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.)

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Lady Gaga Shines in A STAR IS BORN

Film buffs have seen this same story three times before in 1937, 1954 and 1976 -- A country singer at the top of his game has to contend with drugs, alcohol, the price of fame and a medical condition causing him to lose his hearing, but takes time out of his busy tour schedule to launch the career of a young woman with musical talent. She excels quickly, appearing on Saturday Night Live, receiving multiple Grammy nominations and financial freedom... all the while his condition continues to decline. You can surmise the conclusion before the curtain closes but for the younger generation who never saw the prior renditions, this might come as a surprise to them. 

Over the past few weeks there were people who told me they were dead set against this remake; perhaps they lovingly embraced the 1954 Judy Garland rendition or the 1976 Barbara Streisand version. My general rule of thumb with remakes is this -- good or bad, we will always have the original.  

Having watched the prior renditions over the past years I was eager to see an updated take -- and was pleased to see how this film excels on many levels. Bradley Cooper not only plays the male lead, but also directs from behind the camera. As expected, Lady Gaga shines with strong vocals but also with an acting assignment that will no doubt reward her with an Oscar nomination for "Best Actress." She went all-in on this role -- evident when she smashes a glass picture frame with her fist, which break into pieces and falls to the floor and you can tell that was real glass. The chemistry between the two, however, is so evident that it cannot be overlooked -- it has been years since I saw chemistry on the big screen. (For the record, that was four years ago when I watched To Have and Have Not with Bogart and Bacall and could feel the chemistry.) 

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in A STAR IS BORN (2018)

Bradley Cooper gives what is clearly his best performance on the screen and proved that he can also direct as well. In most movies Bradley Cooper plays Bradley Cooper -- much like Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise in every movie he plays -- but in A Star is Born, Cooper plays a role that makes you forget he was Bradley Cooper. This is talent that awards Oscars. 

This may be October but the Oscar race launched this weekend with a film that will no doubt receive Oscar nominations for "Best Director," "Best Screenplay," "Best Actor," "Best Actress," "Best Song" and "Best Picture." I have only seen two movies this year that warrant inclusion on the 2018 "must see" list. Won't You Be My Neighbor?, the documentary about Fred Rogers, was the first and A Star is Born is now the second.