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, its slogan was "It's Toasted."
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."
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 most iconic entertainment figures in 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.
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 - but he has his moments as a supporting player in several movies. Most notably, Bobby co-stars in Hell Is For Heroes with none other than macho 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.
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. 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. While he won the Oscar for Best Actor In A Supporting Role as Maggio in From Here To Eternity won an Oscar, there were 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 "ring-a-ding-ding" self with customer macho bravado. 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 gives the character some unexpected depth. It is one of the better showbiz flicks, and it never hurts to have iconic stars 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 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 as the 1960's progressed. Still, the trend of musicians transitioning into acting, rather prevalent in mid-20th century entertainment, would continue into the 1990's - not surprisingly, as vocalists/lyricists from hip-hop are actors and performance artists who would carry their success into movies and television - and, to a lesser degree, influence entertainment into the 21st century.
Thursday, March 09, 2017
In yet another sucker-punch to the forces of civility, Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne passed at 84 earlier this week.
Since, for this blogger and many more, classic movies rank very high among those brilliant yet remarkably reliable north stars to follow when those pesky pot holes, valleys and dilemmas of life (both unexpected and totally expected) rear their snarky little heads, seeing Robert Osborne on TCM was always most welcome.
Robert's mojo was straightforward: urbane, sophisticated, intelligent, charming, funny and well-spoken. The author of Academy Awards Illustrated and former columnist for The Hollywood Reporter also knew more about stage, screen, showbiz and the history of motion pictures than anyone! Madame Blogmeister and I were big fans of his weekly show The Essentials: Mr. Osborne's enthusiastic co-hosts included Alec Baldwin, Drew Barrymore and Sally Field.
Found the discussions before and after the movie on The Essentials to frequently be great television.
We especially loved Mr. Osborne's numerous informative and perceptive stories about great movies that played on TCM. Here's a preface and coda to Scarface, the hard-boiled 1932 Howard Hawks crime thriller starring Paul Muni - it is brilliant and the tidbits on product placement and the soon-to-be-enforced Production Code are fascinating.
It would be an understatement to say that Mr. Osborne possessed uncanny interviewing skills. Here he is, getting interviewed - and talking classic movies and theater - on Theater Talk.
There are some other very enjoyable interviews, such as Robert Osborne's appearance with avid classic movie buffs Gilbert Gottfried and Frank Santopadre on an outstanding episode of Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast.
This writer and equally avid classic movie buff did not get to meet him, but did see Robert introduce what turned out to be an amazing lecture by his fellow film historian Kevin Brownlow. Funny, I have an inkling that bringing up the subjects of recent posts at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, very likely Robert would have immediately launched into GREAT stories about each and every of them.
R.I.P. and thanks, Robert - film buffs around the world are missing you big time! Turner Classic Movies will be presenting a tribute to Robert Osborne, featuring many exceptional interviews he conducted for the Private Screenings program, on March 18-19.
Saturday, March 04, 2017
Since 20th century music has clearly been the topic du jour at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog so far in 2017, Mr. Blogmeister has been, while watching YouTube clips in the process of researching posts, stumbling upon excellent Swing For Victory 1940's recordings, most waxed smack dab in the middle of the World War II-era recording ban.
While writing the January 7 post about the astonishingly talented pianist Hazel Scott, found just one of her many V-discs. Not surprisingly, Ms. Scott is outstanding!
Ms. Scott is followed here by power-packed percussionist "Big Sid" Catlett, known for his work driving the latter 1940's lineup of Louis Armstrong's All-Stars (from Satchmo At Symphony Hall and The Complete Town Hall Concert).
Now what were these V-discs, anyway? Records for the armed forces that to some degree circumvented the wartime recording ban and in many cases featuring two recording artists. They are chock full of top 1930's and 1940's big bands and jazz artists, such as Gene Krupa, Count Basie, The Don Redman Orchestra, Red Norvo and Mildred Bailey (a.k.a. "Mr. And Mrs. Swing"), and ace Benny Goodman Quartet pianist Teddy Wilson.
And John Kirby's Sextet AND Nat King Cole.
Could the following be the last recorded appearance of Thomas "Fats" Waller?
Guitar geeks will go gaga over the numerous Les Paul appearances on v-disc.
Here's a wonderfully schizoid record in which the King Sisters (who may or may not have been related to 1960's variety television's squeaky-clean King Family), offering a bit of 1940's style sibling harmony on "When The Swallows Go Back To Capistrano", are followed by none other than the soulful swing-to-bop saxophone genius Lester "Pres" Young, performing his signature tune, Lester Leaps In.
V-discs continued to be recorded and issued for a bit after World War II. One of this writer's favorites from all the v-discs is the Duke Ellington Orchestra's performance of Deep South Suite.
There is a YouTube channel that consists entirely of these V-discs and the sheer number of top performers from jazz and swing represented is impressive.
Saturday, February 25, 2017
As Monsieur and Madame Blogmeister are currently in New York City, a principal musician stomping ground and incubator of 20th century American showbiz lore, today's topic is concert pianist and ever-acerbic movie/TV/radio personality Oscar Levant (1906-1972)
Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog's recent arc has focused on keyboard geniuses (Hazel Scott, Harry Ruby - and more to come), so the composer, virtuoso pianist, songwriter, radio star, author, music historian, actor, commentator, talk show host and showbiz outlier has been on our coffee-soaked minds. An addition, it's a good bet Oscar, an associate of the Algonquin Round Table, no doubt knew the subjects of Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog's February 5th post, fellow composers Bert Kalmar & Harry Ruby, quite well.
Wrote about Mr. Levant, who deemed himself "the irreligious Billy Graham of Los Angeles," back when I started this blog in 2006. Since then, quite a few more clips have surfaced of Oscar on YouTube, so the time is right to spin that long-ago post into a new one. Oscar remains one of this writer's artistic heroes for his humor, erudition, imagination and great talent in far-flung fields.
Mr. Levant would be the premier interpreter of his friend George Gershwin's music. Here he beautifully plays Three Preludes - By George.
One of this writer's favorite segments in the MGM musical An American In Paris is Oscar as conductor and also casting himself as the orchestra performing Concerto In F.
Levant Plays Gershwin is a personal favorite album. Wish he could have recorded more - both the music of other composers and his own compositions.
Mr. Levant also periodically wrote popular music. One of his best songs, Blame It On My Youth, written by Levant and Edward Heyman in 1934, would become a jazz standard - and is performed here by several of the mid-20th century's best vocalists.
He was also something of a raconteur and also known, almost as much he was as a brilliant classical pianist, for his ability to come up with quotable quotes.
Enjoy the only remaining episode left from The Oscar Levant Show, featuring special guest star Fred Astaire. The co-host is Oscar's amazing wife, June, equally a heroine, having dealt with his serious health issues, including hospitalizations and heavyweight bouts with depression. Oscar would have nominated June for sainthood - and here she's a charming and likable co-host. While the picture and sound quality really leave something to be desired, it's all we have; many live television programs of the 1950's and 1960's - and all the other examples The Oscar Levant Show - were taped over to save money. Hey, Oscar plays and offers his usual bon mots, Fred sings, June is there for the fun - it's a treasure.
Such programs as Oscar Levant's shows and Ernie Kovacs' 1954 Dumont Network late-night comedy and the early years of The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson ended up meeting the same fate as thousands of historic silent movies on nitrate film, which subsequently spontaneously combusted. At least Edie Adams rescued many Kovacs shows and a few of Oscar's appearances on Tonight With Jack Parr survived.
Well, look on the bright side - Oscar did get to be the guest star on Jack Benny's TV show, not surprisingly, after several memorable turns on the radio incarnation of The Jack Benny Program.
Had Oscar only written his three splendid memoirs, A Smattering Of Ignorance, Memoirs of an Amnesiac and The Unimportance Of Being Oscar, it would have been enough.
Had he only appeared as his wonderful dyspeptic self in the outstanding MGM musicals The Band Wagon, An American In Paris and The Barkleys Of Broadway, his place in the pantheon would be unquestionable.
Had he only spent those many Manhattan late-nights jamming on pianos with George Gershwin and Kay Swift, Oscar - as much as he would hate to admit it - made the world a better place.
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
“If you’ve seen a superior print of a film by Chaplin or Keaton, Griffith or Murnau, chances are David had a hand in restoring it,” Leonard Maltin
In a topic near and dear to those of us who adore classic movies and the staunch efforts of archivists around the world, we tip our Max Linder top hats both to the late, great historian and champion preservationist David Shepard, who passed at 76 of cancer on January 31, as well as the Save This Moment campaign by the Toronto International Film Festival. In the following photo, Mr. Shepard, founder of Film Preservation Associates, is flanked by Walt Disney Studios historian and author Russell Merritt on his left and Leonard Maltin on his right.
Mr. Maltin penned a tribute, Adieu To David Shepard, on his IndieWire website. Here is David with the prolific author and Photoplay Productions documentary film producer, not to mention the prime mover behind the restoration of Abel Gance's 1927 epic Napoleon (among numerous films), Kevin Brownlow.
Messrs Maltin, Brownlow and Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films and Flicker Alley share their fond memories of David Shepard.
Enjoy this clip of David Shepard talking film preservation in 2016.
Mr. Shepard's tireless efforts on behalf of the film legacy of Charlie Chaplin resulted in remarkable restorations, the first DVD release being Chaplin At Keystone: An International Collaboration of 34 Original Films.
Here's a promotional trailer for the DVD box set, narrated by co-producer Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films and Flicker Alley.
This was followed by the exceptional Blu-ray releases Chaplin's Essanay Comedies and Chaplin's Mutual Comedies.
All these sets involved going back to the gnarliest or gnarly nitrate film materials. As Mr. Shepard had exceptional recall of where negatives and prints existed in archives around the world, he was the right man for the restoration job.
These historic films were restored painstakingly, frame by frame, using the latest 21st century digital technology.
The Toronto International Film Festival produced a promotional short, The Film Prayer, based on a reverent guide for projectionists which is said to have been written by A.P. Hollis in 1920 and made available to all non-theatrical film distributors to promote careful handling of film. The Film Prayer could be found inside film cans, unfortunately a few decades before Monsieur Blogmeister's time! Everyone who has ever threaded an 8mm, 16mm or 35mm projector will relate. Thanks to Caroline Martel for posting this.
Narrated by Keanu Reeves, the Toronto International Film Festival video on The Film Prayer features evocative music by Menalon and is part of the Save This Moment campaign to fund the acquisition, restoration and archival storage of 35mm film prints.