Sunday, January 24, 2010





Treading outside of public domain works for just a few minutes, I’d like to call your attention to a series of videos on YouTube by a terrific musical comedy ensemble named the The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.


I confess that I am particularly enamored with this group.   Part of it is the sheer absurdity of it all.   





Dressed up like symphony musicians, sitting in 7 or 8 chairs on a bare stage, and wielding of all things . . . ukuleles.   Some of which look well worn and battered (the instruments, not the performers).


You expect that this is all some giant put on.  That there would be no way that you were about to be regaled with real music.


But you’d be wrong. 


They have their own website and offer DVD’s of their performances for sale.   But you can get a sneak peak at their act by viewing the videos on their site  - or by watching some of the clips available on YouTube.


Started as a bit of a lark in 1985, TUOGB sold out their first concert and have been going strong for 25 years.   Members have come and gone over the years, but the fun, and the finesse remain.


Visit their website for more information about the group, and please, if you like it, consider buying a DVD (they make a great gift).

But for now, a small sampling from the video archives.

Prepared yourselves to be wowed.


Well start with a standard British Music Hall number, often performed on the Ukulele.  That’s right.  You guessed it!

The Theme From Shaft.



Absurd?   Sure . . . and that’s the beauty of it all.  But hang on, try this one on for size.    And be sure to watch for some inspired antics of the members starting about 90 seconds in.




You’re probably getting the idea now. 


Next up, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.




And last, but certainly not least, an amazing vocal number.   Fly Me To The Handel.  Stay with this to the end.  It is truly remarkable.





Want more?    No problem.  Go to their website and order their DVD, or follow this link on YouTube to get more samples.


And Enjoy!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

For Trekies Of All Ages



You may be wondering how a relatively new movie (2007-2008) ends up on this blog.    


While Star Trek: Of Gods and Men isn’t public domain, it is freely available for you to watch (or download) from the Internet.  

And it is surprisingly well done.




Why should it be surprising that it is well made, well written, and fun to watch?

Because this is essentially a `fan movie’, one made on a miniscule budget, and made possible by the contributions of cast members and myriad behind-the-scenes personnel.   Principal filming was done in just over 2 weeks, although post production took considerably longer.


It is . . . as they describe it . . . a 40th anniversary gift to their fans.


And half the fun is spotting the Trek Cast Alumni who volunteered their time to either reprise their old roles, or create new ones, for this movie.  

The stars are Walter `Chekov’ Koenig and Nichelle `Uhura’ Nichols of the original series, but they are joined by a stellar assemblage of Star Trek actors from the other Star Trek incarnations, including:


Alan Ruck as Captain John Harriman

Garrett Wang as Commander Garan

William Wellman as Charlie Evans

Tim Russ (Who also directs the movie) as Tuvok

Gary Graham as Ragnar

Chase Masterson as Xela

Daamen Krall as Gary Mitchell

Ethan Phillips as Data Clerk

Grace Lee Whitney as Janice Rand


The plot?


Years after the death of James T. Kirk, Uhura attends the dedication of the new  USS Enterprise  (NCC-1701-M), when a distress call is received from the planet where the Guardian of Forever (a time portal from the original series) is located.


There they find Charlies Evans  (Charlie X), grown up and bitter after having been turned over to the Thasians by Kirk 40 years earlier, who goes back in time and kills Kirk’s mother before he can be born.

This sets into motion a alternate timeline, where the Federation no longer exists, and Chekov is viewed as a renegade and a terrorist.


I won’t spoil it by saying any more. . . .


Throughout the movie (3 30-minute episodes), you’ll find a constant array of tributes to the cannon of Star Trek . . . up to, and including tribbles.


The special effects are better (by several orders of magnitude) than the original series, and rival a lot of what you see today on TV.  


This isn’t the only Internet revival of Star Trek, as James Cawley (who appears as Kirk’s nephew in this movie) and company have put together a remarkable project called Star Trek Phase II, which we will visit at a future date.

Of Gods And Men is a terrific example of what can be done by a group of dedicated fans.    


If you have a trekie bone in your body, you should enjoy it.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Exiting An Era, Side By Side




By the early 1960s television had pretty much reduced radio in the United States to the playing of various genres of music, and the budding `talk radio’ format.  


Gone were most of the radio dramas, comedies, and variety shows that had plied the airwaves for more than 30 years.  Those shows could now be seen and heard on TV.  


Radio was in transition, and while it would reinvent itself during the decade that would follow, there were a few attempts to recapture the `golden age’.   


One such attempt was the Bing Crosby – Rosemary Clooney Radio Show.



While most of you probably don’t remember this radio show . . .it aired at 11:40 weekday mornings, and ran for 20 minutes to lead into the noon news, it was one of the last radio variety shows.

Unlike many radio shows, these were cobbled together with banter recorded weeks in advance, and recorded songs inserted into the show by the producer.  Some would be single efforts by Bing or Rosie, and some would be duets.


The first dozen or so shows opened with the ending strains of `Side by Side’, but eventually that opening was dropped in favor of a conversational `hook’.


The third leg of this show was Ken Carpenter, a well known radio announcer from the 1940s and 1950s, who worked with Bing Crosby for 27 years.


Bing and Rosie, of course, had been a big hit six year earlier in the Christmas classic `White Christmas’, and had appeared together often during the 1950s  (see Hardly An Edsel Of A Show for a terrific example).


The Crosby-Clooney show was obviously aimed at housewives.  The sponsors were generally household products, like Fels-Naptha soap or G.E. Softwhite light bulbs.   The music was mostly pop standards, to appeal to adults, not the teenagers of the time.


This show, along with Arthur Godfrey Time,  Garry Moore and the audio from Art Linkletter's House Party TV show, were part of the CBS radio morning lineup during the early 1960s.


We’ve 222 single episodes of this charming, music filled radio show on The Internet Archive.


The Bing Crosby-Rosemary Clooney Show - Single Episodes - Old Time Radio Researchers Group

THE BING CROSBY - ROSEMARY CLOONEY SHOW In 1960, Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney teamed together in The Bing Crosby - Rosemary Clooney Show on CBS. This was a 20 minute show aimed at female listeners and was broadcast at 11:40 a.m. daily. Bing and Rosie would tape the dialogue weeks in advance and songs would be interpolated. The songs would usually feature Bing and Rosie singing solos and often a duet.



You can listen to individual episodes, or download them from this link.  If you want the entire collection, you can download 4 CD’s of MP3s from here.


By the end of 1962, CBS decided to drop the Crosby-Clooney show as they continued their attempts to revamp their radio offerings.


Luckily, we’ve got hundreds of episodes to enjoy.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Sinatra With A Pencil Thin Mustache



The kind that Boston Blackie used to wear . . .




Okay . . . it wasn’t a particularly good look for the crooner from Hoboken.


But this was 1951, and Sinatra’s fortunes weren’t exactly riding high.  He was trying to reinvent himself for Television, and not exactly mastering the medium.


In just over 10 years since his debut with the Dorsey Orchestra in 1940, Sinatra’s career had gone from being a cultural phenomenon to starting to stall out. 


Despite releasing some excellent albums in the late 1940s, and appearing in several well received musicals (Anchor's Aweigh in 1946 Take Me Out To The Ball Game  and On The Town  Both 1949), Sinatra was now in his mid-30s, and losing steam with his bobby soxer audience.


By 1948 his popularity lagged behind other singers of the day, including Bing Crosby, Billy Eckstine, Frankie Laine and even a resurgent Al Jolson, who was headlining radio’s Kraft Music Hall.


He returned to doing concert appearances in 1950, and entered the TV arena with a variety show that failed to catch on in the ratings.  While the music was often terrific, the comedy, art direction, and pacing of the show couldn’t compete with more polished shows like Your Show of Shows, and Milton Berle.


Both of which, it turns out, aired opposite his short lived show.

Frank even tried his hand at radio, with a short lived show called Rocky Fortune, where he would take on a different job every week, and find adventures . . . . sort of.   


Actually, it wasn’t as bad as it sounds, and we’ll feature them in a future blog.


Sinatra’s fortunes would, of course, change in 1954 with his OSCAR winning portrayal of Maggio in From Here To Eternity, and he would remake himself as a the king of pop standards during the 1950s.


But this is three long years before that transformation, and while some of the comedy is almost painful to watch, The Frank Sinatra Show is a fascinating (Bulluva) Time capsule from nearly 60 years ago.


What we have are 44 minutes (1 & 1/2 shows) from sometime around 1951, featuring much of the cast from Sinatra’s Paramount Stage show, and prominently featuring Dagmar, who would go on to be the first certifiable big star of Television.




Playing a stereotypical dumb blonde, Virginia Ruth Egnor, aka Dagmar, stole the show from Comedian/host Jerry Lester when she appeared on his late night variety show Broadway Open House.

Her popularity grew to the point that Lester walked off the show in 1951, and Dagmar took over as host.  Even though Broadway Open house would shut down later that year, Dagmar remained immensely popular and showed up on other variety shows like the Colgate Comedy Hour, Bob Hope, and Milton Berle.


I’ll have more from Dagmar, and Jerry Lester, in a future blog.  But for now, enjoy 44 minutes of early Sinatra, and get a glimpse of what is likely the only remaining video record of his 1951 Paramount show.   


This video is from the Internet Archive.


Cast members include  Eileen Barton, Tim Herbert and Don Saxon, Joe Bushkin and June Hutton, and musical director Axel Stordahl.




44 Minutes of Footage from ''The Frank Sinatra Show'' (Circa 1951)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Two Ways To Cross The Pond





My apologies for not having updated this blog in nearly 3 weeks, a family medical crisis (which remains ongoing) has taken me away from my regular blogging duties.


Today, a couple of enjoyable, although somewhat obscure movies from the 1930s.


Both are about futuristic ways  to travel from New York to London, and both are examples of British futuristic film making of the 1930s. Both films are available from the Internet Archive.


First on Tap is Transatlantic Tunnel from 1935, which stars American Actor Richard Dix as an engineer who gives eventually loses his family in his quest to build the greatest construction project in man’s history – a tunnel from New York to London.


The acting is – even by 1935 standards – a bit stilted, but the art direction and special effects are superb for its time.  


As you watch, remember this was made 75 years ago.  


Other cast members include C. Aubrey Smith, the quintessential Britisher with the stiff upper lip of the 1930’s and 1940’s, along with Walter Huston as the President of the United States and George (Disraeli) Arliss as the Prime Minister of England.




The Transatlantic Tunnel 1935

It's the story of an engineer who takes on the most ambitious project ever - excavating a tunnel under the Atlantic Ocean from England to America - and the obstacles and sacrifices he makes while doing so. Stars Richard Dix and Leslie Banks with special appearances by George Arliss and Walter Huston. Directed by Maurice Elvey. AKA "The Tunnel".



Next on tap is the 1937, and rarely seen,  Non-Stop New York, starring a young Anna Lee as a woman who must stow away aboard a futuristic luxury `flying boat’ to travel back to New York to clear a man of murder before his execution.


Two years makes a heck of a difference as far as dialog and acting styles, with a welcome infusion of British wit in this tidy thriller.





Non Stop New York 1937

Anna Lee is a stowaway on a futuristic airliner. The plane looks like it just flew off the cover of a vintage scifi magazine. It even has outdoor observation decks so you can go outside while the plane is in flight!



Anna Lee, quite remarkably, began her movie career in 1932, appeared in many notable films of the 1940’s (How Green Was My Valley, Two Rode Together, Fort Apache), transitioned to TV anthology series during the 1950’s, and acted in TV Soaps (General Hospital and Port Charles) for more than 25 years.

Anna Lee died in 2004, at the age of 91.   She worked almost up to the time of her death.