Sunday, April 23, 2017
"I'm a bit disappointed in myself. I know I could have accomplished a hell of a lot more... I could write anything any time I wanted to. But I let other things get in the way.... I've been floating around in the breeze." Hoagy Carmichael
While writing about Harry Ruby and about Musicians In The Movies, couldn't help thinking of the Indiana-born songwriter, pianist, composer, character actor, radio star and lawyer-turned-musician Hoagy Carmichael. When this blogger, amateur musician and jazz geek thinks of 1920's and 1930's music, Hoagy invariably comes to mind, so it's about time we give this Songwriters Hall of Fame member his post!
Many in the same age group as this blogger were introduced to the great songwriter via his memorable appearance on "The Hit Songwriters" episode of ABC-TV's The Flintstones as prehistoric tunesmith "Stoney Carmichael" on September 15, 1961.
This wasn't the first time a Hoagy Carmichael song appeared in an animated cartoon. His 1938 song Small Fry was made by the Fleischer Studio into a Color Classic cartoon about a juvenile delinquent fish!
Just consider a mere few of the many great songs from the Hoagy Carmichael backlog, created in collaboration with lyricists Johnny Mercer, Frank Loesser, Mitchell Parish, Sidney Arodin, Jack Brooks, Harold Adamson, Stuart Gorrell, Jo Trent, Connie Dane, Paul Francis Webster, Robert De Leon and Dick Voynow.
Washboard Blues (1925, lyric with Fred B. Callahan)
Star Dust (1928, lyric by Mitchell Parish)
Rockin' Chair (1929)
Georgia On My Mind (1930, lyric by Stuart Gorrell)
Up The Lazy River (1931, lyric with Sidney Arodin)
Lazybones (1931, lyric written with Johnny Mercer)
The Nearness Of You (1937, lyric by Ned Washington)
Two Sleepy People (1938, lyric by Frank Loesser)
Heart and Soul (1938, lyric by Frank Loesser)
I Get Along Without You Very Well (1938)
Skylark (1941, lyric by Johnny Mercer)
Hoagy found his way into songwriting as a law student who became enthralled by the music of Bix Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong.
Carmichael performed many of his songs in movies. His first silver screen appearance was in Topper. Tough to top a movie in which Hoagy sings and Cary Grant stars.
As much as we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog love Bogey and Bacall in To Have And Have Not, the musical interludes by Hoagy - Hong Kong Blues, Am I Blue and Baltimore Oriole - are immensely entertaining and add a lot to this unbeatable classic movie.
The George Raft - Claire Trevor film noir Johnny Angel included the evocative "Memphis In June" (1945, lyric by Paul Francis Webster).
"Ole Buttermilk Sky" was featured in the movie Canyon Passage and released as a single.
It received an Oscar nomination for Best Song of 1946, but did not win.
Carmichael and lyricist Johnny Mercer did win the 1951 Academy Award for Best Song for "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening," from the Bing Crosby-Jane Wyman vehicle Here Comes The Groom.
Another feature which makes good use of Carmichael's musical talents is Las Vegas Story.
We'll take the Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog (and Lazybones) route and quote the excellent Songwriters' Hall Of Fame entry for Hoagy verbatim. This tells the story more effectively than this writer could. Kudos to whoever wrote this for Songwriters' Hall Of Fame and we shall illustrate the bio with judiciously chosen clips! In addition, there are also the two books Carmichael wrote about his career in music.
"Hoagy Carmichael was one of the most inventive and adventurous of the great American songwriters. Much of his best work reflects his love of the jazz of the 1920s, most notably one of the greatest standards from the era, “Stardust”.
He was born Hoagland Howard Carmichael in Bloomington, Indiana on November 22, 1899. His father was an electrician and his mother played the piano for dances and silent films. Although his ambition was to become a lawyer, Carmichael showed an early interest in music. When his family moved to Indianapolis in 1916, he took lessons from an African-American pianist Reginald DuValle (1893-1953).
He attended Indiana University, and, while there, he organized his own jazz band. When the great jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, then at the very beginning of his brief career, paid a visit to Indiana University in the spring of 1924, he and Carmichael quickly became friends, and it was for Beiderbecke that Carmichael wrote his first piece. Not long afterward, Beiderbecke and the Wolverines recorded it under the title "Riverboat Shuffle".
Carmichael went on to the Indiana University Law School, and continued to perform and write music while there. He graduated in 1926, and began to practice law in West Palm Beach, Florida. However, the discovery that another of his early tunes "Washboard Blues" had been recorded prompted him to abandon law for music. He briefly returned to Indiana, and then in 1929 he arrived in New York. He resumed his contact with Beiderbecke and was introduced with some of the most talented young musicians of the day, including Louis Armstrong, the Dorsey Brothers, Benny Goodman, and Jack Teagarden. Another important lifelong friendship during this time was also established with lyricist Johnny Mercer.
Gradually, musicians heard Carmichael’s songs and he became increasingly well known as a songwriter. In addition, his performing career flourished and he made many recordings. One of his early recordings featured him with the Paul Whiteman band playing and singing his own "Washboard Blues".
In 1936 he moved to Hollywood and continued to write independent songs for publication and songs for movies. In 1937 he began what was to become a significant secondary career as an actor, appearing in a bit part in the film Topper. Roles, which usually involved singing parts, followed in many other movies, including To Have and Have Not (1942), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Canyon Passage (1945), and Young Man With a Horn (1950). In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he became a regular on television in the western series Laramie. In the 1940s, he was also a popular radio personality."
Among Hoagy's last TV appearances was the PBS children's show Hoagy Carmichael's Music Shop.
A kids' show featuring Hoagy is not necessarily at all far-fetched, especially considering that the music director on the long-running flagship PBS children's show Mister Rogers Neighborhood was none other than jazz pianist and composer Johnny Costa, like Art Tatum, Jaki Byard, Hazel Scott and Oscar Peterson a fleet-fingered speed demon on the keys.
The song here, "Everybody's Bustin' Out Of Doors" is both covered by the man himself in classic Hoagy style but also by vibraphonist Monty Stark's rock-jazz fusion band The Stark Reality, who created an album of 1970 style versions of Hoagy Carmichael songs. Sometimes the blend is a bit jarring, but for the most part it works. Unfortunately, now that we are in 2017 and every human upon this earth is glued to their smart phones, nobody is busting to get out of doors, not even children.
Fred Rogers also hosted a show a few years later, Old Friends, New Friends in which Hoagy appeared. Unfortunately, this blogger has not been able to locate any clips from the latter 1978 show. Perhaps they will turn up eventually on the Fred Rogers tribute website.
Carmichael sang and played "Rockin' Chair" on the piano on Annie Ross and Georgie Fame's United Kingdom-recorded tribute album In Hoagland (1981). Hoagy's last public appearance occurred when he filmed Country Comes Home with country music recording artist Crystal Gayle for CBS in 1981.
Hoagy Carmichael died of heart failure at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, California on December 27, 1981. His remains are buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Bloomington, Indiana.
In 1986 Carmichael's family donated his archives, piano, and memorabilia to his alma mater, Indiana University, which established a Hoagy Carmichael Collection in its Archives of Traditional Music and the Hoagy Carmichael Room to permanently display selections from the collection.
Finishing up this tribute to Hoagy: the following great covers of his classic tunes. Leading off: Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden!
Chet Baker and Frank Sinatra delve deeply into the Hoagy Carmichael songs about love lost.
Sinatra contributed his share of classic Carmichael covers.
Hong Kong Blues has inspired covers by a wide range of musicians.
Here's one by The Killer himself, Jerry Lee Lewis!
George Harrison was a Hoagy Carmichael fan and recorded Hong Kong Blues and Baltimore Oriole on his Somewhere In England album.
Carmichael was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 8, 1960. Hoagy's sidewalk star tribute can be found at 1720 Vine Street in Hollywood.
Saturday, April 15, 2017
Today we celebrate the centenary of the birth of Hans Conried, another first ballot selection for the Comic Character Actor Hall Of Fame.
Kicking off this 100th birthday tribute will be the following interview with Hans by radio historian Chuck Schaden and two brilliant Conried turns on sitcoms featuring Lucille Ball, in I Love Lucy and The Lucy Show.
Hans would reprise his music teacher role in the 1964 Jerry Lewis feature The Patsy. He proves a perfect foil for Jerry's slapstick.
Another part the star of stage, screen, television, radio (Orson Welles' Mercury Theater) and animated cartoons is remembered for is as the cantankerous Uncle Tonoose on The Danny Thomas Show.
One of many superlative Hans Conried performances is his central role in the subversive classic The 5000 Fingers Of Dr. T, produced by Stanley Kramer, directed by Roy Rowland and penned by none other than Ted Geisel, A.K.A. Dr. Seuss.
It's Conried's performance as the diabolical Terwilliger that makes the movie work.
The performances of "Get Together Weather" and "Doe-Me-Doe Duds," the latter in particular distinguished by patented Dr. Seuss lyrics, may be this writer's favorite segments of the movie.
Hans Conried's work in various shows by Jay Ward Productions remains consistently stellar and indispensable. Conried was no stranger to cartoon voice work, having contributed a witty and wonderfully florid John Barrymore-esque performance as Captain Hook in Disney's 1953 version of Peter Pan.
Here's Hans as ever-dastardly villain Snidely Whiplash in a particularly hilarious Dudley Do-Right Of The Mounties cartoon.
This writer also likes Hans Conried, best known in the Jay Ward Productions cartoons as Snidely Whiplash, as con artist, low-budget raconteur and snake oil salesman Prof. Waldo Wigglesworth in the Hoppity Hooper series.
Also like Hans very much as the reluctant, underpaid and ashamed host of Fractured Flickers, created for Jay Ward Productions by Chris Hayward.
Fractured Flickers is still controversial for its use of silent movie clips and found footage.
This dyed-in-the-wool silent movie buff does not regard the show as an affront to the original footage; after all, Fractured Flickers does not present a complete version of F.W. Murnau's Sunrise or 4 Devils, mastered from pristine 35mm nitrate materials, and then skewer it mercilessly in MST 3K style.
In addition, the guest stars, interviewed by an ever-incredulous Hans Conried, are often quite funny.
We tip our Snidley Whiplash top hat to Hans Conried - among the 100th birthday crowd with Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie and John F. Kennedy - and hope he's cracking jokes and talking Shakespeare with a bunch of other pals and thespian cronies in the next world!
Sunday, April 09, 2017
Think virtual reality is cool? Here, from the pages of Life Magazine, is the way to watch TV and escape your humdrum existence: use the patented 3-D headset! Here's inventor-publisher and Godfather of Science-Fiction (not the Godfather of Soul), Hugo Gernsback, doing just that!
The television audience could see Uncle Miltie in drag in multiple dimensions!
Just imagine - Dagmar as you've never seen her before!
Watch Bwana Devil on TV - in 3-D and in THRILLING COLOR!
Add a second pair of the patented 3-D glasses and see Bwana Devil in 4-D!
Take LSD with two or three pairs of 3-D glasses atop your 3-dimensional TV headset and see Bwana Devil in 5-D! Then, keeping that headset on, listen to the album Sunrise In Different Dimensions by Sun Ra & His Arkestra.
Saturday, April 01, 2017
I love Abbott and Costello but never liked April Fools' Day. Neither did Charlie Brown of Peanuts.
That said, the great comedians of the silver screen and TV best demonstrate the adage there's no fool like an April fool - and the following classic bit from the dapper gentleman of silent film comedy, Charley Parrott Chase, is no exception.
Surprisingly, it's tough to find April Fools' Day cartoons and genuinely funny stuff about superstitions. While the Warner Bros. cartoons "Neurotic Claude Cat" series by the Chuck Jones production crew, commencing with The Aristo-cat, comes fairly close, it's The Stupidstitious Cat, a Paramount Noveltoon by Famous Studios, that focuses entirely and obsessively on this topic and features main character voices which strongly recall Jack Benny and Eddie Anderson.
Believe it or else, we actually like many of the cartoons produced by Famous Studios.
Noveltoons featuring Jim Tyer's rubbery animation, as well as the gorgeous backgrounds and foregrounds of Shane Miller and key contributions from animation legends Bill Tytla and Otto Messmer, have their share of blazing moments, especially when seen on the big screen in glorious Technicolor.
Here's an obnoxious April Fools' Day cartoon, cranked out quite a few years later by Famous Studios and starring Popeye. The series had slid substantially downhill from the spinach swillin' star's heydey in such rousing animated adventures as Popeye The Sailor Meets Sindbad The Sailor.
This blogger, even as a kid watching TV way back when, found the post WW2 versions of Bluto and Olive Oyl insufferable and could not comprehend why Popeye did not simply eat his spinach, beat the crap out of Bluto and deposit awful Olive on a slow boat to China - a very slow boat to China.
Still, even when Cookin' With Gags was made in 1955, many years after the departures of Jim Tyer, Bill Tytla and Otto Messmer, Famous Studios employed many talented Fleischer Studios animators responsible for the cartoon glory that was Ko-ko the Clown, Bimbo, Betty Boop and Superman. Fortunately, the Noveltoons from the 1940's can be seen on DVD.
Sunday, March 26, 2017
Smoke a few Lucky Strike "LSMFT" cigarettes back in the 1940's and the next thing you know. . . well, you're so darn "Happy-Go-Lucky" you're sitting in a wheelbarrow straddling a pumpkin and next to a live turkey! While the gobbler will not be thoroughly baked for Thanksgiving, you are - now that's smoking pleasure! After all, Luckies' slogan was "It's Toasted" - and, indeed, so are you, if not necessarily in deeply obliterated 1967 style.
Luckies were so good that physicians, convinced momentarily to abandon the hippocratic oath, claimed the smokes were. . . "less irritating." Not quite a ringing endorsement, said 20,679 docs notwithstanding.
Glamorous movie stars got into the act, too, stressing how their golden throats appreciated the light taste of Luckies. Still looking for a matinee idol endorsement that claims Lucky Strikes were "a lot less irritating than that director on my last picture."
Even Janet Gaynor, star of the brilliant 1920's William Fox Productions - F.W. Murnau - Frank Borzage movie milestones Sunrise, 4 Devils, 7th Heaven, Street Angel and Lucky Star, as well as the 1937 David O. Selznick version of A Star Is Born, got into the act.
Found on Bangshift.com: the following "Road Roller" commercial starring one of the subjects of our post from last weekend (March 18), celluloid heroine Doris Day. This print ad from 1949 plugs tractors and her latest movie, It's A Great Feeling, in one fell swoop!
One imagines Doris would have enjoyed plowing a few dishonest husbands and ex-husbands into the ground with this beauty from International Harvester.
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum tips the battered vintage porkpie hats to the great Buster Keaton all weekend.
Movie buffs in the San Francisco area, come meet Harry Keaton and enjoy Buster's best films. Some will be shown in glorious 35mm!
Saturday, March 18, 2017
Part 1 of From The Bandstand To Hollywood: Musicians In The Movies covered vocalists who doubled as character actors - Bing Crosby, Rudy Vallee, Mel Tormé among them. Also noted such entertainment icons as Louis Armstrong and Harry Belafonte. Did not leave much for Part 2, but here goes - starting with a host of crooners who successfully made the jump to acting in Hollywood movies. Several who started in big bands would become the top entertainment figures of the mid-20th century.
Dino did not necessarily want anyone to think he was anything but the Glenlivet-sipping host of The Dean Martin Show and/or one-liner machine entertaining an SRO audience on such records as Dino In Vegas and in The Rat Pack, but he also possessed a conscientious side; Dean took his movie roles seriously, showed up on time, prepared and ready to roll. It's a good bet that Dino never admitted to having that side as long as he lived!
Especially in Some Came Running and Rio Bravo, he demonstrates undeniable character role mojo.
Bobby Darin, among the few to sing swingin' Rat Pack-Tony Bennett-Mel Tormé style standards, then shift gears, whip out an acoustic guitar and sing gospel and folk numbers (at one point, Bobby's accompanist was none other than guitarist Roger McGuinn, soon to form The Byrds and rule the L.A. rock scene), is a favorite here at Way Too Damn Lazy Too Write A Blog.
The following clip offers a glimpse of Darin the musician and entertainer, plus an endorsement from none other than George Burns.
Bobby epitomized the concept of "all-around entertainer", as did his friend Sammy Davis Jr. Although character acting was not Darin's primary focus - delivering a show-stopping musical mix with a touch of comedy and celebrity impersonations for SRO audiences was - he has his moments as a supporting player in several movies. Most notably, Bobby co-stars in Don Siegel's Hell Is For Heroes with none other than daredevil screen icon (and big time jazz enthusiast) Steve McQueen.
Vocalist and silver screen star Doris Day, who began her career as the vocalist from Les Brown and His Band Of Reknown, remains to movies what Dionne Warwick is to 1960's pop records: both made it look easy. Her renditions of standards are frequently exceptional.
For decades the Doris Day - Rock Hudson comedies were met with snickers and snark by the hipper than thou. Seen 50 years after packing the movie palaces and neighborhood theaters, surprise - these light romantic comedies strike this writer as surprisingly fun, nicely done and entertaining, to no small degree because of the deft work of the two stars and, in key supporting roles, Comic Character Actor Hall Of Fame first ballot selection Tony Randall. Day's films with James Garner are also delightful. It should not be a surprise, given Day's abilities as an entertainer and how Hudson co-starred with heavy hitters James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor in Giant without getting overpowered or defined as a pretty boy lightweight.
Formulaic? Sure. Hollywood entertainment? Of course. That said, seeing how skillfully the cast handles the character relationships and farcical situations, the reaction is, "damn, they're good!"
Essential to Day's success as a star of movie musicals is her ability to not just belt out those songs but get into character. In Calamity Jane, she is not a singer-movie star cast in a role but essentially portraying herself; one believes she IS Calamity Jane and that's the key to the movie's success.
Further demonstrating versatility: Miss Day's role as Ruth Etting - and co-starring with the great James Cagney - in the biopic Love Me Or Leave Me.
Whatever tumult was transpiring offscreen, in a wide range of movies, Doris Day, onscreen, exemplifies the line "nice and easy does it every time."
Before Crosby, Sinatra and Doris Day starred in Hollywood movies, there was a crooner who became a headliner of movie musicals: Dick Powell. The Pittsburgh master of ceremonies and singer debuted in feature films in 1932, AFTER Bing and would, as part of a team with ever-spunky Ruby Keeler, headline musical after musical after musical for Warner Brothers, before his second career in hard-boiled film noir roles, and third career as a prolific director/producer in television.
Transitioning from chorus boy to hard-boiled gumshoe, Powell proved one of the stellar presences in film noir. He is believable, either as Philip Marlowe or the poor sap targeted by the femme fatale, in several unbeatable classic movies.
The legend of Sinatra can overwhelm everything, including his work as a character actor. His role as Maggio in From Here To Eternity, which won an Oscar for Best Actor In A Supporting Role, was just one of many examples of stellar film acting from The Voice. One imagines that Sinatra, if he cared to talk about it, would insist that music to movies was not a jump at all, that singing was the purest method acting a person could do; "you can't do the song justice, pally, without feeling what the lyrics mean and giving them your all." No doubt there were some interesting conversations between Sinatra and Brando on the set of Guys & Dolls.
The Man With The Golden Arm is fascinating. While Frank did not have issues with opiates, he knew friends, band mates and colleagues in the music world who did, and having an idea of how they suffered very likely informed this part.
The Chairman Of The Board's musical bent and skill interpreting the songs of Rodgers & Hart meets his equally strong character acting impulse for a bit of a tug of war in Pal Joey.
An adaptation of the stage show based on John O'Hara stories and starring Gene Kelly, it is on the surface a 1950's style musical in which Frank plays his ultra-macho "ring-a-ding-ding" self. As the film progresses, his character, Joey Evans, evolves - slowly - from womanizing scumbag to someone who might actually choose a partner, become emotionally involved and make the effort to do right by her. Sinatra delves into the part and, as he does many times in his movie roles, gives the character some unexpected depth. Pal Joey is one of the better showbiz flicks - and it never hurts to have the formidable star power of Kim Novak and Rita Hayworth in the cast.
Sinatra's performance in Some Come Running, in an ensemble cast with Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine, would be a standout.
Between tours, Frank would tackle the occasional character role thoughtfully and with the same conviction with which he sang, right up to his last starring role in the 1980 crime thriller The First Deadly Sin.
Although there were quite a few more luminaries from the music world who acted in films and television back then - Hoagy Carmichael comes to mind, as well as bandleaders who played themselves in movies (Louis Jordan of 5 Guys Named Moe fame) - the rise of rock and soul music to some degree put the kibbosh on this, especially as the 1960's progressed. Still, the trend of musicians transitioning into acting, rather prevalent in mid-20th century entertainment, would continue into the 1980's and 1990's, not surprisingly, as vocalists/lyricists from hip-hop (Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur) are experienced actors and performance artists. Many in more recent memory - Will Smith, Ice Cube, Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake - deftly carried their onstage success into movies and television, in some cases as filmmakers, skilled in front of and behind of cameras. To arguably a slightly lesser degree than such crooners as Sinatra and Cole did in the 1950's, they would still profoundly influence the entertainment world, from TV shows to Broadway.