Thursday, August 17, 2017

And This Blog Loves Django Reinhardt

Today, we pay tribute to guitarist Django Reinhardt (1910-1953). This blogger and untold thousands of professional and amateur guitarists over the decades are still trying to figure out how the heck Django executed those lightning-quick runs and arpeggios with two working fingers (the others having been burned in a 1928 fire).

Preceding Django and his bandmate Stephane Grappelli in the Quintette du Hot Club de France as originators of "string swing" were Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti, Lonnie Johnson and Carl Kress.

Wrote a post back in January 2012 about Django's 1946 stint with Duke Ellngton's Orchestra and have noticed that 1930's Hot Club Of France style music, now coined gypsy jazz, has gained a great deal of popularity internationally in this past 5 1/2 years.

This makes sense, as Hot Club music is fun, does not require massive amplification and gear and, while not easy to learn, is less daunting for the student than ultra-complex modern jazz and classical music. In addition, the number of currently touring and recording gypsy jazz ambassadors - former Stephane Grappelli Quartet guitarist Martin Taylor, Julian Lage, Robin Nolan, Biréli Lagrène, Tommy Emmanuel, Frank Vignola and Vinny Ragiolo, just to name a few - have no doubt helped the music's popularity exponentially.

Here are a few film clips of the guitar genius in action. Some appear to have been from newsreels, others may have been shot by audience members.

We are thankful, as film clips as such musical giants as Charlie Parker turn out to be few and far between.

After the Quintette Of The Hot Club Of France and Django's subsequent Benny Goodman influenced swing band with clarinet ace Hubert Rostaing disbanded, Django at one point toured with The Duke Ellington Orchestra. Although Django was not a fan of the electric guitar, what was recorded of the Oct. 11, 1946 Ellington featuring Reinhardt concert in Chicago is glorious. Hearing Duke's gorgeous comping and creative chords on piano backing Django's guitar genius is an added richness.

There are some excellent documentaries on Django Reinhardt on YouTube.

For those who cannot get enough Django Reinhardt music, the gentleman who posted the last clip also has put together numerous exceptional YouTube playlists, including a plethora of Django Reinhardt recordings and concerts, organized by year.

Friday, August 11, 2017

More Celebrity Endorsements & Unfortunate TV Ads

As Señor Blogmeister's writing mojo was last seen approximately 15 miles off the coast of Paraguay, today's post shall not be a thoughtful essay but a followup to the last one about celebrities endorsing what would in 21st century parlance be called "adult beverages."

This time, the celebrities shall be endorsing cigarettes.

Celebrities and movie stars hawking smokes proved ubiquitous in print advertising throughout the 1930's and the 1940's - and in the 1950's, would become a staple on television.

After all, cigarettes transformed meek, impotent, lily-livered Casper Milquetoast types instantaneously into ultra-macho cowboys!

Smoke enough cigarettes and you can even be rough and tough like John Wayne!

Once transformed from schlemiel into a free swinging he-man like The Duke, a chain smoker could get girls, too - hubba hubba! Couch potatoes rejoice as 1964 style babes emerge from the television set and bequeath one with Newport cigarettes!

It wasn't just movie stars. Dentists were cool with their patients smoking with the passion, ferocity and frequency of Humphrey Bogart - as long as the brand was Viceroy!

And back in those days, your doctor WANTED you to smoke!

After all, doctors preferred smoooooooth Camel cigarettes 2 to 1.

Since cigarette ads were officially banned from TV as of January 1, 1971, these commercials elicit quizzical looks - and massive double takes from those under 30 - in 2017, but 65 years ago, the biggest show on television, I Love Lucy, was sponsored by none other than Philip Morris.

After throwing scalding coffee in your face - that brutal Fritz Lang flick was titled The Big Heat for more reasons than one - menacing tough guy Lee Marvin enjoyed a workout at the gym, followed by a satisfying smoke - Pall Mall!

The Beverly Hillbillies were sponsored by Winston cigarettes. If only an irate, chain-smoking Granny could have confronted those responsible at CBS for the show's hideously loud laugh track. . .

Another show sponsored by Winstons was the Flintstones. Knowing the undisciplined tendencies of Fred & Barney, it's just as well there was no 420 in Bedrock!

Ads for smokes even extended to TV game shows. The appropriately named Bob Barker hosted Truth Or Consequences (which never quite touched what the long-term consequences of a 5-pack-a-day smoking habit would be),sponsored by Belair Cigarettes. Hey, in showbiz, a guy or gal's gotta work - and work it. . . and Bob Barker did.

None of this is any surprise to those of us over the age of 60 who remember seeing "Call For Philip Morris," "Winston Tastes Good Like A (tap tap) Cigarette Should," "Show Us Your Lark" and "LS/MFT" on television, as well as pondering whether we wanted good grammar or good taste. The sole message was "smoke! smoke! smoke! that cigarette!"

The "my apologies for smoking" tours, produced for the American Cancer Society, once The Duke, Yul Brynner, Bill Talman and other tobacco-lovin' stars became deathly ill with lung cancer, did not happen until a few years later.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Wide World Of Unfortunate Celebrity Print Ads

Today's post should be titled "extremely unconvincing celebrity ads," starting with none other than Orson Welles.

On the other hand, we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog have no problem whatsoever imagining Benny Hill (in a print campaign at least approximating truth in advertising) downing a shot of Black and White blended whiskey - or two or three - very likely without the rocks.

Can one envision sitting down with Lucy and Ethel - Merman that is - to quaff some Carling's Red Cap Ale? No. . . not really. Swilling cases of Canadian ale with Bob & Doug McKenzie? Yes, absolutely! Lucy and Merman? Nope.

Then again, Ethel might meet J. Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson for a nightcap or two later.

Olivia De Havilland for Royal Crown Cola? Yes, it happened. Joan Fontaine no doubt must have been doing print ads for Coca Cola!

The educated guess is that, of the Marx brothers, Harpo and Chico were much more likely than Groucho to invite you over for a beer. Come to think of it, even Zeppo and Gummo might be more convivial and up for getting together over a couple of brews than the brooding Groucho.

After way too many viewings of Fritz Lang's mucho corrosive noir Scarlet Street, it's easier to imagine meeting tough guy Dan Duryea to get pistol-whipped, beaten and robbed than to shoot the breeze while enjoying a refreshing Blatz Beer!

To close today's post, wrap that consciousness around the concept of Ava Gardner drinking . . . milk???

The closest Ava and Sinatra ever got to milk was (maybe) English "milk stout." That dynamic duo was more interested in Crown Royal by the case! Or rum and Coca-Cola.

Friday, July 28, 2017

From The Bandstand To Hollywood: Musicians In The Movies, Part 3

With the realization that From The Bandstand To Hollywood: Musicians In The Movies, Part 2 posted way back in March, it dawned upon this blogger that a number of music and showbiz luminaries did not make it into Parts 1 and 2.

Today's post starts with Julie London (September 26, 1926 – October 18, 2000), both a talented actress and among the great singers of standards by the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen and others. She was also married to actor Jack Webb and (later) musician Bobby Troup. What Ms. London had in common with Hazel Scott, the creative powerhouse and activist who started this From The Bandstand To Hollywood: Musicians In The Movies series, was success as a recording artist, concurrent with roles in movies and TV, including a starring role in a television series decades later. In some parts, such as her role in The George Raft Story, she also sang.

Here's Julie, performing her signature song "Cry Me A River" and other classic standards in her customary elegant and sultry style, hitting those notes with power and style.

Among those who are not music aficionados, Julie London is very likely best remembered for her role as the intrepid and ready-for-anything Nurse Dixie McCall from the television show Emergency!

There are tributes on YouTube to Julie London the actress which strike this correspondent as completely, entirely apart from Julie the songstress who recorded 29 studio albums. Taking nothing away from Ms. London's acting talent, this seems astonishing for those who primarily know Ms. London from her excellent recordings of the 1950's and 1960's.

Once Julie's recording career began to falter due to the utter dominance of rock music in the 1960's - her last album included Louie Louie and a Nancy Sinatra-esque take on Yummy Yummy Yummy, the bubblegum Top 40 hit by The Ohio Express - the gig was up.

Ms. London only left acting for music briefly and would have key roles in many TV shows, as well as such movies as the epic Anthony Mann western Man Of The West, starring Gary Cooper.

Her many guest appearances in series television included a part on the popular 1960's spy show The Man From U.N.C.L.E. She and Bobby Troup both appeared in Emergency!

In the 1960's and early 1970's, pop, rock and country stars frequently found themselves acting in films, very likely as a direct result of how the charm, humor and joie de vivre of The Beatles translated to the big screen.

The Richard Lester movies A Hard Day's Night and Help exemplify not just The Fab Four's musicianship, but their charm, personal magnetism and abilities as wry comic actors.

The fact that the camera loved John, Paul, George and Ringo was key to why their movies were so enjoyable.

The one Beatle who did tackle a serious acting role was John Lennon. After making the two Beatles features , John showed acting chops in a supporting part in director Richard Lester's 1966 anti-war satire of the war movie genre, How I Won The War.

Other rock stars got into the mix and soon into the movies. Privilege (1967) featured Manfred Mann vocalist Paul Jones. Mick Jagger from The Rolling Stones starred in Nicolas Roeg's Performance and Tony Richardson's Ned Kelly.

There was also Ken Russell's larger-than-life big screen adaptation of Tommy, the rock opera by The Who. The legendary rock and soul vocalist Tina Turner rose to the occasion in no uncertain terms and demonstrated acting mojo in her turn as The Acid Queen. This does not come as a surprise, as she was famous for incendiary performances headlining the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, the act nobody wanted to follow. Had Tina opted to explore a screen acting career, she very likely would have conquered it as she did the world of rock music as the face of one of the hardest working touring bands in show business.

Kris Kristofferson parlayed his country music stardom into an acting career that specialized in movies directed by Sam Peckinpah, a guy with one foot in old-school western shoot 'em ups and the other planted deeply in the grimy, gritty soil and anticipating to the genre-bending likes of Quentin Tarantino. Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid co-starred none other than Bob Dylan.


A number of musicians who may have not been actors, but made memorable one-shot appearances in movies and television. Pianist, singer, bandleader and host of his own TV show Nat "King" Cole very likely did not fancy himself as a character actor at all, but there he is beside Stubby Kaye (from Guys & Dolls), playing a troubadour and Greek chorus in the western comedy Cat Ballou.

Among the more remarkable of those one-shots was an episode of the popular early 1970's series Kung Fu. The guest stars: the mighty jazz bandleader and alto saxophonist Julian "Cannonball" Adderley and vocalist/guitarist Jose Feliciano.

Crooners hit the movies in the 1930's and 1940's. One present day Sinatra style saloon singer and bandleader turned actor, Harry Connick Jr., who started his career in the 1990s, has enjoyed a wide ranging career in show business including - as he was recording albums and touring - numerous roles in high profile movies and television.

As the 1960's brought rockers into the movies the latter 1980's and 1990's chronicled the successful transition of hip hop and pop artists into feature films and television. Director John Singleton would be a key catalyst for this with his films, especially Boyz n the Hood and Poetic Justice, featuring recording artists Ice Cube, Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur; since pop and hip hop headliners are often performance artists who write and craft their own recordings, expanding into movie and television acting, producing and directing would seem a seamless transition.

If anything, it's a bit surprising that there were not more feature films that capitalized on the ability of artists in music to bond with audiences. Perhaps the greatest surprise to this writer is that pop icons Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury did not, as Prince and David Bowie did, branch out into acting, given the theatricality of their music. In addition, as Michael Jackson was an avid classic film buff and a move into acting-directing-writing feature films would have been a natural for MJ. His sister Janet ended up being the Jackson family member to cross over into movie acting.

Even given that as the writer of this blog tends to be immersed in entertainment from several decades past, much produced before he was born, and not too keen on anything after 1980, there shall be a Part 4 of From The Bandstand To Hollywood: Musicians In The Movies devoted to The Rat Pack, which will expand upon - or reprise parts of - Part 2. Makes sense - Frank, Sammy and Dino all recorded for Reprise Records.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Betty Boop Meets Ethel Merman

Yes, while it wasn't meant for two megastars as big as Betty Boop and Ethel Merman to share scenes on the silver screen - that was simply not meant to be - the two showbiz icons did share billing in a few Fleischer Studio Screen Songs cartoons. The first was made in 1932 and released theatrically on May 20th of that year. Just follow the bouncing ball, dear readers.

Ms. Merman preceded her appearances in Fleischer cartoons by starring in a series of Paramount 1-reel musical shorts. The first features her bravura performance of "Sing, You Sinners." She did not appear in the extremely imaginative Fleischer Studios Talkartoon that also featured the song.

Knowing an up-and-coming performer when they saw one, Paramount and the Fleischer Studio featured Ms. Merman in three more Screen Song cartoons in 1932-1933.

Betty Boop was very much a featured player in both the Talkartoons and Screen Songs series, starting in 1930.

Our favorite of the group by far is Time On My Hands. Familiar with this song from Billie Holiday's 1940 version, we find that Ms. Merman also does a fine job interpreting those dreamy lyrics . . . "time on my hands - you in my arms."

And Betty Boop, as the mermaid, was never more charming.

After Song Shopping (1933), the last of the three Screen Song cartoons featuring Ethel Merman, in this case accompanied on piano by songwriter Johnny Green, the Paramount Pictures feature films unit cast the show-stopping vocalist in the Bing Crosby - Carole Lombard vehicle We're Not Dressing.

Betty Boop? Soon would be reduced to a pale and syrupy shadow of her former saucy self by rigid enforcement of the Production Code, which went into effect on July 1, 1934.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Kickstarter for new DVD collection of silent film comedian Lloyd Hamilton

As the thematic bent of this blog for the past few weeks has been silent comedy and silent movies - and the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum will be presenting their annual Charlie Chaplin Days event this coming weekend - we're pleased as perky pomegranates to support another fundraiser which will bring more vintage silent era comedy goodness to DVD.

This time around, the Kickstarter is not on behalf of Marcel Perez a.k.a. The International Mirth-maker, but to bring to DVD six rare surviving short subjects starring the sad sack schlemiel with the checkered cap and the waddling duck walk, Lloyd Hamilton.

Hamilton's perpetually "born under a bad sign" character is reminiscent of Gleason's "The Poor Soul" (which could be described as 1/3 Gleason, 1/3 Lloyd Hamilton and 1/3 Harry Langdon) albeit a lot crankier, as well as a bit of a rake and a scoundrel.

This campaign originates from Great Britain and historian Dave Glass, in association with Dave Wyatt.

Mr. Glass writes: "Hamilton’s comedy style was truly original. Like Harry Langdon’s, it was nuanced and reaction-based, but much more sardonic than any of the major comics. Each film saw him stumble from catastrophe to calamity, hopelessly trying to maintain his ill-fitting sense of dignity and superiority. Chaplin, Keaton and Sennett all remembered him in later years as a major talent, but the majority of his films are lost, so this chance to see his films on DVD is a not-to-be-missed opportunity. The disc will be Region Free and made to NTSC (USA standard) which also plays on UK/Euro machines. They will be mastered from 16mm prints which will be scanned digitally to provide the best possible quality and gently restored where necessary."

The films to be featured include the following four Mermaid Comedies produced in 1920 by Jack White (known to Three Stooges fans as "Preston Black") for Astra Pictures:

Dynamite (note - hard to think of an actor more ill-suited to blackface than Lloyd Hamilton, "blacking up" was so common in the early 20th century that Trinidad-born Ziegfeld Follies comedy star Bert Williams wore it.

The Simp

April Fool, directed by another comedy great from the silent and early sound era, Charley Chase


Moonshine as well was directed by Charley Chase and even features the future Hal Roach Studios star in a small role.

Also on the DVD, the recently rediscovered 1919 Lloyd Hamilton Fox comedy, His Musical Sneeze, courtesy of the Danish Film Institute. The gags involving a wascally Bugs Bunny style rabbit make one wonder if Tex Avery happened to catch this 2-reeler as the comedy short subject before the feature film at a Taylor, TX movie palace.

There will also be A Home Made Man, a 1928 entry from the Hamilton Comedies series produced by Educational Pictures.

The Kickstarter for the Lloyd Hamilton DVD runs through July 26.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Happy Bastille Day 2017 from Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog

On Bastille Day, we pay tribute to one of the first movie comedians: the one, the only Max Linder. While Max may have not been the first comedian to star in a movie - that would very likely be André Deed (1879-1940) - the dapper Parisian boulevardier was certainly among the first silver screen comedians to headline a popular continuing series.

Possibly as a response to Linder's success, two more overtly physical European comedians, Marcel Perez and Ferdinand "Polidor" Guillaume (a.k.a. Tontolini) would soon launch their careers in silent film comedy.

Unquestionably, Max Linder's series for Pathé Frères proved to be an enormous influence on Mack Sennett. In the 1909 Biograph short subject The Curtain Pole, directed by D.W. Griffith, none other than Mack himself plays Monsieur DuPont, in a rowdier and more slapsticky interpretation of what Max had been doing.

Author Trav S.D. elaborated further on the influence of Max Linder's comedy on Keystone and beyond in his piece For Bastille Day: How the French Invented Film Comedy, excerpted from his book Chain Of Fools: Silent Comedy And Its Legacies, From Nickelodeons To YouTube.

Max Linder certainly ranked highly among the key influences on his friend and colleague Charlie Chaplin.

This writer and silent comedy aficionado also ascertains a strong link between Max' films and those of Charley Parrott Chase. It is highly likely that both Charley and key collaborator Leo McCarey, like Chaplin, were among Linder's biggest fans. Slapstick is frequently merely incidental for both Linder and Chase; the comedies - like those of Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew - are often farcical and situational at their core. Chase took Linder's penchant for unwittingly getting into embarrassing situations and took it several steps farther in a brilliant series of Hal Roach Studio silents in 1924-1929.

In Sitting Pretty, a 1924 2-reeler written and directed by McCarey and Chase, Charley even reprised "the mirror gag" from Seven Years Bad Luck, performing it with, as his double, his brother (and director of numerous Laurel & Hardy short subjects in the early 1930's) James Parrott, (onscreen) A.K.A. Paul Parrott.

Max' daughter Maud, an infant at the time of his death in 1925, discovered his films in college and spent much of her life restoring his legacy as a moviemaking and comedy innovator. She wrote, produced and narrated a documentary, The Man In The Silk Hat about the life, times and films of the father she never knew. Here it is, in four parts:

On Bastille Day, we silent film aficionados at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog tip our silk top hats with the utmost respect to Max and Maud Linder, who did much to keep her father's name and films alive.

For comedy buffs interested in Much Ado About Max, check out the Kino Video collection of Linder comedies by Lobster Films.

There is also a well-researched and annotated Max Linder website, complete with a filmography.