Personal photo from Come Back, Little Sheba shoot. Photo courtesy Leslie Sodaro.

MY LATEST BOOK!

MY LATEST BOOK!
NOW AVAILABLE DIRECTLY FROM MY PUBLISHER, BearManor Media!

COMING TO AMAZON FEB. 11, 2015, AVAILABLE NOW DIRECT FROM PUBLISHER

My latest book is Behind Sach: The Huntz Hall Story, directly from my publisher BearManor Media. Visit their website for details!

I am also the author of two books on Shirley Booth. My second one,
For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story, tells the story of Shirley's second marriage from 1943 to 1951, with several never-before-published family photos. That's when she lived on a farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. As of August 26, 2014, For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story by Jim Manago is no longer in print. A limited number of copies remain, signed by the author, for $50.00 postpaid (U.S.) if you send your name, address, and email address by clicking on the pencil pictured at the end of each post.

My first book, Love is the Reason for it All: The Shirley Booth Story, covers her life from 1898 to 1992. It is available online.


COPYRIGHT NOTICE

All content on this site, unless otherwise noted, is the property of Jim and Donna Manago. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Nothing may be reproduced without prior written permission.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Yes, We Will Miss Joe Franklin!

Oftentimes we'd visit him at his 43rd Street office in New York City. 

We have so many wonderful memories over the years. We will miss his love, enthusiasm, and friendship. 

Last month we got the opportunity to bring him a copy of our just released Huntz Hall biography. Stay tuned for more on that visit. . .





Wednesday, January 7, 2015

On NOW, VOYAGER (1942)

This month I salute novelist Olive Higgins Prouty.

 Olive Higgins Prouty (January 10, 1882 – March 24, 1974)  is best known for writing the story Now, Voyager.  In 1942, the story received an excellent Hollywood movie adaptation by Warner Brothers.  It's probably among the top ten best love story pictures ever made!  

I know my mother could never get tired of watching this gem.  For years, it seemed to be the one and only movie she asked me replay on video every other month.  Each time I would play Now, Voyager for her, I would also watch it.  Indeed, every time I watched it, I would find another layer of meaning or something that would fascinate me about it.

The story is about a repressed Boston woman named Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis) who suffers from the poisoning effects of a domineering mother played to perfection by British actress Gladys Cooper.  Eventually, through the assistance of an understanding therapist Jr. Jaquith (Claude Rains), Charlotte finds love at first, and ultimately the peace that empowerment and self-assurance brings.  In addition, a married man named Jerry Duvaux Durrance (Paul Henried) plays a part in her recovery.

Bette Davis is compelling and fascinating in playing this part.  Davis' success as an actress came from staying in movies with her superb talent, just as Shirley Booth successfully stayed on the stage and avoided the movies as much as she could.  Both Davis and Booth excelled at what they did, and were definitely among the 20th century's finest actresses. Along with Shirley Booth, Bette Davis is among my favorite actresses of all time.

Besides the fine acting from a stellar cast of Bette Davis, Paul Henried (January 10, 1908 – March 29, 1992) Claude Rains, and Gladys Cooper, there's Max Steiner's beautiful score which rightly won the Academy Award that year.

The men are very likeable in this film (Paul Henried & Claude Rains), but the women certainly leave much to be desired - from Henried's miserable wife who we never see, Charlotte's niece June (Bonita Granville) who certainly sickeningly loves to torture her aunt with nasty jibes, and most importantly, Charlotte's tyrannical mother who thinks that being a good mother means controlling everything your adult child feels and does.  Even Jerry's depressed daughter Tina (Janis Wilson) is a mess - suffering from low self-esteem and feelings of isolation.  [Footnote: it was Wilson's first film.]

For many reasons Now, Voyager has stood the test of time as "The Woman's Film."  The story, written by Prouty, has a screen adaptation by Casey Robinson, which leaves amazingly intact much of the original story and actual lines of dialogue.  Irving Rapper directed this wonderful story of a woman suffering serious psychological problems and how she breaks free of her mother's domination to choose her own destiny.

I initially sensed that the writer seemed to have studied this situation or went through such an ordeal.  Prouty's writing is keen on women and mental issues. There's an interesting autobiographical element to Now, Voyager. Indeed Prouty was the right person to tell such an unusual story about the mentally ill Charlotte Vale.  She herself was from a fine Boston family and she too herself suffered a mental breakdown as an adult in 1925 after the death of her one-year old infant (She also had an earlier breakdown at the age of twelve).  Prouty went to a sanitarium for recovery where she met two therapists - one of them encouraged her in her writing career.

So Prouty knew what she was writing about when she created Charlotte Vale.  Do you remember the story Stella Dallas?  That too was written by Prouty.  However, she was not too happy with the melodramatic screen and radio adaptations.

The point that seems evident is that Charlotte Vale is not really better off at the bittersweet conclusion than she was at the start....She might still seem to have some issues to work on, depending on how you want to see her decision to play surrogate mother to a married man's child.  However, at least she has finally stood up and chosen her own destiny despite the consequences.  Charlotte is liberated finally....That's what I especially like about Now, Voyager.

In short, Charlotte overcomes her mental problems and becomes a complete person.  She learns to win and assert her independence, first by dumping repressive family ties, and then overcoming those limiting class and gender restrictions which society brainwashes us at an early age to accept as normal and the only sensible way.
 
Charlotte is a character that finally exhibits strong empowerment.  She even achieves her stated goals of having a home (inheriting her tyrannical mother's house), having a child (through being a surrogate caretaker of her "ex-lover's" daughter) and having a man to call her own (via a very non-traditional friendship with a married man). 

Now, Voyager's character of Charlotte Vale is interesting, especially when you consider the time when this story was written.  In achieving her goals in an unusual manner, she frees herself from the repressive upper class stuffiness and patriarchy of the traditional male-dominated, anti-feminine, Western  gender code. 

Olive Higgins Prouty's Now, Voyager is worthy of your attention for challenging these things!  

NOW, VOYAGER   

*****
 5 Stars out of 5
  

*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!

JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!


*****

My Latest Book is Now Available Directly from BearManor Media:

Behind Sach: The Huntz Hall Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Gary Hall
BearManor Media
Published December 1, 2014

*****

For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story
by Jim Manago

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Jim & Donna Manago Books

Published December 1, 2010

*****

Love is the Reason for it All: The Shirley Booth Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Ted Key
BearManor Media
Published May 2008 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

On "The Bright, Blessed Day, The Dark, Sacred NIGHT!"

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2015!

A truly wonderful song that I wish to salute today is by Satchmo...


“The Bright Blessed Day, The Dark Sacred Night”

That’s a line from the all too-brief song “What A Wonderful World.” This beautiful song both lyrically and musically has been under-appreciated, and perhaps misunderstood, over the years since Louis Armstrong first recorded it back in 1968. It has often been misused as the “perfect” counterpoint music played to images of conflict, pain and human misery.

One of the things that’s superb about it is how jazz giant Armstrong offered us some surprisingly restrained vocalizing to the words and music by Bob Thiele (as George Douglas) and George David Weiss.

For some reason many people have found it an uncomfortable song since it seems painfully naive to have feelings of awe when we look at the world we live at anytime - especially now. Yes, I agree that might be a natural response to what seems like the song’s Pollyanna-like non-critical depiction of the world…

Yes, I can never get over the sheer stupidity of humanity bent on war, murder, and all sorts of never-ending destruction and evil. In fact, I shudder to think of all those millions upon millions of human beings that were senselessly disposed of in World War II. No, I cannot reconcile the cruelty of the horrendous Nazi death camps with anyone’s dislike of other human beings. And the havoc that Mother Nature brings us every day seems ruthless and unforgivable.

And yet I can listen to Armstrong sing in “What A Wonderful World” of the beauty of all the colors - the green trees, red roses, the blue sky, white clouds, the rainbow, the bright day and dark night. He is also awestruck when looking at the rainbow of the faces of the people, the love shared by friends shaking hands, and hearing babies cry and watching them grow as they learn what he never will know. Yes, I have experienced that awe when I stop to look at those things so easily taken for granted.

Somehow during the brightness of the day – with all of its concomitant noise and busyness - it seems difficult to connect to this wonderful world he speaks about. It’s impossible to be awestruck with all the crap that happens everyday.

I really found the song made sense at night. It is then when I sensed an overwhelming awe. It is then at night, when no one is around, if you can venture outside and look up at that massive moonlit sky with stars and worlds beyond number out there in vast space. It is in the glow of that immense midst out there in that “Dark, Sacred Night” that I faced some of the feelings and thoughts to make me see the world as miraculously wonderful despite all of the negativity that we tend to dwell upon daily.

Yes, I have learned again while listening to that deceptively simple but powerful song that there’s a true wonder in this world, if only we open our heart and mind to it. Indeed, it is easy to look past this reality in this thing we call living, and you will miss this awesome world’s ultimate beauty and meaning. The wonder has always been there, It has been our stubborn unwillingness to find it right there all around us, all the time.

No, this wonder and awe cannot erase any of the pressing problems or pains of the past or now. But when you can look beyond those realities, you can truly experience the joy of living in this world.

Take a moment to listen to this song when you walk outside one night this new year. Yes, I know that “the dark, sacred night” can bring an appreciation of a truly, wonderful world!

Thank you Louis Armstrong and the artists responsible for giving the world “What A Wonderful World.” And thanks to the Creator for giving us this WONDERFUL WORLD!
*****

I highly recommend visiting Louis Armstrong’s home in Corona, New York….GO TO: http://www.louisarmstronghouse.org/visiting/overview.htm

Several years ago I had the memorable opportunity to walk around the home and view the possessions of Louis Armstrong. The tour guide superbly managed to convey that love that Louis wanted the whole world to experience in his music and in his life’s devotion as a performer. Yes I felt that powerful presence of Armstrong in every part of his New York home. It's a good place to find warmth and love!

*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!

JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!


*****

My Latest Book is Now Available Directly from BearManor Media:

Behind Sach: The Huntz Hall Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Gary Hall
BearManor Media
Published December 1, 2014


*****

For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story
by Jim Manago

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Jim & Donna Manago Books

Published December 1, 2010

*****

Love is the Reason for it All: The Shirley Booth Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Ted Key
BearManor Media
Published May 2008 

Monday, December 29, 2014

"Can You Forgive The Pig-Headed Old Fool For Having No Eyes To See With Nor Ears To Hear With All These YEARS?"

One of my favorite moments that stays with me Christmas and throughout the year is found in the 1951 film Scrooge.  I am speaking of the great Alastair Sim version. That film is so well-acted and moving.  If I can confine my point to just one scene, then I would pick the very touching and tender moment when repentant Scrooge visits his nephew. The scene works so well in capturing Scrooge's change of heart, especially with the song "Barbara Allen" being sung, but effectively stopped mid-verse when Uncle Ebenezer walks in.
 
Scrooge asks his nephew's wife: "Can you forgive the pig-headed old fool for having no eyes to see with nor ears to hear with all these years?"  The sense of exhilaration  captured here is phenomenal!  It just does not get any better than that!

Of course, many of the best scenes and dialogue were not from Dickens' original "A Christmas Carol" story.  They were the wonderful brainchild of the now forgotten screenwriter/novelist Noel Langley.  He was born on Christmas Day in 1911, and died on November 4, 1980.

It's Langley that made several adjustments and additions to the Dickens story. Langley wrote in the cinematic style that Dickens also wrote in (of course Dickens was doing this before cinema was even invented).  What Langley brought to the story blends well with Dickens' story and it helps to flesh out Scrooge and the other characters.  I am sure that this is part of the reason why the 1951 adaptation of the Dickens story is so endearing. 

Langley's contribution lives on in the definitive version of Charles Dickens' immortal tale, the Alastair Sim 1951 film.  

*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!

JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!

*****

My Latest Book is Now Available Directly from BearManor Media:

Behind Sach: The Huntz Hall Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Gary Hall
BearManor Media
Published December 1, 2014


*****

For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story
by Jim Manago

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Jim & Donna Manago Books

Published December 1, 2010

*****

Love is the Reason for it All: The Shirley Booth Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Ted Key
BearManor Media
Published May 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Merry Christmas To You, Ed Norton!


Shirley Booth and The Smugglers:


It was on December 24, 1968 that Shirley Booth starred on NBC's Tuesday Night at the Movies: The Smugglers.
 
That telefilm, directed by Norman Lloyd, had Shirley Booth playing Mrs. Hudson, an American tourist traveling in Austria and Italy. The story is about Mrs. Hudson, with her stepdaughter/companion (Carol Lynley), becoming unintentionally mixed up with an international smuggling ring when they try to get through customs with some souvenirs.

Strangely broadcast on Christmas Eve, 1968, The Smugglers never played to its completion due to the interruption by a news broadcast of the historic Apollo 8 space mission.

It has been suggested that NBC intentionally scheduled this inferior and violent movie when they did, knowing that it probably would be pre-empted by the news coverage.

A check of the TV Listings from The New York Times confirms that NBC planned this film knowing it would be interrupted. It reads: 

8:00 (4) World Premiere Movie: "The Smugglers," Shirley Booth, Carol Lynley, Gayle Hunnicut, Michael J. Pollard, Kurt Kasnar. Mother and daughter are pawns in plot to deliver a "religious statue to a smuggler's friend in Italy. (C) (movie scheduled to be interrupted for reports on Apollo 8) 

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be much chance that The Smugglers will ever be available on DVD.

Also broadcast on New York television for December 24, 1968 was my favorite rendering of Charles Dickens' immortal tale...


1:15 (2) Late Late Show: "A Christmas Carol" (1951). Alastair Sim...


And of course, as was the routine on Christmas Eve, this film was repeated again at 2:55 a.m.

In 1971, CBS TV's Late Late Show broadcast (Ch. 2 at 1:10 a.m.) of A Christmas Carol was pitted against my other favorite, Christmas in Connecticut on WNBC TV's Great Great Show broadcast (Ch. 4 at 1:15 a.m.). The New York Times noted quite aptly that the latter film is "Pleasant and amusing. Nice, cozy holiday fare."

Going back a year earlier to 1970, the Alastair Sim version was not played - instead the MGM Edward L. Marin production starring Reginald Owen (1938) ran as usual at that time, opposite the superb Christmas in Connecticut. Despite some interesting touches that MGM added to the classic, this version pales in comparison to Sim's portrayal. I think Owen was miscast and not particularly convincing.
 *****


*****


I fondly remember the tradition of enjoying Christmas Eves in New York with WPIX-TV running The Yule Log. In recent years they have brought back this tradition. Also, WPIX was the station to present Laurel & Hardy's remarkable March of the Wooden Soldier, usually several times during the holiday season (see my blog post from last month). The other holiday fantasy that received much airplay, Miracle on 34th Street, quickly became a treasured marker for this time of the year.

I loved WCBS-TV Channel 2 repeatedly broadcasting the 1951 version of Charles Dickens' endearing "A Christmas Carol." In America, the film became retitled A Christmas Carol but it was originally released in the UK as Scrooge. This phenomenal British production produced and directed by Brian Desmond Hurst (February 12, 1895 – September 26, 1986), starred the great Scottish actor Alastair Sim. It has to be one of the best portrayals ever made on film. You can study this actor's complex rendering, as well as the movie, from multiple perspectives and always see more layers and levels of brilliance.

Of course, the well-written dialogue of Scrooge, the superb visuals, the talents of the entire cast, and the music by Richard Addinsell, make the whole production too good to watch just at Christmas. Again, it's one film deserving to be part of your collection. 

WCBS-TV Channel 2 would run this film over and over starting around midnight - it would be on 3 or 4 times in a row. No matter what you were doing or wherever you were, this film was on so you would hear or see it several times. First it was on what I they called "The Late Show," then followed under the banner "The Late Late Show.  Leroy Anderson's "The Syncopated Clock" would play over a graphic of a building at night with lights going on as the opening music. The screen would show lights going on in a building. Yes, those were the days...

Finally, the best TV Christmas episode ever is the one entitled " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas" from The Honeymooners...

A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!

*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!
 
JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!

*****

My Latest Book is Now Available Directly from BearManor Media!

Behind Sach: The Huntz Hall Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Gary Hall
BearManor Media
Published December 1, 2014

*****

For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story
by Jim Manago

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Jim & Donna Manago Books

Published December 1, 2010

*****

Love is the Reason for it All: The Shirley Booth Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Ted Key
BearManor Media
Published May 2008

Friday, December 19, 2014

On Hazel's Christmas

There are two episodes of Hazel that are Christmas-themed, and both are available on  DVD. 

The first one Shirley Booth did ("Hazel's Christmas Shopping") is from the first season (1961). The second one is from the fourth season, entitled "Just 86 Shopping Minutes To Christmas" (1964).

These two episodes were released on videotape in the mid-1990's.  What's particularly special about the second one is that after the Baxters go to bed on Christmas Eve, Hazel walks over to the tree and beautifully sings several verses of "O, Evergreen" (aka "O Christmas Tree"). I must tell you that I treasure this videotape and have watched it a couple of dozen times since it first came out. Shirley Booth singing "O Evergreen, O Evergreen" will always warm my every CHRISTMAS! Yes, it just doesn't get any better than that!

What's remarkable about all of the Hazel episodes I've seen is the fact that they were well-written and hold up as comedies more than 40 years later. So much of the early television shows are disappointing when watched again now through contemporary adult sensibilities. But Hazel is unusual in that it's still quite fresh and funny.  Shirley Booth's timing and demeanor are perfect throughout these episodes.  Also, do not overlook Don DeFore's natural and convincing acting, Whitney Blake's charm which makes it all so real...it is all so amazing to watch!

*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!
 
JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!

*****

My Latest Book is Now Available Directly from BearManor Media!

Behind Sach: The Huntz Hall Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Gary Hall
BearManor Media
Published December 1, 2014


*****

For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story
by Jim Manago

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Jim & Donna Manago Books

Published December 1, 2010

*****

Love is the Reason for it All: The Shirley Booth Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Ted Key
BearManor Media
Published May 2008

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

On HAPPY DAYS and LARCENY, INC.

Happy Days:

40 Years Ago Today (December 17, 1974): First broadcast of the Happy Days episode, "Guess Who's Coming to Christmas?" This is one of my favorite episodes.

In that episode, Howard Cunningham (Tom Bosley) wants a quiet family Christmas. His son Richie learns that mechanic Fonzie (Henry Winkler) will be spending the holiday all alone, even though Fonzie insists that will have a great Christmas in Waukesha (Wisconsin).

Yes, like most situation comedies, it's quite predictable that Fonzie will
join them by the finale...but the episode rings true on an emotional level. In fact it's on that level that we derive so much of the pleasures and enjoyment of the holiday season. So many of the festivities, rituals, and myths that people celebrate at this time are unconnected to the actual reality that it's simply a special birthday.

Among some of the best moments in this episode of Happy Days include when lonesome Fonzie is seen eating his dinner out of a can, and at the finale when Fonzie offers a simple and refreshing grace: "Hey God, thanks." It's a lesson to those who like pompous prayers...

Four years ago we lost  actor Tom Bosley (October 1, 1927 – October 19, 2010).  His gave us one of television's best portrayals of an understanding, agreeable father (Howard Cunningham). Much like my own father, who shared the same exact birthday (October 1, 1927), Bosley superbly played Howard with a kindness and an easygoing nature that's unforgettable (although at times he could lose his cool).

 *****

Larceny Inc.

I particularly like Edward G. Robinson's films....one of my favorites Larceny, Inc. is a fine spoof of the Warner Brothers' gangster films. The stellar cast includes Broderick Crawford, Anthony Quinn, Edward Brophy, Jane Wyman, and Jack Carson. Anyone remember this film? I have always enjoyed this quite funny and well-written 1940 comedy. 

Larceny, Inc. tells the story of a recently released convict J. Chalmers 'Pressure' Maxwell (Robinson), who along with Crawford and Brophy, buy a luggage store in order to tunnel into the next-door bank.  They hit water and oil pipes while business upstairs booms quite annoyingly.  Eventually they abandon their heist plans at mid-point when they realize their future is best served by staying honest.  Just when Robinson has a change of heart, Leo Dexter (Quinn in one of his earliest roles) breaks out of jail and wants to settle an old score by forcing them to finish the bank job because he needs some loot. Robinson and Quinn are particularly superb - and they have some great lines. Interestingly, it all comes to a climax on Christmas Eve.  Don't miss this one, particularly the scene with Robinson as a cigar chomping Santa Claus! 

Quinn delivers a memorable line: "You guys couldn't steal a towel out of a hotel without my help!"

There’s a very young Jackie Gleason mugging it up as a soda jerk. The film has a wonderful Christmas scene of Robinson outrageously dressed as Santa Claus, smoking a cigar, and being a lookout on Christmas Eve while tunneling continues underneath the bank.

What makes Larceny, Inc. so funny is that the actors played it really straight and serious!

Speaking of Anthony Quinn, Shirley Booth starred in one film with him. That film, Hot Spell, opened on September 17, 1958 - according to Shirley's scrapbook.  The film offered Shirley the opportunity to be nominated for The New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress.  Hot Spell is a tragic tearjerker with a screenplay adapted by James Poe, based on the play and novel by Lonnie Coleman named Beulah Land.

I didn't like Hot Spell - it's just too melodramatic.   It seems the problem lies in the writing.  The film doesn't satisfy me - even though Booth has some shining moments.

*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!
 
JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!

*****

My Latest Book is Now Available Directly from BearManor Media!

Behind Sach: The Huntz Hall Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Gary Hall
BearManor Media
Published December 1, 2014


*****

For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story
by Jim Manago

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Jim & Donna Manago Books

Published December 1, 2010

*****

Love is the Reason for it All: The Shirley Booth Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Ted Key
BearManor Media
Published May 2008

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Mrs. Claus SIngs: "I Could Be Santa Claus!"


I recall the wonder of hearing Shirley Booth's voice as Mrs. Santa Claus in the memorable holiday classic The Year Without a Santa Claus. This was her final project. Shirley sang and told the story in this Rankin-Bass stop-motion puppet special that appeared on ABC. 

The Year Without a Santa Claus is one of the best programs Shirley Booth did.  The classic also had Mickey Rooney reprising the voice of Santa Claus, which he did originally in Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (1970).

The animated classic tells the story of the year when Santa Claus is sick with a cold. Thanks to the dire advice from Santa’s physician that nobody cares anymore about Christmas, Santa Claus decides he will not deliver presents. However, his elves, Jingle Bells and Jangle Bells, think that if they could convince Santa otherwise, he might change his mind.

In order to accomplish this, the elves have to get to Southtown, U.S.A. to find children who care. However, there is Heat Miser and Snow Miser to contend with who have a problem deciding on whether it should snow or not in Southtown. Mrs. Claus intervenes by going to Heat Miser and Snow Miser’s mother. By the conclusion, Santa realizes the error of his thinking and decides to deliver presents after all.

The music includes Rooney singing "I Believe in Santa Claus." The mayor and townspeople offer "It’s Gonna Snow in Dixie." The Snow Miser and Heat Miser both sing a song. In addition, the best number is when the little girl sings "I’ll Have a Blue Christmas Without You." The children all joined in the finale with "Here Comes Santa Claus." 

This television program could have been more aptly titled, "Almost the Year Without a Santa Claus." Shirley sings the title track and "I Could Be Santa Claus."

Interestingly, "I Could Be Santa Claus" is Mrs. Claus' wishful transgender desire that anyone could be Santa Claus. Mrs. Claus notes how she has "fantasized it a lot," and that no one would know the difference. She questions, "why can't a lady like me?" be Santa Claus.

Unfortunately our culture gets too stuck up in this gender binary world, with males dominating everything. So Santa Claus is defined and always seen as male-gendered. Apparently society ridiculously and staunchly insists on such rigid male and female gendered roles that if we transgress those "norms" somehow we are toppling our civilization. It's unusual to see something, if ever so slightly, challenge those "norms" back in the 1970's.
*****

Please note that a pencil at the end of the posts allows readers to send comments. Thanks to Tosh for making me aware that the comment link was missing from my posts. 

*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!
 
JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!

*****

My Latest Book is Now Available Directly from BearManor Media!

Behind Sach: The Huntz Hall Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Gary Hall
BearManor Media
Published December 1, 2014


*****

For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story
by Jim Manago

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Jim & Donna Manago Books

Published December 1, 2010

*****

Love is the Reason for it All: The Shirley Booth Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Ted Key
BearManor Media
Published May 2008

Saturday, December 6, 2014

By My Crackling Fireplace In My Cozy Connecticut Farmhouse...

Last night by my crackling fireplace, I enjoyed watching that truly charming 1945 gem, Christmas in Connecticut.  My cozy Connecticut farmhouse living room looks like the set from of Holiday Inn.   All that's missing is Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds.  My chestnuts are cooking slowly in the cast-iron skillet.  Anyone that knows me, knows that I just love the nutty sweet aroma and  taste of chestnuts.  

Christmas in Connecticut is one of the few films that gets better each passing year. I have written before about the basics, such as the plot. Here’s some more thoughts on my favorite Christmas film of all time…


Christmas in Connecticut, produced by William Jacobs and directed by Peter Godfrey, comes from an original story by Aileen Hamilton (the screenplay by Lionel Houser and Adele Commandini).  The humorous film has many superb moments. For instance, there is the scene where Liz (Barbara Stanwyck) decorates the tree with the large glass balls.  She drops one after Dennis Morgan solemnly sings the traditional “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”  Morgan also delivers in fine tenor the lovely “The Wish That I Wish Tonight,” a song written especially for the film by Jack Scholl and M. K. Jerome.

There are a number of romantic and visually exquisite scenes, albeit brief but memorable, such as when the smitten Liz sits down and rocks in her rocking chair.  The music adds to the mood by contributing to the film’s funny and romantic moments.  So much more can be said about those wonderfully composed scenes…there's some great black & white cinematography!






Pictured above is Elizabeth Lane’s menu that Mr. Yardley sees in his publication. I tried to locate a recipe for Roast Goose Bernoise – it is apparently a fictitious food. Everyone online keeps offering Roast Goose Garbure Bearnaise as the film’s menu – however, that is not what is depicted in the magazine nor spoken of in the film.

Christmas in Connecticut best gives us the flavor of 1940’s Christmas - at least the way filmmakers saw America.  In short, I just love the whole production from start to finish!  

Sydney Greenstreet said it best in the film’s last lines: “What A CHRISTMAS! What A CHRISTMAS!”
 
I must admit I was so absorbed by this film that I started writing this piece as if I was Elizabeth Lane.  If you've seen the film, you will know what I am talking about.  No, I do not have a crackling fireplace, nor a Connecticut farmhouse, nor an open fire where I can roast chestnuts.  But like Liz, I wish I had more of those niceties of life - but cannot afford them. Writing is an under-appreciated profession that pays zilch. I have so little materially, but still can find joy in the true and non-commercial spirit of the season!   

*****


THANKS FOR VISITING!
 
JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!

*****

My Latest Book is Now Available Directly from BearManor Media:

Behind Sach: The Huntz Hall Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Gary Hall
BearManor Media
Published December 1, 2014


*****

For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story
by Jim Manago

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Jim & Donna Manago Books

Published December 1, 2010

*****

Love is the Reason for it All: The Shirley Booth Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Ted Key
BearManor Media
Published May 2008 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

80 Years Years Later: MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS Still Among The Most Enduring Comedy Musical Ever Made!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!


Did You Know? One early account said that Shirley Booth’s first appearance on stage occurred while attending P.S. 152 in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. There she read in class her Thanksgiving composition entitled, "The Autobiography of a Thanksgiving Turkey."


*****

YES, WPIX Channel 11 in New York again will be showing that true film gem - March of the Wooden Soldiers - now twice on Thanksgiving Day (9 a.m. and 3 p.m.)

A special Thank You to the intelligent management for keeping this film alive!


*****

THANKSGIVING!  

Thanksgiving reminds me of my dearly departed Aunt Mary from Brooklyn.  Money was so tight that my Aunt could not afford a turkey and so she served-up a large roasted chicken to her four children every Thanksgiving.  The best part of this is that she told them it was a turkey - and they did not really know the truth till years later because they never ate turkey before!


Thanks to Aunt Mary and all the other people that have given me special memories at this time and throughout the years!


My favorite films to view on Thanksgiving Day include the original 1933 King Kong, the original 1949 Mighty Joe Young and the 1934 version of Victor Herbert's (1859 - 1924) operetta Babes in Toyland from 1903.   The latter is best known by the 1948 re-released title of March of the Wooden Soldiers.


These films always played on television in the background on Thanksgiving afternoon in my New York family home.  Thanksgiving wouldn't be the same without them!  Since those glory days when broadcast television ruled, today it has become such a wasteland of banal situation comedies and Jerry Springer-style garbage ever-eager to disrespect someone.

Thankfully the only thing that has not changed in all these years is that WPIX Channel 11 in New York is still running March of the Wooden Soldiers on Thanksgiving  Day.  Yes, WPIX has kept alive the magic of that memorable chestnut!  

Regarding the various versions of Babes in Toyland...


Please be sure to avoid the two later film versions of the classic operetta.  The 1986 Drew Barrymore version is the poorest, but I found the Disney version from 1961 to be surprisingly disappointing.

That horrendous Disney version features Annette Funicello & Tommy Sands....This production changed too many things, and it did nothing better. Most importantly, the film removed the bogeyman as villains, provided embarrassingly poor set designs, and it managed to stick us with some bad casting in the leads.  In addition, Ray Bolger over-acted too much as the villainous Barnaby.  Besides that, the humorless impressions of Laurel & Hardy (Gene Sheldon & Henry Calvin) added nothing at all to this film.


I disliked the Disney version of Babes in Toyland throughout, starting from the uninspired opening minutes.   It was almost as bad as the 1967 Dr. Dolittle - and that is really sinking low.  The Disney take on Herbert's best numbers ("Castle in Spain," and "Go To Sleep") totally ruined them by changing the tempo.  The experience of watching this lackluster version was painful indeed!  Ed Wynn as the toymaker offered the only pleasure in this entire production - but not enough to recommend the film to you.


Just save your electricity and time and watch the beautiful black & white 80-year old March of the Wooden Soldiers.  Laurel & Hardy shine in this production, along with a number of other superb character actors.  However, the real star of this film is definitely Felix Knight.  The latter singer (well-known in his time, but forgotten today) steals the show with his wonderful voice. Knight's singing of the superb "Castle in Spain" and, "Go to Sleep, Slumber Deep" is truly unforgettable. It doesn't get any better than that!

March of the Wooden Soldiers was regularly referred to as an ingenious classic back in the 1960's when I was growing up - and now fifty years later it stands alone as one of the few really worthwhile films to see every year.  It has definitely stood the test of time.

There are so many great moments.  If I had to pick just one I would say I just love the appearances of that mouse that looks like Mickey.  Of course, it was really a capuchin monkey - indeed a quite intelligent animal. Just hope the trainers were kind back in those days - though I doubt animal rights were a consideration then.
Simply stated, I would select March of the Wooden Soldiers as one of the most enjoyable films among the many thousands I've seen in my lifetime, as well as being one of the best films that was ever made in 1930's Hollywood!


***** 

Toyland:

Brooklyn-born Glen MacDonough (1870 - 1924) wrote the lyrics to the popular holiday song "Toyland," which first appeared in the 1903 Babes in Toyland.   The song opens March of the Wooden Soldiers.  The sound quality of that film's operatic singer makes it difficult to understand the lyrics at times.  So I offer them to you:


1. When you've grown up my dears,
And are as old as I,
You'll often ponder on the years
That roll so swiftly by, my dears,
That roll so swiftly by.
And of the many lands,
You will have journeyed through,
You'll oft recall
The best of all,
The land your childhood knew!
Your childhood knew.

*Chorus
2. When you've grown up, my dears,
There comes a dreary day.
When 'mid the locks of black appears
The first pale gleam of gray, my dears,
The first pale gleam of gray.
Then of the past you'll dream
As gray-haired grown-ups do,
And seek once more
Its phantom shore,
The land your childhood knew!
Your childhood knew. *Chorus

*Chorus:
Toyland. Toyland.
Little girl and boy land.
While you dwell within it,
You are ever happy then.
Childhood’s joy-land.
Mystic merry Toyland,
Once you pass it’s borders,
You can never return again.


Yes, MacDonough knew what he was writing about!


*****


The 1949 film Mighty Joe Young would always be a late afternoon movie in New York on Thanksgiving Day. It's been years since I saw it again - and last year I had the great pleasure of finding a VHS copy.  Recently I purchased the DVD.

The 1933 film King Kong, with that monstrous-sized beast, always seemed to get all the attention because it was an early 1930's film classic.  I still love that film's sound effects and superb Max Steiner score.  However, you will have to ignore the film's racist depiction of all natives as stereotypical crazed savages as that era's bias.  See it for what it is; namely, the limitations of that period of American/European culture. 

The later Mighty Joe Young uses the same creators - director Ernest B. Schoedsack and producer Merian C. Cooper, with the addition of John Ford as executive producer.  Robert Armstrong appears in a prominent role again.

I chose this film as my after-dinner film today because I love the more detailed movements and expressions of the lovable Joe Young.  Especially notable is the wonderful orphanage rescue scene. This film lends a credibility and sympathy to the character - which King Kong lacks. Of course, special thanks to many - but mostly to the late Ray Harryhausen for his superb stop-motion animation. In some ways this makes Mighty Joe Young substantially better than King Kong

I especially enjoyed seeing young actress Terry Moore in another film (besides playing the boarder in Shirley Booth's famed Come Back, Little Sheba). Interestingly, 85-year old actress Moore is still making appearances and signing autographs. I would also enjoy interviewing her as well.

MIGHTY JOE YOUNG is not scheduled for broadcast or cable-TV as far as I can determine, but it is available on DVD.  That disc features a commentary with Harryhausen and Moore, besides two featurettes with Harryhausen on the making of the film.

*****

Yes, Thanksgiving is celebrated throughout our land as a day to give thanks. But there is an annual event that goes on for American Indians or Native Americans at Plymouth each year since 1970. It is known as the National Day of Mourning in recognition of the past injustices done to the indigenous people of the Americas. It involves a public march with a view towards changing racist attitudes and stopping the destructive myths. 

For too long Native Americans ("savage Indians" as we were taught) have been deprived of their fundamental rights and respect as human beings. Hollywood perpetuated the distortions we were taught in schools. Not only were they dehumanized and their history distorted, but sadly so much of their culture has been decimated in the name of Manifest Destiny and American progress.

We have chosen to enjoy the myths associated with this day - such as Pilgrims and Indians eating together in unity. The reality is starkly disturbing.

I cannot celebrate this day without acknowledging the suffering of Native Americans, and hope that someday we can fully learn to respect other cultures and peoples throughout this world.

We need to stop getting too involved in the affairs of other countries. If only our leaders would study and learn from our first President. Although he was a product of an era that offered no rights to many people, Washington did offer much wisdom regarding the dangers of political party power struggles, as well as the destructiveness of involving ourselves in the unrest of foreign countries. (See George Washington's Farewell Address from 1796).

So please respectfully appreciate that it is a day that all people give thanks, as well as A National Day of Mourning for some.

*****

Producer/screenwriter Robert Youngson: 
(November 27, 1917 - April 8, 1974)

I have always loved black & white films, especially silent films - though I know that few people share my appreciation.  So I was happy  to learn that The Artist received top honors at the Academy Awards.  The Artist won five Oscars, including Best Picture (to Producer Thomas Langmann), Best Director to Michel Hazanavicius, Best Actor to Jean Dujardin, Best Score, and Best Costume Design.   It's great to know that silent films have not been forgotten!

Speaking of silents, I remember enjoying silent comedies back in the 1970’s thanks to watching PBS' "The Silent Years," hosted by Orson Welles and Lilian Gish. In addition, I always enjoyed those clips assembled in the films of producer/screenwriter Robert Youngson made from 1957 to 1970.

It’s these films that I have come to re-watch again recently after so many years since first seeing them.  I have found that they still hold up as a great assemblage of silent film comedy. Youngson spent countless hours watching literally many hours of silent films to put together these amazing compilation films.

If you have never seen and appreciated silent film comedies, then Youngson’s films would be a perfect starting point.  And for those quite familiar with these classics, I would still recommend seeing them as they are quite entertaining and well-made.

The list of talents seems endless - for example, there's Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Billy Bevan, Charlie Chaplin, Charlie Chase, Vernon Dent, Jean Harlow, Buster Keaton, Edgar Kennedy, Harry Langdon, Carole Lombard, Snub Pollard, Will Rogers, Ben Turpin, Andy Clyde, Charles Murray, the Keystone Kops, and the list can go on and on...

Youngson's compilation films:

The Golden Age of Comedy (1957)
When Comedy Was King (1960)
Days of Thrills and Laughter (1961)
30 Years of Fun (1963)
MGM's The Big Parade of Comedy (1964)
Laurel & Hardy's Laughing 20's (1965)
The Further Perils of Laurel & Hardy (1967)
Four Clowns (1970)



Anyone remember these films?  I am aware that the first three (and The Further Perils) are available on DVD.  Several others were on VHS.

Youngson uses for theme music my favorite composition of all time, the amazingly beautiful melodic Etude, Opus 10, No.3.  That superb and nostalgic composition by Frederic Chopin opens and closes the films.  To see Valentina Lisitsa playing it, GO TO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpiJbQvBP8A

*****

Shirley Booth's Recipe:

With the holidays beginning, I offer you a recipe from Shirley Booth which first appeared in Good Housekeeping, December 1964. 
Shirley gave Sally Edwards credit for these tarts.


CHESS TARTS
l package piecrust mix or favorite pastry for 2 crust pie
2 eggs
1/4 c. butter or margarine
dash salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup seedless raisins
1/2 cup snipped, pitted dates
1/2 cup chopped California walnuts
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup heavy or whipping cream
candied cherries
slivers of preserved orange peel
slivers of preserved citron
green seedless grapes

Make day before serving as follows:

1. Make up piecrust; then, on lightly floured board, roll it out 1/8-inch thick.  For each petal tart shell, cut out 5) 2 1/4-inch fluted pastry rounds.  Place 1 round in bottom of each of 6) 2 3/4′inch muffin-pan cups.  Wet edges of rest of rounds, then press 4 of them to sides and to round in bottom of each cup, overlapping edges slightly.

2. Prick well with 4-tined fork.  Refrigerate 30 minutes; bake at 450 degrees F. 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool; lift each carefully from cup; store at room temperature.

3. In saucepan beat eggs well; then add butter or margarine, salt sugar, raisins, dates.  Cook, stirring constantly, until thick.  Refrigerate this filling, covered with waxed paper.

~About an hour before serving:

1. Stir walnuts and vanilla into filling; then pile some filling in each tart shell. Whip cream; use to top tarts.  In center of each mound of cream place a cherry; surround with orange peel and citron.  Refrigerate.

2. Arrange tarts on pretty serving plate; pass, with tiny bunches of grapes. Makes 6.”


*****

Christmas and The Hopes:

With the Christmas holiday train arriving in less than a month, I am reminded of the loss of a very special lady three years ago...

Dolores DeFina Hope
May 27, 1909 - September 19, 2011
Rest in Peace

Yes, she's gone. After 102 years of living, laughing, singing, and giving the world some wonderful memories, singer and philanthropist Dolores Hope has died yesterday of natural causes.

In memory of Dolores Hope, I dedicate this post.  I offer my condolences to her family and friends throughout the world.

Dolores reached her 102nd birthday, and husband Bob Hope died two months after his 100th birthday eight years ago.

What comes to mind is one of my favorite television moments.  It is from 1993, when Dolores and Bob sang "Silver Bells" on one of their last Christmas specials.  The brief two-minute duet with chorus and orchestration (including plenty of bells) makes this version quite endearing.  The huskier sound of Dolores along with Bob's distinctive sound make it quite different than other versions of the song.

In addition, the song displayed Bob with the 17 various female guest stars who sung this song with him over his years on television.  The segment ends with idyllic footage of their horse-drawn sleigh being pulled across a snowy landscape.  This "music video" captures a beautiful energy in those three minutes. It's somehow transcends the mundane reality that it depicts - and provides a timeless piece of Christmas nostalgia!

So much can be said about Dolores and Bob, in particular, they shared a love for each other, as well as for entertaining people all over the world.  They will always be with us thanks to what remains of them -- Bob's films, and their radio & television programs.

Here's Dolores Hope as heard on radio's Duffy's Tavern from April 25, 1944.  Archie the manager is played by Shirley Booth's ex-husband Ed Gardner. Shirley and Ed were divorced the year earlier. GO TO:


Dolores & Bob, WE THANK YOU! You both will be always missed and remembered!

*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!
 
JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!

*****
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
My Latest Book is Now Available Directly from BearManor Media:

Behind Sach: The Huntz Hall Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Gary Hall
BearManor Media
Published December 1, 2014


*****

For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story
by Jim Manago

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Jim & Donna Manago Books

Published December 1, 2010

*****

Love is the Reason for it All: The Shirley Booth Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Ted Key
BearManor Media
Published May 2008