Wednesday, October 26, 2016


Hillside Memorial Park is home to the spectacular memorial to singer Al Jolson, located on the right as you pass through the main gates, just past the administrative offices. You literally can't miss it.

Jolson, the son of immigrants, first sang in front of an audience as a child in the synagogue where his father was a cantor. Jolson later performed with a circus, then in nightclubs and in vaudeville, often in blackface make-up. He quickly rose to stardom on Broadway. His first film appearance was in "Mammy's Boy" (1923), written and directed by D. W. Griffith, but the film was never completed. Jolson next appeared in "A Plantation Act" (1926), wearing overalls and blackface, and singing three songs on the accompanying soundtrack. This film was thought to be lost for many years until it turned up, mislabeled, in the 1990s in the Library of Congress.

Jolson's next film appearance made history. In the mid-1920s, the Warner Bros. studio was making plans for the first film with synchronized sound. Up to this point, silent films were usually accompanied by an organist or other musicians in each theater. As an experiment, Warner Bros. added a musical score, performed by the New York Philharmonic orchestra, to "Don Juan" (1926), starring John Barrymore. The score was recorded on discs and synchronized with the film projectors. After an overwhelmingly positive audience response, Warner Bros. paid $50,000 for the rights to a popular Broadway play about a singing rabbi called "The Jazz Singer." Though George Jessel starred in the play, the Warners hired Jolson for the film version, and decided to record the performers actually singing instead of just adding music later to the film. "The Jazz Singer" was basically planned as a silent film, with occasional musical performances. During the filming, Jolson prefaced a song with the statement, "Wait a minute, wait a minute. You ain't heard nothing yet!" -- the first spoken words in a film. When "The Jazz Singer" (1927) was released, the "talking picture" was born. With the expensive sound equipment -- and Jolson's $75,000 salary -- "The Jazz Singer" cost $500,000 to make, but netted $3 million in profits.

Despite the financial and critical success of "The Jazz Singer," other studios were slow to embrace the new technology. Even Warner Bros. didn't completely abandon their silent films. But Jolson had become an international sensation. He followed "The Jazz Singer" with appearances in "The Singing Fool" (1928), "Sonny Boy" (1929), "Say It With Songs" (1929), "Big Boy" (1930), "Mammy" (1930) and "Hallelujah, I'm a Bum" (1933). Though a talented singer and entertainer, Jolson left something to be desired as an actor. When audiences grew tired of his thematic films, Jolson returned to the stage and radio performances. Jolson returned to the screen, playing himself, in the George Gershwin biography, "Rhapsody In Blue" (1945).

When Columbia decided to make his biography the following year, Jolson was forced to take a screen test to see if he would be able to play himself. When the decision was made that the 59-year-old Jolson was probably too old for the film, which focused on Jolson's early career, the part was given to Larry Parks. Jolson recorded the songs for the film, with Parks lip-synching, but Jolson did appear as himself on screen in some long shots of stage performances. "The Jolson Story" (1946) was a huge success, and Parks was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actor. Columbia released a sequel, "Jolson Sings Again" (1949), with Parks again in the title role, and Jolson again supplying the vocals, as well as making a brief appearance in the film.

During World War II and the Korean War, Jolson also kept busy entertaining U.S. troops around the world. Shortly after returning from a trip to Korea on October 23, 1950, Jolson was playing gin rummy with friends in the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco when he suffered a fatal heart attack. Jolson died in Room 1221 at the hotel -- the same room where Virginia Rappe was allegedly attacked by comedian Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle in September 1921.

An estimated 20,000 people showed up at Temple Israel on Hollywood Boulevard for Jolson's funeral services. George Jessel delivered a memorable eulogy -- despite the fact that Jolson had once told his wife that he specifically didn't want Jessel to speak at his funeral. Jolson was first buried at Beth Olam Cemetery, a small Jewish cemetery that was part of Hollywood Memorial Park, until a more appropriate burial site could be prepared. Jessel, Jack Benny and Eddie Cantor were among Jolson's pallbearers -- and all would eventually join him at Hillside Memorial Park.

Jolson's widow, Erle, purchased a plot at Hillside for $9,000, and paid another $75,000 for the monument, which was designed by architect Paul Williams. The six-pillar marble structure is topped by a dome, next to three-quarter-size bronze statue of Jolson, eternally resting on one knee, arms outstretched, apparently ready to break into another verse of "Mammy." The inside of the dome features a huge mosaic of Moses holding the tablets containing the Ten Commandments, and identifies Jolson as "The Sweet Singer of Israel" and "The Man Raised Up High."

Erle said Jolson once told her that he wanted to be buried near a waterfall, so the cemetery management provided the 120-foot, blue-tiled cascade of water. There was some public discussion at the time whether Jolson's monument was a little too much, a little too ostentatious, even for the man who described himself as "The World's Greatest Entertainer." A columnist for the Los Angeles Mirror newspaper wrote that the memorial was in bad taste. But others have said the memorial was an appropriate match for Jolson's healthy ego.

It's also interesting to note the memorial for Jolson, who often performed in blackface, was designed by one of the first well-known black architects in southern California. Though Paul Williams was best known for designing homes for celebrities -- his client list included Lon Chaney, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Bert Lahr, Tyrone Power, Barbara Stanwyck, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Frank Sinatra -- he also designed the spider-shaped building at the center of Los Angeles International Airport, the Knickerbocker Hotel in Los Angeles, and the Pearl Harbor Memorial in Honolulu, HI.

Jolson's body was moved to Hillside on Sept. 23, 1951, nearly a year after his death, and another memorial service was held. This time, Jack Benny delivered the eulogy...

Sunday, October 23, 2016


This will hopefully become a new feature on my blog where I review a "bad" movie. In reality there are no "bad movies" as this review suggests...

My friend loves bad movies, which I do to, be he takes it to another level. We had movie night a couple of months ago, and he showed me Peter Jackson's first feature movie Bad Taste from 1987, and I admit is was so bad it was good. Bad Taste was basically a  splatter science fiction horror comedy film directed, written, produced, photographed, co-edited by and co-starring Peter Jackson, who also made most of the makeup and special effects. Produced on a low budget, it is Jackson's first feature film. Jackson and friends take on most of the key roles, both on and off-screen.

The plotline sees aliens invade the fictional New Zealand village of Kaihoro to harvest humans for their intergalactic fast food franchise, where they face off against a four-man paramilitary force, of which at least one member appears to have gone insane. It was a film that provided Jackson with the necessary leverage needed to advance in the industry. Since its release, Bad Taste has become a cult film and has received generally positive reviews.

Much of the film was shot in and around Jackson's hometown of Pukerua Bay, north of Wellington, New Zealand using a 25-year-old 16mm camera. Originally begun as a short film, Bad Taste was shot primarily on weekends over the course of four years, at an initial cost of around $25,000. Toward the end of the shoot the New Zealand Film Commission invested around NZ$235,000 into the film to ensure its completion. Heavily influenced by special effects pioneer Tom Savini, Jackson incorporated many absurdly gory special effects.

Jackson himself plays at least two acting roles, and his friends and workmates play most of the rest. In one early scene halfway down a cliff, careful editing, utilising shots taken months apart, makes it possible for the two characters, Agent Derek and the alien Robert (both played by Jackson), to fight one another (Robert has a beard, Derek does not).

Bad Taste begins Jackson's penchant for using the Morris Minor in his films - Giles drives a Morris Minor. Subsequently, every car in Meet the Feebles is a Morris Minor (including a limousine) and several are seen in Braindead.

The firearms used in the film were all fake. They were made using aluminium tubing and the actors had to shake them to simulate the recoil. A flash and sound effect was added later during post production.

All the alien masks in the film were baked in Peter Jackson's mother's oven.

The first few minutes of the movie got me hooked, despite the whole absursidty of the whole plot. It is hard to imagine that the director of this film would go on to direct The Hobbit movies and King Kong (2005), but the film is great for its genre. I highly recommend this movie to anyone who wants to see director Peter Jackson in the breakthrough movie of his career or anyone that loves "bad" movies. I am not giving this a rating as if it is The Shawshank Redemption, but I am giving it a rating for what it is...just stupid fun!


Thursday, October 20, 2016


Many people love films about Hollywood like Sunset Boulevard (1950) and Singin In The Rain (1952) and rightfully so. However, there are some hidden film gems about Hollywood that I really love to watch. One such film is a 1933 offering from MGM - Going Hollywood.

Going Hollywood was primarily a starring vehicle for rising crooner Bing Crosby. Bing had become a superstar a year earlier with a popular radio show and his first feature film for Paramount Studios, The Big Broadcast (1932). However, the studio was still unsure what to do with their instantly hot product. Was Bing a singer who acted or an actor that could sing? Paramount loaned Bing to MGM, which is something they would really not do much in the future. This film would be Bing's first film for MGM studios, which at the time was the biggest film studio in the world. Bing would not make another film at MGM for 20 years and the only other movies he made for the studio would be: High Society (1956), Man On Fire (1957), and That's Entertainment (1974).

Back to Going Hollywood, the film was also a vehicle for actress Marion Davies. Despite a lifelong relationship with paper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, Davies was a star who was becoming more famous for her relationship with Hearst than for her movies. This film did little for Davies' career, but she did look beautiful in the film. Rounding out the cast were great supporting stars as Stuart Erwin, Fifi D'Orsay, Ned Sparks, and Patsy Kelly. 

The plot of the movie has Bing basically playing Bing Crosby. He is a crooner going to Hollywood for his first starring role. Fifi D'Orsay is his girlfriend and uptight French leading lady. When I first saw the movie as a teenager I really hated her, but that is a sign of a good actress. Her role in the film was to make you hate her. Marion Davies, basically plays a stalker. She plays a school teacher at an uptight private girl's school who dreams of a relationship with the crooner. When she quits the school, she hitches a train to Hollywood to meet Crosby. She gets a small role in the film Bing is working on with D'Orsay, and as the relationship between Bing and Fifi disintegrates, the career and love life of Marion Davies looks up as she makes Bing realize that she is the woman of his dreams. 

Despite a great opening in Grand Central Station, not much of the "real" Hollywood is used, which is unfortunate. The music is written by the great Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, and the film shows the debut of the popular torch song "Temptation". Other musical highlights include Bing singing "Beautiful Girl" to a young Sterling Holloway (of Winnie The Pooh fame), the bizarre Busby Berkeley-like number "We'll Make Hay While The Sun Shines", and the underrated "Our Big Love Scene". Bing and Marion Davies both looked great in the movie, and the film holds up well 72 years after it was made.

The Hollywood plot of stars going to Hollywood for fame and fortune is a plot line that is still used to do this day. Also the storyline about a failing production, an out of touch director (Ned Sparks), a naive producer (Stuart Erwin), and an uptight prima donna (Fifi D'Orsay) is again something that is a part of modern Hollywood as well as this vintage 1933 Hollywood. The movie is about Hollywood, but like in many movies, the personality of Bing Crosby overshadows the whole film...

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


I have to admit that I never followed the career of Montgomery Clift much. I know he was considered a gifted actor and aloong with Marlon Brando and James Dean, Clift was one of the original method actors in Hollywood; he was one of the first actors to be invited to study in the Actors Studio with Lee Strasberg, Michael Chekhov and Stella Adler. While he was one of the most gifted actors, he also was one of the most tragic. Montgomery Clift is another one of those examples that fame and fortunes can not buy happiness.

On the evening of May 12, 1956, while filming Raintree County, Clift was involved in a serious auto accident when he apparently fell asleep while driving and smashed his car into a telephone pole minutes after leaving a dinner party at the Beverly Hills home of his Raintree County co-star and close friend Elizabeth Taylor and her second husband, Michael Wilding. Alerted by friend Kevin McCarthy, who witnessed the accident, Taylor raced to Clift's side, manually pulling a tooth out of his tongue as he had begun to choke on it. He suffered a broken jaw and nose, a fractured sinus, and several facial lacerations which required plastic surgery. In a filmed interview, he later described how his nose could be snapped back into place.

After a two-month recovery, he returned to the set to finish the film. Against the movie studio's worries over profits, Clift correctly predicted the film would do well, if only because moviegoers would flock to see the difference in his facial appearance before and after the accident. Although the results of Clift's plastic surgeries were remarkable for the time, there were noticeable differences in his appearance, particularly the right side of his face. The pain of the accident led him to rely on alcohol and pills for relief, as he had done after an earlier bout with dysentery left him with chronic intestinal problems. As a result, Clift's health and physical appearance deteriorated considerably from then until his death.

Acting teacher Robert Lewis called Clift’s subsequent career “the longest suicide in Hollywood history” – an unfair summary, since his work in the ten remaining years of his life included a haunting performance in The Misfits opposite Marilyn Monroe who famously described him as “the only person I know who is in even worse shape than I am". He worked with Taylor again in Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) and starred as Sigmund Freud in John Huston’s Freud (1962). But his self-destructive qualities made him increasingly unemployable, despite loyal support from friends and admirers.

On July 22, 1966, Clift spent most of the hot summer day in his bedroom in his New York City townhouse, located at 217 East 61st Street. He and his live-in personal secretary, Lorenzo James, had not spoken much all day. Shortly before 1:00 a.m., James went up to say goodnight to Clift, who was still awake and sitting up in his bed. James asked Clift if he needed anything and Clift politely refused and then told James that he would stay up for a while either to read a book or watch some television. James then noted that The Misfits was on television that night airing as a late-night movie, and he asked Clift if he wanted to watch it with him. "Absolutely not!" was the firm reply. This was the last time Montgomery Clift spoke to anyone. James went to his own bedroom to sleep without saying another word to Clift. At 6:30 a.m. the next day, James woke up and went to wake Clift, but found the bedroom door closed and locked. James became more concerned when Clift did not respond to his knocking on the door. Unable to break the door down, James ran down to the back garden and climbed up a ladder to enter through the second-floor bedroom window. Inside, he found Clift dead: he was undressed, lying on his back in bed, with eyeglasses on and both fists clenched by his side. Clift was age 45 when he died. James then used the bedroom telephone to call the police and an ambulance.

Clift's body was taken to the city morgue less than two miles away at 520 First Avenue and autopsied. The autopsy report cited the cause of death as a heart attack brought on by "occlusive coronary artery disease". No evidence was found that suggested foul play or suicide. It is commonly believed that drug addiction was responsible for Clift's many health problems and his death. In addition to lingering effects of dysentery and chronic colitis, an underactive thyroid was later revealed during the autopsy. The condition (among other things) lowers blood pressure; it may have caused Clift to appear drunk or drugged when he was sober and also raises cholesterol, which may have contributed to his heart disease.

Following a 15-minute ceremony at St. James' Church attended by 150 guests, including Lauren Bacall, Frank Sinatra and Nancy Walker, Clift was buried in the Friends [Quaker] Cemetery, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York City. Elizabeth Taylor, who was in Rome, sent flowers, as did Roddy McDowall, Myrna Loy and Lew Wasserman...

Friday, October 14, 2016


Bing Crosby and Bob Hope were the most popular movie comedy team in the 1940s. They appeared on each others radio shows and television specials. In recent years it has come out that Bing and Bob weren't that great of fans, but we will never know for sure. When Bing died on October 14, 1977 it did sadden Bob Hope greatly...

"In October of 1977 a good friend of both Bing and mine, Hugh Davis, dropped dead on the golf course at Baltusrol. I flew East to do a memorial benefit for Hugh at Summit, New Jersey. I was in the Waldorf Towers that afternoon when I got a phone call from Bill Fugazy. Bill told me that Bing had died that day on a golf course in Spain. The shock and the sorrow were so overwhelming I couldn't describe it. I got Alan King to do the show for me in Jersey, and I flew back to California that night. It was a long flight.

I knew that Bing, despite the fact he had still been very active, was not in the best of health. He had lung problems in 1974, which kept him hospitalized during his tournament, and a few years later had that terrible fall off the stage at the Ambassador Theater in Pasadena.

What happened was that as Bing was leaving the stage, at the end of his number, he fell through a hole in the stage and dropped twelve feet. He managed to break the force of the fall by grabbing on to a piece of scenery. I was in my dressing room at the time and when I heard all the commotion I rushed downstairs and he was lying there. Pearl Bailey was holding his head and Kathy was leaning over him. Bing opened his eyes and looked up at me. Then he smiled weakly an said, "Jimmy Dundee couldn't have done it any better." Dundee was our stuntman at Paramount.

Sometime after his death I heard that a doctor in England told him to play only 9 holes because of his heart. Bing had finished 18 that day, and was walking up the hill to the clubhouse, when he collapsed and died.

A part of my life went with Bing. I still miss him and always will, just like the rest of the world. I remember the good times with him, and they'll be with me always." (Confessions of a Hooker, Doubleday, 1985, pg. 129)

Sunday, October 9, 2016


Andy Russell was an American popular vocalist, specializing in traditional pop and Latin music. He sold 8 million records in the 1940s to early 1950s singing in a romantic, baritone voice in his trademark bilingual English and Spanish style.

Born Andres Rabago on September 16, 1919, he was the son of Mexican-Spanish parents. Russell was a popular singer in the USA during the 40s, with a romantic image and a penchant for Latin American numbers. He took his professional name from one of his idols, Russ Columbo. In the early 40s he worked with several bands, including Sonny Dunham, Gus Arnheim and Johnny Richards, sometimes also playing drums.

In 1942, he was one of seven vocalists with Alvino Rey’s big band, but was unable to record with the outfit because of union leader James Caesar Petrillo’s infamous musicians recording ban. His own hits, for Capitol Records, began in 1944 with ‘Besame Mucho’ and ‘Amor’, and continued through until 1948, with romantic ballads such as ‘What A Diff’rence A Day Made’, ‘I Dream Of You’, ‘I Can’t Begin To Tell You’, ‘Laughing On The Outside (Crying On The Inside)’, ‘They Say It’s Wonderful’, ‘Pretending’ and ‘Anniversary Song’. He also recorded Billy Reid’s ‘I’ll Close My Eyes’ and Bud Flanagan’s ‘Underneath The Arches’, on which he was accompanied by Tommy Dorsey’s old vocal group, the Pied Pipers.

Russell was also successful with ‘Je Vous Aime’, which he sang in the film Copacabana, starring Groucho Marx. Russell’s other movies included The Stork Club, in which he joined Betty Hutton on ‘If I Had A Dozen Hearts’, Make Mine Music, a series of short Walt Disney cartoons, for which Russell contributed ‘Without You’, and Breakfast In Hollywood, derived from a radio series of the same name, and featuring artists such as Spike Jones And His City Slickers, and the Nat ‘King’ Cole Trio.

Russell was very popular on US radio during the mid-late 40s on the Old Gold Show and Lucky Strike Hit Parade. He also appeared at many top venues, including the Paramount Theatre in New York. In the early 1950's, Russell appeared on early television with "Your Show Of Shows" with Sid Caesar for NBC, but recorded less frequently. By the early 50's, however, his hits had stopped and Capitol Records began to lose interest in him. Realizing that he commanded more popularity in Mexico than the U.S. he began performing there more frequently.

In the late 1950s, he re-located to Mexico City, and then to Argentina where he had a successful variety show that ran for seven years. He remained a U.S. citizen, however, and still made appearances in the U.S. from time to time. Capitol's Latin American affiliated labels released new material by Andy in the 1960s, after his stint with RCA Victor. He also recorded for Orfeon.

Andy returned to the United States in the late 60s and released two more albums for the parent Capitol label, one of which featured a Billboard Easy Listening Chart hit in 1968. It was a "cover" of label-mate Wynn Stewart's Country hit, It's Such a Pretty World Today, and served as the title song for the LP. Andy also appeared on public television fundraising specials well into the 1980s.

Andy was especially proud of receiving an award from "Nosotros" magazine, acknowledging his special achievements as the first bilingual singer to reach the top of the charts with an Anglo audience and to popularize Latin American songs. He surely paved the way for many other Latino singers, including Vikki Carr and even Ricky Martin!

After suffering a paralyzing stroke in February 1992 followed by another stroke on April 12, 1992, Russell died from complications at St. Joseph's Hospital in Sun City, Phoenix, Arizona on April 16, 1992 at the age of 72...

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


In the late 1950s, music was changing. A new group of singers emerged from these early days of rock ‘n’ roll. Two of those singers that rose to fame were Bobby Darin and Connie Francis. Not only were they the king and queen of these new recording artists, but they also had a short lived  love affair. It was a love affair that Connie Francis never really recovered from.

Bobby's new manager George Scheck worked hard to help the career of a young new singer he had discovered named Connie Francis (Concetta Franconero). Her father was an intimidating man who wasn't about to let ANYTHING stand in the way of his daughter's career. But this didn't stop Bobby Darin, who fell head-over-heels in love with Connie. In fact, he started to tell people that he wanted to marry her and that, not only would she make the perfect wife, but also the perfect mother for his children! (According to Connie Francis, Bobby actually proposed to her prior to EITHER of them ever having a hit record.). Despite some disagreement about material, after several weeks Darin and Francis developed a romantic relationship. Francis' strict Italian father would separate the couple whenever possible. When her father learned that Bobby Darin had suggested the two lovers elope after one of her shows, he ran Darin out of the building at gunpoint, telling him to never see his daughter again.

Once successful, Bobby and Connie remained close "professional" friends forever, even co-hosting the Heart-To-Heart Telethon for the American Heart Association as the King and Queen of Hearts! In 1959, they appeared together on The Ed Sullivan Show and sang a couple of duets. Ironically, Connie even recorded "My Teenage Love", the demo Bobby had written and recorded that first launched his career! (She also cut his composition "My First Real Love", which was released as her fourth MGM single ... and the backing group credited on the record, The Jaybirds, was, in fact, Bobby Darin overdubbed!

Francis saw Darin only two more times – once when the two were scheduled to sing together for a television show, and again when Francis was spotlighted on the TV series This Is Your Life. By the time of the latter's taping, Bobby Darin had married actress Sandra Dee. In her autobiography Francis stated she and her father were driving into the Lincoln Tunnel when the radio DJ announced Dee and Darin's marriage. Her father made a negative comment about Bobby finally being out of their lives. Angered, Francis wrote, she hoped the Hudson River would fill the Lincoln Tunnel, killing both her and her father.

When Bobby Darin died tragically young at the age of 37 in 1973, Connie had to be sedated. She threatened to slice her wrists and was unconsolable for days. Francis later wrote that not marrying Darin was the biggest mistake of her life. As late as 2011, Connie was talking about her lost love Bobby Darin. Would the relationship have worked? Probably not. Bobby Darin wanted a wife that would sit at home while he had the fame. He found that woman in Sandra Dee. Connie, at the time of their romance, had as much drive and determination as Bobby Darin had. The relationship might have never gone anywhere, but Bobby and Connie both shared a lasting love for each other…