Wednesday, January 24, 2018
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
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
|Van Dyke and Lange, with TV daughter Angela Powell.|
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?