Thursday, February 29, 2024

BOOK REVIEWS: Ray Danton, Herbert Marshall, Robert Horton, Arthur Penn

From time to time I receive a box of books from a publishing company for book reviews and the recent box from Bear Manor Media provided some entertaining reading in the past month. Biographies about Hollywood actors who cemented a legacy on celluloid on both the silver screen and small screen. I am pleased to say they are all great (the books that were not great I chose not to do a book review at all), so take a moment and check these out. 


By Joseph Fusco

I know Ray Danton more for his guest appearances on Warner Brothers TV programs such as Hawaiian Eye and Maverick, not from his LP records. But for others, he was a songbird of huge proportion. Ray Danton was an actor who exemplified a particular Hollywood period even though he was not famous. He was a contract player during the demise of the studio system, a precarious time for the grooming of stars. Like the big stars of his time, Ray Danton earned his share of press and publicity puff pieces announcing business deals, vacation plans, personal appearances, industry parties and movie and television contract signings. His name had its time in bold tintype, especially in the late 50‘s through the mid-60‘s: the Eisenhower-Camelot eras.


Danton’s heyday was the Hollywood of slick hair, cigarette smoking, hard drinking and two-fisted negotiations. His sharp-edged baritone matched dark chiseled features, making him a natural for his roles as suave heroes or venal hustlers. He had the look of a sly fox and the smooth moves of a dancing thief. Ray Danton’s confident attitude, serpentine movements, switchblade stare, and silver-tongued voice gave his characters a touch of menace and panache. This book documents his career both in front of – and behind – the camera. 




By Aileen J. Elliott

Robert Horton was born in Los Angeles, in July 1924. He came from a family peopled by professional men; lawyers, doctors and churchmen. His father was a highly successful insurance agent. The family was a large Mormon clan on both his paternal and maternal side, and Robert Horton never felt at home in it. From an early age he knew he was as unlike his relatives as chalk is to cheese. He rebelled against all its conformities and he only found his true vocation when he turned to the stage and decided to become an actor. Blessed with incredible looks, as well as a wonderful baritone singing voice, he pursued his dream with dedication and determination. His passionate drive was rewarded when he won the role of scout Flint McCullough on NBC’s fabulously successful Western series, Wagon Train. His portrayal of McCullough lasted for five years and brought international fame, making him one of the most famous stars on television.

When he walked away from Wagon Train to fashion a career for himself in musical theater, his fame gradually dwindled. There were many reasons for that, in and out of his control, but he subsequently claimed that the twenty or so years he spent treading the boards were as rewarding to him as he needed or wanted them to be. His marriage (fourth) to singer Marilynn Bradley lasted fifty-five years, until his death, and much was written in its early stages about their love and commitment to one another. After he retired in his mid-sixties, however, that changed, and though living comfortably in the suburbs of Los Angeles, the last years of his life were full of sadness, bitterness and remorse. Nevertheless, he continues to have a following of devoted fans and admirers and this book will help to inform them of his rich legacy, his life and his talents.


This is one of those tribute books that is worth reading if you are a fan of the actor, or a fan of Wagon Train




By Scott O’Brien

What better compliment can bestow a book than a foreword by Kevin Brownlow? Scott O’Brien wrote a great biography about Herbert Marshall, the character actor who rarely received top billing but certainly deserves more attention than he has received. Whether embracing the silky essence of Kay Francis in Trouble in Paradise (1932), or enduring the machinations of Bette Davis in The Little Foxes (1941), Herbert Marshall was the essence of smooth, masculine sensitivity. Dietrich, Garbo, Shearer, Stanwyck, and Hepburn eagerly awaited to be, as Shearer put it, “so thoroughly and convincingly loved” on screen by Marshall. While many knew that the actor had lost a leg in WWI, he preferred audiences to concentrate on his acting. Even so, he volunteered hundreds of hours to hospitals encouraging amputees during WWII. 


His legacy as a versatile actor, and morale booster is as compelling, as it is complicated. “Marshall’s personal story,” noted the late Robert Osborne, “is a fascinating one.” Herbert Marshall is Scott O'Brien's seventh biography of classic cinema legends and he continues with his high-quality and thorough research. 



ARTHUR PENN: American Director

By Nat Segaloff

First published to acclaim in 2011, Arthur Penn: American Director was the first biography of the acclaimed director of The Miracle WorkerLittle Big ManAlice’s RestaurantThe ChaseMickey OneThe Missouri Breaks, and, of course, the motion picture that fired the first shot in the film revolution, Bonnie and Clyde.


Born in Philadelphia to immigrant parents in 1922 and raised in Dickensian circumstances, Penn (and his older brother, Irving, who became the innovative fashion photographer) found himself behind the German lines at the Battle of the Bulge, a student in the formative years of Black Mountain College, in the director’s seat at the beginning of the Golden Age of television, and at the blossoming of the Actors Studio, all of which influenced his filmmaking. 


Arthur Penn: American Director charts his personal and artistic odyssey. Written with Penn’s intimate participation, it was completed days before his death in 2010. The book features interviews with dozens of his collaborators and is brought back into print by Bear Manor Media with an all-new Afterword containing tributes by his peers and a stunning revelation about the mysterious woman who educated young Arthur in the arts. As a fan of live television drama, this is one of those books that I personally thank the author for assembling. 

Thursday, February 22, 2024


In 1990, Warren Beatty made a movie based on the comic strip of Dick Tracy. In general, fans of the comic strip love the film. There are so many ways one could make a live action film based on a newspaper strip but with so many colorful villains, it was difficult to get all of the popular villains into one movie. The 1990 movie was spectacular on many levels. (If anything, the film’s publicity was overshadowed by the fact that singer Madonna was playing a role.) The movie also accomplished something of a grand feat – it reintroduced the newspaper strip, 1960s cartoons and 1940s movies to a generation that never grew up with the character and became lifelong fans afterwards. (Full disclosure: I was one of them.)

Sadly, the studio heads and copyright holder would not let Warren Beatty make a sequel, and the copyright holders even tried to do create a television show without him. Beatty took this personal and with the assistance of his lawyers, found a loophole in his contract by locking up the screen rights so the rights holder cannot produce additional movies. 

Under the contractual stipulation, every couple of decades, Beatty makes a no-budget 20+ minute television special where he plays the role of Tracy, in costume. The terms of the contract is that if he did not produce another film with himself as Dick Tracy (in costume), the rights would revert back to the Chicago Tribune. So, once again, Beatty made another television special where he complains to Leonard Maltin about making movies today, the new tastes of youngsters watching movies on their smart phones… and criticizes his 1990 movie. 

Last week, at 85 years old, Beatty premiered his new one, called Dick Tracy Zooms In. Beatty had himself filmed from his office and the editors assembled all the footage. And, yes, these productions were ruled in a court of law as sequels. Beatty does this solely so that no other studio can use the character for another movie.

As someone on Facebook remarked: “This is art. This is some A+ Andy Kaufman-level trolling. I will never watch either of these specials, because the whole point is that they are unwatchable, low effort, and awful enough to be a middle finger to some bean-counting whipper snapper who made Warren Beatty mad in the 90s. But I am so happy they exist. I'd rather know these bird flips by an old man taking a grudge to the grave are in the world [compared to] a Dick Tracy Disney+ show starring Chris Pratt.”


I am providing a link for this new 25-minute television special for you to view and judge for yourself. Take it for what it is worth.

And if you want to see the prior television special, the link for that one is below.


Friday, February 16, 2024

The Adventures of Oscar the Whale (1938)

Have you ever heard of the radio program, The Adventures of Oscar the Whale

Neither did I. 

But oftentimes, when browsing archives across the country, I stumble upon some oddity that was never documented and virtually unknown. Such discoveries generate mysteries that radio historians find themselves determined to unearth. But this one may remain a mystery. 

Obviously written in late 1937, and submitted for copyright in January of 1938, two radio scripts were produced with "M.A. Bross" listed as the author. To date, we have yet to figure out who M.A. Bross is. There are no references in the trades (Variety, Broadcasting, newspaper archives) about this radio program or the author. 

The general consensus among historians is that no such radio program was ever produced. More importantly, the theory now goes that someone heard the Christmas radio serial, The Cinnamon Bear, broadcast from November to December 1937, and decided to create their own radio program of similar nature. This would not be the first time historians found proposed children's serials that more than likely were inspired by The Cinnamon Bear radio program.

Enclosed is a link for two radio scripts, episode #1 and episode #7 for your entertainment.

Friday, February 9, 2024

PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET (1953) Movie Review

What should easily be on the top ten list of film noir classics is Pickup on South Street, theatrically released in 1953. Directed by Sam Fuller, this film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2018, by the Library of Congress for being, “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” If you have never seen this film, do yourself a favor and seek it out.


On a crowded subway, Skip McCoy picks the purse of Candy. Among his take, although he does not know it at the time, is a piece of top-secret microfilm that was being passed by Candy's consort, a Communist agent. Candy discovers the whereabouts of the film through Moe Williams, a police informer. She attempts to seduce McCoy to recover the film. She fails to get back the film and falls in love with him. The desperate agent exterminates Moe and savagely beats Candy. McCoy, now goaded into action, confronts the agent in a particularly brutal fight in a subway.


Shot in 20 days, Pickup on South Street makes it a point that there is nothing really wrong with pickpockets, even when they are given to violence, as long as they don’t side with Communist spies. The film’s assets are partly the photography, which creates an occasional tense atmosphere, and partly the performance of Thelma Ritter.


The screenplay was initially rejected twice by the Production Code Office for “excessive brutality and sadistic beatings” of both male and female characters, and one scene had to be reshot to minimize what could have been mistaken as adult groping.


After seeing a preview of the film, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover demanded a meeting with studio boss Darryl Zanuck and the film’s director/writer Samuel Fuller. He objected to the unpatriotic nature of Skip, even when he realizes he’s dealing with communists. Zanuck refused to make any changes to the film, backing Fuller. This ended the studio's close relationship with the FBI and all references to the agency were removed from the film's advertising, posters, and lobby cards.


Culturally significant? Yes. Entertaining film noir? A must-see. 


Thursday, February 1, 2024

The Columbus Moving Picture Show

You may not have heard of the Columbus Moving Picture Show, but you no doubt heard of the Cinevent Film Festival. After fifty years, the latter closed doors and the baton was passed on to Samantha Glasser, who re-christened the film festival and carried the tradition of bringing cinephiles together for four days. The contents of the program guide received a modern font, revealing little bits of trivia for each movie screened throughout the weekend. All of the movies were presented via 16mm masters, not digital, evident during the Saturday morning cartoon showing when a bulb burned out and needed to be replaced. (In fairness, no one in the screening room expressed complaint. A bulb burning out is just one of the factors that can happen during the weekend and is part of the fun of watching films by 16mm.) 

Among past year's offerings was the rarely-seen Behind the News, a 1940 crime caper starring Lloyd Nolan as a crusading newspaper reporter who needed a small jab to revive his interest to cover the arrest and murder of a notorious racketeer. Another rarely-seen film was the 1953 comedy, Marry Me Again, co-starring Robert Cummings and Marie Wilson. Fans of Frank Tashlin knew of this movie that has never been released commercially or screened on television in the past few decades. 

Alan K. Rode was among the celebrated authors throughout
the weekend signing copies of their books.

Perhaps the rarest film of the past year was The Little Cafe, a silent 1919 film starring comedian Max Linder has been elusive to many cinephiles who have been determined to see every movie Linder starred. No weekend would have been complete without a film noir so Samantha and her friends pulled out the 1948 Eagle Lion production, Canon City, with Scott Brady and Jeff Corey. These are just examples of what you can see at the annual film festival. 

Invisible Ghost was a late-night offering that provides no ghost
and nothing invisible... but who can deny the fun of watching
Bela Lugosi in a room full of film buffs who go so far
as to clap when "The End" appears on the screen?

If you are asking yourself where you can find these same films on DVD, the short answer is: you cannot. The majority of the films screened over the weekend are films not available commercially, offering fans of old movies a cocktail of classics worthy of the price of admission.

Jason Edgerly was among the vendors selling movie
memorabilia throughout the weekend. 

The different types of merchandise and collectibles
you can find in the vendor room.

More than five decades ago, Steve Haynes and his friends assembled what would become an annual tradition in Columbus, Ohio, every Memorial Day weekend. The tradition continues with a new spearhead and I am pleased to report to the skeptics that the film festival is in good hands. If you live within driving distance of the event, I recommend you check it out at