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.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

An Important New Biography

Leslie Bennetts' Last Girl Before Freeway: The Life, Loves, Losses and Liberation of Joan Rivers (Little, Brown and Co.) is an engrossing, well-researched, and smart biography of the comedian who had such an enduring impact on popular culture. It is also a testament to a woman who persevered against incredible odds to achieve stardom, and maintain it right up to her death (in 2014) at the age of 81.

A polarizing figure for much of her career, Joan Rivers was a mass of contradictions, all of which the author fully explores here. Her groundbreaking work influenced practically every female stand-up comic to follow. Rivers was a trailblazer who gave women a bold voice, yet often seemed stuck in a bygone era where they were judged largely on their face and figure. Often crass and vulgar onstage, in her private life she hungered for elegance and was drawn to men who were courtly and dignified. Bennetts shows us a woman who could be both amazingly generous, and surprisingly petty. The book draws on numerous revealing interviews, some of which -- Barry Diller, Barbara Walters -- cannot have been easy to get. Some consider Rivers a comic genius; others saw a performer who didn't know the meaning of good taste or subtlety. Both sides get a fair hearing here.

This is one of the most interesting biographies of the year.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Sale Alert!

As I've mentioned here before, I do love a good bargain. And just in time for the holidays, my publisher has come through with a deal.

Go to the McFarland website to see the incredible assortment of cool stuff on sale.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Kindness of Strangers

Over the course of researching and writing six books (so far!), I've frequently had occasion to be impressed by the courtesies and favors extended to me by people I hardly know. Another instance took place this week, when I received a bulky package of material pertaining to my current project. The gentleman who sent me this (and I use the word "gentleman" advisedly) has never met me. He'd probably never heard of me before last week, when I contacted him via Facebook. But because I'm preparing a book on one of his favorite performers, he took the time to send me video copies of two films for which I'd spent the last several months searching in vain. He also included a disc of supplementary material, plus several beautiful lobby cards that are more than 70 years old.

It's moments like this that keep me going on this quest to document the lives and careers of performers from so many decades ago. And, at a time when hard-fought, oftentimes ugly, political battles have so many of us on edge, it's nice to see that this type of thoughtfulness still exists in our world today.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Spooky Reading

Oh, this is going to be fun!

Just in time for Halloween, I snagged a copy of Bryan Senn's A Year of Fear, a guide that suggests a scary movie for each day of the year. Today's choice just happens to be one of my favorite 50s creature features, the underrated The Monster of Piedras Blancas (1958). Each day's movie has an appropriate tie-in to the calendar, plus the author's commentary.

I should clarify that this is not one of my usual book reviews. I've only begun delving into Senn's book, and it may be months before I finish. Instead of reading it cover-to-cover, I will likely cart it around to waiting rooms, and anywhere else I find myself with some time to pass. Today it went along to my polling place. But I've read several of the author's books, and appreciated his knack for writing both knowledgeably and entertainingly about this genre.

I would say more, but right now I'm anxious to get back to the book. Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Theo's Driving the Bronco!

don't watch much contemporary TV, but I have been enjoying "The People v.s. O.J. Simpson. Who knew this 2016 miniseries would turn into such a classic TV reunion?

The Juice is being defended by a Sweathog (John Travolta, above), who's married to one of Charlie's Angels (Cheryl Ladd, also pictured). Also on the defense team are Ross from Friends, and the doctor from Northern Exposure. Theo from The Cosby Show drove the white Bronco, and Faye Resnick's ghostwriter was Andrew from Little House on the Prairie. 

I fully expect to see one of the Facts of Life girls before this is all over. Hey, is that Tootie as Juror #8?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

TV Time Machine: October 1966

It's still hard for me to accept (like many people growing older) that something which took place in 1966 was half a century ago. On the other hand, much has changed in fifty years. From the standpoint of the television industry, October 12, 1966 was a day in which some of the first Nielsen ratings of the new season were being evaluated.

Syndicated columnist Cynthia Lowry reported that ABC's war drama The Rat Patrol showed perhaps the greatest potential out of the gate, placing among TV's top ten shows. This was an especially impressive feat considering that it was in direct competition with a highly rated old favorite, The Lucy Show. Also doing well was Felony Squad, which followed The Rat Patrol on ABC's Monday night schedule. CBS' Family Affair, with a strong lead-in from The Andy Griffith Show, was shaping up as another popular hit.

Although based on only two weeks' worth of ratings, these early ratings were largely an accurate reflection of how the season would progress, with all three of these new shows going on to enjoy multi-season runs. Not quite so lucky was NBC's Occasional Wife, which also started strong but ultimately ran only one year. (See Lost Laughs of '50s and '60s Television for more on that show).

As for those shows at the other end of the ratings pile, Lowry cited The Milton Berle Show, NBC's sitcom Hey, Landlord!, and Burt Reynolds' cop drama Hawk as ones that were in for a struggle. Indeed, none would see a second season.

Still, the new shows of 1966 that debuted to poor ratings had a better shot at capturing viewers than they would today, when slow starters are often canceled after only two or three outings. So if you're enjoying some of the new shows of the 2016-17 season, watch them while you can. You never know.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Dana's Day

Happy birthday to writer/comedian Bill Dana, still kicking at the age of 92. Born October 5, 1924, Dana had his own TV sitcom, aptly titled The Bill Dana Show, from 1963 to 1965. In the late 80s and early 90s, fans of The Golden Girls knew him as Dorothy's goofy, lecherous Uncle Angelo.

You can read more about Dana and his career in Lost Laughs of '50s and '60s Television.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Book Review: A Bunch More Characters

How many character actresses from classic movies can you name? Ten? Twelve? Those are paltry numbers to author Axel Nissen, whose third book on the subject, Accustomed to Her Face: Thirty-Five Character Actresses of Golden Age Hollywood, brings to an even 100 the number of talented players he's profiled.

The photos alone (some 60 of them) are worth the price of admission, showing these ladies in action doing what they did best -- supporting some of the biggest stars of their day, in classic films like The Little Foxes (Patricia Collinge), Rope (Edith Evanson), and Saboteur (Anita Sharp-Bolster). But the illustrations only scratch the surface of what this book has to offer. For this volume, as Nissen profiles some lesser-known players about whom information is scarce, the author digs deeper. In several cases, he offers a substantial amount of never-before-published genealogical research, throwing new light on the lives of actresses such as Libby Taylor, who worked for Mae West both onscreen and off. Not confining himself to just the usual films that we've all seen, he broadens the perspective, poking his nose into the likes of She-Wolf of London, where Sara Haden (best-known for the Andy Hardy films) had one of the bigger roles of her career.

This is no dry academic book, although it's scrupulously documented for those who need that. It's a book for those of us who love and appreciate old movies, and the performers who populated them. Nissen isn't the type of writer who just echoes what others have already said. When he doesn't like something -- like the classic Lost Horizon, which he terms "asinine" -- he says so, in no uncertain terms. But his lively commentary makes this an addictively readable volume, and never leaves us doubting that he loves the films of the Golden Age -- and these often underappreciated women who contributed so much to them.

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

Monday, September 26, 2016

What James Said

Film historian James L. Neibaur has written a few books -- okay, more than a few -- about the movies and stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood. He's especially noted for his expertise on classic comedy. (I consulted his book The Bob Hope Films while writing about Martha). So it was a delight to read his review of Martha Raye: Film and Television Clown, which he says "cover(s) her life and her work with insight and with detail." Thanks, Jim!

To read his full review, as well as his informed assessments of other recent performing arts books, go here.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Price is Right (Lower)

Joan Davis appreciates a good book, as you can see. But when you're looking for something a little lighter than a scientific tome on Einstein's theories, try my first book, The Women Who Made Television Funny: Ten Stars of 1950s Sitcoms. Like the title says, you'll learn all about the leading female sitcom stars of early TV. Aside from Joan herself, the book spotlights Gracie Allen, Eve Arden, Spring Byington, Anne Jeffreys, Donna Reed, Ann Sothern, Gale Storm, Betty White, and, of course, Lucy.

If you've been thinking of checking out the book, now's a great time to do so, because my publisher, McFarland, has just given it a spiffy new (read: lower) price of $29.95. For the moment, you'll have to go to the publisher's website to get this deal. But Amazon and other online retailers should catch up with the new price shortly.

I loved writing about these talented ladies, and having the chance for exclusive interviews with Betty White and the late Gale Storm, as well as Eve Arden's son and others who worked with the talented ten. I hope you'll enjoy the book just as much.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Book Review: Here He Is (By Himself!)

I was a Groucho Marx fan even before I knew much about the famous Marx Brothers as a group. That's attributable mainly to the 1970s syndicated reruns of You Bet Your Life (or, as it was retitled, The Best of Groucho), where I first appreciated the sardonic humor of the cigar-smoking Marx. So I was intrigued by the premise of Matthew Coniam's book, That's Me, Groucho! The Solo Career of Groucho Marx (McFarland, $35). As the subtitle suggests, Coniam's book gives us a new slant on Groucho's work by spotlighting the wide range of projects -- not all of them in the realm of comedy -- that he did without his illustrious brothers.

Those projects include You Bet Your Life, of course, but also a surprisingly varied lot of others: a television performance of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Mikado, the stage play Time for Elizabeth (which Groucho co-wrote, with Norman Krasna)and films such as Copacabana (opposite Carmen Miranda, no less), and the groovy 1960s curiosity Skidoo, for director Otto Preminger. Often dismissed in a few sentences when other authors have written about Groucho's career, they receive full attention here, and the results are surprisingly illuminating. Also discussed is Groucho's authorship of books and magazine articles.

There have already been a lot of books about Groucho and his brothers, and I've read most of them. Take it from me: what Coniam offers here is not just a reshuffling of previously published material. He's done quite a bit of original research to inform his text, and has insightful comments to make about the career Groucho built for himself apart from his brothers. There's interesting commentary on the infamous Erin Fleming, and the live performances she managed for Marx near the end of his life.

This is Coniam's second book on matters Marxian for McFarland. I haven't read his first one -- but I think I will, now.

(No disclaimer needed today -- bought my own copy).

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Happy Labor Day!

In honor of our national holiday celebrating hard-working Americans, here are a few gainfully employed folks from classic TV:
Enjoy your weekend!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Happy Birthday, Martha!

Remembering a great lady, born 100 years ago today. There will never be another like her.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Unsung Mr. Litel

You can only watch classic films and TV for so long before you encounter busy character actor John Litel (1892-1972). The Internet Movie Database credits him with more than 200 roles, in a list that's almost certainly incomplete. Producers and casting directors knew Litel was the man to call if you needed a stern courtroom judge, a fearless military leader, or a stuffy career politician. He was also a great choice to play a firm but loving dad, as he did in the 1930s Nancy Drew movie series, and in Paramount's Henry Aldrich pictures of the 1940s.

Although Litel appeared in some genuine classics -- Jezebel, Dust Be My Destiny -- he also has a resume knee-deep in low budget and B movies. I'm not denigrating his work by pointing that out. In fact, I'm inclined to be impressed by anyone who can deliver such smoothly competent performances as he did, even under the most trying of circumstances. To me, John Litel represents the consummate professional. Judging from the sheer length of his credits list, I'm far from the only one who thought so.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A Raye Review

Thank you, "LA," for this Amazon customer review of Martha Raye: Film and Television Clown:

I wasn’t a Martha Raye fan before I read MARTHA RAYE: FILM AND TELEVISION CLOWN, but I come away with sympathy and admiration—AND a desire to explore her films, videos, and recordings. This is a credit to David C. Tucker’s thorough, even-handed biography [which also] includes a ... filmography, and TV episode guide. The biography is an entertaining read that describes Raye’s long entertainment career including vaudeville, film, television, and numerous USO tours. It also includes information on her up and down personal life ... The filmography and TV episode guide are thoroughly researched and meticulously detailed ... Also included are many black-and-white photos depicting all stages of Raye’s life and career. All in all, it adds up to an impressive, enjoyable book that expertly sums up the life and career of Martha Raye.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Help Wanted: Werewolf

A few days ago, I finally caught up with Bela Lugosi's 1943 feature The Return of the Vampire. Since Columbia Pictures didn't have the rights to make a Dracula film, the vamp in question is a gentleman named Armand Tesla, who may nonetheless remind you of Lugosi's most famous screen character. But if there's a certain familiarity to the film's basic story, our screenwriters do offer a few twists we haven't seen before. One of them is the vampire's werewolf assistant, Andreas (played by Matt Willis, above left). I guess when you're a bloodthirsty monster who only works nights, good help is hard to find. But you have to give Andreas credit -- he's a pretty snappy dresser, don't you think? Personally, I wear a tie as seldom as possible, and at the moment I don't even own a good suit like he's sporting. On the other hand, if you'd prefer an employee who's a bit more clean-shaven than Tesla's sidekick, let me know and I'll send you my resume.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Joe and Martha

Comic co-stars in $1,000 a Touchdown.
Happy birthday (in memoriam) to comedian Joe E. Brown (1891-1973), born July 28. He was Martha Raye's co-star in two films, but before they even met, they were compared to one another. One similarity was immediately apparent -- both were "big mouths," finding comedy fodder in their plus-sized kissers and mobile faces. Off-screen, both would devote considerable effort to supporting America's military men and women during wartime.

In 1939, they teamed up for $1,000 a Touchdown. Produced on a modest budget, the sports-accented comedy wasn't the top-notch production they deserved, but Joe and Martha made it fun nonetheless. Five years later, they joined forces to provide comic support to Betty Grable in Pin-Up Girl.

A couple of years ago, I had a mini-film festival of Joe E. Brown comedies, inspired by my reading of film historian Wes D. Gehring's Joe E. Brown: Film Comedian and Baseball Buffoon. That book not only gave me a better appreciation of Brown's comedic skills, but also paid tribute to someone who seems to have been a fine, admirable human being off-camera.

Happy birthday, Mr. Brown. You're remembered with fondness and admiration.

Friday, July 22, 2016

New Fall Catalog

My publisher's fall catalog has just been issued, full of enticing books due out in the next several months. Go here to have a look. I see several I want to read!

Thursday, July 14, 2016


And here comes the eBook version of Martha Raye: Film and Television Clown! Props to Barnes & Noble for being first out of the gate, with the Nook edition now on the market; Amazon and other providers surely won't be far behind.

Power on, and happy reading!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Friday Fun with Martha

As I said in the preface to my new book on Martha Raye, I chose to focus primarily on her career as a comedienne in film and television, as opposed to her private life. Still, it's fair to say that marriage came up pretty often in the book, given her seven trips to the altar.

Just for the fun of it, see if you can guess which of those lucky gentlemen is pictured in the vintage photo at right. We'll even make it a multiple choice question. Which groom is pictured here?

a. Edward Begley
b. Nick Condos
c. Mark Harris
d. Neal Lang
e. Robert O'Shea
f. David Rose
g. Bud Westmore

Correct answer on Monday, unless someone posts it in the comments first. Have a great weekend!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Eager for Seegar

Born July 1, 1914, Sara Seegar has a face that will be familiar to many classic TV fans. She may be best-known for playing the second Mrs. Wilson (wife to Gale Gordon's character) in the final season of Dennis the Menace. She also turned up fairly often, usually as a client or client's wife, on Bewitched. In researching my book on Martha Raye, I learned that she supported Miss Raye in several of her 1950s variety shows, whether on All Star Revue or The Martha Raye Show. Miss Seegar was a gifted character actress with a finely developed instinct for finding the funny moments in a script.

In private life, she was the wife of Ezra Stone, who went from playing Henry Aldrich onstage and in radio to a successful career as a producer and director. In a 1969 interview, Stone said that he and Sara met in 1940, when they shared the stage in an unsuccessful Broadway play. "In comparison to the show," he joked, "we looked good to each other, and got married."

Sara Seegar died in 1990, a few weeks past her 76th birthday; her widower passed away in 1994. Both made significant contributions to the world of show business, and deserve to be remembered, as we do in this small way today.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Slightly Guilty Bargain Hunter

I love bargains, and I come by it honestly. My parents were both born during the Great Depression, worked at sometimes low-paying jobs, and instilled in their kids the value of a dollar.

So it isn't surprising when I'm tickled pink to get a good deal on a book I want for my collection. In the past few weeks, I've snagged the two books pictured here, among others, at discount prices. And during my publisher's recent sale on eBooks, I picked up six or seven titles I'd been eager to read. Good for me, careful with my money, right? Well, yes ...

But the authors who write books like this often don't make much profit from all their hard work. I know this from personal experience, and from some of the writers I've befriended over the years. That leaves me with just a tinge of guilt when I get a steal of a deal on a used copy, giving the author no additional royalties. On the other hand, there's probably someone out there who'd like to read one of my books, but is discouraged by the sticker price.

Fortunately, public libraries do a great job of making books available to share among multiple readers. And if you support your local used bookstore, you might just reel in some terrific deals -- if I don't see them first.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

She's Here!

My sixth book, Martha Raye: Film and Television Clown, has just been published by McFarland and Company. It's been a privilege to learn about this lady's fascinating life, talk to people who knew and worked with her, and have a good excuse to revisit her hilarious performances. To learn more about the book, or order your copy, please visit the publisher's website. You can also get it at Amazon, or Barnes & Noble. An eBook version isn't yet available, but it should be shortly.

If you read the book, I hope you'll drop me a line and let me know how you like it.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Whale of a Sale

Psst! Here's a little tip for loyal readers of this blog. The Kindle editions of Joan Davis and Lost Laughs are currently on sale for the absurdly low price of $3.99 each.

No telling how long this will last, but chances are you'll never get a better price. Pass it on!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Oh, Boy!

Spread the word! My newest book, Martha Raye: Film and Television Clown, is only days away from publication. It's available for pre-order from AmazonBarnes & Noble, or directly from the publisher. I hope you'll enjoy exploring the life and career of this timelessly funny lady, as much as I did researching and writing it. And with the centennial of her birth only a few weeks away, what better time to pay her tribute?

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Book Review: Who Was On First?

I've been researching, and reading about, television history, for a good many years. I know who played Mrs. Trumbull on I Love Lucy, who taught the lessons in Ding Dong School, and which CBS soap opera was interrupted when Walter Cronkite went on the air live in 1963 to tell us our president had been shot. But I still learned plenty -- and enjoyed doing it -- from Garry Berman's new book For the First Time on Television (BearManor Media).

This concise, thoroughly researched, and readable volume devotes itself to answering practically any question you could have about pioneering shows, stars, and technical innovations in broadcast history. Topics include sports, news, soap operas, and pretty much everything else the tube has to offer. Events both in front of, and behind, the cameras are covered. Berman is a meticulous researcher who sorts out the facts from the fallacies. Thought I Love Lucy was the first sitcom ever shot using a multi-camera technique? Not so. When the answer to a "first" question is open to debate, or difficult to clarify many years later, the author gives us all the available data and lets the reader draw his own conclusions.

Years ago, the great Groucho Marx (who had quite a successful video career himself) cracked that he found television very educational -- whenever someone turned it on, he went into the other room and opened a book. If you follow his example, you might try reading For the First Time on Television. There won't even be any commercial interruptions -- but you will learn about the first-ever TV commercial.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Goodbye, Mr. Young

RIP to the multi-talented Alan Young, who died this week at the age of 96. For all his considerable success as a film player (1960's The Time Machine), a voice actor, and star of a critically acclaimed early TV variety show, there's no escaping the fact that he will be best-remembered for his popular 1961-66 sitcom Mister Ed. By some accounts he was initially reluctant to star opposite a talking horse, but with the passage of time he seemed to embrace the show, recognize that it showcased him well, and take pleasure in how much viewers loved it. And if it's not the sort of role, or series, that typically took home the Emmy gold, it surely took a special gift as a performer to believably carry on conversations with a horse -- especially when the horse answers back.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Papal Birthday

Wishing a very happy 87th birthday to the marvelous character actress Peggy Pope, born May 15, 1929. Ms. Pope has always had her own distinctive comic style, and has enjoyed a lengthy career in movies and TV. She was memorably featured as a tippling office worker in Nine to Five (1980), and has played guest roles in more shows than you can shake a stick at. She was evidently a favorite at the Witt - Thomas - Harris production company, playing a recurring role in Soap, as well as making appearances in The Golden Girls and Empty Nest.

I just learned she's published a memoir, Atta Girl: Tales from a Life in the Trenches of Show Business. That's one I want to read!

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Proof is in the Pages

They're called "page proofs," and I recently received a whole bundle of them from my publisher. Once upon a time, page proofs came in a cardboard box that landed on my doorstep; now, I get an email, directing me to where I can download the images from an FTP server. They represent the last chance to correct any errors or typos in a book being readied for publication.

So if they're "proofs," what do they prove, exactly? In this case, they represent pretty compelling evidence that my book on Martha Raye should be out shortly. It's available for pre-order on Amazon and elsewhere. I hope you'll check it out.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Hollywood Chatting

Many thanks to the fine folks at Facebook's Hollywood Book Chat page, especially my fellow McFarland author James Zeruk, for recently recognizing me as "Author of the Day." I'm grateful for their support.

If you're either a reader who appreciates books about show business history, or an author who writes them, you should definitely join this community of like-minded folk. Just don't be surprised if visiting the page sends you directly to the nearest bookstore, or library.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Remembering Carolyn Jones

Sometimes an actress plays a single role so well that it becomes a defining point in her career, bringing her a new level of fame but also making it difficult to move on to new characterizations. For Carolyn Jones, born April 28, 1930, it was her two-year stint as Morticia on TV's The Addams Family that tended to overshadow much of what came before and after. An Oscar nominee for her supporting role in The Bachelor Party (1957), Miss Jones also appeared in classic films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But the slinky, sensuous perfection of her TV alter ego was too distinctive to be quickly forgotten.

She died young, of cancer, in 1983, her illness forcing her to relinquish a juicy villainous role in the daytime soap opera, Capitol, which she'd begun the previous year. The role of Myrna Clegg might have been a mid-life game changer for the talented actress. Instead, sadly, it became her final bow.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Lucy a la Carte

Why you should never sit near Lucy in a busy restaurant, especially if you're a male celebrity:
While William Holden (above), in his classic 1955 episode of I Love Lucy, has always been the best-known example of this phenomenon, there are others. Consider the case of Danny Kaye, in a 1964 Lucy Show appearance:
Poor Milton Berle, a few years later, didn't even have to leave home to run afoul of Lucy and her food fumbles:
Celebrities, as the captain on Hill Street Blues used to say, "Let's be careful out there!"

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Agnes and Mabel

As all fans of Eve Arden know, "The Mothers-in-Law" was the classic 1960s sitcom in which she and Kaye Ballard played the lead roles. But just imagine if, instead, that title had been given to a spinoff of "Bewitched" starring Agnes Moorehead and Mabel Albertson (above)?

It's probably just as well that, back then, studios and network executives weren't quite so enamored as they would later become of pulling favorite supporting characters from hit series and starring them in their own shows. But this one's fun to think about, isn't it?

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Hailing Mr. Jenkins

Born April 9, 1900, actor Allen Jenkins enjoyed a long and busy career playing variations on a theme. His instantly recognizable face can be seen in everything from Destry Rides Again (1939) to Pillow Talk (1959). When television came along, he adapted neatly to the new medium, appearing on popular shows like I Love Lucy, Ben Casey, Batman, and quite a few more. He continued to work until shortly before his death in 1974.

If the roles he was offered tended to follow a particular pattern, Jenkins took it in stride. He said, "Typecasting has been my bread and butter since I got started in this business ... I've played nothing but mugs -- a few sympathetic sorts, but always mugs ... I've been enough different taxi drivers in movies and on TV to man a whole New York cab fleet."

Jeannie Carson and Allen Jenkins in Hey, Jeannie!
One of those rough-hewn yet likable cab drivers was Al Murray, his featured role in the CBS comedy series Hey, Jeannie! (CBS, 1956-57). Supporting musical comedy performer Jeannie Carson, Jenkins teamed with Jane Dulo as a brother-sister pair who took in a young immigrant newly arrived in the U.S. You can read more about that often overlooked show in Lost Laughs of '50s and '60s Television.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Remembering Patty Duke (1946-2016)

Mr. and Mrs. Pearce.
Like so many of her fans, I was shocked and saddened by the unexpected news of Patty Duke's death earlier this week. Ordinarily, I don't have a strong reaction when I learn that a celebrity has passed away, even if it's someone whose work I admire. It just isn't quite the same for me as losing someone I know personally.

But among the most noteworthy qualities of Anna Marie Pearce, as she preferred to be known in her private life, was her ability to communicate with others -- whether it was in one of her performances as "Patty Duke," the Oscar- and Emmy-winning actress, or her compulsion to share her life experiences with others. After being diagnosed as mentally ill nearly 35 years ago, she spent much of her time not only making her own life better and healthier, but striving to help others do the same. That she succeeded on both counts is amply demonstrated in a touching interview given this week by her husband of 30 years, Michael Pearce. I found it well worth watching, and I think you will, too.

She won't be forgotten.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Lady Said No

Born 105 years ago today, Tennessee Williams was one of the greatest playwrights of the American theater. In the 1950s, when he was near the peak of his success, Shirley Booth was widely regarded as one of Broadway's finest dramatic actresses, with the Tony Awards to prove it. What could be more natural than the idea of teaming them up?

Reportedly, Williams was an admirer of Booth's work, and offered to create a play tailored to her talents. Yet though she recognized the playwright's gifts, saying he "writes beautifully," she discouraged any talk of a collaboration. It wasn't until 1966, when she accepted the role of Amanda Wingfield in a television production of The Glass Menagerie, that she found herself speaking Williams' words. Even then, the experience was not a happy one. To find out why, read Shirley Booth: A Biography and Career Record.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Heflin's Lives

Derek Sculthorpe's Van Heflin: A Life in Film (McFarland, $35) could easily have been subtitled "Lives in Film." As this thoroughly researched, intelligent appreciation of his career makes clear, the talented actor (1908-1971) demonstrated his versatility in a number of well-remembered films of Hollywood's Golden Age. Heflin's subtle, layered performances -- skillfully delineating men of widely varied backgrounds, temperaments, and abilities -- are capably covered here, in a book his admirers will want to pick up.

Naturally, full attention is given to the roles for which most of us know him, in films like Johnny Eager (1942), which netted him an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor, Airport (1970), and especially Shane (1953). Sculthorpe's analyses not only encouraged me to see more of Heflin's work, but also gave me a new appreciation for what he contributes to films I'd already seen, like Possessed (1947). Although the emphasis here is on his film work, I appreciated the attention the author paid to Heflin's radio career as well. Too often, biographers overlook, or downplay, the importance of this medium; Sculthorpe gives it the attention it merits. Also interesting was the author's account of Heflin's work in television, a medium he was decidedly slow to embrace, yet one in which his talent could have easily taken him farther.

Both the book, and the actor it memorializes, are worth your attention.

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

Saturday, March 12, 2016

It's That Time Again

For many of us, Sunday, March 13 is the day we Spring Forward into Daylight Savings Time. Hopefully you have an easier way to adjust your clocks than the one demonstrated here by the great Harold Lloyd. Enjoy your weekend!