Caftan Woman

Caftan Woman

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Favourite movies: Duck Pimples (1945)

I used to think I was pretty hot stuff when it came to the movie buff game. I thought I knew my Disney. All that was before HIMSELF, THE BOY came into my life. Gavin has his challenges (autism/developmental delay), but the kid knows Disney. It was HIMSELF, THE BOY that introduced me to the wonderful and wacky Duck Pimples, a short from 1945. Based on a story by gagmen Virgil Partch and Dick Shaw, it is unlike any Disney or Donald 'toon before or since. It's directed by Jack Kinney, who also gave us the delightful Donald's Diary wherein Donald's inner voice is the dulcet tones of Ronald Colman. In Duck Pimples, Donald is thrown into a surrealistic, noirish nightmare that abounds with animated gags and thrills.

The Donald expert, director Jack Hannah referred to his protagonist as "the duck" and explained that "the duck" was such a good character because as Mickey Mouse became a star he could no longer get away with the cheeky antics of his youth. Bad-tempered, hard-luck Donald fulfilled that comic need. Animator Ward Kimball put it this way: "Is there anything we didn't do to poor Donald?"

Well, the duck is certainly put through his paces in this short that HIMSELF, THE BOY and I enjoy particularly at Hallowe'en. We're sure you'll enjoy it as well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gw4ogWuFv4k.

Note: Hugh Hennessy was an animator whose work for Disney spanned from The Band Concert to Lady and the Tramp.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Favourite movies: The Facts of Life (1960)


Lucille Ball and Bob Hope
star in "Brief Encounter with Laughs".

Directed by Melvin Frank and written by Frank with Norman Panama, The Facts of Life is an adult love story that will surprise you. Frank & Panama are Bob Hope experts, multiple Oscar nominees and the creators of such classic comedies as The Court Jester and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.

Kitty Weaver and Larry Gilbert are two perfectly nice suburbanites. If Kitty's husband (Don DeFore) seems a little preoccupied with work and his gambling habit, and Larry's wife (Ruth Hussey) a little too caught up with the kids - well, that's life. They have no thought of straying. They certainly have no thought of straying toward each other. However, Fate (in that way of hers) forces these two perfectly nice people to spend time together. Kitty discovers that "the jerk who tells the lousy jokes at the country club" is a genuinely warm and funny fellow. Larry sees a softer side to that stuck up Kitty. Love blossoms with the added complications of vows and conscience.

How Larry and Kitty deal with their feelings, their need to be together and the realities of their lives is played out in a frank, touching and very funny manner. It is wonderful to see two actors who happen to be bona fide comic geniuses working together in such perfect sympathy. The humour of character and situation also involves some gut grabbing slapstick, and some quiet moments that will make you smile or sigh a sentimental sigh for two perfectly nice people.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Broadway to Hollywood Trivia

Did you know that Eduardo Ciannelli (1889 - 1969) played "Diamond Louis" in the 1928 Broadway production of The Front Page?

Did you further know that Abner Biberman (1909 - 1977) played "Diamond Louis" in the 1940 film version of The Front Page, Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday? And did you also know that in George Stevens' classic 1939 adventure Gunga Din that Mr. Ciannelli played the rebel guru and Mr. Biberman his loyal son, Chota? Go forth and enlighten the masses, my friends.

Monday, October 13, 2008

How carnivores celebrate Thanksgiving!

My baby, baby, baby sister outdid herself with the most scrumptious Thanksgiving dinner ever! A variety of steaming vegetables. Moist turkey and tastey ham. Gravy so rich and savory it should have been served with a straw! Apple crisp! Homemade pumpkin pie! Swell music and lotsa laughs. We have plenty to be thankful for. (Miss Tracey is quite a gal.)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

I'm beginning to think my husband may be right!



I have lived my life assuming that I know all and am right about most things and that the rest of the world is out of step with me. Hubby shakes his head and has been telling me for 20 odd years that it is me who is out of step.

The headline of the Financial Post read "Should Stephen Harper Be More Panicked About the Economy?" I pondered the question as I rushed to catch the streetcar. Well, if he is (I thought), I don't want to know it. People don't vote for people who are going to get panicky. Or do they? A few days back NDP leader Jack Layton berated Harper for not reassuring the Canadian people regarding the economy. Ha (I laughed). Does he think we're a bunch of crybabies who need politicians (of all people) to pat us on the head and tell us everything will be alright. Canada may not be as bad off as some places, but it is obvious that, if nothing else, things are going to be slow for the next little while. We've been through this sort of thing before and survived and we can do it again. Geesh! A few days later, the Harper had to switch tactics because the polls said Canadians did want to be patted on the head and told everything was going to be alright. Again I say, geesh.

Number one reason I am not a politician: I obviously don't get people. I'm not a join a party and stick to it person. I have never and don't ever expect to agree 100% with any political party or politician and the perception of those who belong to a group is that they go along with everything they think the group stands for, which may be totally different than others think the group stands for. (See picture of confused infant.) For many, a political party defines them and I think that is just wrong.

Second reason I am not a politician: Very few issues have excited me to action beyond voting, which I deem a privilege and a duty. I am glad there are people who do feel that way about politics. If they like to stand on committee and live in Ottawa - more luck to them.

Whenever there is an election I do start to ponder such matters and find myself in danger of taking the whole thing much too seriously. It is then I re-read a favourite chapter of Mr. Dickens' The Pickwick Papers. I'll save you the trouble of hunting up your copy:

It appears, then, that the Eatanswill people, like the people of many other small towns, considered themselves of the utmost and most mighty importance, and that every man in Eatanswill, conscious of the weight that attached to his example, felt himself bound to unite, heart and soul, with one of the two great parties that divided the town--the Blues and the Buffs. Now the Blues lost no opportunity of opposing the Buffs, and the Buffs lost no opportunity of opposing the Blues; and the consequence was, that whenever the Buffs and Blues met together at public meeting, Town-Hall, fair, or market, disputes and high words arose between them. With these dissensions it is almost superfluous to say that everything in Eatanswill was made a party question. If the Buffs proposed to new skylight the market-place, the Blues got up public meetings, and denounced the proceeding; if the Blues proposed the erection of an additional pump in the High Street, the Buffs rose as one man and stood aghast at the enormity. There were Blue shops and Buff shops, Blue Inns and Buff Inns;--there was a Blue aisle and a Buff aisle in the very church itself.

Of course it was essentially and indispensably necessary that each of these powerful parties should have its chosen organ and representative: and, accordingly, there were two newspapers in the town--the Eatanswill Gazette and the Eatanswill Independent; the former advocating Blue principles, and the latter conducted on grounds decidedly Buff. Fine newspapers they were. Such leading articles, and such spirited attacks!--"Our worthless contemporary, the Gazette"--"That disgraceful and dastardly journal, the Independent"--"That false and scurrilous print, the Independent"--"That vile and slanderous calumniator, the Gazette"; these, and other spirit-stirring denunciations were strewn plentifully over the columns of each, in every number, and excited feelings of the most intense delight and indignation in the bosoms of the townspeople.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Paul Newman

1925 - 2008

Creative actor and director. Handsome movie star. Charitable gentleman. Adventurous guy. He bore both his blessings and his troubles with uncommon grace. He will be honoured and missed.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Good for what ails you!



Music therapy is of undisputed assistance for many ailments and disorders. My story will not add to this scientific fact, however you may not be aware of the healing powers of Joe and Eddie. I was feeling poorly - aches, chills, the yuckies - but one listen of There's a Meetin' Here Tonite and darn if the miseries didn't disappear.
Joe Gilbert (tenor) and Eddie Brown (baritone) were both born in 1941 and brought up in the southern US. Joe in New Orleans, LA and Eddie in Norfolk, VA. Their families relocated to Berkeley, CA in the 50s and it was at Willard High School, in the A Capella Choir that Joe and Eddie met and teamed up for a High School Talent Show. They won first place. Naturally, they decided to pursue show business and the good looking, talented folk/gospel duo won many fans. Record albums, television programs and night club appearances across North America kept them busy. A 1966 car accident claimed the life of Joe Gilbert. Eddie Brown continued in the music business as an arranger and producer.


While you're in YouTube land, check out the other Joe and Eddie posts from fans. They are scant in number, but mighty in talent.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Mr. Melendez

Jose Cuauhtemoc "Bill" Melendez
November 15, 1916 - September 2, 2008


If you're ever watching an old Warner Bros cartoon from the 40s and note a credit for animator J.C. Melendez, that would be the young fellow who started out at Disney in 1938, moved to Termite Terrace and in 1964 won an Emmy and a Peabody when, under Bill Melendez Productions he combined forces with a certain "Sparky" and Lee Mendolson to bring us A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Writer, animator, producer, director and actor (the voice of Snoopy), Bill Melendez was the original Joe Cool.

For more, check out this amazingly cool (what else?) site:
http://www.billmelendez.tv/

Friday, August 29, 2008

Remembering Donald O'Connor

1925 - 2003

I have been reminded that we missed the opportunity to recall Donald O'Connor upon his August 28th birthday. Shame on us. I do hope that that doesn't mean that we have been neglecting to make room in the entertainment portions of our busy lives for the wonderfully talented, warm-hearted gentleman.

Born in a trunk in 1925, Donald was part of a family of vaudevillians and he, along with his siblings, made his movie debut at the age of 12. He co-starred with Bing Crosby and Fred MacMurray in the delightful Sing You Sinners (1938) (where is the dvd?!?), played Gary Cooper as a lad in Beau Geste (1939) and was Tom Sawyer, Detective and Huckleberry Finn.

The 40s kept the young man working in a series of pictures with talented Peggy Ryan and the 50s brought him an unusual partner in the form of a talking mule. Francis was an original and bright little Service comedy whose popularity led to a series for Universal. The 50s also gave him a chance to shine is top-notch musicals such as Singin' in the Rain (1952), Call Me Madame (1953), There's No Business Like Show Business (1954) and Anything Goes (1956).

Movie musicals faded but Donald kept busy with television variety programs, talk shows (his own for a while), touring (Showboat) and guest appearances in everything from Ellery Queen to Frasier.

Donald O'Connor passed away in 2003, twice-married, father to four, award winner and always a welcome presence to legions of fans.

Why, if it isn't Cosmo Brown and Don Lockwood - on television yet!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fnFiqRiZh1s

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Boo! Let's recall Hitch on this special day.

Alfred Hitchcock
1899 - 1980

Alfred Hitchcock was born on August 13th. Happy Birthday! According to astrology this Leo baby gravitates toward the unique, the strange, the unusual because it allows him to play out his own inner conflicts.

For many of us our first memories of Hitch might be his weekly television show and his droll introductions to a variety of frightening and funny stories. Hitchcock is a director who entertains the masses while moving critics to search for superlatives. He shocked, fascinated, confounded and entertained audiences in his long, prolific career and will continue to do so.

I'm crazy about the guy and the titles of some favourites explain why. North by Northwest (1959), the ultimate chase and cinematic offspring to The 39 Steps (1935). Rear Window (1954) that tests and mocks the movie-goers voyeurism. The wonderful character studies in Lifeboat (1944). The exuberant joy of The Lady Vanishes (1938) and the terror of happenstance in Strangers on a Train (1951). Murder most civilized in Dial M for Murder (1954) and the cheeky The Trouble With Harry (1955). The tortured minds of Uncle Charley in Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and Norman Bates in Psycho (1960).

Today I am not going to encourage you to rewatch your favourite Hitchcock or seek out a new one in celebration. I want to turn your attention to the late American author George Baxt (1923 - 2008). A prolific mystery writer of a unique sensibility Baxt wrote a series of novels wherein Hollywood celebrities became detective protagonists (Bette, Bogie, Powell & Loy, Gable & Lombard, Astaire & Rogers, Dorothy Parker, Tallulah Bankhead). His take on Hitch as he and wife Alma become mixed up with spies is an absolute delight in The Alfred Hitchcock Murder Case, published 1986. Discover a new classic and bake a cake with a file in it.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Frank, for all generations


We are a lifestyle transit user family, but a couple of times a year our good friend, Jackie, gives us the loan of her car for a couple of days to take THE BOY to summer camp and do wild things like shop at distant supermarkets or go out to dinner where they have real cutlery.

The Hubby was excited this year about giving his CD collection a work out - headin' on down the road cranking his tunes - the noisy, rock stuff that I freely admit is over my head. In fact, he kept talking about it when time came to escort the females in his family to our annual trip to The Keg. I visibly braced myself for the onslaught of electric guitars amped to the max and was instead greeted to the vocal stylings of Frank Sinatra. I must have given the anticipated comic reaction because better half and daughter chuckled appreciatively.

We had a fine time tearing a cow apart with our teeth, and bantering with a waiter who had his schtick down pat. When we parked in the abode driveway Janet asked her dad for the CD. He asked her why as if suspicious that she was on a teenage rant and wanted to destroy the item. She gave him the what-else answer of "I want it for my ipod". Frank is timeless.

Here's Frank with my favourite guys. A tip of the hat to Toronto composer Ruth Lowe, and to the lovely leading lady of The Pied Pipers:

Monday, August 4, 2008

Favourite movies: Support Your Local Sheriff (1969)



The comedy-western is a subgenre with a rich and varied history. The cliches of even the best westerns lend themselves to kidding, and fans are always up for a laugh. Two of the finest proponents of the comedy-western are writer/director Burt Kennedy and writer William Bowers. The thing that sets their comedy-westerns ahead of the pack is that they have their fair share of dramatic pictures under their belts. Burt Kennedy wrote such classics as Seven Men from Now (1956), The Tall T (1947) and The War Wagon (1967). The Rounders (1965) and The Train Robbers (1973) also highlight his lighter side. William Bowers wrote the classic The Gunfighter (1950) starring Gregory Peck, and his first western-comedy was The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap (1947). He teamed with director George Marshall and star Glenn Ford for The Sheepman (1958) and Advance to the Rear (1964).

Support Your Local Sheriff (1969) pokes knowing fun at everything near and dear to my heart, My Darling Clementine (1946), Rio Bravo (1959), High Noon (1952), Red River (1948) and Winchester '73 (1950). The cast is filled out by character faces familiar to westerns fans - character actors who really know their stuff.

A stranger rides into a lawless town. A town caught up in the thrall of gold fever and under the ruthless sway of the Danby family. The stranger is played by James Garner, whose great ease and charm on the screen has convinced generations that he is only playing himself. The stranger's pockets are empty and the lure of gold in the vicinity, plus a town council eager to please convinces him to take on the job. The town council is played by film favourites Harry Morgan, Henry Jones, Willis Bouchey and Walter Burke. Mayor Ollie Perkins explains the almost state-of-the-art office: "Our last sheriff was a good organizer. Yellow clear through, but a good organizer."

In short order, our stranger takes on a reluctant deputy played by the marvelous Jack Elam, and runs up against the Danby's by arresting not-too-bright son, Joe, played by Bruce Dern in a very funny performance. Three-time Oscar winner Walter Brennan (Come and Get It (1936), Kentucky (1938) and The Westerner (1940)) spoofs his villainous Old Man Clanton from My Darling Clementine (1946) as Pa Danby, beset by idiot sons, Dern, Gene Evans and Dick Peabody, and a sheriff who doesn't act like any sheriff he's ever known.

Our stranger also finds romance in the form of Prudy Perkins played by the brilliant actress Joan Hackett (Will Penny (1968), The Last of Sheila (1973)). Prudy is smitten with the new sheriff, but she's going through an awkward stage. How else does she end up on fire, and stuck in a tree in her under garments? Her father, the mayor, explains: "She's had some terrible shocks this year. She got wealthy almost overnight - I think maybe it unhinged her a bit. Then she was always kind of big for her age and "pooberty" hit her hard. That'll do it you know."

This clip is just a sample of the kind of good-natured humour you'll find in this laugh-out-loud feature:


What's not to love?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Dilemma



Bad hair day or hat head? Hat head or bad hair day? I decided on hat head with the tyro wearing of a gift from my mother. A sun hat of neutral shade with a wide visor brim and a discreet bow at the back. Perhaps more suitable for gardening or a day at the seaside than a doctor's appointment, but I'm not spoiled for choice in the chapeau line.

I took a moment before rushing for transit to ascertain the opinion of my teenage daughter, the amazing Janet. She raised an eyebrow (how does she do that?) and responded, "I don't think Jeeves would approve".

Well, I mean to say, since when is Jeeves the last word on ladies hats? The Nolan blood was up and I sallied forth among the public in the benighted bonnet, returning to hearth and home a scant two hours later sans incident.

Maybe the amazing Janet and I will do a little hat shopping next week. Maybe.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Maria - Solved!

ELICIA MACKENZIE


Congratulations to Elicia MacKenzie, the last "Maria" standing in CBC's How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?. During Sunday's voting period it dawned on me that the girl from B.C. really had a chance against the deservedly popular Janna Polzin, when I could only place one phone vote due to the constant busy signals.

This is from week one, where I thought to myself: I don't know if she's a "Maria", but if she makes an album, I'm buying it!http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JwpIk71LlRk

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Jo Stafford

1917 - 2008


Our Jo is gone. Jo Stafford, the supreme vocalist with perfect pitch, who could tear your heart out with a ballad or have you holding your sides in mirth recently passed at the age of 90.

Some people have music in their souls. Jo's earliest plans were for the opera, but the Great Depression sidetracked many dreams. She sang first with her sisters and then with The Pied Pipers. Starting a solo career she would sell over 25 million records and make the Billboard Charts 83 times between 1944 and 1957 with songs such as Early Autumn, Long Ago and Far Away, Shrimp Boats, Make Love to Me, You Belong to Me, plus popular duets with Gordon MacRae and Frankie Laine.

Here is a performance I adore. The song, Rodgers & Hammerstein's The Gentleman is a Dope.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jUFO2tUBV4c

One of the great ironies of the world of entertainment is that the only Grammy won by Jo is for comedy album. Jonathan & Darlene Edwards, an excrutiatingly funny parody of a really bad lounge act was created by Jo and husband Paul Weston as a party turn, but evolved into albums that still elicit the original reaction.

Here's Jo as another comic alter-ego, Cinderella G. Stump, who thinks she can better Bing Crosby and Perry Como on Arthur Freed & Herb Nacio Brown's Temptation, or is that Tim-Tay-Shun?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_ukeZqJYPY

This is just one of the lovely wartime ballads that gave her the nickname G.I. Jo, Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn's I'll Walk Alone.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsvBzhtwMbY

Jo and her second husband, Paul Weston, the pianist/arranger/composer/producer had more than a successful career together, their marriage in 1952 lasted until his death in 1996 and their two children, Tim and Amy, are also musicians.

Her presence will be missed. Jo Stafford's legacy lives on.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Before "the Marias": Part III

GISELE MACKENZIE
Canada's First Lady of Song

Gisele Marie-Louise Marguerithe LaFleche was born in Winnipeg on January 10, 1927. Her life was ended in a warmer clime - California on September 5, 2003 in a struggle with colon cancer. I'm sure she would want me to remind you all to add a colonoscopy to your medical examinations.

Gisele MacKenzie gave the world music and humour, and Canadians pride in this homegrown success story. "MacKenzie" was her father's middle name and she claimed it so as not to be confused with a striptease artist. She studied voice and violin at the Royal Conservatory of Music and in 1946 had her own radio show on CBC, Meet Gisele. That is also the name of one of two National Film Board Shorts, the other being Songs by Gisele. These often pop up on television without warning and are great fun displaying her versatility with the songs Piper of Dundee, J'ailaisse mon coeur, A Trout No Doubt, Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair and Red Rosy Bush.

1950 saw Gisele move to the states where she appeared with fellow Canuck Percy Faith on radio, and with Bob Crosby on television. She also started a long association with Jack Benny. It was Jack who recommended her for a spot on the phenomenally successful Your Hit Parade (24 years combined on radio and television). Another Canadian vocalist, Ontario born Dorothy Collins was a mainstay on the program as well. Gisele also had her own series which ran for a season on NBC. On stage, she toured in such shows as Annie Get Your Gun, South Pacific, The King and I, Gypsy, Mame and Hello, Dolly. Gisele left us a lot of memories through recordings, night clubs, television game shows, talk shows and variety shows.

Here is a fan tribute found on YouTube. The vocal is a dandy version of At Sundown, and the visuals give you a nice overview of Gisele's career.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9raVlIIWr8

Everybody's favourite:

http://video.aol.com/video-detail/gisele-mackenzie-and-jack-benny-legendary-violin-due/1792374479

Now, here you might imagine Caftan Woman going into a rant about where all the good singers have gone...well, they haven't gone anywhere, they're just not on top 40 radio or blared in blue jean boutiques. For instance, give a listen to Gigi MacKenzie. If her grandfather's middle name was good enough for her mother...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Before "the Marias": Part II

DEANNA DURBIN


"Winnipeg's Sweetheart", Edna Mae Durbin, was born December 4, 1921. Since 1950, the widowed (1999) Mrs. Charles David has lived in retirement in Paris. She raised her family and lived life on her own terms. She left Hollywood in 1949 after a 13 year career because: "I couldn't go on being Little Miss Fix-it breaking into song forever". For Deanna Durbin's fans, that is what she will always be - the teenager with the amazing voice and the young woman who grew into a talented comedic actress. Deanna never seemed to go through that awkward stage. Her talent and self-possession grew and was universally admired.

MGM was her first studio, however her contract lapsed and she was snapped by Universal. That studio was facing difficult economic times, but all that was about to change when Deanna Durbin appeared in "Three Smart Girls" (1936). The public was enthralled and this was reflected at the box office.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwrzxSzrzB4

Over the course of her career, Deanna appeared in 14 movies, bringing classical music to the masses and presenting that rare ability among sopranos with the ability to take a standard and do it justice. Entertaining movies with wonderful co-stars like Adolph Menjou, Charles Laughton, Dan Duryea, Gene Kelly, Pat O'Brien, Robert Cummings, Franchot Tone - Leopold Stowkowski. I would like to recommend a few titles: One Hundred Men and a Girl, It Started With Eve, His Butler's Sister, Christmas Holiday, Lady on a Train, Up in Central Park.

Deanna was a favourite of Winston Churchill and Ann Franks. She inspired Dame Joan Sutherland and Lily Pons. Angela Lansbury has said she used to sing around the house trying to be Deanna Durbin. The Metropolitan Opera wanted her for their boards. Rodgers and Hammerstein wanted her for "Oklahoma!". Alan Jay Lerner personally played her the songs for "My Fair Lady" in an effort to dissuade her from retirement. Obviously, she is a lady who means what she says.

The release of Deanna's Universal pictures on DVD is creating new fans, as devoted as her followers in the 30s and 40s. Talent will tell.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=inV3RlOTOXM

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Before "the Marias": Part I

CBC's How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? is putting the spotlight on homegrown talent. One young lady will win a dream role, but all are receiving welcome exposure to a country-wide audience.

Here in Caftan Woman's corner of the blogosphere I'm going to turn my spotlight on Canadian talent who made their mark in the show business of yesteryear when success for many meant travelling south of the 49th parallel. This is not merely a nostalgic exercise as these talents are garnering 21st century fans discerning enough to exercise their entertainment options.

BOBBY BREEN

Bobby Breen was born November 4, 1927 in Toronto, the son of William Breen, manager of the Royal Alexandra Theatre in the 1930s. Bobby was a naturally talented kid - an outstanding boy soprano who sang in English, French, Italian and Spanish. He received at home training and was managed by his elder sister, Sally, also a singer. From the age of 7 he was appearing on stage and in 1936 made a name for himself on Eddie Cantor's radio program. He was signed by RKO studios that year. Along with an extraordinarily fine voice, young Bobby possessed an assured and pleasant screen personality. No "dead end kid", but no sentimental sap either, though many of his films could be accused of leaning toward the schmaltzy side.

Until recently I had only heard Bobby on record/radio, but thanks to the miracle of DVDs and Turner Classic Movies I've been able to see and enjoy his entertaining features.

Let's Sing Again (1936), co-starred Henry Armetta
Rainbow on the River (1937), co-starred May Robson and Charles Butterworth
Make a Wish (1937), co-starred Basil Rathbone, Donald Meek and received an Oscar nomination for Best Score for Hugo Riesenfeld
Hawaii Calls (1936), co-starred Ned Sparks
Breaking the Ice (1938), co-starred Charle Ruggles and Victor Young was nominated for the Best Score Oscar
Fisherman's Wharf (1939), co-starred Leo Carrillo and Lee Patrick
Way Down South (1939), co-starred Clarence Muse and Alan Mowbray and, once again, Victor Young was up for the Best Score Oscar
Escape to Paradise (1939), co-starred Kent Taylor with "paradise" being the South American setting
Johnny Doughboy (1942), was a Jane Withers movie that featured child actors at that awkward age who had outgrown their usefulness to the studios including Breen, "Alfalfa" Switzer and Baby Sandy.

This link is to a performance from 1939s Way Down South. Bobby solos with the legendary Hall Johnson Choir. On the platform with 12-year-old Bobby is Clarence Muse - actor, writer, producer, director, compose and lawyer, who co-write this film with Langston Hughes.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGMZ1dN7eT8

When Bobby's film career faded, he attended UCLA then continued to tour and record as a vocalist. He was also guest pianist for the NBC Symphony Orchestra and in his later years ran a talent agency. The latest information I can find is that the 80 year old Breen and his wife, Audrey, are enjoying retirement in Florida and those who have met him speak of a "cool guy" and a "nice gentleman".

How about a spot on Canada's Walk of Fame for Bobby Breen? Perhaps a spot could be found by the Royal Alex where his dad worked in administration from 1910 - 1939.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What are you watching?

He: What are you watching?
Me: It's called Greatest American Dog. I'm not really watching it. I thought Password was on.
He: What's it all about?
Me: It's some sort of competition with these people and their dogs. They give them different challenges and the last dog...
He: Gets to be Maria!




I've been watching CBC's How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? Of course I have. I'm a music theatre gal from way back. If need be, a look at my record collection or YouTube searches would verify the same. I met my husband doing community theatre. My wedding featured music by Irving Berlin and Lerner & Loewe. My children listened to Jerome Kern while in the womb. When such things were affordable, I never missed a show. I have Richard Kiley's autograph!

I love watching talented musical theatre performers and seeing fresh new faces. If a television talent show seems like an odd way to cast the lead in Mirvish's upcoming production of The Sound of Music - well, odder things have happened. Like any audition process it has had its highs and lows.

Pleasures: The fast pace of the program. The imagination in putting it together and talent of the contestants.

Disappointments: Allie was gone too quickly. Donna, whose performances stayed with me from show to show (therefore, the one I would most want to see) is gone.

Oddball song choices/missed opportunity: A Canadiana night with no Gordon Lightfoot? Ah, how cheerful my life would be if I were never to hear Black Velvet again. I had successfully erased Bang, Bang from my memory bank. (Sugar Town was about to join it, but I suppose that's just a dream now.) The prevalence of pop tunes distresses me. There are plenty of venues for that sort of thing on television. If the intent was to appeal to a broader audience, I think perhaps the title of the program is enough to keep them tuned out.

The radio in the hospital lab advertised the closing of "Mamma Mia" at the Royal Alexandra. The nurse turned to me and said: "I wanted to see "Mamma Mia", but my husband hates that Andrew Lloyd Webber".

Here is a show about putting on a show. What a wonderful opportunity to celebrate musical theatre. You can't tell me that from Victor Herbert to Stephen Sondheim there aren't enough wonderful songs to showcase and challenge the contestants. If a geezer like me can enjoy Defying Gravity then some youngster would certainly be impressed with The Man I Love. Why, the music of Richard Rodgers alone would give you so many "colours" you'd have to come up with new names for them.

I'll be tuning in next week with hope in my heart. Hoping that Marissa keeps sparkling. Hoping to hear something pretty from Janna. Hoping to catch Jayme fever. Hoping against hope that the judges don't get a sudden nostalgic yen for the Leo Sayer Songbook.

Will I be voting? Ah, that's The 64,000 Question.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

It's Raining, It's Pouring

My boy, Gavin, loves the thunder-rain. Anticipating last evening's downpour, he wandered the front yard singing his favourite rain song - Will the Sun Ever Shine Again from Disney's Home on the Range. The rain started, he wandered and sang. The rain continued, he wandered and sang. The wind blew, the rain pounded, he came on the stoop and sang. He started to go back down the stoop and the water smashed him. He looked at it, betrayed, shut the door and watched the storm from the couch.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6m2vmtN2f4

Hi Aunt Tracey. Remember, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Friday, July 4, 2008

George M. Cohan Said It



1905 was quite a year for 27 year old George M. Cohan. It was the year of his third successive Broadway hit. George Washington Jr. followed in the wake of Little Johnny Jones and 45 Minutes from Broadway.

George Washington Jr. came about a little differently than George's other shows. It was his habit to write the book and then compose the songs. In the case of this show, it was the song that came first - a song. A song that was inspired when the young man rode in the funeral procession for a Civil War veteran. George was riding with a veteran who told the young man of his experiences at Gettysburg and of the ideals for which he and his comrades fought. "And it was all for this," the old soldier said, stroking the folded, tattered flag in his lap. "She's a grand old rag."

Inspired, George wrote:

You're a grand old rag, you're a high-flying flag,

And forever, in peace, may you wave;

You're the emblem of the land I love,

The home of the free and the brave.

Ev'ry heart beats true, under Red, White and Blue;

Where there's never a boast or brag;

But, should auld acquaintance be forgot,

Keep your eye on the grand old rag.

The song was an immediate sensation in the show, but raised a controversy in the newspapers as critics objected to Cohan's relegating the flag to the dustbin. Are critics deliberately obtuse? George M. Cohan, the most patriotic of performers? Well, George lost a bit of the poignant drama of his song by bowing to controversy and changing "rag" to "flag", but his exuberant song lives on.

Happy Independence Day to all you Sons of Yankee Doodles!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Canada Day

Happy Canada Day, one and all. It's a day for relaxing, reflecting and enjoying fireworks. It may also be a day for reading. It's never too early to give children an interest in their country's history and there are many, many books to help.

Rebecca L. Grambe's "Digging Canadian History" is for the 3-6 year old age group, and might educate a few of the adults sharing it.

Scholastic Canada publishes the "Dear Canada" series for older children. Each book is written as a diary by a fictional girl living through historical times from the expulsion of the Acadians to WWI.

Vicki Cameron's "Shillings" features Colonel By's children involved in a mystery during the building of the Rideau Canal. Jean Rae Baxter's "The Way Lies North" concerns a family of Loyalists in the 1700s.

Why not consider starting a new Canada Day tradition and share history with the youngsters in your life?

Monday, June 30, 2008

Lena Horne

Happy 91st birthday to the lovely Lena Horne.

Pictured is Lena with Eddie Anderson in Vincente Minnelli's 1943 movie "Cabin in the Sky". Lena is an absolutely delight as Georgia Brown, a girl who likes a good time. It is the movie going public's loss that more major roles didn't fall to that talented lady.
Here is another treat. From 1960 sharing the television screen with that gentleman of song, Perry Como.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Favourite movies: The Devil's Brother (1933)




Do you like operettas? I do. Star-crossed lovers, happy peasants, soldiers in taverns raising tankards and voices, funny schtick and lovely music sung by lovely voices. French composer Daniel Aubert's greatest success and most revived work was his 1830 operetta "Fra Diavolo" (The Devil's Brother). The name, at least, was taken from an actual Italian highwayman. I can't vouch for the exploits.

Producer Hal Roach was a fan of "Fra Diavolo" (by which title his movie is often known) and a fan of the fact that it was in public domain. Jeanie Macpherson adapted the play with ample opportunity for Roach's most popular stars, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy to strut their stuff.

Dennis King (1897 - 1971) portrays the title character, a ruthless bandit who is the scourge of the countryside. As Fra Diavolo he robs wealthy men of their gold, but as the Marquis de San Marco he steals the hearts of lovely ladies. Mr. King's movie career was brief with highlights including The Vagabond King (1930) with Jeanette MacDonald and the shy minister in Between Two Worlds (1944). Broadway was his stomping ground appearing in 39 plays from 1921 to 1969, including Rose Marie, I Married an Angel, Show Boat, A Doll's House, Billy Budd and a Tony Award in 1970 for John Osbourne's A Patriot for Me in 1970.

Lady Pamela Rocburg (Thelma Todd) and the Marquis de San Marco (Dennis King)

Roach players James Finlayson is the rich and suspicious Lord Rocburg and lovely Thelma Todd is Lady Pamela who finds the Marquis so intriguing. Henry Armetta is a bombastic Innkeeper and Lucile Brown his pretty daughter. Her lover, a poor but honest soldier is played by Arthur Pierson and Matt McHugh is her rich fiance, Francesco. True love never runs smooth in an operetta. It's a rule.

Life with a capital "L" has kicked our boys, Stanlio and Ollio, to the gutter. They decide that crime is their only way out. After all, Ollio opines, it doesn't take any brains to be a bandit. Our boys are ill-equipped for the career change. They are immediate failures and run afoul of Fra Diavolo himself! However, in his Marquis disguise the bandit requiers a retinue to follow the wealthy Rocburg's into the Inn to retrieve the 500,000 francs he knows the lord possesses. Stanlio and Ollio are his reluctant servants with two intentions, to please their master and to escape their master. Can you imagine the fun and trouble caused by sedan chairs, simple second story break-ins and mistaken identities? A trip to the wine cellar leads Stan to one of the funniest drunk scenes in all filmdom.

If you use your movies to escape the day-to-day, this very funny and quaint film may make your favourite movie list too.

Note: kneesey-earsey-nosey is not as easy as it looks.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Caftan Woman and The Daddy Man

On this date in 1876 General Custer and Sitting Bull met up at the Little Bighorn. On this date in 1988 Paddy Lee and Garry plighted their trough. Coincidence?


Mutual regard, two lovely children and an aversion to lawyers has kept us together all these long, long years. We have weathered the worse-poorer-sickness combo of the traditional wedding vows. Now, if the Fates would be so kind, we'd like to see how we'd hold up under the better-richer-health bit. Here's hoping, and Happy Anniversary to my Sweetie-heart. Here is the lovely song, written by a young man whose heart and talent surpassed his allotted years that was our "first dance". http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7Jdrhu-X8k


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Lakeshore Collegiate Prom Night

l-r: Our Janet (with a distinct 60s vibe), Liz, Nadia, Carolyn


l-r: Raymond, Kevin, Kenneth, Joe, Ryan

It's all about the dresses! Since kindergarten it's always been all about the dresses. Sure, the fellas looked nice, the limo was exciting and the whole party was lots of fun, but...it's all about the dresses!
Photos courtesy: Maureen Nolan

Friday, June 20, 2008

AFI Top Ten Westerns II

1. The Searchers: deserving of any and all praise lavished upon it.

2. High Noon: well-crafted, well-acted movie. Continually entertaining.

3. Shane: my personal favourite.

4. Unforgiven: perhaps worthy, but I would consider bumping for "My Darling Clementine" or "The Ox Bow Incident".

5. Red River: gets better with age (or is that me?). Good choice.

6. The Wild Bunch: I would bump for the superior Peckinpah, "Ride the High Country".

7. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: puhleeze! Even Strother Martin can't make up for "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head". Replace with "Will Penny".

8. McCabe and Mrs. Miller: pales next to William Wyler's "The Big Country".

9. Stagecoach: excellent. Would place higher.

10. Cat Ballou: not even the best comedy-western (which would be "Support Your Local Sheriff", which wasn't on the short list). Begone in favour of Boetticher's "The Tall T".

Lookee here, folks. The opening is better than half the movies up there:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6vREiRNMFc

I know. I know. Let it go, caftanwoman. Let it go.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

AFI Top Ten Westerns

Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea in Sam Peckinpah's "Ride the High Country" (1962)

Tonight CBS presents another of the AFI "movie list" specials. I adore these programs. The movie buff in me delights in the copious movie clips and in approving and disapproving of the selections on the various lists. I have been known to shout at the television just like my husband shouts at the referees when he watches "Hockey Night in Canada". Well, not just like him - I'm poor on the profanity bit.

Tonight's program is a top 10 list in various genres. I love all kinds of movies, but my heart is with the western and this western fan is uneasy about the countdown. Take a look at the short list of 50 from which the panel chose the top 10 and you will see what I mean: Bend of the River, The Big Country, Blazing Saddles, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Cat Ballou, Cheyenne Autumn, Dances With Wolves, Destry Rides Again, Duel in the Sun, Fort Apache, Giant, The Gunfighter, High Noon, High Plains Drifter, How the West Was Won, The Iron Horse, Jeremiah Johnson, Johnny Guitar, The Last Picture Show, Little Big Man, Lonely Are the Brave, Lone Star, The Magnificent Seven, Major Dundee, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, My Darling Clementine, The Outlaw Josey Wales, The Ox Bow Incident, Pale Rider, The Plainsman, Red River, Ride the High Country, Rio Bravo, Rio Grande, The Searchers, Shane, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Shootist, Silverado, Stagecoach, The Tall T, True Grit, Tumbleweeds, Unforgiven, Union Pacific, The Westerner, The Wild Bunch, Will Penny.

Choosing from the above titles, the panel can create a solid, decent Top 10 Western list or they can create an abomination. Either way, it can in no way be considered a definitive list of best American westerns because it features only one Anthony Mann film, and although Bend of the River is a personal favourite of mine, I don't believe it will make a cut. Before the evening has even begun the list has a major flaw. No Devil's Doorway, Winchester '73 or The Naked Spur. Shame on them.

While Mann's output is missing, there are some questionable inclusions: The Last Picture Show (does this drama spring to mind when you think "western"?), Duel in the Sun (a picture of dubious quality), Blazing Saddles (a spoof, not even a comedy-western). I'll grant them the modern westerns such as Lone Star. After all, one of the things I love most about the genre is its flexibility and how writers and directors have been able to use the western to reflect different eras and craft wonderful stories. However, consider some of the interesting titles that didn't make the short list: Westward the Women, Hell's Hinges, The Long Riders, Warlock, Last Train from Gun Hill, No Name on the Bullet, Forty Guns, Hangman's Knot, Three Godfathers, Blood on the Moon, Ride Lonesome, Stars in My Crown, The Big Sky, Seven Men From Now. It's enough to make you feel sorry for the panel.

What will make this western movie buff happy and keep her from going soccer hooligan on the Zenith? If the number one spot is occupied by my beloved Shane or any film directed by John Ford. If the top ten list includes: Ride the High Country, The Big Country, The Tall T and/or Will Penny. However, if the top ten list includes Blazing Saddles, the voting panel had best remain cloaked in anonymity as they will have unleashed my inner Tom Dunson.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Bloody Words VIII - Mystery Conference

How to almost get out of doing the dishes for the weekend.

I spent June 6 - 8 at the Bloody Words Mystery Conference, conferring, conversing and otherwise hob-nobbing with my fellow mystery fans/writers. An observation: I don't believe there is another group of people more open to hearty laughter than these lovers of fictional murder and mayhem.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Amazing Janet


The end of the school year brings the last minute rush to finish assignments, summer plans and the Recognition Assembly at Lakeshore Collegiate Institute. It is inspiring and fun to watch the students receive their honours. Some walk across the stage with bravado, others play to their crowd, some are embarrassed. Many are from the same family or are high achievers who seem never to leave the stage.

I wasn't surprised when our Janet brought home the invitation to attend the morning assembly. After all, last year she received a trophy for Senior Band. It's not that we're used to this sort of thing - that was the first recognition of any kind she had received, but she is an excellent flute player so I wasn't surprised that she should be getting another trophy. The surprise was that this year Janet received a trophy for Senior Writer. I knew that my grade 12 slacker turned scholar had thrown herself 110% into The Writer's Craft class and that her teacher, Ms. Siegel, was pleased with her work, but the recognition was unexpected. What an amazing girl is our Janet.

I think Janet is taking after her Aunt Tracey, a jazz phtojournalist published in CODA, Canada's Jazz Magazine. I know the most amazing people.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Modern Times


The hands-free cell phone is not a boon to mankind. It makes it difficult for the big city gal walking down a crowded street to differentiate between a crazy person ranting to the world at large or a crazy person ranting to someone on the phone. The only solution is to ignore everyone, except for the lovely busker playing Tchaikowsky. That was nice.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Gene Puerling

March 31, 1929 - March 25, 2008

One of the great pleasures of life is enjoying work by someone who really knows what they are doing. Wisconsin born Gene Puerling knew what he was doing when it came to music. His family background was filled with musicians and Gene was organzing groups from his teenage years and never stopped. Vocalist, innovative arranger, founder of The Hi-Lo's, The Singers Unlimited and inspiration to generations of singers and listeners.

The Hi-Lo's were formed in 1953 and recorded many albums including: The Hi-Lo's Listen!, This Time It's Love, The Hi Lo's Happen to Bossa Nova, The Hi Lo's Happen to Folk Songs, Broadway Playbill, Ring Around Rosie (with Rosemary Clooney), Suddenly It's the Hi Lo's, Harmony in Jazz. Original personnel included Gene, Clark Burroughs, Bob Morse and Bob Strassen. Strassen later left the group and was replaced by Don Shelton. Shelton joined Gene, Bonnie Herman and Len Dressler in 1967 for The Singers Unlimited, who could turn songs you thought you didn't like into favourites. Originally jingle singers, they recorded what they liked and the fans followed.

Gene Puerling was nominated 14 times for the Grammy Award and won in 1981 for his arrangement of "A Nightingale Sang in Berkely Square" for The Manhatten Transfer album Mecca for Moderns.

The inestimable YouTube contains several clips of both The Hi-Lo's and The Singers Unlimited reaching and creating new fans every day. Here is a favourite of mine with an introduction by Nat "King" Cole. Enjoy!

http://www.singers.com/videos/hilossugar.html

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My guy, Wally Ford



Look at that face. It's a nice face. It's the face of your favourite uncle. Maybe the uncle who drinks a little too much and maybe once in a while he gets himself in a spot, but he's your favourite uncle so it's okay. That's the face of Wallace Ford (1898 - 1966) as he appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's classic Shadow of a Doubt (1943). Ford's Hollywood career began in 1930 and the talented actor worked steadily until his death. Lots of programmers under his belt in the 30s and some genuine classics such as Tod Browning's Freaks (1932), John Ford's The Lost Patrol (1934) and The Informer (1935).


Wallace Ford's career in the 40s includes memorable pictures such as the quirky Blues in the Night (1941), the enjoyable The Mummy's Hand and All Through the Night (1941). You like film noir? Check out Black Angel (1946), Crack-Up (1946), Dead Reckoning (1947), T-Men (1947) and The Set-Up (1949).


Well-remembered classics from the 50s featuring our guy (isn't it nice of me to share?) are Harvey (1950), The Furies (1950) which will be released by Criterion this coming summer, The Man from Laramie (1955), He Ran All theWay (1951), Flesh and Fury (1951), The Rainmaker (1956), The Last Hurrah (1958) and Warlock (1959). Television fans could count on seeing Wallace Ford on Studio 57, Father Knows Best, Tales of Wells Fargo, The Dick Powell Show, The Barbara Stanwyck Show and more. His last film role was definitely A level as the alcoholic grampa in A Patch of Blue (1965).


Our guy was born Samuel Jones in Bolton, Lancashire, England on February 12, 1898. At the age of three he was placed in a foundling home by an aunt. At the age of 7, along with 300 other children, he was shipped to the Toronto branch of the home. In the space of 4 years, little Sam lived in 17 different foster homes before striking out on his own. He landed in Manitoba and got work with a vaudeville troupe called The Winnipeg Kiddies. At the age of 16 Sam struck out again, but not alone this time. A pal, Wally Ford, was along and they hopped freight trains to see what life could offer them in the States. Along the way, the pal was crushed to death by a boxcar and young Sam took his friend's name.


Years of trouping in the boondocks paid off in 1918 with a role in Booth Tarkington's Seventeen in Chicago and a move to the Big Apple with the show. Most of Wally's Broadway shows in the 1920s were of the 4 weeks rehearsal for a couple of night's run variety with the exception of a stint in Abie's Irish Rose. In 1922 Martha Haworth became Mrs. Ford and they remained married for the rest of his days with a family of one daughter, Patricia, and two grandsons. 1937 saw a great Broadway success for Wally as he created the role of George in John Steinbeck's adaption of his own Of Mice and Men, staged by George S. Kaufman. Young Broderick Crawford was the unfortunate Lenny.


Wallace Ford had been searching for his mother since he was a teenager and, according to a piece by Jim McPherson in The Toronto Sun, in 1936 he found her.  After calling on help from the Los Angeles Police Department and Scotland Yard, the old woman was located, derelict and living in a trailer with a match seller known as "Blind Dan". An overjoyed Ford told the press: "I'm going to get a little house where my mother and her husband can spend the rest of their days in peace. She has had a hard life." There's a back story there that we can only imagine. There is also a story about a man with a big heart, big enough to forget the neglect he suffered as a child. What a guy! Our guy, Wally Ford.










Friday, May 23, 2008

Porky Pig

The most underrated movie star of this or any other era. Discuss amongst yourselves.

Good ol' Porky. He's been around forever - well, at least since 1935. He made his debut in I Haven't Got a Hat, animated by Bob Clampett and directed by Friz Freleng with the idea of creating a cartoon character along the lines of Chubby from the Our Gang series. The name came from a couple of boyhood pals of Freleng's who were nicknamed Piggy and Porky. Such schoolyard appellations would not be countenanced in this day and age. Grown-ups are so touchy. Actor Joe Dougherty, who was a stutterer, provided the voice.

Porky proved an immediate success despite his stutter being the only consistent characteristic. The flexible pig was put in any and all types of stories. 1937 was a banner year. Mel Blanc was hired to voice Porky as he could harness the stutter and save production costs. Tex Avery put Porky in a 'toon entitled Porky's Duck Hunt teaming him with the riotous Daffy. It was magic! The slimmed down look and the humourous Blanc gave Porky a new lease on life and endless possibilities within a defined character lay ahead of him.

My favourite Porky period is when Chuck Jones made him the Frank McHugh of the animated set in the late 40s/50s, ably supporting Daffy in such shorts as Drip Along Daffy, Duck Dodgers in the 24th & 1/2th Century, Dedeuce, You Say and Robin Hood Daffy.

Despite protests in the 90s regarding Porky's stuttering as being inappropriate for the screen, Porky continues as the hard working character actor he is, currently voiced by Bob Bergen.

1938s Porky in Wackyland, Bob Clampett and Porky Pig's tribute to the bizarre was preserved by the National Film Registry in 2000.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Favourite movies: His Girl Friday (1940)



Ben Hecht & Charles MacArthur created their immortal play "The Front Page" in 1928. It was a smash hit on Broadway starring Osgoode Perkins as ruthless, fast-thinking editor Walter Burns who stops at nothing to keep ace reporter, Lee Tracy as Hildy Johnson, from getting married and leaving the newspaper racket...that is, the journalistic profession. The 1931 motion picture was also a hit starring Adolphe Menjou and Pat O'Brien. The Academy graced the effort with three nominations: Best Picture, Best Director - Lewis Milestone, and Best Lead Actor - Menjou. It was a case of it's nice to be nominated.

Inspiration, as it so often did, struck director Howard Hawks and he envisioned "The Front Page" with a romantic angle. Hildy wasn't just to be Burns' ace, she was to be his ex-ever lovin'. The play was adapted by frequent Hawks' collaborator, Charles Lederer (The Thing from Another World, Monkey Business, I Was a Male War Bride, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes). Rosalind Russell was given the role by attrition. It had been turned down by Ginger Rogers, Irene Dunne and Jean Arthur. Feeling just the teeniest bit slighted and not sure of Hawks, it was co-star Cary Grant's friendship and improvisational skill that put Roz at her ease until she realized she did have Hawks' trust. One day she threw her purse at Grant who ducked and responded "You used to be better than that". It's in the picture, as are some adlibs from an advertising copywriter Miss Russell hired to help her keep up with the fellas.

Classic Hollywood movies are graced with incredibly talented character actors and most of them seem to be in this movie. The reporters awaiting the execution of a railroaded schnook: Porter Hall, Ernest Truex, Cliff Edwards, Roscoe Karns, Frank Jenks, Regis Toomey. The poor schnook: John Qualen. The crooked mayor, Clarence Kolb. His numbskull sheriff, Gene Lockhart. Burns' beleaguered assistant editor, Frank Orth. Irving Bacon as a waiter (just how many waiters did Mr. Bacon play?). Billy Gilbert almost walking away with the movie as the befuddled Pettibone, purveyor of pardons. Abner Biberman as Burns' henchman Louis. Alma Kruger as a respectable almost mother-in-law. Helen Mack has the thankless role of Molly Molloy and plays with conviction. Miss Mack was on the vaudeville stage at the age of ten, a silent film leading lady and eventually a producer and writer for radio. In Hawks' pictures you will often find the finest ensemble work. Part of his knack for bringing the high energy to such scenes is through many rehearsals often aided by a stop watch, keeping sharp eye on on his professional cast and the take-no-prisoners dialogue.

Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell are marvelous in "His Girl Friday", a most felicitous teaming and dream casting (apologies to the talented ladies who sought other roles). So overwhelmingly great are our leads that one almost overlooks the contribution to the movie of Ralph Bellamy as Bruce Baldwin, the other man, offering the simple joys of life out of the fast lane to our heroine. Mr. Bellamy is perfect! His looks are of the tall, protective, comforting type. His talent is unquestioned. The movie is full of wonderful moments of this poor sap, pardon me, fish out of water, having his life turned upside down by the jealous Walter Burns. One almost feels sorry for poor Bruce, one certainly appreciates that few could play that role as well.

No Academy Award nominations were forthcoming for this adaption of "The Front Page". However, in 1993 the movie was placed on the National Film Registry along with these outstanding films: Shane, Lassie Come Home, It Happened One Night, Nothing But a Man, Sweet Smell of Success, Yankee Doodle Dandy and The Wind.

I watch "His Girl Friday" often. Sometimes I sit back and roar, chuckle and grin. Sometimes I am silent, as I enjoy the pure genius of the thought-provoking, funny script and its execution. I am always energized and awe-struck by this movie classic.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day

Clare

A couple of days ago I was walking along Bloor West Village when I was distracted by the sight of a large white dog and a small grey kitten communing in the doorway of the Hallmark shop. I stopped to watch and noticed that a woman on the other side of the doorway was just as captivated by the scene. With her stylin' 'do, happening shades and tasteful ensemble she was the epitome of older woman chic and cool. Oh, for heaven's sake, it's my mother! Hugs and "what are you doing here?" followed. Passersby might not take us for mother and daughter. For one thing, we hardly look old enough and for another while I have yet to name my particular look, I have pretty much eliminated cool.

Our temperments are often at variance. For instance, she doesn't dig Wodehouse and is at a loss to understand my fondness for westerns. On the other hand, I don't get her thing for Anderson Cooper and refuse to understand her liking for NASCAR. One thing we do have in common is a healthy admiration for baritones - especially this guy. Happy Mother's Day!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MVOjq5dDbg

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Bing Crosby

1903 - 1977

Well, folks, May 3rd is here. The day all fans celebrate the birth of Bing Crosby. Let the merriment be unconfined. Let there be cake, and listening to records and watching of movies, and searching of YouTube. How is this different from every other day of the year? Oh, yes, the cake!

Favourite Christmas Special: The one where he sang "White Christmas". The one where Kathryn and Mary Frances wore green. The one when Harry played the guitar. The one where Nathaniel stopped wearing short pants.

Favourite ballad from a Technicolor feature: It's a tie! "The Kiss in Your Eyes" from "The Emperor Waltz" (1948) and "True Love" from "High Society" (1956).

Favourite ballad from a Black and White feature: It's a tie! "Moonlight Becomes You" from "Road to Morocco" and "Let's Take the Long Way Home" from "Here Come the Waves" (1944).

Favourite movie traditionally aired at Christmastime not starring Alastair Sim: It's a tie! "Holiday Inn" (1941) and "Going My Way" (1944).

Favourite cheeky narration of a classic cheeky cartoon: "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (1949).

Favourite Oscar winning performance that stands the test of time with its low-key genuineness: Father O'Malley in "Going My Way" (1944).

Favourite performance that shoulda won the Oscar, though Brando was fine too: Frank Elgin in "The Country Girl" (1954).

Favourite movie co-starring Jane Wyman: It's a tie! "Here Comes the Groom" (1951) and "Just for You" (1952).

Favourite gag appearance in a Hope flick: "My Favourite Brunette" (1947).

Favourite Frank Capra remake of a Frank Capra movie: "Riding High" (1950).

Favourite record: "It's Been a Long, Long Time" (1945) with Les Paul.

Favourite performance of a title tune: the title song from "Rhythm on the River" (1940).

Favourite books: It's a tie! Gary Giddens - "Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams, The Early Years 1903 - 1940" and Kathryn Crosby - "My Life With Bing" (the autographed copy).

Favourite sites: "The Official Home of Bing Crosby" (bingcrosby.com) and "The Bing Crosby Internet Museum".

I'm a fan!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-7Pc3p4FcQ

Monday, April 28, 2008

Toronto Transit Commission Strike of '08

Twelve years ago on a crowded morning bus, passengers noted through the window a woman running toward an empty bus stop. A look passed among us that said "poor fool, what does she think she's doing?". When the driver stopped and waited he not only received her thanks, but a chorus of "that was so nice" and "I don't believe it" from shocked patrons. The driver laughed and said "That's my job to pick up passengers." As a 35 year lifestyle transit user this is an outstanding memory, along with the time I overheard personnel refer to patrons as "losers without cars".

On Friday, April 25th, the Amalgamated Transit Union rejected a contract and, without giving notice, walked off the job at midnight leaving tens of thousands of Torontians stranded. Earlier in negotiations union leader Bob Kinnear had said the public would be given 48 hours notice of a strike. Regarding this situation he said: "We have assessed the situation and decided that we will not expose our members to the dangers of assaults from angry and irrational members of the public." Apparently it's our fault! It is unfortunate that the leader of the union seems unaware of the routine harassment and rudeness to which the public is subjected by TTC personnel. I've seen seniors yelled at, doors slammed as people race for a bus, transfers refused under shakey circumstances and unreasonable behavior of all sorts. Like most patrons I appreciate those pleasant and exceptional service providers I have met through the years because they are so rare. The "no notice" walk out is indicative of the attitude toward the citizens who rely upon and support the TTC.

The Provincial Legislature signed a bill ordering the TTC back to work and the transit situation was back to normal by late Sunday afternoon. What did the strike prove? Was it just because they could? A power trip? I was over my irrational anger and decided against blogging on the matter until I read a newspaper headline wherein Premier McGuinty urged the citizens of Toronto to "Be Nice" to the TTC drivers. What the **#$%!!*&%!!**#? Be Nice?! Where does this attitude of the suits come from? Do they think people who use transit are a bunch of low-life hoodlums? Be Nice! Get out of your limos and take the bus once in a while you ***&^%$*&)!! and I'll show you nice!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Favourite tv shows: Gunsmoke (1955 - 1975)


Writer John Meston and producer Norman MacDonnell created in 1952 a radio drama with a post War noirish heart. "Gunsmoke" told the story of Marshal Matt Dillon and Dodge City. A man and a place of honour and flaws. The rumbly, world weary baritone of William Conrad perfectly captured the character of Dillon. Along with Howard McNear's Doc Adams, Georgia Ellis' Kitty and Parley Baer's Chester Goode, the series ran until 1961. The popularity of the program encouraged CBS to move "Gunsmoke" to television.

Bill Conrad's completely understandable affection for comfort food left him out of the running to represent Matt on screen. It has been said that they role was offered to John Wayne, but it seems odd to me that one of the biggest box office stars of the 50s would consider a half hour television series. Denver Pyle, who would guest many times on the program, was this close to having the role, but John Wayne suggested one of his Batjac contract players - a young fellow named James Arness. In his autobiography Arness says he was happy with his burgeoning film career and didn't think television was for him. Mr. Wayne (thanks, Duke) basically told Jim he was nuts if he didn't take the job. Amanda Blake, following her instinct, knew she was right for Kitty and made a nuisance of herself until producers finally saw things her way. After hundreds of movie roles Milburn Stone settled down to steady work as Doc Adams. Beloved by fans, he would win an Emmy in the 60s. Dennis Weaver came up with a limp at his audition to make his Chester Goode a stand out character.

Charles Marquis Warren would be the first producer as CBS kept MacDonnell with radio. By the second season MacDonnell was on board with the television show. Many of those earlier episodes were adapted from the radio plays. John Meston would write 257 episodes of "Gunsmoke" in his career. Another writer who would be responsible for the show's success was Kathleen Hite, CBS's first female staff writer. Between 1957 - 1965 she wrote over 40 episodes of the program, creating well-rounded and believable characters and plots. Her career would have continued success up to the 70s with "The Waltons" and she was inducted into the Heritage Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1969.

"Gunsmoke" would change to hour long episodes in 1961. New cast members would come and go: Burt Reynolds as Quirt, Roger Ewing as Thad. Dennis Weaver would leave for creatively greener pastures leaving the door open for Ken Curtis to create the popular sidekick of Festus Haggen. The major shake-up would come when CBS replaced Norman MacDonnell in 1964/5. Philip Leacock (director, The Kidnappers) would take over as executive producer bringing the series into its colour years. Toronto born John Mantley would take over the position from Leacock and continue until the series ended. Mantley felt a genuine obligation to the history and quality of the program. Writer Jim Byrnes would come on board in 1968 creating the majority of the episodes for the remainder of the run. Actor Buck Taylor would settle in perfectly as "the young guy", Newly O'Brien.

The most prolific director of the series was Andrew V. McLaglen, but his companions were top-notch as well: Arnold Laven, Arthur Hiller, Mark Rydell, Philip Leacock, Robert Stevenson, Sam Peckinpah, Vincent McEveety, William F. Claxton. These and others brought their individual styles and a consistent level of quality to "Gunsmoke".

Cancellation in 1975 came as a surprise to the creative team. They had slipped below 25 in the ratings for the first time in their history and a new regime at the network wanted to place their own stamp on television. Producer Mantley, writer Byrnes and actor James Arness would go on to create the popular "How the West Was Won" ("The Macahans). Arness would reprise Matt Dillon in five highly rated TV movies: "Return to Dodge" (1987), "The Last Apache" (1990), "To the Last Man" (1992), "The Long Ride" (1993), "One Man's Justice" (1994). This does make one wonder if CBS did jump the gun back in 1975.

The characters, the stories, the presentation - some programs touch us, become our favourites. "Gunsmoke" is such a one for me. The mix of adventure, drama and comedy with the fine cast and marvelous guest stars represent what television can achieve. That old Dodge City gang is a family I look forward to spending time with, sometimes on a comforting, familiar level and sometimes to study and appreciate the so many creative talents who left a fine storytelling legacy.

Recommended DVDs:

GUNSMOKE: 50th Anniversary Collection, 6 discs including 29 episodes from the 50s to 70s, special introductions, commentaries, Emmy footage, etc.

GUNSMOKE: The Directors Collection, 3 discs including 15 episodes with commentaries from Andrew McLaglen, Arthur Hiller, Mark Rydell, John Rich, etc.