Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Friday, October 24, 2008
Monday, October 20, 2008
Did you know that Eduardo Ciannelli (1889 - 1969) played "Diamond Louis" in the 1928 Broadway production of The Front Page?
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
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Monday, September 29, 2008
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
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.
Thursday, September 4, 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:
Friday, August 29, 2008
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!
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Monday, August 4, 2008
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 were 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) and The Tall T (1947). 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) followed by Alias Jesse James (1959) and The Sheepman (1958).
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 undergarments? 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."
By my reckoning, 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) plus a tip of the Stetson to McLintock! (1963). What have I missed, fellow fans?
Thursday, July 31, 2008
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
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
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
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 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.
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
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
Hi Aunt Tracey. Remember, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Friday, July 4, 2008
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
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
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Note: kneesey-earsey-nosey is not as easy as it looks.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Saturday, June 21, 2008
Friday, June 20, 2008
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:
I know. I know. Let it go, caftanwoman. Let it go.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
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
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 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
Sunday, June 1, 2008
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Friday, May 23, 2008
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell are a marvelous team in His Girl Friday. 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.
Sunday, May 11, 2008
Thursday, May 1, 2008
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 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 cheeky narration of a classic cheeky cartoon: "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (1949).
Favourite performance that shoulda won the Oscar, though Brando was fine too: Frank Elgin in "The Country Girl" (1954).
Favourite gag appearance in a Hope flick: "My Favourite Brunette" (1947).
Favourite record: "It's Been a Long, Long Time" (1945) with Les Paul.
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).
I'm a fan!
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