Saturday, December 10, 2016

When Book Reviewing Ain't for Sissies

If you've been following my book reviews on this blog, you may have noticed that they tend to accentuate the positive. Knowing from first-hand experience how much effort writing a book entails, not to mention how personally writers take our work, I can't find any pleasure in slamming anyone's writing. I'd rather spend my energy calling attention to the books I enjoy.

That's why I hesitated to offer my opinion of The Top 100 American Situation Comedies: An Objective Ranking. It was written by two authors whose credentials are impressive, and issued by a respected academic publisher. Unfortunately, as many readers will quickly notice, it is also rife with errors.

To name a few:

Buddy (The Dick Van Dyke Show) was played by Morey, not "Maury," Amsterdam.

Beth Howland's Alice character was Vera Gorman, not "Goodman."

Uncle Tonoose (The Danny Thomas Show) was played by Hans Conried, not "Conreid."

On The Big Bang Theory, Raj's full name is Rajesh, not "Rajeesh."

And Fred MacMurray was not the only actor to be a regular cast member of My Three Sons for all 12 seasons. He shares that distinction with Stanley Livingston.

Maybe there truly is enlightenment to be found in the unique sitcom scoring system the authors have devised (although you have to wonder about a ranking that drops the classic 1970s Bob Newhart Show to #88). As for me, I had to put the book down. The mistakes were making my head swim.

I spent only $3.99 for the Kindle version of this book. Had I purchased it at full price ($39.95), I would be seriously pissed. I just hope its factual mistakes aren't perpetuated in other sources.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

I'm Being Marked Down!

There's a great moment in the movie comedy "Ruthless People" when kidnapping victim Bette Midler, whose husband refuses to pay the ransom (causing her captors to lower their price), cries in indignation and dismay, "I'm being marked down?!"

Well, Lost Laughs of '50s and '60s Television and I have likewise been put on sale, at least temporarily. The Kindle edition of my book about 30 neglected and overlooked sitcoms of the classic era is currently yours for a meager $3.99. So why not make it a stocking stuffer, for yourself or the TV fan in your life?

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Remembering Marshall Thompson

Look in the Hollywood casting directory under "Nice Guy," and chances are you'd find our birthday boy Marshall Thompson (1925-1992), born November 27. Active in films from the 1940s through the 1960s, he achieved perhaps his biggest success as the star of CBS' adventure series Daktari (1966-69). (Pictured above: Thompson with simian supporting player Judy). Something about his look just suggested the clean-cut, all-American good guy, and that's what he most often played. One of those roles was as co-star of the CBS sitcom Angel (1960-61), which cast him as the newlywed husband of the title character, a fun-loving, exuberant young Frenchwoman. You can read more about that show in Lost Laughs of '50s and '60s Television.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

An Important New Biography

Leslie Bennetts' Last Girl Before Freeway: The Life, Loves, Losses and Liberation of Joan Rivers (Little, Brown and Co.) is an engrossing, well-researched, and smart biography of the comedian who had such an enduring impact on popular culture. It is also a testament to a woman who persevered against incredible odds to achieve stardom, and maintain it right up to her death (in 2014) at the age of 81.

A polarizing figure for much of her career, Joan Rivers was a mass of contradictions, all of which the author fully explores here. Her groundbreaking work influenced practically every female stand-up comic to follow. Rivers was a trailblazer who gave women a bold voice, yet often seemed stuck in a bygone era where they were judged largely on their face and figure. Often crass and vulgar onstage, in her private life she hungered for elegance and was drawn to men who were courtly and dignified. Bennetts shows us a woman who could be both amazingly generous, and surprisingly petty. The book draws on numerous revealing interviews, some of which -- Barry Diller, Barbara Walters -- cannot have been easy to get. Some consider Rivers a comic genius; others saw a performer who didn't know the meaning of good taste or subtlety. Both sides get a fair hearing here.

This is one of the most interesting biographies of the year.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Sale Alert!

As I've mentioned here before, I do love a good bargain. And just in time for the holidays, my publisher has come through with a deal.

Go to the McFarland website to see the incredible assortment of cool stuff on sale.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Kindness of Strangers

Over the course of researching and writing six books (so far!), I've frequently had occasion to be impressed by the courtesies and favors extended to me by people I hardly know. Another instance took place this week, when I received a bulky package of material pertaining to my current project. The gentleman who sent me this (and I use the word "gentleman" advisedly) has never met me. He'd probably never heard of me before last week, when I contacted him via Facebook. But because I'm preparing a book on one of his favorite performers, he took the time to send me video copies of two films for which I'd spent the last several months searching in vain. He also included a disc of supplementary material, plus several beautiful lobby cards that are more than 70 years old.

It's moments like this that keep me going on this quest to document the lives and careers of performers from so many decades ago. And, at a time when hard-fought, oftentimes ugly, political battles have so many of us on edge, it's nice to see that this type of thoughtfulness still exists in our world today.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Spooky Reading

Oh, this is going to be fun!

Just in time for Halloween, I snagged a copy of Bryan Senn's A Year of Fear, a guide that suggests a scary movie for each day of the year. Today's choice just happens to be one of my favorite 50s creature features, the underrated The Monster of Piedras Blancas (1958). Each day's movie has an appropriate tie-in to the calendar, plus the author's commentary.

I should clarify that this is not one of my usual book reviews. I've only begun delving into Senn's book, and it may be months before I finish. Instead of reading it cover-to-cover, I will likely cart it around to waiting rooms, and anywhere else I find myself with some time to pass. Today it went along to my polling place. But I've read several of the author's books, and appreciated his knack for writing both knowledgeably and entertainingly about this genre.

I would say more, but right now I'm anxious to get back to the book. Happy Halloween!