Friday, February 19, 2021

Samantha's Seventies

Fan fiction is usually hit or miss. Thankfully, Adam-Michael James writes what he loves, knows the Bewitched canon and provides new ideas in a book titled Samantha's Seventies, with continued adventures of Samantha and Darrin Stephens. Fans of the television series Bewitched will enjoy these stories, additional adventures that take place after the original TV series concluded. Here, mortals and witches finally spend a Christmas together. Two Aunt Claras emerge.

What I found amusing was that references to past episodes are made in these stories and footnotes to those past episodes are provided for clarification. Adam-Michael James wrote a great book about the history of Bewitched so it comes as no surprise that he wrote this book of short stories. He also wrote a novel, I, Samantha, Take This Mortal, Darrin (2017). At this point there is literally tens of thousands of fan fiction for every television and motion-picture franchise. I know of none for Bewitched until now, which makes his book essential for any fan of the series who cannot get enough.  


You can purchase your copy of the book here:

https://www.amazon.com/Samanthas-Seventies-Adam-Michael-James/dp/0578778920/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=samantha%27s+seventies&qid=1613257064&sr=8-1

Friday, February 12, 2021

Netflix Brings Back Arsene Lupin

Arsene Lupin was a fictional gentleman burglar in a series of 17 novels and 39 novellas by March Leblanc, first written in 1905, which helped contribute to the genre that included Boston Blackie and Jimmie Dale (alias The Grey Seal). The fictional character also appeared in numerous motion pictures (beginning in 1908), television dramas (beginning in 1971), comic books, stage plays and (believe it or not) video games. Courtesy of the good folks at Netflix, the French mini-series consisting of ten hour-long episodes was English dubbed and recently released on their streaming platform. Starring Omar Sy in the role of Assane Diop, he plays a gentleman burglar who is inspired by the literary adventures of master thief Arsene Lupin. His attempt to undermine the family that framed his innocent father for an unjust jewel theft creates the motive for his determination... and fun for the audience.


Fans of mystery dramas are probably familiar with the two MGM classics that air on Turner Classic Movies from time to time: Arsene Lupin (1932, starring John Barrymore) and Arsene Lupin Returns (1938, starring Mevlyn Douglas). Rarely seen is the 1944 version from Universal Studios with Charles Korvin in the lead. The character appeared in a total of 23 movies, and numerous television renditions, proving his popularity still remains even to this day.

John Barrymore as Arsene Lupin from the 1932 movie.

Arsene Lupin Returns (1938, MGM)

The first episode of the new Netflix series sets the stage for what is to be expected: a brilliant cat and mouse game that leads detectives on mis-direction and the villains questioning who is behind the crime. The executives at Netflix chose to break up the ten-episode series into two seasons, the first five available now, closing with a cliffhanger. The final five episodes will be made available later this year. 

Episodes three and four threw me off, however, as it appeared the protagonist was so determined to take down the powerful Pelligrini family that he was making too many mistakes. For a man clever enough to pull off the heist depicted in the first episode, a mastery of thievery, subterfuge and disguise, that I questioned whether the brilliance of the series was diminishing with each entry in the series. But the fifth episode ended on a high note and makes me wanting more.


It was reported that Lupin was one of the most-viewed series on Netflix, having recently beaten out the above-average Queen's Gambit, which proves the network does not need a $100 million action-packed budget to succeed. Lupin is shot with class, providing us with unlimited beauty of Paris; the episodes are not gritty or dark -- even in the second episode that was shot in prison. All of which brings me to recommend the series for anyone who wants to see an updated rendition of the character we grew up with from the 1930s.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

The True Facts Why John Hart Replaced Clayton Moore on The Lone Ranger

John Hart in a publicity still
As difficult as it is to fathom after three decades, the truth of why Clayton Moore was replaced by John Hart for the third season of the television program, and then returned to the role beginning with the fourth season, has been told with such inaccuracy over the years (especially on the Internet and social media) that it warrants retelling the facts as they appear in the archival and historical files.

By February 1951, Trendle and General Mills agreed to continue television production with a third season. Having filmed 78 episodes consecutively, making up the first two seasons of the series, Jack Chertok assured producer George W. Trendle that an additional 52 episodes could be produced but the cost of production, like the cost of any business, required an increase in budget. Trendle disapproved of the increase in budget. In August of 1951, the Apex Film Corporation (owned by Chertok) created a breakdown of the first 78 television productions, to verify that Chertok’s company truly lost $29,681.60 in the deal. The average cost per episode was $11,547.20. General Mills was contracted to pay $10,000 per episode for the first 52 episodes, and $13,500 per episode for the additional 26. Chertok agreed to swallow the financial loss knowing that when the programs went into reruns later, when General Mills decided to no longer sponsor the program, he would recoup some of the loss in the form of rerun residuals and thus make a profit in the long run.

Jay Silverheels, meanwhile, did not want to wait around for a call to be on hand to play the role of Tonto when he could be making motion-pictures, so Trendle wrote out a check and a two-page agreement stipulating pay of $150 a week from January 1, 1951 to March 31, 1952, with a $2,500 signing bonus. This would expire once filming began for the television program, whereupon his contract for a weekly salary during production replaced this contract. (By 1954, Silverheels was making $650 per week, and $325 in between filming of seasons.) No such contract was provided to Clayton Moore, whose agent insisted to Trendle that offers to do movies were more lucrative.

Sure enough, Clayton Moore signed to play a role in Columbia’s Hawk of Wild River, a Durango Kid western, in which Charles Starrett is sent to Wild River to recover stolen gold and finds the town terrorized by The Hawk (played by Moore) and his outlaw gang. Moore kept busy playing supporting roles at Columbia and Republic, including the Allan "Rocky" Lane western, Captive of Billy the Kid, and the title role in Buffalo Bill in Tomahawk Territory for United Artists. On Halloween 1951, Clayton Moore sent George Wallace to St. Joseph's Hospital with a broken nose following a screen brawl with Moore (courtesy of a Lone Ranger punch to the face) while filming Radar Men from the Moon at Republic.


In late August 1951, Trendle flew to California to lineup a deal with a different production company for the new season of The Lone Ranger, as well as a pilot for both Sergeant Preston of the Yukon and The Green Hornet. He attended meetings with a number of television producers, including the Samuel Goldwyn organization, an executive under Herbert Yates at Republic, and someone at RKO Studios only to discover that while all parties were interested in a Lone Ranger movie shot in color, the studios merely wanted to perform the task of distributor, and provide the sound stages for filming, while receiving a distribution contract involving a percentage of the gross receipts. None wanted to invest in television, let alone a third season to what was already an established success on the small screen. (Yates never believed there would be a financial return with television like the movies, offering to invest in a cliffhanger serial. Trendle rejected the offer.) Disappointed, believing everyone’s math was all wrong, and coming to the realization that many studios were simply acting as a distributor for independent productions, Trendle went back to Jack Chertok and agreed on the increase in budget to produce a third season.

There is nothing evident to suggest animosity between George W. Trendle and Clayton Moore. Trendle was indeed critical of Moore’s portrayal, always in the form of letters to Jack Chertok, instructing the filmster to pass suggestions on to the actor.

Trendle sought a visual interpretation of the radio program, once expressing pleasure that Moore had gotten his voice down to a level mimicking Brace Beemer’s. Trendle suggested Moore keep his elbows down when riding Silver. “One of the rules of good horsemanship is to keep the elbows down when riding. I notice that a lot of the cow punchers seem to keep their elbows almost horizontal and you have a tendency to do that more or less in your riding. It shows lack of balance… Not only that, but with your elbows down you are closer to that gun on the lower hip, which the real fast gunfighters bore in mind when riding.”

            Trendle’s repeated criticism of Moore would climax in April 1950, when he told Jack Chertok that he listened to the television show with the film turned off and the sound on. “I agree that the fellow is getting so far away from Beemer it isn’t funny, and that is a thing I am afraid we will have to discuss. The man is a fair Lone Ranger but nothing to brag about, and if he does not try to cultivate the Beemer voice more closely, I am afraid we are going to be in the position of looking around again.” Chertok debated: “It is still the old, old problem that we have to face, regardless of what man is playing the Ranger – including Beemer himself, that he cannot talk as slowly on the screen as he does on the radio. But I repeat, we will do our best.”

Throughout the fall of 1951, industry trade papers reported a new actor was being sought for The Lone Ranger, but no explanation was given. Both officially and unofficially, Clayton Moore was never fired, even though he once used the phrase in his autobiography. Moore was simply unavailable to play the role for the third season.

“No one connected with The Lone Ranger ever told me why I had been fired – and I never asked. That may seem strange, but I wasn’t the sort of person to go in and make a scene about something like that,” Moore later recalled in his autobiography. “Such things happened in show business all the time. You got a part or lost a part, sometimes just on the whim of a producer or because the show was taking a new turn.” Moore never made any salary demands, and the only indication to suggest the casting change was Trendle’s insistence that someone better could be found – someone more in line with the iconic image Trendle envisioned. 

Enter stage left John Hart. Tall and athletic, Hart began his screen career in 1937 playing small bit parts, and like most actors worked his way up the Hollywood ladder. An avid surfer who also served combat duty during the Second World War, he returned to Hollywood after the war and scored the title role of the Jack Armstrong cliffhanger serial for Columbia Pictures in 1947. Hart got the role because George W. Trendle confessed that Hart’s voice was closer to Brace Beemer’s than Moore.

“I don’t know how many guys they looked at to do The Lone Ranger, but they picked me,” Hart later recalled to author Tom Weaver. “They ran all those Red Ryders where I had good heavy-duty parts and did a lot of horse-backing. I was a good-looking, young, husky guy who could do all this stuff, and also do lines. I was a pretty good actor. When I first started out, I got a lot of bad advice about playing the part. I tried the bad advice for about one or two shows and then I said, ‘The hell with that. I’ll do it my own way.’ They wanted me to be like a stiff Army major, and it was all wrong. So I just forgot that and slipped into the part, and everybody loved it.”

Compared to Clayton Moore, Hart was stiff and monotone with his delivery. Moore’s body language and way of speaking was natural, more fluid. Hart slouched in the saddle. Unlike the first two seasons, many of the teleplays were original stories instead of adaptations of the radio scripts. This resulted in less comradeship between The Lone Ranger and Tonto, with Tonto relegated down to sidekick status and a spotlight on John Hart as a charismatic hero. For many viewers, this cut much of the on-screen chemistry that was predominant on the first two seasons.

Like Clayton Moore before him, as soon as filming completed for the television season, John Hart quickly found work for motion-pictures and serials, including a brief role in Columbia’s Steel of the Royal Mounted, which would be re-titled before theatrical release as Gunfighters of the Northwest. Clayton Moore and Jock Mahoney were playing the leads in that same serial. 

In chatting with Jack Chertok by letter, George W. Trendle expressed disappointment with John Hart in the role, having viewed the entire season’s worth of episodes, and agreed Clayton Moore would be better suited if he was available to return to the role. Clayton Moore, according to Trendle, resembled radio’s Brace Beemer closests in both mannerisms and voice. By then Moore had a new agent, Earl McQuarrie, who was also representing Jay Silverheels. Just as Moore was never told why he was not brought back for an additional season, Hart was never told why he was being replaced after 52 episodes. Trendle was reluctant to admit to Moore personally that he was better suited than Hart, but instead reaffirmed what he expected from of the actor both in front and in back of the camera. Moore had no misgivings and returned to the program.


Thursday, January 28, 2021

WHAT IS PLUTO TV?

Riddle me this, Batman... what does The Beverly Hillbillies, The Addams Family, James Bond movies and Mission: Impossible all have in common? They are streaming free on Pluto TV. If you are not familiar with Pluto TV, you might want to check it out. This is a free streaming internet station offering hundreds of free stations playing retro classics 24 hours a day. All licensed and free.

Visit www.plutotv.com and check it out and within a few minutes you will be astonished. 

A few months ago my wife and I cut the cord (a reference to dropping cable TV) due to the rising prices. Instead, we use our flat screen TV to access the Internet and watch free channels streaming programs 24 hours a day. Of all the platforms, Pluto TV is our favorite. On channel on Pluto plays The Addams Family television program 24 hours a day. Another plays nothing but James Bond movies. News channels, reality TV series, mini series, science-fiction... you name them. Some are even available to view on demand. 

After re-watching all the James Bond films to rekindle my spy fascination, I moved on to a channel that plays Bob Ross 24 hours a day and have become fixated on his methodology.





Thursday, January 21, 2021

One More River by Fran Striker

In 1993, Fran Striker Jr. published a novel titled One More River, a thrilling tale of the wild wild west. His father, co-creator of The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet, worked on the novel for the last 15 years of his life. In spite of Striker's demanding requirements to script radio programs and Lone Ranger and Tom Quest novels, he still made the time, and found the energy, for the exhaustive research, planning, plotting, writing and revising of One More River. "He wanted it to be the best fiction he ever created, for after a lifetime of spinning tales for juveniles, River was to be for an adult audience," Striker, Jr. explained. Unfortunately, Striker died in a car crash in 1962 before seeing his job to completion. So in 1993, Striker, Jr. pulled out the dusty manuscript and self-published the novel -- the only non-Lone Ranger western story to originate from the Striker typewriter.

The origin of this novel dates back to September 1945, when Striker penned a four-episode story arc on The Lone Ranger radio program, concerning The Camel Brigade, a project commissioned by the U.S. Army. From 1857 to 1860, the feasibility of using camels for military purposes on the western deserts was tested, with encouraging results, at and near Fort Davis in Southwest Texas. The United States National Museum has on display the mounted skeleton of a camel that died at Fort Tejon, California. This is the only remaining physical evidence of the War Department's Camel Brigade. 

Jefferson Davis fought as a colonel during the war against Mexico, then went to Congress as a United States Senator from Mississippi. In Washington he spent much of his time interviewing military officials in the hope of finding a means to speed the delivery of supplies to the isolated outposts in the southwestern frontier. To connect the forts strung out across the Indian country, Army sentiment favored the construction of a road from San Antonio to Southern California. Senator Davis knew that congress would reject such a proposal because of the high cost and because the road would have to be built under conditions of combat with hostile Indians. He favored a suggestion that came from major Henry C. Wayne. Wayne had read about the dromedary artillery used by the French Army in Algeria. He believed that camels would solve the problem of transportation in the Southwest. Senator Davis, after exhaustive research and study, plunged whole-heartedly into plans for a camel brigade. 


In 1855, both houses of Congress passed an Army appropriation bill which carried an amendment earmarking $30,000 to be spent under the direction of the War Department for buying and importing camels. Courtesy of a brochure from the Ft. Davis National Historic Site, Striker conceived of a four-part radio adventure in which The Lone Ranger assisted the camel brigade as they ventured from Southern Texas to California. This was the historical info Striker used to compose the September 1945 radio story arc, which in turn was adapted into the 1948 Grosset & Dunlap novel, The Lone Ranger and the Silver Bullet.

Striker later recycled the historic details, added a romantic triangle between two men and one beautiful woman, and fashioned a new novel about The Camel Brigade. One More River contained no reference to The Lone Ranger and Tonto, and avoided the three criminal elements from the 1948 Lone Ranger novel to form a more adult approach involving murder, torture and bloodshed. the Striker novel borrowed many historical elements and figures for use in One More River, to create what followed the formula of a 1950s Universal Studios Technicolor western. Names of fictional characters from The Lone Ranger radio programs were recycled, as was subplots from the September 1945 radio story arc. The torments and privations that taxed human endurance to the limit -- ranging from hostile Indians, dying of thirst in the desert, to men killing each other in an effort to survive -- trying hope and despair, famine and feast, salvation and violent death -- the wagon train and cavalry company from Fort Defiance went through numerous escapades to cross the summer desert and the Colorado River.    

The novel comes recommended if you can find a copy. Three different printings (hardcover and paperback) exist and the price is not steep (no doubt because of the lack of demand for such a novel). Fans of The Lone Ranger have often expressed surprise when they learn that Striker wrote a non-Lone Ranger western novel. If you are a fan of western fiction, this is perhaps one of the best I have read in more than a decade.

Friday, January 15, 2021

THE NEW MUTANTS (Movie Review)

After a few years of corporate complications, The New Mutants was finally released to movie theaters -- ironically during the pandemic when studios were holding back distribution of their motion-pictures. When I first saw the movie trailers a few years back, I was instantly intrigued. Twentieth Century Fox, however, kept pushing back the release date and then Disney's purchase of the Fox studio caused yet another delay.

Five young mutants, just discovering their abilities while held in a secret facility against their will, fight to escape their past sins and save themselves. The most recent resident, Dani Moonstar, has yet to discover her super power but the solution to the mystery is what supernatural forces is making the hospital into a haunted house. 

Based on a series of comic books published by Marvel, and set in the world of X-Men, this movie was meant to tie-in with the present-day X-Men movies produced by Fox. Regrettably, while this movie was produced with a low budget (a primary cast of six and TV budget special effects), the only takeaway is verification that Fox cannot produce good superhero movies -- but Fox does know how to produce a good horror movie. 

A hybrid of the two genres, The New Mutants is a fun film if you can get back the slow first half -- with a climatic battle of our inner demons... literally.

Of all the films released in 2020, this comes in a good second behind the spectacular Tenet that came out in 2020. But with few films to receive a theatrical release in the past year, that does not say much. 


Thursday, January 7, 2021

COMIQUE: The Classic Comedy Magazine


Thanks to Paul E. Gierucki for bringing this to my attention via Facebook, I am forwarding the news as Paul presented:

 

Rather than remain idle through 2020, many researchers/historians/authors decided to create a magazine devoted to the classic slapstick comedians of celluloid past. COMIQUE is described as The Classic Comedy Magazine and features a number of fascinating articles. Never heard of COMIQUE? Nor did I. It seems this is a new venture and the very first issue is available for free. The writers and editors agreed in unison to give away the first issue in digital format. There are no printed copies, so you can click on the link below and download a free PDF of the magazine.

 

“We are hoping that this holiday offering will provide everyone with an entertaining diversion in what has otherwise been a complicated time for many,” Gierucki remarked. 

 

Among the articles are Lea Stans’ article about the busy career of Billy Bevan, Annette Lloyd’s essay about Harold Lloyd, Mary Mallory’s article about Franklin Pangborn’s early years, and an article co-written by Walt Mitchell and Paul E. Gierucki about “Abbott and Costello on Record.”

 

From Buster Keaton, Walker and Williams, The Hardy Family, and Shemp Howard, you will find articles covering many subjects you are familiar with. To be honest, I never knew of Dorothy Devore, a luminary of the two-reelers, courtesy of a great article by Joanna E. Rapf. William Malin has an article about an act of kindness by Groucho Marx, Dean Vanderkolk documented the career of Ed Simmons, television’s unsung comedy hero, and Tony Susnick has an article about Kalton C. Lahue titled “A Pioneering Historian Remembered.”

 

If there is enough interest, the gang will publish future issues of COMIQUE, at irregular intervals, and eventually offer printed archival editions for sale. 

 

If anyone who downloads the free magazine wants to financially contribute a small donation, they have a Paypal account at BrittanyJane99@hotmail.com

 

To download your copy, click here:

https://archive.org/details/ComiqueMagazine1



Friday, January 1, 2021

Wonder Woman 84 Pays Homage to the Classics

It will come as no surprise that the latest Wonder Woman movie, WW84, is a throwback to the superhero movies of the early eighties. Warner/D.C. has made it obvious over the last decade that motion pictures not only need to incorporate branding from a commercial prospective, but decisions made for the finished product are based on demographics. With nostalgia now deemed necessary for a fan base that populates the Marvel Cinematic Universe and TV productions on Netflix (i.e. Stranger Things), someone at Warners clearly wanted the latest Wonder Woman to pay homage to the generation that grew up with Christopher Reeve as Superman.

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

Regrettably, the film was poorly promoted. Had the advertising campaign avoided the rainbow colors and gold-plated armor that dominated the movie posters, but instead provided the slogan, "The Wonder Woman movie that would have been made in 1984," the expectations of theater goers would have generated positive reviews. As such, the movie is being criticized for numerous flaws (both equally and accurately justified).

The opening scene in the American mall in which Wonder Woman combats a group of zany eighties-style bumbling jewel robbers is a loving tribute to the Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve. Kristen Wiig's portrayal of Barbara Minerva, a.k.a. Wonder Woman's arch nemesis Cheetah, starts off with her impersonation of Richard Pryor (ala Superman III), in the scene that follows. 

After which the film becomes too rushed, too gimmicky, a tad chaotic, and comes off like three separate film scripts chopped up and reassembled into a single two-and-one-half-hour action flick. Lots of plot holes, leaving behind unexplained questions, and a couple WTF moments that make you wonder why they devoted a few minutes of screen time to make Wonder Woman do something (avoiding a plot spoiler) that harkens back to a Helen Slater-Supergirl moment that is pointless and unnecessary. To be fair, there are a couple enjoyable action sequences, especially the fight sequence in the White House, which provides enough screen time to warrant some enjoyment.

Love it or leave it, my only hope is that the next Wonder Woman movie avoids this pratfall and reverts back to the initial concept utilized in her recent screen appearances. The one positive factor that I have to report is the performance of Kristen Wiig as Cheetah. When I first heard she was cast for the role, my initial thought (along with others) was how she was mis-cast. Boy, was I wrong. Wiig not only shines but deserves a "Best Supporting Actress" Oscar nomination for her performance.

Kristen Wiig losing her innocence as she transforms into Cheetah.

Whether you watch this movie in the theaters, or on the HBO Max streaming platform, go in with an expectation of a movie paying homage to the early 1980s superhero flicks and you will enjoy the film more than I did. And do stay through the closing credits for one post-credits sequence that every fanboy, even those who disliked WW84, will confess was their favorite part in the movie.