Monday, December 31, 2012

Super Friends: Season One, Volume Two DVD...

The first season of Super Friends ran for a single season, 1973-1974. It featured the characters of Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman along with two kids, Wendy and Marvin, and their pet, Wonder Dog. A recurring character, Col. Wilcox, often appeared on the computer monitor to relay information. The episodes were all narrated by Ted Knight. This is most likely due to Knight's involvement in the narration and voice acting department of Filmation's 1960's super hero cartoons. If you look at the voice credits on the Filmation version of Batman in the late '60s you'll find that Ted Knight voiced a lot of the villains...he was also the voice of Black Manta in the Aquaman cartoons in addition to being the narrator. In the late '60s, Filmation ran a cartoon series titled Justice League of America which could be considered a dry run leading up to Hanna-Barbera's more widely known Super Friends franchise the following decade. In this late '60s program the characters of Superman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, Hawkman, and Flash were at center stage and narration was done by Ted Knight.

Personally speaking, I enjoyed watching the Super Friends cartoons in this Season One, Volume Two release and while the plots are soaked in environmental messages, strangely enough, the stories do not condemn those who have an opposing view. There's great pains took to show how people have the right to live as they see fit as long as it doesn't endanger or directly threaten the rights of others. In all the episodes in this collection the Super Friends set out to fix the problems created by those who are described as misguided. Most of the villains are written as eccentrics who mean no real harm to human life and that the motive for their actions is based upon correcting an existing "problem" in society.

Environmental issues are at the heart of most of the stories. It was in the early '70s that the EPA came into existence. The Environmental Protection Agency and it's mission apparently had a big influence on the writers of this version of the Super Friends due to many of the stories relying on mad scientists and "misguided" citizens seeking to solve the problems of the world. In "Fantastic Frerps", for example, the Super Friends battle a villain named King Plasto. The plot of this episode deals with Plasto creating plastic replicas of buildings and cars and entire towns in an effort to preserve the use of natural resources that 'real' cities, cars, and factories use up. His creations are kept inside egg shells and when cracked open the contents unfold right before your eyes.

Greed is dealt with in the "Ultra Beam" episode where the villain uses a device he calls a Getty Graph to extract atomic matter and gold from the Earth. He doesn't do this for selfish reasons...instead he uses his device to rid the Earth of what he must consider one of the most dangerous elements of all-time, Gold, due to it's tendency to spur on the greed in people.

In "Balloon People", a family from another planet land in Marvin's backyard and gain the unfortunate attention of Wonder Dog, who appears as a growling monster in the eyes of the small balloon people. The family has the ability to inflate and deflate with a twist of a knob. The family is scouting for planets that are suitable for their race and free from pollution. A villain named Noah Tall and his assistant, Twisty, want to capture the balloon people.

In "Gulliver's Gigantic Goof" we have a story of a man, Dr. Gulliver, who uses a device to shrink people. In his mind he theorizes that if he shrinks the population it would aid in population control. He has at his side a pet cat named Igor. Gulliver's voice is based on horror/gangster movie actor, Peter Lorre, and it's performed by Casey Kasem. In fact, Kasem is not only the voice of Robin and the Justice League computer, he's also the voice of most of the villains or their assistants during Season One. Kasem is heard hilariously as the bumbling assistant, Twisty, in "Balloon People" while Norman Alden, the voice of Aquaman in Season One and the 1977 season, is heard as Twisty's boss, Noah Tall (a pun on the phrase, Know-it-All).

In "Planet Splitter" Wendy and Marvin are abducted by two eccentrics, Dr. Laban and Wilbur, who are out to split the planet in half. To pass the time Marvin tells the two about Superman's life and how his planet, Krypton, blown up seconds after having escaped as a baby in a rocket ship built by the baby's parents, Jor-El and Lara. We see Jor-El and Lara work on the device in addition to the famed scene of Jor-El delivering his speech to the High Council about Krypton's upcoming destruction. Toward the end of Marvin's story they try to get Marvin to reveal Superman's real identity...but Marvin caught himself in time.

In "The White Dwarf" we see the story of a villain named Raven who is bent on revenge. He terrorizes a rural family due to there being a kryptonite stone on their property. The Super Friends manage to gain access to the kryptonite and hide it in a lead box. In addition to launching the Washington Monument to a cloud (with Marvin and Wendy inside), Raven puts Superman on trial.

All in all Volume Two as well as Volume One of Season One are entertaining and yes, there's social messages for sure, but I came away with the feeling that the messages were just that: messages. The messages conveyed didn't bother me at all and a lot of that has to do with what I hinted at earlier: there's no strong condemnation or holier-than-thou attitude displayed toward the characters who are described as 'misguided'...and that, in my opinion, makes all the difference between a cartoon coming off as preachy and one that doesn't come off as such.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Scooby-Doo: Mask of the Blue Falcon...

In late February 2013 there will be a new DVD that'll hit the marketplace. Scooby-Doo: The Mask of the Blue Falcon is set to be released on February 26, 2013 and it has a runtime of 70-78 minutes according to various web-sites that have been writing about this upcoming movie since the middle of November. 

I have seen the video clip advertisement and for fans of Gary Owens you may be interested to know that he doesn't return to the role of Blue Falcon. Owens voiced the character from it's creation in 1976. The first appearance of the character happened on September 11, 1976 in the series titled Dynomutt, Dog Wonder. Blue Falcon and Dynomutt was a parody of the live-action Batman and Robin series from the mid '60s. The overly excited Blue Falcon narrator, Ron Feinberg, was an exaggeration on William Dozier, the narrator and executive producer of the live-action Batman series.

The Mask of the Blue Falcon film is visually patterned on the current Scooby-Doo series on the air titled Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated. This particular series began in 2010 and it's had one of the most bizarre scheduling feats of all time. Rather than airing at a set time and on a select day of the week this particular series has aired on multiple days of the week and at various times on a string of cable television outlets overseas and on the Cartoon Network in America. At the moment there have been 41 episodes produced of this particular series. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Iconic Twinkies and Ding-Dongs vanish from store shelves...

Hello once more! I was stunned when I visited three different locations today and seen the racks of Hostess items virtually gone from the shelves. I visited a local Wal*Mart, a local UDF, a Speedway, and a local grocery store...and in each location the shelves which had been lined with Hostess products 2 days ago were almost completely empty. There were a few left-over items in three of the locations and so I picked up something from each store. Chances are you'll never see these items again, except on nostalgia sites that cater to advertising from the past, and so I wanted to take a few pictures of what could be the last Hostess snack cakes available in my area. There's all kinds of rumors about other companies buying the Hostess name and continuing it but it's hard to tell what will happen and so for now Hostess products in my area have vanished pretty much. I asked a worker at Speedway if someone from Hostess had come by during the overnight hours and packed up everything and she said that people were buying them like crazy. Boxes of Twinkies and Ding-Dongs and individually wrapped Ho-Ho's and fruit pies were literally wiped from the shelves of that particular fuel station. The only things they had left with a Hostess logo were a few sacks of miniature muffins but the iconic snack cakes were gone.

These particular snacks are rounded cream filled cup cakes with a coconut and marshmallow topping. My mother once had an appetite for these in their original color. For whatever reason she never wanted to try the pink, green, or orange colored versions even though to me they all tasted the same. I don't think there ever were any animated commercials for the Suzy Q or the Sno Ball. While it's true that other companies have their versions of these snack cakes I happen to feel that the reason why there's a segment of the population somewhat unhappy to see the brand disappear is tied directly to nostalgia and childhood. As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, the animated commercials for the Hostess brand of snack cakes appeared on television for multiple decades and they were permanent features in comic books for multiple decades. So, as corny or baffling as it may sound to those who consider themselves hipper and healthier than everyone else, something like a brand name vanishing from the marketplace is quite capable of being emotive for a lot of people. Even more important are the thousands of jobs being lost.

One of my least favorite Fruit Pie variants is peach...but that was all that was left remaining at a local UDF store. The apple, blueberry, cherry, and lemon fruit pies were gone. My personal favorite was the blueberry and rated just behind that was the apple and then the cherry and then the lemon. There were other products from Hostess in the same design filled with a chocolate pudding product that I liked, on occasion. Again, this may sound baffling to many, but you almost had to be in a mood for certain snack cakes. I was always in the mood for blueberry but if there happened to be a cherry fruit pie sitting around and next to it was a twinkie, well, depending on the mood I'd choose one or the other. Some people may eat whatever regardless but if I wasn't in the mood for a twinkie then I'd not eat it. By the way, the chocolate and the yellow cup cakes were nowhere to be found in any of the stores I went to, either. I was less of a consumer of those cup cakes. I came across the mascot for the chocolate cupcake while doing a Google image search. You can easily Google these snack cakes and find the mascots that I've written about. In the previous blog entry I included links to various Hostess commercials that I came across on You Tube.

The Hostess Snack...Will It Come Back?

Admittedly I hadn't looked too heavily into the current Hostess situation where there's talk about the end of their snack cake line of foods that have been available for several generations. I remember as a kid seeing advertisements for most of their products in illustrated form in comic books and on television by way of commercials. I think anyone aged 35 and older remember those advertisements. If you walk into any shopping store or fuel station you're bound to come across a display stand of Hostess products. Whether you're a regular consumer of Hostess products or if you've purchased any number of their products at some point through the decades it's always been your choice. The products are snack cakes, donuts, and any number of other sweet pastries.

As most people who are familiar with my blog entries are well aware I am not a fan of political correctness or pushy health food junkies. There was once a novelty song called "Junkfood Junkie" that became a big hit. Does anyone wonder why there's never been a big hit called "Healthfood Junkie"? Junk food, of course, is a kind of broad term applied to any food not considered 'healthy' by doctors and others in the medical profession. Ironically, junk food is what makes the world go around. A statistic that drives health food advocates nuts is when fast food restaurants, who also carry a health food menu, see the biggest profits with "junk food" instead of with salad or yogurt sales. The people, as a whole, choose to bypass health had never been a case of a fast food restaurant not offering it. If people want healthier food they'll seek it out but they'll have a difficult time finding places that offer it exclusively because, well, as I mentioned, junk food turns a stronger profit and health food doesn't.

However, this blog entry isn't meant to beat up on the politically correct or the health food advocates, as much as I usually would when I write about these topics. I do want to point out that Hostess and it's looming departure as a business, an employer, and a brand shouldn't be celebrated.

The inspiration for me to write this particular blog entry came when I read an article posted on my Facebook page. The article referenced NPR and various liberal leftists celebrating the Hostess situation. The article can be found Here. It comes from the NewsBusters web-page by a blogger/writer named Tim Graham.

Whenever any health food store or any business that makes such products goes out of business do you see the so-called junk food junkies celebrating the demise of a health food company? No! So, explain to me why it is that health food advocates feel it necessary to celebrate a "junk food" supplier falling on tough times. It's a rhetorical question, of course, but it shows the tasteless nature of the elitists. In their eyes all they see is a villainous "junk food" empire shutting down...they apparently don't care about the thousands of workers who'll be out of a job. In the economy of 2012 and the double digit unemployment that's plagued the country over the last 3+ years the last thing you should be doing is laughing and celebrating. As mentioned earlier, I recall seeing Hostess animated commercials and advertisements in comic books. These commercials utilized animated/illustrated mascots that I'm sure most people of my age bracket and older will remember. The Twinkie snack cake was drawn as a Wrangler while the Ding-Dong was drawn to spoof royalty under the name of King Ding-Dong. Those were the two "mascots" that I remember the most in those commercials...but then I came across the fruit pie mascot and I remember him, too, on the packages of the Fruit Pie's. On You Tube you can find almost everything and I came across a TV commercial with the elusive King Ding-Dong from 1971. I also posted several links to other Hostess commercials. I'm posting links because video embeds take up more space. I'm not going to stop posting embedded video content but I decided that posting links to the commercials, rather than large video embeds, would maybe load up quicker for those with slower computers.

I called King Ding-Dong elusive because publicity for the mascot and the snack cake itself dwindled significantly as the '80s gave way to the '90s and the overbearing strict regulations put on advertisers when it came to children.

These links all should open up in a new window each time you click so that you won't be taken away from the blog page.

1971 Hostess Commercial

Fruit Pie Commercial

Ho Ho Commercial

1985 Twinkie Commercial

I uploaded the 1985 commercial because it's got to be one of the last commercials to feature the animated Twinkie mascot. The animated commercials had been running on television for more than a decade by the time the 1985 advertisement aired. The mascot, known as Twinkie the Kid, appears less boisterous in comparison to an earlier point in time. Maybe with him being an animated mascot he realized that he, along with the other animated Hostess mascots, would be heading for the last animated roundup in the near future...and not even Fruit Pie the Magician could magically keep it from happening. The Twinkie and Fruit Pie mascots continued to appear on the boxes and packages of the products each represented for many more years after the animated commercial hey-day ended. Twinkie the Kid was still shown on the products as recently as 2012 but research shows the Fruit Pie mascot disappeared 5 years ago.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection

A week from today, according to Amazon, there will be a new Looney Tunes DVD collection hitting the market. This one is titled The Looney Tunes Mouse Chronicles: The Chuck Jones Collection. The release date is August 28. The project will feature 2 discs of 19 cartoons directed by Chuck Jones...and all the cartoons in some shape, fashion, or form deal with mice characters. There are 11 bonus cartoons, also showcasing mice as the lead characters, and the bulk of those cartoons are directed by Friz Freleng. Seldom mentioned director, Alex Lovy, is represented by the short, "Merlin the Magic Mouse", while Tex Avery has a lone cartoon as well. Robert McKimson has two cartoons and Chuck Jones is represented with a cartoon amongst the 11 bonus offerings. This leaves the remaining 6 bonus cartoons under the direction of Friz Freleng. You can pre-order the DVD now when you visit Amazon. Some of the more well-known mice characters appearing in the cartoons, the ones that are well known to fans of Warner Brothers cartoons, are Hubie and Bertie, Sniffles, and Speedy Gonzales.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The always entertaining Stan Freberg...

I came across this literally minutes ago. I was doing a You Tube search of Stan Freberg and this was among the most recent uploads...a PBS special from 1982, according to the video's uploader. In the closing credits in Part 3 it states that the special has a 1980 copyright and so more than likely this was written as a response to Jimmy Carter's time in the White House.

In this special, Freberg shines the spotlight on the Federal budget being 600 billion dollars and the jokes and songs are aimed at the economy. Aside from it starring Freberg, the main reason I uploaded it is to make the comparison between the early '80s and 2012.   

Pay close attention to the lyrics in the songs...quite a few lyrics foreshadow the future. In comparison to 2012 it's amusing that it's been the Democrats in Congress that have racked up the debt and there's not been any real budget to speak of since Obama took office in 2009. He delivered a laughable budget proposal that his own party rejected for being too expensive...but that bit of information was swept under the rug nearly a year ago to where hardly anyone remembers it.

Stan Freberg puts everything into this, songs, jokes, and an overall big production.

Parts 2 and 3 are located below...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Frank Cady: 1915-2012

Frank Cady...the name may not be familiar for millions of people but the face certainly was...and to an even larger degree a character he portrayed on not one, not two, but three sitcoms during the same production period which had never been done before. Cady, who died on June 8th at the age of 96, was known to millions as Sam Drucker primarily on Petticoat Junction and Green Acres but during a brief period in the late '60s he portrayed the character periodically on The Beverly Hillbillies, too, whenever the Clampettes either visited Hooterville or were talking to a citizen of Hooterville by way of telephone...enabling the actor to appear on three sitcoms portraying the same character. Hooterville is the town in which Petticoat Junction and Green Acres was set. The news of Cady's death broke late yesterday.

I believe his feat of playing the same character regularly on two concurrent sitcoms is still a record not matched by anyone else but don't quote me on that! Frank Cady appeared on a lot of movies and television shows but, as you perhaps are well aware, popular characters tend to typecast an actor or actress. It's almost unavoidable.

The lifespan of the television sitcoms he appeared in as Sam Drucker are as follows:

The Beverly Hillbillies: 1962-1971 (late '60s episodes/periodically)

Petticoat Junction: 1963-1970

Green Acres: 1965-1971

It should be pointed out that Cady's portrayal of Drucker differed just slightly from whichever series he appeared in. In Petticoat Junction the character was off-beat, fitting in with other characters that populated Hooterville but he often displayed flashes of normalcy...more so than his contemporaries like Joe, Charlie, or Floyd. In this show, Drucker happily presided over a General Store that sold some of the most strangest items and in some episodes he took delight in tricking out of town customers (city folks passing by) into paying large sums of money for items that the locals treated as trash. Also, the fact that once upon a time rural general stores doubled as post offices was played up to great effect...with Drucker acting as Hooterville post master...often finding mail years and decades after it was either suppose to be sent or years after it had arrived but hadn't been delivered to it's recipient. Most people familiar with the General Store through the years are also aware of the plastic pickles that were kept in the barrel (another money-making gimmick). 

In Green Acres Drucker was still off-beat and those flashes of normalcy were expanded further to where he became the only logical resident of Hooterville in the eyes of Eddie Albert's character, Oliver Douglas. Many times Oliver would be driven nearly mad by the backwoods view points of Hooterville's residents and would humorously lose his train of thought anytime he'd attempt to dissect any point of view that appeared strange and illogical to him. Many times Drucker would be the go-between for Oliver and the voice of calm rationale anytime Oliver lost his temper (which was almost all the time). Some of the funniest word play involved Drucker, Oliver, and town conman/salesman, Mr. Haney, who, by the way, sold Oliver the farm and the dilapidated house that was only slightly repaired through the program's 6 year history by the inept carpenters, Ralph and Alf Monroe.

A typical exchange between Drucker, Oliver, and Haney at the General Store would include quick editing from one character to the next where Haney, usually, interrupted Oliver in mid-sentence and then Drucker would pick up the dialogue and then the camera would shift quickly to Oliver, trying to finish his original sentence only for Drucker to say something like "oh, come on, Haney, let Oliver speak..." to which Oliver would say a thank you and start to re-ask his original question, only for Drucker to interrupt this time and start off in a different conversation with Haney about something that had nothing to do with Oliver at all. The interruption routine was also performed by Oliver/Kimball/Drucker and Oliver/Lisa/Eb. It was one of the show's trademarks.

In the late '60s Cady would periodically appear as Sam Drucker on The Beverly Hillbillies. There were usually 1 or 2 episodes that would combine the characters of all three programs for annual Christmas or Thanksgiving episodes...with Drucker often being on the receiving end of Granny's affections. Since I was way more familiar with Frank Cady from his appearances as Sam Drucker that's why the emphasis in this blog entry's been on his work as that character. He did other programs, as mentioned earlier, and his work can be looked up on-line rather easily but I decided to write about Cady in the role that was clearly his most beloved with viewers, Sam Drucker.

Frank Cady: 1915-2012

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Returning to Dallas... energy...fuel panels...going, I'm not referring to any number of topics easily found on talk radio or cable news outlets. I'm referring to a familiar fictional family from Texas. For this is the week that Dallas marks it's return as a television series. Yes...the worldwide mega-hit from the 1980's featuring the Ewing clan has become updated but producers say it isn't a reboot. Too many programs that make returns 20-30 years after their debuts always seem to be rebooted and it's history wiped in the process so it'll be something of a refreshment to know the program remains basically the same...although with, based upon the show's early descriptions, a decidedly progressively liberal slant than the original.

It's debut happens June 13, 2012 on the cable channel, TNT

It will be interesting to see if the show plays out as I feel it a clash between brothers, cousins, in-laws, exes, and everything in between (like a traditional soap opera) or if it'll write the green energy characters as the "good guys" and write the characters who favor oil drilling and conventional energy methods as being the "bad guys". I certainly hope it doesn't become a show like that.

The original series, which ran 13 years, 1978-1991, was must-see TV on Friday nights on CBS for millions of people. The Friday night line-up on CBS is something that I'll always remember because it was considered pizza night in our house. The Dukes of Hazzard got things started followed by The Incredible Hulk. Dallas aired at 9pm followed by Falcon Crest at 10pm. Even though it was a Friday night our parents never let us watch television past 9pm (until we got older) but I'd hear the Dallas theme song while attempting to go to sleep. I watched most of the original run of Dallas when it was brought back in the early 2000's on The Nashville Network and so I'm somewhat familiar with the basic premise and characters although I couldn't tell you much about any specific story line.

The portrayal of Texas businessmen and politicians had long been a source of exaggeration in all forms of entertainment. In the 1940's Kenny Delmar portrayed a southern Senator named Beauregard Claghorn on the Fred Allen radio program. In the cartoons, Mel Blanc was the voice of Foghorn Leghorn, based on the Senator Claghorn character. By the time Dallas was hitting it's stride in 1979/1980 the image of oil tycoons from Texas were all the rage. A daytime soap opera named, Texas, debuted in the early '80s and ran a couple of years. The Urban Cowboy movie starring John Travolta became huge...spawning copy-cat films and television series utilizing Texas and cowboy-based characters. Country music singers began wearing more and more cowboy hats and boots...more than ever before...rock and pop radio stations switched to country music programming in the late '70s through the mid '80s...and well-established soap operas, Guiding Light in particular, introduced an oil rich family from Oklahoma into their storyline, The Lewis family (Josh, Trish, Billy, and H.B.). In 1981 Dynasty came along...about an Oil rich family in Colorado. That series was hugely popular, too, and it managed to knock Dallas out of #1 during the 1984-1985 season. Dynasty was ranked in the Top-10 for 4 seasons: 1982-1983, 1983-1984, 1984-1985, and 1985-1986: #5, #3, #1, and #7 for Seasons 3, 4, 5, and 6 respectively.  

By mid decade the larger-than-life escapades of these programs was being toned down somewhat although there was still plenty of back-stabbing, scheming, and drama to keep audiences enthralled.

Dallas was the #1 television show three separate times during it's 13 year run. It was #1 back-to-back during the 1980-1981 and 1981-1982 seasons. It returned to #1 during the 1983-1984 season. It's first appearance in the Top-10 was a #6 finish during 1979-1980. It ranked #2 during the 1982-1983 and 1984-1985 seasons. It ranked #6 during 1985-1986, it's final season in the Top-10. The following season, 1986-1987, it finished at #11 and ratings fell more dramatically as the '80s ended and the '90s began.

Dallas premiers June 13, 2012 on TNT.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Richard Dawson: 1932-2012

I guess the news broke about 7 hours ago, as the first news piece featured in Google search about the death of Richard Dawson dates 7 hours ago. Currently it's 12:30pm on a Sunday afternoon.

I first heard of Richard Dawson through mentions of him by my grandparent's. I was not a heavy game show watcher at that point in time...the only game shows I knew of were The Price Is Right, Card Sharks, Press Your Luck, and The $25,000 Pyramid to name a couple. As I got older I became familiar with other game shows, too. I was probably Kindergarten age when I first saw The Price is Right, for example. Obviously my parent's and grandparent's watched CBS the most and so those were the game shows I first recall seeing. grandmother often remarked about Richard Dawson and saying her favorite game show was Family Feud. At that point in time I never saw the show and didn't even know who Richard Dawson was. In the late '80s Nick-at-Nite was airing Laugh-In and in the episodes that were airing Richard Dawson was a cast-member. Fast-forward a few years later and I come across a repeat of Hogan's Heroes playing on a local station. In the opening credits there was Richard Dawson. I watched the episode and found out he played a character named Newkirk.

By this time Family Feud had been on the air but hosted by Ray Combs...and so I was able to finally see this show that my grandparent's often talked about. I instantly loved the show. Gene Wood was the announcer. When our cable provider added the Game Show Network to our line-up I was at long last able to see complete episodes of the Richard Dawson-era of Family Feud as well as Match Game that my grandmother often spoke about, too! My grandfather often mentioned to me that the host of Match Game, Gene Rayburn, is someone he remembered from Steve Allen's comedy shows. Rayburn was Steve Allen's announcer/side-kick in the various talk-shows that Allen hosted in the '50s and '60s. Johnny Olsen was the announcer on Match Game (and just about every other game show by the Goodson-Todman company).

Richard Dawson was a regular panelist on Match Game for five straight seasons, 1973-1978. He also hosted a version of the game, Masquerade Party, in 1974, and it lasted 1 season. A clip of Dawson as Groucho Marx, from an episode of Masquerade Party, surfaced on You Tube. The 3-member panel was comprised of Bill Bixby, Lee Meriweather, and Nipsey Russell. The guest during the segment was a heavily made-up Charles Nelson Reilly. The home and studio audience is let in on who the guest really is and the allure of the game was basically seeing celebrities being at a loss as they try and figure out who the disguised guest happens to be. There were 39 episodes made of the weekly syndicated program. The series was produced by Monty Hall and Stefan Hatos. If it had been syndicated daily, I think, chances are it may have caught on with viewers but as it turned out all the regulars of the series would continue their successes elsewhere. Bixby, several years later, would become internationally famous as David Banner in The Incredible Hulk series on CBS. He had already become well-established thanks to The Courtship of Eddie's Father in the '70s and in the '60s, My Favorite Martian, but The Incredible Hulk series put Bixby's image and name into iconic status. Nipsey Russell, on the other hand, had long been a hugely popular fixture on variety shows...often being referred to as The Poet Laureate of Television. He'd continue to appear on game shows into the early 1990's. He had a recurring role in the '60s on Car 54, Where Are You? and was a side-kick of Les Crane in the mid '60s on The Les Crane Show. Russell also made numerous appearances on Dean Martin's comedy programs of the '60s and '70s but his lasting impact is without a doubt his hundreds of game show appearances. Lee Meriweather was already well-established, too. She'd appeared in movies and television programs in the '50s and '60s but her biggest impact came on Barnaby Jones, as Betty Jones, Barnaby's daughter-in-law. She remained on this series until it's end in 1980.

Richard Dawson, of course, remained a panelist on Match Game upon the cancellation of Masquerade Party in 1975 but then the opportunity came up to host a brand new series in the works. Once Family Feud got underway in 1976, Dawson hosted that series and continued to appear as a panelist on Match Game through 1978, becoming one of the most recognizable faces on television...certainly one of the most popular with game show viewers. Family Feud's origins, ironically, are tied to the Audience Match bonus round segment on Match Game. In the bonus round, the winning contestant from the first half of the game got the chance to win a smaller amount of money if he/she matched a response given by a choice of 3 panelists. The possible correct answers were based upon previously conduced popularity surveys by Match Game audiences. Once a contestant picked their choice of which of the 3 celebrities they felt gave the best answer, the hidden responses were revealed. Then, in the second part of the bonus round, the contestant had to match a celebrity one-on-one where the game play was reversed and the jackpot was significantly higher. This time the contestant picked only 1 celebrity. The object of the second part of the bonus round was to try and name the most popular response and hope that the celebrity had written down that same answer. Once the celebrity was done writing their answer (as the show's iconic think music played in the background), the contestant would give their verbal answer, and then the celebrity revealed their reply on the standard blue paper used in the game. Most times the celebrity and contestant matched...but for suspense/drama the celebrity, or the host, would prolong the conclusion for several seconds.

This survey/poll guessing idea was expanded to even greater fame on Family Feud. Dawson was often the celebrity on Match Game that contestants always chose in the bonus round.

In the Feud game, however, there were no fill in the blank questions...instead, Dawson would read a question from a recent survey and the game board could be made of anywhere from 6 to 10 hidden answers, for example, ranked from most popular to least popular. The control of the game board was determined by a face-off round. Whoever named the most popular answer during the face-off got control for the rest of their family and a chance to guess all the answers. If a response given wasn't included in the survey the team would get an X. Three red X's caused the control of the game to shift to the opposing family who only had to guess one unrevealed response and they'd win the money accumulated in that round.

Richard Dawson hosted Family Feud on ABC-TV and in Syndication, concurrently. The ABC version ran from 1976 through 1985. The Syndicated version, research shows, began in September 1977 as a weekly program but then expanded to 5 days a week beginning in 1980. This meant that it aired 10 first-run episodes every week! 5 would air on ABC and another 5 aired in Syndication. The syndicated version of the game ended it's run first. It would later have the unenviable assignment of competing with the massively popular Wheel of Fortune during 1983-1984 and then, Jeopardy!, starting in 1984-1985. The two game shows already had a somewhat built-in audience from the start. Wheel of Fortune had been airing on daytime television since 1975 on NBC with Chuck Woolery and Susan Stafford. Pat Sajak came on board in 1981 and has remained the host ever since. Vanna White replaced Stafford in 1982. Jeopardy! on the other hand had been a long running game show once hosted by Art Fleming. It had left the air, ironically, a few days before Wheel of Fortune hit the air in 1975. The new host of Jeopardy!, Alex Trebek, was no stranger to game shows but it is this program with which he'll forever be identified. The two game shows are still on the air...still airing back-to-back in many markets.

Family Feud, meanwhile, left the syndicated market in May 1985 largely do to the massive popularity of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! and then in the fall of 1985 the ABC version ended. Afterward, Dawson pretty much went into what could be interpreted as semi-retirement, appearing in a film called The Running Man, in 1987 but was eventually lured back to Family Feud in 1994. Ray Combs had been the host of the series from it's revival in 1988. Like Dawson, Combs was hosting a network (CBS) and a syndicated version concurrently. A slip in ratings caused the producers to seek out Dawson prior to the start of the 1994 season...and after a 9 year absence Richard Dawson was back at the daily game show grind. The return didn't last too long, though. The CBS version had ended in 1993 but the syndicated version was still on the air and Dawson hosted it's final season, 1994-1995. He went into official retirement in 1995. He remained quite popular, though, because reruns of the original Family Feud and the '70s version of Match Game drew big ratings for the Game Show Network, a niche-driven channel, throughout the '90s and into the next decade.

Richard Dawson passed away on June 2, 2012 of esophageal cancer at the age of 79.

Monday, May 7, 2012

George Lindsey: 1928-2012

Good morning all...breaking news fills the blog entry this morning about the death of George Lindsey, better known to millions of television viewers as Goober Pyle from The Andy Griffith Show, Mayberry RFD, and Hee-Haw. He appeared on Griffith's comedy from 1964 to 1968 and expanded the role in Mayberry RFD during 1968 through 1971...sometimes appearing in what I call civilian clothes, rather than his more familiar work uniform. As many die-hard fans of The Andy Griffith Show and all things Mayberry already know, Lindsey was brought in to fill the eventual void that would be left when Jim Nabors' character, Gomer Pyle, would join the Marines. According to trivia, Goober's last name wasn't going to be Pyle but when the writers and those behind the scenes dreamed up the concept of sending Gomer to the Marines and into a new series it was then determined that Goober would be written in with the last name of Pyle and introduced as Gomer's cousin. 

I guess the news of George Lindsey's death broke late last night or quietly yesterday evening but the news outlets have just started running with it in over-drive within the last 30 minutes. Admittedly, I wasn't watching much news programming on Sunday. I was watching various baseball games on and off and then I watched Hee-Haw last night at 8pm. George, of course, was on there. He did a few jokes in the Kornfield and delivered a couple of one-liners at other moments in the show, reacting to Junior Samples' bloopers, and did a "Pffft! You Was Gone!" routine with Archie Campbell. 

In the link below you will be able to watch a video and read an article on George Lindsey. The video was put together and narrated by Nashville entertainment critic, Jimmy Carter, who tweeted a link to it on Twitter at 9:31pm Sunday night... 

WSMV George Lindsey Tribute

A couple of on-line memorials have erroneously given 1935 as his birth year but he was born in 1928.

I've known of George Lindsey, I can say, my whole life...well, except for the first 5 years of it. My introduction to his career came with Hee-Haw. Those who've read my various blog entries about Hee-Haw will perhaps know that I was introduced to this show through my grandparent's who watched it every  weekend. On this show, especially in the '80s, Lindsey was billed in the opening credits as George 'Goober' Lindsey. At that point in time I was unaware of The Andy Griffith Show and Lindsey's connection to it. As a child of the '80s I was introduced to the career of George Lindsey via his appearances on Hee-Haw and, just as ironic, I first heard of Don Knotts via his hysterical appearances on Three's Company as landlord, Mr. Furley. Once I got older and found The Andy Griffith Show on the TBS station I then started to see the characters that my grandparent's and parent's often talked about and made reference to in conversations. On Hee-Haw, Lindsey's contributions evolved through the years. At first he made sporadic, surprise cameo appearances delivering one-liners...not credited in the opening cast.

Later on he began making even more appearances...mostly reacting to the bloopers and the various ways Junior Samples could mess up on-camera. Then Lindsey began appearing in the Kornfield, trading jokes with any number of regulars...coming off as a he'd been a cast-member since day 1. That's how well he and his character fit into the series.

In his earlier appearances on Hee-Haw he didn't wear the famed Goober cap or mechanic suit...he wore the traditional bib overalls, usually with some sort of over-sized tie or something unusual. He was inserted into the opening credits in the following season, 1973-1974. Wearing large ties, big hats, wigs, and other costumes became a tradition for Lindsey on this program. Pie throwing wasn't common but sometimes it wouldn't be out of the question for Lindsey to play the straight-man, not tipping off the other person about what was going to happen, and then ~SPLAT!!~ a pie in the face...all caught on camera and aired for the country to see. As the program went on, Lindsey's involvement solidified. He appeared in various sketches throughout the '70s. Eventually he became the focal point of his own sketch which took place, you guessed it, at a gas station. In quite a few of these sketches he was joined by an uncredited Jack Burns who'd play the part of a city slicker/con-man always trying to pull one over on Goober but it would always backfire with Goober coming out on top by having more smarts and common sense. In 1978 Lindsey starred in a program called Goober and the Trucker's Paradise. Ray Stevens performed the theme song. I have never seen this program but only one episode was may not even exist on tape anymore.

Also on Hee-Haw, Lulu's Truck Stop became a frequent setting for George Lindsey's comedic antics, too. He'd usually play a fussy customer or one who was in such a hurry that he'd literally cram his mouth with food and dash off. In the ever popular sketch referred to as Minnie's School House, Lindsey was often playing the part of either the sarcastic student, always with a quick one-liner to throw back at Minnie, or the class dunce. Junior Samples played that character most of the time prior to his death in 1983. Minnie and Grandpa Jones once had a sketch that was set in a kitchen and later they were both placed in a sketch that took place in a post office. Lindsey appeared frequently as the mail man who usually began a sketch with pride but would always have that pride diminished when Grandpa or Minnie would tell him that he delivered the wrong letter to someone else by mistake or forgot to deliver an urgent package somewhere, etc. etc. It was always a cute sketch involving the three of them.

At the start of Hee-Haw in 1969 there had always been a segment known as "Pffft! You Was Gone!" where, typically, Archie Campbell would sing a short, comedic tale and then elbow Gordie Tapp, who'd have his back to the camera, and he'd turn around and sing the chorus of the song with Archie...climaxing with a Bronx cheer in one another's face. As the 1980's dawned, Lindsey found himself performing in this sketch with a lot of regularity. The sketch had been so popular for years and the guest stars wanted to take part in it and so usually Gordie, Archie, and George would take turns with a different guest and perform the routine. Sometimes 3 or 4 of these routines appeared in one episode...featuring a guest star paired up with either Archie, Gordie, or George.

In a 1980 episode, George Lindsey performed the routine with Ray Stevens. After Archie Campbell's death in 1987, Lindsey remained a permanent fixture of this off with Gordie Tapp...through the end of the series in 1992.

Upon the end of Hee-Haw, Lindsey would go on to appear in the Opryland stage-show revival called Hee-Haw Live! and then release Goober in a Nut-Shell, a book that was so popular, primarily in the southern half of the country, that it necessitated three printings. Lindsey had a cameo role in a Ray Stevens direct-to-home video movie, Get Serious!, in 1995. In the film, Lindsey plays the part of the leader of a local Shriner organization who presents Ray with a yellow dune buggy, which goes on to benefit Ray a great deal as the story unfolds. Lindsey participated in the Get Serious! night on the TNN program, Music City Tonight, in the fall of 1995 and spoke about his experiences on the set. Later in the show, Lindsey appears as Coy when Ray performs a live version of "Shriner's Convention". A year later, 1996, Lindsey won the Minnie Pearl Award for his charitable and humanitarian contributions.

A glance at various on-line sites will show that George Lindsey appeared on various television programs over the decades...everything from drama to his more well-known comedic appearances. In 1982 Lindsey appeared on the Conway Twitty on the Mississippi television special and did a stand-up routine. For many years he hosted a golf tournament in Montgomery, Alabama for charity and was one of the people responsible for a film festival down there which was officially billed as The George Lindsey UNA Film Festival and you can read about it here.

George Lindsey performs "Mountain Dew" on one of his early Hee-Haw appearances right here. For those who want to see the Salute to the Kornfield program, which lasts for 6 hours altogether, you can buy a copy of it here. The show features George Lindsey among the MANY guests and it was taped about a year ago. The program aired on RFD-TV for the first time in January of this year so it's still less than half a year old as far as a television special is concerned. A lot of footage that didn't make it to the airwaves is on the DVD's. In the link you'll also be able to watch the brief commercial for the project. 

George Lindsey


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Bob Newhart in Bob...Now On DVD...

I thought I'd pass along some news. I am not subscribed to any DVD release alerts by Amazon or other on-line stores and so whenever I come with news about upcoming DVD releases or I write about recently released DVD's it's basically due to my visiting on-line stores and finding the information on my own. This is why I'm nearly a month late in reporting the availability of Bob Newhart's Bob sitcom from 1992. In my opinion this series deserved much better and the fact that it's gained something of a cult following proves my point. There aren't too many series, whether it's comedy or drama, that airs just 30 episodes in it's original network run, September 1992 through December 1993, and get a DVD release 19 years later but that's exactly what has happened. The DVD features 33 episodes...adding 3 episodes that didn't air following it's cancellation two days after Christmas. Those 3 episodes later aired during a TV Land marathon in 1997. You can purchase the DVD, which was released on April 3, 2012, in a link at the bottom of this blog entry.

The show centered around Newhart as an artist named Bob McKay who had worked on a comic book in the '50s titled Mad Dog. After the comic book scandal came and went, McKay was forced to go into a different profession: greeting cards! At the start of the series, Mad Dog is being revived as a comic book again with the clashing of the minds soon at play: Bob wants the character to remain loyal to it's origins while hot-shot newcomer to the field, Harlan, wants the character to be a blood-thirsty vigilante and feature sexual overtones throughout the story-lines. Bob's wife is Kaye McKay and their grown daughter is named Trisha. The other supporting characters in the earliest of episodes were the previously mentioned Harlan, as well as the senior artist named Iris, the errand boy Albie, and inker, Chad. In one of the episodes, a spoof of a Comic Book Convention's awards ceremony featured Bob Kane, co-creator of Batman. Real-life comic book artists Jack Kirby, Jim Lee, and Sergio Aragones also had cameo appearances. To everyone's surprise, Mad Dog won an award, and Bob McKay greeted the audience with a brief "thank you" and walked off the stage. He was trying to point out that attempting to thank everyone will eventually create animosity as it's almost inevitable that somebody gets left out. Bob lectured his co-workers at the ceremony table that a simple "thank you" is implied to everyone...but given the delivery of the acceptance speech(?) Bob came off egotistical rather than generous. It was a hilarious episode...and there was a very funny pay-off ending as well that I won't spoil for those who hadn't seen the episode...but let's just say Bob learned his lesson.     

The playing around of the time-slot by CBS is what did the show in. The show would've had a much better chance of succeeding in a more desirable time-slot. Friday nights at any point during the late '80s through the mid '90s for both CBS and NBC was brutal as far as ratings go...the viewing habits for much of America at that point in time was on ABC which featured Family Matters and Step by Step on Friday nights amongst many other programs as time went by.

It took those shows leaving the air for other networks to really make any serious high ratings attempts on Friday night.

CBS moved Bob from Friday night to Monday night by the spring of 1993...and according to on-line sites the ratings of the show improved somewhat but then in the fall of 1993 CBS moved the show back to Friday nights...then they moved it back to Monday, one last time, before ending the show in December 1993.

I don't blame the show's concept or it's writers or anyone else connected to the show for the poor performance in the ratings. All anyone has to look at is the scheduling factor. If these episodes were to have aired on a Monday, preferably at 8:30pm, or a Tuesday night...or even a Wednesday or would've had a chance. Friday nights were owned, ratings wise, by ABC's sitcoms while Saturday nights were owned by NBC and their Florida-based sitcoms.

Placing Bob on either of those two nights, in 1992, was a recipe for disaster in my opinion. I have the TV Guide issue where Bob appears on the cover in a Superman-like pose and the article about the show obviously mentions the time-slot. When I saw that it would air on Friday night...even back then at age 15 I rolled my eyes because I felt that it would be ignored by the masses who were either not home on Friday night or were watching ABC's massively popular T.G.I.F. programs.

I remember when CBS yanked Murder, She Wrote from it's long held Sunday night time-slot and placed it on Thursday night in the fall of 1995...up against NBC's Friends. Landsbury's program was canceled by season's end. So, yeah, time-slots make a huge difference in ratings success and failure. If I were cynical enough I'd suspect that CBS deliberately moved Murder, She Wrote from Sunday to Thursday to, I think, justify it's predetermined cancellation (using the ratings as a scapegoat) .

The same could be said for Bob...perhaps the management at CBS at the time didn't want the program to succeed because of demographics!? Bob's follow-up, George and Leo, also on CBS, was a funny sitcom, too, that had potential but was placed against Monday Night Football (when that show still aired on ABC).  Some may read this and go "what kind of network plots the demise of their own programs?". I happen to think that it goes on quite often...perhaps a show that's green lit by a network attracts the wrong audience or maybe the demographics aren't exactly what the advertiser covets...and in spite of critical praise and positive build-up the program is put through a series of time-slot changes...effectively resulting in the program never finding any sizable audience and, yes, you guessed it...the ax falls on the series.

Unfortunate time-slots for Bob as well as George and Leo hurt their potential, for sure, but luckily Bob is available on DVD for millions of people to discover and enjoy just as we enjoyed it the first time around 20 years ago! Here's the link to Bob Newhart in Bob...

Amazon's Bob page

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Animator/Director Robert McKimson: 1910-1977

As I scour the internet and blogosphere I'm pleased to see quite a few blogs dealing with Robert McKimson's impact on the Warner Brothers cartoons as an animator and a director. I came across this particular article, written by an author named Michael Mallory, titled The Case for Robert McKimson from a web-site entitled Animation Magazine. That article, and several others at other sites, can give you in-depth and statistical data about Robert McKimson as well as a listing of the cartoons he directed for Warner Brothers. My blog entry is not as in-depth but rather enthusiastic. As I've often pointed out I'm a professional enthusiast...vastly different from a critic. 

As many of you may know, I am nowhere near an expert on all things Looney Tunes...other than being a big fan of the cartoons...but through the joys of watching the cartoons, you, as a viewer, become aware of who the directors were and who some of the writers and animators were and of course who Mel Blanc was, etc. etc. It's all there on the opening credits. Those who are much more in detail about the behind-the-scenes goings on at Warner Brothers during their Golden Period are certainly aware of the various units that were employed at the studio. The unit consisted of writers, animators, layout artists, background painters, and of course the director. Several directors came and went...of those that came and went were Tex Avery, Frank Tashlin, Norm McCabe, Ben Hardaway, Cal Dalton, and Bob Clampett. The core line-up of directors from the mid '40s onward were: Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones, and Robert McKimson. Along the way, for a short period of time, Art Davis directed a series of cartoons for the studio but ultimately went back into animation when the studio started cutting back the number of units. There was considerable unit hopping, as I call it, that took place in the '30s and especially the '40s. When a director would leave, their unit would either be dismantled altogether or be absorbed by another director still with the studio...sometimes a director would hand pick animators or layout artists from a former director's unit and incorporate them into their own unit. Robert McKimson, after years of being content as an animator, found himself being a director after the departure of Frank Tashlin in 1944.

As a fan of the classic Looney Tunes shorts I have an equal appreciation for the directors that came and went and those that stayed for the long haul. McKimson was there from the beginning to the end. For years now there have been many, many attempts by admirers and fans of individual directors at the studio to marginalize the work of other directors. Fan wars, or whatever one chooses to call it, does a disservice, I think, to the overall legacy of the Looney Tunes. For a fan, to single out a director and say that particular director's cartoons are better than anyone else at the studio is the same time it creates division and really serves no purpose beyond chest-pounding and brow-beating.

I'm a tad bit different when it comes to such things. There is something amusing, whimsical, funny, humorous, and outright hysterical about many of the cartoons from the various Warner Brothers directors. A person's individual taste is subjective, obviously, but it shouldn't be so subjective that it becomes blinding to anyone else's work. Friz Freleng created his share of masterpieces as did Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Norm McCabe, Chuck Jones, and Robert McKimson. Now, of course, some of the lesser-known directors didn't have the luxury of longevity with the studio and so they hadn't obtained the sort of celebrity status that the more tenured directors achieved...that's just a isn't a case of their work not being important or any good.

Robert McKimson's work as a director was covered in the Six Volume DVD series, Looney Tunes: Golden Collection. However, if you look up the volumes and do a cartoon by cartoon check list by their director, you'll notice that McKimson's work is seriously under represented in comparison to Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones. Sprinkled throughout the DVD's are cartoons from Norm McCabe, Harman-Ising, Ben Hardaway and Cal Dalton, Art Davis, and of course Tex Avery and Bob Clampett. It would take until Volume Five before Bob Clampett got a disc of his own...but McKimson, nor Tex Avery, got a disc of their own during the entire Six Volume series. The Golden Collection series is wonderful, don't get me wrong, but for a certain animator turned director (McKimson) who was at the directorial helm from 1944 through the close of the studio in 1969...for his work to not have a more significant role in the Golden Collection series is a bit of a let down. Fear not, though...on Volume Five of the series there's an extra found on Disc 2 called Drawn To Life: The Art of Robert McKimson. Although a full disc of his cartoons would've been even better, it nonetheless is a wonderful treat to see McKimson's son and peers reflect on the animator turned director who passed away decades before cartoons became celebrated and praised. Robert McKimson passed away on September 29, 1977...ironically, McKimson died while dining with Friz Freleng and David DePatie.

McKimson had become a director of several cartoon shorts for the DePatie-Freleng studio including The Inspector and Pink Panther. McKimson passing away in 1977 coupled with his peers' material getting the lion's share of reruns on Saturday morning television throughout the '70s, '80s, '90s, and into the 2000's didn't help matters.

McKimson's biggest characters/creations for Warner Brothers were Foghorn Leghorn, Speedy Gonzales, Sylvester Jr., and Hippety Hopper (the kangaroo that Sylvester always mistakes for a giant mouse). He also created the Tasmanian Devil. Henery Hawk, the confused pint-sized chicken hawk who rarely knows what a chicken actually looks like in each of his appearances, was created by Chuck Jones...but McKimson borrowed the character and Henery became synonymous with the Foghorn series thereafter. Speedy, on the other hand, was used for one cartoon in the classic era by McKimson. The character was re-designed by Friz Freleng's unit and became one of Freleng's often-used characters. Much in the same way Chuck's Henery Hawk became closely associated with McKimson's cartoons, McKimson's Speedy Gonzales creation became closely associated with Friz Freleng. Later, McKimson resumed directing Speedy cartoons...using Daffy Duck as the villain...and retaining the re-design of Speedy.

Somebody should write a book about Robert McKimson and his two brothers-in-art, Tom and Charles...

Well...wait, I say, wait a minute there, son...someone has...

Robert McKimson, Jr. has authored a book that is said to be released this coming July!

The title is "I Say...I Say...Son!", lifted from the catch-phrase of one of McKimson's creations, the southern rooster Foghorn Leghorn. It'll tell the story of Robert, Tom, and Charles McKimson. Those interested, and I certainly hope you are, can read about it in this link... 


The Amazon Pre-Order link can be found Here.

It states that July 1, 2012 is when the book will be released. During the pre-order it's being sold for a little more than $30.00. The regular price will be $45.00. I'll definitely be keeping my eye on this book in the days/weeks to come as I ultimately put in a pre-order for it, too. It's going to be, in my opinion, one of those books that ultimately will go out of print quickly and later become available for an outrageous asking price on eBay, for example.

Monday, April 30, 2012

My Appreciation of Charles Bronson

USA Today did a nice tribute to Charles Bronson in this September 1, 2003 article. Bronson had passed away on August 30, 2003 at the age of 81. The actor had been suffering from pneumonia and Alzheimer's Disease. I am not aware of when the Alzheimer's Disease was diagnosed but I can say his final film was the made-for-TV offering, "Family of Cops, III", which aired in 1999. Bronson, having been born in 1921, was 78 that year. I first heard of Charles Bronson through my grandparents. In the mid '80s VHS video was on the cusp of becoming a mega money maker as people were buying or renting movies on video to watch in the comfort of their homes rather than venturing out to a theater. There was also movie channels available, too, but most of the time those movie channels didn't get a contemporary movie on their line-up until nearly a year after it was released. Some movies, after their theatrical run ended, would go directly to home video...and later make their way to television airing.

My grandparent's rented videos every weekend...and quite a few were Charles Bronson movies. As a child in the '80s I didn't comprehend a lot of what I was seeing...but as time went on I'd catch a Bronson movie airing on TBS or the USA Network all through the '90s and I would often watch it. Fast-forward quite a few years later...the early 2000's specifically. I started to revisit the Bronson movies I had seen as a kid and a teenager by purchasing video tapes of his films...those that were available at the video store. I was not on-line at that point in time and so I didn't have the advantages of an Amazon or an I could only purchase what was available on the video rack.

Once I got on the internet I came across a video store that specialized in getting hard to find VHS tapes. I had a list of Charles Bronson movies that I'd copied off a web-site at the time and I used it as a check-list. I didn't end up getting a lot of his movies because some of them hadn't even been issued on VHS and therefore were unavailable. The new item at the time, the DVD, was still way too expensive and that's why I was still buying video tapes as late as 2005!!  As I was saying I only ended up getting just a handful of his movies on video tape and I taped quite a few off of movie channels.

I happen to like Charles Bronson's movies...and I appreciate the talents that I felt he had. Nobody could set a mood like he could...and often times he didn't have to say a word! He had that look...and I know that's a cliché...but he really did. He could turn his head a certain way, get that look on his face, and it would convey a lot more emotion than words perhaps could have. Also, he had a certain smirk...often seen whenever his character felt he was pulling one over on somebody or if he was at the receiving end of a lecture from a superior officer (such as in the string of vigilante-type films that I absolutely LOVE!!). He'd give that smirk and you, as a viewer, could sense that Bronson's character was letting the lecture go in one ear and out the other. Although widely known for those vigilante movies, he did star or co-star in his fair share of Westerns, Military epics, and melodramas, too.

If you look at his filmography you'll see that every year or every other year, up until the late '70s, he'd be featured in one of those kind of movies. He appeared, and or, starred in "The Dirty Dozen", "The Great Escape", and "The Magnificent Seven" as well as "4 For Texas", "Guns for San Sebastian", "Chato's Land", "The White Buffalo", "You Can't Win 'Em All", "Guns of Diablo", "Villa Rides", "Red Sun", "From Noon till Three", "Breakheart Pass", and "Once Upon a Time in the West".

In the internet and DVD age his earlier movies have become just as synonymous with Bronson as the ones that he became well known for in America. The irony of all of this is Charles Bronson was born in Pennsylvania...right here in the United States of America. His birth name was Charles Buchinsky and he went by that name for a period of years in his early movies until the name was changed to Bronson. Given his body type...the athletic/muscular could've easily spelled his new name as 'Brawnson' instead of 'Bronson'.

Anyone can look his movies up on You Tube or better yet, purchase them on Amazon or other on-line stores, but those not familiar with his body of work will be surprised by how talented he truly was considering that, in his latter career, movie critics would have you believe that his contemporary films weren't worth watching...but I liked the movies of his that I've seen so far. In this image it's "Family of Cops, 3: Under Suspicion", from January 1999. The Made-for-TV movie was filmed in 1998 and it's his final starring role. The series of films started in 1995 as "A Family of Cops" and the first sequel aired in 1997, "Breach of Faith: A Family of Cops, 2" which was filmed in 1996. As mentioned, the final installment was in production in 1998, the year he retired from acting following hip-replacement surgery. I taped several of his movies off of TV, as I mentioned earlier. The movies I taped off of TV were: "The Evil That Men Do", "The Stone Killer", "Telefon", "Death Wish, 2", "Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects", "Borderline", and "Murphy's Law". I saw "Breakout" on television but didn't tape it...the same goes for "Mr. Majestyk" and "Death Hunt". I didn't have a blank video tape at the time!! I have "Messenger of Death" and "Cold Sweat" on DVD. In the latter film Bronson's co-star is James Mason. Lee Marvin is Bronson's co-star in "Death Hunt". As you saw earlier, I have "Death Wish" on home video...I purchased it at a local video store which has been out of business for years. That particular movie pushed Charles Bronson into super-star status and it spawned 4 equally great sequels. The sequels began in the '80s with the arrival of "Death Wish, 2" in 1982, "Death Wish, 3" in 1985, and "Death Wish, 4: The Crackdown" in 1987. The fourth sequel arrived seven years later in 1994, "Death Wish, 5: The Face of Death". These are the films that most people think of when Charles Bronson's name is mentioned. Although there were just 5 Death Wish films made, critics and detractors alike often jokingly claim that there were hundreds of Death Wish films made, but only 5 escaped and made it to theaters. The Death Wish series isn't as long as other franchises, though. How many Police Academy films were made? I think there were seven altogether!? There were many Star Trek films (sequels and prequels)...the same goes for the Indiana Jones franchise, the Harry Potter franchise, the James Bond franchise...but the short 5-part Death Wish franchise remains vilified pretty much. It makes no sense to me. 

In this image there are the videos of "10 To Midnight" and "Assassination", from 1984 and 1987 respectively. These films come at the peak of what I call his vigilante film success...even though the 1987 film features Bronson as a Secret Service agent protecting the wife of the President. Bronson's wife, Jill Ireland, co-starred in more than a dozen of her husband's movies. The 1984 film is wonderful, too! The thing that's perhaps satisfying to many Charles Bronson fans is despite the venom that movie critics had for much of these kind of films, the public had their say. If you check the box-office tallies for pretty much all of the Bronson films that had lots of action, adventure, and violence you'd see that the movies raked in millions upon millions at the box-office...turning a substantial profit. In addition to the box-office sales there was profitability in the home video market...I don't have any official numbers to quote but it's easy to assume that Bronson's commercially successful movies were popular video rentals at that point in time...I came across those two movies from that site I wrote of earlier that specialized in hard to find films. It's also the site where I purchased "Caboblanco", which an image of that particular film is located at the end of the blog entry.

In the previous paragraph I mentioned that critics spewed venom by this point in Bronson's career. Movie critics began to be dismissive of his films somewhere around the mid '70s onward...I've looked through archived movie reviews from the late '70s and the '80s throughout the last number of years and have seen the kinds of slings and arrows that they'd shoot at his movies. The reviews really started to turn ugly by the mid '80s. As I mentioned earlier, I appreciate Charles Bronson's films...and it did annoy me when I'd read scathing reviews of movies that I happen to enjoy watching. As I've always said, critics do not influence my movie-watching or music-listening habits...which is why I consider myself an enthusiast, not an amateur critic. In the image below, I am shown with the video tape of "Caboblanco", an incredibly obscure 1980 movie starring Charles Bronson. Jason Robards co-stars. I had to take the picture with the side of the cover showing more prominence because the yellow lettering of the title on the front, against the white background, didn't show up that great in the first picture I took. Critics described this particular film as a remake of "Casablanca" and regardless of whether that's true or not, Charles Bronson's the main attraction...he's the star and that's who the viewers who saw this film the first time around ultimately spent their money to see. He really did have that kind of impact.  

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Hee-Haw: 1969-1992, Part Fourteen...

Well, good Wednesday afternoon!! I came across an article about Hee-Haw that was published on February 27th this's a lengthy, respectful write-up/article about the show as a whole. The article, as I found out when I read the entire thing, was originally written in early January of 2011, though! It's still a good article. I didn't research my previous Hee-Haw blog entries to see if I'd posted a link to that particular article or not and so I'm going to post the link in this blog entry. The article appears on a site called thislandpress and the article's written by an author named Jeff Martin.

You can read the article here: Why Hee Haw Still Matters.

I hesitate to embed Hee-Haw videos on my blog pages due to the ever-changing availability of them through the course of time. I did a blog entry a couple of years back and embedded quite a few You Tube videos of the show...only to visit the blog several weeks later to find the videos unavailable for play-back. Either the video's uploader had removed them from public display (disabling the embedding feature) or they were taken down by the uploader for whatever reason. When this happens it creates a void for any blog entry that embeds a video clip...once the centerpiece of a blog entry is removed (such as an embedded video) then the blog entry itself makes little sense.

Anyway...that's a big reason why I don't embed too many videos anymore in my blogs. However, I'm going to break my unwritten rule on today's blog entry and embed a video clip from the late '80s era of the show. As many blog readers of mine are aware of, I grew up watching Hee-Haw every Saturday evening in the '80s...and when it was moved to Saturday afternoons, to make way for the Saturday evening additions of a couple of game shows, I'd catch it often. So I was raised on the '80s and early '90s installments of the show. The Cowboy Quartet didn't gain as much commercial popularity as The Hee-Haw Gospel Quartet did but nevertheless The Cowboy Quartet had a recurring segment on the show in the late '80s. I came across a newer video clip of this quartet and the content is below...

As you can see from the video, this is one of the final episodes of the rural format. I have no idea, though, when it was originally aired but I see that Jeff Smith is among the singers. At the start of the clip you'll see the last few seconds of a Gailard Sartain sketch where he played an owner of a flea market ever trying to break into the music business...but the camera would always pull away every time he'd whip out his guitar. Cathy Baker introduces the Quartet. Judging by the appearances of the cast-members (physical appearances, hairstyles) it looks as if this clip comes from the 1989-1990 or 1990-1991 season.

As I commented on in the previous Hee-Haw blog entries I've written, the reruns that TNN and later, CMT, aired of the show were mostly from the '80s and a precious few from the final 1990-1991 rural season. TNN once aired the Alan Jackson the time it was one of the few latter-day episodes of the series to be re-aired. The reason why I like to spotlight the show's mid '80s and early '90s run as much as possible is because #1 that's the era of the program I grew up seeing every weekend. I'll always have a fondness for those episodes. The second reason I like to spotlight those episodes is because I think, sometimes, those particular episodes get a bad wrap because they don't feature the core line-up as they're referred to by many, many fans of the show. That core line-up that's usually referred to often contained comics/entertainers that were no longer among the living by the late '80s: Archie Campbell, Junior Samples, Jimmy Riddle, and Kenny Price. Stringbean, one of the show's most popular earlier cast-members, was murdered in November 1973. His episodes were still airing each weekend (all of his segments had been taped in the late summer of 1973). On the show, which he'd been on since it's 1969 debut, he appeared in many banjo musical numbers and had a recurring sketch where he'd read a "letter from home". Also, he appeared as the scarecrow in the Kornfield joke segment, offering one-liners about how miserable he was having to listen to all the corny jokes. A black crow puppet was perched over his shoulder. After his murder, the new shows from 1974 onward featured a scarecrow in the Kornfield as a memorial. The black crow puppet continued to appear as before. Those earliest episodes which feature Stringbean currently air on RFD-TV.  

Meanwhile...getting back to the mid ' Buck Owens had left the program after the 1985-1986 season wrapped up...on top of that there was what the show's producer, Sam Lovullo, refers to as the great cast shake-up of 1986 which saw the exits of quite a few long-time cast-members.

When the show returned in the fall of 1986 it was considerably different, cast-wise, but there were still a lot of familiar faces as well: Roy Clark, Gordie Tapp, Gunilla Hutton, Grandpa Jones, Lulu Roman, George Lindsey, Gailard Sartain, etc. etc.  Also, the guest co-host position was introduced at the start of the 1986-1987 season. This was a popular addition but it was ultimately phased out by the start of the 1990-1991 season. In it's final season, of rural decor, Roy Clark was the sole host of the program. He was back as the host when the series returned in January 1992 in the urbanized setting under the slightly different name, The Hee-Haw Show. This was the format that aired until May 1992...which ultimately lead to the program going out of production that summer. Hee-Haw Silver premiered in the fall of 1992 and it ran through the spring of 1993. Afterwards reruns of the show began airing on The Nashville Network in the fall of 1993. Reruns continued to air on TNN on a consistent basis through 1996...and occasionally through 1997. They aired on CMT infrequently after that before the series left the airwaves entirely...popping up in a series of DVD's from Time-Life. The program returned to the airwaves, in rerun form, in 2008 on RFD-TV where it's been airing ever since.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Benny Hill...a Further Celebration...

A couple of years ago I did a blog post about a DVD release that's referred to as a Mega-Set. The collection contains comedy sketches and songs lifted from Benny Hill's television programs for Thames Television (1969-1989). The selling price is still rather high...even nearly 2 years later...but I did write a blog entry about the Mega-Set complete with the titles of each DVD installment. A and E had been releasing Benny Hill DVD's under the title of The Naughty Early Years- Benny Hill: Complete and Unadulterated. There were three volumes released with that title in the mid-late 2000's. Each DVD represented a specific time-frame. The first Volume, which I have, represents the years of 1969 through 1971. Volume 2, the other one I have, represents the years of 1972 through 1974. Two important documentaries on Benny Hill appear as extra's. On Set 1 there's the celebrity-driven tribute titled The World's Favorite Clown which features interviews and footage of Hill during his final years. On Set 2, DVD 3, there's the episode of A&E's Biography focusing on his life, career, and social impact in Europe, America, and all over the globe titled Benny Hill: Laughter and Controversy. I'll post some more pics further down the blog entry. I didn't purchase any of the other DVD's in the A&E series because there was lack of publicity for them and by the time I found out that more Volumes had been released I searched for them on Amazon and the selling price was a bit too much at that point in time. Volume Four, titled The Hill's Angels Years, represents 1979 through 1981 and the selling price for that particular release is only $18.51...down considerably from it's original selling price in 2006 of $49.95. Volume Five, also titled The Hill's Angels Years, represents 1982 through 1985. This particular volume is not in stock but used copies are available for as low as $14.00. The last Volume, set 6, concentrates on the final three years, 1986-1989.

For quick reference: The first three sets are referred to The Naughty Early Years and the second three sets are called The Hill's Angels Years.

Benny Hill DVD Megaset This link will take you to my 2010 blog entry when I wrote about the then upcoming Mega-Set. I didn't post any images from my personal collection but this time around, as you can see, I decided to do so.

For a lot of people in the United States, Benny Hill didn't hit the airwaves until 1979 and when he did the show was often scheduled in a late-night slot and in some places it aired numerous times during the overnight hours. I assume a reason for this was because the program was an import from another country and another reason was that it was syndicated which left it's air-time in the lap of local stations that carried the show. I don't recall ever seeing an episode of his show any earlier than 11pm. During summer break from school I'd be a night-owl and would see his show on a couple of television stations. Each program that had aired on the same night, but on different channels, were different...a perfect example of the unique aspect of Benny's programs that aired in America. The America broadcasts were compilations of sketches that appeared originally in the television specials that Hill put together throughout the '70s and '80s. As it's been pointed out by several people more knowledgeable about television programming than I am, a typical half-hour Benny Hill program in America could feature a sketch from 1973 followed by a sketch from 1982 and then followed by a song/poem recitation from 1976. The sketches were all strung together, edited flawlessly, and presented as if it were an actual live production. Each episode would end with Benny, in character, being chased by a crowd of people to the tune of Boots Randolph's rendition of "Yakety Sax". The two VHS videos in this picture were released by HBO in the 1980's when his syndicated program in America was in it's peak. I have several more VHS tapes that HBO released but those are the first two I purchased in the late '90s from an outlet mall that specialized in selling VHS was right around the time DVD's were just starting to become the preferred choice and so a lot of the tapes were selling for incredibly low prices. I bought all my Vincent Price horror movies, well, 95% of them, from that same outlet store...but that's another topic altogether!

I purchased these particular VHS tapes because I had never seen his BBC material. These three VHS videos are filled with hilarity and show a younger Benny Hill...from the early and mid '60s...experimenting and having all kinds of fun with the recording and audio techniques of the day. He'd been doing television specials since 1951 but it wasn't until later that decade that he began appearing with more and more frequency. These VHS tapes were released in the late 1990's and a DVD set became available in 2005. One of the highlights on practically any episode is when he tackles other celebrities...from those in England to those in Canada and America. A lot of the BBC episodes feature topical humor, too, which will perhaps go over a lot of people's heads. I didn't understand quite a few of the jokes that got thunderous applause and laughter until I did some research. There's an uproariously funny parody of the American series, Bonanza, featured on one of the tapes. The parody is titled Bo-Peep. The straight-man during these BBC shows was Jeremy Hawk but because these shows weren't reran and shown all over the world he isn't as well remembered as a Benny Hill cast-member; but Jeremy Hawk was a good straight-man...he rarely, if ever, broke up on camera. I don't think Henry McGee ever cracked a bit of laughter while working in the sketches (unless it was scripted). There was a scene that takes place during breakfast and Hill, apparently ad-libbing based on McGee's reaction, quotes a line from a cereal commercial that McGee appeared on. The camera shows a glimpse of McGee in near-laughter but he pulls himself back together before completely breaking up. One of the funniest sketches among the many was an offering called 'Hotel Sordide' which had been used as the name of a couple of other sketches...but in this particular one Hill plays a French waiter in the hotel who delivers food to a couple who are obviously not husband and wife but are seeing one another in secret. Hill, whose character can hardly speak any English, ends up mixed in with the lovers spat as Henry McGee and the woman in the sketch scream at one another about cheating, affairs, poor sexual performance and stuff like that there. It's a very funny sketch and one that I assume took place in the late '70s.

A look at Hill's years at the BBC can be explored further Here. On April 20th the BBC took a look back at Hill's career on the 20th anniversary of his death. Their information can be found Here

This VHS is something that I bought because the back of the cover shown some screen shots featuring Benny in sketches that I hadn't seen at that point in time. I was way more familiar with his late '70s and early '80s sketches that were on the HBO videos...I hadn't seen the earliest of the Thames material (1969-1975) and so I purchased this VHS. I loved the sketches that I saw and it wasn't too long afterward that the A&E company began releasing their Benny Hill DVD series which I wrote about at the top of this blog entry. When I purchased the A and E set I was introduced to complete episodes of his shows. His programs ran like your standard variety show: songs, dances, comedy sketches...but I was so used to the edited sketch formula of the syndicated series in America that it was like watching a completely different show. In many episodes there would be a musical number performed by a group known as The Ladybirds. These music performances never appeared in the America broadcasts (1979-1989) and they hadn't appeared on the HBO video tapes or the one you see in the image above. So, when I saw the clips in The Best of Benny Hill tape and then the full episodes on Sets 1 and 2 of the A and E company, in addition to the 3-Volume set of the BBC material and those HBO released video tapes, I felt as if my viewing of all things Benny Hill was complete...and then came the Mega-Set in 2007...combining all the A and E DVD releases in one collection...and then that Mega-Set was re-released in 2010 with new cover art but same selling price.

In the documentaries I wrote of earlier you'll learn about Benny's childhood, his comic influences, his rise to stardom, and his personal life...and you'll hear candid commentary from his supporting cast on their experiences working on Benny's programs and working with the man himself. Since the Thames material is what's more well-known all over the world that's mostly what appears in the documentaries...with a clip or two from the BBC shows added in to highlight his earliest performances on television. Hill had a regular cast of supporting players in all of his shows. The one that gets the most attention is Jackie Wright, the Irish comedian known by millions of Benny Hill fans as the "little bald man in the Benny Hill sketches" who is forever being slapped on the head and kicked in the rear by any number of cast-members...mostly by Hill but there's been times when any number of Hill's Angels have slapped and kicked Jackie Wright, too. Often, Hill's character would do something naughty toward one of the Angel's and, in error, the Angel would take her anger out on innocent bystander, Jackie Wright.

One of the most popular sketches that would surface at various times during the Thames Television run (1969-1989) would involve Hill at a bus stop wearing a trench coat and at first glance it would appear that he was holding up a newspaper as if he's reading it. Standing in the middle of Hill and Wright, in the same bus line, would be one of the Hill's Angels. Seconds later the woman would shriek, touch her bottom as she reacted to being pinched, and because Hill's hands were supposedly occupied holding up the newspaper, the woman would slap Jackie Wright, instead. After another incident involving a female in line at the bus stop, the woman would storm off after slapping Jackie Wright. These kinds of sketches were often played in mime fashion...usually with an up-tempo instrumental playing in the background. The loud slaps and other sound-effects were inserted, obviously, for comic effect. The mime/fast-paced chase routines that appeared regularly enabled many of his skits to transcend the language barrier, too.

I don't know too much about the BBC cast other than Jeremy Hawk and Patricia Hayes appearing frequently in the programs. In some of the earliest Thames episodes Nicholas Parsons was Hill's straight-man. Henry McGee remained the permanent straight-man, though, and remained a fixture on all of Hill's subsequent programs. Bob Todd often appeared. He was the big guy who also had hardly any hair. Sue Upton and Louise English were a couple of the Hill's Angels that have become synonymous with the series...but I don't know the names of any of the others off the top of my head....but....

I came across a web-site called Benny's Place and for those who want in-depth analysis and information about all things Benny Hill as well as the names of his cast-members through the years click the following Link. Along the left side of the page you'll see pics of Benny as different characters as well as pics of other cast-members, too. 

Nicholas Parsons is still among the living and heard regularly on radio. June Whitfield, who appeared on a few of the BBC specials, is also still among the living. The main cast is no longer living. Jackie Wright passed away in January 1989 but had stopped appearing on Hill's specials in 1983. Bob Todd passed away in October of 1992. Patricia Hayes, also from the BBC era, passed away in September 1998. Jeremy Hawk passed away in January 2002. Henry McGee passed away in January 2006...     

Benny Hill passed away on April 20, 1992. This salute, used many times by Hill in his programs, is one of his most recognizable. It didn't really matter which hand he used...whether right or was sure to appear during any number of sketches revolving around his character, Fred Scuttle.