Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Other Famous Humphrey






In the entertainment world, when it comes to famous men with the first name Humphrey – you can count them on the fingers of one hand.


Even if it is missing three fingers.


Everyone thinks of Bogart, of course. But many - particularly from Britain - will come up with Humphrey Lyttleton – famed post-war jazz musician and a BBC radio personality for 4 decades.


Americans are likely less aware of Lyttleton than our cousins across the pond, but hopefully today’s blog will do a little to rectify that.


While I’ve known of `Humph’s’ jazz recordings for decades, and was vaguely aware of his BBC career, I confess I’d not thought of him in many years.


That is, until one of my regular readers (Lucy from Montana – Thanks!) of my `other’ blog (Avian Flu Diary) sent me a Youtube video of some music she thought I’d enjoy.


The piece was `Bad Penny Blues’, which became the first jazz recording to break into Britain’s top 20 (clung tenuously to #19 for 6 weeks!) in 1956.


Humph, who was born and educated at Eton (his father was a house master there) picked up the trumpet in 1936 (at the age of 15) and twelve years later – after exiting the service following WWII – Lyttleton joined George Webb’s Dixielanders jazz band.


Lyttleton played jazz, and maintained a `day job’ as a cartoonist for the Daily Mail until 1956.  Lyttleton formed his first jazz band in the late 1940s, and after achieving notoriety in the mid-1950s, toured successfully for decades.


Humph often teamed up with other jazz greats like Mr. Aker Bilk, and George Melly.  Here is a clip with Mr. Aker (‘Stranger on the Shore’) Bilk, and the Harlem Ramblers from 1982 doing Avalon (written by Al Jolson).

In 1967 Lyttleton began a 40-year stint as presenter on BBC radio’s Best of Jazz radio show, using his near encyclopedic knowledge of jazz to great advantage. Along the way, Humph  penned 8 books, and numerous magazine articles on jazz.


In 1972, he was picked to chair the panel of what would become a hugely popular radio show; I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue. 

The show was billed as `an antidote’ to conventional panel shows which were ubiquitous on radio and TV, and consisted of a chairman (exclusively Humph after the first season) who gave the panel (4 comedians working in pairs) `silly things to do’.


His dry British wit, exquisitely bored delivery, and his ability to make delightfully risqu̩ comments that could be innocently interpreted Рand thus able to get past the censors Рhelped to make the show a smash.


A Taste of ISIHAC, but fear not, there will be more to come:

There is a Humphrey Lyttleton Official website, where you can delve deeper into his career.  But today is all about video clips of Humph you can enjoy.


First stop is a 1 hour (albeit split into 6 parts on YouTube) documentary from The South Bank Show, called  A Tribute to Humphrey Lyttleton.

Part 1   Part 2   Part 3   Part 4   Part 5   Part 6

A few choice videos of Humph playing include:



Sweet Georgia Brown

Tin Roof Blues

Fidgety Feet

Mood Indigo

Struttin’ With Some Barbeque



For those appreciative of British humor (as am I), we’ve hundreds of short (under 10 minute) snips from ISIHAC’s long broadcast history available on Youtube.

You can access them HERE.


We lost this jazz great, radio icon, and historian in 2008.  You can read a detailed, and loving, tribute to the man and his career in his obituary that appeared in UK’s Independent Newspaper.


Humphrey Lyttleton. A remarkable life, well lived.


And we are all the better for it.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Anne Francis And A Forbidden Planet Cast Reunion




With the passing of two Hollywood greats in the past month, the lovely Anne Francis and the equally lovely Leslie Nielson (I’m sure he’d appreciate that description), one can’t help but think back to the movie that did much to launch both of their careers:

Forbidden Planet, arguably the first great modern science fiction movie.

Watch the Theatrical Trailer for Forbidden Planet.

Nielson was a familiar face to early TV viewers, appearing frequently in such shows as Tales of Tomorrow, Suspense, and Lights Out.


Like Nielson, Anne Francis had appeared in a fair amount of early television, but had already made her mark in movies as well, having appeared prominently in Blackboard Jungle and Bad Day at Black Rock, and to a lesser extent in Battle Cry.


For all of its attributes (special effects, Technicolor production, and decent budget), MGM’s forbidden Planet was a (high grade) B movie, never envisioned to become a classic of the genre.


The cast reads like a roll call of soon-to-be TV stars.  In addition to veteran movie actor Walter Pidgeon (top billed), Francis and Nielson were joined by:

Jack Kelly              - Maverick

Richard Anderson   – 6 Million Dollar Man

Earl Holliman         -  Police Woman

James Drury          -  The Virginian

Warren Stevens     - Tales of the 77th Bengal Lancers

                                     & 150+ guest appearances


Today, I ran across a 30 minute filmed cast reunion, from 1999, moderated by Star Trek’s George Takai.


The occasion was the re-release of Forbidden Planet, and herein we get a delightful visit from Anne Francis, Warren Stevens, Earl Holliman, and Richard Anderson, with remembrances of the filming of that classic movie.

Leslie Nielson, noticeably absent, sent his regrets but was in Europe filming a movie as part of his `second’ career.


Although it rarely happens in Hollywood, Nielson – who had been type cast as a dramatic actor (The Bold Ones, The Poseidon Adventure)– broke into comedy and restarted his flagging career after his brilliantly dead-pan performance in AIRPLANE!.


The rest, as they say, is history.  He became the rubber faced clown of the TV series Police Squad! and nearly two dozen of movie parodies.


Anne Francis would go on to star in the short-lived but well remembered detective series Honey West – a spin off from a 2nd season episode of Burke’s Law.


For more on her career, friend and fellow blogger, Andrew Fielding recently wrote of his remembrances of the star of Honey West in his tribute to Anne Francis.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Hollywood On The Air






The symbiotic (and sometimes incestuous) relationship between Hollywood movies and radio blossomed in the 1930s with the maturation of both mediums, and the two remained heavily intertwined for decades.


Move stars were often required to appear on popular radio shows as part of their contract to help promote their latest movie – and many ended up with their own radio shows as well.

Jimmy Stewart was The Six Shooter, Alan Ladd starred in Box 13, and Bogie and Bacall co-starred in Bold Venture . . . just to name a few.


It was common practice to produce condensed radio versions of popular movies – often with the same stars – to help promote films.


Lux Radio Theatre is perhaps the most famous, and enduring, of these shows but others included Screen Director’s Playhouse, Academy Award Theater, and Matinee Theater.


Radio stars (and sometimes entire entire radio shows) would show up on, or even starred in, Hollywood productions.



Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy, Fred Allen, Fibber McGee & Molly,  and Lum & Abner all migrated successfully – and often – into the movies.



While all of the major (and sometimes minor) movie studios worked hand-in-hand with radio, MGM studios was probably better positioned with its musically inclined roster of talent to take full advantage of the radio medium.


For nearly two decades MGM studios produced 15-minute promotional radio shows called LEO is On The Air, each featuring vignettes, musical performances, and frequently guest appearances by the cast members from upcoming theatrical releases.



Similarly, Hollywood Is On The Air, was a 15 minute preview of upcoming movies from other studios.


Sure . . . these are little more than commercials, or `radio trailers’ for upcoming movies  . . .  but they manage to package a great deal of entertainment, and fun, into 15 minutes.  


And if you are an old movie buff, you’ll find a lot to like in these old radio programs.   The Internet Archive has a mixed bag of this genre of radio show, with more than 40 assorted episodes spanning the 1930s and 1940s.



Hollywood Is On The Air




A partial list of what’s available includes:


Life Begins for Andy Hardy

Little Nelly Kelly

Love Finds Andy Hardy

Marx Brothers Go West

Mutiny On the Bounty

New Faces of 1937

Northwest Mounted Police



Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

The Bells of St. Mary's

The Courtship of Andy Hardy

The Fleet's In

The Gay Divorcee



Each show runs about 15 minutes, and is about 3 Mbytes in size.



Sunday, January 2, 2011

Reed Hadley: The Public Defender




Last year I profiled Reed Hadley (see It’s A Racket), star of the earliest procedural police shows on TV; Racket Squad.


While during the 1940’s Hadley found much of his work as a `voice actor’ and narrator, rather than as an on screen personality, he did appear in numerous relatively minor film roles (often uncredited) starting in 1938.


He was the voice of Red Ryder on the radio during the late 1940s, and appeared as the title character in the Republic serial Zorro’s Fighting Legion, but only became a `star’ when Racket Squad emerged as a successful early TV half hour drama.


In 1954, the following the demise of Racket Squad, Hadley returned to TV in The Public Defender – which like his previous show – was produced and syndicated by the Hal Roach movie studio.


As with Racket Squad, the show opened with Hadley narrating a prologue:

“A public defender is an attorney employed by the community and responsible for giving legal aid without cost to a person who seeks it and is financially unable to employ private council.

It is his duty to defend those accused of a crime until the issue is decided in a court of law. The first public defender's office in the United State was opened in January, 1913.

Over the years, other offices were opened and today that handful has grown to a network...a network of lawyers cooperating to protect the rights of our clients."

The similarities with Racket Squad don’t end there.   Both shows dramatized actual cases, and both eschewed the `gang busters’ style, opting for less carnage, and more realism.


Hadley continued to find work in television – albeit as as guest actor – on dozens of TV shows (and the occasional movie) until the early 1970s.


His last film role was in the perfectly dreadful low budget horror film Brain of Blood, that is notable only for the fact that the cast included Hadley and two other notable – but forgotten – actors of the 1950s and early 1960s; Kent `Boston Blackie’ Taylor and  Grant  (Incredible Shrinking Man  & Hawaiian Eye) Williams.


Hadley died in 1974, at the age of 63, of a heart attack.


We are fortunate to have 10 episodes of The Public Defender available (and more may turn up) on the Internet Archive.  

Public Defender-Behind Bars
Season 1, Episode 7


Public Defender: Badge of Honor
Season 1, Episode 9


Public Defender: Let Justice Be Done
Season 1, Episode 10


Public Defender: A Call in the Night
Season 1, Episode 19


Public Defender: The Big Race
Season 2, Episode 3


Public Defender: Living a Lie
Episode 2, Season 7


Public Defender: Big Steel
Season 2, Episode 25.


Public Defender: Cornered-With Commercials
Season 2, Episode 30


Public Defender: Eight Out of One Hundred
Season 2, Episode 37

Public Defender: The Story of Nora Fulton
Season 2, Episode 40

You may want to check back at the Internet Archive on  THIS THREAD to see if any more episodes are posted.