Kravitz, the nosy neighbor? The first Mrs. Kravitz, my favorite, was Alice Pearce who won a posthumous Emmy Award for her hilarious portrayal of the Stephens' perpetually hysterical snoop across the street. She was a big part of what made Bewitched so darn funny that first season in particular.


Sandra Gould, the second Gladys Kravitz on BewitchedSadly, Alice Pearce died of Ovarian cancer in 1966 before completing season two. As a result, Mary Grace Canfield, who was also appearing as Ralph the carpenter on Green Acres at the time, stepped in for four episodes playing Abner's sister Harriet Kravitz. She proved to be equally nosy while dusting the drapes; the Kravitz's had the cleanest drapery in... whatever town it was they lived in!

Sandra Gould assumed the role of Gladys Kravitz beginning season three, she did a great job keeping that one joke going for years past its sell by date - but I missed the nails-on-chalkboard raspiness that Alice Pearce's voice possessed.

On the same series Louise Tate, wife of Darrin's boss Larry, was also replaced after season two. Lofty, catty Irene Vernon originated the role before a more sedate Kasey Rogers took over. Vernon was pressured to leave the series after her friend, writer Danny Arnold (who, in many estimations, made the series what it was), left on acrimonious terms after year one.

Here's Irene Vernon in a colorized episode:

 An episode with Kasey Rogers:

Sharp viewers may have done a double take with two new cast members on Bewitched playing familiar roles... but then the 1966-67 season was the first year in color. That was a huge change in and of itself.

GREEN ACRES: Another key supporting character played by two actors on a popular sitcom of the day was Mrs. Ziffel from Green Acres.

Barbara Pepper :

Barbara Pepper, the first Mrs Ziffel on Green AcresZaftig Barbara Pepper was originally seen in the role of Mr. Ziffel's constantly complaining farm wife and doting 'mom' to Arnold the pig.

Barbara Pepper, the first Mrs Ziffel on Green AcresFew at home guessed this frumpy housefrau was once a sex kitten in motion pictures of the '30s & '40s. A heart ailment led to massive weight gain and ultimately forced her to give up the job on Green Acres. She died just a few months after leaving the show.

Fran Ryan the second Mrs Ziffel on Green AcresWhen Fran Ryan stepped in as Mrs. Ziffel in 1969 it was seamless. She easily inhabited the role, adding a sardonic edge while continuing the essence of what made Barbara Pepper's daffy portrayal so fresh.

1960s TV shows Where You Could Win Money!

TV Bingo gameI've written a piece on interactive 1960s TV shows so obscure I couldn't find any info on them outside of my memory and some random TV Guide listings.

Programs like All Star Bingo and Off to the Races were some of my favorites as a kid - because you could win money, and S&H Green Stamps. I wasn't 18 when these grocery store tie-ins aired, you had to be of age to collect the cash, so I would gather up cards from everyone and let them know if they had a winner or not. (If one of my cards won, a real long shot, I'd have to get someone older to cash it in for me.)

More on 1960s TV shows where you could win money!

Fabulous Totie Fields!

Totie Fields was one of the funniest women to play the big rooms in Las Vegas as well as a daytime TV talk and game show Diva. Blessed with a lightning quick wit, she always had audiences rolling in the aisles with her caustic, observational humor. She was sassy and cutting, a refreshing change from the demure commedienes that preceded her.

This is an early Totie appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show where she made her national TV debut in the 1960s. She became a big draw on the Strip and in nightclubs after routines like this in primetime... and following her trips to the Carson Tonight show where she killed.

On the Jerry Lewis Telethon

Totie Fields got punked on Tattletales, a 1970s afternoon game show where stars appeared with their spouses. But you couldn't get over on Totie, she was too fast.

Say what you will about how cheesy those '70s game shows were there was some astonishingly good entertainment available in the afternoons on TV then. Totie especially always had a new or mostly new set when she made one of her frequent appearances on The Mike Douglas Show, Dinah and The Merv Griffin Show.

In 1976 Totie had her left leg amputated and lost a breast to cancer but she took it all in stride, in public at least, and was funnier than ever talking about her misfortunes. Sadly she passed away in 1978 never having fully recovered from her first operation. She was only 48 years old.
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The Magic of Art Metrano

In my interview with legendary actress Francine York we discussed The Chicago Teddy Bears (she guest starred on an episode) and how fun it was to work with Art Metrano.

Metrano is best known as Cmdt. Mauser in Police Academy 2 and Police Academy 3 but his 1971 sitcom was a real hoot, taking place in the prohibition era starring Disney leading man Dean Jones and John Banner (Hogan's Heroes). It lasted only 13 weeks.

Art Metrano had a killer comedy act that he performed on late night shows that plenty of other comics stole. You'll recognize the tune he's humming, now you know where THAT came from!

William Shatner Loses It in the Studio!

This is one of those classic outtakes - a rookie voice director has the nerve to give William Shatner a line reading and the session descends into a real nightmare for the poor guy. He should have known better!

BONUS: Shatner and his Star Trek co-star Leonard Nimoy are not exactly known as close friends but here they are on stage together talking goodnaturedly about filming the TV series. This was recorded at a 25th anniversary convention, I guess that would be 1991.

More Classic TV fun at TVparty!

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Disastrous Attempt at an American Fawlty Towers

There are / were so many American TV classics that were spawned in England - shows like All In The Family, Sanford & Son, Three's Company, Hell's Kitchen, Life on Mars, The Office - the list is very long. It seems like every hit British show gets an American makeover of some sort.

classic tv blog - bea arthurDid you know Fawlty Towers, surely one of the funniest shows ever on either side of the pond - was remade here as a vehicle for Bea Arthur (Maude) in 1983?

The fiasco was called Amanda's and it may have been a reasonable idea in theory - if you had to remake the show. There was no reason to, of course, the original was perfect.

No doubt Bea Arthur at her peak could probably have pulled off a Basil Fawlty type character, say when she was starring in 'Mame' on Broadway, but the result here was horrible. Some of the best moments in Fawlty Towers were the hilarious battles between Basil and his shrewish wife; Amanda had no henpecked husband but instead a son and daughter-in-law. Not the same dynamic at all.

Even the creator and star of Fawlty Towers himself, John Cleese, noted that a female Basil defeated the entire purpose of the series. Here's what Cleese had to say in an interview with Digital Spy: "I remember at a party I met these chaps from Viacom, who said they were working on a new Fawlty Towers. My ears pricked up at the sound of cash registers and said, 'That's wonderful, are you going to change anything?'. They said, 'Well we have changed one thing, we've written Basil out'. And that's absolutely true, they took Basil and Sybil's lines and gave them all to Bea Arthur. I always thought Peter Boyle could have played Basil well, but sadly he is no longer with us."

Someone has recently uploaded what looks like every episode of Amanda's on You Tube, here's the pilot episode - note how similar the set is to Fawlty Towers, there are similarities in the script as well.

The whole thing comes off like Maude in a hotel. That episode had some great guest stars including David Hedison (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea) and Michael Constantine (Room 222).

Amanda's wasn't the first time ABC tried remaking Fawlty Towers. There was a even worse attempt in 1978, a pilot called Snavely starring Harvey Korman with Betty White as his wife. I remember watching it, the production was truly awful, the writers and stars just didn't get the premise - or something. ABC had lured Korman away from The Carol Burnett Show in 1977 with the promise of a hit sitcom but audiences weren't interested in seeing the comic playing the same character week after week. When The Harvey Korman Show bombed in 1978 and Snavely fizzled, his sitcom career was still-born, despite a few more lackluster attempts.

Believe it or don't, Amanda's wasn't the last remake of Fawlty Towers, Payne starring John Larouquette & JoBeth Williams came and went after 8 episodes on NBC in 1999.

Don't mention the war.

Sha Na Na & 1950s Doo Wop


I freakin' hated the Sha Na Na syndicated series (1977-1981) that was on weekdays in the early evenings, I think it was the overbearing fake laugh track that bugged me most, that and the over acting. It seemed at a glance to be too contrived so I never gave it a chance. Fifties music wasn't real high on my Hit Parade either, they didn't call me 'Disco Billy' for nothing.

I realize now that, like Hee Haw, another show I rejected from the outset, Sha Na Na hosted an amazing array of musical guest stars, especially singers from the neglected era of fifties Pop and Doo Wop. Thankfully the shows look like they exist somewhere, clips are on You Tube.

WIKI: The members of Sha Na Na during the TV series were Jon 'Bowzer' Bauman (vocals), Lennie Baker (sax), Johnny Contardo(vocals), Frederick 'Dennis' Greene (vocals), 'Dirty Dan' McBride (guitar) (left after third season), John 'Jocko' Marcellino (drums), Dave 'Chico' Ryan (bass), 'Screamin' Scott Simon' (piano), Scott 'Santini' Powell (vocals), Donald 'Donny' York (vocals).

Here are some examples of the great retro-tunes the series had to offer. An incredibly versatile group, each member could sing lead vocals and bring on a different feeling. Here is the guy in the gold lame, Johnny Contardo, performing a rousing, 'Just Like Romeo and Juliet'.

Teresa Brewer singing 'New Orleans'.

Sha Na Na fed off of the fifties nostalgia that got underway after the phenomenal success of Happy Days, an extension of the 1940s nostalgia boom earlier in the decade. A lot of moribund careers heated up suddenly, much to the delight of stars like Soupy Sales (a regular on the show), Chubby Checkers, Teresa Brewer and Little Richard.

Besides the stellar guest stars the group members themselves were pretty darn fine. They'd been entertaining audiences for years before the TV series, Sha Na Na opened for The Grateful Dead and played Woodstock. They had a way of making the material sound fresh, unlike, say, Lawrence Welk who seemed to sap the life out of any musical number.

Sha Na Na was the most watched syndicated program in the late 1970s.

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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Few Netflix Suggestions: 1930s, 1940s, 1960s Stuff

I'm always looking for Netflix suggestions so here are some from me to you  -  if you're looking for something older:

Sudden Fear - rousing Film Noir starring Joan Crawford as an innocent, wronged woman and Jack Palance as the guy who's out for her money. Holds up very well.

Movies on DVD The Great Lie - Bette Davis gets her man at any cost. Builds to a tense conclusion, then suddenly ends in the most preposterous way. Hattie McDaniel has a nice role in this one as well. This DVD is cool because it has a 'Warners Night At The Movies' feature which simulates a night at the movies with shorts, cartoons and previews. Makes for a great rainy night at home.

Looking for something campy? The Star with Bette Davis as a washed up Hollywood actress is wonderful, until the lousy ending anyway. Lots of great scenes like Bette getting drunk and taking her Oscar on a ride through Tinseltown. Many thought Davis herself was over when she made this picture.

Ocean's Eleven - the original, Rat Pack version is silky smooth and so lightweight it fairly floats above the screen. I miss the old Las Vegas, seen here in all it's glory. A commentary track by Frank Sinatra, Jr. gives this DVD an extra jump.

Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! - super-silly Bob Hope and Phyllis Diller comedy that's good for a few corny laughs. Boy, those jokes got old fast. Just close your eyes and remember when they were new, they sure weren't when this picture was made. A truly awful film but I find it irresistible as an example of what a great number of people went to the theaters to see in the mid-1960s.

Dick Cavett Show: Hollywood Greats - interviews with Bette Davis, Orson Welles, Robert Mitchum, Alfred Hitchcock and others. More please!

Air Raid Wardens / Nothing But Trouble - not Laurel & Hardy's best but pretty darn funny.

Laurel & Hardy: Way Out West / Block-Heads - oh, these ARE two of Laurel & Hardy's best.

I'm No Angel - arguably the best of the Mae West comedies, still unbelievably funny today.

The Old Fashioned Way - my favorite W.C. Fields movie.

The Honeymooners
The Color Honeymooners: Collection 1 - classic Honeymooners routines stretched to an hour with added musical numbers. I loved it, how can you go wrong with Art Carney and Jackie Gleason in their classic roles? Collections 2 & 3 are better than 1 which mostly concerns a trip to Europe that gets pretty outlandish and boring at times. If you enjoy the original Honeymooners this is a wonderful re-imagining of that, with scenes and storylines lifted from earlier episodes and expanded on.

The In-Laws - one of my favorite films of all time, Alan Arkin & Peter Falk were never funnier. I can watch it anytime.

A couple of months ago, Vanity Fair published a cool article on Film Noir. That got my curiosity piqued and I've been Netflixing noir movies ever since.

One I dropped into the player recently was Angel Face starring genre icon Robert Mitchum. Great movie! As I'm wont to do, right after I watch a fab film I flip to the commentary track and view it all over again. I was surprised to find this DVD has one of the best commentary tracks I've heard anywhere. It's narrated by Eddie Muller and full of fascinating stories about Howard Hughes, director Otto Preminger and stars Mitchum and Jean Simmons.

Muller wrote three books considered definitive on Film Noir and apparently carries the nickname "The Czar of Noir." He also wrote that new book on Tab Hunter I've been wanting to read.
A great mix of behind the scenes stories, filmmaking tips and personal asides.

I Was a Dancing Cigarette Pack on TV in the 50s!

TV Blog / Fred Allen TV Shows in the 1950s
Cigarette makers were the sponsors of some of the biggest shows on TV in the early days, they liked having a close association with America's favorite new pastime. A list of the craziest cigarette commercials of all time would surely include this iconic creation, the Old Gold dancing cigarette pack of the early 1950s.

Old Gold cigarettesIt was one of TV's first sensations, this oversized cigarette pack with the lovely legs dancing aimlessly around in front of a curtain while an announcer promised a taste, "made by tobacco men, not medicine men."

Because if you're going to ingest something into your lungs, better it was sanctioned by a North Carolina dirt scratcher than some high falutin' doctor, right?

Jeanne Snow tells us about being a dancing cigarette pack on TV:
"My dancing career is so long behind me but the Old Gold commercial keeps coming up in current TV. I was one of the cigarette packs (with Gloria Vestoff who probably replaced Dixie Dunbar) on Stop the Music with Bert Parks in 1950 & 51 - under my maiden name Jeanne Jones (sometimes Jeannie). Harry Salter was the conductor, Jimmy Nygren the choreographer. Other dancers were Louise Ferrand, Bruce Cartwright and Tom Hansen.

"Incidentally, we were NEVER called the Dancing Butts & in my tenure, there was no longer a match box."

Because you've been good... here are more classic 1950s commercials:

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Legendary Classic TV Beauty Francine York!

Francine York Interview

Francine York
If you grew up on a steady diet of classic TV shows like I did (and generations afterward grew up on these shows too) you'll recognize Francine York from roles on 'Bewitched' (where she played Venus come to life), 'I Dream of Jeannie', 'Slattery's People', 'The Streets of San Francisco', 'Columbo', 'Love American Style', 'Mannix', 'The Courtship of Eddie's Father', 'The FBI', 'Gomer Pyle USMC', and so many more.

Tall, statuesque, well-endowed brunette (later blonde) Francine York also played villains on 'Batman', 'Wild Wild West' and 'Lost in Space' where she went toe to toe with master scene stealer Jonathan Harris in a second season episode entitled "The Colonist" where, as Dr. Smith, he literally chewed the scenery.

More recently she played a British Soap Opera star on 'Hot in Cleveland' (in 'real life' Francine was a regular on 'Days of our Lives' and 'General Hospital') and 'Bucket and Skinner's Epic Adventures' as Aunt Bitsy.

Francine shares stories from her storied career and her memorable roles on the greatest TV shows of all time.


How Native Americans Were Portrayed in the Comics in the 1970s


& How Native Americans Were Portrayed in the Comics in the 1970s

Firehair comics
If I found myself stranded on that proverbial desert island and all I could take with me were a few of the comic books I grew up reading, I think I'd grab Joe Kubert's Firehair.

Firehair debuted in Showcase #85 and ran for three issues of that title, putting them on sale during the summer months of 1969. Showcase was a proving ground for concepts - The Flash, The Atom, Green Lantern and other DC stalwarts got their start in Showcase. If a feature did well there a place on the schedule was warranted. A good percentage of Showcase concepts resulted in short run series like Inferior 5 and Metamorpho.

Both written and drawn by Joe Kubert, Firehair was a well-crafted graphic adventure with a true Southwestern feeling - the use of a grease pencil to create dramatic effects, decorative borders resembling primitive drawings, even the color and shading was more subtle than you would find in a typical DC or Marvel comic.

Joe Jubert's FirehairThis was the story of a white child who survives an Indian massacre of settlers and is taken to be raised by the Blackfoot Chief as his own son. Racial tensions and cultural divisiveness served as the catalyst in these stories as Firehair discovers he is seen as neither white nor red, truly accepted by no one except the man who 'adopted' him.

The stories were rooted in American Indian folklore, a subject virtually unexplored in comics in any serious manner. Kubert's wife Muriel was of Native American descent and that no doubt served as inspiration.

The storylines were direct and confrontational - in one Firehair must prove his mettle by running the gauntlet to save a hateful white man; in another he questions ancient Indian superstitions and further alienates himself.


Camp Runamuck

Camp Runamuck TV showCamp Runamuck

One of a handful of short lived mid-1960's sitcoms that are considered classics - a favorite with the kids that failed to pull in enough adult viewers to stay afloat.

Camp Runamuck starred sitcom stalwarts Dave Ketchum, Arch Johnson, Leonard Stone, and Dave Madden as camp counselors who find themselves besieged by the boy campers they're in charge of and overwhelmed by the girl's camp (Camp Divine) across the lake. Most episodes revolved around some kind of a competition or conflict between the two sides.

The show was in color, about half the programs in primetime were color in 1965 - a year later all of them were.

Camp Runamuck kicked off NBC's Fall 1965 Friday night lineup that included Hank, Convoy, Mr. Roberts, and Man From U.N.C.L.E. It may have been a fantastic evening of TV but, when the dust settled, only U.N.C.L.E. returned in 1966.

This series lasted only one season and got little or no play in syndication so, sadly, there are no plans presently to release this show on DVD.

Camp Runamuck
Dave Ketchum in Camp Runamuck

Bob Marley & The Wailers TV Debut

As far as I know this was the American TV debut of Bob Marley & The Wailers with "Kinky Reggae".

Bob Marley & The Wailers made a rare American television appearance in the most odd place, The Manhattan Transfer Show, a 1975 four week summer variety show replacement for Cher. The Wailers funky grooves were a hot refreshment for music parched souls in 1975 (and the Manhattan Transfer show overall was pretty cool as well, it's on You Tube). This is 5 minutes of pure bliss:

The original Bob Marley & The Wailers broke up in 1974 with each of the three main members pursuing solo careers, this number is a rare opportunity to see the newly composed Wailers at their peak, before the hit with "No Woman, No Cry" and the troubles that followed a couple of years later.

Miss Barbara : Romper Room in Cleveland

Romper Room - Cleveland Ohio
Romper Room in Cleveland

Captain Penny (Ron Penfound) with longtime beloved
Cleveland Romper Room Teacher Barbara Plummer.

From 1958 - 1971 WEWS Cleveland, OH featured Miss Barbara Plummer as their Romper Room Lady.

A few grown adults have written to TVparty to tell us they were traumatized as children by the Magic Mirror on Romper Room either disappointed that their name was never called or appalled that this woman could see into their living rooms!

For LOTS more on Romper Room go to TVparty!

G.L.O.W. - the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling!

Who could ever forget that 1980s phenomenon -  G.L.O.W. aka the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.

Gorgeous Ladies of wrestling Shot at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas, this hour-long 1986 show was extremely popular in urban areas, airing on the weekends. Outlandish women wrestlers would go at it in the same fashion as those trashy mud wrestlers from the Hollywood strip clubs. In fact, many of the 'Ladies' in the ring were current or former LA strippers and mud wrestlers.

If you wanted a production to be as demeaning to women as possible you couldn't go any further; some sociologists might correlate the growing rate of women in the workplace and the high ratings for this type of entertainment but we'll leave that to them..

All the contestants had their one-dimensional schtick with names like The Soul Patrol, Debbie Debutante, Heavy Metal, Palestina, The Housewives, Suzy Spirit, Jungle Woman and Spanish Red. They played these broad, stereotypical roles to the hilt but the main attraction was the preponderance of bronzed legs, nearly naked butts in the air with scantily clad women lying on top of one another. There was no internet porn then!

G.L.O.W. was one of the hottest syndication properties in the 1980s even if it was widely slammed by those critics who always howl at low brow entertainment.

Fans really looked forward to the yearly Battle Royale where 21 girls would converge on the mat for an old-fashioned free for all.

G.L.O.W. Johnny Cafarella tells us; "GLOW is not defunct. "GLOW Entertainment is not in any way associated with David McLane - he sold his interest in GLOW to the Riviera Hotel back in 1987. I hosted the program from 1987-1992. Our group, GLOW Entertainment, purchased the property from the Riviera in June, 2001."

A documentary film entitled GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling was completed in late 2011.

Dark Shadows Novels of the 1970s

1970s Dark Shadows novels

Secret of Barnabas Collins / Dark Shadows Novels of the 1970sDark Shadows wasn't broadcast in my TV market, not until 6 months before the show ended. I discovered the spooky soap in 1968 while twisting the dial on summer vacation in Wilmington, NC where Dark Shadows aired weekday afternoons. I was mesmerized by Barnabas, Julia Hoffman and that creepy kid David Collins who had some kind of demonic possession going on.

Returning home with the knowledge that this cool show existed, I was able to barely tune Dark Shadows in the next Monday at 3:30 from a station 2 hours away. Somehow, through the black-and-white snow and sound distortions, I was able to keep up with the Collins family until next summer's vacation would allow for a decent viewing of the coffin.

That's how I ended up one of the millions of kids frantically racing home from the school bus attempting to catch the last ten minutes or so of the show on the one portable TV set in our home that was able to receive that faraway channel.

There was another source of Dark Shadows entertainment that I latched onto around the same time, the novels by romance writer Marilyn Ross (actually a pen name for Dan Ross). They began publication in December of 1966 as typical gothic romance stories, more or less along the lines of the soap. In the books and the TV series (pre-Barnabas) governess Victoria Winters travels to a mysterious Maine mansion by the cliffs where secrets, betrayal, insanity and intrigue are offered in lieu of a decent paycheck.

In November of 1968 Barnabas Collins finally got his own euphoniously titled novel. Six more followed the next year with the vampire now at the center of the plots. The Secret of Barnabas Collins, The Demon of Barnabas Collins, The Foe of Barnabas Collins all featured storylines that would feel familiar to viewers with the witch Angelique, Josette Collins, Chris Jennings and other familiar characters playing key roles.


The Animated Star Trek

Star Trek cartoonUnable to get a network series off the ground after Star Trek was cancelled in 1969, Gene Roddenberry was coming off a losing losing streak when, in the summer of 1973, he got a strong pilot commitment from CBS for Genesis II and a pick-up on NBC, an animated version of Star Trek for Saturday mornings.

The Saturday morning version of Star Trek was, in many ways, more enjoyable than the first Trek series, aliens were more believable when everyone was a cartoon and scripts could be written without regard to budget (at least in some respects).

Almost the entire original cast returned for this new production. The series was headed by D.C. Fontana, Star Trek's story editor and script supervisor, and many of the original script writers returned.

The first episode was written by Samuel A. Peeples, who wrote the second pilot for the original live-action series. Several plotlines were continued over from the original series, including the return of Harry Mudd and those troublesome Tribbles in an episode by the original script-writer David Gerrold.

'The Slaver Weapon' was written by Larry Niven, an adaptation of his short story 'The Soft Weapon'. Science fiction on TV written by top sci-fi writers? That's one reason the animated Star Trek was such a blast. This enjoyable episode utilized Spock, Uhura and Sulu.

Neither Nichelle Nichols nor George Takei were slated to participate at first but when Leonard Nimoy heard their characters were being used (with voices by Majel Barrett and James Doohan) he threatened to quit unless the supporting players were also hired.

Ensign Chekov was cut for budget reasons but Walter Koenig was given the opportunity to write one of the episodes, 'The Infinite Vulcan'.

The rendering was crude and movement was limited, but leaps ahead of what Filmation was churning out with their highly popular Archies and DC Comics series. So what if there were endless stretches of ships floating in space, this was the closest thing to intelligent fantasy we had in the early seventies.

The animated Star Trek cost quite a bit more than other Saturday morning shows, so NBC ordered only sixteen episodes for the first season which won the Emmy in 1974 as "Outstanding Children’s Series." That year there was a flood of prime-time shows converted to cartoon format starring the original cast members on Saturday mornings, a trend that would continue for years.

Star Trek was renewed for a second season but only six new episodes were ordered.

Watch D. C, Fontana interviewed about the Animated Star Trek:

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Summer of Sonny & Cher

There have been very few summer sensations on television, after all it's an ebb period of viewing with people otherwise busy having fun elsewhere. One series that ignited with the public during the hot months of 1971 was The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour.

All you need to know about why the show was a hit is in the opening 10 minutes of the first episode (a bad copy here from You Tube but it has never been released on DVD).

With a sassy routine they developed in nightclubs, suddenly two forgotten 1960s pop stars were the biggest thing on television. When the variety hour returned in 1972 ratings rose higher, remaining in the top ten until Sonny & Cher divorced in 1974.

I've never seen outtakes from the Sonny & Cher shows so this is a rarity, often times mistakes would be kept in the final tape to give the feeling of spontaneity. Like this example that starts after the song at 2:10 - producers ended up using this seemingly unusable flub on the show.

During the run of the two Sonny & Cher TV series Sonny Bono was popping pills that tended to make him giddy and confused, it was part of his charm for me. Notice how Cher covered her mouth when she laughed - she was a very self-concious about her crooked teeth, she had them fixed before going into the movies. Cher was really a good sport while Sonny dissembles here, after all she was married to another man (Greg Allman) by that point.

More Las Vegas Legends!

Biggest Queen Ever!

Some of the comic actors I love best are ones that chew the scenery and the guy who gets my vote for the biggest, gayest performances is England's Kenneth Williams who co-starred in dozens of the Carry On movies. From 1958–1978 sexual innuendo and juvenile humor were gleefully embraced by this gayer-than-gay performer.

This cheapo motion picture series was immensely popular with 2 or 3 being released a year, all starring the same core cast in a new setting - some of the best in the series include Carry On Camping (the gang goes camping), Carry On Nurse (the gang in a hospital setting), and Carry On Teacher (you get the idea). The entire esemble was wonderous, each in their own way, but Kenneth Williams takes the cake with his flamboyant, obliviously closeted homosexual roles.

From a chat show, here's how witty the comic was without a script:

Kenneth Williams passed away in 1988. Here's more on the tragic funnyman from a documentary about the Carry On series.