My Latest Book

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

Monday, October 9, 2017

On My Forthcoming Book "Leo Gorcey's Fractured World"

I would love to see my manuscripts on Leo Gorcey's Fractured World and The Vanished World of Robert Youngson in print. 

Tentative Back Cover for my Gorcey Book:


“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, born over one hundred years ago in 1917. Besides revealing his second daughter’s thoughts about her dad, here are excerpts from her unpublished graduate school thesis. Her search to understand her dad’s “Split Personality” led to the realization that her father had a problem expressing his sensitive side. Apparently, he relied oftentimes on a street tough image derived from his early role as Spit in Dead End.

This study searches for new ground by not retelling the oft-told stories of Gorcey’s excessive and tortured life. The published account by Gorcey himself, and that of his only son, Leo, Jr., excelled at doing just that. Instead, this book reveals the creativity of a truly enigmatic man. So often, his excessive drinking left him unfortunately “fractured,” but it is Gorcey’s intense study of “Word Power” and the comedic possibilities of “fracturing” his characters’ speech which set him a notch above all the other 20th Century performers destroyed by fast-living. 

Although most of his films are B-movie quickies and his life ended prematurely on the eve of his 52nd birthday in 1969, Gorcey’s films have a devoted fan base some sixty years later after the release of the last one. Most importantly, 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 Gorcey’s fancy and misused words 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 five other biographies to date, including two on actress Shirley  Booth, as well as studies on the lives of Huntz Hall, Kay Aldridge, and Gale Gordon, with forthcoming books on actor Al St. John and producer Robert Youngson.


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!

*****

Monday, April 3, 2017

Shirley Booth Lonesome For Husband Bill Baker. She's looking at photo of his cat.
Shirley Booth in Broadway Dressing Room, 1943
Shirley Booth Marries Bill Baker


JOE FRANKLIN Reading My First Book!
Photo Courtesy Steve Friedman

MY FIRST BOOK

MY SECOND BOOK

MY THIRD BOOK

MY FOURTH BOOK

Saturday, April 1, 2017

From Mayor of Wistful Vista to Borrego Springs by Jim Manago


“In character, Gale Gordon does something nobody else can do. He just stands there, not saying or doing anything, and all of a sudden he’s the balloon that makes you want to reach for the pin.”
                                                                                    - Bob Sweeney commented to TV Guide

". . . Oh yes, yes, I'm one of those spoiled creatures of our modern mania. I expect comfort, serenity, beauty, privacy, modern conveniences, and of course a sound investment. And that's rather hard to achieve. But I really believe I have found the answer to all of my desires, here in this valley. I first saw it some thirty years ago. Considered myself a pioneer. Today I one of the fortunate ones lucky enough to escape the tensions of big city life and live in peace and comfort - here.”                                  -  Gale Gordon speaking on-camera, A New Way of Life


From Mayor of Wistful Vista to Borrego Springs by Jim Manago presents the life of Gale Gordon, one of America’s favorite actors with numerous radio, television, stage and film credits. His impeccable comic timing and unique voice made him one of the busiest and most productive talents of the 20th century. Today, we remember him best as Lucille Ball’s foils, Theodore J. Mooney and Harrison Carter, on 1960s and 1970s television. However, he skillfully played dozens of characters in every genre, including Flash Gordon, Mr. John Wilson on Dennis the Menace, and so on.

This biography offers a survey of his credits, emphasizing over 20 years of his radio work where he developed his comedic abilities. It glimpses his tranquil home life, where away from the spotlight, his real life mirrored art, as he became the Honorary Mayor of Borrego Springs, California after playing radio’s Mayor of Wistful Vista. There on his desert ranch, Gordon lived a life that most of us would have loved to live. This book includes transcribed excerpts of some of radio’s best comedy moments when he played Mayor LaTrivia on Fibber McGee and Molly, and Rumson Bullard on The Great Gildersleeve.



Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Satchmo Is TOPS!

A truly wonderful song that I wish to salute today is by Satchmo...

“The Bright Blessed Day, The Dark Sacred Night”

That’s a line from the all-too-brief song “What A Wonderful World.” This beautiful song both lyrically and musically has been under-appreciated, and perhaps misunderstood, over the years since Louis Armstrong first recorded it back in 1968. It has often been misused as the “perfect” counterpoint music played to images of conflict, pain and human misery.

One of the things that’s superb about it is how jazz giant Armstrong offered us some surprisingly restrained vocalizing to the words and music by Bob Thiele (as George Douglas) and George David Weiss.

For some reason many people have found it an uncomfortable song since it seems painfully naive to have feelings of awe when we look at the world we live at any time - especially now. Yes, I agree that might be a natural response to what seems like the song’s Pollyanna-like non-critical depiction of the world…

Yes, I can never get over the sheer stupidity of humanity bent on war, murder, and all sorts of never-ending destruction and evil. In fact, I shudder to think of all those millions upon millions of human beings that were senselessly disposed of in World War II. No, I cannot reconcile the cruelty of the horrendous Nazi death camps with anyone’s dislike of other human beings. And the havoc that Mother Nature brings us every day seems ruthless and unforgivable.

Yet I can listen to Armstrong sing in “What A Wonderful World” of the beauty of all the colors - the green trees, red roses, the blue sky, white clouds, the rainbow, the bright day and dark night. He is also awestruck when looking at the rainbow of the faces of the people, the love shared by friends shaking hands, and hearing babies cry and watching them grow as they learn what he never will know. Yes, I have experienced that awe when I stop to look at those things so easily taken for granted.

Somehow during the brightness of the day – with all of its concomitant noise and busyness - it seems difficult to connect to this wonderful world he speaks about. It’s impossible to be awestruck with all the insane things that happen every day.

I really found the song made sense at night. It is then when I sensed an overwhelming awe. It is then at night, when no one is around, if you can venture outside and look up at that massive moonlit sky with stars and worlds beyond number out there in vast space. It is in the glow of that immense midst out there in that “Dark, Sacred Night” that I faced some of the feelings and thoughts to make me see the world as miraculously wonderful despite all of the negativity that we tend to dwell upon daily.

Yes, I have learned again while listening to that deceptively simple but powerful song that there’s a true wonder in this world, if only we open our heart and mind to it. Indeed, it is easy to look past this reality in this thing we call living, and you will miss this awesome world’s ultimate beauty and meaning. The wonder has always been there, It has been our stubborn unwillingness to find it right there all around us, all the time.

No, this wonder and awe cannot erase any of the pressing problems or pains of the past or now. But when you can look beyond those realities, you can truly experience the joy of living in this world.

Take a moment to listen to this song when you walk outside one night. Yes, I know that “the dark, sacred night” can bring an appreciation of a truly, wonderful world!

Thank you Louis Armstrong and the artists responsible for giving the world “What A Wonderful World.” And thanks to the Creator for giving us this WONDERFUL WORLD!
*****

Several years ago I had the memorable opportunity to walk around the home and view the possessions of Louis Armstrong. The tour guide superbly managed to convey that love that Louis wanted the whole world to experience in his music and in his life’s devotion as a performer. Yes I felt that powerful presence of Armstrong in every part of his New York home. It's a good place to find warmth and love!

I highly recommend visiting Louis Armstrong’s home in Corona, New York….GO TO: http://www.louisarmstronghouse.org/visiting/overview.htm

*****

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*****

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

On Shirley Booth's Sister Jean

In tribute to Shirley Booth's late sister Jean Coe (born on Valentine's Day in 1914, died January 23, 2010), I repeat this post.

This article ran ten years ago in an Oregon publication, News-Times, which serves the communities of Forest Grove, Cornelius, Banks and Gaston. 

The following is reprinted with permission of the News-Times, Forest Grove, Oregon (www.fgnewstimes.com).


From FOREST GROVE NEWS-TIMES, 


Wednesday, March 3, 2004, Vol. 15, No. 3

"It’s a sister thing"

Jean Coe not just living on memories

By Cliff Newell
of The News-Times
  
When you meet Jean Coe and hear her speak for the first time, you wonder, “Where have I heard that voice before?”

You probably have. It came from Jean’s sister, Shirley Booth, one of America’s greatest actresses and star of the classic television sitcom “Hazel” from the early to mid-1960s. The timber and accent of Hazel’s voice are definitely in that of Coe.

Still, it is hard to imagine Jean Coe standing in anyone else’s shadow, even a sister as accomplished as Shirley Booth, who won the highest acting awards for theatre, movies and television.

Now age 90 and living at Alterra Wynwood in Forest Grove, Coe might need to use a walker she calls “Junior,” but her mind is lively and her sense of humor is sharp. It is simply a whole lot of fun to sit down and listen to her tell about her life. Or even just ask her how she is feeling.

“I have a case of immaculate indigestion,” she said.

Certainly, her sister was a big part of Coe’s life since she worked as her personal assistant for many years. It was in 1951, just as Coe’s marriage was ending, when she went to New York to visit Booth.

“I told her, “I’ve got to find a job,” Coe said. “She told me, why don’t you work for me?”

Coe joined Booth just as her career was taking off into the stratosphere. In a period of three years, Booth won Tony Awards for “Come Back, Little Sheba” and “Time of the Cuckoo” on Broadway. She then won the Academy Award in 1952 for the movie version of “Come Back, Little Sheba,” starring opposite Burt Lancaster. New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther raved of Booth: “Her skillful and knowing creation of a depressingly common type - the immature, mawkish, lazy housewife - is visualization at its best.”

But Booth became best known for playing the wisecracking maid Hazel from 1961 to 1966. That’s when she needed Coe’s help the most. It was a time when “people walked up her driveway and expected to find Hazel.”

Coe did all kinds of jobs for Booth, including handling the mail, making her appointments and, yes, Hazel fans, signing her pictures.

That practice came home to roost one night when a Hazel fan came to Coe’s home, insisting that she was the daughter of Shirley Booth. As proof, she brought an autographed photo – which Coe had signed.

“I told her, I’m afraid this is an awful shock for you,” Coe said. “She left, but she wasn’t convinced.”

Of her sister, Coe said, “She was well-liked as a person and respected as an actress. People would come up to her at dinner and she never turned anyone away.”

Coe first came to Oregon following the death of her son, who suffered a heart attack. She went to live with her daughter Leslie in Gaston.

“It was just lovely.” Coe said. “There was such a panorama there – a donkey, dogs, and horses. But I am a city gal.” 

A few trips to the city was like a whole new life," Coe said. "I thought, 'I've got to get out of Gaston. I haven't got that much time left.' "

Describing herself as an "Auntie Mame Mother,” Coe went looking for a place in Forest Grove and found a place she at first thought was named “Alcatraz Wildwood.” Once she got the name straight and got a tour, Coe said, “I said, 'Where do I sign?' I never, ever regretted it.”

Even at age 90, life has surprises for Coe. Not long ago she was in a nurse’s ward on the second floor at Alterra Wynwood to have a bandage put on. While waiting she listened to Alterra's handbell choir practicing "Amazing Grace."


"When they finished I clapped,” Coe said. “Before I knew it I was up there with them.” 
_________________________________
Thanks to Pat Yoakum for her assistance on this story. 


Reprinted with permission of the News-Times, Forest Grove, Oregon

*****


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Sunday, January 1, 2017

"All This Vast Majesty Of Creation – It Had To Mean SOMETHING!"


Richard Matheson:

I have been fond of this science fiction writer's work since the early 1970's when I first saw the film, The Incredible Shrinking Man. Richard Matheson (February 20, 1926 – June 23, 2013) wrote the screenplay from his original story (published as “The Shrinking Man”). He wrote so many other meaningful and realistic stories, but if Matheson did nothing else other than this, he would be worthy of remembering.

With assistance from director Jack Arnold, the final five-minute soliloquy offered by Scott Carey has never left me – it is thoughtful and profound. 

Those final images of several galaxies with the existential voice-over is unforgettable. With the last line of the film Scott comes to a new understanding: "To God, there is no zero, I Still EXIST!" 

No, I never got the chance to personally thank Richard Matheson for that story. Nevertheless, he gave us one of the few intelligent and meaningful science-fiction films that should be celebrated as long as motion pictures exist.  

Richard Matheson will live on in the stories he created.  Yes, he remains among the truly best science fiction writers of all ages!


*****

Here's that intensely thoughtful and meaningful metaphysical soliloquy that is offered by Scott Brady.

There is no other film that I know of that has said something as basic and profound as this - juxtaposed with some great visualsHere it is...


"My fears disappeared -
As if tuned to some great directing force
I was getting smaller – what was I?
Still a human being or was I the man of the future?

If there were other bursts of radiation, 
Other clouds drifting across seas and continents,
Would other beings follow me into this vast new world?
So close the infinitesimal and the infinite - 

But suddenly I realized it’s really just the two ends of same concept.
The unbelievably small and the unbelievably vast eventually meet -
Like the closing of a gigantic circle
I looked up, as if to somehow I could grasp the heavens – 
the Universe, world's beyond number,
God’s silver tapestry spread across the night,

And in that moment I knew the answer to the riddle of the infinite,
I had thought in terms of man’s own limited conception,
I had presumed upon nature that
“Existence begins and ends” – is man's conception - not nature’s.

And I felt my body dwindling, melting, becoming nothing

My fears melted away – and in their place came acceptance.

All this vast majesty of creation

– it had to mean something. 

Then I meant something too. 

Yes, smaller than the smallest – 

I meant something too. 

To God there is no zero –

I STILL EXIST” 

*****

Concluding scene's voice-over from
The Incredible Shrinking Man
 Universal – International Studios, 1957
Directed by Jack Arnold

Screenplay by Richard Matheson from his novel
Produced by Albert Zugsmith
Starring Grant Williams as Robert Scott Carey
& Randy Stuart as Louise Carey


This film is one of the best science fiction films ever made. Not only is it a masterpiece of special effects but it is also a powerful meditation on how a person can overcome his/her fears and accept his/her life as it is.

The shrinking man becomes so small he could fit through one of the holes in a window screen. But his fear of getting even smaller disappears. He realizes what really matters most is that he’s still alive! That's something I wish we all would never forget for a single day of our lives!

The Incredible Shrinking Man offers excellent special effects, a striking reliance on visuals rather than dialogue, a superb finale, and the supreme terror offered by the character named "Tomorrow." The latter was billed at that time as "the world's only trained Tarantula!"

*****

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3 comments:


  1. With you all the way on the superiority of SHRINKING MAN, and I think the unusual nature of that ending had a lot to do with its becoming the classic that it is. I thought I knew a lot about the film, but I didn't know about "Tomorrow!" :-) On a related note, Matheson once stated that the cat in the film was actually about 35 different animals, each of which had a different function. For further information, see my book RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN (http://www.mcfarlandpub.com/book-2.php?id=978-0-7864-4216-4).
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  2. Thanks for your comment. I've seen the trained tarantula mentioned under the name of "Tamara." I checked my source and TCM agrees that it's named "Tamara." Whether it was called "Tomorrow" or "Tamara," nonetheless supposedly "a trained tarantula."

    Could you tell my readers more about your book - I would like to read it for sure. I will publish any additional info here at http://shirleybooth.info.
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  3. Nothing would give me greater pleasure. It is a chronological history and analysis of every feature film, TV-movie, miniseries or television episode written by Matheson or based on his work (three of which, coincidentally, feature Joyce Van Patten). Much of the story is told in his own words, along with interviews and correspondence with such friends and fellow writers as Ray Bradbury, William F. Nolan, George Clayton Johnson, and the late Jerry Sohl. Special attention has been paid to the relationship between any literary adaptations and the published works on which they were based, and there is also information about unproduced scripts. The book has 64 photos and is available directly from the publisher, McFarland, using the previously supplied link, as well as through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Please let me know if you would like any further information, and thanks so much for your interest. Hope you will enjoy reading it.
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