Monday, June 29, 2009

Shout Hallelujah





It is hard to believe that it’s been 4 decades since we lost Judy Garland.   I was scarcely a teenager when she died, but I remember the sadness I felt. 


I grew up in a family that didn’t just appreciate the music, and entertainers, of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s . . . we practically revered them.

And Judy Garland had a justifiably high standing in our household.   I grew up on her musicals. 


Not just the Wizard of Oz, but the backyard musicals of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, the big MGM productions of the 1940s like  Meet Me In St. Louis, and The Harvey Girls, and The Pirate.   


By the late 1940's, however, Judy’s career was coming unraveled.  She was released from MGM after `a nervous breakdown’ followed by a suicide attempt and having to drop out of a succession of movies including Annie Get Your Gun and The Barkleys of Broadway


Judy Garland, once the box office sensation of MGM, was no longer considered a `good risk’ for the studio.   She would come back, of course.   Her career would rebound after appearances on the London Stage.

In 1954, Garland filmed a remake of A Star Is Born, with James Mason.  While not a commercial success for Warner Brothers, it was a triumphant return for Judy.  She was nominated for an Academy Award, but lost to Grace Kelly that year.

During the late 1950s and much of the 1960s, Judy made concert appearances (including Judy at Carnegie Hall in 1961), and appeared in television specials, and for awhile, her own TV show.  

After her show was cancelled in 1964, Garland once again hit the concert tours, and made the occasional TV appearance. Her career, however, was obviously winding down.  


Musical tastes had changed, and her ability to perform was suffering as well, in some cases her use of alcohol and pills showed on stage. 


On June 22, 1969, Judy was found dead of an overdose of barbiturates. 


A search on `Judy Garland’ will turn up many tributes, and exposés of this great star, but I prefer to remember her performances. 


And so, a few clips and some shows of an incredible performer for you to enjoy.


In 1936, at the age of 14, Judy made her first MGM short called `Every Sunday’ with Deanna Durbin.   Here is a snippet, but the entire 10 minute short can be viewed HERE.




Here, still virtually unknown, Judy knocks them dead at the age of 15 with this tribute to Clark Gable in the Broadway melody of 1938. 



After the success of The Wizard of Oz, Judy was cast in a series of eerily similar `backyard’ musicals with Mickey Rooney.   The talent and chemistry was undeniable, and audiences loved them.



By the mid-1940s Judy was starring in mid budget musicals, like this classic scene from  Meet Me In St. Louis.



Pills and booze, along with a weight gain, caused Judy to leave the set for several weeks, only to return to film this triumphant finale in 1950’s Summer Stock.



And the 13 minute Born in a Trunk sequence from A Star is Born.



And if you’ve never seen this clip from the Judy Garland Show, you are in for a treat.  Barbra Streisand and Judy in a Duet for the ages.  This is from October 6, 1963, and I remember it from when it was originally broadcast.




Shout Hallelujah that these, and dozens of hours more of her films are still available for us to enjoy.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Hardly An Edsel Of A Show





For those unfamiliar with the history, the Ford Edsel was one of the most spectacular commercial failures in corporate history.  Intended to be the new marque of the Ford Motor Company, the 1958 Edsel instead became a marketing nightmare.


The reasons behind this monumental failure are best left to car historians (although the front `horsecollar’ grille often gets mentioned). 


Fifty years later, in a bit of irony, Edsels are highly coveted by collectors.  Today, one in showroom condition can sell for 20 times its original price.

But in October of 1957, before anyone knew how this new line of automobiles would do, the Ford Motor Company put together a very impressive variety show to introduce their new product to the nation.   

And of course, they called it The Edsel Show.


This hour-long musical extravaganza was something special, even at a time when television routinely brought big entertainment names to the small screen.  


The show `starred’ Bing Crosby, but featured Frank Sinatra and Rosemary Clooney, along with Louis Armstrong and a `surprise’ visit by Bob Hope


Also appearing was Lindsay Crosby, one of Bing’s sons, and The Four Preps.

This show was performed live during the afternoon in Hollywood, and broadcast to the east coast.  A videotape (new technology at the time) was made of the show, along with a kinescope, so that it could be replayed 3 hours later for the west coast audience.


This show was both a critical and ratings success, and led to a multi-year contract with ABC for Bing Crosby to produce television specials.


There are too many highlights to list, crammed into 60 minutes of wall-to-wall music, dancing, and banter.   Even the embedded car commercials are fun.


It is obvious that the cast is having a good time, I’m sure, so will you.  


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

Friday, June 26, 2009

Finding A New Murder Every Week





The joke in the 1980s and 1990’s was you should never invite Jessica Fletcher (Murder, She Wrote) to a dinner party. 


It guaranteed someone would die.


Fifty years earlier, however, pretty much the same bad luck kept happening to a very nice couple named Mr. and Mrs. North.


Created by Richard Lockridge in the early 1930’s, the Norths appeared first in some short stories that appeared in the New York Sun, and then later in the New Yorker Magazine.  

These vignettes and stories were released as a collection Mr. and Mrs. North in 1936.


In 1940, Lockridge would collaborate with his wife Frances, and together they would produce the first Mr. and Mrs. North novel, The Norths Meet Murder.   This would launch a series that would include 26 books novels over the next two decades.


The two main characters, Jerry North, who was book publisher and his wife Pamela, who stayed at home (but usually stumbled upon a murder once a week) were in many ways the prototype for the Robert Wagner/Stephanie Powers couple in Hart to Hart.


It was usually Pamela who solved the crimes, with husband Jerry along for the ride.   The appeal – aside from the well crafted mysteries – was the relationship that this couple displayed.


A version of the Norths came to Broadway in 1941, and a movie version of that play was  produced in 1942, starring Gracie Allen.  It wasn’t the best casting choice in the world.




It was on radio, however, that the Norths gained true fame.  Starting with a single show in 1941, but then running constantly from 1942 to 1955.  


The role of Jerry was played by three different actors over the years: Carl Eastman (1941), Joseph Curtin (1942-54) and Richard Denning (1954-55) who would portray Jerry on TV.


Pamela was played by Peggy Conklin (1941), Alice Frost (1942-54) and Barbara Britton (1954-55) who played Pam on TV.


Mr. and Mrs. North received the first Best Radio Drama Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America (actually tied with CBS's Ellery Queen) in 1946.


The Internet Archive has a nice selection of radio episodes than ran from 1943 to 1954.


(Click Image to Get Radio Shows)




Richard Denning, who played Jerry North, is probably best remembered for his cult classic movie  The Creature From The Black Lagoon, along with having played the Governor of Hawaii in many episodes of Hawaii 5-0. 

He was a capable `B’ movie actor, with dozens of credits like North West Mounted Police (1940), Quiet Please: Murder (1942), and   Seven Were Saved (1947).   


On the radio, his popularity soared when he was teamed with Lucille Ball in the proto-type for I Love Lucy called My Favorite Husband.


For more on that, and Lucy’s early career, see Before We Loved Lucy.




Barbara Britton, who played Pamela, was a contract player who appeared in several well remembered Randolph Scott Westerns during the 1940s along with So Proudly We Hail (1943), and Till We Meet Again (1944).


Lovely and poised, she somehow never really found her niche in movies.  After her successful run as Pamela North, she would become the spokesperson for Revlon Cosmetics for more than a decade.


We’ve 10 episodes from the TV series, which ran on CBS from 1952 to 1953 and on NBC in 1954.


These are `light’ murder mysteries, and if you can suspend disbelief that an `average married couple’ can outwit the police and an assortment of murderers each week, they are certainly enjoyable.



Nosed Out
Mr and Mrs North ep 1-06 Nosed Out

The Third Eye
Mr and Mrs North ep 1-18 The Third Eye

Mr and Mrs North ep 1x29 Breakout

Weekend Murder
Mr and Mrs North ep 1x01 Weekend Murder

Til Death Do Us Part
Mr and Mrs North ep 1x02 Til Death Do Us Part

These Latins
Mr and Mrs North ep 1x05 These Latins

Comic Strip Tease
Mr and Mrs North ep 1x10 Comic Strip Tease

House Behind the Wall
Mr and Mrs North ep 1x16 House Behind the Wall

Mr and Mrs North ep 2x01 Target

Flight 217
Mr and Mrs North ep 2x06 Flight 217

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Musical Marx Brothers



Groucho may have been the most famous (and successful) of the Marx Brothers, but Chico (pronounced Chick –o but often mispronounced as cheek-o ) and Harpo were very talented musicians in addition to being comedians.  


Leonard `Chico’ Marx (March 22, 1887 – October 11, 1961) was the eldest Marx brother, and served at the brother’s manager after their mother Minnie died.



Chico feigned an Italian accent for his on stage character, and typically played a not-too-bright con man.   In real life, he was an heavy gambler and womanizer, who by his own admission, lost millions of dollars.

When asked how much he had lost over the years, he once replied, “Find out how much money Harpo has, and that’s what I’ve lost.”


The brothers made their last couple of movies mainly to salvage Chico’s finances, and ended up putting him on an allowance just to keep him from losing everything.

Chico used a comedic piano style, often `shooting’ the keys with his index finger, much to the delight of his audience.   His routines were choreographed comedic masterpieces, that required a close up view of his hands to get the full effect.


Here he plays `On the Beach at Bali Bali’, from A Day At The Races.




Next we have Chico playing a medley that includes the Italian folk song Reginella Campagnola and Listen To The Mockingbird.



And here, in A Night At The Opera, Chico entertains a group of children with All I Do Is Dream Of You.


It takes real talent to make it look this effortless.



And here we have an intricate piano duet with Harpo, of Mama Yo Quiero from The Big Store.




Arthur Adolph "Harpo" Marx (November 23, 1888 – September 28, 1964) was the second eldest of the Marx Brothers and while he never spoke on stage, could hardly be described as a `silent partner’.


He always worked in pantomime wearing a red `fright wig, and by playing (rarely) the piano and more often the harp, after which he was named.



Make no mistake, Harpo was a killer harpist, able to play sweet or hot, as the situation demanded.  His `jazz’ renditions of classic tunes are unforgettable.


Unlike his brothers, who were unlucky in love, Harpo married Susan Fleming in 1936 and their marriage was lifelong.  Some people believed that Harpo really was mute, but in truth this was simply part of the `act’. 


Here Harpo plays the Second Hungarian Rhapsody . . .sweetly at first, then he swings it.  This bit of genius is from A Night in Casablanca.



Harpo performs Everyone Says I Love you from Horsefeathers.





And here Harpo creates musical mayhem during a recital.  This From Monkey Business.




The Marx Brothers were more than just funny, they were multi-talented.   Something that isn’t nearly as common today as it was during the heyday of Hollywood.

Back then actors could dance, dancers could sing, and comedians could do drama, or play musical instruments. 

A legacy from Vaudeville where being a jack of all entertainment trades was the best way to keep working.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Warner Brothers Breakdowns Of The Late 1940s




In the 1960’s, Kermit Schafer (24 March 1923 - 8 March 1979) released several record albums of bloopers from radio broadcasts.  One of the earliest was radio announcer Harry Von Zell’s mispronunciation of President Herbert Hoover’s name as "Hoobert Heever" on the air. 

I had the Schaefer albums, and enjoyed them greatly, but didn’t realize at the time that many of these audio clips were `recreations’.


Back in the 1930’s and 1940’s, most shows were aired live, and many were never recorded.  Schaefer hired actors, who recreated the bloopers, but never disclosed that fact on the album.  


Flawed or not, Schaefer did help create the blooper craze, and led the way for popular TV shows like TV's Bloopers & Practical Jokes, hosted by Dick Clark.


Long before Schaefer, however, movie studios and production companies kept `blooper reels’, and usually only showed them during private parties.   The language of some of these gaffs was a bit `adult’, for greater distribution.


In the past, I’ve highlighted the Warner's blooper reels of the 1930s and the early 1940s.   


We’ve a couple more to round out the collection (hopefully more will turn up);  The Warner Brothers Breakdowns of the Late 1940s.





Sunday, June 14, 2009

All About Eve Arden





Eve Arden as Connie Brooks


To the generation that remembers the television and radio of the early 1950’s, Eve Arden will always be Our Miss Brooks.  More than 50 years, and several TV series and a number of high profile movies later, that is probably how most people still think of her.



We’ve got hundreds of Our Miss Brooks  radio shows, a rare TV episode, and several episodes of her second TV series, the Eve Arden Show for your listening and viewing pleasure. 


But first, a little history.


Eve Arden ( Born Eunice M. Quedens April 30, 1908 – November 12, 1990) in Mill Valley, California made her film debut, as Eunice Quedens, in the backstage musical Song of Love (1929).  

She played what would become a stereotype for her early career, the wisecracking second female lead.


Five years later she would debut on Broadway in Ziegfeld's Follies, in 1934.


It wasn’t until 1937, when she was cast in Oh Doctor! and Stage Door (with Ginger Rogers, Lucille Ball, and Kathryn Hepburn) that her film career really took off.   


She would appear in the Marxs Brothers At the Circus in 1939, and make a real splash in Mildred Pierce in 1945.


But for the most part, her roles were forgettable, and slightly repetitious.   She was almost always cast as the fast talking, wise cracking, second female lead.


Some of  her credits included:


  • Cover Girl (1944) .... Cornelia 'Stonewall' Jackson
  • Hit Parade of 1943 (1943) .... Belinda Wright
  • Bedtime Story (1941) .... Virginia Cole
  • Sing for Your Supper (1941) .... Barbara Stevens
  • She Knew All the Answers (1941) .... Sally Long
  • Ziegfeld Girl (1941) .... Patsy Dixon
  • That Uncertain Feeling (1941) .... Sally Aikens (Jones' secretary)
  • Comrade X (1940) .... Jane Wilson
  • No, No, Nanette (1940) .... Kitty


    During the 1940’s Arden also appeared as a regular on Danny Kaye’s radio show,  which also featured Harry James and his Orchestra and Lionel Stander.  The series, while critically acclaimed, lasted but one year.


    It did set the scene for her being cast as Connie Brooks, the sardonic English Teacher at Madison High School in 1948.  Arden, fearing she was being typecast in films, wanted to change her image.


    The show was a hit.  


    And it featured a great many actors who would go on to become major players in the American Entertainment business.


    • Gale Gordon, who would go on to become Lucille Ball’s foil in The Lucy Show, played Osgood Conklin, the  unscrupulous and unsympathetic principal of Madison High.
    •  Richard Crenna, played Walter Denton, the teenager with the cracking voice, who would go on to star in the TV series The Real McCoys and Slattery's People, and in movies like The Sand Pebbles, Wait Until Dark, Body Heat,  and Rambo.
    • Jeff Chandler, who would die tragically at the age of 41 following back surgery, played Philip Boynton, the shy and often clueless object of Connie Brook’s affections.
    • And one of the great radio actors (and Bogart look-alike) Gerald Mohr, played  Jacques Monet, a French teacher.



    Although Arden was a big hit as Connie Brooks, legend has it that she was actually the third choice to play the role.   Supposedly, Shirley Booth was first in line, but reportedly she was too focused on the plight of underpaid school teachers to `have fun’ with the role.

    Next in line was Lucille Ball, but she was already committed to My Favorite Husband.   So the role went to Arden.


    Imagine how different TV of the 1950’s would have been if Booth or Ball had gotten the role.  Broadway would have missed one of its most successful stars of the decade and  I Love Lucy might never have been made!


    We’ve 190 episodes from the radio show (which ran 1 year beyond the TV show) available on the Internet Archive.  Click on the graphic below to go to the download page.





    And while we’re at it, here is a rare episode from the TV series, also from the Internet Archive.  Hopefully more will end up posted over time.




    "Our Miss Brooks" - Larry Berns
    "Our Miss Brooks" (1952) Premiere : 3 October 1952 (USA) Series Produced by : Larry Berns Series Directed by : Al Lewis, John Rich, William Asher Series Writing credits : Joseph Quillan, Al Lewis Series Cast : Eve Arden ... Connie Brooks / ... (131 episodes, 1952-1956) Gale Gordon ... Osgood Conklin / ... (130 episodes, 1952-1956) Jane Morgan ... Mrs Margaret Davis / ... (109 episodes, 1952-1956) Robert Rockwell .....


    Arden would go on to make another, far less successful in the late 1950’s, called The Eve Arden Show.   It actually isn’t bad, but people had trouble accepting Arden as anyone but Connie Brooks.



    'The Eve Arden Show' - It Gives Me Great Pleasure
    Episode "It Gives Me Great Pleasure" of the short-lived 50's sitcom "The Eve Arden Show". The show aired from 1957-1958. Complete with original commercials.

    Classic 50's TV: 'The Eve Arden Show' - Liza's Nightmare
    Episode of the Classic 50's TV series "The Eve Arden Show" called "Liza's Nightmare". Lasted a single season, although it wasn't too bad.

    50's TV: 'The Eve Arden Show' - 'Cover Girl'
    Episode of the 50's TV series "The Eve Arden Show" called "Cover Girl", originally broadcast either 1957 or 1958. Suitable for the whole family.

    'The Eve Arden Show' - White Elephant Sale (1957?)
    Episode of the short-lived 50's sitcom "The Eve Arden Show" called "White Elephant Sale". Features original commercials, and is suitable for the whole family.


    Arden would go on to star in another sitcom in the late 1960’s, with Kay Ballard, called The Mothers-In-Laws which ran from 1967 to 1969. During the 1970’s and 1980’s she appeared as a guest on numerous TV shows, and is well remembered for her roles as Principal McGee in Grease I and Grease II.


    Arden died in 1990, at the age of 82, after more than six decades in show business.

  • Wednesday, June 10, 2009

    Meet Boston Blackie







    . . .  enemy to those who make him an enemy, friend to those who have no friend . . .



    Boston Blackie didn’t start out as a private detective, even though that is how most people who do remember him, remember him.  


    Long before he showed up in silent films of the 1920’s, and was revived again in the 1940’s  and 1950’s, he was a fictional hardboiled ex-con jewel thief (albeit with a heart of gold) created by author Jack Boyle (born sometime prior to 1880; died circa 1928).


    While he was featured in a handful of short stories, and a number of largely forgotten silent films of the 1920s, Blackie didn’t really reach mass popularity until Columbia picture reintroduced the character to the public in 1941 with Meet Boston Blackie, starring Chester Morris.


    Although a `B’ picture, it was a good `B’ picture – with good production values and a witty script crammed into just 58 minutes - and it launched one of the most successful franchises of the 1940’s.


    There were 14 `Blackie’ movies produced between 1941 and 1949, all starred long-time actor Chester Morris (born John Chester Brooks Morris February 16, 1901 - September 11, 1970).


    At age 15, young Chet Morris (son of actor William Morris, and comedienne Etta Hawkins) appeared on Broadway in Lionel Barrymore's The Copperhead.  He made his film debut in 1917 in An Amateur Orphan.


    Morris was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for Alibi in 1929, but over the next 10 years his movie roles failed to garner him much fame. 


    He was a solid, likable actor, and appeared in more than 3 dozen (mostly forgettable) films during the 1930’s.


    All that changed in 1941, when Morris brought new life to the Blackie franchise.


    We’ve three Blackie Movies available on Retrovision.Tv for your viewing pleasure.  Hopefully more will be added over time.


    Boston Blackie and the Law (1946)

    Boston Blackie, ex-convict and amateur magician, is doing his act at a prison-for-women, and an inmate takes the opportunity to do her own disappearing act while Blackie is doing his. Held as an accomplice, Blackie gets away and starts the…

    Phantom Thief, The (1946)

    Boston Blackie, in the 11th film of the Columbia series, indulges in some wit-trading with a squirmy spiritualist who deals in blackmail, murder and the occult. “Blackie” out to help his pal, “Runt,” recover some jewels, finds himself involved in…

    Trapped by Boston Blackie (1948)

    When Boston Blackie’s private detective friend Joe Kenyon is killed in an auto crash under suspicious circumstances, Blackie (Chester Morris) makes an offer to Mrs. Kenyon (Mary Currier) to take his place as a guard at a party given by…



    Blackie proved so popular, that the franchise moved to radio as a summer replacement series for Amos & Andy in 1944.   Morris reprised the role of Blackie on the radio for the first year, then the series was syndicated with Richard Kollmar taking the lead role.





    Luckily, we’ve a huge repository of Boston Blackie radio shows on the Internet Archive, and you can find scores of single episodes scattered across the various OTR (Old Time Radio) sites.

    665 MB
    642 MB
    657 MB
    443 MB


    Each one of these download links yields an entire CD worth of shows, and they can take a long time to download.  You may wish to try some single episodes on for size first, which you can listen to – or download – here.





    Boston Blackie’s last hurrah was a TV series, an early entry from ZIV,  starring Kent Taylor, which aired in 1951.  


    Boston Blackie is remembered in popular culture in Jimmy Buffett’s song "Pencil Thin Mustache" and in the Coaster’s classic `Searchin’.  


    Daffy Duck also appeared as `Boston Quackie’ – an inept detective, in the 1957 cartoon of the same name.