Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Godspeed Sir Bruce Forsyth

Sir Bruce Forsyth, the legendary presenter of the British variety show Sunday Night at the London Palladium and many game shows over the years, died on August 18 2017 at the age of 89.

Sir Bruce Forsyth as born on February 22 1928 in Edmonton, Middlesex. He attended the Latymer School in Edmonton. When he was eight years old he became obsessed with tap dancing after seeing Fred Astaire movies at his local cinema. He then trained in dance in Tottenham and later Brixton. Mr. Forsyth began performing while still a child. He made his television debut when he was still very young, appearing on the TV show Come and Be Televised in 1939. He appeared on stage at the Theatre Royal in Bilston, billed as "Boy Bruce, the Mighty Atom". He played the accordion, ukulele, and banjo.

Mr. Forsyth spent many years in music halls around the United Kingdom, interrupted only by two years of national service in the Royal Air Force. He made his first appearance as an adult on television in 1954 on Variety Parade. Over the next few years he appeared on Music-Hall, The Winifred Atwell Show, and Spectacular. It was while performing at Babbacombe in Devon in 1957 that a fellow dance act recommended Mr. Forsyth to their agent, Billy Marsh. It was through Mr. Marsh that Sir Bruce Forsyth landed an appearance on the TV show New Look. This led to Sir Bruce Forsyth becoming the host of the variety show Sunday Night at the London Palladium. He hosted the show from 1958 to 1960. After a year-long break he returned as its host and remained until 1964.

In the Sixties Mr. Forsyth continued to host Sunday Night at the London Palladium. Along with Frankie Howard he was one of the two hosts of the show Frankie and Bruce. In 1965 he appeared in his own television special, The Bruce Forsyth Show. He appeared on such shows as That's for Me, Thank Your Lucky Stars, Showtime, Two of a Kind, and It's Lulu. He also did a bit of acting during the decade. He guest starred on Mystery and Imagination in an adaption of The Canterville Ghost. He appeared in the films Star! (1968) and Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? (1969).  He also appeared in Royal Variety Performances.

In the Seventies Sir Bruce Forsyth was the host of his own show, The Bruce Forsyth Show as well as Big Night. He hosted his first game show, The Generation Game. He guest starred on such shows as Cilla, Rolf Harris Show, The Morecambe & Wise Show, and The Muppet Show. He appeared in the TV specials Frankie and Bruce and Sammy and Bruce. As an actor he appeared in the films Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971) and The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins (1971). He also appeared in Royal Variety Performances.

In the Eighties Mr. Forsyth acted as a regular in the TV series Anna Pavlova and as the star in the TV series Slinger's Day. He guest starred in an episode of Magnum P. I. He hosted the game shows Play Your Cards Right, Hollywood or Bust, Hot Streak, and You Bet. He starred in the TV specials Forsyth Follies and Bruce and Ronnie. He also appeared in Royal Variety Performances.

In the Nineties Sir Bruce Forsyth hosted the game shows Takeover Bid, Bruce's Price is Right, and a revival of The Generation Game. He also hosted the variety show Guest Night and Tonight at the London Palladium. He appeared in the movie House!.  From the Naughts into the Teens he was the host of Strictly Come Dancing.

For my fellow Americans it may be hard to understand the importance of Sir Bruce Forsyth in the history of British television. We simply don't have any figure that quite corresponds to him. One could describe him as a British Ed Sullivan, but Mr. Sullivan could not sing or dance and wasn't nearly as warm and friendly. One could describe him as a British Bob Barker, but Mr. Barker can not sing and dance and has never hosted variety shows. The simple fact is that Mr. Forsyth could do it all. He could sing. He could dance. He could act. He could be a comedian. None of this should come as any surprise as Sir Bruce Forsyth was one of the last music hall entertainers. Before his success on television he spent years entertaining people in music halls across the United Kingdom. And like many music hall entertainers, he developed a number of different talents.

Of course, Sir Bruce Forsyth was never a favourite with critics. Even when he became famous in the late Fifties he was a bit old-fashioned, a sharp contrast to the Angry Young Men of the era. He was first and foremost an entertainer. He was not there to educate his audience, to enlighten his audience, or to persuade them to take a stand on any particular issue. Sir Bruce Forsyth was there to make them laugh, to make them smile, to make them escape the troubles of their days for a while. This probably explains his popularity for six decades. When one watched Sir Bruce Forsyth, they were guaranteed a half hour or hour of pure escapism. It is something that is sometimes missing from entertainment today. Sir Bruce Forsyth really was one of the last of his kind.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Jerry Lewis R.I.P.

Legendary comedian, actor, and director Jerry Lewis died today at the age of 91.

Jerry Lewis was born Jerry Levitch on March 16 1926 in Newark, New Jersey. His father, Daniel Levitch, was a vaudeville entertainer who used the stage name of Daniel Lewis. His mother, Rachael Levitch, played the piano for a local radio station. Jerry Lewis began performing while very young, starting at age five alongside his parents at various Catskills resorts. By the time he was 15 he had already developed a routine called "the Record Act", whereby he would mime to various records.

Jerry Lewis dropped out of high school in tenth grade. He tried enlisting in the United States Army during World War II, but was classified 4-F due to a heart murmur. It was in 1945 that Jerry Lewis teamed up with singer Dean Martin. The two of them were performing at the Glass Hat Club in New York City. The two hit it off and decided to form a comedy team. Martin and Lewis made their debut as a team on July 25 1946 at the 500 Club in Atlantic City. Their debut did not go over particularly well, and as a result they totally redid their act. Martin and Lewis threw out most of their scripted gags and relied more upon improvisation. It was not long before were performing at clubs all along the East Coast.  It was on June 20 1948 that they made their television debut. It would be historic not simply as the first time that Martin and Lewis were on national television, but also because it was the very first edition of the variety show Toast of the Town, later renamed The Ed Sullivan Show.

Martin and Lewis would be very busy from the late Forties into the Fifties. In 1949 they not only received their own radio show on NBC, but they also made their feature film debut in My Friend Irma. In 1950 they began a stint as two of the hosts of The Colgate Comedy Hour. Martin and Lewis would make several guest appearances on various television shows, including, The Saturday Night Revue with Jack Carter, The Jack Benny Program, and Texaco Star Theatre. Martin and Lewis had a highly successful run of movies made at Paramount, including My Friend Irma Goes West (1950), At War with the Army (1950), That's My Boy (1951), Sailor Beware (1952), Jumping Jacks (1952), The Stooge (1953), Scared Stiff (1953), The Caddy (1953), Money from Home (1953), Living It Up (1954), 3 Ring Circus (1954), You're Never Too Young (1955), Artists and Models (1955), Pardners (1956), and Hollywood or Bust (1956). They also had a cameo in the Hope and Crosby movie Road to Bali (1952).

While Martin and Lewis were enormously successful, the team would eventually come to an end. Tensions between Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis reached the point where they were constantly arguing. On July 25 1956, ten years exactly after their debut as a comedy team, Dean Martin split with Jerry Lewis. Each of them would go onto highly successful solo careers.

Indeed, Jerry Lewis saw a good deal of success on his own in films in the late Fifties. He starred in The Delicate Delinquent (1957), The Sad Sack (1957), Rock-a-Bye Baby (1958), The Geisha Boy (1958), Don't Give Up the Ship (1959), Visit to a Small Planet (1960), The Bellboy (1960), and Cinderfella (1960). The Bellboy marked his directorial debut and he also wrote the screenplay.  He guest starred on the anthology series Startime in an adaptation of The Jazz Singer. He also appeared on the TV shows The Steve Allen Plymouth Show and The Eddie Fisher Show. In 1958 he appeared in his own television special on NBC.

Jerry Lewis's success on film continued through a large part of the Sixties. He starred in the films The Ladies Man (1961), The Errand Boy (1961), It's Only Money (1962), The Nutty Professor (1963), Who's Minding the Store? (1963), The Patsy (1964), The Disorderly Orderly (1964), Family Jewels (1965), and Boeing, Boeing (1965). Of these he directed The Ladies Man, The Errand Boy, The Nutty Professor, The Patsy, and Family Jewels. While The Nutty Professor would prove to be an enormous success, unfortunately some of his other films in the mid-Sixties were not. Paramount then elected not to renew his contract. Jerry Lewis's last several films in the Sixties would be for different studios. They included Three on a Couch (1966), Way... Way Out (1966), Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River (1968), Hook, Line and Sinker (1969), and Which Way to the Front? (1970). He directed Three on a Couch (1966), The Big Mouth (1967), and One More Time (1970).

Jerry Lewis also continued to frequently appear on television in the Sixties. He was a frequent guest host on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He had his own short-lived variety show, The Jerry Lewis Show, that aired on ABC in 1963. He had another variety show later on NBC. The Jerry Lewis Show on NBC debuted on September 12 1967 and lasted for two seasons. He was a guest or guest host on several variety and talk shows during the decade, including The Andy Williams Show, Hullabaloo, The Sammy Davis Jr. Show, What's My Line?, Rowan & Martin's Laugh In, and The Hollywood Palace. In 1970 a Saturday morning cartoon, Will the Real Jerry Lewis Please Sit Down, aired on ABC. Jerry Lewis contributed some scripts to the cartoon, although the character of Jerry Lewis was voiced by David Lander.  He also guest starred in an episode of Ben Casey and had a cameo on the TV show Batman.

It was in the Sixties that Jerry Lewis began hosting Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon each Labour Day. Mr. Lewis had been active in raising money for research into treating muscular dystrophy as early as the Fifties. He hosted local telethons for the Muscular Dystrophy Association from 1952 to 1959. It was in 1966 that he hosted the first nationally televised Jerry MDA Telethon. He continued to do so until 2010.

The Seventies would not be particularly kind to Jerry Lewis in some respects. He directed and starred in the unreleased film The Day the Clown Cried (1972). He starred in the film Hardly Working (1980) and directed the films That's Life (1979) and Hardly Working. He continued to appear on television, on such shows as NBC Follies, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, Cher, Tony Orlando and Dawn, Donny and Marie, Dinah, and The Mike Douglas Show.

The Eighties saw Jerry Lewis star in one of his best known roles, that of comedy Jerry Langford in Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy (1983). He also starred in the films Slapstick of Another Kind (1982), Cracking Up (1983), To Catch a Cop (1984), How Did You Get In? We Didn't See You Leave (1984), and Cookie (1989). He had a recurring role in a story arc of the TV show Wiseguy. He starred in the TV movie Fight for Life (1987). He directed the movie Cracking Up and episodes of Brothers and Super Force.

In the Nineties Mr. Lewis appeared in the films Mr. Saturday Night (1992), Arizona Dream (1993), and Funny Bones (1995). He guest starred on the TV show Mad About You. He directed an episode of the show Good Grief and a segment of the film How Are the Kids? (1992). In the Naughts he guest starred on The Simpsons and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. He appeared in the TV movie Miss Castaway and the Island Girls (2004).  He provided the voice of the Stationmaster in the animated film
Curious George 2: Follow That Monkey! (2009) . In the Teens he appeared in the films Max Rose (2013), Till Luck Do Us Part 2 (2013), and The Trust (2016).

I have to confess that I have never been a huge Jerry Lewis fan. I liked him best as Dean Martin's partner in the many films they made together. That having been said, I did like some of the films he made on his own. I still think of The Nutty Professor as one of the best comedies to emerge from the Sixties. And I also enjoyed seeing him each year on the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon. Of course, ultimately it doesn't matter if I was a big fan of Jerry Lewis or not. The fact remains that when it came to the late 20th Century Jerry Lewis was a comedy giant.

Indeed, starting with his debut in My Friend Irma in 1949 alongside Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis would appear in a number of highly successful comedies as one half of Martin and Lewis. After the act broke up he continued to have a good deal of success through the mid-Sixties. Movies such as The Bellboy and The Nutty Professor proved very successful. Not only did Jerry Lewis number among the most successful comedic actors of the late 20th Century, I think he did have a good deal of talent as an actor over all. In Boeing Boeing he played a very different character from what he usually did, that of journalist Robert Reed, who plots to take over his friend Bernard's apartment, his girlfriends, and pretty much his entire life. In The King of Comedy he played egotistical comedian and talk show host Jerry Langford, who is about as far as from Stanley the bellboy or Professor Julius Kelp as one can get.

Of course, Jerry Lewis was not simply a highly successful comedian, actor, and director, he was also a humanitarian. He was national chairman of and spokesman for the Muscular Dystrophy Association for literally decades. In almost fifty years of being associated with MDA he raised over $2.6 billion in donations. While best known for his association with the Muscular Dystrophy Association, he also supported such charities as the Friars Foundation, the March of Dimes, and St. Francis Food Pantries and Shelters.

For decades it has been a bit of a running joke that Jerry Lewis was wildly popular in France, but the truth is he was wildly popular across the world. He was responsible for making many people laugh and his films are still very popular to this day. Only a very few comedic actors ever had the kind of success that Jerry Lewis had. I seriously doubt we will see to many reach the heights that he did in the future.

Friday, 18 August 2017

WKRP in Cincinnati

 (This post is part of the Workplace in Film and TV Blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini)

For better or worse, today AM radio in the United States is nothing but talk, with a few country and oldies stations being the exception to this rule. This was not always the case. In the days before FM radio came to dominate music programming, there were plenty of AM stations that played rock 'n' roll. The late Seventies were a bit of a last hurrah for rock music on AM radio stations in the United States, as the Eighties would increasingly see radio stations switch to talk formats. It was then perhaps fitting that on September 18 1978 there debuted a now classic TV show about an AM rock 'n' roll station, WKRP in Cincinnati.

WKRP in Cincinnati centred on radio station WKRP, a 5000-watt, AM station located in Cincinnati, Ohio. The struggling radio station had an easy listening format when it switched to rock music. To this end, Andy Travis (Gary Sandy) was hired as its new programme director. Andy had a history of turning around struggling radio stations. Unfortunately, at WKRP he found an rather eccentric staff, not all of who were necessarily happy with the change in format. Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump) was WKRP's general manager, who had the job only because his mother owned the station. Carlson was good natured and a decent person, but he was also rather bumbling and not particularly effective as a general manager. Les Nesman (Richard Sanders) was the overly serious news director at the station, particularly proud of his Silver Sow award for hog reporting. Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner) was WKRP's advertising manager, a man with bad tastes in clothing and a bit of a buffoon. Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson) was the station's blonde and sexy receptionist, easily the most intelligent person at the station (it probably could not run without her). The star at WKRP was disc jockey Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman), a former big-time DJ in Los Angeles who was fired (and apparently blacklisted) after daring to say "booger" on the air. An insomniac, Johnny drank copious amounts of coffee and only seemed truly alive when on the air. Venus Flytrap (Tim Reid) was WKRP's smooth-talking evening DJ, who tend to dress in flashy, but fashionable clothes. Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers) was a young woman originally in charge of billing and station traffic at WKRP, a bit of wide-eyed innocent when the show began.

WKRP in Cincinnati was created by Hugh Wilson, who based the show on experiences that he had when he worked at AM station WQXI in Atlanta, Georgia. In fact, many of the characters were based on actual people, including Andy Travis, Herb Tarlek, and Johnny Fever.  Some of the episodes were even based on actual incidents at WQXI, including what may be the show's most famous episode, "Turkeys Away". As far fetched as it sounds, such a promotion actually occurred, although in real life the turkeys were thrown from the back of a truck.

WKRP in Cincinnati debuted on September 18 1978 on CBS. Unfortunately it aired opposite the still popular Little House on the Prairie on NBC (ranked #14 for the season). It did not do well in the ratings and CBS pulled WKRP in Cincinnati after only eight episodes. Fortunately overwhelmingly positive reviews and support from a loyal fan base resulted in the show being returned to the CBS schedule. What is more, it received a better time slot. It still aired on Monday night, but it followed the highly popular show M*A*S*H.

It was also during the first season that WKRP in Cincinnati began to evolve. Originally the series primarily focused on the radio business, with episodes such as "Hold-Up" (in which Johnny Fever does a remote from a stereo shop only to find himself held at gunpoint) and "Turkeys Away" being the norm. As the first season progressed the show began to be centred more on the characters and less on radio. A new set was added, the bullpen, in which most of the characters had their desks. This allowed for the cast of WKRP in Cincinnati to develop into a true ensemble.

By the time of its second season WKRP in Cincinnati was both well received by critics and successful in the ratings. For its second season it ranked #22 out of all the shows on the air. Unfortunately, one would not always know this from the treatment the show received from CBS. In the middle of its second season WKRP in Cincinnati was moved from its plum spot following M*A*S*H to its original, 8 PM EST/7PM CST time slot on Monday night. Sadly , this would be the first of many changes in time slot for the show. In the end CBS would move WKRP in Cincinnati 14 times during its original run. Sadly, this would have a deleterious effect on the ratings. It was moved four times during the 1979-1980 season alone, and each time it lost around 2.5 million viewers.

By the fourth season of WKRP in Cincinnati the show's ratings had fallen far enough that CBS cancelled the show. Its last original episode aired on April 21 1982. Reruns of the show continued on CBS until September 20 1982. While WKRP in Cincinnati did well in the ratings for only a brief period during its original network run, it proved to be a phenomenal success in syndication. In fact, WKRP in Cincinnati made more money in syndication than any other show produced by MTM, beating out such legendary classics as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show.

Of course, over the years the reruns of WKRP in Cincinnati aired in syndication would differ a bit from what they had in their original forms where first aired on CBS. Being about a radio show, rock music played a large role on WKRP in Cincinnati. Sadly, in the Seventies, music was most often licensed to TV show for a limited duration of years. As licences for the various songs used on the show expired, they were often replaced by other, often inferior songs. It was because of music licensing that WKRP in Cincinatti would not be released on DVD for years. When it was first released on DVD in 2007, it was with the substitute music. Fortunately, in 2014 Shout Factory began released the four seasons of WKRP in Cincinnati with most of the original music intact.

The success of WKRP in Cincinnati would lead to a sequel series. The New WKRP in Cincinnati saw Gordon Jump, Frank Bonner, and Richard Sanders return as Arthur Carlson, Herb Tarlek, and Les Nessman. Howard Hesseman made a few guest appearances as Johnny Fever.  The New WKRP in Cincinnati would not see the success that the original had in syndication, and ended its run after two seasons and 47 episodes.

WKRP in Cincinnati debuted when I was a teenager heavily into rock music (to give you an idea of how big a rock fan I was, some people guessed my brother and I might have the largest vinyl collection in the county). Quite naturally I was drawn to a show about a rock 'n' roll radio station. I certainly was not disappointed. WKRP in Cincinnati would turn out to be one of the best shows of the last Seventies and early Eighties. It was nominated for several Emmys (although it won only one, for Outstanding Video Tape Editing for a Series) and it even won a Humanitas award for 30 Minute Network or Syndicated Television for the episode "Venus and the Man".

As to why WKRP in Cincinnati would prove to be a lasting success, I think that comes down to the fact that it was a character-driven show played by one of the best casts assembled for a show and written by some of the best writers in the business. WKRP in Cincinnati wasn't about a radio station. It was about people who worked at a radio station. Because of this it produced some of the best half hours ever seen on American television. "Turkeys Away" is often included on lists of the greatest TV episodes of all time, but WKRP in Cincinnati had several other fine episodes. In “Clean Up Radio Everywhere” Andy tackled a moral crusader who attacked WKRP's playlist (this was shortly after Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell had criticised WKRP in Cincinnati and other shows). In ""Dr. Fever and Mr. Tide" Parts One and Two Johnny Fever becomes a success as the host of a disco dance show (going by the name Rip Tide) and becomes in danger of losing himself. In "Put Up or Shut Up" Jennifer tries to put an end to Herb's constant come-ons by actually going out with him.  

WKRP in Cincinnati could even tackle sensitive subjects, remaining funny without being offensive. On December 3 1979 The Who were in concert at  Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, where 14,770 of the tickets sold were general admission--essentially first come, first serve. When the crowd waiting outside mistook a soundcheck by The Who as the actual start of the concert, there began a stampede. As a result eleven people were trampled to death. WKRP in Cincinnati devoted an entire episode to the tragedy in the episode "In Concert", which aired on February 11 1980. The episode sensitively dealt with the danger of festival seating (the first-come, first-serve, general admission tickets) of the sort used by Riverfront Coliseum. It was easily one of the best episodes of the show. Here it should be noted that before the episode had aired the Cincinnati city council had banned festival seating.

It is precisely because WKRP in Cincinnati had well-developed characters and well-written episodes that it remains a beloved show today. It remains in syndication to this day and all four seasons are available on DVD. It is even available on various streaming services. CBS apparently did not realise what they had on their hands when they were moving WKRP in Cincinnati around their schedule. In the end it would prove to be one of the most popular shows to emerge from the late Seventies.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

The Great Movie Ride Closes

After 28 years in operation, the Great Movie Ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida has closed. It opened on May 1 1989. For those unfamiliar with the ride, it used a combination of animatronics, projections, sets, and live actors to recreate scenes from classic movies. It was in 2014 that Turner Classic Movies became a sponsor of the Great Movie Ride. After this there would be a pre-show introduction, narration, and a post-show featuring the legendary Robert Osborne. Sadly, the Great Movie Ride closed on August 13 2017 to make way for a new ride, Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway.

I must admit that I am saddened by the closing of the Great Movie Ride. I have never been to any of Disney's theme parks and it was the one ride I really wanted to experience. Over the years I have known several people who have gone on the ride and all of them loved it. I have even known a few people whose love of classic films was spurred by the Classic Movie Ride. I am honestly disappointed that now it looks like I will never experience the ride unless they somehow bring it back. I can' see being nearly as enthusiastic about Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway....

Regardless, the Great Movie Ride provided some fond memories for many people I know and inspired yet others to become classic film buffs. It is sad to see it go. 

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Lionel Barrymore in Key Largo (1948)

Key Largo (1948) numbers among Lionel Barrymore's most famous films. In it he played the role of crotchety but spirited hotel owner James Temple. Mr.Temple is a man with such backbone that he is even willing to stand up to the brutal gangster Johnny Rocco (played by Edward G. Robinson).

Key Largo was very loosely based on the play of the same name by Maxwell Anderson. In fact, the film owed very little to the play, The names of the characters and even their backgrounds were changed for the movie, as well as the setting, to the point that the movie is very nearly an entirely original creation. Regardless, Key Largo received largely positive reviews. It also did very well at the box office. Claire Trevor won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Gaye Dawn, Rocco's moll. The film was also nominated for the Writers Guild of America's award for Best Written American Drama.

As in nearly of all of Mr. Barrymore's made after 1938, he plays nearly all of Key Largo in a wheelchair. His arthritis has often been given as the reason that he was confined to a wheelchair for the last part of his career, but in fact it would appear to be two accidents he had in the Thirties. The first occurred in 1936 when a drawing table fell on him, breaking his hip. The second occurred in 1937 when he tripped over a cable, again breaking his hip. In 1951 Lionel Barrymore said that it was twice breaking his hip that confined him to a wheelchair. Quite simply, it made walking very difficult.

The fact that Lionel Barrymore had difficulty walking makes one scene in Key Largo particularly dramatic and demonstrates just how great an actor Mr. Barrymore was. In one scene Mr. Barrymore gets up from his wheelchair in an attempt to punch at Rocco's henchman Toots (played by Harry Lewis), falling in doing so. Given Lionel Barrymore's condition at the time, there can be no doubt that this was a difficult scene for him to shoot.

That having been said, the scene also sums up the character of James Temple. James Temple is cantankerous and a bit rowdy, but for the most part lovable. Indeed, he is so respected by everyone that he has more influence with the local Seminoles than the sheriff's department does. That having been said, he would also seem to have a will of iron.  In addition to taking a swing at Totos, James Temple also issues a stream of insults towards Rocco not long after the gangster's arrival, full well knowing Rocco could simply shoot him.

In many respects, James Temple was a variation on the sorts of roles Lionel Barrymore primarily played throughout his career, that of lovable but irascible characters. He was Grandpa Martin Vanderhof in You Can't Take It With You (1938), Dr. Gillespie in the "Dr. Kildare" movies,and he originated the role of Judge Hardy in A Family Affair (1937), the film that sparked the "Andy Hardy" series (in the series the role would be played by Lewis Stone). In some ways James Temple is Grandpa Vanderhof or Dr. Gillespie if they came face to face with gangsters in their own homes. One can rather picture any of these characters shouting insults at the gangsters and even taking a swing at them!

Lionel Barrymore was part of an incredible cast that included Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, and Claire Trevor. And like the rest of the cast, Lionel Barrymore gave a great performance in Key Largo. There should be little wonder it remains among his most famous films.


Tuesday, 15 August 2017

My First Smart Phone

For most of the past eleven years I only ever owned one mobile phone. It was a Nokia 6230i. Unfortunately it was a few weeks ago that I noticed that its battery was running down faster and faster. I concluded that it was about time I got a new phone. Unfortunately, I liked none of the standard mobile phones that my carrier sells. It seemed as if they were all cheap looking flip phones. Indeed, my sister had bought one for $89 and it didn't even have a camera. I then decided I would have to get a smart phone. I went ahead and got a Samsung Galaxy J3. It has sufficient memory and storage for my purposes. More importantly it was affordable.

Despite being one of the more inexpensive Samsung Galaxy phones, I have to say that I am impressed with the J3. It is much faster than my Amazon Kindle Fire (which sometimes seems to move as slow as molasses). It also came with some useful apps. Gallery is exactly what it sounds like. It is a photo viewing app with some capacity for editing. Optimize is an app that shuts down unnecessary apps that are running. It also came with Accuweather, which is my weather app of choice on my Amazon Fire.  It came with several Google apps, although I can say with some certainty I will never use Google Photos or Duo. I would have rather had Google+ and Hangouts instead.  Of course, I installed Google+ and Instagram right away, as well as some of my other favourite apps. I installed Facebook so I could easily upload photos taken with the phone, but not Messenger (I don't even have Messenger installed on my Amazon Kindle Fire).  Here I must note that Facebook has never been one of my favourite apps.

One cool thing about this new phone is that since both my TV and my phone are Samsungs, I can mirror things from my phone to the TV. This could come in useful if I ever want to stream anything to the television set or if I want to look at photos on the phone on a bigger screen.

I have to say that I am impressed with the Samsung Galaxy J3's camera. It is not necessarily anything incredible. It does have some trouble in low light as many digital cameras do, but it is superior to my old Nokia's camera and the Kindle Fire's as well. I can take photos much faster than with the two older devices. And it has a flash, which is something I have had on none of my other devices other than the digital camera. At any rate, the photos I have taken with it look much better than the photos I took with the old phone or the Kindle.

Of course, I do have one complaint about the Samsung Galaxy J3. There seems to be no way to turn off badge notifications for specific apps. Many apps, such as Twitter, allow you to turn them off. Unfortunately, Facebook does not. I am hoping either Facebook will do an update where they will allow one to shut down badge notifications or that there will be an Android update that allows one to do so.

Anyway, so far I have primarily used my new phone for phone calls, texting, and Instagram. I have played around with some other apps (such as Gallery and Prisma). I don't think I'll ever be one of those people addicted to his smart phone, but I must admit it is mice to have one.

Monday, 14 August 2017

American Patriotic Superheroes of the Forties

On September 1 1939 Nazi Germany invaded Poland. It was on September 3 1939, after Nazi Germany ignored a demand from the United Kingdom to withdraw troops from Poland, that the United Kingdom, France, and Australia declared war on Nazi Germany. In the United States the majority of Americans opposed the nation entering the war. It would not be until December 8 1941, after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbour the previous day, that the United States would enter World War II. They would declare war on Nazi Germany a few days later, on December 11 1941.

While the United States would not enter World War II until 1941, a majority of Americans were hostile towards Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. And while a majority of Americans still favoured a course of non-interventionism, there were those who thought the United States should enter the war against Nazi Germany. It should then come as no surprised that patriotically themed superheroes began appearing in American comic books well before the U.S. entered World War II or that there would be a plethora of them following the nation's entry into the war. Strangely enough, the most popular patriotic superheroes with the most longevity all appeared before the United States entered the war.

Indeed, the first patriotically themed superhero appeared nearly two years before the attack on Pearl Harbour. The Shield was the creation of writer Harry Shorten and artist Irv Novick. He first appeared in Pep Comics #1 (January 1940), published by MLJ Comics (the company that would later become Archie Comics). The Shield was chemistry student Joe Higgins, the son of Lieutenant Tom Higgins, who was working on a formula that would give people super-strength for the United States military. Unfortunately, the Nazis wanted the formula and killed Tom in an act of sabotage. Joe continued to develop the formula on his own and, once completed, used it on himself. He then took to fighting crime and the enemies of America as The Shield, dressed in a suitably patriotic costume.

The Shield proved to be MLJ's most popular superhero. He was featured on the cover of Pep Comics for several years. With Pep Comics #15 May 1941 he received his own fan club, the Shield G-Man Club. From summer 1940 to winter 1944 he also shared his own title with another superhero, The Wizard: Shield-Wizard Comics. Unfortunately for The Shield, the popularity of teen humour character Archie was such that Archie eventually forced The Shield entirely off the covers of Pep Comics with issue #51 (December 1944). The Shield would continue for another four years in the pages of Pep Comics before ending his original run in 1948.

The Shield would not remain the only patriotically themed superhero for long. As a national personification of the United States, Uncle Sam has existed since around 1810. It was legendary comic book artist and writer Will Eisner who took Uncle Sam and turned him into a superhero. Uncle Sam first appeared in National Comics #1 (July 1940), published by Quality Comics. Uncle Sam was the spirit of a slain Revolutionary War soldier who returned any time his country was in need of him. He proved to be a fairly popular character and received his own magazine, Uncle Sam Quarterly in September 1941. Uncle Sam would continue to appear in the pages of National Comics until #45 1944. His own magazine, Uncle Sam Quarterly, continued for 8 issues until September 1943, after which it was renamed Blackhawk and given over to another wartime hero.

While the superhero Uncle Sam has largely been forgotten by all but comic books fans, Captain America would become the second most famous and second most popular patriotic superhero after Wonder Woman. Created by the legendary team of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, the character would appear to owe a little bit to the original patriotic superhero, The Shield. Captain America was Steve Rogers, a tall, frail, young man born to a poor family on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Disturbed by the rise of Nazi Germany, he tried to enlist in the United States Army but was rejected as being too thin. Steve then volunteered as a test subject for a top secret project that would transform him into a super-soldier. Injected with a special serum, Steve Rogers found he had super-strenghth and enhanced reflexes. He then became Captain America, fighting the Axis powers in a red, white, and blue costume. He was equipped with a bullet-proof shield.

Captain America's original shield would create a bit of conflict with John Goldwater of MLJ Comics, who thought the shield bore too close a resemblance to their character The Shield's breastplate on his costume. Martin Goodman, publisher of the company that would evolve into the modern day Marvel Comics, then had Joe Simon and Jack Kirby redesign Cap's shield. The end result was the circular shield used by Captain America today.

Captain America was introduced in his very own title, Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941). That same issue marked the first appearance of his archenemy, The Red Skull. Originally The Red Skull was an American Nazi sympathiser, George Maxon, owner of Maxon Aircraft Company. In Captain America Comics #7 (October 1941), however, it was revealed that Maxon was merely a pawn of the real Red Skull, a Nazi agent named Johann Schmidt.

Captain America proved phenomenally popular, but the character also proved to be a source of controversy. At the time Captain America first appeared the United States was several months away from declaring war on Nazi Germany. The cover of the first issue featured Captain America punching Adolph Hitler. While they were a minority at the time, there were Nazi sympathisers in the United States in 1941 and they were angry about this new patriotic superhero. The offices of Timely Comics were inundated with angry letters and hateful phone calls. Eventually suspicious, threatening-looking men were seen outside their offices, to the point that employees were afraid to go out for lunch. The threats were reported to the NYPD and soon the offices of Timely were being patrolled by New York City cops. It was not long after the police guard had arrived that Timely Comics received a call from Mayor Fiorello La Guardia himself. He spoke on the phone to Joe Simon, telling him, "You boys over there are doing a good job. The City of New York will see that no harm will come to you."

Captain America proved to be Timely Comics' most popular character and one of the most popular characters of the Golden Age. Although it drew little from the comic book, there was even a 1944 Republic serial. Captain America would end his original run in 1948. After an unsuccessful revival attempt in 1954, Captain America was brought back in 1964 and has remained around ever since.

Although never as popular as Captain America, The Star-Spangled Kid and Stripsey would see a good deal of success in the Golden Age. The Star-Spangled Kid was Sylvester Pemberton, a young man of some wealth. One night he went to the cinema where Nazi sympathisers were so upset by a film's patriotic theme that they started a riot. Sylvester Pemberton, along with mechanic Pat Dugan, helped stop the riot. The two of them eventually decided to fight such threats to America as The Star Spangled Kid and Stripesy, with Pat Duggan going to work as Sylvester's family's chauffeur. The two relied on superb martial arts skills and a few gadgets, as well as their specially made limousine the Star Rocket Racer, to battle the forces of evil. They were unique in being a teenage hero with an adult sidekick.

The Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy first appeared in Action Comics #40 (September 1941) before regularly appearing in Star-Spangled Comics on a regular basis. The characters were created by writer Jerry Siegel (most famous as co-creator of Superman) and artist Hal Sherman. The Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy were featured on the covers of Star-Spangled Comics until #7 (April 1942), when the Newsboy Legion (created by Jack Simon and Jack Kirby) took over. That having been said, they continued to appear in the pages of Star-Spangled Comics until #86 (November 1948).  The two of them joined the Seven Soldiers of Victory, the second superhero team published by one of the companies that would become DC Comics (the first being the first ever superhero team, the Justice Society of America). They first appeared with the Seven Soldiers of Victory in Leading Comics #1 (December 1941) and continued to appear until Leading Comics #14 (March 1945), after which the title switched to a funny animal format.

The Fighting Yank also made his first appearance in a comic book with a cover date of September 1941. He first appeared in Startling Comics #10, published by Nedor. He was created by writer Richard E. Hughes and artist Jon L. Blummer. The Fighting Yank was Bruce Carter III, who was visited by the ghost of his ancestor Bruce Carter I, a veteran of the Revolutionary War. Bruce Carter I directed him to a magic cloak that gave the wearer super-strength and invulnerability. Bruce Cabot III then became The Fighting Yank, outfitted in a Revolutionary War inspired costume, complete with a tri-corner hat. The Fighting Yank proved fairly successful. He received his own title with Fighting Yank #1 (September 1942). He continued to appear in various Nedor titles until 1949.

By far the most popular patriotic superhero of all time made her first appearance only a little over a month before the attack on Pearl Harbour.  Wonder Woman first appeared in a back-up story in All-Star Comics #8 (December 1941). Wonder Woman was Diana, Princess of the Amazons.  Steve Trevor of U.S. Army Intelligence crashed on Paradise Island, home of the Amazons. Nursing Steve back to health, Diana fell in love with him. Having learned of the threat of Nazism, Queen Hippolyta  of the Amazons decreed that an Amazon should accompany Steve Trevor back to the United States to help fight the Nazis. Unfortunately, Hippolyta also forbade her daughter, Diana, to participate in the tournament that would decide who should go back to the U.S. with Steve Trevor. Diana then donned a mask in order to take part in the tournament. Winning the tournament, Diana then won the right to accompany Steve Trevor back to the United States. She was then given her patriotic costume and the name "Wonder Woman".

While Wonder Woman has since drifted away from her patriotic roots (in the Eighties the eagle that originally formed part of her costume would be replaced by a stylised "WW"), during World War II she was very much a patriotic character. Among her opponents in the Golden Age were Nazi spy and saboteur Baroness Paula von Gunther. In addition to supervillains, it was not unusual for Wonder Woman to tackle spies and saboteurs during World War II.

Regardless, Wonder Woman would prove phenomenally popular during the Golden Age. In fact, she became one of the only superheroes besides Superman and Batman to be published continuously since the Golden Age. She would be adapted to television, animated cartoons, and, most recently, a feature film. Although not tied to patriotism as closely as she once was, Wonder Woman would appear to be the most successful patriotically themed superhero of all time.

These aren't the only patriotically themed superheroes to appear during the Golden Age of  Comic Books. There were a few others who appeared before the United States had entered the war and several others who appeared after the U.S. had entered World War II. In fact, comic books cover dated August 1941 produced several  patriotic superheroes, including Miss America (Quality), Miss Victory (Holyoke), U.S. Jones (Fox), and American Crusader (Nedor). Among the other well-known patriotic heroes of the Golden Age were Minute-Man (Fawcett), Captain Battle (Lev Gleason), Mr. America (DC Comics), Captain Flag (MLJ), Liberator (Nedor), and Liberty Belle (DC Comics). There were yet others, some of whose lifespans were measured in months.

Patriotically themed superheroes served an important purpose during World War II. Like many films from the era, they served to boost morale, both at home and in the various theatres of the war. Even superheroes without a patriotic theme often found themselves battling Nazis or the Japanese during the war, including such big names as Batman and Superman. During what was perhaps the bloodiest struggle in the history of humanity, superheroes did their part.