My 5th Biography


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


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.

Friday, December 2, 2016

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!   



Saturday, November 26, 2016

"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.  




Thursday, November 17, 2016

82 Years Years Later: MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS Still Among The Most Enduring Films 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 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.

Laurel & Hardy shine in the 1934 Hal Roach production. 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!



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.

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

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, George 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. 

I 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:


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.

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 five 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.Yes, we will always have those programs and so many wonderful memories.

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." 



Tuesday, November 8, 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. 

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 –



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!"




Monday, November 7, 2016

Wish Carl Sagan Was Still With Us!

November 9, 1934: Astronomer Carl Sagan was born on this day. He died on December 20, 1996. His 13-part 1980 series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage series broadcast on PBS still remains among the best television programs ever produced.

Similarly I share Sagan's awe at the vastness of the universe, and especially enjoy re-watching his monumental series. Just wish he was here to see the wealth of information that NASA missions have given us since his passing.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Just Love These Chillers!

Some of my favorite film selections especially suited for Halloween include The Black Cat (1934), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), How To Make a Monster (1958), The Wolf Man (1941), and The City of the Dead (1961). The latter is also known by its American released title of Horror Hotel.  


Initially you may wince when I bring out a Bela Lugosi movie for Halloween. However this one is not like so many of those low-budget quickies that Lugosi appeared in so as to put bread on the table. The Black Cat from 1934 is in a class by itself as a truly superb film with excellent story, editing, camerawork, and top-notch performances by all the cast.

You may not be that familiar with the name of Edgar G. Ulmer - but he is responsible for the most stylishly dark version of a tale ever filmed. The story has no resemblance to the Edgar Allen Poe tale of the same name. But the world Ulmer created here is truly stark, weird, and visually stunning so that the film seemingly offers the mood that can only be inspired by the tormented genius of Poe.

Ulmer got his initial experience and inspiration as a stage actor and set designer working in Vienna, Austria. The Black Cat is his second film as a director in America.  But it offers a remarkable face-off between the two horror greats, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.  The story credit goes to Peter Ruric and Edgar G. Ulmer.  It's an unusual story especially intriguing for that time in Hollywood.

David Manners plays writer Peter Allison and Jacqueline Wells is his bride Joan on a honeymoon trip that unluckily lands them during a storm in a futuristic castle built over a battlefield where tens of thousands of soldiers died during WWI.  It is there that the showdown occurs between fellow traveler Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi) and his adversary Fort Marmorus Commander Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff). Poelzig built his abode over the ruins of this great graveyard, and he seems more like the incarnation of the Devil.

When Werdegast learns that Poelzig has done some unholy things, including secretly keeping Werdegast's daughter Karen as his wife (and telling Werdegast that she died), there is some intense emotions that seek release. Revenge is the keyword here as the two horror greats display their unique talents, each trying to steal the show from the other.

I assure you that a great climax ensues. Besides the set designs that are quite stunning, there are some visually arresting moving camera shots that add to the mood of unrelenting menace - one sequence where the camera moves up & down the stairs with Karloff.  The use of Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet" has never been more perfectly used in the movies than here in the romantic scenes with Peter & Joan Allison.

Indeed The Black Cat (1934) is highly recommended as one of Universal Studios best horror productions ever.


The original 1958 chiller How to Make a Monster from American-International Pictures is another good film for Halloween! Robert H. Harris is absolutely superb as the disgruntled horror film makeup artist who plots revenge after he is axed from his film studio. His performance is right-on-target down to the glances. Herbert L Strock directs with Paul Brinegar, Gary Conway and Gary Clarke as co-stars.


The City of the Dead (AKA Horror Hotel):

The talents of many people are responsible for some of the best films. Proof of this is apparent with the British film, The City of the Dead.

It was September 12, 1961 when this film made it to these shores retitled as Horror Hotel. I will refer to the film by its original title.

The City of the Dead is a truly chilling film that I remember first seeing back in the late 1960's on New York local television. I could never get enough of seeing it - and watched it every time it was on. I do not remember if I ever saw the original British release at that time which is several minutes longer and includes some early dialogue not in the American released version, Horror Hotel. But I do remember it leaving an strong impression on my sister that I'm sure stays with her to this day!

Much credit has to be given to John Llewellyn Moxey (1925) who directed this story and to Milton Subotsky (1921-1991) who wrote this story (adapted by George Baxt). The City of the Dead (aka Horror Hotel) tells of some truly sinister witchcraft in the modern New England town of Whitewood and depends on creating a paranoia about who one could really trust.

But to credit those gentlemen alone would not be totally fair for there's also the foreboding and sinister atmosphere created by the combination of really brilliant contrasty black & white cinematography, fog-enshrouded sets, eerie music, good editing, and truly great character acting. The beautiful black & white cinematography is by Desmond Dickinson, art direction by John Blezard, music by Douglas Gamley, and film editing by John Pomeroy. 

Thanks must also go to the executive producers Milton Subotsky & Seymour S. Dorner, and the producers Donald Taylor and Max Rosenberg - all who contributed to make the whole film production possible. Subotsky and Rosenberg later founded the film production company Amicus Productions, responsible for a number of horror films from the 1960's.

As to actors there's the amazing talents of the lanky Christopher Lee (1922 - ) in top form as Prof. Alan Driscoll who suggests to his college student Nan Barlow played by Venetia Stevenson (1938 - ) that she should visit Whitewood, Massachusetts to see the place where some of his lecture material actually took place. Nan wants to get a really good grade on her thesis paper - and she enthusiastically takes his suggestion.

The other talents - including Patricia Jessel (1920-1968) as hotel manager Mrs. Newless (who actually is the still-living witch Elizabeth Selwyn though she was burned at the stake in 1692), and the delightful gloomy-voiced Valentine Dyall (1908-1985) as chief warlock Jethrow Keane - both indeed give absolutely superb portrayals worthy of awards.

Ann Beach (1938 - ) plays the deaf mute that knows the real sinister activities at the  Ravenswood Inn in the spooky New England town. Norman Macowan (1877-1961) plays the blind Reverend Russell of the town church who also knows what's going on and warns Nan: "...Leave Whitewood tonight. I beg of you...Leave before it is too late!" Betta St. John (1929 - ) plays the Reverend's granddaughter Patricia - who owns a little book store in town and lends Nan a book on witchcraft for her studies - only to have it never returned. Nan's brother Richard Barlow (Dennis Lotis) and Nan's boyfriend Bill Maitland (Tom Naylor) both search for Nan when she doesn't return home.

If any film could convince one that those "auteurists" do not wish to see filmmaking as an "ensemble endeavour" of the error of their thinking, for they wish to give directors all the credit, then it would be to see the collaborative efforts evident here that make this film work so well.

Some have criticized some of the actors for being British and not convincing us they are Americans - but this is not serious enough to take away from your enjoyment of this remarkable and totally intriguing gem. 

There are some shocking scenes - but I won't spoil that for you. Finally, the chanting that pervades the credits and crucial moments sounds truly like devil-worshipping chants and thus wraps the whole film into a complete package of sensory satisfaction! 

Although I usually love short films, this one seems too short at a brisk 76 minutes. It goes too quickly and I wish that it was somewhat longer! Nevertheless, it is unforgettable and great for Halloween night or whenever you wish to spook yourself a little!

It is interesting that The City of the Dead (Horror Hotel) is similar to Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho in many ways, including the early demise of the main character... 

*****The City of the Dead (Horror Hotel) is highly recommended! If you can see only one title from this post, choose this one!


Vincent Price:

Vincent Price (born May 27, 1911 - October 25, 1993) remains one of my all-time favorite actors and horror greats. See below for more.

So much can be said about the life of the amazing Vincent Price. Obviously, he had an uncanny knack for making anything he appeared in so much more interesting - whether through his distinct voice or mannerisms.   He made numerous film, television or radio appearances. Some of my favorites include Laura, The House of Wax, The Tingler, The House on Haunted Hill, etc.

I know that you will discover that so much of what Vincent Price accomplished so long ago continues to bring great pleasure so many years later.

On Halloween I will screen for the fiftieth or sixtieth time the William Castle classics - The Tingler and The House on Haunted Hill. Although I know them perfectly well, I still enjoy the way Price seems to be savor every second that he plays these quirky characters...


As regards Shirley Booth, her only TV guest appearance is in the television show The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. The show broadcast November 6, 1969 is called "Medium Well-Done." Shirley plays a spiritualist named Madame Tibaldi. The ghost (Captain) is quite unhappy that Madame Tibaldi visits his home to offer a seance.  (The cast includes Hope Lange as Mrs. Muir, Edward Mulhare as the Ghost, Charles Nelson Reilly as Claymore Gregg, Reta Shaw as Martha the housekeeper, and Harlen Carraher & Kellie Flanagan as the children.)



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:

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!





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