Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hollywood’s Christmas Gift To The Troops





In 1958, although the United States was technically at peace, the cold war raged on. Hundreds of thousands of military personnel (and their families) were stationed around the globe, often in remote places like Adak, Alaska and Diego Garcia.


In order to bring our troops a slice of home, and some holiday cheer, for the better part of two decades Hollywood had been providing free, exclusive entertainment to the troops, via AFRS radio shows, records, and USO road shows.


While USO road shows were still being mounted, getting top-notch entertainment to the hundreds of military bases and outposts was obviously a challenge.


So the idea of putting together a filmed holiday special for the troops – produced by the USO (with assistance from the ABC, NBC, and CBS television networks and contributions from just about every actor’s guild in Hollywood) was born.

Reportedly more than 700 copies of the film were distributed to the armed forces.


Although considered a`Christmas gift’ for the troops, this 90 minute variety show only features a couple of Christmas songs. In recent years this 90 minute show has been repackaged and sold on DVD as Bing Crosby’s White Christmas All-Star Show – which quite honestly is a bit of a stretch.


Crosby appears, about mid-way through the show to sing White Christmas, but is hardly the host.


Most of the entertainment was the sort of fare that the folks back home were enjoying year-round.  


  • Milton Berle, Bob Hope, and Danny Thomas doing comedy monologues
  • Frankie Laine, Jimmy Rogers, and Tony Martin singing their signature songs
  • Songs from Lena Horne & Gale Storm
  • Benny Goodman
  • Ray Bolger in a comedic dance
  • Marge & Gower Champion Dancing
  • Van Cliburn in a short piano performance
  • Jack Benny, George Burns, and Jimmy Stewart in a Vaudeville skit


With holiday greetings from the stars to the troops interspersed. You’ll also find appearances by Dinah Shore, Dick Shawn, Jane Russell, Gregory Peck, Kim Novak, Shirley Maclaine and many, many more.


The highlight (for me at least) comes near the end, when Danny Kaye and Louis Armstrong do a duet of `When The Saints Go Marching In’.


Movie buffs will recognize this number (and arrangement) from the movie `The Five Pennies’, which starred Kaye and featured Armstrong.

This rendition, which was done before the movie was filmed, was apparently a very successful rehearsal for one of the most memorable moments of that film.


Follow the link to watch this show on YouTube.


Bing Crosbys White Christmas - All Star Show [Full DVD]


As an added bonus, Danny Kaye and Satchmo teamed up several times over the years to perform `The Saints’, including this version from Danny’s TV show (1963-1967).





Saturday, December 10, 2011

Another Christmas Potpourri




Your Hit Parade - 1955

Digging through Youtube for old Christmas shows can yield a lot of treasures. While I can’t vouch for their public domain status, they are available to watch (or download) until someone objects, or claims copyright infringement.


During the 1950s and 1960s practically every TV series had a `Christmas’ episode. Some did a new one every year, while others simply reran a `classic’ episode during the holidays.


Some were overtly religious, some took a more commercialized (Santa Claus) perspective, and others . . . well, they were designed to be heartwarming and life affirming.


Today we’ll highlight some of these holiday treasures.


Since my first major post here at MOMPD, back in September of 2008 was 'Twas Rock & Roll That Killed Your Hit Parade, it is only appropriate that our first stop today is a Christmas Eve 1955 episode of Your Hit Parade. 


Your Hit Parade: Christmas Eve Show (1955)


The next stop is a pair of unusual Christmas offerings that includes one I profiled two years ago, but was subsequently removed from the Internet Archive; a half hour Four Star Playhouse production called `The Answer' (1954), starring David Niven, Carolyn Jones, and Anthony Caruso.


`The Answer' was nominated for 4 Emmy's & won the 1955 DGA award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement for Television.


The story is by Leonard Freeman, a name that many will recognize as the producer of such critically acclaimed shows as Hawaii Five-0 and Route 66



Holiday Classics: A Tale of Two Christmases / The Answer



Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a Bob Hope overseas special for the troops, and this time we have his 1967 USO tour of Vietnam and Southeast Asia, featuring Raquel Welch, Elaine Dunn, Phil Crosby, Barbara McNair, and Miss World, Madeleine Hartog Bell.




And since you can’t have too much hope for the Holidays, his 1978 NBC Christmas Special with Red Skelton, Andy Gibb, and Dionne Warwick.


1978 "Bob Hope's All-Star Merry Christmas"



I’ll have more Christmas-related shows between now and the end of the year.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Posts Of Christmas Past




While I’m looking for new Christmas & Holiday fare to write about over the next month, I thought I’d repost the links to earlier blogs I’ve posted on this festive season.


In the baker’s dozen of blogs below you’ll find scores of old time radio episodes, TV shows, and movies to choose from – plus the back story behind them.


A Command Performance Christmas
A Christmas Quickie
Christmas TV – 1950s Style
A Christmas Companion To The Cinnamon Bear
A Classic TV Christmas
Holiday Movie Fest
Christmas Karaoke
An Armed Forces Radio Holiday
Cinnamon Bear - A 72 Year-Old Christmas Tradition
A Christmas Potpourri
Two Small Miracles For The Holidays
A Bing Crosby Christmas
An Old Time Radio Christmas



Sunday, November 13, 2011

Pilot Error





In order to sell a TV series producers generally are required to film some sort of `pilot episode’. Sponsors, or the network want to know if the characters are likeable, if the premise is interesting, and whether there’s ample room for future story lines.


Given the number of truly awful TV series that have made the grade over the past 6 decades, you really have to wonder about the pilots that failed to attract a buyer.


Not all of them were bad, of course.  Some simply were too derivative of earlier shows, while others were simply ahead of their time.


In TV lore, there is probably no more famous `failed pilot’ than the first shot at making `Star Trek’.  Although NBC didn’t buy the series based on the first pilot submitted by Gene Roddenberry (they thought it was `too cerebral’) the took the unprecedented step of ordering a second pilot.


Other pilots showed promise, but required tweaking of the cast.


The pilot for what would eventually become The Dick Van Dyke Show was originally called Head of the Family, and starred Carl Reiner. Largely autobiographical, this series based on Reiner’s life as a star and writer for Your Show of Shows, failed to sell with him as the lead.



Many of these failed pilots never made the air, although a few ended up as `filler’ episodes on anthology series during the 1950s and 1960s.  Most are lost in the dustbin of TV history, although I’ve written about a few in Failed TV Pilots and Failed Pilots Part Deux.



Today, another sampling of shows that . . . for whatever reason, never made it out of the starting blocks.


First stop, Destination Space, which attempted to cash in on the burgeoning space program craze of the late 1950s.  Like it’s far more successful cousin `Men Into Space’, Destination Space attempted to portray a more realistic outer space opera.



Most of the special effects were pulled directly from the 1955 George Pal production of Conquest of Space, and so this pilot at least has the `feel’ of golden age Sci-Fi. 


Unfortunately, the plot moves slowly, despite the efforts of a cast of very familiar faces; John Agar, Harry Townes, Whitney Blake, Charles Aidman, Cecil Kellaway, and Edward Platt.


Although many reviewers have looked upon this pilot unkindly, I confess that as a child of the 1950s, I enjoyed it for nostalgic – if not artistic – reasons when I saw it recently.


You can watch it, along with the others in today’s blog, on the Internet Archive.


"Destination Space"



Next stop, a TV pilot treatment of a one of the longest running detective characters in detective fiction; Bulldog Drummond.


As I wrote in Before There Was Bond, the character of Bulldog Drummond 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 2 dozen Bulldog Drummond movies made, and from 1951 to 1954 Bulldog Drummond was portrayed on the radio by Ned Weaver for the  Mutual Broadcasting System.

In 1957, in what is admittedly a lesser attempt at bringing Captain Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond to the screen, we get a pilot that eventually aired on Douglas Fairbank’s anthology series, Douglas Fairbanks Presents.


The episode is called `The Ludlow Affair’, and it starred Robert Beatty as a vaguely Americanized Drummond, racing around 1950s London in a vintage sports car, and dealing with dangerous villains.


Although the voice over (by Fairbanks) in the closing credits promised weekly adventures of Drummond in exotic locations around the world, the series was never picked up.


[item image]

DOULGLAS FAIRBANKS JR presents Bulldog Drummond



Last stop, a 1954 pilot based on the highly successful 1930s comic strip, Mandrake The Magician


Already portrayed on film by Warren Hull in a1939 12-part Columbia movie serial and on the radio during the 1940s by Raymond Edward Johnson, this 30 minute pilot for NBC starring real-life magician Coe Norton and Woody Strode failed to attract a buyer.


Having watched this episode, I can’t help but feel that the stilted acting, and lame dialog, and weak plot had something to do with that. 


Still, it has a degree of nostalgic value.






Hopefully more of these gems will show up on the Internet Archive, and other venues. 


While they may not represent the best that the golden age of TV had to offer, they are still valuable glimpses of our shared past and deserved to be saved, and shared, for future generations to enjoy.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Matt Clark: Railroad Detective





In 1954, television was still the new kid on the entertainment block, and radio and the movies were still king. Some regions of the country were yet to see their first broadcast station.


TV was making inroads, however.


RCA introduced their first color set that year – at the astounding price of $1000 – equivalent to about $8,000 in today’s dollars. A hefty price tag for a 15-inch screen, with a less than perfect picture.

Movie studios could see the writing on the wall, however, and they quickly began producing content for this new medium.

While Warner Brothers produced a long string of hit TV shows (Cheyenne, Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip, Lawman, etc.), it was Republic Studios that garnered the first TV Emmy Award for a `Western or Adventure Series’ in 1955.

The show was Stories of the Century, and it starred Jim Davis as railroad detective Matt Clark, and for most of the series run - Mary Castle as his undercover partner Frankie Adams.


Although it ran only 39 episodes, and failed to revive Republic Studio’s flagging finances, the series is well remembered today for its solid action sequences and early appearances by many soon-to-be famous actors.


Richard Jaeckel played Billy the Kid and spaghetti western legend Lee Van Cleef appeared as Jesse James. Richard Webb showed up to play John Wesley Hardin, Jack Elam portrayed Black Jack Ketchum, and Marie Windsor played Belle Starr.



The `high concept’ for this series was to dramatize the lives of famous western outlaws, using a fictitious railroad detective (Matt Clark) as being in on, or nearby their final fate. This despite the fact that these `stories’ spanned nearly 50 years of western history.


This contrivance aside, the opening narration to each episode read: "The official newspaper files of the early west record many stories of famous and notorious characters of that period . . .”


After which Jim Davis would identify the outlaw (or outlaws) that would be the subject of that night’s episode.  

While the series makes some attempt at historical accuracy (at least dates and places), the events shown don’t always agree with the historical record. 


This was, first and foremost, entertainment . . . not a documentary.


Republic studios – best known as producers of western movies – had ample footage from earlier productions that they could weave into this series.  Scenes where Quantrill raids Lawrence, Kansas in 1863 comes from Raoul Walsh's DARK COMMAND (1940), and the wagon chase scene from WAR OF THE WILDCATS (1943) shows up in the Black Jack Ketchum episode.


By matching up clothes and uniforms to the scenes lifted from older movies, the director managed to blend new footage with the old, giving the low-budget series a more expensive `feel’.


Add in some well-staged fisticuffs or gun play, at least one chase scene, and the comeuppance of the bad guy at the end, and you had a 30 minute episode.


Tall, rangy Jim Davis (who would gain greater fame as Jock Ewing in Dallas), was a veteran of Republic Oaters of the 1940s, and could be both likable, or tough as nails, when the scene required it.


Mary Castle as Frankie Adams added a bit of welcome estrogen to the mix, as Clark’s beautiful but very capable partner.  A role model that was – for TV at least – a bit ahead of its time.


The problem with the series was that with each outlaw captured or killed in one episode, in short order the more famous denizens of the west has been taken care of, and the writers had to find more and more obscure bad men (or women) to profile.


Hence we got episodes on little known rascals like Joaquin Murietta, Bill Longley , and Burt Alvord mixed in with tales of Geronimo, Billy The Kid, and the Doolin Gang.


After 39 episodes, they were running out of material.

The Internet Archive currently has 17 episodes of this series available to watch or download.  You can get a complete listing at this link.


Jim Davis would work steadily in TV until his death in 1981, while starring in the hit primetime soap Dallas.

Between 1958-1960 he co-starred with Lang Jefferies in RESCUE 8, about a Los Angeles Fire Rescue unit, which pre-dated the TV show EMERGENCY by more than a decade.


Mary Castle, who at one time was viewed as possible replacement for Rita Hayworth, fared less well.


She was married briefly three times, and her personal life derailed badly due to alcohol . After several arrests in the late 1950s for intoxication, her acting career eventually evaporated.

Her last acting credit is from an 1962 episode of Gunsmoke, and the character is just listed as `Saloon girl’.


Castle died in 1998 at the age of 67 of lung cancer.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Tales Of Frankenstein




Since it was first published in 1818, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus  has been a template for `science gone wrong’ horror genre.


Whether it is seeking to create a new human life from spare parts, or  develop a new source of nuclear energy, or perhaps a radical cure for some disease . . . the deep seated fear over man delving into areas where he should not has become a staple of modern science fiction and horror.


Given that Halloween is upon us, I’ve a brief tour of freely available (public domain) radio, TV, and movie versions of the Frankenstein legend that you can download and enjoy this weekend.


First stop, a 1938 radio production of the Frankenstein story in 13 parts (each about 13 minutes).   Faithful to the 1818 Mary Shelly book, you can find this collection on several free sites including:


We’ve a pair of TV adaptations of the story from the 1950s.   First, the infamous Tales of Tomorrow  Frankenstein episode, broadcast live in the early 1950s.


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.


Tales of Tomorrow #16: Frankenstein (1952)


Six years later, up and coming Hammer Studios and Universal teamed to produce a pilot for a TV show to be called `Tales of Frankenstein’, which utilized stock footage from old Universal horror movies of the 1940s to reduce production costs.


While certainly a cut above the Tales of Tomorrow version, the pilot was never sold. 


Tales Of Frankenstein (The Face In The Tombstone Mirror) - Pilot


As an example of the cost cutting measures employed, the disembodied head that narrates the opening to this episode was lifted from an old Inner Sanctum movie, and so the lip movements don’t sync with the narration.


Some websites list a second `pilot’ for this series as `Jack the Ripper’, but that appears – instead – to be an episode from The Veil.


And lastly, a couple of suitably `cheesy’ Frankenstein movie sequels can be found on The Internet Archive.


Frankenstein's Daughter - 1958

Lady Frankenstein - 1971


Be warned: Neither of these two movies is likely to win any artistic awards, but then, there’s a reason they’ve fallen into the public domain.




Sunday, October 23, 2011

Have Yourself A Macabre Halloween






The early 1960s saw the demise of the golden age of radio, killed by the unstoppable juggernaut of television.  With few exceptions, radio was morphing into a medium mostly of music and talk.


Daytime soaps Our Gal Sunday, This is Nora Drake, Backstage Wife, and Road of Life all ended their runs in 1959.  Gunsmoke ended its stellar primetime radio run in 1961, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar was put to bed after 811 episodes in September of 1962. 


There were a few hangers on, particularly during the morning and afternoon time slots.  Shows like Arthur Godfrey Time, Garry Moore, and the Bing Crosby – Rosemary Clooney show continued into the mid-1960s, but even their fates were becoming obvious.


Although radio drama was on the decline stateside, because many of its listeners were in far-off places and unable to gather in front of a television set, the AFRS (Armed Forces Radio Service) continued to provide a wide variety of audio entertainment for the troops well into the 1960s.


Created in 1942, shortly after the onset of WWII, AFRS provided radio broadcasts and V-Discs (78 & 33 rpm records) to troops around the world. Often the shows beamed to the troops were the same shows heard stateside, but sometimes they were created specifically for AFRS.


One such home-brewed show was Macabre – which ran for only 8 episodes during 1961-1962, and was produced by FEN (the FAR EAST NETWORK) of AFRS. Despite this short run, it is well remembered for its excellent production values and spooky subject matter.


The Internet Archive has all eight episodes available for listening or download.  Being only 50 years old, the audio quality is better than you’ll find on many of the older recordings.


The episodes, all appropriate for the week leading up to Halloween, are:

Macabre 611113 - [1] Final Resting Place

Macabre 611120 - [2] Weekend

Macabre 611127 - [3] The Man in the Mirror

Macabre 611204 - [4] The House in the Garden

Macabre 611211 - [5] The Midnight Horseman

Macabre 611218 - [6] The Avenger

Macabre 620101 - [7] The Crystalline Man

Macabre 620108 - [8] The Edge of Evil

The link to download them is Macabre

I’ll have more Halloween Horror from the golden age of radio, TV, and movies later in the week.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The First James Bond




In 1953 Ian Fleming published the first of 12 James Bond novels, Casino Royale, and launched what is arguably the most successful entertainment franchise of the 20th century. More than 100 million copies of his novels have been sold, and the series has spawned more than 2 dozen films.


Casino Royale sold very well in the UK, but a year later in 1954, Commander James Bond was still relatively unknown in the United States.


The earliest attempt at a filmed version of James Bond came in October of 1954, when an American anthology  TV series called  CLIMAX! produced a live broadcast of Casino Royale.


Fleming was reportedly paid $1,000 for the rights to the story, and Barry Nelson played an `Americanized’  Jimmy Bond of `combined intelligence’.


Bond aficionados will immediately notice a few `discrepancies’ in this production, including the changing of American CIA Agent Felix Leiter  into a British agent named  Clarence Leiter.


Linda Christian becomes the first `Bond girl’, in a character that was an amalgam of the Royale characters Vesper Lynd and Rene Mathis.


Peter Lorre is appropriately menacing as the first Bond Villain, playing Le Chiffre, whom `Jimmy Bond’ must bust playing Baccarat.


Admittedly stage bound, and lacking the sort of sexual conquests, fast cars, jazzy music, and gadgets that Bond movies are famous for, this still makes for an interesting hour of early TV.


A copy of this early TV production has just showed up on the Internet Archive, and you can either watch it online, or download it for your collection.




Climax!: Casino Royale


Interestingly, the only time the words `Casino Royale’ are uttered during this production is during the intro by series host William Lundigan. 


For more live productions from the golden age of TV, you may wish to check out:

Seeking A Satisfying Climax!


Although CBS briefly toyed with the idea of a James Bond TV series in the the late 1950s, it would be another 8 years before Bond would return to the screen (Dr. No). 

Casino Royale has been remade twice since this Climax version, with the 1967 James Bond spoof called starring David Niven, and most recently in 2006 with Daniel Craig playing a darker, earthier Bond sans many of the gadgets that had defined earlier screen portrayals.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Ramar Of The Jungle







Juvenile adventure television series were a staple of 1950s television, with shows like Sergeant Preston, Sky King, and Tom Corbett taking their audiences from the Yukon territory, to the cockpit of a soaring Cessna T-50 `Bamboo Bomber’, to the far reaches of the asteroid belt.


For 30 minutes (minus commercials) these shows would transport kids of all ages to exotic locales, where adventure awaited and despite any adversity, the good guys always won.


One of the best remembered shows of my childhood was a syndicated adventure series staring Jon Hall, called Ramar of the Jungle.


For this all-American youth of the 1950s a scientist-doctor who lived and worked in the jungle, carried a rifle, and always saved the day . . . well, that was a hard combination to beat.


The series consisted of 4 13-episode blocks. With the 1st, 3rd, and 4th blocks taking place in `Africa’ and the 2nd series in `India’.

In reality, they were really shot on the back lot in Hollywood, with cheap sets, dubious looking `natives’, and stock jungle footage liberally spliced into each episode. The same jungle scenes had a habit of showing up repeatedly week after week, but then, it wasn’t supposed to be a documentary.


Each of the 4 season’s had a 3-part story arc, that allowed the producers to repackage these episodes into four separate feature films.  Another seven `TV movies’ were stitched together for syndication as well, long after the series ended.


The show starred Jon Hall – an actor who first appeared in movies in 1935, but didn’t really gain attention until the 1937 movie The Hurricane, with Dorothy Lamour.


He worked steadily throughout the 1940s playing the lead in lightweight escapist adventures like Arabian Nights (1942), White Savage (1943), Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944), Cobra Woman (1944), and Prince of Thieves (1949).

Hall was married for 20 years to the beautiful and talented songstress Frances Langford, who played opposite Don Ameche in The Bickersons.  They divorced in 1955, but remained friends until Hall’s death in 1979.


While able to find work in B movies, Hall – like many of the B-list stars of the time – moved to television in the 1950s.  He played Dr. Tom 'Ramar' Reynolds in 52 episodes of Ramar of the Jungle between 1952 and 1954.


Hall’s career languished post-Ramar, with few roles offered, and ended with the ultra-low budget horror film The Beach Girls and the Monster in 1965.


It is a testament to just how long Ramar ran in syndication that I remember it vividly playing on Saturday afternoon television as much as a decade after filming ended.


Hall’s co-star was Ray Montgomery, a contract player with Warner Bros. in the 1940s who appeared in mostly minor roles.  Handsome, and a capable enough actor, there wasn’t anything that set him apart from the crowd.


Unlike Hall, however, Montgomery managed to stay active in show business throughout the 1960s and into the 70’s and 80’s, playing guest roles in shows like 77 Sunset Strip, Hawaiian Eye, The Virginian, and  Lassie.


The third member of the cast was Nick Stewart, who played a native guide named Willy-WIlly.


Despite third billing, Stewart actually had a longer (and better) resume than either of his two co-stars. He’d started out as a dancer at the Cotton Club, moved to Broadway in the 1930s, and appeared in the movies (bit roles) as early as 1932.


Most famously, he’d played Lightnin' (as Nick O'Demus) on the the TV version of the Amos & Andy Show.

Stewart and his wife Edna Stewart founded the Los Angeles' Ebony Showcase Theatre, which worked to give black actors roles beyond the traditional maid and porter stereotypes.

We’ve 5 episodes of Ramar for you to sample from the Internet Archive.   

Ramar of the Jungle - Evil Trek
Ramar of the Jungle - Season 1, Episode 1

Ramar of the Jungle - White Savages
Ramar of the Jungle - Season 1, Episode 2

Ramar of the Jungle - Drums of Africa
Ramar of the Jungle | Season 1, Episode 3

Ramar of the Jungle - The Doomed Safari
Ramar of the Jungle | Season 1, Episode 4


Ramar of the Jungle - Tribal Feud
Ramar of the Jungle | Season 1, Episode 5


Jon Hall died at his own hands in 1979 while in the final stages of terminal cancer. Upon retirement from show business, Ray Montgomery successfully transitioned into California Real Estate.

Nick Stewart passed away in 2000, but along the way his Ebony Showcase Theatre helped launch many careers,including those of such noted performers as Nichelle Nichols, John Amos, and Isabel Sanford.


Not a bad legacy. Not bad at all.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Spike Jones: Musical Depreciation





My twin brother makes his living as an infamous banjo player, but my musical ambition was to grow up to play second shotgun in the Spike Jones Orchestra. Alas, Spike died in 1965, before I could really handle a 12 gauge, and so that dream died with him.


But the zany music of Lindley Armstrong `Spike’ Jones lives on.


Although he started out as a `straight’ musician, playing percussion with Victor Young’s  orchestra and then the John Scott Trotter Orchestra throughout much of the 1930s, Spike emerged from the background in 1941 with the formation of his City Slicker’s band.


Spike was to big band music what the Marx Brothers were to to the movies.


Utilizing a madcap array of cowbells, gunshots, whistles, pots & pans, chicken clucks, hiccups, sneezes, and other unusual vocalizations, along with some truly fine jazz musicians they produced a string of novelty hits that spanned three decades.


Amplifying and building upon the antics of earlier novelty orchestras (and contemporaries) like The Hoosier Hotshots, and Freddie Fisher and the Schnickelfritz Band, Spike Jones and his City Slickers struck gold in 1942 with a wickedly funny parody of Adolph Hitler called In Der Fuehrer’s Face.


The song was featured prominently in a 1943 Donald Duck cartoon by the same name, and became one of the best remembered of the war-era songs.


Below, a short Movietone News performance of Der Fuehrer’s Face by Spike & Company while on a war bonds tour.

What would follow would be a series of highly successful musical parodies, a popular radio show (plus numerous guest appearances across the radio dial), movie shorts and guest shots in feature films, many early appearances on TV, and a couple of TV shows of his own.


Between Youtube and the Internet Archive, we’ve numerous videos and recordings to sample.


An early example comes from a `Soundie’ – a precursor to today’s music video – which could be viewed on video jukeboxes placed in bars and restaurants during the 1940s (see Soundies . . . Music Videos Of The Past).


This one is from 1942.

One of their most enduring songs was `Cocktails For Two’, which was written in 1934 at the end of prohibition by Arthur Johnston and Sam Coslow and debuted in the movie Murder at the Vanities (1934).


The song is remembered today, however, due to the 1944 send up by Spike and his Orchestra. Starting off by playing sweetly, in short order mayhem ensues.



One of the secrets to his success is that his musicians – while playing for laughs – were arguably some of finest jazz performers in the business.

Next we’ve a 30 minute NBC TV show from the early 1950s.

As you can probably tell by now, Spike’s music was as much meant to be viewed as it was to be heard.  And that would make him a natural for early television shows of the 1950s.

For more Youtube Videos of Spike Jones, including many segments from his TV show, follow THIS LINK.


Moving over to the Internet Archive, we have more than 50 radio episodes gathered from three different Spike Jones radio shows;

"Chase and Sanborn Program" - 1945 Summer Series
"Spotlight Revue" - 1947/48 Series
"Spike Jones Show" - 1949 Series


Spike Jones


Spike is one of many radio performers you can see in the 1946 movie Breakfast in Hollywood. Also featured are Nat King Cole, Andy Russel, Hedda Hopper, and Billie Burke.

Breakfast in Hollywood



In 1951, Spike hosted the Colgate Comedy Hour.

Spike Jones Colgate Comedy Hour

And for scores of Spike Jones audio recordings, you need look no further than:

SPIKE JONES RECORDS on the Internet Archive


The rock & roll revolution in the mid-1950s made it difficult for bigger bands to compete, and comedy records were moving to the spoken word (Tom Lehrer, Bob Newhart, Stan Freberg), but Spike Jones kept recording until the early 1960s.


A lifelong heavy smoker, Spike suffered from emphysema and died far too young in 1965 at the age of 53.


But for his many fans, and thanks to archival sites like Youtube and the Internet Archive, his memory lives on.


Monday, September 5, 2011

Seeking A Satisfying Climax!





Unlike today, where most TV shows feature a regular cast playing the same characters in a `series’ of stories, during the 1950s dramatic anthology series were common.


Nearly every week, either live or on film, shows like Studio One, Playhouse 90, Lux Theatre, and Climax! would present an original teleplay or an adaptation of a famous book, movie, or stage play.


The result was what is now recognized as the `golden age’ of televised drama, where young unknown actors could learn their craft working along side stage and movie veterans, and promising writers could hone their skills.

Since many of these shows were performed and broadcast live. . . goofs, gaffs and miscues would sometimes add to their already considerable entertainment value.


Between 1954 and 1958 CBS television aired 166 hour-long dramatic presentations on their show Climax!  sponsored by Chrysler motors.


Hosted first by actor William Lundigan and then later co-hosted by singer, actress, and Disney legend Mary Costa, these shows featured an impressive list of established stars and up and coming talent including:

Michael Rennie, Red Skelton, Barry Nelson, Peter Lorrie, Linda Christian, Linda Darnell, Steve McQueen, Thomas Mitchell, Anne Francis, Howard Duff, Vera Miles, Sebastian Cabot, Lee Marvin, Elaine Stritch, along with many others. 

A number of these actors would made multiple appearances over the years, albeit playing different characters.


Perhaps most famously, Climax! in its 3rd episode marked the first screen appearance of super secret agent James Bond, although in their 1954 production of Casino Royale  Barry Nelson played an Americanized CIA agent `Jimmy Bond’ in a battle with villainous Peter Lorre.


Other famous adaptations included Sorry, Wrong Number, The Champion,  Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, The Lou Gehrig Story, and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.


The live performances are necessarily stage-bound, and are not as slickly mounted as the filmed episodes, but provide ample entertainment nonetheless.


We are fortunate to have nearly a dozen of these shows available on the Internet Archive, and that number appears to be growing.


You can view a list of their current offerings at THIS LINK.



While this list will hopefully expand, right now the following episodes are available.

Climax: Trail of Terror
Climax!: The Scream in Silence
Climax!: A Promise to Murder
Climax!: Public Pigeon #1
Climax!: The Volcano Seat
Climax!: Trial By Fire
Climax!: Fours Hours in White
Climax!: An Error in Chemistry
Climax! - The Lou Gehrig Story (1956)
Climax!: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Climax - Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde 

During its four year run Climax! garnered nearly a dozen Emmy nominations, including best dramatic series in 1956 and 1957. Of note,11 of their scripts were subsequently sold to the movies.


For those who miss the Golden Age of Televised drama, or those who would like to know what it was all about,  I feel certain you’ll get a lot of satisfaction out of having these multiple Climaxes in your collection. 



Sunday, August 21, 2011

Revisiting Borrah Minevitch





In April of 2009 I wrote a blog called Borrah Minevitch And His Harmonica Rascals, and included a number of Youtube videos.  Sadly, I discovered earlier this week that most of those links are no longer active.


Luckily, there are other video clips available, and so today a reprise of that blog with new embedded videos.


As I’ve cautioned before, sometimes the links I post end up in the great bit-bucket in the sky.  If you see something you want, better to get it while you can.


Specialty acts were commonplace in the early days of show business, when high visibility meant working steadily in Vaudeville.    After all, you could hone an act over the years, and perform it basically unchanged for decades, and never run out of audiences.


Of course, movies and television destroyed that.


In one short appearance a specialty act could `burn’ their entire repertoire in front of a national audience.


But while it lasted, particularly during the heyday of Vaudeville up to the early days of television, specialty acts were in great demand.


One of the best was Borrah Minevitch and his Harmonica Rascals, although today some of his antics might not be considered politically correct. 


Minevitch, who was born in Kiev, Russia immigrated to the United States at the age of 8, and studied piano and violin, but he fell in love with the harmonica.


In 1925 (at the age of 20) he came up with the idea of a `specialty act’; he hired a dozen or so young boys, taught them the basics of the harmonica, dressed them in formal attire, and formed a `harmonica orchestra’.


Within a year, the Harmonica Rascals were one of the hottest acts in Vaudeville.


When sound came to the movies, Minevitch (who was a consummate promoter) worked his ensemble into a dozen shorts and some feature films.   His act featured physical comedy, along with harmonica musical antics.

An early appearance of the Harmonica Rascals was in One In A Million, a Sonja Henie musical comedy from 1936.  Here you’ll hear them play the title song to the movie, in a medley with Ravel’s Bolero, and the classic Lime House Blues.



Another big screen appearance came in 1942 as Borrah and is rascals played `Always In My Heart’ from the movie of the same name.



One of his best short films came in 1942, with Borrah Minevitch’s Harmonica School.   We’ve a couple of clips from that film.

Harmonica School  1943

Borrah Minevitch - Dave Doucette - Carl Ford - Ben Burley - Ernie Morris - Hugh 'Pud' McCaskey - Sammy Ross - Etto Manieri - Pat Marquis - Frank Marquis - Bill McBride





The Internet Archive also has several classic 78 recordings of Borrah Minevitch and his rascals performing:


Hungarian Rhapsody #2


Hora Staccato

La Violetera

Hayseed rag


Minevitch would retire in 1947, and die suddenly of a heart attack in 1955.   He paved the way, of course, for other Harmonica specialty acts that would follow – most notably the Harmonicats.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Indomitable Dr. Christian





For the past 50 years, `good’ doctors have nearly always been portrayed on TV and in the Movies as being young, brash, and irreverent.


Older TV doctors . . . with the notable exception of Marcus Welby  . . .  have generally been portrayed as being stodgy, behind the times, and sometimes even dangerous.


But for 17 years – starting in 1937 -  arguably the most famous and beloved `doctor’ in America was kindly Dr. Paul Christian, portrayed first on the radio, and then in the movies and on TV by veteran Danish born actor Jean Hersholt.


Already an established  character actor in Hollywood – with his first American movie roles coming in silent films as far back as 1915 – Hersholt was cast as Dr.John Luke in the movie The Country Doctor, loosely based on Dr. Allan Roy Dafoe, the doctor who delivered and cared for the most famous babies in the world - the Dionne Quintuplets of Ontario, Canada.


Up until May of 1934, no set of quints had ever survived infancy, and the so the Dionne Quintuplets were a global sensation.  The Canadian government – concerned over the parents ability to care for and raise these babies – made them wards of the Crown making Dr. Dafoe and two other's their legal guardian.


A special nursery was built, and thousands of tourists each day were allowed to view the quints at play from an observation gallery.  The Dionne quintuplets quickly became a major tourist attraction, and their likenesses – along with Dr. Dafoe’s – were used in advertising of everything from Karo syrup to Quaker Oats.

Despite the money and fame, life for the Dionne Quintuplets would prove more of a sad melodrama than a fairy tale.

Hollywood, recognizing the possibilities, cast the quints in 4 movies over the next few years.  The first, The Country Doctor - starring 49 year-old Jean Hersholt – strongly identified him in the public’s mind as the perfect `country doctor’.


Hersholt would make two sequels (Reunion 1936 and Five of A Kind 1938) and wanted to bring the character to radio, but was unable to obtain the rights.  Instead, he created his own Dr. Paul Christian – who lived in worked in the small mid-western town of River’s End.


While technically a soap opera (it was broadcast on Sunday Afternoons on the CBS radio network), don’t let that put you off.  Each episode is a self contained story, and the show was a charming blend of drama, gentle humor, and 1930s Americana.

And quite unusually, by the 1940s, most of the scripts were submitted by loyal listeners ( sometimes polished by the writing staff) which – beginning in 1942 – resulted in an annual script-writing competition.


Top prize was $2000 (big money back then) and several runners up received $500. Among the many winners were Rod Serling and Earl  Hamner, Jr..


The Internet Archive has 175 episodes of the Doctor Christian radio series – including the first episode which introduced the series.


Dr. Christian 175 Eps



When a movie star ends up starring in a successful radio series it only makes sense to produce a Hollywood feature as well.   And Jean Hersholt played Dr. Christian in 6 movies over a three year period.


  • Meet Dr. Christian (1939)
  • Remedy for Riches (1940)
  • The Courageous Dr. Christian (1940)
  • Dr. Christian Meets the Women (1940)
  • Melody for Three (1941)
  • They Meet Again (1941)

So far, four of these movies have shown up on the Internet Archive.

Dr. Christian Meets The Women (1940)

Courageous Dr. Christian, The (1940)

Melody for Three (1941)

They Meet Again (1941)

The movies often shifted easily between drama and comedy, and the last entry They Meet Again was clearly the weakest entry in the lot. The radio series would continue another 9 years, however.


Jean Hersholt would appear one last time on screen as Dr. Christian in the opening episode of the 1956 ZIV TV series sequel called Dr. Christian – starring the subject of last week’s blog – MacDonald Carey as elderly Paul Christian’s nephew Mark who took over his practice.


Hersholt died shortly after that appearance from cancer, but is well remembered for his many movie roles (including Shirley Temple’s grandfather in Heidi), his work translating the works of Hans Christian Anderson into English, his radio series, and his humanitarian work in Hollywood.


The Academy Awards, in recognition of Hersholt’s work for 18 years as president of the Motion Picture Relief Fund, periodically awards the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

Past recipients have included Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lewis, Elizabeth Taylor, Danny Kaye, and Oprah Winfrey.


All in all, not a bad way to be remembered.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Locking Up Early TV Syndication






Although the major networks provided most of the prime-time programming schedule to the growing array of TV stations during the 1950s, syndicated TV shows were a big business as well. Local stations were desperate for content to air beyond the traditional evening `prime’ time slot.


Ziv Television Programs, Inc., founded by Frederick Ziv in 1948, was probably the most prolific and successful of the independent TV producers, churning out hundreds of hours of programming every year.


The ZIV studios stock in trade were half hour, mostly male-oriented adventure dramas. As episodes were usually filmed over 3 or 4 days, and at a cost of under $40,000 an episode, it proved to be a profitable formula.

Many ZIV shows were highly successful, like Highway Patrol (1955-59), Bat Masterson (1958-61), I Led Three Lives (1953-56), The Cisco Kid (1949-56), Men Into Space (1959-60), Science Fiction Theatre (1955-57), Ripcord (1961-63), and Sea Hunt (1958-61), and are fondly remembered by the baby boom generation.


Other Ziv shows are less well remembered – like The Man Called X (1956-57) and Bold Venture (1959-60) -  which were attempts to rework successful radio dramas of the past.


Most of these syndicated shows featured decent production values, fast paced scripts, and personable stars. They also provided ample work for a generation of soon-to-be famous TV actors just learning their craft.


One of the lesser known shows was called Lock Up - which ran for two years and 78 episodes between 1959 and 1961 - and it starred MacDonald Carey as real-life Philadelphia defense attorney Herbert L. Maris.


The scripts were supposedly based on Maris’s files, although a certain amount of literary license can be assumed to have been employed. The style is reminiscent of other procedural police & crime dramas of the era, with the story told in a straight forward – almost documentary style.


Stretching credulity a bit, MacDonald Carey’s character almost always teams up with police detective Weston, played by John Doucette, to prove his client’s innocence.

The Internet Archive has more than 40 episodes of Lock Up available for viewing or download.

To see the current offerings select  THIS LINK.

While enjoyable enough in their own right, episodes of Lock Up provide us with fascinating glimpses at early TV appearances by Joe Flynn, Robert Conrad, Mary Tyler Moore, Gavin Macleod and many others.


You’ll also find established actors like John Carradine, Buddy Epsen, and Lon Chaney, Jr. showing up in guest roles.


MacDonald Carey had been a modestly successful radio, movie, stage and TV actor prior to this series. 

He appeared in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Suddenly, It’s Spring (1947), and a series of `B’ western movies in the 1950s  including The Great Missouri Raid (1951), Outlaw Territory (1953), and Man or Gun (1958)). 

While perhaps best known for playing the role of Tom Horton on Days of our Lives for 3 decades, he was also one of the most familiar faces on TV for several decades appearing on everything from Murder, She Wrote and Fantasy Island to Burke’s Law and The Outer Limits.

MacDonald Carey died in 1994 of Lung Cancer.


As a tribute, the soap opera Days of Our Lives continued to use his famous voice over during the opening of each show even after his passing.


As for the production company ZIV, they began producing shows for network clients in the mid-1950s (West Point,Tombstone Territory, Bat Masterson, Men into Space, & The Man and the Challenge), but their heyday was nearly over.


In 1960 United Artists bought flagging ZIV Tv productions for $20 million dollars and renamed it Ziv-United Artists. By 1962, the company had phased out Ziv entirely, and changed its name to United Artists Television.


And so ended an era.