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My 5th Biography

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My 4th Biography

Now Available in Kindle!

Now Available in Kindle!
My 3rd Biography

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

Sach would say: "Ohp! Ohp! Ohp!"

My third published book is Behind Sach: The Huntz Hall Story, by Jim Manago (BearManor Media). Yes, we did get to bring a copy to Joe Franklin. He smiled when he saw his name was in the acknowledgements. It reads:

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

Oftentimes we'd visit him at his 43rd Street office in New York City. Thought I'd never live to say this giant is now gone. We have so many wonderful memories over the years. We will miss his love, enthusiasm, and friendship.

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 several months later on March 9th.

I am the author of five books, with two of them 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.

For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story

For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story
My 2nd Biography

Love is the Reason for it All: The Shirley Booth Story

Love is the Reason for it All: The Shirley Booth Story
My 1st Biography

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.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Joe Franklin On "September Song"


I must confess that I enjoy the music of the 1930's and 1940's much more than the rather lame music of the 1950's.   It seems that the earlier period offers  superior compositions that have never been surpassed!

A case in point is one of the best compositions of the entire 20th Century, "September Song."  Walter Huston originally introduced the song in the 1938 stage production, *Knickerbocker Holiday. It is Huston alone that brings an unforgettable sincerity and tenderness to the words. No one can sing it with such naturalness and feeling.   

The beautiful "September Song" was composed by Kurt Weill (March 2, 1900 - April 3, 1950), with the thought-provoking lyrics written by Maxwell Anderson (December 15, 1888 - February 28, 1959). The lyrics make so much more sense to older listeners, understanding the brevity of life and the sober truth of our inescapable mortality. I particularly like the line that goes: "And the Autumn weather turns the leaves to flame..." 

Yesterday I listened once again to over two dozen (of the many) versions of this song. I still say Huston's original version is the best ever! What he lacks in a perfect voice or the power of a professional singer, he surely makes up by evoking a poignant sadness and sincerity that is truly memorable. No one else has been able to do that in the seventy-five years since that recording in 1938.


You will know the original version since it has a line about losing a tooth. As the story goes (at least according to the late Joe Franklin), Walter Huston was at the dentist earlier in the day when he recorded this song. He changed the lyric line to: "I lost one tooth and I walk a little lame," instead of singing the actual lyric line: "And the autumn weather, Turns the leaves to flame (or gray)."


After playing the song on one of his Saturday night radio broadcasts back in the early 1990's, this is how Franklin explained it:

Joe Franklin on WOR Radio (circa 1990's): "These Precious Days I Spend with You," and I do mean you!!  Joe Franklin putting on the hits… Precious memories on WOR 'til 5'o'clock in the morning. 

I gotta tell you that line, near the beginning of that record, that line about I have lost one tooth was not part of the original lyric when he sang it in Knickerbocker Holiday, but it actually - it actually-factually - happened that Mr. Huston went to his dentist on the day that he made the phonograph record.  So it was kind of a private or inside, not a joke, but a private remark about losing his tooth or about teeth and it was a remark that was etched into the wax - into recorded immortality…Something that happened that day and it lives on!"
 
There is another take of Huston singing this song, but it's slightly different in intonation from the familiar one. You can hear it in the 1950 film September Affair, with Joan Fontaine & Joseph Cotten. 

*Although the story was modified substantially, you may still want to hear the radio version of Knickerbocker Holiday with Huston singing the song two times.  Click on the show title at: http://archive.org/details/TheaterGuildontheAir

Variations of the lyrics are found in many of the various recordings done. Besides several minor word switches (like "but" for "and," etc.) Huston re-recorded the song with such changes as "vintage years" for "golden (& precious) years."


 "September Song" Has Stood The Test Of Time!

*****

 THANKS FOR VISITING!

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*****

Monday, July 18, 2016

Christmas in July: "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.  

*****

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Friday, June 24, 2016

"All This Vast Majesty Of Creation – It Had To Mean SOMETHING!"

  
Richard Matheson:

I have been fond of this science fiction writer's work since the early 1970's when I first saw the film, The Incredible Shrinking Man. Richard Matheson (February 20, 1926 – June 23, 2013) wrote the screenplay from his original story (published as “The Shrinking Man”). He wrote so many other meaningful and realistic stories, but if Matheson did nothing else other than this, he would be worthy of remembering.

With assistance from director Jack Arnold, the final five-minute soliloquy offered by Scott Carey has never left me – it is thoughtful and profound. See my blog post from 2012, in which I offered those lines…http://shirleyboothstory.blogspot.com/2012/11/all-this-vast-majesty-of-creation-it.html

Those final images of several galaxies with the existential voice-over is unforgettable.  With the last line of the film Scott comes to a new understanding: "To God, there is no zero, I Still EXIST!"

No, I never got the chance to personally thank Richard Matheson for that story.  Nevertheless, he gave us one of the few intelligent and meaningful science-fiction films that should be celebrated as long as motion pictures exist.  

Richard Matheson will live on in the stories he created.  Yes, he remains among the truly best science fiction writers of all ages!


*****

Here's that intensely thoughtful and meaningful metaphysical soliloquy that is offered by Scott Brady.

There is no other film that I know of that has said something as basic and profound as this - juxtaposed with some great visuals. Here it is...


"My fears disappeared -
As if tuned to some great directing force
I was getting smaller – what was I?
Still a human being or was I the man of the future?


If there were other bursts of radiation,

other clouds drifting across seas and continents,

Would other beings follow me into this vast new world?
So close the infinitesimal and the infinite -

but suddenly I realized it’s really just the two ends of same concept,
The unbelievably small and the unbelievably vast eventually meet -
Like the closing of a gigantic circle
I looked up, as if to somehow I could grasp the heavens –

the Universe, world's beyond number,
God’s silver tapestry spread across the night,

And in that moment I knew the answer to the riddle of the infinite,
I had thought in terms of man’s own limited conception,
I had presumed upon nature that
“Existence begins and ends,” – Is man's conception - not nature’s.


And I felt my body dwindling, melting, becoming nothing
My fears melted away – and in their place came acceptance.

All this vast majesty of creation

– it had to mean something.

Then I meant something too.

Yes, smaller than the smallest –

I meant something too.


To God there is no zero –

I STILL EXIST”


*****

from the conclusion of

The Incredible Shrinking Man
 Universal – International Studios, 1957
Directed by Jack Arnold

Screenplay by Richard Matheson from his novel
Produced by Albert Zugsmith
Starring Grant Williams as Robert Scott Carey
& Randy Stuart as Louise Carey


This film is one of the best science fiction films ever made. Not only is it a masterpiece of special effects but it is also a powerful meditation on how a person can overcome his/her fears and accept his/her life as it is.

The shrinking man becomes so small he could fit through one of the holes in a window screen. But his fear of getting even smaller disappears. He realizes what really matters most is that he’s still alive! That's something I wish we all would never forget for a single day of our lives!

The Incredible Shrinking Man offers excellent special effects, a striking reliance on visuals rather than dialogue, a superb finale, and the supreme terror offered by the character named "Tomorrow." The latter was billed at that time as "the world's only trained Tarantula!"

*****

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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

On A Wish That Could Never Come True...

One of my favorite episodes of the 1952 Abbott & Costello Show is "Lou's Birthday Party." At the conclusion of the episode, Lou receives a surprise from Mr. Bacciagalupe (superbly played by Lou's brother-in-law Joe Kirk) when he says the line: "Get Me Some Coffee, I'll Eat It HERE!"

The great Lou Costello, one of my favorites, who ranks up there with Charlie Chaplin died on March 3, 1959, just three days short of his 53rd birthday.  Many of his films still hold up quite well.

At 54 years old, my cousin shared one thing with Lou Costello in that he also met an early demise.  My readers will know that I dedicated my first book (Love is the Reason for it All: The Shirley Booth Story) to my cousin, Joseph Nizzari. 

I always will cherish that one afternoon when he visited while that particular episode was on WPIX Channel 11. He explained to me what Mr. Bacciagalupe was saying with his fractured Italian.  Joseph had learned to speak Italian from his father.

Joseph loved watching and recreating routines of Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy and all the other great comedians.

One time he drove me to an all-day Harold Lloyd film festival that was held at The New School in New York City back in the 1980's.  Best of all, he gave up his entire day and stayed with me so that he could enjoy every bit of the festival as well!

One wish I have that I know can never come true, but I wish anyway, is that my cousin was still here to enjoy Abbott & Costello with me... 


*****

I share with you what I said about him in my book's introduction....

Shirley Booth once said, "I feel sorry for people that don’t have the pleasure of acting because I think it’s a great release." I experienced that pleasure whenever my cousin Joseph Nizzari would visit my family ... He encouraged and indulged my interest in acting and cinematography by recreating Abbott & Costello routines, gangster movie skits, and so forth. I wish he could have lived to see this book in print. With much sadness, I dedicate this book in memory of him.

from Love is the Reason for it All: The Shirley Booth Story, by Jim Manago
BearManor Media, 2008.

Though I know this will always be a very sad week for many members in my family, I feel it best to remember all the fun that my cousin offered to all who had the privilege of his friendship. My cousin had a fantastic humor and a knack for making you feel good. Yes, he had many talents; among them his wonderful skill as a baker. But more than any one achievement he managed to help others find enjoyment in the moment - despite the daily slings and arrows that life has a way of delivering us all. 

 
Unfortunately, I lost touch with him for a number of years. But sadder still is to know that the last few years of his short life were obviously harrowing and painful for him and for anyone that watched him battle cancer.

Yes, I will always miss his selflessness - so few people I have met in my entire life have been so sacrificial as he was. I will always remember his love for his family, for his good kindly nature, and for so much happiness that he brought to all our lives!


*****


Joseph Nizzari
(May 3, 1953 - February 2, 2008)




Gale Gordon: From Mayor of Wistful Vista To Borrego Springs
by Jim Manago
BearManor Media
Published June 4, 2016

*****

The Thrills Gone By: The Kay Aldridge Story
by Jim Manago
BearManor Media
Published December 23, 2015

*****


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, April 25, 2016

Shirley Booth On WHAT'S MY LINE?



 What's My Line?

Shirley Booth made three appearances on the popular television show What's My Line? I was able to see the first episode from May 3, 1953 (Episode #153). The other two are from May 27, 1962 (Episode #615) and March 10, 1963 (Episode #654).

Panelist Dorothy Kilgallen (July 3, 1913 – November 8, 1965) figures out the Mystery Challenger is Shirley Booth rather quickly with these questions:

1. Are you accustomed to appearing before audiences?

2. Are you in the entertainment business?

3. Are you an actress?

4. Have you ever appeared in motion pictures?

5. Have you ever appeared on the stage?

6. Would you be considered a dramatic actress?

7. Would you also be considered something of a comedienne?

8. Are you over 30?

9. Are you better known for your work on the stage than on the screen?

10. Have you ever won any sort of an award for your work?

11. On the stage?

12. And on the screen?

13. Did you win an award this year for your work on the screen?

14. Was it your only starring role in the movie?

15. Are you by any chance that divine Shirley Booth?

Shirley says...Yes to all! And adds "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry I tried so hard." 

Kilgallen responded: "Shirley, we get a vibration when you come on!"

Friday, January 1, 2016

On "The Bright, Blessed Day, The Dark, Sacred NIGHT!"

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2016!

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!
*****

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!

I highly recommend visiting Louis Armstrong’s home in Corona, New York….GO TO: http://www.louisarmstronghouse.org/visiting/overview.htm

*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!

JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!


*****

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Try These Favorites for Christmas. . .


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...

 *****

Happy Days:

41 Years Ago on 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...

Five 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.

 *****

Hazel:

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!

Friday, November 27, 2015

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 gives us the flavor of 1940’s Christmas - at least the way filmmakers saw it.  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!

*****


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, November 18, 2015

81 Years Years Later: MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS Still Among The Most Enduring Comedy Musicals Ever Made!


YES, PIX-11 in New York will again show that true film gem this Thanksgiving Day. The schedule is for two showings, one at 9 a.m. and again at 3 p.m.

It will also be shown on Christmas Day at 1 p.m.

I offer a special "Thank You" to the intelligent management at PIX for keeping this film alive for so many years now!


*****

THANKSGIVING!  

Thanksgiving reminds me of my dearly departed Aunt Mary from Brooklyn.  Money was so tight that my Aunt could not afford a turkey and so she served-up a large roasted chicken to her four children every Thanksgiving.  The best part of this is that she told them it was a turkey - and they did not really know the truth till years later because they never ate turkey before!


Thanks to Aunt Mary and all the other people that have given me special memories at this time and throughout the years!


My favorite films to view on Thanksgiving Day include the original 1933 King Kong, the original 1949 Mighty Joe Young and the 1934 version of Victor Herbert's (1859 - 1924) operetta Babes in Toyland from 1903.   The latter is best known by the 1948 re-released title of March of the Wooden Soldiers.


These films always played on television in the background on Thanksgiving afternoon in my New York family home.  Thanksgiving wouldn't be the same without them!  Since those glory days when broadcast television ruled, today it has become such a wasteland of banal situation comedies and Jerry Springer-style garbage ever-eager to disrespect someone.

Thankfully the only thing that has not changed in all these years is that WPIX Channel 11 in New York continued to air March of the Wooden Soldiers on Thanksgiving  Day.  Yes, WPIX has kept alive the magic of that memorable gem!  

Regarding the various versions of Babes in Toyland...


Please be sure to avoid the two later film versions of the classic operetta.  The 1986 Drew Barrymore version is the poorest, but I found the Disney version from 1961 to be surprisingly disappointing.

That horrendous Disney version features Annette Funicello & Tommy Sands....This production changed too many things, and it did nothing better. Most importantly, the film removed the bogeyman as villains, provided embarrassingly poor set designs, and it managed to stick us with some bad casting in the leads.  In addition, Ray Bolger over-acted too much as the villainous Barnaby.  Besides that, the humorless impressions of Laurel & Hardy (Gene Sheldon & Henry Calvin) added nothing at all to this film.


I disliked the Disney version of Babes in Toyland throughout, starting from the uninspired opening minutes.   It was almost as bad as the 1967 Dr. Dolittle - and that is really sinking low.  The Disney take on Herbert's best numbers ("Castle in Spain," and "Go To Sleep") totally ruined them by changing the tempo.  The experience of watching this lackluster version was painful indeed!  Ed Wynn as the toymaker offered the only pleasure in this entire production - but not enough to recommend the film to you.


Just save your electricity and time and watch the beautiful black & white 80-year old March of the Wooden Soldiers.  Laurel & Hardy shine in this production, along with a number of other superb character actors.  However, the real star of this film is definitely Felix Knight.  The latter singer (well-known in his time, but forgotten today) steals the show with his wonderful voice. Knight's singing of the superb "Castle in Spain" and, "Go to Sleep, Slumber Deep" is truly unforgettable. It doesn't get any better than that!

March of the Wooden Soldiers was regularly referred to as an ingenious classic back in the 1960's when I was growing up - and now fifty years later it stands alone as one of the few really worthwhile films to see every year.  It has definitely stood the test of time.

There are so many great moments.  If I had to pick just one I would say I just love the appearances of that mouse that looks like Mickey.  Of course, it was really a Capuchin monkey - indeed a quite intelligent animal. Just hope the trainers were kind back in those days - though I doubt animal rights were a consideration then.
Simply stated, I would select March of the Wooden Soldiers as one of the most enjoyable films among the many thousands I've seen in my lifetime, as well as being one of the best films that was ever made in 1930's Hollywood!


***** 

Toyland:

Brooklyn-born Glen MacDonough (1870 - 1924) wrote the lyrics to the popular holiday song "Toyland," which first appeared in the 1903 Babes in Toyland.   The song opens March of the Wooden Soldiers.  The sound quality of that film's operatic singer makes it difficult to understand the lyrics at times.  So I offer them to you:


1. When you've grown up my dears,
And are as old as I,
You'll often ponder on the years
That roll so swiftly by, my dears,
That roll so swiftly by.
And of the many lands,
You will have journeyed through,
You'll oft recall
The best of all,
The land your childhood knew!
Your childhood knew.

*Chorus
2. When you've grown up, my dears,
There comes a dreary day.
When 'mid the locks of black appears
The first pale gleam of gray, my dears,
The first pale gleam of gray.
Then of the past you'll dream
As gray-haired grown-ups do,
And seek once more
Its phantom shore,
The land your childhood knew!
Your childhood knew. *Chorus

*Chorus:
Toyland. Toyland.
Little girl and boy land.
While you dwell within it,
You are ever happy then.
Childhood’s joy-land.
Mystic merry Toyland,
Once you pass it’s borders,
You can never return again.


Yes, MacDonough knew what he was writing about!


*****


The 1949 film Mighty Joe Young would always be a late afternoon movie in New York on Thanksgiving Day. It's been years since I saw it again - and last year I had the great pleasure of finding a VHS copy.  Recently I purchased the DVD.

The 1933 film King Kong, with that monstrous-sized beast, always seemed to get all the attention because it was an early 1930's film classic.  I still love that film's sound effects and superb Max Steiner score.  However, you will have to ignore the film's racist depiction of all natives as stereotypical crazed savages as that era's bias.  See it for what it is; namely, the limitations of that period of American/European culture. 

The later Mighty Joe Young uses the same creators - director Ernest B. Schoedsack and producer Merian C. Cooper, with the addition of John Ford as executive producer.  Robert Armstrong appears in a prominent role again.

I chose this film as my after-dinner film today because I love the more detailed movements and expressions of the lovable Joe Young.  Especially notable is the wonderful orphanage rescue scene. This film lends a credibility and sympathy to the character - which King Kong lacks. Of course, special thanks to many - but mostly to the late Ray Harryhausen for his superb stop-motion animation. In some ways this makes Mighty Joe Young substantially better than King Kong

I especially enjoyed seeing young actress Terry Moore in another film (besides playing the boarder in Shirley Booth's famed Come Back, Little Sheba). Interestingly, 85-year old actress Moore is still making appearances and signing autographs. I would also enjoy interviewing her as well.

MIGHTY JOE YOUNG is not scheduled for broadcast or cable-TV as far as I can determine, but it is available on DVD.  That disc features a commentary with Harryhausen and Moore, besides two featurettes with Harryhausen on the making of the film.

*****

Yes, Thanksgiving is celebrated throughout our land as a day to give thanks. But there is an annual event that goes on for American Indians or Native Americans at Plymouth each year since 1970. It is known as the National Day of Mourning in recognition of the past injustices done to the indigenous people of the Americas. It involves a public march with a view towards changing racist attitudes and stopping the destructive myths. 

For too long Native Americans ("savage Indians" as we were taught) have been deprived of their fundamental rights and respect as human beings. Hollywood perpetuated the distortions we were taught in schools. Not only were they dehumanized and their history distorted, but sadly so much of their culture has been decimated in the name of Manifest Destiny and American progress.

We have chosen to enjoy the myths associated with this day - such as Pilgrims and Indians eating together in unity. The reality is starkly disturbing.

I cannot celebrate this day without acknowledging the suffering of Native Americans, and hope that someday we can fully learn to respect other cultures and peoples throughout this world.

We need to stop getting too involved in the affairs of other countries. If only our leaders would study and learn from our first President. Although he was a product of an era that offered no rights to many people, Washington did offer much wisdom regarding the dangers of political party power struggles, as well as the destructiveness of involving ourselves in the unrest of foreign countries. (See George Washington's Farewell Address from 1796).

So please respectfully appreciate that it is a day that all people give thanks, as well as A National Day of Mourning for some.

*****

Producer/screenwriter Robert Youngson: 
(November 27, 1917 - April 8, 1974)

I have always loved black & white films, especially silent films - though I know that few people share my appreciation.  So I was happy  to learn that The Artist received top honors at the Academy Awards.  The Artist won five Oscars, including Best Picture (to Producer Thomas Langmann), Best Director to Michel Hazanavicius, Best Actor to Jean Dujardin, Best Score, and Best Costume Design.   It's great to know that silent films have not been forgotten!

Speaking of silents, I remember enjoying silent comedies back in the 1970’s thanks to watching PBS' "The Silent Years," hosted by Orson Welles and Lilian Gish. In addition, I always enjoyed those clips assembled in the films of producer/screenwriter Robert Youngson made from 1957 to 1970.

It’s these films that I have come to re-watch again recently after so many years since first seeing them.  I have found that they still hold up as a great assemblage of silent film comedy. Youngson spent countless hours watching literally many hours of silent films to put together these amazing compilation films.

If you have never seen and appreciated silent film comedies, then Youngson’s films would be a perfect starting point.  And for those quite familiar with these classics, I would still recommend seeing them as they are quite entertaining and well-made.

The list of talents seems endless - for example, there's Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Billy Bevan, Charlie Chaplin, Charlie Chase, Vernon Dent, Jean Harlow, Buster Keaton, Edgar Kennedy, Harry Langdon, Carole Lombard, Snub Pollard, Will Rogers, Ben Turpin, Andy Clyde, Charles Murray, the Keystone Kops, and the list can go on and on...

Youngson's compilation films:

The Golden Age of Comedy (1957)
When Comedy Was King (1960)
Days of Thrills and Laughter (1961)
30 Years of Fun (1963)
MGM's The Big Parade of Comedy (1964)
Laurel & Hardy's Laughing 20's (1965)
The Further Perils of Laurel & Hardy (1967)
Four Clowns (1970)



Anyone remember these films?  

Youngson uses for theme music my favorite composition of all time, the amazingly beautiful melodic Etude, Opus 10, No.3.  That superb and nostalgic composition by Frederic Chopin opens and closes the films.  To see Valentina Lisitsa playing it, GO TO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpiJbQvBP8A

*****

Shirley Booth's Recipe:

With the holidays beginning, I offer you a recipe from Shirley Booth which first appeared in Good Housekeeping, December 1964. 
Shirley gave Sally Edwards credit for these tarts.


CHESS TARTS
l package piecrust mix or favorite pastry for 2 crust pie
2 eggs
1/4 c. butter or margarine
dash salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup seedless raisins
1/2 cup snipped, pitted dates
1/2 cup chopped California walnuts
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup heavy or whipping cream
candied cherries
slivers of preserved orange peel
slivers of preserved citron
green seedless grapes

Make day before serving as follows:

1. Make up piecrust; then, on lightly floured board, roll it out 1/8-inch thick.  For each petal tart shell, cut out 5) 2 1/4-inch fluted pastry rounds.  Place 1 round in bottom of each of 6) 2 3/4′inch muffin-pan cups.  Wet edges of rest of rounds, then press 4 of them to sides and to round in bottom of each cup, overlapping edges slightly.

2. Prick well with 4-tined fork.  Refrigerate 30 minutes; bake at 450 degrees F. 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool; lift each carefully from cup; store at room temperature.

3. In saucepan beat eggs well; then add butter or margarine, salt sugar, raisins, dates.  Cook, stirring constantly, until thick.  Refrigerate this filling, covered with waxed paper.

~About an hour before serving:

1. Stir walnuts and vanilla into filling; then pile some filling in each tart shell. Whip cream; use to top tarts.  In center of each mound of cream place a cherry; surround with orange peel and citron.  Refrigerate.

2. Arrange tarts on pretty serving plate; pass, with tiny bunches of grapes. Makes 6.”


*****

Christmas and The Hopes:
I am reminded of the loss of a very special lady four years ago...This is my post from September 20, 2011:

Dolores DeFina Hope
May 27, 1909 - September 19, 2011
Rest in Peace

Yes, she's gone. After 102 years of living, laughing, singing, and giving the world some wonderful memories, singer and philanthropist Dolores Hope has died yesterday of natural causes.

In memory of Dolores Hope, I dedicate this post.  I offer my condolences to her family and friends throughout the world.

Dolores reached her 102nd birthday, and husband Bob Hope died two months after his 100th birthday eight years ago.

What comes to mind is one of my favorite television moments.  It is from 1993, when Dolores and Bob sang "Silver Bells" on one of their last Christmas specials.  The brief two-minute duet with chorus and orchestration (including plenty of bells) makes this version quite endearing.  The huskier sound of Dolores along with Bob's distinctive sound make it quite different than other versions of the song.

In addition, the song displayed Bob with the 17 various female guest stars who sung this song with him over his years on television.  The segment ends with idyllic footage of their horse-drawn sleigh being pulled across a snowy landscape.  This "music video" captures a beautiful energy in those three minutes. It's somehow transcends the mundane reality that it depicts - and provides a timeless piece of Christmas nostalgia!

So much can be said about Dolores and Bob, in particular, they shared a love for each other, as well as for entertaining people all over the world.  They will always be with us thanks to what remains of them -- Bob's films, and their radio & television programs.

Here's Dolores Hope as heard on radio's Duffy's Tavern from April 25, 1944.  Archie the manager is played by Shirley Booth's ex-husband Ed Gardner. Shirley and Ed were divorced the year earlier. GO TO:


Dolores & Bob, WE THANK YOU! You both will be always missed and remembered!

*****




Did You Know? One early account said that Shirley Booth’s first appearance on stage occurred while attending P.S. 152 in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. There she read in class her Thanksgiving composition entitled, "The Autobiography of a Thanksgiving Turkey." 

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!  
 
*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!
 
JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!