Saturday, April 23, 2011

King Of The Wild Frontier




Despite the fact that we sang the theme song with bawdier lyrics much later when I was a teenager . . .


“Davy, Davy got it. Caught it on the wild frontier . . . "


. . .  for my generation Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett was TV’s first American folk hero.  


It launched a national craze (among kids) for coonskin caps and toy flintlock rifles, and the `Ballad of Davy Crockett’ hit the Billboard charts by no less than four artists (Fess Parker, Bill Hayes, and Tennessee Ernie Ford, & Sons of the Pioneers), together selling more than 10 million records.


Incredibly, given its impact, the series only boasted 5 1-hour episodes – essentially television’s first miniseries – and it was originally planned for only three episodes.


Produced for ABC television’s Disneyland program, the first three episodes aired between December 15th, 1954 and February 23rd, 1955.   They were:

Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter


Davy Crockett Goes to Congress


Davy Crockett at the Alamo

The series starred Fess Parker as Davy and Buddy Ebsen as George Russel, and featured a cast that included Kenneth Tobey, Mike Mazurki, Hans Conried, and Helene Stanley.



These three episodes proved incredibly popular, and sparked 100 million dollars in merchandise tie-in sales (coon skin caps and related toys).  Disney had a certifiable smash, and cultural phenomenon on their hands.


But there was just one problem . . .   Davy Crockett is killed off in the third episode . . .  at the Alamo.


The following November Disney produced two more episodes – prequels – that highlighted Crockett’s exploits before the Alamo.


Well . . .  highly fictionalized exploits, anyway.  These shows were not exactly history lessons. 

The final two episodes were:

Davy Crockett's Keelboat Race

Davy Crockett and the River Pirates


The first 3 episodes (filmed in color) were edited into a feature film, and released to theatres for the summer of 1955.   With the majority of Americans without color TV in the mid-1950s, the release to theatres proved to be a shrewd move.


The following summer (1956) Disney released an edited version of the final two episodes to movie theaters, as Davy Crockett and the River Pirates.


Both Theatrical releases are available (albeit low-res versions) on the Museum of Broadcast Communications archive site. 


Registration to access the archives is free, and only takes a minute.  After registering you will be presented with a choice of visiting either the TV or Radio archives and then a search page.


Direct links to individual shows are not supported, but you can access the shows by filling out the form.  Below I’ve selected Davy Crockett, and specified that I only want to see entries with Digital files attached.




Co-star Buddy Ebsen – who would become identified to a generation as Jed Clampett (and later Barnaby Jones) – died in 2003 at the age of 95.

Fess Parker, who would go on to portray another American frontier legend Daniel Boone for 6 years in the 1960s, passed away in 2010 at the age of 85.   


Parker, who portrayed both characters in almost identical fashion (up to, and including the coonskin cap), has received some criticism for blurring the distinctions between these two real-life frontier legends.  


But neither show was meant to be a history legend, any more than was Bat Masterson, The Untouchables, or any other Hollywood bio-pic of the era.


These shows hearken back to a simpler, more idealistic time, when heroes were bigger than life.  


Not, perhaps, the past as it was. 

But the past as we would have liked it to have been.


I’ll leave you with the Hit recording by Bill Hayes of The Ballad of Davy Crockett .


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Mindwebs: Sci-Fi Stories For Adults







Although I cut my teeth on Juvenile Sci-Fi like Rocky Jones and Tom Corbett, it wasn’t long before I became entranced by the writings of Robert Heinlein.


I was perhaps 9 years old when I read Have Space Suit – Will Travel, followed immediately by Space Cadet, Rocket Ship Galileo, and my all time favorite . . . Tunnel In the Sky.


By age 10, I was insatiable.


Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov became my daily companions  . . .  and as I grew older Norman Spinrad, Richard Matheson, Roger Zalazny, Alfred Bester, Fritz Leiber, Poul Anderson and many others.

I consumed sci-fi (particularly short stories, but novels too) at a prodigious rate.   Movies and TV shows were pale imitations, worth watching of course, but rarely worth savoring.

Over the years, as I’ve moved about the country and have lived aboard two sailboats, I’ve discarded most of those well worn old paperbacks of my youth.


But I miss them, nonetheless.


So I’m very pleased to report that the Internet Archive has more than 130 half-hour recordings – produced during the 1970s and early 1980s at the University of Wisconsin (WHA Radio 970) – that are  readings of many of these well remembered short stories.


Unlike some of the OTR sci-fi shows of the 1950s, these are straight dramatic readings. One, or sometimes two short stories per episode. Usually read with a bit of futuristic music in the background and sparse sound effects.


The narrator for most episodes was Michael Hansen, and the stories were usually `sci-fi’ but sometimes wandered off into horror or occasionally even fantasy .


If you are looking for `audio books’ of sci-fi stories for your car CD player, iPod, or MP3 player then these should fill the bill.


You can download them separately, listen online to individual episodes, or download all of them in a single zip file.



Saturday, April 9, 2011

Hi-ho, Steverino!




Those of a certain age will recall that that was the greeting of pretentious Gordon Hathaway (aka Louis Nye) in the `Man on the Street’ interviews from the old Steve Allen Show.



Steve Allen & Lenny Bruce


Steve Allen was the original host of The Tonight Show, and reigned as the late night king of comedy from the year I was born (1954) to 1957.  I obviously have no memories of those early Tonight shows, although I’ve seen a few kinescopes.


What I do remember – quite fondly – were the Steve Allen Shows that aired on Sunday nights, opposite Ed Sullivan.  


NBC hoped that Allen would dethrone the long-running Sullivan show in the ratings, but both shows found it difficult to compete with ABC’s hit western Maverick.


Nonetheless Allen, along with bandleader Skitch Henderson, announcer Gene `The Match Game’ Rayburn, Tom Poston, Don Knotts, and Louis Nye, produced a fast paced and talent filled hour of musical comedy.


The show helped launch the careers of Poston, Nye, Knotts and others, including singers Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, who had also appeared on Allen’s Tonight Show.  Pat Harrington, Jr.  and  Bill Dana also saw their careers enhanced by their appearances on the show.


Tom Poston ended up with an Emmy award in 1959 for his comedic efforts on the show, and Don Knotts would hone his his trademark `nervous’ persona to become Deputy Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith show.


A mix of sketch comedy, musical numbers, and a rare interview or two, the show boasted many familiar guests stars popular in the 1950s.


There were roughly 10 solo appearances by Lou Costello (after his split in 1957 with Bud Abbott) along with visits from performers such as Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Bennett, Bob Hope, Louis Armstrong, Andy Williams, Martha Raye, and even a very young Elvis Presley. 


While most of his musical guests were geared towards an older audience, Allen (despite his dislike for the genre) booked popular rock & roll acts of the era as well.  


His controversial decision to garb Elvis in formal attire and have him sing `Hound dog’ to a real hound incensed Presley’s fans.  Presley managed to make the best of it, however.  


Like many others in the entertainment industry, Allen underestimated the powerful new trend in American music.


Nonetheless, multitalented Allen was a terrific host, songwriter, comedian, and actor.  His biggest dramatic role was that of Benny Goodman, in the bio pic `The Benny Goodman Story’ in 1955.



Kinescopes of many of these shows still exist, and I’m pleased to direct you to an archive with nearly 20 hours from this classic variety show.


They are located on the website for the Museum of Broadcast Communications, which has literally thousands of hours of old broadcast history available for viewing.




Registration to access the archives is free, and only takes a minute.  After registering you will be presented with a choice of visiting either the TV or Radio archives and then a search page.

Direct links to individual shows are not supported, but you can access the shows by filling out the form.  Below I’ve selected The Steve Allen Show, and specified that I only want to see entries with Digital files attached.





What is returned is a list of matching shows, which you can click on to view.   These are old kinescopes, and as such, the quality ranges from fair to poor.  


But all are watchable, and for those with a love for old variety shows, extremely enjoyable.





I’ve only just begun to explore the offerings of the Museum of Broadcast Communications, but I can already tell you I am a big fan of what they’ve accomplished.