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"...