Monday, March 25, 2019

This Saturday: "Refreshing as Springtime" KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival at Foothill College



Graphics by Sci Fi Bob Ekman, Scott Moon and Judy Zillen



Two days early for April Fools' Day, the KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival returns to Foothill College’s Room 5015! The perpetrators of this festival shall plug Saturday's celluloid extravaganza this very evening (from 6:00 - 7:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time) with the event's host, Robert Emmett, on the Thoughtline show on KFJC.



Where does one turn, at this late March point that marks the continuing Rite of Spring? The KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival, that's where!



Let's hit April Fool's Day and Easter the right way - the Psychotronic way! It will be as refreshing as springtime!







We're baaaaaaaaaaaack - with yet another off-kilter extravaganza!



Curators du jour Sci Fi Bob Ekman, Paul F. Etcheverry and Scott Moon (of Cinema Insomnia and Planet X Magazine) present a delirious deluge drawn from Our Celluloid Past. Our overstocked 16mm archive is bursting at the acetate seams yet again with some of the coolest odd-ball films you are likely to see.



OF COURSE, we'll have trailers plugging Z-movies that are, to paraphrase horror host Mr. Lobo of Cinema Insomnia, not bad, just misunderstood.








We'll feature Scopitones, Soundies and other campy as hell musical short subjects!











There shall be new-to-us but otherwise ancient snack bar ads.





As well as, inevitably, cartoons - the weirder, the better!





Will there even be a reel about the latest toys for the 1962 Christmas season?





What? The KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival




When? Saturday, March 30, 2019 from 7:00pm to 11:00pm



Where? Room 5015 on the Foothill College Campus



What? 16mm films, the vinyl of visuals, formerly unwanted and unloved, now presented for your entertainment!



How Much? $5 Donation for KFJC and $3 for parking on campus.




Why? Cool movies, audience participation and fabulous door prizes!



Bring your friends and have a blast! Arrive early for best seats!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Happy 100th Birthday, Nat King Cole!



Here at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, we careen willy-nilly between animation, classic movies, comedy, music we like, film history/silent films and old school showbiz. Nobody was better at combining old school showbiz at its very best with the virtuosity of jazz than vocalist, pianist and bandleader Nat King Cole (1919-1965).



We'll start today's 100th birthday tribute with the following BBC-TV special, An Evening With Nat King Cole, which demonstrates Cole's blazing genius as entertainer and pianist.



Nat King Cole first made his name in the late 1930's as a swinging jazz pianist in the tradition of Earl "Fatha" Hines and Teddy Wilson. Nat hired bassist Wesley Prince and guitarist Oscar Moore to be his first group. Paraphrasing "Old King Cole was a merry old soul," they were first The King Cole Swingsters. After changing the group name to the King Cole Trio, they began making radio transcriptions and recordings. The trio performed on radio on The Chesterfield Supper Club, Kraft Music Hall, Old Gold, The Orson Welles Almanac and Swing Soiree - and headlined their own program, King Cole Trio Time.



The first record of Nat's as powerhouse jazz pianist this writer heard was the great album of the first (and historic) Jazz At The Philharmonic concert on July 2, 1944. The all-star lineup included r&b "Texas tenor" Illinois Jacquet of "Flying Home" fame (who enters at 3:31 and gets into high note pyrotechnics 20 years before Pharoah Sanders at 5:00), followed by guitarist and guitar inventor extraordinaire Les Paul. Nat and Les have a ball trading riffs with each other.



Equally amazing: a 1946 record led by Count Basie Orchestra saxophonist and swing king Lester Young, with his trio. . . Nat King Cole and Buddy Rich!



The King Cole Trio, with either Oscar Moore or Irving Ashby on guitar and Johnny Miller on the acoustic bass, would become a very popular act and recording a series of 78s for Capitol Records.



Long lost air checks of the trio, broadcast live from the Hotel LaSalle's Circle Room in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on September 21-23 and 25, 1946, were found in 1999. Released by special arrangement with Ms. Cole and the Nat King Cole estate, with assists from Dan Morgenstern and the Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies, the resulting album demonstrates emphatically how The Nat King Cole Trio, in their ultra-cool way, changed the face of music. No doubt Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughn and Mel Tormé were listening - and taking notes!



The trio appeared in Soundies and Snader Telescriptions in the 1940s and early 1950's.



Forgive the odd over-application of makeup on Mr. Cole in the following Snader Telescription, as the song's great and the trio, as usual, sounds fantastic.





For much of his career, Nat King Cole was a star who couldn't use the rest room or drinking fountain, stay at the same hotel, or live in the same neighborhood as his melanin-challenged Caucasian entertainment counterparts in the U.S.A. As Mr. Cole broke ground, he suffered physical attacks onstage and even the poisoning of the family dog by bigoted scumbags who didn't want his family as neighbors in Sunny California. While this was going on, he was (along with Hazel Scott) among the first African-Americans to host his own TV show.

On November 5, 1956, The Nat King Cole Show debuted on NBC. The shows are consistently outstanding and a high water mark for the musical variety format, and remain much sought after by music fans and it is tough to pick a single favorite episode from the series. Here's Nat, trading his signature tunes with those of that week's guest star, movie actress and musical comedy gal Betty Hutton.



Alas, affiliates in the Deep South states refused to show the series and NBC could not sell it to advertisers. The musical program began as a 15-minute series and at first had a sponsor (Carter Products, the makers of Arrid and Rise), but advertisers could not be found after it expanded in June, 1957 to a half hour format. The racism of the times (obvious in 1957 and, sadly, still all too evident in 2019) doomed The Nat King Cole Show. Nat's response: "Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark" - and indeed it was.



No national sponsor would touch the show. While there was a regional sponsor, Rheingold Beer, and guest stars Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Eartha Kitt, Frankie Laine, Peggy Lee, and Mel Tormé (among others) agreed to appear free of charge, efforts to keep the show on the air eventually failed.



NBC made a "take it or leave it" offer. For the show to stay on the air, it had to be moved from its Tuesday night time slot to Saturday evenings at 7:00 p.m. by January 1958. Cole and his agent said no and that was it. The last episode aired on December 17, 1957.



If one was forced to select one particularly exceptional example of the series, arguably that would be the episode that featured a lineup of jazz greats unseen on American television and aired on October 15, 1957. Wouldn't see anything remotely like this again until Edie Adams' jazz-oriented variety show in 1964.



Nat could do acting and comedy in addition to music, so we'll finish today's post with one of his last TV appearances as guest star on The Jack Benny Program, which aired on January 21, 1964.



Thanks and cheers to the unforgettable Nat King Cole!

Friday, March 15, 2019

Drink Wilkins Coffee . . . or Die!



While pondering how to follow last week's post about cereal commercials, found Jim Henson's Commercials for Defunct Products. Chris Higgins' post on Mental Floss.com ends with the Sir Linit ad seen above and answered this blogger's question about who produced the funniest television commercials (besides Stan Freberg and Bob & Ray). Answer: Jim Henson.

Here are early Jim Henson ads in mass quantities; proceed at your own risk. Many are nothing short of hilarious. We at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog are particularly fond of the "Drink Wilkins Coffee. . . or Die" campaign.



These ads feature a cruder and randier version of the Muppets than the subsequent versions from The Muppet Show and The Muppet Christmas Carol.



Surfing through the Jim Henson Company YouTube channel, the sheer number of films and commercials produced by the Muppet-master and his merry band decades prior to massive success with TV's The Muppet Show and movies proved mindboggling.



Recall seeing said randier version of the Muppets for the first time on the earliest episodes of Saturday Night Live, then known as "NBC's Saturday Night" in 1975. SNL + Muppets is a bit of a Buster Keaton + Jimmy Durante proposition. Do we love Buster Keaton? YES! Do we love Jimmy Durante? YES! Do we love them together? NO! NO! NO!



The decision to incorporate the Muppets into the then fledgling late-night show produces a singular response. . .WHAT were they thinking?????. The Muppets proved a fish out of water, but unlike the Monty Python fish-slapping dance, could not have clashed more with the show's cast, anarchic sensibility and nose-thumbing dynamic.



That said, The Land of Gorch sketches do show an early glimmer of concepts the Jim Henson Company would expand upon and develop later in such feature films as The Dark Crystal. Henson would get the last laugh on the naysayers with the subsequent success of The Muppet Show, on which Gilda Radner and Steve Martin appeared as guest stars.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Animated Commercials Celebrate National Cereal Day



Did not know until today that there was any such thing as a National Cereal Day, which was yesterday.



We at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog readily admit to having a soft spot for. . . Count Chocula and Frankenberry!



The cereal commercials from this writer's favorite Saturday morning television shows, especially any involving the Termite Terrace crew from Warner Brothers and the satirists of Jay Ward Productions, made a deep imprint upon his very soul, so it is fitting that a selection of ads from The Bugs Bunny Show featuring the WB cartoon characters, introduced by author and animation historian Jerry Beck, shall kick off today's post.



One of the exercises animation buffs do is to try to identify which studio produced the ads. This one for Corn Kix makes me think of John & Faith Hubley and their ultra-cool commercials for Storyboard Productions, Inc.



For comparison, here's a Maypo commercial produced by the Hubleys.



And, speaking of commercials that, as Marky Maypo did, sold lots of cereal. Kellogg's was a sponsor of Hanna-Barbera's Huckleberry Hound show.



Both print ads and commercials affiliated with Hanna-Barbera's subsequent hit, The Yogi Bear Show, sold lots and lots and lots of Kellogg's product.



The animated commercials for Kellogg's forced moms across America to get tough with their kids who persistently and annoyingly badgered their parents for the cereals they saw between Yakki Doodle, Pixie & Dixie and Augie Doggie cartoons. The booming voice of Thurl Ravenscroft as Tony the Tiger still makes me want that cereal - and I'm under doctor's orders to stay away from all variants of Frosted Flakes! And, if this commercial featuring Tony and a Little Leaguer is any indication, Kellogg's Frosted Flakes were the predecessors of steroids.



Characters from the Post cereal boxes for Alpha-Bits, Rice Krinkles and Sugar Crisp actually became recurring characters in the clever and enjoyable Linus The Lionhearted show, which featured voice characterizations by Sheldon Leonard, Carl Reiner, Ruth Buzzi, Jesse White, Paul Frees and more.



All I can think of seeing the Lucky Charms leprechaun is dubbing in "hey, there's that leprechaun - let's kick his butt! Little did we know, TV ads for sugary cereals eventually led to not just a lawsuit against General Mills, but at least one rock band named The Cereal Killers.



One of the funniest bumper stickers I've ever seen is one that said "let the rabbit have the Trix." Said Trix rabbit enters the following compendium of commercials at 4:05, after that irritating Lucky Charms leprechaun. Yes, all these decades later, "Trix are for kids" remains seared into the psyches of those who were watching Saturday morning TV in the 1960's. Following the Trix rabbit: Bullwinkle, accompanied by the way too wholesome Cheerios Kid, who we suspect was a p.e.d. user.



This blogger's favorite of all the studios that created cartoon series for TV, Jay Ward Productions, produced dozens of commercials for the Rocky & His Friends show. Small wonder, the sponsor was General Mills.



Jay Ward Productions went on to produce numerous Cap'n Crunch commercials, prominently featuring such ace voice artists as June Foray.



How could Quisp cereal not sell, with Daws Butler enthusiastically claiming "it's from outer space!"



As the 1960's ended and the 1970's began, bringing well-intentioned but humorless children's TV watchdogs, Saturday morning cartoons became more standardized and correspondingly both less imaginative and more oriented specifically towards children (and towards not offending the watchdog groups and parents), while the cereals themselves got even odder, such as King Vitaman. Don't remember a darn thing about King Vitaman cereal all these years later, but the commercials were fantastic!



While the Hanna-Barbera and Filmmation studios continued cranking out numerous cartoon shows for Saturday morning television through the 1970's and 1980's, the consistently inventive Jay Ward Productions, as well as the producers of Linus The Lionhearted, Ed Graham Productions, no longer made animated series for the small screen. After the very funny George Of The Jungle series in 1967, Jay Ward Productions made a few pilots which did not sell (Hawkear: Frontier Scout, Fang the Wonder Dog, Rah Rah Woozy), and then stuck to commercials. That was a loss to Saturday morning animation; the Jay Ward studio produced the funniest made-for-TV cartoons by far.

Friday, March 01, 2019

The Wham Of Sam



"Sammy Davis, Jr. was one of America’s greatest entertainers of the twentieth century. He could do it all: dancing, singing, acting, impressions. What’s more, he did this at a time when it was difficult to be an African-American in the United States—during a period where even the entertainment industry provided as many obstacles as opportunities. Davis was a champion of civil rights, and he constantly pushed against the boundaries of segregation on- and off-stage." Cindy Y. Rodriguez

"Being a star has made it possible for me to get insulted in places where the average Negro could never hope to go and get insulted." Sammy Davis, Jr.




While "The Wham Of Sam" could certainly apply to ace filmmaker, screenwriter and journalist Sam Fuller, we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog find ourselves thinking about one of the greatest of all the great entertainers - dancer, vocalist, actor, musician, comedian, impressionist and recording artist Sammy Davis, Jr. Today, we pay tribute to Mr. Davis, a genre and convention-buster if there ever was one.



Watching Sammy's appearances in Vitaphone musical short subjects while writing the February 8 post about the late Ron Hutchinson and The Vitaphone Project led directly to today's tribute.



Turns out George Burns & Gracie Allen weren't the only 20th century entertainment icons to appear in Vitaphone short subjects. Sometimes the showbiz greats were supporting players in the 1 and 2 reel musicals (Vitaphone Varieties, Broadway Brevities, Pepper Pots and, later, Melody Masters).



For example, note the very talented child actor who shows up in the last few minutes (entering at 13:28) of the following musical 2-reeler, Seasoned Greetings, starring Lita Grey Chaplin. . . Yes, that's Sammy Davis, Jr.



Sammy Davis, Jr.'s first prominent silver screen role was in Rufus Jones For President, released theatrically on September 9, 1933.



In Rufus Jones For President, Sammy, then seven years of age, was in the supporting cast working with another groundbreaking entertainment giant, Ethel Waters.



Ms. Waters provided the lion's share of the musical heavy lifting a few years earlier for the 1929 Warner Bros. Technicolor "all singing all dancing" extravaganza when she delivered stellar performances of terrific songs (including "Am I Blue?") in On With The Show.



The epic Ethel Waters did not get to headline a feature film, but made the most of her opportunities, invariably hitting the entertainment equivalent of a bottom of the 9th grand slam whenever she did appear in movies or TV. This including hosting one of the first television programs in 1939.



Sammy, a vaudeville veteran at a tender age, made his name as an acrobatic dancer as part of a trio with his father and Will Mastin. As multi-talented as they were, the older showbiz veterans gave the young dynamo the spotlight in The Will Mastin Trio.







The terpsichorean brilliance of Sammy Davis, Jr. would shine through concerts around the world and be the cornerstone of his last silver screen appearance in the 1989 film Tap.



This writer's favorite scene from the Rat Pack + Bing musical Robin & The 7 Hoods demonstrates how Sammy Davis, Jr. had an extraordinary ability to bust a move - and another one, and another one after that!



There was always more - a lot more - to the eye when it came to Sammy.



Had he just wanted to be a actor, Sam would have excelled at character roles on stage and screen.



As much as anything, it's the consummate musicianship of Sammy Davis, Jr. that impresses the living daylights out of this writer and music fan. It is not accidental that in the rip-roaring (and both insult and horseplay-filled) performances of The Rat Pack, Sam was the guy who always picked the most difficult songs, filled with key changes and shifting tempos/time signatures: tunes that not even Sinatra would tackle.



If he wasn't among the greatest dancers of his generation, Sam may well have made his mark as a bandleader who played all the instruments, as Stevie Wonder and Prince could.









Recently enjoyed watching the American Masters documentary about Sammy Davis, Jr.



Watching Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me, which I recommend highly to classic movie and old school showbiz aficionados, it was readily apparent that I knew very, very little about the struggles he endured on his long road from vaudeville to the pinnacle of success in concerts, television, movies, Broadway shows and recordings.



Even as a lifelong fan, for about the 19,000th time, found absolutely myself floored by Mr. Davis' wide ranging talents.



Imagine how it felt to grow up in vaudeville, tour the country, deal with unending racism, disregard barriers, support the cause of civil rights, work tirelessly and under very difficult circumstances, overcome bigotry to attain international fame, only to face hate mail, death threats and public denunciation after a disastrous 1972 endorsement of disastrous President Richard M. Nixon (see the following article, The Hug by Davis biographer Will Haygood for more).



Sammy Davis Jr. appeared on an episode of Late Night With David Letterman and elaborated on his career as an entertainer. The audience greeted Sammy with a thunderous round of applause.



For more, check out the BBC documentary, Sammy Davis, Jr. - The Kid in the Middle, as well as Mr. Davis' appearances on the Dick Cavett and Arsenio Hall shows - and, last but not least, Sammy Davis, Jr. recordings.