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

MY LATEST BOOK!

MY LATEST BOOK!
NOW AVAILABLE!

Joe Franklin Enjoying Jim Manago's Biography of Shirley Booth

Joe Franklin Enjoying Jim Manago's Biography of Shirley Booth
"We Can Never Forget The Wonderful Memories of This Dear Friend" Photo Courtesy Steve Friedman

As Sach of the Bowery Boys would say: "Ohp! Ohp! Ohp!"

Behind Sach: The Huntz Hall Story, by Jim Manago (BearManor Media), is my latest book. It is now available from Amazon and elsewhere. Yes, we did get to bring a copy to Joe Franklin. He asked if his name was in it. I showed him the line in the acknowledgements that read:

Special thanks to Joe Franklin for inspiring my life-long study of movies.

Our time was brief as he was hurriedly leaving his office to appear at a local club, Don't Tell Mama. We walked over to the club with Joe and his associates. Just before he entered he gave us a glance, a last memorable smile. Sadly, we just sensed on our way home that it would be the last time we would see him alive. A little over a month later, on January 24th, 2015, he died. His 89th birthday would have been this past March 9th.

I am the author of two books on Shirley Booth. My first one, Love is the Reason for It All: The Shirley Booth Story by Jim Manago (BearManor Media), is the story of her life from 1898 to 1994, available in paperback and Kindle. Pictured above is Joe Franklin reading it in 2009 (photo courtesy of Steve Friedman).

My second book, For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story by Jim Manago, 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 is no longer in print. A limited number of paperback 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.

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.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

80 Years Ago: Bing Crosby, W.C. Fields & Joan Bennett Share Billing In The Problematic MISSISSIPPI


Today is also the 80th anniversary of the release of a genuine classic Paramount film, Mississippi....

I recently saw this film again (first saw it thirty years ago, and saw it on the big screen in a NYC revival about ten years ago).

Although it is problematic, Mississippi still remains one of my favorites from that period of films for a number of reasons. There's a superb score by Rodgers & Hart, good singing by Bing Crosby, the great comedy of W.C. Fields - including his' "five aces" card trick (however, at times his humor is quite racist), beautiful cinematography by Charles Lang, outstanding supporting players, intelligent storytelling which I credit to the writing and A. Edward Sutherland's direction. This film really moves and economically clocks in at around 70 minutes.

My favorite memorable Bing Crosby interpretation of a standard number comes from this film, that's the Richard Rodgers - Lorenz Hart tune "It's Easy to Remember, But So Hard To Forget."

No doubt this is Crosby's best vocals from his early film period. His beautiful and rich rendition of the melodic "Soon" is simply superb. Crosby's singing is reverent and brooding which means that the film has a reflective tone whenever he sings. However, Crosby's acting is, at times, wooden.

Briefly, Mississippi tells about the Northerner Tom Grayson (Bing Crosby) engaged to marry Southerner Elvira Rumsford (Gail Patrick). Complexity arises when Major Patterson (John Miljan) challenges Tom to a duel since he's also interested in Elvira. The Southern Code of Honor is violated when Tom refuses, and he's thus branded a coward. Elvira withdraws from the engagement because this challenge to the Code is embarrassing and disgraceful to her.

Of course, challenging any Code is "dangerous." Then the issue was of fighting for someone you love. The danger of violating a Code goes on still today as we witness the challenges to established gender norms. The issue of Tom being a pacifist in the antebellum South may seem odd - but certainly an interesting idea to play with. At a time when manners and social norms were fixed in the South, it's nice to see someone challenging those norms.

It's disappointing to see the expected restoration of obedience to the Code. Tom, by the finale, bended to those social norms. The Code of conduct wins out. Due to the accidental shooting of a tough, and W.C. Fields' bragging about it, Tom is given the reputation of being "The Singing Killer." The notoriety of this title restores his place in Southern society. The positive result of this is that he wins the heart of Lucy (the sweet sister of Elvira) when he admits the whole reputation of being "The Singing Killer" is all bogus.

His compromise to stop openly being a pacifist, and instead go along with the Code is a let-down. By agreeing to be "The Singing Killer," Tom is being overcome by social pressures.

Joan Bennett engagingly plays Lucy, the kid sister of Elvira, as a sweet ingenue. Not to be missed is the brief, but ever-so romantic and picturesque closing of Mississippi as Lucy becomes Tom's final love interest as the two embrace on the deck of the riverboat as Tom sings a part of "Soon." Indeed, they don't make endings to films like this anymore....

The cinematography and lavish sets make this a top-notch Paramount production. Mississippi’s sets are more conducive and consistent to a romantic mood and style because of the natural environment settings. Too bad it was not shot in color. Mississippi also has dynamism with scenes broken down into a larger number of shots and angles than some other films from this period which entails a better involvement of the audience, especially during the songs.

The songs of Mississippi may run up against the criticism of not arising out of the plot naturally and whether they advance the story or not. Remember this is almost ten years before Meet Me In St. Louis. For instance, “It’s Easy to Remember” is simply initiated by Fields, who is running musical shows on his ‘River Queen,’ suddenly when he tells Crosby to “Go up and sing that song.” And besides the suddenness of the performance, the song may seem inappropriate. This number seems more suited to someone grieving after the death of a loved one by its melancholic musical passages. Instead, Crosby sings it after a separation from one he loves.

Anyway, songs like those in Mississippi are melodic but written in a style that may seem "dated" to some viewers.

Crosby offers his uncomplicated-by-the-world charm and good will manner. As Donald Spoto aptly stated: To Crosby “a song, good will, lighting a candle or two: these would solve our problems.” By smothering all that is no good or problematic with a sweetish ballad or a kind deed or word, Crosby methodically cleaned up any possible complication. He repeatedly indicated his belief and confidence in an essentially good world, with no real possibility of one going astray: every man could find happiness in life. More often than not, that philosophy today seems to be a very limited and "dated" way of dealing with the complexities of life.

The five Cabin Kids are truly endearing and offer great value to this production. They offer their interpretation of "Roll, Mississippi," and "Swanee River," etc. At times, I wish there were more scenes with them and less with the coarse, insensitive and misogynistic character played by W. C. Fields.

W.C. Fields' great asset is his way of making a sentence or phrase sound funny by his odd delivery of it, which adds much enjoyment, besides the comic moments that his lying or exaggerating generates. In the pre-release articles, Fields is given almost all the attention. Since then critics have argued over whether Fields steals the film from Crosby or vice-versa.

What really hurts this film is the several problematic and nasty racial slurs of riverboat captain Commodore Jackson (W.C. Fields,) and insulting words like "darkies." and "pickaninnies." Barring the repeated and inexcusable weak attempts at comedy by racist exploitation of Blacks & Native Americans, Mississippi is one of the best films from that mid-1930's era. Unfortunately, with those stereotypes Mississippi is unacceptable for greater appreciation.

Clearly Mississippi is a reflection of the 1930's society in which it was made. It was how Hollywood and society saw the period before the Civil War in the Old South.

A footnote is that Mississippi is adapted from the story by Booth Tarkington called "Magnolia." It first made its appearance on the Broadway stage in 1923 with the lead played by Leo Carillo (better known later as Pancho, the sidekick of The Cisco Kid). A silent film version called "The Fighting Coward" appeared in 1924 with a young Mary Astor as Lucy...

*****

MISSISSIPPI

Tom Grayson - Bing Crosby, Commodore Jackson - W. C. Fields, Lucy Rumford - Joan Bennett, Elvira - Gail Patrick, Alabam - Queenie Smith, Gerald - Claude Gillingwater, Major Patterson - John Miljan, Joe Patterson - Ed Pawley, Captain Blackie - Fred Kohler, Lavinia - Libby Taylor, Stage Manager - Harry Meyers, Rumbo - John Larkin, Hefty - Paul Hurst, First Gambler - King Baggott, Second Gambler - Mahlon Hamilton, Miss Markham - Theresa Conover, Colonel - Bruce Covington, Hotel Manager - Clarence Geldert, Bartender - Jules Cowles

Director - A. Edward Sutherland

Producer - Arthur Hornblow, Jr.

Screenplay - Jack Cunningham, Frances Martin

Adapted from Booth Tarkington’s story Magnolia (as noted in credits)

Adaptation - Claude Binyon, Herbert Fields, Jack Cunningham, France. Martin

Cinematography - Charles Lang Music - Richard Rogers

Lyrics - Lorenz Hart

The Cabin Kids (5 black children from radio and vaudeville)

A Paramount Picture Reviewed by New York Times critic Andre Senwald on April 18, 1935.

Running Time: various times given, longest by Leonard Maltin for 73 minutes

Musical Numbers:
“Roll, Mississippi” is sung over credits by chorus
“Way Down Upon the Swanee River” Cabin Kids, with Crosby joining in & chorus “Soon” Crosby

"Down by the River” Crosby
“It’s Easy to Remember” Crosby & background accompaniment by chorus

*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!

JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!

*****

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

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Published December 1, 2010

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