Monday, January 20, 2014

The Music Man (2) "Rock Island"

Continuing The Adventures of Me in the Gahanna Community Theatre production of THE MUSIC MAN by Meredith Wilson.

Last week I was at rehearsal and we went through "Rock Island." This is the very first scene of the show, when  a band of traveling salesmen sit around on a train talking about how modern times are making their profession harder. While they are riding from Illinois into Iowa one guy brings up someone named Professor Harold Hill, who is a traveling salesman specializing in selling boys' bands.

This was the first time I had rehearsed this song (for lack of a better word, although there is no music to it) and boy! was it difficult to get down! Not only are the words said to the beat (representing the sound of the train chug-chug-chugging along), but they are said lightning fast. So imagine a duet or song with individual solos, add in difficult lyrics, and keep it to a fast beat. Now you've got the idea of how difficult it is to do "Rock Island."

Luckily (?), I was cast as Salesman No. 4, i.e. "the annoying one." If you know the piece I'm talking about you know one of the salesmen keeps repeating, "Whaddya talk?" This time, that annoying guy is me. So I already know 85% of my lines! Now I just need to remember that I say it five times in a row, then three times in a row, then four times, then five times again, and then twice. You get the idea. If I say it three times but I'm supposed to say it twice, I'll throw the rhythm off. If I say it four times when I'm supposed to say it three times, I'll step on the next guy's line. So....yeah, pressure.

Our musical director and the director of the play both told us (eight guys) to rehearse it over and over again until we have "muscle memory." So I have been singing, "Whaddya talk?" at the CD player for the last few days. My wife thinks I'm crazy.

Here's the scene from the Matthew Broderick ABC-TV version from a few years ago.

There is a place in Illinois on the border with Iowa named "Rock Island" so I guess that is where the name comes. There is a line in the show that says the train has now crossed into Iowa, so it must have started in Illinois.

If you would like to know more about when and where our production will be, please click the Gahanna Community Theatre homepage. or purchase tickets from iTickets here

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Happy Birthday, Guy Williams!

Guy Williams was born Armand Joseph Catalano on January 14, 1924. He grew up in the Bronx, but instead of wanting to be an insurance broker like his father, he dreamt of being an actor.

After WWII he made his first trip to Hollywood. In 1946 he signed with MGM and changed his name to "Guy Williams." He worked mostly in commercials. When he signed another contract a few years later with Universal-International, he began appearing in supporting roles in several films, most famously as a police officer in I Was A Teen-Aged Werewolf (1957) with Michael Landon.

1957 was also the year Guy answered an open audition for Walt Disney Productions. They were producing a new television series, ZORRO, based on the swashbuckler who had appeared in two motion pictures starring Douglas Fairbanks and Tyrone Power. Guy got the part, not only because of his tall, dark, and handsome looks but also because he had fencing experience. Do you know or remember ZORRO? He's the guy dressed all in black who roams the border between California and Mexico fighting injustice, cutting his initial "Z" into various places around the villages he protects. You may have seen the more recent Antonio Banderas films.
I have to say I have never seen any of the Guy Williams' ZORRO episodes or specials. Because they are owned by Disney, they were never really sold to syndication when I was growing up. They aren't at my local library, and I'm not going to pay $100 to get a complete season. They do LOOK fun, though.

After the series ended in 1961 Guy made a few films in Europe. Then in 1964 he thought he had gotten another big break, as he signed to co-star on one of the most popular television series of the time, BONANZA. Co-star Pernell Roberts had made his intention to leave clear, so the producers signed Guy to be the new "fourth lead." (The other leads were main star Lorne Greene, Dan Blocker, and Guy's former co-star, Michael Landon.) After Guy had appeared a few times, however, Roberts decided to stay on, forcing the producers to let Guy go.

At the time that probably bothered him greatly. However, because he was not tied to BONANZA Guy was able to film a pilot for producer/director Irwin Allen. This series became LOST IN SPACE, which ran from 1965-1968. Guy played the patriarch, Professor John Robinson, co-starring with June Lockhart as his wife, Dr. Maureen Robinson.
LOST IN SPACE is a silly series, but not because of the acting, which is top-notch across the board. Guy did the best he could with episodes about Space Hippies and Space Hill-billies. Even when he is giving water to an evil space carrot, you believe *he* believes in what he is doing.

After LOST IN SPACE ended Guy Williams retired from show business. During a visit to Argentina in 1973, Guy felt a strong attraction to the people and the culture. He moved there soon after, although he did make two final LOST IN SPACE inspired appearances in the US in 1983. One was on a celebrity episode of FAMILY FEUD and one was on an episode of GOOD MORNING AMERICA.

Guy Williams died the last week of April in 1989 of a brain aneurism. He was only 65 years old.

Happy Birthday, Guy Williams!
from the opening credits of BONANZA
in the first season costume for LOST IN SPACE
(with June Lockhart)

in the second season costume
in a third season PR shot, with June Lockhart and Jonathan Harris

from their FAMILY FEUD appearance in 1983:
Bob May (the Robot), Marta Kristen, Angela Cartwright, Guy, and June


Here's a preview to one of the best John Robinson-centric episodes of LOST IN SPACE,
"Hunter's Moon" from 1968. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Johnny Cash "Folsom Prison Blues" (1-13-68)

Forty-six years ago today, Johnny Cash recorded one of the greatest live albums of all time.

Johnny Cash first recorded one of his most famous songs, "Folsom Prison Blues" in 1955. While he was in the Air Force he saw a documentary called, Inside The Walls of Folsom Prison (1951). At about this time he also heard Gordon Jenkins' song "Crescent City Blues." He put both of these experiences together and wrote "Folsom Prison Blues." According to, he had this to say about the song's most infamous line ("I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die"): "I sat with my pen in my hand, trying to think up the worst reason a person could have for killing another person, and that's what came to mind."

In the late Sixties, when Cash's career was stalled, he suggested recording a live concert album at a prison. He contacted San Quentin and Folsom, both in California. Folsom agreed to host him, and his entourage, which included his band, the Statler Brothers, Carl Perkins, and June Carter Cash arrived at Folsom on January 13, 1968. They had two concerts, at 9:40 AM and then again at 12:40 PM. They had scheduled two in case the first did not have enough good quality recordings.

The rest, as they say, is history. The morning concert was good enough to nearly fill the album AT FOLSOM PRISON, which was released that spring. It eventually became multi-platinum, with more than three million units sold. The single of a live recording of "Folsom Prison Blues," hit Top Forty on the Pop chart and Number One on the Country chart in the summer of 1968.

Johnny Cash eventually paid Gordon Jenkins a settlement for the similarities between their two songs.

Here's a video of Johnny Cash playing in front of a prison audience. It isn't Folsom (that concert was not taped, just recorded) but it gives you an idea of what it must have been like at the time. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Greatest Show On Earth (Best Picture 1952)

The Greatest Show On Earth is one of those movies that they just don't make any more.  Nowadays, movies like The Greatest Show On Earth are called "infomercials" or "A&E Specials." In fact, all the time I was watching this movie I kept thinking back to "Circus With The Stars," those TV specials in late 70s and early 80s where various actors and actresses performed under the Big Top.
I don't know if MGM paid Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey for the rights to film with them, or if Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey paid MGM to make this picture. As TV audiences began to bite into Hollywood's (and the circus'?) bottom line, maybe this was a match made in Heaven. As a jaded movie viewer of today, however, I'm here to tell you that this is another one of those What-were-they-thinking? Best Pictures.

Charlton Heston plays Brad the circus manager, the guy everyone depends on to make sure everything gets done. I'm sure it was only a coincidence, but in his first scene Heston is shown taking care of baby gorillas! Perhaps his role in Planet of the Apes was destined? Brad is in love with Betty Hutton's character, Pigeon, an over-eager trapeze artist who covets the center ring. Brad, however, has signed big-name aerialist Sebastian, played by Cornel Wilde. Because he is a "star," he gets the center ring. This creates the main story, the rivalry between these two to grab and keep the center ring. Pigeon thinks Brad loves the circus more than he loves her; she rushes off crying that he has sawdust in his veins instead of blood.
However, the more interesting story is the sub-plot starring James Stewart as Buttons the Clown.He is never without his make-up, and no one knows his real name. I don't want to give too much away about this story if you haven't seen this movie yet and you want to. Suffice it to say that Buttons' story is by far the best part of the movie.

The C-plot involves gangsters trying to muscle in on the concessions and arcade games. When Brad finally kicks them out, they end up sabotaging the circus train, and that leads to The Big Finale. This is when Brad is incapacitated, and Pigeon steps up to make sure The Show Must Go On. She realizes that *she* has sawdust in her veins, too.
I suppose as a product of its time, this film is okay. With more people staying home and watching television for free, and with the Red Scare still ongoing, I guess the Oscar went to this to try to bring more people into the cinemas. Also, the sheer amount of work that was required to get this film made boggles the mind. Just getting the elephants to do their tricks while a wonderful Gloria Grahame says her lines must have been a huge headache. (By the way, Grahame  won Best Supporting Actress this year for another film, The Bad & The Beautiful.) Likewise, Betty Hutton and Cornel Wilde obviously didn't do all of their own stunts, but they did do some of them! Filming these scenes with dozens of extras as the audience, clowns, and roustabouts must have been a logistical nightmare. So there is that.
On the other hand, excessive effort doesn't necessarily mandate a Best Picture award. 

The Greatest Show On Earth
*Academy Award Best Picture of 1952*
Produced and Directed
by Cecil B. DeMille
Screenplay by Frederick M. Frank, 
Theodore St. John, and Frank Cavett

Cecil B. DeMille explains how he made the film.
Warning: this "trailer" is more than six minutes long.

However, I recommend watching this trailer in lieu of the film itself.

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
High Noon
Moulin Rouge
The Quiet Man
Believe it or not, this is the second year in a row where the Best Picture and Best Director were not for the same film. Although Cecil B. DeMille won Best Picture, John Ford won his fourth (!) Director Oscar for The Quiet Man. Obviously, Hollywood was hedging its bets. I have seen this film, and gosh, it is dull. Beautiful Irish landscapes, but, boy, the story goes on forever. Moulin Rouge is the non-musical film, the life-story of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec as portrayed by Jose Ferrer. If you are interested in this turn-of-the-century artist, you should see this film. Ferrer was nominated for Best Actor, but lost to Gary Cooper in High Noon. Of course, nowadays most people think that this film should have won Best Picture. If you have seen both The Greatest Show and High Noon, I dare you to even try to convince me the circus story is better! And I have never seen nor had any interest in seeing Ivanhoe.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

JLA #32 Forward

"new" JLA logo by letterer Todd Klein, circa 1983
Welcome back!? 

I hope you are here to read about my All-New Basically-the-Same JUSTICE LEAGUE comic-book series. If you are here by accident, look at the pretty pictures and read the rambling prose. If you like what you see, I hope you'll come back next week for the actual comic story.

The last issue of my home-made comic-book was printed and distributed in the spring of 2001. I had been writing and drawing bilingual English-Japanese comics for about ten years at that point. They were given to the Japanese students of my English classes, but I have to admit that I *did* enjoy making them more than they enjoyed reading them. Then when I decided to quit that job and return to the States, I used my last issue as a representative statement to say good-bye: I had Hawkman and Hawkwoman leave Earth the same way I was leaving Japan.
After I returned to the US I was busy working and helping to raise our daughter. I also started to do community theatre, and that took up whatever free time I seemed to have.

A few years later I started this blog and began to scan and save all of my old stories. My friend Rick saw them and asked me to illustrate a story he had written as a birthday present to our buddy Rob for The Aquaman Shrine. I agreed to do it, then found myself using creative muscles I hadn't used in many years! Doing Rick's story made me seriously think about starting up my own series again.

Then two things happened. First, DC Comics wiped out their comic-book universe again and I did not particularly like what they re-created. The appeal of reading these comics was minimal. Secondly, my original series was coming to an end. So as I naturally saw "my" series ending in July, 2013, I began to think, again, about returning to them.
And then I listened to an episode of The Fire & Water Podcast by my buddies Rob and Shagg. They talked about "comfort comics." For those of us who didn't really enjoy The DC New 52 stuff, we should find older or forgotten comics and read/re-read those. That made me realize that there were definitely stories I wanted to tell about "my" universe, and writing and drawing them would be MY "comfort comic."

So I decided on a few things. First, I wanted to complete a couple of issues done before I shared any thing so that I could show I wasn't just a one-trick pony. So this is the first issue of three that I have already completed. I have three more in various degrees of completion, with two more scripted. I hope to stick to a bi-monthly release schedule.
Secondly, I realized that I had at least five stories to tell right off the bat, with a dozen other possibilities. For example, I really want to do a Starro the Conqueror story, but I still haven't figured out how to make a giant alien star-fish a real menace..! So I exploded on these first three "issues," working on each of them back-and-forth for months. It was only just recently that I decided to make *this* story No. 32 and *that* story No. 33, for example. The first one I finished writing was actually the story that will end up in No. 34! Then as I finished writing numbers 35 and 36, an odd thing  happened. My friend Rick asked me to revise a story he had written to fit into "my" universe. Another friend, Andy, asked if he could "play in my sandbox" and offered me a story about a character I had wanted to deal with for years!
So now I have stories tentatively scheduled through 38. I'm excited! I like the "pressure" of having to get something done "on deadline" at a set length in a set layout. I come home and look at my work-desk and think, "What do I want to work on tonight? Do I want to write, pencil, ink, or color?"

If you read these New Adventures after having read the previous episodes, you may notice a few changes. First and foremost, they are no longer in Japanese. I figured my audience is now a bunch of comic-book fans who speak English, so that aspect has been dropped. Sorry? Secondly, the pens and colored pencils available are different from what I had before, so the "look" might be a little bit different. I'm actually a little bit disappointed in how some of the colors scanned in, so that aspect should improve as we go along.
One last thing. I consider myself a story-teller, and not much of an artist. I know my art is really bad in some places, but hopefully it's not so bad that it takes you away from the story I am trying to tell. I apologize in advance if it ever does!

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Music Man by Meredith Wilson (1)

One of the greatest American musicals is THE MUSIC MAN, by Meredith Wilson. He wrote the music and lyrics, and worked with Franklin Lacey on the book. The show premiered on December 19, 1957 off-Broadway and ran through April 15, 1961. At the 1958 Tony Awards it won Best Musical, Best Lead Actor in a Musical (Robert Preston), Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Barbara Cook), and Best Featured Actor in a Musical (David Burns).

The story revolves around con-man "Harold Hill," who travels through the Mid-West taking orders for instruments and uniforms for boys' bands, then skipping town as soon as he gets his money. In River City, Iowa, however, he begins to fall in love with Marian (the librarian) and his plot unravels. 

Wilson was born and grew up in Mason City, Iowa. One of the songs, "Iowa Stubborn," is a love-letter to the hard-to-get-to-know people of the Hawkeye State.

In 1962 THE MUSIC MAN was made into a motion picture, produced and directed by the Broadway director, Morton DaCosta. Although Warner Bros purchased the rights, and they had a history of insisting "bigger" names take over the main roles when filming Broadway shows, DaCosta and Wilson both insisted that Robert Preston be cast as Harold Hill in the film.  It was his biggest success. Shirley Jones, fresh from OKLAHOMA! and her Academy Award-winning role in ELMER GANTRY, played Marian. 

Meredith Wilson was an accomplished songwriter in Hollywood before he began writing musicals. He has also written such well-known songs as "You and I," "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas," "May God Bless And Keep You," and "Chicken Fat." Three songs from THE MUSIC MAN have also become very famous: "76 Trombones," "Trouble," and "Til There Was You." The latter was recorded by the Beatles and appears on their US album, MEET THE BEATLES.

The reason I'm writing all this (and you are reading it) is because my local theatre is putting on an amateur version of THE MUSIC MAN in February. I am playing one of the Iowa Citizens, aka "Chorus." So for the next month or so I will be showcasing the songs from this great show.

If you are anywhere near central Ohio on/around Feb 14, check out the Gahanna Community Theatre page and come see me. "You really ought to give (us) a try....!"

First song I'll feature here is one of the most famous, and one that was used as the Finale in the movie. We haven't gotten to that part yet in rehearsals, but I'm guessing it will be our finale, too.

Look closely and you may notice little Ron Howard in the cast as Winthrop. This was after he had started appearing in THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, "Seventy-Six Trombones (reprise)" from THE MUSIC MAN, words and music by Meredith Wilson.

Friday, January 3, 2014

An American In Paris (Best Picture 1951)

An American in Paris is a beautifully filmed, excellently choreographed, and well-acted Hollywood musical. In other words, a typical MGM musical. What makes this film better than, say, The Wizard of OZ or Beauty & The Beast, two musicals that were nominated for Best Picture but that did not win? Or better than Meet Me In St. Louis or Singing In The Rain, both of which are better known and better loved MGM musical films? I suppose timing has something to do with it, as OZ lost to Gone With The Wind and B&B lost to The Silence Of The Lambs. An American in Paris, on the other hand, beat out such non-classics as Decision Before Dawn and Quo Vadis. When I talk about timing, I also mean the timing of the age. Hollywood in the early Fifties was under the Red Scare. The two other serious contenders, A Streetcar Named Desire and A Place In the Sun dealt with alcoholism and  class jealousy-murder, respectively. Perhaps members of the Academy wanted to pick the least controversial, most up-beat film as Best Picture?

Gene Kelly plays Jerry Mulligan, a WWII veteran who wants to be a painter, so stays in Paris after the war ends. He is friendly with Adam (Oscar Levant), an American pianist and composer who is just barely managing to get along. We never find out anything specific about Adam other than he wants to be a great composer. He is a typical MGM musical archetype: a character who plays the piano so that musical numbers can be more easily staged. They have a French friend named Henri (George Guetary) who they nick-name "Hank." (Why do Americans all have to nick-name people? Shades of "ugly American"....) He is a star of the local musical theatre, which explains why he, too, sings and dances. It doesn't explain why he doesn't just give Adam a job, though. Henri is in love with a young lady, Lise, who his family sheltered during the war. When he tells the guys about her, Leslie Caron does an adorable montage of representative dances to match his descriptions. This actually turned out to be my favorite part of the movie. And because this is an MGM musical, and there is only one female co-star, we all know that she and Gene Kelly are going to get together. 
In fact, our knowledge of what this film is really is a liability. Was MGM's reputation already set at this point, or did the audience *not* know that boy always got girls in these things? Either way, we know it now. Watching this film means we have to appreciate the beauty of the voyage because we already know the destination. 
George Guetary, Gene Kelly, and Nina Foch
I mis-spoke earlier; there is one more female co-star, Nina Foch as Milo, an American millionaire. She meets Jerry and wants to be his sponsor. For a scene or two it seems that she wants to buy him, as well as his paintings, but Gene Kelly makes it clear to her that he isn't that type of boy, and the drama of the situation is basically defused. There is a constant reminder that she wants more from Jerry than he is willing to sell her, though. Through her he meets Lise, and by this point we already know she is Henri's girl. Jerry, of course, does not. It turns out that she although she is not in love with Henri, she feels obligated to marry him. Adam learns that she is the same girl both men are pining about, but doesn't do anything about it. This time, the drama inherent in the situation is ignored. Nothing actually happens until Henri overhears Lise saying good-bye to Jerry. After Henri and Lise depart for a world tour, Gene Kelly imagines the classic American in Paris Ballet: American toe-tapping exuberance meets French High Culture. As I said before, it is beautifully filmed and choreographed; however, it is a dream sequence, which makes it almost meaningless. At the very end of the ballet, Lise returns, having been "released" by Henri. Jerry and Lise promise to make their real lives as romantic and fun as the ballet dream sequence that just ended was. The End. 
So...yeah. Gene Kelly is wonderful. If he has ever made a bad film, I have yet to see it. When he is on screen things are fun. However, I have to say that his supporting cast doesn't give him any support at all. Oscar Levant as Adam is dull, dull, dull. George Guetary is happy-go-lucky but hard to understand and has no charisma to speak of. And poor Leslie Caron: I don't find her attractive at all, and she can't really act. She dances amazingly well, but unfortunately she also has to speak. In the end I only cared about Gene Kelly's character, which made the film deadly dull most of the time. Perhaps I should just say, this film just doesn't stand the test of time. 
And as a musical, you would hope that the songs were more memorable. I know a few of the songs, "Stairway To Paradise," "'S Wonderful," and "I Got Rhythm," especially, but thinking about them now, I can't remember how they were presented on film. There's a huge disconnect between the music and the singing, which is a shame, because all of the music was written by Ira and George Gershwin.  
I wonder if I would have liked it more if the film had actually been filmed in Paris? In several scenes it's painfully obvious that the locale is a sound stage. Hollywood is magical, but you have to admit, so is Paris.

An American in Paris
*Academy Award Best Picture of 1951*
Produced by Arthur Freed
Directed  by Vincente Minnelli
Screenplay by Alan Jay Lerner

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
Decision Before Dawn
A Place In The Sun
Quo Vadis
A Streetcar Named Desire
Oddly enough, this is the first of two years where the Best Picture and Best Director were for different films. Although An American in Paris won Best Picture, George Stevens won Best Director for his film, A Place In The Sun, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Shelly Winters, and Montgomery Clift. Perhaps the Academy was hedging its bets? Of course, A Streetcar Named Desire won Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress, but Best Actor nominee Marlon Brando lost to Humphrey Bogart. I guess if you were going to lose, losing to Bogie is the way to go. I recommend A Place In the Sun *and* A Streetcar Named Desire; they are both powerful and gripping. If you've seen them you can understand why mainstream Hollywood would not want to make either of them Best Picture. The other two I have never even heard of. Looking them up, I still had no interest in seeing them.