Saturday, May 29, 2010

Toying With Our Past




If you are over the age of 40 (or preferably 50), and grew up watching Saturday morning TV, then you were barraged with thousands of commercials for toys. 


Expensive toys, sometimes . . .and sometimes toys that could be had for just a boxtop from a cereal package and a dime.  


For kids who have grown up in world dominated by MP3 players, computers, and video games . . . the toys the older generation grew up with must seem both simplistic and, at times, even barbaric.


Toy guns were a huge part of the toy market in the 1950s and 1960s, with cowboy cap pistols and rifles eventually giving way to James Bond/Man From UNCLE spy gear (I desperately coveted the Secret Sam Spy Briefcase, but never got one). 


The space race made futuristic rocket ships, moon bases, and orbiting space stations a huge draw as well.  


My brother and I were both so enthralled by the commercials for the X-500 Rocket Base that our parents realized our Christmas would be a huge disappointment without it.  




Unfortunately, we quickly learned that it’s ability to shoot down incoming missiles (as shown in the TV ads) was decidedly less than advertised.   A valuable lesson for a pair of 6 year-olds.


My folks bought a Great Garloo, although they used it mostly to serve drinks at parties. 


And in a bit of infamous family history, my parents bought us a Marx-a-Copter one Christmas in the 1960’s – a toy helicopter that was tethered to a base and would fly in circles, hover, and reverse.   With some practice, you could pick up an object using a hook.




(A 1970s version of the Marx-a-copter)


It was, however – in my Dad’s opinion – a bit  underpowered. 


On Christmas morning he decided to replace the battery pack with a train transformer (providing variable voltage).  The copter flew like mad!

For about 20 seconds . . . .


Then the motor burned up.    So much for the `big’ Christmas gift that year.   Another valuable Christmas lesson learned.  


Don’t let Dad play with your toys. . . .


Today’s offering is a terrific hour long compilation of toy commercials from the 1950s and 1960s entitled  Batteries Not Included put together and uploaded to the Internet Archive by Jon Behrens.




Batteries not Included "a Collection of Vintage Toy Commercials (2009)


You may also recognize some budding child actors and actresses in these vintage commercials, including Billy Mummy who starred in Lost In Space, and numerous TV shows (and even a few movies) in the 1960s.

Friday, May 21, 2010

TV’s First Policewoman




More than 15 years before Angie Dickenson would become Police Woman, at a time when women were rarely given the lead in dramatic shows, Beverly Garland broke new ground playing a no-nonsense undercover cop in Decoy (1957).



This little thirty-minute drama only ran a year (plus syndication), but it was a trailblazer in its gritty portrayal of a female police officer.  Beverly Garland, playing Casey Jones, was often  a `decoy’, but was no sitting duck.


She could use a gun, and her wits. 


Each episode would find Casey going undercover in some new persona, alone in the seedy environs of New York.  The series was filmed on location, often to good effect, and was dedicated to Bureau of Policewomen of the New York Police Department.


While there were a few recurring characters (mostly Casey’s commanding officer and some other officers), Garland was the only continuing main character.  


With essentially a new troupe of actors every week,  Decoy is a great showcase of early performances of the likes of Larry Hagman, Peter Falk, Lois Nettleton, Suzanne Pleshette and Martin Balsam.


At the episode’s end, Garland would often `break the fourth wall’ and speak (as Casey Jones) directly to the audience.  


The show is apparently in the public domain now, but only a few episodes have shown up on the Internet Archive.   With luck, more will appear over time.


Still, we’ve got five examples here for you to enjoy.


Decoy: "The First Arrest"
Casey Jones (Beverly Garland) recalls her first arrest, while working undercover in a carnival.

Decoy: Saturday Was Lost
Casey (Beverly Garland) needs to help a teenage girl remember what happened while she was in a drug induced stupor.

Decoy: The Sound of Tears
Casey investigates a case where a woman emptied a pistol into a man, and has to push back painful memories as she searches for the killer.


Decoy: "High Swing"
Casey (Beverly Garland) suspects an elderly man of being behind a series of brutal muggings.

Decoy: To Trap A Thief
A businessman alleges that $10,000 was missing from money recovered from robbers. Suspicion falls on a patrolmen near retirement. Casey (Beverly Garland) goes undercover to find the truth.



The film credits of Beverly Garland prove her to have been one of the hardest working actresses in Hollywood.  Before 1950, she appeared in community theatre, on the radio, and scantily clad in a few risqué short films.


Her first Hollywood film appearance was in the Classic Film Noir, D.O.A. starring Edmond O’Brian.   Which if you’ve never seen, is far better than the 1988 remake.   It too is in the public domain, and on the Internet Archive.



D.O.A. - Leo C. Popkin
D.O.A. (1950) is a film noir drama film directed by Rudolph Maté, considered a classic of the stylistic genre. The frantically-paced plot revolves around a doomed man's quest to find out who has poisoned him – and why – before he dies.


Garland worked steadily in the early 50’s in both movies and on TV. She was nominated for a prime time Emmy for a guest appearance on Medic in 1954.


In 1955, she would appear in another `first’, fledgling director Roger Corman’s Cheesy women-escaping-from-prison classic `Swamp Women’.


Swamp Women - Bernard Woolner
Swamp Women, produced in 1955, was the first film ever directed by Roger Corman. 


The following year she would co-star with Peter Graves in  Corman’s It Conquered The World.


Most of her work, however, was on the small screen. And there – in addition to her own series - she worked steadily in guest shots on shows like Zane Grey Theatre, The Twilight Zone, Playhouse 90,  Four Star Theatre, Rawhide, and Hawaiian Eye.


In 1964 she played Bing Crosby’s wife in a short-lived sitcom, and for baby boomers, is probably remembered best as becoming Fred MacMurray’s wife in the last three seasons of the long running TV series, My Three Sons.

The 1970’s found Garland doing a lot of guest shots, and in the 1980’s she was a regular on the light hearted espionage series Scarecrow & Mrs. King and at the same time appeared frequently on Remington Steele.


The new century saw Garland entering her sixth decade in show business, with regular gigs on the TV soap opera Port Charles, and frequent appearances on the TV drama 7th Heaven.


Beverly Garland passed away on December 5th, 2008 at the age of 82.


Although her portrayal of a smart, capable, no-nonsense police officer is little remembered today, she helped pave the way for Pepper Anderson, Honey West, Christie Love, and Cagney & Lacy.


The shows listed above may seem a bit dated now, but for the 1950s, they were definitely ahead of their time.


Beyond that, she was one of the most familiar faces on Television over the past sixty years.  One that will be long remembered, and greatly missed.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

With a Sarong In Her Heart





Even as a teenager watching her old movies, I didn’t really get the allure of Dorothy Lamour. 


I suppose it was a generational thing, since in the late 1960’s and early 1970s `babeness’ was defined by the likes of Katherine Ross, Susan Dey, and Stella Stevens.  


All-American girl-next door types were in . . . exotic was out.  

At least in my mind. 


But while the years may not have been particularly kind to this old body, they have managed to convey a greater appreciation for the charms and talents of `Dottie’. Even more so since getting to hear many of her radio shows of the 1940s.


For Dorothy Lamour, despite the exotic name and her famous sarong, was an all American girl  (albeit of French Louisianan, Spanish, and Irish descent). . .  from New Orleans.



Born Mary Leta Dorothy Slaton in 1914, and several years later her mother remarried a man named Clarence Lambour.  She would eventually convert her step-father’s name into her stage name, Lamour.


`Dottie’ won the Miss New Orleans beauty contest in 1931, and shortly thereafter moved with her mother to Chicago where she worked as 17 dollar a week elevator operator at Marshall Fields Department store. 


From there a friend convinced her to try out as a singer for a local bandleader with a syndicated radio show.  She later moved on to Manhattan, where Rudy Vallee helped her get a job at the El Morroco night club.

By 1935 she had her own 15 minute radio show, was a regular performer on Rudy Vallee’s radio show, and had been given a screen test by Paramount.


Her stock in trade were exotic roles such as Ulah  in The Jungle Princess (1936), Marama in The Hurricane (1938), and Tura in Her Jungle Love (1938), although other roles came her way as well.


She also starred in St. Louis Blues (1939), The Big Broadcast of 1938 (1938) with Bob Hope & W.C. Fields, and Man About Town (1939) with Jack Benny.


But it was the pairing of her with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in the first of their `Road to . . .’ pictures - The Road To Singapore (1940) - that would forever define her career.  


In all, she co-starred with Hope & Crosby in 5 very popular road pictures, and described the experience saying, "I felt like a wonderful sandwich, a slice of white bread between two slices of ham."  


Lamour was one of the most popular pin up girls of WWII, worked tirelessly on the war bond circuit, and wasn’t above poking fun at her own image.  


Although her movie career dwindled in the 1950s, her lack of pretension has been credited with her longevity and popularity in show business, which saw her performing in dinner theatre and on TV guest shots into the 1970s and 1980s.


We’ve a couple of Dorothy Lamour movies from the Internet Archive, and for my money, something even better; Thirty episodes of her 1948-1948 variety radio show.


First, the movies.  And (IMHO), the best `road to’ picture.  The Road to Bali.




Road to Bali (1952)


Bing and Bob are on the Lamb (literally) trying to avoid a breach of promise arrest in Australia when they are hired to bring up a sunken treasure (guarded by a giant octopus, naturally) in Bali.  


Dorothy is the Island Princess/straight man/love interest.


Forget about the plot.  Enjoy this for the ad libs, the cameo appearances, the bickering, the musical numbers, and the inspired lunacy of a movie that knows its a movie.





My Favorite Brunette (1947)


The movie opens with Bob Hope, a professional baby photographer, on Death row telling reporters how he was framed . . . .  in a terrific parody of the private eye genre.


The Sealtest Variety Show, which ran on radio from 1948-1949, starred Dorothy Lamour but was also a showcase for some of the best radio and movie talent Hollywood could present.   


Nearly every show had two `big name’ guests.  A lot to pack into 30 minutes, with room for commercials, a song or two from Dottie, and usually a short `vignette or play’. has a page with 30 episodes of this series located at Sealtest Variety Theater, including the infamous live broadcast from the Shamrock Hotel (more later).


       • Alan Young and David Niven
       • Brian Ahern and Hal Peary
       • Burt Lancaster
       • Cavalcade Of Tony Martin
       • Christmas Show
       • Cornel Wilde And Ed Gardner
       • Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis
       • Don Ameche And Jerry Colonna
       • Donald O'Conner and John Lund
       • Douglas Fairbanks Jr and Red Skelton
       • Edgar Bergen
       • Fibber McGee and Molly
       • Gene Kelly and Dennis Day
       • Happy Ending
       • Husband And Wife Breakfast Shows
       • Jack Benny and George Murphy
       • Jack Carson and Boris Karloff
       • Joan Davis and Robert Cummings
       • LIVE From The Shamrock Hotel
       • Lloyd Nolan and Eddie Cantor
       • Love Pact
       • Lum N Amber
       • New Years Show
       • Richard Widmark and Bob Burns
       • Robert Young and Bob Hope
       • Sir Lancelot Of The Lake
       • Slight Of Hand
       • The Pirate Of Orleans
       • Victor Moore
       • Waiting Room


Given the limits of technology, and the fact that often audiences were listening to live broadcasts, the number of  on air `train wrecks’ were relatively small during the golden age of radio and TV.


I described the famous `Frankenstein’ incident on a live telecast of Tales of Tomorrow back in 2008 (see Tales Of Tomorrow) thusly:


Over the years, the retelling of the story has embellished it a bit, but it is an example of how things didn't always go as planned during a live broadcast.


The legend is that Lon Chaney Jr., under the influence of alcohol, thought that they were doing a dress rehearsal, and not a live broadcast.  During his `rampage scene' in the first half of the show, instead of busting up props, he picked them up and then set them down carefully. 


For whatever reason, Chaney does pick up, and set back down, a number of props - particularly in the first half of the show.


Another infamous moment of broadcast history occurred on March 17th, 1949, when Dorothy Lamour and her guests Van Heflin and Ed `Archie’ Gardner were to broadcast live from the Shamrock Hotel in Houston, Texas.  


The room where the show was to be broadcast from had a capacity of about 1,000 seats, but when the doors opened to first-come first-served seating, more than 1,000 wanted in. 


As broadcast time neared, the crowd remained loud and unruly, and the nightmare was just beginning. Audio problems made the onstage performances nearly unintelligible, but magnified the audience noise. 


Just before the first commercial break you can hear an audio technician in the booth cursing.  Almost worse, there were several minutes of `dead air’, followed by `fill-ins’ of pre-recorded march music.


The commercial breaks, coming from the studio, however, came through loud and clear.


The second half of the show saw a gradual improvement in the audio quality, but the live audience – apparently well lubricated – was becoming louder and more unruly.  


The show was off the rails badly at this point, and in the comedy sketch that followed Ed Gardner goes off script and begins to ad lib sarcastic remarks at the noisy live audience.  Dorothy Lamour manages to rein Gardner in – for the sake of the radio audience – and the skit continues.


Now impossibly behind schedule, the comedy sketch is stopped before its finale, and the show goes to a musical break.


This train wreck of a radio show convinced Sealtest of the wisdom of broadcasting from the safety of their NBC Hollywood Studios in the future.  


It’s entertainment value is suspect, but as a piece of broadcast history – and evidence of Murphy’s Law - it can’t be beat.


Take my word for it, the other 29 episodes are a treat.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Rat Pack Rides Again






Sometimes we get very lucky, and a piece of film, or a recording thought lost forever shows up after decades of being `lost’.  


Although new `finds’ are few and far between, hidden in closets, cellars, and attics around the world are doubtless many treasures  waiting to be rediscovered.


Hopefully, before the ravages of time wipes them clean.


Most of the movies made during the `silent era’ have been lost forever.   Storing the highly flammable cellulose nitrate film was expensive and there was little financial incentive to preserve them once `talkies’ became the norm.

Even later color movies, filmed on non-nitrate stock, are slowly deteriorating.  There is a race against time to save them.


While many will find it hard to believe, commercial radio was celebrating its silver anniversary when magnetic tape was first used to record and preserve shows.  Prior to that, ET (Electronic Transcription) discs were used to record shows, and those would `wear out’ after only a handful of playings.


While thousands of hours of shows have been preserved (and moved to tape, MP3, and other more durable formats), much more has been lost forever.  Either broadcast live, and never transcribed, or the discs were destroyed or lost.


And video tape was so expensive in the 1960s and 1970s, that rather than save them for posterity, NBC wiped them clean and recorded over thousands of The Tonight Show broadcasts in order to save money.  


Most famously, nearly all of the Kinescope recordings from the pioneering DuMont TV Network were reportedly destroyed in the 1970s because the owners didn’t want to continue to pay for their storage costs.


Tens of thousands of hours of film, radio, and TV – our collective heritage -  have been lost over the decades, most never to be retrieved.


But as I said, sometimes we get lucky.

In 1965 the Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., & Dean Martin) gave a benefit performance for a half-way house for convicts called the Dismas House


Joey Bishop, the fourth regular member of the Rat Pack, was out with a bad back and so rising star Johnny Carson was called upon to act as emcee and pitch in (albeit uncomfortably, at times) with the act.



The show was performed at the Kiel Opera House in St. Louis on June 20th, and aired to ticket-buying audiences around the country via a closed-circuit feed.


A `live broadcast’, this event was presumed lost for two decades, until 1996 when after considerable searching, a producer who suspected the concert had been filmed, located a copy in a secretary’s closet at the Dismas House.



Although some grainy footage of their early 1960s Vegas act can be found on YouTube, this is the only full length quality recording of the Rat Pack’s concert known to exist.   


The Rat Pack personified 1960’s cool, and provided adults with a viable (and hip!) musical alternative to the teenage-centric rock & roll that had pretty much taken over the music scene.


Sinatra and Martin are also credited with forcing Las Vegas Casinos to break the `color barrier’, telling the owners that if Sammy Davis couldn’t work there, neither would they.


That opened the door for performers like Davis, Nat King Cole, and others to work and stay at the big hotels in Vegas.



An edited version of the concert was screened edited was screened at the Museum of Television & Radio in 1997, and in 1998 a 90-minute version appeared on Nick at Night.


While not exactly in the public domain, snippets of this concert have been around on the `tube sites’ for some time.  Recently, someone posted the entire 90-minute concert (in 10 parts) on YouTube  (and other tube sites).



I’ve no idea of the legal status of these clips, if anyone is claiming a copyright, or even how long they may remain online. 


All I can tell you is, they are available today, and are an absolute joy to watch.





The Rat Pack live at the "Kiel Opera House" 1965 -
 PART 1The Rat Pack live at the "Kiel Opera House" 1965 -

The Rat Pack live at the "Kiel Opera House" 1965 -
 PART 4The Rat Pack live at the "Kiel Opera House" 1965 -


The Rat Pack live PT  1

The Rat Pack live PT  2

The Rat Pack live PT  3

The Rat Pack live PT  4

The Rat Pack live PT  5

The Rat Pack live PT  6

The Rat Pack live PT  7

The Rat Pack live PT  8

The Rat Pack live PT  9

The Rat Pack live PT  10

Sunday, May 2, 2010

When Les Is More







Sixty years ago this year a revolution was taking place in American music.  Big Bands were on the way out, and something new and exciting was beginning to emerge.  


Something that would eventually lead (for better or worse) to rock & roll. 


That `something’ was the promotion (and some might say `perfection’) of the electric guitar as a lead instrument, by none other than the incomparable Les Paul. 


Electronically amplified guitars had been around since the 1930s, a necessity for boosting the volume when played with orchestras.  And electric `steel’ or slide guitars found use in Western Swing and Hawaiian music during the 1930s and 1940s.


But the solid body electric guitar best known today was invented in 1946 by Les Paul.  Born Lester William Polfuss,  Les performed on the radio in the 1930s and with a variety of orchestras, including Fred Waring. 


During the war years, he found work in Hollywood playing on NBC radio shows, and performing with with Bing Crosby, The Andrews Sisters, and Nat King Cole.


His early attempts to create an electric guitar nearly ended in disaster in 1940 when he came close to electrocuting himself.  In 1948, he was involved in a near-fatal car accident, shattering his elbow. 

Warned that he would never regain full mobility of his arm, he had his doctors fuse his elbow at a roughly 90 degree angle, to enable him to eventually play the guitar again.



In a bit of irony, one of Les Paul’s musical heroes was jazz and gypsy guitar player Django Reinhardt, who had lost two fingers in a fire in the 1930s, and who overcame that disability to become one of the great jazz guitarists of the ear.



The driver of the car was country-western singer Colleen Summers, whom he’d met in 1945.   He changed her name to Mary Ford in 1948, and they began touring together, and eventually married.


Together, Les Paul and Mary Ford became the hottest recording duo in the 1950s, racking up 40 singles, numerous albums, and selling millions of records. 


And along the way, they changed the way music was made.


Aside from his impressive guitar licks, trills, and chording techniques, Les Paul practically invented multi-track recording, overdubbing (sound on sound), and  echo and delay effects.  


He humorously called his invention his `Les Paulverizer’, a `little black box’ that enabled him to `play with himself’, and for Mary to harmonize with herself, to tremendous effect.   He could make Mary sound like a choir, and himself sound like a platoon of guitar players.


The sound was unique, distinctive, and very, very popular.


In 1950, Les and Mary, along with rhythm player Eddie Stapleton –aided and abetted by the the Les Paulverizer appeared on weekly NBC radio show, called the Les Paul Show.  


The banter between Les, Mary and Eddie ranges from mediocre to just awful . . . but the music . . . the music is magic


And thankfully, the music makes up 90% of the show.


The Internet Archive has 19 of these 15-minute shows, including the audition show.    You can download the entire collection (64 Megs) HERE, or the individual shows below.


LP-500330Audition.mp3            3.68 MB

LP-500505Nola.mp3                  3.43 MB

LP-500512Brazil.mp3                 3.43 MB

LP-500519HipBillyBoogie.mp3    3.41 MB 

LP-500526LittleRockGetaway     3.43 MB 

LP-500602Nola.mp3                  3.29 MB 

LP-500609GuitarBoogie.mp3     3.28 MB 

LP-500616Stumblin.mp3           3.19 MB

LP-500623DarkEyes.mp3           3.24 MB 

LP-500630TigerRag.mp3           3.31 MB 

LP-500711SweetGeorgiaBrown   3.28 MB

LP-500714SweetSue.mp3          3.30 MB

LP-500804LittleRockGetaway    3.27 MB

LP-500811InTheMood.mp3       3.34 MB 

LP-500901ThreeLittleWords     3.35 MB 

LP-500922Shine.mp3               3.36 MB 

LP-501006LesPulverizer           3.35 MB

LP-501020SteelGuitarRag         3.36 MB

LP-501116PuttinOnTheRag       3.35 MB



Les Paul’s and Mary Ford’s string of top 40 hits ended in 1955, with Hummingbird.  They, like many of their contemporaries, were overrun by the rock & roll juggernaut they actually helped create.


Les Paul and Mary Ford divorced acrimoniously in 1963. I actually remember hearing the announcement on the radio, by a local DJ, and being saddened by the news.


For a time, Les Paul and Mary Ford were the hottest thing on records, with hits like Vaya Con Dios, Smoke Rings, I’m A Fool To Care, and The World Is Waiting For A Sunrise.


The world, and music, has changed a lot in 60 years.

But nothing, not even six decades, can diminish the artistry, talent, and imagination displayed in these recordings.