Thursday, March 21, 2019

Batman Returns to Television

Holy show-ups! Batman is making a return to prime time television!

The villainous Bane complete with costume.
In 2013, producer Bruno Heller, along with Danny Cannon, created a weekly detective series based on the DC Comics run of Batman. The premise, summed up briefly, is a weekly prime-time soap opera (with each episode picking up where the last left off) populated by a cast of characters who, each with various reasons, slowly progress into the villains that are common stance of Batman comics. Here, Bruce Wayne is a young man and many years away from the crime-fighting exploits that we would come to know. Therefore, the events that unfold happen years before Bruce Wayne decides to become Batman. Hence why the program is titled Gotham. It is gritty, violent and loaded with enough mystery for Detective Gordon to investigate the weird motives that he eventually writes off numerous times as "That doesn't surprise me. This is Gotham."

On the program we watch as Oswald Cobblepot develops political ambitions, Edward Nygma losing his job as a forensics scientist at the Gotham City Police Department and becoming a wanted criminal, and Selena Kyle applying cat burglar skills as she slowly develops feelings for young Bruce. Along the way there is a triangle love with Detective Gordon, who eventually gets promoted to Commissioner Gordon, and who happens to be the investigative lead on the program.

Jeremiah Valeska, a.k.a. The Joker 

Gotham premiered in September of 2014 with a few legal stipulations: the words "Batman," "The Joker" and "Harley Quinn" could not be used on the program, along with The Joker's trademarked green hair. Fox Entertainment President David Madden said that the show's production team "have masterfully honored the mythology of Gotham and brought it to life with depth, emotion and memorable high drama."

The Mad Hatter and his close associates. 
To be honest, I was not impressed with the first season, but I understood the concept and what the producers were shooting for. With each passing season, as the characters became more villainous, the program in my opinion got better and better... proving that in the Batman universe, it is the villains that we cheer on -- not the Caped Crusader. There was a smile on my face when Mad Hatter hypnotized an innocent couple and then smashed them flat with a wrecking ball. Crystal Reed was eye candy as Sofia Falcone. The actor playing Zsasz hits the mark without having to take off his jacket to reveal the scars we know all too well. It is rare that a television program gets better with each season and Gotham succeeded. But after four years it seems the ratings are less than half of what they were when the program premiered and Fox would not renew for a fifth season.

Producer Heller quickly begged the network for one final season. Everything leading to Bruce Wayne's decision to dress in cape and cowl was leading to the fifth and final season. Executives at Fox eventually relented and a partial half-season was commissioned. Twelve episodes instead of the usual 22. And this season we have seen the birth of Bane, Arthur Penn (a.k.a. The Ventriloquist), Ivy Pepper's acceptance of the power to control plants as Poison Ivy, and the origin of Magpie, Jane Doe and other lesser-known Batman villains. But here lies the big surprise that leaked a few weeks ago: the five-year on-going story arc will finish with episode 11, to be televised April 18. The final episode of the program, on the evening of April 25, will be a one-episode stand-alone adventure that takes place ten years later. Complete with cape and cowl, we will see the first live-action Batman on prime-time television since Adam West in 1966. Yep, The Joker, The Riddler, Scarecrow, Cat Woman, The Penguin and the entire gang will be facing off against the Caped Crusader.

So even if you have not watched Gotham over the past five years, set your DVRs to record Gotham on the evening of April 25 on Fox. To quote Harley Quinn, "This is gonna be fun, Puddin'..."

Thursday, March 14, 2019

RENO RIDES THE RANGE (1949)

Reno Rides the Range was a short-lived radio western during the summer of 1949, starring Reno Browne, an equestrian who also had a brief career in Hollywood alongside Whip Wilson and Johnny Mack Brown. One of only two cowgirls to have her own comic book series (the other was Dale Evans), Browne produced this short-lived radio program with her own money in an attempt to replicate the success of such screen cowboys as Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.

The program lasted 13 half-hour episodes and was syndicated across the country starting in 1949, shortly before the premiere of Haunted Trails, starring Whip Wilson and Reno Browne. One transcription disc was recently found and collector Randy Riddle transferred the recordings (the second half of episodes three and four). They may not be complete episodes but something is better than nothing. This also offers us a tease of what we now know exists.

It seems every year a vintage children's western radio program momentarily receives a spotlight... not for being found, but because it was relatively unknown with very little documentation in reference books. Reno Rides the Range is not listed in any of the books in my vast reference library. So you can understand my personal fascination with this one.  

You can click to listen to the recordings here:



Friday, March 8, 2019

The Great 78 Project

For those who enjoy those vintage performances of Bing Crosby, Paul Whiteman, Lena Horne, Roy Rogers, Ozzie Nelson and his Orchestra and Rudy Vallee, among others, The Great 78 Project is one of the small handful of resources available on the Internet to provide those audio recordings to the masses. Those old 78 rpm record labels that you come across at flea markets and eBay auctions are being transferred to digital for your enjoyment. The goal of the initiative is not to remaster or enhance the original recordings, but to present them as "historical artifacts." The majority of the 78 rpm records being digitized have never existed in any other form except for their one-time original 78 releases.

The digitization of the archive is being done by audio engineer George Blood and his team, at a rate of 5,000 to 6,000 sides per month, or 100 sides (50 singles) per engineer per day. If you subscribe to their Twitter feed, you will receive a notification of which recordings were transferred and uploaded to the site every ten minutes. Blood was responsible for the digitization of 10,000 singles for the National Jukebox, a similar project organized by the Library of Congress. For The Great 78 Project, every song is recorded in 16 different versions (using four different styluses, recording both sides of the groove wall, and with/out equalization.) Why? Because so many collectors debate exactly how 78 rpm records are to be played to get the best sound and technical aside, the appeal to the human ear is subjective. This method allows the best of all worlds.

This enormous effort requires the skillset and technical expertise of about 18 people, not counting the donors and partners of the project. At the ARSC Conference in San Antonio, Texas, in 2017, a slide show presentation detailed the efforts and multiple renditions of audio transfer with custom-made turntables. At the conference, it was noted that, regardless of the chore there is joy from discovering the titles that would have been dismissed by today’s collectors for either monetary or musical preferences. Besides music, 78 rpm records were sold in the stores as comedy records, poetry readings, political speeches, holiday music for all religions, and even sound effects discs. There are discs containing politically incorrect material and those are included among the offerings for historical purposes, revealing the progress we reached since then.

A scan of the disc labels are also included for historical
purposes and cataloging.

The bulk of the project's singles are sourced from private collections, some which had previously been donated to libraries or even abandoned. These include: The Joe Terino Collection, a collection of 70,000 78 rpm singles stored in a warehouse for 40 years. The Barrie H. Thorpe Collection, which had been deposited at the Batavia Public Library in Batavia, Illinois, in 2007 by Barrie H. Thorpe (1925–2012). It contains 48,000 singles. The Daniel McNeil Collection, with 22,359 singles. The Charles Stratton Collection, containing over 8,000 singles, previously donated to Kansas State University by Charles William Stratton's (1906-1966) estate in 1968. The David Chomowicz and Esther Ready Collection, with 4,000 LPs and singles, focused on Latin American and Caribbean music. Among the more intriguing (for me, anyway) are the recordings from the Richard Thayer Skidmore Collection, which includes 1,400 78s and over a hundred LPs of jazz music (Yeah, I have a fondness for jazz) and the KUSF Collection, donated by the University of San Francisco’s online radio station, including all of its 78 rpm singles.

Fully funded to digitize 250,000 78 rpm singles (totaling 500,000 songs), from the period between 1880 and 1960, fans of Rudy Vallee for example can use the search engine to find his commercial releases and download them to their computer for later playback. Whether you love Swing Big Band music, long-forgotten vaudeville, ragtime or other retro classics, you will find them on this website. All you have to do is click a button and listen. (Sadly, there is no playlist that I could find but you have the option to download the songs you want to hear to create a playlist on your computer, iPad or iPhone device.)

You can visit the website at  https://great78.archive.org
From the home page of that website you can also find an easy link to the National Jukebox I mentioned above. 


Friday, March 1, 2019

Check Out Retro Fan Magazine

In an era where digital newsletters and Internet websites have dominated the newsfeeds, there is cause to cheer with the report of a new print magazine available for fans of vintage pop culture. In June of 2018, TwoMorrows Publishing released the first issue of a new quarterly magazine titled Retro Fan. Its tagline — “The Crazy, Cool Stuff We Grew Up With” — defines its subject matter, but to fine-tune that into a more specific demographic, with primary focus to pop culture of the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties.

“I am also the editor-in-chief of TwoMorrows' long-running, award-nominated Back Issue magazine,” editor Michael Eury informed me, “which examines Bronze Age (1970s-1990s) comic-book history, and have written numerous books on comics and pop-culture history, the most recent being Hero-A-Go-Go: Campy Comic Books, Crimefighters, and Culture of the Swinging Sixties. Previously, I’ve been an editor at DC Comics, Dark Horse Comics, and the long-defunct Comico the Comic Company, and have written for a variety of publishers and clients including Marvel Comics, Nike, and Toys R Us.”

Retro Fan almost started back in 2012. Publisher John Morrow of TwoMorrows and Michael Eury were weighing options for a new project for in addition to Back Issue. “With Back IssueI was so enjoying exploring the behind-the-scenes aspects of the comic books from my youth that I realized another magazine that did the same type of thing for the other stuff I grew up with -- the cartoons, sitcoms, toys, fads, fashions, bubble gum pop music, monsters, trading cards, etc. -- would be a fun read that’s also historically significant.”

For the next few years, the "Retro Magazine" gnawed at the back of Eury’s head, especially when he was working on his Hero-A-Go-Go book and revisiting the camp craze of the Sixties (his elementary school years): Batmania, Bond, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.Captain Niceand Mr. Terrific, Metamorpho the Element Man, the Cowsills, The Monkees, Dell Comics' superhero Frankensteinand Dracula, and so on. The book designer, Scott Saavedra, who also grew up with the same and Eury developed a working relationship.

Soon after Hero-A-Go-Gowas published in 2017, Michael Eury proposed to John Morrow that they dust off the "Retro Magazine" concept and he agreed.

One of the toughest challenges we had was settling on a title. “Retro” websites, conventions, T-shirt companies, video game magazines, you name it, had locked in “Retro Magazine” and other similar names. “Then one day John suggested to me, with a ‘You’re not going to like this’ disclaimer, the name Retro Fan. I loved it! And it nailed the tone of the magazine.”

Having read the first three issues of Retro Fan magazine I have to say the contents contain well-researched, professionally written and smartly designed articles. But at its heart is fandom — a passion for a TV show, action figure, junk food, or singing group that made our childhoods special.

Much of the content is provided by regular columnists who have a reader following and keen knowledge about their subjects, starting with Martin Pasko, no stranger to DC Comics fans and genre-TV viewers. “Marty was actually part of this magazine before it was even officially launched,” Eury explained to me. “A few years back at a comic-con he mentioned to John Morrow his interest in writing about superhero cinema and related pop culture. John never forgot and I invited Marty to the mag. John and I talked about a number of other possibilities for columnists, and cartoonist/comics historian Scott Shaw and Hollywood-hero expert Andy Mangels were both on our lists. John was interested in Pete Von Sholly as a monster-column contributor. When I reached out to Pete, he was unavailable… but recommended Ernest Farino. And I’m glad he did. Ernie has an impressive background Hollywood visual effects—and like the other columnists started as a fan, most notably of monster and sci-fi cinema. We brought in Hero-A-Go-Go’s Scott Saavedra as designer, and off we went. Soon I brought in our designer Saavedra, a really funny writer, as a columnist, as well as pulp master Will Murray as a columnist.”

Retro Fan magazine is being distributed to comic shops and sold through the company website (either www.twomorrows.com or www.retrofan.org) as you’d expect of a TwoMorrows publication, but it is also available at Barnes & Noble. This is a risky venture, but a valuable one in an effort to attract a broader commercial audience than currently exists within TwoMorrows’ World. Articles include the 1960s TV series The Green Hornet, interviews with Lou Ferrigno and Mark Hamill, and much more.

For those who insist on digital PDF issues, you can buy back issues for a discount price in digital format through the TwoMorrows website, so the print magazine has evolved into both markets – including one saturated by instant demand as a result of Kindle and other eBook readers.

Friday, February 22, 2019

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 www.LearnAboutMoviePoster.com. 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.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Remembering the Friends of Old-Time Radio Conventions

In the process of cleaning out filing cabinets I came across a large stack of program guides, given away to attendees of the annual Friends of Old-Time Radio Convention. Held annually in Newark, New Jersey in October for more than 40 years (if you count the first five years when the event was SAVE, before it was renamed FOTR), the event closed down a few years ago. Anyone who loved old time radio found themselves in good company -- not just fans who shared a common interest but also radio voice actors. Carlton E. Morse, Jerry Stiller, Bill Dana, Molly Bee, Noel Neil, Hildegarde, Raymond Edward Johnson, Ralph Bell and many others mingled the hallways and chatted with fans.

Lo and behold I come across a huge stack of what is almost every program guide since the event's inception, including promotional flyers sent out to the mailing list every year. If you were an attendee of FOTR, you will find some of these program guides bring back memories. For others, they are a fascinating time capsule for how fans of old time radio celebrated their childhood year after year with illustrious authors and historians offering slide show presentations, celebrity Q&A panels, and more.





Sunday, February 3, 2019

Debunking the Sergeant Preston of the Yukon Myth

There is a phrase that circulates among historians and scholars: "Fifteen books can be wrong and one hundred websites are wrong." The adage relates to the fact that few people do the legwork when it comes to research... which is often the cause of the same mistake being reprinted over and over. While I agree with those who debate that it is easier (and cheaper) to consult prior published reference guides and websites, that method cannot ensure facts. What ultimately results in this flaw is the reprinting of mis-information, giving people the false assumption that if something is printed in five or six books, it must be the gospel. And such methods is nothing more than cut-and-paste applying grammatical cosmetics. No better example can be found than the Sergeant Preston of the Yukon radio program.

Sergeant Preston of the Royal Canadian Mounties who, with his wonder dog Yukon King, set about on weekly adventures to thwart the schemes of fur thieves, claim jumpers and murderers. For many who lived in Detroit, Michigan, where the radio broadcasts originated, this was a brass-buttoned, red-coat rendition of the successful Lone Ranger radio program. Preston had a magnificent steed, Rex, who raced steadfast to the scene of the crime when King, usually leading the sled dogs, could not assist with transportation as fast as his four-legged friend... but King, take note, with sharp teeth was able to disarm villains with guns and save Preston from harm.

There were multiple people who played the role of Sergeant Preston, from Jay Michael, Paul Sutton and Brace Beemer - the latter also voiced The Lone Ranger on radio for more than a decade. (Recent archival digging will soon provide us with additional information for another actor, previously undocumented, playing the role. We can thank historian Karl Schadow for that information when he publishes his findings later this year.)

The radio program began in January 1939 as a fifteen-minute program titled Challenge of the Yukon, created and scripted by Tom Dougall, who was responsible for a daytime soap opera over the same Michigan radio station, Ann Worth, Housewife. Within a year many of the episodes were recycled plots from Lone Ranger radio scripts. In September 1948 the program evolved into a half-hour format and this proved to be ironic when you consider the fact that a half-hour audition dated December 27, 1943 suggested a possible half-hour expansion a few years prior. Many people mistakenly believe Fran Striker, author of The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet radio programs, of creating the Sergeant Preston character, especially when you consider the fact that Striker was responsible for Preston's origin in April 1954, which was adapted into children's records. (Striker himself wrote to Trendle at one time and asked that he write the Sergeant Preston of the Yukon novel, should a publishing contract become reality like the 18 Lone Ranger hardcover novels. Striker himself wrote a backstory for the novel that was never published.)

In September 1950 the name of the program changed to Sergeant Preston of the Yukon. The reason for the name change, recently unearthed while reviewing archival documentation, was to protect the property of the fictional mountie. It was impossible -- legally -- to copyright or trademark a fictional character as Canadian Mounties were commonplace before the creation of the radio program but the name of the character was a different matter and copyrighting each radio script under the name of the program (ala name of character) would hold court with legal defense.

A recent article in the February 2019 issue of Radio Recall, written by historian Karl Schadow, confirms what many never suspected... Challenge of the Yukon premiered on the evening of January 3, 1939. So why do hundreds of reference books and websites claim February 3, 1938? Karl goes into detail to debunk the mistake, incorporating reprints of archival materials to verify the 1939 date, backing up his facts. (For the record, there are no newspaper or trade papers from 1938 indicating Challenge of the Yukon ever aired on radio.)

In answer to the question above, too many people believe what they read on the Internet and are quick to reprint the facts without doing any real legwork. If two dozen books say 1938, and hundreds of websites claim 1938, then they assume 1938. But had anyone actually done what Karl took time and effort to accomplish, browsing through the original radio scripts, consulting historical documents in archives, and numerous other sources, they would have realized the 1939 is carved in granite. Which leads us back to that phrase that circulates among historians and scholars: "Fifteen books can be wrong and one hundred websites are wrong."

Good job, Karl.


Copyright registration card at the Library of Congress verifying
Challenge of the Yukon premiered in January 1939, not February 1938.

Karl's article also debunks a number of other myths and misconceptions about the Sergeant Preston radio program, not just the premiere broadcast date. For anyone wanting to read Karl's article, a free PDF of the February 2019 issue of Radio Recall can be read below, reprinted with permission. (And I encourage everyone reading this to sign up and become a member of the club -- the newsletter publishes numerous articles like this bi-monthly, often debunking myths and misconceptions in every issue.)

https://www.dropbox.com/s/q1q80odof7xumjl/2019%20February.pdf?dl=0

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Day Silver Rescued The Lone Ranger (March 19, 1937)

Jerzy Kosinski once wrote, "The principles of true art is not to portray, but to evoke." No better example can be found than The Lone Ranger radio broadcasts, scripted by Fran Striker. While many fiction writers formulate basic tenants about each character -- outward description, personality traits, disposition and temperament -- it comes as no surprise that once in a great while Striker chose to reveal a darker side of The Lone Ranger in his radio scripts. On the evening of March 19, 1937, The Lone Ranger radio program presented a broadcast focusing on Silver, the great white stallion of the masked man, and his effort to rescue The Lone Ranger from a horrible fate.

The Beasley Gang rode into Durango and shot up the town, killing a man in the streets. The gang aimed to head into the San Juan Mountains, fearing the masked rider who sought to apprehend them in recent weeks. The Lone Ranger, however, was ambushed and shot, falling into a ravine, leaving the great white stallion at the mercy of the outlaws. Before his fall, The Lone Ranger told his steed to "play dead" while his fall into the ravine would -- hopefully -- convince the outlaws to pursue the masked man, not his horse. But his efforts were in vain; the outlaws quickly discovered the stallion was not dead and attempted to apprehend the beast. The gallant stallion fought like one possessed of super strength and fury. The long legs lashed out again and again, and the silver shod hoofs brought down a second man. A rope thrown over the powerful white neck was jerked from the hands of the man who held it, and Silver bared his teeth as he fought against the fiends who shot his master. Finally, Butch was forced to let go of the reins he held, and then every ounce of the great strength of Silver was put in one frantic leap. The horse broke free and ran off. For a long time the Beasley Gang followed Silver up the dangerous rocky trail through the San Juan Mountains, a trophy prized by Beasley himself for having pulled the trigger that shot and killed the famous masked rider of the plains. Silver kept a good distance ahead of them and looked back from time to time to see that they were still following. The gallant stallion seemed to know what was in their minds. Though he felt in his horse mind that his place was back at the side of The Lone Ranger who had fallen into the ravine, he kept on, dodging and evading and keeping away from the outlaws.

The sheriff’s posse, meanwhile, had done its best to trail the Beasley gang, but had finally been forced to give up the search and return to Durango. They were a tired, travel worn group of men, seeking vengeance for old Jake, their friend who was shot and killed in the streets of Durango. Silver walked into town, past the sheriff’s office, where a horse with no rider was discerned. Despite his struggles, Silver was roped in a stable for the night. In his mind, he did not know that morning would be too late for help to reach his master. He only knew that he was tied, and helpless while the masked man whom he loved was suffering and in grim peril. He struggled against the hard rope. He tugged until the rope bit into the flesh of his neck, then he squirmed and wriggled, and the proud head shook in fury at the confining lashes, but the rope held firm. Then Silver tries another means of escape. He turned until the rope was slack and then he gripped it in his teeth and chewed. Then with the rope weakened he tugged again, disregarding the pain and checking and finally the strong rope parted. Silver gave a whinny of defiance and charged through the door of the stable. The sheriff and deputy were outside when they saw the horse race toward them. Observing the horse shod with silver, the sheriff realizes who owned the stallion and rallied his men back into saddle. Following Silver like a bloodhound chasing a fox, the sheriff and his men take off for the San Juan Mountains, with Tonto now joining the posse.

Up in the mountains, The Lone Ranger was painfully wounded and badly bruised at the bottom of the ravine. Throughout the night he lay there, with no thought of himself. His only interest was in the safe escape of his great horse Silver. Dawn brought a gray light into the ravine, and he looked through the slits of his mask at hard-faced men who climbed through the underbrush to reach him. Beasley was anxious to see the face behind the mask. With guns in hand, feebly the masked man ordered them to stand away. He shot the gun out of the hands of one gang member, then threatened: “I still have some bullets in these guns. Though I’ve never shot to kill… I’ll do so now! You’ve killed Silver! The next shot won’t be for your hand! I’ve one thing to tell you men! Your kind has never gone uncaptured for very long. The hangman’s rope will get you in the end.” 

Butch sneaks from behind to disarm the masked man and moments before the vigilante can be unmasked, the sheriff and his men arrive. A member of the posse shoots and wounds Beasley while down into the steep ravine the great horse Silver charged. He led the way for Tonto, the sheriff and the posse. Into the midst of the outlaws he lashed with hard shod hoofs, and struck down the leader, Beasley! The lawman closed in and the fight was short and hard, but the outlaws had no chance. They were roped and disarmed and then Tonto helped the masked man to a sitting posture. The law takes the gang members back to town, leaving The Lone Ranger in good hands to heal from his wounds.

A recording of this broadcast is not known to exist but according to internal records this particular broadcast was recorded a week prior, on March 12, and broadcast on March 19. The reason for this remains unknown (we are presently digging into the "why") so there is a remote possibility that a recording of this monumental broadcast may be found. Until then, the plot summary above is here for your enjoyment.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Janis Joplin, Sex, Dope and Cheap Thrills

They proved to the world that they were not just a garage band when their performance at the Monterey Pop Festival secured them a record contract. Big Brother and the Holding Company, sporting the female vocals of Janis Joplin, recorded two albums before Joplin went solo with a more successful career, but it was their second (and final) album that reached a milestone: topping the Billboard album chart for eight consecutive weeks. Cheap Thrills was released in August of 1968, which means the album just celebrated the 50th anniversary. Now, five decades later, a two-CD set featuring 25 unreleased tracks is released and just in time for Christmas. Sure, you can buy a CD of Cheap Thrills for just a few bucks; it has been re-released multiple times. But for fans who thought they heard it all, this new set is spectacular.  

Many times alternate tracks are released alongside the original album, in the hopes of intriguing a new generation of listeners. I would like to state that if you do not have the original 1968 Cheap Thrills, you may want to get it. This two-disc set does not include the original album, just alternate takes.

Among the earliest surviving recordings of Janis Joplin are amateur performances of her singing gospel songs in a coffee house. I kid you not. But as one revisits her four albums, you can clearly tell she sported a love for jazz and blues, including inspiration from the vocals of Billie Holiday. And when Joplin went off on her own without Big Brother and the Holding Company, her work was a beautiful cross between jazz and blues. (I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again, Mama was the first of her two solo albums without Big Brother, and perhaps her best album -- ever.) Sadly, her recording career was cut short after succumbing from a heroin overdose at the age of 27. As a result, new recordings are rarely made available.

This two-disc set is more of a jazz reissue, and like any talented artist that strives to improve themselves, she never sang the same song the same way twice. There are renditions of the classic songs we grew up with that are raw and unrefined -- a reminder that they truly were a garage band. There is laughing between takes but you can feel the strain between Joplin and producer John Simon. Listen hard and you will feel the tension. But regardless, you could tell Joplin never cared if they were out of tune. She knew they were striving for perfection. 

The original title was Sex, Dope and Cheap Thrills, but someone at the recording studio rejected the proposal and against the band's wishes was released in 1968 simply as Cheap Thrills. For this two-disc set, the original title was replaced and thankfully this will allow the newbies discovering Janis Joplin to differentiate between the original 1968 album and this 2018 release. (The 1968 album is not included. I point this out because many 2-disc releases with alternate tracks oftentimes come with the original album.)

Live at Winterland '68,
the other recommended album.
Among the highlights is her rendition of "Ball and Chain" from the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco in April of 1968, psych-blues as only Joplin could sing it. 

Also included is a recording of "Harry," which originally opened the second side of the album, but removed at the request of the President of CBS Records. It is a crazy, abstract, free-jazz-freak-out that the band sometimes opened or closed with during their live performances. Now you can hear that recording. 

If you are not a Joplin fan, this two-disc set may not be for you. But as a time capsule embodiment of the San Francisco, psychedelic counter-culture of the 1960s, look no further. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Life and Career of Actor Arthur Anderson

Arthur Anderson was a child actor who made a career of acting out the role of dragons, dwarfs and knights in shining armor during the height of the depression. The long-running radio program, Let's Pretend, offered a weekly fairytale for juvenile listeners. The highlight of the program was that the roles were played on the air by children -- which naturally appeared to children who tuned in every Saturday morning to listen.

He was among the cast of The Metropolitan Opera in the mid-thirties, worked with Orson Welles on many of the Mercury Theater of the Air broadcasts, and also worked with Orson Welles on Broadway. Anderson was a regular staple at the Friends of Old-Time Radio Convention throughout the 1990s and wrote a book thoroughly documenting the history of radio's Let's Pretend. The children's radio program was the platform that launched a number of actors into a life-long career including Anne Francis, Dick van Patten, Donald Buka, Jackie Kelk and Skip Homeier.

On television Anderson made guest appearances on Route 66, Dark Shadows, The Defenders and Law and Order. Beginning in 1963 he voiced the cartoon character of Lucky the Leprechaun in those Lucky Charms television commercials you grew up with as a kid.

Arthur passed away in 2016 and all of his paperwork was mailed to me. I took the time to scan everything into digital format and assembled a PDF file. In short, this is a digital scrapbook of the career of Arthur Anderson including photographs, newspaper clippings, convention program guides and other materials.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

How You Can Help Save Popeye the Sailor

In July of 2007, fans of Popeye, the Sailor cheered when Warners released a four-disc set containing the first 60 animated cartoons, in chronological order, from 1933 to 1938. Restoration from archival 35mm negatives, and loaded with bonus extras, we were treated with the promise of future volumes -- also in chronological order. As a fan of Popeye, having grown up with the cartoons on local television (pre-cable TV days), I rushed out and bought my set. In 2008 we were treated to volumes two and three -- the latter of which included the last of the black and white classics. 

And then there was silence...

Where is volume four? many asked. The fourth entry would have started with the color cartoons... But alas, there was no volume four. Now, exactly ten years later, we learn that Warners gave the green light for a fourth volume -- but with one catch. If sales do not exceed expectations, there will be no further restoration or releases.

Now titled Popeye, the Sailor: The 1940s, Volume 1, this DVD continues where volume three left off. Transferred from the original Technicolor three-strip negatives, complete and uncut. But animation fans need your help. The studio will gauge the sales of this particular release (pictured here) based on the first 60 or 90 days of sales. So click the links below (both BluRay and DVD provided) and grab your copy today. The future of Popeye will depend on you.

As for myself, I bought five. Four of them were used as Christmas gifts.

DVD Release


Blu-Ray Release