Monday, December 28, 2015

Eve on Demand

I'm pleased to see the success of The Warner Archive Collection and other efforts to bring older movies out of studio vaults and back into public view. For too long, fans have had to hope that the movies they want to see will turn up on TCM or other cable channels, or buy bootleg copies of dubious quality.

The Voice of the Turtle: Eve, Eleanor Parker, Ronald Reagan.
The folks at Warner, for example, have made it easier to see at least ten films featuring my beloved Eve Arden. They cover nearly the entirety of her career, from the likable comedy Having Wonderful Time (1938) to her quirky role as royalty in Under the Rainbow (1981).

My strongest recommendation, however, is for those of you who've never seen her memorable supporting performance in the charming romantic comedy The Voice of the Turtle (1947). If this film fails to turn up on your list of top ten Eve Arden movies, it's probably because you haven't seen it.

Take care of that first chance you get, OK? Then come back and tell me how much you loved it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Getting to Know Gene Rayburn

Adam Nedeff's The Matchless Gene Rayburn (BearManor Media, $32.95) is an amazingly detailed, authoritative biography of the man who, for all his other accomplishments, is best-
remembered as the zany host of one of TV's most popular game shows, Match Game. 

By Nedeff's account, Rayburn was often frustrated by the way Match Game overshadowed other aspects of his career, and how he was pigeonholed as a game show host. I think the man himself would be pleased by the amount of attention given in this book to his work as a radio disc jockey and announcer for The Tonight Show, as well as his Broadway performances. Nedeff says, "My hope for this book is that it makes that image on the TV screen a little more three-dimensional." I'd say that's a goal he fully accomplishes. Two important elements that help are the author's access to some of the late star's own reminiscences, and interviews with many people important to both his personal and professional life, including his daughter Lynne.

But if you want to know about Match Game (I certainly did), there's a lengthy and fascinating section devoted to that topic. I was interested to read about the sometimes-tense relationship between Rayburn, who had his own freewheeling, improvisational style as an emcee, and producer Mark Goodson, a purist who thought nothing should distract attention from the game itself. The show's long history, from its original, more staid version in the 1960s, to its revival as Match Game '73, and even the disastrous 1983-84 revival that welded it to Hollywood Squares in an hour-long version that quickly tanked, is covered in full. I found it great fun to learn about how those wacky Match Game questions were contrived, the trouble that arose from time to time with CBS censors, and the ways in which network scheduling unnecessarily shortened its run.

Nedeff is also the author of other books on game shows, including a biography of Quizmaster Bill Cullen, which I plan to investigate sooner rather than later. He also has a website, Game Show Utopia. 

P.S. No disclaimer today --  I bought my own copy at full price, and didn't even get any parting gifts.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Heeeeere' s Martha!

I'm thrilled to offer a first look at the cover for my book on marvelous Martha Raye, due from McFarland next spring. It's being published in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of her birth. I hope you'll give it a look.

Friday, December 11, 2015

"High" Praise

Would you believe this 1955 comedy starring the Bowery Boys was actually nominated for an Oscar, in the Best Original Screenplay category? It's true -- though with a caveat.

If you know the story behind this notorious goof, add a comment below.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Bringing Home the Bacon

Happy birthday to the late Lloyd Bacon (1889-1955), busy Hollywood director who helmed more than 100 films in the course of his long career. Film historians usually count 42nd Street and Marked Woman among his best and most important pictures, but I'm fond of a few Bacon features that aren't so acclaimed. While researching my book on Eve Arden, I saw his briskly paced melodrama A Child is Born (1940), which nicely illustrates the director's oft-quoted comment, "Some others may use motion pictures as a vehicle for a psychological study. I haven't that patience." That slightly self-deprecating quote, though it may sell some of his pictures short, expresses an important point that almost always stands out in this "impatient" director's films: the story moves. That quality is readily apparent in the two Lucille Ball comedies he directed, Miss Grant Takes Richmond (1949) and The Fuller Brush Girl (1950), which came closer than almost any others in her movie career to showing the madcap, hilarious Lucy who would emerge on TV.

Want to learn more about Bacon's career? Here's a terrific overview of Bacon's busy career and distinctive directorial style.