Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Star Spangled Review






Today we are going to go back . . . waaaay back.


To Easter Sunday, 1950 and the national debut of Bob Hope on NBC in a 90 minute variety extravaganza called The Star Spangled Review.

Note: Bob Hope had appeared on a 1947 West Coast broadcast, but this was to be his first national television appearance.


This early foray into TV variety programming was a ratings success, and Hope agreed to become the regular host of Star Spangled Revue.  Broadcast out of New York every two weeks, the show was much like Hope’s radio show . . . a mixture of monologue, skits, and musical guest stars.


The show was eventually renamed the Bob Hope Special, and would continue as a staple of the NBC network (albeit far less frequently in later years) until 1997.


This first entry runs 90 minutes, and is available on The Internet Archive.


Guests include Beatrice Lilly, Douglas Fairbanks, Dinah Shore, the Mexico City Boys Choir singing the Hallelujah Chorus, Carl Reiner, and the Look Magazine Cover Girls.


Given that this show is more than 60 years old, the recording isn’t too bad.  There are times when the lighting is too light or too dark, and the camera work is pretty static.


But this was 1950, after all.


It, like most of the variety shows of that era, plays like a Vaudeville show, with specialty acts like Maurice Rocco – the world’s only `standup boogie-woogie piano player’.


And dig those crazy embedded Frigidaire Refrigerator commercials.

Some of Hope’s monologue will mystify younger viewers, since much of it is `topical’ and mentions political figures and incidents of the day that are pretty obscure today.

But don’t let that dissuade you.  Most of this show translates well to today.   Particularly if you have a fond spot in your heart for old TV variety shows.





The Star Spangled Revue with Bob Hope

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Pure Django





I suppose everyone has that one special musician that, above all others, captivates them.   The one that you can listen to, again and again, and never grow tired of hearing.


For me, it is the incomparable Django Reinhardt . . . partially because of his phenomenal musical prowess . . . and partially because of the enormous adversity he had to overcome to become the best jazz guitarist of his time.

I’ll admit that I came to know Django’s music rather late in life.  I grew up first, on the pop standards of my parents, and later on the offerings of American Bandstand and our local AM radio station.  Typical, I guess, for a child of the 50s and 60s.


But in my early twenties (in 1975) I ended up with a vintage Victrola, one very similar to the one pictured below.  


Along with it I had a serious collection of 78 RPM records.  Some were from the 1920's, while others were from the 1940's and even early 1950's.   


I loved the music it played.  


Billy Murray and the American Quartet,  The Andrews Sisters,  Paul Whiteman's Orchestra,  Al Jolson, Allan Jones, Bing Crosby,  Sachmo, and Eddy Duchin . . . but my favorites were those by Django Reinhardt.


Whether you called it Swing guitar, Jazz guitar, or Gypsy Guitar (it was all three), I loved it.  And do to this day.


I eventually had to sell the the player and my collection when I moved aboard a sailboat, and for a time, I was exiled from the music I loved.  But the advent of the Internet, and places like the Internet Archive, give me and others a place to go to relive those memories.


If you are unfamiliar with the incredible story of Django Reinhardt, I’ve a 45 minute documentary for you to view.   You’ll not only hear, and see rare footage of Reinhardt, you’ll see other great jazz musicians of the 30s and 40s as well.


And course, I’ll lead you to several repositories of Reinhardt's music.  A few months ago, I profiled Les Paul, and he often said that Django was one of his heroes. 


Both artists had to overcome severe injuries in order to play . . .  Les Paul from a car wreck, and Django Reinhardt from a fire killed his wife, burned him badly, and left two fingers of his left (fret) hand paralyzed. 


Doctors predicted that neither of them would ever play the guitar again, and both proved the doctors wrong.

To compensate, Django had to develop his own, unique way of playing, using his two good fingers to play solo notes, and using the paralyzed fingers only for chord work.  


The documentary runs 45 minutes and is available in 5 parts on YouTube, or in it’s entirety from a `tube’ site in the Netherlands.


In 1934 Django and violinist  Stéphane Grappelli (along with Django’s brother and two other musicians) formed the Hot Club de France Quintet, and changed swing music forever. I’ll spare you a rehashing of Django’s career, since these videos do such a good job of showing it.


The Full version plays after a 30 second commercial, and can be accessed here.


The Youtube version is divided into  5  10-minute parts.








A search of YouTube will return dozens of recordings, along with montages of photos, of Django and his band.  


The Internet Archive has digitized recordings off of the original 78s for you to download and enjoy.


One of my favorites has to be the collaboration of Les Paul, Chet Atkins, and Django all playing together.  

Click the link to hear/download  Limehouse Blues.


Each one of these links will take you to 9 or 10 recordings, dozens in all.  You can listen by clicking on the embedded player at the top right of the screen, or download and save them to your computer using the individual links.


Django Reinhardt-41-50 - Django  & Stéphane Grappelli
Django Reinhardt-51-60 - Django  & Stéphane Grappelli
Django Reinhardt-61-70 - Django  Stéphane Grappelli
Django Reinhardt-01-10 - Django Reinhardt


Django Reinhardt-11-20 - Django Reinhardt


Django Reinhardt-21-30 - Django Reinhardt


Django Reinhardt-31-40 - Django Reinhardt

Django Reinhardt-71-80 - Django  & Stéphane Grappelli




And we’ll finish up with a 2-hour radio tribute to Django from Capitol Public Radio at Sacramento State University


Classic Jazz and Swing - 1/24/10

Tonight we pay tribute to the great gypsy guitarist and jazz pioneer Django Reinhardt. Along with several selections from a 2-CD collection called "The Indespensible Django Reinhardt," we'll hear from author/illustrator Bonnie Christensen. She has a new book out aimed at young readers called "Django: World's Greatest Jazz Guitarist." 

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Mailing Address For Adventure






In the 1940s and early 1950s, even if you were an established movie star, the odds are you tried your hand at radio, too.


Jimmy Stewart was The Six Shooter.


Vincent Price was The Saint (among others).


Don Ameche starred in The Bickersons (among others).


Bogart and Bacall were in Bold Venture.


And Frank Sinatra was Rocky Fortune.



Sometimes these shows were truly excellent as in The Six Shooter and The Bickersons,  and other times . . . well, Frank Sinatra went on to redeem himself in From Here To Eternity.


One of the better radio efforts was a syndicated show starring Alan Ladd as mystery writer Dan Holliday.    In order to find his muse, Holliday placed an add in his old newspaper offering his services:


"Adventure wanted, will go anywhere, do anything -- write Box 13, Star-Times."

Okay, so it’s a bit of a stretch as a plot device.   But it beat having a murder show up once-a-week up on the doorsteps of Mr. & Mrs. North (see Finding A New Murder Every Week). 


Each episode of BOX 13 opened with a new response to the ad, and Holliday was off on a new adventure.   All 52 episodes of the 1948-49 radio series are available on the Internet Archive. 


You can download individual episodes HERE,  or a  ZIP FILE with all 52 episodes  HERE.


Alan Ladd was no stranger to radio by the time he starred in Box 13.


During the late 1930s, before he broke into movies, he played bit parts on radio shows in Los Angeles, and worked as a grip on the Warner Brothers lot.


His early film work was mostly bit parts, often uncredited.  His diminutive size (reportedly 5’6”) and choirboy looks made casting directors look the other way when it came to hiring actors.


In 1942, he got his big break in “This Gun for Hire”.  Although he is 4th billed, he steals the film with his portrayal of the paid killer, Raven. 


After nearly 10 years of knocking around Hollywood, Ladd was an overnight star.


He would be paired with `This Gun’ co-star Veronica Lake a number of times in the coming years,  including The Glass Key, The Blue Dahlia, and Saigon.


His biggest hit would come in the early 50s, in the iconic western Shane.    But many of his movies of the 1940s and 1950s were lesser efforts.  


If not always B movies – most were at least A-.


A few stand out, like The McConnell Story, Whispering Smith, and Captain Carey, U.S.A. but there were far too many like Desert Legion and The Black Knight.


By the end of the 1950s, alcohol and a downward spiral in his movie career had taken its toll.  Ladd was no longer box office material, although he continued to find some work.  


His last film was The Carpetbaggers. 


In November of 1962, Ladd was found in a pool of his own blood with a self-inflicted bullet wound to his chest.  He survived, but died in January of 1964 of a drug overdose at the age of 51.


A sad end to what had been such a promising career.   But the beauty of radio and film is that we can remember these actors and actresses as they were. 

Friday, July 9, 2010

Before There Was Bond




. . . there was another British action hero who went up against super villains and arch criminals and always managed to save the day.


His name was Captain Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond, Ret.  who – wealthy, and bored with retirement after WWI – became a bit of a soldier of fortune and detective.




The character was created in 1920 by British author Herman Cyril McNeile who wrote under the pseudonym `Sapper’. 


In all, `Bulldog’ would appear in 10 novels by McNeile (and a handful of short stories), and another 9 novels penned after his death in 1937 by Gerard Fairlie and later Henry Raymond.


Between 1923 and 1969 there were 25 Bulldog Drummond movies made, and from 1951 to 1954 Bulldog Drummond was portrayed on the radio by Ned Weaver for the  Mutual Broadcasting System.


McNiele first gained recognition for his war stories, published during and just after WWI.  You’ll find a number of his short stories and books available on The Internet Archive  at this link.


One of the early Bulldog Drummond novels The Black Gang, is there as well.


Fair Warning:  Books of this era often invoked racial stereotypes and by today’s standards portions would be considered racist or politically incorrect.


Moving on to the movies, we’ve a number available to watch or download from the Internet Archive.


Over the years more than a dozen actors played the role, including Ronald Coleman, Walter Pidgeon, Ralph Richardson, and Tom Conway. 


Best remembered, however, was John Howard who played the part in 7 of the mid-to-late 1930s movies.  The franchise was put on hold during WWII, when Howard enlisted.  


When the series was picked up again in 1947, the producers went with a different actor. 


A bit of bitter irony, as Howard was awarded both the US Navy Cross and the French Croix de Guerre for gallantry – yet he wasn’t seen as suitable to continue to play the hero in films.


While his Hollywood career may have faltered, Howard did manage to work steadily in Television for the next 30 years.


We’ve 9 of these 1930s entries, and one post-war effort with Ron Randell. 


You’ll find fiendish plots, ruthless assassins, spies, artificial diamonds, and even a death ray in these movies.   Ian Fleming openly admitted that parts of his Bond character were inspired by Drummond.


These are, of course, `B’ movies.   Low budget, played relatively `light’ for the most part. The `running gag’ in a lot of them is the last-minute interruption of Bulldog’s nuptials with his long-time fiancé Phyllis. 


All in all, though, they aren’t a bad way to spend an hour.



Bulldog Drummond at Bay – 1935 – John Lodge


Bulldog Drummond's Revenge – 1937 – John Howard


Bulldog Drummond Comes Back – 1937 – John Howard


Bulldog Drummond Escapes – 1937  - Ray Milland

Bulldog Drummond's Peril – 1938 – John Howard


Bulldog Drummond in Africa – 1938 – John Howard


Bulldog Drummond's Secret Police – 1938 – John Howard


Bulldog Drummond's Bride -  1939 – John Howard


Arrest Bulldog Drummond -  1939 – John Howard


Bulldog Drummond at Bay – 1947  Ron Randell



And last, but not least, we’ve a selection of Bulldog Drummond radio episodes, also from the Internet Archive.


There are 20 episodes in this collection, which is located here.



Death Rides A Racehorse

Circus, The

Nazi Sub

Dinner Of Death

Help Wanted

Murder In The Death House

Escape Into Death

Claim Check Murders Aka Atomic Murders

Death in the Deep

Deadly Stand In, the

Penny Arcade Story

Death Rides a Racehorse

Bulldog Drummond xx-xx-xx (xxxx) Death Loops The Loop

Death Uses Disappearing Ink

Blindman's Bluff

Devil Flats [Endg Cut]

Fiery Island

Porcelain Ming Cat

Ride In The Moonlight

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Evolution Of Boston Blackie




Kent Taylor (Blackie) and Frank Orth (Faraday)


I confess that I have a soft spot in my heart for the old Chester Morris Boston Blackie movies and radio shows.   While the interplay between Blackie and the police was predictable, the shows were generally fun, and the adventures satisfying.


I wrote about this venerable character, first introduced as a hardboiled ex-con jewel thief in 1919 by author Jack Boyle, a year ago in Meet Boston Blackie.    I gave some of the history, links to 3 of the 14 Chester Morris Blackie movies, and links to hundreds of the radio shows.


Today I’ve links to 4 more of the Columbia movies from the 1940s available on, and a dozen episodes of the 1950s TV show from the Internet Archive as well.


One of the things you’ll notice about the TV series – aside from Kent Taylor in the role of Blackie – is the marked change in the relationship between Blackie and Inspector Faraday.   Also, Blackie’s sidekick The Runt is gone, replaced by a `Thin Man’ Asta wannabe, named `Whitey’.


In the movies and radio show, Faraday and his hapless (often buffoonish) Sgt. Matthews, nearly always suspected Blackie of being behind a jewel theft or murder. 


In the process of finding the real culprit and clearing his name, Blackie would invariably make fools of the police.


Chester Morris and Richard Lane (Faraday) played these roles clearly as semi-comical adversaries, although imbued with a grudging respect at times. 


In the TV version, Faraday and Blackie are pals, and Blackie is often called upon by the police to help.   So you’ll find considerably less wise-cracking in the TV version.



Since the antics of Mathews and the suspicions of Faraday were wearing a bit thin after 14 films and countless radio shows (and by now, Mathews would have been fired, and Faraday convinced that Blackie had gone straight), the decision to `normalize’ the relationship between Blackie and the police was probably inevitable.


The show was an early effort produced by ZIV - which specialized in syndicated (and often highly successful) shows like Sea Hunt, The Cisco Kid, Science Fiction Theatre, and Bat Masterson – and ran for 58 episodes over 2 years. 


Kent Taylor (who was half of the inspiration for Superman’s alter-ego’s name Clark Kent -  Clark Gable being the other) was a solid, if not spectacular actor in B movies of the 1930s and 1940s. 


Although he’d appeared in more than 80 films by the time he took on the Boston Blackie role, he’d never really clicked with the movie going audience, and had been relegated to a long procession of B programmers.


Television provided him with ample work throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, but late in his career he began to appear in cheaply made horror/exploitation films.   Grade Z films like  Satan’s Sadists, Angel’s Wild Women, and I spit on Your Corpse!

Kent Taylor died in 1987.


But first 7 Boston Blackie Movies from


Boston Blackie and the Law (1946)


Phantom Thief, The (1946)


Trapped by Boston Blackie (1948)


After Midnight with Boston Blackie (1943)


Boston Blackie – Booked on Suspicion (1945)


Meet Boston Blackie (1941)


One Mysterious Night (1944)


There are a dozen episodes of the TV series now posted on The Internet Archive, and if more show up, you should be able to find them at this link.



This episode is entitled "Queen of Thieves."


Kent Taylor stars in this 1952 episode entitled "Deep Six."

"Shoot the Works" Starring Kent Taylor

Taylor stars in this episode, "Minuet for Murders"


This episode is entitled "Hired hand."

"Inside Crime" is the name of this Boston Blackie episode.


This episode is entitled "The Blonde."

This episode is entitled "Death does a rhumba."

This episode is entitled "The Friendly Gesture."

BOSTON BLACKIE TV SHOW - Joseph Strawbachincosco
This episode is entitled "The Gunman."

This episode is entitled "False Face."

This episode is entitled "So was Goliath."


For those with a hankering for more on Blackie, including links to the old time radio series, check out  Meet Boston Blackie.