Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Ultimate Book on Laurel and Hardy


With respect to everyone who wrote a book about Laurel and Hardy in the past, and will do so in the coming future, the latest from Randy Skretvedt, a massive 628-page cockroach killer, is a must-have. There can be no doubt that others will follow with their own tomes, documenting new discoveries and/or attempting to out-shine past endeavors, but Laurel and Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies practically covers everything as a massive compilation of all things Laurel and Hardy. Even if you watched every Laurel and Hardy film short, twice, reading the entries under each film short and full-length motion-picture will make you want to watch the films again. 

Where to begin? 

His first edition was written back in 1987 and 29 years later, much has happened to the legacy of Laurel and Hardy. The Hal Roach films were purchased by Hallmark Cards, who wanted the film as collateral when trying to obtain funding for their Hallmark Hall of Fame television specials. They virtually did nothing with their films, and thought so little of the films that they almost destroyed the original 35mm master materials, which were saved by the eleventh hour by a Laurel and Hardy scholar and the staff at the UCLA Film and Television Archive. 

Thankfully, the rights to the Hal Roach talkies eventually returned to the custody of RHI Entertainment, the 35mm materials donated to UCLA, and restored prints are presently being funded. And this is where Randy's new book comes in to play. Adding to the continued legacy of the comedy duo that almost faded from the mainstream, decades of continued research made up this 628-page book, slick glossy paper, consisting of 800 photographic images -- many never-before-published with photos from Oliver Hardy's personal collection. Randy interviewed actors and actresses for recollections and anecdotes, and tracked down locations where the team filmed many of their famous scenes. Having access to the shooting scripts, Randy compared the finished product to determine which jokes were improvised on the set, unscripted, and which scenes were filmed but ended up on the cutting room floor.

Randy debunks the story Hal Roach told in Brownlow's Hollywood documentary, regarding the mistaken house used in Big Business (1929), how Jean Harlow's grandfather was outraged when he discovered his actress daughter appeared on camera (just shy of 18 years) showing off her figure in Double Whoopie (1929), and why they made a brief appearance in The Hollywood Revue of 1929. I was not aware that the steps used for The Music Box (1932) has become an official landmark in the City of Los Angeles (complete with special signage), an un-filmed ending for Towed in a Hole (1932) is documented in detail, and photos from a deleted scene in Twice Two (1933) adds sugar on the icing.


This is definitely one of those books that you watch a film short, laugh your head off, and then take a moment to read up on the behind-the-scenes trivia to take a deeper appreciation for the craft.

Considering only one film short remains missing in its entirety, Hats Off, the information in this book is extremely valuable. Such documentation preserves history.

Even with a dozen reference works about Laurel and Hardy on my bookshelf, each a pleasant read, Randy's hardcover will now be the first -- and probably only -- book I pull off my shelf when I need to know something about Laurel and Hardy. The retail price may be as hefty as the book itself, $80 plus postage, but with a limit print run of 2,000, do not hesitate. The book has only been available for two years and the author told me he only has 300 left. Grab your copy today.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Obscure Trivia About Robert Wagner

From September 13 to 15, 2018, Robert Wagner will be signing autographs and posing for photos with fans at the 13th annual Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention. He will be joining a number of celebrities including Stefanie Powers, Loni Anderson, Barbara Eden, Diahann Carroll and Ed Begley, Jr. (It is my hope that I can talk to Mr. Begley for a spell about his father, who played the role of Charlie Chan on radio for a number of years.) The non-profit event benefits children with treatable cancer and will be among one of the first fan gatherings for Robert Wagner. Until now he never made an appearance at a convention to sign autographs for fans.

I thought I would take a few moments and provide some cool trivia about the actor.

* Robert Wagner was considered for the role of the Sundance Kid in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He turned it down.

* After being submerged in an industrial strength foaming agent during the bathtub scene in The Pink Panther (1963), the actor went blind for four weeks. The studio wanted Wagner replaced, under the circumstances, but director Blake Edwards stuck by the actor and Wagner ultimately finished the picture.

* Robert Wagner has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. One for motion-pictures and one for recording.

* In his autobiography, Wagner confessed that he had a four-year relationship with actress Barbara Stanwyck, who was more than twenty years older than he. According to Wagner, she was his first great love and that she gave him more than any woman in his life.

* He was engaged to Tina Sinatra for more than a year.

* He made seven movies with his wife, actress Jill St. John. (See if you can name all seven off the top of your head...)

* Robert Wagner was asked to play the role of Tom Lopaka on the television series, Hawaiian Eye, but he instead wanted to concentrate on movies. He recommended his friend Robert Conrad for the role, which led to Conrad being cast. 

Friday, July 6, 2018

Best Buy and CDs: The End of an Era

If you are a frequent customer of Best Buy, you may have noticed a major change of recent. If you have not noticed, you soon will. A few months ago the powers that be at Best Buy corporate office decided to stop selling music CDs by July 2018. The reason is quite obvious — sales of music CDs have continued to drop over the years, making way for paid downloads through various platforms such as Amazon and iTunes. 


Best Buy operates in the same manner as most retail chains — the store shelves are valued real estate. Take the cost of operating expenses, divided by the total feet of shelf space in the store, and a dollar value is equated to every square foot of shelf space. If other merchandise such as tee shirts and action figures sell better than CDs, the retail value of compact discs diminishes. 



They say you either change with the times or the times change you. While a large percentage of customers have not progressed to the digital audio file format, retail sales are the driving element for the evolution of music formats. Long gone are 8-track and 45s, and compact discs are diminishing in the war between CDs and digital downloads. Granted, YouTube has been the major pirate source for illegal listening for more than a decade that the music industry has yet to crack down hard enough, providing access (and free digital downloads) for those who take a few minutes to learn how to click a button and listen. 



All of this does not mean you have to rush out and buy your favorite bands and singers before the CDs become obsolete, but when you visit flea markets and fan gatherings and the price is right, you may want to consider making a purchase. Once you own the CD, you own the recording for life and CDs are still the true on-demand. As music is digital on CDs, you can always convert to a new platform later such as an iPad or hard drive.



Many of the new cars sold on the market today do not include a CD player, instead focusing on Bluetooth connections for digital playlists on smartphones. Best Buywill continue to sell gift cards with serial numbers that grant you downloads of music purchased in the store, but one questions how long those will be continued as anyone can do the same with their smart phone from the convenience of sitting on their sofa. 



Best Buy is only the first major chain to make the decision to pull the plug on CDs. Other retail outlets will eventually follow, the trend will soon become the norm, and the studios and production companies that lose income as a result of a major drop in sales will eventually consider whether it is worth continued production of compact discs. As for myself, I am proud to have a collection of my favorites sitting on the shelf, which will continue to grow in the coming months, in preparation for what might be a sign of the music industry apocalypse. 

Sunday, June 24, 2018

SerlingFest 2018

Early this week the SyFy Channel announced the cancellation of the annual Fourth of July Twilight Zone marathon. The network refused to cite a reason for the cancellation but the tradition of watching multiple episodes in one day became routine for tens of thousands of fans who, on specific Facebook groups, discuss the episodes as they air live. The annual tradition has been a SyFy staple for more than a decade. Christopher John Sorick, administrator of the Twilight Zone Fan Page, is encouraging fans to voice their disgust on the SyFy Channel Facebook page. Fans have been voicing disappointment on other Facebook groups, but the decision was no doubt financial for the network.

Thankfully, we have something more interactive to look forward to. On July 6 and 7, in Rod Serling's home town of Binghamton, New York, SerlingFest 2018 will offer fans of the television program a chance to meet Anne Serling, Rod's daughter, and a number of authors/historians, during a weekend of film screenings, documentaries and a trivia contest. The event is held at the DoubleTree, which is already sold out, but you can find a room at a neighboring hotel if you use google or hotels.com.

I hope to see a bunch of you at the event in a couple weeks!

http://rodserling.com/SerlingFest2018/SerlingFest2018promo1.html