Friday, November 22, 2013

Remarkable 1960s Live Shari Lewis Christmas Specials

A Shari Lewis Christmas on DVD
In the early sixties Shari Lewis and her troupe produced some wonderful musical Christmas shows, broadcast live! Fortunately they were preserved on film and we can enjoy them today, I discovered them on DVD.

Particularly entertaining are the 1960 and 1961 productions. Shari's singing is melodic and lovely, the perfect pitch for the holidays. The tunes, a mix of original and classic carols, are delightful and instantly hum-able. The hostess has a way of making each melody her own with a sparkling presence lighting up the tiny black and white screens across New York.

Shari's ability to bring her many puppet personas to life is amazing to behold, jumping effortlessly from one character to another in rapid succession. She even sings in three distinct voices and makes it believable. What a remarkable entertainer.

In the 1960 half-hour holiday program Shari and her friend Jump Pup the dancing canine (actually Jackie Warner in a dog suit) trim the Christmas tree with jolly musical accompaniment before joining Lamb Chop, Hush Puppy and Charlie Horse on a shopping trip. When Lamb Chop and Charlie join Shari for 'Jingle Bells' it's pure magic.

In the 1961 celebration Shari and her pals prepare to go caroling but Charlie hasn't caught the Christmas spirit. Tony Award nominee Ronald Radd as Mr. Goodfellow joins Shari to perform a thoroughly delightful original tune, 'How Can I Be A Santa Claus?' - it's a real showstopper, a tune I'm going to want to hear every Christmastime from now on.

Produced on a tiny 1960's daytime TV budget meant everything was dependent on Shari's ability to bring her fanciful characterizations to life... and she more than rises to the task, glittering like a monochromatic jewel atop the tree.

These shows aren't on You Tube but they and another 1963 Christmas broadcast are available on DVD.

Here's a clip from the same era.
 More CHRISTMAS PAST at TVparty!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Timelapse : Behind The Scenes at The Price Is Right

(Not Drew Carey but the first Male model on TPIR)

Drew Carey shared a behind-the-scenes montage showing what happens backstage while the technicians and stagehands make for a seamless television experience.

Remember 'Psychic' Sylvia Browne?

Montel Williams is a strange bird. Education activist André-Tascha Lammé took the former talk show host to the digital woodshed for fronting those dreadful commercials for predatory Pay Day Loans. Montel fired back with a response that could be politely called clueless or at worst whorish: "a 14 day loan has an ANNUAL percentage rate? Maybe get a grip on reality."

Considering Montel presided over a daily talk show that often raised important issues, critical subject matter that most daytime programs shied away from, many of his faithful viewers might now wonder why he would trade credibility for cash. Illness most likely has a lot to do with it, he has multiple sclerosis and it's a living. 

But after MoneyMutual paid a $2.1 million fine in March 2015 and agreed to quit the business in New York state because of, "sky-high interest rates — sometimes in excess of 1,300 percent," Montel withdrew his endorsement and will no longer do the commercials. Still...

Despite the good he's done Montel has a long history of facilitating fraudsters, providing a forum for the most transparent hucksters and there's no better example than 'psychic' Sylvia Browne.

I know one shouldn't speak ill of the dead but I wrote this before Sylvia Browne, the phony psychic that often appeared on Montel William's daytime talk show, passed away on November 20th 2013:

For a year or two I got bored listening to college radio and turned on afternoon TV shows to keep me company while I worked. 'Montel', 'Maury', 'Judge Judy', that kind of thing. The television was behind me so I wasn't really watching, except when Maury got the tests back or revealed his undercover backstage stings on cheating husbands. I loved being emotionally exploited that way. Otherwise the TV was just background noise.

But those times when 'psychic' Sylvia Browne appeared on 'The Montel Williams Show' I'd find myself staring at the set in disbelief. She was so transparently phony I couldn't believe any credible person would lower himself to play along but Montel did so with tremendous enthusiasm. (In all fairness he did produce some important hours on controversial subjects that other talk shows were ignoring, not that I can remember any, but still).

This misshapen mystic's bona fides largely (totally) stemmed from having assisted law enforcement agencies around the country in finding numerous missing children... but the evidence behind those claims turned out to be vaporous. Almost two decades ago the magazine 'Brill's Content' looked into Sylvia Brown's dubious assertions and discovered, in the 115 cases they examined, Browne was not right even once—and was flat-out wrong 25 times. “In twenty-one [cases], the details were too vague to be verified. Of the remaining fourteen, law-enforcement officials or family members involved in the investigations say that Browne had played no useful role.”

Her main schtick on 'Montel' was answering audience members' questions about what the future held for them personally. She did so in the most optimistic way possible... yes, you'll get that new job or raise. Yes, you'll meet a man with dark hair in September. Yes, you'll have a baby next year, a boy (the studio audience would always squeal over these revelations). It takes her not a moment of pause to make these proclamations with a certainty she maintained came from God himself. Can't argue with that.

More disturbing were her pronouncements to distraught family members about missing loved ones, like this appalling - but telling - example:

Browne would also be asked by the host about any premonitions she had concerning stories in the news. When she wasn't stating the obvious, her prognostications were ludicrously off-base. During the Sago Mining disaster Browne was confident that the miners were still alive... they were actually dead. She predicted society would "say goodbye" to the common cold in 2009 or 2010, "a small cubicle will become available in doctor's offices sometime in 2009 and it will be heated to a very precise temperature. There may be a special vapor placed into the cubicle. Patients will stand in the cubicle for approximately five minutes and the rhinitis germ will be destroyed." I must have missed all that, then again I was busy...

In 2006 she really went out on a limb, “Aliens will begin to show themselves in the year 2010, they will not harm us, they simply want to see what we are doing to this planet. They will teach us how to use anti-gravity devices again, such as they did for the pyramids." Why couldn't she have been right that time?

Predicting that Obama would not be re-elected, then taking it back when the election was weeks away, is all in good fun but, at least once or twice every time she was on with Montel, Sylvia Browne would be confronted with the emotionally raw parents of a missing young person and tell them, without the least doubt or hesitation, that their child was dead in a ditch somewhere.

In 2004, on 'The Montel Williams Show', she matter-of-factly told the distraught mother of Amanda Berry, one of the kidnapped Cleveland three, that her daughter was "not alive, honey," delivering the news like she was in a greasy diner ordering a cup of coffee.

Amanda Berry's mother went to her grave a little over year later "devastated", convinced her child had passed. In 2003, Browne told the parents of missing teen Shawn Hornbeck their son's remains would be found near, "two jagged boulders"; he turned up alive 4 years later. This ghoulish fortuneteller 'earned' her living this way, both on TV and in $800 private sessions.

She said all this with a thick veneer of sanctimonious self-righteousness. No wonder, if her marks had known that she was convicted in 1992 of investment fraud and grand theft they might not have taken her so seriously.

It's a decade too late but Sylvia Browne is finally being hoisted on her own petard in the social media public square where, if history is any guide, she'll be burned at the stake for the witch she is. For the moment she's pointing her broomstick towards the lights and cameras as is her wont, releasing a statement with that always-in-style, catch-all mea culpa that only God is right all the time. Given that God was her stated source, she offered no explanation as to why He, and by extension she, wasn't always correct. That's the back-pedaling of a carnival faker... when cornered, blame it on the guy who isn't speaking to anyone right now

Montel Williams is hawking radioactive products on TV? My only question... what was he pocketing for promoting Sylvia Browne's naked scam?

Pufnstuf and Land of the Lost Join Me-TV After Thanksgiving

Classic TV network Me-TV will be rerunning Sid & Marty Krofft’s ‘H.R. Pufnstuf’ and ‘Land of the Lost’ with two specials over the holidays airing November 29 and Christmas Day. After that, both shows will have a regular Saturday morning spot on the network schedule beginning at the end of the year.

    Here are the deets from the press release:

The Me-TV Network is bringing Sid & Marty Krofft’s popular series ‘H.R. Pufnstuf’ and ‘Land of the Lost’ to classic TV fans starting Friday, November 29 at 8 PM/7 C followed by a second special on Christmas Day, Wednesday, December 25.

After the holidays, relive the magical mornings of the late '60s and early '70s each weekend. Both ‘H.R. Pufnstuf’ and ‘Land of the Lost’ will be added to Me-TV’s Saturday morning line-up beginning December 28 at 7 AM/6 C. ‘H.R. Pufnstuf,’ kicks off the weekly line-up followed by ‘Land of the Lost’ at 7:30 AM/6:30 C.

In November, the first two episodes in the series ‘H.R. Pufnstuf’ will kick off the special, followed by the first two episodes of ‘Land of the Lost.’
November 29, 8 PM: H.R. Pufnstuf – ‘The Magic Path’
November 29, 8:30 PM: H.R. Pufnstuf – ‘The Wheely Bird’
November 29, 9 PM: Land of the Lost – ‘Chaka’
November 29, 9:30 PM: Land of the Lost – ‘The Sleestak God’
*All times Eastern

On Christmas morning the magic continues with the ‘Sid & Marty Krofft & Me’ special which will air on Wednesday, December 25 beginning at 5AM/4 C.
‘H.R. Pufnstuf’ and ‘Land of the Lost,’ created in 1969 and 1974 respectively, are a pair of kids’ television programs created by Sid and Marty Krofft. The duo’s work is known for its vivid and colorful variety format and eclectic style.

"I love watching Me-TV, so I’m looking forward to bringing ‘H.R. Pufnstuf’ and ‘Land of the Lost’ to this great network!" said Marty Krofft, series co-creator.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Warner Bros. Makes a Move on Nightwing... for Batman vs Superman?

Warner Bros., the Borg that swallowed DC Comics, has trademarked the name "Nightwing," their Dick Grayson / Robin alter ego - thinking is the character could feature prominently in the upcoming Batman vs. Superman movie.

Wait... I thought Nightwing (Superman) was the sidekick to Flamebird (Jimmy Olsen) fighting crime in the shrunken city of Kandor? I guess I need to get caught up.

24 Returns To Fox May 5, 2014

It's all hands on deck when 24 gets rebooted on May 5th - but only for a half day's work this time, 12 hours - for '24: Live Another Day' now filming in London.

Back from the original series are Kiefer Sutherland, Mary Lynn Rajskub (Cloe O'Brian), Kim Raver (Audrey Raines), and William Devane (James Heller); Howard Gordon returns as executive producer along with with veteran director Jon Cassar.

The plot revolves around a Julian Assange-type hacker (played by Michael Wincott) that will undoubtedly cause Jack a digital headache or two - especially now that he and Cloe are on opposite sides.

Hey, is it too much to ask to have a season without a mole at CTU and a crooked President?

WARNING: Lame teaser trailer...

How the Media Covered the Kennedy Assassination with the Author of a New Book "Three Shots Were Fired"

Mitchell Hadley at It's All About TV! recently interviewed Marc Ryan, the son of NBC newsman Bill Ryan and the author of a new book, "Three Shots Were Fired," that discusses television coverage of the assassination of JFK and its aftermath.  Although the clips of the TV coverage are everywhere, Ryan's book offers a behind the scenes look - his father was a CBS correspondent covering the story live.

Some highlights:

Marc Ryan: For the baby boomers, it is OUR first historical tragedy/news event. It’s not from history books; you felt a connection via TV.  A large part of that is due to JFK’s appeal. He was so good on TV, he engaged young people (with the Peace Corps and more) in a way Truman or Eisenhower did, even if they couldn’t vote. (I should copyright this phrase:) JFK and Jackie were the first President and First Lady who didn’t look like Grandma and Grandpa.

MH: Did the networks overdo it with their coverage?  Former President Eisenhower, for example, thought that continuing with regular programming – minus commercials – and providing regular hourly updates might have been sufficient.

MR: There’s an unspoken reality when a big story breaks, it’s “all hands on deck” and you stay with it.  There was no other way for TV to do the story. To have an hour network special and cut away for Twilight Zone or Burke’s Law would have been awful. Keep in mind, on that Friday night for instance, each network had symphony orchestras play to honor JFK and, to give newscasters a rest and ready more coverage. When any of them went to music, people changed the channel. They wanted information.

Read the rest of this timely interview concerning the media coverage surrounding the death of President Kennedy.

Dante's Inferno : Star Hurls Racial Slurs Like Beads at Mardi Gras

Today's career suicide is brought to you by Peter Dante, who had a supporting role in most of Adam Sandler's movies. He was thrown out of a Santa Monica Hotel last week for hurling racial slurs at a member of the staff (who Dante later referred to as "an Uncle Tom"), "N**ga do you know who I am? I'm a black belt and you're a black person, I will f*ck you up."

 If that line had been in an Adam Sandler movie it would be the funniest ever written for him.

 And there's this when he spotted a worker on the street, "Hey Mexican, this is Santa Monica, do you know where you are? We don't need you." Hey Peter, news flash... Mexicans were there first. 

When TMX confronted him on the street he freely admitted on camera to throwing around the N-Bomb, after all his 'black friends' like NBA star Marcus Camby have no beefs with it. I'll bet by the end of the day we'll find out just how cool Marcus Camby thinks it is, "Homeboy."

The TMZ reporter stated that Dante threatened to, "have Suge Knight, Busta Rhymes and Adam Sandler come to my house and 'f*ck me up." But really, Dante isn't a hateful person because according to him, "[TMZ founder] Harvey Levin? You can suck my d*ck too, you f**got."

Congratulations Peter Dante, you've humiliated yourself worse than being in an Adam Sandler movie! No easy feat...

Monday, November 18, 2013

Winky Dink : 1950s Idea of Interactive TV

Winky Dink TV Show

A reader writes: "Winky Dink and You was a favorite of kids everywhere, a show that was first broadcast in the Fifties but I've met other people who remember it being on in the early Sixties. With the recent return of the character, suddenly everyone wants to know - who (or what) was Winky-Dink?"

Winky-Dink and You originally ran at 10:00am Saturday mornings from October 10, 1953 until April 27, 1957 on the CBS network. Joining host Jack Barry was Dayton Allen (from 'Howdy-Doody', later the voice of Fearless Fly) as Mr. Bungle, the assistant that never gets anything right.

The voice of Winky-Dink was Mae Questel, who also voiced "Betty Boop" after Helen Kane. A veteran of many films, radio and television shows, she is probably best known as "Miss Blue Bell" in those 70's paper towel commercials and as the old grandmother in 'National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation'. Mae Questel passed away in 1998.

Broadcast in glorious black and white, the program featured the adventures of a star-headed cartoon lad named Winky-Dink and his dog Woofer - interspersed with the in-studio antics of a host and an audience of kids.

Winky Dink kitThe gimmick here was that the boys and girls at home were asked to help Winky-Dink out of a jam by drawing whatever Winky needed (rope, ladder, bridge, etc.) on the TV screen. This was done with the aid of a Winky-Dink Kit which was sold by mail for fifty cents. "We sold millions of those kits" the show's host Jack Barry commented, "It was well thought out."

Kids placed clear piece of plastic that came in the kit over the television screen and connect the dots to create a bridge for Winky Dink to cross to safety, then trace letters at the bottom of the screen to read the secret messages broadcast at the end of the show. Which kinda sorta (but not really) made Winky-Dink the world's first interactive video game.

(Including the flop 1970s revival)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

John Stanley's Comic Monsterpiece

Sugar & Spike comics By the time I quit collecting comics in 1977 I had practically every Marvel & DC superhero comic from 1965-1975 along with a bunch of other publishers. I wasn't a fan of the humor books but I did enjoy Sheldon Mayer's Sugar and Spike, it was in a league of its own.

But there was a humor comic I bought one time only that I thought was hilarious and clever - but I never saw another issue. I couldn't exactly remember the title, I knew it was about a monster and that the name Stanley had something to do with it. I would occasionally purchase a copy of DC's Stanley & His Monster hoping to find what I was looking for but that clearly wasn't it.

I came to learn decades later that it was Dell Comics' Melvin Monster that I had been searching for. Melvin the Monster
Melvin Monster #8 - 1967

Melvin Monster, written and drawn by John Stanley, ran for 10 issues from 1965 - 1969 (the last issue was a reprint of #1). 10 issues in 4 years is a spotty run for a comic book, it's no wonder I never ran into another issue. There was a 2 year gap between the series ending in 1967 (the comic I bought) and the #10 reprint.

Little Lulu comicsStanley was best known for his Little LuLu comics that began in the 1940s; they are also a delight and are reprinted in paperbacks for your modern reading pleasure. Stanley wrote and drew the early issues and later wrote the fanciful stories for Irving Tripp to illustrate throughout the 1950s while continuing to draw the covers himself. Stanley also wrote and drew many of the classic Nancy & Sluggo comic books although he didn't do the lame newspaper comic strip.

Some artists do their best work in later years, I think that was the case with John Stanley.

melvin monster comics from Dell comics
Melvin Monster #3 - 1965

Melvin Monster comic book #10
Melvin Monster #10 - 1969 / (Same cover as #1)

The Cold, Ironic Death of Redd Foxx

Redd Foxx / Death of Redd Foxx Part Three

To bust up NBC's winning schedule, ABC paid Redd Foxx a small fortune to executive produce and star in his own hour-long variety show for fall of 1977. This effectively cancelled the network's highest rated comedy, Sanford & Son, although the NBC gave it a try without the show's two stars. Sanford Arms became the first casualty of the '77 fall season. (More on Redd Foxx)

By 1989 Redd Foxx was in bankruptcy following a string of failures both on screen and off, including a revival (kinda sorta) of Sanford & Son that bombed. The IRS had seized all of his possesions for unpaid back taxes. What happened to all the money Foxx made from TV and headlining in Vegas? Mostly it went up his nose. The comic made no secret of his love of cocaine, wearing a gold coke spoon around his neck and openly doing drugs on the set.

Three divorces and an extravagant lifestyle left him with few assets. "I was treated like I wasn't human" the comedian lamented to the press after the IRS seizure.

In the nineties, it looked like Redd's luck had turned around. Eddie Murphy cast him 'Harlem Nights' in 1988 - though the film was a relative flop supporting players Redd Foxx and Della Reese stole the film. This lead to a new TV series in 1991, 'The Royal Family' co-starring Redd and Della, produced by Eddie Murphy.

Royal FamilyRedd and Della had known each other for twenty years, they had worked together in Vegas and on television (including an episode of 'Sanford and Son'). Ratings were respectable for 'The Royal Family' and getting better each week but Foxx was still bitter.

Asked by Ebony magazine what his thoughts were about returning to television he said: "The IRS will come in and take the money anyway, and have me living like a bum. Whatever comes out of it, comes out. I'm so disillusioned about the last one that I don't have any thoughts really."

Ironically, 'The Royal Family' was not the first title for the show. "They had an idea called Chest Pains", Redd Foxx told a reporter, "But that sounded too much like Fred Sanford." It was a sadly prophetic title.

Just a month after the first episode aired on October 11, 1991, Redd Foxx suffered a massive heart attack during rehearsals. At first the cast and crew laughed, they thought he was joking around, doing his "I'm coming Elizabeth" shtick.

It slowly became horrifyingly apparent that this was no joke, still no one on the set was willing to immediately help the comedian as he lay dying. No crew member wanted to risk his job and be known as the person who injured the star of the show.

Della Reese tells the shocking story of what happened next, it will turn your stomach...

Redd Foxx as Fred Sanford The future star of CBS's 'Touched by an Angel 'Della Reese prayed over him and begged, "Don't die Redd, don't die!" but it was to no avail. Reese performed the funeral service in Las Vegas, attended by Flip Wilson, Lola Falana, and most of Foxx's cronies from his nightclub and television years. (Notably missing: Demond Wilson.)

The death was written into the show, and Redd Foxx was replaced by Jackee ('227'). 'The Royal Family' only ran for another three months. There is every reason to believe that, had Redd lived, this show would have put him back on top.

Watch this home video where Redd is reunited with his Sanford co-stars months before his death, he opened a junk shop and was selling off his possessions to pay the IRS.

Jim Steranko 1970s Marvel Covers

After years away from the comic book industry Jim Steranko returned to Marvel in 1972-73 illustrating a series of seemingly random covers - westerns, horror, and superheroes.

While these covers lacked the intricate trippiness of his 1960s work they were all dynamic layouts superbly drawn. The weird thing, for the most part he drew covers for two consecutive issues and that was it.

Steranko Cover

SHANNA THE SHE DEVIL #1 & #2 (1972) - Two gorgeous illustrations kicked off this series.

Marvel Steranko Covers 1970s<

Steranko Comic Covers

CREATURES ON THE LOOSE #21 & #22 (1973) - These 1973 Steranko covers were far removed from the normal Marvel comics of the era when gape mouthed heroes and villains slugged it out to the death, all drawn in the John Buscema style.

Steranko Marvel Comics covers 1970s

FANTASTIC FOUR #130 & #131 - (1973) - Notice all of these Marvel covers were released during the end of 1972 and the beginning of 1973. (Steranko drawing FF in the 70s - let me luxuriate in that fantasy for a while.)  These two were inked by FF inker Joe Sinnott who did some knockout work with Steranko a few years earlier on Shield.


It was a pleasant surprise to see so many Steranko covers on Marvel comics during this short period - then no more!

Jim Steranko Fantastic Four covers

NICK FURY AND HIS AGENTS OF SHIELD #2 (1973) - Steranko returned to his signature character for 2 new covers over reprints from the sixties. A short but sweet return to Marvel for Jim Steranko!

Doc Savage by steranko

See more 1970s Steranko Covers here!

Judy Garland Christmas Special That Almost Wasn't

Judy Garland

The Judy Garland Show's holiday episode in 1963, guest-starring daughters Lorna Luft, Liza Minnelli, son Joey Luft, Mel Torme, and Jack Jones, might be the quintessential Christmas special.

Judy Garland Christmas ShowBehind the scenes production turmoil and mediocre ratings made Judy Garland's Television City studio a tense place, or so it seems from what's been written - the MGM musicals vet still delivered more bang than any three stars could, even if she was a little edgy on the series' Christmas episode.

To further complicate matters, the night before the Christmas show taping, Garland (aka little "Dorothy" from 'The Wizard of Oz') had been on a major bender and couldn't be found when shooting was set to begin.

Judy Garland Show with Mel TormeMel Torme's guest spot had been a point of contention, he had a contract with Garland's production company guaranteeing him a certain number of guest appearances during the season. Judy wasn't committing to those dates and "The Velvet Fog" was very upset about it. Her introduction for Mel Torme on the program was noticeably awkward, she even calls him 'Mort' as in Mort Lindsey her musical director.

"As Judy went through her paces that afternoon, I could only look at her and marvel," Torme wrote in 1969. "How she had managed to return home, change clothes, do whatever she had to do to drag herself out of the sleepless abyss she must have been in and show up at Television City all within the course of an hour and a half was completely beyond me. Yet here she was, alert, alive, energetic, looking frighteningly normal. I thought of Johnny Bradford's description of her, 'The Concrete Canary,' and once again I realized how it fit her."

Whatever their backstage problems, together Judy and Mel sing (beautifully) Torme's classic composition The Christmas Song. It's almost like watching a blood sport as these two sit down to sing this majestic tune. First, Judy mistakenly calls Mel Torme 'Mort,' then flubs a line in the song. When Torme good-naturedly pointed it out, Judy purposely exchanged the word "reindeer" with "rainbow" - alluding to her signature tune. Great Stuff.

Judy Garland Show setThis was the ultimate sixties Christmas special - the art direction was superb and you've got Mort Lindsey conducting his first rate, brassy orchestra. The tension on the set seemed to bring out the best in everyone as they maneuvered around the spacious multilevel living room  - singing and dancing like their lives depended on it.

Read more about
The Judy Garland Christmas Show
and more Christmas Specials!