Friday, June 16, 2017

That's My Little Margie!

Sixty-five years ago tonight, Americans had their first look at a television comedy series called My Little Margie. Airing Monday nights at 9 p.m. (EST), it was the summer replacement for TV's Number One show, I Love Lucy.

TV critics were not impressed, and predicted a hasty -- and well-deserved -- demise. But as one observer later said, "Nobody liked it but the people." The show caught on immediately, making leading lady Gale Storm a full-fledged television star. The series lasted four seasons, and played in reruns for decades afterwards.

Be on the lookout next spring for my book on the life and career of Gale Storm.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Curti on Freda

Congratulations to my friend and colleague Roberto Curti on the publication of his newest book, Riccardo Freda: The Life and Films of a Born Filmmaker (McFarland). His knowledge of and appreciation for the Italian motion picture industry would be difficult to match. I had the privilege of giving him a small assist in preparing this book, for which he kindly acknowledged me in print. It was my pleasure to do so.

Roberto is that rare author who does excellent work while being prolific enough to make me feel like a real slacker. He also imparts a tremendous amount of valuable information and commentary without sacrificing readability. 

I'm eager to see what he produces next.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

An Encouraging Word

After a long week of researching and writing  (I'm actually working on two books simultaneously), this was a sight for weary eyes. Thank you, Classic Images and Laura Wagner! My fellow McFarland author Derek Sculthorpe, whose books I've spotlighted in reviews on this blog, gets a well-deserved shout-out in the same column.

Keep this sort of thing up, and I just might write more books!

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.