Friday, June 27, 2014

What is Capitolfest?

CAPITOLFEST, now in its twelfth year, is a film festival devoted to die-hard cinephiles and is held at the historic 1,788-seat movie palace, the Capitol Theatre, located in Rome, New York. The now historic Capitol was built as a movie house and opened December 10, 1928, with an all-movie program including the First National feature, Lilac Time. The Capitol Theatre remains the only building in Rome, New York (population 35,000) constructed for the specific purpose of exhibiting motion-pictures. Although the theatre received a modernistic face-lift in 1939, the auditorium is configured exactly as it was in 1928, and much of the original decor remains. Also still in place is the theatre's three-manual, 10-rank Moller theatre organ. Restoration work on the organ was started in 2002, and since then it has been used on a regular basis to accompany silent movies.

To walk through the front door is to step back into time and appreciate the value of a movie palace -- a time gone by when theatre goers were treated like royalty. Today, most theaters, often referred to as a "movieplex," takes your money, hands to a ticket and attempts to rake as much money as they can on the concessions. You are not thanked for coming to the theatre, and rarely are you invited to "enjoy the picture." But at Capitolfest, you receive a warm welcome and hearty handshake. 

Lobby card for Ladies' Man (1931, Paramount).
All of the films screened at the Capitol are shown in 35mm prints on the theatre's carbon-arc, variable-speed projectors -- a format that is quickly fading away into obsolescence as a result of the rising digital trend. At Cinefest in Syracuse this past year, the annual migration to the Holiday Inn in Liverpool served as the sole venue for vintage films. Saturday usually means a large number of attendees traveling to the local movie theatre to screen old films on 35mm. But when the movie theatre switched to digital the past year, convention attendees were forced to remain at the hotel and watch movies on 16mm. 

At Capitolfest, like many film festivals, prints come from archives such as the Library of Congress, UCLA Film and Television Archive, Universal Pictures, and Goldwyn Films, as well as from private collections. For cinephiles (that's how film buffs properly refer to themselves), watching rarely-seen movies is the highlight of the weekend. Extremely rare talking films and equally rare silents make up most of the bill. And yes, each of the silents were accompanied by some of the world's foremost exponents of authentic silent movie accompaniment. Three outstanding theatre organists are engaged every year to fit the bill. 

Lobby card for Shadow of the Law (1930, Paramount)
As you probably guessed, the goal of the Capitol Theatre is not just to show these vintage films, but to re-create the experience of seeing these movies when they were new. The historic atmosphere helps add to the emotions. This year's festival will include a tribute to William Powell, showcasing the actor in five features from the silent and talkie years. This includes Ladies' Man (1931, Paramount), Pointed Heels (1929, Paramount), Shadow of the Law (1930, Paramount), The Bright Shawl (1923, Paramount) and Forgotten Faces (1928, Paramount). Also added to the lineup is Roman Scandals, screened on Friday evening from an archival 35mm print from Samuel Goldwyn Films.

There are intermissions within each session of movies (featuring live organ music) and relatively lengthy breaks between sessions, allowing attendees to savor the films. Thus the convention slogan is "A vacation -- not a marathon." Approximately 90 percent of Capitolfest attendees comes from out of town but, whether you are a local or willing to travel a distance, the film festival is recommended. 

Free street parking all weekend. Numerous hotels are located within the area including:
Econo Lodge (315) 337-9400
Quality Inn (315) 336-4300
Red Carpet Inn (315) 339-3610
The Rome Motel (315) 336-4200
and The Wyndham Hotel  (315) 334-4244

Shop around for the best rates but ask for the Capitolfest rate as most of the hotels have a discount rate. Econo Lodge and Quality Inn, by the way, are within walking distance of the Capitol Theatre.

This year's dates are August 8 to 10, 2014.

The film festival's website is

Here, on the site, you'll find details about the various movies being screened. I attend a number of film festivals every year. I find it comforting to relax for two or three days, out of state and out of mind, watching old movies in a dark theatre with a crowd of people who have a deep appreciation for the movies and share the same passion for classic gems. I always read the program guides to learn more about the movies I watch (and the ones I cannot watch). Capitolfest, however, I have never been to personally and wish I could. But the weekend, which remains the same every year, always falls on the same weekend of a convention I am already scheduled to attend. One of these days I will be able to make the trek up there and report with photographs the fun everyone in Rome, NY keeps talking about. But don't let me stop you. Book your hotel room and make plans to travel there this August. (If you live in Ohio, Pulpfest is closer to you and held on the same weekend and you can find information here: At the very least, check out their site and read up on the movies they are screening this year to brush up on your knowledge of early (and rare) William Powell movies.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The New Bear Manor Media Radio

"We're almost ten years old so we're definitely not a niche thing any more so that kind of angle for coolness is done for us," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said almost a year ago during a report to his stockholders, nothing that losing younger Facebook members to competing social networks was a known problem.

A few months ago I asked a young girl about the age of 12 what she does on her iTouch all day. Does she communicate on Facebook? No. She listens to podcasts and internet radio. Seems the report, as indicated in an expose on the evening news, was not exaggerating. Young children today prefer something more hip than Facebook. And with thousands of internet radio stations playing old-time radio, a question arises: which station or stations to listen to? Recommending my personal favorites these days seems to spark aggression against me from radio hosts who feel an endorsement for another radio station, other than their own, is a personal attack against them. I prefer to endorse any radio station that provides original programming and vintage radio broadcasts, regardless of who the radio hosts are. Avoiding recommendations and instead focusing on a newly-established site might be of interest to the folks reading my blog. And there is a new station on the block.

The Bear Manor Media Radio Station was launched two months ago and has provided some valuable celebrity interviews and rare recordings that warrant review. Spearheaded by Joe Bevilacqua, the radio station provides exclusive content not found anywhere else. Last month I enjoyed an interview with June Foray, the voice of Rocky, the Flying Squirrel, and Bob Colonna, son of entertainer Jerry Colonna. Audio clips from rare radio broadcasts and television programs were interlaced between the interviews as a refresher course to the characters they voiced on television and radio, along with some background provided by the celebs "in their own words." From both an entertainment and historic point of view, I found those interviews fascinating and enjoyable. I was craving for more.  

Running an internet radio station 24-7 is complex and time-consuming. Ask any radio show host seeking material to fill the hours. What Joe came up with was 22 hours of programming every month that virtually plays on a loop, so you can tune in to the station any time and listen to the programs. This means if your schedule is busy in during the first half of June (just as mine), you can tune in to the station during the later part of June and not miss the monthly offerings. New programming rotates starting July 1 and the first of every month.

Among the programs being offered on the Bear Manor Media Radio Station:

THE VOICE ACTOR SHOW  (Hosted by Joe Bevilacqua)
Host Joe Bevilacqua's celebrity guest this month is Bob Bergen, the current voice of Porky Pig. Also features a bonus at the conclusion of the broadcast: a Blast From The Past with The Jack Benny Show (November 25, 1951) with Verna Felton as Dennis Day's mother.

LORIE'S BOOK NOOK  (Hosted by Lorie Kellogg)
Host Lorie Kellogg's monthly guest is Fredrick Tucker, author of the biography of Verna Felton, published by BearManor Media. Also features a bonus at the conclusion of the broadcast: another Blast From The Past: The Abbott and Costello Show (episode #48) from January 20, 1944 with Harold Peary and Verna Felton.

THE J-OTR SHOW  (Hosted by Joe Bevilacqua)
Host Joe Bev presents cowboy star Tom Mix with a unique mix of new and old-time radio with "The Secret Mission" (May 8, 1945), "The Vanishing Village (August 13, 1945) and "The Bodiless Horseman (2010).

Host Fred Frees (son of voice actor Paul Frees) presents an hour of audio readings from BearManor Media books, including: The Music of Al Lerner, Don't Wear Silver in the Winter by Janet Cantor Gari, Journey Thru the Unknown by Murray Langston, The Unknown Comic and a Fred Frees Presents Profile.

An hour of recently discovered rare old-time radio programs that were recently pulled from archives, not heard since their original broadcasts. For those who collect old-time radio recordings, chances are you don't have these among your collection. Why radio stations do not pull un-circlated radio programs from archives to highlight their program remains a mystery but here you will enjoy two rare goodies: The Cisco Kid (episode #17) "The Fighting Editor" and the premiere episode of Blondie from October 30, 1939.

Timed with the commercial release of STELLA DALLAS on DVD, host Terry Salomonson presents an hour of old-time radio from his personal vault. This month's offering is Lux Radio Theatre (episode #145) with Barbara Sranwyck and John Boles starring in -- what else? -- STELLA DALLAS. Originally broadcast on the evening of October 11, 1937.

Host Chef Steve Mendoza presents Lost Frank Sinatra, Jack Benny, BearManor Summer Reading and Grilling with guest Dr. Glenn Berger, former recording engineer at A&R records under Phil Ramone and the music of Frank Sinatra.

Host Joe Bev presents an hour of 78 RPM records: Popeye Meets Betty Boop, Billy Costello and Helen Kane. Such rarities include: Let's All Sing Like the Birdies and I Wanna Be Loved By You. These are novel musical offerings that are not widely available and worth listening to while checking your e-mail, browsing Facebook or verifying you recent Amazon or eBay purchases. (I fell in love with this program last month...)

Host Joe Bev presents A Mel Blanc Festival, including Mel Blanc's demo tape, Bugs Bunny Meets The Tortoise, the 1962 Capitol Record, CBS Radio's Mel Blanc's Fix-it Shop (from September 3, 1946) and Ray Campi's 1974 interview with Mel Blanc.

Another hour of recently discovered rare old-time radio not heard since their original broadcasts. This offering includes the premiere episode of A Date With Judy titled "Tiger" and Bulldog Drummond (from March 23, 1945), titled "A Dinner with Death."

You can tune in to the radio station from their website:

Should you not choose to listen to all 22 hours, but prefer to listen to specific programs on your own time, podcasts are available with a simple click on the same website.

And for those who have iTunes:

Fred Frees Favorites
J-OTR Show
Lorie's Book Nook
The Voice Actor Show
The Lost OTR Show
Audio Classics Archive
What's Cookin' with Chef Steve
The Jazz-O-Rama Hour
Cartoon Carnival

To be honest, my first impression of this new radio station was questionable, but the longer I listened to it, the more I discovered that it was different from the rest. Having listened to more than a few dozen internet radio stations that play old-time radio one program after another, something different was appreciated. And interviews with celebrities, kin of celebrities, authors, historians and scholars, with brief audio clips from rare recordings and "lost" old-time radio programs, this station is worth checking out.

Friday, June 20, 2014

GANG BUSTERS: Radio Program Spin-Offs

Gang Busters TV series
There is a big myth that circulates regarding GANG BUSTERS being the highest rated television program in history to ever be cancelled by the network. The program aired alternate with DRAGNET on NBC for their premiere year. DRAGNET was independently produced by Jack Webb. GANG BUSTERS was independently produced by Phillips H. Lord. But at the end of the season, Lord discovered the time involved to produce a live-action television series based on the radio program was too much to handle. He was unable to contractually commit for a second season and NBC understood. The television program was never "cancelled." It was simply never renewed until Lord was able to speed up production for a second series of GANG BUSTERS programs... which he succeeded a year later.

Among the television programs was an episode titled "Durable Mike Malloy," adapted from one of the radio scripts. The cost of production was excessive compared to the rest of the series and I always wondered why that was. This week I finally found out why. Lord had intentions of producing a spin-off television series titled DURABLE MIKE MALLOY: A CASE OF THE NEW YORK POLICE. The reason for the larger-than-usual budget was because this served as a pilot for potential sponsors. Lord proposed an hour-long series, according to a television outline, with an option for a condensed half-hour format if the sponsor did not want to invest too much money into the program.

During the early fifties (1950-1952 to be exact), Lord created a number of mapped outlines for proposed radio programs that never met fruition. In 1951, he proposed to CBS a weekly radio program titled FAMOUS CRIMINALS IN NOVELS, described as "an interesting psychological series" and "a series that deals exclusively with the criminal activities of well-known characters in famous books." This included (among his proposal), adaptations of Les Miserables, Vanity Fair, Manon Lescaut, Oliver Twist, The Marble Faun, The House of Seven Gables, The Woman in White, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and An American Tragedy. Naturally, CBS rejected the proposal based not the fact that adaptations of crime novels has been done many times.

For your amusement, I am featuring scans of other radio proposals from FAMOUS MURDERS, THE CON GAME and CRIME LABORATORY. Naturally, the success of GANG BUSTERS was the inspiration for such proposals and while Lord never succeeded in interesting the networks or potential sponsors, his ideas are worth a peak.

Click to enlarge.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Gunschmuck: Gunsmoke Radio Spoof

Like any popular culture, GUNSMOKE has been parodied so many times that it baffles the mind that anyone can keep track of them all. Fans of the television series MAVERICK remember the episode "Gun Shy," which spoofed the characters of Doc, Chester, Matt and Kitty. (For a quick glimpse and a laugh, visit this YouTube link: In the March 1958 issue of Cracked -- the premiere issue by the way -- there was a spoof of the television series  in what was described as a "parody." Finding a copy of the first issue in near mint condition will cost you a few hundred dollars so fans of Gunsmoke be prepared... you may find yourself spending a lot of cash just to read that parody. 

MAD Magazine spoof of the television series, Gunsmoke.
MAD Magazine offered a number of spoofs including a funny one in issue #30 titled "Gunsmoked." It should be noted that MAD Magazine originally started out offering spoofs of popular radio programs ranging from Dragnet, The Lone Ranger, The Shadow, Inner Sanctum and Suspense. By issue 12, MAD began spoofing television programs such as What's My Line?, Dave Garroway, Howdy Doody and Captain Video. For a quick read of the Gunsmoke parody in MAD, click here:

Gunschmuck audio CD: "Grinner's Biscuits" 
And then we get to Gunschmuck, a new parody recently made available on CD, promoted on the packaging as "parodied to within an inch of its life." Marshal Dillweed and Chester Proudfart find themselves facing the same obstacles that William Conrad and Parley Baer went up against on the radio program. I recently had an opportunity to listen to these parodies and these have to be, by far, the best I ever heard. The new and fresh plots are the same type of stories you expect to hear on the radio program, but with a twist. Funny one-liners, slapstick, expert sound effects, great acting and a superb music score make this parody a notch above the rest. 

In "Grinner's Biscuits," Matt has to face off against a villainous criminal who beats his mother and expects Matt to make amends. But the cowardly marshal fears for his own life and allows the old woman to take a beating... against the protest and concern of Chester... until the old woman gets revenge in her own way. In "Fanny's Folly," an old flame returns to Dodge and tricks Matt into digging for buried treasure -- money unrecovered from a robbery years ago -- unaware that she and her team plan to take over Dog City. (Not Dodge, but Dog.... and a dog barks every time someone refers to the town by name.)

Gunschmuck audio CD: "Fanny's Folly"
The humor is not everyone's cup of tea but the jokes remain clean throughout that young children can listen to them without asking their parents what the joke meant. The only risqué joke featured Miss Kitty bragging about making a killing one evening, $300, and then apologizing to Matt for standing the rest of the night. And again, that's about as risqué and the only risqué joke that would be partially okay for young children... provided they don't understand the meaning.

The company responsible for these parodies is "Theatre of the Mindless" and they have a blog worth checking out. (Visit some of their older postings for a number of cool scans, recordings and photo captures of vintage radio drama fun such as I Love A Mystery, The Shadow, Little Orphan Annie and The War of the Worlds panic broadcast.)

Or you can e-mail Steve at for information about purchasing a copy of the Gunschmuck audio CDs. There is no giant faceless "record industry" involved, only a handful of talented artists who would love to receive a few queries about purchasing copies. I am sure you will enjoy these parodies as much as I did.

Friday, June 6, 2014

How to Identify Old Movie Photos

Production Code Basics
Have you ever been among a select handful of film buffs asked to identify someone in a photograph and, like most in the group, unable to identify the actor or actress? Have you found it frustrating 

Well, Ed and Susan Poole have undertaken the monumental task of doing the job for you. A recent 140 page book, Production Code Basics for Movie Still Collectors, helps you understand those little codes on the bottom of the photographs and identify unknown actors in movie stills. If you don't know what I am taking about, check out the photograph below and look at the bottom right corner. Yeah, you've seen them. And those "portrait" codes help you verify not only what studio they originate, but the movie as well. Sometimes the codes refer to the director. From Mack Sennett to 20th Century Fox, Louise Brooks to Marilyn Monroe, Andre de Toth to Leo McCarey, those codes will help you figure out who is in the photograph. 

Below is a scan of a photograph and a zoom in for the production code. Yeah, now you know what I am talking about.

Broken down in simple-to-understand chapters, ranging from the production process, the publicity department, the advertising department, the special photographer, tricks and revisions applied within the studios over the years, and looking outside the major studio framework, this book will provide you with the necessary tools for identifying unknown movie stills. 

Movie Still Identification Book
Even better, the authors compiled a second book, literally the size of a telephone book, titled Movie Still Identification Book. This spiral-bound production contains over 45,000 movie studio production codes which serve as a starting point for both movies and television programs. So... if you have a photograph with Tallulah Bankhead and want to know what movie it is for, this book is a wonderful companion. After all, a standard publicity photo might have the actress standing before a plain backdrop and the gown she wears may not match any of the movies she appeared in. Wardrobe test? Probably. But for what movie? Nothing can be more frustrating than having a photograph for a motion-picture and incorrectly "assume" what movie the photo belongs to.

Yes, I have seen reference books use publicity stills from the major studios and then misidentify the movie for which the photo belongs. I cannot fault the authors of those books because a reference source such as this one was not readily available. Until now. So hopefully the next time someone uses a studio publicity shot of James Cagney from... say, Public Enemy... they won't claim it to be a publicity photo from the wrong movie. The proper identification is available at their fingertips.

The website to purchase these two books is They offer an annual subscription to an on-line database but you have to renew every year and the book is obviously a one-time purchase. Your call. I suggest the book.

Vic and Sade on Radio book
I was first exposed to the long-running radio program Vic and Sade, not through radio, but through television. While watching an episode of the Colgate Comedy Hour, a live television program from the early fifties, I noticed a cast of unknowns performing the roles of a family who lived "halfway up the next block" and a brief announcement that Vic and Sade had been done prior on radio. About that time, Radio Spirits released a bookshelf album of audio cassettes for Vic and Sade and my curiosity was piqued so I bought the set. It took a bit of adjustment to understand the formula of the radio comedy -- a style of wit that doesn't always agree with everyone -- especially those who expect insults and slapstick. Vic and Sade is an acquired taste and the more you listen to them, the more you grow fond of it.

Flash forward a year or two later when, at REPS in Seattle, I met a couple people who were fanatics for the radio program and there I was exposed to the legend and lore of Vic and Sade. Half of what was told to me went in one ear and out the other -- dirty gossip and stories about hoarders -- but the gist was clear: there were recordings of Vic and Sade (and radio scripts) that were being hoarded and regarded as national treasures. "Why are they not available to fans in the hobby?" I asked. The reasons varied and I simply let things go as they are. Half the fun of collecting old radio programs was seeking out recordings I did not have in my collection. I would continue to seek copies from various collectors. To date, I have over 400 radio scripts and almost as many radio programs in my collection -- enough to last me another decade of enjoyment before I exhaust my collection.

Just recently McFarland mailed me a complimentary copy of John T. Hetherington's new book, Vic and Sade: A Cultural History of Paul Rhymer's Daytime Series, 1932-1944. The subtitle pretty much sums up the book. Growing from his love for Vic and Sade, the author explores some of the deeper meanings and themes beneath the absurdity and humor. A brief biography about Paul Rhymer and the origin and early years of Vic and Sade are included within the pages. A study of mass culture during the 1930s and 1940s and how it influenced the characters on Vic and Sade, is explored in detail. A history of motion-pictures during the era, reading on the porch, community service and other aspects are explored as they relate to the radio program. The closing chapter covers an aspect of the series that has been undocumented in prior publications: the later efforts to revive the series -- including the Colgate Comedy Hour.

This book features a history of the radio program, but only interlaced throughout the book, sprinkled with excerpts of script reprints. There is no episode guide or chronological documentation with a date-by-date broadcast schedule (network, broadcast time, cast changes, etc.). I know that would be a major challenge to the author, but since so many radio scripts and recordings exist in collector hands, I would assume taking on such a challenge would be both exhausting and rewarding. Such efforts would overshadow others such as the late Bill Idelson, a cast member, who wrote The Story of Vic and Sade in 2007 for Bear Manor Media, and a book of scripts published prior. 

If what you are seeking is a "cultural history," in what many describe as a "critical analysis," which McFarland statistically publishes more of every year, or want to explore the program deeper than it has ever been explored, this is a great book. If you are looking for a historical perspective of documentary nature, covering minute details ranging from the sale of screen rights, salary costs and exclusive memories and recollections from cast and crew, this is not the book.

One such example: pages 106 to 108 are devoted to the history of motion-pictures and the industry of Hollywood. Vic and Sade is referenced on page 109. And the two photographs on page 108 and 109 are of old movie palaces and theaters from 1935 and 1939 -- and have nothing to do with the radio program Vic and Sade. I only criticize (briefly) because the title of the book is Vic and Sade on Radio.

Still, if you are a fan of Vic and Sade, this is a book for you to take to the beach and enjoy.

The Remarkable Enid Markey by Brian J. Bohnett

Billed as "The First Lady of the Tarzan Films," Enid Markey had a career spanning over six decades. From the silent days of the silver screen, to Broadway and the legitimate theatre, to television and radio... this book features an extensive biography about the actress and documents every facet of her acting career. As a fan of old-time radio, it is a treat to see radio broadcasts documented in a book that isn't primarily focused on radio... and suggests the author did his research. There are more than 300 photographs in this book, reprints of newspaper clippings, studio publicity photos, press books and much more. Brian Bohnett, the author, is an active member of the Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society, and also a member of the Burroughs Bibliophiles -- an organization which awarded him the Edgar Rice Burroughs Achievement Award in 2003 for his work in writing and publishing. A graphic designer and illustrator by trade, Brian took to self-publishing this book under his Mad Kings Publishing label. As a result, this book is not widely available through the major circuits. You pretty much have to seek out across the internet to find and purchase a copy of the book. I was told the copy sent to me was among the last in stock so by the time you read this, the book may already be out of print. But do not hesitate seeking it out.

A couple years ago I met a man who once expressed displeasure in purchasing any books self-published because, as he believed, this meant the book was never worthy enough for a major publishing house to consider snatching it up. This is a misconception as I find many self-published reference guides are better than the ones that are published from a major house. It all depends on the author of that book. My only regret is that books on other silent screen actors and actresses have never received such extensive coverage as Enid Markey received. Great job, Brian!