Friday, May 26, 2017

Memorable Miss Lee

"It's a Good Day" to remember one of my favorite singers, Miss Peggy Lee, born on this date in 1920.

Peggy Lee was both popular with listeners, and respected by critics, winning a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995. Among the peers who admired her work were Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, and Frank Sinatra, who said, “Her wonderful talent should be studied by all vocalists; her regal presence is pure elegance and charm.”

Her career lasted from her early days with the Benny Goodman orchestra in the 1940s through the 1990s, when she sometimes performed from a wheelchair — and still charmed audiences. In her later years, she successfully sued Disney for her share of the profits from the video releases of Lady and the Tramp, the hit 1955 animated film for which she contributed not only her vocal but her songwriting skills. (Remember “The Siamese Cat Song”?) She passed away in 2002.

I listen to her almost every day.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Mr. Burr's Birthday

One of television's finest actors, Raymond Burr, was born 100 years ago today. Although he'd enjoyed a successful film career in the 1940s and early 1950s, he reached his pinnacle of fame during his nine-year run as Erle Stanley Gardner's lawyer hero Perry Mason in the popular CBS series (1957-66). No one-hit wonder, he came back in 1967 to star in NBC's Ironside, which kept him busy for another eight years. Until shortly before his death in 1993, Burr continued to reprise his most famous character in highly rated TV-movies, the proceeds from which often went to fund one of his many charitable interests.

Burr deserved a better biography than the one he got in 2008, whose author wasted quite a bit of space and energy making disparaging remarks about the actor's weight, and treating his sexual orientation with minimal respect. But Burr still has plenty of fans who respect both the man and his work. Which is as it should be.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Miss Crawford"s Legacy

Joan Crawford, the epitome of a movie star, died 40 years ago today. Though interest in her life and career has remained steady over the years, there's been a heightened awareness this spring, thanks to the television miniseries Feud. Her two memoirs are back in print, and a younger generation is becoming aware of her.

I'm all for that. I just hope those lured in by the gossipy fun of the TV show go past that to discover the fine body of work she left behind, and appreciate the achievements of a woman from a disadvantaged background who reached the top not only through talent and opportunity, but through sheer force of will.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Three Times a Star

This trade-paper ad gives us a good sense just how important Gale Storm was to the success of Monogram Pictures in the mid-1940s. There were supposedly "eight good reasons" why the Poverty Row studio expected to reap healthy profits in 1945; Gale starred in three of them.

That year in particular demonstrated what a versatile player Gale had become after only five years as a professional actress. In short order, she would be presented to moviegoers as the star of three markedly different films -- a drama (They Shall Have Faith, ultimately released as Forever Yours), a Gay 90s musical revue (Sunbonnet Sue), and a fast-paced contemporary comedy (G.I. Honeymoon).

My favorite of the three is Honeymoon, a clear precursor to the kind of comedy she would do as TV's My Little Margie. But they're all well worth a look, and deserve to be better-known than they are today. Let's change that.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Book Review: Produced by Pivar

Some of the most devoted classic movie lovers never get much past the biggest names and the best-known films -- the Hitchcocks, the Gone with the Winds, the Cary Grants. This book is not for them. Stop Yellin': Ben Pivar and the Horror, Mystery and Action - Adventure Films of His Universal B-Unit, by Thomas Reeder (BearManor Media), devotes its 500+ pages to movies like House of Horrors, Escape from Hong Kong, and Eyes of the Underworld -- movies made purely to entertain viewers for an hour or so, and generally completed on a tight budget and a brief shooting schedule. Because my appreciation for B movies has grown in recent years, I found it fascinating.

The author's research was extensive, and he had the active cooperation of Pivar's children in telling the story. The illustrations, including some one-of-a-kind family photos, are plentiful and eye-catching. Reeder strikes a healthy balance in outlining his subject's career, and evaluating his films. He doesn't make inflated claims for Pivar's output, nor does he disparage it unduly. When directors, actors, or technicians do unusually good work under trying circumstances, Reeder says so; he's equally honest (without being insulting) when the rear projection screen, or the spliced-in stock footage, is a bit too obvious. Fans of the 1940s Universal Inner Sanctum, Mummy, and Creeper movies will definitely want to get this, as they are covered in great detail.

This is a worthy addition to movie history, covering an area too often ignored.

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

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Miss Donahue at 80

Here's wishing a very happy 80th birthday to actress Elinor Donahue, born April 19, 1937. Whether you know her as Betty 'Princess' Anderson on Father Knows Best, Ellie Walker on The Andy Griffith Show, or any of her other hundreds of TV and film credits, there's no question she's built a successful and enduring career.

If you're a fan of her work, check out her memoir/cookbook In the Kitchen with Elinor Donahue. Recipes aside, it offers some charming and funny recollections of her many roles and co-stars, as well as a look at her life with longtime husband Harry Ackerman, the veteran TV producer and executive. There's a lengthy, meaty interview with her in Eddie Lucas' Close-Ups: Conversations with Our TV Favorites.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Too Shocking for TV (1954 TV, That Is)!

The cover line caught my attention. "TABOO! What You Can't See on TV." No, the answer wasn't Liberace, whose smiling face occupied the cover of TV Guide's February 26, 1954 issue. Considering that Lucy Ricardo couldn't say she was pregnant on I Love Lucy a year or so earlier, obviously there were plenty of things you couldn't say or do on the airwaves at the time. But I was curious to see what else was on the list.

As TV Guide reported, NBC's Continuity Acceptance Department was responsible for vetoing anything dicey before it aired on that network. This included not only current programs, but also old movies making their broadcast debut. Here, as quoted in the article, is a summary of one month's transgressions:

"There were numerous deletions in comedy films of men losing their pants and such items as dogs spitting, a fat woman doing a shake dance, kids sticking their tongues out at each other incessantly, an animated tuba spitting, a cruel portraiture of an Old Ladies Home and the inmates of an insane asylum, some scantily clad harem girls..." Among the dialogue deemed unacceptable was, "Who in the flaming hell do you think you are?"

Well, there you have it. Check out today's TV, and see how much the world has changed in 63 years. Whether for better or for worse may be in the eyes of the beholder.