Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis on Radio and TV

Michael Hayde’s latest book, Side by Side: Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis on TV and Radio, fills in a gap that most biographers tend to overlook – their radio career.
His mother introduced him to Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis when they watched Jumping Jacks(1952) on television one afternoon in the early 1970s. “They were much funnier on The Colgate Comedy Hour,” she remarked. That sparked a lovely conversation that planted the seed for Hayde’s love and appreciation for their careers.
In an era where most biographers are preoccupied with the motion-pictures and their bitter breakup, the comedians’ radio and television program have largely gone overlooked or – at best – documented through observations of viewing the programs and listening to the recordings.
Die-hard fans will agree that Martin and Lewis were at their best on the weekly television comedy, and the radio program flopped at first until the fall of 1951 when the same script writers of the television series began writing the radio scripts. (Anyone who listens to those 1950 radio broadcasts and compares them to the 1951-1954 broadcasts will agree as well.)
That is the beauty of Michael Hayde’s book – he fills in the gap that has been overlooked. Heavily researched, with details from salary costs and recorded interviews, Hayde corrects a number of errors that appear in other books and sets the record straight. 
Anyone who has a copy of Michael’s other books (DragnetCharlie ChaplinThe Adventures of Superman) know how well he writers and how far he digs into the archives.  Looking for a Christmas gift? You can buy a copy of the book today at www.bearmanormedia.com

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Hopalong Cassidy Meets Judy Canova

As an early holiday gift to everyone, here is the December 24, 1949 broadcast of THE JUDY CANOVA SHOW from a direct disc transfer. 

And the best part? Hopalong Cassidy meets Judy Canova!

1949 was a busy year for Canova. She turned down an offer to perform in a traveling circus but made a large number of public appearances on stage, nudged producer Joe Rines into taping her radio program in advance (rather than broadcast live), signed a deal with Simon & Schuster to publish the biography of famous relatives to be titled, "A Collection of Canovas," played on stage at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, broke records at the El Cajon Country Fair in San Diego, was mulling over plans for a kiddie album for Decca Records for which she would sing and narrate, and in November she was talking with the Ted Bates Agency regarding making the transition from radio to television in the coming season.

Her radio program was cancelled officially in June of 1949 by Colgate-Palmolive-Peet as a result of the sponsor's insistence that television provided a platform for better promotion, and with the belief that Canova was more of a visual act, but in July she agreed to a renewal for a weekly budget of $8,500. Prior to that her program cost $11,500 per week. Canova realized that without weekly exposure her motion-pictures (including movies being re-issued in theaters courtesy of Republic Pictures) would have less draw appeal. This required Canova to strike deals with Hollywood actors in lieu of a performance fee, helping to maintain budget control.

In early December 1949, William Boyd agreed to appear as a guest on her weekly radio program. Boyd had recently invested his own funds to produce a weekly syndicated radio program of Hopalong Cassidy and the actor wanted to cross-promote through celebrity guest appearances. But then something happened... Behind the scenes Canova's office was besieged with ticket requests, mostly from youngsters. This put her into a tough spot since NBC would not allow children under 14 to enter the studio and view the show. I have not been able to find anything pertaining to whether or not NBC granted an exception but try to hear the sounds of children in the audience when you listen to the broadcast.

In case someone is curious about the count: there is an official list of 78 episodes of The Judy Canova Show known to exist in collector hands, while seven additional episodes supposedly exist. I say "supposedly" because every couple years the broadcast dates for those seven recordings, including this Christmas Eve 1949 broadcast, were made public and multiple people crawl out of the woodwork claiming they have a copy. Multiple people provided a photo image of the disc label, but never provided a recording for various reasons: "No one wants to listen to Judy Canova these days..." or "My asking price is $800 if you want to hear the recording." I doubt Canova's name was the motif behind the ransom prices, but rather William Boyd's continued appeal to baby boomers. When half a dozen people over the years claim to have a recording but no one is willing to prove it, we have to take such claims with a grain of salt.

Anyway, about a year ago a transcription disc was put for auction and noticing it was the Holy Grail of the seven "supposedly existing" episodes, with no hesitation I bought the disc and had a friend do the transfer to digital. Now the official count is 79.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Night of the Living Dead: Thank You, Criterion

The new must-have Criterion DVD release.
At long last the definitive DVD release of Night of the Living Dead (1968) is available on DVD and Blu-Ray through Criterion. For the record, this is my favorite horror movie. It was the first horror movie I ever saw and the first film that gave me nightmares. It remains the only movie to provide me with recurring nightmares decades later. As a self-obsessed fan of the black and white classic, I bought every DVD release in the hopes that someone would provide a superior print transfer. The film fell into the public domain and has since been released on DVD over 100 times and most of them grainy, fuzzy dupes. There are thousands of fans like myself who purchased multiple VHS and DVD releases over the years, with the same goal in mind: the best picture and sound quality available. Do not judge me: Night of the Living Dead was one of the first films deemed culturally significant and resides in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.

Shot outside of Pittsburgh on a shoestring budget, a band of filmmakers determined to make their mark had no idea at the time what they would accomplish. Directed by George A. Romero, this is a great story of independent cinema: a midnight hit turned box-office smash that became one of the most influential films of all time. A deceptively simple tale of a group of strangers trapped in a farmhouse who find themselves fending off a horde of recently dead, flesh-easting ghouls. Romero's claustrophobic vision of a late-60s America literary tearing itself apart rewrote the rules of the horror genre, combining gruesome gore with acute social commentary. 

Republic Pictures released what might have been the first great print on VHS, matched by Elite Entertainment's DVD release. Elite provided a number of bonus features including an interview with Duane Jones. (The Jones interview is included in the new Criterion release but reportedly four and a half minutes longer in length.) Mill Creek Entertainment put out a shoddy so-called "Anniversary Edition" on Blu-Ray, rushed out to capitalize on the publicity surrounding the film's restoration and theatrical release. The quality was very poor and like many companies that specialize in public domain titles, decided not to invest money in an archival print transfer and instead grabbed the film print from anywhere they could find it. Beware of the Mill Creek release.

As for the recent Criterion DVD and Blu-Ray release, this is the definitive version. Prior releases were very tightly cropped, whereas the film is presented here in its 1.37:1 aspect ratio, with additional footage on all edges of the frame. The depth and richness is far superior. Boy was I surprised to discover Duane Jones' plain white shirt actually has fine, gray stripes. The floor tiles in the kitchen have patterns on them. You can see light reflected on Johnny's glasses. Barbara has a lot of thick makeup on her face -- tons of detail level that was never noticed with prior releases. There has to be a point where you bump up against the limits of the source itself, but considering this is a major cut above all the rest I would state this is absolutely the best version you will find on DVD anywhere -- ever. Even the soundtrack has been restored. 

If you have the Elite Entertainment DVD release, keep it alongside your new Criterion release as there are bonus extras on there that is not available on the Criterion. 

But make no mistakes, Criterion provides so many bonus extras I could not name them all: newsreels from 1967, audio commentaries, archival interviews with cast and crew, a never-before-seen 16mm dailies reel, the never-before-presented work-print edit of the film (titled Night of Anubis), movie trailer, radio spots, TV spots and more.

The Criterion release will cost more than any of the others. Just remember that while Night of the Living Dead is available on hundreds of DVD releases, each of varied grainy, milky quality, the Criterion release pictured at the very top is the only one you want to have in your collection -- proving you get what you pay for. As for me, my quest to find the best quality available for this horror classic is put to rest. 

Friday, November 23, 2018

Latest Books from Bear Manor Media

Not a month goes by that I do not receive complimentary books in the mail from authors asking me to do book reviews. A larger-than-usual package from Bear Manor Media Publishing, however, brought about a pleasant surprise and if you are looking for something to get this holiday season, at least a couple of these books will be of interest.

At the age of 61, Sydney Greenstreet made one of the most memorable debuts in classic cinema as the mysterious Kasper Gutman in The Maltese Falcon (1941), a personal favorite of mine. His performance earned him a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Oscars. Born in England, Greenstreet enjoyed a 40-year stage career which encompassed everything from Shakespeare to musical comedy and some of the most acclaimed plays of the 1930s. Today he is best remembered for his roles in such classics as Casablanca (1941), Between Two Worlds (1944) and a number of movies in which he was teamed with horror screen icon Peter Lorre. Until now there has not been a book about Greenstreet and Derek Sculthorpe clearly did his research and dug deep into the vaults, contacted family relatives and traveled the globe to find rare photographs and materials for this book.

Often I have said that many biographies these days are hack jobs: authors who stack a pile of newspaper and magazine clippings in chronological order and compose a book, padding it with plot summaries from movies we can view today without the need of extensive summaries. Thankfully, Sculthorpe avoided that pitfall and we can thank him personally for assembling what will be a welcome addition to my bookshelf.

Bill Cassara and Richard S. Greene assembled a 500-page biography about one of the most under-rated screen actors, today best known for playing the title role of Drums of Fu Manchu. He played supporting roles and various characters in more than 200 motion-pictures. You saw him stand shoulder to shoulder with John Wayne as Indian Chief Scar in The Searchers, as Barnaby in the Laurel and Hardy classic Babes in Toyland, and combat dinosaurs in The Land Unknown (1957). 

From his early stage work in the 1930s, his numerous appearances in cliffhanger serials, his appearance with Roy Rogers in Bad Man of Deadwood, the Tarzan films and his numerous television appearances, this book covers them all. A chapter documenting his convention appearances, including the Sons of the Desert conventions, are illustrated with photographs from club members. My only complaint is that there are a good number of pages devoted to plot summaries rather than behind-the-scenes trivia about his work on those films, but the fact that someone took time to write a book about Henry Brandon should be commended. 

James L. Neibaur adds yet another book to the growing pile of Charlie Chan reference guides. Every three or four years another book comes out but this one provides more common themes, critical assessments, discussion and critical review than the other books. There are recollections from actors, writers and directors who appeared in some of the movies, and production details such as dates of production and cast lists. For the Charlie Chan fan who has to have them all... and longs for critical analysis and reviews of the movies, from the literary origins to the modern day controversies, this book verifies that Charlie Chan movies continue to resonate as late as the 21st century.

Pioneering make-up artist Dottie Ponedel gave celebrities such as Marlene Dietrich, Carole Lombard, Paulette Goddard, Joan Blondell, Judy Garland and Barabra Stanwyck the faces that made them famous. She rode to the top of her field in classic Hollywood but had to fight to stay there since the make-up departments at Hollywood studios were all run by men. The Make-Up Artists Union was finally forced to let her in because the biggest names in Hollywood refused to let anyone else make them up. "No stranger is going to pat this puss," Mae West once declared. This book is her memoir and while some might question whether a book about a female make-up artist warrants reading, let me remind you that it is she who tells the stories about our favorite stars. At a mere 177 pages, this is a quick read. But these are the type of books that are worth a couple hours of your time. 

Jennifer Ann Redmond provided us with a fascinating book that warrants reading for anyone longing to learn more about Corliss Palmer and her scandalous rise and fall. After winning the Fame and Fortune contest of 1920, Corliss Palmer became a movie star. But, after you read this well-researched book, it was the worst thing that ever happened to her. Who is Corliss Palmer, you might ask? She was a silent screen actress deemed "the most beautiful girl in America" and starred in a total of 16 motion-pictures. Three of her films are considered "lost" today, adding mystique to the legend and lure of Palmer. After ending her acting career in 1931, she continued to model cosmetics as well as fashions for a local department store. She divorced, turned to alcohol and spent many years in a psychiatric institution. A sad story indeed, but we need more of these books to help cement her immortality and more importantly, verify the adage that everyone went west in the hopes of striking it rich and famous... most never succeeded -- a true tragic Hollywood story.

This book also features over 70 photographs, many never-before-seen from the Palmer family scrapbook, illustrating the tale of obsession, glamor and why we should always be careful what we wish for. Recommended.