Friday, December 18, 2015

Be Cool, Scooby Doo...

Let's have a show of hands...has anybody seen the most recent revival of the Scooby Doo franchise? It's a series titled "Be Cool, Scooby Doo" and it airs in the United States on Cartoon Network. It debuted back on October 4th in the United Kingdom and Ireland and then October 5th in America and then on October 8th in Canada. It's the 12th incarnation of the Scooby franchise and much like the last couple of previous incarnations it offers something a bit different than the franchise's original premise. In this particular series the gang's all here: Scooby, Shaggy, Fred, Velma, and is the Mystery Machine. The characters have all been redesigned and some of the character traits have been altered slightly. 

Fred's returned to being the all-American leader rather than being the clueless, oblivious moron that recent incarnations have cast him as being even though there are moments that see Fred revert to his clueless demeanor. Daphne, this time around, is portrayed as the goofy character...and that only adds to the mix given that Shaggy and Scooby remain goofy, nervous, frightened, and hungry. Velma is the one constant...although in this series the character gets a different voice actress, Kate Micucci. The previous voice actress, Mindy Cohn, continues to voice Velma in the direct-to-DVD animated projects and the video games but she doesn't reprise the role in this series. Matthew Lillard returns as the voice of Shaggy. Grey Griffin (formerly billed as Grey DeLisle) is once more on hand as Daphne...and the vocal God, Frank Welker, is on hand as Fred and Scooby.

Be on the lookout for monsters and villains that carry similarities with iconic monsters and villains from past episodes. In "All Paws on Deck" the gang is terrorized by a monster resembling the Beast from a late '70s episode titled "The Beast is Awake in Bottomless Lake". In the 2015 episode Velma has hydrophobia...something that isn't consistent with her history...for in several episodes in the franchise's history she clearly enjoyed being in large bodies of water and scuba-diving and so the need for Velma's hydrophobia is a plot-device. In addition to having similar looking monsters and villains there is the inclusion of the much iconic chase scene...something that appeared in the classic episodes (1969-1973) and in some of the other installments but mostly the chase scenes are identified as a hallmark of the original programs...each episode features a chase scene.

The publicity surrounding this series hyped the existence of 26 half hour episodes already completed...14 of those 26 have since aired on Cartoon Network. The last first-run episode to air occurred on October 28th. As you can see it's a daily series...having aired half of season 1 in a month's time span already. Ordinarily this is why a 13 episode half-season airs weekly for 13 weeks...that way it gives people plenty of time to get used to the series, enables promoters to advertise and hype the series, or for potential audiences to discover it during the 13 week rerun cycle. An episode of the series aired on-line on October 30th...but according to on-line sources it shouldn't have aired and it has since been removed (an episode titled "If You Can't Scooby Doo the Time, Don't Scooby Doo the Crime"). 

It has never, to date, aired on television yet but you can search for it on-line...I'm sure it's available for viewing somewhere out there. 

On December 10th a first-run episode finally emerged...titled "Scary Christmas". Technically this is episode 15 of the 26 that have already been completed (episode 14 has never aired) but in broadcast chronology the December 10th airing is listed as episode 14. The series is set to debut in other parts of the world on December 28th and so if it isn't airing locally in your geographic's then chances are it'll begin airing later this month.

Once I'm able to catch a full episode for myself I'll be a bit more detailed in my opinions. At the moment I'm going by the clips that have been posted on YouTube and those are just too brief to form an educated opinion. I could be like so many others and just say "yuck! ick! I hate it, hate it!!!" or "these can't compare to the originals...I hate it!!". I've never been that sort of reviewer and so I'll gather my thoughts and post more detailed about this series at a future date. Who knows, by that time, a DVD of Season 1 may be available for Amazon purchase!?!!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Hee Haw: 1969-1992, Part 21...

Hello's a complete episode of Hee Haw from May 7, 1988!! The guest co-host is Barbara Mandrell and along for the fun are The Gatlin Brothers, T. Graham Brown, and soap opera actor James DePaiva.

A lot of the established cast-members that survived the shake-up of 1986 generally appear in sketches together while the younger members of the program are paired off in similar fashion. In spite of the pairings of cast-members along similar age brackets the cast sing-a-longs are still intact.

Charlie McCoy and company deliver a rousing harmonica performance. There's the obscure sketch called "Pa's Roadside Stand". In this sketch, as Roy Clark plays straight man, Grandpa gets a chance to do his rhyming routine...which dated back to his famous "What's for Supper?" sketch that, for whatever reason, stopped appearing as frequently in this era but he's wearing the apron that displays the catchphrase.

The Supper sketch had appeared in nearly every episode from the early '70s until the mid '80s. In this 1988 sketch the rhymes are deliberately tongue twisting. 

Gordie Tapp and Roni Stoneman portray the forever nagging couple, The Naggers.

Gordie (as Laverne) and Roni (as Ida Lee) began appearing as this combative couple in the early 1970s and it remained a part of the series until 1991. Ida Lee's "mother", seen in this 1988 episode, appeared on a recurring basis. The mother is actually one of the members of The Nashville Edition, Wendy Suits. Longtime fans of the program should already know that The Nashville Edition appeared on every episode from 1969 until 1991 as the resident back-up group for the guest stars and the hosts.

Music contents: Roy Clark performs "Who's Sorry Now?"; Barbara Mandrell sings a bluesy and physically alluring "Just To Satisfy You" from her Sure Feels Good album (released in August of 1987) and she closes the program singing a medley of gospel songs; T. Graham Brown sings "R.F.D. 30529" and "The Last Resort" from his 1987 album, Brilliant Conversationalist; Charlie McCoy and others perform a rousing harmonica number; The Gatlin Brothers perform the gospel-tinged ballad "God Knows It Would Be You" and later they return and perform the uptempo "The One That Got Away"; The Gatlin Brothers, at the time of this fall 1987 taping, were performing songs from a future album release called Alive and Well: Livin' in the Land of Dreams. That album became available in December 1987.

Given that the air-date is May 7, 1988 the material that appeared on that installment originated during the fall 1987 taping sessions. Keep in mind that the cast and crew of the program reported to the studio for only 2 separate production periods each year.

In the summer the cast and guest stars taped material for 13 episodes (the editing staff and the producer compiled 13 individual episodes from the summer footage) and then in the fall of the same year the cast returned, in addition to other guest stars, to tape material for 13 more episodes (and once more the editing staff and the production staff assembled individual episodes from the fall footage).

The summer footage kicked off each other words the first 13 episodes in each season originated from the summer taping sessions (usually in May or June). The remaining 13 first-run episodes originated from the fall taping sessions (usually late September-early October). The 26 episodes then reran during the spring and summer months. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

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

In this 20th entry in my Hee Haw tribute posts I'm here to spread the word about a couple of Hee Haw related happenings that took place this month that the general public might not be aware of yet. On September 8th Time Life issued a new DVD project titled The Hee Haw Collection: 3 DVD Set. The project is highlighting the inclusion of episodes previously unavailable for commercial/retail purchase. It's only been available for 3 days and here's a PRESS RELEASE about the project and it also features a link to Amazon. There are 5 episodes total in that collection spanning the years 1969-1973.

A YouTube video/commercial appeared several weeks ago (August 4, 2015) for a similar collection being sold exclusively on Time Life's site. I never posted the video clip because I knew very little about the project and the fact that there's the other DVD project I felt it may create confusion...

If you visit Time Life's site it'll have a page advertising 2 separate Hee Haw DVD projects on the same page. There's a DVD package that consists of 11 episodes, 8 discs and there's a DVD package that consists of 23 episodes, 14 discs. Each package includes the Hee Haw Laffs collection of famed comedy sketches from the summer 1969 season and a disc of interviews of surviving cast members. You can visit the Time Life page by clicking this LINK. It's pretty self-explanatory on how to purchase the 2 items.

Here's the YouTube commercial advertising the 8-disc version...

The Hee Haw Laffs is something that's been circulating for close to 20 years. The compilation debuted on VHS in 1996 as a response to the popularity of the reruns on cable TV channel The Nashville Network and in addition to this Opryland had featured a live, stage-version of Hee Haw for several seasons during the mid 1990s consisting mostly of musical numbers, re-creations from the long running series, and it featured a newcomer named Jason Petty...billed as the newest Hee Haw Hunk (the term given to the male equivalent of the female Hee Haw Honey). This Opryland stage show that launched in the summer of 1994, titled Hee Haw Live, coincided with the reruns of the series on TNN. The cast of the Opryland series was very small and it had no official hosts although I'm sure either George Lindsay or Gunilla Hutton acted as emcees. Sam Lovullo, the producer of Hee Haw, released his memoir in 1996 titled Life in the Kornfield.

During the making of that book Hee Haw had become a major success story all over again thanks to TNN's airing of reruns. During it's run on TNN it aired, usually, at 7pm Eastern (6pm Central) Saturday evening. This is the same time slot it had held across most of the country throughout the '70s and '80s before local newscasts and syndicated game shows expanded from 5 to 6 days a week in the early '90s (causing Hee Haw to move from an early Saturday evening time slot to scattered weekend afternoon time-slots across much of the country in it's final 2 seasons). After about a year TNN moved the program from 7pm Eastern to 10pm Eastern following the hour long Statler Brothers television program on the Saturday night schedule. I don't remember the reason for the schedule shift from 7 to 10pm Eastern but it remained at 10pm for the remainder of it's time on TNN.

The Nashville Network, referred to as TNN, had been airing reruns of the program on it's Saturday evening line-up since October 1993. The half hour sketch compilation (Laffs) that appeared on VHS in 1996 has the distinction of being the first commercially available footage of Hee Haw and in the next decade Time Life began releasing DVDs of entire episodes of the program for the first time ever. It filled a demand from fans who had long expressed their desire to have complete episodes of the program available for purchase.

In the years before the DVDs came along, and after the reruns had stopped airing rather abruptly on CMT in 1997 (after a 3 and a half year run on TNN), Roy Clark often mentioned that his fans always asked why episodes of the program had never been made available for purchase or why hasn't reruns of the program surfaced on television again, etc. etc., but Time Life filled the desire with their release of numerous DVDs...and then, in 2008, RFD-TV rescued the series from an almost certain fate of limbo (as far as television airing is concerned) and reruns of the program started airing on the RFD channel and they've aired there ever since. Reruns of the series, by 2008, had never been aired on any television outlet since their final appearances on cable TV in the mid 1990s.

The on-going popularity/fascination with this series via it's exposure on RFD-TV and video clips on YouTube helped spawn a tribute program called Salute to the Kornfield which aired exclusively on RFD-TV in 2012. It's since been released on DVD. A Hee Haw exhibit was unveiled last year in Roy Clark's home state of Oklahoma during the 45th anniversary of the program's debut in 1969. Country Weekly magazine published a nice salute to the program's 45th anniversary celebration.

This year a musical surfaced titled Moonshine: That Hee Haw Musical. It's currently making the rounds of various theatrical venues.

Here's another site that promotes the 3-DVD Hee Haw's a bit longer and has some detail and some opinion but it provides a link to Amazon, too...


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Flintstones Comedy Show: 1980-1984...

Over the course of this year there have been several uploads on YouTube shining the spotlight on the half hour syndicated series, Flintstone Frolics. The title of this blog entry encompasses the years that The Flintstone Comedy Show happened to be on network television under a variety of titles.

The series debut on NBC on November 22, 1980. The reason for the late start-up date is because 1980 happened to be a strike year for television writers and the 1980-1981 season didn't get underway until November (instead of the usual month of September). This particular series expanded on the concept of several Flintstones programs that had aired in the years preceding the debut of this 90 minute, Saturday morning series. During the 1979-1980 season NBC aired a half hour cartoon series titled The New Fred and Barney Show. In one of the episodes, titled "Fred and Barney Meet the Frankenstones", the ghoulish family is introduced. This happened during a September 1979 air-date. Episodes of The New Fred and Barney Show aired from February to October 1979 on NBC's Saturday morning line-up.

The Flintstone Comedy Show consisted of six segments per episode. The main segment titled The Flintstone Family Adventures contained adventures/stories similar to the 1960's episodes of The Flintstones focusing on Fred, Wilma, Barney, and Betty. Bedrock Cops is a segment that features Fred and Barney as patrolmen on prehistoric motorbikes...perhaps a spoof of the live-action series, CHiPs. In the segment Fred and Barney are aided by Shmoo, a shape-shifting glob of alien species. Their boss is Sgt. Boulder. The Pebbles, Bamm-Bamm, and Dino segment revolved around Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm solving mysteries in which Dino acted as comic relief. The segment often come across like Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm's previous series of adventures in the early '70s on The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show including appearances from Moonrock, Penny, and Wiggy.

A fourth segment, titled Captain Caveman, told the adventures of Captain Caveman's years in Bedrock before being frozen in ice and discovered millions of years later by Dee-Dee, Taffy, and Brenda in the Captain Caveman and Teen Angels series. In the 1980 series Captain Caveman is the alter-ego of Chester, a mild-mannered copy boy at The Daily Granite. Chester turns into his alter-ego, Captain Caveman, during times of crisis and danger...and is often cheered on by both Betty and Wilma (co-workers of Chester's at the paper) even though he's just as klutzy and clumsy as ever. Their boss is Lou Granite. In this series Chester's facial area is clean-shaven but after he transforms into Captain Caveman he looks as he should...covered completely in hair. This segment keeps with The Flintstones tradition of taking modern-day culture and events and placing them in a prehistoric setting. A fifth segment of the 90 minute series centered around The Frankenstones. In this segment Frank Frankenstone's been transformed from a lovable, easy-going monster into a devious and short-tempered agitator. In previous incarnations of the Frankenstone character the depictions had been more or less similar to Boris Karloff's legendary performance as The Frankenstein Monster in the Universal Studios horror movies. Ted Cassidy, and later, John Stephenson, voiced Frankenstone prior to this 1980 series. Charles Nelson Reilly became the new voice of the character and therefore the character's personality changed to match the vain, prissy, and easily annoyed characterization that Reilly was noted for. A sixth segment of the 1980 series centered on Dino...the segments having been called Dino and Cavemouse. In the segment (2 per episode) Dino and a character named Cavemouse battle one another in Tom and Jerry/Road Runner and Coyote-style adventures.

Syndicated internationally The Flintstone Comedy Show received a different title in the form of The Flintstone Frolics. Under this title the original 6 segments from the 90 minute version that were airing in America became repackaged in 30 minute installments. This meant that each half hour broadcast of the Frolics featured 2 segments chosen at random. One episode may feature The Frankenstones and Bedrock Cops, another may feature Bedrock Cops and The Flintstone Family Adventures, another may contain a Captain Caveman adventure along side a Flintstone Family Adventures segment, etc. etc. There happened to be 11 individual episodes produced for 5 of the 6 segments during the ninety minute 1980-1981 season. As mentioned previously the Dino and Cavemouse segments had 2 chase adventures per episode for a total of 22 installments. An additional 7 ninety minute episodes aired during the 1981-1982 season. In total 5 of the 6 segments added up to 18 episodes each. Dino and Cavemouse enjoyed a total of 44 segments during that same period. The Flintstone Comedy Show series, in America, left the NBC Saturday morning line-up on September 11, 1982 but the segments continued to air...

As international audiences seen the program as The Flintstone Frolics a different re-packaged, half hour series aired in America beginning on September 18, 1982 on NBC under the title of The Flintstone Funnies.

As you can see from the title card the series spotlighted the segments originally seen on the 90 minute series. Like the Frolics incarnation overseas, the domestic Flintstone Funnies randomly aired segments of the 90 minute series out of sequential order in a 30 minute time-slot on NBC. This meant that segments produced in 1980 and 1981 aired back-to-back in most half hour installments. This Saturday morning re-packaged series aired on NBC until September 8, 1984. It would be the last time The Flintstones and The Rubbles appeared on network television as adults...ABC aired The Flintstone Kids (1986-1988)...and that series marked the last time The Flintstones and it's related characters appeared on network television in a series (moving to reruns on cable-TV over the next 25+ years). The characters of Fred and Barney continued to air on network TV in the form of commercials for Pebbles cereal throughout much of the 1990s.

The voice cast for the original 90 minute series is rather large as you could imagine. Henry Corden starred as the voice of Fred Flintstone; Mel Blanc also starred as Barney Rubble, Dino, and Captain Caveman; Jean Vanderpyl starred as Wilma Flintstone; Gay Autterson starred as Betty Rubble and Wiggy; Russi Taylor voiced Pebbles Flintstone and Cavemouse; Michael Sheehan voiced Bamm-Bamm Rubble; John Stephenson voiced numerous characters but his main one happened to be Mr. Slate. Also in the cast...Don Messick as Bad Luck Schleprock. Frank Welker as Shmoo and Rockjaw. Lennie Weinrib as Moonrock and Sgt. Boulder. Charles Nelson Reilly as Frank Frankenstone, Ruta Lee as Hidea Frankenstone, Zelda Rubenstein as Atrocia Frankenstone, Paul Reubens as Freaky Frankenstone, Kenneth Mars as Lou Granite, and Mitzi McCall as Penny.

30 minute episodes of the repackaged 90 minute series are on YouTube at the moment. Unfortunately the person that uploaded the episodes has the wrong titles posted for whatever reason. For example there's an upload called "The Ghost Sitters Sands of Saharastone" (which isn't even a title of any of the segment episodes!) but the 2 segments that appear on that upload are "A Night on the Town" (a Frankenstones segment) and "Monster Madness" (a Pebbles, Bamm-Bamm, and Dino segment). You can see that episode HERE. Count Rockula, in that episode, is voiced by Don Messick. I uploaded that one because it's got the best audio, so far, of the other uploads available.

Monday, July 20, 2015

John Stephenson: 1923-2015

I hadn't put together a memorial blog for John Stephenson because of the limited resources available regarding his personal life and the lack of information surrounding his timeline. I've posted several blogs over the years focusing on Stephenson's under-rated career and the last one I posted centered around Scooby Doo's 45th anniversary last year. In that particular blog entry it features the numerous collage's I created that spotlighted the various characters that John Stephenson voiced during his association with the Scooby franchise. Little did anyone (outside of his family) really know at that time that John Stephenson was battling a serious disease.

You can take a look at that particular Scooby Doo/John Stephenson blog entry I wrote last year by clicking HERE

Rumors of John's 'death' had circulated numerous times on the such rumor that gained traction not too long ago eventually was proven to be false.

According to reports John Stephenson died of Alzheimer's Disease at a nursing home on May 15th at the age of 91. The articles I'd read never mentioned how long he'd been diagnosed with the disease but it couldn't have been too long because his last screen credit arrived in a bit part in 2010 on a Scooby Doo project. I've heard the audio and he seemed to be in fine voice but the role, generically referred to as The Sheriff, is super brief but the vocal is immediately recognizable. It could have been an archived recording and placed in the animated film as a salute to him but I don't think we'd ever know.

He had a reputation of avoiding the very little to no interviews for any publication or television broadcast...but you could hear his voice on numerous radio broadcasts and see him pop up as a guest star in television dramas of the '50s and '60s. One of his most visual roles happened to be his participation in Johnny Carson's 1950s comedy program. In that series Stephenson portrayed a fictional news reporter usually reading absurd stories in a serious tone and in each scenario it set up a forthcoming sketch that Carson and other members of the cast participated in.
In the Carson series John Stephenson acted out his part as a stressed news anchor. Only a couple of clips of Carson's mid '50s program exists on YouTube. I have some of those episodes on DVD but unfortunately the disc's must have been made by an inferior company because they stopped playing several weeks after I purchased them and I hadn't been able to play them since. It's a shame, too, because those fictional newsbreaks helped set up various Carson sketches; more than one "Catch Up with the News" segment aired in a single episode but YouTube only has clips of the mid '50s program and so there's not many to see on-line. The program aired on CBS for a single season, 1955-1956, and there happened to be 10 kinescopes of the program issued on DVD in 2007. More than likely those are the same programs that I have on a admittedly low-budget compilation DVD of assorted comedy programs from the early days of television (the DVD that stopped playing). Hopefully those episodes of Carson's mid '50s program become available on a better quality DVD project.

In addition to the visibility John Stephenson experienced as a part of Johnny Carson's CBS series he also gained some visibility in the sitcom The People's Choice starring Jackie Cooper. In that particular sitcom, running from 1955 to 1958 and producing 108 episodes, Cooper portrays a character named Socrates Miller...called "Sock" for short. He marries a woman named Mandy Peoples...she happens to be the daughter of the local Mayor. The running gag for most of the episodes stems from Sock and Mandy's attempts to keep their marriage a secret from her father (Sock and Mandy eloped in Nevada). John Stephenson portrays the program's resident antagonist, Roger Crutcher, on a recurring basis. A capture from one of Stephenson's scenes has him looking on as Patricia Breslin (Mandy) and Jackie Cooper (Sock) are in the middle of some sort of comical revelation.

If one happens to visit the Internet Movie Data Base or other on-line sources in the search for "John Stephenson + actor" you're going to be hit with a lot of television credits. Stephenson appeared in several episodes of Perry Mason, Hogan's Heroes, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Gomer Pyle, USMC just to name a couple and he appeared as a semi-regular in the soap opera, Morning Star. Yes, for an actor that shunned the media and didn't grant interviews he certainly appeared on a number of programs during the early years of television...but given the lack of publicity surrounding his vast amount of work he didn't get the recognition or rightful attention he deserved.

John Stephenson's greatest impact exists in cartoon voice overs.

Many a villain in the Scooby Doo franchise have Stephenson to thank for providing a voice. Also many a red herring (someone suspected of being a bad guy but ends up being innocent) also have Stephenson's voice to thank. In the blog entry I provided a link to you can gaze upon the many characters that John Stephenson gave voice to...but I left off characters that weren't a part of Scooby's various cartoon mystery programs of the '70s and '80s. Some may find it interesting that Stephenson voiced Col. Wilcox in the first season of Super Friends and then returned later to provide incidental voices...most notably The Sculpin in a 1977 episode featuring Superman and Aquaman. In that first season of Super Friends the overall narration came from Ted Knight...reprising a role he previously held for Filmation in the mid-late '60s on their run of superhero cartoons.

In a series called Scooby's All-Star Laff-a-Lympics (not a mystery cartoon) Stephenson provided the voices for a series of characters. The late '70s series spoofed the Olympics, Battle of the Network Stars, and ABC sports. Three teams of "athletes" composed of The Yogi Yahooeys, The Scooby Doobies, and the Really Rottens competed in Olympic-style events.

A talented mimic he provided a Paul Lynde impression for the character Mildew Wolf (co-host of Laff-a-Lympics). Lynde had originally voiced the character in the late 1960s but didn't reprise the role for the Scooby series and so Stephenson did an impression. John's mimicry is also on full display as The Great Fondoo, an inept magician of The Really Rottens team. Fondoo's voice is highly reminiscent of Bela Lugosi. A good guy character from The Yogi Yahooeys team, Doggy Daddy, is Stephenson's impression of Jimmy Durante. Stephenson returned to the character in several animated specials in the 1980s.

The human leader of The Really Rottens, Dread Baron, is another Stephenson vocalization...not exactly an impression of any celebrity in particular but it's apparent it's his vocal characterization of a slick, con-artist type complete with the sort of "nya, ha ha" sinister laugh that harkens back to 1930s and 1940s melodramas.

Stephenson's vocal impressions of Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Paul Lynde, and Joe Flynn played a vital part in a lot of his voice-over performances in an assortment of cartoons throughout the '60s and into the early '90s. Stephenson's natural speaking voice being pretty great, too, enabled him to act in his natural voice or in an affected voice with equal proficiency. If you're familiar with the late '60s version of Dragnet you could hear John Stephenson's natural voice at the end of every episode providing the lead-up and the details of the outcome of that episode's unseen court trial. A typical line went like this: "On Saturday August 4th trial was held in Los Angeles for the State of a moment the results of that trial". After the commercial break you'd hear Stephenson giving the details of the conviction or the acquittal.

In the mid-late '70s era Stephenson provided voices for an assortment of villains in The Dynomutt, Dog Wonder series including The Red Vulture, The Blimp, Eric von Flick, The Glob, and at various times the Chief of police (sometimes referred to as Chief Grimsley and other times as Chief Wiggins).

In the Inch High Private Eye series Stephenson could be heard in a variety of roles but his main role happened to be the irascible Mr. Finkerton (Stephenson doing his Joe Flynn impression). In another cartoon, using the same Joe Flynn impression, Stephenson gave voice to Mr. Peevely in Help! It's the Hair Bear Bunch series. The high nasal Joe Flynn impression apparently became a favored, go-to voice because Stephenson used it a couple of other times for different but similar characters. In Galaxy Goof-Ups the Flynn inflection infected the commanding officer, Captain Snerdley. In the Inspector Mumbly series of cartoons Stephenson gave the Flynn impression to the antagonistic Officer Schnooker. The highlight of those characters happened to be the inevitable explosion of anger that built under the surface. Popularly referred to as "slow burn", these characters would work themselves up into a state of bombastic stress before blowing their top in a comedic kind of way. In the opening minutes of this episode of Galaxy Goof-Ups titled "Whose Zoo" you'll hear what I mean. As is the case in a lot of Hanna-Barbera cartoons the voice actors and actresses often provided the voices for multiple characters within an episode. This one is no different. Not only is John Stephenson voicing his regular character, Captain Snerdley, but he's also the voice of the villain monster bent on poaching the planet of animals. You'll hear and see that character first along with the sidekick.

In the video's image below there's Captain Snerdley on the monitor giving a harsh lecture to Huckleberry Hound (Daws Butler) and Quack-Up (Mel Blanc).

As far as longevity goes, arguably, John Stephenson's greatest impact in cartoon voice overs is in the role of Mr. Slate in numerous episodes of The Flintstones. From the debut of Mr. Slate in the 1960s and lasting into the 1990s virtually every animated appearance of Mr. Slate had a voice provided by John Stephenson. Promos for Cartoon Network included Stephenson being recruited to deliver a line or two as Slate in that distinctive John Stephenson voice. The ultimate event in Flintstones lore is the release of The Jetsons Meet The Flintstones on November 7, 1987

The reason that the Jetsons received top billing is because their series happened to be in first-run production and the plot of the animated movie deals with Elroy Jetson inventing a time machine...and during a moment of harmless experimenting all of the other Jetsons (George, Jane, Judy, and their talking dog, Astro) decided to humor Elroy and pretend that they were headed to the future. However, much to their horror and disbelief the time machine ended up working...taking the Jetsons into the past rather than into the future. Eventually the Flintstones get zapped into the future and they meet Rosie, Henry, and Spacely while the Jetsons, themselves, remain stuck in Bedrock.

John Stephenson returned to his familiar role as Mr. Slate. Ironically, George Jetson's emergence in Bedrock creates an economical boost to whatever business aligns itself with the stranger's futuristic gadgets. Jetson ends up working for Slate while Fred ends up working for Mr. Spacely in the future. Fred's car becomes a huge hit. Barney becomes a spokesperson for Spacely's competitor, Cogswell. Unfortunately neither Mr. Slate nor Mr. Spacely come face to face considering Slate remained in Bedrock and Spacely remained in the Jetson's futuristic universe.

Some of Stephenson's 1980's work can be heard in various episodes of The Transformers and G.I. Joe and various cartoon specials from Hanna-Barbera requiring him to revive classic characters such as Mr. Slate and Doggie Daddy.

John Stephenson's contributions to animated cartoons from Hanna-Barbera had a major impact on generations of people and they are going to continue getting discovered as the years go by. John Stephenson's voice was immediately recognizable and a familiar presence for generations of cartoon fans.

I made a special collage just for this blog entry...the larger picture is the Chief from the Dynomutt series. The other remaining seven characters are Col. Wilcox, zoo keeper Mr. Peevly, Mr. Finkerton, Mr. Slate, Captain Leech, Col. Fuzzby, and Chief Wenchly. I'll more than likely make another collage because I have other characters saved on my computer that John Stephenson gave voice to.

John Stephenson: August 9, 1923-May 15, 2015.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Stan Freberg: 1926-2015

There have been a lot of comedians, comedy writers, and brilliant witty minds over the course of the last 50+ years. Comedy is subjective and there are many styles of humor...and there are certainly many performers of those many styles of humor. Comedy ranges from the gentle to the provoking...the folksy to the all goes into the mixer. Satire is not everyone's cup of tea, though, Stan without question was a master satirist. The ironic thing about it all is most satirists are entertaining and witty, yes, but on some level a satirist can be off-putting or just too aggressive/relentless in their efforts (coming across as being bitter or vindictive). Even though Stan is quoted as describing himself as a "guerrilla satirist" I don't happen to think it fits. I think Stan's unpretentious personality shined through on all of his records...whether it be a song or a comedy sketch...and even if the intent on Stan's part happened to be that of a savage, take no prisoners style, you couldn't help but be entertained by the results and that's something, in my opinion, that elevates his material above any of his competitors in the field of satirical entertainment. I'm sure he's said things in his recordings that a listener may not have agreed with...but I bet those same listeners found themselves laughing at something they heard, nevertheless.

On April 7, 2015 Stan Freberg passed away at the age of 88 (born August 7, 1926). In the above photo I'm displaying the must-have 1999 project titled Tip of the Freberg. I became familiar with the name of 'Stan Freberg' by happened during the 1990s at a time when I started to pay more attention to the opening and closing credits of cartoons. Nickelodeon used to air Looney Tunes cartoons and during several episodes some of the cartoons from the mid to late '60s would get some air-time. These cartoons were produced after the exclusive screen credit for Mel Blanc had expired and we got to see more of the names of Mel's co-stars appear on-screen.

Well, like I said, I seen the name 'Stan Freberg' in the opening credits of a late '60s Looney Tunes cartoon.

Coincidentally a certain collection of Christmas comedy songs came into my possession in the early 1990s, too. The various artist project, titled Christmas Comedy Classics, originated in 1985 but I didn't a copy of it until the early 1990s. Stan has 2 recordings on that project...the whimsical rendition of "Nuttin' for Christmas" and the gutsy "Green Christmas". Talk about 2 recordings that are the polar opposite of one another! I later discovered that Daws Butler played the part of Bob Cratchit in "Green Christmas".

As I've pointed out a lot of times I didn't begin to become familiar with the names of voice actors/actresses until the 1990s...and so I was still learning a lot about those that worked alongside Mel Blanc in the Looney Tunes theatrical cartoons. In 1949 Stan joined forces with Bob Clampett to create the puppet series, Time for Beany. Stan provided the vocals for half of the characters. This program also featured the vocal talents of Daws Butler and he voiced a lot of the other characters. The 2 main roles for each voice artist happened to Beany and Captain Huffenpuff (voiced by Butler) while Stan voiced Cecil and Dishonest John. Years later an animated program based on the puppet series debuted on television. The animated series, Beany and Cecil, didn't feature the vocals of either Stan nor Daws Butler. By the time the animated cartoon had premiered Daws had become the top voice artist for Hanna-Barbera and Stan had moved on to advertising all the while keeping his lengthy recording career intact. In the picture above it's Stan's partial autobiography...the book covers his meteoric rise up the ranks amongst voice-over artists in the late 1940's and all the twists and turns his career took on through the early part of the 1960s.

The book arrived in 1988...but yet it cuts off in the early 1960s. That in itself is comical...and there's never been a sequel that picked up from the early '60s...hopefully there's going to be some sort of memorial magazine (hint, hint) that'll be released at some point this year that can offer highlight and insight, in book form, into all of Stan's activity from the mid '60s right on through his final days.

Until such a memorial magazine comes along, though, it's best to research his career on your own and along the way enjoy the comedy recordings and television commercials he worked on.

Some of the animated cartoon characters that Stan became associated with over the decades included Pete Puma, Junyer Bear, Chester the Terrier, Bertie the Mouse, and Tosh, one of the Goofy Gophers (all appearing in the Looney Tunes franchise). In addition to those roles Stan also gave voice to the Gambling Bug in a cartoon titled "Early to Bet" and one of the chefs in "French Rarebit". Each of those cartoons directed by Robert McKimson. He voiced the Beaver in the Disney film The Lady and the Tramp and for pure trivia sake he voiced a cattle baron in a Tom and Jerry cartoon titled "Posse Cat".

I had taken a series of photo's of myself in late March of this year for future blogs that I happen to write and given the recent death of Stan Freberg I felt this particular image to be perfect. I happen to feel it can be interpreted as a bit of visual humor related to Stan's hilarious parody of "The Banana Boat Song" (also known as "Day-O"). I'm either displaying my euphoria over the bunches and bunches of 'ripe banana' or I'm frightened by the black tarantula...take your pick. You can hear that song on various sites on the internet...I heard it for the first time on one of the CD's in the 1999 career retrospective I posted in the photo at the start of this blog. Tip of the Freberg...that's the name of the box set...I already mentioned the title of the project and it's year of release in the opening and I'm mentioning it once more...I mention it just for the sake of the facts...just the facts...and that of course should make any fan of Stan Freberg instantly think back to "St. George and the Dragonet"! This recording happened to be a sketch comedy featuring Daws Butler and June Foray as co-stars. Stan and company made 2 additional Dragnet parodies: "Little Blue Riding Hood" and "Christmas Dragnet". The box set provides a lot of material from Stan's radio program from 1957 and some of his recordings from the "pay radio" concept album Stan issued in the mid 1960s. Some of the biggest personalities of the 1950s found themselves being a target of Stan's humor. Ed Sullivan's program received spoofing by Stan in a sketch called "Most of the Town". Lawrence Welk became the target in the hilarious sketch "Wun'erful, Wun'erful!". Elvis and a host of other rock and roll performers had their recordings parodied by Stan...and then there's the incredible take off on Arthur Godfrey in a sketch called "That's Right, Arthur" that had never been heard until the 1999 box set came along. Among the many highlights in the box set is "Elderly Man River"'s a prophetic comedy sketch featuring Stan and Daws. In the sketch Stan attempts to sing "Old Man River" but the censor (Daws Butler) objects to so many words and phrases that the song is re-titled "Elderly Man River". It's years ahead of it's skewers political correctness decades before the movement began to latch on and grow tentacles in pop culture.

The box set features recordings lifted from Stan's 1961 album, Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America: The Early Years. Paul Frees does the narration of the project. Ironically the supporting players do not include Daws Butler but June Foray is among the cast as is Marvin Miller, Jesse White, Walter Tetley...just to name a few. It's largely regarded as Stan's masterpiece. A follow-up arrived decades later in 1996 (!) to nostalgic waves of support. By this time Stan had become an icon in the advertising business...his funny, sarcastic, and iconoclastic television and radio commercials became Clio winning slices of comedic salesmanship. The Clio is the top award in the advertising industry.

It was in the 1990s that seen Stan become a radio commentator, of sorts, on NPR stations in a series of essays airing under the Stan Freberg Here... banner. Several of those commentaries appear on the 1999 box set. Four years earlier, in 1995, Stan became the second host of the syndicated old-time radio tribute program When Radio Was (Art Fleming had been the previous host). I have fond memories of this program, as hosted by Stan Freberg, and I remember listening to episodes of it on a local AM radio station at the time. It aired from 11pm to Midnight. Fred Foy, of The Lone Ranger fame, provided the introduction for each of the episodes Stan hosted. The intro included some of the dialogue Fred used in his intro's for The Lone Ranger. I assume Stan's affiliation with old-time radio and his reputation as a champion of 'theater of the mind' entertainment happened to be the big reason he was picked to host the old-time radio program.

I got word of Stan's death like most of the other millions of people...through social media and internet reports. I couldn't believe the news, though, because in my mind I had always pictured Stan to be in good physical health in spite of his older age. In one of the internet reports it indicated that he may have been suffering from pneumonia...but other than that there hasn't been any official statement given as to the cause of death. Stan had a long and successful career...his recordings are going to live forever. If you had never heard of him until today then do yourself a favor and visit YouTube or Amazon and get yourself familiar with his contributions to comedy.

Here's a brief time-line:

1926: Born on August 7th.

1944: Arrived in Hollywood, California (age 17).

1946: voices Bertie in Chuck Jones' "Roughly Squeaking".

1947: voices Charlie Horse in Bob Clampett's "It's a Grand Ole Nag".

1948: Succeeded the late Kent Rogers as the voice of Junyer Bear; "What's Brewin', Bruin?".

1949: helped create television program Time For Beany; Voiced Cecil and Dishonest John, among other puppet characters; remained in production until 1955 and received multiple Emmy awards.

1951: Released his first recording for Capitol Records, "John and Marsha".

1951: voices the Gambling Bug in the cartoon "Early to Bet".

1952: voices the dimwitted hunting dog in the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Foxy by Proxy".

1952: Released "Try", a parody of Johnny Ray's hit single, "Cry".

1952: voices Pete Puma in the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Rabbit's Kin".

1953: Recorded "St. George and the Dragonet"; hit #1 in October 1953; B-side is "Little Blue Riding Hood".

1953: Released "Christmas Dragnet".

1954: Starred in the CBS radio sitcom "That's Rich" (January-September).

1954: Released "A Dear John and Marsha Letter".

1954: voices the rancher/cook in the Tom and Jerry cartoon, "Posse Cat".

1955: Released "The Night Before Christmas" and "Nuttin' For Christmas".

1955: voices the Beaver in the animated Disney film The Lady and the Tramp.

1957: Released "Wun'erful, Wun'erful!".

1957: Host of The Stan Freberg Show, the last-ever network radio comedy program (July-October).

1957: Provides narration and voices all the characters in the cartoon "The Three Little Bops".

1957: Released a parody of "The Banana Boat Song"; B-side is "Tele-Vee-Shun".

1958: Released "Green Christmas".

1960: Released "The Old Payola Roll Blues".

1961: Released the album Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America.

Beginning around the same time as the release of the 1961 album Stan became heavily involved with advertising (his earliest commercials date back to 1956). His recordings began to grow further and farther between but every so often he'd release something.

1966: Released the album Freberg Underground! (billed as 'pay radio'; the LP featured a presentation in the form of a radio sitcom).

Stan remained active in advertising...among his clients were Esskay, Chun King, Sunsweet, Contidina, and Jeno's. Stan also provided voice-overs for movie ads and dabbled in political humor during the height of the Vietnam protests. Some of his ads for George McGovern, for example, are featured in a later career box set.

1982: Starred in the PBS special, Stan Freberg's Federal Budget Revue.

1985: narrates the cartoon series The Wuzzles.

1988: Released autobiography "It Only Hurts When I Laugh".

1995: Inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.

1995: Began hosting old-time radio anthology series, When Radio Was.

1996: Released the CD Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America, Volume Two.

1997: voices Pete Puma in the cartoon "Pullet Surprise".

1999: Rhino Entertainment issues the career retrospective Tip of the Freberg. It's a must-have for any fan or admirer of Stan Freberg's work; it spans the years 1951-1998.

2000: voices Cage E. Coyote in the cartoon "Little Go Beep".

2003: narrates Irreverent Imagination: The Golden Age of the Looney Tunes documentary for the DVD project titled Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume One. Stan appears on-screen in various bonus features throughout the entire Golden Collection DVD series in the mid 2000s.

2006: Retires as host of When Radio Was after 11 years.

2015: Dies on April 7th at age 88.

Stan Freberg: 1926-2015

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Gary Owens: 1934-2015

Longtime voice-over specialist, disc jockey, radio and television personality Gary Owens has died at the age of 80. The cause of death is Diabetes related.

The first time I remember hearing the voice of Gary Owens is back in the 1980's most definitely. Although at that point in time I wasn't really into learning the names of the voice actors and actresses, I had been unknowingly hearing Gary's voice for several years before I found out. My first memory of hearing that voice is on the cartoon series, Space Ghost. I found out the name behind the character in the late '80s on Nick-at-Nite. Although the cable channel aired it after most kid's bedtimes, I couldn't help but stay up just a little longer and see a particular program that aired at 11pm called Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In.

Does someone around 14 or 15, seeing the program for the first time in the late 1980s, really comprehend all of the one-liners and late 1960s topical jokes? Unless the child is amazingly gifted in American culture history at that age then my answer is "no". Why did the series appeal to me? I think it appealed to me because of it's cartoonish delivery and it's zany atmosphere. Also...the presence of that voice...the voice of Gary Owens and his hysterical seriousness amongst all the chaotic happenings around him.

He served as the program's off-screen announcer, calling the names of the host and cast members, but doubled as an on-screen broadcaster, cupping one hand to his ear, and delivering all sorts of insane dialogue in the guise of a serious news bulletin. Most often a scene would cut from one joke and then to Gary and then to another joke or back to a cast member just looking into the camera and not saying anything until they break up in laughter and leave the stage.

The comedy series had a major impact on television viewers and created several catchphrases. It ran 6 seasons, 1968-1973. Due to it being a mid-season replacement series it had the opportunity of having roughly half a season's worth of programs on the air several months before the start of the official 1968-1969 season. It premiered on January 22, 1968 and initially ran until April 29, 1968. It returned in the fall of 1968 to begin it's first full season and it officially remained in production until early 1973. Gary appeared on every episode during it's five and a half season run. Some of the notable guests that appeared were Richard Nixon, John Wayne, Tiny Tim...and most of them appeared in split second fashion on-screen uttering a one-liner or one of the program's catchphrases. John Wayne appeared in a much longer clip, by comparison to the usual rapid fire pace of the surrounding clips, and delivered a poem in a manner parodying Henry Gibson. Laugh-In also aired, originally, as an hour long program. During it's rerun life on Nick-at-Nite those half hours were cut and edited and spliced into individual half hours.

Unfortunately by my living in the Midwest I didn't get to experience hearing Gary's legendary radio programs that aired in California throughout the '60s, '70s, and into the '80s. His most durable role is that of disc jockey/radio personality and in between songs there'd be comical sketches or banter heard on the air. I wouldn't call him a shock jock, based on today's definitions, but he certainly became legendary for the insertion of humor and intentional blatant nonsense in his broadcasts that you just didn't hear that much of anymore on radio. I've heard snippets of a couple radio broadcasts from his Los Angeles program and the closest thing the Midwest had to Gary Owens happened to be a Cincinnati radio personality named Gary Burbank. The Cincinnati radio entertainer has since retired but he often replied, if asked, that his on-air name is inspired by "Gary" as in Gary Owens and "Burbank" from Gary Owens' Laugh-In catchphrase "...beautiful downtown Burbank". After hearing snippets of the radio program from Gary Owens and being familiar with Gary Burbank's style of radio comedy for so many years I can definitely hear the influence.

Here's an air-check from a 1969 Gary Owens radio HERE. It features the sort of comical banter he'd fill his programs with between songs or introducing commercials and it includes real and fake commercial readings. It's nearly half an hour. Scroll down to the audio button after you click the link. Gary makes on air mentions of Geoff Edwards, Dick Enberg, and more. It's a fabulous audio time capsule. After listening to that, you can click HERE for an air-check from 1970. You'll hear the voice of another Los Angeles DJ, Dick Whittinghill, in that audio clip and other personalities at KMPC in that era. A promo for the California Angels baseball game from Dick Enberg is included in that air-check.

His radio career can be traced back to the early 1950s. He held his KMPC job for 20 years (1962-1982). In his career he had stints at KORN, KMA, KOIL, KROY, KEWB prior to KMPC. After KMPC he found himself working at several stations throughout the 1980s. Those included KKGO, KPRZ, and much later for a brief time on KFI. He continued being associated with radio, on and off, and throughout the late 1990s and into the 2000s he was part of the Music of Your Life format of programs. The series, by the time Gary came aboard, featured celebrities and former AM radio disc jockeys hosting individual radio programs of their own and so Gary happened to be a natural choice. He remained hosting radio programming for Music of Your Life until 2004 according to most sites I've read over the years.

I purposely haven't included a really thorough detailed time line (such as providing specific months, dates, or years) about his radio, voice-over, and television careers because the information is easily available on other sites and blogs all over the internet. This short tribute is more about my thoughts, opinions, and memories.

Along side his radio career he did the announcing on a diverse list of programs and did voice overs for commercials for both radio and television. Myself being a cartoon fan, Gary had the biggest impact on me through not only his Laugh-In appearances but through his vocal performances as Space Ghost and Blue Falcon. Later on in the 1990s I learned about Roger Ramjet thanks to the reruns that were airing at the time on The Family Channel. You can click the collage for a bigger examination. Space Ghost used to air in reruns on a USA Network program called Cartoon Express. This USA series is also where I first seen episodes of Blue Falcon. Technically, though, Blue Falcon didn't have his own self-titled program. Blue Falcon appears on the series, Dynomutt, Dog Wonder. In each series Gary provided the voice for the superhero...Space Ghost is more of a legitimate action-adventure series. It's set in outer space and the plots typically revolve around Space Ghost and his team of helpers (Jan, Jace, and Blip) fighting all sorts of monsters, creatures, and dictatorial leaders from far off galaxies and universes. Space Ghost travels in a ship called The Phantom Cruiser and all members of the crime fighting team have the ability to turn themselves invisible if needed.

The series aired for one season, 1966-1967, and it contains 42 individual adventures. It remained in reruns for another season, 1967-1968, prior to it becoming a long running series (in reruns) in local syndication for the next 10+ years. The Space Ghost series was revived in 1981 as part of a package series called Space Stars. Gary returned as the voice of Space Ghost and an additional 22 episodes aired. So, altogether, Gary voiced Space Ghost on 64 episodic adventures.

Blue Falcon, by contrast, appeared on a comical action-adventure series. Although Blue Falcon is depicted as a serious crime fighter and his vocals provided by Gary Owens in that deep baritone bravado, his sidekick Dynomutt is a klutzy robotic canine that's forever messing up Blue Falcon's strategies and getting the duo in all kinds of predicaments. Gary voiced Blue Falcon during the 1976-1977 television season and later the character surfaced on Scooby's All-Star Laff-a-Lympics and it's sequel, Scooby's All Stars during the next couple of seasons on Saturday morning TV. In those series Blue Falcon and his sidekick had recurring scenes as part of the Scooby Doobie team. The latter two programs are a parody of the Olympics and ABC-TV's Battle of the Network Stars. In all, Gary performed the voice of Blue Falcon on 20 individual episodes during the 1976-1977 season. The adventures are most often aired in reruns as part of package programming due to the limited number of episodes available.

In his later years Owens often appeared on nostalgia programming centered either on AM radio or on the television series, Laugh-In. He had a fascination about Dinosaurs, too, that isn't as widely known as his TV and radio work happens to be. He wrote a book about being in the voice-over business and you can see that book in the above collage I posted. It's available at Amazon. He provided the voice-over messages for classic television network, Antenna TV, during the final years of his life. 

Here's an ARTICLE that features commentary from Barbara Eden and Wink Martindale about their thoughts on Gary.

Gary Owens passed away on Thursday February 12, 2015. The news didn't reach the public until Friday. In a bizarre chain of events the story of his death appeared in a post from Variety magazine early in the morning hours on Friday. There as not a single story confirming the news Variety posted and I immediately assumed it must be one of those death hoaxes that seem to be commonplace particularly with yesterday being Friday the 13th of all days.

Strangely enough more than 8 hours after the news of his death appeared in a social media message from Variety, the publication re-posted the news once again. Suddenly, not long after that re-posting, reports started to pour in from all news sites and from there it became a snowball of reports about him passing away. In the link I posted, if you look at the time it appeared on-line, note it's late in the day on Friday. It happened to be the 5-6pm time frame in which the news of his death spread all over the internet.

Here's something to think about...

Some sites state that he was born in 1936 and others say 1934. All over the internet the various reports say he happened to be 80. His birth month and date is May the 10th and if his true birth year is 1934 then indeed he really was 80. The funny thing is, prior to Friday, all the internet sites listed May 10, 1936 as his birth date. I'm sure 1934 is his accurate birth year...and all of those sites I'd taken a look at Friday have since changed their year of Gary's birth from 1936 to 1934. I'm using the 1934 birth year because that's the one reported by so many outlets and there isn't any conflicting stories using 1936 as his birth year. In the future should it be revealed that 1936 is his true birth year I'll correct the title of this blog entry.

Gary Owens: 1934-2015

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Charles Bronson: Love and Bullets overview...

In this 1979 movie, titled Love and Bullets, Charles Bronson stars as American cop Charlie Congers. He's approached by his superiors and members of the FBI to journey to Europe, specifically Switzerland, to locate an American woman named Jackie Pruitt (Jill Ireland), the lover of a Godfather-type named Joe Bomposa (Rod Steiger).

The FBI hopes that Pruitt can provide inside information about Bomposa and all of the crime that's taken place in that part of the world. The FBI can't perform this task because it's outside of the United States.

If you haven't seen the film and might be interested in it, don't read further because there's plenty of **spoilers** among my commentary.

In the meantime, as Charlie makes his way to Europe, several of Joe's inner circle of thugs inform him that Jackie's become something of a threat and they feel that she'll turn against them at the first opportunity. They talk Joe into plotting Jackie's murder, a suggestion that sends Joe into all kinds of hysteria due to his genuine love for her, but deep down he also feels that Jackie might stumble onto something that may help the police at some point.

Adding to his miserable feelings is the fact that the more excitable he gets the more he stammers and the more he stammers the more physically assertive he becomes. Critics at the time considered it over-acting but I think it fits the part he's playing to a tee.

Jackie, meanwhile, is from the southern regions of the United States. This fact is pointed out rather conspicuously given her deep southern accent and her habit of wearing wigs. She's pretty much a parody of Dolly Parton. After Charlie and Jackie go on their journey across the continent he can't help but starting falling in love with her. In one scene that takes place on a train Charlie asks her to remove her make-up and hair. She at first refuses but later complies after he threatens to remove them himself. She emerges in shorter hair and no make-up and Charlie loves what he sees. She jokes that the only reason he likes the natural look is because he's used to looking at dead people.

In the next scene they drive to an auto train and are carried from one part of the terrain to another...however, Charlie spots some of Joe's thugs in another car further back in the auto train. Charlie gets out of this by driving his car off the side of a snowy mountain. As the car's rolling out of control, he and Jackie leap out and it crashes into a small electrical station...setting the car on fire.

As the pair make their way through the snowy landscape and to a cabin his persistent questioning causes Jackie to suspect he's a cop. He had been masquerading as one of Joe's hired men up until this point. Charlie confesses to Jackie that he's indeed a cop and that a certain cut-throat by the name of Lobo had turned her name over to the FBI in exchange for a new life and identity. Charlie asks her to tell him anything she can about Joe's murderous dealings and corrupt schemes but she genuinely knows nothing. She tells him that Joe never filled her in on any of his Mob activity...but yet paranoia and the constant badgering from others in the Mob inner circle continue to cause him to suspect her true nature.

Later, one of Joe's thugs discovers the smoldering car and tracks the pair to the cabin hide-out. He sneaks in and threatens Jackie but ultimately passes her by and sets his sights on an unsuspecting Charlie whose outside chopping wood. Just as the thug is about to attack Charlie, Jackie screams out his name and it alerts him to look up near the cabin just in time to see the thug standing on the roof.

The thug fires his gun but Charlie ducks out of danger and devises a trick to create a distraction. As the thug looks off to his left, Charlie comes out of hiding a hurls a hatchet into the guy's back. The thug falls off the roof and rolls down the side of the hill...each tumble and turn pushing the hatchet in deeper.

Later, Charlie and Jackie find themselves in an airway cable car as they continue their journey to the aircraft that'll return both of them to the United States. Upon the cable car's stop at it's next location, the door opens and a massive slaughter takes place as an assassin opens fire on everybody in sight (except for Charlie and Jackie, who manage to escape). The assassin meets his gruesome end almost immediately as he falls underneath the cable car during it's take off to the next location.

Some time later Charlie calls in to report on the progress of his journey. Given his personal feelings for Jackie he tells his bosses that he ants to get her out of the country and back to the United States sooner than planned. The FBI balk at this idea and scold him for getting personal and becoming a one man killing machine and they remind him not to do anything more that'll likely cause an international incident.

After this phone conversation Charlie, of course, feels that the bureaucracy has no real idea of what it's like out in the field of operation and that most of them are only interested in covering themselves politically and economically above all else. In a scene that anticipates the television series, MacGyver, by 6 years we see Charlie take apart a lamp and build a home made nail gun from the parts inside. Using the invention, Charlie ends up killing a couple of informants connected to Lobo. In Geneva, the FBI catch up with Charlie and Jackie and they inform him that they're taking over custody of Jackie and that they no longer need his services. The exchange plays out like an empty thank you...basically telling him that "since you did the dirty work and put your life on the line to find this woman, we'll take over from here...".

As Jackie makes her way under the protection of the FBI to the airplane she asks if she can talk to Charlie, alone. As the two approach one another and state their thoughts and feelings over the entire ordeal they share a kiss...and at that moment a shot rings out and Jackie falls to the ground. The killer happened to be Lobo, whose shot multiple times by members of the FBI.

Charlie finally makes it back to the United States and gets an earful from his less than gracious boss still fretting over foreign relations and social, political, and economic turmoil that his department may potentially be held responsible for. Charlie makes a visit to Louis Monk (Strother Martin) at a private pool. Charlie threatens to drown him unless he hands over information detailing Jackie's death. Not sensing the danger, Monk refuses to come clean and the last thing we see of Monk is him going under water one final time. In the closing scene a casket arrives at the Bomposa estate. Charlie delivers it personally but none of the Mob bosses have any clue who he is. He informs them that it's been sent there from someone named Farroni (Henry Silva) and the body is Jackie Pruitt from Geneva, Switzerland and that's all he knows.

After initially refusing to accept the casket, Joe reluctantly agrees to keep it and reads the card that's attached "Love and bullets, Charlie.". He calls for some of his underlings and they slowly start to lift the lid...the next thing we see is a gigantic explosion as the entire estate is consumed by fire. Inside his car, a smiling and vindicated Charlie drives off to some unknown destination and the scene freezes on his facial expression and the credits roll. Although Charlie says it's Jackie Pruitt in the casket it's probably Monk or it could've been empty and simply rigged with the explosives. It was never revealed one way or the other.

All in all I found the film completely fascinating and entertaining. The movie critics of the time period and even latter day critics may have you believing that this is a terrible movie or it's a hodgepodge collection of confusing melodrama and European sight seeing but believe me it's far from that. It's a pleasant story of two unlikely people falling in love but in traditional melodramatic conventions heartbreak trumps happiness and Jackie falls victim to an assassin's bullet.

Love and Bullets had several releases throughout 1979. It's original release happened in April 1979 in West Germany. It didn't make it's United States premiere until September 1979. It's been released many times on VHS and it's seen several releases on DVD. It's official run time is 1 hour, 43 minutes. The movie is a lot better than critics would have you believing.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Charles Bronson: Donato and Daughter review...

This is a good film starring Charles Bronson and Dana Delany. Pay close attention to Bronson's future wife, Kim Weeks, playing the role of Russ Laurie's wife.

Originally "Dead to Rights" aired as a made-for-TV movie on CBS in 1993 under the title "Donato and Daughter". I assume that the film's title changed for commercial reasons and that VHS and later, DVD, manufacturers and distributors perhaps felt that the title "Dead to Rights" had better action-adventure marketability than the more peaceful sounding "Donato and Daughter"...but that's just my theory.

The film is mostly about an extremely strained relationship between a veteran of the police force, Sgt. Mike Donato (Bronson) and his daughter, Lt. Dena Donato (Delany). On the surface you may think that the strained relationship has to do with Mike's daughter out-ranking him at the police station but in reality it goes much deeper than that. Although Mike is overprotective and is prone to second guessing his daughter's ideas it's revealed that he once had a son (her brother, Tommy) whose circumstances surrounding his death have been kept a mystery to Dena. All she knows is her brother happened to be a policeman, too.

The main plot surrounds the murders of several nuns in Los Angeles. Dealing with reporter's questions one day, a reporter said to Dena: "So, what you're saying is all the nun's living in L.A. have nothing to fear..." and she shot back: "I wouldn't presume to say that about anyone in L.A.". In the movie Dena's best friend is another officer named Judy...but she's murdered about half an hour into the movie up on a roof top during a chase scene. If this chaos and turmoil isn't enough, Dena's mother reveals that she once seen visual evidence that connected Tommy to various drug runners and underground organizations but that Mike is unaware that she knows of Tommy's drug connection. The mother says that Tommy only became a cop to please Mike.

On the investigation side of things the police have several suspects as the nun killer. One suspect doesn't pan out...he happens to be an artist who lives in an elaborate home studio and just doesn't seem to be the type they're looking for. In the meantime suspect 2 is a creepy businessman named Russ Loring. He's approached by Mike and is questioned...but Russ insists on their getting a search warrant and give specific detail about obscure facts surrounding police searches. Mike curiously states: "You seem to know a lot about police procedures" and Russ replies "I guess it's all that reality programming on television.". A line like that, from 1993 no less, is hugely ironic considering the kinds of programs that eventually found their way on television in the following decade! During a confrontation with a junkie Mike discovers that there's some crazed man dressing up in a nun's outfit.

A little less than an hour later, viewers learn that suspect 2 is indeed the nun killer and from this point forward it becomes a cat and mouse game. One of the memorable scenes at this point in the film is seeing Russ holding up a jar of fingers that he cut off from the nuns he murdered.

Mike's wife, meanwhile, decides she's had enough of being home alone most days and nights. She tells Mike that she's going away for awhile and tells him she's become lonely.

Mike pays a visit to Russ' mother's shack. He tells her that he feels that her son is the murderer of several nuns and several other women. In a shocking and chilling twist, the mother (Julianna McCarthy) doesn't feel shame or regret...she actually makes excuses for Russ and says that if her son killed anybody then they must have deserved it. Later, Mike puts together a collage of the murdered nuns and realizes each of them fit a similar profile. Each victim is dark haired and young. Dena gets this look of vulnerability on her face and looks as if she's wondering is she'll be the next victim given her age and dark hair.

Throughout this chain of events Mike and Dena become friendlier toward one another without even realizing it. But just as if it looks like the father and daughter will become nice to each other permanently she asks about Tommy once more. Mike reveals that Tommy didn't get killed in the line of fire as he had let the public at large believe in a press conference. Instead, Tommy committed suicide by overdosing on drugs.

Mike and Dena are later eating at a restaurant and they encounter Russ. Later, Russ rushes home and is encountered by his wife (played by Bronson's future wife, Kim Weeks) who wants to know why she found a police suit in their house (it happened to be one his various disguises). She attempts to get the police but he stabs her multiple times in the stomach with a knife. Given that this is a made-for-TV movie there's no graphic imagery as there definitely would have been if it had been a theatrical release or a direct-to-video release. Instead, all the viewers see is Russ pushing his arm into his wife's stomach several times, knowing he had a knife in his hand as he approached her.

Russ eventually takes Dena as a hostage after everyone closes in on his location. He insists on having a helicopter delivered so he can escape. The movie's climax takes place on the roof top. As the helicopter arrives and hovers a bit too close to the side of the building Dena falls from Russ' arms. Russ bends forward in an attempt to take her hostage once more but by then Mike's arrived on the scene and shoots Russ multiple times. The film ends as Mike and Dena walk along the roof top and as the two of them talk their voices fade to the closing music.

As a made-for-TV movie it carries a lot of quieter musical overtones during emotional scenes...lots of piano and softer sounding accompaniment and visually it comes off as a television production, too.

All in all it's a good movie!

The one thing left unresolved is Mike's future with his wife. It's to be assumed that she eventually returned and he finally retired from the police force.

I've been updating my Charles Bronson collection. I've started to replace the VHS tapes with DVD copies. I started this a couple of weeks ago. I hadn't seen a lot of those VHS movies because I hadn't had an active VCR in awhile and so it's nice to have them on DVD finally. Here's some of the films I've recently purchased on DVD that originally I only had on VHS...

This is the DVD copy that I have of 1987's "Assassination". I recently submitted a review over on Amazon of that film. This film is another good one starring Charles Bronson and Jill Ireland in a political plot boiler revolving around secrets, lies, betrayal, and scandal. I also have a DVD copy of all the "Death Wish" films. I'll post an image of those in a couple of paragraphs. One of his films that I already had on DVD is 1988's "Messenger of Death". As you can tell from some of the DVD artwork, a lot of the poses of Bronson are a bit misleading if you hadn't seen the films beforehand. Much later DVD releases of his earlier films, for example, feature a much older Bronson on the cover. I come across a DVD release of one of his early '70s films and they inexplicably had a mid 1980's photo of Bronson as cover art. It looks as if they'd use a photo of Bronson from the era in which the film was originally released! I've got a 2 movie-on-1 DVD release of 1983's "10 to Midnight" and 1989's "Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects". The movies I have on VHS that I haven't purchased on DVD yet are: "Breakheart Pass", "Cabo Blanco", "Breakout", "Death Hunt", "Borderline", "Cold Sweat", and "Telefon". Now, to be specific, all but one of those films I recorded during their television airings. "Cabo Blanco" is the only one of those specific films in which I have the actual studio release VHS copy. I've since put in an order for the DVD copies of "The Evil that Men Do" and good ol' melon farmer, "Mr. Majestyk". I've got those on VHS already, recorded from television. Here's some more photo's...starting off with 1974's "Death Wish" and continuing on with a single DVD release of the next 3 films in the franchise (from 1982, 1985, and 1987 respectively) and followed by the fifth film of the franchise in 1994...

Released in 1974, this film has largely been written about and written up as Bronson's best of the franchise. It's only natural that people bestow such lofty praise on the first film in an eventual 5-film series. A lot of the praise has to do with the fact that it's the first one and given that it doesn't have any previous film to compare it to enables it to be considered the best of the series by so many. I happen to love the movie but I also happen to love the other 4 films in the series, too. One of the things I don't do is get overly technical in my commentaries about movies. I don't discuss film print quality, aspect ratios, letterbox vs. wide screen vs. high definition vs. standard, nor do I write much about audio or music found in the movies. I keep my commentaries to the basics: the plot of the film and my commentary.

These 3 films came to define Charles Bronson's career during the 1980s. The first sequel, from 1982, has the vigilante in California. Bronson is not the only action-adventure movie star to portray a recurring character in a movie series but for whatever reason, be it artistic reasons or different tastes in entertainment, movie critics trashed and blasted these films even though at the same time Bronson entertained his audience ith the vigilante films you had other top movie stars like Chuck Norris and Sylvester Stallone appearing in a strings of films starring the same character, too. In Stallone's case it happened to be the characters of military specialist Rambo and boxer, Rocky Balboa. Chuck Norris, on the other hand, starred in a string of karate-styled action movies and appeared in the trilogy of "Missing in Action" films during roughly the same time as Bronson's "Death Wish" sequels. It's no surprise that Bronson lacked the huge muscular physique of a Stallone and it's also not a secret that Bronson never utilized any karate moves in his films but he nonetheless was a giant among action-adventure movie stars.

I had read so many God awful scathing reviews of this film, from professional and amateur critics alike, that deep down in my heart I knew I'd love this movie right away! It's "Death Wish, 5: The Face of Death". Yes, I indeed happened to like the movie. It's amazing that so many movies that are panned by critics I tend to like. This film deals with Paul Kersey's revenge on a mobster, Tommy O'Shea, and his corrupt business practices that have ruined a lot of people Paul happens to know. Adding to the complication is Tommy's ex, Olivia, is Paul's girlfriend and later, his fiancee. Paul becomes a vigilante once more after Olivia's murdered. Her daughter with Tommy, Chelsea, becomes one of Tommy's targets as he seeks custody of his biological daughter. Of course it's clear that Chelsea doesn't want to have anything to do with her father but the court legally gives Tommy custody. Eventually, one by one, Paul seeks out and kills everyone in Tommy's inner circle...eventually killing Tommy in a battle near a pool of acid.

Here's the photo of the DVD combo "10 to Midnight" and "Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects"...

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Don Harron: 1924-2015

Canadian born actor, writer, emcee, humorist, comedian Don Harron has passed away at the age of 90. His death happened yesterday January 17, 2015. Born in September 1924, Harron became popular in the early 1950s in his native country as Charlie Farquharson, a rustic philosopher-type prone to malaprops, one that had an opinion on anything. After the news broke of his death there have been hundreds of memorial pages that have popped up on-line...most of them originating in Canada...and some of the sites use the same biography but this is typical and nothing to complain about. After someone in the celebrity world passes away, an official memorial press release is issued and then bloggers, reporters, and media sites pick up on the press release and share it on their sites with their audiences. After more than a decade and a half as a Canadian celebrity on radio and television, Don became one of the original members of the television program, Hee Haw, when it debuted on CBS in the summer of 1969. After it's summer run, it returned as a mid-season replacement late in 1969 and it continued production of new episodes through early 1971. It was canceled by CBS in 1971 during the Rural Purge (the nickname given to the network's decision to drop any television programs that had massive appeal with rural America and, or, older audiences).

During the program's hiatus Don continued his association with the show because decisions had been made that the program would remain in production for the syndicated market and so by the fall of 1971 Hee Haw returned as a syndicated program. The irony is the local affiliates across the country, mostly affiliates of CBS, decided to continue airing the program in it's usual time-slot (Saturday evenings at 6pm Central, 7pm Eastern) as if it never had been canceled. If you check out some of my Hee Haw blogs you'll learn about the program's life span and it's production methods. Don wrote his own dialogue for the K-O-R-N segments.

For me, Don will always be Charlie Farquharson (last name pronounced, simply, as 'Fark-uh-son'). Before I decided to lower the price of my monthly cable bill, I used to get RFD-TV as part of one of the channel packages. I hadn't seen Hee Haw for nearly half a year and so I miss seeing the program and awaiting Charlie's newscasts. In the picture off to the right, in character as Charlie, Don makes one of his familiar funny facial expressions after reading a rather bizarre story...made more bizarre by the malaprops used in the story's description. The secret to Charlie's hold on a television viewer, in my opinion, was all in the comic timing. His delivery of the latest shenanigans taking place in Kornfield Kounty, that's the fictional place Hee Haw was set in, for example, or, his delivery of the latest divorce, marriage, or death happening in an assortment of fictional small towns...that delivery was breezy, up-tempo, and peppered with just enough innuendo to cause one to say to themselves "did he really say that??". The K-O-R-N routine was always funny and it's at it's hysterical best when Charlie hastily segues from one story to the other to the other, filling each of them with some sort of malapropism. One of my favorite one-liners from one of his 'broadcasts' is the time he reported on a cheapskate at a local bar. A waitress carrying a tray of glasses walked by and she tripped on something. Charlie looks at the camera and says of the cheapskate: "that's the first time the drinks were on him! Hyuck, hyuck, hyuck!!". That last part is my attempt at spelling out Charlie's big laugh.

The collage below is clickable.

As mentioned, Don Harron continued his appearances on Hee Haw throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s. He left the series at the end of the 1985-1986 television season as part of a sweeping overhaul of the cast. One of the program's co-hosts, Buck Owens, also left the series in early 1986.

I have taken some looks at several reports that originated in Canada and on one site there's video footage of Don in his early years.  You can also search YouTube and other video hosting sites to see footage of Don Harron.

Here are 2 sites that offer reports on Don Harron's death. You'll find out that there happened to be much more to Don Harron's career than his portrayal of Charlie.

Bellingham Herald

Broadway World

Here is a memorial story that appeared on-line several hours ago. You will see Don in his regular clothes, as himself, and of course you'll see him as Charlie...

Don Harron: 1924-2015