Thursday, February 21, 2019

Cover Up!

Here's an advance look at the cover for my forthcoming book on Pine-Thomas Productions. That's Mr. Thomas on the left, and Mr. Pine on the right, by the way.

I hope you'll give it a look when it's published by McFarland & Co. later this year.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Case of the Consummate Actor

Happy birthday to the fine actor H.M. Wynant, who turns 92 today. During the 1960-61 season of TV's Perry Mason, when the career of co-star William Talman (Hamilton Burger) was in jeopardy due to an off-screen scandal, Wynant made three appearances as a substitute prosecutor, Deputy D.A. Sampson. Though I'm glad Talman ultimately returned as a series regular, I thought Wynant was the best of the temporary replacements. He could have been a fine addition to the regular cast. As it was, the producers liked him well enough to use him in ten episodes over the show's nine-year run, casting him at various times as prosecutor, victim, and murderer.

Among his dozens of other classic TV credits are a memorable episode of The Twilight Zone ("The Howling Man"). as well as appearances on Mission: Impossible, Batman, The Defenders ... I could go on and on. He was married for many years to a highly respected CBS casting director, the late Ethel Winant; today, Wynant and his second wife Paula have a teenage daughter.

Best wishes to Mr. Wynant and his family as they recognize him for a long and accomplished life and career.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Words from Our Sponsor

Nearly as long as we've had television, we've had commercials. Nowadays, we have so many of them that some frustrated viewers have cut the cord on broadcast TV. Thanks to the good folks of The Media History Digital Library, I recently time-traveled back to 1957, where author Harry Wayne McMahan's book The Television Commercial: How to Create and Produce Effective TV Advertising was instructing sponsors and ad men how to put their best feet forward in this still-young medium.


Some of his book's concerns clearly belong to that now-bygone era; I think the debate over live versus filmed commercials has been pretty decisively settled. But many of his comments -- don't make exaggerated claims for the product, don't talk down to viewers -- are still pertinent. As for his caution that commercials lose effectiveness when they are repeated too often, I wonder what he would say about one 60-minute program I saw recently in which the same ad aired seven times during that single broadcast. Or, for that matter, how that hour-long program, shorn of its nearly incessant commercial interruptions, would have run 37 minutes.

Wherever he might be today, I hope Mr. McMahan isn't watching 21st century television. When it comes to commercials, it's not a pretty sight.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Preserving the Republic (Studio)

Because my interest in B movies and the so-called "Poverty Row" studios has increased greatly over the past few years, I was eager to read Chris Enss and Howard Kazanjian's Cowboys, Creatures, and Classics: The Story of Republic Pictures (Lyons Press). I just wish I could say I loved it.

The illustrations, including movie stills, poster art, and related ephemera, are probably the chief asset of this coffee-table-type book. The text I found less impressive. Chapters offer somewhat superficial overviews of topics such as Western heroes, serials, and stuntmen, leaning pretty heavily on previously published material. The well-documented relationship between studio head Herbert J. Yates and his favorite leading lady, Vera Ralston, is discussed at some length, but in the end I didn't feel as though I'd learned much that I didn't already know.

There are also some errors film buffs won't have any trouble spotting, including the misspelled names of actresses Phyllis Coates and Mabel Normand. And while I appreciated the coverage of Gail Russell and Anne Jeffreys in the chapter on Republic's leading ladies, how do you put out an entire book on this studio with nary a mention of funny lady Judy Canova?

It's a shame to begin a new year talking about a book I can only marginally recommend. I'll try to do better next time out.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Coming Attraction

I'm pleased to announce that my eighth book will be published by McFarland next year.

It's a history and filmography of Pine-Thomas Productions, makers of more than 75 films in the 1940s and 1950s. The book offers much previously unpublished information about company founders Bill Pine and Bill Thomas, nicknamed "The Dollar Bills" for their ability to produce entertaining movies on modest budgets. In researching the book, I've been fortunate to enjoy the support and assistance of both the Pine and Thomas families, as well as an array of fascinating archival resources. There are also vintage photos you won't see anywhere else.

I hope you'll give it a look when it's released. 

Friday, November 23, 2018

Black Friday Sale!

Just a quick mention that my publisher is having a terrific Black Friday sale, for both print and Kindle eBooks. This includes hundreds of great titles on film and television history.

Details are here. Happy reading!

Saturday, November 3, 2018

One Grateful Author

My first holiday gift of the season came early this year, with the publication of Classic Images' November issue. While I'm always happy to see some love for that cinematic guilty pleasure House of Horrors, the biggest treat for me was the review of Gale Storm: A Biography and Career Record that appeared in Laura Wagner's "Book Points" column.

Since I have been reading and admiring Tom Weaver's books for at least 20 years, it came as a huge compliment when Ms. Wagner spotlighted us side-by-side, saying that our mutual publisher McFarland "has two of the best authors of show business history writing for them right now." My book, she says, "gives us a clear sense of who Storm was as a person," adding, "I'll be honest, his recounting of Gale's final years brought a tear to my eye." Throw in her reference to the author's "impeccable research skills," and I might feel a little verklempt myself.