Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Dick Van Dyke, an Early Happy Birthday...

An early happy birthday goes out to television legend Dick Van Dyke. He reaches 88 on December 13th. His life story can be found on various internet sites so I won't be going over that kind of thing in much detail in this blog entry. Little, though, is talked about the commercials he appeared in. Some commercials occurred in the '60s, in character as Rob Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show.

I came across several commercials from that point in time on You Tube but I also came across some commercials that I no doubt seen as a child of the '80s. There are a couple of specific commercials that he appeared in that I have not yet been able to find but one day they might turn up on video hosting sites.

I came across these commercials for Hunt's that he appeared in during the 1980's...starting off with one from 30 years ago in 1983...

Here's one promoting Hunt's new squeezable, plastic bottle...

A decade earlier he did commercials for Kodak...this aired during the time period The New Dick Van Dyke Show was on the air, 1971-1974...

Another Kodak commercial, this one is from the late '70s according to the one that uploaded it...

You can also find commercials about safety and fire prevention starring Dick Van Dyke...these PSA commercials aired into the 1980's and it's those commercials that introduced me to the actor. I asked my mom one time "who IS that man talking to the gopher?" and she'd say "that's Dick Van Dyke". As a kid I used to think Dick Van Dyke had to be related in some ay to Dick Van Patton (an actor's name I recalled seeing on Eight is Enough). They had similar names and so, as a kid, I insisted that the two were cousins much to the annoyance of my parent's who tried to explain countless times that their similar first and middle names meant nothing more than they had similar names.

One of the earliest fire prevention PSA's that I've come across on You Tube is a 1977 commercial featuring Van Dyke as Santa...

Here is another fire prevention/detection PSA...the upload states it's 1987 but I'd say mid to late '70s...his hair still had some dark in it...as you can see in the above clips from the mid to late '80s his hair had become entirely gray/white by that point in time and so this one is from the '70s.

In 1988 he appeared in the fire safety commercial that I remember the most...he co-starred with a gopher...

Dick Van Dyke's biggest successes came on television but he starred in his share of movies, too. His three biggest movies, as far as box office goes, happen to be Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Bye Bye Birdie.

He starred in The Dick Van Dyke Show from 1961 through 1966 as comedy writer Rob Petrie. The sitcom not only became one of the highest rated but also one of the most awarded. Van Dyke took home 3 Emmy Awards as Lead Actor in a Comedy Series in 1964, 1965, and 1966. His co-star, Mary Tyler Moore, played the role of Laura Petrie (Rob's wife). She took home 2 Emmy Awards as Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 1964 and 1966. The show itself took home the Emmy for Best Comedy Series in 1963, 1964, 1965, and 1966. When a TV series is nominated, the producer(s) of the winning program gets the Emmy.

Carl Reiner wrote many episodes...he also had a recurring role as Alan Brady, the boss of Rob Petrie. He won and was nominated for several Emmy awards in the writing category in addition to the Emmy wins as the producer of The Dick Van Dyke Show. The sitcom's biggest year at the Emmy gala came in 1964. According to research that's the season (1963-1964) that the sitcom swept most of the comedy categories. Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore, as mentioned, took home Lead Actor and Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 1964. The show won Best Comedy Series. Rose Marie received an Emmy nomination for her portrayal of comedy writer Sally Rogers. The sitcom took home an Emmy for Best Writing and that went to the team of Carl Reiner, Bill Persky, and Sam Denoff. The fifth Emmy win that night was in the Directing category and that went to cast-member Jerry Paris. He directed a lot of episodes...including "It May Look Like a Walnut", the surreal episode featuring Danny Thomas as a thumbless, 4 eyed alien from the planet Twilo. During the 1966 Emmy telecast the "Coast to Coast Big Mouth" episode took home an Emmy for writers Sam Denoff and Bill Persky. That's the episode that featured Laura on a nationally televised game show and accidentally told the entire country that Alan Brady wore a toupee. Other cast members included Morey Amsterdam as Buddy Sorrell, Richard Deacon as Mel Cooley, Jerry Paris as Jerry Helper, Ann Guilbert as Millie Helper, and Larry Matthews as Richie (Rob and Laura's son).

In the early 1990's after the show had basically been discovered all over again on Nickelodeon's classic TV evening line-up, branded Nick-at-Nite, a documentary special on CBS aired. The special was hosted by Charles Kuralt. Ironically, just as the classic sitcom was going through it's revival on cable TV, Dick Van Dyke was just getting started with an all new series...a drama series...more on that later...

After The Dick Van Dyke Show went out of production in 1966 he didn't have another on-going television series until 1971 and the debut of The New Dick Van Dyke Show. This early '70s sitcom, once more produced by Carl Reiner, had a three season stay before being canceled amidst backstage controversies over content/direction of the series. In this series Van Dyke portrayed a television talk show host named Dick Preston and Hope Lange played his wife, Jenny. The premise borrowed elements of the 1960's sitcom in terms of characterization. Van Dyke had gone from playing a comedy writer to being a talk show host. His home life consisted of a wife and a daughter (rather than a wife and a son like the '60s series). The couple did have a son that was rarely seen (being off at college). His work life consisted of his interaction with his boss, played by David Doyle. As in the '60s sitcom there are a couple that live next door in the '70s sitcom. Bernie and Carol Davis can be seen as fill-in's for Jerry and Millie Helper. In the third season (1973-1974) the series is revamped and Dick Preston becomes a soap opera star...and the family moves to Hollywood from Arizona. It is in this season that a lot of supporting players are added. The program consists of 72 episodes broadcast on CBS from September 18, 1971 to March 18, 1974. It's never been reran in any consistent manner even though there are enough episodes for daily syndication. Someone was wise enough to tape a couple of the episodes that aired for a brief time in 2004 on a cable channel called Good Life. This is Part 1 of 4 of an episode called "The Harry Award".

It's my belief that the 1960's sitcom is such a classic and so well loved that the early '70s sitcom never got much of a chance. This has become compounded in the decades since and most sentiments today from classic TV fans largely hold the opinion that the early '70s sitcom is more or less a copy/clone of the '60s sitcom's concept. Also appearing in this series were Fannie Flagg and later on, in the third season Henry Darrow, Dick Van Patten, and Richard Dawson just to name a few. After the third season ended, Van Dyke voluntarily decided not to continue on if Carl Reiner wasn't going to be involved anymore. Research shows that Van Dyke and CBS had signed a "three year deal" in 1971. A controversy had erupted during the third season about script content and Reiner refused to return for a potential 4th season (1974-1975) and so with that, The New Dick Van Dyke Show ended in 1974 after a 3 year run.

Not long after the series ended he returned for a variety series titled Van Dyke and Company. The series put a spotlight on his expert physical comedy and pantomime skills, plus clever camera tricks, but strangely enough it didn't last more than a season...but yet it won two notable awards in 1977: An Emmy for Outstanding Music/Variety Series and a People's Choice honor as Favorite Male Performer in a New TV Program. Later on in 1977 he appeared in 11 episodes of Carol Burnett's long running variety/sketch comedy series. After the cancellation of this series he fell into a career of guest appearances on high profile and obscure television programs and continued to do commercials as well as TV movies. In 1984 he won a Daytime Emmy for his work in a children's special "The Wrong Way Kid" that appeared on a CBS anthology series called CBS Library. Other appearances by Van Dyke during the mid '80s included guest appearances on Airwolf, American Playhouse, Highway to Heaven, and Matlock.

In 1988 Van Dyke returned to sitcoms in The Van Dyke Show. The series, because of a writer's strike, didn't debut until late October (instead of September). Dick and his son, Barry, starred in it as a father/son team running a theater. Dick played 'Dick Burgess', a former Broadway star that retires to help his son operate a local musical theater. In what can be considered a complete lack of confidence in the series, CBS pulled it from the air after just 6 episodes! Debuting on October 28, 1988 it left the air after the December 7, 1988 broadcast and obviously it's never been seen on TV since. The network didn't bother to air the remaining four episodes that had already been taped. Apparently 10 episodes had been taped in advance but by the 6th episode it was decided that "nothing can help the ratings" and just like that the series abruptly ended. I have no idea if the remaining episodes ever aired later on as 'special programming' on classic TV channels or if they're included on any DVD as bonus features. There is one episode on You Tube, of medium video quality, but watchable. I seen some things I would've changed based on that single episode. I would've had the focus on Dick Van Dyke, his son, and the son's wife first and foremost, and then Whitman Mayo, and others in and out of the theatrical circle. I would've removed the 'cute kid' if I had been in charge. In 1989 Van Dyke guest starred in an episode of The Golden Girls and his appearance earned him an Emmy nomination.

In 1990 Van Dyke had a small but critical role in the Dick Tracy movie. He portrayed corrupt District Attorney Fletcher. Legend has it, this performance led the producers of the drama series Jake and the Fatman to cast Dick Van Dyke as Dr. Mark Sloane in an episode of the series. The episode titled "It Never Entered My Mind" aired in March 1991 and it introduced the character of Mark Sloane. Soon after a series of made-for-TV movies aired starring Van Dyke as this character: Diagnosis of Murder and The House on Sycamore Street both aired in 1992. In 1993 a third TV movie aired, A Twist of the Knife. In October of 1993 the TV series, Diagnosis: Murder, began. Van Dyke's character became more fleshed out and while in the Jake and the Fatman episode he said he had no children, I think for the sake of this series, Mark Sloane needed a 'buddy' figure and a person with direct involvement in homicides and so they retooled the character for Diagnosis: Murder. In the series Barry Van Dyke co-starred as Mark's son, Steve, a homicide detective for the LAPD and the ultimate source for Mark's amateur sleuthing (Mark was a medical consultant for the LAPD but not an official police officer...but he got involved in his son's cases nevertheless). It was around this point in time that Van Dyke's 1960's sitcom as seeing a revival on classic TV channel, Nick-at-Nite. Diagnosis: Murder would not appear on the 1995-1996 Fall Season schedule but it was brought back in December 1995 to start an abbreviated third season hich ran from December 8, 1995 to May 6, 1996. Once the program returned for it's fourth season, 1996-1997, it remained on the air through the spring of 2001. It's 178th and final episode aired on May 11, 2001.

I didn't intend for this entry to get so technical and long but Dick Van Dyke's had a long and varied career and so I'll blame it on that. Happy early Birthday!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Commercials and Mascots...

Once upon a time there used to be pitchmen and pitch-women that appeared on television commercials playing a character. Also, there used to be a time that products used a mascot of some sort or another. Some may consider the characters in those commercials as a mascot. I happened to be born in the mid '70s and so I caught the tail end of a dying era...as a child of the '80s I distinctly remember commercials for various products and each one featured a memorable 'character' or 'mascot'. A lot of these commercials featuring these certain characters had been in production for decades, as I later found out, once I grew older and my nostalgic appreciation became more and more less subtle.

I see a modest revival in contemporary television commercials using 'characters' or personalities to advertise products but it's nothing like it once was. Insurance commercials seem to be at the heart of this whereas in the past it happened to be cereal and other kinds of commercials for domestic items. The commercials that air daily for such insurance companies as All State, Safe Auto, Geico, Progressive, and Farmers tend to stick with a continual character or mascot in a series of highly visible commercials. Geico usually features a British sounding CGI gecko mascot...and in some commercials they've utilized a caveman routine. They're more into the mascot style of advertising, obviously. They've been using the gecko since 1999 and the Caveman idea since 2004. Safe Auto features commercials with Norm McDonald and they're rather funny. Farmers often has a recurring routine of a tour and along the way events happen that call for someone to either get Farmers Insurance or to remind the victim that they've got insurance and so there's nothing to worry about. I did not know the name of the man that appears as the spokesperson in those commercials but I looked it up and it's an actor named J.K. Simmons. His commercials started airing in 2010.

Another actor's name I had to look up, Dennis Haysbert, is the spokesman for All State. His commercials have been airing since around 2007-2008 and they still air.

Progressive, on the other hand, uses the spokesperson, Flo, played by Stephanie Courtney. In a short period of time, Flo has appeared in many TV commercials and her likeness appears on many website banners, too. The character debuted in 2008 and reports state that by 2010 the character had appeared by that time in more than 50 commercials for the insurance company. The commercials continue to air.

Wendy's, a fast food restaurant, once had it's founder, the late Dave Thomas, appearing in humorous commercials. I'm sure a lot of people remember them...not necessarily word for word but you remember his appearances in them, click HERE to see one of them. Those commercials came several years after the massive popularity of the Clara Peller commercials, one in which can be found HERE. She appeared in more commercials for the company that you can search for yourselves if you so desire. A couple of years ago the restaurant unveiled a different spokesperson, Wendy Thomas herself! You can see one of those commercials HERE. However, after several commercials, the on-screen characterization of Wendy was changed from the real Wendy to another spokesperson that more closely resembled the iconic Wendy illustration in the company logo. Accompanied with a new restaurant slogan, Morgan Smith became 'Wendy' in the TV commercials and print advertisements. One of the commercials can be seen HERE.

I rarely see commercials for McDonald's anymore that feature Ronald McDonald or any of the other mascots that populated the commercials: Mayor McCheese, Hamburglar, Fry Guys, Birdie, or Grimace. Research indicates that those mascots were all phased out by the early 2000's but I can't recall even seeing those mascot commercials in my area even then. The characters populated a fictional area called McDonaldland, and it, too, gotten phased out around the same time period. There used to be McDonald's locations that featured a playground area out front based on the McDonaldland characters. There are playground area's still, in some locations, but they've been moved inside and I've never personally been inside any of them to know if any of the rides feature likenesses of those characters or not. You can search You Tube for videos of commercials and you can even Google images of those characters, too. As mentioned, those characters no longer appear on modern-day McDonald's commercials.

One of the commercials featuring Ronald, a class of hamburgers, and the Hamburglar is on You Tube. I've decided to embed that commercial...

Keeping with the mascot theme, certain audiences vividly recall the commercials for the Monster Cereal. In my area there were three major brands that appeared in commercials: Frankenberry, Boo Berry, and Count Chocula. Somewhere along the way it was decided that 'monster cereal' is only profitable during Halloween season and so therefore it's only available on store shelves during a scant few days in late October. This time around the cereals were not sold individually...instead, they were packaged together and being sold in groups of three and so consumers had to purchase all three Monster brands in one deluxe offer (a Triple Pack) or purchase none at all. I was a bit disappointed to see this because, first of all, the selling price was higher due to all three being sold together and secondly, the very heart of those monster cereal commercials played on the competition between the mascots so it didn't seem right to have the three 'competing cereals' being sold together in a Triple-Pack but that's only a minor quibble and one that I don't necessarily feel as if I need to pound the drum complaining about.

The cereals used to be available year round and that's why there used to be a series of animated commercials that ran frequently on television for a couple of decades and NOT just during Halloween season, either. A lot of the commercials featured Frankenberry and Count Chocula bickering over whose cereal is best and a lot of times Boo Berry is left out of the argument...and eventually his appearances in the commercials become almost non-existent except for the display of his cereal at commercial's end. The running joke is that Frankenberry and Count Chocula are actually afraid of ghosts (explaining the reason that the Boo Berry cereal is rarely given as much focus by the actual mascot).

This commercial is billed as the debut of Boo Berry in the commercials...

Mrs. Olson is a character that appeared in Folgers coffee commercials. I remember the character and my parents, at the time, drank that brand before changing to Maxwell House. I used to call an aunt of mine Mrs. Olson because of similar facial features they shared. The commercials aired from the 1960's through the mid 1980's. Nowadays the commercials are lambasted as sexist or called other synonymous expressions but I don't necessarily share those blanket sentiments. One of the black and white commercials can be seen HERE and here's a much later commercial in color...

Mrs. Olson (Virginia Christine) is just one of the handful of live-action 'characters' that appeared in a long running advertising campaign. I mentioned some of the modern day spokespeople for insurance companies earlier in the blog entry but there once was a time where TV commercials regularly consisted of not only Monster cereal, McDonald's, and Mrs. Olson but commercials for dish liquid and paper towels, to name only a few, also became attached to memorable campaign ads.

Jan Miner played the role of Madge in a lengthy commercial series for Palmolive that aired on American television from 1966 through 1992. The commercials, aimed at women, were among the most parodied by comedians. You can see one of those commercials HERE. I couldn't find any late '80s or early '90s English language commercials featuring Jan Miner as Madge but I did come across some American commercials dubbed in a foreign language. One commercial is from 1989 and another from 1990. They're both on You Tube. The clip below is NOT one of the dubbed commercials...it's one of the commercials that ran in America...

"Madge" became one of the biggest characters in advertising, and television in general, during her peak years. As popular as "Flo" is for Progressive Insurance is how popular "Madge" was for Palmolive and the same can be said for Mrs. Olson for Folgers and...

Nancy Walker for Bounty...yes, the actress had a lengthy role as Rosie in a series of commercials for Bounty. In my childhood I'd see those Rosie commercials and, just like a kid, I thought that was her actual name. I also thought this of Mrs. Olson, Madge, and some others. Little does the average kid realize that actors and actresses are playing a character. Nancy portrayed Rosie, according to various on-line sites, for 20 years, 1970-1990. Here's one of her first commercials...from 1971...

...And here's one of Nancy's last commercials for Bounty...from 1989...

There have been a whole lot of mascots and spokespeople for products ranging from food to cars to cigarettes to alcohol to pop to household appliances and pet food. There is one product, though, that is vital to any human being, in my opinion, and a long running series of commercials aired selling this particular product. Along the way I've mentioned iconic characters for McDonald's, Wendy's, the Monster Cereals, Folgers Coffee, Palmolive Dish Liquid, and Bounty paper towels. I hadn't even mentioned Charlie the Tuna for Starkist or the Hostess animated characters or Morris the Cat or even Cap'n Crunch!!

The product that ranks above those for necessity is none...other...than...

Yes, oh yes...how can you not laugh, giggle, or at least smile upon seeing Mr. Whipple squeezing the Charmin, the product that he regularly and annoyingly told customers not to squeeze? Those commercials, in my opinion, are hilarious and I'd say that toilet paper is a necessity that all humans need!! Dick Wilson portrayed Mr. Whipple in the Charmin television commercials from 1964 through 1985. Some sources cite 1989 as the final year but perhaps that's the year the commercials stopped airing altogether and 1985 is perhaps the year the last first-run commercial had aired (meaning that Charmin commercial reruns took up the final four years of the decade!?). Whatever the case, it was a long and lengthy ad campaign that saw over 500 individual commercials starring Whipple hit the airwaves in that 21 year span. There are several commercials of various vintage on You Tube featuring the character but the humor and overall concept of the commercials are lost on modern day audiences. You can spot this right away if you glance at the comment section for any number of the Charmin commercials. Commentary ranging from opinions like: "oh my!! this guy's really creepy!!" to "this is totally sexist...ogling toilet paper much in the same fashion he'd like to ogle those women...". I'm paraphrasing those comments rather than posting them word for word. It's unfortunate that a majority of those that have discovered these Charmin commercials on You Tube don't enjoy them as I did then and I still enjoy seeing them. The intentional silliness and absurdity is lost on a generation raised primarily on seriousness and political correctness. Watching anything remotely silly, absurd, or goofy is apparently no longer appreciated and is now frowned upon and seen as a waste of time because of the intentional lack of "realism". In later commercials, like the third one I embedded below, they changed the don't squeeze the Charmin approach and had Whipple encouraging people to squeeze the product. This caused much confusion and comedy amongst the various 'shoppers' in the commercials as they had long believed Whipple detested the idea of shoppers squeezing the Charmin but now insisted they do so.

In 1999 they brought Mr. Whipple back in a series of Charmin commercials and those lasted about a year before the animated Charmin Bears took over full time in the commercials.

Mr. Whipple is hilarious and a joy to watch...period...and here's some of that joy right here...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Government's Shut Down...And Life Goes On...

I recently came across a typical on-line article dealing with politics. The crux of the article dealt ith the Government shut down. A partial or full Government shut down that's being presented in this article as a "blame this party or that party" isn't the proper way to gauge this issue. The key word in this poll is "responsibility" and if anything Republican's should be thanked for attempting to put up road blocks to halt Obama's agenda. This idea that a Government shut down is a terrible thing and therefore a party is to be "blamed" is nothing more than a cat and mouse tactic. The Democrats, namely Obama, are the guilty ones in shutting down access to popular tourist attractions. The truth is, it's Obama's fault that people can't visit the various memorials and museums. In a partial Government shut down Obama actually has the ability to keep some things open and shut down other things. For instance, his party felt it extremely important to open up a closed Government building for a rally on Amnesty...but yet they've decided to close down other places of interest to create this "it's the Republican's fault" blame game.

Obama's a duplicitous, appalling, and serial lying man-child that has no interest in solving problems. He wants to issue edicts and dictates and if Republicans don't follow his every command then "it's their fault" if something goes bad...and a largely ignorant public goes along with that sentiment...when in truth, Obama and his party are the ones responsible for any misery that falls upon those being directly affected by the shut down. The national news likes to spotlight suffering and misery during times of Government shut downs and not surprisingly the top narrative is the potential lack of Government checks to veterans and others

There's a leftist bias in the national media...it's always been there...dating back to the days when the original Democratic message didn't support division, jealousy, and special interest groups as it does today. This bias would have you believe that Republicans are "losing ground" with the public. Now, of course, nothing could be further from the truth.. The actual truth is the national media pushes that sentiment all day long on TV, on-line, and during radio newscasts...the psychological practice of repeating something so much it's perceived to be true is one of the oldest political tricks in the book. The phrase "perception is reality" is basically all that the Democrats are interested in. If they can make it appear that Republicans are to blame for every single thing that goes wrong then that's all that they're really concerned about. They're all looking ahead to that next election anyhow. You can say the same thing about some Republicans but the Democrats are the ones that employ that "perception is reality" technique the most.

Q: Can Obama be trusted to keep his word?

A: Every time the Republicans have caved on many issues with the promise from Obama that he'll set aside his rhetoric and work things out with the Republicans, he's never kept his promise or he hears their concerns but ultimately ignores what they have to say. Anyone that actually believes that Obama could ever do anything at the suggestion of the GOP is being hopelessly naive. He uses them to forge a false image of bi-partisanship but then throws them away once the cameras and microphones are off.

Q: Does Obama care about compromise?

A: Obama's all about himself. He has no compromising bone in his body and when you have a President like that, one that's uncompromising, condescending, and full of himself...how COULD an opposing party ever trust him or want to work with him again? This is why it's ultimately laughable that people could "blame" Republicans for any of this gridlock. The GOP has shown their willingness to compromise and have actually caved in on MANY issues that they shouldn't have...all in the name of compromise...but it's the stubborn Obama and his minions in Congress that have shown time and time again that they want it their way or the highway and yes, there's a long track record dating back to 2009 that proves it. Again, once a President ceases to have any shred of decency compounded with an unwillingness to give in for the sake of getting the Government back on track then he obviously doesn't have much room to cast blame but yet that's exactly what he did in his most recent attack speech.

He's a diabolical saboteur of the worst kind.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The art and animation of the McKimson Brothers...

I was tempted to title this blog entry 'Pay attention, I say...pay attention, son, This is a great book!!' but I decided against it basically because the title probably wouldn't appear completely in the blog listings and so I decided on the title you see above. This book, titled I Say, I Say...Son! looks at the animation/illustration careers of the McKimson brothers: Robert, Tom, and Chuck. Considering that the book's written by Robert McKimson, Jr. there's an understandable main focus on Robert Sr. and his life and times but it also covers the careers of Tom and Chuck, just as the book indicates. I purchased the hardcover book and I did this simply for posterity. Some may opt to purchase the on-line Kindle version for economical reasons or to simply receive the book faster than standard mail shipping. Whichever version you purchase is fine as long as you purchase it. It's one of those kind of books that I think will go out of print and be a rare find in months and years to come. The on-line version, who knows, may be around for eternity but the actual book won't be.

There are a few thorough reviews of this book already and so I'll by-pass re-writing what's already been said. Animation fans and cartoon fans will enjoy the book a whole lot. Anyone aspiring to be a cartoonist or work in the animation industry should purchase the book if only to grasp how far the industry has come since those earliest days and appreciate the technological advances that have come along. As others have mentioned, the book is chock full of illustrations and pictures of behind the scenes workers. There are several moments in the book where the story of the McKimson's is broken up between pages of illustrations. It can be a difficult read if you're not as familiar with these kind of books but the illustrated pages, as I noticed, have a light blue background and so if you look at the side of the book's pages you'll see how many blue pages to turn through before picking up where you left off reading...but, for me, I loved looking through the illustrated pages and I'd simply flip back to where I'd left off reading and then pick up reading once the images had ended.

One reviewer mentioned that the book comes across bitter but I didn't see it that way. In my way of thinking, being bitter means that you're holding a grudge or have a sour mood about whatever it may be. However, if one is familiar with the Warner Brothers cartoons and have some sort of knowledge about various erroneous credits over who created what or who designed what character, etc. etc. then you'll understand the reason for including, for example, images of copyright registrations showing Robert McKimson as the artist who came up with the physical appearance of the Bugs Bunny that we all know and recognize.

If you're familiar with the cartoons of Robert McKimson, or any of the McKimson brothers, but have a hard time finding anything about them on-line then this book is a definite must-have. As far as Chuck McKimson goes, his career as an animator and artist is tied in mostly with his brother's animation unit at Warner Brothers. If you look at any number of Robert McKimson cartoons you're bound to see Charles McKimson listed as one of the animators. The book features illustrations that Chuck did...especially a watercolor rendering of Miss Prissy. Among the pictures in the book is one of Robert and company examining what's referred to as a pencil test.

Chapter Six is titled 'Western Publishing' and it looks at the careers of both Tom and Chuck McKimson. While throughout the book you'll see illustrations credited to Tom and Chuck, as well as pictures of the two, it's mostly in Chapter Six where their individual contributions to animation and art is discussed. In this chapter it mentioned Tom's preference with illustrating comic books, coloring books, and other kinds of book-related media. The author relays the reasoning behind why Tom preferred book illustration to animation. Did you know that Tom and Chuck worked on the Roy Rogers comic books of the late '40s and early '50s? That is just one of the various bits of information found in the book.

The cover art, as you see, depicts a scene from any number of cartoons featuring Foghorn Leghorn and Henery Hawk. What you don't see is the image on the back of the book. It's of the character simply known as Barnyard Dawg and he's in a very familiar pose. The full image is seen on pages 114 and 115. Foghorn was and continues to be one of my favorite characters. For many, many, MANY years I never knew the character's name. I only referred to him as "that big rooster". I was raised on the Warner cartoons that aired on TV throughout the 1980's and 1990's and as many already know the title cards would always be removed. Anyway, as I got older, I found out what a leghorn was after I saw the phrase 'Foghorn Leghorn' written in an issue of TV Guide. The name had appeared in connection with a Bugs Bunny holiday cartoon that was going to air. So, I made the connection that Foghorn Leghorn must mean "loud chicken".

In the late '90s I was listening to an AM radio station that aired a show called When Radio Was. The show, hosted by Stan Freberg, consisted of Stan introducing and giving some insight about old-time radio programs that were to be re-aired during the hour. I knew of Stan Freberg from a few Christmas comedy CD's that I owned featuring various artists, Stan being one of them, but I didn't exactly know his ties with cartoons and advertising, etc. etc. until several years later. I didn't know he was the voice of Pete Puma, the character that appears on Robert McKimson's cartoon "Rabbit's Kin", until sometime in the 2000's.

Anyway...that particular episode of When Radio Was featured a re-airing of a Fred Allen radio show. This one featured a segment known as Allen's Alley and it had a character in it named Senator Claghorn, played by Kenny Delmar. As soon as I heard Claghorn speak for the first time I assumed they'd patterned the character after "that big rooster" but I learned it was the other way around.

The author, on page 119, goes into detail about Foghorn's creation and it's inspiration. Notable characters from Robert McKimson include Foghorn Leghorn, Speedy Gonzales, Tasmanian Devil, Miss Prissy, and Barnyard Dawg. Yes, Robert McKimson created Speedy Gonzales and directed the character's debut cartoon, "Cat Tails For Two", in 1953. There's an image of the character in the book indicating that his creation happened in 1951 but didn't make it onto the big screen until 1953.

The character was re-designed by the Friz Freleng unit after that first appearance. The Speedy cartoons were non-exclusive. Whereas Robert pretty much had exclusive use of Foghorn Leghorn, both the Freleng and McKimson units issued Speedy cartoons throughout the late '50s and into the mid '60s.

Robert McKimson's cartoons, for the most part, have been overshadowed by the directorial masterpieces and achievements of his peers, which included Tex Avery, Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett, and Chuck Jones. This isn't to say McKimson never directed any masterpieces of his own. McKimson's cartoons are just as great and just as popular but most of them never achieved the kinds of lofty acclaim, in later decades, that his peers cartoons have. McKimson did a series of hilarious cartoons featuring a nameless cat and dog. Once you see the character's faces you'll remember the cartoons I'm referring to. In one cartoon, "Early To Bet", the cat is constantly trying to win a card game. A character referred to as the Gambling Bug bites the cat at various moments throughout the cartoon...sending the cat into a delirious state of gambling fever. The dog, meanwhile, always wins. This causes the cat to have to pay a penalty for losing. The hook of the cartoon, and others in the series, is the cat's wild and outlandish reactions every time he reads a penalty that's about to be inflicted on him. The nameless cat and dog appear in another McKimson cartoon titled "It's Hummer Time" which tells of a the cat's desire to capture an elusive hummingbird. The joke is that the bird, much like the gambling bug in the other cartoon, continually leads up to physical trouble for the cat at the hands of the dog. This particular cartoon ends with some ironic justice for the cat.

The book gives great detail about the natural artistic talents of Robert, Tom, and Chuck McKimson and it goes a long way at examining Robert McKimson's contributions to the Warner Brothers characters as he was, at one time, in charge of checking everyone's drawings...from all units! He had his hand in a lot of cartoons that don't credit him simply because there's never been a "Reviewed and checked by" screen credit. If there had been such a credit, based on the information in this book, Robert McKimson's name would appear on a lot of cartoons.

Robert McKimson passed away too young, at the age of 66, in September 1977. His death came just weeks before his 67th birthday. Tom McKimson passed away in February 1998 at the age of 90. Chuck McKimson passed away in April 1999 at the age of 84.

The book contains a foreword by John Kricfalusi and an introduction by Darrell Van Citters. As mentioned, the book is a must-have for cartoon fans and those interested in reading about the brother's McKimson from one that would certainly know the most- Robert McKimson, Jr.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Bugs Bunny: Superstar

I've been aware of this documentary for more than 20 years now. I first saw it on television at some point in the early '90s on TBS or TNT. It had previously been issued on home video and years later it became available on DVD as a bonus feature on Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume Four. It was split in two parts, on two separate discs...much like other documentaries that appear on the other Golden Collection releases. This time it's presented by itself. The program is narrated by Orson Welles and it begins rather dramatic as he tells of various landmarks throughout the world that have made an impact in some way on mankind. He then, in a rather mystified and questionable tone of voice, submits Termite Terrace among the landmarks worthy of adoration. Welles narrates and introduces all involved...the interview clips often begin with the interview already in progress and we are let in on the conversation. Bob Clampett receives the bulk of the airtime. Within the documentary you will see 9 cartoons in their entirety. As others have mentioned, most documentaries only show bits and pieces of cartoons or stills of characters whereas this one airs 9 cartoons in their entirety. In an audio commentary, a bonus feature, you will discover the story of why the special was put together and why Bob Clampett received much of the focus (even though all of the other famed Looney Tune directors, except Frank Tashlin, were still among the living at the time of filming).

This is a must-have documentary in my opinion. If this will be your first time seeing this documentary, but you've seen the various Behind the Tunes features on the Golden Collection series, then this 1975 Superstar documentary will perhaps perplex or confuse most of you. Why? It's because of a lot of the information from Clampett in the Superstar documentary has either been dismissed or shown to be partly true.

Now, of course, armed with a lot more knowledge of the cartoons and the behind the scenes information that we have access to today, it may make watching the Superstar documentary cringe-worthy to some but if you simply want to see a few of the legendary cartoon directors speak of their cartoons as well as see 9 full length cartoons...in addition to hearing the audio from the film maker, Larry Jackson...plus hear Orson Welles narrate...this DVD will not disappoint!

Although it's been almost 4 decades since this special first aired, it nonetheless aired numerous times on cable TV throughout the 1980's and most of 1990's, usually in overnight and early morning time slots or during times of the day with younger audiences. Given that kind of exposure, a lot of the information in the film continued to be accepted as fact. I, too, blindly accepted a lot of the things I was hearing in this special as fact but it wasn't until the Golden Collection series came along and the increase in animation web-sites (with a lot more credible information) that I was able to see that there was a lot of credit hogging taking place amongst many (especially the creation of Bugs Bunny).

You can look up various websites that offer one side of the story verses another when it comes to character creation and see all the multiple accounts and second hand information, etc. etc. Clampett certainly played a vital role in the studio's success, no doubt about it, and his cartoons are hilariously funny in my opinion. This doesn't mean that I don't love the subtlety of the Chuck Jones cartoons or the razor sharp timing and musical prowess of the Friz Freleng cartoons. I don't have any one director, in particular, that stands above the rest and receives exclusive admiration and adoration...there are cartoons from all of the major directors at the cartoon studio that I like for various reasons. Some people actually believe that if you like Clampett's work then you can't possibly like anything from Chuck Jones, for example. There are those who think that if you gravitate toward Friz Freleng then there's no possible way that you could enjoy something from Robert McKimson, Norm McCabe, or Art Davis.

All of that aside, Bugs Bunny Superstar provides a look into the golden age of animation and it continues to remain a must-have in that it includes actual footage of all involved.

There is another documentary that I'd love to see get a DVD release by itself. As of now it's only available on Vol. 1 of the Golden Collection and it's John Canemaker's 'Boys From Termite Terrace'. That documentary along with this Bugs Bunny Superstar DVD are must-have's simply for the video footage of several of the directors speaking in detail about their cartoons.

It's a shame Robert McKimson wasn't as active in either of those documentaries. He died, suddenly, in 1977 at age 66. I love his cartoon parodies of TV shows and the Foghorn Leghorn cartoons he did. I also like how he didn't follow the formula for a lot of the established characters and for humor's sake would place Bugs Bunny, for example, as an overly aggressive character out to prove his worth in "Rebel Rabbit"; then there was "Easter Yeggs" where Bugs, at first, is tormented by a sorrowful rabbit as well as Elmer Fudd and a nameless juvenile delinquent forever wanting an Easter egg; there's "The Windblown Hare" that spoofs The Three Little Pigs story by having the pigs as conniving schemers who pull a fast one on Bugs and then there's the Wolf who mostly remains clueless to anything that doesn't follow along with the fairy tale he's reading; there's "Hillbilly Hare", "French Rarebit", "Rabbits Kin" introduced the animation world to Pete Puma; there's "The Grey Hounded Hare", as well as many others. I hadn't even mentioned the various popular cartoons he did with the Tasmanian Devil. His cartoons included their share of catch-phrases and scenes that are just as memorable as the other directors.

McKimson was just as great as his peers but his tendency to shy from attention, adoration and publicity in a manner in which his contemporaries didn't caused his work to be greatly under appreciated. You can read about him and his two brothers, Charles and Tom, in a book that Robert McKimson, Jr. wrote titled "I Say...I Say...Son!".

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Hair Bear Bunch DVD...

While looking through the blog entries in my archives I found that I had written a blog about the animated series "Help! It's the Hair Bear Bunch" back on December 4, 2009. At the time of that writing there wasn't any DVD in print offering the complete series but now there is. Released 2 months ago yesterday (March 12, 2013) was the Hair Bear Bunch DVD which contains all 16 episodes of the 1971-1972 series. You can find out more about it in the Amazon link found above. It, too, will be a future DVD purchase as I slowly but surely build up a personal collection of cartoons that I enjoyed as a kid and still enjoy. No, I wasn't around in 1971 or 1972 when the series originally aired...I came along in December of 1976...but I first saw this cartoon series, like many others my age, while watching the Cartoon Express on the USA Network in the 1980's and early 1990's. You can read my commentary about the show itself HERE. I don't usually put a time table on when I'll purchase anything but more than likely it'll happen this coming weekend.  

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Bugs Bunny's original Birthday...

During a news break this morning while listening to the radio it was announced that today marked the 75th birthday of Bugs Bunny. Doing the math, 2013 minus 75 is 1938. It was on April 30, 1938 that an as yet to be named rabbit character appeared in an animated theatrical cartoon titled Porky's Hare Hunt. This rabbit character would evolve over the course of 2 years and visually start to resemble the character we all know as Bugs Bunny. The rabbit got it's name through a chain of events where an employee at Warner Brothers had written the phrase Bugs's Bunny on a model sheet of the yet to be named character. Ben Hardaway's nickname at the studio, according to those who worked with him, was Bugs. Today many historians refer to him as Ben "Bugs" Hardaway. 

Anyway, the alliterative name stuck and from then on Bugs Bunny became the character's name.

However, longtime fans, historians, and those who worked on the cartoons cite 1940 as the official birth year of Bugs Bunny for it was in a July 27, 1940 cartoon directed by Tex Avery titled A Wild Hare which introduced the basic visual appearance that Bugs Bunny has kept over the last 73 years. Porky's Hare Hunt was directed by Ben Hardaway and Cal Dalton. A Wild Hare was directed by Tex Avery. Research shows that there were four theatrical cartoons released between April 1938 and March 1940 starring the future Bugs Bunny. Those cartoons are as follows:

1. Porky's Hare Hunt; 1938  (Ben Hardaway and Cal Dalton)

2. Prest-O Change-O; 1939  (Chuck Jones)

3. Hare-um Scare-um; 1939  (Ben Hardaway and Cal Dalton)

4. Elmer's Candid Camera; March 2, 1940  (Chuck Jones)

A Wild Hare, with the new design of the rabbit, soon followed in July 1940. This is probably the only animated character that has two birthday's. April 30, 1938 and July 27, 1940. Given that the 1940 cartoon by Tex Avery is almost always universally accepted as the first official Bugs Bunny cartoon, 1940 is considered his official 'birth year'. This is why, in 1990, there was a lot of media hype surrounding the character's Golden Anniversary...hitting 50. Ten years later ABC-TV cancelled the long running Saturday morning Bugs Bunny Show franchise (which had evolved into The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show). This particular series, which ran on various networks and time-slots since 1960, had turned 40 in the year 2000. Since that point in time the Looney Tunes characters have mostly aired on cable television, off and on, in addition to a long list of DVD compilation projects. Down through the years I've been able to purchase several items pertaining to Bugs Bunny and his numerous co-stars plus a couple of items about the man who gave voice to Bugs Bunny from 1938 through 1989, Mel Blanc.

At this time I'd like to put on display some of my Bugs Bunny/Looney Tunes/Mel Blanc items from my personal collection...

This is a relatively brand new book. It hit the market late in 2012 and I finally got around to purchasing it a few weeks ago. I have purchased a couple of other books from the pen of Ben Ohmart within the last several years and so when I first learned that a book about Mel Blanc was on the horizon I couldn't wait until it's release. Throughout the book there is commentary from Mel's son, Noel, taken from an unpublished biography that Noel wrote about his father. Ohmart's book, titled Mel Blanc- The Man of a Thousand Voices, it features many, many, many facts about a man who became one of the most busiest actors in radio, cartoons, and records...and later added television appearances to his long list of credits. Speaking of credits...this book gives a detailed account on everything that Mel Blanc took part in from the early days of his career through his final projects in 1989. It's truly a fabulous, unique, and addictive kind of book for those who are not only fans of Mel Blanc but of classic animated cartoons in general, whether theatrically released or made-for-TV. The book is also filled with quotes and remembrances by a long list of celebrities in an out of animation that Mel worked with or were inspired by. Mel's friendship with Jack Benny is explored in more detail in this book, too. The book is lengthy but this is not to be a surprise for an actor of Mel's considerable longevity...before hitting national radio in the late '30s, right around the time he was just starting his decades long run with Warner Brothers cartoons, Mel was a feature on local radio for a period of years in Oregon prior to making the move down to the Los Angeles area. In addition to the written word there are plenty of pictures throughout. Some of the images, I assume, are exclusive to the book as I hadn't seen quite a few of them until now. This fabulous book can be purchased HERE.  
Although this particular book has nothing to do with Bugs Bunny, it's all about Tweety and Sylvester, the canary and cat duo that featured prominently in many of the Warner Brothers releases throughout the mid '40s through the '50s. The book was issued in 1991, written by Jerry Beck. By the early '60s Sylvester's more frequent nemesis had changed from Tweety to the fastest mouse in Mexico, Speedy Gonzales. The book takes a look at every theatrically released cartoon to feature each character, either as a duo or separately. The two characters would, many decades after their creation, star in a television series titled The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries. The series debuted in 1995, the 50th anniversary of the first theatrical cartoon starring Sylvester titled "Life with Feathers". Like Bugs Bunny, Sylvester was a yet to be named character. In fact, he was referred to as Thomas in early cartoons with Tweety.

In 1988 Mel Blanc issued his autobiography titled That's Not All, Folks!. The book is a fascinating look into the life and times of one of animation's greatest voices. As the years went on and more and more fans had gotten older and more and more aspiring voice actors/actresses came along who had grown up watching the various Looney Tunes programs, the book seemed to take on much more scrutiny than it did when it was originally released. There are a few recollections in the book that contradict information later brought to light and then there's the longstanding argument over the creation of the Foghorn Leghorn voice. At the root of the argument, basically, is the origin of the voice and how possible it is that both Mel Blanc and Kenny Delmar were inspired by similar sounding fictional characters and each used that distinctive voice without copying from the other...Foghorn Leghorn debuted right at the height of the Senator Claghorn craze in 1946. Claghorn was a radio character played by Kenny Delmar on Fred Allen's radio program starting in the latter half of 1945. Keith Scott writes about this very subject HERE.  

June Foray issued her autobiography, Did You Grow Up With Me, Too?, a couple of years ago. It was co-authored by Mark Evanier and Earl Kress. I'm proud to say that I wrote the first Amazon review of this particular book. You can read that review HERE. June had quite an impact in the Looney Tunes series as she gave voice to a few characters that have since become animation icons. The original voice actress of Granny and Witch Hazel was Bea Benaderet. Bea would later give voice to Betty Rubble in The Flintstones. Like June, Bea had a lengthy career in radio and on records in addition to the cartoon work. Bea, however, would become even more recognizable as a face actress in the 1950's and 1960's appearing in an assortment of early television comedies. Bea's longest running television role was as matriarch Kate Bradley on the rural sitcom, Petticoat Junction. June stepped into the roles of Granny and Witch Hazel during the 1950's and she's been the voices of those characters ever since. Unlike Mel Blanc, though, June wasn't tied to just one animation company exclusively for so many years. In addition to her Warner Brothers work she concurrently gave voice to another animated icon, Rocky the Flying Squirrel, on the Bullwinkle series of cartoons by the Jay Ward company. She became even more busy in the 1980's. She gave voice to Jokey Smurf and Mother Nature in the Smurfs series throughout the decade. For the Disney company June was the voices of several characters in the mega hits The Adventures of the Gummi Bears and Duck Tales from the mid '80s onward. You can read more about her by getting the autobiography!

This obscure 2005 CD features quite a number of songs recorded by Mel Blanc. What a lot of people usually forget about or don't know is that Mel had a lengthy recording career outside of animated cartoons. Although a lot of his recordings centered around the animated characters that he gave voice to in a series of children's albums there were quite a few recordings where he uses his natural voice, too, but those weren't as commercially successful as the recordings he did with the humorous voices and sound effects. There are 25 songs featured. Some of the highlights, for me, are "Yosemite Sam", "I Tan't Wait Till Quithmuth Day", "The E.I.O. Song", "Morris", "Yah Das Ist Ein Christmas Tree", "Money", "Barney Google", "That Hat I Got For Christmas Is Too Beeg", "I Tell My Troubles to Joe", and "The Missus Wouldn't Approve". For the latter two songs he uses a voice similar to the one he gave to the Happy Postman character on The Burns and Allen Show. He gives a display of quite a few voices as each voice takes turn performing "Barney Google". The CD kicks off with his version of "The Woody Woodpecker Song". The recording had originally been recorded and released by the immensely popular bandleader, Kay Kyser, in 1948. His recording featured the vocalizations of Harry Babbitt and Gloria Wood. The song is a perfect example of an obscurity amongst a general audience in that Mel Blanc provided the original voice of Woody Woodpecker and created the famous laugh heard throughout a bulk of the series. The Woody character was created by Ben Hardaway in 1940...yes, the same one who played a pivotal role in the original version of Bugs Bunny in 1938. In fact, Woody's vocalization as provided by Mel Blanc was almost exactly the way the original version of Bugs Bunny sounded...right down to the distinct laugh. Mel provided Woody's voice in animated form in just the first four releases. This is because in 1941 Mel signed an exclusive contract with the Warner Brothers cartoon division (Leon Schlesinger Productions) and from that point forward Mel's voice could only be heard on cartoons released by Warner Brothers. This exclusive contract was kept intact for nearly 20 years.

However, the exclusive contract applied to animated cartoons only...it didn't prevent him from using his voice on radio and on records. In radio, Mel was heard on dozens of radio programs playing a wide variety of recurring characters. Given that his radio characters were as animated as the characters in the cartoons it wasn't uncommon for the writers of the cartoons to blend both worlds together and have in-jokes flowing all over the cartoons about various radio comedies that Mel was featured on. References to Jack Benny were used the most given that Jack's radio program was the #1 comedy show for so many years and that Mel provided many character voices on that series. One cartoon in particular, 1959's The Mouse That Jack Built, must have seemed surreal to audiences at the time. It was directed by Robert McKimson and featured the actual cast of The Jack Benny Program providing their character voices, drawn as mice. Mel provided the voice of the Maxwell jalopy as well as the unseen Ed, the Vault Keeper. On radio Joseph Kearns provided the voice of Ed. Considering that Ed only had a brief exchange with the cartoon Jack Benny it was probably decided that it wouldn't make much sense to bring in Joseph Kearns for just one single line reading. Later that year he would take on the role of Mr. Wilson on Dennis the Menace.

I've posted several of these images before in numerous other blog entries. The Looney Tunes Golden Collection continues to be, for me, the bible of Warner Brothers theatrical cartoons from beginning to end. The various DVD discs focus on a particular overall theme, pretty much, and so what you get are deliberately selective cartoon entries on each disc that have to do with the overall theme. For example, one of the disc's may be devoted to just the cartoons starring Bugs Bunny (obviously!) and another disc may deal with cartoons that feature only Daffy Duck or Porky Pig. In some of the last collections there was a lot more coverage of the black and white era and the earliest Looney Tunes characters...I'm referring to the characters that arrived prior to the debut of Porky, Daffy, Bugs, Tweety, and Sylvester. If you don't know who those characters were then they'll be a revelation if you purchase the later installments of the Golden Collection series. Also, I've almost wore out one of the disc's...the one that features the World War Two cartoons found in the collection below. The war cartoons are endlessly entertaining but I went to play it one day and it stopped playing during one of the cartoons. I don't know if I really did wear the disc out or if it's one of those unexplained glitches having more to do with the DVD player rather than the disc itself.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Scooby Doo and the Globetrotters...

A couple of years ago I purchased this DVD and another one featuring the Scooby gang teaming up with Batman and Robin. The episodes originated from the second Scooby-Doo series titled The New Scooby-Doo Movies which first aired during the 1972-1973 season. A DVD collection gathering random episodes from that 1972 series not only features these two episodes but also a third adventure with the Harlem Globetrotters in addition to the two episodes with Batman and Robin (battling The Joker and Penguin). This Scooby meets the Harlem Globetrotters DVD contains the episodes "The Mystery of Haunted Island" and "The Loch Ness Mess". The review contains spoilers. First up is the Haunted Island episode. In it, Scooby and the gang (Shaggy, Fred, Daphne, and Velma) meet up with the Globetrotters by accident. Initially looking for assistance with the Mystery Machine while en route to fictional picnic island, Scooby and the gang realize that the deserted shack isn't as deserted as it appears. It turns out the Globetrotters are using the shack as a hide-out to practice in and get some rest. Eventually, through a series of gags, the Globetrotters and Scooby and the gang come face to face. After filling up the Mystery Machine with fuel, Meadowlark and Curly inform Scooby and the gang that they are hoping to get some rest before a big game with a team known as the Ocean City Scorpions and that the shack was a perfect spot. The gang tell the Globetrotters about picnic island and soon everyone is headed for the island for a short visit. As it turns out, that short visit doesn't pan out because as they make their way to the boating docks a pair of hands places a sign that reads Picnic Island in front of a tanker which turns out to be the Haunted Island Queen. Everyone boards the wrong ship by accident and it's not long afterward that everyone realizes the accident...they also realize that nobody else is on board and that the ship is being controlled by some supernatural force. The bulk of the story takes place inside a large mansion where traps and tricks are on full display by unseen perpetrators. Glowing hand prints and foot prints soon have everyone on a wild goose chase. A sub-plot throughout is the desire of the Globetrotters to get a good night's rest before the game with the Scorpions. Eventually the story climaxes and it's revealed whose been behind the 'haunted house' trick. The idea behind the haunted island ordeal was dreamed up by the Scorpions owner...he wanted the Globetrotters to be so tired that they'd lose the basketball game. The next day everyone shows up at the gym. The Globetrotters are walking zombies, falling over one another, yawning and snoring while the Scorpions continue to rack up dozens of points. Shaggy comes up with an idea during half-time to use ice to help keep the Globetrotters awake. As time runs out it's up to one more final shot...does the ball go in? Do the Globetrotters win?

In the second episode on the DVD, "The Loch Ness Mess", the gang is on their way to Uncle Nat's place, specifically, Shaggy's uncle. Going by the directions on Shaggy's map they all find themselves lost. They meet up with the Globetrotters while the team was in the middle of a cookout. Shaggy's nose for food led the gang in that direction. After everyone meets and greets, Shaggy insists that the Globetrotters come with them and stay at his uncle's mansion. Fred had Shaggy do the driving...which leads to disaster as on their way a ghost appears in the area warning them to get lost. Shaggy, in a panic, starts to drive wildly in the Mystery Machine and eventually comes to a wild stop near a covered bridge. Recollecting that he doesn't remember this bridge, a light shines on the face of a local...it turns out to be Uncle Nat. At the mansion Nat tells everyone about the ghosts. When it's revealed that the gang and the Globetrotters are all going to go Scuba Diving, Nat warns them about the sea serpent. This causes Velma to sarcastically comment that not only is the area haunted by a ghost of Paul Revere but now they have to put up with a local loch ness monster. At the marina they're denied access, at first, to scuba equipment when one of the workers (Winslow) states that they're closed even though it's obvious that the business is open. After Shaggy and others threaten to go to the police, a man revealed to have the name of Morgan reluctantly allows them to go scuba diving. 

Long time Hanna-Barbera voice actor, John Stephenson, had given voice to the owner of the Scorpions in the previous episode with the Globetrotters. In the Loch Ness episode, Stephenson is heard as Morgan as well as Winslow. Fans of old-time radio, particularly the Fred Allen show, will perhaps notice that Winslow's voice is patterned after Titus Moody, a New England farmer character played by Parker Fennelly on Fred Allen's radio program in addition to a string of television commercials for Pepperidge Farms.

Meanwhile, as most of the gang are scuba diving they encounter a sea serpent. Some of the Globetrotters stayed behind with Velma and Daphne. While Scooby, Shaggy, Fred, Meadowlark, and Curly were investigating the cove, the others spent the idle time playing basketball.

The plot by Morgan soon unravels, though, as Winslow and another co-hort, Selby, turn out to be two of the three ghosts that are haunting the area. The ghost with the lantern, which appears on the DVD cover, turns out to be Morgan. Winslow reveals that Morgan found a chest full of gold under the water and was using the sea serpent to keep people away from the spot until they could take the gold. Uncle Nat gets enjoyment from all of this and laughs about the entire thing for he knows that the gold is fake and was used as a prop in a pirate movie that was filmed there several years ago.

I have since put in an order for the Best of the Scooby-Doo Movies DVD collection. The collection had been around for a number of years and was always too expensive. Even though it's still a bit pricey I felt that the current selling price would probably be the cheapest that it'll ever become and so I went ahead and ordered it. Once it arrives and I watch it thoroughly I'll write about it on this blog. It should arrive by the end of this week and so more than likely I'll watch it this coming Saturday if it arrives by then.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Mask of the Blue Falcon review...

I'm fresh off the chair after having just watched the DVD release of Scooby-Doo: Mask of the Blue Falcon. The movie is good for the kind of movie it is...it has a lot of visual appeal and high octane action much in the same way the rest of the direct-to-DVD Scooby projects have had over the last 15+ years. This movie isn't necessarily what I was assuming it would be back in late 2012 when I initially heard of it's upcoming release. I originally thought that the movie would bring back the Blue Falcon and Dynomutt and have the duo team up with Scooby and company to solve a mystery of some sort. Instead, the movie is about Shaggy and Scooby's obsession with Blue Falcon and Dynomutt...throughout the majority of the movie Scooby is wearing a Dynomutt costume while Shaggy wears a blue shirt with the letter F on it as an honor to his super hero idol. As always, my reviews feature several spoilers so for those who hadn't seen the movie and do not want to know how things turn out you shouldn't read the remaining of the commentary.

The movie's opening sequence is great. It's patterned after the live action Batman series of the '60s. The action of the movie centers around a comic book convention in California. The event is known more officially as 'Comic Con' but for humor the convention has an outlandish name. Since the movie is set inside a venue housing a comic book convention it makes full use of cartoon characters from a number of classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Not only are there posters all over the walls promoting classic programs such as The Mighty Mightor and Hong Kong Phooey but in typical conventioneer behavior we see fans and enthusiasts showing up in costume as their favorite cartoon characters. Blink and you'll probably miss a dozen characters parading across the screen inside the convention center. I spotted an assortment of fans dressed as Zan and Jayna from the Super Friends; I saw a really quick shot of a fan dressed as Apache Chief and Samurai, both from the Super Friends. There's also some screen shots of people dressed as Space Ghost, Coil Man from The Impossibles, and then there are more posters. As mentioned, Scooby and Shaggy dress up as Dynomutt and Blue Falcon. Along for the ride is, of course, the rest of the gang: Fred, Daphne, and Velma. News surfaces that there will be a brand new, ultra-modern depiction of the Blue Falcon and Dynomutt. Fred and Daphne can't wait to see this...Shaggy and Scooby prefer the traditional characterizations while Velma's basically non-interested in the goings-on until she senses a mystery on the horizon when the villainous Mr. Hyde shows up and unleashes his uncontrollable anger on the city. This 'mystery' turns out to, on the surface, tie in with the upcoming movie of Blue Falcon.

As is the case with the Scooby television series, there are several red herring characters who are designed to appear to have a motive for being the villain but turn out innocent. This red herring treatment is given to a couple who are all too eager to receive publicity for the upcoming movie. Meanwhile, Scooby and Shaggy meet the original Blue Falcon at an autograph table. The actor, Owen Garrison, is bitter over the movie's producers overlooking him and forbidding him to wear the Blue Falcon costume during public appearances. The more dedicated of fans will immediately recognize that the name, Owen Garrison, is a reference to the original voice actor of Blue Falcon, Gary Owens. In addition to Owen Garrison we also get to meet a character named Joe Rabble who states that he's a friend of Owen's and an autograph signing partner.

Throughout the movie Garrison is often caught in embarrassing situations as his anger overtakes him and he unleashes his jealousy and annoyance over the 'new' Blue Falcon and the financial turmoil he's gone through due to television channels dropping reruns of the original cartoon in the lead-up to the newer Blue Falcon. Dynomutt, in reality, doesn't have much of an impact as far as screen time in the movie...he's seen in updated 'clips' of the original series where Frank Welker (the voice of Dynomutt) and Jeff Bennett (the voice of Owen Garrison/Blue Falcon) recreate dialogue lifted from the original Dynomutt series. While the Hyde monster unleashes his anger all over the city it becomes apparent that Owen Garrison must be the villain since he's the only person with enough motive to want to see the new Blue Falcon film burn in flames. While all of this was happening, security guard Mr. Becker gets involved and shuts down the comic book convention. Shaggy and Scooby later find themselves on the run of a river of green slime that's raging out of control all over the city. Later, the green slime was revealed to be harmless and nothing more than pistachio flavored foam.

Popping in and out of the movie is the Mayor...drawn almost exactly as he was in the Dynomutt series.

Mr. Becker's physical appearance, with a voice patterned after Paul Lynde, is what you might call a combination of Sylvester Sneekley/The Hooded Claw from The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, Mr. Pertwee from Where's Huddles, and Mr. Peevely from The Hair Bear Bunch all rolled into one. Paul Lynde gave voice to the first two characters while John Stephenson used his Joe Flynn impression for Mr. Peevely. Scooby and Shaggy grow disillusioned when they become a laughing stock on 'Scoob Tube'. A nameless spectator had taped their encounter with the 'green slime' and uploaded it onto the internet. The climax of the movie begins at a baseball stadium. It is here where a now giant Mr. Hyde shows up and goes on a rampage. Eventually the giant Hyde monster is defeated, revealed to be a monster robot, and much to the dismay of Shaggy and Scooby, inside the Hyde monster is none other than Owen Garrison!! Well, the mystery is solved now, yes? Not exactly! Fred, Daphne, and Velma conclude that Owen couldn't be the Hyde monster because of it being too obvious. Mr. Hyde shows up once more...and this time the original Blue Falcon and Dynomutt arrive in their Falcon Car. Blue Falcon gives Hyde an upper cut...knocking him out. Velma does the honors and rips off the real Mr. Hyde's mask to reveal it to be...Joe Rabble! Remember him? He secretly hated Owen and was bitter over his own failed business exploits in his younger days. As he was being hauled away he delivered the traditional line nearly all villains stated in the franchise.

As a side note, Owen Garrison's voice, to my ears at least, is patterned after Adam West instead of Gary Owens. The Blue Falcon, after all, was a parody of Batman...and this movie opens with a visual reference to the iconic fight scenes in the '60s television show. It's something to wonder about.

I give The Mask of the Blue Falcon a great rating. There are so many in-jokes and references to the original series and to Saturday morning television and comic books, in general, from the '70s that it's sure to go over the heads of those not too familiar with classic cartoons. A helium balloon of '60s cartoon character, Frankenstein Jr., features prominently in one of the movie's action scenes. Also to look for is a hilarious sequence where Fred, Daphne, and Velma dress as members of The Herculoids.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Jack Greene: 1930-2013

Country music legend Jack Greene passed away on March 14th at the age of 83 from complications of Alzheimer's Disease.

While not much of an expert on all things Jack Greene I enjoyed hearing the songs that he made famous. I became aware of Jack Greene at some point in the early 1990's when looking through an issue of the out of print Country Music Magazine. Within this magazine they'd have advertisements for cassette's and LP's of a lot of artists from the '50s and '60s that I wasn't familiar with up until that point...and Jack Greene was one of those artists. I was a teenager in the 1990's and was nowhere near as familiar with country music's history as I am now. As the '90s went on I stumbled upon WSM radio's frequency while searching the AM dial...I'd known of the station for awhile due to the publicity it got on TNN during their airing of The Grand Ole Opry segment on Saturday evenings. For me, finding WSM radio by accident, it was like finding a goldmine...at long last I was hearing the actual Grand Ole Opry on the radio instead of seeing the half hour segment that TNN aired. I had never thought to seek out WSM's frequency simply because I live several states away from Tennessee and in my mind there was no way I could be able to hear that station.

Anyway, while listening to the Opry that night and in many, many more Saturday nights to come I learned rather quickly that the televised portion of the Opry that I'd been watching for several years was much different in tone and delivery than what the radio audiences and those who attended the show in person heard. It was an Opry radio broadcast on one of those Saturday nights in the mid 1990's that I heard Jack Greene perform "Statue of a Fool" and "There Goes My Everything". He, like a lot of other Opry members of considerable membership longevity, were rarely shown on the nationally televised portion on TNN but you could hear them consistently on the radio broadcast. Jack also hosted half hour segments of the show and would often have Jeannie Seely on his portion of the show. This would often reverse later in the night...Jeannie would host a 30 minute segment and have Jack Greene appear.

1967 was the year of Jack Greene in country music. This was the year that he won multiple awards at the first ever CMA gala: Male Vocalist of the Year, Album of the Year for There Goes My Everything, and Single of the Year for "There Goes My Everything". The song's writer, Dallas Frazier, won for Song of the Year.

A common practice for a general audience is to assume that Jack Greene was a 'one hit wonder' given the enormous popularity of "There Goes My Everything" and how it dominated country radio and the country music awards in 1967. Jack, in truth, had a total of five #1 hits with five more reaching the Top-10 for an overall total of ten Top-10 singles. Also, he sent 13 singles into the country Top-40...9 of those singles would climb into the Top-20...so, in truth, Jack had more hits than "There Goes My Everything" but in hindsight it happened to be his biggest single as it stayed at #1 for seven weeks!

He had a healthy string of Top-40 singles beginning late in 1966 and running uninterrupted through 1974. So, when you factor in all of Jack's major hit singles occurred within an 8 year time span, it puts into perspective of just how popular he truly was. I have a theory as to why he didn't have as many Top-10 singles as he could have had and it has to do with music industry politics and the various changes that were taking place in country music right at the time he hit it big in 1967...but there's no denying that for the next 6 years he was one of the biggest singers in country music and the statistics speak for themselves.

After 1974 he had just two singles manage to climb above #50 on the country singles chart...both of these singles arrived in 1980 with one of them climbing into the Top-30 and it's my assumption that the unexpected Top-30 success of the single was treated more or less as a fluke and perhaps as a response against the Urban Cowboy trend because it was during this era that 1950's and 1960's recording artists who hadn't been in the Top-10 for quite awhile were experiencing airplay revivals. Eddy Arnold reached the Top-10 in the early '80s, a full decade after having his last Top-10 singles in 1969. Hank Snow had a couple of singles reach the country Top-40 during the same 1979/1980 era. Snow's previous Top-10 had been the surprise #1 "Hello Love" in 1974. Hank Thompson was another artist in 1979/1980 that had not had a Top-40 single for several years (going back to 1974) but suddenly he found himself on the Top-40 country singles chart twice during that '79/'80 time frame.

Jack Greene remained a vital part of the Grand Ole Opry, having joined in 1967, and lasting through his retirement in 2011 some 44 years later.

Jack Greene's Top-10 singles are as follows:

1966: There Goes My Everything - hit #1 the last week of 1966 and remained at the top for six more weeks through January the following year.
1967: All The Time - hit #1
1967: What Locks the Door - Top 5
1968: You Are My Treasure - hit #1
1968: Love Takes Care of Me - Top 5
1969: Until My Dreams Come True - hit #1 for 2 weeks
1969: Statue of a Fool - hit #1
1969: Back in the Arms of Love - Top 5
1970: Wish I Didn't Have to Miss You (with Jeannie Seeley) - Top 5

**Between 1970 and 1973 Jack placed 7 singles in the country Top-20 before returning to the Top-10 a final time.**

1973: I Need Somebody Bad - Top 5 Canada

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Love Boat: 1977-1986...

A happy birthday greeting goes out to Gavin MacLeod...reaching 82. I usually don't pay attention to celebrity birthdays but I heard it was his birthday today and so I decided to make note of it. Why? Well, he was part of an ensemble cast on one of the classic television comedies of all-time plus he starred in another one of my favorite television programs. MacLeod portrayed Murray Slaughter in the 1970-1977 classic comedy, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Prior to the role on Moore's sitcom he had a role in McHale's Navy as a character referred to as Happy Haines. On The Mary Tyler Moore Show, MacLeod's character was forever annoyed at Ted Knight's character, the often inept news reader Ted Baxter. The big reason stemmed from the fact that Murray wrote the news scripts for Ted's show...only to have Ted bungle his lines on a daily basis.

After Moore's program ended production in 1977 both Ed Asner and Gavin MacLeod starred in highly successful programs on into the 1980's. Asner, who had played Lou Grant on Moore's show for 7 years, starred as the same character in the dramatic Lou Grant series for five more years (1977-1982). MacLeod, on the other hand, landed the starring role on The Love Boat. In this series MacLeod portrayed Captain Merrill Stubing, a single father and captain of a cruise ship. The program featured a crew and loads of extra's in addition to guest stars each week. The program typically aired on Saturday nights on ABC-TV and was one of many programs airing on ABC that was associated with and, or, produced by Aaron Spelling and his associates. A companion series arrived in 1978 in the form of Fantasy Island. The weekly series was tested in 1977 via a made-for-TV movie and it became a series the following year...airing right after The Love Boat on Saturday nights. Fantasy Island starred Ricardo Montalban as Mr. Roarke and Herve Villechaize as Tattoo. Each program had a similar formula which consisted of special guests each week who often appeared in separate, unrelated story-lines that were ultimately tied together by episode's end.

The ship on The Love Boat served mostly as a backdrop as the crew and the Captain were rarely shown performing their duties. There were brief scenes in practically every episode showing Isaac the bartender, for example, serving drinks and cracking jokes with passengers but for the remainder of the episode he was often roaming around the ship mingling with the guests. The ship's doctor, Adam, occasionally shown his medical prowess but was much more interested in flirting with female passengers. The cruise director, Julie, was shown performing her tasks at the beginning and end of each voyage but like the other crew members she spent her time socializing.

It's long been something of a habit for some people to make fun of Charlie's Angels, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Dynasty, Hotel, and other programming associated with Aaron Spelling. The common criticism expressed is "escapist drivel" or "trash TV". Even today there's often some critic or blogger making fun of the celebrity guest star concept and making it sound as if every legendary actor and actress that guest starred on The Love Boat or Fantasy Island did so out of desperation in order to be in the spotlight again. How cynical can people be? The Love Boat, as well as Fantasy Island, are/were available on DVD. You can check Amazon and other on-line stores for DVD availability, obviously. I am not much of a watcher of television too much anymore unless it's a sports program or news and so I don't know if any of those programs are currently airing on TV Land or Nick-at-Nite. I saw some uploads of Fantasy Island on You Tube and they had a TV Land logo on the lower right side of the screen and so I know at one time it aired on that channel.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

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

This past Saturday, February 23, 2013 marked a little known anniversary in the life of the television series, Hee Haw. It was on a Saturday back on February 23, 1991...22 years ago to the day...that the series aired it's final first-run episode with it's rural decor. This was also, perhaps, the final time a lot of viewers seen the program as affiliate stations had been dropping the show during the previous couple of seasons and would continue to drop the program throughout the season. In a previous blog entry I remarked that I'd read where the show had reached a peak of affiliate stations during the mid 1980's (in the range of 220) but by the early 1990's the number of television stations airing the show had fell to a little more than 170...a drop of at least 50 stations within a 5 to 6 year time frame. A lot of factors played into that...there were more first-run syndicated programming hitting the air than in times past and some local stations were even creating their own programming rather than pay for outside shows to fill the local access time slots. There was a time when syndicated programs were considered inferior because they weren't a product of a network but my how times have changed. Since there have been many examples of successful syndicated programs lasting much longer than network programs there shouldn't be any inferiority directed toward syndicated programs. 

In the meantime, after Hee Haw went out of production in February 1991 it didn't return with new episodes until January 1992 and it was this series of programs that ultimately led to it's cancellation. Technically, the new look had been unveiled in the late fall of 1991 during a press release but the new episodes didn't hit the air for another few months. The 1992 episodes marked the program's 24th season.

The rural look and country fashions, which had been a staple of the show since it's 1969 debut, was gone, and it had been replaced with an urban look and uptown fashions. Also, in 1991, almost all of the cast-members and back-up singers who had been part of the show for more than 10 years, in some cases 20, were let go in favor of newcomers. There were only a handful of longtime cast-members who survived the fall 1991 make-over. The urban version of Hee Haw lasted until May 1992. In the fall Hee Haw Silver debuted, a retrospective series celebrating the program's 25th season. Roy Clark hosted this series and Cathy Baker provided the sign-off remarks. This retrospective was on the air from the fall of 1992 through the fall of 1993. As mentioned in previous blog entries Hee Haw left the syndicated television market in the fall of 1993 and jumped to cable (The Nashville Network) several weeks later for a highly successful three and a half year stay. Reruns of Hee Haw usually aired at 10pm Eastern on Saturday nights following the The Statler Brothers Show. Later in it's run TNN moved the show from 10pm to 7pm Eastern, the show's time slot for decades when syndicated. Repeats of the series left the TNN airwaves in 1997 for a brief run on CMT and then it vanished from cable television not long afterward.

Time Life, the famed mail order company, began releasing DVD's of the program in 2004 to retail outlets after having first sold episodes on DVD via infomercials. The DVD's, typically featuring episodes from the mid '70s, would ultimately go on to collectively sell more than 1,000,000 copies by March 2006. That July, CMT aired the series for the first time in more than 9 years when it aired a weekend marathon of episodes during July 29th through the 30th. The series was handed a TV Land award in April of 2007. It was one of the programs honored during the telecast...sharing the spotlight with Hee Haw that night were tributes to Lucille Ball, Taxi, The Brady Bunch, and the mini-series, Roots. Given the sales successes of the Time Life DVD's and the success of the CMT weekend marathon in 2006...plus the TV Land award in the spring of 2007...it shouldn't have come as no surprise that the program remained just as popular as ever. As I pointed out in earlier blog entries I've written, the only reason that I feel that Hee Haw's "ratings went down" in the early '90s is because the program was losing affiliates...the program was not necessarily losing it's viewers voluntarily (television markets were taking the show away from it's longtime viewers).

If a syndicated program isn't being shown in as many television markets as before it's pretty much common sense that this turn of events will have an impact on the ratings.

The ratings successes on TNN and CMT during the early to late '90s and the sales successes of the Time Life DVD's in the middle part of the 2000's specifically demonstrate that the program had held on to it's fan base and possibly acquired newer fans during it's rerun cycle on TNN and the exposure that the program received in the DVD marketplace. The following year, news surfaced that Hee Haw would become part of the RFD-TV line-up. Reruns of the show hit the airwaves on Sunday night at 8pm Eastern in the fall of 2008, with an encore the following Monday at 10am Eastern, and they have aired in those two time-slots ever since.

RFD-TV debuted in 2000 as a satellite channel. Years later it spread it's availability to cable television and is part of many cable outlets across the country. In my area we finally started receiving RFD-TV on our cable line-up in 2010 during the channel's 10th anniversary...meaning that I had missed the episodes of Hee Haw that were airing during 2008-2009 (episodes originally broadcast on CBS during the summer of 1969, episodes that aired on CBS during the 1969-1970 season when it was added to the schedule as a mid-season replacement series, and finally the episodes that aired during it's one full season on CBS during the 1970-1971 season).

As was the case with TNN, CMT, and the DVD sales for Time Life, the show's become wildly popular all over again on RFD-TV. The channel airs the program in chronological order. Once a season of reruns has aired on the channel it re-airs those reruns to fill the summer gap and in the fall a new season of reruns hits the air. The channel is in it's fifth season of Hee Haw reruns and since it airs the reruns in chronological order they're into season five of the series (1973-1974). In January of 2012 a special program saluting the show aired on RFD-TV. It was titled Salute to the Kornfield. The continued popularity of the show, some 40+ years after it's debut, no doubt helped inspire the salute. Social media also played a part...clips of the show on You Tube have collectively been watched by hundreds of thousands of people. Those clips are no doubt being seen by a majority of people who weren't even born when the show was a weekly television program and some probably have only heard of the show in passing...others remark that the program was watched religiously by their parents, grandparents, or great grandparents.

Never a favorite among so-called 'hip' television critics and those who see themselves as urbane and sophisticated, Hee Haw nevertheless has kept a fiercely loyal fan base and it's continued airing on RFD-TV and it's exposure on You Tube and other social media outlets suggests that there will still be an audience for Hee Haw for generations to come and that's something everyone should be grinning about.