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.

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Trials of O'Brien

"I want to report a murder."
"Who was murdered?"
"I was."

If you recognize that memorable exchange from 1949's film classic D.O.A., you'll want to check out Derek Sculthorpe's newest book, Edmond O'Brien: Everyman of Film Noir (McFarland). It's a welcome and worthy look at the life and career of an Oscar-winning actor who lent his talents to more than 100 films. Aside from D.O.A., O'Brien also created distinctive portraits of complex men in The Barefoot Contessa, White Heat, Seven Days in May, and a host of others. As the author notes, "His character studies were never all one thing. They were not all bad and not all good, but they were human."

Away from the cameras, O'Brien dated a dazzling array of Hollywood beauties, and married two of them -- film star Nancy Kelly (a short and tumultuous union), and actress/dancer Olga San Juan, with whom he had three children. Sculthorpe also covers the debilitating health issues that took their toll on O'Brien's life and work, including the gradual loss of his eyesight and, most cruelly, the onset of Alzheimer's while still in his fifties.

This is a quick, compelling read that should serve to reinforce O'Brien's significance as an actor, and insure that his fine performances are not overlooked.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Not Just Lucy's Babysitter

Elizabeth Patterson (r.), with Vivian Vance, on I Love Lucy. 
What I Love Lucy fan doesn't have a soft spot for the Ricardos' charming neighbor, and frequent babysitter, Mrs. Mathilda Trumbull? It's a credit to actress Elizabeth Patterson that she made such an impression -- though frequently mentioned, Mrs. Trumbull actually appeared in only ten episodes. (Before being cast in that role, Miss Patterson played a different character in the first-season segment "The Marriage License.")

One reason we didn't see more of Mrs. Trumbull was that the actress, despite her advancing years, was still in demand elsewhere. In December 1953, syndicated columnist Erskine Johnson reported, "Lucy and Desi will have to find themselves a new baby sitter," as the 78-year-old Patterson was Broadway bound in a new show. Though the play, His and Hers, starring Celeste Holm, ran only about two months, Mrs. Trumbull would be absent from Lucy until the fall of 1954, when she turned up in "The Business Manager." In that memorable episode, Lucy's note about Mrs. Trumbull's grocery order ("buy can All Pet") would cause a confused Ricky to believe his wife was playing the stock market.

Some fifteen years before she joined the I Love Lucy cast, Miss Patterson told an interviewer, "Life and fame for an actress may just begin as she reaches her fortieth year. If she can hold on in Hollywood until she's fifty, she no doubt will have a job as long as her health lasts." Indeed, she continued to act until just a few years prior to her death in 1966, at the age of 90. Her long and accomplished life might inspire all of us to keep pursuing our dreams as long as we're able.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

A Tale of Two Winners

Now here's a duo you don't see every day. Joan Crawford and Shirley Booth were both nominated for Best Actress Oscars in 1953. Sudden Fear, a suspense thriller, was Joan's latest success in a career spanning more than 75 movies. Shirley, on the other hand, was nominated for her first feature film, Come Back, Little Sheba, reprising a role she'd originated to great acclaim on Broadway.

As most movie buffs already know, Shirley took home the prize on the evening of March 19, 1953. According to syndicated columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, however, Crawford was an extremely gracious loser, spending much of the evening "burning up the coast-to-coast wires" in an effort to reach Shirley in New York. When all other efforts failed, Joan roused one of Miss Booth's apartment house neighbors well after midnight, "turned on the long distance charm, and actually talked the sleepy fellow into getting out of bed ... and shuffling upstairs to slip a message of congratulations under Shirley's door."

For more about Shirley's triumphant night, see Shirley Booth: A Biography and Career Record.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Andy Clyde Reels in Laughter

Most movie fans know that Columbia produced short comedy films starring the Three Stooges for more than 20 years. But how many of us are as familiar with the studio's second-longest series of short subjects, starring comedian Andy Clyde? Those films are overdue for a fresh appraisal, and author James L. Neibaur does the job beautifully with his newest book The Andy Clyde Columbia Comedies (McFarland).

Clyde was still in his thirties when his short subjects popularized his characterization of a befuddled, sometimes grouchy old man whose comedic travails included domineering wives, interfering mothers-in-law, and shiftless brothers-in-law. A gifted slapstick comedian, he could perform physical comedy that belied his old-man image.

Neibaur, who has written extensively on classic film comedy, provides a well-researched and insightful study of Clyde's work. Unlike many writers and film historians, he can pin down on paper the elusive magic of a laugh, analyzing what makes a scene or bit funny without seeming pedantic, or killing the joke. The author considers how individual writers and directors enhanced, or detracted from, Clyde's comedy. He also examines the impact of studio budget cuts on the later films, which often recycled footage and ideas from previous shorts.

Those who already appreciate Clyde's comedy will be delighted by the new information (and rare illustrations) they'll find in Neibaur's book. It's also recommended for fans of Columbia comedy in general, as there's much to learn here about how the studio and its short subjects unit operated. As for me, I knew little about Clyde's work prior to reading this book, but now I'm anxious to seek it out. And isn't that the mark of any successful film book?

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

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The Business of Laughter

If, like me, you're an admirer of that quintessentially American art form, the situation comedy, you'll want to pick up a copy of Paula Finn's insightful, smart, and funny Sitcom Writers Talk Shop: Behind the Scenes with Carl Reiner, Norman Lear, and Other Geniuses of TV Comedy (Rowman & Littlefield).

It's a compelling book of interviews with the likes of Matt Williams (Roseanne, Home Improvement), Dava Savel (Ellen), James L. Brooks (Mary Tyler Moore), and, of course, the aforementioned Messrs. Reiner and Lear. Ms. Finn brings an unusual insider's perspective in that her father -- to whom she pays tribute in a charming preface -- was sitcom writer Herbert Finn, whose credits include The Honeymooners and (be still, my heart!) The Gale Storm Show: Oh! Susanna. 

I had already read one fine book of interviews with sitcom writers, Scott Lewellen's Funny You Should Ask, which I reviewed about five years ago, so I wondered if the newer work would cause an attack of deja vu. Surprisingly, there isn't that much duplication between the two books in terms of interviewees, although Lila Garrett, Bill Persky, and a few others grace both volumes. Ms. Finn's book skews a bit more toward recent TV history, including shows that ran into the 21st century. But don't let that mislead you: there's plenty here for the classic sitcom fan to savor. And while Lewellen presented his book in an oral history format, organizing the material by topics (working with actors, shows that failed, etc.), Ms. Finn conducts full-length interviews that cover her subjects' careers and experiences in depth. A nice touch is her periodic inclusion of sidebars, in which a colleague of the writer being interviewed adds a different perspective on the shows discussed.

I'm frequently reminded that, when it comes to capturing the type of firsthand memories that Ms. Finn's book contains, the clock is always ticking. Sitcom Writers Talk Shop is a valuable piece of television history.

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

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Witch Hazel?


If you've spent enough (OK, too much) time watching Screen Gems sitcoms of the 1960s, you've probably noticed the frequent use of exterior shots filmed on the Columbia Ranch. Looking closely during those outdoor scenes of our favorite TV families, it appears that Hazel and the Baxter family are neighbors of Bewitched's Sam and Darrin Stephens.

Back then, crossovers between shows weren't as common as they later became. And in this case, George, Dorothy, and their irrepressible maid were residents of NBC's subdivision, while Samantha's spells were cast over ABC. But I found myself imagining the chaos that could result if our two heroines met and became pals.

Sam, especially in the earlier episodes, could have picked up a few tips on cooking the mortal way from the maid whose meals always won raves. But while Hazel was already renowned for her take-charge ability to get things done, imagine how she could up the ante with a little help from everyone's favorite witch?

HAZEL (as George walks in from another tough day) "Ain't it hot today, Mr. B? But don't you worry none. While you was at the office, I installed a swimming pool in the backyard."

As for that nasty Deirdre, just let her try insulting Hazel now! "How'd you like a free trip to outer space, Miz Thompson?"

Aren't you glad I wasn't a TV producer in the Sixties? Maybe I'd better go lie down for a while.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Blyth Spirit

Mildred Pierce and Hostess cupcakes? If that's all you know about actress and singer Ann Blyth, who turns 90 years old today, you've missed out on a lot.

Yes, she played the incorrigible Veda in Joan Crawford's noir classic Mildred Pierce, giving a performance that netted her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. And, indeed, younger viewers may remember her TV commercials of the 1970s. But there was much more to this versatile lady's life and career, as you can find out by picking up a copy of Jacqueline T. Lynch's book Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. This month, in honor of Ann's milestone birthday, the eBook version of the book is a steal of a deal at only $2.99.

Although the basics of the star's private life are covered, Lynch devotes much more space to Blyth's career. A lengthy and incisive essay is provided for each of her films, even the lesser ones. Since many are not readily accessible on DVD, Lynch gives us thoughtful commentary that helps us better understand the range of roles Blyth played, and appreciate the nuances of her acting style. Unlike many film historians, Lynch doesn't neglect or downplay Blyth's work in other media. There's ample coverage here of career achievements in radio, television, and stage (actor-singer Bill Hayes contributing some valuable reminiscences of their joint concert appearances).

Ann Blyth is now one of the last major survivors from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Jacqueline T. Lynch's book pays her the tribute she deserves, and some overdue recognition as well. Happy birthday, Miss Blyth!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Connie's Special Occasion

Here's wishing a happy birthday to actress and singer Connie Stevens, born August 8, 1938. After achieving fame with her co-starring role in Hawaiian Eye, she was cast as the star of George Burns' new comedy series Wendy and Me, debuting in 1964. With Gracie Allen having retired (she passed away that summer), Wendy and Me represented Burns' effort to promote Miss Stevens as a similarly zany, quirky comic character. The results were surprisingly effective, but the series was stuck in a tough time slot and dropped after one year.

For more about Wendy and Me, and its charming star, check out my book Lost Laughs of 50s and 60s Television.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Before Hazel, There Was Jenny

Shirley Booth on TV, playing a domestic servant? Gotta be Hazel, right? Wrong!

Only a few months before her popular sitcom premiered on NBC, Shirley starred in "Welcome Home," a one-hour drama presented on the critically-acclaimed anthology series The U.S. Steel Hour. N. Richard Nash's script cast the star as Jenny Libbett, devoted housekeeper to the suburban Austin family for 25 years. Now the Austins have raised their children, and are eager to sell their house and travel. Only one question remains -- what to do about Jenny, whom they no longer need? As Shirley noted, "They can't just discharge her after all these years."

Reviewing "Welcome Home" when it aired in March 1961, columnist Cynthia Lowry called it "a gentle wisp of a story. But it became warm and funny and sad with Miss Booth's acting magic ... It was a sentimental and delightful hour, and even had a happy ending." And it surely left viewers wanting more. Luckily, a lady named Hazel Burke was waiting just around the bend.

You can read more about this intriguing actress, her hit series Hazel, and the rest of her illustrious career in my book Shirley Booth: A Biography and Career Record.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

New Perspective on Richard Pryor

Given the acclaim and popularity of the late Richard Pryor (1940-2005), it's not surprising that Hollywood executives eagerly gave him lucrative movie contracts for much of the 1970s and 1980s. But what a spotty track record he had as a movie star, as seen in Anthony Balducci's thoughtful book Richard Pryor in Hollywood: The Narrative Films, 1967-1997 (McFarland). For a man who could be so funny, why did his movies (excepting his concert films) often fail to capture his gifts?

Unlike most other books about Pryor, this one doesn't let his chaotic private life frame the narrative. Balducci, a film historian whose expertise in motion picture comedy extends back to the silent era, brings a valuable long-term perspective to Pryor's work. While he provides useful cultural context for the societal atmosphere reflected in such films as Wild in the Streets (1968), he also strips away much of the baggage that prevented earlier critics from successfully analyzing Pryor's film comedy on its own terms. Enriching the text are Balducci's interviews with several screenwriters who worked on Pryor films, helping us understand the changes that took place between script and screen.

This is an important work about movie comedy that merits widespread attention, and at the same time a highly readable account that will interest Pryor's many admirers.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Gale Gets Her Due

What a pleasure it was to read the just-published review of Gale Storm: A Biography and Career Record by well-known film historian James L. Neibaur. Not just because someone whose work I admire praised the book, but also because he appreciates the lady who is its subject. Acknowledging Gale's film career and success as a recording artist along with her TV stardom, Neibaur wrote, "This book is an enlightening, enjoyable look at one of the most beloved performers in show business history, and it is filled with interesting information that will please Gale Storm's many fans."

You can find the review in its entirety here.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Joan's Best Buddy

When I interviewed the late Sherwood Schwartz for my book on Joan Davis, he told me that the star's favorite TV sidekick (her "Ethel Mertz") was actress Geraldine Carr, who played Joan Stevens' buddy Mabel. That made me wonder why Miss Carr did not appear in the later episodes of I Married Joan filmed. The sad answer, as some research disclosed, was that she died in a car crash on September 2, 1954, while the series was still in production.

The recurring TV role was a career break for the up-and-coming actress, whose previous credits included supporting roles in The Sniper (1952), as Arthur Franz's unsympathetic supervisor, and in The Long, Long Trailer (1954). Miss Carr made two guest appearances on I Married Joan, in non-recurring parts, before being cast as neighbor Mabel. Seen frequently during Season Two, she was contracted for regular appearances the following year, until tragedy struck. She was 40 years old at the time her life was so abruptly cut short.

For many reasons, I'm glad that I Married Joan is currently enjoying a revival on the Decades cable channel; one is the opportunity to appreciate the work of gifted performers no longer with us. For more on this underappreciated comedy series and its cast, please see my book Joan Davis: America's Queen of Film, Radio and Television Comedy.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

A Girl Called Jeff

Born July 10, 1921, (Miss) Jeff Donnell somehow persuaded studio executives to keep her boyish nickname when she came to Hollywood. (Her given name was Jean Marie.) Making her film debut in My Sister Eileen (1942), she went on to a fine career as a character actress. While she rarely had the opportunity to play substantive roles in top-quality films, she worked steadily throughout the 1940s and beyond.

One of her best-known roles was as the wife of comedian George Gobel on his 1950s television series. TV continued to be a source of steady work for Donnell, who made guest appearances in Mister Ed, Perry Mason, Barnaby Jones, and many other popular shows. In the 1980s, she had a recurring role as Stella, maid to the wealthy Quartermaine family, on the daytime soap General Hospital. She passed away from a heart ailment in 1988.

Would anyone out there like to read a book about her?

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Maltin's Movie Memories

"Leonard Maltin has a new book." That's probably as much review as Hooked on Hollywood: Discoveries from a Lifetime of Film Fandom (GoodKnight Books) needs from the likes of me. But I can and will say a little more about this delightful collection of essays and interviews aimed squarely at the hearts of readers who love the movies of the 1930s and 1940s.

Here, Maltin goes back to the earliest days of his career, as a starstruck teenager interviewing his silver screen heroes for Film Fan Monthly. In those sessions, and even more so the later ones that follow, you sense the subjects' pleasure at being questioned by someone who knows their work inside and out. Director John Cromwell offers fascinating memories from his film Of Human Bondage, working with a young and hungry Bette Davis. But it's not only the giants and the masterpieces that merit space. I loved the interview with Paul Wurtzel, whose father Sol ran Fox's B movie factory in tbe 30s --and apparently worked himself into a frenzy doing it.

It's a safe bet that almost any reader can identify one or two favorite chapters here. I especially enjoyed "Act Three: Television," which examines how veteran performers like Buster Keaton and Lillian Gish extended their careers by embracing the new medium. Who'd've guessed that, of all people, Johnny Crawford, kid star of The Rifleman, was a silent movie buff thrilled to learn that crew members and actors from that era could often be found on his own set?

As I mentioned here before, I was pretty bummed when Maltin's annual movie guide ceased publication after so many years. I'm thrilled that he continues to share his knowledge through this irresistible new book.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Dorothy Baxter, Meet Ann Romano

The best role on Hazel was, of course, the sometimes maddening yet always endearing maid played by Oscar, Emmy and Tony Award-winning Shirley Booth. Next in line was Don DeFore, as the boss with whom she regularly butted heads. That sometimes left co-star Whitney Blake, as the mistress of the household, bringing up the rear. "I have had to build the character," the actress told TV Guide in 1963."No one knew anything about Dorothy -- not even Ted Key, the cartoonist who created Hazel ... It's hard to create a role with so few lines." Nevertheless, she made herself a key element of a show viewers embraced. Of Hazel's popularity, she said, "We make people happy. We don't deal with deep problems. People tell me it's refreshing to see our show, that they never miss it because they feel good afterwards."

Written out of the series in 1965, Miss Blake continued to act periodically, but also brought to light other gifts. She hosted a local talk show, Boutique, on Los Angeles' KCBS-TV. And in 1975, she attained new recognition as co-creator of the CBS sitcom One Day at a Time. It depicted family life quite differently than Hazel. The premise -- a divorced woman raising children -- came from her own experience. Not only had she been a child of divorce, but she went on to be a single mother to her own kids (including daughter Meredith Baxter) after splitting from her first husband.

It was a situation that TV up until then had mostly ignored. "This country swarms with divorced women having to be both mother and father to their children," she told the Los Angeles Times' Cecil Smith in 1975. "But as far is television is concerned, they don't exist." Blake and her third husband Allan Manings, who was then producing Good Times, successfully pitched the concept to Norman Lear. The result was a hit show that ran nine years. 

Whitney Blake died of esophageal cancer in 2002, but she is remembered for the way she helped depict family life on classic TV -- both as actress and writer. For more on Hazel and its cast, please see my book Shirley Booth: A Biography and Career Record

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

On a Claire Day

Sometimes it seems as if author Derek Sculthorpe can write a book in the time it takes me to run to the post office, or decide what to have for dinner. But you know what really gets my goat? Sculthorpe, who's now released four books about the ladies and gentlemen of film noir, isn't just fast, he's good. Very good.

His latest, Claire Trevor: The Life and Films of the Queen of Noir (McFarland), is an intriguing study of the actress whose finely etched performances were integral to such classics as Key Largo and Murder, My Sweet. Sculthorpe takes us behind the scenes of Trevor's films and introduces us to a smart, self-aware woman who managed her career with care and savvy. (Itching to escape from a B-movie rut in the 1930s, the actress said of her studio's bread-and-butter pictures, "I know all about why they are necessary. I just don't want to be in them!")  He also calls our attention to some noteworthy Trevor performances you may have missed.

You might be wary of meeting some of the tough, ruthless dames Claire Trevor played onscreen. But you'll enjoy getting to know the real Miss Trevor in this compelling, rigorously researched yet readable book.

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

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Mistress of Mean: Cathy Lewis of "Hazel"

Cathy Lewis as Hazel's best nemesis.
As many actors and actresses learned over Shirley Booth's long career, it wasn't easy to hold your own in scenes with the star of Broadway, film, and the hit TV comedy Hazel (1961-66). One clearly up to the task was Cathy Lewis (1916-1968), the recurring guest player who created the memorably haughty character of Deirdre Thompson, George Baxter's sister. Deirdre was not a very likable lady; she looked down her nose at Hazel for being a domestic, coldly snubbed any attempt at familiarity, and told her sister-in-law Dorothy, "Why you and George persist in keeping that woman, I'll never understand!"
Cathy (left) and Marie Wilson in My Friend Irma.

Before coming to Hazel, Cathy Lewis was one of radio's most highly respected and versatile actresses. As she told an interviewer in 1952, "It isn't an easy medium, either. It takes less time, perhaps, than television, but don't let anyone fool you that you just read words off a page of script. Projecting a strong characterization into [a] microphone with the voice alone is hard work all the way." Her biggest claim to fame was the role of Jane Stacy on My Friend Irma, the level-headed, somewhat sardonic pal of the harebrained lead character played by Marie Wilson. That job helped her transition into television in the 1950s, where her other roles included the female lead in an unsuccessful video adaptation of radio's Fibber McGee and Molly.

Sadly, Cathy's life was cut short not long after Hazel came to an end, when she died of cancer in 1968, only 51 years old. Like Shirley Booth, she was quite a trouper. Mean as Deirdre was to poor Hazel, it's a safe bet Miss Booth knew full well what a valuable contribution this fine actress made to her classic television series. You can read more about Hazel and its cast in my book Shirley Booth: A Biography and Career Record.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Gale at a TVparty!

I'm thrilled by TVparty's review of Gale Storm: A Biography and Career Record, which calls the book "a real page-turner," adding, "Tucker specializes in the kind of exhaustive research that results in compelling storytelling."

Go here to read the full review, then here or here to get your own copy.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Gale on Sale

Aaand ... my new book on Gale Storm is finally ready for purchase, either at Amazon, or directly from the publisher. (Other sites, including Barnes & Noble, should follow shortly). It's also available from various eBook vendors.

So put down whatever you've been reading, and learn everything you always wanted to know about one of America's most beloved actress-singers. She's worth your attention.
Who needs a secret code when there's a new book about Gale Storm?

Monday, May 21, 2018

Book Review: Meet Mr. Greenstreet

Author and researcher Derek Sculthorpe is becoming the film noir fan's best friend. In short order, he produced fine books on Brian Donlevy, Van Heflin, and Claire Trevor. Now he's given us The Life and Times of Sydney Greenstreet (BearManor Media).

Tackling this actor's life and career would have scared off a lesser writer. Not only has Greenstreet been dead for more than sixty years, but much of his work was in the inherently transitory world of live theater. Covering only his relatively short film career (where he made his debut after the age of sixty) would have provided an incomplete portrait of the man. But Sculthorpe's painstaking research reveals the actor's rich life on stage, acting alongside giants such as Lunt and Fontanne, before plunging into the late-in-life triumphs of The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. 

Sculthorpe's book gets a substantial boost from the participation of the late actor's granddaughter. In addition to granting an interview, she also provided dozens of fascinating photos. Many of the pictures illustrate the actor's career, which covered virtually the entire first half of the 20th century, but there are also one-of-a-kind family photos showing Greenstreet, his wife and his son. The somewhat sad story of Greenstreet's marriage, to a woman ultimately consumed by mental illness, is covered honestly but with respect and taste.

Might as well be frank -- if you love the film classics of the 1940s, you'll want to meet the gentleman whose life is contained between these covers.

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

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Big Sale!

Boy, am I late posting this, so hop to it if you'd like to save 25% on any of McFarland's myriad assortment of Pop Culture books! Use the discount code PopCulture25 when ordering print editions from the publisher's website.

Yes, I see you there in the back row with your hand raised. Why, yes, as a matter of fact you could pre-order my new Gale Storm book during this sale. But don't dawdle -- sale ends Friday, May 11th.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Finis!

Having spent many hours in recent days indexing, proofreading, and just generally worrying over details, I think I can safely say that Gale Storm: A Biography and Career Record is DONE. The final product should be out soon. Having seen the page proofs, I know it will be a beautiful book; my publishers did their usual bang-up job.

At the moment, I am giving myself a couple of days off to recharge and regroup. Maybe I can even relax and enjoy reading someone else's book. On the other hand, there are also naps...

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Book Review: A Final Chat with Patty Duke

As I've noted on these pages before, the late Patty Duke had the rare ability to connect deeply with audiences, not only in her award-winning performances but also by speaking openly and candidly about her own life and experiences. Her many fans who are still saddened by her death in 2016 will welcome this new book of reminiscences.

Although she published an autobiography some 30 years ago, her longtime fan and friend William J. Jankowski urged her to capture on the printed page her memories of the many storied co-stars and other colleagues with whom she worked over her lengthy career. The result makes for fascinating reading, as she shares previously untold stories about experiences both uplifting and unhappy, with an emphasis on the former. Some she has written about before, and it's intriguing to see how her accumulated maturity and life experience allowed her to change her perspective on people like Lucille Ball, and her second husband Michael Tell, who was ultimately revealed by DNA testing to be the biological father of her son Sean.

In his preface, her co-author writes that he and Duke "would like readers to feel like they are having a private, intimate conversation with her." That's a goal they accomplish beautifully here. This is a lovely book.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Olivia's Feud

Most observers seem to agree that the dismissal of Olivia de Havilland's defamation lawsuit against the creators of Feud: Bette and Joan was the correct outcome. As an author who writes about Hollywood history, I'm given to understand that I should be relieved, as a victory for the 101-year-old retired actress would have set a dangerous legal precedent.

But I sympathize nonetheless with Miss de Havilland's comments to a journalist, explaining her objection to the way she was portrayed in the TV miniseries: "The creators of Feud used my identity without my consent and put false words in my mouth." Had I been writing a biography of the actress, would I have attributed quotes to her that were not documented by any reliable source? No, and that's what bothers me about what was done to her. Being a celebrity opens the door for almost anything to be said or written about you. As a legal principle, I understand it. But as a way to treat another human being? Not so much.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Crawford Celebration

Happy birthday (in memoriam) to the unforgettable actress who epitomizes the Golden Age movie star! I wish one of those autographed photos was coming to me.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Morning Merriment

Fans of classic comedy are in for a treat! Decades, the digital broadcast TV network, is giving its viewers plenty of laughs, with a double dose of morning comedy. Two of the best comediennes of the 1950s are brightening Decades' morning lineup, with the revival of I Married Joan (above), starring Joan Davis, and Our Miss Brooks (below), starring Eve Arden.

And if, after admiring their comic gifts, you find yourself wanting to know more about the lives and careers of these two very funny ladies, I have a suggestion or two for you about that.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

A New Look at "Margie"

Could we be in for a resurgence of interest in Gale Storm's life and career? The recent release of a two-disc DVD set, My Little Margie: The Complete First Season (Nostalgia Family Video) gives me reason to hope.

In recent years, fans wanting to get their fix of Margie, Vern, and the gang have usually had to make do with less-than-ideal DVD releases, often featuring grainy copies of episodes taped off a TV rerun. This new set, however, offers some of the cleanest, most spruced-up prints I've ever seen. It's available through several major online retailers.

That, along with the forthcoming release of a certain book on the subject, may help longtime fans celebrate Miss Storm all the more, and hopefully win her a few new admirers as well. She deserves nothing less.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Spring's Around the Corner

It's that time again!

My publisher, McFarland, has a catalog of new and forthcoming releases designed to tantalize any pop culture-loving reader. One of them, of course, is my book on Gale Storm, which should be out in about six weeks. (It can be pre-ordered on AmazonBarnes & Noble, or directly from the publisher.)

McFarland books have long been recognized for covering a wide array of pop culture topics. I was amused to see that the new catalog finds Gale sharing a page with none other than the Sex Pistols. How's that for an eclectic double feature?

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Mr. Burger's Best Argument

Let's take a few moments to remember a fine actor, William Talman, born on this date in 1915. The photo above commemorates his signature role. as the singularly unsuccessful (albeit relentless) district attorney on TV's Perry Mason.

Talman's life after TV success was cut tragically short; he contracted lung cancer and died in 1968, only 53 years old. Determined that something good should come from his illness, Talman recorded public service announcements urging others not to smoke. If you've never seen his message, take a look here. It's still a powerful reminder of the devastating impact of cancer.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Book Review: Directed by Frank Wisbar

As even the author acknowledges, the audience for a book about writer-director Frank Wisbar is apt to be limited. His is not a household name, even among film buffs. Yet those who love classic horror often have a soft spot for his two best-known American films: Strangler of the Swamp and Devil Bat's Daughter, both released in 1946.

Despite what those titles might suggest, Wisbar was never just a schlockmeister merrily scraping the bottom of the barrel on Poverty Row. As Henry Nicolella shows in Frank Wisbar: The Director of 'Ferryman Maria,' from Germany to America and Back (McFarland), Wisbar traveled a long and circuitous route from his native Germany to Hollywood. Often thwarted in making films as he wished to do amid the political turmoil of Nazi Germany, Wisbar faced completely different challenges when he emigrated to America during World War II. After adapting his far more artistically ambitious German film Ferryman Maria into a PRC potboiler (albeit one that continues to have a cult following), Wisbar went on to a successful career in early television drama. Nicolella's coverage of Wisbar's work on the anthology series Fireside Theatre offers an engaging look into television's formative years.

I can readily imagine that this was an extremely difficult book to research, and I'm afraid it's unlikely to make the author wealthy. But discerning readers will appreciate the elusive bits of history he uncovers, as well as a writing style that hits the sweet spot of intelligent and informed commentary that's never dry or pretentious. Nicolella has given us a significant slice of film history that merits the attention of scholars and film lovers.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Go, Betty!


Here's wishing a very happy 96th birthday to the one and only Betty White, born January 17, 1922.

Hard to believe it's been more than a decade since I had the privilege of interviewing her for my first book, The Women Who Made Television Funny: Ten Stars of 1950s Sitcoms. Long may she flourish!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Sitcom Interruptus

Van Dyke and Lange, with TV daughter Angela Powell.
Some forty-odd years ago, my sister and I tried hard to convince my mother that we were big fans of The New Dick Van Dyke Show. What we liked best about it, in truth, was that it aired on Monday nights after Here's Lucy, which we were allowed to watch before being hustled off to bed. My mother, of course, never fell for that routine, designed to let us stay up a bit longer.

Not available on DVD, and little-seen in syndication, Van Dyke's second TV sitcom, which aired on CBS from 1971 to 1974, never came close to matching the popularity or the critical acclaim of his first. But the writers and producers and writers did try to bring a 1970s topicality to the show, with plots revolving around topics like marijuana and interracial dating. They went one step too far for CBS' comfort with the third-season episode Lt. Preston of the 4th Cavalry, which network executives refused to air as shot.

Norman Lear's sitcoms had radically changed sitcom standards in the early 1970s, so Van Dyke's producer Carl Reiner was shocked that censors targeted this episode. It does have a premise you won't see on I Love Lucy, or My Three Sons. The episode finds Van Dyke and his TV wife (in this series, Hope Lange) coming to the slightly horrified realization that their young daughter unwittingly barged in on her parents while they were making love. Even though the script handled the premise in good taste, CBS censors felt that the episode was not in keeping with the star's family-friendly image. Reiner was so angered by this decision that he promptly quit the show, and shortly afterwards Dick Van Dyke refused to continue the series for a fourth year.

Like so many other TV obscurities, that episode has now been posted to YouTube, along with several others. Having heard about the brouhaha for some years, I was interested to see the show for myself. Take a look, and let me know what you think. Did CBS make the right call, or did executives overreact?