Friday, November 30, 2012

MY FIVE FAVORITE FILMS OF THE 1940S

For the longest time I think the decade of the 1940s were my favorite for movies. I believe it was a great decade for musicals. The movies were great too, and they were a diversion and an escape from World War II. Most of the films were not the most realistic, but again people were looking for an escape not reality. Here are my five favorite movies of the 1940s:


5. HOLIDAY INN (1942)
The Irving Berlin song says it all - "kick your cares down the stairs and come to Holiday Inn". One of the most beloved musicals of the 1940s, the film gave birth to one of the most successful songs of all time "White Christmas". The movie stars Bing Crosby as an entertainer whose partner (Fred Astaire) steals his girl away. Crosby has a nervous breakdown and decides to open an inn which is only open on the holidays. The film's love song "Be Careful It's My Heart" was supposed to be the big hit until "White Christmas" sold in the millions before the movie even came out. The movie has become an holiday classic, and although the blackface "Abraham" number is dated by today's standards, the movie is a great piece of 1940s history.

4. CITIZEN KANE (1941)
This film is Orson Welle's masterpiece, and it is often considered one of the greatest movies ever made. At times it may be a little slow, but it definitely is one of the truly great movies of the classic Hollywood era. The story is a film à clef that examines the life and legacy of Charles Foster Kane, played by Welles, a character based in part upon the American newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, Chicago tycoons Samuel Insull and Harold McCormick, and aspects of Welles's own life. Upon its release, Hearst prohibited mention of the film in any of his newspapers. Kane's career in the publishing world is born of idealistic social service, but gradually evolves into a ruthless pursuit of power. Narrated principally through flashbacks, the story is revealed through the research of a newsreel reporter seeking to solve the mystery of the newspaper magnate's dying word: "Rosebud". Welles never did make another movie as high profiled as Citizen Kane, which is unfortunate because he was a movie genius.



3. SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943)
Another great film by Alfred Hitchcock, the movie is a great movie to show to any just starting to get into classic films. The movie is nearly perfect from the superb acting of Joseph Cotten to the great black and white film work, which used every shadow possible to its advantage. The movie is about a teenager living in the idyllic town of Santa Rosa, California, Charlotte "Charlie" Newton (Teresa Wright), complains that nothing seems to be happening in her life. Then, she receives wonderful news: her uncle (for whom she was named), Charlie Oakley (Joseph Cotten), her mother's younger brother, is arriving for a visit. Two men show up pretending to be working on a national survey of the average American family. One of them speaks to Charlie privately, identifying himself as Detective Jack Graham (Macdonald Carey). He explains that her uncle is one of two men suspected of being a serial killer known as the "Merry Widow Murderer" who seduces, steals from, and murders wealthy widows. Originally Hitchcock wanted William Powell to play Uncle Charlie, but MGM would not loan him out. Shadow Of A Doubt is pretty much as perfect of a movie as you can get.


2. ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944)
Beyond a doubt this is one of my favorite comedies of all time, and even though it is a comedy I think Cary Grant should have been nominated for an Oscar for his madcap and zany role.  Arsenic and Old Lace is a 1944 film directed by Frank Capra based on Joseph Kesselring's play of the same name. The script adaptation was by twins Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein. Capra actually filmed the movie in 1941, but it was not released until 1944, after the original stage version had finished its run on Broadway. The lead role of Mortimer Brewster was originally intended for Bob Hope, but he couldn't be released from his contract with Paramount. Capra had also approached Jack Benny and Ronald Reagan before going with Cary Grant. Boris Karloff played Jonathan Brewster, who "looks like Karloff", on the Broadway stage, but he was unable to do the movie as well because he was still appearing in the play during filming, and Raymond Massey took his place. In addition to Grant as Mortimer Brewster, the film also starred Josephine Hull and Jean Adair as the Brewster sisters, Abby and Martha, respectively. Hull and Adair as well as John Alexander (who played Teddy Roosevelt) were reprising their roles from the 1941 stage production. Hull and Adair both received an eight-week leave of absence from the stage production that was still running, but Karloff did not as he was an investor in the stage production and its main draw. The entire film was shot within those eight weeks. The film cost just over $1.2 million of a $2 million budget to produce. An addition to the movie cast was the beautiful Priscilla Lane and creepy Peter Lorre. Even though it took three years to be released, that is a great movie to watch at Halloween or anytime you want a great laugh.



1. WHITE HEAT (1949)
If I had to pick my favorite classic movie (pre 1970) of all-time it would definitely be the gangster classic White Heat. White Heat is a 1949 film noir starring James Cagney, Virginia Mayo and Edmond O'Brien and featuring Margaret Wycherly, and Steve Cochran. Directed by Raoul Walsh from the Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts screenplay based on a story by Virginia Kellogg, it is considered one of the classic gangster films. James Cagney made the film what it was playing psychotic gangster Cody Jarrett. The character of Cody Jarrett was based on New York murderer Francis Crowley, who engaged in a pitched battle with police in the spring of 1931 at the age of 18. Executed on January 21, 1932, his last words were: "Send my love to my mother." Another inspiration may have been Arthur Barker, a gangster of the 1930s, and a son of Ma Barker. One of the best scenes in the movie and all cinema is the climax at the end. The police surround the building and call on Jarrett to surrender. Jarrett decides to fight it out. When the police fire tear gas into the office, Fallon manages to escape. All of Jarrett's henchmen are shot by the police, or by Jarrett himself when they try to give themselves up (Verna is taken by the police). Jarrett then flees to the top of a gigantic, globe-shaped gas storage tank. When Fallon shoots Jarrett several times with a rifle, Jarrett starts firing into the tank and shouts, "Made it, Ma! Top of the world!" just before it goes up in a massive explosion. I never thought much of Virginia Mayo as an actress, and I still don't, but she was great in this movie as Cagney's backstabbing girlfriend. What is so surprising about the movie and Cagney's portrayal of a gangster is by the end of the movie the viewer actually feels a little bit sorry for the character. That is one of the reasons why this film is my favorite of the decade.


Of course there were a lot of films I would like to include on my favorite list, but I stuck with just the top five. However, here are some of the movies that definitely deserve an honorable mention: The Great Dictator (1940), To Be Or Not To Be (1942), Pride Of The Yankees (1942), The Lost Weekend (1945), and Blue Skies (1946).

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

BORN ON THIS DAY: GLORIA GRAHAME

I remember seeing actress Gloria Grahame years ago in the epic movie musical Oklahoma (1955), and she stood out to me as a truly beautiful actress. Later on I saw her in a secondary lead role in another epic The Greatest Show On Earth (1952), and not only was she a beauty but she was a decent actress as well. Gloria Grahame was born on this day, November 28th in 1923.

Grahame was born Gloria Hallward in Los Angeles, California. Reginald Michael Bloxam Hallward, her father, was an architect and author and her mother, Jeanne McDougall, who used the stage name Jean Grahame, was a British stage actress and acting teacher. McDougall taught her younger daughter acting during her childhood and adolescence. The couple had another daughter, Joy Hallward (1911–2003), an actress who married John Mitchum (the younger brother of actor Robert Mitchum).

She made her film debut in Blonde Fever (1944) and then scored one of her most widely praised roles as the promiscuous Violet, saved from disgrace by George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life (1946). MGM was not able to develop her potential as a star and her contract was sold to RKO Studios in 1947.

Grahame was often featured in film noir pictures as a tarnished beauty with an irresistible sexual allure. During this time, she made films for several Hollywood studios. She received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for Crossfire (1947).

Grahame starred with Humphrey Bogart in the 1950 film In a Lonely Place, a performance which garnered her considerable praise. Though today it is considered among her finest performances, it wasn't a box-office hit and Howard Hughes, owner of RKO Studios, admitted that he never saw it. When she asked to be loaned out for roles in Born Yesterday and A Place in the Sun, Hughes refused and instead made her do a supporting role in Macao. However, she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in MGM's The Bad and the Beautiful (1952).


Grahame's career began to wane after her performance in the musical film Oklahoma! (1955). Grahame, whom audiences were used to seeing as a film noir siren, was viewed by some critics to be miscast as an ignorant country lass in a wholesome musical, and the paralysis of her upper lip from plastic surgery altered her speech and appearance. Additionally, Grahame was rumored to have been difficult on the set of Oklahoma!, upstaging some of the cast and alienating her co-stars, which furthered her fall from grace in Hollywood. Her personal life was even more spotty with numerous relationships and marriages (she even married an ex-step son at one point).

In 1980, Grahame was diagnosed with stomach cancer but refused surgery, insisting that she did not have the disease. In 1981, she traveled to England to perform in a play. While there, a procedure to have fluid drained from her stomach resulted in a perforated bowel. This became apparent only after she collapsed during a rehearsal. She succumbed to the disease on October 5, 1981 at the young age of 57. Gloria Grahame died young, but hopefully on this day we can remember her birth and the wonderful body of work she left behind...

Monday, November 26, 2012

THE BIG BANDS - FORGOTTEN MALE VOCALISTS

When you hear people talk about vocalists of the big band era, everyone instantly thinks of Frank Sinatra. By far, he was the most famous singer to come out of the big band era. However, there are countless other vocalists - some of them great, that never reached the heights of a Sinatra, but they should be remembered nevertheless...


RUSS CARLYLE (1914-2011)
Born on the December 3, 1914 vocalist and bandleader Russ Carlyle got his professional start after winning an amateur singing contest in 1935. After engagements at local Cleveland nightclubs, he went to work for radio station WJAY. In 1936 fellow Clevelander Blue Barron hired him as featured vocalist of his new orchestra. Carlyle was well-received by audiences, being voted one of the top four male vocalists by Billboard magazine in 1939.


Carlyle formed his own orchestra in 1940. When he fell victim to the draft in 1943 his sister, Louise Carlyle, took over leadership of the group under her own name. In the service Carlyle worked at a chemical warfare facility. On the side he formed an orchestra to entertain his fellow soldiers. It was during Carlyle's military stay that he met and became good friends with comedian Joey Bishop. In 1951 Carlyle's orchestra was signed by the ABC/Paramount label, where they recorded three albums. The group continued performing and touring throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s. Dorothy Ferguson was female vocalist, eventually replaced by Patty Clayton, who later became Carlyle's wife. Russ retired in 1990 and for the next twenty years he made Arizona his home. He died on May 3, 2011 at the age of 96.



FORD LEARY (1908-1949)
Born on September 5, 1908 and with a name that sounds like an abbreviated aversion to a brand of automobile, Ford Leary had a short musical career which began in the mid- '30s in New York City and ended in the late '40s sadly at Bellevue Hospital. In his early years he sang and played trombone with Bunny Berigan.That association was one of the better jobs Leary found for himself while trying to establish himself as a freelance musician in a big city, New York City to be exact. The trombonist/vocalist  moved on to the bands of Larry Clinton in 1938, Charlie Barnet in 1940, and Mike Riley in 1941 and finally Wingy Manone in 1943.

Sadly Leary was admitted to Bellevue in 1949 after having been in rotten physical shape for a long period of time due to alcoholism and physical ailments. At least two years were spent attempting to recover from a back injury, a calamity that halted a new and entirely different momentum to his career. Leary had broken through as an actor in the Broadway show entitled Follow the Girls. Ford Leary died institutionalized on June 4, 1949. He was only 40.


BOB HAYMES (1923-1989)
Born on March 29, 1923 Bob Haymes was a very good vocalist who was also known under the stage names Robert Stanton and Bob Stanton.  He is best remembered today for co-writing the song "That's All", considered part of the Great American Songbook. He was the younger brother of singer and actor Dick Haymes. However, unlike his brother - Bob had a less troubled and turbulent life. Haymes began his career in the early 1940s as a vocalist in the bands of Carl Hoff and Bob Chester. In 1942 Haymes began work, under the name "Bob Stanton", for the radio show Gillette Cavalcade of Sports. He continued with the program until 1946, when it was turned into a television show on NBC; he then became the host of the television show until 1949.


 In the 1950s, Haymes began work as a songwriter. In 1952 he co-wrote the song "That's All" with Alan Brandt. The song was first performed by Nat King Cole in 1953, but truly became a hit when recorded by Bobby Darin in 1959. It has since been covered by dozens of artists. In 1953 Haymes co-wrote, with Nick Acquaviva, the song "My Love, My Love", which became a hit when recorded by Joni James (Acquaviva's eventual sister-in-law) that year. Around the same time, he wrote the song "I Never Get Enough of You", which was recorded by his brother Dick. In 1968, Bob Haymes served as the national television director for Richard Nixon's presidential campaign, but he eventually retired from the limelight to South Carolina. Haymes died on January 27,1989 in Greenville, South Carolina at the age of 65.



What male vocalists do you remember? There are enough great talent out there that this could become a regular feature. Sadly, not every big band vocalist became a Frank Sinatra, but all of them deserve to be remembered...



Saturday, November 24, 2012

FAMOUS SECOND BANANAS OF TV

Behind most great television hosts is a second banana to not only bring comic relief, but also make the star look good. I decided to look up some great stars that I considered to be talented funny people during the golden age of the medium. Some second bananas who have brightened late-night TV include:


Ed McMahon (1923-2009): Paired with Johnny Carson during his full run on "Tonight," 1962 to 1992. Made "H-e-e-e-e-e-ere's Johnny!" an indelible catch phrase. He was probably one of the most famous second bananas in television history. Carson depicted McMahon as a bumbling alcoholic, when it was later discovered that Johnny had the secret problems with addiction. There was no one better than Ed.

Dagmar (1921-2001): Bombshell who became a household name in the early 1950s on "Broadway Open House"; her dumb blonde act became so popular she received 2,000 fan letters a week. The show was hosted by Jerry Lester and Morey Amsterdam, later of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" fame. She was famous for making a record with Frank Sinatra, which is considered Sinatra's worst recording, "Mama Will Bark" in 1952.


Louis Nye (1913-2005), Don Knotts (1924-2006), Tom Poston (1921-2007): On "Tonight" and his later talk shows, Steve Allen established a cadre of talented comics instead of a single sidekick. Knotts was the nervous nebbish, Nye the suave, overconfident guy bellowing, "Hi-ho, Steverino!" and Poston a man so unnerved by the camera that he couldn't remember who he was. Knotts and Poston had long careers in televion and movies, but it was unfortunate that Nye never really became a big star.

Hugh Downs (born 1921): Worked as Jack Paar's second banana on "Tonight" from 1957 until Paar's departure in 1962. I always forget Downs had that role. I remember him mostly from his long stint on 20/20. Once famously kept the show running single-handedly after the mercurial Paar stormed off the air in mid-show in a dispute with the network.

Regis Philbin (born 1931): Bantered with Joey Bishop for two years in the late 1960s on ABC's answer to Carson, "The Joey Bishop Show." It was Philbin's first prominent TV role, and he recalled it as "my introduction to the highly competitive late-night show world." Philbin is now cited in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most broadcast hours logged by a TV personality - breaking the record held by another former second-banana, Hugh Downs. Sadly Philbin left his famous morning talk show in November of 2011.


Arthur Treacher (1894-1975): Merv Griffin's announcer and sidekick, who would introduce "Meeeer-vin!" An English-born actor, he typically played the quintessential butler/valet in movies, including several with Shirley Temple. He also had a fish-and-chips chain named after him. I actually know Treacher more from his movies and maybe restaurant than his role as a second banana. The network said that Treacher was too old to be Merv Griffin's sidekick, but Griffin fought for him, and Treacher served in that role as second banana from 1965 to 1970.

Friday, November 23, 2012

JACK HALEY: AMERICA'S TIN MAN

The Wizard Of Oz (1939) is a movie that has captured the hearts of countless movie fans, young and old alive. Everyone has a favorite character from the movie. Even though the movie is remembered as a "Judy Garland" film, my favorite actor in the movie is the great Jack Haley as the Tin Man.

Jack was born John Joseph Haley on August 10, 1898. Haley started off as a vaudeville song-and-dance comedian in the early 1920s. One of his closest friends was fellow vaudeville alumnus Fred Allen, who would frequently mention "Mr. Jacob Haley of Newton Highlands, Massachusetts" on the air. In the early 1930s Haley starred in comedy shorts for Vitaphone in Brooklyn, New York. His wide-eyed, good-natured expression landed him supporting roles in many musical feature films like Poor Little Rich Girl (1936) with Shirley Temple, and the Irving Berlin musical Alexander's Ragtime Band (1937). Both Poor Little Rich Girl and Alexander's Ragtime Band were released by Twentieth Century-Fox, where Haley was under contract. Personally, I think Alexander's Ragtime Band was one of his best films, and he worked well as a fellow band member in a band that consisted of Tyrone Power and Don Ameche.


MGM hired Haley for The Wizard of Oz after another song-and-dance comic, Buddy Ebsen, who was originally set to play the Tin Man, had a near-fatal reaction from inhaling the aluminum dust makeup. This character was known as the Tin Woodman in the original book. The makeup was switched to a paste, to avoid risking the same reaction for Haley. The new makeup did cause an eye infection which caused Haley to miss four days of filming, but he received treatment in time to prevent permanent damage. Haley did not take to the makeup or to the discomfort of the costume very kindly. When being interviewed about the film years later by Tom Snyder, he remarked that many people had commented that making the film must have been fun. Haley's reply: "Like hell it was; it was work!" Haley's natural voice (which he used for the "Hickory" character) was moderately gruff. For the Tin Woodman, he spoke more softly, which he later said was the tone of voice he used when reading stories to his children. Oz was one of Haley's two MGM films (the other was Pick a Star, a 1937 Hal Roach production distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer).

Haley returned to musical comedies in the 1940s, and he made more movies for 20th Century Fox. One of my favorite movie appearances from that period was his supporting role in Moon Over Miami (1941). He was courted my Charlotte Greenwood and performed a pretty good jitterbug number. Most of his 1940s work was for RKO Radio Pictures. He was fired by the studio in 1947 when he refused to appear in a remake of RKO's old story property Seven Keys to Baldpate. Phillip Terry later took the role.


Jack pretty grew tired of the movie studio system and did much of his later work on television. He appeared throughout the 1970s on such shows as "Burke's Law" , "Make Room For Daddy", and "Marcus Welby MD". His last movie was a short appearance in his son's movie Norwood (1970) which starred Glenn Campbell.

Haley was married for 58 years to the same woman. He married Florence McFadden, a native of Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania on February 25, 1921, and they remained married until his death. Flo Haley opened a successful beauty shop and counted many show people among her customers. (The establishment became known informally as "Flo Haley's House of Correction.") She died in 1996 at the age of 94. The couple had one son, Jack Haley, Jr.(1933-2001) (later a successful film producer) and one daughter, Gloria (1927-2010). Jack Haley, Jr. was married to Liza Minnelli, daughter of his father's Oz co-star Judy Garland, from 1974 to 1979.


Haley died suddenly of a heart attack on June 6, 1979 in Los Angeles, California, aged 80. Only a short time previously, he had made an appearance at that year's Academy Awards ceremony with Ray Bolger, who had played the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. He was still active only a week prior to his death. Years after his death and decades after The Wizard Of Oz came out, Haley is not remembered too much as an actor. However, his role in the Tin Man is forever eched in the audience's mind and will be for decades and centuries to come...

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

STAR FRIENDS: EDDIE CANTOR AND LUCILLE BALL


When 21 year-old Lucille Ball boarded a train in New York City in July, 1933, she was bound for California, where she was to appear in her first motion picture... Not just any picture -- "Roman Scandals," a major musical-comedy, produced by the legendary Samuel Goldwyn and starring Eddie Cantor. Cantor, she knew, was not only a star of stage, screen, phonograph records and radio, but one of America's most beloved entertainers.

To say that Cantor and Lucy met and became instantaneous friends would be an erroneous exaggeration. He was, after all, nearly 20 years her senior and an established star. She was a showgirl -- and a rank beginner, at that. "I was classified with the scenery," she later quipped. There was, however, an immediate affinity between the two performers.

Lucy let everyone know she was interested in doing more than this one picture... and that she felt desperately out of place among the beautiful Goldwyn Girls. When Cantor suggested one of the ladies be used in a comedy bit that would require her to get mud on her face, most of the Goldwyn beauties shrieked and ran the other way. Their face, they reasoned, was their fortune. Lucy, on the other hand, gladly volunteered. Her spirit and enthusiasm immediately endeared her to both Cantor and director Frank Tuttle. Cantor saw to it that in addition to her "showgirl" duties, Lucy was given a small part (with lines!) as one of the townspeople in the opening and closing segments of the film. Finally, Lucy's face was featured prominantly in many of the "Roman Scandals" publicity photos and print ads. All in all, not a bad beginning for the skinny kid from Jamestown.


Lucy and Cantor worked together again a year later in Goldwyn's "Kid Millions." He was again the star; and she, alas, still part of the scenery.

Lucy spent the next ten years piecing together a film career, shuttling from Goldwyn to Columbia to RKO and finally to MGM. Cantor, meanwhile, found himself doing fewer and fewer films, and funnelled his boundless energies instead into his highly-popular weekly radio broadcasts. Indeed, when the opportunity presented itself for Cantor and Ball to work together again, it was in a radio studio:

In April, 1943, Cantor invited Lucy and her husband Desi to be a guest on his CBS program "Time to Smile." Dinah Shore was a regular on that series, as was announcer Harry Von Zell. World War II was underway, and Lucy and Cantor did a skit concerning the Hollywood Canteen. Fred Astaire made a special pitch encouraging people to buy War Bonds. (Cantor's grandson, Brian Gari, has made a recording of this April 28 broadcast available to fans on CD and cassette.)

Lucy and "Banjo Eyes" (as Cantor was affectionately known) got together again three years later on "Eddie Cantor Show," broadcast on NBC October 10, 1946.

Sadly the two old friends never had a chance to work on each other's television programs. Cantor's Colgate Comedy Hour was broadcast over NBC, and Lucy's I Love Lucy, of course, was on rival CBS. The two did get together for a special Ed SullivanShow telecast on June 24, 1956 -- Sullivan's 8th TV anniversary. Lucy and Desi hosted a special "remote" segment from Hollywood, in which a group of top stars stepped in front of the camera and wished Ed a happy anniversary. Cantor was one of those stars.

Seven months later, Lucy, Desi and Eddie were all guests on Jackie Gleason's "At 65" show (January 12, 1957), on which they performed in a comedy sketch about a lopsided birthday cake.

Lucy and Eddie also crossed paths numerous times socially and at Hollywood fundraisers. The two always spoke very highly of each other, she ever grateful that Cantor had given her encouragement (and extra screen time) at the very beginning when she needed those things most, and he happy that one of the "youngsters" had not only made good, but become a top star in her own right...



SOURCE

Monday, November 19, 2012

CLASSIC MOVIES AND MY STEP FATHER

Last month I lost an important person in my life. My step-father Scott Cornman died on October 25, 2012 at the age of 59 after a long battle with cancer. He was a father to me for over twenty years, longer than my own father was. Scott and I shared many happy moments, and one of those moments was watching movies together. While Scott enjoyed more of a science fiction type movie, I did get to introduce him to some of my favorite Bing Crosby movies. I wanted to share with you now a few of the movies Scott introduced me to…



BRIGADOON (1954)
Scott was a 6ft 4inch tall hunter, but he was not shy about admitting that he liked movie musicals. One of the first musicals he introduced me to was Brigadoon (1954) which starred Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse. When I first saw the movie in my teen years, I had a hard time enjoying it because it was a sort of fantasy movie. The music was closer to ballet and opera than tin pan alley as well. However, after watching the movie with Scott a couple of times, I grew to love the story and the movie. It is now one of my favorite Gene Kelly movies.



HELLFIGHTERS (1968)
Before Scott married my mother, he was also a volunteer fire fighter. So it was only natural that he would like a movie about fire fighters. Hellfighters (1968) basically starred John Wayne as John Wayne playing a man who fights oil rig fires. Before Scott, I never really regarding John Wayne as much of an article and did not watch many of his movies. After seeing this movie and a few others, I quickly became a John Wayne fan, and I even got the chance to introduce Scott to a few John Wayne films.



XANADU (1980)
Again this musical is a very unlikely film for someone like Scott to like, but it had a science fiction/fantasy type element that appealed to Scott. Xanadu (1981) starred Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly. Scott was a fan of the ELO as well as the Bee Gees to a lesser extent. The movie is just a fun movie to watch, if not a great movie. I don’t think many fathers and sons would sit on a Saturday and watch a musical like Xanadu together. It was a lot of fun though.


TRON (1982)
Not every movie Scott introduced me to was a winner in my books. One of Scott's favorite movies was a science fiction fantasy Tron (1982) starring Jeff Bridges. I sat through the whole movie, but even though this is one of Scott's favorite movies, it is one of my least favorites. Scott tried though to introduce me to the movie and genre. The movie has a cult following and even spawned a sequel in 2010.

Other great movie moments I had with Scott included going to see many of the James Bond movies - all of them during the Pierce Brosnan era. I regret that was never saw any of the Daniel Craig versions in recent years. Since those days of watching movies with Scott, I have since gotten married and started a family of my own. However, I will never forget those times we spent together. I miss those days almost as much as I miss my stepfather Scott Cornman…

Saturday, November 17, 2012

HELEN FORREST AND HER SAD RESTING PLACE

My grandfather introduced me to the big bands at a young age, and to this day I can lose myself for hours listening to the great recordings and arrangements. One of my favorite vocalists was the great Helen Forrest. She made a ton of recordings with Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and Harry James in the 1930s and 1940s and continued to perform well into the 1980s. Forrest died on died on July 11, 1999 at the age of 81. You would think that a singer with the talent of Forrest would have a proper resting place. However, that is not the case.

In 1934, at seventeen years of age, Forrest got her first job at WNEW, New York, singing commercials. During this time, she sang under anonymous names such as Helen, Hilee, Madlene, and Arlene. When she sang for WCBS, she became “Bonnie Blue” and “The Blue Lady of Song.” When her brother Ed, whose band was playing in Washington, D.C., called her to let her know that there was an opening for a vocalist in the Washington Madrillon Club, Forrest auditioned and soon after began singing in the popular supper club.

While performing at the Madrillon, she gained a reputation for her singing, and bandleader Artie Shaw came to see her. Shaw’s singer Billie Holiday was planning to leave the band, and in 1958 Shaw asked Forrest to go on tour. During the fifteen months she sang with Artie Shaw, his band recorded forty-one sides for RCA Victor’s Bluebird record label. In 1939, while still on the road with Artie Shaw’s band, Forrest married drummer Al Spieldock in Baltimore. Her husband remained in Baltimore, and Forrest resumed her tour. When Shaw dissolved his band, she went back to Baltimore but was soon asked to join Benny Goodman’s band. During her two-year tenure with Goodman, she recorded fifty-three sides. In 1941, she joined the Harry James band. The musical alliance of featuring Forrest’s vocals with the band as accompaniment proved very successful.

Traveling with the band, Forrest was the only woman among eighteen or more band members. She fell in love with Harry James, maintaining a sporadic love affair until James married actor Betty Grable. In 1943, a few months after James’s marriage, Forrest left the band and appeared in clubs around the country. Her husband divorced her about the same time. Forrest’s agent teamed her up with vocalist Dick Haymes, and together they appeared on their own very popular radio program, running from 1944 to 1947.


Around 1945, Forrest met Paul Hogan, an aspiring actor, at a party. The two began living together and married in 1947. They later separated and divorced in 1956. In the late 1950s, she met businessman Charlie Feinman and married him in 1959. The couple had a son, Michael, in 1960, but the marriage was dissolved in 1961. She continued to perform in major supper clubs around the country, sometimes singing for movie sound tracks as well as performing in “big band nostalgia” tours. She continued to record, achieving several hits as a soloist and several hits singing duets with Dick Haymes. Forrest recorded approximately seventy-four songs as a solo vocalist—twenty-two for Decca Records, forty for MGM, and twelve for Bell Records. In addition, she recorded for Capitol in 1955–1956, singing the hits she had sung with Harry James. From 1969 to 1974, she rerecorded some of her hits for Reader’s Digest and Time-Life as well. During various periods of “big band nostalgia,” radio broadcasts and shorts were rereleased of Helen Forrest with Artie Shaw’s band, Benny Goodman’s band, Harry James’s band, and Dick Haymes.

After Forrest's death, her only survivor was her son Michael Forrest Feinman. Feinman contacted many fans of Helen Forrest and fans of her peer Dick Haymes personally to ask them for money in exchange for momentos from Helen's private collection. Many people sent Michael money to have nothing sent back. Sadly the lack of money has resulted in no headstone for Helen Forrest. It is now over well over ten years after her death, and still nothing. I am not blaming her son, but how can an icon of the big band era not have a proper resting place is beyond me. I have tried to get in touch again with Michael Feinman, but I have had no luck.


However, Michael did address this on a another website on September 10, 2010:

"Hello all, My name is Michael Forrest Feinman, and I am the son of Helen Forrest. There is a very good reason why there is NO marker on my mothers grave. That reason is that Mt. Sinai where she is buried, played a horrible trick on me and gave me false and erroneous information. I was beside myself when my mother passed. She had been very sick for many years, and only 5 hours after her passing I had the misfortune of having a sales rep at Mt.Sinai tell me that I should start a fund for my mother who had passed. Well having no experience with this type of issue I made the horrible mistake of listening to John Freare who is a sales rep and he gave me legal advise, which unfortuately I listened to. Well to make a long story short, because of my deep grief at that time and not thinking clearly I was slaughtered in the community and with all of her friends and anyone who was close to her. It is a long story but it has been a very long fight to have Mt. Sinai do the right thing after over 11 years."


I am not sure what Michael Feinman does for a living, but I know that if my mother did not have a headstone after ten years I would make sure she had something. I have talked with people in the Helen Forrest community, and they are unsure of Michael's story. I am not coming down hard on him because I have not heard his side of the story, but it is a crime and shame that a talent of the caliber of Helen Forrest is not remembered and respected more after her death. She deserves better...


SOURCE

Thursday, November 15, 2012

MY FIVE FAVORITE FILMS OF THE 1950S

Now we are approaching the truly classic time in Hollywood when the studio system was in full force. However, the popularity of television made the movie industry really change how they made movies. A lot of good movies were made in the decade of the 1950s, but here are my five favorite:


5. LIMELIGHT (1952)
One of the biggest crimes against a single human being by a country was when the United States deported actor Charlie Chaplin. He was deported after he filmed Limelight. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover had it out for Chaplin since the 1920s, and decades later he got his revenge. Limelight was the last movie Chaplin ever filmed in the United States, and the movie told the story of a fading vaudeville star. This film was the most biographical film that Charlie Chaplin ever did. The story is emotional, funny, and sad - but the best part of the movie is when Chaplin appears with Buster Keaton. Chaplin and Keaton were icons of the silent screen era, and they worked well together in this film. I wish this movie would be remembered more though.

4. NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959)
I think that by far one of the greatest directors of all time was Alfred Hitchcock. His mind was so full of these suspenseful and twisted tales. Cary Grant stars as a business man who was mistaken for someone else. Unfortunately, that someone else was involved in espionage and crime. Trying to clear his name and not get killed in the process, Grant literally travels throughout the country. On the way he tries to out run a crop dusting plane bent on killing him, and in the great Hitchcock finale he wrestles on the top of Mount Rushmore. Adding to the cast and intrigue is Eva Marie Saint in one of the greatest roles she ever made. I never thought of Saint as a sex symbol except for this movie. She played the spy that fell in love with Grant so perfectly. The movie is long but the roller coster ride of suspense is worth it.


3. SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959)
This movie is by far one of the greatest comedies of all-time. Directed by Billy Wilder, I never get tired of seeing Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis running around as women. The movie takes place in the roaring 1920s, when liquior was outlawed, but seemingly the Mafia was not. Lemmon and Curtis witness a mob killing, so they have to go on the run. The only way to get away is if they masquarade was women - which they do in a woman's band. The cast of characters they cross paths with are equally great: big band singer (Marilyn Monroe), old millionaire (Joe E. Brown), gangster (George Raft), and old school cop (Pat O'Brien). The ending of the film with Joe E. Brown and Jack Lemmon is among the funniest moments ever caught on screen.

2. VERTIGO (1958)
Another Alfred Hitchcock film, this is one of my favorite movies he directed. The film stars James Stewart as former police detective John "Scottie" Ferguson, who has been forced into early retirement due to disabilities (vertigo and clinical depression) incurred in the line of duty. Scottie is hired as a private investigator to follow a woman, Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak) who is behaving peculiarly. The film was shot on location in San Francisco, California, and at Paramount Studios in Hollywood. It popularized the dolly zoom, an in-camera effect that distorts perspective to create disorientation, to convey Scottie's acrophobia. As a result of its use here, the effect is often referred to as "the Vertigo effect". The film received mixed reviews upon initial release, but has garnered acclaim since and is now often cited as a classic Hitchcock film and one of the defining works of his career. Attracting significant scholarly criticism, it was named the best film of all time in the 2012 Sight & Sound critics' poll. While I think Vertigo is a great film, I do not think it is the best movie of all-time. I do think that this is the best role Jimmy Stewart ever had, and it showed a great range of emotions and acting that he had.


1. THE COUNTRY GIRL (1954)
I think this choice will probably surprise people more than anyone. I do not see it on anyone's favorites list from the 1950s, and I think that is unfortunate. The movie, the story, and the casting made this really a triumph I think. The film stars Bing Crosby, in his best dramatic role, as a faded singer who has lost his career and pretty much his wife, played very plainly by Grace Kelly. Crosby is given one more chance for a comeback by a hot shot director (William Holden). Adapted by George Seaton from Clifford Odets' 1950 play of the same name, the film is about an alcoholic has-been actor struggling with the one last chance he's been given to resurrect his career. Seaton won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay and Grace Kelly won for Best Actress. During one of the most intense scenes where Bing Crosby is drunk and hung over in jail, he had his sons keep him up all through the night to make his look more realistic. Given the period of its production, the film is notable for its realistic, frank dialogue and honest treatments of the surreptitious side of alcoholism and post-divorce misogyny. I wish Bing Crosby would have made more dramas, and even though some of the subject matter is hard to watch (death of a child), I recommend this film to anyone.


Of course it is nearly impossible to do a top five list, and there are a lot of movies I would like to include. Here are some honorable mentions to the list as well: Harvey (1950), Rear Window (1954), Love Me Or Leave Me (1955), Twelve Angry Men (1957), and Paths Of Glory (1957).

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

COOKING WITH THE STARS: DENNIS DAY

Here is an interesting article from the Chicago Tribune on January 21, 1966...


EVEN WHEN HE COOKS, DENNIS HAS EAGER AUDIENCE--HIS BIG FAMILY
By Freida Zylstra

Hollywood--Dennis Day is one performer who never has to worry about a full house when he is singing his do-re-mi's or when he is practicing the ABC's of cookery.

"With nine eager and always hungry sons and daughters I'm assured of an audience," he says. "I like to barbecue-broil steaks and chops, make endless varieties of Dagwood sandwiches, and originate marinating sauces."

"Dennis is no menace in the kitchen," Mrs. Day adds. "He often does the weekly marketing and is an excellent host when we entertain."

Dennis, whose real name is Eugene Dennis McNulty, was born in New York City. He began singing as a child at family, school, and church affairs. He graduated with honors from Manhattan college and after serving in the navy resumed his singing career on radio and in night clubs. It was Mary Livingston who "discovered" Dennis for the Jack Benny radio shows. In 1948 Dennis married Peggy Almquist. The Days' nine children are 17 years old, 16, 15, 13, 11, 10, 7, 4 and 2. The family lives in a rambling two story ranch house in a canyon in West Los Angeles. They have a stable with two horses and enjoy their swimming pool and outdoor patio, barbecue and game area.

"We recently remodeled our kitchen to accomodate cooking n a grand scale," Dennis said. "We now have three ovens, two warming ovens and two dish washers--not counting my wife."

When the Days entertain they consider 20 or 30 an average group around the table--"and usually more than half of them are children," Dennis commented.

Because of the differences in the children's schedules, Mrs. Day usually cooks and serves in shifts. She has a great collection of recipes and dishes that keep or "hold" in the warming ovens.

"We like Italian foods--lasgna and other baked casserole specialties," Dennis said. "Peggy and I like to study foreign cookbooks for new ideas."

Among Peggy's favorite casseroles are wild rice baked with chunks of creamed chicken and mushrooms and a casserole of hard cooked eggs, sliced in a rich cream sauce with shreds of either turkey or ham.

One of the Days' favorite hors d'oeuvres is made of small, thinly sliced white bread rounds, toasted on one side, buttered on the other, and spread with a seasoned mixture of beaten egg whites, grated swiss cheese, finely grated red and green peppers, and minced parsley. The mixture is spread on the bread rounds, topped with a few bits of chopped raw bacon and then slowly broiled until browned.

"This one is different," Dennis commented. "Guests love it, but never know for sure what it is."

A popular make-ahead vegetable dish that the Day family likes is baked zucchini. "It's a delicious combination with almost any other meat or main dish," Peggy said.


Her recipe follows:
BAKED ZUCCHINI CASSEROLE
(Six Servings)

1 1/2 pounds fresh zucchini
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 onion, chopped, sauteed
2 cups tomato sauce,
(combine Italian and Mexican tomato sauce, or season to taste with oregano or basil)
1 cup seasoned cracker or bread crumbs
6 to 8 slices mozzarella cheese

Cut washed squash in quarters and saute lightly in butter, covering to steam cook, about 3 or 4 minutes. Place in baking dish and sprinkle with parmesan cheese and sauteed onions. Cover with sauce and top with crumbs. Heat thoroughly in oven at 325 degrees for about half an hour. Just before serving, place slices of mozzarella cheese on top and heat just enough to melt cheese...


SOURCE



Sunday, November 11, 2012

MEMORIES OF MARTHA RAYE

I received this story in an email from my mother. It's very interesting and shows what kind of a person Martha Raye was...

The most unforgivable oversight of TV is that Martha Raye's USO shows were not taped. I was unaware of her credentials or where she is buried. Somehow I just can't see Brittany Spears, Paris Hilton, or Jessica Simpson doing what this woman (and the other USO women, including Ann Margaret & Joey Heatherton) did for our troops in past wars. Most of the old time entertainers were made of a lot sterner stuff than today's crop of activists bland whiners. The following is from an Army Aviator who takes a trip down memory lane:

It was just before Thanksgiving '67 and we were ferrying dead and wounded from a large GRF west of Pleiku. We had run out of body bags by noon, so the Hook (CH-47 CHINOOK) was pretty rough in the back. All of a sudden, we heard a 'take-charge' woman's voice in the rear.There was the singer and actress, Martha Raye, with a SF (Special Forces) beret and jungle fatigues, with subdued markings, helping the wounded into the Chinook, and carrying the dead aboard. 'Maggie' had been visiting her SF 'heroes' out 'west'.We took off, short of fuel, and headed to the USAF hospital pad at Pleiku.

As we all started unloading our sad pax's, a 'Smart Mouth' USAF Captain said to Martha.... "Ms Raye, with all these dead and wounded to process, there would not be time for your show!"

To all of our surprise, she pulled on her right collar and said ....."Captain, see this eagle? I am a full 'Bird' in the US Army Reserve, and on this is a 'Caduceus' which means I am a Nurse, with a surgical specialty....now, take me to your wounded!"He said, "Yes ma'am.... follow me."Several times at the Army Field Hospital in Pleiku, she would 'cover' a surgical shift, giving a nurse a well-deserved break. Martha is the only woman buried in the SF (Special Forces) cemetery at Ft Bragg...




Friday, November 9, 2012

SINGER SPOTLIGHT: GUY MITCHELL

The music industry in the 1950s was quickly changing. After the soldiers came home at the end of World War II, vocalists for the most part became more popular than the big bands. In addition by the early 1950s novelty songs became a fad to music listeners. One music executive that embraced this and really pushed it down the music listener's ears was Mitch Miller. Miller was responsible for much of the music that came out of Columbia Records at this time. In my opinion, he had horrible tastes in music but he did have an eye for talent. One of the greatest singers that he signed to Columbia was crooner Guy Mitchell.

Mitchell was born Al Cernick in Detroit, Michigan in 1927. From an early age it was apparent that he had a remarkable talent for music, especially as a vocalist. This talent led Warner Brothers Pictures to put young Al Cernick under contract as a budding musical personality. In the early forties he did some vocalizing on radio in Los Angeles, then moved up to San Francisco with his family. Besides singing with his high school band, in 1945 he was a country music vocalist in that city. After two years of military service he signed on as male vocalist with the orchestra of Carmen Cavallaro and appeared on recordings made for the Decca label. The first of these was released in early 1948 and featured Al on the tunes "Dream Girl" and "Encore Cherie" for Decca.

Continuing in 1949, Al Cernick now known on record as Al Grant recorded some sides for the King Record label based in Cincinnati, Ohio. With Dewey Bergman he recorded "Cabaret" and "This Day Is Mine". In September of that year "A Frame Without A Picture" and "I Thought I Was Dreaming" was recorded with Rufe Smith. The last King record was released in June of 1950 - "Forget Me Not" with Dewey Bergman. Back on April 1, 1950 Al Grant, aka Al Cernick, was signed to Columbia Records. The A & R man for Columbia was the most important record producer of the time, Mitch Miller, who seemed to develop a Midas Touch since coming over from Mercury Records and bringing Frankie Laine with him. His first order of business was to transform Al Cernick (Grant) into a new personality with a new name to match. Cernick became Guy Mitchell.


By the end of 1950, Mitchell without a big hit at Columbia was struggling, and Mitch Miller took a more hands on approach with Guy Mitchell on the next session and acted as arranger and conductor. The result was "My Heart Cries For You" and "The Roving Kind". Guy Mitchell's days as an unknown entertainer were over.

The song "My Heart Cries For You" was partially written by Percy Faith and was adapted from a song supposedly composed by 18th century French Queen Marie Antoinette. "The Roving Kind" was a long time British sea chanty (originally known as "The Pirate Ship") often performed by Pete Seeger and The Weavers. Both sides were blockbuster sellers and made Guy Mitchell a new force on the popular music scene. Mitchell pulled off the rare double, where each side sold one million records on its own, and a gold record was awarded for each side individually. For more than five months both sides of the record were played constantly on radio and sales kept adding up. The young singer born in the motor city of Yugoslav immigrant parents had made it at last.

Seemingly a spillover effect happened in early 1952. There was so much action on the new release that copies of Mitchell's previous effort for Columbia started selling. And so, "You're Just In Love", the duet with Rosie Clooney, came back and actually made the top twenty five on the hit parade for a few weeks. Taking just a short time to catch his breath at his new fame, Guy Mitchell hit again with his next release for Columbia. "Sparrow In The Treetop" and "Christopher Columbus" on #39190 was out in March and immediately entered the best seller lists. Again it was a two sided hit, though certainly not with the force of his previous hit disc. "Sparrow" got into the top ten and remained on the hit parade for four months, while the flip side charted at number twenty seven and sold moderately well on its own. And so for a time in early 1951, there stood Guy Mitchell with five songs on the best seller lists. Not a shabby accomplishment for someone who saw five years or more of failed opportunities and missed stardom. The tide had turned and Guy Mitchell had arrived in a big way.


In September of 1956 Guy was in the New York studios of Columbia Records with the Ray Coniff Orchestra and put together a snappy tune called "Singing The Blues" and coupled it with "Crazy With Love". The song "Singing The Blues" was a phenomenal seller. It was that rare crossover tune that sold on the pop, country, and R & B charts all at once. It proved that someone besides Elvis could achieve that trifecta. It remained in the number one spot for an unbelievable ten straight weeks, and lasted on the charts for more than five months. It was a multi-million seller, and worldwide tallies put the number at twelve million or more.

Mitchell also starred in a couple of movies - "Those Redheads From Seattle" with Teresa Brewer in 1953 and "Red Garters" with Rosemary Clooney in 1954. Mitchell had a pleasant personality on the screen, but his acting was slightly wooden. On television he starred in his own "Guy Mitchell Show"on U.S. Television he starred in numerous TV Specials in the U.S.A. and here in Britain. Together with Gracie Fields, he starred in the first "Sunday Night At The London Palladium" on Britain's ITV network. On his first visit to Britain, in 1952, he appeared for two weeks at the London Palladium selling every ticket within 24 hours - a box office record that still stands today. One of the highlights of Guy's career was in 1954 when he was honoured to appear in the Royal Variety Show at the London Palladium before Her Majesty, The Queen and Prince Philip.

The 1960's saw a slowing of pace with Guy concentrating on acting rather than singing, although he did score some minor successes, most notably with two excellent 'country' albums "Travelling Shoes" and "Singin' Up A Storm" for the Starday label. He appeared in the NBC western television series"Whispering Smith" in which he starred with his friend Audie Murphy and he even made another movie,"The Wild Westerners".


Life had not always been easy for Guy and he had more than his share of personal problems. Two divorces, illness and alcoholism took their toll. By the mid 1970's Guy had decided to go into semi-retirement and concentrate on ranching.

At the start of the 1980's Guy appeared on a 3 hour U.S.A. television tribute to Mitch Miller. At the end of Guy's 15 minute spot the audience made it clear that he was far from being a forgotten man. As a result Guy was tempted back into the recording studios and, in 1982, an album of many of Guy's hits, newly recorded in stereo, reached No. 2 in the Dutch hit parade. This only emphasised the fact that Guy Mitchell records had never stopped selling. When persuaded to play a 'comeback tour' of Britain in 1984, even the most enthusiastic fan was staggered by the response. A capacity audience of 2000 at London's Barbican Centre gave Guy a standing ovation through three encores - scenes that were to be repeated as the tour progressed around the Country.

1990 saw Guy filming in Scotland for BBC Television. A six one hour series called "YOUR CHEATIN' HEART' gave Guy a cameo roll as Jim Bob O'May with his band 'The Wild Bunch'. Guy sang seven songs in the series which were released on BBC Records. The same year saw Guy appearing in country music concerts including headlining at the Morecambe International Country Music Festival. On New Years Eve, Guy appeared in a three hour television spectacular for ITV live from the London Palladium.

In 1991 Guy returned to Australia for a most successful concert tour, radio and TV. However, Guy was involved in a serious horse riding accident that left him with fractured ribs and severe internal injuries. A period in intensive care was followed by a lengthy stay in a Sydney hospital before he was fit enough to travel home to Las Vegas.


Over the following years Guy made further concert tours of both the U.K. and Australia, concerts in Florida, Chicago and at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, at the Mexico State Fair in Albuquerque, the Hacienda Hotel on the 'Strip' in Las Vegas, the Flamingo Hotel in Laughlin, Nevada, and a major tour in California with the Guy Lombardo Orchestra. He became a mainstay in demand at hotels and casinos in Las Vegas. It was there that Guy passed away in July of 1999 at the age of 72 putting an end to a most remarkable career.

Guy Mitchell is not remembered as a top singer as Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin is, and maybe Mitchell came along too late. However, his output for Columbia was tremendous, and he made the studio a ton of money in the 1950s. I don't think I have ever heard a bad Mitchell recording, and I hope more people discover this underrated crooner...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

EDDIE ANDERSON: MORE THAN ROCHESTER


One of the most successful shows on radio and the earlier days of television was The Jack Benny Show. Jack Benny was a talented actor and comedian, but he will even admit that he owed his success to the great comic actors and actresses he surrounded himself with. One of the best supporting players on the show was the underrated Eddie Anderson. Even though today it looks dated to portray a black man servant, Anderson was never the butt of the jokes, Jack Benny was. Eddie Anderson was so much more than the Rochester character he portrayed for decades as well.

Anderson was born Edmund Lincoln Anderson on September 15, 1908 in Oakland, California. His father, "Big Ed" Anderson, was a minstrel performer, while his mother, Ella Mae, had been a tightrope walker until her career was ended by a fall. Anderson started in show business as part of an all African-American revue at age 14, later working in vaudeville with his brother, Cornelius. Anderson's vocal cords were ruptured when he was a youngster selling newspapers in San Francisco. The newsboys believed those who were able to shout the loudest sold the most papers. The permanent damage done to his vocal cords left him with the gravel voice familiar to both radio listeners and television viewers over a course of more than twenty years.

Anderson's first appearance on The Jack Benny Program was on March 28, 1937. He was originally hired to play the one-time role of a redcap on the Benny program. The Benny show received a large amount of mail about Anderson's appearances on the radio program; Benny decided to make him part of the cast as his butler and valet, Rochester van Jones. Neither Benny nor Anderson could recall how they came up with the name of Rochester for Anderson's character. Anderson always credited Benny for the invention of the Rochester van Jones name, saying that the name was copyrighted and that Benny later on sold it to him for a dollar.When Anderson became a regular member of the Benny show cast, he became the first African-American to have a regular role on a nationwide radio program.



Among the most highly-paid performers of his time, Anderson invested wisely and became extremely wealthy. Until the 1950s, Anderson was the highest paid African-American actor, receiving an annual salary of $100,000. In 1962, Anderson was on Ebony magazine's list of the 100 wealthiest African-Americans. Despite this, he was so strongly identified with the "Rochester" role that many listeners of the radio program mistakenly persisted in the belief that he was Benny's actual valet. One such listener drove Benny to distraction when he sent him a scolding letter concerning Rochester's alleged pay, and then sent another letter to Anderson, which urged him to sue Benny. In reality, Anderson did well enough to have his own valet.  A similar letter came from a correspondent in the South who was angered that on an episode of the radio show where Benny was sparring with Anderson, Benny allowed himself to be struck by Anderson. Benny retorted in a letter that it would not have been humorous the other way around. Anderson would appear with Jack Benny even after Benny's weekly series ended in 1965. Upon Benny's death in 1974, a tearful Anderson, interviewed for television, spoke of Benny with admiration and respect.



What a lot of people didn't know is Anderson had an astute business sense; in 1948, he saw the value and potential of Las Vegas as an entertainment center. With the idea of building and operating a hotel and casino there where African-Americans would be welcome, he asked for investors to join him in the venture. Anderson failed to attract enough people willing to invest, and he was unable to complete the plan. When the Moulin Rouge Hotel, an integrated hotel and casino, opened in 1955, Anderson was brought in for its opening. He expressed regret at the thought that the hotel might have been his if he had the further financial backing.



In 1932 Anderson married Mamie Wiggins Nelson. After 22 years of marriage, Mamie died August 5, 1954, after a two-year battle with cancer. Mamie was 43. At the time of her death, her son Billy (whom Eddie had adopted) was playing professional football for the Chicago Bears. Eddie Anderson married beauty Evangela 'Eva' Simon in Kingman, Arizona on February 8, 1956; the couple had three children: daughters Stephanie and Evangela Jr. ("Eva"), and son Edmund Jr. Eva and Anderson divorced in 1973 with Anderson retaining custody of his minor son and daughter.



Eddie Anderson died of heart disease on February 28, 1977 at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Los Angeles, California. He was buried in Los Angeles in historic Evergreen Cemetery, the oldest existing cemetery in the city. In one last philanthropic gesture, it was his intention to will his sizable home after his death. The house at 1932 Rochester Cir. in Los Angeles, was to be used to house at-risk substance sober-living residence for homeless substance abusers. Three decades after his death, The Eddie Rochester Anderson Foundation in Los Angeles ("The Rochester House"), helps troubled men transition into society. The Rochester House opened its doors in 1989, and is dedicated in memory of Eddie Anderson.

Many African-American entertainers during the 1930s and 1940s were treatedly horribly by the industry. I am sure Eddie Anderson had his share of bigotry and injustice, but it is nice to hear how Eddie Anderson had a good career in the business and did a lot of wonderful things in addition to making people smile...



Monday, November 5, 2012

HISTORY OF A SONG: EDELWEISS

"Edelweiss" is a show tune from the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music. It is named after the edelweiss, a white flower found high in the Alps. It is sung by Captain Georg Ludwig von Trapp and his family during the concert near the end of Act II as a defiant statement of Austrian patriotism in the face of the pressure put upon him to join the navy of Nazi Germany.

In the 1965 film adaptation, the song is also sung by the Captain earlier in the film as he rediscovers music and a love for his children. It was introduced in the original Broadway production by Theodore Bikel.

While The Sound of Music was in tryouts in Boston, Richard Rodgers felt Captain von Trapp should have a song with which he would bid farewell to the Austria he knew and loved. He and Oscar Hammerstein II decided to write an extra song that Captain von Trapp would sing in the Kaltzberg Festival (Salzburg Festival in the film) concert sequence towards the end of the show. As they were writing it, they felt that this song could also utilise the guitar-playing and folk-singing talents of Theodore Bikel, who created the role of Captain von Trapp on Broadway. In the movie, the song was sung surprisingly well by non singer Christopher Plummer.


The Lindsay and Crouse script provides a metaphor of the edelweiss flower, as a symbol of the Austria that Captain von Trapp, Maria and their children knew would live on in their hearts despite the Nazi Anschluss (annexation of their homeland.) As such, the metaphor of this song builds on an earlier scene when Gretl presents a bouquet of edelweiss flowers to Elsa Schraeder during her visit to the von Trapp household. Rodgers provided a haunting waltz-time melody, based on simple romantic Biedermeier era tunes like Hänschen klein and others, to the simple Italian style ritornello lyric that Hammerstein wrote about the appearance of the Edelweiss flower. This song turned out to be one of the most beloved songs in the musical, and also one of the best-loved songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein.

This song was the last song that Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote together; Hammerstein was suffering from stomach cancer, which would take his life nine months after The Sound of Music opened on Broadway.


Although the stage production uses the song only during the concert sequence, Ernest Lehman's screenplay for the film adaptation uses the song twice. Lehman created a scene that makes extra use of the song. This scene, inspired by a line in the original script by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, calls for Captain von Trapp to sing this song with his children in their family drawing room and rediscover the love he felt for them. Lehman also expanded the scope of the song when it was sung in the Salzburg Festival concert scene so that Captain von Trapp and his family would call the crowds to join in the song with him, in defiance of the Nazi soldiers posted around the arena. It is interesting to note that one of the Nazi commandants is shown singing in a baritone, revealing that he cares more for Austria than for the Reich.

The great popularity of the song has led many of its audience to believe that it is an Austrian folk song or even the official national anthem. However, Austria's official anthem is "Land der Berge, Land am Strome". Hugh Fordin in his biography of Oscar Hammerstein speaks of "the ability of the authors to simulate the quality of an authentic folk song..."Ol' Man River" had the ring of a black laborer's song...Thirty years later "Edelweiss was widely believed to be an old Austrian song, though Oscar...composed it for the Sound of Music."