Monday, September 29, 2008

Paul Newman's Early TV Appearances



Over the weekend we lost a giant in the entertainment industry: Paul Newman.



Long before he became a household name and a big ticket movie star, Newman made the rounds in early television doing bit parts.   



According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) his first TV appearance was in Tales of Tomorrow which aired on August 8th, 1952.   




(Click to view/download video)



Admittedly, Tales of Tomorrow was a low budget show, and Newman barely rated a mention in the cast.  It was, however, a speaking role.


As time passed, Newman would find himself cast in better productions.


But everyone has to start somewhere.



It would be the following year, 1953, when Newman would get his big break and get the part of the understudy of the lead role in Broadway play Picnic, and not until 1954 that his big film break would come in The Silver Chalice.



Newman considered his performance in The Silver Chalice to be so bad that he took out a full-page ad in a trade paper to apologize.   He redeemed himself in his next movie, Somebody Up There Likes Me.







(Click to view/download video)



Before he played the role of Rocky Graziano, in November of 1954, Newman played the part of Jimmy Polo in The Contender  on the long running anthology series  Armstrong Circle Theatre.   His co-star is an impossibly young Inger Stevens in one of her earliest TV roles. 


Also watch for the venerable Frank McHugh playing the part of Polo's manager.


Literally thousands of dramatic shows were produced during the golden age of television on dozens of anthology series.   Most are lost today.  Either never committed to kinescope recording, or lost over time.


Thankfully, a few survive, like the ones above.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

'Twas Rock & Roll That Killed Your Hit Parade






WATCH (if you dare) on Youtube


Luckily, the show is better than the clip above would suggest.



This  moribund scene from the summer of 1956, with Gisèle  McKenzie doing a lame Morticia Addams impression, was perhaps the first sign that the long running show YOUR HIT PARADE's days were numbered.  



While the show would remain on the air for another two years, it was obvious that after a nearly 30 year run on radio, and then television, that rigor mortis was setting in.



The song was Heartbreak Hotel,  and quite frankly, the singers and the producers of this venerable show had no idea how to deal with Rock & Roll.   They thought it was a fad, a passing phase.





Whether it was due to contempt or dread, you could see the discomfiture of these established singers trying to `cover' these rock & roll songs. of the mid 1950's.  



It has been said that Snooky Lanson's whitebread rendition of `Hound Dog' sealed the show's fate, but the truth is, America's tastes were changing.  



Big band music was dying, show tunes and standards no longer filled the juke boxes.   The music landscape belonged to the likes of Elvis Presley, Bill Halley, and Chuck Berry. 



But the heyday of YOUR HIT PARADE, those years up until 1956, are something worth remembering.  



(photo from the Wikipedia)


Snooky Lanson (who should get extra points for using his boyhood nickname), Russell Arms, Dorothy Collins,  Gisele McKenzie, and a cast of largely uncredited singers and dancers would perform what the producers of the show assured us were the scientifically tabulated `Top 7 Songs of the week'.


The details of exactly how these songs were ranked each week were only vaguely alluded to. What we were told was :


"Your Hit Parade survey checks the best sellers on sheet music and phonograph records, the songs most heard on the air and most played on the automatic coin machines, an accurate, authentic tabulation of America's taste in popular music."



Perhaps, but the exact method was never revealed, and sometimes the #1 song of the week seemed mystifyingly  high in the rankings.



No matter.  



This was really a showcase for the stars of the show to do production numbers based on the popular songs of the day. 



With some songs remaining in the top 10 for week after week, it did become a major challenge to find a new way each week to do `How Much Is That Doggie In the Window"  or "Blue Tango".    Snooky Lanson had to sing  Mona Lisa 13 weeks in a row back in 1950.



Nevertheless, YOUR HIT PARADE often managed to put on a pretty good show.  If you appreciate the standards of the early 1950's, enjoy dancing and singing, and don't mind low budget production numbers . . . you should love these old shows.




We are blessed to have a number of complete Your Hit Parade TV shows available for download  from  The Internet Archive.Org


You may either view these online, or download them (as I do) and watch them on your computer or burn them to DVD.




FAIR WARNING :  This show, like many others of the 1950's, was sponsored by a cigarette manufacturer.   The commercials for Lucky Strike are included in these shows.





'Your Hit Parade' - April 12, 1952 episode
Episode of the public domain TV series "Your Hit Parade", which ran from 1950 to 1959.



'Your Hit Parade' - January 31, 1953
Episode of 'Your Hit Parade' from January 31, 1953. Complete with original commercials. Features Dorothy Collins, Snooky Lanson, June Valli and Russell Arms.


'Your Hit Parade' - 2 May 1953
Episode of "Your Hit Parade" from 2 May 1953, containing original commercials for Lucky Strike Cigarettes.



'Your Hit Parade' - December 4, 1954
Episode of the TV series 'Your Hit Parade', originally aired December 4, 1954. All music in this program is 'Live', performed by the shows cast. Featured songs include "Papa Loves Mambo", "Teach Me Tonight", "Love Walked In", "If I Give My Heart to You", "This Ole House", "Mr Sandman" and more.


'Your Hit Parade' - 16/April/1955
Episode of "Your Hit Parade", originally broadcast 16 of April, 1955. Featuring Dorothy Collins, Russell Arms, Snooky Lanson, and Gisele MacKenzie performing covers of big hits of the day, including "Tweedle Dee", "How Important Can It Be" and "The Ballad of Davy Crockett". A good time capsule of the time. Most noteworthy moment: Raymond Scott's orchestra performing one of their standards complete with surreal special effects!


'Your Hit Parade' - 12 November 1955
12 November 1955 episode of "Your Hit Parade", a long-running 50's musical TV show. This episode features the cast doing covers of "Yellow Rose of Texas", "Suddenly There's a Valley", "Tiger Rag", "Love is a Many Splended Thing", "Love and Marriage", "Autumn Leaves" plus more. Cast members include Dorothy Collins, Russell Arms, Snooky Lanson & Gisele MacKenzie. Also containing original commercials for Lucky Strike Cigarettes and Richard-Hudnut.


'Your Hit Parade' - June 2, 1956
Episode of the NBC musical TV series "Your Hit Parade" from June 2 1956. Featuring the cast performing covers of big hits including "Standing on the Corner", "Theme from Picnic", "South Rampart Street Parade", "Heartbreak Hotel", "Hot Diggity", "Ivory Tower", "Moonglow", and more. The version of "Heartbreak Hotel" here is sung by Snooky Lanson, and is performed straight. Thelma "Tad" Tadlock appears in two songs as a dancer.


'Your Hit Parade' - June 9, 1956
Episode of 'Your Hit Parade', featuring covers of songs like "Beyond The Blue Horizon", "Wayward Wind", "Moonglow", "Heartbreak Hotel", "Hot Diggity", "Standing At The Corner" and others.




Snooky Lanson, who replaced Frank Sinatra on the show, would go on and do nightclubs after his run on Your Hit Parade, and host a big band radio show.  He died in 1990, at the age of 76, in Nashville. 





Russell Arms managed to parlay his singing career into that of a dramatic actor during the 1960's and 1970's, appearing on many television shows like Perry Mason, Dragnet, The Mod Squad, and Have Gun, Will Travel.    He passed away in 2005.


I received a very nice note today from Andrew Fielding, author of The Lucky Strike Papers,  which is a fond remembrance of his mother's career as a singer with Your Hit Parade  - along with much of the early history of television - letting me know that Russell Arms is still very much with us.   

My apologies for the error.

I'll be reviewing the book, the The Lucky Strike Papers in the near future.   




Dorothy Collins from Windsor Ontario eventually went on to perform on Broadway, in Stephen Sondheim's Follies,and was nominated for a Tony award for Best Actress in a Musical.   Dorothy Collins passed away in 1994.





Gisèle McKenzie was perhaps the most successful of the the four stars of TV's Your Hit Parade. She was an accomplished violinist as well as a singer.   She played often with her mentor Jack Benny, and their `Getting To Know You'  duet is considered a comedic classic.


She left Your Hit Parade in 1957 to  head up her own short-lived variety program, The Gisèle MacKenzie Show. In 1963 she appeared on The Sid Caesar Show and was a panelist on many quiz programs.


In later years MacKenzie performed widely in musical theater in such shows as Mame, Gypsy, The Sound of Music, and Hello, Dolly!.


During the 1990's she returned to television making appearances on Murder, She Wrote and MacGyver.   She passed away in 2003.

There Be Treasures Out There





In my `other life', I write a very serious blog (Avian Flu Diary) about emerging infectious diseases, pandemic preparedness, and public health.  As you might imagine - given the  subject matter - there's not a lot of laughs involved.



I learned long ago as a paramedic: you can't live, eat, and breathe disaster 24 hours a day.  You have to have something to distract you from the bad stuff in life, at least part of the time.



For me, born into the Babyboomer generation - revisiting the golden age of Television I grew up with, and discovering the Old Time Radio shows of my parents generation -  has become a form of therapy. 



The Internet has become the world's best repository of freely available, public domain, old time radio and classic movies and television.    Anyone with a halfway decent Internet connection can build their own collection - just as I have.



Now of course, you may not feel the need to collect 12,000 hours of old radio  or to compile 500 DVD's of old movies and TV shows, as I have.  



But you could, if you wanted to



I'm doing it partially for my own pleasure, of course,  but also so I can pass along this rich heritage to my daughter, and my grand nieces.   I have a 16-year-old grand niece who thinks Red Skelton is the funniest man she's ever seen.



Who say's today's generation has no taste?



While most of the world today is too young to remember them,  I've found that a lot of the radio shows of the 1930's, 1940's, and 1950's are  superior to what we consider `entertainment' today.    And early television?   



Well of course a lot of it was dreadful.



But some of it was . . . and still is . . . enchanting.


Even the bad shows of our collective youth have a certain appeal.  Perhaps not as regular viewing fodder, but at least for a brief nostalgic interlude.



And behind every show, and every `star', is a story.  



While this blog will lead you to these Internet treasures, I will also attempt to relay the lore behind these shows.    I'll try to let you know what happened to these long forgotten performers.  



And I'll also show they reflected, and sometimes affected, society.


I'll concentrate on public domain,  FREELY AVAILABLE, shows you can download.  It's all legal, and you can burn these shows to CD's or DVD's and share them with family and friends.  



So if you like old movies, old television shows, and old radio programs . . . or just think you like to be introduced to them . . .  fasten your seatbelt.   



We've a lot of ground to cover.