Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Happy Birthday, Jaime Pressly!

Today is actress Jaime Pressly's 36th birthday. 
I was not familiar with her at all until I was captivated by her on My Name Is Earl. She was wonderful as Earl's ex-wife, Joy Turner and won an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress for her role. The show aired from 2005-2009 until it was abruptly cancelled by NBC. Many characters and character actors from Earl have since appeared on creator Greg Garcia's current TV hit, Raising Hope.
Since then I have come across her in such movies as "Joe Dirt", "Not Another Teen Movie", and "I Love You, Man."
Happy Birthday, Jaime Pressly! 

The cast of MY NAME IS EARL

Monday, July 29, 2013

Good-bye, Cass Elliot

On July 29, 1974, an angel with a beautiful voice was ushered up into Heaven. Cass Elliot, one-fourth of the pop group The Mamas and The Papas, died of a heart attack. A vicious urban myth perpetuates to this day that she died because she choked on a ham sandwich. The truth is that her heart was weakened by all of her dieting and binging, often losing 50 to 100 pounds at a time only to pack it back on...She was only 32 years old when she passed.
There's plenty of beautiful songs by Cass Elliot out there. I know my friend Greg loves the songs used in the movie "Beautiful Thing." Personally, I think all of the Mamas and the Papas' songs are just great, but "Make Your Own Kind of Music" is just such a great anthem to individuality, I think it's probably my favorite of her songs.

Rest In Peace, Cass Elliot

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Thin Man (1934 film)

The Thin Man is one of the greatest movies ever made. Don't believe me? Then you obviously have never seen it.

If you've never seen The Thin Man I'm going to guess that you either don't like comedies, you don't like mysteries, or you are not into black & white films. I can't do anything about you if you fall into the latter category, and to tell you the truth the photography is probably the one thing I would change about the movie if I could. There are several scenes, however, where I get the distinct feeling that the director and director of photography were staging them in such a way as to get the best result from the b&w, such as when Nick and Asta are investigating an empty forge. As a modern movie fan, of course, I can only imagine what this excellent film would look like in color. If you fall into either of the first two categories, however, you should still give this film a try. It's a comedy with murder, or a drama with a hilarious script (take your pick).

The story is of Nick and Nora Charles, played by utter perfection by William Powell and Myrna Loy. These two actors had such wonderful screen chemistry together that MGM paired them in 14 films, beginning with Manhattan Melodrama (1934), the last film John Dillinger saw before he was gunned down in Chicago. Powell was nominated for Best Actor three times: The Thin Man, My Man Godfrey, and Life With Father, but never won. Loy was never even nominated, although she did receive an Honorary Academy Award in 1990. Here they are fresh and funny as "an old married couple," he a private detective and she a rich heiress. They are dragged (almost literally) into a missing person's case which turns into murder. Powell plays Nick as a ne'er do well intent on drinking and enjoying their Christmas holiday; however, because SO many people have linked him with the missing person (the titular Thin Man), he eventually decides to solve the case just to get out of it. Loy plays Nora as the traditional "dumb" wife who may not be as dumb as she acts. She may not be as clever as her husband, but she is definitely as brave as he is and just as classy. She even tries to keep up with his drinking! 

Also featured (in no particular order) are adorable Maureen O'Sullivan a year before she became Tarzan's Jane, Nat Pendleton as policeman Lt. John Guild (you may not know his name but you probably would recognize his face), and a wire-haired fox terrier named Skippy as Asta, the Charles' energetic dog. Skippy was also famously featured in The Awful Truth (1937) (with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne) and Bringing Up Baby (1938) (with Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn) after hitting it big here. He went on to appear in all six Thin Man films.

The plot is deceptively simple, but entertainingly complex. I don't want to give too much of the story away, but basically young and beautiful Dorothy Wynant (O'Sullivan) runs into Nick and Nora at a bar and asks them to find her missing father. They demure, but too many people are looking for him, and saw Dorothy with the Charles, so almost immediately it's all over town that Nick is involved in the case, so...! The Charles have to meet the entire Wynant family and hangers-on before a solution to the mystery is eventually presented.

The story is fine, but it is the script that is the best part of the movie. Not only are the scenes with Nick and Nora pure gold, but the scenes between all of the characters are wonderful. I can watch and re-watch this movie and pick up something different in each actor each time. For example, Nick and Lt. Guild have a great relationship: Guild is The Man, but Nick is The Expert; they both want to be Top Dog but not hurt the other guy's feelings too badly. Not only is it fun to think that this is really how men conversed back in the Thirties, it's just plain fun to listen to!

The wonderful script is by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett.I watched the movie and then read the book to compare scenes and dialogue. Some great dialogue was originally by Hammett, and some are new creations by Goodrich & Hackett. For example, in the film when Nick and Guild go to interview the informer Nunheim (played by character-actor Harold Huber) we get a wonderful scene basically cribbed directly from the novel. Nunheim's girl, Miriam (played by Gertrude Short) storms out on him, telling him, "I don't like crooks, and even if I did I wouldn't like crooks who are stool pigeons, and if I liked crooks that are stool pigeons I still wouldn't like you!" It's a great line and it's delivered beautifully by Short. Another famous exchange, this time between Nick and Nora, is as follows:
Nick: I'm a hero. I was shot twice in the Tribune. 
Nora: I read where you were shot 5 times in the tabloids. 
Nick: It's not true. He didn't come anywhere near my tabloids.
This scene was written specifically for the film.
Dashiell Hammett wrote The Thin Man and had it published so that it would come out at the same time as the movie. He was living in Hollywood by the time he wrote this, flush from his success from The Maltese Falcon. The Thin Man would turn out to be his last novel. There are two big differences between the film and the novel: in the book, there is no "Tommy" boyfriend for daughter Dorothy (O'Sullivan), to help support her in her drama. In the book she turns into a kind of floozie, hanging out inappropriately with a married man. I think all in all I like how in the movie she veers off the path at the end, only to have Tommy there to help bring her back. The other major change is that in the book Nick doesn't do a lot. Lt Guild does the sleuthing at the missing man's forge, and the breaking down of people's alibis is done off-camera, sort to speak. In the movie, there is a large dinner party with all of the suspects invited for the big denouement instead. It's staged so that you might think Nick accidentally comes upon the solution, and that is something I don't like, but otherwise the film version is more entertaining than the book.
The Thin Man was nominated for four Academy Awards in 1934 (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Story). However, it didn't win any of them! That doesn't mean it isn't a wonderful example of vintage Hollywood film-making, though. If you love comedy, drama, mystery, and fine actors tearing into a fantastic script, I guarantee that you will enjoy The Thin Man. If you don't like it, I want you to write in and tell me why not!

Be with us next week as I talk about the film that beat The Thin Man at the 1934 Oscars....

By the way, as I mentioned earlier, the title "The Thin Man" refers to the missing person, not to Nick Charles! The missing person was so thin that he could disappear into thin air; hence the reference. After the success of the film, however, MGM decided to maintain it in the title of the sequels for continuity purposes, and then people began to think of it as a reference to Nick Charles by mistake!

Here's the first official trailer....introduced by Philo Vance, William Powell's then-most famous character. Listen carefully and you'll hear Nick Charles mention The Kennel Murder Mystery, which was Powell's last Philo Vance film. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Happy Birthday, Lynda Carter!

I watched when Wonder Woman appeared on network television. I don't know if I first saw her as a guest-star on the cartoon show The Brady Kids. Or maybe you want to count the Kathy Lee Crosby "Wonder Woman" TV movie from 1974. Or The Super Friends cartoon that made its debut in 1973. Of course, I watched all of those. What I want to talk about here today, however, is the person most people think of when they hear the name "Wonder Woman"....Miss Lynda Carter! Today is her birthday; she is 62 years young. 

The first year and a half of the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman series was set during World War II and was broadcast on ABC. It was originally a trio of TV movies, but when the ratings came in ABC ordered a full year. They weren't sure what they had, though; they let the show go, where it was picked up by CBS and aired for another two years. During these two seasons the show was set in the present.

So if you are a DC comic-book geek, it's almost like the first season was set on Earth 2, and the last two seasons were set on Earth 1! (If you don't know what this means, never mind: you didn't read comics before 1985.)
Compare the costumes from the first season (above)....

Lyle Waggoner also appeared as Major Steve Trevor in the first half; as his son, Steve Trevor, Jr, in the second life.  In the WWII era stories Steve and Wonder Woman were something of an "item," but in the present day shows they were only friends. Oddly enough, I don't see any reference as to who his mother was in the series, although I'm sure Diana wasn't his mother!

....with the Modern Day version! 

I remember the first season set in the Forties. I remember the Nazis, and the period buildings and cars, and I thought it was fun. I probably watched an episode or two of the later shows but I don't remember them anywhere nearly as well as I remember the first ones. Besides, by 1978 I was "too old" to watch kiddie shows like this on a Friday night; I remember not watching Spider-Man or The Hulk, either, after the first few episodes.

Still, what I remember most fondly about this show was the star portraying the Amazing Amazon. I've read that Lynda Carter has said she took the job seriously, never acting like the character was a joke. I think it showed; she had her heart in it, and even when the series got more sci-fi stupid, the character was always respectable.

A few years ago my daughter and I watched the movie SKY HIGH, the comedy drama about the school for young super-heroes. Lynda Carter appears as the Principal of the school, and she is as charming and amazing as she always was. She is, dare I say it....wonderful!

Happy Birthday, Lynda Carter! 

JLA #31 "Going Home" Afterward

Well, what did you think?
Every time I re-read this issue I notice something different. Usually I just get caught up in the proceedings; I like how the Hawks have called the emergency meeting to drop their bombshell announcement. (I have to admit I took that bit from JUSTICE LEAGUE #109, the issue where Hawkman leaves the JLA.) Then before you can even catch your breath the nefarious Dr. Light attacks Batman and the adventure starts in earnest. It helps when you work with good material. 

As I mentioned in the Forward, I liked these adventures because I was able to give every character something exciting to do. If you were to re-read the story right now, which character do you think gets the least amount of screen time? It's probably Superman or Elongated Man, who are both knocked out pretty quickly, but they atleast do have scenes they can claim as theirs, right? 

Before I talk about some of the scenes that I liked, I want to say that I didn't think I did Dr. Light's spectrum death trap justice. It just didn't look right, and as I was drawing and then coloring it I was struck by its stupidity. It looked more impressive with art by Dick Dillin, I guess. 

Now I have to tell you the secret origin of this story, even if it is somewhat embarrassing. From 1987 to 2001 I lived and worked in a small Japanese town as their local English teacher and international relations planner. After ten years there I started wanting a long-term contract and more responsibilities. I was basically the hired help, but as I was getting older I wanted to spend more time planning events and less time out playing with kindergarten children. I was about 36 years old at the time. So I had several conversations with my bosses (my direct supervisor, the superintendent of education, and the mayor) asking for a better situation. Also, my direct supervisor was an agricultural man who had been named Education Head due to politics. I was told that when the then-current superintendent retired I would have better luck with his successor. (I was actually hired in by his predecessor, and was never a big priority for him while he was in charge.) Well, in 2000 he retired and was replaced by....my direct supervisor, who was promoted to take the position. When that happened, I knew I was leaving. 

So it struck me as a good idea to write a "good-bye" to the entire English class world. I decided to have Hawkman and Hawkwoman be "re-called" to their home planet and to voice MY reasons for MY leaving.
Re-read the following words in my voice and see if it makes more sense now...

In fact, if you go back and re-read all of the comments by or about the Hawks, odds are that they are based on my situation. For example, I knew I would have to make speeches at my various going away parties. So I thought about what I wanted to say about or to certain people, and came up with Shayera's words to Diana, shown here..

Now with Hawkman and Green Arrow, instead of my personal situation I used what I knew about their mainstream comics situation and worked on it...This is the first (and only) time that Green Arrow ever called Hawkman by his first name in my series, and also the only time Katar called GA "Ollie."  I don't think my readers "got" this scene, but I enjoyed it.
And here is probably my favorite panel in the whole story: Red Tornado quoting The Tin Man from "The Wizard of OZ." I was proud of how I was making Red Tornado into a "real" character and not a Johnny One Note who cried about how he wasn't human, boo hoo. I had introduced his girl-friend Kathy and his adopted daughter Traya, so I figured that he had enough self-confidence to remain on Earth (One) and to remain as a JLAer. With this I hoped to write a nice enough conclusion to the Saga of Red Tornado.
And with a scene of Shayera dissolving into tears as Katar bites his lip trying not to lose his composure, the Hawks are gone....and so is my series. It was a fun ride. I hope you enjoyed it.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Cavalcade (Best Picture 1933)

As I write this, Cavalcade has not yet been released on DVD in Region 1. Therefore I tracked down a video-cassette copy of it and had to watch that. It wasn't restored, the picture was crappy in certain spots, and the sound was uneven. However, I did get to watch it. (Oddly, Clive Brook has a mustache during the entire film. I'm not sure why he's shown clean-shaven on the video box!)

Similar to The Broadway Melody, I think Cavalcade happened to be the right film at the right place at the right time. I can't explain any other reason for it winning the Best Picture Academy Award! The story, for what it is, is simply a series of vignettes regarding the two main families as time passes them by. There is no character development whatsoever, and what drama does exist in the background never gets brought to the forefront. I think this is partly because of the different ways we tell stories compared to some 80-plus years ago, but let me try to give you a few examples of what I mean.
The film begins on New Years Eve 1899, at the beginning of The New Century. The music on the soundtrack is "Pomp and Circumstance." Similar to how people felt more recently on New Years Eve 1999, there is a pervasive sense of hope and joy everywhere. Jane and Robert Marryot and their in-house staff, Alfred and Ellen Bridges, prepare to toast the New Year. However, this is London and Great Britain is fighting The Boer War in South Africa, so the happiness is mixed with some melancholy. Robert and Alfred are preparing to depart soon to fight in the war, leaving their young children and wives to fend for themselves at home. Thus England rushes "head-long into the cavalcade of the 20th Century" (an actual line from the film).
After the men have left, Jane's friend Margaret drags the sad and lonely Jane to the local musical theatre, and it is there during a performance of some Gilbert & Sullivan-like operetta everyone learns that the war is over. Fairly quickly after that scene the men come home unscathed.

Immediately after they return home, however, London marks the funeral of Queen Victoria (she died in 1901).

Next we see Alfred as the proprietor of a Pub, having used his savings as the Marryot's butler to open up a place of his own. Unfortunately, he is an alcoholic failure. When he runs into the street after his dancing daughter, he is run over by a Fire Truck and is killed.

Next we move on to 1909 where the Marryots meet with Ellen and the same dancing daughter,  (Fanny), who has just won a local dancing contest. This is where we see Burt from "Mary Poppins" sing, "Beside The Seaside." Oddly, there are no penguins. Then we learn that the Marryot's eldest son is in love with Margaret's daughter, and we then proceed to their honeymoon on the RMS Titanic. You can guess what happens next.

doomed lovers on the deck of Titanic
Next we switch to 1914 (we know these things because the dates flash up on the screen while a real cavalcade of knights and maidens ride through a valley, no subtlety here!) and if you know your history you know what's going to happen: WAR! Fanny dances at a nightclub/restaurant, and the Marryot's youngest son falls madly in love with her. We then have to endure a montage of war scenes as 1915, 1916, 1917, and 1918 flash by on the screen. Atleast twice I saw an image of a Christian cross that I guess is supposed to suggest that God was on the side of England. We see Fanny again and she says that although she is 18 and of age to marry, she can't marry Marryot. He goes back to war, either broken-hearted because  he knows she is right OR determined to win her when he gets back; we never find out which. He stops to see his father stationed in France, and the foreshadowing and sense of foreboding is overwhelming. Will the older veteran or the younger officer perish? You can probably guess.
"It's WAR!" (World War One, that is....)
When we switch back to London to the mothers, Jane and Ellen, you just know something is going to happen. Ellen is visiting to talk to Jane about the possibility of her daughter Fanny being in love with their son, Joe. This is the scene where I expected some real drama: are the mothers going to argue class virtue? Is Jane going to forbid her son to marry a "common dance-hall girl"? Or is she going to symbolize the true cavalcade of civilization and begin to break down some of the walls between classes? We never find out, not only because the actresses both play the scene with an air of detachment, but because there is a telegram, and---you guessed it--- Joe is dead.

The last section of the film is all over the place. There is a musical montage of peaceniks, poison gas, liberal Marxists, church leaders praying for the masses, anti-church reactionaries, and the roaring Twenties as Fanny sings, "Twentieth Century Blues." Then we are in 1933 on New Years' Eve as Robert and Jane look back on their last thirty-three years. In their toast they say in part, "To England, dignity, greatness, and peace." The last image is the cross on St. Paul's Cathedral lighting the way into the future. The end.
If this movie was re-made today there would be some real drama between Ellen and Alfred in their arguments over him becoming an alcoholic. There would be some real drama shown between Jane and Ellen when they discuss whether their children can or should marry. There would be more drama in how Joe is desperate to survive after his elder brother dies on the Titanic. There would be more drama as to how he and Fanny feel about each other; is it a fling? I'm not a student of British Class issues, so I'm not sure: is this just a doomed romance, and I'm too stupid to recognize it as such?

The actors, especially the younger ones, do an admirable job. Diana Wynyard as Jane and Clive Brook as Robert are sufficiently British upper-crust, which means I didn't really feel anything for them, haha. Wynyard has her best moments when she is worrying about her husband's fate during The Boer War. After that, she comes off as aloof and uncaring, which I hope she wasn't really going for. I have trouble relating to Ellen and Alfred, too, because both are mostly played for laughs. You might recognize Uno O'Connor (Ellen) as the "crazy village woman" from Frankenstein; I know that I did. And Herbert Mundin (Alfred) I had just seen in Mutiny On The Bounty (1935) which I saw before I saw him in this. Ursula Jeans as Fanny probably did the best job; I could never tell if her character  was sad for her life or for her station in life. Either way, she was excellent, and her scenes with Frank Lawton (Joe) really sparkled. It's a shame they didn't have more "meat" to the script, but I guess some things were just not talked about. (I was a bit surprised when Jane and Ellen are talking about their children and Jane asks point-blank, "MUST they....marry?" Ellen in a fit says, "Nothing like that, no! My Fanny is a good girl!")

One other casting note: investigating the cast I found that I knew one of them already! John Warburton, who played doomed son Edward, was familiar to me as a  Romulan on the Star Trek episode, "Balance of Terror," a role he had thirty years after this one.  

Going in, I really hoped Cavalcade would have more of *that* type of drama, and so I was disappointed. As a time piece, however, it's worth the two hours to takes to watch it. This type of film may not have been done before, but it has been done better since.

Cavalcade (1933)
*Academy Award Best Picture 1932-33*
Produced by Frank Lloyd & Winfield R. Sheehan
Directed by Frank Lloyd
Screenplay by Reginald Berkeley & Sonya Levien
based on the play by Noel Coward 

this was labeled "trailer" on youtube but it looks like it is just the first four minutes of the film!

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
A Farewell To Arms
42nd Street
I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang
Lady For A Day
Little Women
Private Life of Henry VIII
She Done Him Wrong
Smiling Through
State Fair
I'm not sure why, but this year there was another expansion in nominated pictures, beating out 1932's then-record of eight with the new record of ten! Finally I am beginning to recognize some of these nominees, too: Little Women featured a young Katherine Hepburn; 42nd Street is the classic "go out there a dancer, come back a star!" musical (the only one here I've actually seen); She Done Him Wrong features Mae West and Cary Grant; and Henry VIII won its star, Charles Laughton, the Best Actor Oscar. A Farewell to Arms stars Helen Hayes and Gary Cooper, but I'm more familiar with the remake starring Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones twenty years later.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Grand Hotel (Best Picture 1932)

A week or so after watching a "Grand Hotel" type picture called Dinner At Eight, I happened to notice that Grand Hotel itself was on Turner Classic Movies. This was the Best Picture of 1932, so I immediately DVR'd it. Recently I and a friend sat down to enjoy it.

Grand Hotel is definitely a classic of the genre and a very entertaining film to boot.

In Grand Hotel the action is centered loosely on a handful of occupants of the Grand Hotel in Berlin. In the opening scene several of the leads make telephone calls to explain to the audience their back stories. The only story-point we really need to understand is that Lionel Barrymore is a dying man who is now at the Grand Hotel to spend his life's savings; he wants to go out in style. His real-life brother John Barrymore plays a gambling playboy who is out to steal Greta Garbo's jewelry. She is a ballerina who has lost her passion for The Dance. Wallace Beery is the swindling businessman boss of Lionel; he is in the hotel to make a shady business deal while lusting after a very young and beautiful Joan Crawford. That enough star power for you?

Even though some of the plot developments are easy to guess (John falls for Greta so can't steal her diamonds, John can't steal Lionel's wallet, Noah gets his comeuppance) some others actually surprised me. I won't spoil anything, but suffice it to say that the ending is not what I expected. Joan Crawford especially was a surprise to me; my image of her is as a monstrous older woman (from such films as Johnny Guitar, Mildred Pierce, and especially Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?). Here she is a young, vivacious, and sexy actress I had never seen before! In a cast of several genuine stars, she nearly steals the film. She is  a down-on-her-luck stenographer willing to do almost anything in order to survive. Will she succumb to Wallace Beery's advances, or won't she? Does she befriend Lionel because she's kind, or because she finds out he's rich? Or is it a little bit of both?
Speaking of Lionel, for those of us who mostly know him as evil Mr. Potter from It's A Wonderful Life, it's fun to see him here basically playing the other side in the battle between good and evil. The greedy and evil character here is Wallace Beery, and it is fun to see him be and do evil because we just KNOW he won't get away with it. It's also fun to see him fold like a bad Poker hand when he does finally get caught.

The one relationship that doesn't really work for me is the most famous one, Greta Garbo and John Barrymore. This might be because this romance has become something of a parody after 80 years. Or maybe it's because they are both acting in the traditional early "Talkies" style that doesn't stand the test of time: they are all dramatic gestures and intense stares: "I want to be alone!" cries Greta. "I must love you!" shouts John. "Ho-hum," yawns Russell. This is, in fact, the movie where Greta cries, "I want to be alone," her signature line. She says it twice.

Two interesting things: I have often heard the name of Jean Hersholt, but I have never seen him in anything. Who hasn't wondered who Jean Hersholt was and why there is a special Academy Award named after him? It turns out that he was quite the humanitarian in his day. He was the President of the Motion Pictures Relief Fund for eighteen years. Here he plays the lead bell-hop. And the movie begins and ends with Lewis Stone as the doctor-in-residence. He is made-up (literally) to have been scarred in "The War" and is I guess supposed to represent the audience. His lines are basically the same at the beginning and at the end: "People come and go, but nothing ever changes here." It's an odd book-end to the film, and I don't know if it had more cultural resonance when the movie was first made. Now it seems distinctly out of place.

Grand Hotel (1932)
*Academy Award Best Picture 1932*
Produced by Irving Thalberg
Directed by Edmund Goulding
Screenplay by William A. Drake
From the play & novel by Vicki Baum

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
Bad Girl
The Champ
Five Star Final
One Hour With You
Shanghai Express
Smiling Lieutenant
I've never heard of any of these except The Champ, which earned Wallace Beery the Best Actor Oscar. He "tied" with Frederic March in Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, the first time the Award went to two people in the same year.  Not sure why there are seven nominees this year after a high of five in previous years, either.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

JLA #31 "Going Home" Roll Call

Flashback: Barnaby Jones in 1973

I got the DVD collection of BARNABY JONES Season 1 for Christmas. I have watched some of the episodes, but because I was off work this past week and had time, I watched two episodes in a row. Now I'd like to share a few thoughts.

First of all, if you aren't as old as me you may not even know who Barnaby Jones is! He is not some buck naked animated character; that's a different Barnaby. It is another Quinn Martin production; QM was also responsible for such shows as CANNON, THE FBI, STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO, and probably his most famous series, THE FUGITIVE. Barnaby was a retired private detective who comes out of retirement when his son is murdered. He is joined by his daughter-in-law, Betty, who serves as his secretary-slash-assistant. Barnaby was portrayed by Buddy Ebsen, fresh from THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES (1962-1971), and Betty was played by the lovely Lee Meriwether. They were originally going to be guest-stars on an episode of CANNON (starring William Conrad) but that episode became a pilot for their own series instead. In 1976 young Mark Shera (fresh from SWAT) joined the cast as cousin Jedediah. His job was to do more of the action scenes as Ebsen was getting older. The series ran from winter 1973 thru spring 1980.

The two episodes I want to talk about today are "The Murdering Class" and "Perchance to Kill."

In the first, two prep school boys were caught trying to copy test answers and accidentally kill the librarian who catches them. They then try to frame their tennis coach, who is similar to Arthur Ashe. During their plotting, the leader boy says, "We have to put the spotlight on the nigger in the woodpile." On the DVD, the N-word is "bleeped" out by a bell, but you can tell that is what he is saying.

Now I find this interesting for two reasons. First of all, in 1973 it was obviously still okay to use the N-word on national television. Secondly, part of the unspoken reason for picking on the tennis coach is that he is Black, and therefore assumed guilty. That, however, leads to Barnaby Jones standing up for Justice. He can tell that the boys are lying, and fights all the other (white) people to get Arthur Ashe acquitted. The Headmistress, especially, was ready to believe that the coach was guilty rather than her students.

In "Perchance to Kill," a similar story unfolds: a lawyer is found to be a thief by a co-worker, so the former kills the latter and then attempts to frame two "hippies" who happened to be in the neighborhood at the time. This being 1973, the "establishment" is quick to blame the "hippies."  I can't be the only one who instantly thought of the Charles Manson murders. Of course, these hippies think "the man" is going to toss them into jail regardless of the truth. It is here that Barnaby Jones stands up for Justice again and pushes until he finds the true murderer. At the very end he even talks with the young people and they all agree that they can get along, "dig?"
Forty years later, I think it's funny that network television was obviously trying to play the "cultural" card. Race relations? Check. Fear of the younger generation? Check. I'm sure as I keep watching there will be early-Seventies issues addressed.....women's lib, anyone? ;-)

I also always loved the theme song, by Jerry Goldsmith. Here is the opening from the very first episode, which features William Conrad as Cannon. By the way, his son Hal is portrayed by Robert Patten, the only time we ever see him.
For some reason I couldn't embed this video. Click here to enjoy the opening and closing themes:

JLA #31 "Going Home" Forward

Well, this is it. This is the LAST issue in my bilingual comic-book series.

I am happy to say that I went out with a bang. This is probably my favorite issue of the series. Not only because I based it on two really good source stories (JLA #122 by Martin Pasko and JLA #149 by Steve Englehart) but because there is no painful art sequences (just my normal mediocrity) AND because I added a twist to this story to mirror my own leaving of Japan. That part I sort of took from Len Wein; I will talk more about that part of the story in the Afterwards.

Here are the two stories I used as sources:

Both feature Dr. Light as a nefarious villain. In my story, I even have Red Tornado call him the Justice League's greatest enemy. In the actual DC comics of the early 80s he started to be featured as an incompetent idiot; I always resisted that characterization. I think of Dr. Light as an absolute genius who hates the JLA, so he always tries to be three steps ahead of them. Now that my series is over maybe I will go back and scan his original appearance (JL #3) to FRIENDS OF JUSTICE. It's kind of his secret origin and how I see the character: evil genius. I haven't uploaded it yet because I am embarrassed about the quality of the art, but I do remember the story fondly...

In the more recent mini-series IDENTITY CRISIS it was revealed that Dr. Light once tried to rape one of the wives of the JLAers. As an evil act, this ranks right up there; as a way to get back to the JLA in general I don't put this past him, I guess. I'm not a fan of this characterization, but if I had to pick between idiot or rapist, I suppose I would pick rapist. Still, this story you're about to read is from 2001, several years before he was shown to be *that* evil. Feel free to think of him as that type of scum-bag if you so choose.  Or forget that I even mentioned it.

One of the reasons I gravitated to then eventually chose these stories as my source is because they use most of the JLAers in them. Therefore, I was able to use most of the members in specific scenes. For example, the actions of Superman and The Flash are directly from JLA #149, and the scenes of Aquaman fighting Dr. Light came directly from JLA #122. It was easy to plug these stories into my universe. 

This group shot cover is one of my favorites, too. I went all out on it. It's loosely based on the WHO'S WHO illustration of the JLA by Luke McDonnell. I usually didn't date my work, but this time I did because I knew it would be the last cover I ever did.

Here are both for your consideration. 

One problem I see with my version is that it looks like Wonder Woman is putting her hand out to "stop" Red Tornado. Now that I see it that way, I can't "un-see" it. Sorry if I just spoiled it for you, too, haha~! 

Translation was, as always, done by my friend Kinuyo Yamamura. She did a great job on the last years of stories, and was my all-time favorite assistant. We'll talk more about this work in the Afterward, too, because I don't want to spoil any of the story beforehand.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Happy Birthday to FRIENDS of JUSTICE!

I started writing this blog on July 8, 2011. I'm not sure WHY I started it on that date...probably I was in the middle of my Fourth of July summer shut-down and had time to spare?
But here is my very first post:

Hajimemashite (Nice To Meet You!) 

Well, I'm gonna do it! I am starting this blog in order to make myself scan and organize all of my bilingual JUSTICE LEAGUE comic-books. I wrote and drew 31 issues between 1990 and 2001. For the past few years they have not been available ANYWHERE so I finally decided to jump in the ocean and start saving them here. 

So now here I am two years to the day later starting to post my last issue (#31). Funny how time flies.

I guess this is a good time to announce officially that I have started working on NEW Justice League stories! I've had so much fun re-reading these old stories, and remembering some of the possible stories I wanted to do with these characters, that I finally decided I would commit to creating some more!

The other reason I want to do this has something to do with the original reason I had for doing this in the first place: at the time I started this series, there was no place to read new adventures of the JUSTICE LEAGUE I grew up reading and enjoying. So I wrote my own!  Since then, of course, there have been many wonderful JLA stories, but....recently, I think we are kind of back where we started, and not in a good way. The darkness of DARK KNIGHT and MAN of STEEL and The New 52 makes me sad. These characters are HEROES that we should look up to, not f'ed up psychotics we should be afraid of. So "my" universe, while serious, will never be DARK. Think Curt Swan and Fred Hembeck, not Peter David and Judd Winick.

Now my return won't be immediate....not only do I want to "take a break" to represent and respect the 12 years that have elapsed since the series ended, I also want to get a large chunk of stories done or near done before I start uploading them. On the other hand, when the series does come back it will be basically the week or month after the end of *this* issue (#31). These characters are timeless, after all, so that shouldn't be a problem.

I'll still be doing the other FRIENDS of JUSTICE posts: Music Mondays, TV Tuesday, Wednesday Comics, and Film Fridays. And I will try to write more essays and columns as I can find the time to string words and ideas together in to semi-coherent thoughts.

In the meantime, I leave you with this teaser image....

JLA #31 "Going Home!"

And with this cover, we come to the last issue of "my" bilingual JUSTICE LEAGUE series.
I dated the day I actually finished inking it: May 29, 2001. Twelve years ago? Have I really been out of Japan that long? It seems just like yesterday....

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Happy Birthday, Burt Ward!

Today July 6 is Mr. Burt Ward's 68th birthday. Yes, believe it or not, the adorable Burt Ward was 20 when the BATMAN series started filming in late 1965. He turned 21 at the height of its popularity. That means he's about 20 years older than I am! 

He must have thought he had struck a gold mine when the first ratings came out and the quirky show was a huge hit. Everybody who was anybody wanted to be on the show. The guest villains read like a Who's Who of Golden & Silver Age Hollywood. It was a feast for the eyes and the senses. However, after less than three full years it petered out and was unceremoniously cancelled.

Most people thought it would whither, die out, and disappear. Actually, the opposite happened. Like STAR TREK, it never really went away. It went into syndication almost immediately and became stronger and stronger over time. Look at me, for example. I was too young to watch it during its first-run period; I watched it on re-runs every day after school on KDNL-TV Channel 30 in St. Louis. My guess is that it is on air somewhere in the US every single day. 

Burt Ward took all of this hoopla in stride. He tried to find other acting work, but was typecast and realized he had to make a living some other way. He became a real estate agent, among other things. He wrote a very amusing book called MY LIFE IN TIGHTS. And he travels to comic-book conventions; recently he and Adam West traveled together on the Wizard World Convention circuit. I only met him briefly during his time in Columbus, but I did get to hear them talk about their adventures. They seemed happy and nostalgic for their experiences. 

Happy Birthday, Burt Ward! 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

I tried to think of a patriotic movie I could review for Fourth of July Film Friday, and then it hit me: James Cagney won his only Best Actor Oscar for his role as George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy. I had never seen it, so I decided this would be the perfect excuse.

On the one hand, it's a great 1940s musical. The numbers are fun and over-the-top (now I understand why in all The Little Rascals shorts I watched as a kid, every time they "put on a show" they had to go over-the-top!). The songs are all by Cohan, which means they are catchy and fun. The acting is top-notch, of course.

On the other hand, it's a 1940s musical, which means the story is simplified. For some reason, Cohan's actual older sister is made into his younger sister for the film. The whole story is told, literally, by Cohan to President Franklin Roosevelt. In 1936 Cohan was given the Congressional Gold  Medal, the first civilian from the artistic world to receive the award.  It is this honor that is shown as the reason Cohan is called to the White House, although it is obvious that the US is in the midst of WWII at this point in the film.
For what it is, the film is highly entertaining. I especially liked the bit where Cohan tells people he is popular because he gives the people what they want, because he is OF the people. He travelled extensively as a child and did not consider himself just an East-Coaster or of any particular region, but as an American. This might be Hollywood make-believe, but with James Cagney espousing it, it sure does sound good!

The highlight for me (especially this week) are the especially patriotic songs: "Yankee Doodle Boy," "You're A Grand Old Flag," and "Over There."  The scene where Cohan is singing "Over There" to a group of troops when their power goes out is especially powerful and quite well done. Just thinking about these songs makes me have them in my head, which I guess this week is not a bad thing.
If you don't like song-and-dance, you might not like this movie. If you like any of the songs I just mentioned, though, you'll like this movie. And by gosh, that Cagney kid can sing, dance, AND act!

Directed by Michael Curtiz
Screenplay by Robert Buckner & Edmund Joseph
Story by Robert Buckner
Dance numbers staged by
Leroy Prinz & Seymour Felix
James Cagney's dance routines by John Boyle
Music & lyrics by George M Cohan