Thursday, December 23, 2010

Dimming the footlights

I know the ol’ blog’s been a little quiet the past couple of days, for which I truly apologize…but I was kept busy with a project initiated by the good people at Radio Spirits to chronicle those celebrity notables who took their final bows at the curtain this year, with an emphasis on those who had a tangible connection to both old- and new-time radio.  With some much-needed help from the Old-Time Radio Mailing List’s Ron Sayles, who is pretty good at keeping track of both comings and goings of OTR folk, I was able to cobble together a fairly respectable list of those individuals who have sadly left this existence for a hopefully better one.

The drawback to this is that you can never really get caught up with celebrity passings; no sooner did I hand in my work to RS’ Karen Lerner when I learned that announcer Fred Foy, the man whose beckoning to listeners to “return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear” inspired the title of this ‘umble scrap of the blogosphere, has died at the age of 89.  Foy was not only the announcer/narrator on The Lone Ranger for many years but he also worked the other programs in the WXYZ triumvirate, The Green Hornet and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.  In fact, for many OTR fans Foy was THE Lone Ranger announcer despite the fact that several people preceded him in that enviable position.

The obituary of Foy courtesy of had an interesting bit of info: Foy’s daughter Nancy says that her father never got tired of doing the famous Ranger intro, and would oblige anyone with a rendition of it when asked.  I find that positively fascinating.  I mean, I can certainly understand his enthusiasm—it’s great fun to do—but you’d think there would have been a time when he would have gotten fed up with it or snapped at somebody, yelling, “Yeah, I got your ‘great horse Silver’ right here, pally.”

I’ve admittedly been sort of remiss in keeping up with celebrity passings of late; my original scheme was to sort of do a “catch-all” post like I’ve done on previous occasions but sadly I’ve been slacking off since mid-October in this task, and as such missed the demise of some famous names.  This post is an attempt to catch up with the ones that I missed.

Character actress Janet MacLachlan left us on October 11th of this year at the age of 77; I’m old enough to remember that she was one of the four thesps who appeared on the American version of the hit Britcom Love Thy Neighbour (the others being Ron Masak, Joyce Bulifant and Harrison Page) but she also had regular roles on Archie Bunker’s Place (as housekeeper Polly Swanson) and Cagney & Lacey.  MacLachlan also had an important gig in the 1972 Sounder as the teacher who inspires the young David Lee Morgan (Kevin Hooks).

When I heard of actor Simon MacCorkindale’s passing the very first thing that came to mind was “Manimal!”  The 1983 series starred MacCorkindale as a college professor capable of metamorphosing into any animal of his choosing and though it was only on the air for eight episodes it’s become legendary among bad television aficionados.  MacCorkindale had better luck on TV’s Falcon Crest, where he played catting-around attorney Greg Reardon in the final two seasons of that show’s run; he also had substantial roles in the series Counterstrike and Casualty.  MacCorkindale passed away on October 14 at the age of 58.

MacCorkindale’s Falcon Crest co-star Chao-Li Chi died just two days after him on October 16 at the age of 83; the actor played the manservant (also named Chao-Li) to Jane Wyman’s Angela Channing throughout the show’s run, and in addition appeared in such feature films as Big Trouble in Little China, The Joy Luck Club and Wedding Crashers.

For most of his onscreen career, actor Johnny Sheffield answered to either “Boy” or “Bomba”; he played the son of Tarzan and Jane in the M-G-M (and later R-K-O) film series beginning with 1939’s Tarzan Finds a Son! and then when that series was done went over to Monogram/Allied Artists to star in a dozen feature films as Bomba, the Jungle Boy.  But this is sort of giving Sheffield’s film resume short shrift; the actor, who died at the age of 79 on October 15, also appeared in such films as Babes in Arms, Knute Rockne All American and Million Dollar Baby.

I forget precisely where I gleaned the information but I thought I read somewhere that the reason actress Barbara Billingsley wore pearls on Leave it to Beaver—even when she was vacuuming and doing other household chores—was that she felt the necklace took attention away from what she believed to be a freakishly long neck.  (As it turned out, Billingsley wore the bling because of her neck “hollow”—she thought the poils would brighten thing up a tad.)  I was really bummed when I heard about her passing on October 16 at the age of 94, but with the news that Shout! Factory is releasing the sixth and final season of her signature TV series to DVD on March 1 (as a separate release from the already-available six seasons box set) her boob tube legacy is set in stone.  (And her appearance in Airplane! [1980] still has the power to make me giggle uncontrollably to this day—“Now you just hang loose, blood…”)

Three days after Billingsley’s passing (on October 19), we lost another TV icon in actor Tom Bosley, who lives on in boob tube immortality as patriarch Howard Cunningham on the long-running sitcom Happy Days.  Bosley will also be remembered for his TV roles as the titular sleuth of Father Dowling Mysteries and Sheriff Amos Tupper on the mystery series Murder, She Wrote…and for shilling such products as Glad sandwich and garbage bags, Saturn automobiles and outfits like Specialty Merchandise Corporation and LifeBack USA.  Bosley’s distinctive voice was also put to use on such animated productions as Hanna-Barbera’s 1972-74 series Wait Till Your Father Gets Home and a Rankin-Bass Christmas special I haven’t seen in ages, The Stingiest Man in Town.  Tom was also the host of The General Mills Radio Adventure Theater, a 1977 radio anthology series produced by the late Himan Brown to try and recapture the magic of OTR much in the vein of The CBS Radio Mystery Theater.  Bosley passed away at the age of 83

About three weeks back when I was putting together the birthday list for November 30, I was surprised to learn that actor Graham Crowden had his final bow at the curtain on the same day of Bosley’s passing at the age of 87.  Crowden, a Scottish-born thesp who appeared in many of director Lindsay Anderson’s feature films—if…, O Lucky Man! and Britannia Hospital—is probably best known on this side of the pond as eccentric retirement home resident Tom Ballard of the Britcom Waiting for God, one of my father’s favorite shows (faithful TDOY readers are familiar with the fact that Ivan, Sr., is not a fan of what he calls “scripted” television so this is heady praise indeed).

Emmy Award-winning television and radio comedy writer Coleman Jacoby checked out on October 20th at the age of 95; Jacoby got his career start scripting jokes for Bob Hope and Fred Allen’s radio shows before leaping into television and working for Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca on Your Show of Shows.  Teaming up with Arnie Rosen, the two writers then established a fruitful association writing material for Jackie Gleason and Art Carney; they later worked in tandem on The Phil Silvers Show and The Garry Moore Show.  Jacoby once remarked to his partner of their employment with The Great One: “We have a tiger by the tail—a fat, funny tiger.”

Another Emmy Award winner, television and film director Lamont Johnson directed feature films like The McKenzie Break and The Last American Hero and TV-movies along the order of My Sweet Charlie, That Certain Summer, The Execution of Private Slovik, Fear on Trial and Crisis at Central High.  But before settling down behind the camera he was in front of it as an actor…and also in front a microphone; he played the role of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes on a syndicated radio series beginning in 1951.  Johnson passed away at the age of 88 on October 24.

Producer Lisa Blount won an Oscar in 2002 for her 2001 short The Accountant—but she was probably better known for her acting talent, appearing in such films as September 30, 1955, An Officer and a Gentleman, Prince of Darkness and Great Balls of Fire!  She also played the outrageous Bobbi Stakowski on the cult Fox TV series Profit, a show that has been released to DVD.  Blount was found in her Little Rock, AK home on October 25, dead at the age of 53.

As a young couch potato I was a big fan of Captain Kangaroo…and was saddened to learn of the passing of actor James Wall, whom Captain fans knew as Cap’s teacher-neighbor Mr. Baxter.  Wall started out on the show as the program’s stage manager before appearing on-air in 1968; he remained in that capacity until 1978.  Wall was also the stage manager for the U.S. Open Tennis Championship telecasts, and died at the age of 92 on October 27.

The news of actor James MacArthur’s death at the age of 72 the following day was also a bit of a jolt; MacArthur’s signature series, Hawaii Five-O, was a huge favorite of my mom’s and I’d often watch it with her as a youngster—puzzled at the thinking that allowed me to sit down and watch rampant homicides in the 50th state but refused to expose me to the admittedly salty language and controversial themes of the sitcom All in the Family.  Jimmy’s character of second-in-command Danny Williams, or “Danno,” as head man Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) referred to him, made it possible for the phrase “Book ‘em, Danno” to enter the American lexicon.  MacArthur was also a familiar face in many a Disney film of yore, notably The Light in the Forest, Third Man on the Mountain and Swiss Family Robinson.

Actress Jill Clayburgh, who was nominated for Best Actress Academy Awards for her roles in 1978’s An Unmarried Woman and 1979’s Starting Over, said farewell at the age of 66 on November 5; Woman is a movie that has received raves and plaudits from a great many of my fellow cinephiles but my dirty, shameful secret is that I’ve never seen the film.  I have seen Clayburgh in The Terminal Man, Silver Streak, Semi-Tough and First Monday in October and she was first-rate in all of them.

William Self is a name that may not be instantly recognized by many people but he’s held in particularly high regard here at TDOY because as a program executive for CBS-TV he was in charge of developing new series and one of those pilots ultimately became known as The Twilight Zone.  Shortly after that, he was hired by 20th Century-Fox Television as an executive producer and during his stay made the company one of the top suppliers of television programming, bar none.  Some of the programs instituted under Self were Peyton Place (the first prime-time soap opera), Batman (the first prime-time series based on a comic book superhero) and Julia (the first weekly TV series to feature a black woman as the main character).  Other hit shows that Self had a hand in include Daniel Boone, 12 O’Clock High, Voyage of the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Land of the Giants and Room 222.  Self passed away November 15th at the age of 89.

I’d be willing to bet that the state flag of West Virginia flew at half-mast on the day (November 28, at the age of 84) that Leslie Nielsen shuffled off this mortal coil; Nielsen, who did a number of promotional spots for the Mountain State’s Lottery back in 2001 was made an honorary Mountaineer the following year by then-Gov. Bob Wise for his efforts.  Before Leslie’s sidesplitting performance in the movie Airplane! and subsequent appearances in the TV series Police Squad! and the Naked Gun movies (a career choice that led Roger Ebert to dub Nielsen “the Olivier of comedy”), he was a straight-arrow actor known for such films as Forbidden Planet and The Sheepman and TV dramas like The New Breed, Dr. Kildare, Peyton Place and The Bold Ones (“The Protectors”).  I can’t help but snicker at the thought of a generation who laughed at Nielsen as Frank Drebin going back to some of the black-and-white stuff he did in the 1950s and 1960s and discovering that while Leslie was funny in those it wasn’t intentional.

If you’ve taken the time to sit down and watch any of the episodes from the DVD releases of classic TV series like The Untouchables, The Fugitive, The Invaders or Cannon chances are you’ve probably seen the name of Alan Armer receiving a producer or executive producer credit.  Writer-director-producer Armer went to work for Quinn Martin Productions in 1959 after success on such shows as My Friend Flicka and Broken Arrow, and his involvement on The Fugitive was so instrumental to its success that the program won an Emmy for Outstanding Dramatic Series…and when he left the show in its final season the seams on Fuge really started to show.   Other series that benefited from Armer’s deft touch included the underrated oater Lancer and the short-lived 1973 series The Magician; we lost a true TV great on December 5 at the age of 88.

When I learned of character actress Neva Patterson’s passing on December 14 at the age of 90 via The Obit Patrol, the first thing that leapt into my mind was “That’s the evil dame from V!”  Patterson didn’t play one of the disguised lizard aliens in the original 1983 miniseries; she was Eleanor Dupres, mother of “freedom fighter” Mike Donovan (Marc Singer) who was perfectly willing to kowtow to the “Visitors” and their agenda if it meant power for her.  Evil…eeeeevilll!!!  But Patterson’s show business resume is much longer than that—she had high-profile roles in such films as An Affair to Remember (as the woman Cary Grant dumps for Deborah Kerr), Desk Set (as Spencer Tracy’s uptight assistant), David and Lisa and The Buddy Holly Story (as Ma Holly) and regular gigs on TV’s The Governor and J.J. and the underrated James Garner western Nichols (as Ma Ketcham, the other role for which she’s remembered here at TDOY).  (She later turned up in a memorable Bret Maverick episode as Emma Crittenden in “The Mayflower’s Women Historical Society,” and it was fun to see her get to work with Garner again.)  Before getting a foothold in films, Patterson made the rounds on radio with appearances on such shows as The Cavalcade of America and You are There.

Speaking of OTR roots, while cinephiles are aware of Blake Edwards’s lengthy movie resume that includes Operation Petticoat, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Days of Wine and Roses, Experiment in Terror and—of course—the Pink Panther movie series they might not know that Edwards created two radio detective shows that later made the successful transition to TV—The Line-Up and Richard Diamond, Private Detective.  He also created the TV series Peter Gunn and Mr. Lucky, both programs that utilized the music of Henry Mancini, with whom Edwards collaborated on many a feature film.  Edwards called it a wrap on December 15 at the age of 88.

Lastly, learning of actor/standup comedian Steve Landesburg’s death on December 20 at the age of 74 was a real blow because…well, this sort of goes back to my earlier observation about my father’s dislike of “scripted” television.  Papa does not embrace the sitcom in the manner that I do but he was a fan of Barney Miller when it was on the air and I used to watch it religiously with him…and Landesburg, who played the cerebral Detective Arthur P. Dietrich was my favorite because so many of my friends told me that I reminded them of him (the deadpan portion, I’m guessing—I’m not really all that bright).  Not that I’m throwing out major hints to any DVD companies (*cough* Sony *cough*) but it would nice to see a fourth (and a fifth…and a sixth…etc.) season of Miller on the schedule sometime soon so that future generations can remember Steve’s work on one of the best sitcoms in TV history.

There have been a few other celebrity demises since mid-October that I left out of this post only because I’m not as familiar with their work as I should be or they didn’t make the impact that the ones I listed here did…but I will make certain they get their due in a follow-up.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy birthday, Audrey Totter!

When I sat down this morning to work on today’s birthday list (I know, I’m running behind—not enough hours in the day) I was genuinely pleased to learn that one of my favorite actresses is still with us and is celebrating her ninety-second natal anniversary.  Audrey Mary Totter was born on this date (though some sources say 1917) in Joliet, IL and if you’ve logged as many hours as I have watching classic film noirs you’ll recognize her right off as one of the silver screen’s premiere “bad girls” in movies like Main Street After Dark, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Unsuspected and Tension.

Totter’s show business career started in the footlights, appearing in productions in Chicago and New York…and she also logged quite a bit of time in front of a radio microphone—but more on that in a sec.  She signed a seven-year contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the 1940s, and started appearing in B-pics like Dangerous Partners and The Hidden Eye—but M-G-M was grooming her for bigger things, which is how she landed a small but noticeable part in Postman as the blonde floozy who tries to pick up Frank Chambers (John Garfield).  She also nabbed another high profile part in the studio’s 1946 production of Lady in the Lake, which starred Robert Montgomery as Raymond Chandler’s literary creation Philip Marlowe.  Lake, not particularly well received by audiences at the time, cost Audrey a part that may have made her a better known name—she was supposed to play opposite Burt Lancaster in the Universal Studios production of The Killers but filming on Lake took longer than expected and she lost out to Ava Gardner.

Audrey may have specialized in floozy and tramp roles but she got the opportunity to play the good girl on occasion.  She acquitted herself nicely as the supportive psychiatrist trying to help a shell-shocked Robert Taylor in 1947’s High Wall, and played Robert Ryan’s devoted girlfriend (my personal favorite Totter performance) in the 1949 noir classic The Set-Up.  Other memorable Totter turns include roles in The Saxon Charm, Alias Nick Beal, The Sellout and Women’s Prison—but as the demand for “bad girls” started to wane, Audrey started getting assigned the kind of family-friendly features that may have been M-G-M’s forte but weren’t suited to her talents.  Looking at the big picture, Totter was giving “A” list performances but was trapped in “B” list films.

In July 1951, Totter began starring in a radio sitcom entitled Meet Millie, a program that soon became so popular CBS wanted to take it to television…but because Audrey was still under contract to M-G-M (who made frowny faces at the thought of their employees appearing on the small screen) she had to make room for Elena Verdugo as TV’s Millie, and Totter eventually dropped out of the radio version as well.  After leaving M-G-M, however, Totter made up for lost time by appearing regularly on such TV programs as Cimarron City (she was boarding house owner Beth Purcell) and Our Man Higgins (as the title character’s employer, Alice MacRoberts).  In the 1970s, Audrey replaced Jayne Meadows as the head nurse on the hit doctor drama Medical Center (as Nurse Wilcox), and achieved co-star billing on the show as a result.  Totter’s last credit was on an episode of Murder, She Wrote on 1987.

Thrilling Days of Yesteryear wishes Ms. Totter the happiest of birthdays…as well as these distinguished celebrity notables who share her day:

Harvey Firestone (1868-1938) – The automobile tire guy

Charley Grapewin (1869-1956) – Stage, screen and television character actor whose vehicles include Heroes for Sale, Judge Priest, Alice Adams, The Petrified Forest, The Wizard of Oz and The Grapes of Wrath

James Kevin McGuinness (1893-1950) – Motion picture screenwriter-producer whose film contributions include Tarzan and His Mate, What Every Woman Knows, China Seas, Arsène Lupin Returns, Men of Boys Town and Rio Grande

Irene Dunne (1898-1990) – Stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include Show Boat, Theodora Goes Wild, The Awful Truth, My Favorite Wife, Anna and the King of Siam and I Remember Mama

Albert Dekker (1905-1968) – Stage, screen and television character actor whose vehicles include Dr. Cyclops, The Killers, Gentleman’s Agreement, East of Eden, Kiss Me Deadly and The Wild Bunch

Dennis Morgan (1908-1994) – Stage, screen and television actor-singer whose vehicles include Kitty Foyle, In This Our Life, The Hard Way, Christmas in Connecticut, Two Guys from Milwaukee and This Woman is Dangerous

Patti Pickens (1914-1995) – Female pop vocalist who, with siblings Helen and Jane, formed the popular Pickens Sisters trio

Everett Greenbaum (1919-1999) – Veteran television and film screenwriter who, in tandem with partner Jim Fritzell, wrote for such series as Mister Peepers, The Real McCoys, The Andy Griffith Show and M*A*S*H

George Roy Hill (1921-2002) – Academy Award-winning motion picture and television director whose oeuvre includes The World of Henry Orient, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Slaughterhouse-Five, The Sting, Slap Shot and The World According to Garp

Tom Gries (1922-1977) – Emmy Award-winning motion picture and television director whose oeuvre includes Will Penny, 100 Rifles, The Hawaiians, Breakout, Helter Skelter and Breakheart Pass

Charita Bauer (1922-1985) – Television actress best known for playing matriarch Bertha “Bert” Miller Bauer on the TV soap Guiding Light

Rod Amateau (1923-2003) – Radio and television comedy writer who later became a successful producer of such shows as The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, The New Phil Silvers Show, My Mother the Car and The Dukes of Hazzard

Charlie Callas (1924-     ) – Standup comic and actor who’s best known as barkeep Malcolm Argos on the 1975-78 crime drama Switch

Mala Powers (1931-2007) – Stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include Outrage, Cyrano de Bergerac, City That Never Sleeps, City Beneath the Sea, Rage at Dawn and The Colossus of New York

John Hillerman (1932-     ) – Stage, screen and television character actor best known to television audiences as the oh-so-proper Higgins on Magnum, PI; his other TV gigs include Ellery Queen, The Betty White Show, One Day at a Time and Valerie’s Family

Kim Weston (1939-     ) – R&B/gospel vocalist who’s best known for her 1966 duet with Marvin Gaye, It Takes Two

Tommy Cole (1941-     ) – Mouseketeer turned Emmy Award-winning makeup artist

Pamela Austin (1941-     ) – Commercial model who dabbled a bit in acting, appearing in episodes of TV shows and such films as Rome Adventure, Hootenanny Hoot, Kissin’ Cousins and The Perils of Pauline

Angel Tompkins (1943-     ) – Commercial model who dabbled a bit in acting, appearing in episodes of TV shows and such films as I Love My Wife, Prime Cut, Little Cigars, The Don is Dead and The Bees

Jean Fergusson (1944-     ) – English stage, screen and television actress best known here at TDOY as the voluptuous Marina from the Britcom Last of the Summer Wine

Dick Wolf (1946-     ) – Emmy Award-winning television producer who’s best known as the individual behind Law & Order and its various spin-offs and permutations

John Spencer (1946-2005) – Emmy Award-winning stage, screen and television character actor best known for his TV roles as maverick attorney Tommy Mullaney on L.A. Law and chief of staff Leo McGarry on The West Wing

Alan Parsons (1948-     ) – British audio engineer, musician and record producer whose name is familiar as the brains behind the pop/rock music group The Alan Parsons Project

Claudia Jennings (1949-1979) – 1970 Playboy Playmate of the Year who later drifted into acting; her vehicles include The Love Machine, Group Marriage, 40 Carats, The Great Texas Dynamite Chase, Moonshine County Express and Deathsport

Jenny Agutter (1952-     ) – English stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include The Railway Children, Walkabout, Logan’s Run, Equus, Amy and An American Werewolf in London

Michael Badalucco (1954-     ) – Emmy Award-winning stage, screen and television actor best known as pugnacious attorney Jimmy Berluti on TV’s The Practice

Blanche Baker (1956-     ) – Emmy Award-winning stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include The Seduction of Joe Tyner, French Postcards, Sixteen Candles, Shakedown, The Handmaid’s Tale and TV’s Holocaust; daughter of Carroll Baker

Anita Ward (1957-     ) – Pop music vocalist best known for this ditty:

Joyce Hyser (1957-     ) – Stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include The Hollywood Knights, Valley Girl, This is Spinal Tap, Just One of the Guys, Greedy and TV’s L.A. Law

Billy Bragg (1957-     ) – English alternative rock musician

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Coming distractions: March 2011 on TCM

The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ (ka-ching!) has the remaining schedule up for March of next year (the first three days of the month, of course, belong to TCM's 31 Days of Oscar) and as for the individual who once observed that variety is the spice of life—well, they weren’t just whistlin’ Dixie.  The most noteworthy announcement is that the channel will continue the films in the Bowery Boys film series on March 5 at 10:30am…with Fighting Trouble (1956), the first of six films in the series that replaced departing delinquent Leo Gorcey with one-time East Side Kid Stanley Clements in the role of Stanislaus “Duke” Covelskie.  The last time TCM showed these movies they left the Clements-Hall vehicles off the schedule—personally, this is not a total loss as far as I’m concerned since these entries are among the weakest of the bunch; but for Bowery Boys completists they’re a must-have.  (I sent Brent Walker, co-author of The Films of the Bowery Boys, a heads-up on Facebook when I learned of this development and he was positively ecstatic.)  The remaining films to be shown in March will be Hot Shots (1956; March 12), Hold That Hypnotist (1957; March 19) and Spook Chasers (1957; March 26).

I’m pretty jazzed about TCM’s Star of the Month for March, though—it’s none other than The Platinum Blonde herownself, Jean Harlow.  Nineteen films are on the schedule every Tuesday night beginning March 8, and several of these have not yet been inducted into the dusty Thrilling Days of Yesteryear archives, so I’ll have to make sure I’m good on blank DVDs before then.  Here’s the rundown on Harlean Harlow Carpenter’s flicks:

March 8 – Tuesday
08:00pm Red-Headed Woman (1932)
09:30pm Three Wise Girls (1932)
10:45pm Riffraff (1936)
12:30am Suzy (1936)
02:15am City Lights (1931) (Harlow appears in this film as an extra)

March 15 – Tuesday
08:00pm The Public Enemy (1931)
09:30pm Bombshell (1933) (also showing at 06:15am on Sunday, March 20)
11:15pm Libeled Lady (1936)
01:00am Reckless (1935)
02:45am Personal Property (1937)

March 22 – Tuesday
08:00pm Wife vs. Secretary (1936)
09:45pm Red Dust (1932)
11:15pm Hold Your Man (1933)
01:00am China Seas (1935)
02:30am The Secret Six (1931)
04:00am Saratoga (1937)

March 29 – Tuesday
08:00pm Dinner at Eight (1933)
10:00pm The Girl From Missouri (1934)
11:30pm Platinum Blonde (1931)
01:15am The Beast Of The City (1932)

That having been announced, here are a few of the highlights on TCM’s schedule for March—keeping in mind, of course, that the offerings are tentative and are subject to change at the channel’s merest whim.  (All times are EST.)

Friday, March 4 – You know, if TCM ever puts me in charge of planning a movie tribute during the day in honor of John Garfield’s birthday, one movie that I most assuredly will not put in the lineup will be Tortilla Flat (1942; 7:45am).  But Tee Cee Em isn’t me, and with the exception of what I consider to be Julie’s cinematic low point they have a nice slate that includes They Made Me a Criminal (1939; 6am), Destination Tokyo (1943; 9:30am), Between Two Worlds (1944; 12noon), Pride of the Marines (1945; 2pm), Nobody Lives Forever (1946; 4:15pm) and The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946; 6pm).

Saturday, March 5 – With TCM Essentials’ showing of Cool Hand Luke (1967) at 8:15pm, viewers will spend the rest of the evening listening to the sound of the men working on a chain…gaaaaang.  Following Luke is The Defiant Ones (1958) at 10:15pm, then I Am A Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932; 12mid), the underrated Hell's Highway (1932; 1:45am), Chain Gang (1950; 3am) and Deep Valley (1947; 4:15am)

Sunday, March 6 – The channel presents a couple of revisionist looks at the world’s greatest detective beginning at 8:00pm with The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976), based on Nicholas Meyer’s 1974 pastiche novel which finds Holmes undergoing treatment from Dr. Sigmund Freud for that troublesome cocaine addiction of his.  This is followed at 10:00pm by Gene Wilder’s sporadically amusing movie parody The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975).

TCM’s Silent Sunday Nights has the John Barrymore version of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1920) scheduled, which is one of the first silent movies I saw as a young tad.  Had I know this was on tap for March I wouldn’t have spent the $10 for the Kino DVD version (okay, it was on sale…but that’s not the point).

Monday, March 7 – Get ready for plenty of buckling swashes and swordplay when TCM unveils another silent classic from my youth, The Mark of Zorro (1920), at 6:15am…then follows it with Fortunes of Captain Blood (1950; 8:15am), The Three Musketeers (1948; 10am), Mask of the Avenger (1951; 12:30pm), Scaramouche (1952; 2:00p), The Sea Hawk (1940; 4:15pm) and The Black Swan (1942; 6:30pm).

Then at 8pm, TCM will kick off an evening of…well, I’m not certain what the theme is but they’re going to show the 1931 pre-Code goodie Safe in Hell, and since I missed it the last time it was on I’ll ask no more questions.

Tuesday, March 8 – Birthday girl and TDOY Academy Award-winning actress goddess Claire Trevor is feted with a tribute of her films beginning at 6am with Valley of the Giants (1938) (ho-ho-ho).  Allegheny Uprising (1939; 7:30am), Texas (1941; 9am), The Desperadoes (1943; 10:45), Crack-Up (1946; 12:15pm), Borderline (1950; 2pm), The Stranger Wore a Gun (1953; 3:30pm) and Two Weeks In Another Town (1962; 5pm) all follow for a nearly complete day of Claire fun.

Wednesday, March 9 – Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like Rome…and there’s no place like City of Lights and surrounding areas for romance, as showings of Enchanted April (1935; 6am), Indiscretion of An American Wife (1954; 7:15am), Mafioso (1962; 8:30am), Light in The Piazza (1962; 10:30am), Rome Adventure (1962; 12:15pm), The Roman Spring Of Mrs. Stone (1961; 2:15pm), Ten Thousand Bedrooms (1957; 4:15pm) and Summertime (1955; 6:15pm) will attest.

Come evening, take a dip in the secretarial pool with a festival that spotlights Ask Any Girl (1959; 8pm), More Than a Secretary (1936; 10pm), This Could Be the Night (1957; 11:30pm), She's Got Everything (1938; 1:30am), Dancing Co-Ed (1939; 3am) and Men Are Such Fools (1938; 4:30am).

Thursday, March 10 – When celebrating director Gregory La Cava’s natal anniversary you’d expect TCM to go with the better-known films of his oeuvre like My Man Godfrey (1936) and Stage Door (1937)—but there are some real surprises scheduled today; a tribute that includes Laugh and Get Rich (1931; 6:45am), Smart Woman (1931; 8am), The Age of Consent (1932; 9:15am), Symphony of Six Million (1932; 10:30am), Bed of Roses (1933; 12:15pm), The Half Naked Truth (1933; 1:30pm), What Every Woman Knows (1934; 3pm), She Married Her Boss (1935; 4:30pm) and Living in a Big Way (1947; 6pm).

Friday, March 11 – A day of real rarities in store for TCM fans; first, Ten Cents a Dance (1931), a film directed by everyone’s favorite wheel chaired ham (though this is before he was in that chair, Blanche), Lionel Barrymore—I haven’t seen this, but it apparently involves taxi dancing and Barbara Stanwyck so it won’t take much to get me to watch.

At noon, the 1938 musical comedy Start Cheering is on the schedule—Jimmy Durante is the star but it’s also got the Three Stooges in the cast so done, sold, Bob’s your uncle.  This is followed by Sweetheart of the Campus (1941), a tune-filled delight featuring “America’s favorite young couple,” Ozzie Nelson and Harriet Hilliard (directed by Edward Dmytryk and scripted by Jack Armstrong creator Robert Hardy Andrews!).

Then at 5:45pm, a Judy Holliday vehicle that I haven’t seen in eons—1956’s Full of Life, which also stars Italian comic actor Salvatore Baccaloni and TDOY fave Richard Conte.  TCM then rents space in the hall that evening for a three-film tribute to director Lewis Milestone’s war films: All Quiet on the Western Front (1930; 8pm), A Walk in the Sun (1946; 10:30pm) and Pork Chop Hill (1959; 12:30am).

Saturday, March 12TCM Essentials shows the Maurice Chevalier—“ev’ry leetle breeze seems to whisper Louise”—sorry about that…musical Love Me Tonight (1932) at 8pm, which ushers in a mini-festival of Rouben Mamoulian-directed films: The Gay Desperado (1936; 10pm), We Live Again (1934; 11:45pm), City Streets (1931; 1:15am) and Queen Christina (1933; 3:45am).

Sunday, March 13 – The channel presents a “Story Arc” beginning at 8pm with Joan of Arc (1948), then followed by Saint Joan (1957; 10:30am), the silent masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928; 12:30am), Le Proces de Jeanne d'Arc (1962; 2am) and The Story Of Mankind (1957; 3:15am—with Joan played in a vignette by Hedy Lamarr).  And if you happen to be up at five in the a.m. don’t miss one of Harold Lloyd’s underrated feature films, For Heaven’s Sake (1926).

Monday, March 14 – TCM offers up a birthday tribute to Sir Cedric Hardwicke by rolling out Green Light (1937; 6am), Valley of the Sun (1942; 7:30am), The Cross of Lorraine (1943; 9am), Tycoon (1947; 10:45am), Mr. Imperium (1951; 1pm), Diane (1956; 2:30pm), Gaby (1956; 4:30pm) and The Power and the Prize (1956; 6:15pm).  (You cannot imagine how long I’ve waited to see Lorraine on the schedule again.)

Tuesday, March 15 – Bask in the blandness that is George Brent when TCM remembers his birthday and schedules a mini-festival that spotlights The Rich Are Always With Us (1932; 6:45am), So Big! (1932; 8am), They Call It Sin (1932; 9:30am), Week-End Marriage (1932; 10:45am), From Headquarters (1933; 12noon), The Painted Veil (1934; 1:15pm), Stamboul Quest (1934; 2:45pm), The Right To Live (1935; 4:15pm) and South Of Suez (1940; 6pm).  (And before I’m subjected to the ire from George’s many fans I just want to say that I do like him in The Spiral Staircase [1946] but TCM never shows it.)

Wednesday, March 16 – Here’s one you might want to set aside for the TiVo or DVR—TCM will show the 1971 cult classic The Projectionist starring my Facebook pal Chuck McCann and Rodney Dangerfield at 11:30pm.

Thursday, March 17 – Faith and begorrah, while the Shreves are sittin’ down to a meal of corned beef and cabbage TCM has a slate of Irish-themed classic films on the schedule kicking off at 6am with My Wild Irish Rose (1947)—followed by The Irish in Us (1935; 8am), Finian's Rainbow (1968; 9:30am), Irene (1940; 12noon), Three Cheers for the Irish (1940; 2pm), Young Cassidy (1965; 4pm) and The Daughter of Rosie O'Grady (1950; 6pm),  Later in the wee a.m. hours, one of my favorite cult films, Seconds (1966) will be on tap…which after all those tales of the auld sod will probably be bone dry.

Friday, March 18 – Before I was introduced to movies like The Gay Divorcee (1934), Top Hat (1935) and Lost Horizon (1937), Edward Everett Horton was the guy who narrated the “Fractured Fairy Tales” on Rocky and His Friends.  (Well, that and he was “Roaring Chicken” on F Troop.)  None of these are on his birthday tribute today—you’ll just have to make do with Kiss Me Again (1931; 6:30am), Lonely Wives (1932; 7:45am), Roar of the Dragon (1932; 9:15am), Easy to Love (1934; 10:30am), Sing and Like It (1934; 11:45am), Smarty (1934; 1pm), Biography of a Bachelor Girl (1935; 2:15pm), Going Highbrow (1935; 3:45pm), In Caliente (1935; 5pm) and Hitting a New High (1938; 6:30pm).

And the fact that we live in a country than can schedule The Boogens (1981; 2am) and Ghoulies (1985; 3:45am) later in the day after Horton’s fete just goes to show…well, actually I’m not sure what it shows—but it must mean something.

Saturday, March 19 – You know, it was only just the other day when I was saying to myself: “Wouldn’t it be neat if TCM could schedule a whole bunch of movies featuring one of my pretend girlfriends, Maureen O’Sullivan?”  And it’s like somebody was in Atlanta listening to me, because after the TCM Essentials showing of Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) at 8pm the channel follows it with such Maureen classics as Tarzan, the Ape Man (1932; 10pm), The Devil Doll (1936; 12mid), The Tall T (1957; 1:30am), The Voice Of Bugle Ann (1936; 3am) and Never Too Late (1965; 4:15am).

Sunday, March 20 – “…at last we’ve got a Senator who can really sing and dance…”  Sorry about that—anytime I see a George Murphy film on TCM’s schedule that old Tom Lehrer parody starts running through my head.  And to be honest, it should run three times because the channel will show The Public Menace (1935) at 8pm, followed by The Women Men Marry (1937) at 9:30 and Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940) at 10:45pm.

Then on TCM Sunday Nights at 12:30am, one of director William Wellman’s few surviving silent features, 1926’s The Boob (with Joan Crawford).  A Jean-Luc Godard double feature of Band of Outsiders (1964) and Breathless (1959) follows at 2 and 4 am, respectively.

Monday, March 21 – They used to call him “One-Take Woody”—but don’t get the idea that just because birthday boy W.S. Van Dyke II filmed them fast that you can watch them the same way; no, it’ll be a mostly all-day fete with Rosalie (1937; 6am), They Gave Him a Gun (1937; 8:15am), Stand Up and Fight (1939; 10am), I Take This Woman (1940; 12noon), The Feminine Touch (1941; 1:45pm), Rage In Heaven (1941; 3:30pm), I Married an Angel (1942; 5pm) and Journey for Margaret (1942; 6:30pm) all on the schedule.

In the evening hours, TCM has a rarity scheduled in Caught (1949; 10:15pm), a film noir that was helmed by French director Max Ophuls.  TDOY actor god Robert Ryan is in this one as a multi-gazillionaire that he based on real-life rich guy Howard Hughes…who didn’t even mind when Ryan told him what he was going to do.

Tuesday, March 22 – Happy birthday, Karl Malden!  Celebrate the Oscar-winning actor’s natal anniversary with a lineup featuring Hot Millions (1968; 6am), Come Fly With Me (1963; 8am), Gypsy (1962; 10am), The Cincinnati Kid (1965; 12:30pm), The Sellout (1951; 2:15pm), A Streetcar Named Desire (1951; 3:45pm) and Baby Doll (1956; 6pm).

Wednesday, March 23 – Back in September, I participated in a blogathon sponsored by Blog Cabins entitled 30 dAyS oF cRaZy, and wrote up Sam Corridor’s classic pulpy cult thriller Shock Corridor (1963).  If by some odd chance you’ve never seen it, TCM will accommodate you with a showing at 1:30pm.

That evening, it’s a salute to the colorful chronicler of “guys and dolls” we know as Damon Runyon.  Guys and Dolls (1955), in fact, kicks things off at 8pm followed by Little Miss Marker (1934; 10:45pm), A Slight Case of Murder (1938; 12:15am), Pocketful of Miracles (1961; 2am) and The Big Street (1942; 4:30am).

Thursday, March 24 – TCM will show the only film to pair Spencer Tracy and Bette Davis, 20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1933) at 6am…so I can cross this one off my Warner Archive wish list.

Friday, March 25 – Help blow out the candles on director David Lean’s birthday cake with a selection of his feature films: This Happy Breed (1944; 6:15am), Brief Encounter (1945; 8:15am), Great Expectations (1946; 9:45am), Oliver Twist (1948; 11:45am), TDOY fave Hobson's Choice (1954; 1:45pm) and Doctor Zhivago (1965; 3:45pm).

Saturday, March 26 – The classic film that my best friend the Duchess says mirrors the relationship with her daughter (well, without the whole nasty murder angle) will be shown on TCM Essentials at 8pmMildred Pierce (1945).  Afterwards, a nice little lineup of Joanie films: Daisy Kenyon (1947; 10pm), This Woman Is Dangerous (1952; 12mid), Goodbye, My Fancy (1951; 2am) and The Damned Don't Cry (1950; 4am).

Tuesday, March 29 – With the exception of The Robin Hood of El Dorado (1936) and Adam Had Four Sons (1941) at 7:30 and 9:00am respectively, TCM celebrates Oscar-winning actor Warner Baxter’s natal anniversary with the movie series that put groceries on old Bax’s table in the 1940s: Crime Doctor!  The lineup will include Crime Doctor (1943; 10:30am), The Crime Doctor's Strangest Case (1943; 11:45am), The Crime Doctor's Courage (1945; 1pm), The Crime Doctor's Warning (1945; 2:15pm), Crime Doctor's Manhunt (1946; 3:30pm), The Crime Doctor's Gamble (1947; 4:45pm) and The Crime Doctor's Diary (1949; 6pm)—that last one meaning that you’ll be able to enjoy the song stylings of Whit “Speak! I know you have a civil tongue in your head because I sewed it back myself!” Bissell just as much as Mike “Mr. Television” Doran and I did.  (For mini-reviews of the Crime Doctor series, click here.)

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Happy birthday, Little Jimmy Dickens!

Country Music Hall of Fame member James Cecil Dickens—better known to Grand Ole Opry fans as “Little Jimmy Dickens” turns ninety years old today, and so it’s fitting that he should be in Thrilling Days of Yesteryear’s birthday spotlight.  I’m proud to say that Jimmy and I both hail from the Mountain State; Dickens was born in Bolt, WV and began his musical career performing country music on a local station while attending West Virginia University in the 1930s.  The performer in him soon decided to shelve higher learning and go into the business full time, and so he went out on the road as “Jimmy the Kid.”  It was the King of Country Music, Roy Acuff, who gave Jimmy his big break after hearing him on a Saginaw, MI radio station in 1948—Acuff introduced Dickens to some people from both Columbia Records and the Opry and was signed up in August (Opry) and September (Columbia).  Because of his short stature (he was 4’11”), he decided to bill himself as “Little” Jimmy Dickens.

Dickens’ musical repertoire consisted of country songs with a novelty flavor, and he placed such tunes as Country Boy, My Heart’s Bouquet, A-Sleepin’ at the Foot of the Bed, Hillbilly Fever and Out Behind the Barn in the Top Ten between 1949 and 1954.  Another Top Ten smash, Take an Old Cold ‘Tater (and Wait), inspired singer-songwriter Hank Williams to nickname Dickens “Tater”; Williams held Jimmy in such high regard that he originally penned his classic Hey, Good Lookin’ for Dickens to record, confident that it would be a hit.  But a week later, Hank changed his mind and recorded the song on his own, jokingly telling Jimmy that the song was too good for him.

After his initial burst of chart activity, Jimmy had to wait a while for another big hit to come his way, which finally happened in 1962 with the Top Ten The Violet and the Rose.  Three years later he would score his biggest career hit, a song that topped the country charts and also went to #15 on the Pop music charts, May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose.

An enthusiastic, energy-filled performer who is beloved by his fans, Jimmy continues to live up to one of his signature songs—I’m Little, But I’m Loud—and with the passing of Hank Locklin last year, is the oldest living member of the Grand Ole Opry as of this post.  TDOY wishes “Tater” the happiest of natal anniversaries…and we haven’t forgotten these fellow celebrants, either…

Ralph Richardson (1902-1983) – Stage, screen and television actor whose vehicles include The Fallen Idol, The Heiress, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Doctor Zhivago, The Wrong Box and Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes

H. Allen Smith (1907-1976) – Journalist-humorist whose works include Low Man on a Totem Pole and Life in a Putty Knife Factory

Bill Carlisle (1908-2003) – Country music singer-songwriter who performed with his older brother Cliff as the Carlisles; later became a solo artist and scored this big novelty hit:

Édith Piaf (1915-1963) – French chanteuse and pop culture icon considered by some to be that country’s greatest popular singer

Roy Ward Baker (1916-2010) – English motion picture and television director whose oeuvre includes The October Man, Don’t Bother to Knock, A Night to Remember, Quatermass and the Pit, Scars of Dracula and Asylum

Paul Brinegar (1917-1995) – Stage, screen and television character actor beloved by legions of couch potatoes as crotchety cattle drive cook Wishbone on TV’s Rawhide; also had regular gigs on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Lancer and Matt Houston

David Susskind (1920-1987) – Emmy Award-winning television, movie and theatrical producer and TV talk show host best known for producing such series as Way Out, East Side/West Side and N.Y.P.D. and for moderating the landmark talk show Open End

Eamonn Andrews (1922-1987) – Irish television presenter and personality who’s best known as the host of the UK versions of What’s My Line? and This is Your Life

Gordon Jackson (1923-1980) – Scottish-born stage, screen and television character who’s perhaps best remembered as butler Hudson on TV’s Upstairs, Downstairs and George Cowley on The Professionals

Edmund Purdom (1924-2009) – English-born stage, screen and television actor whose vehicles include Julius Caesar, The Egyptian, The King’s Thief, The Yellow Rolls-Royce and TV’s Sword of Freedom

Gary Morton (1924-1999) – Standup comedian who, if you’d ever seen his act, made the smartest career move a person could ever make by marrying Lucille Ball and becoming executive producer of her TV shows (The Lucy Show, Here’s Lucy, etc.)

Robert B. Sherman (1925-     ) – Academy Award-winning songwriter-composer who, along with younger brother Richard, wrote songs and scores for such films as Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Tom Sawyer and The Slipper and the Rose

Herb Stempel (1926-     ) – Footnote in television history as the Twenty-One contestant and champion who blew the whistle on fellow contestant Charles Van Doren, thus setting the stage for the quiz show scandals of the 1950s

Cicely Tyson (1933-     ) – Emmy-winning stage, screen and television actress best known for her roles in such TV productions as East Side/West Side, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Roots, King and A Woman Called Moses

Wayne Maunder (1935-     ) – Stage, screen and television actor who scored regular roles on such TV series as Custer, Lancer and Chase

Barbara Bostock (1935-     ) – Stage, screen and television actress best known as neighbor Carol Parker on the TV sitcom Love on a Rooftop

Phil Ochs (1940-1976) – Folk singer-songwriter

Maurice White (1941-     ) – Pop/R&B singer-songwriter, record producer and one-time front man for Earth, Wind and Fire

Sam Kelly (1943-     ) – Britcom icon who had regular roles on such shows as Porridge, Now and Then, ‘Allo ‘Allo!, Haggard, On the Up and Barbara

Tim Reid (1944-     ) – Television icon who had regular gigs on such TV series as WKRP in Cincinnati, Teachers Only, Simon & Simon, Frank’s Place and Sister, Sister

John McEuen (1945-     ) – Folk musician-songwriter, record producer and founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Elaine Joyce (1945-     ) – Stage, screen and television singer-actress whose TV gigs include Mr. Merlin and a gazillion game shows; married to playwright Neil Simon

Robert Urich (1946-2002) – Television icon who had regular gigs on such TV series as Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, S.W.A.T., Soap, Tabitha, Vega$, Gavilan, Spenser: For Hire, American Dreamer, Crossroads, It Had to Be You, The Lazarus Man and Emeril

Janie Fricke (1947-     ) – Country music vocalist who started out as one of the industry’s best known backup performers (including several hits by Johnny Duncan) before going solo in 1977

Walter Murphy (1952-     ) – Emmy Award-winning instrumentalist/composer who might have just been a musical footnote with the 1976 disco hit A Fifth of Beethoven but who has gone on to compose music for such TV shows as The Commish and Family Guy

Francesca P. Roberts (1953-     ) – Stage, screen and television character actress whom I always remember as Anna-May the waitress on Frank’s Place but she’s also had regular gigs on such shows as Have Faith, Baby Talk and Fired Up

Mike Lookinland (1960-     ) – Former moppet actor who cemented his television immortality by playing youngest Brady son Bobby on The Brady Bunch and its various spin-offs and permutations

Jill Talley (1962-     ) – Comic actress and voice artist who’s been featured on such TV shows as The Edge, Mr. Show with Bob & Dave, SpongeBob SquarePants and The Boondocks

Jennifer Beals (1963-     ) – Stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include Flashdance, The Bride, Devil in a Blue Dress, The Last Days of Disco and TV’s The L Word

Kristy Swanson (1969-     ) – Stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Deadly Friend, Hot Shots!, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Chase and The Phantom

Alyssa Milano (1972-     ) – Stage, screen and television actress best known for her regular TV gigs on Who’s the Boss?, Melrose Place and Charmed

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