Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

“Take Me Out to the Ballgame…”

After a harsher winter than I have experienced in quite a while, signs of Spring are finally in evidence.  The  buds have been  appearing on our Bradford Pear tree, tulips have pushed up through the dirt to warm in the sun, crocuses are blooming, robins are hopping about  the yard looking for worms, and at the  creeks  I can hear the peepers-chorus frogs-chirping their presence in loud unison.  One final sign that “Spring has Sprung”, for me,  is Opening Day of Major League Baseball and that day was yesterday, March 31, 2014.

STL CArdinals

My favorite team, the St. Louis Cardinals, began the season in Cincinnati, OH by taking on the Cincinnati Reds and winning, 1-0 during 9 innings of play.  As I watched the game on tv  the camera would periodically scan the audience and there in the stands sat Pete Rose, former great baseball player for the Cincinnati Reds in the 1970s.  He was wearing a big, red ball cap with the words “Big Red Machine” emblazoned on it.   The Cincinnati Reds of the 1970s were the best team in baseball and that was when I began to pay attention to the sport.  I was 9 or 10 and my favorite player was Johnny Bench, the Reds’ catcher.  I also had a Hank Aaron baseball card and I don’t know what happened to it…wish I still had it!   Cincy Reds

In my hometown of Defiance, OH, being that it is in the northwest part of the state, there were three baseball teams the citizens followed in the 1970s, and still  follow today: Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, and the aforementioned Reds.  My mom told me that when she was a child in the 1950s, the Indians were really good and that was the team my grandpa paid attention to.  My husband’s late father grew up in Detroit, so my husband grew up in a Detroit Tiger household.  When husband and I were dating, it was a common thing to hear the radio playing at his house on a sunny afternoon, set to WJR-The Great  Voice of the Great Lakes- and Ernie Harwell’s voice could be heard broadcasting a Tiger’s game.  It was also fun to attend a couple games at Tiger’s Stadium.   We were so happy when they won the World Series in 1984.   My brother’s 2 sons are Tigers’ fans and when the St. Louis Cardinals beat them for the World Series title in 2006, we treaded lightly and didn’t mention the win as we didn’t want to add to their sadness.  One of my nephews sweetly told me at a later family gathering  that his second favorite team is the Cardinals-awwww!

D Tigers

I have also been to some minor league baseball games.  When we lived near Augusta, GA, circa 1988,  husband and I went to an Augusta Pirates game(farm team for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but now a farm team for the San Francisco Giants) and we watched future major leaguer Moises Alou shine in a game with his athletic skills.   Now that we live in Rolla, MO the minor league team of choice is the Springfield Cardinals, in Springfield, MO.  Attending their games is a lot of fun.  They ballpark management has a variety of amusing games with audience participation planned for every break at the end of an inning, and some games appear on the video screens, too.

Springfield CardinalsAugusta Pirates

Some historians would say that baseball was derived from the British game of Rounders.   Some have given credit through the years  to one man, Abner Doubleday, a career U. S. Army officer who supposedly invented the game in Cooperstown, NY, in 1839.  Whichever way the sport was begun, to me it is an enjoyable way to while away a summer afternoon, with the radio on and while puttering about the house, I can listen and imagine the plays in my mind.  The battle of one batter against one pitcher, to see who will be the winner of each at bat, to see if one player can get to base, advance, and try to get that run to count.  To know if a double-play or even a triple play will happen.   At an actual ballpark, it’s always fun to people watch, eat a hotdog in the park, explain aspects of the game to one of my kids when it’s been their first time to be at a major or minor league game.  To laugh at the antics of Fredbird, the Cardinal’s crazy mascot.   Before I sign off of this week’s post, I’ll include a funny meme I saw last week.  There are three Major League Baseball Teams named after birds: Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays, and my St. Louis Cardinals.  Of those three teams, the Cardinals have had the most successful seasons of play through the years and the meme depicts two birds comparing their teams’ records; obviously the cardinal has the last word!

Cardinal putting an Oriole and Blue Jay in their places.

Cardinal putting an Oriole and Blue Jay in their places.

 

Have Gun Will Travel Featuring Vincent Price

Today’s blog is for a great blogathon, Big Stars on the Small Screen,  and it’s found at  How Sweet it Was.  Be sure to click on the link to read great posts about Hollywood stars who decided to brave the world of television.

Big Stars on the Small Screen   In the late 1940s and into the 1950s, television was making it’s entrance into American homes.  Movie studios were understandably worried that this new medium would cut into their profits and keep potential movie goers from coming to the theatres.   Aging movie stars,  neglected or let go by their longtime studios, as well as up and coming stars,  gladly turned to this new medium as another way to keep on working in their chosen field of acting.

Vincent Price( who’s movie career began in the late 1930′s) by the 1950′s had begun to play in horror films which would become his trademark.  When I was a kid, I thought horror movies were the only movies Price appeared in.   From becoming a fan of classic movies I now know how wrong I was!   Price was quite a versatile actor.  Beginning with stage roles and branching into film, it was a logical step for an actor of his abilities  to enter  the medium of television with ease.  He did just that with the Season 2, episode 15 of the Western television hit, Have Gun Will Travel.

Vincent Price

Vincent Price

In 2011, my older kids and I watched the movie Stand by Me.  When the boys in the movie began to sing the theme song for Have Gun Will Travel, my kids asked me about the song.  I knew enough to tell them that  it was the theme song for a popular weekly western tv show that aired in the 1950s.  I decided to do an internet search on Youtube for the song and discovered that some kind soul had put episodes of Have Gun Will Travel on Youtube.  I began to watch the  episodes when I could and got hooked!

Have Gun Will Travel is all about a mysterious man named Paladin.  He lives in a fancy hotel, The Carleton, in San Francisco, circa 1870s.  He dresses in fine clothes, knows gourmet foods, wines, is well-read,  is a very clever man, and appreciates beautiful ladies.  He is also a gun for hire.  Paladin, played with exceptional skill by Richard Boone, would scan the newspapers from around the country, or would receive a letter, asking him for help.  The next scenes would revolve around Paladin, now dressed all in black, on his horse, with his guns, and a hidden derringer, riding into the countryside to his destination in order to solve a person’s problem, for a  fee.  Even though Paladin was a hired gun, he always used wisdom, common sense, logic, and made sure justice was done.  He wasn’t afraid to also quote famous poems or lines from Shakespeare’s plays to help him get a point across.

Richard Boone as Paladin

Richard Boone as Paladin

Have Gun will Travel card

Have Gun Will Travel aired on CBS from 1957-1963, making  the top 10 of television shows during those years.   Season 2, episode 15, The Moor’s Revenge, was the one that starred Vincent Price.   Vincent portrays Shakespearean actor Charles Matthews.  He is successfully touring the western part of the U.S. performing  Shakespeare’s Othello.  Miss Victoria Vestris(Patricia Morrison) is his co-star, his Desdemona, and his wife.   Paladin is at their performance in San Francisco and enjoys it immensely.  Later, at a dinner he has invited Matthews and his wife to, Paladin finds out that their next stop is a small, southern California town called San Diego. Paladin warns them not to go there as it will be the big Cattle Round-Up and the town will be full of cowboys who just want to drink, gamble, and be around the dance hall gals.  Matthews and Vestris scoff at Paladin.  After they leave the dinner, Paladin mails his business card to the owner of San Diego’s Opera House, a Mr. Bellingham(Morey Amsterdam, before he ever appeared on The Dick Van Dyke Show) and offers to protect the actors during their San Diego run.

Price on Have Gun Will Travel

Price on Have Gun Will Travel

Matthews and Miss Vestris arrive in San Diego and are shocked and dismayed when they see that the “Opera House” is really a saloon and that the  marquee advertising their performance conveys the following message:  See ALL of Victoria Vestris…Beauty Unadorned!  With Comical Charlie Matthews.  That wasn’t what they were planning on presenting to the citizens of San Diego!  What will they now do?  Also, thrown into the plot for good measure is a surly, hulking cowboy, Ben Jackson(Richard Shannon)who is obsessed with Miss Vestris.  When he overhears that she and Matthews are refusing to perform their show in a saloon, he threatens to kill Mr. Bellingham.  Will Paladin be able to save the show, save the saloon from being torn apart by drunk cowboys, and protect Matthews, Miss Vestris, and Mr. Bellingham  from a cowboy stalker?

Patricia Morrison as Victorica Vestri

Patricia Morrison as Victorica Vestri

Morey Amsterdam as Mr. Bellingham

Morey Amsterdam as Mr. Bellingham

Richard Shannon as Ben Jackson

Richard Shannon as Ben Jackson

As I mentioned earlier, someone has put episodes of Have Gun Will Travel on Youtube and The Moor’s Revenge is one of those.  Click on this link Have Gun Will Travel Season 2 Episode 15 -The Moor’s Revenge and you can view the episode in its entirety.

Price is great as the sort of hammy Shakespearean actor who is stubborn, insisting that the works of the great Bard of Avon will soothe rowdy, drunken cowboys.  Morrison is also good as his “drama queen” of a type wife.  Amsterdam plays the bewildered owner of the saloon well, and Shannon is great as the menacing cowboy.  Of course, Boone is great too, as the very capable Paladin.  I also want to add that this episode was directed by Andrew McLaglen, son of the actor Victor McLaglen, who often appeared in John Ford’s western films, and won an Oscar for Best Actor in  1935 for The Informer.  I am assuming  Andrew probably grew up on movie sets and was drawn into the career of directing.  He directed some western films himself and a lot of the Have Gun Will Travel episodes.

A Townhall Meeting with Senator Claire McCaskill

I spent an hour today, March 18th, at a Townhall Meeting hosted by one of my two U.S. Senators, Senator Claire McCaskill.  The meeting was held in the St. Patrick’s Room at the Havener Center at University of Missouri Science and Technology, or MS&T,  to us locals.  Town Hall Meeting

I had written an email to both of my Senators in 2013 and promptly heard back from Senator McCaskill’s office.  I received  a politely written reply to my concern, but the Senator and I  failed to convince one another of the rightness of each other’s views.   Several weeks ago,  I was a bit surprised to receive a personal invitation via email  to attend this Townhall Meeting, so I decided to attend.  I would estimate that there were 100 people in attendance and we had to check in at a registration table.  Since I had rsvp’d, my name was on a check-off list and I quickly entered the room  and found a seat.  A student to my left had his laptop open so he could take notes during the Senator’s talk…probably writing something for the MS&T Student newspaper, I surmised.  A gentleman in front of me was an Army veteran, served his country for 20 years.  Senior Citizens, college-students, and me among the middle aged attendees, along with the Senator and her staffers, we were the population of this Townhall.   Dem. donkey

Rev. Timothy Lee, pastor at First United Methodist Church, opened the Townhall Meeting with prayer.  It was nice to see no one stomping off in anger or objecting to a prayer being said.  Senator McCaskill then asked us all to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, which all in the audience did.  Then, Senator McCaskill warmly greeted us all and said she was glad we could attend.  She asked how many of us in the room probably wouldn’t vote for her and a good number raised their hands.  She smiled and said that she was glad those of us who don’t agree with her politically are still willing to attend her Townhalls, which she has been conducting around the state the past few weeks.     Rep. Elephant

She had two charts on the dais behind her, “Energizing America’s Economic Recovery” was emblazoned across the top of one chart.  “Boosting Job and Business Opportunities” was the title of the other chart.  She began by boosting some good news: Missouri’s unemployment level is the lowest its been since 2008, public sector jobs-aka government jobs-have been cut the most and private sector jobs have risen, the deficit was $1.4 trillion in 2012 and now it’s down to $500 billion, still needs to get a lot lower she said.  She announced that she would begin a question and answer session and that when she did her first Townhall a couple years ago, she was accused of taking “planted” questions in the audience.  To combat that critique, we were given a paper to fill out with our contact info and a space to write a question.  These papers were put into a basket and the Senator chose a gentleman in the front row to hand one of her assistants a question and then the Senator would answer them.

Sixteen questions were pulled from the basket before the Senator’s time was up(this Townhall was only set for one hour.)  One question was confidential and the Senator agreed to meet with that gentleman after the meeting was over to discuss his concern.  Four questions were about the Military: What more can be done to help veterans in finding jobs within their skills set that they learned  while serving? How can Missouri keep veterans in Missouri instead of seeing them leave the state for jobs elsewhere? Corruption at Fort Leonard Wood, was the Senator aware of that? PAL’s (Private Army Lodging) has problems and was the Senator aware of that issue?  Since Fort Leonard Wood, a large Army base, is only half an hour away and employs a lot of folks in the Rolla, MO area, I shouldn’t have been surprised by the questions pertaining to Military interests.  There was a question about the unfairness of educational statistics of other countries(who don’t educate all of their children)in comparing those stats to public education in the U.S.   The Senator agreed that organized labor has done great things in this country and she credited it with the rise of the Middle Class.   Why can’t gas prices be lower?  The Senator and I agreed on this issue, as she is in favor of the Keystone Pipeline and wants it to go forward as it will provide jobs and it would  better for our country to benefit from it and we’ll be more careful about the environmental impacts of it than China would be.  I started to raise my hand and then decided not to.  I was going to ask the good Senator then why oh why can’t she convince the President to approve this project?  We hear how he wants to create jobs and energize the economy and when Canada is continually put on hold over this project, when we have this project that will do what the President “claims” he wants, he does nothing!   On January 31, 2014, the State Department even released the results of their study that said the Pipeline wouldn’t harm greenhouse gases and still, nada is happening!  Here is the link to that article from the Washington Post.   Another question about the EPA and the Senator and I found another topic to agree upon.  She stated that some regulations are necessary but that when she gets wind of ridiculous ones, she is quick to pounce on them and has succeeded in getting them dropped.  Two examples of the ridiculous: stricter regulations on the scaffoldings to be used in home construction which would have added higher costs to the prices of new homes for a specific, expensive scaffold that  the EPA insisted construction businesses had to use, and the EPA wanted to punish farmers for putting too much “dust” back into the air when they ran their farm machinary in the fields or drove their trucks down dirt roads.    She urged anyone to contact her about any EPA regulation that we felt was detrimental to the way a business or livelihood was operating.    Libertaririan symbol

Obamacare came up, of course, and she admitted that she is frustrated by it, that the roll out was done horribly.  One gentleman challenged her as to why she voted for it when 60% if Missourians didn’t support it and many still don’t.  That question got a lot of loud applause.  Senator McCaskill didn’t really answer his question and danced around it with some commentary about how when she first ran for the Senate that the number one item she was asked about was from uninsured farmers, and how could they afford health insurance?  From her commentary, I began to wonder if all the farmers in the state are uninsured and if farmers were all she talked to, because I found myself skeptical that that was the number one issue in the state when she was running  for the Senate for the first time.   A lady asked her why has so much of the ACA(Obamacare) mandates been pushed further back from starting, and why were some industries exempted?  Again, the Senator nimbly danced around those questions and really didn’t answer them.Green Party

In closing out this Townhall Meeting, Senator McCaskill stated that,”Local solutions are better  in solving problems than relying on DC.”  She thanked us all for coming, and as she began to talk one on one with constituents who lined up to approach the dais, I thought back to all I had heard.  Senator McCaskill is a skilled speaker.  She is good at eye contact and talking to her audience in a familial way, not as a stranger, not as one too high up in the stratosphere of the political world to speak to citizens.  She pointed out that in the ranking of the 100 U.S. Senators, from liberal to conservative, she is right in the middle, at #50.  As nice as she was, I still don’t see eye-to-eye with her on many issues and find her comment about local issues better solved by local folks, to ring hollow, as she obviously thinks the government forcing Americans to buy a product is the way to “save” healthcare in America.

My Classic Movie Pick: The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer

With the recent passing of child star Shirley Temple, I decided that my classic movie pick would be one of her films, but one near the end of her acting career, not one from the beginning or the middle.

TBATBS screen opener

The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer is a romance/comedy, made in 1947 by RKO Studios.  This delightful movie features an excellent cast: Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, Shirley Temple, Rudy Vallee, Harry Davenport, Ray Collins, and Johnny Sands.  It was directed by Irving Reis, produced by Dore Schary, and the original screenplay was written by Sidney Sheldon.  Sheldon did win the Academy Award for best writing, original screenplay for this movie, in 1948.  

The plot is basically a romantic triangle, but only two sides of the triangle are really interested in one another.  The third side of the triangle can’t see that, and therein lies the comedic elements  of the plot.    Cary Grant is Dick Nugent, an artist and a playboy.  The movie opens with he and 3 girlfriends in a courtroom facing Judge Margaret Turner, who is of course, played with steely-eyed seriousness by Myrna Loy.  She is calm, yet is not in the mood to hear about all of the gory details as to why Mr. Nugent and his 3 friends were arrested for brawling in a Los Angeles nightclub.  She issues them a stern warning and then dismisses the case.

Getting his case dismissed

Getting his case dismissed

As the day moves on, Dick has to appear at a high school and give a speech  for a Career Day type of assembly.  As he gives his speech, one of the teen girls in the audience, Susan Turner(Shirley Temple) suddenly imagines that Dick is a knight in shining armor and she is at that minute struck with “love” for him.   She begins to plan a way to be with him and decides to corner him for an interview in the school newspaper.    When Susan gets home she tells her sister,  Judge Margaret,  who is her legal guardian, that she is in love and it’s  not with some juvenile youth like her current boyfriend, Jerry(Johnny Sands).  Margaret scoffs at Susan’s “love” and tells her to go to bed.  The wily Susan will not be deterred on her quest to find this new love so she  dresses herself to look older and then sneaks out to find Dick’s apartment.  She manages to get into his apartment but he’s not home, so as she waits for him to return, she falls asleep on his couch.    Big sister Margaret, as the evening progresses, realizes that Susan isn’t in her bed sleeping so she and her boyfriend, the assistant District Attorney Tommy Chamberlain (Rudy Vallee) figure out where Susan has gone and burst into Dick’s apartment just as he is finishing up a conversation with Susan.  He arrived home right before Margaret and Tommy ‘s arrival, and is confused by their entry.  Margaret is distraught at finding Susan in a man’s apartment, Tommy accuses Dick of nefarious doings and gets socked in the jaw.  This leads to Dick’s arrest and spending the rest of the night in a Los Angeles jail.   In the morning, Dr. Beemish(Ray Collins), a court psychologist, visits with Dick in jail and gets his side of the story.  He believes that Dick is innocent of trying to seduce a teenage girl and tells Margaret and Tommy that he has a plan that will cure Susan of her “love” for Dick.  Dick must “date” Susan, probably only a couple of dates, but these dates will cause Susan to give up her “love” for an older man.

The Knight in Shining Armor!

The Knight in Shining Armor!

Susan telling Margaret about her new love

Susan telling Margaret about her new love

Susan on Dick's couch

Susan on Dick’s couch

Hearing Dr. Beemish's Plan

Hearing Dr. Beemish’s Plan

The dating scheme, only known by Dick, Margaret, Tommy, and Dr.  Beemish(who is also Margaret and Susan’s Uncle Matt) is hilarious and it only adds to the screwball element of this comedy.  During one of the dates at a neighborhood picnic complete with sack races and other silly sporting events, Judge Margaret suddenly sees Dick in a suit of shining armor as he receives a trophy for winning one of the contests.  Enter the real love story of this romantic triangle!  Now it is up to Dick and Margaret to find  a way to begin their romance without hurting Susan or Tommy, and more laughs ensue.  The climax of the film happens at a fancy restaurant where Dick and Margaret are trying to enjoy their date, only to have Susan and Jerry, the 2 Uncles, Tommy, and the lady brawlers all converging  at the same restaurant!   There is a happy ending, of course, how could there not be?

Cary Grant is his charming self, great at playing comedy with his facial expressions hinting at the confusion his character feels and also adept at the physical comedy, especially apparent at the picnic scenes.   Myrna Loy is great as the cold, serious-minded judge who starts to soften and become human when she is around Grant’s character.   Shirley Temple is also wonderful, as the 18 year old high school girl who thinks boys her age are so immature and that she knows what real love is.  Rudy Vallee, Ray Collins, and Harry Davenport(as Judge Thaddeus Turner-another Uncle of Margaret and Susan’s), and Johnny Sands handle  their supporting roles with skill and aplomb.

For a very funny movie, with that sweet touch of romance  perfect for Valentine’s Day, seek out The Bachelor and The Bobby-Soxer.  Turner Classics will be airing it on Sunday, March 9th at 12:45 EST/11:45 pm CST as part of their 8 film tribute to the movie career of Shirley Temple, who passed away recently on February 10th.  Here is a link to TCM’s site about the  planned tribute to Shirley Temple and the other films that will be shown.

The Bachelor and The Bobby-Soxer is available to buy at TCM, at Amazon(which also has it out for instant rent), and it’s available on Netflix.  I’ll close this post out with some fun posed stills for the movie’s made by RKO’s publicity department.  TBATBS screen pose 1TBATBS screen pose 3TBATBS screen pose 4

#ChristmasMovieBlogathon TV Schedule: titles on the air or online

I was pleased to have been asked to participate in this upcoming Christmas Movie Blogathon, which begins 12/20th. Family Friendly Reviews created this blogathon and has put up a list of the movies being reviewed, in case you want to view them for yourself in the month of December.

From Shirley Temple’s nemesis to Josephine the Plumber: Jane Withers

My blog today is a part of the Children in Film Blogathon hosted by the wonderful Comet Over Hollywood, May 24-26, 2013.  I decided to focus on Jane Withers, who is still alive and thriving and who herself is a fan of classic films.   I was most familiar with Jane from her tv commercials as the bubbly,  helpful plumber, Josephine, extolling the cleaning virtues of Comet Cleanser.  I was not as familiar with Jane’s early beginnings in the entertainment industry and here is what I discovered.Children in film blogathon Jane Withers was born in Atlanta, Georgia on April 12, 1926.  She was an only child, much loved by her parents, Walter and Ruth Withers.  By the age of 3, Jane was achieving local fame on an Atlanta radio station as “Dixie’s Dainty Dewdrop” with her singing and imitations of famous movie stars.   Soon, it was on to Hollywood to try and make it into show business and Jane did child modeling and won a few bit parts in some movies in 1932 and 1933.   Her big break came in 1934, co-starring in the movie Bright Eyes, with Shirley Temple.  Jane was glad to be cast in the movie, but worried about playing a character who is mean to Shirley Temple!  She was concerned audiences wouldn’t like her and that that could be the end of her career.  In Bright Eyes, Shirley is the daughter of a maid for the rich and mean Smythe family.   Jane played Joy Smythe, the rich family’s daughter.  In one of her meanest scenes, she told Shirley’s character,” There aint’ any Santa Claus because my psychoanalyst told me!”  David Butler, the movie’s director, told Jane years later that she stole that film from Shirley.  Mrs. Temple, an ever present person on the movie’s set, must have sensed how good Jane’s acting was  because she limited how much time Shirley could spend with Jane and she also ordered that Jane wash her hands before and after all scenes that she had with Shirley!   Jane adored Shirley and they did manage to become friends in their teen years and are still friends today.

Shirley and Jane, still friends today.

Shirley and Jane, still friends today.

Jane being mean to Shirley in Bright Eyes.

Jane being mean to Shirley in Bright Eyes.

Bright Eyes was a box office hit and Jane received many positive notices from movie critics.   20th Century Fox took notice of Jane and she was signed to a long-term contract.    In 1935 she starred in the films Ginger and The Farmer Takes a Wife.  1936  arrived and Jane starred in the film Little Miss Nobody.  She was also listed as one of the Top 10 Box Office Stars for 1937-1938. In the 1940s, Jane was in 16 films, produced by Fox, Columbia, and Republic Studios.  In 1943,  Jane was in the cast of the film The North Star and received excellent notices for her role  She also wrote the screenplay for the 1941 film Small Town Deb. As I read about Jane, and looked up pictures from her career, I saw that her persona was used to sell children’s clothing, Jane Wither dolls, and as she arrived in her teen years, she was featured in many movie fan magazines.  Whitman Publishing Company even created  Authorized Editions which were 16 books, published from 1941-1947, featuring famous actresses in mystery adventures, similar to the popular Nancy Drew books.  Jane was featured in three of these books: Jane Withers and the Hidden Room, Jane Withers and the Phantom Violin, and Jane Withers and the Swamp Wizard.The Swamp Wizard!

Jane on the cover of a fan magazine.

Jane on the cover of a fan magazine.

In 1947,  Jane married Texas oil man William P. Moss, and they had  three children: William, Wendy, and Randy.  Sadly, the marriage ended in divorce in 1955.  That same year Jane wed for a second time, to Kenneth Errair, one of the singers in the group The Four Freshman.  This marriage was successful and produced two children, Ken and Kendall Jane. With her roles expanding as wife and mother, Jane’s acting career took a bit of a back seat at times.  She did appear in the 1956 film, Giant, starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean.   Jane played Vashti, a good friend of Elizabeth’s character, Leslie.  During filming, Jane got to be very good friends with James Dean.  Dean had a favorite pink cowboy shirt that he was hesitant to have washed as he was worried that the studio’s laundry would ruin it or lose it.  Jane offered one day to wash the shirt for Dean and from then on, he had her wash that shirt for him.  One afternoon, she washed it as usual, not realizing that Dean would never wear it again; he tragically died in a car accident that evening.  Jane still has that pink shirt and keeps it as a very special reminder of a great friend.  Jane’s parents were christians, active at their church in Atlanta, helping to teach Sunday School classes, and Jane has said that that strong, spiritual faith has helped  her through many personal challenges.  I would like to add how refreshing it was to read about  a child actor who made it successfully to the level of adult actor, without any bitter comments or experiences to share.  Her parents were loving and supportive of Jane, not conniving to spend all of her earnings, not negative “stage parents”,  which sadly seems to be the case for a lot of child actors.

James Dean on the set of Giant.

James Dean on the set of Giant.

Throughout the 1960′s, 70′s, 80′s  Jane appeared on many television shows.  She has also done voice work for animated features in the 1990s.  Check out Jane Withers at IMDb for a  full list of her acting work.  In 1979, Jane was  honored by the Young Artist Foundation with its first Former Child Star Lifetime Achievement Award.    I would be remiss in not mentioning another blog, Journeys in Classic Film.  Kristen, who writes this great blog,  was able to attend Turner Classic Movies Film Festival  in Hollywood in late April and she got to meet and interview Jane Withers!  Click on the link for that interview and some more pictures of Jane at the festival.  I’ll close with some more great photos I found of Jane from her career.

Jane Withers today.

Jane Withers today.

Jane as Josephine the Plumber.

Jane as Josephine the Plumber.

Jane and Carol Burnett

Jane and Carol Burnett

Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, and Jane.

Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, and Jane.

Colorized shot of Jane from Bright Eyes.

Colorized shot of Jane from Bright Eyes.

Kids Today!

Cover of "Bye Bye Birdie"

Cover of Bye Bye Birdie

In the 1960 Broadway musical, Bye  Bye  Birdie, Paul Lynde portrayed Mr. McAfee, a dad of a teen girl,  utterly frustrated by his daughter and her friends and their antics.  In the show, he  had a funny song to sing, called Kids!  Some of the lyrics are as follows: “Kids!  I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today!  Kids! Who can understand anything they say?  Kids!  They’re disobedient, disrespectful oafs!  Noisy, crazy, dirty, lazy, loafers!   And while we’re on the subject, Kids!  You can talk and talk ’til your face is blue!  Kids!  But they still do just what they want to do!  Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way?  What’s the matter with kids today?”

Having spent some time fixing snacks for the high school youth group at our church the other night, and having two sons in that youth group, I got to observe the goings on of these “kids”.   Sure, teens can irritate me from time to time.  But  parents can also unwittingly exasperate their kids, especially when they are in that time of not being children anymore but also not having reached  adulthood yet.  I noticed that most of the teens the other night were clean, polite, telling me thank you and adding a  please with their requests.  The ones who knew me went out of their way to say hello, to give me a hug, or a wave from across the room.  They had fun playing an energetic game that was a cross between volleyball and a tic-tac-toe pattern made of pvc pipes, that fitted together and were raised above the teens’ heads.  Most of them had cell phones in their hands, if they weren’t busy with the game or talking with one another, and one teen had even brought along math homework for some tutoring from another teen.  Teens love to eat, so the prepared snacks and desserts from an earlier chili lunch the church had hosted, were all eaten quickly.  During my observations, I realized that the world of teenagers isn’t really that new, and that the older generation often forgets their own teen antics when comparing their own teen years to the current new crop of teens  around them.

Through information shared by another blogger who enjoys classic movies, the Lux Radio Theatre is online.  I have recently started listening to these radio shows while I am  cleaning up the kitchen after supper.  My kids have been a bit curious, asking, “Mom what are you listening to?” and  it has been educational for them to listen in.  I have explained that these radio shows were the main form of entertainment for a lot of Americans before television came along.  The Lux commercials are very corny, though, and the other night one commercial spot  featured the announcer learning how to talk “teenager” with a girl, probably a young voice actress.  The slang she spoke, to let a friend know her slip was showing, was weird, to say the least.  Yet  it got me to thinking, that even in 1940, when that radio ad was aired, teenagers and their demographics were being used to sell a product, in this case Lux Soap Flakes, and that something  peculiar to adults, teen slang, was employed to help sell soap!  The teens at my house use a bit of slang too, and to tease them I try to use it and they just fix me with a disdainful stare and tell me never to do that again!  So, having their own code, so to speak, from generations of teens from the past to the teens of today, still exists.

Sorting through my twin daughters multi-colored and multi-designed anklet socks made me think of their big sister and her stylish habit of wearing mis-matched socks in high school.  Who would have ever thought that would be a fashionable thing to do?  Or the saggy pants?  Or the anti-winter coat trend  that seems to have infected my teen sons?  Even my youngest, age 9, who is in cub scouts, has a side pocket on his scout shirt to put one’s iphone in, and a tiny hole is in that pocket so one can thread the ear buds cord from the phone through that tiny hole and then into one’s ears in a more convenient fashion!  His oldest brother,  who is 21, didn’t even have that nifty pocket when he was scout!

Times change, tastes  change, we all know technology changes, but some aspects of those teenage years don’t.   Teens still need the assurance from their parents that they still love them, even when the teen makes a bad decision.  They need a listening ear more than an I told you so.  They need to be able to get advice and not to be afraid to ask for it.  They need to know that they can discuss any topic with their parents.  They need to know that mom and dad have “got their back”  when tough days arise.  They need to know that you, mom and dad, are so grateful that you were blessed with this child, who will not be a child much longer.

We can chuckle at Paul Lynde’s performance in a hit musical, playing a bewildered father.  We can also know why he is feeling the way he is.  But we can’t quit on our teens, shake our heads at them and try to ignore them.  Just let them know you are there for them and that you love them.   I am also secretly  hoping that some day, the “Preppy Look” will re-emerge, which was the fashionable style when I was in high school, in the 1980s. Perhaps it will appear when my 12 year old twin daughters hit their teens.  I can only hope!

My Classic Movie Pick: Hail the Conquering Hero

Hail the Conquering Hero

Hail the Conquering Hero (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the Christmas holiday, I decided I had better watch some of the movies I had tivoed from the Turner Classic Movies cable channel.  During the month of December, the channel had decided to air several of director Preston Sturges‘s comedies.  Sullivan’s Travels aired, as did The Palm Beach Story and The Lady Eve.   My favorite of the batch that they showed was 1944′s  Hail the Conquering Hero.  The movie’s cast is headed by Eddie Bracken, with wonderful supporting cast members : William Demarest(Uncle Charlie from the My Three Sons tv show), Ella Raines, Raymond Walburn, Franklin Pangborn, Elizabeth Patterson, Georgia Caine, and Al Bridge.  Sturges’s films are predominately screwball comedies with a bit of drama thrown in and he often liked to hire the same actors and actresses to be in his films, many of the screenplays he wrote himself as well as doing the directing.  In fact, he was nominated for an Academy Award in 1945 for this movie’s screenplay.    Paramount, the studio where this movie was made, didn’t like that Sturges consistently hired the same actors and actresses for his movies and wanted to replace Ella Raines with a more well-known actress to play the girlfriend.  Sturges wouldn’t agree to that and got his way, hiring the cast he wanted.

The plot is as follows: Eddie Bracken is Woodrow Truesmith, and he loves the United States Marine Corps.  He knows their military history, and even recites all of their famous battles up to that point in history in a funny barroom scene.  His father was a decorated, yet fallen Marine, dying  in the  Battle of Amiens, in France during WWI.  His mother has a shrine to her late husband in the family home.   Despite Woodrow being an only child, with his mother’s blessing, as soon as he can, he enlists in the Marines.  Off to boot camp he goes, only to be discharged for chronic hayfever!  Woodrow is from a small California town, and after his discharge, he is too ashamed to face his mother so he finds employment at a factory in another California town and has been writing his mom letters as if he is really on a ship or on an island in the South Pacific.   One evening at a local bar, as Woodrow is having a beer and feeling sorry for himself, a group of Marines enters the place.  Woodrow buys them a round of beers and as they begin talking, he discovers that the sergeant of the group, Sgt. Heppelfinger, played by William Demarest, knew his father in WWI.  Woodrow’s dad was Heppelfinger’s commanding officer.  This coincidence  forms a bond between Woodrow, Heppelfinger, and the other Marines in the bar.   Woodrow explains his discharge to  the Marines and he also tells them about his  false letters to his mother.   The false letters  don’t sit well with this band of warriors, especially one Marine who was an orphan: it’s a pretty funny gag throughout the rest of the movie, the orphaned Marine always getting on Woodrow’s case about how he’s treated his mother!  Sgt. Heppelfinger, unbeknownst to Woodrow, goes to the bar’s payphone and finds out Woodrow’s home phone number, calls Mrs. Truesmith, and informs her that Woodrow was wounded, but is fine and will be coming home just for a few days in order to see her.  The sergeant’s plan is to get Woodrow home to see his mother, and  then get him back to his factory job, with mother none the wiser about his really being discharged for chronic hayfever.  Woodrow is horrified by the sneaky plan and  balks at wearing a Marine uniform as he is no longer active duty.  He  worries he’ll be found out as a faker and thrown into jail.   But the lively group of Marines, led by Sgt. Hepplefinger, resolve to protect Woodrow, to help him see his mother, and then  help get Woodrow back to his factory job.  What the sergeant and his band of Marines don’t know  is that Woodrow’s mother has  told her friends, who have told the entire town, and the mayor and the city council, and a huge “Welcome Home Woodrow” event has been planned, and the entire town is coming to greet him and his  new Marine buddies at the train station!

Sturges’s screenplay pokes fun at politics and politicians, at hero worship, and small towns.  The pokes are gentle, though, and the humor shines through in the dialogue and the acting.  As WWII was still being fought when this movie was being filmed, there are nods to patriotism throughout the film too.   Being a mom of an active duty Marine myself, all the bits in the movie about the Corps made the film even more fun for me to watch.  Eddie Bracken is great, as the increasingly frazzled Woodrow, who wants to stop this snowball of a “Welcome Home Woodrow You’re Our Hero!” movement, but he knows that the truth will hurt his mother the most.  He also has a former girlfriend, Libby, played by Ella Raines, to deal with as she is engaged to the mayor’s son, but isn’t really sure if she loves her fiance or still loves Woodrow.  Raymond Walburn and Al Bridge are great as the pompous Mayor and his political henchman, trying to get re-elected, and when the city council members who don’t like the current mayor want Woodrow to run for mayor, the situaton for poor Woodrow gets even crazier!

If you want to see a movie with wit, charm, and great humor, then this is an excellent movie to see!

The Archers

The Archers

A scene from the movie Black Narcissus, one of the lovely films created by The Archers: British moviemakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

Be sure to read all of the excellent blogs about their films. I will be posting on March 27th about their 1943 film The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.

Comet Over Hollywood’s Gone Too Soon: Sal Mineo

 

Two men met one another on  the night of February 12, 1976.  The meeting wasn’t planned by one of the participants; plotted out by the other.  One of the  men was actor Sal Mineo, age 37.  The other was Lionel Ray Williams, a 21 year old drug addict and robber, often accosting his victims for money to feed his drug habit.   Around 11:30 p.m., Sal Mineo was returning to the apartment he was renting in West Hollywood.  He was  in Los Angeles rehearsing the play P.S. Your Cat is Dead, ironically, portraying a burglar in the play.  The play had been in San Francisco, where Mineo’s skill as an actor had received excellent reviews, and the play was a hit.  He had decided to act in the show for it’s LA run.  The wonderful reviews in San Francisco were a boost to Mineo’s career;it had started out with promise, an immediate rise to successful roles, award nominations, and then for unknown reasons, a trajectory downward.  The success of P.S.  Your Cat is Dead was proving to be a career boost for Mineo and the events of the evening of February 12, 1976 make his story all the more poignant.  The criminal, Williams, was lurking near the apartment building when Mineo drove up and parked his car in the garage.  When Mineo headed for the stairs that would lead to his apartment, Williams attacked the actor, stabbing him in the heart.    Entertainment lawyer Marvin Mitchelson’s mother lived at the same apartment building as Mineo, and she and another neighbor heard Mineo’s cries for help.  They rushed to the garage and to Mineo’s side.   Williams had fled at this point.  Mrs.  Mitchelson and the neighbor called the police and tried to resuscitate Mineo but it was too late.  5 to 6 minutes after the fatal stabbing, actor Sal Mineo was dead.

Sal Mineo was not a large man.  He stood at 5’8″, of Italian descent.  His Mediterranean good looks often found him in movie roles playing ethnic parts.  His father, Salvatore, was born in Sicily and immigrated to the United States.  He was a coffin maker by trade, and did start his own business, the Universal Casket Company, in his new, adopted country.  The elder Mineo met, fell in love with, and married Josephine, herself of Italian descent, her parents hailing from Naples, she having been born in the United States.  The marriage produced four children: Michael, Victor, Salvatore Jr., and Sarina.  The family lived near the Bronx area of New York City.  Salvatore Jr.  was born on January 10th, 1939.

In researching Sal Mineo’s life for this blogathon, I found an interesting article, written by his older brother Victor.  It was written in the late 1950′s, when Sal’s television and film career was on the rise.  The article gave a picture of a tough kid brother, who followed his two older brothers all over the Bronx, playing ball in empty lots and back alleys.  A tough boy who wasn’t afraid to take on bullies in the schoolyard.  A story about two  parents who weren’t rich, but worked hard at their business, making sure their kids didn’t want, giving identical gifts to their three sons at Christmas, each child receiving an allowance.  One day, Victor explained, Sal Jr. and little sister Sarina were out in front of the family home, trimming bushes, when a talent scout came strolling by.  The scout was looking for children to enroll in a dancing and singing academy based in Manhattan.  He asked to speak to their mother, who did come out and spoke with this scout.  “If you enroll them, we can train them to be on tv”, the scout promised.  The two children were signed up and two times a week, with their mom in tow, Sal Jr. and Sarina would ride the subway from The Bronx to Manhattan to take classes at this academy.  Sal Jr. was 10 and Sarina was 7.  The family could immediately see that Sal Jr.  loved the classes and he would practice every night the dance movements without prompting, even trying to teach his older brothers how to dance.  The two child performers’ big break happened on a Saturday afternoon television music show.  This led to more parts on televison shows, including a 1954 part on NBC Opera Theatre’s production of Strauss’s Salome.  Mineo played the Page, lip synching to the voice of Mezzo-Soprano Carol Jones.  Theatre work also came young Sal’s way, he appeared in Tennessee William’s play The Rose Tattoo, which starred Maureen Stapleton and Eli Wallach, and Sal also portrayed the young Prince in The King and I, in it’s original run with Gertrude Lawrence and Yul Brynner.    This account written by Victor, added that his little brother loved acting, worked very hard at this craft, and also worked very hard when looking for agents, and at understanding the business side of the entertainment industry.  The article by big brother Victor didn’t mention young Sal’s run ins with the law and his subsequent arrest for a burglary in 1949 at the age of 10!  Another article on Sal Mineo’s life mentioned this, and the judge told the parents to offer their wayward son two choices for reformation: a spell in Juvenile Detention, or classes at the dancing and singing academy. 

Sal Mineo’s first movie role was in 1955.  The movie was Six Bridges to Cross, which starred Tony Curtis.  Sal played Tony’s character in his teen years.  The next movie, Mineo’s second, would propel him towards stardom.  He was cast as John “Plato” Crawford in director Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause, which also starred James Dean and Natalie Wood.  I was fortunate to find a short documentary about James Dean, called Masters, on You Tube, and the section on Rebel was most interesting.  Screenwriter Stewart Stern created a story about troubled teens, utilizing gangs and information about urban gangs.  Director Ray had also done research on urban gangs, but wanted the movie to focus on suburban teens and what such a gang from that environment might look like and what they might occupy their time with.  The title of the movie was taken from a book by  psychiatrist Robert M. Lindner, published in 1944, a book about juvenile delinquents, but no material from his book was used in the movie.   Mineo’s character is a 15 year old boy, an only child, often left to his own devices.  His father has walked out on the family and has had no contact with his son, and we never see Plato’s mother.  He is a very lonely boy.  When James Dean’s character, new student Jim Stark, arrives in town, Mineo’s character, Plato, gloms on to the new student for here he has found a friend, a father-figure, and someone to idolize.  Later film critics have made much of a possible homosexual attraction that Plato’s character  possibly has for Stark, but screenwriter Stern said that no, in writing the two characters, he wanted to show the kind of love and camaderie two young men can have for one another.  Not a sexual love, but a strong, brotherly love, as Stern said he himself experienced while serving in World War II.  Rebel Without a Cause was released in late October of 1955, a month after the tragic car crash that killed the film’s star James Dean.  Mineo was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his work in the film.  

In between film roles, Mineo did a lot of television shows.  Omnibus, The Philco-Goodyear Televison Playhouse, Studio One in Hollywood, Screen Director’s Playhouse, Kraft Theatre, Dr. Kildare, The Patty Duke Show, just to name a few.    After Rebel, Mineo appeared in the movie Crime in the Streets released in 1956.  Portraying a young tough with a switchblade knife, he earned the  nickname of The Switchblade Kid.  Next up came a part in the film Somebody Up There Likes Me, released in 1956, starring Paul Newman, a biographic film about boxer Rocky Marciano.   George Stevens’s film  Giant was next for Mineo, portraying a young Mexican man, one of his many ethnic roles.   After a few more films in the late 50′s, including Tonka, a film for Disney, portraying a young Sioux, Mineo starred in another biopic flick, portraying drummer Gene Kruppa in The Gene Kruppa Story.  1960 was another big year for Sal Mineo, as he starred in director Otto Preminger’s film Exodus , based on the novel by Leon Uris.  Mineo played the part of Dov Landau, a young survivor of Auschwitz, who wants to join the Irgun, a radical Zionist underground network.  Dov is also in love with another holocaust survivor, Karen Hanson, played by British actress Jill Haworth.  Dov and Karen’s characters are a subplot of the film which focuses on Paul Newman and Eva Marie Saint’s unfolding  love story and on Newman’s character, trying to help one Uncle procure Israel’s independence via diplomatic means and saving another Uncle from the inherent dangers in getting that independence through terrorist means.   Mineo’s Dov wants to join the radical group that Newman’s Uncle oversees and this Uncle forces Dov to confess that while at Aushcwitz, he was a “somderkommando”, a Jewish prisoner who had to deal with and dispose of the dead remains of the victims of the  death camp’s ovens.  Dov also has to confess that he was sexually assaulted by the Nazi guards at the camp.  Dov is then accepted into the Irgun.  He successfully bombs the King David hotel, turns himself in to the police in order to use his explosion skills in rigging an escape from Acre Prison, where by this time in the film, Newman’s radical Uncle is a prisoner.  After the successul prison escape, Dov is on guard outside of a kibbutz where many of the refugees from the boat are living, including his love, Karen.  One evening, while he is on guard duty, he and Karen reaffirm their love, their goal to marry and their desire to raise their children in a free and independent Israel.  Upon leaving Dov to go back to the Kibbutz, Karen is overtaken by a gang of Arab militiamen and is murdered.  For this emotional rollercoaster of a role, Sal Mineo was nominated and won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Inexplicably, even though Mineo had proven to many that he had talent, that he could act, his career in films started on a downward path.  He badly wanted a part in Lawrence of Arabia, was not hired, even after auditioning.  The same for The Godfather, he was not cast for a part.  This ignoring of him by the film community led to more television roles, on such hit  shows as Harry O, Hawaii 5-0, Columbo, Mission Impossible, My Three Sons, Dan August, S.W.A.T., Police Story, and Ellery Queen.  He did manage to snag a film part in Escape From the Planet of the Apes, playing Dr.  Milo.  It would be his last film role.  Mineo soon turned to theatre work, which he had been quoted saying that it forced an actor to stretch and try new things;while not paying out as much “bread” as film work, it was more creative.  In 1971, he produced and starred in the play Fortune and Men’s Eyes, about the brutal life inside a men’s prison.  The play received good reviews in LA, but when the play moved to NYC, the critics were harsh in their reviews.  In 1972, Mineo directed Gian Carlo Menotti’s opera The Medium, in Detroit, himself portraying The Mute character.  1976 brought a starring part in the play P.S.  Your Cat is Dead.  The San Francisco production’s success and the postive publicity was garnering Mineo attention once again from the film industry.  As the play  moved to LA, so to went Mineo, and it was upon returning home late one evening from a rehearsal, that he tragically became the chosen victim of Lionel Ray Williams.  After a long investigation, Williams was arrested and convicted  by the police in 1979 for the murder of Sal Mineo, and for 10 other robberies in that area of West Hollywood.  He was sentenced to 57 years in prison, did receive parole in 1990, but did get put back into prison for other criminal activity.

I would be remiss not to mention that Sal Mineo also had a bit of recorded music success, releasing some vocal albums,   with some popular songs on them, from 1957-59.  “Love Affair”, “Baby Face”, Young as We Are”, just to name a few of his song titles.  For those who want to know more about Sal Mineo, there is a relatively new book, Sal Mineo: A Biography, by author Michael Gregg Michaud, in bookstores, libraries, and via online book sources, that has gained good reviews.

A funeral mass was held for Sal Mineo on February 17, 1976.  The mass was held at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Mamaronek, New York.  He was buried next to his father’s grave at Gate of Heaven Cemetary in Hawthorne, New York.  His  sister’s husband, Charles Myers, delivered the eulogy: “He was a rare and very special person, a gentle man whose sensitivity and understanding affected everyone he met.”  I would like to end my blog on that note, and to say RIP, Sal Mineo, gone too soon, at the age of 37.  Be sure to check out Comet Over Hollywood for more blog posts about actors, actresses, directors, and musicians that were Gone Too Soon.

  

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