Friday, August 26, 2016

Yellowstone and the National Park Service Centennial

Yesterday, Thursday, August 25, the National Park Service celebrated 100 years, acknowledging their past achievements, but their main focus today is about the future. For the second century of stewardship, future generations will still be able to take part in America's scenic beauty and so long as policies remain in effect, the best Mother Nature offers will remain preserved for future generations. Most importantly, nature provides strength for both body and soul. It was author John Muir who once said, "In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks."

Hoping to avoid the crowds, a few weeks ago my wife and I went to Yellowstone, Mt. Rushmore and Devil's Tower. There was a thrilling experience and relaxing peace of mind from nature and wildlife, exploring local history and culture. (At least twice a year I unplug for a full week -- usually to finish a book project without the internet or phone interrupting me every ten minutes. This trip was meant to accomplish the same.) In Yellowstone we saw bear, ram, deer, elk, coyote, gazelle and buffalo among a large number of wildlife that roamed free.

Yellowstone contains 2.2 million acres of preserved wildlife and mankind has left no more than one percent of his fingerprint in the National Forest in the form of roads, parking lots, lodges, etc. Preservation in the park was at the utmost. When a road is no longer needed, it is deliberately torn up so nature can take over where man once traveled. Oddly, most people never venture off the man-made trails so the Park Service estimates no more than three percent of the tourists that come to Yellowstone every year venture into the actual forest itself.

The park is suffering from a number of complications, however. Tourism is at an all-time high and conservationists debate how large foot traffic has to be before damage is made. Polls were taken this year with various questions to find a potential solution. There may be some changes in Yellowstone in the coming years, but all in the need for preservation. 

At Devil's Tower, we saw mountain climbers taking the challenge. It seems 4,000 people every year climb Devil's Tower (with permits from the U.S. Government, of course) and while this is legal, some debate whether it is unethical. As a result of wholesale mountain climbing, chunks of rock have fallen off the tower over the years and anyone with an I.Q. higher than room temperature can compare a 40-year-old photograph to the monument as it stands today and see that damage is evident. Mother Nature side-stepped the Tower for millions of years and we've only needed 40 years to create the damage that wind and rain respected. Local American Indians still insist the Tower is a religious ground and like their ancestors before them, travel from far distances to pray and leave behind their tokens. The U.S. Government has asked mountain climbers to refrain from climbing the mountain during the month of June, in observance, but this is merely a request and there are a small percentage of mountain climbers who insist they have the right -- and the permit -- to climb the mountain in June... and they do.

Mt. Rushmore was a beauty to behold. The geek in me was pleased to see a signpost along the road indicating where scenes for Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest was filmed, but the observatory itself where Eva Marie Saint shoots Cary Grant has been torn down and replaced with a more grand monument for tourists. My wife and I went to Rushmore at five in the morning to watch a sunrise and get the best photograph. Oddly, tourism really starts pouring in at Mt. Rushmore around 7:00 a.m. so if you can visit the monument at 5:00 or 5:30, make an effort to do so. (Parking fees start around 7:00 a.m., wink, wink.)

As for Yellowstone, I was surprised how many people go there just for the wildlife and not the natural canvas of scenery. When we stopped once at a pull-over to take a picture of a beautiful view and relax for a few minutes and take in the scenery, someone pulled up and asked what we saw. "A beautiful view," I told them. 

Disappointed because we saw no animals, they rolled up their window and drove off. 

The park is not easily accessible during the winter months and the higher elevation ensures the majority of the tourism from late May to early October. Even in August it was 37 degrees in the evening and 81 degrees in the afternoon. Humidity was practically non-existent. I was also surprised to discover how many people visit the park and do not understand the concept of a "get-away." One man checked into the lodge and asked the receptionist where the rec room was. The receptionist pointed to the trails outside. He asked where the pool was and she mentioned there was a waterfall two miles down the road. Cell phone towers is almost non-existent and visitors to the park complained about this but people should not be visiting Yellowstone for a few days just to look at their smart phones. The best time to visit Yellowstone, I was told, is during the month of June. Tourism is low and animals are most abundant in June. Take time to talk to the Forest Rangers. They have stories, know the legends and lore, and can fill you in with trivial bullet points that add to the enjoyment of the parks. So many took photos of animals and drove off as if their visit was a safari... so few stopped to take their shoes off and connect with Mother Earth. But then again, my wife and I enriched our vacation by focusing on the natural canvas and sounds of nature... who are we to educate or instruct others how to enjoy their vacation. The photograph below is my favorite and now a permanent desktop image. Worth the 300 steps down a path that was both intimidating and along a steep cliff. Ah.... the spirit of adventure.  

Enjoy the photographs enclosed and for anyone hoping to read a movie review, news about a new book being published or OTR documentation, I will return the blog back to the regularly schedule programming next week.


Friday, August 19, 2016

Suicide Squad Might Live Up to the Hype

Ever watch a movie and discover the hard way that the movie trailer was better than the movie itself? Suicide Squad can be added to the list. This is just another example of how a movie, based on a popular franchise with an established fan base, was made for fans but the finished product is what executives at Warner Brothers wanted: catering to the appeal of a mainstream audience. The end result? Taking mother’s famous chili recipe you loved since you were a child and trying not to complain to your wife when she wants to “improve” it requires biting your tongue. Is Suicide Squad a terrible movie? No. Is it enjoyable? Yes. Is it one of the better comic book movies ever made? No. Is it the type of movie you can take your children to see? Definitely no.

Warner Brothers, owners of the DC Comics property, clearly wants to mimic the financial success recent Marvel movies accomplished, especially with the record-breaking ticket sales for the first Avengers movie. The premise of Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice sold a ton of tickets but anyone shelling out more than $5 for popcorn questioned whether they should have waited for the BluRay or DVD release. Early movie trailers for Suicide Squad promised a light-hearted romp of black comedy and loads of fun – something sorely lacking from the grim and slightly depressing mood of Batman vs. Superman. When critics and fans alike complained about Bats vs Supes, Warner Brothers quickly went into production for a number of revised scenes and additional sequences in an effort to eliminate some of the darker-toned scenes for Suicide Squad. The end result? A mix of both light-hearted scenes, villains who shed tears over lives of total strangers, and dark scenes generated by CGI graphics that will certainly look like a cartoon in a few years.

I read the Suicide Squad comics and they were never anything above average. But they had something to them. Whether it was Batman’s insistence to Amanda Waller to close down the program, or Captain Boomerang’s jovial lack of concern for his partners-in-crime, there was a charm to the series. The problem here is that I could not find any connection with the villains and felt a lack of concern when they were put into peril. Will Smith is clearly the shining white knight in bulletproof armor. I initially questioned why he chose to co-star in a movie that clearly had a cast that would outshine him… but I was wrong. The camera may have been focused on Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, but Smith came up on top.

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn
Everyone was perfectly cast for their roles in Suicide Squad with Viola Davis as the tough-as-nails Amanda Waller and Jared Leto as The Joker chewing up all of their scenes. The story and subplot worked perfectly. But with so many flashbacks and introductions for the various villains I wondered if Warner Brothers was trying to rush things a bit… catching up with Marvel perhaps? If you are among the mainstream crowd who did not know who Amanda Waller was before watching the movie, she almost meant nothing and left the viewer only curious to know why the film was momentarily centered on her – twice – between action scenes.

The movie trailers sold the film. Ever hear someone say, "the trailer was better?" I had more fun and laughs watching the three minute trailers for this movie than watching the movie itself. A number of scenes in the trailers, however, never show up in the finished film. There is no scene with Harley Quinn holding her mallet when unpacking a trunk full of costumes and weaponry. The Joker never pulls the pin from a grenade using his mouth. The movie was clearly created with the fans in mind but the final cut provided more questions than answers. Why was Captain Boomerang carrying a stuffed pig in his jacket? Where did all that money in his jacket come from? Obviously there were a lot of scenes filmed that ended up on the cutting room floor and like Ghostbusters, it shows. Franchise fatigue? Maybe. But it was disappointing when critics and fans alike complain about the darker tone of the prior Batman movie and regardless of filmed revisions there were scenes and sequences cut out that would have added more fun tot he mix. The criss-crossing of a “cinematic universe” will get old very quick if the studio fails to follow the ingredients, which requires preparation and time, and Warner Brothers would be wise to heed this advice: Marvel spent five years of post-credits sequences teasing of a future Avengers movie. Warner executives need to slow down. Their handiwork is labored and it shows.

By the way, you do want to stay after the movie credits to watch the "teaser" clip.

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Railroad Hour: The "Lost" 1953 & 1954 Broadcasts

Gordon MacRae
The Railroad Hour was broadcast from the studios of the National Broadcasting Company in Hollywood, California. The program was heard regularly over 170 stations of the NBC network. According to an annual report issued by the Association of American Railroads, it was estimated that the program was heard by more than four million family groups. “Musical shows with a dramatic continuity are enjoyed by persons of all ages, especially when the leading roles are portrayed by outstanding artists. All members of the family, as well as school, church, and club groups, find The Railroad Hour wholesome, dignified, and inspiring entertainment,” quoted Francis Van Hartesveldt.

The June 3, 1953 issue of Variety reviewed the opening summer season of The Railroad Hour:
     “The Railroad Hour ushered in its summer format this week. Scripting team of Lawrence and Lee have prepared 18 new musical comedies, first of which, a free adaptation of Sir James M. Barrie’s Quality Street, started the NBC series off on the right foot. “With Gordon MacRae and Dorothy Warenskjold in the leads, the skimpy plot wasn’t of import. The pair did solid musical jobs on a number of classical and public domain melodies, using the story of a soldier returning to claim his love more as a background to the music than anything else.
     “Carmen Dragon orch gave top-notch backing, and his arrangements were right in the comic opera groove. Norman Luboff chorus likewise added a feeling of richness to the numbers, which were culled from such various sources as
Oh, Dear, What Can the Matter Be? and Invitation to the Waltz. On the acting side, MacRae and Miss Warenskjold were good and Isabel Jewell gave excellent support. Commercials were straight and to the point. And the entire production has a sense of freshness and directness that radio can use more of.”


The Railroad Hour was tied with Dr. Christian as the 19th highest rated show of the 1952-53 season, making the program, at this point, still one of the top twenty programs of the year. For the 1953-54 season, The Railroad Hour was tied with Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar in 14th place! The final broadcast of The Railroad Hour was on June 21, 1954. The reason for the program’s termination remains unknown, and the Association of American Railroad’s Annual Report of 1954 sheds very little light except for a brief mention:
    The Railroad Hour, consisting primarily of condensations of outstanding operettas and other musical shows, was presented in 1954 for a 30-minute period each Monday night over the full network of the National Broadcasting Company through June 21, 1954, when the program was discontinued.”

During the early 1950s, the Armed Forces Radio Service offered rebroadcasts of radio dramas for troops stationed overseas. Many of The Railroad Hour presentations were rebroadcast, as part of the network’s Showtime line-up. Most references to the Association of American Railroads were deleted from the rebroadcasts, as sponsorship was often disregarded as important when it came to entertaining the troops. Shortly after, the AFRS featured rebroadcasts of The Railroad Hour under a new name, The Gordon MacRae Show, using the song, I Know That You Know, from MacRae’s film, Tea for Two, as the theme. Many of these recordings circulate among collector catalogs. 

Collectors today offer a number of recordings from the AFRS rebroadcasts. Regrettably, those edited, “washed out” versions are not as enjoyable as the original offerings. The musical presentation is intact, but much of the flavor of the series, including the Railroad commercials and cast comments, make up some of the program that make these shows so special. I recommend that the readers make an attempt to acquire and listen to the uncut recordings and avoid the AFRS rebroadcasts if at all possible. Reagrding the "lost" episodes below, I doubt beggers will be choosers and will be thankful for a copy in any format.

Throughout their careers, Lawrence and Lee continued to write and produce radio programs for CBS. They co-wrote radio plays including The Unexpected (1951), The Song of Norway (1957), Shangri-La (1960), a radio version of Inherit the Wind (1965), and Lincoln the Unwilling Warrior (1974).
In 1954, one of Lawrence and Lee’s original one-act operas, Annie Laurie, was published by Harms, Inc., who specialized in publishing music in various forms across the country. The musical was adapted from Lawrence and Lee’s original Railroad Hour script. For the next two years, Harms, Inc. published two more original musicals, Roaring Camp (1955) and Familiar Strangers (1956), also previous Railroad Hour originals. (The Roaring Camp episode is among the "lost" recordings which is why it's so desperately sought-after.) Shortly before The Railroad Hour premiered, Lawrence and Lee’s first Broadway show, Look Ma, I’m Dancin’!, opened at the Adelphi Theatre on January 29, 1948. The musical was a hit in many aspects, and critics approved favorably. Their second play, Inherit the Wind, opened at the National Theatre in New York on April 21, 1955, less than a year after The Railroad Hour went off the air. This play, not a musical, established Lawrence and Lee in the American theatre.

The following eight episodes documented below are the "lost" episodes from 1953 and 1954. That is, they are not know to be circulating among collectors and are sought after. If you have any of the episodes listed below that match the enclosed details, please let me know so I can make sure the adjustment is made.

Episode #238 “EL CAPITAN” Broadcast April 20, 1953
Ann Ayars (Esterelda), Parley Baer (Pozzo), and Gordon MacRae (Don Medigua).
Based on the three-act operetta of the same name, which premiered at the Broadway Theatre on April 20, 1896. Music score by John Philip Sousa, with lyrics by Thomas Frost and John Philip Sousa and book by Charles Klein.
Adapted for The Railroad Hour by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee.
Songs include: El Capitan (orchestra effect); From Peru’s Majestic Mountains (MacRae and chorus); When We Hear the Call to Battle (Ayars and chorus); El Capitan (reprise with Ayars, MacRae and chorus); Ditty of the Drill (MacRae and chorus); Sweetheart, I’m Waiting (Ayars and chorus); I’ve a Most Decided Notion (Ayars and MacRae); When Some Serious Affliction (Ayars, MacRae and chorus); and El Capitan (reprise with entire cast and chorus).

Episode #241 “ROSALINDA” Broadcast May 11, 1953
Sandra Gould (Adele, Rosalind’s maid), Dorothy Kirsten (Rosalinda), Gordon MacRae (Henry Eisenstein), Dan Reed (Alfredo), and Dan Tobin (Blint).
Songs include: Rosalinda, Love of Mine (tenor from chorus, then MacRae); Trio (Tobin, Kirsten and MacRae); Oh, Jimmy (Kirsten, MacRae and chorus); Drinking Song (MacRae and chorus); Ha, What a Night (Kirsten and chorus); Wine and Song (chorus); Laughing Song (Kirsten and chorus); Watch Duet (Kirsten and MacRae); and Ha, What a Night (reprise with Kirsten, MacRae and chorus).

Trivia, etc. This was a repeat performance of episode 128, broadcast March 12, 1951.

Episode #264 “SUNNY” Broadcast October 19, 1953
Gordon MacRae (Tom Warren), Lucille Norman (Susan Peters), Harold Peary (Pop Peters), and Carleton Young (Jim and the voice).
Songs include: Sunny (MacRae and chorus); Who? (Norman and MacRae); D’ye Love Me? (Norman and chorus); Who? (reprise with Norman and chorus); Let’s Say Goodnight (Norman and MacRae); Two Little Bluebirds (Norman and MacRae); Who? (reprise with Norman and MacRae); and D’ye Love Me? (reprise with Norman, MacRae and chorus).

Trivia, etc. This was a repeat performance of episode 78, broadcast March 27, 1950.

Episode #272 “THE CAT AND THE FIDDLE” Broadcast December 14, 1953
Joseph Kearns (Daudet), Dorothy Kirsten (Shirley Sheridan), Charlotte Lawrence (Odette), and Gordon MacRae (Victor Florescue).
Songs include: Poor Pierrot (MacRae); The Night Was Made For Love (MacRae); She Didn’t Say Yes (Kirsten, MacRae and chorus); Try to Forget (Kirsten, MacRae and chorus); The Love Parade (MacRae and chorus); Poor Pierrot (Kirsten and chorus); One Moment Alone (Kirsten and MacRae); and She Didn’t Say Yes (reprise with Kirsten, MacRae and chorus).

Trivia, etc. This was a repeat performance of episode three, broadcast October 18, 1948, cut down from the 45 minute broadcast to 30.

Episode #275 “THE VAGABOND KING” Broadcast January 4, 1954
Joseph Kearns (King Louis XVI), Gordon MacRae (Francois Villon), Lou Merrill (Tabariel), Marvin Miller (voice), Lucille Norman (Katherine), and Jane Stuart Smith (Huguette).
Songs include: Song of the Vagabonds (MacRae and chorus); Some Day (Norman and MacRae); Only a Rose (Norman and MacRae); Only a Rose (reprise with Norman, MacRae and chorus); Tomorrow (Norman and MacRae); Huguette’s Waltz (Smith); Love Me Tonight (Norman and MacRae); and Only a Rose (reprise with Norman, MacRae and chorus).
Trivia, etc. This was a repeat performance of episode seven, broadcast November 15, 1948, cut down from the 45 minute broadcast to 30.
Episode #276 “THE GYPSY BARON” Broadcast January 11, 1954Cast: Mimi Benzell (Saffi), Myra Marsh (Czipra), and Gordon MacRae (Sandor Barinkay).
Songs include: Barinkay’s Song (MacRae); Prophesy Music (chorus); The Gypsy Song (Benzell and chorus); Song of the Sea (MacRae and chorus); She is the Only One for Me (MacRae); I’ll Be a Lucky Man (Benzell and MacRae); Barinkay’s Song (reprise with Benzell, MacRae and chorus); I Live to Love You (Benzell and MacRae); Finding the Gold (Benzell and MacRae); The Birds Were Our Witness (Benzell, MacRae and chorus); Victory March (MacRae and chorus); and Barinkay’s Song (reprise with Benzell, MacRae and chorus).

Trivia, etc. This was a repeat performance of episode 219, broadcast December 8, 1952.

Episode #279 “MAYTIME” Broadcast February 1, 1954Cast: Patty Ayenoni (little girl), Nadine Conner (Ottilie), Carl Frederick (the auctioneer), Gordon MacRae (Dick), Marvin Miller (the butler), and Sammy Ogg (the boy).
Songs include: Sweethearts (Conner, MacRae and chorus); In Our Little Home Sweet Home (Conner and chorus); Gypsy Song (Conner, MacRae and chorus); Will You Remember? (Conner and chorus); Go Away, Girls (MacRae chorus); Sweethearts (reprise with Conner, MacRae and chorus); It’s a Windy Day on the Battery (MacRae and chorus); Road to Paradise (Conner and MacRae); Dancing Will Keep You Young (Conner and MacRae); and Sweethearts (reprise with Conner and MacRae).

Trivia, etc. This was a repeat performance of episode 210, broadcast October 6, 1952.

Episode #299 “THE NEW MOON” Broadcast June 21, 1954
Berry Kroeger (Rebeau), Gordon MacRae (Robert Misson), Tom McKee (Philippe), Marvin Miller (the captain), and Lucille Norman (Marianne).
Songs include: Stouthearted Men (MacRae and chorus); One Kiss (Norman and chorus); Wanting You (Norman, MacRae and chorus); Lover Come Back to Me (Norman); Softly, As in A Morning Sunrise (MacRae and chorus); and Lover, Come Back to Me (reprise with Norman, MacRae and chorus).

Trivia, etc. This was the final episode of the series. This was also a repeat performance of episode nine, broadcast November 29, 1948, cut down from the 45 minute broadcast to 30.

Shameless plug: Material included in this blog post originates from The Railroad Hour by Gerald D. Wilson and Martin Grams. Reprinted with permission from Bear Manor Media. Special thanks to the staff of Ohio State University Library and the staff at the Billy Rose Theater Collection. Also special thanks to Ben Ohmart, Derek Tague, Joyce Comeaux, Kara Darling of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Theatre Library, Aida Garcia-Cole of G. Schirmer, Inc., Jim Cox, Leo Gawroniak, Terry Salomonson, Amanda Dittoe, Craig Wichman, Sheila MacRae Wayne, Al Hubin, B. Ray Druian, Jack French, Harlan Zinck, Roy Moore, Kathy Dragon Henn, David Goldin and Alex Daoundakis.