Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Joe Julian - This was Radio

Joe Julian was an all around radio man who's decade spanned over 30 years, and appeared in over 10,000 broadcasts in all forms of production from sound effects to leading man. As a current day radio employee, this book just makes me want to buck the system, bring in some actors and some musicians, pull up a script, lock the studio door, and have a blast.

Joseph Julian

Unlike the corporate, bean counting, unimaginative state of radio today, these men and women lead incredible lives, had to break boundaries to get their desired results, and, without computer technology, extended the theater of the mind (which our bosses still say today, strangely enough) into people's living rooms every night for almost 40 years. The things they accomplished without technology are impressive.

Mr. Julian worked with everyone from Marlene Dietrich to Orson Welles the godfather of theatrical radio, Norman Corwin.  The book starts out as a behind the scenes look into the greatest era of radio, but about halfway through, tragedy strikes.  And by tragedy,  I mean Joseph McCarthy and the Red Channels list.

Wrongfully blacklisted as a commie the book takes us through the harsh reality that all it takes is the general public's fear of something for those in power to be able to do whatever they want.  Lives were ruined, careers ended, and few had the courage to stand up against the machine in court . . .  But Julian did.

I won't give away how it ends but after reading this book I have even more respect for the group of people who birthed the radio movement, and a general animosity for the people now that are ruining it and people in government that put their hands in too many pockets.  It's an amazing story from an amazing era.  It wouldn't be here if I didn't recommend it!

Feeling nostalgic?  look up your favorite Old Time Radio (OTR) programs here:

Monday, July 25, 2011

Copa, Copacabana . . .

JULY 25, 1956.

The Copacabana nightclub in NYC hosted it's final showing of the pair Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in 1956 (10 years to the date of their first appearance there in 1946).  Starting together in 1946, The duo made 16 box office hits together and were the #1 nightclub act in America.

They were the first guest on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1946, had their own radio and TV hours, and completed their last film together, Hollywood or Bust, also in 1956.
After the split of one of the most famous duos in history, Jerry Lewis went on to be one of  the most popular comedic actors well into the 60's.  Even though many thought Martin would fall on his face  solo, he too had many successful films, albums, and TV shows.

In 1989, the pair reunited one final time in Vegas at Bally's Hotel and Casino for Martin's 72nd birthday.  They would never bee seen together again.  Dean Martin died in 1995.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Greatest Scene ever committed to film?

A friend of mine and I have been debating this topic for 3 days and neither one of us is budging.  She says this scene, from Gone With The Wind, is the greatest scene (not movie) of all time:

Which to me, (No offense!) is a typical cop out as this movie is very publicly heralded as the best movie ever, and this is the most famous scene from it.  (Dont hate me for this, but I find it a little over-rated and it is not in my top 10).

My pick was the scene below of Fritz Lang's "M".  Not only is this the most intense performance you can find from Lorre (way to waste a great one, Hollywood) but I always argue with myself in my head  "you aren't supposed to pity this man, he's a child murderer!" The way Lorre uses facial expressions and posture, you can't help but have a little part of you want him to get away.

And then, as if I didn't have enough scenes to choose from, I asked the fine folks on my facebook and twitter pages what their favorite was (Feel free to follow me!  Click to your right), and they threw out some great ones my memory had omitted when i started this argument, and now Im just torn.

The great Gloria Swanson and Cecil B Demille together, the incredible portrayal of a woman who has completely lost it, and another intense scene from what I think is Swanson's greatest performance.

And yet another great scene from Grapes of Wrath when Joad realizes he's got to run.  I wish I couldve found the whole ending, including Ma's speech when they go to leave. That "we're the people" thing gets me every time.

Others peoples favorites were fromStreetcar, On The Waterfront, and theSnake Pit

Maybe this was a pointless debate to get into, there are just so many to choose from.   All of those are definitely in my top 10.  Including these:

Gene Kelly, Spencer Tracy, Fredric March,  you don't get much better than this (this is my #1 with a bullet favorite movie) and March's breakdown here is hard to look away from.

And I couldn't do a list like this with out another favorite of mine,Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  The desperation Stewart gives off, the self-loathing outburst from Claude Rains, what a great scene.

Man, they really don't make em like they used to, huh.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Rupert Murdoch - Modern Day Citizen Kane

"Dont be afraid to make a mistake, your readers might like it." - William Randolph Hearst

The media has had world leaders and politicians by the balls since the inception of the printing press. Many credited pressure from Hearst for McKinley not opposing a war, and they credit him for McKinley's death. The term "yellow journalism" was coined just for him, meaning the use of sensational (and sometimes fictional) images and headlines to improve readership.  Today some say Murdoch is the reason Britain and the US are currently in Libya (Since he has a lot riding on BP stock). Murdoch has taken his greed and over reach of power to a whole new level, spanning continents and congressional houses, and all without any ounce of shame or remorse, because he knows he can pay off a scapegoat or pay to have evidence appear or disappear if he wishes.

Most of us know that anything said or shown on any major network has to be taken with a grain of salt, not just because of the bias passed down from whichever major conglomerate owns a specific cluster of stations or newspapers and they harbor a specific agenda (aren't there laws against monopolies?), but because of the fact that if people aren't being riled up and misinformed there is no debate and hence, no ratings. (My favorite fact checking site?

What happens when media heads rub elbows with top political figures and celebrities?  We get fed a lot of bull and can be spied on and exploited for a headline and their profit. We can be so distracted by headlines that we forget to keep an eye on behind the scenes, made so afraid that we will do whatever our leaders tell us, because a worried public is a compliant one. Hearst, Kane, Murdoch, all very much the same person, all three taken over by a zealous quest for power using fear mongering and blackmail to virtually do what ever they want, most notably, giving more privileges to the people who need them the least.

The head of Scotland Yard, London Police, the FBI, The CEO of Dow Jones and Wall Street Journal, American politicians, conglomerate CEOs, they seemingly throw any values to the wind for good spin that will profit them or push their agenda along  How does one person at the top become so self serving that they manipulate everyone and justify it to themselves and those around them under the scapegoat of  "journalism"?

Flipping through the channels - CSPAN - House of Commons.  MSNBC - Murdoch. CNN - Murdoch. BBC - Murdoch.  FOX -  . . .   crickets. Does Fox just think no one's heard or made the connection?  Do they not think they look awfully foolish for almost completely omitting a huge story (that is actually news, for a change)?  Internationally, Murdoch makes Kane look like the proud owner of a lemonade stand. He owns so many media outlets under sub-companies it's hard to even know how far reaching his stranglehold is. Take back the media has sorted it out for us. To summarize, between 1984 to 2004, we went from 50 media ownerships to just 5.

Hearst went out of his way to try to block the release of Citizen Kane.  Back then you didn't go up against moguls or shine them in a less than complimentary light.  Now, Murdoch seems untouchable with a never ending line of scapegoats.

In Citizen Kane,  there was a glimmer of remorse.  In Rupert Murdoch, there is none.

  I wonder what he had to pay Brooks to take the fall and protect the empire?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My Country, Tears of Thee

I'm going to try to do a book review once a week as I read . . A LOT.  And none of that kindle cheating stuff, real paper, ink, have-to-have-a-uhaul-just-to-move-em-all books.  I think my book collecting has reached manic levels, but honestly,  there's worse things I could be doing.

I wanted to start these not with a particular book but with a generation of writers that influenced me a lot growing up, both directly from their words and indirectly through the people they inspired like Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Hunter S Thompson. Ferlinghetti is still alive and runs City Lights bookstore in San Fran, finding him is on my near future bucket list.

This is the Beat Generation.  A great article from 1952 on the birth of the beat.

Love them or hate them, you can't deny this talented group of writers (Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg, William Burroughs, Neal Cassady) made their mark in post-WW2 America.  I grew up reading these guys and I absolutely blame Kerouac's  On The Road for my inability to stay in one place for very long, always searching for a change of pace or a place to stop moving where you don't have to question everything.

"Isn't it true that you start your life a sweet child, believing in everything under your father's roof? Then comes the day of the Laodiceans, when you know you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, and with the visage of a gruesome, grieving ghost you go shuddering through nightmare life."
- On the Road

 This group of writers from New York epitomized the last decade where you could really chase the American Dream. Anything went for these guys, and if you decide to look them up you'll notice they refused to side with anything one way or another as picking a team means limiting your freedoms.  They weren't gay or straight,   liberal or republican, working class or hobos, they were a little of everything.

 Allen Ginsburg - Writer of "Howl"


                                                                           Bill Burroughs -"Naked Lunch"

Without these men we may have never had a Bob Dylan, Hunter S Thompson, or Ken Kesey. This was the original publication and popularization of rebel art. The ultimate fighters for free speech and human rights, It helped a youth damaged and confused by war find a voice and a place in society, and showed them the status quo was fine but not the only option, and that government doesn't always know best. The ultimate libertarians, they offended mainstream America by being brazenly open about sexuality, drugs, and inner demons.  The collegiate side of America criticized them as being idiots (they were all college men and unbelievably well read), McCarthy and "the establishment" labeled them as commies (they wanted to fix the country so everyone could be free). In reality, while fighting one of the largest censorship cases in US literary history (Howl on Trial), they opened the door for a post war society blinded by materialism to be more open minded, curious, and aware.

Pity the nation whose people are sheep,
and whose shepherds mislead them.
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars, whose sages are silenced,
and whose bigots haunt the airwaves.
Pity the nation that raises not its voice,
except to praise conquerors and acclaim the bully as hero
and aims to rule the world with force and by torture.
Pity the nation that knows no other language but its own
and no other culture but its own.
Pity the nation whose breath is money
and sleeps the sleep of the too well fed.
Pity the nation — oh, pity the people who allow their rights to erode
and their freedoms to be washed away.
My country, tears of thee, sweet land of liberty.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Does Hollywood mirror society?

For all intensive purposes in this blog I look at cinema and pop culture as a window into what was going on around the country in the years between WW1 and the Vietnam War.   While I understand the movies were dramatized, actors' images were completely fabricated and then protected by the studios, and that especially after censorship things were released to the public a little differently, I wonder if it's any kind of mirror at all.  I look at today's media and see it as all out of touch and virtually uninterested in anything happening around the US, or the world. But reading the history of the a-listers from that era, I really can't find a modern day version for most of them.  Who is the Charlie Chaplin of today?  The Cecil B Demille?  Not to say there aren't any creative forces, serious philanthropists, or risk takers,  but who is going to be this generation's legacy 50 or 100 years from now? What masterpieces will they be showing from my generation?

The difference that strikes me most is the way they spoke.  Scripts from then were eloquently worded, historically aware, and to me the subtlety of innuendo and low brow humor was more effective than coming right out with sex, drugs, and cheap shots like we do now.  I wonder if it's because we're too stupid to get the joke now?  Are we better off now that we can show nudity, cuss, and show couples sleeping in the same bed, or has it stifled us to the point where that's all we know how to do anymore to get an audience reaction?

Another difference is the things they pulled off with what they had. Are we also better off that the whole process in film making is so much easier on the creators?  Like special effects, they couldnt just click a button or search youtube for a sound effect in the 40's. They had to be creative.  They couldnt go in and CGI the background later if something wasnt lit properly or looked out of focus or needed an impressive background.  Are the people making movies today equal in talent and creativity?  Or have they lost a little of the wonder by having so many things done for them by computers?

While I believe the studio/mogul system was as dirty as any major corporation today, I can't decide which system was better.  We've had some independent  masterpieces that wouldn't have ever been made in the old system, but the lengths the studios went to preserve the reputations and quality of their stars seemed to make them more worthy of being role models than the stars today.  When society isn't being constantly fed filth, it seems we are less filthy..  I realize it was all built up, hey, thats Hollywood. But would any major star from today have had a snowball's chance in hell to make it big then?

Elvis? Im a Beatles Person - Thats Alright, Mama

Today is the anniversary of Elvis' first release on Sun Records. The "That's Alright (Mama) / Blue Moon of Kentucky" split was released in 1954 when Elvis was 19 in Memphis, TN.  While I won't deny he changed the face of rock n roll and was extremely talented, I have a friend that's always said "Theres two types of people in this world, Elvis fans and Beatles fans". So, if I have to choose, I'll take the Fab 4. They covered this song almost 10 years later in 1963...

What a lot of folks don't know is that Elvis' version was also a cover, originally recorded by late great delta blues man Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup in 1946.

Crudup, among other bluesmen at the time, had several songs redone by Elvis, Pat Boone, and many others, as society at the time didn't want whitey being "corrupted" by African American artists. An unfortunate side effect of this is these bluesmen didn't see much in the way of royalties even though their own labels like Ace Records profited from passing their music on to Sun and other labels to be redone for the white demographic. A lot of the blues artists simply stopped recording by the end of the 50's, bitter from having their profits given to cover artists and often not even receiving writing credits.

I'll take the Beatles over Elvis, but I'll take the Delta Blues over the Beatles, any day.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Ziegfeld Follies Premiere in NYC 1907

In July of 1907, Florenz Ziegfeld opened the doors to the first public showing of his Follies of 1907 in the rooftop garden of the New York Theatre. The shows were known for their elaborate costumes, beautiful chorus girls, and variety acts that helped catapult many stage actors into super stardom from the beginning through the late 1930s. Grace LaRue, Emma Carus, Harry Watson, Helen Broderick and The Anna Held Girls were some of the original players.

A little about "Follies of 1907" from Ziegfeld 101 by John Kenrick:
Subtitled "Just One of Those Things in Thirteen Acts," this $13,000 rooftop production was meant for a limited summer run. Although Ziegfeld conceived and mounted the show, the actual producers were Klaw and Erlanger, who paid Ziegfeld $200 a week for his "managerial" services. The script involved Capt. John Smith and Pocohontas traveling through time to visit the sights and celebrities of modern New York City. Skits gently spoofed current figures (Teddy Roosevelt, Victor Herbert, etc.) and the score included such forgettable songs as "In the Surf," "The Ju-Jitsu Waltz" and "I Oughtn't to Auto Any More." Almost every scene provided excuses to showcase pretty chorines in handsome but revealing costumes. At one point, Ziegfeld marched his girls into the aisles banging on drums, allowing patrons a close look at their charms. After the initial run, this production moved to Broadway's Lyric Theatre for two additional weeks, toured for two months, had a week long return run at the Grand Opera House on West 23rd Street, then spent a final month in Philadelphia.  This success was extraordinary for what was meant to be a summer rooftop diversion.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

James Cagney's Birthday Today - July 17, 1899

Whaddya say?  Whaddya know? James Cagney, marginalized by Hollywood as a gangster and tough guy, was actually a triple threat that got his start in Vaudville in the early 1920's and was part of the first generation of talking films and mega-stars. 

When I was a little kid I was absolutely terrified of Cagney.  I'd only seen roles like White Heat, Smart Money, and The Public Enemy, where he played the tough, womanizing, terrifying gangster so well I thought he really was in the mob until I was a teenager. I didn't see the Seven Little Foys until after high school but that's the movie that I fell head over heels for the man.

 From his first role in drag in 1919 :

to his final role in Ragtime in 1981, Cagney never failed to deliver. Nominated 3 times for the Academy Award for Best Actor in a musical, mob movie, and light comedy,  Cagney truly was one of the greats.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Hollywood and Remakes

Dear Hollywood,  why all the horrible, horrible remakes?  I guess you did okay withTrue Grit,  But ArthurWar Games? All these Exorcist rips?  Clinging to the National Lampoon brand? Scary Movie 28? Who funds these flaming piles? Why, if you arent original enough to come up with something on your own,  don't you at least remake movies that have socially redeeming qualities?  Kids right now are deprived of anything with any educational value, they don't even read in school anymore.  So why not remake movies that actually make you think, instead of all this brain numbing fluff with hack actors (Paris Hilton, im talking to you, House of Wax Blasphemy). 

If I ever come into money i will personally fund a remake of Catch 22.  A great novel, but not so great a movie.  Its a massive book and they did an okay job w/ Garfunkel and Norman Bates (I always forget his real name) but SO MUCH was left out, I think a condensed but more engrossing version could be done.

Or what about Fahrenheit1984? Grapes of WrathAnimal FarmBrave New World?  I bet anyone that happens to read this thats under 20 years old won't even know what i'm talking about. Its so strange to me that in the decade since i've been in high school the quality of education has plummeted . . . I'll save that debate for another blog...

Maybe if kids could see some of these classics we wouldnt be on the trajectory to utter failure like we are now. I'd bet money that if one of these tax-payer-funded studies were done on kids raised on reality TV and Jonas Brothers movies versus kids that had been exposed to literary masterpieces the differences would be night and day.  Todays films, excluding only a few, seem to feed our apathy and cut off our curiosity, our search for knowledge, and the natural cynicism that used to be in all of us.  Not to go Jesse Ventura on anybody but it's really getting easier, since the same corporations that run the government also run the FCC, Motion Picture Board, and Hollywood in general, to think they are dumbing us down on purpose.

My favorite quotes from the book, about how the war is not meant to be won but is used against the people to keep them in line...  I was talking to a kid about politics on the light rail the other day and just made the remark "its getting more like it was in 1984 every day",  he goes "oh, i wasnt born yet".  ARGH.

Or even the politically charged movies that might not make it on Fahrenheits burn list, 12 angry men, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,Inherit the Wind, Citizen KaneDefiant Ones ... theres too many to list but what happened to those kinds of movies? Now it's all love stories, based on teenagers, blowing crap up, and fart jokes. Would it just take more talent than we have available to touch any of these?

I need a time machine.  I was born too late.