Thursday, July 23, 2009

Soundies . . . Music Videos Of The Past




In 1940, with America more than a year from entering WWII,  Jimmy Roosevelt – son of President Franklyn Delano Roosevelt, went into business producing Panoram Jukeboxes.  




A Look Magazine article of November1940 described the business venture this way:

"By 1941, he and his partners "expect to have 30,000 of these miniature movies in taverns, hotels and restaurants -- each averaging $50 in dimes and paying $10 film rental a week."


The Panoram, a complex mini-theatre, ran a continuous 16mm loop with usually 6 to 8  3-minute films.  Often short musical numbers, but sometimes interspliced with some cheesecake footage of women in bathing suits to attract the service boys on leave.


A metal strip on the film loop would turn off the projector – that is – until you dropped another dime into the machine.


For a time, during the 1940s, these refrigerator sized video jukeboxes were very popular and could be found in thousands of bars, cafes, and upscale dancing establishments.  


The jukebox cost roughly $10,000 in today’s dollars – an extraordinary sum at a time – roughly equivalent to the cost of a new car. 


The Panoram faded from the scene by the late 1940s, killed off by a combination of lack of materials due to the war, and the emergence of television towards the end of the decade. 


But for a brief run, they provided a unique venue where many musical acts were introduced to the public.

While hundreds of soundies were made, most have been lost over time.   We are lucky, however, to have quite a few available on the Internet Archive to view.


If these films appear to be `mirror images’, they are.  They were originally printed backwards so they could be rear projected in the Panoram via a series of mirrors.

So . . . set back, relax, and go back nearly 70 years in time to watch music videos the way our parents and grandparents watched them. No dime required.


Click the images below to watch.




Joy Hodges sings Row, Row, Row, a hit from the Zeigfeld Follies of 1912.



Susan Miller Does the Bugle Woogie from 1941



`Hawaiian Dancing Girls’ from 1943.  

Don’t let it trouble you that there is a blonde and probably a redhead in the group.



Harry Day and Della and the June Taylor Girls in a great jive dance routine.  June Taylor would go on to choreograph – in Busby Berkley style – for the Jackie Gleason show in the 1950s.




Reg Kehoe and his Marimba Queens

Novelty bands and orchestras (Anyone Remember Phil Spitalny?) were very popular in the 1940s.  




Thelma White and Her All-Girl Orchestra   Another little remembered novelty band – but they do swing!



What the Country Needs (1941) performed by The Singing Powers features a youthful `Mouseketeer’ Jimmie Dodd.



The Three Suns doing Beyond The Blue Horizon


Tica Ti Tica Ta features Ginger Harmon and the Mercer Brothers

Sunday, July 19, 2009

And Now, Another Word From Our Sponsor . . .






Recently I watched a couple of episodes of an old detective show called Brenner, which starred Edward Binns and was sponsored by Handy Andy cleaning solution.   


The shows were pretty good (and I’ll probably blog on them at some point) but what struck me was the sales pitch for the commercials.


You see, Handy Andy’s claim to fame was it was an all purpose household cleaner without Kerosene!


Yes, it may seem hard to believe, but during the 1950s we had all sorts of household products that today, if spilled, would necessitate the calling out of a Hazmat squad.


Amazingly, despite the commercials for cigarettes, alcohol, lead paints, asbestos tile, DDT, and a whole world of toxins. . .  most of us still managed to survive.


Last march I highlighted a collection of TV commercials from the 1950s and 1960s (see And Now A Word From Our Sponsor).   Hopefully some of you have already enjoyed them.


Today we’re going to do it again, albeit with a new selection of advertisements.   These are part of the Prelinger Archives on the Internet Archive.    You can watch them online, or download them.


If you were around 40, 50, or even 60 years ago, you will probably find these very nostalgic.   For younger viewers, this is how television advertising looked during the 1950s.   


Along the way you’ll see some celebrities, some well crafted little vignettes, and hear some famous jingles.  


Sure, some of this is pretty simplistic by today’s standards, but life back then was simpler . . .  so sit back and enjoy roughly 30 minutes of entertaining and historically significant commercials from TV’s golden age.


Click the images below to view.


click to play movie
Part 1


click to play movie
Part 2



click to play movie
Part 3

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Gale Storm (1922-2009)





Josephine Owaissa Cottle – better known as Gale Storm - passed away a couple of weeks ago, on June 27th, 2009.  She was 87.


While here career peaked in the 1950’s, and she appeared on television very little after the mid-1960s, she is still warmly remembered today by a generation that grew up on her two television shows. 


My Little Margie and The Gale Storm Show (Oh, Susanna!)  


Both shows have seen relatively little syndication in the past 30 years, and so today’s generation probably have no idea who Gale Storm was.


She was one of a number of hopefuls who vied for a screen test on Jesse L. Lasky’s radio show `Gateway To Hollywood’.   Auditions were held all around the country, and Gale Storm won in Houston, traveled to Hollywood, and won there, too.


She ended up with a contract with RKO studios, and a new name (Sometimes billed as Gail Storm). After six months, they dropped her.  But by then she’d appeared in several films and managed to pick up work at Universal and Monogram pictures in `B’ musicals, westerns, and dramas.


Her early career was hardly spectacular. 


Her movies were mostly low budget `programmers’, with such `winners’ as Let's Go Collegiate (1941), Freckles Comes Home (1942), Revenge of the Zombies (1943), Sunbonnet Sue (1945).


Her fresh-scrubbed girl-next-door looks were a natural for westerns and college musicals.  More serious roles were hard to find, although she did acquit herself quite well in It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947) film noir piece The Underworld Story (1950).


We’ve a couple of her `lesser’ early movies available on the Internet Archive.  


The first is called  City of Missing Girls, a post-code story of `white slavery’ that tries very hard not to mention that fact.  And Smart Alecks – a `Dead End Kids’ movie.    Both are enjoyable enough if you are in the right mood.


We’ve also a strange amalgam of a commercial/travelogue from 1954 showing Gale Storm and Family on a trip in their new Chevrolet to the Grand Canyon.   Nostalgic, if nothing else.


How to Go Places - Handy (Jam) Organization
Actress Gale Storm and family take a road trip in their Chevrolet and review the do's and don'ts of auto traveling.



It wasn’t until the early 1950’s when Storm would finally hit it `big’, and that was on the small screen.   In 1952, when I Love Lucy went off for the summer, CBS needed a replacement show, and so they cobbled together a light comedy called `My Little Margie’, starring Gale Storm and silent movie star Charles Farrell.




It was a surprise hit, and the sponsor Phillip Morris, moved it to NBC for a regular fall slot on Saturday evenings.  It lasted a couple of months, then returned to CBS in January . . .where it ran for 6 months.


After a 2 month hiatus, it ended up back on NBC, with a new sponsor, and ran till 1955.  In the 1950s, sponsors owned the shows, and so it wasn’t unusual for a show to appear on more than one network over the years.


While the title, My Little Margie may sound condescending towards women, Margie was actually ahead of her time.  In an era when most women on television were either married, to desperate to find a husband, Margie was single and pretty content to be that way.


The show was typical of the sitcoms of that era in that the subject matter was always `light’, and it relied heavily on Slap Stick comedy (It was produced by Hal Roach Studios).  


But for light fare, it was better than most of the offerings of the day.


Whats Cooking


Margies Millionth Member

Meet Mr. Murphy

Margie Babysits

Honeyboy Honeywell

Margie and the Shah

Star of Khyber

The San Francisco Story

Miss Whoozis

Verns Mother-in-Law

The Hawaii Story

Corpus Delecti

Papa and Maboo

The Unexpected Guest


From 1956 to 1960, Storm would star in a second highly successful sitcom- the Gale Storm Show.  After that, her television appearance dwindled.


She appeared twice on Burkes Law in the mid 1960s, once on the Love Boat (1979) and one on Murder She Wrote (1989).  


But she didn’t give up show business.  She appeared in dinner theatre and summer stock productions for many years, usually in "Cactus Flower," "Forty Carats," "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" and "South Pacific.


Storm would also show up at nostalgia conventions, from time to time, much to the delight of her fans.


Perhaps not the most enduring show business legend, but for a few of  us, Gale Storm is very fondly remembered.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

And Now, A Lucky Strike Extra . . .




Yes, this is a reprint of a blog I posted last November.  Since then, I’ve picked up some new readers, and I figured that a lot of them may not have gone that far back into the archives – so they won’t have seen this.

I so enjoyed reading this book, I wanted to take this opportunity to plug it again. 




Back in September of last year, when I began this blog, my second entry was called 'Twas Rock & Roll That Killed Your Hit Parade,  which looked back at the Lucky Strike Hit Parade show of the early 1950's.










Dorothy Collins From Your Hit Parade


Shortly thereafter I received a very kind email from Andrew Lee Fielding, whose mother Sue Bennett was one of the early stars of television, and a regular on Your Hit Parade.


We exchanged several emails, and Andrew told me about a book he had written about his mother's career and early television.   He was nice enough to send me a copy.




The book is called  The Lucky Strike Papers,   and is published by Bear Manor Media.   Andrew also has his own blog which I am putting in my sidebar links column.


Although Andrew sent me the book a month ago, I wanted a quiet day to enjoy the book.  Such a day was today.  And enjoy it I did.


For anyone curious at all about the early days of live television, and the transition from radio to TV as being the dominant form of home entertainment, this book is a delight.


Fielding guides us through the early years of TV, mostly through his Mother's career, which took her from the Kay Kyser Show, to the Freddy Martin Show, and onto Your Hit Parade.


Although just recently published, Andrew began researching this book, and conducting interviews with many of the pioneers of early television, back in the late 1970's.


The book is filled with wonderful anecdotes, rare photos, and a rich and abundant history of early television.


It makes a worthy addition to anyone's library, and would make a terrific gift for anyone with a love of nostalgia.  You can order it HERE.


Highly recommended.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Matt Dodson . . . err, Make That Tom Corbett, Space Cadet!





The grand master of the golden age of science-fiction, which ran from the late 1930s through the 1950s was undoubtedly Robert A Heinlein


Sure, there were other great writers . . . Asimov, Clarke, Kornblunth, Bradbury, and Pohl . . .to name but a few, but none were as influential as Heinlein.  


Heinlein published 32 novels, 59 short stories, and 16 collections during his lifetime.


During the 1940’s and 1950’s, Heinlein wrote a number of `juvenile’ books, aimed at a teenage audience, with titles like Starman Jones, Rocket Ship GalileoTunnel In The Sky, and Starship Troopers.


While Heinlein would move on to far more adult themes (Stranger In A Strange Land no doubt contributed to the sexual revolution of the 1960’s!), his juvenile novels are well remembered by my generation today.


In 1948, he published a book called Space Cadet, which would serve to influence a very popular radio and television show of the 1950s,  Tom Corbett, Space Cadet.


Created by Joesph Lawrence Greene, Tom Corbett was an amalgam of Heinlein’s Space Cadet universe and a radio script that Greene had created, that pre-dated the Heinlein book, called  Tom Ranger and the Space Cadets.


By the time the show made it on the air, the names had been changed again.  From Tom Ranger (Greene’s creation) and Matt Dodson (Heinlein’s protagonist) to Tom Corbett.


One of the best websites on the Internet devoted to Tom Corbett is, where you can read dozens of pages of information about the show. 



I won’t try to recreate the wheel here, since my main intent is to provide links to the shows. By all means, check out the site.


The TV series, over its nearly 5 year run, managed to be broadcast by all 4 networks (NBC, CBS, ABC, and DuMont).  


While some of the science presented is a bit laughable now, for its time, it was surprisingly `scientific’.   Having 50’s science writer Willy Ley as a science advisor no doubt helped.  Sure, Mars had a breathable atmosphere, and Venus was a hot steamy jungle . . . but back in the 1950’s, both scenarios were considered possible.


The cast included:

  • Tom Corbett Frankie Thomas, Jr.
  • Astro Al Markim
  • Roger Manning Jan Merlin
  • Captain Steve Strong Edward Bryce
  • Dr. Joan Dale Margaret Garland
  • Commander Arkwright Carter Blake
  • Cadet Alfie Higgins John Fiedler
  • Cadet Eric Rattison Frank Sutton
  • Cadet T. J. Thistle Jack Grimes

And yes, it was that Frank Sutton, who played Cadet Rattison – who would go on to fame as Sgt Carter on Gomer Pyle, USMC.

The star of the show was Frankie Thomas, who during the early 1930s appeared in a number of Broadway plays (starting at the age of 11), and moved on to appearing in a number of well received movies.


Wednesday's Child (1934) .... Bobby Phillips

A Dog of Flanders (1935) .... Nello Daas

Tim Tyler's Luck (1937) .... Tim Tyler

Boys Town (1938) .... Freddie Fuller

His popularity never really caught on, and his career began to decline while he was still in his teens.  He still worked . . .in `B’ movies, and later (after a stint in the service for WWII) in early TV, but he was barely visible.


In 1950 his luck, and life, would change.  He would become Tom Corbett, and for a generation, represent a bright and exciting future.  He picture was on the front of comic books, dime novels, and even on our lunch pails at school.



The cast for the TV series also appeared on the short-lived radio show.  First broadcast as a 15 minute-3 times a week – kids show, it eventually went to a 1/2 hour format.   It only ran half a year.

We have 30+ episodes from the Internet Archive.


We’ve also 5 episodes from the TV show on the Archive.   Unlike the Rocky Jones Series (see Memories Of Rocky Jones, Space Ranger), which was filmed, the few shows we have were only preserved on Kinescopes.  


The budget was miniscule, the special effects almost non-existent, but they were fun, performed with enthusiasm,and certainly nostalgic for those of us who grew up on this stuff.

'Tom Corbett, Space Cadet'
Episode "Assignment Mercury" - Air Date: Feb. 26, 1955

'Tom Corbett, Space cadet' - Ambush in space (1955)
Episode: Ambush in space - Air Date: May 21, 1955

'Tom Corbett, Space cadet' - Fight for survival (1955)
Tom Corbett, Space cadet Episode: Fight for survival - Air Date: June 4, 1955

'Tom Corbett, Space cadet' - Pursuit of the deep space projectile (1955)
Episode "Pursuit of the deep space projectile" which aired on April 30, 1955 and contains original commercials for 'Kraft Caramels'.

'Tom Corbett, Space cadet' - Runaway rocket (1954)
'Tom Corbett, Space cadet' - Runaway rocket (1954) Episode: The runaway rocket - Air Date: May 22, 1954.

While the end of Tom Corbett pretty much was the end of Frankie Thomas’s  film career, he would go on to make personal appearances as Tom Corbett, and would write for radio and TV shows.


In the 1970s and 1980s he would pen a number of well received Sherlock Holmes novels.  

Thomas passed away in 2006, at the age of 85.  At his request, he was buried in his Tom Corbett uniform.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

What It Was, Was A Young Andy Griffith


Just about everyone knows that Andy Griffith played Andy Taylor, soft spoken `Sheriff without a gun’ in the rural comedy The Andy Griffith Show of the 1960s.  

That show will undoubtedly play in reruns, along side other classics like I Love Lucy and the Dick Van Dyke Show, until sometime after the apocalypse. 

It made a star of Don Knotts, and really helped to launch the career of actor/director Ron `Opie’ Howard

And no doubt, many of my readers have seen the movie version of No Time For Sergeants, the role that made Andy Griffith a star. Released in 1958, it was based on the Broadway play of the same name, which starred Griffith, and whose cast included Don Knotts.

But before the 1958 movie version, and before the successful Broadway run of 796 performances which began on October 20th, 1955 at the Alvin Theatre, there was a live TV production of No Time For Sergeants on the United States Steel hour.   

The U.S. Steel hour was an hour long anthology series that produced live dramas on TV between 1953 and 1963.   It actually began on radio in the 1940’s as the Theatre Guild On The Air.

Like most over night successes in show business, Andy Griffith worked for several years in in relative obscurity.  He was a monologist: a standup comedian who, rather than telling jokes, would tell stories.  

In 1953 Griffith would record a monologue called `What it was, was football’, which would shoot to the #9 spot in the top 40 standings.

His country-bumpkin description of watching a football game was a hit, and it led to appearances on the Steve Allen Show and Ed Sullivan.  We’ve got a youtube video of this recording, along with some vintage (1958) MAD MAGAZINE illustrations to go along with it.

You can view the illustration at : What It Was, Was Football

The following year, Mac Hyman, who was from Cordele Georgia, published a book called No Time For Sergeants, which recounted the humorous story of a country bumpkin in boot camp.  It became a best seller, and in 1955, was selected to be produced for TV.

Andy Griffith – due to his comedy act - was the best known `bumpkin’ in the country, and was of the right age to play the role of Will Stockdale.  

He got the role, and the show was a success.  It led directly to his starring in the Broadway version, and to such important film roles as A Face In The Crowd.

Here, from the Internet Archive, is the original No Time For Sergeants – made 3 years before the movie version.  Fans of the movie will note that the plot is a bit different, but that makes this early glimpse at a rising star no less entertaining.

click to play movie 

No Time For Sergeants
The U.S. Steel Hour
March 15th, 1955
Will Stockdale......Andy Griffith
Sgt. King...........Harry Clark
Major...............Robert Emhardt
Ben Whitledge.......Eddie Le Roy
Captain.............Alexander Clark
Irvin...............Arthur Storch
Lucky...............Bob Hastings
Colonel.............G. Albert Smith
Infantry Sg.t.......Joe Brown, Jr.
WAF Captain.........Adnia Rice
Pfc.................Thomas Volk
Soldier.............George Kilroy

After the critical acclaim of A Face In The Crowd, and the success of the movie version of No Time For Sergeants, and the disappointing Coast Guard comedy Onionhead,  Griffith’s next big break would be landing the role of a country Sheriff on an episode of Make Room For Daddy (The Danny Thomas Show).  

That episode would become the springboard for the Andy Griffith Show in 1960, which Griffith would star in until 1967.

The 1970’s would bring a number of TV movies and a couple of less-than stellar TV series. Griffith would strike gold again in the 1980s, playing the Atlanta Lawyer Ben Matlock.

At 83, Griffith still works occasionally, with the Internet Movie Database listing these four appearances over the past 3 years.

  • Play the Game (2008) .... Grandpa Joe

  • Christmas Is Here Again (2007) (voice) .... Santa Claus

  • Waitress (2007) .... Old Joe

  • The Very First Noel (2006) (V) .... Melchoir

  • With a career that has stretched nearly 60 year, Andy Griffith has become a cultural icon and a symbol of homespun honesty and integrity. 

    Not bad for a boy who hailed from Mount Airy, North Carolina.

    Not bad at all.