Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Happy Birthday, Kate Jackson!

One of my first crushes was on the actress Kate Jackson. No, not from Charlie's Angels, although I liked her on that, too. I first saw her and longed for her when she was a regular on The Rookies. It was a cop show from 1972-1976 that starred Michael Ontkean, Georg Stanford Brown, and Sam Melville as three "rookie" beat cops under the guidance of Gerald S. O'Loughlin. Kate played Jill Danko, a nurse and wife of Melville's character. Besides Kate's beauty and talent, she and Sam made a very cute couple. They were a fun difference from their bachelor friends' characters. And this was one of the first series I remember watching with a black lead actor (Brown). Having him around seemed natural, which I think is another reason I grew up the way I did.
As soon as the series ended in 1976,  Kate went on to play Sabrina on Charlie's Angels. I may get comments disagreeing with me, but I watched this show for Kate Jackson. Sure, all of the women were beautiful, but Sabrina was the brains, wasn't she? And I had a thing for beautiful women with brains! I preferred Cheryl Ladd to Farrah Fawcett, so that change didn't upset me, but when Kate left the series I stopped watching it.

However, by the time Kate came back to television in The Scarecrow and Mrs. King I was in college and didn't have time to watch TV. I have heard good things about it, besides the acting by Kate and her co-star Bruce Boxleitner, of course. I should borrow a collection one of these days to see it for myself.

Today October 29 is Kate Jackson's 65th birthday. Thank you, Kate Jackson, for years and years of great entertainment! And I didn't even talk about your time on Dark Shadows! If I don't atleast mention this series I know my buddy Greg will be mad at me...!

Happy Birthday, Kate Jackson!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Happy Birthday, Brad Paisley!

I didn't know anything about Brad Paisley until I happened to hear his song, "Alcohol." I liked it and went searching for more. I found that he can balance the so-called "silly" songs like "Alcohol" and "On-Line" and "Sure Gonna Miss Her" with genuinely touching songs like "He Didn't Have To Be," "When I Get Where I'm Going," and my favorite, "Welcome To The Future."

I have only been to a few concerts in my life. But when I heard that Brad Paisley would be coming to Columbus last year, I was one of the first people to buy tickets. My buddy and I were going to go because he likes him, too, and I wanted to go with somebody who would appreciate the show. A week before, my Columbus Blue Jackets account representative called me up and invited me to a SUITE for the show! So my buddy and two more friends went to the show in style....obviously, it was the best show I had ever seen.
Thanks, Brad, and thanks, Sean! I'll never forget that evening.

I happened across his autobiography (basically a series of stories) called Diary Of A Player at the library two years ago. It was a fun, easy-to-read book from a guy who sounds like he is totally grounded and happy doing what he does
Happy Birthday, Brad Paisley! 

AND he wears a Justice League t-shirt during concerts? GREAT GUY!!

Here's "A Letter To Me" which looks like it was filmed at his own high school reunion. 
Is he really just a good ole' West Virginia boy? It sure seems like it. 

Happy Birthday, Statue of Liberty!

The Statue of Liberty, standing tall in New York Harbor welcoming your tired, your poor, and your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, was officially dedicated on October 28, 1886. That makes her 127 years old today!

If you have never seen her, you should plan a trip. Going to Liberty Island and going to the top of the crown is not for everybody (height and confined spaces could be issues) but to see her from either the New York or New Jersey shore is still worth the effort. And if you do visit the island, you'll see the history of the statue and various copies of pieces of her. It's a cool place, especially as it has been recently renovated after Hurricane Sandy damage. I've been there twice, and enjoyed it both times.

Lady Liberty may have started as a French character, but the Statue of Liberty has become something all-American.  
Happy Birthday, Statue of Liberty
and Thank You, France!

For a detailed history of the statue, visit The Statue of Liberty History page.

aerial photo by ABC News

with my buddy Brian in 2010
did you know the date on her tablet was July 4, 1776?

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Lost Weekend (Best Picture 1945)

The Lost Weekend is like no other Best Picture film I have ever seen. It is not an epic, it is not a musical, it is not a biography of somebody we've never heard of; no, The Lost Weekend is an extremely personal and intimate story of one man's battle against alcoholism. I grew up in the Seventies and Eighties where social issues were often presented on television in so-called "movies of the week." However, The Lost Weekend starts a trend in Hollywood that would put these later films to shame. For the next three years all of the Best Pictures were social commentaries, shining a light on returning veterans, antisemitism, and alcoholism. The Lost Weekend is a brutally honest, almost painful film to watch. We're not in Bing Crosby's Going My Way any more, Toto!
Ray Milland has a tour de force role as Don, the absolute center of the story. He is a writer, or wants to be. However, he is plagued by anxiety and this feeds his writer's block, which feeds his anxiety. He turns to drink, but he soon realizes he is an alcoholic and cannot stop.

The story begins with Don and his brother Wick (a quiet yet strong Phillip Terry) planning on going away for a weekend retreat to their family's farm. He maneuvers out of it, however,  when his girl-friend Helen arrives to say good-bye. Wick and Helen (a forceful but loving Jane Wyman) both suspect what Don is up to, but can't figure out his scheme, so unwittingly go along with him. Soon he has "escaped" from their clutches and is at the bar, where he tells his bartender friend Nat (a great Howard Da Silva) how he got to be where he is. We then get an extended flash-back where we learn that Don had always had a problem with alcohol, but had managed to stay dry after he first met Helen (ironically, because of his need for a drink). He falls off the wagon on the day he is supposed to meet Helen's parents, and that is when Helen first learns the depth of Don's problem.
After his current binge leaves him broke (again) and needing more (again) there is an extended scene where he searches his apartment for his hidden bottle. This is one of the most painful scenes in the film, as Milland goes from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows and back again in search of the second bottle he knows he hid somewhere in the apartment. Later, he steals a woman's purse to pay his tab and then hits on another girl who likes him in order to buy more alcohol. He falls down the stairs at her apartment, and because Wick and Helen are not home to claim him he is committed to an asylum to dry out. Here he meets Bim, a cynical nurse/guard played by Frank Faylen. Faylen is most famous as the easy-going cab driver in It's A Wonderful Life; to see him here playing a jaded "seen-it-all" hospital orderly is creepy to the extreme. He tells Don a little bit of what it will be like to go "cold turkey," which scares the hell out of Milland's character. He manages to escape back to his apartment, where he begins to experience what the orderly said that he would. This is the most chilling part of the film, as Milland goes (literally) bats-in-the-apartment crazy.
The next day Helen finally catches up to him, and Don is so embarrassed by his actions that he decides to commit suicide. She initially believes that he has decided to go on another binge, but when she realizes what his real plan is she pleads with him to keep fighting. Then Nat the bartender arrives with Don's type-writer, which he had left at the bar the night before. Don sees this as a sign to write, and he begins working on his story against The Bottle.
The plot may not sound like much, but in a world of Forties films like Going My Way and How Green Was My Valley, where people are able to solve their problems, this film is hugely different.  Besides Best Picture Ray Milland won Best Actor, Billy Wilder won Best Director, and he shared Best Screenplay.
The Lost Weekend
*Academy Award Best Picture of 1945*
Produced by Charles Brackett
Directed  by Billy Wilder
Screenplay by Billy Wilder & Charles Brackett
Based on the novel by Charles R. Jackson

This trailer definitely gives you the feeling that this film was NOT the usual fare
Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
Anchors Aweigh
The Bells of St. Mary's
Mildred Pierce
Except for The Bells of St. Mary's, which is a sequel to Going My Way, I have actually seen all of the other nominees this year. Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman were both nominated for this film, but lost to Ray Milland and to Joan Crawford (in Mildred Pierce). With this nomination Bing became the first actor to be nominated twice for the same role. Mildren Pierce is, of course, the tour de force Joan Crawford "comeback" film about a desperately poor woman who scratches her way out of poverty. Anchors Aweigh is Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra as sailors on leave in Hollywood. It's an adorable picture and features, among other things, Gene dancing with Jerry the Mouse (from Tom & Jerry fame). And Spellbound is Alfred Hitchcock's film with Ingrid Bergman as a psychiatrist and Gregory Peck as an amnesiac who may have murdered his best friend. All of these are pretty good films. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Happy Belated Birthday, Paul Levitz!

October 21 was the 57th birthday of comic book writer and editor Paul Levitz. Today being Wednesday Comics here at Friends of Justice, I would like to celebrate some of the creative highlights from Paul's long career.

I first came across him as the writer of Aquaman's series in ADVENTURE COMICS. He didn't stay on that title very long, only seven issues, (441-447) but this did include the classic Karshon storyline where Aquaman gives up the throne of Atlantis.

The next time I came across his name he was the writer of another of my favorites, LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES. One of the first things he did was to kill off one of my favorite members, Chemical King. I eventually forgave him for this, but for years it annoyed the hell out of me. He didn't stay on this title very long this time, but he did write the classic "Earth War" saga during this run.

Then I saw his name on the Justice Society series in ALL STAR COMICS. He helped create The Huntress, who was the daughter of another dimension's Batman and Catwoman, all grown up as a super-heroine in her own right. This was a great series full of wonderful characters.

Around this time he was also made editor of the BATMAN family of books. He did a good job on them, as I recall, and I bought most of them. 

And finally, Levitz returned to LEGION just in time to lead it to its pinnacle of success, both creatively and commercially. With such artists as Pat Broderick, Keith Giffen, Steve Lightle, Dan Jurgens, and Greg LaRoque Levitz created an inter-woven mythic universe that has never been bettered. He wrote the series for nearly ten years, including such classic storylines as The Great Darkness, The Crisis, Who Is Sensor Girl,  The Universo Project, The Greatest Legionnaire, Revenge Against The Time Trapper, and The Magic Wars.

Thank you, Paul Levitz, for years and years of fine entertainment!
Happy Birthday, 
and many happy returns!




my autographed copy of "Who Is Sensor Girl?" from LSH 25

my autographed copy of Death Of A Prince 
(with Mike Grell's autograph, too!)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Happy Birthday, Johnny Carson!

Johnny Carson has been in the news recently because somebody, I think maybe he was Johnny's lawyer, has written a book  about him. In it (from what I have read in reviews and comments in magazines and the newspaper) the author talks about how Johnny loved his wife to the point of obsessing about her. That's the one thing I remember....evidently Johnny tried to break into his ex-wife's house/apartment? Something *shocking* along those lines.

Johnny Carson was notoriously shy. He did not grant interviews as a rule; I can remember only once when he sat down for any interview of any length. That one was on SIXTY MINUTES in 1980 or so. His basic point was that if he talked about himself, he could alienate some of his audience. If he kept quiet, everyone would think he agreed with *them.* So he kept quiet.

Johnny Carson was notoriously talented. He had a skill of being able to listen and then ask interesting questions. Recently Turner Classic Movies ran a series of his interviews with such celebrities as Jonathan Winters, Tony Curtis, Susan Sarandon, and Kirk Douglas. They were a joy to watch, not so much for any gossip or Hollywood talk per se but because he talked to all of his guests as if they WERE his guests. He was (or seemed) interested in them, which made us interested in them. Plus, he had a wonderful sense of timing AND self-deprecation, two things you absolutely have to have to be a great comedian.

If you are interested in watching classic Johnny Carson moments, visit www.johnnycarson.com 

Johnny was born on October 23, 1925 in a small town in Iowa. He and his family then moved to Nebraska when he was eight. He died in 2005.
Happy Birthday, Johnny Carson! 
We miss you! 

 One of my favorite bits was when Johnny and Ed did their "Carnac the Magnificent" bit. 

Here's a quick sample...

Monday, October 21, 2013

Chuck Berry "Maybellene"

Chuck Berry is one of my favorite rock and roll artists. He wasn't always, though. As a kid I thought his raw power was scary or something; plus in St. Louis he was a local, so I heard him ALL THE TIME. As I got older, though, I finally "got" him, and now love everything he does. He is still living in the St. Louis area, and regularly plays guitar at the local tavern called "Blueberry Hill" located in my home-town, University City.

One song in particular I have always liked, though. His first big hit, "Maybellene," from 1955. I always thought it was named after a cow, but I have heard that it was named after the Maybelline cosmetic company, and he just liked the sound of the name. This song helped Berry become famous, leading the way with plenty of other classic rock and roll songs such as "Johnny B. Goode," "You Never Can Tell," "Roll Over Beethoven," and "Sweet Little Sixteen." The only certified No. 1 hit he ever had, however, was a novelty hit recorded live in 1972 called "My Ding-A-Ling."

When I was a kid, for some reason I sang this song around a girl in my class named Gwen. For some reason I called her "Gwenny Sue" (which was not her name) and sang that name to the tune of this song. "Oh Gwenny Sue, why can't you be true?" She responded by calling me Llessur Egabrub, which is my name backwards. 

Even today when I hear this song, I think of Gwenny Sue. I heard it the other day and suddenly realized, "this is my next Music Monday article!"

So here's to you, Gwenny Sue, and to you, Chuck Berry! You're both great!!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Going My Way (Best Picture 1944)

One of the most fascinating things about reviewing all of the Academy Award-winning Best Pictures in chronological order is the chance to make sweeping assumptions regarding movie trends from way before I was born. Case in point is this year's winner versus last year's winner. Last year, you may recall, the winner  was the cynical, sarcastic, yet fully patriotic film Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart. This year, however, in an almost 180 degree change of style, the Academy chose the sentimental light-weight comedy-drama Going My Way, starring Bing Crosby. I don't have any answer to why this might be, but I do find it endlessly fascinating to think about. Anyone who has seen both of these films is welcome to start a discussion regarding their respective quality. My guess is that people who love one won't love the other. Let me know if my hypothesis is right or not, please.
If you like Bing Crosby, you will love this film. If you don't like Bing Crosby, my strong suggestion is for you to skip this movie all-together. Bing is in almost every scene, and once he appears he hovers over all the action even when he isn't there (which isn't very often). The other main character in the film is Barry Fitzgerald, who is in all the scenes that Bing isn't, and most that he is.
Bing plays Father O'Malley, a new priest assigned to St. Dominic in New York City. It's a parish that is losing members and money, and the Bishop believes that transferring Bing there to make some changes will help. However, they keep this information secret from Father Fitzgibbons (Fitzgerald), who believes he is still in charge. The two men do not agree on how to solve the church's problems. They continually argue over methods until Fitzgibbon eventually goes to the Bishop and demands that O'Malley be transferred; it is then that he learns that Bing is actually his boss! He doesn't take it well, but eventually realizes that 1. he has nowhere else to go and 2. Bing really is helping out. For example, Bing is instrumental in taking Tony Scarponi and his gang of juvenile delinquents and turning them into the church's Boys' Choir.
You see, Bing is a song-writer and singer, so he tries to solve all of the church's problems with music. When Carol, an 18-year-old who has left her parents to make it in the big city finds her way to the church, Bing sings to her. She then borrows ten dollars and finds an apartment down the street, determined to be a professional singer. Eventually she hooks up with the son of the realty manager who is trying to foreclose on the church. To solve *that* problem Bing tries to sell a song he wrote called "Going My Way" and use the royalties to pay off the church's mortgage. He sings it to Carol and her boyfriend, but neither of them are impressed. Then he sings it to his former girlfriend, Genevieve, who just happens to be a professional opera singer (portrayed by professional opera singer Rise Stevens). She tries to sell it to her publisher friends, but they aren't interested in "schmaltz" either. However, when Bing and his Boys' Choir break out into another song he wrote called "Swinging On A Star," the publishers want THAT. By the way, this song won Best Song, with music by James Van Heusen and lyrics by Johnny Burke. The mortgage is paid off, and all is well.

However, an accidental fire destroys much of the church (which had appeared to have been built of rock, but, whatever) and everyone commits to rebuilding St. Dominic's. However, Bing finds that he has been transferred to another parish, so as his last act of kindness he arranges Father Fitzgibbon's mother to visit him in New York, all the way from Ireland.

So....like I said, if you like Bing Crosby you'll be royally entertained by this film. If you do NOT like him, I just saved you two hours of torture. I don't mind him, but I did find it hard to believe in him as a singing, dancing, joking priest. On the other hand, Fitzgerald is nothing but believable as the older, sterner priest who resents the young whipper-snapper showing up trying to "fix" things. This part of the story still seems fresh today. Are we doomed to continually mis-trust the generation we do not belong to? Speaking of Barry Fitzgerald, he is part of a very interesting bit of trivia. This year, for the only time, the same actor in the same role was nominated in both "Best" and "Best Supporting" categories. After this embarrassment, Academy rules were changed so that you can only be nominated once a year in one category for one role. 

There were a few notable casting choices in this film. I noticed that one of the troubled youths was played by Carl Switzer, best known as a child actor as "Alfalfa" in The Little Rascals series. He did a good job in this. Also noteworthy was William Frawley as one of the music publishers; this was seven years before he would gain immortal fame as Fred Mertz on the classic TV series "I LOVE LUCY."   
I didn't actually mind this film too much, but I did not care for all the singing. I can understand the need to practice with the boys' choir, and those scenes worked fine. But when Bing tries to help Carol to sing better, and then when Genevieve sings opera, (twice!!) and Bing sings "Going My Way"....ugh. I think if this film  had starred somebody like Cary Grant without so much music it would have been a better film. Maybe I'm too cynical? Maybe I have seen too many "copy-cat" type films, where the lead with the heart of gold sings his way out of trouble or leads all the other characters down the path of goodness through his example, to really enjoy this. And although I don't really think it deserved Best Picture, it not only won that but Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Screenplay, Best Story, and Best Song as well. So it obviously struck a nerve with the people of 1943, and how can I argue with that?
Going My Way
*Academy Award Best Picture of 1944*
Produced and Directed
by Leo McCarey
Screenplay by Frank Butler & Frank Cavett
Story by Leo McCarey

Here's the Academy Award-winning song, 
with Bing and the Robert Mitchell Boys Choir

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
Double Indemnity
Since You Went Away
If you are a fan of film noir you must see Double Indemnity. It stars Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, and Edward G. Robinson in the classic thriller directed by Billy Wilder about Stanwyck wanting to kill her husband. Gaslight is the other side of the story, with Charles Boyer trying to kill his wife, Ingrid Bergman. She won Best Actress for this; newcomer Angela Lansbury was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Since You Went Away is a WWII home-front drama starring Claudette Colbert that I had never heard of before doing research for this review. And Wilson was a biographical film about a basketball trapped on a deserted island. Just kidding; it's about President Woodrow Wilson, but nobody remembers it (or him) today. From this year, the number of nominees for Best Picture were whittled down to five, just like all the other major categories. It stayed this way for the next 60 plus years.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Anniversary of the Jupiter 2 Blasting Off (10-16-97)

Where were you on October 16, 1997? Do you remember? That was the day that the Jupiter 2, with Major Don West as the pilot and the Robinson Family as the passengers, blasted off on their way to Alpha Centauri. Less than 48 hours after they left Earth's atmosphere Mission Control lost communication with them, and they became Lost in Space.

The TV series made its debut in 1965 and ran for only three years. Still, it is a fondly remembered bit of nostalgia from the "fun" Sixties, perpetually re-run in syndication (where I eventually saw it).
Lost in Space also spawned a few comic-book series, although one, "Space Family Robinson," actually began before the TV series. When Irwin Allen created the series, his production company reached an agreement with Gold Key comics, and "Space Family Robinson" became "Lost in Space." This confused the heck out of me as a kid, because the Robinsons in this comic are NOT the Robinsons from the TV series! I tried it a few times, but could never get past that huge difference.

Many years later, Bill Mumy himself ("Will Robinson" from the TV series) wrote a series of comic-books about his TV family. This was published by Innovation. His opus, Voyage To The Bottom Of The Soul featured art by Michael Dutkiewicz. The story was a serious take on the Robinsons and featured the wedding of Judy and Don, along with various other events. It is very well done and in lieu of any real closure to the TV series the closest we will ever get to seeing whatever happened to the Robinsons and Dr. Smith. 

If you can find a copy of this book I enthusiastically recommend it! In the meantime, here is a video montage of some wild Lost in Space scenes. It really was like a comic-book come to life!