Sunday, January 21, 2024

Benny Hill: A Centenarian Celebration

January 21, 2024 marks the 100th anniversary of Benny Hill's birth. Now, of course, when you do the math that means he was born January 21, 1924. His name at birth was Alfred Hill but he changed it when he got into show business and began going by the name of Benny Hill. It's long been reported that he chose that first name because it was associated with one of his comedy idols, Jack Benny. I've written numerous blog entries over the years about Benny Hill and my appreciation of his comedy and the television programs for which he starred in. This blog entry is a bit different because it happens to deal with the remembrance of his birth 100 years ago. Benny's half hour edited programs which first saw airing in the United States in 1979 have been running on Antenna TV for over a year now. The current schedule has them airing from 12:30am until 2am early Sunday morning. The programs had aired on Antenna TV in the past. When the episodes began airing on Antenna TV, originally, it marked the first time that those episodes had aired on American television since the early 1990s. The half hour, edited Benny Hill episodes had become a phenomenon in the United States through local syndication. The programs were syndicated by Don Taffner and by the early 1980s those fast paced half hour episodes were airing all over the country. The most common time of the day in which local television stations were airing the programs were in the late night time slots but mostly they aired at various times in the over-night time slots. As cable TV was starting to become more and more commonplace with 24/7 time slot offerings there needed to be something to place in those over-night time slots. Some local stations chose to air movies...other stations aired long form commercials or reruns of sitcoms...and a large number of the stations that didn't choose either of those options opted to air, instead, Benny Hill. 

Benny Hill had been entertaining British audiences on television since the mid 1950s. He was with the BBC for over a decade prior to moving on to Thames Television in 1969. The relationship with Thames TV lasted almost 20 years... from November 1969 until April 1989. I come across an article about Benny's 100th and it's so good that I decided to share a link to it in this blog entry. You can read the remembrance/celebration when you click HERE

It's a very good overview of his career.. and something that should never be forgotten is that Benny's fans have never, ever, stopped loving his style of comedy and entertainment even during the time in the mid 1980s when the British media didn't hide their feelings about his TV specials. The "suits", in other words the executives, turned their backs on Benny Hill in 1989 but the fans never did. The attacks by the British media and those within the alternative comedy scene, with most of their criticisms laced with innuendo and ignorance, played itself out in the newspapers and magazines of the day. Ironically the most well known and massively popular comic export from Europe, Benny Hill, had become toxic in his home country...yet the international market, especially the United States, continued airing the half hour programs even while the British media was on the attack. 

Benny Hill passed away in April of 1992. He had previously starred in a TV special titled Benny Hill's World Tour: New York!. The special aired on the USA Network in 1991 but it had been recorded in 1990 at his usual studio in London. The exterior shots and some other footage of Benny in New York City were taped on location here in the United States but the sketches and songs were all recorded in London. The 'World Tour' series of TV specials was meant to be a comeback for him where Benny would focus on the culture and entertainment of select cities across the globe and satirize, celebrate, or spoof the culture of those cities but unfortunately only the first special was ever recorded and aired. Among the mail found at his house on the day his body was discovered was a contract for a series of comedy specials for Central Independent Television. This contract, it's been speculated, would certainly have been for the remaining 'World Tour' series of comedy specials that never materialized due to his death. 

Benny Hill: 1924 - 1992

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Vincent Price Remembrance...30 Years

We are 6 days removed from the sad anniversary of the October 25th death of Vincent Price. I decided to write this blog entry on Halloween Day, on purpose, because for several generations of people Vincent was synonymous with Halloween. While it's true that horror movies became increasingly gory and eye shocking as the 1980's dawned...and Vincent appeared in several of those kind of horror movies in the 1980's...the legacy of his film career is tied to the wide appeal of the style of horror film he was often cast in. The films almost always were set in historical time periods...the 15th century, 16th century, 17th century, etc. He appeared in films set in contemporary times as well but if you were to ask fans of Vincent Price to randomly select their top 10 favorite movies chances are 90 percent of those films will have been set in past centuries rather than in contemporary times. 

Vincent Price passed away on October 25, 1993...and as I've always made mention of and as countless others have made mention, his passing away during the Halloween season sounded like something straight out of a satiric horror movie script. The ironic fact of when it took place made his death even more surreal. Local television stations were still airing his Halloween/horror movie themed television commercials for Tilex mildew remover. He had been making those commercials for a number of years but since they weren't dated and it was for a product still available in stores the commercials continued airing even after the production of new commercials had ended. His horror movies were airing on late night television. 

I have my share of Vincent Price movies...almost all of them are on VHS tape. A few are on DVD. His movies are widely available online and so I've moved to video hosting sites if ever I'm wanting to see one of his movies. So many of his best known movies were based on poems and short stories from the pen of Edgar Allan Poe...and a series of those movies were directed by Roger Corman...although Vincent would continue starring in Poe-related films for other directors into the early 1970s. The official "Poe cycle" under the direction of Roger Corman included nearly every fan's favorite Vincent Price movies:

1. The Fall of the House of Usher
2. The Pit and the Pendulum
3. The Raven
4. The Masque of the Red Death
5. The Tomb of Ligeia

Now, in addition to those, there were other highly entertaining Vincent Price fan favorites: Shock, House of Wax, Dragonwyck, The Story of Mankind, House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler, Return of the Fly, Tales of Terror, Twice Told Tales, The Haunted Palace, The Comedy of Terrors, Matthew Hopkins: Witchfinder General, Cry of the Banshee, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, Theatre of Blood, and Madhouse. 

Vincent holds a rare distinction of appearing in two films utilizing the same title but taking on different roles in each. Vincent co-starred in the film, Tower of London, in 1939 and played the role of the Duke of Clarence. The stars of the film were Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff...then, more than 20 years later, Roger Corman directed Vincent in a quasi-remake in 1962. In 1939 Basil Rathbone played the role of Richard III...but Vincent took the role in the 1962 release. Vincent had one of the longest careers in the entertainment industry...from his earliest supporting roles in the late 1930s to his starring roles beginning in the mid to late 1940s. He became a drive-in movie attraction, specifically in the 1960s, and throughout it all maintained a genuine appreciation for practically everything he was involved in. He had clashes with only a few co-stars and a director or two in his multi-decade career.    

Vincent Price was a one-of-a-kind performer/entertainer. He was not confined to just one style although horror films are what his lasting legacy continues to be. He had very prolific careers on the theatrical stage, on radio, and on television. In fact, Vincent has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his Film and Television careers. In addition to his acting in the theater, on radio, in movies, and on television he also had a long time passion for the arts and did lectures on art as well as on gourmet cooking. There were several cookbooks published and he had a long time association with the East Los Angeles College where paintings that he purchased and donated to the college were put on display beginning in the early 1950s. This eventually morphed into the much larger Vincent Price Gallery and decades later it became the Vincent Price Art Museum which is operational to this day at the East Los Angeles College. In my opinion Vincent Price should also have a Star for his radio work...not only for his guest starring work in numerous dramatic anthology programs and sitcoms but also for his starring role as Simon Templar in "The Saint". Vincent portrayed the character the longest on radio...starring as Simon Templar, on and off, from 1947 until 1951. 

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Jimmy Buffett: 1946 - 2023

Now, I'll say at the start of this blog entry, I happened to be familiar with the songs of Jimmy Buffett that he and his fans dubbed 'The Big Eight'. I wasn't a dedicated fan but I was well aware of him and his music and I liked his songs. Most of the things you're going to be reading will be information I came across online throughout the process of my research for this blog entry but the wording/text is all mine. A pet peeve of mine is reading a blog and it's nothing but a copy/paste job.

In my region of the country Jimmy was treated almost like royalty. Throughout the years, as long as I can remember, he played Cincinnati, Ohio annually at the River Bend concert venue. On local news there were always heavy media reporting and interviews with fans before and after his concerts. I do not know if this kind of attention was commonplace in other areas of the country but it's something I remember happening here every year in the summer. 

If you're not familiar with his music it's long been described as escapist Island music.. tropical rock.. or gulf and western. He made a living writing and performing songs that often had the listener wishing they were there and one of the under reported aspects of his career is how he was able to achieve considerable longevity as a touring act rather than your conventional "one album a year performer". Oh, sure, he put out his share of albums but it's his concerts, in my opinion and in the opinion of others online, that will be his lasting legacy. 

It's in his concerts where he turned his recorded songs into epics and where he emotionally connected with the audience. Precious few in the music industry actually emotionally connect with an audience and he did so on such a level that it comes as no surprise, to me, the level of outpouring of feelings of sadness and sorrow that filled up social media sites all day long yesterday when the news broke. In fact, fan and music industry memorials and memories of him continue to come in from all over the world. 

Earlier I mentioned 'The Big Eight'. What were those songs? It was dubbed this because they were the most requested and most loved songs in Jimmy's career and his fans expected/wanted to hear them in every concert. In no particular order here are those songs:

1. Margaritaville
2. Fins
3. Cheeseburger in Paradise
4. Come Monday
5. Why Don't We Get Drunk
6. A Pirate Looks at Forty
7. Volcano
8. Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

On albums and in concert he could be very unpredictable and he also had a flair for comedy and could come off like a practical joker. That was simply his personality coming through in a concert setting. His party persona and Island escapism was financially rewarding and beloved by those who actually lived on the Islands or wish they could escape to some tropical Island somewhere. In the image below, the album cover of his 1988 release, Hot Water, we see him acting out the album's title. The water being hot it's caused the shark to jump out. The hand signal above his head represents a fin...and if you're familiar with his concert performances of the song, "Fins", he did that gesture several times throughout the song. To clarify, though, "Fins" isn't on that 1988 album. That song came out in 1979.

Historians report he sold millions of albums based almost entirely on the strength of his personal appearances and concert tours rather than through the traditional method of radio airplay and in the modern era the practice of well placed ads on social media websites. 

Something I read online yesterday is one of his albums, titled License to Chill, hit number one on the Country Album chart in 2004...becoming the first chart topping album of his career...followed by another Country Album number one in 2006 titled Take the Weather With You. He would  hit number one on the Country Album chart a third time in 2020 with an album titled Life on the Flip Side. The License to Chill album also hit number on the Pop Album chart...marking the only number one album of his career (to date) on the pop chart. 

His flair for humor was not only visible in some of his songs and concert patter but quite a few of his albums had pun titles. A couple of examples being an album he issued in 1973 titled A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean. The album title was a pun/parody of the Marty Robbins song "A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation". Later on, in 1985, he released an album called Last Mango in Paris, the title derived from the movie Last Tango in Paris. It reached the Top-10 on the Country Album chart. Havana Daydreamin', released in 1976, was a pun on the phrase 'having a daydream'. The previously mentioned License to Chill was a pun on the phrase 'license to kill' which was also the name of a James Bond movie years before the album was released. 

One of the most revealing aspects of his albums is that quite a few of them performed much better with country music audiences in spite of the fact that people who worked in country radio didn't necessarily embrace him as a 'country' artist. Albums he released in the 1970's charted higher country than pop. In the 1980's 6 of his albums reached Top-40 status and 4 of the 6 were Top-40 with country audiences. Ironically, the role was reversed with his single releases. His single releases charted the most frequently on the pop chart (Hot 100) but he did have a handful of country music entries, too.

Now, everybody and their parrot has shared audio of 'The Big Eight' throughout Saturday and into the early morning hours of Sunday and rightfully so, those were indeed his biggest and best-known recordings outside his fan base, but instead of being another in a million miles long list of bloggers that'll share those particular audio tracks I instead have picked out this bouncy, comical song called "Pencil Thin Mustache". How many songs do you know that reference Errol Flynn, Desi Arnaz/Ricky Ricardo, and Andy Devine of all people!? It's from the 1974 album Living and Dying in 3/4 Time. On the photo that accompanied some of the single releases you can't help but notice his thick mustache as you hear him singing of wishing he had a "Pencil Thin Mustache".