Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sherlock Holmes On The Small Screen




Our fourth (and last, for now) excursion into Holmesian territory is a look at one of the early TV adaptations of the great detective that you can download or view on the Internet.




1954's Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, we owe to early television producer Sheldon Reynolds.


Reynolds had already seen some success with a series called `Foreign Intrigue' (aka Dateline Europe), which ran from 1951 to 1955.  This was the first American TV show to be syndicated in Canada.


In 1954, Reynolds would produce 39 episodes of Sherlock Holmes starring  Ronald Howard (Leslie Howard's son) as Sherlock Holmes, H. Marion-Crawford as Dr. Watson, and Archie Duncan as Inspector Lestrade.











Ronald Howard worked relatively steadily, mostly in anthology dramas, until the mid 1970's.  A good actor, but he never really caught on with the public the way his father had, so in the mid 1970's he gave up acting and opened an art gallery.

Howard passed away in 1996.  There is a website commemorating his work here.


H. Marion-Crawford (who passed away in 1969) continued to act up until his death, on shows such as The Saint, Danger Man, and Espionage.   He also had small roles in Lawrence of Arabia and the Longest Day.


Archie Duncan, who incidentally plays several other characters in these episodes (sometimes fun to spot), would go on to play Little John in the Adventures of Robin Hood series.  Duncan died in 1979, at the age of 65.



Howard and Marion-Crawford acquit themselves nicely in the roles, although many of the `mysteries' are fairly easy to solve.


Here then are 8 episodes of the 1954 series. Most are original stories, not from the cannon of works by Doyle, although a few were at least partially drawn from the author. 


More may end up posted on the Internet Archive in the future.  If so, I'll update the list in a later post.




Sherlock Holmes - The Case of the Pennsylvania Gun - Sheldon Reynolds
The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes "The Case of the Pennsylvania Gun" Originally aired November 1, 1954. Based on the novel "The Valley of Fear," Holmes and Watson are called to Sussex to investigate the murder of Squire John Douglas. The local inspector thinks he has it all figured out, but Holmes discovers the crime is more complicated than it looks.

Sherlock Holmes - The Case of the Belligerent Ghost - Sheldon Reynolds
The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes "The Case of the Belligerent Ghost" Originally aired November 15, 1954. Watson is quite flustered after a man in distress dies in his care...only to find himself attacked by the very same dead man on Watson's way back home to Baker Street! So what does this have to do with daVinci's "Madonna on the Rocks" painting allegedly being stolen?

Sherlock Holmes - The Case of the Shy Ballerina - Sheldon Reynolds
The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes "The Case of the Shy Ballerina" Originally aired November 22, 1954. A simple case of mistakenly switched coats suddenly turns into blackmail and then murder! When poor Watson's hat was found at the scene of the crime, even he becomes a suspect. This episode features Natalie Schaffer, best known in her role later on in television history as Mrs. Lovey Howell in Gilligan's Island.

Sherlock Holmes - The Case of the Cunningham Heritage - Sheldon Reynolds
The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes "The Case of the Cunningham Heritage" Originally aired October 18, 1954. Holmes unravels the mystery surrounding the death of Mr. Cunningham, a gentleman whose fiancée was found by his body with a knife in her hand. This television episode marks the first filmed meeting between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Based on "A Study in Scarlet" and very loosely "The Adventure of the Reigate Squires/Puzzle."

Sherlock Holmes - The Case of Lady Beryl - Sheldon Reynolds
The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes "The Case of Lady Beryl" Originally aired October 25, 1954. Lady Beryl admits to a crime she did not commit. Holmes not only reveals the true murderer, but Lady Beryl's motive for lying about the crime.

Sherlock Holmes - The Case of the Texas Cowgirl - Sheldon Reynolds
The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes "The Case of the Texas Cowgirl" Originally aired November 8, 1954. Minnie O'Malley, a cowgirl in a travelling rodeo, seeks help from Sherlock Holmes--to remove a dead body from her hotel room! Strangely, Holmes seems to be more than happy to comply. Suspects range from a Blackfoot Indian, the owner of the rodeo Bison Jack, and a meek salesman across the hall. Easily the most ridiculous episode of the entire series.

Sherlock Holmes in The Case of the Laughing Mummy - Sheldon Reynolds
Part of the 1954 TV series. One of Dr. Watson's former schoolmates has an Egyptian mummy in his house that makes noise.

Sherlock Holmes in The Case of the Split Ticket - Sheldon Reynolds
Part of the 1954 TV series. An Irishman partners with two other persons to purchase a lottery ticket, but then is unable to collect his winnings.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Three Decades of Holmes On The Radio





Basil Rathbone & Nigel Bruce




Although screen representations of Sherlock Holmes had been produced for nearly 3 decades, it really wasn't until about 1930 that Sherlock Holmes made it to American radio audiences. 


These early recordings appear to be lost (although `lost' recordings still turn up from time to time), and starred Richard Gordon as Holmes and Leigh Lovel as Dr. Watson.   The shows were sponsored by George Washington Coffee, and aired on Wednesday evenings.


American sponsors at first worried that the cerebral Holmes would be too sophisticated for American audiences, but due to the lobbying of Edith Meiser, a Broadway actress with a passion for Arthur Conan Doyle's creation, the show was given a time slot on the NBC radio network.


Meiser would pen more than 300 adaptations, first from the cannon works, and then original stories in the style of Arthur Conan Doyle.  So adept was she at writing these scripts that she received high praise from Doyle's family.


Holmes would remain on the radio, in one form or another, for decades to come.


Orson Welles, the boy genius of radio, played Holmes in a Mercury Theatre broadcast in 1938, which is one of our earliest surviving Sherlock Holmes radio presentations.  


The Immortal Sherlock Holmes
6.8 MB


After their success on the big screen, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce teamed up to do The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, again penned by Edith Meiser, which ran from 1940 to 1947.


The format was curious, as each show began with the sponsor's (Petri Wine) spokesman who would show up at Dr. Watson's home (now retired in California), and Watson would relate another adventure over a glass of the sponsor's product. 


In 1947 Rathbone left the show, despite a handsome offer from the sponsor, because he feared he was becoming type cast as Holmes.


Rathbone was replaced for a year by Tom Conway, but Nigel Bruce took top billing as Dr. Watson (seniority, I suppose).  


Tom Conway was George Sander's slightly less famous brother, who is probably best remembered for taking over the role of The Falcon from Sanders after the third movie (They killed off  Sanders and had the falcon's brother take over).


In 1949, Nigel Bruce left the show, and a new cast consisting of John Stanley and Alfred Shirley took over.  The series was running out of steam, however, and would only run another year.


During the 1950's  John Gielgud played Holmes for BBC radio in the 1950s, with Ralph Richardson as Watson.

Luckily, many of these shows have survived, and are available for downloading.   The audio quality of some of these isn't the best, but given that some of them are nearly 70 years old, that is to be expected.


Some high sound quality Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce episodes can be downloaded here.   A word of warning, these files are rather large.


If you are on dialup, you'd be better off going to the second set of files.


A partial listing includes:



391106 - Bruce-Partington Plans
42 MB

400311 - The Retired Colourman
42 MB

440515 - Adventure Of The Missing Bloodstain
33 MB

450326 - The Book of Tobit
42 MB

450402 - The Amateur Mendicant Society
43 MB

450409 - The Viennese Strangler
37 MB

450423 - The Notorious Canary Trainer
38 MB

450430 - Unfortunate Tobacconist
37 MB

450507 - The Purloined Ruby
43 MB

450514 - On the Flanders
41 MB


A mixture of shows that aired from from 1938 to the early 1960's may be found HERE.   The audio quality (and file sizes) are lower, but most are quite listenable.


SH_1938-09-25_Case of Alice F
6.6 MB

-SH_1939-11-06_Bruce Partingto
3.5 MB

3.5 MB

-SH_1940-10-08_The Copper Beac
3.2 MB

2.8 MB

3.5 MB

3.5 MB

3.1 MB

3.1 MB



For Holmes addicts, there are scores of hours of these shows available on the Internet Archive.   There are also audio books of Sherlock Holmes' adventures, as well.


A listing of Holmes related audio files can be found HERE.


If you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes, there are literally hundreds of hours of recordings available for you to enjoy.


Next time, Sherlock Holmes on TV.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sherlock Holmes On The Big Screen




Basil Rathbone (L) and Nigel Bruce

Basil Rathbone (L) and Nigel Bruce




There is little doubt the the best remembered duo to play Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson on the big screen were Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce (who could hrrumph better than anyone alive).


So identified with these roles were they, they played the same parts on the radio for years.


But they were not the first pair, nor the last, to play these famous sleuths.


The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) lists more than 200 Sherlock Holmes appearances in movies and television, going back to 1905. But the list is most assuredly incomplete.


The first known appearance of Holmes on film is Sherlock Holmes Baffled, made by the Edison Company in 1900.  It ran less than 60 seconds.  


Many other 1 and 2 reel shorts would be produced over the next decade, some of them little more than slapstick comedies with Mack Sennett in the title role.


By the early 1920's, silent movies had grown in stature, and production values, and more serious fare was produced in the Holmes vein.  Stoll films in Britain produced 47 two-reelers of Sherlock Holmes between 1921 and 1923.






In 1922 the legendary John Barrymore played the role in a movie entitled Sherlock Holmes, with Roland Young as Watson. This was also the film debut of a very young William Powell.




One of the earliest `talkies' featuring Sherlock Holmes was made in 1931, and starred Raymond Massey (far better known for portraying Abraham Lincoln) as the deductive detective.


There is no creature in India called the Swamp Adder, and the real identity of the poisonous reptile in this story has been the object of speculation for more than 100 years.


The Speckled Band - Herbert Wilcox
Rare Sherlock Holmes film starring Raymond Massey as SHerlock Holmes. Lyn Harding who plays Dr Rylot later appeared as Moriarty in "Silver Blaze"/"Murder at the Baskervilles." 




Arthur Wontner is little remembered today, but he played Sherlock Holmes in 5 movies between 1931 and 1937.   Here are two of his efforts, the first from 1932, and the latter from 1934


The Sign Of Four
From IMDb: A young woman turns to Sherlock Holmes for protection when she's menaced by an escaped killer seeking missing treasure. However, when the woman is kidnapped, Holmes and Watson must penetrate the city's criminal underworld to find her. 


The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes - Julius Hagen
The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes stars the British Arthur Wontner, today a forgotten interpreter of Holmes who would soon be overshadowed by the glossy American productions starring the illustrious Basil Rathbone, for some people the greatest Holmes ever. Plot: Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Wontner) and Dr. Watson (Ian Fleming) come out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder. They find that a group of coalminers, called The Scowlers, are caught up in the mystery, along with the treacherous Pro... 




In 1933, Reginald Owen would take the helm in A Study In Scarlet, but just a year earlier, he'd played the role of Dr. Watson in Sherlock Holmes, with Clive Brook playing the lead.


A Study In Scarlet (1933)

From IMDb: In London, a secret society led by lawyer Thaddeus Merrydew collects the assets of any of its deceased members and divides them among the remaining members. Society members start dropping like flies. Sherlock Holmes is approached by member James Murphy's widow, who is miffed at being left penniless by her husband. When Captain Pyke is shot, Holmes keys in on his mysterious Chinese widow as well as the shady Merrydew...



The most popular films, however, were the 14 made by Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce.   


These films help propel Rathbone to genuine stardom.  A trained Shakespearean actor, and an expert swordsman, Rathbone's stock in trade during the 1930's was in playing suave villains in costume dramas and swashbucklers. 


In 1939, his career path would change when he was cast as Sherlock Holmes, and today he is best identified with that role.


The first two films of the series (and, arguably the best) were set in the Victorian age.   They were The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.


The remainder were updated and set in the early 1940's, with many references to WWII.   Despite this anachronistic slant, they were hugely popular with the audiences of the day, and are well remembered even 60+ years after they were made.


Three examples of which are:




Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon
Based on the Sir Authur Conan Doyle story "The Dancing Men", Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are placed in WWII europe to help protect a scientist and his invention from the Nazis. Basil Rathbone .... Sherlock Holmes Nigel Bruce .... Dr. John H. Watson Lionel Atwill .... Professor Moriarty Kaaren Verne .... Charlotte Eberli William Post Jr. .... Dr. Franz Tobel Dennis Hoey .... Inspector Lestrade Holmes Herbert ......

Terror by Night - Howard Benedict
From IMDb: Holmes is hired by Roland Carstairs to prevent the theft of the Star of Rhodesia, an enormous diamond owned by Carstairs' mother, Lady Margaret. Believing the diamond will be stolen on a train trip from London to Edinburgh, Holmes deftly switches diamonds with Lady Margaret while in her compartment. Soon after, Roland is murdered and the fake diamond is stolen. Red herrings abound as Holmes, aided by Dr...

Dressed To Kill
Aka 'Sherlock Holmes in Dressed To Kill' - features Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes. You can find more information regarding this film on its IMDb page.


Next time, Sherlock Holmes on the radio.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Holmes Sweet Holmes Pt. 1



 Sherlock Holmes   Strand Magazine, 1891



It would be hard to find a more enduring fictional character than Sherlock Holmes.   Created in 1887 by Scottish-born author and physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - Holmes has become the archetype of the deductive detective - and Doyle the father of the modern detective genre.


Little remembered today, however, is the fact that Edgar Allan Poe's C. Auguste Dupin and Emile Gaboriau's Monsieur Lecoq pre-dated Holmes and used similar deductive reasoning to solve crimes.



When asked if there was a real Sherlock Holmes, Doyle maintained that Holmes was inspired by Dr Joseph Bell, for whom Doyle had clerked  at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.  Bell, reportedly, was an astute observer and could deduce much from the smallest of clues.



Whatever the inspiration, Doyle would eventually produce 4 novels and fifty-six short stories that feature Holmes.   These original works are referred to as the "canon" by devotee's of Sherlock Holmes, and subsequent retellings  Canonical adaptations.


Since Doyle's time, a goodly number of new Sherlock Holmes adventures have been written, by a variety of authors -  these are referred to as non-canonical works.


As a small example, in 1954, Arthur Conan Doyle's son Adrian Conan Doyle collaborated with John Dickson Carr to write twelve Sherlock Holmes short stories.


And Edith Meiser won much praise for both her adaptations of canonical works, and her original non-canonical scripts, for the radio version of Sherlock Holmes.   Doyle's family was reportedly very pleased with her efforts, and she was inducted as an honorary member of the Baker Street Irregulars.



The first two Holmes stories, short novels, appeared in Beeton's Christmas Annual for 1887 and Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in 1890.


Doyle's characters fame grew immensely when a series of short Holmes stories appeared in The Strand Magazine in 1891. 


While The Strand published the cream of popular British fiction of that time, there is no debate that the Sherlock Holmes stories boosted the magazine's circulation enormously.


The serialization of Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles became such an eagerly awaited event, that readers queued up outside of the publisher's in order to get the next installment.


There are 4 large areas of Sherlock Holmes entertainment available in the public domain:  Books and short stories, Films, Radio shows, and Television shows.


Today, we'll cover the written Holmes.


And if you own, or have already read the Holmes Canon, I may still have a treat for you.



The original works of Arther Conan Doyle are freely available from such sources as The Internet ArchiveProject Gutenberg, and Google Book Search (beta).


Simply enter SHERLOCK HOLMES in any of the search boxes, and you'll be presented with hundreds of volumes (many are repeats) available for download.


But even more rewarding are scans of dozens of issues of The Strand magazine from as far back as the 1890's, with stories by Doyle along with works by authors like Grant AllenH.G. Wells, E.C. BentleyC.B. Fry, E. Nesbit, W.W. Jacobs, Rudyard Kipling, and Edgar Wallace.


Many, but not all, of these issues contain offerings by Arthur Conan Doyle. 


All of them, however, are a treasure trove of light fiction, filled with many vintage illustrations, and great nostalgia.  




Bound volume of The Strand Magazine for Jan-June 1894



The Strand Magazine, No. 26 (Volume 5)
Number 26. February, 1893. Contents of this Issue A Wedding Gift, by Leonard Outram Hands, by Beckles Willson Quastana, the Brigand, from the French of Alfonse Daudet Zig-Zags at the Zoo: VIII. Zig-Zag Phocine, by Arthur Morrison and J. A. Shepherd The Major's Commission, by W. Clark Russell Peculiar Playing Cards: II., by George Clulow Portraits of Celebrities at Different Times of their Lives: Lord Houghton John Pettie The Duchess of Teck The Duke of Teck Rev...

The Strand Magazine, No. 25 (Volume 5)
Number 25. January, 1893. Contents of this Issue Shafts from an Eastern Quiver: VII. Margarita, the Bond Queen of the Wandering Dhahs, by Charles J. Mansford Illustrated Interviews: XIX. The Lord Bishop of Ripon A Little Surprise, adapted from the French of Abraham Dreyfus by Constance Beerbohm Zig-Zags at the Zoo: VII. Zig-Zag Cursorean, by Arthur Morrison and J. A. Shepherd One and Two, by Walter Besant Portraits of Celebrities at Different Times of their Lives: W...

The Strand Magazine, No. 28 (Volume 5)
Number 28. April, 1893. Contents of this Issue The Prince of Wales at Sandringham Shafts from an Eastern Quiver: X. The Hunted Tribe of Three Hundred Peaks, by Charles J. Mansford Weathercocks and Vanes, by Warrington Hogg A Dark Transaction, by Marianne Kent The Royal Humane Society A Strange Reunion, by T. G. Atkinson From Behind the Speaker's Chair: IV., viewed by Henry W. Lucy. Portraits of Celebrities at Different Times of their Lives: Mrs...

The Strand Magazine, No. 29 (Volume 5)
Number 29. May, 1893. Contents of this Issue In the Shadow of the Sierras, by Ize Duffus Hardy The Royal Humane Society: II., Shafts from an Eastern Quiver: XI. In Quest of the Lost Galleon, by Charles J. Mansford Zig-Zags at the Zoo: XI. Zig-Zag Marsupial, by Arthur Morrison and J. A. Shepherd Portraits of Celebrities at Different Times of their Lives: Miss Iza Duffus Hardy Hubert Herkomer Erskine Nicol John Macwhirter J...

The Strand Magazine, No. 99 (Volume 17)
Number 99. March, 1899. Contents of this Issue Round the Fire: X. The Story of B 24, by A. Conan Doyle A Peep into 'Punch': III. 1855 to 1859, by J. Holt Schooling "Biggest on Record", by George Dollar The Transport Rider, by Basil Marnan In Nature's Workshop: III. Plants that Go to Sleep, by Grant Allen The Broad Arrow, by E. M. Jameson From Behind the Speaker's Chair: XLIX., viewed by Henry W...

The Strand Magazine, No. 102 (Volume 17)
Number 102. June, 1899. Contents of this Issue An Extraordinary Story, by Neil Wynn Williams The Sinking of the "Merrimac", by Richmond Pearson Hobson A Master of Craft, by W. W. Jacobs In Nature's Workshop: VI. Animal and Vegetable Hedgehogs, by Grant Allen In a Tight Fix, by Victor L. Whitechurch Switzerland from a Balloon, by Charles Herbert Laura, by Basil Marnan A Peep into 'Punch': VI...

The Strand Magazine, No. 101 (Volume 17)
Number 101. May, 1899. Contents of this Issue Round the Fire: XII. The Story of the Brown Hand, by A. Conan Doyle Illustrated Interviews: LXIV. Mr. A. C. MacLaren, by Fred. W. Ward Hilda Wade: III. The Episode of the Wife who Did her Duty, by Grant Allen Curious Water Sports, by F. G. Callcott A Master of Craft, by W. W. Jacobs From Behind the Speaker's Chair: LI., viewed by Henry W. Lucy The Ca****t Came Back, by John Oxenham In Nature's Workshop: V...

The Strand Magazine, No. 27 (Volume 5)
Number 27. March, 1893. Contents of this Issue A Game of Chess, from the French Illustrated Interviews: XXI. Mr. and Mrs. Kendal "Author! Author!" by E. W. Hornung Zig-Zags at the Zoo: IX. Zig-Zag Conkavian, by Arthur Morrison and J. A. Shepherd Shafts from an Eastern Quiver: IX. Maw-Sayah: The Keeper of the Great Burman Nat, by Charles J. Mansford From Behind the Speaker's Chair: III., viewed by Henry W...

The Strand Magazine, No. 97 (Volume 17)
Number 97. January, 1899. Contents of this Issue Round the Fire: VII. The Story of the Japanned Box, by A. Conan Doyle Illustrated Interviews: LXIL. Madame Melba, by Percy Cross Standing His Home Coming, by E. M. Jameson In Nature's Workshop: I. Sextons and Scavengers, by Grant Allen Weepin' Willie, by Albert Trapman Animal Friendship, by Albert H. Broadwell Miss Cayley's Adventures: XI. The Adventure of the Oriental Attendant, by Grant Allen Unique Log-Marks, by Alfred I...

The Strand Magazine, No. 98 (Volume 17)
Number 98. February, 1899. Contents of this Issue Round the Fire: IX. The Story of the Jew's Breast-Plate, by A. Conan Doyle The Story of Cleopatra's Needle. From Syrene to London, by Susie Esplen Ivanka the Wolf-Slayer, by Mark Eastwood In Nature's Workshop: II. False Pretences, by Grant Allen From Behind the Speaker's Chair: XLVIII, viewed by Henry W. Lucy Drawing a Badger, by Edmund Mitchell A Common Crystal, by John R...

The Strand Magazine, No. 100 (Volume 17)
Number 100. April, 1899. Contents of this Issue Round the Fire: XI. The Story of the Latin Tutor, by A. Conan Doyle Letters of Burne-Jones to a Child A Question of Habit, by W. W. Jacobs In Nature's Workshop: IV. Masquerades and Disguises, by Grant Allen Illustrated Interviews: LXIII. M. Vasili Verestchagin, by Arthur Mee The Tale of the American Volunteer: A Cuban Story, by Neil Wynn A Peep into 'Punch': IV...

The Strand Magazine, No. 30 (Volume 5)
Number 25. January, 1893. Contents of this Issue Pierre and Baptiste, by Beckles Willson Future Dictates of Fashion, by W. Cade Gall Shafts from an Eastern Quiver: XII. The Daughter of Lovetski the Lost, by Charles J. Mansford Illustrated Interviews: XXIII. Mr. Harry Furniss Portraits of Celebrities at Different Times of their Lives: Harry Furniss Sir George Reid Colin Hunter Sir Frederick Augustus Abel Lord Kelvin Cardinal-Arch Bishop Vaughan Zig-Zags at the Zoo: XII...



Next time, some of the filmed versions of Sherlock Holmes available in the public domain.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Mr. Showmanship





I was fortunate enough to attend a Liberace Concert in the early 1980's, and more than 30 years after Wladziu Valentino `Lee' Liberace first took the television world by storm, he was still mesmerizing audiences.



While I could recount his early years, the BBC put together an excellent mini-biography of Liberace's early years. It runs less than 3 minutes, and you can watch it here.



(Click Twice to run)


Although he'd found some success in Las Vegas, it would be his television show that would propel him into the national spotlight.


After appearing as a guest performer on such early variety shows as The Kate Smith Hour and Cavalcade of Stars, Liberace began a 15-minute show on a local Los Angeles TV station (KLAC). 


Many critics derided his less than reverent handling of the classics, and heaped faint praise on his playing ability.   Liberace claimed, famously, that he was so hurt . . .he cried all the way to the bank.


Critics may have hated it, but Liberace was a big hit with the Los Angeles market.  The public loved his flair, showmanship, and `schmaltz'.


Liberace was soon pegged to fill in for Dinah Shore as a summer replacement show.


By 1953, Liberace's show was being seen on more than 100 television stations around the country.  In some markets, his show would air twice a day, that's how desperate stations were for quality shows back then.


Liberace would actually have  4 television shows over the years.  The Museum of Broadcast Communications lists them as follows:





July 1952-August 1952         Tuesday/Thursday 7:30-7:45


1953-1955                                                Various Times

PRODUCERS Louis D. Sander, Robert Sandler

October 1958-April 1959                     30 Minute Daytime

July 1969-September 1969                  Tuesday 8:30-9:30



We've a couple of good examples of Liberace's early work available on the Internet Archive.


The Liberace Show From 1955
The Liberace Show From 1955


Liberace - Music of the Dances
Here is another episode of the Liberace Show,think is from 1956.



To give you an idea of his popularity during the 1950's, here is a short clip from the popular panel show What's My Line. 





Aside from his obvious talent and showmanship, what probably led to his immense popularity was his ability to connect with his audience.  He would talk directly into the camera, as if he were speaking to his viewers in their own living room, often with a conspiratorial wink thrown in for good measure. 


Although Liberace parlayed this success into much wealth, he also quickly became over-exposed, and his ratings began to decline after a few years.


Liberace was able, however, to turn his simple television show into 5 gold albums, hundreds of sold out concert dates, and a Las Vegas extravaganza that ran until shortly before his untimely death.


YouTube  and Google Video have a great many Liberace Clips, including this clip of Liberace dancing with Sammy Davis Jr. on the Hollywood Palace (1967).





Here, from Liberace's short-lived 1969 show on CBS, we get his rendition of Boogie Woogie.




For a vast listing of Google Video clips of Liberace, check HERE.




Liberace would die in 1987 from complications related to the AIDS virus at the age of 67.   It's hard to believe that he's been gone now, more than 20 years.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Gunter and Francis Together Again




There's a holdup in the Bronx

Brooklyn's breaking out in fights

There's a traffic jam in Harlem

That's backed up to Jackson Heights

There's a scout troop short a child

Khrushchev's due at Idlewild



If you were around in 1961, and cognizant of your surroundings, you undoubtedly remember Gunther Toody and Francis Muldoon, two of the (mythical) 53rd Precinct's finest . . .


. . .  well, they worked there anyway.


What is truly amazing is how well this show holds up, nearly 50 years (and yes, I winced when I wrote that) after I first saw it.   The show aired Sunday nights, at 8:30pm, immediately following Disney's Wonderful World of Color (a rare color show in 1961!), and before the top rated (also in color) Bonanza.


Although it was scheduled opposite The Ed Sullivan Show , Car 54 managed respectable ratings, finishing in the top 20 during its first year.   Ratings declined in the second year, however, and the show was canceled.


We are left with 60  30-minute B&W episodes, and many fond memories.  Toody and Muldoon you see, for all their flaws, were likable buffoons. Inept as crime stoppers, perhaps, but blessed with big hearts.


Of course, the two stars  Joe E. Ross and Fred Gwynne began their careers long before they became household names on Car 54.


Ross, born Joseph Roszawikz in 1914 in New York City got his start as a nightclub and Burlesque comedian in the late 1930s.   After a stint in the Army Air Corps during WWII, Ross returned to the stage, honing his skills as a `Top Banana'.


A word here about Burlesque.  


Today, most people associate Burlesque with tawdry strippers introduced by 3rd rate comics.  Well, towards the end, when movies (and later television) siphoned away their audience, it did become pretty seedy.


But it wasn't always so.


For nearly 80 years, Burlesque here in the United States and in England was a reasonably respectable part of show business. Not as respectable as vaudeville, perhaps, but not likely to be raided by the police either.  


Performers worked their way up from Burlesque to get to Vaudeville, often spending years on the Burlesque circuit.

To `Burlesque' something means to `parody' it, and that's what Burlesque shows were all about.  A burlesque show might contain contain a couple of extended skit's, or spoofs, on well known Operas, Broadway Shows, or the foibles of the upper class.   In between would be an array of aspiring singers, acrobats, comics, jugglers, chorus girls, magicians and specialty acts.


By the 1920's, silent movies were drawing people away from the Burlesque houses - and so the humor became courser, more ribald, and the show girls more daring - in an attempt to compete.  By the 1950's, Burlesque had become pretty sleazy, and vaudeville was long dead.


Luckily, there was a new medium where the talent could go.   Television, which in it's early years, borrowed much from the Vaudeville and Burlesque formats.


Many of the great stars of film, radio, and television started on the Burlesque stage. Jackie Gleason, Bert Lahr, Fanny Brice, W.C. Fields, Red Skelton, Phil Silvers, Joey Faye and Bob Hope to name a few.

The goal was to become the Top Banana, or top comic.  Second, and third bananas were lesser comedians on the bill, who invariably ended up with a pie or seltzer in their face six shows a day.


Joe E. Ross, after more than 15 years on the Burlesque and night club circuit, was spotted by Phil Silvers (another former Top Banana) and Nat Hiken at a Miami Night club called Ciro's.  They were working on putting together a new television series, to be called You'll Never Get Rich (aka The Phil Silvers Show).




They hired Ross on the spot to play the role of Ritzik, the mess cook who was an easy mark for Sgt Bilko's latest con.   Whenever Ritzik (Ross) had an inspiration, he'd exclaim `Ooh, Ooh!" - which was Ross's way of covering that he'd forgotten his line. 


It became his signature.


After Bilko ended, Nat Hiken, who was considered the best comedy writer on television during the 1950's, drafted Ross and another alumni from the Phil Silvers Show, Fred Gwynne to play the leads in CAR 54 Where Are You?

Hiken had been a writer for the wonderfully droll, and acerbic Fred Allen Show on Radio, and then for Milton Berle's Texaco Star Theatre.  The Phil SIlvers Show was another of his creations.  In all, Hiken won 8 Emmy awards over the years.



Gwynne's career began in 1952 when he landed his first Broadway role, in Mrs. McThing, which starred Helen Hayes.  He had a small part in On The Waterfront (1954), and then appeared in a number of live TV shows, particularly Studio One.   


He also made two memorable appearances on the Bilko Show.


But it was Car 54 which made him a household name. 


It would not be his biggest, or most famous role, however.   In 1964, he would return to television wearing 40 lbs of prosthetics, and 4" lifts, as Herman Munster.





One of his co-stars on CAR 54, Al Lewis, would go on to star in the Munsters with Gwynne, playing Grandpa Munster.


Despite the broad comedic roles that made him famous, Gwynne was actually a well respected character actor, and is well remembered for his numerous contributions to the CBS Radio Mystery Theatre of the 1970's, along with movies such as Pet Sematary, Ironweed, and My Cousin Vinny.


Gwynne died in 1993, at the age of 66, from pancreatic cancer.


Ross continued to work almost up until his death in 1982, but never had another hit show.  He played Gronk in the unfortunate `It's About Time' comedy, opposite Imogene Coca but found little work after that.


Ross would get a good deal of voice over work, in cartoons like Hong Kong Phooey and and The New Tom & Jerry Show.  But his film work in the 1970's would run the likes of Linda Lovelace For President (1975) and Gas Pump Girls (1979).


Ross died in 1982 while performing on a nightclub stage. On his tombstone are inscribed the words "This Man Had a Ball".   He was given a comic's farewell, at his funeral. 


GUBA has 51 episodes of  Car 54 on their site.    I'm unsure as to the copyright on these show, so how long they will remain there is anyone's guess.   Get them while you can.


See a complete listing of their offerings.


And to get you started, a handful of direct links to the show.







Monday, February 2, 2009

This Was His Life



One of the best remembered Television shows of the 1950's was called This Is Your Life, and it `starred' it's creator, radio announcer-turned-producer  Ralph Edwards.



Edwards began his radio career at the age of 16, working for local radio stations in the San Francisco area starting in 1929.  After a lackluster early career, his big break came in 1938, when he became an announcer for Columbia Broadcasting System on WABC, where he would work with two other personalities who would  make it big - Andre Baruch and Mel Allen.


Edwards became the announcer for Major Bowes Amateur Hour, and for Fred Allen on Town Hall Tonight.    He perfected a `chuckling delivery', where he could say practically anything with a hint of mirth in his voice.


This `laugh in the voice' technique would serve him well over the years, and get him jobs doing voice-overs for movie trailers for Laurel and Hardy, and helped soothe unhappy participants on This Is Your Life.


In 1940, Edwards create his most enduring show, something called Truth or Consequences.  It would run, first on radio, then on television . . .for 38 years.


Now, most people reading this undoubtedly remember the TV version. But how could a show, which relied greatly on visual humor, work on the radio?


Well, having a live studio audience roaring with laughter, as Ralph Edwards described the action, certainly helped!


Contestants would be asked a question, and given a few seconds to come up with the unlikely answer.   A question might read, "Other than Australia . . .who raises the most lamb?


If you guessed the United States, or Ireland, or any other country - you'd be wrong.  The answer they were looking for was `sheep'.


Edwards would have a `part 2' to any question, should a contestant get lucky and get the trick question right.


Once a contestant failed to answer correctly, they had to pay the `consequences', which meant performing a stunt that would earn them $50 or $75 dollars.   


In the 1940's, that was more than a week's pay for most people, and so it wasn't as trivial as it sounds.


Edwards would also give clues to mystery `voices', and then call random phone numbers around the country, looking for a correct guess on the voice's identity.


Each week, the prize pool would increase.   Trips to Hawaii, furniture, Cash . . .  the grand prize soon became impressive, and it induced listeners to make sure they heard every clue.  


We've a nice selection of the Truth or Consequences radio show available on the Internet Archive.


Imitating Airplane Sounds                6.8 MB

Guest - The Glee Club                      15 MB

Crackers In The Mouth                     28 MB

The Hot Seat                                    15 MB

Squirtless Seltzer Bottle                   15 MB

Instructions For Milking A Cow         15 MB

Suspended Over A Water Tank         7.5 MB

Sing 'Rockabye Baby'                         15 MB

Christmas Seals                                 27 MB

Guest - William Bendix                      28 MB

Walking Man Revealed                       27 MB

Guest - Boris Karloff                          27 MB

Guest - Spike Jones                           29 MB

Sit in a Crow's Nest                            27 MB

The Laughing Boy Is Guessed            6.9 MB

Man Sealed In Room For One Week   27 MB


Truth or Consequences would sometimes go for the heartstrings, staging family reunions, bringing war buddies back together, and most famously, in 1948 asking for donations to help a young boy they called `Jimmy' - who was in a cancer ward in Boston - get a TV set to watch his beloved Boston Braves, and to fund cancer research.


"Let's make Jimmy and thousands of other boys and girls happy who are suffering from cancer, by aiding the research to help find a cure for cancer in children," Edwards asked his listeners.


In one week, $20,000 was raised and the Jimmy Fund was created.  The Braves championed this fund until their move to Milwaukee in 1953, then the Red Sox took over.


Truth or Consequences made a hugely successful transition to television, first with Ralph Edwards as host, and then in 1956, with Bob Barker.




While Edwards would create other Television shows, such as Name That Tune (1970s) and The People's Court, beyond Truth or Consequences, he is probably best known for the hugely popular, and often parodied, This is Your Life.


The format was simple. 


Each week Ralph Edwards would surprise someone (usually a celebrity, but sometimes not) live, in front of a studio audience, with a biography of their life.   While a few guests may have known what was coming, most were completely caught by surprise.


He would fly in long lost loves, old pals, and elementary school teachers to reminisce.    A few of the `guests' were mortified by the experience, but most came to enjoy the ambush show before the ending credits rolled.


Stan Laurel reportedly held a grudge for years, being `tricked' into doing his and Oliver Hardy's only American Television appearance on December 1st, 1954.


Lowell Thomas was probably the most openly hostile on-air guest.  When Edwards assured the visibly annoyed Thomas that he would enjoy what was to come, Thomas replied, "I doubt that very much."


Edwards was one celebrity who was never honored with a show.  He gave strict orders that to do so would result in the firing of his entire staff.


We've got 7 episodes, including the infamous Laurel and Hardy episode.  We don't have Lowell Thomas.  A pity.


[movies]           This is your Life Boris Karloff

[movies]           This is your Life Dick Clark

[movies]           This is your Life Jayne_Mansfield
This is your Life Lou Costello

[movies]            This Is Your Life Milton Berle

[movies]             Roy Rogers

[movies]             This Is Your Life Laurel And Hardy


Edwards, who died in 2005, continued to produce successful television shows well into the 1980's and 1990's, including the creation of a popular new genre of show - `courtroom' arbitration. 


He made Judge Joseph Wapner a star. 


He was 92 when he died.  One of the true pioneers of radio, of early TV, and the creative force behind a huge segment of Americana.


Ralph Edwards, this was your life.