Friday, July 24, 2009

Hamateur Night: Major Bowes parody

Hamateur Night is a hilarious 1939 cartoon directed by Tex Avery. Yes, doing the math, it's from 70 years ago...on radio there was a program known as the Major Bowes Amateur Hour. On the show amateur's would be heard singing or telling jokes...or playing a piano. It's been considered the great-grandfather of all amateur talent programs to follow in it's path. Bowes often struck a gong if he didn't like a performance...shades of The Gong Show of a later generation. Also heard was a bell, almost like the one's heard during boxing matches. If the amateur wasn't too well received then the bell would strike.

The radio show ran for many years, beginning locally in 1934 and going national in 1935, on NBC radio. The program moved to CBS radio in 1936 and remained there until 1945. Bowes died in 1946...his side-kick/talent scout, Ted Mack, brought the show back in 1948 and hosted the slightly re-named Original Amateur Hour until 1952. The program was in production off and on throughout the 1950's on television. In 1960 it went back to CBS and remained on the air until 1970...some say that the program ended production before CBS could cancel it officially. At the time, CBS was ridding it's network of top-rated program that attracted older and rural audiences in favor of the big city/urban audiences topical comedies could bring in.

By 1972 CBS had removed such big ratings winners as "Petticoat Junction", "The Beverly Hillbillies", "Green Acres", "Hee-Haw", "Lawrence Welk", "The Red Skelton Show", "The Ed Sullivan Show", "Gomer Pyle, USMC" just to name a few and replaced those programs in the prime-time line-up with the likes of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show", "All in the Family", "M*AS*H", "The Bob Newhart Show", "The Waltons", "Maude", and others. In reality, a few of those shows had left the CBS network in 1970 and 1971...but the fact that so many of the programs were gone by 1972 shows how intent the network was at reaching a different audience.

In the above cartoon, spoofing Major Bowes' radio program, we see a display of amateur's who all get their comeuppance. There are plenty of topical jokes. The first act introduced is a parody of Stokowski, a musical conductor. In the cartoon he's referred to as Maestro Can-o'-Whiskey. A recurring joke is the Egghead character appearing in between acts singing a brief refrain of "She'll Be Comin' Around the Mountain", always being yanked off stage by several hooks. A lot of the animals were also featured in other Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons. The rooster and Katherine Hepburn chicken, spoofing Romeo and Juliet, were seen in the cartoon, Daffy Duck in Hollywood. There is a recurring scene with a hippo character...he, too, was shown in a couple of other cartoons...specifically She Was An Acrobat's Daughter. In this Hamateur Night cartoon, the hippo has a very peculiar sense of humor and infectious laugh. Tex Avery voiced the character...he also used this voice in a cartoon short called The Bears Tale. The laugh is, this laugh will feature in toward the end of the on the look-out for it.

The cartoon ends with the host going by each amateur and through a series of boo's we're let in on the fact that the audience doesn't like any of the acts...until the host reaches Egghead. When he's singled out last the audience goes wild...much to the shock of the host. The camera shows the audience and we then understand why Egghead's simple rendition of "She'll Be Comin' Around the Mountain" is so well loved.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Looney Tunes: Spotlight Collection, Vol. Five

This collection of hilarity features 30 cartoons. From the start, The Spotlight Collection was always meant to be a cheaper collection of cartoons derived from the more exhaustive Golden Collection sets. By cheap, I mean dollars and cents...not quality of the packaging.

The Spotlight Collection would feature 30 cartoons, 15 on 2 DVD's, culled from the latest installment of The Golden Collection, which in turn would feature 4 DVD's altogether. So, The Spotlight Collection was simply a much shorter collection of cartoons at a more smaller price.

In Volume Five of The Spotlight Collection we have 30 cartoons that also appear on The Golden Collection, Volume Five. DVD #2 is dedicated to the fairy tale parodies...and there were plenty. The funny thing is...there are various cartoons on DVD #2 that tell the same story but each and every cartoon is hilarious due to the writing and characters involved. In "The Bears Tale" from 1940 we see the telling of The Three Bears but with a twist. Tex Avery is the the cartoon we see the blending of two fairy tales. The Three Bears and Little Red Riding Hood...the connection being the wolf who decides to exit Grandma's house and flee to The Three Bears place to attack Goldilocks instead. It's very funny...particularly the characterizations...Papa Bear's laugh is infectious. Robert Bruce narrates.

There are three parodies of Little Red Riding Hood back to back to back...but they're are so cleverly written that you don't mind the same story. In "Red Riding Hoodwinked" we see the goings-on between Tweety, Sylvester, a Wolf, Red Riding Hood, and Granny. In this parody, Sylvester and the Wolf are in the pursuit of Tweety and Red respectively. Granny falls into the scene as she's the "Grandmother" in the fairy tale. Her line, "Pow...right in the kisser!", is lifted from The Honeymooners. "Red Riding Hoodwinked" was released in 1955. In "Little Red Walking Hood", directed by Tex Avery, we're treated to a Katherine Hepburn version of the fairy tale character who uses typical reaction to almost everything that we know is suppose to happen in the story...the Grandmother is portrayed as a kind of loose cannon, hip to the scene. "Little Red Rodent Hood" is the third cartoon to spoof the Red Riding Hood fairy tale.

"Goldimouse and the Three Cats", from Friz Freleng, is easily one of the stand-outs on DVD #2 among many others. This parody of the Three Bears features three cats and a female mouse with flowing blond hair. The cats, headed up by Sylvester and his son, Sylvester Jr, plus a mama cat...make up the cat family who eat porridge, just like in the Three Bears. Before you all can ask: "what are cat's doing eating porridge?" Sylvester Jr wonders the same thing. Throughout the cartoon Sylvester tries his best to capture Goldimouse. She's voiced by June Foray, who also narrates the cartoon. "Bewitched Bunny" kicks off DVD #2. It's a Chuck Jones cartoon about Bugs Bunny encountering Witch Hazel who's plotting to cook Hansel and Gretel. A running joke is the pronunciation of the boy's name. "Hansel?", "Honsul?", "Han-so". After freeing the kids, Witch Hazel has ideas of having Bugs for dinner.

"Foney Fables", from Friz Freleng, is a grouping of fairy tale spoofs in one cartoon. Narrator Robert Bruce explains things as we see illustrations of Tom Thumb, the nursery rhyme about the piggie's that go off to the market, the boy who cried wolf, and others.

In DVD #1 we have traditional Warner Brothers cartoons. The kick-off cartoon is "14 Carrot Rabbit". In it, Yosemite Sam is a gold miner who doesn't have much luck. All of the sudden Bugs comes along with a huge gold boulder...having it weighed. All that he wants as a payment is a supply of carrots. Sam gets the idea to stalk and befriend seems Bugs has this "feeling" that comes over him whenever gold is in the area. The ending of the cartoon is hilarious as well. Friz Freleng directed he directed most, if not all, the cartoons with Yosemite Sam.

"The Stupor Salesman" tells the story of Daffy Duck as a door-to-door salesman. The joke is that Daffy's at the hide-out of a crook who doesn't want any interruptions. Daffy, being a salesman, won't back off no matter how much torment and torture the crook puts him through. Finally, in the climax of the cartoon, Daffy discovers something that the guy needs since throughout the cartoon he kept telling Daffy to scram or get lost. In "Buccaneer Bunny" we see another classic Bugs Bunny-Yosemite Sam team-up. In this one, Sam is a pirate and Bugs happens to be on a beach where Sam wants to bury his treasure. Since Bugs claims the area to be his home and Sam stubborn and won't bury the chest elsewhere, a battle of wits ensues on and off the pirate ship. This cartoon includes the famous cannon scene where Sam repeatedly gets shot in the face by a cannon.

"Bugs' Bonnets" is a surreal cartoon...a truck hauling hats hits a bump in the road and the back door becomes unlatched and the woods are littered with hats. Bugs and Elmer Fudd proceed to take on various personalities as hat's pop on and off of their heads. "Ali Baba Bunny", directed by Chuck Jones, has Bugs and Daffy on the run from an Arabian guard named Hassan...Daffy had discovered a hidden treasure after he and Bugs dug their way under a cave and come up on the inside. Meanwhile, Hassan has forgot the password. He finally discovers the password and goes running in after the trespassers. Throughout the cartoon we see a character study of opposites. Daffy wants to claim all the gold for himself while Bugs has no desire for it. Daffy's antics get him into trouble...always causing him to turn to Bugs for a way out of the mess. Bugs dresses up like a genie in one memorable scene. Later, Daffy discovers a lamp and rubs it. A genie pops out and a miserly Daffy will have no more threats to his wealth and he literally stomps the genie back into the lamp. This causes severe consequences, though.

Friz Freleng directs "A Star Is Bored" which pits Bugs against Daffy in a movie setting. Daffy wants to be a big star like Bugs and when he thinks he's finally gotten his big break he soon regrets it. Yosemite Sam and Elmer Fudd make cameo appearances. Daffy plays Bugs' stand-in...inserted into any scene that is potentially dangerous for Bugs to carry out. A running gag is Daffy's demand of "MAKE-UP!!" after every explosion and every scene. "Hollywood Daffy" has Daffy trying to get into the Warner Brothers lot. In the cartoon it's referred to as 'Warmer Brothers'. In most cartoons that spoof their own studio, it's referred to as Warmer Brothers. In "Hollywood Daffy" we see an over-zealous guard with a Joe Besser-like voice preventing Daffy from entering. By cartoon's end, Daffy insists that he isn't leaving until he see's some stars and the guard relents and affords him the ability to see star's.

"Stupor Duck", a cartoon from Robert McKimson, has Daffy spoofing Superman, of course. In the cartoon he's on the look-out for a villain, Aardvark Ratnik, but the villain is from a crime drama...Stupor Duck, in his secret identity of Cluck Trent, misunderstands while eavesdropping and he spends the episode on the hunt for this villain. Mel Blanc voices Daffy and Daws Butler voices the Editor and the narrator at the start of the cartoon. Porky Pig makes an appearance in "Paying the Piper". He plays a pied piper in charge of ridding a town of rats. He seems to have succeeded at the start of the cartoon until things go awry. The supreme ruler of the cats has other idea's and the fight ensues as the cat dresses up as a big rat...this causes the local mayor to angrily take away the sack of money he had given Porky for ridding the town of ALL rats. The cat's of course want the rats to stay because they chase after them for food. A battle of wits ensues...Porky ends up winning by cartoon's end. Mel does his famous "stuck-up" characterization for the Mayor while the supreme cat carries a thick New York accent. Robert McKimson directed the cartoon.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Walter Cronkite: 1916-2009

I assume by now the country has learned of the death of journalist/news anchor Walter Cronkite. I grew up in the era of Dan Rather hosting the CBS Evening News and so I do not personally recall when Cronkite was the anchor but I knew of him through his appearances on television programs and his distinctive voice isn't to be forgotten if you've heard it. I've been watching the coverage of the various tributes to Cronkite and those who are hard-core fans/appreciators of Cronkite will get the irony in this situation that's unfolded. He was known to not be very happy about 24/7 news channels, cable news specifically...because in his opinion he felt all-news networks politicized the coverage and those who watched cable news were watching because of the viewpoints of broadcasters and talk-show hosts about what's happening, and that they weren't watching to find out the in's and out's and facts of what's happening.

So, I find it very ironic that the 24/7 cable news stations that he often spoke out against are the very same outlets who are airing tributes to him even as I write this blog entry. I clicked over to CBS and they're airing their usual line-up of salute, no tribute, no fanfare. If anything demonstrates just how times have changed, the cable news channels of CNN and MSNBC are interviewing cable news anchors and personalities: the likes of Brian Williams, Sam Donaldson, Bob Schieffer, Morley Safer, Don Hewitt, Tom Brokaw, and several radio broadcasters have given their thoughts of Cronkite. Of course, watching cable news the last several hours I could have missed a CBS news-break or something but I just find it bizarre that, as far as I know, they hadn't said anything on their broadcast network. Perhaps the early morning newscasts will offer some commentary about the broadcaster who brought the network millions of viewers? If they don't, well, that's the way it is...

Anyway, it just seemed ironic that a lot of Cronkite's admirers in the news business shared their thoughts of him via the 24/7 cable news channels instead of on CBS...and I could be wrong but it appears as if CBS didn't want to interrupt their programming with any lengthy salute or tribute. Even more ironic is Cronkite passes away a few days before the 40th anniversary of the Moon landing of Apollo-11...and Cronkite is considered the face and voice of NASA's man on the moon coverage in 1969. It's his broadcast that typically gets singled out and re-played. July 16, 1969 was the launch and July 20, 1969 was the day of the moon landing. Just wrapping up on Fox News Channel was an hour long program about the Apollo-11 moon landing. It was a taped program...I assume contracts prevented the network from postponing the air-date. After it was over, a live transmission aired featuring a 5 minute look at Cronkite...but then it went into regularly scheduled programming of The O'Reilly Factor, a repeat from earlier in the evening.

Walter Cronkite was a radio correspondent/journalist during World War Two...and he joined CBS in 1950 and did a multitude of reports and stories. He hosted a series called You Are There for a total of four years, 1953-1957. Afterward he became the host of The Twentieth Century, a documentary program, which ran nine years, 1957-1966. Afterward, it was replaced by The Twenty-First Century, again hosted/narrated by Cronkite. This version remained on the air through 1970.

Eight years earlier, though, in 1962, he became the anchor of the CBS Evening News. It was in this position that he relayed and broadcast all of the events that took place in American and world history from 1962 through 1981. Dan Rather took over the anchor position and became a fixture in that position for decades, too. Cronkite continued to appear in news stories and remained a face/voice in news and current affairs programming. He lent his voice to a variety of projects...becoming the narrator/host on a 4-part series called Dinosaur for the A&E Network in 1996.

In his later years he became more known for his appearances on, and his narrations of, a wide variety of documentary programs ranging from sports to science to all points in American and world history. He often narrated documentaries on PBS. He hosted and or narrated several programs of that vein in this millennium. For those who think Cronkite slipped into obscurity and never did much after the 1980s you'll be in for a treat when you browse his credits at the Internet Movie Data Base.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Beany and Cecil, Volume Two DVD

There is going to be a new DVD collection coming along this fall. The release of "Beany and Cecil, Volume Two" will happen on September 8th. This comes on the heels of a DVD collection from nearly 10 years ago.

Photobucket In the early part of this decade there was a DVD released called "Beany and Cecil: The Special Edition" which consisted of a wide variety of Bob Clampett programs. Of course, 90% of the material was Beany and Cecil related...but a lot of the extra's dealt with other projects. In the previous collection the DVD consisted of 4 episodes of the live-action puppet show, Time For Beany, which ran for six years, 1949-1955. The puppet show ran locally, 1949-1950, but then started airing nationally later in 1950. The first volume DVD featured quite a few of the episodes of the animated version, simply called Beany and Cecil. In the animated version, the voice actors were slightly different than what viewers of the puppet show heard. In the puppet version, Daws Butler and Stan Freberg voiced the characters. In the animated version, which ran for one season of first-run episodes, but aired in reruns on the network for four more years, the voice actors for the animated version were Jim MacGeorge and Irv Shoemaker.

The cartoons usually had a sing-a-long/rhyme segment which lead up to the two characters singing together "...a Bob Clampett Cartoon" prior to the start of each episode. Beany's voice in the animated series lacked the cuteness, I think, that Daws Butler gave the character in the puppet version. The boy's voice in the cartoon is nothing like Butler's while Cecil and the villain, Dishonest John, sound somewhat close to the way Stan Freberg did the characters in the puppet version. Captain Huffenpuff, Beany's uncle, was the fourth major character. Daws voiced the puppet version while Jim MacGeorge voiced the animated version.

Much of the program's charm was the dialogue between all the characters...when the cartoon version began a lot of the charm lay in the pun's that Clampett was noted for. In one episode there was a reference to Dinah Shore as "Dina Saur" {Dinosaur, get it?}.

If you can't open that link, copy and paste it in your search box, click enter, and see if a link to the site comes up. If not, try Googling CartoonBrew and navigate their site until you come across the Beany and Cecil photo album. They have a fabulous pictorial up of both Stan Freberg and Daws Butler performing on the 1949-1955 puppet show. There's 10 pages of black and white pictures of the two! I saved quite a few of them.

In closing...

There were 26 half-hour productions that started to air in 1962. There were 78 segments...which means there were something like 3 segments per episode, of varying length, if my math is correct which it usually never is. So, these 78 segments/26 episodes aired consistently in reruns until 1967. The show remained in syndication on into the 1970's but eventually it left the airwaves. The cartoon and the puppet show have a cult following today and the DVD releases have been sparse. The first release that I wrote of earlier, "Beany and Cecil: The Special Edition", was the first DVD release of it's kind to focus on these characters with any degree of respect. Fast-forward a decade later, 2009, and we're about to have a second volume released to us. "Beany and Cecil, Volume Two"...


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Tom and Jerry: Chuck Jones Collection

The Chuck Jones version of Tom and Jerry typically gets a bad wrap because of the different approaches to the characters. In addition to the physical differences from classic cartoons and the Chuck Jones version of the characters we also have the characters making more verbal noises than before. Tom was famous for doing that loud howling scream on occasion and Jerry sometimes would let out with a giggle at Tom's expense or utter a nervous laugh, or gulp, if he felt he was about to be pounced on by Tom. In this version, though, we hear a lot more gasps and yelps and whimpering...mostly from Tom but some from Jerry. We don't have that howl that Tom was noted for.

There are a couple of extra's on the DVD. There is a documentary called "Chuck Jones: Memories of a Childhood" and a featurette called "Tom and Jerry...and Chuck." I had not watched the documentary yet but I did watch the featurette and it's narrated by June Foray. It's about Chuck Jones and the last years at Warner Brothers and the time he spent at MGM doing the Tom and Jerry cartoons. The profile doesn't shy away from Chuck's personal feelings about limited animation but that's come to be expected. I happen to appreciate both styles. In one style you get full animation where you can see facial expressions and body movements and there might not even be any dialogue but you can tell what's happening from looking at the sequence and in the other you get emphasis on the vocals where you didn't necessarily understand what the characters were feeling if you turned the sound off.

As I've touched upon in other blog entries, Chuck is credited with coining the phrase "illustrated radio" to describe the style of animation Hanna-Barbera pioneered on TV. The series of episodes that Chuck did at MGM often pop up on Boomerang or Cartoon Network...mainly Boomerang. Some critics have said that Chuck took away the violence...I can see where the critics come to that conclusion but it had it's share of the good ol' cat and mouse chase where Tom hits Jerry with a fly swatter and Jerry's flattened on the floor...there's all kinds of sight-gag's and eye wiggles and gestures but because they were designed different and really weren't given a chance, the series usually leaves a bad taste in some viewer's and critics mouths. There's also a myth/rumor that some fans out there deliberately dismiss the Chuck Jones Tom and Jerry cartoons because of comments made by Chuck in later interviews that he didn't enjoy doing the series and found the 'cat and mouse' formula tiresome.

In the featurette it's pointed out that Chuck never liked to talk about the Tom and Jerry days in his later interviews and didn't like to bring the series up and as a result of this, I feel, younger animators who've looked up to Chuck automatically reject the series based solely on what Chuck's opinions were. I do come across web-sites out there that deal in cartoons and animation and most of the people/fans who cite Chuck Jones as their main director/animator from Warner Brothers tend to carry the same sentiments Chuck held. I don't know if they genuinely feel the way Chuck did about animation and all of that or if they're just going along with their hero. It's tough to tell...but I can tell you that this series is nowhere near as awful and terrible as critics and Chuck himself write it off to be.

There is no episode list on the DVD have to insert the DVD in your player and then look up the episodes from the main menu. It's a nuisance having to do that. They do list the extra features on the back of the DVD. There were only 34 theatrical shorts made of the characters under Chuck Jones...and all 34 of them are presented on two DVD's. All of the characteristics Chuck brought to the Looney Tunes characters are on full display in his version of Tom and Jerry. Chuck wanted to evoke life, which is at the heart of animation, into the characters he worked on and he succeeded.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Casey Kasem: 39 years of countdowns

Casey Kasem began his weekly music countdown program on July 4, 1970. American Top-40 became one of the highest rated syndicated programs on fact, it became the highest rated. Casey and his associates also created the American Country Countdown which featured the same formula as the pop/rock counterpart. The idea of the show was to spotlight the hit singles of the previous week from #40 to #1. The countdown began at #40 and there would usually be 8 or 9 songs within an hour's time frame when you factor in song length and commercial breaks. A 40 song countdown would run at least 4 hours because of this pattern.

American Top-40 had it's share of features, too. There was the long-distance dedication which listeners would write the countdown letter's, usually of the Dear Abby variety of a former lover wanting to send a song to someone in their past; Casey always opened the segment saying "Dear Casey..." and he read the requests, using vocal dramatics at times if the letter was sad or depressing. If the dedication was read over the airwaves Casey would play the requested song. Another feature of the show as the countdown got closer to the Top-10 or to #1 was the recurring practice of the "AT40 extra" which was a song that had been a hit in the past by an artist still on the chart, typically preceding or following the current hit by the artist. Another feature was the radio station credit where Casey would name off some of the radio stations that aired the countdown. In the internet age, this feature was expanded to something like: "AT40 is heard from coast to coast and around the world on great radio stations like..." and he'd start naming off the stations. Once the countdown had reached the #2 spot, after the runner-up song was over, Casey would tease the listeners by saying something like "before we see who's #1 this week, let's hear the song that was #1 five years ago...". Also, Casey would name off the #1 songs on the other weekly charts, too, once the countdown grew closer to #1.

Casey remained the host of American Top-40 for 18 years, 1970-1988. In this time he had become a TV star as well. His weekly syndicated program, America's Top-10, would countdown the Top-10 singles of the week in a variety of music formats and play music video's, which was something new at the time. The series was in production for over 10 years. It was a half-hour show.

Casey was also a prominent voice actor for Hanna-Barbera. He gave voice to three popular cartoon characters: Robin on the various Superfriends cartoons of the '70s and '80s; Casey, in fact, voiced Robin in the late '60s cartoon series of The Adventures of Batman. Casey became the voice of Shaggy on countless Scooby-Doo projects. Lastly, Casey gave voice to Alexander Cabbot in Josie and the Pussycats. Casey, as far as I know, isn't putting an end to his voice-over career...just the countdown program.

After Casey left AT40, as it's commonly referred to, he created Casey's Top-40 which competed with AT40. Casey's program was using the chart data from Radio and Records. The AT40 data was supplied by Billboard magazine. Casey also started two more countdown programs: Casey's Countdown which counted down the Top-20 Adult-Contemporary songs of the week and Casey's Hot 20 which counted down the Top-20 Hot Adult-Contemporary songs of the week. The countdown's were 3 hours in length...a lot of features and extra songs were played to fill out a countdown that would actually be 2 hours since each show counted down 20 songs.

AT40 was taken over by Shadoe Stevens...he hosted the program from 1989 until 1995. Casey's countdown shows were higher rated than the program he had hosted for 18 years and so AT40 ended in 1995 after a 25 year run. In the meantime, Casey had put an end to his syndicated TV series. On Nick-at-Nite he became famous for the annual New Year's Eve program, The Rerun Countdown. On this show he counted down the top 25 reruns of the year determined by viewers. He presided over this program for 9 years and it kicked off at noon on New Year's Eve and because the TV shows were half an hour in length, the program ran for 12 and a half hours. The #1 rerun of the year was announced around midnight and the airing of the #1 rerun brought in the new year...the show would wrap up typically around 12:30am New Year's Day. I was a child of the '80s and a teenager in the '90s and I was hooked on Nick-at-Nite and loved watching the older TV shows and so on New Year's Eve, for me anyway, it was watching Casey's rerun countdown. Casey was no stranger to marathon's, though. He has appeared for years on the annual Jerry Lewis MDA telethon as one of the recurring co-hosts and he often provides voice-over's for a lot of the video footage that gets spotlighted.

In 1998 AT40 was re-launched and Casey was back as the host. His two other countdown programs were re-titled American Top-20 and American Top-10. The Top-10 show was a revamped edition of the Hot Adult-Contemporary Top-20 countdown, previously known as Casey's Hot 20. The AT10 show ran 2 hours. The AT20 show ran 3 hours as usual, counting down the Adult-Contemporary songs.

In 2004, Casey stepped down as host of AT40...replaced by Ryan Seacrest. Casey continued to host his other two countdown programs. A syndicated series called AT40 Flashback started airing on satellite radio in 2006 and then the show started airing on mainstream Top-40 radio stations in 2007. The program is 3 hours and it presents a vintage Top-40 episode from the '70s or the '80s. The reason it isn't 4 hours is because a lot of the original commercials are edited out. In some broadcasts of the Flashback show you'll hear Casey lead up to a commercial but then the program resumes after a brief second or two of silence. This makes the show seem to move along quicker when you cut out the commercials and station identifications. Although Casey does provide station ID's for the stations airing the Flashback show. He typically says: "you found it, AT40 Flashback..." and he names the radio station.

The weekend of July 4, 2009 proved to be a shocker...Casey, without prior warning, announced that it would be his final time counting down the songs...bringing a close to an exact run of 39 years of counting down the hits. I assume the secrecy was because he didn't want a big fuss or farewell made because he's still going to be busy with other projects and it isn't like he's retiring from working. I'm sure he'll still be providing the voice of Shaggy in whatever new Scooby-Doo program that comes along, though. In a statement he commented that he wanted to focus on a myriad of other projects but he said he loved every minute of doing the countdown program's.

Are You Being Served...anything Happens at Grace Brothers...

A fictional department store in London, Grace Brothers, held shop for 12 years of hilarious comedy. In British television, they do what is called a 'series'. A series can consist of any number of episodes in a calendar year. In America we're used to the 'season' method where there's a set amount of episodes taped each TV season. But what is this British comedy I'm writing about? It's none other than Are You Being Served?

I have known of the program for almost 20 years. I used to watch it on the local PBS station. It would air every night at 11pm...followed by another episode at 11:30. The program became popular in America...a cult favorite almost...through the re-runs of the episodes from the '70s and early '80s. A few of the stars from the show came to America several times in the 1990's to participate in various PBS fundraisers. It's continued popularity in both England and America led to Grace and Favour. In America, the show was called Are You Being Served...Again!.

In England, Are You Being Served? had 10 series in 12 calendar years...non-consecutive calendar years. The thing about British programming is a show could leave the air for a year or two but return with a new 'series' of episodes which is what happened with this show.

The pilot of the show aired in the fall of 1972. The first series began in the spring of 1973 and it consisted of 5 episodes...airing during the months of March and April. New episodes wouldn't surface until the spring of 1974, the show's second series which consisted of 5 episodes. So, 10 episodes aired in an American TV season's time, 1973-1974, but in England this was the show's second series.

Series three, 1975, contained 8 date the most episodes produced...bringing the overall total to 18. In December the show put out it's first Christmas special, an episode called "Christmas Crackers". These special episodes were generally not part of the episode package that PBS stations aired. Series four consists of 6 episodes, which brings the show's total to 24 episodes {not counting the Christmas special and the pilot}. In December 1976, the month I was born, they produced their second holiday special, "The Father Christmas Affair".

Series five in 1977 contained 7 episodes. This was the final batch of shows with Arthur Brough, the actor who had played the senior salesman, Mr Grainger, since the pilot. In series six in 1978, just 5 episodes were produced, bringing the grand total of episodes up to 36. In December the cast participated in the third holiday special, "Happy Returns". Series seven featured 7 episodes in 1979...bringing the show's total to 43 episodes. In December the fourth holiday special aired, "The Punch and Judy Affair".

There were no episodes produced in 1980. Trevor Bannister didn't return to the series when it started up again with series eight in 1981. His role was filled by Mike Berry, playing Mr Spooner.

Series eight, by the way, contained 8 episodes. On the fifth episode we're introduced to Mr Klein, the replacement for Mr Grossman. As you can see, Grossman only lasted four episodes. A Christmas special aired in December 1981 that to this day is one of the more sought-after. It's called "Roots?" and it's a very surreal episode. The staff wants to trace the roots of the Grace Brothers and throughout the episode we're treated to one mini song and dance act after the other as the staff rehearse various styles of songs ranging from the Scottish to the Irish and all other nationalities. The climax results in the entire staff dressing up in black face for a rousing finale as both Young and Old Mr Grace are in attendance. It would be Harold Bennett's final appearance.

There were no episodes produced in series nine started in 1983 and it contained 6 episodes. No new episodes aired in 1984. When the show returned in 1985 for series ten, there were 7 episodes produced. The final episode is memorable in that it spoofs pop music with Mr Spooner and the staff emulating the pop music scene of the day. Spooner appears on a London talk-show in full pop music attire while members of the staff act as his backing band singing the song "Chanson D'amour".

The show, in a nut-shell, was an enormous hit. It created a few catch-phrases such as "are you free?", "glass of water for Mr Grainger", the Mr Humphries line: "I'm free!" plus the Mrs Slocombe line: "I am unanimous in that!". The show's star changed, it seemed, each successive year it was on the air. Here's a more detailed look at the main cast...

Trevor Bannister was written as the star early on. His Mr Lucas character was a focal point in a lot of the episodes. Not to be out-served was John Inman, playing the hugely popular Mr Humphries. John would become the star as the show continued on into the late '70s. Frank Thornton portrayed floor walker, Captain Peacock, who shared star status. He was portrayed as snooty. He wore a red carnation, which sometimes would become a source of comedy. Mollie Sugden was on hand as senior sales woman Mrs Slocombe. She also shared star status and would often gossip with Miss Brahms and talk about her cat's adventures. The word she used for cat was a bit R-rated and each time she said the word the audience would howl with laughter. Double entendre's were a big part of the shows.

Wendy Richard portrayed junior sales woman Miss Brahms. Right after Are You Being Served? ended in 1985, she took on the role of Pauline Fowler in the BBC soap opera, EastEnders and played the role until 2006. Arthur Brough portrayed senior salesman Mr Grainger. Nicholas Smith played the role of department manager, Mr Rumbold. Harold Bennett played Young Mr Grace who had a knack for falling asleep but could be woken up if any of his secretaries or his nurse bent over. These characters would define the show in the early episodes and shape the way a lot of the scripts were written.

The main characters: Miss Brahms, Mr Lucas, Mr Humphries, Captain Peacock, Mrs Slocombe, and Mr Grainger.

Eventually the death of Arthur Brough caused cast changes. James Hayter was brought in as Mr Tebbs for one series. He was replaced by Alfie Bass in the role of Mr Goldberg. Alfie remained as a cast member until 1979. He didn't return in 1981 when the show resumed production. Milo Sperber was brought aboard to play Mr Grossman, for as it turned out, four episodes. Old Mr Grace took over running the store in 1981, portrayed by Kenneth Waller. Young Mr Grace gives his brother a small tour of the office before making his exit.

Secondary characters included the janitors: Mr Mash at first...but then he was replaced by Mr Harmon. Miss Belfridge was Mr Rumbold's secretary who flirted with Captain Peacock. Young Mr Grace, as well as his brother in later episodes, Old Mr Grace, had a series of nurses who would often show up. Young Mr Grace often wore a medical contraption around his neck and anytime he got excited {almost everytime he saw one of them bend over to pick up something from the floor} the buzzer would sound off. The clueless nurse on duty would always wonder what got him excited. The staff ate in the cafeteria. They call it a canteen.

The canteen was ran by a woman whom Captain Peacock couldn't stand...and she couldn't stand him either. A lot of the humor, in addition to the double-entendre jokes, a lot of the humor came from the class system and anti-authoritarian situations. The canteen manageress as she was called often spoke her mind, something that irritated Captain Peacock, for he felt that she was of 'lower class' and didn't have the permission to speak her mind. They traded insults regularly. Mr Lucas and Miss Brahms, the younger members of the staff, often found themselves at the receiving end of Mr Grainger, or Mrs Slocombe's wrath because both junior members of the sales staff were viewed as cheeky or saucy, lacking respect for their elders...sometimes Captain Peacock would be on the warpath and have a short temper with everyone. The department store was divided between the Men's and Women's apparel. In early episodes Mr Grainger was so protective of "his" side of the store that he would bark and complain if Mrs Slocombe or Miss Brahms came within several feet of what he considered his side of the floor. In one memorable episode they were forced to share the same side of the store because the Women's section was being redecorated.

PBS aired nearly all of the episodes...give or take a few. They aired a few of the Christmas specials around fund-raiser time but they weren't part of the daily episodes.

Here's the Are You Being Served...Again! collection...the series consists of 12 episodes...which was two series worth of programs in 1992 and 1993. According to what I researched, when the original show ended in 1985 everyone wanted to do a spin-off program but nothing came of it until 1992...

Mollie Sugden, the actress who played Mrs Slocombe from the start until the finish passed away several days ago back on July 1st. She was 86. Wendy Richard passed away in February of this year, she was 65; John Inman passed away in 2007 at the age of 71; Kenneth Waller passed away in 2000 at the age of 72; Arthur English passed away in 1995 at the age of 75; Benny Lee passed away in 1995 at the age of 79; Larry Martyn passed away in 1994 at the age of 60, he played first janitor, Mr Mash; Milo Sperber passed away in 1992 at the age of 81; Alfie Bass passed away in 1987 at the age of 71; James Hayter passed away in 1983 at the age of 75; Harold Bennett passed away in 1981, two days before he would have turned 82; Arthur Brough passed away in 1978 six weeks after his wife of nearly 50 years had passed away, he was 73.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

All this and Wally Gator

During the late 1980's into the early 1990's part of my daily habit was watching the USA Cartoon Express. The marathon cartoon series at one time was a once a week program, airing on Sunday mornings beginning usually at 7am and going until noon. 5 or 6 hours of back-to-back cartoons which were mostly Hanna-Barbera or Ruby-Spears productions. Later, the Cartoon Express became a daily program...airing at first during the 6-7pm hour but then shifting to a 6-7am hour. The daily version being only an hour meant just two half-hour cartoons were aired. All of these shifts in schedule and cartoon line-up changes ultimately ended that show's run in 1996. The program had began in 1982...reaching it's peak in the late '80s and early '90s prior to Ted Turner buying the Hanna-Barbera library and shifting 90% of the cartoons to his new Cartoon Network. One of those Hanna-Barbera cartoons was a series called Wally Gator. This cartoon originally aired in 1962-1963 and 52 episodes were produced. Daws Butler provided the voice of Wally, doing an impression of Ed Wynn. The zoo keeper, Mr Twiddle, was voiced by Don Messick. The other one-shot characters were voiced by Daws and Don, too. Wally was depicted as a pampered alligator who loved life in the zoo but boredom usually sets in and he episode's end he's running back to the zoo. It aired under the umbrella title The Hanna-Barbera New Cartoon Series. Each episode consisted of three short segments which was a trademark of Hanna-Barbera made for TV cartoons.

Along side the Wally cartoons you had a self-titled cartoon starring two characters named Lippy the Lion and Hardy Har Har. The voice for Lippy was Daws Butler, doing an impression of Joe E. Brown. Lippy was a con-artist, always looking for quick way to make money at almost any cost. Daws would use this voice again for a different character, Peter Potamus. Mel Blanc was the voice of Hardy Har Har, a pessimistic hyena in spite of his name. Daws and Mel would voice any other character written into the episode...or sometimes, Don Messick would play a role. A lot of the female characters in many of the Hanna-Barbera cartoons during this era were voiced by either Jean Vanderpyl or Janet Waldo.

The third segment featured in the series featured two swashbucklers by the name of Touché Turtle and Dum-Dum. They fought on the same side of the law, though. Touché Turtle was up-standing, well-meaning, and heroic while his partner, Dum-Dum, was as his name implied: dumb. Bill Thompson gave this turtle character the same voice he gave Droopy. Alan Reed was on hand as Dum-Dum. It was never really explained why this series didn't feature Daws Butler or Don Messick in the lead roles. Each segment contained 52 episodes. So, in the years/decades to come, there were plenty of short-subject cartoons to fill Saturday mornings with. Doing the math that's 52 + 52 + 52 and that equals 156 short-subject cartoons produced in a season's time.

Moving the 1970's Hanna-Barbera ended this practice and focused on half-hour programs, 22 minutes minus commercials. Often, these half-hour's would contain at least 16 separate episodes airing once a week...and that would be the norm throughout the decade. A lot of their late 1960's and 1970's cartoon shows featured no more than the standard 16 episodes a piece and those were re-ran continuously for at least a decade. Everyone whose a fan of older cartoons knows how Speed Buggy, for example, only consisted of 16 episodes. The original network, CBS, aired the show for two years, 1973-1975. 16 the re-run cycle...that's 32 air-dates for the show. What happened is, CBS aired the series but then kept repeating the same episodes for an additional season. It was on the CBS line-up from September 1973 until August 1975. Then ABC and NBC aired the 16 episodes. According to research, ABC aired the cartoon for a few months in early 1976 and then NBC picked it up and aired it on their schedule during 1976-1977. In the 1980's it moved to the USA Network's Cartoon Express, the show that I started this blog entry writing about.

I know it sounds mind-boggling...but those 16 episodes of Speed Buggy got a lot of mileage.

The Jetsons hold the record, though, for longest running cartoon series with the fewest episodes. That series by Hanna-Barbera began in prime-time in 1962 on ABC and originally 24 episodes were produced. These 24 episodes would be re-ran continuously on Saturday morning...up until 1985 when all-new episodes started airing. 23 years worth of repeats of the same 24 episodes {1962-1985}. Amazingly, 23 years later, all of the original voice actors/actresses were on hand to reprise their roles. Original voice cast: George O'Hanlon, Penny Singleton, Daws Butler, Janet Waldo, Don Messick, Mel Blanc, and Jean Vanderpyl were joined by other voice actors like John Stephenson, Frank Welker, Julie McWhirter, Hamilton Camp, and others.

There were 21 additional episodes produced in 1985...bringing the total of episodes altogether: 65. These episodes aired along side the 1960's version...and then 10 more new episodes were produced in 1987...bringing the grand total to 75 episodes...a much better total than 24.

I want to touch upon, just briefly, the huge celebrities and famous people who passed away during the month of June. David Carradine's mysterious death happened on June 3rd. Later in the month long-time TV personality Ed McMahon passed away on June 23rd. Now, what happened afterward is something I've never witnessed before and I'll probably never witness it again. On June 25th two legendary figures passed away on the same day. Early in the day Farrah Fawcett was reported to have died. The media and news programs aired their tribute's to her and then the news broke that Michael Jackson had died...and he was 50. This isn't all...on June 27th news breaks that 1950's sitcom star, Gale Storm, died...and then a day later, on June 28th, news breaks that commercial pitchmen Billy Mays has died at the age of 50 and on the same day news breaks that impersonator/voice actor, Fred Travalena, died after a battle with cancer.

Gale Storm was a weekly fixture on TV for eight years, 1952-1960, starring in two back-to-back comedy shows: My Little Margie and The Gale Storm Show. Obviously, a lot of female comics during this era are over-shadowed by Lucille Ball but Gale Storm was one of the few, along with Eve Arden and Gracie Allen, to enjoy popular careers along side Lucy. Unfortunately, Gale's two sitcom's weren't heavily syndicated in their repeat cycle as other programs were and this caused less familiarity as the years went by.


Fred Travalena had a career that paralleled Rich Little. The two of them were known for their impressions. Fred often used heavier make-up to visually look like the character he was impersonating. As with Rich Little, the two impressionists couldn't break out into the contemporary scene...their impressions were of celebrities and singer's of a different time period enjoyed more by those like myself who have interest in the past. Also, their impressions were enjoyed more by those who are old enough to remember the celebrities that either Fred or Rich were impersonating. Fred did a brilliant Humphrey Bogart impression and he used this on the cartoon series, Shirt Tales, in the 1980's. The character he gave voice to was Bogey, obviously named after Bogart. Fred also voiced several characters on the Smurfs and other 1980's cartoons. His legacy, aside from his impressions, was his many appearances on TV game shows and talk-shows showcasing his impressions. I saw him numerous times on game shows...also, he sang...but it's the impressions and voice-over work that brought him fame. In 1972 he was part of a group called the Kopycats on The ABC Comedy Hour. Among the other impressionists in this group were Rich Little, Frank Gorshin, George Kirby, and others.