My Latest Book

My Latest Book
By Jim Manago, Biographer (Shirley Booth, Huntz Hall, and Kay Aldridge)

Thursday, November 23, 2017

YES, PIX-11 in New York will again show that true film gem this Thanksgiving Day. The schedule is for two showings, one at 9 a.m. and again at 3 p.m.

It will also be shown on Christmas Day at 1 p.m.

I offer a special "Thank You" to the intelligent management at PIX for keeping this film alive for so many years now! 


*****

THANKSGIVING!  

Thanksgiving reminds me of my dearly departed Aunt Mary from Brooklyn.  Money was so tight that my Aunt could not afford a turkey and so she served-up a large roasted chicken to her four children every Thanksgiving.  The best part of this is that she told them it was a turkey - and they did not really know the truth till years later because they never ate turkey before! 

Thanks to Aunt Mary and all the other people that have given me special memories at this time and throughout the years!

My favorite films to view on Thanksgiving Day include the original 1933 King Kong, the original 1949 Mighty Joe Young and the 1934 version of Victor Herbert's (1859 - 1924) operetta Babes in Toyland from 1903.  The latter is best known by the 1948 re-released title of March of the Wooden Soldiers.

These films always played on television in the background on Thanksgiving afternoon in my New York family home. Thanksgiving wouldn't be the same without them!  Since those glory days when broadcast television ruled, today it has become such a wasteland of banal situation comedies and Jerry Springer-style garbage ever-eager to disrespect someone. 

Thankfully the only thing that has not changed in all these years is that WPIX Channel 11 in New York continued to air March of the Wooden Soldiers on Thanksgiving  Day.  Yes, WPIX has kept alive the magic of that memorable gem!  

Regarding the various versions of Babes in Toyland...

Please be sure to avoid the two later film versions of the classic operetta. The 1986 Drew Barrymore version is the poorest, but I found the Disney version from 1961 to be surprisingly disappointing.

That horrendous Disney version features Annette Funicello & Tommy Sands. This production changed too many things, and it did nothing better. Most importantly, the film removed the bogeyman as villains, provided embarrassingly poor set designs, and it managed to stick us with some bad casting in the leads.  In addition, Ray Bolger over-acted too much as the villainous Barnaby. Besides that, the humorless impressions of Laurel & Hardy (Gene Sheldon & Henry Calvin) added nothing at all to this film. 

I disliked the Disney version of Babes in Toyland throughout, starting from the uninspired opening minutes.   It was almost as bad as the 1967 Dr. Dolittle - and that is really sinking low. The Disney take on Herbert's best numbers ("Castle in Spain," and "Go To Sleep") totally ruined them by changing the tempo. The experience of watching this lackluster version was painful indeed!  Ed Wynn as the toymaker offered the only pleasure in this entire production - but not enough to recommend the film to you.

Laurel & Hardy shine in the 1934 Hal Roach production. However, the real star of this film is definitely Felix Knight.  The latter singer (well-known in his time, but forgotten today) steals the show with his wonderful voice. Knight's singing of the superb "Castle in Spain" and, "Go to Sleep, Slumber Deep" is truly unforgettable. It doesn't get any better than that!

March of the Wooden Soldiers was regularly referred to as an ingenious classic back in the 1960's when I was growing up - and now fifty years later it stands alone as one of the few really worthwhile films to see every year. It has definitely stood the test of time.

There are so many great moments.  If I had to pick just one I would say I just love the appearances of that mouse that looks like Mickey.  Of course, it was really a Capuchin monkey - indeed a quite intelligent animal. Just hope the trainers were kind back in those days - though I doubt animal rights were a consideration then.

Simply stated, I would select March of the Wooden Soldiers as one of the most enjoyable films among the many thousands I've seen in my lifetime, as well as being one of the best films that was ever made in 1930's Hollywood!

***** 

Toyland: 

Brooklyn-born Glen MacDonough (1870 - 1924) wrote the lyrics to the popular holiday  song "Toyland," which first appeared in the 1903 Babes in Toyland. The song opens March of the Wooden Soldiers.  The sound quality of that film's operatic singer makes it difficult to understand the lyrics at times.  So I offer them to you

1. When you've grown up my dears,
And are as old as I,
You'll often ponder on the years
That roll so swiftly by, my dears,
That roll so swiftly by.
And of the many lands,
You will have journeyed through,
You'll oft recall
The best of all,
The land your childhood knew!
Your childhood knew. 

*Chorus
2. When you've grown up, my dears,
There comes a dreary day.
When 'mid the locks of black appears
The first pale gleam of gray, my dears,
The first pale gleam of gray.
Then of the past you'll dream
As gray-haired grown-ups do,
And seek once more
Its phantom shore,
The land your childhood knew!
Your childhood knew. *Chorus

*Chorus:
Toyland. Toyland.
Little girl and boy land.
While you dwell within it,
You are ever happy then.
Childhood’s joy-land.
Mystic merry Toyland,
Once you pass it’s borders,
You can never return again.


Yes, MacDonough knew what he was writing about!

*****

The 1949 film Mighty Joe Young would always be a late afternoon movie in New York on Thanksgiving Day. It's been years since I saw it again - and last year I had the great pleasure of finding a VHS copy.  Recently I purchased the DVD.

The 1933 film King Kong, with that monstrous-sized beast, always seemed to get all the attention because it was an early 1930's film classic.  I still love that film's sound effects and superb Max Steiner score. However, you will have to ignore the film's racist depiction of all natives as stereotypical crazed savages as that era's bias.  See it for what it is; namely, the limitations of that period of American/European culture. 


The later Mighty Joe Young uses the same creators - director Ernest B. Schoedsack and producer Merian C. Cooper, with the addition of John Ford as executive producer.  Robert Armstrong appears in a prominent role again.

I chose this film as my after-dinner film today because I love the more detailed movements and expressions of the lovable Joe Young. Especially notable is the wonderful orphanage rescue scene. This film lends a credibility and sympathy to the character - which King Kong lacks. Of course, special thanks to many - but mostly to the late Ray Harryhausen for his superb stop-motion animation. In some ways this makes Mighty Joe Young substantially better than King Kong


I especially enjoyed seeing young actress Terry Moore in another film (besides playing the boarder in Shirley Booth's famed Come Back, Little Sheba). Interestingly, 85-year old actress Moore is still making appearances and signing autographs. I would also enjoy interviewing her as well.

MIGHTY JOE YOUNG is not scheduled for broadcast or cable-TV as far as I can determine, but it is available on DVD.  That disc features a commentary with Harryhausen and Moore, besides two featurettes with Harryhausen on the making of the film.

*****

Yes, Thanksgiving is celebrated throughout our land as a day to give thanks. But there is an annual event that goes on for American Indians or Native Americans at Plymouth each year since 1970. It is known as the National Day of Mourning in recognition of the past injustices done to the indigenous people of the Americas. It involves a public march with a view towards changing racist attitudes and stopping the destructive myths. 

For too long Native Americans ("savage Indians" as we were taught) have been deprived of their fundamental rights and respect as human beings. Hollywood perpetuated the distortions we were taught in schools. Not only were they dehumanized and their history distorted, but sadly so much of their culture has been decimated in the name of Manifest Destiny and American progress.

We have chosen to enjoy the myths associated with this day - such as Pilgrims and Indians eating together in unity. The reality is starkly disturbing.

I cannot celebrate this day without acknowledging the suffering of Native Americans, and hope that someday we can fully learn to respect other cultures and peoples throughout this world.

We need to stop getting too involved in the affairs of other countries. If only our leaders would study and learn from our first President. Although he was a product of an era that offered no rights to many people, George Washington did offer much wisdom regarding the dangers of political party power struggles, as well as the destructiveness of involving ourselves in the unrest of foreign countries. 

I respectfully appreciate that it is a day that all people give thanks, as well as A National Day of Mourning for some.

*****

Producer/screenwriter Robert Youngson: 
(November 27, 1917 - April 8, 1974)

I have always loved black & white films, especially silent films - though I know that few people share my appreciation.  So I was happy  to learn that The Artist received top honors at the Academy Awards.  The Artist won five Oscars, including Best Picture (to Producer Thomas Langmann), Best Director to Michel Hazanavicius, Best Actor to Jean Dujardin, Best Score, and Best Costume Design.   It's great to know that silent films have not been forgotten!

Speaking of silents, I remember enjoying silent comedies back in the 1970’s thanks to watching PBS' "The Silent Years," hosted by Orson Welles and Lilian Gish. In addition, I always enjoyed those clips assembled in the films of producer/screenwriter Robert Youngson made from 1957 to 1970.

It’s these films that I have come to re-watch again recently after so many years since first seeing them.  I have found that they still hold up as a great assemblage of silent film comedy. Youngson spent countless hours watching literally many hours of silent films to put together these amazing compilation films.

If you have never seen and appreciated silent film comedies, then Youngson’s films would be a perfect starting point.  And for those quite familiar with these classics, I would still recommend seeing them as they are quite entertaining and well-made.

The list of talents seems endless - for example, there's Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Billy Bevan, Charlie Chaplin, Charlie Chase, Vernon Dent, Jean Harlow, Buster Keaton, Edgar Kennedy, Harry Langdon, Carole Lombard, Snub Pollard, Will Rogers, Ben Turpin, Andy Clyde, Charles Murray, the Keystone Kops, and the list can go on and on...

Youngson's compilation films:

The Golden Age of Comedy (1957)
When Comedy Was King (1960)
Days of Thrills and Laughter (1961)
30 Years of Fun (1963)
MGM's The Big Parade of Comedy (1964)
Laurel & Hardy's Laughing 20's (1965)
The Further Perils of Laurel & Hardy (1967)
Four Clowns (1970)



Anyone remember these films?  

Youngson uses for theme music my favorite composition of all time, the amazingly beautiful melodic Etude, Opus 10, No.3. That superb and nostalgic composition by Frederic Chopin opens and closes the films.  To see Valentina Lisitsa playing it, GO TO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpiJbQvBP8A

*****

Shirley Booth's Recipe:

With the holidays beginning, I offer you a recipe from Shirley Booth which first appeared in Good Housekeeping, December 1964. 
Shirley gave Sally Edwards credit for these tarts.



CHESS TARTS
l package piecrust mix or favorite pastry for 2 crust pie
2 eggs
1/4 c. butter or margarine
dash salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup seedless raisins
1/2 cup snipped, pitted dates
1/2 cup chopped California walnuts
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup heavy or whipping cream
candied cherries
slivers of preserved orange peel
slivers of preserved citron
green seedless grapes

Make day before serving as follows:

1. Make up piecrust; then, on lightly floured board, roll it out 1/8-inch thick.  For each petal tart shell, cut out 5) 2 1/4-inch fluted pastry rounds.  Place 1 round in bottom of each of 6) 2 3/4′inch muffin-pan cups.  Wet edges of rest of rounds, then press 4 of them to sides and to round in bottom of each cup, overlapping edges slightly.

2. Prick well with 4-tined fork.  Refrigerate 30 minutes; bake at 450 degrees F. 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool; lift each carefully from cup; store at room temperature.

3. In saucepan beat eggs well; then add butter or margarine, salt sugar, raisins, dates.  Cook, stirring constantly, until thick.  Refrigerate this filling, covered with waxed paper.

~About an hour before serving:

1. Stir walnuts and vanilla into filling; then pile some filling in each tart shell. Whip cream; use to top tarts.  In center of each mound of cream place a cherry; surround with orange peel and citron.  Refrigerate.

2. Arrange tarts on pretty serving plate; pass, with tiny bunches of grapes. Makes 6.”


*****

Christmas and The Hopes:
I am reminded of the loss of a very special lady five years ago...This is my post from September 20, 2011:

Dolores DeFina Hope
May 27, 1909 - September 19, 2011
Rest in Peace

Yes, she's gone. After 102 years of living, laughing, singing, and giving the world some wonderful memories, singer and philanthropist Dolores Hope has died yesterday of natural causes.

In memory of Dolores Hope, I dedicate this post. I offer my condolences to her family and friends throughout the world.

Dolores reached her 102nd birthday, and husband Bob Hope died two months after his 100th birthday eight years ago.

What comes to mind is one of my favorite television moments. It is from 1993, when Dolores and Bob sang "Silver Bells" on one of their last Christmas specials.  The brief two-minute duet with chorus and orchestration (including plenty of bells) makes this version quite endearing.  The huskier sound of Dolores along with Bob's distinctive sound make it quite different than other versions of the song.

In addition, the song displayed Bob with the 17 various female guest stars who sung this song with him over his years on television. The segment ends with idyllic footage of their horse-drawn sleigh being pulled across a snowy landscape.  This "music video" captures a beautiful energy in those three minutes. It's somehow transcends the mundane reality that it depicts - and provides a timeless piece of Christmas nostalgia!

So much can be said about Dolores and Bob, in particular, they shared a love for each other, as well as for entertaining people all over the world. They will always be with us thanks to what remains of them -- Bob's films, and their radio & television programs.Yes, we will always have those programs and so many wonderful memories.

Dolores & Bob, WE THANK YOU! You both will be always missed and remembered!

*****




Did You Know? One early account said that Shirley Booth’s first appearance on stage occurred while attending P.S. 152 in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. There she read in class her Thanksgiving composition entitled, "The Autobiography of a Thanksgiving Turkey." 

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!  
*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!
  
JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Back Cover To My Forthcoming Book, "Leo Gorcey's Fractured World"


Here's the Back Cover for my Leo Gorcey's Fractured World:

“I guess…he would want the public to remember his malaprops. He was proud of the fact that he studied words intensely so he could easily ad lib malaprops and the fact that even though he only had a high school diploma, he was well read and extremely articulate.”
                                           – Brandy Gorcey Ziesemer on her dad

This is a book celebrating the overlooked contributions to filmdom made by Leo Gorcey, a truly enigmatic man, whose life ended prematurely in 1969. Brandy offers thoughts about her dad as well as her unpublished graduate school thesis which unravels his “Split Personality.” 

So often, excessive drinking left him “fractured,” but his intense study of “Word Power” provided him with the comedic opportunities to “fracture” his characters’ speech.

Leo Gorcey’s fine talent for making us laugh by twisting language finally receives the attention it deserves as the author offers an extensive catalog of many of his fancy and misused words as found in his Bowery Boys films.

Jim Manago holds a Master’s degree in Cinema Studies from The College of Staten Island (CUNY). He has authored first biographies on Gale Gordon, Kay Aldridge, Huntz Hall and two biographies on Shirley Booth. His forthcoming publications include one on producer Robert Youngson, and another on Al St. John’s comedy offered in PRC’s Billy The Kid series from the 1940s.



Sunday, October 1, 2017

Just Love These Chillers!


Some of my favorite film selections especially suited for Halloween include The Black Cat (1934), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), How To Make a Monster (1958), The Wolf Man (1941), and The City of the Dead (1961). The latter is also known by its American released title of Horror Hotel.  

***** 

Initially you may wince when I bring out a Bela Lugosi movie for Halloween. However this one is not like so many of those low-budget quickies that Lugosi appeared in so as to put bread on the table. The Black Cat from 1934 is in a class by itself as a truly superb film with excellent story, editing, camerawork, and top-notch performances by all the cast.

You may not be that familiar with the name of Edgar G. Ulmer - but he is responsible for the most stylishly dark version of a tale ever filmed. The story has no resemblance to the Edgar Allen Poe tale of the same name. But the world Ulmer created here is truly stark, weird, and visually stunning so that the film seemingly offers the mood that can only be inspired by the tormented genius of Poe.

Ulmer got his initial experience and inspiration as a stage actor and set designer working in Vienna, Austria. The Black Cat is his second film as a director in America.  But it offers a remarkable face-off between the two horror greats, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.  The story credit goes to Peter Ruric and Edgar G. Ulmer. It's an unusual story especially intriguing for that time in Hollywood.

David Manners plays writer Peter Allison and Jacqueline Wells is his bride Joan on a honeymoon trip that unluckily lands them during a storm in a futuristic castle built over a battlefield where tens of thousands of soldiers died during WWI.  It is there that the showdown occurs between fellow traveler Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi) and his adversary Fort Marmorus Commander Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff). Satan-worshiping Poelzig built his abode over the ruins of this great graveyard, and he seems more like the incarnation of the Devil.

When Werdegast learns that Poelzig has done some unholy things, including secretly keeping Werdegast's daughter Karen as his wife (and telling Werdegast that she died), there is some intense emotions that seek release. Revenge is the keyword here as the two horror greats display their unique talents, each trying to steal the show from the other.

I assure you that a great climax ensues. Besides the set designs that are quite stunning, there are some visually arresting moving camera shots that add to the mood of unrelenting menace - one sequence where the camera moves up & down the stairs with Karloff.  The use of Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet" has never been more perfectly used than here in the romantic scenes with Peter & Joan Allison.

Indeed The Black Cat (1934) is highly recommended as one of Universal Studios best horror productions ever. 


*****

The original 1958 chiller How to Make a Monster from American-International Pictures is another good film for Halloween! Robert H. Harris is absolutely superb as the disgruntled horror film makeup artist who plots revenge after he is axed from his film studio. His performance is right-on-target down to the glances. Herbert L Strock directs with Paul Brinegar, Gary Conway and Gary Clarke as co-stars.

*****


The City of the Dead (AKA Horror Hotel): 

SPOILER ALERT!
The talents of many people are responsible for some of the best films. Proof of this is apparent with the British film, The City of the Dead.

It was September 12, 1961 when this film made it to these shores re-titled as Horror Hotel. I will refer to the film by its original title.

The City of the Dead is a truly chilling film about Satanists that I remember first seeing back in the late 1960's on New York local television. I could never get enough of seeing it - and watched it every time it was aired. I do not recall if I ever saw the original British release at that time which is several minutes longer and includes some dialogue early on not in the American released version, Horror Hotel. But I do know it left a strong impression on my sister that I'm sure stays with her to this day!

Much credit has to be given to John Llewellyn Moxey (1925) who directed this story and to Milton Subotsky (1921-1991) who wrote this story (adapted by George Baxt). The City of the Dead (aka Horror Hotel) tells of some truly sinister witchcraft in the modern New England town of Whitewood and depends on creating a paranoia about who one could really trust.

But to credit those gentlemen alone would not be totally fair for there's also the foreboding and sinister atmosphere created by the combination of really brilliant high contrast black & white cinematography, fog-enshrouded sets, eerie music, good editing, and truly great character acting. The beautiful cinematography is by Desmond Dickinson, art direction by John Blezard, music by Douglas Gamley, and film editing by John Pomeroy. 

Thanks must also go to the executive producers Subotsky & Seymour S. Dorner, and the producers Donald Taylor and Max Rosenberg - all who contributed to make the whole film production possible. Subotsky and Rosenberg later founded the film production company Amicus Productions, responsible for a number of horror films from the 1960's.

As to actors, there's the amazing talents of the lanky Christopher Lee (1922 - 2015) in top form as Prof. Alan Driscoll who suggests to his college student Nan Barlow, played by Venetia Stevenson (1938 - ), that she should visit Whitewood, Massachusetts to see the place where some of his lecture material actually took place. Nan wants to get a really good grade on her thesis paper - and she enthusiastically takes his suggestion.

The other talents - including Patricia Jessel (1920-1968) as hotel manager Mrs. Newless (who actually is the still-living witch Elizabeth Selwyn though she was burned at the stake in 1692), and the delightful gloomy-voiced Valentine Dyall (1908-1985) as chief warlock Jethrow Keane - both give absolutely superb portrayals worthy of awards.

Ann Beach (1938 - 2017) plays the deaf mute who knows well the real sinister activities at the Ravenswood Inn in the spooky New England town. Norman Macowan (1877 - 1961) plays the blind Reverend Russell of the town church who also knows what's going on and warns Nan: "...Leave Whitewood tonight. I beg of you...Leave before it is too late!" 

Betta St. John (1929 - ) plays the Reverend's granddaughter Patricia - who owns a little book store in town and lends Nan a book on witchcraft for her studies - only to have it never returned. Nan's brother Richard Barlow (Dennis Lotis) and Nan's boyfriend Bill Maitland (Tom Naylor) both search for Nan when she doesn't return home.

This film is proof of the limitations of the "auteur theory" which does not see filmmaking as an "ensemble endeavor." Those subscribing to that philosophy wish to give directors all the credit. However, one can see here that it is the collaborative efforts of many that make this film (and many others) work so well.

Some have criticized the actors for sounding British and not convincing us they are Americans - but this is not serious enough to take away from your enjoyment of this remarkable and totally intriguing gem. 

There are some shocking scenes - but I won't spoil that for you. Finally, the chanting that pervades the credits and crucial moments sounds like devil-worshiping chants. That wraps the whole film into a complete package of sensory satisfaction! 

Although I usually love short films, this one seems too short at a brisk seventy-six minutes. It goes by too quickly and I wish that it was somewhat longer! Nevertheless, it is an unforgettable film for Halloween night or whenever you wish to spook yourself a little!

It is interesting that The City of the Dead (Horror Hotel) is similar to Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho in many ways, including the early demise of the main character... 

If you can deal with the subject matter, then The City of the Dead (Horror Hotel) is highly recommended! If you can see only one title from this post, choose this one!

***** 

Vincent Price:

Vincent Price (born May 27, 1911 - October 25, 1993) remains one of my all-time favorite actors and horror greats. 

So much can be said about the life of this amazing talent. Obviously, he had an uncanny knack for making anything he appeared in so much more interesting - whether through his distinct voice or mannerisms. He made numerous film, television and radio appearances. Some of my favorites include LauraThe House of WaxThe TinglerThe House on Haunted Hill, etc.

So much of Price's films continue to stand the test of time and bring great pleasure so many years later.

On Halloween I will screen for the fiftieth or sixtieth time the William Castle classics - The Tingler and The House on Haunted Hill. Although I know them perfectly well, I still enjoy the way Price seems to savor every second that he plays these quirky characters in these films.

*****

As regards Shirley Booth, her only TV guest appearance is in the television show The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. The episode "Medium Well-Done" was broadcast November 6, 1969. Shirley plays a spiritualist named Madame Tibaldi. The ghost (Captain) is quite unhappy that Madame Tibaldi visits his home to offer a seance.  (The cast includes Hope Lange as Mrs. Muir, Edward Mulhare as the Ghost, Charles Nelson Reilly as Claymore Gregg, Reta Shaw as Martha the housekeeper, and Harlen Carraher & Kellie Flanagan as the children.)

 *****

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Friday, September 1, 2017

Joe Franklin On September Song

I must confess that I enjoy the music of the 1930's and 1940's much more than the rather lame music of the 1950's. It seems that the earlier period offers  superior compositions that have never been surpassed!

A case in point is one of the best compositions of the entire 20th Century, "September Song."  Walter Huston originally introduced the song in the 1938 stage production, *Knickerbocker Holiday. It is Huston alone that brings an unforgettable sincerity and tenderness to the words. No one can sing it with such naturalness and feeling.   

The beautiful "September Song" was composed by Kurt Weill (March 2, 1900 - April 3, 1950), with the thought-provoking lyrics written by Maxwell Anderson (December 15, 1888 - February 28, 1959). The lyrics make so much more sense to older listeners, understanding the brevity of life and the sober truth of our inescapable mortality. I particularly like the line that goes: "And the Autumn weather turns the leaves to flame..." 

Yesterday I listened once again to over two dozen (of the many) versions of this song. I still say Huston's original version is the best ever! What he lacks in a perfect voice or the power of a professional singer, he surely makes up by evoking a poignant sadness and sincerity that is truly memorable. No one else has been able to do that in the seventy-five years since that recording in 1938.


You will know the original version since it has a line about losing a tooth. As the story goes (at least according to the late Joe Franklin), Walter Huston was at the dentist earlier in the day when he recorded this song. He changed the lyric line to: "I lost one tooth and I walk a little lame," instead of singing the actual lyric line: "And the autumn weather, Turns the leaves to flame (or gray)."


After playing the song on one of his Saturday night radio broadcasts back in the early 1990's, this is how Franklin explained it:

Joe Franklin on WOR Radio (circa 1990's):
"These Precious Days I Spend with You," and I do mean you!!  Joe Franklin putting on the hits… Precious memories on WOR 'til 5'o'clock in the morning. 

I gotta tell you that line, near the beginning of that record, that line about I have lost one tooth was not part of the original lyric when he sang it in Knickerbocker Holiday, but it actually - it actually-factually - happened that Mr. Huston went to his dentist on the day that he made the phonograph record.  So it was kind of a private or inside, not a joke, but a private remark about losing his tooth or about teeth and it was a remark that was etched into the wax - into recorded immortality…Something that happened that day and it lives on!"
 
There is another take of Huston singing this song, but it's slightly different in intonation from the familiar one. You can hear it in the 1950 film September Affair, with Joan Fontaine & Joseph Cotten. 

*Although the story was modified substantially, you may still want to hear the radio version of Knickerbocker Holiday with Huston singing the song two times.  Click on the show title at: http://archive.org/details/TheaterGuildontheAir

Variations of the lyrics are found in many of the various recordings done. Besides several minor word switches (like "but" for "and," etc.) Huston re-recorded the song with such changes as "vintage years" for "golden (& precious) years."


 "September Song" Has Stood The Test Of Time!

*****

 THANKS FOR VISITING!

JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!

*****

Monday, August 21, 2017

Al St. John

I continue to enjoy the many PRC "Billy The Kid" productions featuring Buster Crabbe and Al St. John. Simply put, John is SUPERB as "Fuzzy"! 


In general, I must say that there's a well-rooted critical view- but misleading nonetheless, that assumes something low-budget or public domain cannot be good. How wrong that is! 


It's the same mentality that will judge poor people as losers or having no worth.




****
I am working on a book on John's comedy moments in these "Billy The Kid" PRC Productions.  

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

On NOW, VOYAGER (1942)

Novelist Olive Higgins Prouty (January 10, 1882 – March 24, 1974)  is best known for writing the story Now, Voyager.  In 1942, the story received an excellent Hollywood movie adaptation by Warner Brothers. It's probably among the top ten best love story pictures ever made!  

I know my mother could never get tired of watching this gem. For years, it seemed to be the one and only movie she asked me replay on video every other month.  Each time I would play Now, Voyager for her, I would also watch it.  Indeed, every time I watched it, I would find another layer of meaning or something that would fascinate me about it.

The story is about a repressed Boston woman named Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis) who suffers from the poisoning effects of a domineering mother played to perfection by British actress Gladys Cooper.  Eventually, through the assistance of an understanding therapist Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains), Charlotte finds love at first, and ultimately the peace that empowerment and self-assurance brings. In addition, a married man named Jerry Duvaux Durrance (Paul Henried) plays a part in her recovery. 

Dr. Jaquith gives Charlotte a verse from a poem by Walt Whitman (from his famous collection, Leaves of Grass, 1900)


"The untold want, by life and land ne’er granted,

Now, Voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find."


Bette Davis is compelling and fascinating in playing this part. Her success as an actress came from staying in movies with her superb talent, just as Shirley Booth successfully stayed onstage and avoided the movies as much as she could.  Both Davis and Booth excelled at what they did, and were definitely among the 20th century's finest actresses. Along with Shirley Booth, Bette Davis is among my favorite actresses of all time.

Besides the fine acting from a stellar cast of Bette Davis, Paul Henried (January 10, 1908 – March 29, 1992) Claude Rains, and Gladys Cooper, there's Max Steiner's beautiful score which rightly won the Academy Award that year.

The men are very likeable in this film (Paul Henried & Claude Rains), but the women certainly leave much to be desired - from Henried's miserable wife who we never see, Charlotte's niece June (Bonita Granville) who certainly sickeningly loves to torture her aunt with nasty jibes, and most importantly, Charlotte's tyrannical mother who thinks that being a good mother means controlling everything your adult child feels and does. Even Jerry's depressed daughter Tina (Janis Wilson) is a mess - suffering from low self-esteem and feelings of isolation.  [Footnote: it was Wilson's first film.]

For many reasons Now, Voyager has stood the test of time as "The Woman's Film." The story, written by Prouty, has a screen adaptation by Casey Robinson, which leaves much of the original story and actual lines of dialogue amazingly intact. Irving Rapper directed this wonderful story of a woman suffering serious psychological problems and how she breaks free of her mother's domination to choose her own destiny. 

I initially sensed that the writer seemed to have studied this situation or went through such an ordeal.  Prouty's writing is keen on women's issues as well as mental issues. There's an interesting autobiographical element to Now, Voyager. Indeed Prouty was the right person to tell such an unusual story about the mentally ill Charlotte Vale.  She herself was from a fine Boston family and she too herself suffered a mental breakdown as an adult in 1925 after the death of her one-year old infant (She also had an earlier breakdown at the age of twelve). Prouty went to a sanitarium for recovery where she met two therapists - one of them encouraged her in her writing career.


So Prouty knew what she was writing about when she created Charlotte Vale.  Does anyone remember the story Stella Dallas? That too was written by Prouty.  However, she was not too happy with the melodramatic screen and radio adaptations.

The point that seems evident is that Charlotte Vale is not really better off at the bittersweet conclusion than she was at the start....She might still seem to have some issues to work on, depending on how you want to see her decision to play surrogate mother to a married man's child. However, at least she has finally stood up and chosen her own destiny despite the consequences. Charlotte is liberated finally....That's what I especially like about Now, Voyager.


In short, Charlotte overcomes her mental problems and becomes a complete person. She learns to win and assert her independence, first by dumping repressive family ties, and then overcoming those limiting class and gender restrictions which society brainwashes us at an early age to accept as normal and the only sensible way. She does not need a man or a woman to be happy. She does not let that drive her ambition.
Charlotte is a character that finally exhibits strong empowerment. She even achieves her stated goals of having a home (inheriting her tyrannical mother's house), having a child (through being a surrogate caretaker of her "ex-lover's" daughter) and having a man to call her own (via a very non-traditional friendship with a married man). 

Now, Voyager's character of Charlotte Vale is quite remarkable, especially when you consider the time when this story was written.  In achieving her goals in an unusual manner, she frees herself from the repressive upper class stuffiness and patriarchy of the traditional male-dominated, anti-feminine, Western  gender code. 


Olive Higgins Prouty's Now, Voyager is worthy of your attention for challenging these things!  


NOW, VOYAGER   

*****
 5 Stars out of 5
  

*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!

JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

A Wish . . .

One of my favorite episodes of the 1952 Abbott & Costello Show is "Lou's Birthday Party." At the conclusion of the episode, Lou receives a surprise from Mr. Bacciagalupe (superbly played by Lou's brother-in-law Joe Kirk) when he says the line: "Get Me Some Coffee, I'll Eat It HERE!"

The great Lou Costello, one of my favorites, who ranks up there with Charlie Chaplin died on March 3, 1959, just three days short of his 53rd birthday.  Many of his films still hold up quite well.

At 54 years old, my cousin shared one thing with Lou Costello in that he also met an early demise.  My readers will know that I dedicated my first book (Love is the Reason for it All: The Shirley Booth Story) to my cousin, Joseph Nizzari. 

I always will cherish that one afternoon when he visited while that particular episode was on WPIX Channel 11. He explained to me what Mr. Bacciagalupe was saying with his fractured Italian.  Joseph had learned to speak Italian from his father.

Joseph loved watching and recreating routines of Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy and all the other great comedians.

One time he drove me to an all-day Harold Lloyd film festival that was held at The New School in New York City back in the 1980's.  Best of all, he gave up his entire day and stayed with me so that he could enjoy every bit of the festival as well! 

One wish I have that I know can never come true, but I wish anyway, is that my cousin was still here to enjoy Abbott & Costello with me... 


*****

I share with you what I said about him in my book's introduction.... 

Shirley Booth once said, "I feel sorry for people that don’t have the pleasure of acting because I think it’s a great release." I experienced that pleasure whenever my cousin Joseph Nizzari would visit my family ... He encouraged and indulged my interest in acting and cinematography by recreating Abbott & Costello routines, gangster movie skits, and so forth. I wish he could have lived to see this book in print. With much sadness, I dedicate this book in memory of him.

from Love is the Reason for it All: The Shirley Booth Story, by Jim Manago
 2008.

Though I know this will always be a very sad week for many members in my family, I feel it best to remember all the fun that my cousin offered to all who had the privilege of his friendship. My cousin had a fantastic humor and a knack for making you feel good. Yes, he had many talents; among them his wonderful skill as a baker. But more than any one achievement he managed to help others find enjoyment in the moment - despite the daily slings and arrows that life has a way of delivering us all. 

 
Unfortunately, I lost touch with him for a number of years. But sadder still is to  know that the last few years of his short life were obviously harrowing and painful for him and for anyone that watched him battle cancer.

Yes, I will always miss his selflessness - so few people I have met in my entire life have been so sacrificial as he was. I will always remember his love for his family, for his good kindly nature, and for so much happiness that he brought to all our lives!


*****

Joseph Nizzari
(May 3, 1953 - February 2, 2008)

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Bette Davis' Handlers Kept Us From Getting That Autograph!

Some Anniversaries:

April 4, 1913: Singer/radio performer Frances Langford was born on this day. She died on July 11, 2005. She recorded one of the best duets with Bing Crosby: "I'm Fallin' In Love With Someone."  

April 4, 1921: Actress Elizabeth Wilson was born on this day. Liz has been in countless stage, film and television productions; my favorites include the small but memorable roles in The Birds, The GraduateNine to Five, and so on. More important to me is that she offered fascinating information on Shirley Booth in my conversations with her.  She died on May 9, 2015.

April 5, 1908: Actress  Bette Davis was born.  She died on October 6, 1989.

*****

Bette Davis' Handlers Kept Us From Getting That Autograph!


Shirley Booth's career crossed paths with Bette Davis several times. I described in my biography of Shirley Booth of how Bette Davis turned down the part of Lola in Come Back, Little Sheba. Movie co-star Burt Lancaster revealed that, "Bette told me years later, around 1964 or so, that no matter what story I'd heard (and there had been many) that she felt strongly that only Shirley could do the role justice. She would have accepted only if Shirley had declined, so that she felt Wallis might give the role to Barbara Stanwyck. Davis wouldn't have liked that at all..."

Shirley had her turn at refusing a part that Bette Davis got. In the 1961 remake of Pocketful of Miracles, Shirley allowed Bette to play the part that was offered to her because she felt that she could not top May Robson from the original 1933 version Lady for a Day. Both versions were directed by Frank Capra.

Bette Davis stands on her own unique level of achievement and greatness for her inimitable style of taking a part and making it her own. Her success came from staying in movies with her talent, just as Shirley Booth stayed on the stage, avoiding the movies as much as she could. Both ladies excelled at what they did, and were probably among the 20th century's finest actresses.


I found most interesting a brief note that Bette sent Shirley that I quoted in my biography of Shirley. That note Shirley saved in her scrapbook. It revealed Bette's appreciation and respect for Shirley's considerable talent. She signed it "Bette D." 


Back in 1978 I had the pleasure of meeting Bette at a fashion show inside New York's Bloomingdale's store promoting the release of Death on the Nile. My mother brought along a song sheet featuring Bette on the cover. Before this show began, the store was darkened. Bette was carefully escorted in and sat about ten feet opposite from where we were.

As my mother went over to greet Bette Davis in the shadowy store, her two "handlers" interrupted and quickly turned down the autograph request. One of them advised her, saying "No Miss Davis, no autographs please!" We were both obviously disappointed as Miss Davis had already taken the sheet in her lap and greeted us, and took the pen to sign. She seemed delighted to be appreciated and indicated no displeasure at signing it. Immediately we were thereby moved away from her presence since the show was to begin...

This was my first contact with the upper-crust of New York City. Afterward, without Miss Davis being present, guests to the event had the opportunity of refreshments. For me, this involved mingling with the well-dressed snobs and watching them rave over the caviar! Their shallowness, including their over-concern with appearances made it clear to me then that having plenty of money and fame does not necessarily make people smarter or classy!

The one souvenir I have from that evening is a picture of Bette Davis & my mother which I quickly snapped in those darkened seconds. We also got to meet and take a photo of Broadway musical Annie star Andrea McArdle with her mother.

I will always treasure that moment of seeing Bette Davis in the flesh and shaking her hand. She was indeed a small-framed woman of 5'3."

Finally, I will always love watching Bette Davis in so many memorable classics, including Now, VoyagerDark Victory, Of Human Bondage, The LetterA Stolen Life, Jezebel, and so forth! She remains always one of my favorite actresses!

*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!

JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!

*****