Sunday, December 21, 2008

A few More Stocking Stuffers For Christmas





A Christmas tradition, first on radio, and then on television, was the Jack Benny Christmas show.  Each year jack would attempt to buy cheap gifts for Mary, Don, and Dennis from a harried store clerk (usually Frank Nelson or Mel Blanc), and each year Jack would keep returning the gifts until he drove the poor fellow nuts.


In this episode, Jack is buying a wallet for Don Wilson. In other years he bought shoe laces (exchanging plastic tips for one with metal tips, and then back again), and one year, he even bought gopher traps!


Mel Blanc steals the show with his sales clerk routine, and breaks up Jack at just shy of the 21 minute mark of the show. 


Even though the audience always knew what was coming, the Jack Benny show never failed to please.   This episode is from 1960.  By then, Jack had been doing the show for more than 25 years.




The Jack Benny Christmas Show - Jack Benny
An annual event on Jack Benny's radio show, Jack takes a trip to the local department store, only to run into some familiar characters. Notice Mel Blanc in his usual role as the salesmen unfortunate enough to have to wait on Jack, again, again, and again! IMDB for Jack Benny's Christmas Show Director: James V. Kern Writers: George Balzer, Hal Goldman Original Air Date: 18 December 1960 (Season 11, Episode 9) Jack Benny ...



Growing up in the 1950's, meant growing up with the Nelsons.  First on radio, and then on television, Ozzie and Harriet were America's family.  Here is their 1956 Christmas show.


"The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" 1956 Christmas episode
1956 episode of "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet", the 2nd longest running American sitcom of all time. This is a Christmas-themed episode. "Ozzie and Harriet" never reached the top 10 in the ratings, But steading ratings made sure that it out-lived many more better-known shows, and it's gentle corny humor made it popular with kids. Overall it's a classic show that has aged well. NOTE: This copy is a mid-60's re-run print, and features different commercials to the original broadcast.


While just about everybody has seen  White Christmas and It's a Wonderful Life often enough to be able to recite the dialog along with the movie, there are other, lesser known movies out there certainly worth enjoying as well.


One little known gem is called   Beyond Tomorrow, and it stars Harry Carey, C. Aubrey Smith, Charles Winninger, Jean Parker, and Richard Carlson.


This charming 1940 fantasy revolves around 3 ghosts who try to watch after and guide two people they knew in life. 


Beyond Tomorrow - A. Edward Sutherland
Director: A. Edward Sutherland Writers: Mildred Cram (story) and Adele Comandini (story) IMDB PAGE Release Date: 10 May 1940 (USA) Harry Carey ... George Melton C. Aubrey Smith ... Allan 'Chad' Chadwick Charles Winninger ... Michael O'Brien Alex Melesh ... Josef - the butler Maria Ouspenskaya ... Madame Tanya Helen Vinson ... Arlene Terry Rod La Rocque ... Phil Hubert Richard Carlson ... James Houston Jean Parker .....




There was a time, not so terribly long ago, when animators produced high quality finely drawn cartoons. Nearly every frame was carefully rendered by hand, not generated using computers.  


The cost of making these intricate films, in terms of man-hours, grew so great that by the late 1950's animators were simplifying their techniques in order to save money, and the era of exquisitely rendered animation came to an end.


We are lucky, however, that the works of people like Max Fleischer remain available for us to enjoy.


Here then, from the golden age of animation, are a stocking full of mostly-forgotten Christmas cartoons.



click to play movieclick to play movie
click to play movieclick to play movie

Christmas Comes But Once A Year - 1936

Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer - 1948

Snow Foolin' - 1949

The Shanty Where Santy Claus Lives - 1933

Somewhere in Dreamland - 1936

Hectors Hectic Life - 1948

Jack Frost - 1934

The Little King - 1934

The Christmas Visitor - 1959

Santa's Surprise - 1947


Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Christmas Potpourri




With Christmas just 5 days away, it's time for an eclectic collection of early Holiday TV and movie fare.   





Seymour Hicks as Scrooge



The perennial classic, "A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens, has been adapted to just about every medium since it was first published in 1843. 


Radio, TV, movies, cartoons, stage plays . . . .


Even though the 1935 British entry, Scrooge, was the first talkie version, it was at the very least, the 7th filmed version of the tale. The earliest being Marley's Ghost made in 1901.


Starring Seymour Hicks as Scrooge, this was a familiar role for the 64 year old veteran actor.  He'd practically made a career out of the character, first appearing on stage as the skinflint Ebenezer in 1901, and playing the role many times thereafter.


In fact, he played the role in the 1913 silent film Scrooge.






Scrooge - Julius Hagen
Seymour Hicks plays the title role in the first sound version of the Dickens classic about the miser who's visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve. This British import is notable for being the only adaptation of this story with an invisible Marley's Ghost and its Expressionistic cinematography. This is the uncut 78 minute version.




In 1952 Studio One produced a live TV musical version of The Nativity, with Thomas Chalmers, Hurd Hatfield, Paul Tripp.   This is a traditional, deeply religious production, something you rarely find on television anymore.


Don't miss the Westinghouse TV set commercial with Betty Furness, extolling the virtues of the new `electronic clarifyer'.



Studio One : The Nativity
Studio One : The Nativity IMDB PAGE TV Series: "Studio One" (1948) Original Air Date: 22 December 1952 (Season 5, Episode 13) CAST : Thomas Chalmers, Hurd Hatfield, Paul Tripp




Dragnet produced a Christmas story on radio in the early 1950's called `A .22 rifle for Christmas'.  It was remade for the television series (many of the radio scripts were recycled) in 1952.  




This was hardly an upbeat show, as it portrays a young boy accidentally shooting his best friend with his Christmas gift.  




A Gun For Christmas
A Gun For Christmas from the 1950's series Dragnet


In 1953, the producers of Dragnet wisely elected to produce a more uplifting holiday show, one that would be remade again when Dragnet was revived in the late 1960's.



The Big Little Jesus

Sgt. Friday investigates the theft of a religious statue from a church on Christmas Eve. 


The following year (1954)  Four Star Playhouse would produce a remarkably well written and performed tale called `The Answer', starring David Niven, Carolyn Jones, and Anthony Caruso. 


`The Answer' was nominated for 4 Emmy's & won the 1955 DGA award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement for Television. 


The story is by Leonard Freeman, a name that many will recognize as the producer of such critically acclaimed shows as Hawaii Five-0 and Route 66








Four Star Playhouse - The Answer - Leonard Freeman
Starring David Niven Directed by Ray Kellino Original Air Date: 23 December 1954 (Season 3, Episode 13) Anthony Caruso ... Bart John Harmon ... Sailor Carolyn Jones ... Dolores Jack Lomas (as Jack M. Lomas) David Niven ... Deacon Nestor Paiva ... Rocco Richard Reeve



The Answer reaffirms just how good early Television writing and acting could be.











Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Two Small Miracles For The Holidays






One of the most enduring Holiday classics must certainly be A Miracle on 34th Street, which since it was first produced in 1947, has been remade a number of times.   


We have two versions available to us in the public domain.



Original movie poster



The original movie starring Maureen O'Hara and John Payne, alas, is not in the public domain, although their radio performance of the movie on LUX RADIO THEATRE is. 


First, a bit of background. 


Miracle on 34th Street, also know as  The Big Heart in the UK, was written by Valentine Davies, and was released in 1947 by 20th Century Fox.  


It not only became an instant classic, it won Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Edmund Gwenn), Best Writing, Original Story, and Best Writing, Screenplay.   It was nominated for best picture, but lost out to Gentleman's Agreement.


The story, which takes place immediately following the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, concerns a department store Santa who believes he really is Kris Kringle.  


Before the movie has ended, a great number of people who at first thought he should be committed, grew to believe he was right.


This delightful, and enduring classic, can be heard on the 1948  Christmas week edition of Lux Radio Theatre.


Lux_48-12-20_Miracle_on_34th_St.mp3       14 MB



A lesser known remake appeared on the 1955 20th Century Fox Hour television show, which ran on CBS from 1955 to 1957.  The show aired at 10pm on Wednesday evenings, and was shown on alternate weeks. 


The US Steel Hour, another anthology show, shared the time slot.


Starring Teresa Wright, McDonald Carey, and Thomas Mitchell, this 1955 remake runs only 45 minutes, but retains a good deal of the warmth and whimsy of the original. 



click to play movieclick to play movie
click to play movieclick to play movie



The Miracle on 34th Street - Jules Bricken
The Miracle on 34th Street (1955) (TV) Produced by Jules Bricken Director: Robert Stevenson Writers: Valentine Davies (story) John Monks Jr. (teleplay) Release Date: 14 December 1955 John Abbott ... Dr. Albert Sawyer Don Beddoe ... Mr. Macy Sara Berner ... Woman Shopper Whit Bissell ... Dr. Pierce Macdonald Carey ... Fred Gaily Ray Collins ... Judge Harper Hans Conried ... Mr. Shellhammer Sandy Descher .....


Another TV version would be made in 1959, this time in color, starring Ed Wynn as Kris Kringle.   The original appears to have been lost, although a Kinescope was recently discovered among a large group of videos donated by NBC to the Library of Congress.



In 1963, a Broadway musical version, written by Meredith Wilson, entitled Here's Love, would appear. It ran for 334 performances at the Shubert Theatre, and starred Laurence Naismith, Janis Paige, Craig Stevens, Lisa Kirk, Fred Gwynne, Michael Bennett, and Baayork Lee.


In 1973, a TV movie would be made, starring  Jane Alexander, David Hartman, Roddy McDowall,  and Sebastian Cabot.


And in 1994, a feature film starring Richard Attenborough, Elizabeth Perkins, and Dylan McDermott would be produced, although certain elements of the movie would be changed.   Macy's and Gimbels are replaced by  `Coles' and `Shopper's Express', and the  movie took a much more serious tone.


No matter what version, more than sixty years after it was first produced, this Christmas miracle still touches the hearts of children of all ages. 

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Bing Crosby Christmas




Like many who grew up in the 1950's and 1960's, I miss variety shows.


The Ed Sullivan show on Sunday night was a family event, and Jackie Gleason, Red Skelton, Carol Burnett, and Dean Martin were weekly visitors to our living rooms.   


Variety shows were family fare.  Something for everyone, no matter their age.


Acts were generally short enough that boredom seldom set in.   The formula was simple.  A genial,  oft times talented host.   Dancers. An orchestra.  And guest stars who would perform, and then graciously appear in some skit.


And it was traditional for nearly every variety show to have a Holiday themed show Christmas week.


No performer was more closely associated with Christmas during the mid-1960's than Bing Crosby.   His two Christmas themed movies, Holiday Inn and  White Christmas, along with his best selling record  White Christmas, practically made him a poster boy for the holiday.




Bing appeared on his own Holiday TV specials practically every year, and would show up as a guest on other's as well.   His Christmas albums sold millions.


In 1965 and 1966, Bing hosted the Hollywood Palace Christmas shows for ABC television.    We are fortunate that both of these shows are available on the Internet Archive.


In the 1965 edition,  Bob Crane and the cast of Hogan's Heroes joins Bing for this Christmas day broadcast.   A bit unusual because the Hollywood Palace was an ABC show, while Hogan's hailed from CBS.


The mystery is cleared up when you realize that Hogan's Heroes was a Bing Crosby Production.  Bing's company also produced shows such as Ben Casey and Slattery's People.


Hogan's Heroes had premiered in September of 1965, and was headed for a long and very successful run.  Having them appear on a Christmas special was, no doubt, a great boost to the show.



The Hollywood Palace : 1965 Christmas Special - Gary Lockwood
"The Hollywood Palace" Episode #3.13 (1965) Original Air Date: 25 December 1965 (Season 3, Episode 13) Directed by Grey Lockwood Produced by William O. Harbach .... producer Nick Vanoff .... executive producer Bing Crosby ... Himself - Host / Singer John Banner ... Himself - Singer Robert Clary ... Himself - Singer Dorothy Collins ... Herself - Singer Bob Crane ... Himself - Singer Richard Dawson ...



The next year, Bing was back on The Hollywood Palace, this time on Christmas Eve with his family as his guests, along with Bob Newhart.



The Hollywood Palace : 1966 Christmas Special - William O. Harbach
The Hollywood Palace (1966) Season 4, Episode 14 Original Air Date: 24 December 1966 Directed by Grey Lockwood Produced by William O. Harbach Nick Vanoff .... executive producer Bing Crosby ... Himself - Host / Singer Harry Crosby ... Himself - Singer Mary Crosby ... Herself - Singer (as Mary Francis Crosby) Nathaniel Crosby ... Himself - Singer Excess Baggage ... Trained Dog Act Roy Fitzell ... Himself - Dancer Kathryn Grant .....


Both of these shows are wonderful time capsules of the mid-1960's, along with being delightful Christmas fare.  



Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Serviceman's Christmas Past




Over the next couple of weeks I'll be featuring Christmas and Holiday related shows available to view and/or download from the Net.



To start off, we'll take a look back at the Christmas radio shows beamed over to the troops during World War II, and Bob Hope's  USO Christmas tour of 1958.



Just months after the attack on Pearl Harbor the biggest stars in Hollywood began donating their time each week to appear on the Armed Forces Radio `Command Performance' show, beamed via short wave radio to the troops overseas.


The concept of the show was simple.  G.I.'s could write in their requests of what they'd like to hear from home, and Hollywood would do their Darndest to make it happen. 


It might be the rebroadcast of the final round of a big stateside prize fight, or a request for a love song from Dinah Shore.  One serviceman even requested to hear the sound of a Las Vegas slot machine.  


The shows normally ran for 30 minutes, but a number of them were extended editions that ran an hour, and sometimes two hours.   Holiday shows were generally at least an hour long.


All of the talent was donated, and as a morale booster, Command Performance was a huge success.   More than 400 episodes were produced, with literally hundreds of stars appearing over the years.


Two stars, however, were very closely aligned with the show.  Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.    The list of other talent reads like a who's who of Hollywood of the 1940's.  


Judy Garland, Sinatra, Dorothy Lamour, Betty Hutton, Betty Grable,  Harry James,  Glenn Miller, Jack Benny,  Fred Allen,  Francis Langford, Charles Laughton, Fred MacMurray, Vincent Price, Ginger Rogers, Mickey Rooney, Dinah Shore . . . .


From a nostalgia standpoint, these are true treasures. 


But don't discount the entertainment value.   These were big stars for a reason.   Not every segment works, and some of the jokes may be dated, but you will find there is a lot to like in these remarkable shows.


Here then are some of the Christmas shows beamed to the troops between 1942 and 1948.



1942 Christmas Show         14 MB

1943 Christmas Special      16 MB

1944 Christmas Show         31 MB

1944 Christmas Day            11 MB

1945 Christmas Program     22 MB

1946 Christmas Special       14 MB

1948 ChristmasSpecial_1    28 MB

1948 ChristmasSpecial_2    29 MB








For 50 years Bob Hope donated weeks (and sometimes months) of his time each year to entertain the troops overseas.


While he made movies, performed on the radio, and did TV specials - he is probably best remembered for bringing a little bit of home and cheer to our military personnel serving in dangerous and distant places around the world.


In 1958, like many other years, his USO Christmas tour was filmed and turned into a TV special.  You can view it on GUBA by clicking the image below.  






Over the next ten days I'll have more Christmas shows, including entries from Studio One, Dragnet, Ozzie & Harriet, Jack Benny, Four Star Playhouse,  and The Hollywood Palace.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Great Dane Pt II




In 1967, the New York Times called Victor Borge the funniest man in the world, and quite obviously many of his fans agree.  In a career that stretched over 7 decades, Borge's combination of talent and wit have charmed audiences around the world.  


He was, of course, a wonderful pianist - although he often mocked his own abilities. 


And now, in honour of the 150th anniversary of Beethoven's death, I would like to play "Clear the Saloon", er, "Clair de Lune", by Debussy. I don't play Beethoven so well, but I play Debussy very badly, and Beethoven would have liked that.

I only know two pieces, one is 'Clair de Lune', the other one isn't.




Borge's trademarks included repeatedly announcing his  intention to play a piece, and continually becoming distracted  . . . or starting to play a piece of classical music only to have it gradually morph into a pop or jazz tune.



Borge, who gained fame as a radio performer, found his piano antics translated well to television.  We are very fortunate in that a great many of his performances have been captured on film, and are available for generations to come.  



One of Borge's signature routines, performed many times with many partners, was Liszt´s Hungarian Rhapsody No 2 as a `cross-hand piece'.






Here is a classic routine by Victor Borge as he attempts to accompany Italian Tenor Sergio Franchi.     Many of the elements used in this bit, you will find sprinkled throughout his other acts.






And here Victor does another variation of the page-turner routine, this time with his son playing his foil.




From a 1958 TV special,  Victor tries to play a difficult Chopin Waltz.




And of course, Borge enjoyed bringing to the public a bit of music education, as he does in this segment that explains what a conductor does.





Victor shows his appreciation for Opera in the Mozart Opera.




And here Victor teaches Dean Martin how to use his Phonetic Punctuation when he sings.




And again from the 1950's, Victor shows us how the great composers might have arranged "Happy Birthday".




And this last clip highlights the talents of a unique `band' that Victor introduces on I've Got A Secret, hosted by Steve Allen.   The reference to Borge's new Broadway show,  Comedy in Music, would put this around the fall of of 1953.


The use of `vocal instruments' was fairly common during the first half of the 20th century, and for many years it was a staple of the Mills Brothers act, but it is rarely done as well as in the following remarkable video.




Victor Borge was fond of saying that `Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.'


That being the case, Victor Borge undoubtedly brought millions of people together with his comedy and music.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Great Dane Pt 1




Of all of the live performances that I've been fortunate enough to witness, my two favorites were both given by the same man:  Victor Borge.






I was lucky enough to see him twice in the 1980's, including his 80th Birthday tour - and of course, I've seen his PBS specials many times.   If you don't know this Great Dane, then prepare yourself for a good time.


But first, a little about the man who narrowly escaped the Nazi's clutches, and who emigrated to the United States and became a radio star before he learned the English Language.



Born Børge Rosenbaum in Copenhagen, Denmark, Borge took up piano at the age of 3, and it was soon apparent that he was a prodigy.  In 1918, at the age of 9, he was awarded a full scholarship at the Royal Danish Academy of Music.


Borge's first few years were spent as a classical concert pianist. Later he  added his signature blend of piano music and jokes, which expanded his appeal. In 1933, he married American Elsie Chilton, and began touring extensively in Europe, playing classical music, and telling anti-nazi jokes.


Reportedly, Hitler was incensed by Borge's taunts, and after Germany invaded Denmark, Borge managed to escape from Europe on the last passenger liner (USS American Legion) to leave prior to the war.


He arrived in the United States with only $20 in his pocket. 


Despite not speaking English, Borge adapted his jokes to an American audience, learning his lines phonetically.   He took the name Victor Borge, and in 1941 he was featured on the Rudy Vallee radio show. 


Soon after, he was hired as a regular on Bing Crosby's Kraft Music Hall, and would appear on a number of other radio shows as well. 


He was pronounced "the best new radio performer of the year" in 1942  by the American press, and became a naturalized American citizen in 1948.

His radio career expanded, and in 1946 NBC gave him his own radio show.  When television came around, his physical humor translated extremely well to the new medium. 


In the 1950's, his broadway show, Comedy in Music, ran for 849 performances - a record for a one-man show.



Watching Victor Borge perform is to watch a man genuinely amused by his own success.   He's obviously having a good time, loves to interact with the audience, and appears to be enjoying the show as much as the audience. 


A more beloved performer would be hard to find. 


Although famous for his comedic piano playing, Borge also created `Phonetic Punctuation' and `inflationary language'  - both of which became signature comedy pieces for him.




First we have the Victor Borge Collection of audio files, available from the Internet Archive, followed by a selection of video clips of Borge performing over the years.


Victor Borge - a Mozart Opera                 8.9 MB

Victor Borge - All the Right Notes, Not Necessarily in the Right Order                                                       6.8 MB

Victor Borge - Brahms Lullaby                  3.3 MB

Victor Borge - Comedy in Music               25 MB

Comedy In Music, Pt. 2                            14 MB

Victor Borge - Denmark, My Native Land 1.3 MB

Victor Borge - Family Background             1.2 MB

Victor Borge - Friedmann Wiener Tanz 2  3.3 MB

Victor Borge - Happy Birthday                  15 MB

Victor Borge - Hungarian Rhapsody          19 MB

Victor Borge - in London                          3.0 MB

Victor Borge - Inflationary Language        5.0 MB

Victor Borge - Johann Sibelius Bach

& Family                                                   1.3 MB

Victor Borge - Live at the London

Paladium                                                   20 MB

Victor Borge - Live in Boston in 1953       15 MB

Victor Borge - Medley of Popular Songs   14 MB

Victor Borge - Mozart Opera by               8.9 MB

Victor Borge - Phonetic Punctuation       7.2 MB

Victor Borge - Rachmaninov Excerpts      3.2 MB

Victor Borge - Requests                           14 MB

Victor Borge - Saliere Opera                     7.9 MB

Victor Borge - Sweetheart                       9.7 MB

Victor Borge - Three Borge Fav                12 MB

Command Performance                            6.8 MB

Command Performance                            7.5 MB

Command Performance                            7.0 MB

xMail_Call_xxxxxx_Victor_Borge.mp3       30 MB




In my next blog, I'll highlight some of the memorable video performances by Victor Borge available on the Internet.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Four Variations On A Theme





If you were to try to pick the most copied, or imitated, movie, radio and TV plot over the years, I suspect two works would come to mind.  First, and probably the winner hand's down, is  A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.


The second commonest plot, I suspect, would be derived from Richard Connell's   1924 short story, The Most Dangerous Game.  


You'd be hard pressed to find any adventure TV show that ran more than one season that didn't place the chief protagonist in the role of the unarmed quarry, pursued through the woods/hills/jungle by a `big game hunter'.


I remember reading the story at about the age of 10, in one of those Alfred Hitchcock Anthology paper backs, and suddenly realizing I'd already seen the same plot a dozen times on TV.   


Still, as someone who truly loves to read, it is hard to beat the  original story.   You can read it online, for free:  HERE.



The first movie version of the story would come 8 years after it was published, in 1932, and it would star Joel McCrea as Rainsford  and Leslie Banks as Zaroff, along with Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong.



Moviephiles will recognize that two of these actors (Wray & Armstrong)would star in King Kong, released the following year.  Although not the huge hit of King Kong, The Most Dangerous Game was reportedly so inexpensive to make, it actually made more money than the big Ape did for RKO. 



Fay Wray and Joel McCrea in
The Most Dangerous Game

The Most Dangerous Game - David O. Selznick, Merian C. Cooper

Ship wrecked Bob Rainsford (Joel McCrea) crawls ashore on a mysterious island and finds his way to a creepy castle inhabited by a Russian Count named Zaroff (Leslie Banks). There he meets the lovely Eve (Fay Wray) and her drunken brother Martin (Robert Armstrong), who were also ship wrecked. It turns out that the "Game" of the title is the mad Count hunting down and killing human prey.



Over the years, the story was filmed again as:

  • A Game of Death (1945)
  • The Dangerous Game (1953)
  • Run for the Sun (1956)
  • Bloodlust! (1961)
  • The Woman Hunt (1973)
  • Mottomo kiken na yuugi (1978)
  • Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity (1987)
  • Deadly Prey (1988)
  • Lethal Woman (1989)
  • Surviving the Game (1994)


    Plus elements of the storyline would be used in movies like:


    • Hard Target
    • Gymkata, Predator and Predator 2
    • The 1983 James Bond 007 film Octopussy


    Among others.  As to how many times it has been adapted for television, I doubt anyone has an accurate count.  No doubt more than 100 times, though.



    The original 1932 film version, however, is probably the best.   Certainly better than the 1961 offering below, called  Bloodlust!   



    Fair Warning: I'm not responsible for any brain cells destroyed watching this grade Z film.


    Bloodlust - Ralph Brooke

    Bloodlust! (1961) Director: Ralph Brooke Writers: Ralph Brooke & Richard Connell Tagline: Two beautiful young girls...Defenseless against the deadly ancient crossbow! more Plot Outline: A crazed hunter kidnaps people and turns them loose on his private estate, where he hunts them for sport Wilton Graff : Dr. Albert Balleau Robert Reed : Johnny Randall June Kenney : Betty Scott Joan Lora : Jeanne Perry





    Luckily radio gave us several quality adaptations of the story, including two by the long-running anthology show  Suspense!  and one by Escape!

  • Suspense ran from 1942 to 1962 on the radio (and in the early days of TV, as an anthology series sponsored by AutoLite).   The radio series is particularly well remembered because they were able to attract many big Hollywood stars to perform on the show.


  • In 1943,  Orson Welles starred in an adaptation that moved the focus of the story away from Rainsford (played by Keenan Wynn), and more onto Welles' General Zaroff performance.   


    430923_The_Most_Dangerous_Game     14 MB



    While produced on a lower budget than Suspense!, Escape! consistently produced some of the finest radio drama heard during the late 1940's and early 1950's.   Each week, listeners would be beckoned with the voice of Paul Frees or William Conrad saying:


    “Tired of the everyday routine? Ever dream of a life of romantic adventure? Want to get away from it all? We offer you... Escape!


    This version of The Most Dangerous Game is, in my opinion, superior to the two from Suspense!.



    October 1, 1947. CBS network. "The Most Dangerous Game".

    A big game hunt for the biggest game of!

    Hans Conried, Irving Ravetch (adaptor), Paul Frees, Richard Connell (writer), William N. Robson (producer), Richard Sanville (director), Cy Feuer (music conceiver, conductor). 1/2 hour.


    ESCAPE  Most_Dangerous_Game_10-01-47.mp3    3.6 MB



    The next time you find yourself watching an adventure story, and somewhere along the way the hero (or heroine) of the story becomes the focus of a `big game hunt', you'll know you are watching a tried and true plot device. 


    But do yourself a favor: read the story, watch the 1932 film, and listen to the 1947 episode of Escape!  if you want to enjoy the best of the versions to date.




  • Tuesday, November 25, 2008

    Spend `An Evening With Groucho Marx'








    If there were any justice in the world, when you looked up the word `raconteur' in the dictionary, there'd be a picture of Groucho Marx.


    While Groucho certainly used physical comedy in his films, it was his ability to tell stories, and interact humorously with his guests, that turned him into a huge hit on radio, and then on television. 


    In future blogs, we'll take a look at the Marx Brothers, and Groucho's radio and Television career, but today we have something very special: Groucho's (almost) one-man show recorded at Carnegie Hall in 1972.


    Groucho was 81 when he recorded this show, which was released as a  two-album set in the early 1970's.   You wouldn't know that by his delivery.


    Introduced by Dick Cavett,  and with piano accompaniment by no less than Marvin Hamlisch,  Groucho regales an adoring audience with dozens of anecdotes about his career in show business, and delivers a few songs as well.


    You can download the entire collection HERE in zip format,  with extras like jpg photos of Groucho, and four extra audio files.







    The individual cuts from the album are available on the Internet Archive.




    Overture - Medley from Marx Brothers Films     

    Introduction - Dick Cavett                              

    Hello, I Must Be Going                                    

    Violin Solo, Jack Benny Tribute                      

    How I Got Started In Show Business               

    My Family, How We Got Our Names                 

    Strange Relatives - Uncle Julius                       

    Chico At Klauber Horn Co                                

    Uncle Herman, Chiropodist                              


    Annie Berger                                                    

    World War One, Vaudeville In Toronto             

    Oh, How That Woman Could Cook                    

    Toronto Song                                                    

    London Stories: Polish Officer Story                 

    London Stories: Churchill & 2nd World War      

    Tough Chicago Critic Story                               

    Palace Theatre: Sarah Bernhardt                      

    Palace Theatre: Fanny Brice/Swayne's Rats and Cats 

    Poem From The Play      

    T.S. Eliot Memorial: Laurence                            

    2nd World War Bond Tour                                 

    Houdini Story                                                   

    Music in                                                            

    Music in                                                            

    Otto Kahn Story                                                

    W.C. Fields: Bee Bee Gun/ Prohibition             

    W. C. Fields: Baby Leroy                                    

    Heaven's Above                                                 

    Everybody Works But Father                             

    Father's Day                                                       

    Margaret Dumont, The Dowager In Our Films    

    Thalberg Story - Garbo                                       

    Sampson And Delilah Story                                 

    Will Rogers, Baseball in Baltimore                       

    Priests' Stories: Plaza Hotel/ Montreal               

    Priests' Stories: Rome                                         

    Show Me A Rose                                                 

    Lydia, The Tattooed Lady                                  

    Friday, November 21, 2008

    Not Exactly Ozzie And Harriet




    At a time when most `radio couples' were loving, sweet, and kind to each other. . . John and Blanche Bickerson were something a bit different.


    The married protagonists of the show spent practically every on-air moment exchanging withering, and usually hilarious, insults.


    Starting as a sketch in 1946 on NBC's Chase & Sandborn Hour, and starring Frances Langford and Don Ameche,  the battling Bickersons would prove popular enough to  move to their own CBS show the following year.


    Critics (and sometimes even fans of the show) often cringed at the vituperative late night exchanges between John and Blanche, but the writing was always sharp and funny, and the performances dead-on.




    A Typical exchange of  3am `pillow talk'  might include (from the wikipedia)


    B: You used to be so considerate. Since you got married to me you haven't got any sympathy at all.
    J: I have, too. I've got everybody's sympathy.
    B: Believe me, there's better fish in the ocean than the one I caught.
    J: There's better bait, too.
    B: I don't see how you can go to bed without kissing me good night.
    J: I can do it.
    B: You'd better say you're sorry for that, John.
    J: Okay, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.
    B: You are not.
    J: I am too. I'm the sorriest man that was ever born.

    John and Blanche were trend setters.  



    Jackie Gleason was reportedly a fan of the show and would model parts of Ralph and Alice Kramden on the Bickersons, and Al and Peg Bundy of Married, With Children were basically the Bickersons updated for the 1990's.


    A young, and not-quite-famous Danny Thomas would appear as Blanche's ne'er-do-well brother, Amos.   Even after moving to CBS, the Bickerson's remained a 15-minute sketch on a half-hour variety show.


    Frances Langford would sing a couple of songs, and Danny Thomas would provide some comedy or a song, during the non-Bickerson segments.


    There were some that considered the scathing late-night exchanges between John and Blanche as being detrimental to the institution of marriage.   Phillip Rapp, the creator and writer of the show, reportedly based many of the exchanges on his own rocky marriage.


    Most people, however, took the Bickerson's antics as guidance on`what not to do' in their marriage.   That is, if you wanted to wake up in the morning without a butcher knife sticking out of your chest.


    The long-suffering role of John Bickerson was played for the first 4 years by the well known radio and movie star, Don Ameche.   His movie portrayal of Alexander Graham Bell was so famous, `Ameche' briefly became slang for the telephone. 


    from the trailer for The Feminine Touch (1941)

    Another Hollywood triumph for Ameche came when he starred in Ernest Lubitch's  Heaven Can Wait which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.    Ameche would retire during the 1970's, but returned to the silver screen in the 1980's in such movies as Cocoon (1985), and Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993).


    Ameche died in 1993 of prostate cancer.




    Shrewish Blanche was played by the beautiful and talented songstress, Frances Langford.   Langford got her start on the Rudy Vallee radio show during the early 1930's, became a regular on the Dick Powell radio show in 1935, and had a movie career that spanned two decades.



    Frances Langford in the film This Is the Army (1943)


    She appeared in many movies, including Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935), Born to Dance (1936) and Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)  and the Glenn Miller Story (1954). In several of these movies, she appeared as  herself.


    Langford pretty much retired from the national stage in the mid-1950's although she appeared frequently at a resort she and her third husband, Ralph Evinrude, created in Jenson Beach Florida.


    Langford died on July 11th, 2005 of congestive heart failure.  She was 92.



    During the last year of the Bickerson's radio show, Lew Parker (later to play Marlo Thomas' father on That Girl) took over the role of John Bickerson.  


    The chemistry was never quite the same, however, and the show ran out of steam.  Attempts to resurrect it on television failed as well.  It lasted only 13 episodes, with Lew Parker and Ms. Langford.



    Here you will find a selection of Bickerson's episodes available on    Many of these recordings are short - 5 to 10 minute sketch segments - not the entire show.   Some feature Lew Parker instead of Don Ameche.




    1947-02-23 Amos Does Time
    1947-03-16 Racetrack, The
    1947-05-18 John Makes Out His Will
    1948-05-14 Two Weeks With Pay
    194------- 8th Wedding Anniversary
    194------- Amos Borrows The Car
    194------- Amos'sBachelorParty
    194------- BachelorDinner
    194------- BickersonsLoseTheirApartment
    194------- BirthdayPresent
    194------- BlancheBetsOnTheHorses
    194------- Blanche'sNewCoat
    194------- Breakfast
    194------- CarRepairsFooTeachingBlancheToDrive
    194------- ChristmasEve
    194------- Cruise, The
    194------- EasterParade
    194------- Eunice'sWedding
    194------- HospitalStay
    194------- IncomeTaxRefund
    194------- John Goes To Las Vegas
    194------- John The Shoplifter
    194------- Kitty's Litter
    194------- Presidential Suite
    194------- Vacation Trailer
    194------- Valentine's Day
    194x-xx-xx Movie The
    194x-xx-xx New Puppy
    194x-xx-xx Pink Slip
    1951-06-05 Fatal Anniversary Present
    1951------ Gooseby Vacation, The
    1951------ Mink Coat, The

    Saturday, November 15, 2008

    Memories Of Rocky Jones, Space Ranger





    As children of the 1950's, for my twin brother and I, 7 am on Saturday mornings invariably meant one of two things:



    Gathering in front of the TV set in the living room to watch reruns of Red Ryder or (or better yet!), Rocky Jones -Space Ranger.    Both shows were shown on alternating Saturday mornings for several years during the late 1950's in the Tampa-Bay TV market.



    The first issue (numbered 15) of the Rocky Jones, Space Ranger comic



    There were other space operas geared for juvenile audiences in those early days of TV, with Space Patrol and Captain Video probably the best remembered. 


    But both of these shows suffered from extremely low budgets; most were stage bound live productions with cardboard scenery and papier-mâché planets suspended by fishing line. 


    By contrast, Rocky Jones was filmed, and while these shows could never be described as big-budget productions, they did use exterior shots, matte background paintings, and remarkably good (for the times) special effects. 


    Some of the features of Rocky's ship would become staples of later science-fiction classics, like Star Trek.


    The Orbit Jet


    Rocky and Winky


    The Wikipedia lists the Orbit Jet's advanced features as including:


    • An electronic viewscreen (instead of a simple window or porthole)
    • A fantastically complicated control panel (without an airplane-styled control wheel or stick)
    • Power doors opening side-to-side as one approaches
    • Subspace radio (the "Astrophone") that allowed instantaneous communications over interplanetary distances
    • Artificial gravity as an explained feature and plot element
    • A cloaking device that rendered the ship invisible.



    Thirty-nine episodes of Rocky Jones were produced over a two-year period, starting in 1954.  Nearly all of the 30 minute episodes were part of a 3-episode arc.   Only 3 of the episodes were standalone stories.


    Many of these 3-episode stories were combined later into syndicated movies, which is how I remember them - probably from around 1958 or 1959.


    The plots were nonsense, of course, and there was very little `science' to be found in this fiction.   But to a 6 year old, in an age before John Glenn orbited the earth, these were wondrous tales indeed!


    Each week Rocky and crew would blast off to strange worlds, usually `moons', with names like Fornax, Medina, and Cryko - where he would do battle with `space gangsters' or some evil Asteroid Queen.





    Square jawed Richard Crane (June 6, 1918–March 9, 1969) played Rocky, a veteran actor with a long list of B credits to his name. 


    His career began in 1940 with a small role in  Susan and God, and he worked steadily during the 1940's (often uncredited) in movies like  So Proudly We Hail, Flying Tigers, This is the Army,  and Keep em Flying.


    In the early 1950's Crane worked in several serials, including Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe.    After Rocky Jones, Crane worked steadily in television, mostly as a supporting actor.   


    He became a semi-regular on Surfside-6, and was featured several times on 77 Sunset Strip.   His last role was on Adam-12.  Crane died of a heart attack in 1969, at the age of 50.



    Rocky's co-pilot and  sidekick (everyone had a sidekick!) was Winky, played by Scotty Beckett (October 4th, 1929 - May 10th, 1968). 




    Scotty Beckett was one of the most promising young actors in Hollywood during the 1930's and 1940's.  His  career began at the age of 3, playing in the Our Gang series.   After 15 of these comedy shorts (1934-1935), Beckett graduated to feature films.


    Among his major credits were

    Dante's Inferno (1935)

    Anthony Adverse (1936)

    The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936)

    Conquest (1937)

    Marie Antoinette (1938)

    My Favorite Wife (1940)

    Kings Row (1942)


    Unlike many child stars, he managed to keep on working even after adolescence.


    My Reputation (1946)

    The Jolson Story (1946)

    Cynthia (1947)

    Battleground (1949)

    Nancy Goes to Rio (1950)

    The Happy Years (1950)


    While his career was thriving, his personal life began to unravel.  In 1948 he was arrested for drunk driving and resisted arrest. 


    In September of 1949 he eloped with tennis star Beverly Baker, only to end in a very nasty, and public, divorce the next year. 


    In 1951 he began dating a young actress named Sunny Vickers.  She became pregnant, and they married in 1951.   His reputation as a `bad boy' made him a Hollywood outcast.  


    Roles were offered less frequently, and while his contemporaries, like Jane Powell and Elizabeth Taylor continued to see their careers flourish, Beckett was lucky to get a supporting role in a syndicated kids TV show.


    In the second year of Rocky Jones, Beckett apparently became involved in an armed hotel robbery, and after posting bail, fled  with his wife and 3-year old son to Mexico.   There he passed some bad checks, and was involved in a shootout with Mexican authorities.


    Beckett seemed on the road to recovery by 1957, but was arrested bringing illegal drugs into the country from Mexico.  In 1959 he wrecked his car (alcohol was involved), crippling himself for life.  During the 1960's, he would be arrested several more times, and in 1968 died from an overdose of barbiturates.


    A sad and tragic end to such a promising young actor.



    Sally Mansfield (born Marie Mahder  1923-January 28th, 2001) played the role of Vena Ray the navigator and assistant aboard the United Worlds rocket ships Orbit Jet .


    A contract player for Paramount, Sally was chosen from a field of 300 applicants for the role.   Prior to Rocky Jones, she had appeared in a handful of television productions.




    Mansfield added some much needed estrogen to the Rocky Jones shows, giving young girls a role model (and some eye candy for older boys!).   



    Mansfield would work in television for another 10 years, after the Rocky Jones show ended  production, in shows like Grindl, McHale's Navy, and The Donna Reed Show before retiring.


    Sally Mansfield reportedly died of lung cancer in California in 2001 at the age of 78.




    Robert Lyden, age 10,  played young space cadet Bobby, who was basically there to give young kids someone to identify with.   He made only a few more television and movie appearances after Rocky Jones, with the most notable one being his portrayal of a young Creighton Chaney in `Man of A Thousand Faces" with James Cagney.



    Because these shows were done on film we still have many of these episodes available.    If you can suspend disbelief for an hour or so, and ignore the juvenile plots and low budgets, they remain entertaining to this day. 


    At least, if you grew up with Rocky Jones and his crew.


    Here are 4 of the re-edited Rocky Jones Movies. The descriptions are from the uploader at the Internet Archive.




    "Rocky Jones, Space Ranger" – Rocky's Odyssey (1954)
    "Rocky Jones, Space Ranger" â Rocky's Odyssey (1954) Starring Richard Crane, Scotty Beckett and Sally Mansfield Chapter I, II & III aired weekly, beginning September 19, 1954. Reedited into feature length TV film "Gypsy moon".

    Rocky Jones, Space Ranger - Crash of the Moons - Arthur Pierson, Guy V. Thayer Jr.
    Cruising the galaxy in his space ship "The Orbit Jet" Space Ranger, Rocky Jones (Richard Crane), Vena Ray (Sally Mansfield), Winky (Scotty Beckett) and 10 year-old Bobby (Robert Lyden) defend the Earth and themselves against space-bound evil doers. On the planet Ophesus, Rocky is involved in contentious negotiations with Cleolanta (Patsy Parsons), iron-fisted dictator/queen of this world. Along with Rocky are his co-pilot Winky and diplomat Drake (Charles Meredith), who is "Secretary of Space" f...

    Rocky Jones, Space Ranger - Menace from Outer Space - Arthur Pierson, Guy V. Thayer Jr.
    Cruising the galaxy in his space ship "The Orbit Jet" Space Ranger, Rocky Jones (Richard Crane), Vena Ray (Sally Mansfield), and 10 year-old Bobby (Robert Lyden) defend the Earth and themselves against space-bound evil doers. A couple of missiles strike earth and Rocky and the gang go to find out where they are coming from. They end up on a moon of Jupiter which is perfect for their survival. They are lucky to land because they have run out of gas...

    “Rocky Jones, Space Ranger” – Beyond the curtain of space (1954)
    âRocky Jones, Space Rangerâ â Beyond the curtain of space (1954) Chapter I, II & III aired weekly beginning April 10th, 1954. Reedited into feature length TV film âBeyond the moonâ. Half hour episodes were usually grouped into stories that consisted of three 'chapters' that were broadcast on successive weeks. A few of the stories were complete in one episode. Thirty six of these were grouped into 12 three-episode stories, and three were complete in one episode...