Tuesday, January 10, 2017

"Celia Rubenstein Loved All Mankind..."

Happy birthday (in memoriam) to the great character actress Amzie Strickland (1919-2006), who appeared in practically every classic show you could shake a stick at. Even when she didn't have a recurring character to play, most shows liked her work enough to call her back multiple times.

Here's one of my favorite Strickland moments, from The Golden Girls, playing an unexpected mourner at the funeral of a woman no one liked.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A Life of Brian

Author Derek Sculthorpe, who last year gave us a fine book about Van Heflin, makes it two-for-two with Brian Donlevy, the Good Bad Guy (McFarland). It's a thoroughly readable and comprehensive look at the life and career of an oft-underappreciated actor who lent his name and talent to some genuine Hollywood classics (Destry Rides Again, The Great McGinty, Kiss of Death) in the course of a long and productive career.

Sculthorpe's book is subtitled "A Bio-Filmography," which aptly describes the author's skillful melding of the personal and the professional in one compact volume. As a writer, Sculthorpe has the gift of brevity -- he gives the reader a strong sense of who Donlevy was, and what was distinctive about his performances, without wasting words, repeating himself, or gushing. We get a thoughtful look at the women Donlevy married, including one who wanted to give him a makeover, and one who made him an ideal companion in his later years. Attention is also paid to the star's beginnings on Broadway, as well as his collaboration with the great Preston Sturges. Arresting film stills grace the text throughout.

Sculthorpe has quickly established himself as a compelling new voice in the world of film studies. I, for one, hope he has many more books in him.

NOTE: I was furnished a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Out with the Old...

What more can be said?

Best wishes for a spectacularly happy and productive 2017 to all who read this.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Many Faces of Mala

Mala Powers, born on this date in 1931, was never content to be just one woman, or even to have just one career. A protégé of pioneering female director Ida Lupino, she won acclaim for her performance as a rape victim in Lupino's Outrage, and enjoyed plum roles in Edge of Doom and Cyrano de Bergerac. 

As Mala explained to columnist Bill Dunn in 1971, "I always see what is different between the character and myself. I can't help the similarities. It's much more interesting to impose the opposite characteristics." That eagerness to transform herself made her versatile to cast. She was a favorite guest star on shows like Perry Mason (where she made five appearances), and had a recurring role as the slightly snobbish, petulant Mona Williams, best pal of Barbara Baxter, in the final season of Hazel. She also co-starred with Anthony Quinn in the 1971-72 series The Man and the City. 

When not in front of the cameras, she had a second career as an acting teacher, and became a published author whose books included Follow the Year: A Celebration of Family Holidays (1985). Powers died in 2007, busy and productive as ever until shortly before her passing.

She packed quite a bit of living into 75 years.

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.