Monday, December 5, 2016

BING CROSBY AND MADISON SQUARE GARDEN

This interesting article was originally published in the Daily News on Feb. 12, 1968. This story was written by Nathan Kanter and Arthur Mulligan...

The new Madison Square Garden had a historic and glittering premiere last night as 19,832 persons paid $10 to $250 a seat to attend a “Salute to the USO” and be entertained by the antics of such performers as Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.

It was a gay and responsive crowd, liberally sprinkled with men in military uniforms, which turned out for a fun night in Fun City but with a noble underlying motive. The proceeds are scheduled for the benefit of the United Service Organizations.

Eight searchlight trucks were stationed strategically to light up scene around the Seventh Ave. entrance to the circular Ave. entrance to the circular Garden arena. The arena is part of an 8.5-acre complex stretching from 31st to 33d Sts. and Seventh to Eighth Aves., stop Pennsylvania station.

Scores of celebrities were on hand, including Mayor Lindsay, who showed up in a tuxedo after tapping this weekly TV show. The Hollywood premiere flavor was somewhat marred by a group of 25 peaceniks who handed out pamphlets and shouted catcalls at servicemen at the Seventh Ave. entrance.

None of the military men paid them so much as a glance but witnesses reported that one irate middle-aged male civilian landed a good right hook on the chin of one of the demonstrators, then continued on into the Garden.

The show was supposed to get under way at 8:30 p.m., but it was 8:50 before the mayor showed up. It was 9 p.m. when Les Brown and his orchestra struck up the National Anthem, accompanied by the cadet glee club of the United States Military Academy at West Point.

John (Bud) Palmer, the city’s official greeter, then introduced Sen. Jacob Javits, Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, and George Champion. Champion, general manager of the “Salute to the USO,” and board chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank, showed that Lindsay had a friend at that bank.

Champion introduced Lindsay as a “courageous mayor.” Half of the assemblage gave Lindsay a standing ovation and the other half applauded politely, if not resoundingly.

Lindsay, in introducing Hope, remarked that the comedian had been in many zones of combat, then quipped: “Welcome to New York,” an obvious reference to the bitterness engendered by the recent sanitationmen’s strike.

“I’ve salvaged at least one thing out of these last few days,” Lindsay added. “At least they’ve, stopped calling me Mr. Clean.”

In his turn, Hope cracked: “I’m happy that he (Lindsay) came here from his busy schedule. It just proves what one actor will do for another.”

At another point, Hope remarked of Lindsay: “Isn’t it wonderful how he walks all over the city. I guess he can’t get a cab either.”

Gov. Rockefeller was supposed to show up but if he did nobody saw him.

Hope and his guests, many of them ad-libbing with the help of “idiot cards” -- much of the big show being taped for a telecast tonight -- were light of heart. Pearl Bailey started her songs with “Poor Butterfly” and end with “Mame.” Bing Cosby, Hope’s co-star of the evening, began with “Cockeyed Optimist” and later joined his partner in a medley of songs...

Thursday, December 1, 2016

PAST OBITS: VERA-ELLEN

At this time of the year I always think about underrated dancer Vera-Ellen. Here is her small obituary from the New York Times on September 2, 1981...



HOLLYWOOD, Sept. 1— Vera-Ellen, who danced across the screen with such stars as Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly during the golden era of Hollywood musicals, died of cancer at the University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center on Sunday. She was 55 years old.

Vera-Ellen's career began in her teens, when she won a radio talent competition. She went on to star on Broadway and in such classic films as ''White Christmas'' with Bing Crosby and ''On the Town'' with Mr. Kelly and Frank Sinatra.

She was bor n Vera-Ellen Rohe in Cincinnati, with a hyphen in her name because her mother ''had a dream and saw that name in lights,'' according to A.C. Lyles, a Paramount producer and longtime friend. ''When she wa s a small girl she was rather frail and studied dancing to build up her body.''


As a teen-ager she won the Major Bowes Amateur Hour and toured New York theaters, dancing for $50 a week in the late 1930's. She also toured with the Ted Lewis Band and eventually broke into Broadway musicals, dancing with Ray Bolger in ''By Jupiter'' in 1942 and in the revival of ''A Connecticut Yankee'' in 1943. She was noticed in 1943 by Samuel Goldwyn, who started her on her film career. Last Film in 1957

Goldwyn teamed her with Danny Kaye in ''Wonder Man.'' She also did ''The Kid From Brooklyn'' with Mr. Kaye. She and and Mr. Kelly danced a famous sequence to ''Slaughter on Tenth Avenue'' in the film ''Words and Music.''

With Mr. Astaire she did ''Three Little Words'' and ''The Belle of New York.'' She also appeared in ''Call Me Madam.'' Her last picture, in 1957, was ''Let's Be Happy,'' with Tony Martin.

Vera-Ellen was married in 1954 to Victor Rothschild, an oilman; they were divorced in 1966. Since then she had lived in seclusion in the Hollywood Hills.

The funeral service will be private. A memorial service is planned for next Tuesday at the Westwood Memorial Park and Mortuary...

Monday, November 28, 2016

JOAN CRAWFORD AND HER BROTHER

Little is know about the forgotten brother of Joan Crawford, Harry LeSueur (1903-1963). He tried his hand in acting but finished out his life in obscurity as a motel clerk. When he died in 1963, Crawford did not attend his funeral. 

The following are comments that Joan Crawford made about her brother that were published after she had died...they are telling but not necessarily true...



On her brother Hal LeSueur (from "Conversations," 1980):

"Let's start with Hal, my dear, sweet brother, first. To tell you the truth, I think he was my half-brother; Mother married so many times, and shacked up with so many men in between, I doubt we were one hundred percent brother and sister. People would look at us, after he came out to Hollywood, and wonder how the hell we could even be related.


He was chronically mean. He was older than I, and as kids he wasn't just the type of kid that would pull wings off butterflies, he'd pull the arms and legs off my dolls. When my mother needed help in the house, did she ever ask him to do anything? Hell, no! I waited on him hand and foot, and he was one of the big reasons why I wanted to get the hell out of the whole situation. Hal was bad news, all the way around. But because he was a boy he was always favored, and it was Lucille who had to do all the dirty work. And you know what happened? As soon as I had a few options renewed at Metro, Hal appeared. One afternoon I came home and found him sitting on my sofa, smoking a cigarette, half-bombed, telling me that since I'd become a movie star he was going to live with me. Like an idiot, I let him stay, but finally I sent for Mother and let those two live together so I could have a place of my own where I could maintain my privacy...and my sanity.

Hal was a louse, an out-and-out bastard. He could charm the skin off a snake, but nothing, not his jobs, not the men and women in his life, lasted long. Liquor, then drugs, and always his distorted ego, took over. I supported that son-of-a-bitch until the day he died. Now, do you call that being cruel and inhuman? At least Norma Shearer's brother, Douglas, was brilliant and self-sufficient, and made his own career at Metro. But I was stuck with a schmuck. That man -- or did he ever become a man -- was a monster. God, I hated him."


Friday, November 25, 2016

RIP: FLORENCE HENDERSON

Florence Henderson, who went from Broadway star to become one of America's most beloved television moms in The Brady Bunch, has died, her manager and her publicist said. She was 82.

Henderson died Thursday night at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, after being hospitalized the day before, said her publicist, David Brokaw. Henderson had suffered heart failure, her manager Kayla Pressman said in a statement.

Family and friends had surrounded Henderson's hospital bedside, Pressman said.

On the surface, The Brady Bunch with Henderson as its ever-cheerful matriarch Carol Brady, resembled just another TV sitcom about a family living in suburban America and getting into a different wacky situation each week.

But well after it ended its initial run, in 1974, the show resonated with audiences, and it returned to television in various forms again and again, including The Brady Bunch Hour in 1977, The Brady Brides in 1981 and The Bradys in 1990. It was also seen endlessly in reruns.

"It represents what people always wanted: a loving family. It's such a gentle, innocent, sweet show, and I guess it proved there's always an audience for that," Henderson said in 1999.


Premiering in 1969, it also was among the first shows to introduce to television the blended family. As its theme song reminded viewers each week, Henderson's Carol was a single mother raising three daughters when she met her TV husband, Robert Reed's Mike Brady, a single father who was raising three boys.

The eight of them became The Brady Bunch, with a quirky housekeeper, played by Ann B. Davis, thrown into the mix.

The blonde, ever-smiling Henderson was already a Broadway star when the show began, having originated the title role in the musical Fanny. But after The Brady Bunch, she would always be known to fans as Carol Brady.

"We had to have security guards with us. Fans were hanging on our doors. We couldn't go out by ourselves. We were like the Beatles!" she said of the attention the show brought the cast.

Like the Beatles, there was even a Saturday morning cartoon version called Brady Kids, although Henderson was not in that show.

She and Reed did return, however, for The Brady Bunch Hour, The Brady Brides and The Bradys. So did most of the original cast.


She was also back again in 1995 when a new cast was assembled for The Brady Bunch Movie, a playful spoof of the original show. This time she was Grandma Brady opposite Shelly Long's Carol. Numerous memoirs also kept interest in the show alive, as cast members revealed they were more than just siblings off camera. Barry Williams, who played eldest son Greg Brady, would confess to having a crush on his TV stepmom. Henderson, in her own book, denied having any relationship with Williams, but did acknowledge a fling with former New York City mayor John Lindsay.

Henderson was a 19-year-old drama student in New York when she landed a one-line role in the play Wish You Were Here.

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II were so impressed they made her the female lead in a 1952 road tour of Oklahoma! When the show returned to Broadway for a revival in 1954, she continued in the role and won rave reviews.

"She is the real thing, right of of a butter churn somewhere," wrote Walter Kerr of the New York Herald Tribune.



To broaden her career, Henderson took acting, dancing, singing and guitar lessons, even studying French and Italian.

She went on to play Maria in a road production of The Sound of Music, was Nellie Forbush in a revival of South Pacific and was back on Broadway with Jose Ferrer in The Girl Who Came to Supper in 1963.

Her career nearly came to an end in 1965 when she suddenly lost her hearing while appearing in The King and I in Los Angeles. She was diagnosed with a hereditary condition called osteosclerosis.

"Corrective surgery in both ears restored my hearing," she said in 2007.
As her TV career blossomed with The Brady Bunch, Henderson also began to make frequent TV guest appearances. She was the first woman to host The Tonight Show for the vacationing Johnny Carson.


For eight years she also commuted to Nashville to conduct a cooking and talk series, Country Kitchen, on The Nashville Network. The show resulted in a book, Florence Henderson's Short Cut Cooking.

Florence Agnes Henderson was born Feb. 14, 1934, in the small town of Dale in southern Indiana. She was the 10th child of a tobacco sharecropper of Irish descent.

In grade school, she joined the choir at a Catholic church in Rockport, Ind.
After high school she moved to New York, where she enrolled in a two-year program at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, her studies financed by a theatrical couple who had been impressed by her singing when they saw her perform in high school.

She dropped out of the program after one year, however, to take the role in Wish You Were There.

Henderson married theater executive Ira Bernstein and the couple had four children before the union ended in divorce after 29 years.

Her second husband, John Kappas, died in 2002.

Pressman said she is survived by her children; Barbara, Joseph, Robert and Lizzie, their respective spouses, and five grandchildren...


Thursday, November 24, 2016

FORGOTTEN ONES: SHIRLEY ROSS

To anyone in 2016, if they hear the name Shirley Ross, I almost guarantee that 90% of the time - the person will say "Shirley Who?". Ross has been gone for over 40 years now, but she was such a treat to see in many movies of the 1930s, namely the ones she made with Bing Crosby. She appeared in 25 feature films between 1933 and 1945, including singing earlier and wholly different lyrics for the Rodgers and Hart song in Manhattan Melodrama (1934) that later became "Blue Moon."

Shirley Ross was born Bernice Maude Gaunt in Omaha, Nebraska on January 7, 1913, the elder of two daughters of Charles Burr Gaunt and Maude C. (née Ellis) Gaunt. Growing up in California, she attended Hollywood High School and UCLA, training as a classical pianist. By age 14, she was giving radio recitals and made her first vocal recordings at 20 with Gus Arnheims’s band. Here she attracted the notice of the up-and-coming songwriting duo Rodgers and Hart, who selected her to sell their latest offerings to MGM. One song, which was later re-written as "Blue Moon," led to a successful screen test in 1933 and then to a number of small parts in films that included Manhattan Melodrama with Clark Gable and William Powell in which, made up to look black, she sang "The Bad in Every Man," the original version of "Blue Moon," in a Harlem nightclub.

In 1936, MGM loaned her to Paramount, and she was paired with Ray Milland in The Big Broadcast of 1937. Although this was officially a leading role, the Big Broadcast format included a busy programme of musical comedy sketches with big-name performers who somewhat overshadowed her. But one press review declared that she had ‘one of the sweetest voices of any actress on the screen and predicted a big future for her. Paramount signed her to a five-year contract; meanwhile her introduction to the songwriting team of Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger would prove significant.


Her duet with Bing Crosby in Waikiki Wedding was a Robin-Rainger number titled "Blue Hawaii." Thus began a three-year period during which Ross was cast opposite either Crosby or Bob Hope on five occasions.

After a career interruption in the making of This Way Please with Buddy Rogers, when she walked off the job, alleging that Jack Benny's wife, Mary Livingstone, was trying to sabotage her scenes, she was cast opposite Hope in The Big Broadcast of 1938. Their duet, "Thanks for the Memory", became a huge hit and a defining moment for two careers headed in opposite directions – for Hope, a springboard to bigger and better things; for Ross, the pinnacle. It would prove to be her sole enduring claim to fame.


The duet's great success sparked spin-off movies with Bob Hope, Thanks for the Memory (1938) and another called Some Like It Hot (1939; later renamed Rhythm Romance to avoid confusion with the unrelated 1959 feature). Although Thanks for the Memory did produce another hit song, "Two Sleepy People", the films themselves made little impact, apparently reflecting Paramount’s declining interest in musical comedy. Although Ross would have been willing to play straight drama and had performed well in Prison Wife, Paramount relegated her to supporting roles in two minor romantic comedies, which did nothing for her career, even though one of them (Paris Honeymoon) teamed her once more with Crosby. Her extremely promising career suffered a steep decline and never recovered.

Although Ross knew that her understated appeal was better suited to the screen than the stage, she played the lead in Rodgers and Hart’s Broadway musical Higher and Higher (1940), featuring the song "It Never Entered My Mind." The show was a critical failure. After a few forgettable movies and some radio work, Ross increasingly attended to her terminally ill husband Ken Dolan, which became an early retirement.

Ross died from cancer on March 9, 1975.in Menlo Park, California, aged 62. As her married name, Bernice Dolan Blum, was not well known, her death was not widely publicized. But Hope, with whom she had an enduring real-life friendship, did not fail to commemorate her death. He and Crosby sent a 5-foot tall cross with white carnations and a spray of red roses to her funeral...


Monday, November 21, 2016

CELEBRITY ADS: JACKIE GLEASON

Jackie Gleason is one of my favorite entertainers - the man could do it all from acting to comedy and from composing to writing. He also could advertise anything. Below is a colorful ad for Nescafe. I am guessing it is from 1953, when he was considered one of the greatest talents in television...



Friday, November 18, 2016

WHAT A CHARACTER: LEON ERROL

Anyone who knows me, knows that my love of classic movies basically started with watching Bing Crosby movies. Years ago I was watching the Bing Crosby-Carole Lombard film We're Not Dressing from 1934, and what I liked about the film, (next to Bing's singing) was the comedic appearance of character actor Leon Errol. His bits were sort of corny, but I found myself laughing at some of them! Errol was born Leonce Errol Sims in Sydney in 1891, Errol had toured Australia, New Zealand and the UK in a variety of theatrical settings, including circuses, operettas, and Shakespeare, by the time he arrived on the west coast of the U.S. in 1905. In Portland, Oregon he managed a touring vaudeville company troupe, giving an early boost to the career of a young comedian named Roscoe Arbuckle.

By 1911 Errol had graduated to the New York big time in the 1911 Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway, notably in two skits with the legendary Bert Williams. Errol's sister, Leda Errol (née Sims) was a personal friend of Ziegfeld Follies star Fanny Brice, and she appeared with him in the Ziegfeld Follies doing one and two act plays. He appeared every year in the Follies through 1915, when he is also credited as director of the show that included W.C. Fields, Ed Wynn, as well as Marion Davies as one of the Ziegfeld Girls.


Errol made his first film, a comic short subject called Nearly Spliced, in 1916 (it was not released before 1921), for pioneering east-coast producer George Kleine. By 1930 he'd left Broadway and turned his full attention to movies, third-billed for Samuel Goldwyn's One Heavenly Night in 1931. The box-office for that film was disappointing, but overall Errol made a smooth transition to films in a variety of comedy roles. His comic trademark was a wobbly, unsteady walk, moving as though on rubber legs; this bit served him well in drunk routines.

Errol starred in a long string of two-reel comedy shorts, which began at Columbia Pictures in 1933. He also starred in two early three-strip Technicolor shorts made at Warner Brothers, Service With a Smile (released 28 July 1934) and Good Morning, Eve! (released August 5), just beating the RKO Radio Pictures release La Cucaracha (31 August) as the first live action, wholly Technicolor release.

Moving to RKO Radio Pictures in 1934, he continued to make six shorts per year until his death in 1951. Most of these were marital farces in which Leon would get mixed up with a pretty girl or an involved business proposition, and face the wrath of his wife (usually Dorothy Granger); the theme tune to the series was the nursery rhyme, London Bridge Is Falling Down.


Leon Errol is well remembered for his energetic performances in the Mexican Spitfire movies opposite Lupe Vélez (1939–43), in which Errol had the recurring dual role of affable Uncle Matt and foggy British nobleman Lord Epping. Monogram signed Errol to appear as fight manager Knobby Walsh in the eight entries of their "Joe Palooka" sports comedies (1946–50). Leon Errol's most famous non-series appearance is in the nonsensical comedy feature Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941), starring fellow vaudeville and Ziegfeld alumnus W. C. Fields. Errol's next-to-last film, Lord Epping Returns in 1951, reprised his famous characterization (and some of the gags) from Mexican Spitfire.

Footage from Errol's short subjects was incorporated into RKO's compilation features Variety Time, Make Mine Laughs, Footlight Varieties, and Merry Mirthquakes. RKO kept Leon Errol in the public eye by reissuing his older comedies through the mid-1950s. His RKO shorts soon became a staple of syndicated television.

Errol married Stella Chatelaine in Denver, Colorado in 1906. She died on November 7, 1946 in Los Angeles. Five years later Errol suffered a fatal heart attack, on October 12, 1951, aged 70. They had no children. Leon Errol never received the fame of some character actors did, but his comedic timing highlighted many great films of the 1930s....