Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Mama loves monsters

At press time, I was still trying to decide what’s on the agenda tonight for the traditional Halloween film festival viewed (practically) every October 31st. As is the custom, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) will certainly be on the bill—but that’s as far as I’ve gotten. I thought about taking a tip from Bob at Bob & Dusty’s Whirl-a-Go-Go, who suggested some great Val Lewton flicks (to his picks I would add The Body Snatcher and The Ghost Ship), and I’ve tossed a few others around: Mad Love (1935), The Man Who Laughs (1928), Waxworks (1924) and Sparrows (1926).

My mother is the real monster-movie nut in the family. Not at the level of, say, The Retropolitan or Tony Kay (check out his 50 Greatest Horror Movies List here), but she takes her horror movies seriously. She’s of the old school, though, she likes mostly the older titles, particularly the Universal films. She started whining about wanting to watch some the last week in September, that’s how bad it is. She knows how to work the DVD player now, but she feigns ignorance because…well, you don’t have to lift a finger if you can prove you’re all thumbs, as I often say. (Loosely translated: “Ivan, prepare a movie so I may watch it.”)

She went through most of the biggies in the Universal catalog this month: Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Dracula's Daughter (1936), Son of Frankenstein (1939), The Wolf Man (1941), Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), Son of Dracula (1943), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945). I was about to dig into the Invisible Man franchise when she stopped me cold, saying she didn’t care for those particular movies.

One night a few weeks ago, she had received a call around 11:30pm from the husband of one of her store managers, who informed her that his wife had passed away due to complications from surgery. Mom then announces to me that she’s not going to be able to get back to sleep, and then belts out a few choruses of I Wanna Watch a Horror Movie Blues. Since the Invisible Man was persona non grata, I suggested taking a look at the Fox Horror Classics box set I had recently purchased, and I picked the one that sounded the most horrific (it contains The Lodger and Hangover Square, two films I don’t really consider horror movies), The Undying Monster (1942). I would like to take this moment to say that I have officially found the cure for insomnia. Monster was only 63 minutes long—but it seemed even longer.

Every weeknight at 8:00pm, my father and I watch Countdown with Keith Olbermann—a practice that drives my mother insane. The reason for this is, Dad pretty much watches news all day long—and by the time Olbermann’s on, my Mom is sick of it. (Countdown is the only television program I watch on a regular basis—but this does not shield me from Mom’s wrath.) So one night, she asks me if she can borrow my portable DVD player so she can watch a movie in her bedroom—I had just located my copy of The Mummy (1932), which she had been bitching at me to find (my DVD filing system isn’t the greatest in the world, and some of my DVD shelves are obscured because there are packing boxes stored in front of them). So I set her up with the movie, and the next morning she’s praising me to the skies—then she wants me to put King Kong (1933) that same evening. (I have a sneaking suspicion my ownership of the portable player is not long for this world.)

I don’t know for certain, but I suspect my mother’s desire to watch monster movies all month long might have had to do with the fact that she knew she would be out of town on Halloween. Perhaps I should schedule The Lodger, Hangover Square and one or two of the silents then, knowing that they wouldn’t be her cup o’tea.

“For happy-ever-aftering than here/In Camelot…”

Singer Robert Goulet has passed away at the age of 73, and at the risk of offending any of his fans by being facetious the only thing I truly remember about the baritone singer is that he was the reason Elvis Presley once shot up a television set with a handgun. That, and the fact that he was unctuous bad guy Quentin Hapsburg in The Naked Gun 2 ½ : The Smell of Fear (1991) and the unctuous Maxie Dean in Beetle Juice (1988). (Oh, and he has a great cameo in Louis Malle’s Atlantic City as a unctuous lounge singer performing at the opening of a new hospital.)

I don’t mean to do Mr. Goulet a disservice, but I’m not old enough to remember his triumph on Broadway as Sir Lancelot opposite Richard Burton and Julie Andrews in Camelot (1960). (Jaime Weinman, who’ll forget more about musicals than I’ll ever learn, is the go-to guy on this portion of Goulet’s career.) I will say this, though: Robert Goulet will be missed because the guy had one hell of a sense of humor and the ability to poke fun at himself (Exhibit A: his wet-your-pants-funny commercial for Emerald nuts).

R.I.P., Mr. Goulet. You will be missed.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"You'll meet Fred and Barney too/yabba dabba doo..." has made quite a few announcements within the last several weeks regarding some classic television programs rumored to be headed for disc. (Once again, most of these shows come straight from the rumor mill—nothing definite has been set.) One such candidate, which I noticed only because it was a favorite in those halcyon cold-cereal-and-footy-pajamas days, is Frankenstein, Jr. and the Impossibles, a popular 1960s Hanna-Barbara Saturday morning hit (1966-68) ultimately yanked from the CBS schedule due to protests from parents who weren’t just satisfied with policing what their kids were watching—they had to monitor other families’ offspring as well. The series was criticized for its allegedly heavy violence content, even though much of the material (as is so often the case) is far tamer than the sugar-bloated kiddie crap programmed on Saturday morning in later years.

I’d like to see Frankenstein, Jr. and the Impossibles on DVD in the same fashion as the recently released Space Ghost and Dino Boy and Birdman and the Galaxy Trio because…well, wallowing in nostalgia is pretty much what this blog is all about. (Though I will say I’d be willing to put Frankie/Impossibles on hold if Warner Home Video would make the much-bandied-about Quick Draw McGraw and Wally Gator projects come to fruition.) A second series on the bargaining table is The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show, a charming spin-off from The Flintstones that allowed the progeny of Fred/Wilma and Barney/Betty Rubble to become teenagers and borrow the voices of Sally Struthers (Pebbles) and Jay North (Bamm-Bamm), who everyone remembers as the adorable little moppet, Dennis the Menace (1959-63). (I mean no offense to Mr. North—I’m sure he’s a swell person—but every time I watch a Dennis rerun I can’t help but think of Clifton Webb’s line in Laura: “I should be sincerely sorry to see my neighbor’s children devoured by wolves.”)

Other shows languishing in the rumor mill include Tales of the Gold Monkey, a short-lived “Indiana Jones”-type adventure on ABC that was frequently entertaining (and was in fact, according to the TVShowsOnDVD blurb, conceived before Raiders of the Lost Ark became a big hit) but only lasted a single season because it kept getting its ass kicked in the ratings by its competitor, NBC’s Real People. The release I’m particularly jazzed about is Father Knows Best, which may be coming some time in 2008 courtesy of Shout! Factory provided the copyright snafu can be untangled. (I did so like the TV series, even though I was more partial to the radio version, where Robert Young’s Jim Anderson was not the wise, omniscient patriarch on TV but a scary individual reminiscent of Terry O’Quinn in The Stepfather.)

Among the definites named by TVShows are Popeye the Sailor – Volume 2: 1938-1943, a follow-up to the first DVD box set released in July (and one of the best releases this year, in my humble opinion), and a second season release of the classic cop comedy Barney Miller from the evil weasels at Sony. If you’ve been wondering why a second season release has been announced after Sony’s been dragging their feet for nearly four years now, it’s because someone who works there was tipped off that I sold my first season copy recently on eBay. (Trust me—it’s the only scenario that makes sense.)

I guess the big DVD announcement this week is the news that the popular Canadian sitcom King of Kensington (starring Al Waxman, familiar to television devotees as Cagney & Lacey’s boss) is coming to DVD November 13th. I’m kidding, of course—I just wanted to see if Brent McKee was reading this. (I’ve never seen Kensington, but a Spanish teacher from college raved about it in such a fashion that you would have thought it was the second coming of situation comedy. It’s made me curious to see it, but since that guy ended up flunking me I’ll take a pass.) No, it’s the news that Newhart—the classic sitcom that ran on CBS from 1982-90—is making its DVD debut, hopefully by the first of October next year.

If I were a ramblin’ gamblin’ man, I’d bet that the idea to bring Newhart to disc is being dictated by the show’s recent rerun success on AmericanLife TV (formerly GoodLife TV—“the place where old TV shows go to die”). I remember being a fan of the series when it first premiered in the fall of 1982 (I was attending Marshall University at the time) and how my roommate hated the show, looking to see if something else was on after M*A*S*H was over. Truth be told, it took a while for Newhart to hit its stride (which might be a bad omen if people decided to wait on later seasons); it was videotaped in its freshman year, wisely choosing to switch to film in the second season—and it often retooled its cast, dropping the more unpopular characters in favor of those who resonated better with the viewing audience. Newhart really became a viewing staple for yours truly when they decided to structure the sitcom along the lines of Green Acres: namely, making Bob Newhart’s “Dick Loudon” the only sane individual in a town populated with lunatics. The funny thing in retrospect is, my father never cared for Newhart (he preferred the comedian’s earlier sitcom, The Bob Newhart Show)…and yet not a day goes by when he’s not referencing the trio of Larry, Darryl and Darryl. (I thought the oddball brothers were funny, albeit in danger of becoming overexposed—they were often greeted with the same tumultuous applause that was the hallmark of the many Miller-Millkis-Boyett productions.) While the Newhart announcement is good to hear, I sort of wish Fox would release the final two seasons of The Bob Newhart Show before starting any more projects.

In closing, a follow-up to something I posted back in July regarding some TV-on-DVD releases from Timeless Media Video (which were supposed to be launched on September 18th but were moved up to October 30th). Checkmate, Cimarron City, Laredo, Restless Gun, Riverboat and The Tall Man have been joined by two other obscure television oddities (and I mean that in a good way). One of them is Tate, a short-lived western series (telecast on NBC in the summer of 1960) that featured David McLean as a Civil War veteran forced to take up gun fighting since his left arm had been shattered by an explosion during his service. (Tate, which replaced The Perry Como Show during the summer along with a sitcom called Happy, is unusual in that it was videotaped—perhaps the only example of a western telecast in that fashion.) The other is Arrest and Trial, a 1963-64 precursor to Law & Order starring Ben Gazzara as dedicated cop Nick Anderson (who would arrest perps in the show’s first 45 minutes) and Chuck Connors as defense lawyer John Egan (who spent the rest of the three-quarter hour getting them off the hook).

Monday, October 29, 2007

Art imitates (my) life

What is to be will be, and what ain't to be just might happen

I headed out last night to the Bayou Café, a Savannah-River Street dive that I suppose could be called my hangout…if I spent more time in the joint…and my buddy “The Chief” mentioned to me that country music legend Porter Wagoner was apparently not long for this world. I was taken aback by this, particular because I had read an AP article (which I had bookmarked, and now appear to have lost) telling of Porter’s recent “comeback” and how he was winning a legion of entirely new (and younger) fans.

So you can imagine how sad I was to learn of his passing this morning at the age of 80. Wagoner was, to my mind, sort of the litmus test for one’s tolerance for country music. He was an unforgettable presence on stage, with his trademark pompadour and rhinestone Nudie suits, but he recorded a litany of country music hits that will live forever, including his breakout smash for RCA in 1955, A Satisfied Mind, and classics like Misery Loves Company (written by Jerry Reed), The Carroll County Accident, Sorrow on the Rocks and The Cold Hard Facts of Life (written by Bill Anderson). Wagoner will also be remembered for launching the career of country music superstar Dolly Parton, whom he hooked up with in 1967 and also recorded a passel o’hits, including If Teardrops Were Pennies, Say Forever You’ll Be Mine and the 1974 chart-topper Please Don’t Stop Loving Me.

I’m a little too young to remember this, but the ‘rents and I actually saw Porter Wagoner perform live at an amusement park in Huntington, WV known as Camden Park. (Porter wasn’t with Dolly then—his first female partner was a gal named Norma Jean, who had a few hits including Let’s Go All the Way and Go Cat Go.) I knew Wagoner primarily from his syndicated TV series, which began in 1960 and was on the air for over twenty years. At the time, I dismissed the man as part of the embarrassing “cornball” coterie (like Buck Owens and the whole Hee Haw gang) that gave a country music a bad name—but as I got much older and wiser, realized that he was truly a first-rate singer and songwriter…and that in the end, it’s the music that counts.

R.I.P., Porter. You will be missed.

While I’m at it, I’d like to apologize for not commenting on the recent passings of Deborah Kerr at age 86 (who I wasn’t really a huge fan of but she stars in Black Narcissus, and that qualifies her to an indulgence in the afterlife) and Joey Bishop at age 89. (I like what Rich Brooks had to say about that “son of a gun” over at Cultureshark: “Remember when TV Land used to do cool little tributes to TV stars that passed away? Not anymore…a token 3-or-4 episode batch of that show, even if exiled to the wee hours, would have been a nice gesture.”). Eddie Copeland reminded me that we’ve also said goodbye to actress Carol Bruce—best known for her semi-regular appearances as “Mama” Carlson on beloved sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati. Rest in peace to them all.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Corrupting the minds of America’s youth

During my hiatus, my younger sister Debbie made a pilgrimage to Savannah, along with her husband and young daughter, for the expressed purpose of attending her twenty-year high school reunion. Mom made arrangements for Deb and my brother-in-law to stay at a Hampton Inn (we’re kind of starved for space here at Rancho Yesteryear—plus sister Kat and her roommate came down for the weekend as well) while making sure my niece stayed at the house in order to spoil her, spend quality time with her only granddaughter.

I don’t get the opportunity to see niece Rachel too often. I did see her in June, when we made our yearly trek to West Virginia for the annual Shreve reunion (a.k.a. “The Driest Weekend of the Year”), so I was really pumped about her visiting. The first night she’s here, she tells my mom she can’t sleep—and with the day she had, with the travel and planes and all, it’s no wonder—so “Nana” gets the idea to let her hang out in my room and watch DVDs on my portable player.

I had the Bozo collection I told you about on top of a waste-high shelf, and upon seeing that she wanted to watch some of the shows. I couldn’t figure out how she knew who Bozo was until she reminded me that I had got her a Bozo doll a few Christmases back—which I did; I bought one at a Cracker Barrel at which the ‘rents and I breakfasted on some long forgotten trip. (Normally, I do not make it a habit to eat at the Barrel because I strenuously disagree with their policy of refusing to allow homosexuals serve me my food, but since I wasn’t paying I made an exception.) She watched about a show and a half of the World’s Famous Clown, and then announced she was going to bed. But then she stops, and looks at some other DVDs on the shelf.

“What’s that one with the moose?” she asks.

Lo and behold, she had found my Rocky and Bullwinkle stash. And like the proud uncle I am, we watched a few of those before she definitely decided that it was time to hit the hay.

Rachel is pretty bright for her age, but many of the jokes from the residents of Frostbite Falls went over her head—this, however, didn’t matter. One of the great things about kids is that they don’t discriminate when it comes to cartoons. We watched a couple of the Bozo shorts—and let me tell you, the animation is lousy—but she didn’t care at all…nor did she go off on a rant (the way I did when I got older) about the limited animation that is Moose and Squirrel. If it’s a moving drawing, they’ll sit and watch with rapt attention. The other thing that I marveled about my niece was that after we tucked a few Bozos under our belt, she knew the theme song by heart. (I’m lucky if I can remember the chorus.)

Rachel had a pretty good stay here in Savannah—she got to go to the beach, swim in my step-Gran’s pool, played some games on the computer (Bombast would pick that weekend to go down, by the way) and watch Rocky and Bullwinkle, Bozo and Fun and Fancy Free (1947) with ol’ Uncle Ivan (again, she couldn’t figure out why I was cackling during the Edgar Bergen-Charlie McCarthy exchanges…but she did recognize Charlie when he first appeared onscreen). The only downer came when my Mom talked with her on the phone Sunday evening after they returned to Iowa: she was in total tears because she had to go home after having so much fun.

“Now, alduce me to introlow myself…I'm sorry…alself me to myduce introlow myslef…introme -to-lose mlow alself…alme to you introself mylowduce…”

Sorry about that…I’m a little nervous, this being my first Blogger post and all. Allow me to introduce myself…my name is Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. For nearly four years now, I have been the author of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, one of the most popular and thought-provoking weblogs in the blogosphere…

Ah…who am I kidding? It’s something to keep me off the streets. Most people have never heard of TDOY, and they’re far better off as a result.

Thrilling Days of Yesteryear was published at Salon Blogs during that four-year span, but the state of blogging at Salon today is not akin to watching people slowly kick off in a cholera ward…it’s that depressing. Furthermore, Salon/Radio UserLand expect me to pay them for the privilege of watching blogs wither and die, and that’s something for which I don’t have the stomach. So I’ve decided to skip out on paying the rent and move to these far more luxurious digs. I really do like it here—plenty of off-street parking…and the schools are better. (Plus, there’s a Subway within walking distance.)

In its halcyon days, TDOY was a weblog devoted to my hobby of collecting OTR (old-time radio), hence the name…but with each passing year, the old-time radio material has kind of fallen by the wayside (and believe me, I get plenty of e-mail about that) and it’s morphed into a general nostalgia blog, with a heavy emphasis on classic movies and television. Occasionally, I sometimes forget myself and include posts about my job (and you’ve lucked out with this, because I don’t have one at the moment) and wacky family life, but I really do try to keep these at a minimum (except for the post that follows). If anything, I will always try to tie these in somehow to movies or TV…though sometimes it can be a bit of a stretch.

If you’re a first-time visitor and are curious as to the subjects discussed here, you can read some of the, posts from the moss-covered Salon Days—there’s an archive of these articles over on the right. Also in that area are some individuals who, I’m proud to say, have encouraged my behavior and whose own weblogs are must-reads. Please stop by and say hi-dy to them when you have some free time (and if you’re reading this blog, you’ve no doubt plenty of it).

Thanks for accepting me as a member of the Blogger community. I’m sure you’ll look back one day and wonder out loud: “What the hell were we thinking?” Nevertheless, it’s an honor all the same.