Friday, March 24, 2006
The color episodes of "The Adventures of Superman" will be coming to DVD this year - perhaps a look at that landmark event (or "catastrophe," depending on your point of view) is in order.
Producer Whitney Ellsworth, having come from the comic book and pulp novel industries, recognized that Superman was a 4-color creation and deserved to be seen that way; if not now, then certainly by future generations. In 1954, when Ellsworth made the decision to shoot "Superman" in color, the value of syndicated reruns was just becoming evident. Ellsworth recognized that color was a wise investment - so did the sponsor, Kellogg's, which is why they agreed to help pay for it.
Of course, the color episodes weren't originally seen that way... "Superman" aired in black & white until the fall of 1965, six years after George Reeves died. There simply weren't enough color sets in operation through the '50's to justify the expense of manufacturing color dupe negatives and striking color prints for telecast. Only a few frames were printed at the time, so everyone behind the scenes could see what they were getting.
A few of these frames have survived, hence the above shot of George holding "the lily" on the set of "The Magic Secret." Naturally, these were printed on (cheap) Eastman stock... which is why Superman is turning red.
When color versions finally appeared in '65, the show's popularity exploded all over again. Almost overnight it shot into the top 5 of syndicated programs. Stations fell over each other trying to tie up the rights for their markets. Topps' bubble gum released a series of cards for the series - before that, who even knew that "Superman" publicity photos existed?
The color episodes have taken a lot of abuse over the years, as if the hues themselves are to blame. If the final 52 seem less dynamic, violent or downright interesting than the b&w seasons, color film is certainly not at fault. If anything, blame Dr. Fredrick Wertham's "Seduction of the Innocent" - the book that sparked a congressional investigation into comic book violence, of which Reeves himself owned a copy. The entire comics industry changed after that - violence, sexuality and gore were banned. Some companies, like National (D.C.), adapted. Others, like E.C., gave up the ghost. Since D.C. owned the "Superman" TV series, it stood to reason that the edict to tone down the stories would extend to those on film as well as in print.
In truth, there are some fine color episodes of "Superman," just as there are some awful b&w episodes ("My Friend Superman," anyone?). Check out the DVD set of seasons 3 & 4, to be released on June 20, and see for yourself.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
During TV's Golden Age, it was impossible to miss Laurel & Hardy. Their short films, produced by Hal Roach during the '20's and '30's, were all over the tube. Granted, this was mainly because stations needed product - any product - to fill time; thus the airwaves were literally choked with old movies. But the Laurel & Hardy titles were undoubtedly the classiest in the bunch, and they drew large audiences. Indeed, among the old theatrical two-reelers that comprised early TV programming, only Stan & Ollie, Our Gang (nee "Little Rascals") and Three Stooges shorts continued well into the modern era - and the latter two series had arrived late to the party (1955 and '58, respectively).
This particular Salute wasn't too well received at the time; consequently L&H biographers tend to regard it as well-intentioned, but ultimately inconsequential. Wrapping up the season in April 1966, TV Chronicle's Neil Compton would dismiss the special as "not much of a tribute to the late comedian (who appeared briefly in a number of film clips brutally hacked out of their original context), and did not enhance the reputations of participants such as Dick Van Dyke, Lucille Ball, or Phil Silvers." Indeed, Van Dyke (who was also one of the producers) reportedly complained that his vision for Salute... had itself been hacked to pieces by network corporate types. Not mentioned in the synopsis above is an appearance by Fred Gwynne in full Herman Munster regalia. That clearly had more to do with CBS (home of The Munsters) than with Laurel.
Perhaps this reaction was why we didn't see a network tribute to Buster Keaton, who passed away less than 3 months after this show aired. (Was this his final TV performance? Anyone out there know?) Nor ones for Chaplin, Groucho, or a host of others. For the most part, networks would do better when preparing tributes for their own, such as CBS's look at the life of Lucille Ball in 1989.
Still, any show that features Buster and Lucy doing pantomime together, plus a Bob Newhart monologue, can't be all bad. We'd like to see this one come out of hiding and make it onto an official DVD release. How about it, Dick?
Monday, March 20, 2006
Here's one photo I'd love to know more about. This has the appearance of an unlikely meeting of the minds... perhaps it's an early "Battle of the Bands" with Ed Sullivan serving as referee between The Beatles and Peter, Paul & Mary. As a fan of both folk music and the Fab Four, my curiosity is whetted.
Clearly this is February 1964, either before or after the Sullivan broadcast of February 9; the one that shattered audience records and even led Rev. Billy Graham to break a lifetime's rule and watch the tube on the Sabbath. Perhaps it's Valentine's Day, on which the Beatles would give two concerts at Carnegie Hall. Did P,P&M attend one (or both) of those, sensing it would be at least as momentous as the one the Weavers gave there in 1955?
And what's with the body language? This pic is wallowing in it! Is Paul McCartney trying to give Mary Travers a not-so-subtle suggestion for later on? Mary, meanwhile, is deep in conversation with Ringo... judging by her hands, perhaps she's querying about the percussive use of clapping in "I Want to Hold Your Hand." Peter Yarrow, hand on chin, is focused on Sullivan, as if to even acknowledge the four Liverpool lads would be beneath his dignity. Meanwhile, Noel Paul Stookey seems to be on his knees. Is he worshipping at the Merseybeat altar, or was that the only way to get him into the shot? Maybe he's just envying their hair. As for John Lennon, I like to think that he's asking the photog to take Ed, Peter and Paul and cruise around Central Park for about an hour.
Perhaps the five living participants (six, depending on who the photographer is) might have more valid observations about this event. If so, that's what the comments section is for.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
When I was a kid in the 1960's, Bozo the Clown was a must-see program. I didn't find out until much later that practically every major city in the U.S. had its own "Bozo," or that the clown didn't actually get his start on television, but on records.
In 1946, Alan Livingston of Capitol Records conceived of the clown as a narrator of a children's record. The disc ended up a major seller, which naturally led to equally successful sequels. By 1949, Livingston got the idea of making Bozo a TV personality. Pinto Colvig (right), best known as the original voice of Disney's Goofy and who voiced the clown on Capitol's records, became the first to actually portray Bozo, over KTTV-11 in Los Angeles. This venture, too, proved to be an enormous success, and Livingston wound up hiring various "Bozos" specifically for personal appearances. One of these was Larry Harmon, who eventually pooled his resources, bought the rights to the character from Capitol, and turned Bozo into a marketing juggernaut.
It was Harmon's idea to create Bozo programs unique to each major city. In Chicago, home of the longest-lasting Bozo program, the clown was portrayed by Bob Bell, then Joey D'Auria. Stu Kerr took the part in Baltimore (left), and Frank Avaruch in Boston.
If the Bozo on the right reminds you of a certain famous Today Show weatherman, it's no coincidence: for a time, Willard Scott was Washington D.C.'s clown.
Anybody out there ever own this punching bag clown? I did - and it's still available!
After 60 years, Bozo remains a viable commodity, despite his absence from daily or weekly television. In 2003, Bozo returned to his audio roots with a CD release entitled "Get Down with the Clown." For more on Bozo's history, as well as the merchandise seen here, visit Clown-Ministry.com at http://www.clown-ministry.com/History/bozo-clown.html.
Oh, yes: for the story behind a certain encounter between Bozo and a rather rude child - one that may or may not be apocryphal - go here: http://www.snopes.com/radiotv/tv/bozo.htm
Monday, March 13, 2006
After graduating from college, I moved from New Jersey, my home state, to take a job in Los Angeles. I lived and/or worked in Hollywood for about 11 years, and I encountered many celebrities around town. But I became friends with only one movie and television actor: Teddy Quinn. He was working for the market research company that had just hired me; I'd be his immediate supervisor.
When we met, Ted had spent nearly a decade away from the profession, and was trying to establish himself as a singer-songwriter in a band called Telekin. He'd play their demo tapes in the office, and I immediately liked what I heard. The most apt description of this group would be "electronic bohemia." Their music was related to New Wave, being synthesizer-based, but with a difference: Ted's lyrics didn't shy away from social and political commentary, and they were married seamlessly to catchy pop melodies courtesy of his writing partners Cathie Kimble and Donald Kaiser.
As a wanna-be folk singer, how could I not gravitate toward such a musician? In time, we'd collaborate on some songs. It could have played havoc with our boss-employee relationship, but Ted was a thorough professional on the job; probably because he'd been a solid worker in a cut-throat business since he was about 5 years old.
Teddy's big break came in a commercial for Bayer Aspirin for Children circa 1963. He comes calling to a playmate's house, only to be told by her mother that she's sick. "Does it hurt and have a temperature?" asks Teddy. Not after mom gave her Bayer Children's Aspirin. "That's what my mother gives me!" says our "star salesman." "That's 'cause she loves you," affirms the mom, "and when you feel better, she feels better, too!" Concludes Teddy: "Mothers are like that... yeah, they are!"
I'd heard that Ted ad-libbed those last three words, and they made his career. From there, he signed a contract with Universal Studios. Their TV division, Revue, put him in a series called Karen, which didn't last, while the movie studio cast him in "Madame X" as Lana Turner's son, "The Ballad of Josie" as Doris Day's son, and gave him brief bits in three Don Knotts classics: "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken," "The Reluctant Astronaut," and "The Shakiest Gun in the West," which I saw on my 9th birthday.
Teddy's Universal contract was apparently non-exclusive, because he turned up in TV shows for other studios, such as Paramount and Screen Gems (Columbia), and his second go-round as a series regular was in 1967 for Sheldon Leonard Productions, which tried to build a show for perennial also-ran Jerry Van Dyke, last seen in the notorious My Mother, the Car. The new series, Accidental Family, cast Van Dyke as nightclub comic Jerry Webster. Teddy played his son, Sandy. Webster buys a farm in the San Fernando Valley, which is run by headstrong Sue Kramer (Lois Nettleton) and her young daughter Tracy (Sue Benjamin - whatever became of her?) Hilarity ensued - or was supposed to, anyway. The show never had a chance, despite the lead-in of Star Trek (which wasn't doing all that well in the ratings either) - especially since the premiere went up against Steve McQueen's "The Great Escape" (1965) over on CBS. Nevertheless, a viewer from North Wales writes on imdb.com that Accidental Family was "hardly the stuff of greatness, but it deserved a longer run than it received ... while Gilligan's Island and The Brady Bunch should have been smothered at birth. There is no justice in TV Land."
Based on sheer rerun value, Teddy's most durable performance is probably in the Bewitched episode "Playmates" (3/28/68) as Michael, the spoiled brat that Tabitha turns into a bulldog. In addition to Bewitched, Screen Gems also used him in The Monkees and I Dream of Jeannie. Paramount put him in a couple of Bonanza episodes, including one that Ted told me was his favorite performance: "Tommy" (12/18/66). In this, he's a deaf-mute who is sent to the Ponderosa by his mother; his step-dad has escaped from jail and she wants to protect him. Eventually the cruel husband claims his wife and drags her to Mexico, where she encounters a deaf-mute Catholic Brother and realizes her son can have a worthwhile future despite his condition. Eventually the villian gets his just desserts and mother and son are reunited.
Teddy continued working through the decade, turning up on Family Affair, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, and Land of the Giants among others. Imdb lists his last credit as a "young boy" in a 1972 film about black hookers: "Street Sisters" - a world apart from "Mothers are like that... yeah, they are!"
Today, Ted is still a working musician, a peace activist, a proud new father, and a good friend. Check out his life today at his blog: http://www.nomadhouse.com/, where you can download his new album, Dog Years, for free!
UPDATE, November 10 2012: The link to the Bayer Aspirin commercial has been fixed, you can view it here.