Saturday, December 29, 2018

Aquaman Movie Review

This is one of those movies that makes you wonder if the filmmakers were testing how keen the public is to watch an overload of CGI. The producers, along with Warner Brothers, are no doubt cracking a bottle of champagne on the basis that the D.C. Cinematic Universe is clearly profitable after reviewing box office receipts from the opening weekend, and because the studio insists on a damn-the-cost attitude with production costs. Wonder Woman was the only film that generated large enough margins, and critical acclaim. While this film will boost the margins, the critics (myself included) are going to speak against it. On a cinematic level of visual storytelling, Aquamanstarts out great and progresses downhill until the last 45 minutes when the film becomes a cluster ----. Sadly, no amount of dark satire or comedic humor will prevent the studio from green-lighting a sequel.

The movie travels at a fast and steady pace, jumping right into the story with little build-up, as any motion-picture should – and few do. The opening scene, before the title credits, sets up the opening chapter brilliantly. An equal and generous helping of not one, but two villains, work perfectly in the script and the special effects of characters floating under water is a feat that even computer could not have provided two decades ago. Regrettably, this is the only saving grace in a movie that involves over-blown computer-generated special effects with a lack of concern for scientific details. How can so much fire-power, liquid lava and explosions (with flame) be accomplished under water? Why is there a cartoon squid banging on drums for music? Why does Aquaman smell his armpits while he is under water?

Even with suspension of disbelief, the character of Aquaman becomes more like a cartoon character for children. Perhaps the best part of the movie is Amber Herd, who is magnificent as Mera, a hydrokinetic-powered princess who will ultimately understand why Arthur Curry (a.k.a. Aquaman) chooses to concern himself with the land folk.

Not a fan of Zack Snyder’s dark take on superheroes who should be making the world a brighter place, and possibly inspired by the movies produced by Marvel Studios, I could not help but notice somewhere in all this scramble it manages to hit the reboot button. There might be hope for this franchise if they can avoid the computer and instead focus more on the story.

For those looking for a faithful adaptation from page to screen, Aquaman has enough to please fanboys. With a plot that is routine and formulaic, such a franchise should not be falling into the paint-by-the-numbers trap. This reviewer has seen so many films that he wishes an opportunity like Aquaman featured good storytelling; sadly, the movie was downplayed to an endless animated rumble. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

It's a Christmas Tradition

For those of you hoping I would continue with the annual tradition of featuring holiday glamour photos of Hollywood eye candy, you won't be disappointed. Randomly selected from the archive.... here you go!

Santa knows Audrey Hepburn was a good girl.

Mary Carlisle

Okay, not a year has gone by without sexpot Clara Bow. Why break the tradition?

Kittens? Elizabeth Taylor asked Santa for diamonds!

Jeanette Loff and Carole Lombard

Ida Lupino is being a bit naughty...

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz

Cyd Charisse likes kittens, too.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Stan and Ollie, Faithfully Yours

You can ignore those man-babies on Facebook. You know the kind... purists at heart who watch a movie solely to seek out what they feel is wrong with the picture, based on what they merit from the movie trailer on YouTube and IMDB. Those supposed stalwarts who brag about having seen Laurel and Hardy on the big screen when they grew up, and brag about seeing every Laurel and Hardy movie and film short multiple times, but threaten not to go to the movie theater and pay for a ticket to see a movie about Laurel and Hardy? Well, I ignored those who rant on social media and Faithfully Yours attended a preview showing a few days ago and you can take my word for it: Stan and Ollie is a loving tribute to the comedians who came to the realization, during the early fifties, that their career was coming to an end. 

Steve Coogan (left) and John C. Reilly (right) as Laurel and Hardy.

Following a dismal stint at 20th Century Fox (after leaving a successful career at Hal Roach Studios), Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy agreed to perform on stage in England, a tour that would ultimately take a toll on Hardy's declining health. Even standing by the ticket booth they hear a woman asking who will be playing Stan and Ollie on stage, the hotel clerk remarking "Honestly, I thought you two were dead," and dismal box office receipts that barely warrants playing in larger houses. Along the way their friendship is pushed to the limit as the men relieve their grievances for what each blamed the other as the cause and effect of their downward spiral. In the end, friendship grows stronger and Hardy agrees to go out with a bang... like any true comedian.

For John C. Reilly, who co-stars with Will Ferrell in those stupid comedies that are routinely terrible when viewed at home but somewhat funny in a theater filled with laughter, no greater compliment can be paid to a comedian than the opportunity to play the role of a comedy legend. Reilly does not ham up the performance, neither does he buffoon his way across the silver screen. Steve Coogan does a great job as Stan Laurel but it is Reilly who will certainly win an Oscar nomination for Best Actor come February. Regrettably, it remains doubtful that Reilly will win the Best Actor award as a result of the recent policy to diversify the judges at the Motion Picture Academy, many of whom are too young to know who Oliver Hardy is and not comprehend the character he played.

Earlier this year I attended the International Sons of the Desert convention in Cincinnati, Ohio, where aged fanboys addressed concern why young people were not devout followers of Laurel and Hardy. As a youngster myself, I could theorize a few answers to that puzzle but allow me, instead, to provide the following footnote: Everyone in the theater last week at the screening of Stan and Ollie was older than myself and almost all of them probably had an AARP card in their wallet. Before the film there was a brief introduction and the speaker asked if anyone in the theater was a member of the Sons of the Desert (the official Laurel & Hardy fan club). 

Not one person rose their hand.

Stan and Ollie will play in limited theaters as it qualifies as an "art house picture" so many reading this may have to wait until this loving tribute gets released on DVD in mid-late 2019. But any Doubting Thomas who wants to pick this picture apart by the seams (even before going to the theaters to watch the film) and question whether Laurel would have really said such harsh words to Hardy, or whether Hal Roach really had a beef with Laurel about finances would be wise to pause for a moment and remember this: In this day and age, we should be thankful that they even made a movie about Laurel and Hardy.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis on Radio and TV

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

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Hopalong Cassidy Meets Judy Canova

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

And the best part? Hopalong Cassidy meets Judy Canova!

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 30, 2018

Night of the Living Dead: Thank You, Criterion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 23, 2018

Latest Books from Bear Manor Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 16, 2018

Williamsburg Nostalgia Fest 2018

Last weekend, under the supervision of Larry Floyd and his son Rob, the Williamsburg Nostalgia Fest brought together hundreds of fanboys to meet and greet Hollywood celebrities, savor the best food in Williamsburg, Virginia, and celebrate the good old days of Saturday Matinee pop culture. Authors presented slide show seminars. Television actors signed autographs for fans. Old cowboy westerns were screened in the movie room. And vendors from across the East Coast set up shop with vintage memorabilia at various prices. From books, tee shirts, movie posters, magazines, glossy photos, board games and action figures, there was a little of everything there.

Held at the same hotel where the former Williamsburg Film Festival was once held, now remodeled and re-christened The Clarion Hotel instead of Holiday Inn, the entire weekend was modeled after the former event that came to a close after 21 years. (For more info, click here.) Author Jim Rosin talked about the history of television's Wagon Train before signing copies of his book about the history of the program. Deborah Painter talked about Ray Milland and his screen career. The Solar Guard fan club screened vintage episodes of Rocky Jones, Space Ranger and other vintage 1950s television classics. Celebrities such as Bernie Kopell (The Love Boat), Belinda Montgomery (The Man From Atlantis) and Robert Fuller (Wagon Train and Laramie) were among the guests signing autographs and posing for photos with fans.

Perhaps the most notable facet of the weekend was not one, not two, but three vendors who were selling vintage collectibles at rock-bottom prices. I myself picked up a dozen books published by McFarland Publishing, which retail between $45 and $65, for an amazing $2 each. VHS videos were practically given away at $1 a pop. Hundreds of hardcover novels such as Roy Rogers, Zane Grey, Hardy Boys and Hopalong Cassidy -- many with their original dust jackets -- which normally sold for $15 and $20 were sold for $5 a pop. Even Jack Mathis's hardcover Valley of the Cliffhangers, generally sold among collectors for $1,000, was snatched up quickly for $300 cash.

When I chatted with the good folks operating those particular tables, asking about the origin of the collections, the stories were pretty much the same. "My father died and I am cleaning out his house" and "My husband died last year and I want to sell off his collection." A sad observation, to be sure, but no doubt a sign of the times. A widow selling off a collection at a fan gathering is not uncommon -- this happens about once a year and many attendees quickly diverge on the tables like vultures in the hopes of getting a good deal. But three widows at one show? That was not expected.

All of which reminds me of the modern proverb of the old man who sets up shop at a film festival with a wide display of vintage movie posters. The highlight was a Roy Rogers movie poster in immaculate condition, front and center. None of the posters were individually priced but a sign was displayed prominently: "Everything Must Go -- Make An Offer." When the flood gates opened and the general admission walked in, the first man took note of the gorgeous poster and offered $2. He was quickly brushed aside like the barfly he was. Ten minutes later a second customer stopped by and, taking note of the spotlight display, offered $20. The vendor paused for a moment and remarked, "No, it is worth more than $20 but if the poster is still here on the last day, come back and we can discuss price." 

Ten minutes later a third customer took note and voiced excitement. "That was the very movie my father took me to see in the theaters when I was a kid," he told the vendor. "That was the first movie I ever saw in the theaters and that brings back fond memories. That is the type of poster I would have professionally framed behind UV protection glass to keep the sun from fading the color. That poster would look great in my living room. How much are you asking?"  "Make me an offer," replied the vendor. The customer gave the poster a second and third look and replied, "Well, you had the poster linen backed so you obviously put some money into it to ensure it is preserved. How does $200 sound?" The vendor calmly rolled up the poster and, with gentle hand on the customer's shoulder, handed the poster to him. "Take it home with you. You do not owe me anything, It is yours."

After a short talk the customer discovered the vendor was dying from cancer. His wife passed away a few years prior and there are no family relatives to will anything over. When the old man passes away he fears his landlord will simply toss everything into the dumpster. As a thank you, the customer paid for the vendor's steak dinner that evening. Weeks later, after the poster was framed and hung in the living room, the customer e-mailed a digital photo to the vendor. 

Minutes after the customer walked away with his treasure, the adjoining vendor asked the salesman: "I don't get it... The first customer offered you two dollars and you brushed him off; I get that. The second customer offered you $20 but it is early in the weekend and you decided to see if a better offer comes along; I get that. But when the third customer offers you $200, one hundred times more than the first guy offered you, you chose to give the poster away. Why?" The vendor paused for a second and explained simplistically. "Because I know that poster is going to have a good home."

Academically speaking, the asking price and gavel price for vintage collectibles is merely a numerical gauge to determine appreciation level. As many of my blog posts contain underlined social commentary, the takeaway here is not the statistical growing number of widows cleaning house but rather my concern that most of those collectibles offered at "clearance prices" are truly going to a good home.


Friday, November 9, 2018

Thurston, the Magician: The 1932-1933 Radio Program

A 1916 three-sheet color litho featuring magician Howard Thurston, assisted by imps and shows his assistant levitating, sold for $22,800 at a Magic Memorabilia Sale held August 25th by Potter & Potter Auctions in Chicago, Illinois. The price includes a 20 percent buyer’s premium, proving that the popularity of stage illusionist Howard Thurston continues to this day. 

Even more fascinating was the recent discovery of 58 radio scripts for the 1932-1933 radio program, Thurston, the Magician. Broadcast twice weekly, the complete run of radio scripts includes such intriguing titles as “The Magic House,” “The Magic Carpet,” and “The Affair at Paint Rock Pass.” Among this recent discovery is a complete cast list for each and every broadcast, music cue sheets, dozens of newspaper clippings pertaining to the radio program and the revelation that the program aired from November 3, 1932 to May 19, 1933. Prior published reference guides claim the program went off the air on May 25, 1933, but careful scrutiny after this discovery verifies May 19 as the correct date.

Collectors of radio programs who are familiar with the Blackstone, the Magic Detective program may find these Thurston programs a change of pace. Thurston solves mysteries but a few of the stories provided social commentary such as the broadcast of February 3, 1933, which concerned a war hero in Walter Reed hospital who was stricken with shell shock. Also discovered through these radio scripts was the fact that the program originated out of Chicago and broadcast coast-to-coast.

To date not a single radio broadcast of Thurston, the Magician is known to exist in recorded form. By the time you read this article, all 58 radio scripts have been scanned into pdf and with today’s resources efforts are being made to unearth as much as we can about this program for future publication, complete with episode guide and plot summaries, further preserving the legacy of Thurston.

Friday, November 2, 2018

WEIRD TALES: The Radio Program

First published in March of 1923, Weird Tales magazine will soon be reaching a milestone: 100 years of publication. The horror magazine responsible for introducing hundreds of thousands of people to the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury and Robert E. Howard (the latter of whom contributed a number of Conan the Barbarian stories). If you have a handful of horror/fantasy/science-fiction anthologies on your bookshelf, you can check out the copyright page and no doubt find a number of stories originated from the pages of Weird Tales.

The magazine is regarded by historians of fantasy and science-fiction as a legend in the field, with Robert Weinberg, author of a history of the magazine, considering it "the most important and influential of all fantasy magazine." Robert attended the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention for a number of years and one could easily ask him a question about the magazine and be certain for a prompt and accurate answer.

Tribute was paid to Weird Tales magazine at the 2015 Pulpiest Convention in Columbus, Ohio, and as an attendee at that event I found myself mesmerized by the history of the magazine as it was presented on stage during a slide show and a panel of authorities discussing the magazine's influence.

Both the publishing and editorial status has been a tad sketchy in the past two decades and the magazine's future remains uncertain. But there can be no doubt that in 2023 the Windy City Pulp and Paper Show will pay tribute to the magazine, including a special limited edition convention program guide with historical essays about the writers who contributed and the editors involved.

Practically every major writer in the literary field contributed some of their finest work including Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Fredric Brown and Theodore Sturgeon. Back issues today can fetch hundreds of dollars in the collecting market, depending on the condition, and an on-going effort to scan each and every issue into digital PDF files is nearing completion. 

What few are aware of is the short-lived radio program from the 1930s that, like The Shadow and Nick Carter, Master Detective, was dramatized from the pages of the magazine. Yes, there was a radio program titled Weird Tales and the program featured adaptations of short stories from the pages of the magazine. Until recently not a single recording was known to exist. Thanks to collector Randy Riddle, a disc was found and transferred to digital format.

Just in time for Halloween you can click the link below and enjoy his blog entry, the Weird Tales recording, and numerous other radio recordings available to listen to for free on his blog. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Halloween, Hollywood Style

Once again, it's time for our annual Halloween photo shoot!

Anita Page

Dusty Anderson

Gale Robbins

Janet Leigh

Ann Rutherford

Betty Grable

Nancy Carroll

Anne Gwynne

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre

Fans of The Outer Limits can rejoice -- the long-lost "Ghost of Sierra de Cobre" is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray. Joseph Stefano, the man responsible for television's The Outer Limits, was contracted to produce two spooky television pilots in early 1964; The Unknown and The Haunted. The Unknown was never sold but re-edited with a different ending and telecast as the final episode of the first season of The Outer Limits, titled "The Form of Things Unknown." The Haunted was never re-edited into an episode of The Outer Limits but a lengthier cut with a different ending was released theatrically as "The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre," only overseas in other countries. For the American television audience and theater goers, the pilot/movie was never seen for decades.

The story concerns a young woman, fearful of being buried alive, who installs a phone in her crypt. Should she be prematurely buried, she can phone for help. A few days after her untimely death (and as a result of her phobia her death was verified 110% before burial), the phone suddenly rings and paranormal investigator Nelson Orion (played by the late Martin Landau) is brought in to probe the case. Diane Baker and Judith Anderson play supporting roles. Robert Stevens started directing the pilot, but became ill and was replaced by producer Stefano. 

Hunt Stromberg at CBS previewed the pilot and reportedly cried. He said it was the most beautiful film he ever saw. The Haunted was slated to compete against NBC's Bonanza but Jim Aubrey was fired as head of CBS and his replacement wiped the slate of all shows originated by Aubrey and Stromberg except for The Wild, Wild West. As a result, The Haunted was shelved and never seen. (Numerous websites claim the film was too scary and the network scrapped the pilot as a result, which is inaccurate. The "too-scary-for-TV" theory has been credited towards other unaired pilots so this is not an uncommon myth.)

Other than a brief write-up in David J. Schow's magnificent Outer Limits Companion, I never knew this pilot existed until a few years ago when UCLA hosted a one-time screening from their archives. Supposedly a film festival in Japan screens the film annually due to popular demand. And here on the East Coast at the annual Cinevent Film Festival in Columbus, Ohio, someone promoted a late-night screening of this unaired television pilot. The festival, which draws in hundreds -- if not thousands -- of attendees, often screens rare films courtesy of 16mm collectors. Sadly, there were not many people in the audience by the witching hour and I was one of the few. I always felt there would have been more in the audience had the television pilot been promoted better. The collector who brought the 16mm print for screening was strangely insistent of not promoting in advance what the "unaired horror TV pilot" was, so many decided not to attend the screening and instead hit the pillow early. I cannot blame them -- at least half a dozen people knew I was going to stay up late and watch the mystery film and they asked me to brief them in the morning so they would know just exactly what it was being screened the night before. For myself, I was glad I took the shot in the dark and stayed up late to watch the film. (I suspect the collector was the same person who bought The Haunted 16mm print sold on eBay a few years ago for $90, but nothing to base this on except for the fact that the film is an extreme rarity.) 

The above story proves that some 16mm collectors can be a tad eccentric, but in this case the film is no longer a Holy Grail among collectors, thanks to Kino Lorber. With a street date of October 30, The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray, thanks to a brand new 2K Restoration. The commercial release includes both the movie version and the television pilot (advertised as an "alternate cut"), with audio commentary by film historian Eric Grayson and the ultimate of Outer Limits authorities, David J. Schow.

Kino-Lorber's recent Outer Limits DVD releases are superior to
the prior DVD releases with new print transfers and bonus extras.
Also recommended.

There was a rumor circulating on the internet a few weeks ago that the DVD and Blu-Ray release was cancelled due to a behind-the-scenes rights dispute, but this is apparently inaccurate -- I received my copy in the mail yesterday. The film is worth all the hype and I can state for certain that this is indeed worth the price (which is less than $13 on DVD if you shop around or visit Kino-Lobber's website).

If you are curious to know which should be watched first, start with The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre first, then watch The HauntedGhost was the feature film version, 20 minutes longer in length and contains scenes and characters not found in The Haunted, and a completely different ending. 

Friday, October 19, 2018

Dark Fantasy: A Warning About OTR eBooks

They say if you do not have anything nice to say, don't say it at all. This is an idiom I have applied over the years for book reviews. If the book is terrible, I made it a policy not to do a book review. Regrettably, I find myself having to break my rule for the first time in a decade. With sincere respect for the author, this review is not targeted towards his book specifically, but rather books of similar nature that are becoming problematic... and it is my hope that this review will save you, the reader, money and disappointment in the near future.

eBooks are economical when it comes to purchasing the latest James Bond novel or Paul McCartney autobiography, but when it comes to reference books in an academic field… exercise caution.

To understand the trepidation one must understand how the publishing industry works. Over the past decade, has become the 400-pound gorilla in the industry. The company now dominates the distribution for print-on-demand, raising pricing structure and changing wholesale terms, forcing publishing companies to consider the digital market – all of which provides Amazon with a larger slice of the pie. Uploading a book to print-on-demand eliminates labor force; little to no up-front fees and no warehouse stock to contend with. Customers simply place an order for a book and the machines that are equipped with printing one book – not mass quantity – will print and ship automatically. 

For publishing companies, this minimizes labor costs and once a month they receive a statement of sales, along with a deposit in their bank account. A one-man operation could publish 800 books and never have to lift a finger to fulfill an order after the initial set-up.

All of which comes down to Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other companies that provide eBooks such as Kindle and Nook. Any book submitted for print-on-demand can also be converted to Kindle format with a single push of a button. But here is where the problem lies: anyone can write a book in Microsoft Word, upload the file and voilĂ  – instant eBook. Sadly, a large number of people are simply cutting and pasting from Wikipedia and re-formatting their text files to produce fast books on the cheap. Others interject a deliberate product placement in their “how-to” books, every so many pages, providing links to their website where people can buy their products. 

Without literary representation, most of these books are referred to as “Indie titles.” For decades published indie titles were stocked side by side alongside books that were submitted by traditional publishers. You could always tell when the employees at a bookstore knew their product by shelving indie titles separately, with the shelves labeled respectfully. But in today’s market vetting out “books” written by indie authors implements a policy of segregation. Indie authors cry foul at this practice, claiming no one would browse or buy their books – and their admission is correct. But segregation in classifying any type of books is what we need and (not surprisingly) already established commonplace – after all, can you not search on Amazon by author name, publisher name, subject, fiction vs. non-fiction, reference vs. science-fiction?

Off the side I would like to state that just because a published book is an indie title does not indicate it is a bad book. I have seen indie titles, reference books, dominate over the same subject matter published by a University Press. 

Publishing companies today have no qualms about offering their best sellers in both paperback and eBook formats, the average price of traditionally published material ranging from $9.99 to $18.99. But there is a growing trend of eBooks produced by anyone with access to a computer and there lies the problem. Those books have no editorial curation or anyone vetting out books that have overt sexual themes, deliberate sales presentations or are rift with spelling mistakes. Unsuspecting customers are duped into purchasing them because they might have a similar name to a best-selling title, or because of the bargain level pricing. The average indie title for Kindle eBooks ranges from .99 to $3.99 and make no mistake – their goal is to make money. (The authors of those books set the price; notice they are not giving the book away for free.) Among the indie press who take it seriously, it is called "authorpreneurship" (a real industry term used today) and it is their hope that cheap prices will justify the quality and size of their books, minimizing complaints and returns. Some are published in this way with the authors taking full entrepreneurial risk because the titles are so small that no one publisher would ever be interested.

Last week I purchased an eBook for $3.99 titled Old-Time Radio Listener’s Guide to Dark Fantasy by Brian Schell. The description, as cited on Amazon, discloses: “This book is a listener’s guide to the series. It briefly covers the creation and format of the series then looks at each of the existing episodes individually, including a synopsis, cast list and commentary on each episode.” Expecting a brief history of the 1941-42 radio program, in what was described as 142 pages, I was disappointed to discover only two pages documenting the history and cast. The majority of the book features plot summaries for the 30+ extant recordings of vintage radio broadcasts, and author commentary for each and every episode. Worse, Brian Schell in his introduction claims historians and scholars of old-time radio “will argue to death that their trivia and history is the correct one, disparaging each other along the way.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Fact: The majority of OTR historians gather frequently at fan gatherings and nostalgia conventions, often going out to dinner to discuss their recent findings, even arranging to meet up and chat about the hobby in general whenever we travel out of state for research projects. Many of us even assist each other with research. On two separate occasions, when travel expenses or copy fees were too expensive, a bunch of us pitched in to offset the expenses.

There is only one OTR historian who does not make appearances at conventions, choosing to remain behind a computer screen operating a website about OTR – bad-mouthing other researchers in this academic field in an attempt to make himself appear authoritative – giving the false impression that there is animosity among historians and researchers of old-time radio. Author Schell cites two different websites as reference in his eBook, one from that same OTR historian, so it appears Mr. Schell temporarily forgot the idiom that you cannot believe everything you read on the internet. Worse, in printing his statement he now gives the false belief that OTR historians are "disparaging" each other.

While the book description on Amazon clearly discloses the fact that the book was meant for the reader to listen to the recordings “simultaneously as reading the book,” this truly is a listener’s guide. There is even a page devoted to the best and worst episodes of Dark Fantasy, which is getting into subjective territory. Make no mistake -- I am not complaining about the $3.99 I wasted in purchasing this book. But why would I want to buy an eBook that states "briefly covers the creation and format of the series" when the author (by admission) consulted two websites?

If you want to buy the paperback edition for $8.99, the enclosed link is provided for your convenience:

Regrettably, Amazon and Barnes & Noble are not relying on book reviews and search algorithms to vet out the indie books from the professionals. Most bookstores will not offer a refund for eBooks – who would ask for a refund for a $1.99 product they received and cannot return? As a result of this, the level of customer service in digital books is severely lacking. I provide my critical review of Brian Schell’s Old-Time Radio Listener’s Guide to Dark Fantasy solely as an example to warn people to be apprehensive when purchasing eBooks on Amazon -- whether the reference book be focused on old-time radio or other non-fiction.

Luckily, there are a few tips to apply when vetting independent books. Besides the obviously bargain-level pricing stated above, be cautious of page count such as books with 44 pages or 62 pages, etc. Check the reviews and while one negative review versus fifteen positive reviews is not indicative of a bad book, four bad reviews out of five suggests you will not get your money’s worth. Another tip is to browse books from the most expensive price to the least. 

Make no mistake: “indie books” such as these will continue to pop up on Amazon. There are lots of great eBooks available. Just do your research first before clicking “buy it now.”

As for Dark Fantasy, Karl Schadow spent years researching the subject and wrote what is clearly the definitive work on the subject. You can read it for free if you click on these links below:

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Debunking the Myths of Inner Sanctum Mystery

Inner Sanctum Mystery book
Inner Sanctum Mystery was not a great staple of American Broadcasting -- but the signature sound effect, that of the creaking door, was imprinted in the memories of radio listeners for generations. Himan Brown, the creator, producer and director of the 1941-52 radio program, would ultimately register the sound of the creaking door for Federal Copyright Protection on February 17, 1949, under the name "The Creaking Door," submitted in the form of a sample radio program -- marking one of two sounds ever copyrighted (the other was the three NBC chimes). Sounds cannot be copyrighted which is why, on a technical standpoint, the copyright on a creaking door stands to be challenged in court... but Brown did make much use with the sound effect by incorporating it as the signature opening for a later series, The CBS Radio Mystery Theater.

"The door told me to use it. The door spoke to me. 'Make me a star,' it said. It was a door that I used on the Dick Tracy series," Himan Brown later recalled. "I used all kinds of doors. When I did a sequence on Tracy with haunted houses or criminal background or some such thing, I used this door, and the door creaked. You didn't have to fake it; you didn't have to play with it. It was a door with rusty hinges that was badly sprung and it creaked."

Inner Sanctum Mystery advertisement
Simon & Schuster, publishers, was at that time publishing a monthly mystery novel under the byline of "An Inner Sanctum Mystery." The first was published in July 1930, I Am Jonathan Scrivener, written by Claude Houghton. The series initially took on a variety of genres, always indicated by the color of the book's binding: blue for serious drama, red for lighter fare (romance); and green for detective stories. Later, as a result of the radio program, the Inner Sanctum books contained solely mysteries. It was through Simon & Schuster that Himan Brown licensed the name for his radio program -- under one condition. At the conclusion of each broadcast the announcer revealed this month's Inner Sanctum mystery novel -- free publicity for the publisher.

If you can get your hands on a copy of The Lunatic Time, published in 1956 and written by John Roeburt, you will discover that the story is actually based on the Inner Sanctum radio broadcast, "The Unforgiving Corpse" from May 28, 1951. Roeburt, recycling his own stories, re-titled the same Inner Sanctum drama for the June 17, 1962 broadcast of Suspense, "The Lunatic Hour."

All this reminds me of the Warner Bros. cartoon, Racketeer Rabbit, from 1946. Bugs Bunny performs his usual antics against two caricatures of Peter Lorre and Edward G. Robinson. In one scene, a door opens with a long creak and Bugs Bunny makes a direct reference to Inner Sanctum Mystery.

For clarification, the exact name of the program is Inner Sanctum Mystery, not "Mysteries." Singular, not plural. A number of people have been challenging me on this, but I continue to ask them to listen to a recording of Inner Sanctum. While the earliest scripts of the series list "Inner Sanctum Mysteries," the announcer clearly refers to the program singular.

In 2002, I amateurishly put together a book about the radio program. (Yes, I titled the book Inner Sanctum Mysteries. That was done on purpose because most people incorrectly type the title wrong in search engines. And the book refers to the series as a whole plural so the title of the book was not meant to be the same as the program itself.) No one wanted to publish the book (probably my young age had something to do with it) so I self-published a compilation of assorted trivia and other pertinent information so fans of the program could learn more about the series beyond a brief entry in an encyclopedia. Since then, I finally acquired a complete run of each and every Inner Sanctum Mystery radio script, along with files of material from advertising agencies, library archives and other private collections.

One recording that circulates today is "The Amazing Death of Mrs. Putnam" and fans continue to debate whether or not the recording is the first broadcast of the series. I do not know the origin of the controversy, or why people insist it was never broadcast on the evening of January 7, 1941. Maybe it is because the announcer and host Raymond Edward Johnson never make reference to it being the premiere episode. Regardless, last week I received yet another e-mail telling me that my episode guide is inaccurate and "The Amazing Death of Mrs. Putnam" aired later in the series' run. So to close the file on this debate, enclosed is the NBC announcer sheet for that very broadcast, two production sheets verifying the cast, the announcer, the organist, the producer, and the title of the broadcast. Also enclosed are the first two pages of the radio script to verify the January 7, 1941 broadcast date.

An altered advertisement
For more information about existing Inner Sanctum Mystery radio broadcasts, CLICK HERE.

The advertisement featured to the right is "altered" and not original. Sadly, four different websites now reprint this ad and I do not believe the website owners are aware of this potential error. Take a closer look and you will see all reference to the name of the program, station call letters, broadcast time and celebrity has been superimposed in newer font. That means someone took the original advertisement and altered it. Not sure why -- there is a difference between an "alteration" and a "restoration" but whatever the reason, it's a darn shame that people are reproducing it on their websites. Altered advertisements have already begun creeping into published reference guides and that means whatever form of preservation and validity was attempted with those books... the authors failed. Reprinting an altered advertisement rather than the original is more terrifying than the creaking door.

Anyway, I am reprinting it for you to check out with your own eyes and verify. If someone wants to reprint an old newspaper advertisement for a radio program, all they have to do is simply visit newspapers on microfilm at their local library and print them out. You can go home and scan the advertisement and what little effort it takes to do so will be much more rewarding than high profile egg on face when the altered version appears in print and is pointed out in a book review. (My sole purpose of pointing this out is for others to reconsider if they gave any credence to plucking images off the web for illustration.)