Thursday, September 28, 2017

Farewell, Anne

RIP to the beautifully talented Anne Jeffreys, who passed away yesterday at the age of 94. In the 1970s, she became one of my first TV crushes when I discovered reruns of her 1950s sitcom Topper. Some three decades later, it was my pleasure to devote a chapter to her life and career in The Women Who Made Television Funny.

She lived a long and rich life, but I am still saddened by her passing.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Mason at 60

"The Case of the Restless Redhead" introduced TV viewers to Perry Mason in 1957. Pictured (l.-r.) are Barbara Hale (Della), Raymond Burr (Perry), and Whitney Blake as his redheaded client.
Perry Mason, the classic TV courtroom drama, is looking awfully good at the age of sixty. Although readers had been thrilling to the escapades of Erle Stanley Gardner's fictional lawyer for more than 20 years, it was on September 21, 1957 that the weekly series made its bow. For the next nine years, Perry Mason would be a staple of CBS' prime time schedule, and star Raymond Burr -- previously better known for his movie bad guys -- became most fans' definitive portrayer of the lawyer-hero. Burr even reprised the role for a series of popular made-for-TV movies (starting with 1985's Perry Mason Returns), and the release of the complete series on DVD makes it possible for fans old and new to continue savoring the show's intricate plots and fine performances.

Many happy returns, Mr. Mason and company!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Book Review: Going to the Castle

I wish I'd had the idea to write a book-length study of the 56 films directed by William Castle (1914-1977). But it's probably just as well that I didn't. I doubt I could done it as well as author Joe Jordan does in Showmanship: The Cinema of William Castle (BearManor Media).

While many, if not most, of Castle's admirers know him for his horror films of the 50s and 60s (House on Haunted Hill, Strait-Jacket, Homicidal), he first took the director's reins at Columbia Pictures in 1943, when he directed Chester Morris as Boston Blackie in the series programmer The Chance of a Lifetime. For me, one of this book's strengths is the author's decision to look at all of the films Castle directed, rather than just the ones movie fans know best. This approach lends depth and context that pay off when it's time to analyze the canonical horror films.

Jordan's reading of the films are intelligent and informed without being pedantic, pointing out themes and recurrent motifs without drowning in minutiea. I also appreciated his interviews with Castle players like Pat Cardi (Let's Kill Uncle) and Joyce Meadows (I Saw What You Did). This is a fine contribution to film scholarship.

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

Friday, September 1, 2017

A "Very Special" Issue

I'm slightly embarrassed to admit how much I used to look forward to TV Guide's Fall Preview Issue back in the 70s. Long before anyone had heard of the World Wide Web, back when there were three major channels in most cities, this was big stuff. Page after page of details, with full-color photos, of all the new shows waiting to be sampled. A big grid showing the entire prime-time schedule.

For many of us old-timers, TV Guide died the day it gave up the interior pages of local program listings, and converted from digest size into a glossy, slender magazine that looked like a hundred others. I don't buy it anymore. But I still remember a time when one of the highlights of Labor Day Weekend was getting this once-a-year issue into my hot little hands.