Saturday, February 26, 2022
On February 26, just before the Ides of March, turns out to be the natal anniversary of a bevy of showbiz greats! We'll kick this off with the one, the only Betty Hutton, actress, comedienne and vocalist.
Betty Hutton, star of stage, movies (The Miracle Of Morgan's Creek, Annie Get Your Gun) and television, was born on February 26, 2021.
Then there's Jackie Gleason, born on this day in 1916.
We love this historic clip of The Great One in 1950 with another comedy great, Bert Wheeler. Apologies for the very subpar video quality, but that's all this blogger has seen of this meeting of two wonderful comics from different generations.
Have we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog watched all 39 filmed episodes of The Honeymooners and all the versions from the live shows Jackie starred on multiple times? Yes.
It is fascinating to see the earliest incarnations of The Honeymooners, from Gleason's days on Cavalcade Of Stars. This one features Pert Kelton as Alice.
Favorite Gleason performance of all-time? With Paul Newman as a Minnesota Fats-style poet laureate of pool in Robert Rossen's The Hustler.
And then there's, speaking of comic geniuses, the blazing comic genius of Tex Avery, the King of Cartoons, born on February 26, 1908.
Tex is the guy who is most responsible for transforming Warner Bros. animation's "scwewy wabbit," Bugs Bunny from geek to sleek.
Fortunately for us seeking laughs in this difficult time, there are TWO Blu-rays of Avery's incomparable MGM cartoons (and, surprise, a third on the way).
Tex Avery directed theatrical cartoons for two decades, and even his very last theatricals produced by Walter Lantz on a lower budget than the MGMs remain razor-sharp masterpieces of comedy timing. Nobody nails visual humor "theme and variations" in an animated cartoon, with the goal of eliciting belly laughs, quite like Tex Avery.
Ace character actor and co-star of The Odd Couple TV series Tony Randall was born on February 26, 1920.
Here's one of Tony's many appearances on Late Night With David Letterman.
Tony appeared in so many movies and TV shows it is difficult to know where to start.
It has been literally decades since I last saw The 7 Faces Of Dr. Lao, which I originally viewed on the big screen at the matinee during its theatrical release back in 1964. Whether it is okay by 2022 standards, I don't know - would have to watch the film again - but do see it as a fitting companion piece to Buster Keaton's The Playhouse and Lupino Lane's Only Me; in all three cases, countless parts are played by the same actor. Funny, as The Medusa, Tony oddly resembles 1980's pop star Boy George.
Our favorite Tony Randall flick, hands-down, is Frank Tashlin's satiric gem Will Success Spoil Rick Hunter?
Most amazing is Tony's masterful appearance, with Jayne Mansfield also playing a non-prototypical role, on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, which reflects Tony Randall's versatility as an actor. Watch this all the way through!
Another character actor born on February 26 whose lengthy career in show business included appearances in numerous movies, before national fame in roles on series television was William Frawley.
Vaudevillian Bill Frawley was the guy who played the curmudgeonly curmudgeon to end all curmudgeonly curmudgeons, Fred Mertz, in I Love Lucy, as well as Bub O'Casey on My Three Sons.
For more info, check out character actor, cartoon voice artist and comedy film historian Eddie Deezen's terrific article on William Frawley, as well as Archive Of American Television interviews.
Last but not least, we will mention albeit not necessarily go to town on the extraordinary life and career of British stage, screen and radio actress Madeleine Carroll, star of The 39 Steps, Secret Agent, The Prisoner Of Zenda and My Favorite Blonde (among many films), born on February 26, 1906.
The life story of Madeleine Carroll is quite an epic one, and covered in detail by John Pascoe's book Madeleine Carroll: Actress and Humanitarian, from The 39 Steps to the Red Cross. She was a movie star for a few years and a humanitarian exemplifying compassionate public service for a few decades. No doubt at least two or three avid film buffs among the dozens writing classic movie blogs have indeed gone to town on the numerous onscreen and offscreen heroics of Madeleine Carroll.
Sunday, February 20, 2022
“Aleman has more swing than any other guitarist on the continent.” Leonard Festher
"I knew Django Reinhardt well. He was my greatest friend in France. We played together many times, just for ourselves. I used to go to his wagon, where he lived. I've slept and eaten there—and also played! He had three or four guitars. Django never asked anyone to go to his wagon, but he made an exception with me. I appreciated him, and I believe the feeling was mutual." Oscar Alemán
Switching focus from silent films and vintage animation - frequent topics of this blog - to the world of music, today the spotlight is on Argentinian guitar virtuoso and entertainer Oscar Alemán, born on this day in 1909.
Have listened to and admired such terrific Alemán records as En Todos Los Ritmos, Alemán '72 and Grabaciones Recuperadas, as well as the Swing Guitar Masterpieces: 1938-1957 compilation mandolinist, bandleader and recording artist David Grisman curated for his Acoustic Disc label.
Still, was entirely unaware of the guitarist's dramatic roller coaster life and international presence in music until viewing Oscar Alemán, Vida Con Swing, a loving, detailed and archival footage-packed 2002 documentary written and directed by Hernán Gaffet.
A singer, dancer and actor as well as multi-instrumentalist, Oscar Marcelo Alemán (February 20, 1909 - October 14, 1980) was a one of a kind talent, born in Machagai, Chaco Province, in northern Argentina.
An entertainer, recording artist and teacher for five decades, Oscar experienced the loftiest of international stardom peaks and devastating no-work-whatsoever valleys. It is such a rich showbiz tale that we can only touch on a few points here, unless the objective is to not actually complete this blog post until February 20, 2023 or 2024.
Oscar's early life entailed so much adversity, grinding poverty and personal tragedy as to make Charlie Chaplin's childhood look like Sunday in the Park (with or without George). Both were child performers, Oscar already singing and dancing onstage with the family band, the Moreira Sextet, at the age of six. He was orphaned suddenly when his mother died and his father subsequently committed suicide. Oscar's siblings scattered and he would find himself homeless and living on the streets in Santos, São Paulo, Brazil. Supporting himself as a dancer, boxer and by playing the cavinhuelo (a four-stringed instrument) and guitar, he began to play music professionally in a duo with Brazilian guitarist Gaston Bueno Lobo. Oscar's first radio show appearance in 1926, rather amazingly, has been preserved
As Les Loups (Los Lobos), the duo played popular tunes in many genres, with Oscar frequently playing Hawaiian guitar, and recorded sides for Victor in 1927-1928, then, with the addition of violinist Elvino Vardaro, Trio Victor. Before he turned 20, Alemán was a prolific recording artist.
In the late 1920's and early 1930's, Oscar would become interested in playing American jazz after hearing the guitar-violin duo of Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti.
In 1931, he became the featured guitarist in Josephine Baker's touring ensemble. Soon, he would lead her band, the Baker Boys, at the Cafe de Paris. Duke Ellington saw Oscar play and was floored. When he asked Josephine if he could hire Oscar Alemán for the Duke Ellington Orchestra's next United States tour, she said no; to paraphrase her response, "where could I find someone who speaks nine languages, can dance, is black, plays guitar, cavaquinho, bass and drums - and is a good person?" Nonetheless, Oscar sat in as a special guest with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and performed with them for individual concerts in Europe.
Alemán later formed his own nine-piece band which would play nightly at the Le Chantilly, just across town from where Django Reinhardt and his partner violinist Stephane Grappelli would be performing at The Hot Club of France with their Quintet. Although these two innovative virtuosos of jazz guitar from outside the United States, unfortunately, never recorded together, they became close friends.
After the Nazis stormed into Paris, banning "degenerate" music and all art in favor of their preferred pastime of murdering people, Oscar relocated to Buenos Aires. Through the 1940's, he performed and waxed some of his best recordings with an excellent swing quintet, featuring jazz violinist Guillermo Oliva, and also performed with a nine-piece orchestra.
He enjoyed playing in Buenos Aires and turned down invitations from bandleaders such as Harry James to join their groups and travel to the United States.
Oscar Alemán appeared periodically in films (Trois Argentines a Montmartre, Buenos Aires Sings) and was quite the dynamic performer, as seen in the following clips. Among the few memorable scenes of the potboiler El idolo del Tango: Oscar's rousing performance as guitarist, dancer, singer and showman.
A comprehensive Oscar Alemán bio and discography by Norwegian jazz critic Jan Evensmo was posted on the excellent Jazz Archeology website. Lots and lots of related material on Oscar Alemán, including transcripts from television appearances and radio interviews, is up on YouTube, among quite a bit of excellent Argentinian jazz. Alemán's appearances on Buenos Aires television are numerous and soundtracks from them turn up on YouTube.
The guitar giant's music is still being played and celebrated. An Oscar Alemán Play-Along Songbook Volume 1 was published in 2019 and the Argentinian version of The Real Book concentrates heavily on the Alemán repertoire. For musicians, these are fitting addendums to Hernán Gaffet's film.
Must tip one of Oscar's stylish hats to the late Hans Koert, who devoted a blog to him and was a key link to guitar enthusiasts and Oscar fans worldwide.
In conclusion, it's good to know that Oscar's granddaughter, vocalist Jorgelina Alemán, is carrying on the family tradition in the 21st century and has organized tributes to him. Here she is, singing one of her grandfather's signature tunes, Hombre Mío.
Saturday, February 12, 2022
Silents Spotlight: Bill Hart Restoration, Felix The Cat in NYC, Chaplin Rocks the Paramount, Marion Davies on Blu-ray
The spotlight is on vintage silents in several events over the following nine days.
Tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time, 12:00 noon Pacific Time, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival presents Amazing Tales Online: Restoring the Films of William S. Hart, featuring George Eastman Museum Senior Curator Peter Bagrov and Preservation Manager Anthony L’Abbate.
The San Francisco Silent Film Festival press release elaborates:
In 2021 the Moving Image Department at the George Eastman Museum embarked on a multiyear project, funded by the Louis B. Mayer Foundation, to restore nine silent films of one of the first western superstars, William S. Hart (1864 – 1946). In addition to materials in the museum’s own collection, elements from at least seven other archives – The Library of Congress, the Museum of Modern Art, UCLA, Fondazione Cineteca Italiana, La Cinémathèque française, Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée, and the EYE Film Museum (the Netherlands) – will be used to put the jigsaw puzzle together. During the search for elements, many discoveries were made – including two films previously considered lost!
While enthusiastically applauding the efforts of the George Eastman Museum and the many archives involved in painstakingly restorating William S. Hart's films, which are between Gilbert M. "Broncho Billy" Anderson and Tom Mix in the lineage of western movies, all the gang at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog can think of right now is The Frozen North, Buster Keaton's brutal and hilarious spoof of Hart.
Classic film screenings, hallelujah, are starting to happen again. . . knock on wood. Next Friday, February 18, at NYC's Society of Illustrators, glorious 16mm film rules.
From the 16mm collection of animation historian, archivist and preservationist Tommy José Stathes, there will be a fun program of classic cartoons that runs from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.
Featured in the Friday night show: Felix the Cat, Koko the Clown, Betty Boop, Porky Pig and Flip The Frog.
In a program titled Valentine’s Day: The Aftermath, classic cartoons featuring and skewering romantic themes abound.
Several cartoons on the bill - those of Fleischer and Otto Messmer - were produced in New York City.
Space is limited, and advance tickets for Valentine’s Day: The Aftermath are highly recommended.
The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is back with some big screen fun next weekend.
One of Charlie Chaplin's crowning achievements, City Lights, will be seen in glorious 35mm at Oakland's Paramount Theatre. Accompanying in grand fashion: the Oakland Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Timothy Brock.
This show is dedicated to the memory of Michael Morgan, the conductor and Music Director of the Oakland Symphony who passed in 2021.
Advance tickets for City Lights with Oakland Symphony Orchestra LIVE at the Paramount can be bought via Ticketmaster or in person at the Paramount’s Box Office in Oakland (between 12:00 noon and 5:00 pm on Fridays). San Francisco Silent Film Festival members receive a $5 discount per ticket.
Yes, Virginia Cherill, proof of COVID-19 vaccination is required to attend this event.
To whet your appetite for some Chaplin on the big screen, check out Roger Ebert's review of City Lights.
If it isn't possible to get to Oakland and see City Lights at the Paramount on Saturday night, at least there is The Silent Comedy Watch Party, on YouTube on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time. One can watch the presentation on Hart and then follow it with The Silent Comedy Watch Party.
Co-hosts Ben Model and Steve Massa have been busy restoring and releasing silent comedy rarities (the latest starring Marion Davies) on DVD and Blu-ray.
Sincerely hope that Omicron will eventually fade and it will be possible to see such annual events as the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum's Charlie Chaplin Days again. . .
Until then, City Lights will bring the laughs, as it has since its theatrical release in January 30, 1931.
Felix the Cat and Farmer Al Falfa shall entertain audiences as they have for 100+ years. Omicron variant, please, go away and STFU!
Wednesday, February 02, 2022
Submitted for your approval this February 2: clairvoyant woodchucks who richly deserve their own Weather Channel shows. Last year's Groundhog Day was among the too few bright spots in what was overall a crummy year.
Oddly enough, there aren't all that many movies and cartoons devoted to the humble marmot. Robert McKimson's crew at WB made a noteworthy one. Animation historian Devon Baxter wrote all about it here.
Like many of the cartoons helmed by the veteran Warner Bros. animator-turned-director in his first year at the helm, One Meat Brawl is surprisingly good. Spunky protagonist Grover Groundhog is not without panache, charm and terpsichorean skill. This is one instance in which the chubby-cheeked character design seen in many Robert McKimson cartoons works quite well and suits the main character.
Favorite movie starring Bill Murray? Groundhog Day, with a time-freezing storyline right out of Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone!
In the supporting player mix are comedy stalwarts Rick Overton, Chris Elliott, Robin Duke, Brian Doyle-Murray and director/writer Harold Ramis.
My only quibble with this movie: the obtrusively schmaltzy background music.
As far as Groundhog Day the annual event goes, Punxsutawney Phil, without a doubt, is my kind of guy, even when he see his shadow and predicts 6 more weeks of winter.