Friday, July 28, 2017
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, still recalling Lauren Bacall's smoky vocalizing in Howard Hawks' To Have & Have Not, included a slowed-down Louie Louie and a surprisingly compelling Nancy Sinatra-esque take on Yummy Yummy Yummy, the bubblegum pop 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
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
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 - "blacking up" was such a common show business practice in the late 19th and early 20th century that Trinidad-born Ziegfeld Follies comedy star Bert Williams wore blackface on stage - and, if this ad is any indication, few actors besides Williams were more ill-suited to blackface than Lloyd Hamilton)
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
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.
Saturday, July 08, 2017
At 8:00 p.m. at the City Reliquary in Brooklyn, laughs will rule as Nelson Hughes and Tommy José Stathes present The Celebrity Roast Of Charley Chase as part of the ongoing That Slapstick Show series. Mr. Hughes has curated tonight's tribute to the favorite producer-director-writer-comic of Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, the one, the only Charley Parrott a.k.a. Charley Chase. Mr. Stathes of Cartoons On Film, as well as vintage silent-era animation Cartoon Roots programs on Blu-rays and DVDs (too numerous to list here), shall co-host.
Charley Chase was an inspired and unique director, writer and comedian whose comedy has weathered the test of time quite well.
First starring in breezy 1-reelers as "Jimmie Jump" in 1924 and then graduating to 2-reelers as Charley Chase, Charles Parrott would star in some of the very best silent film comedies, most notably those he co-directed and wrote with Leo McCarey; such brilliant comedy shorts as His Wooden Wedding and Mighty Like A Moose were certainly among among the funniest films ever made.
After directing a gazillion comedy shorts for every studio around from 1916-1924, Chase began his own starring series at the Roach Studio. Collaborating with his brother James Parrott, the aforementioned Leo McCarey and other top comedy directors at Roach, Chase starred in masterpiece after masterpiece in 1925-1929 - and, unlike most of his contemporaries, then to a significant degree carried that formidable comedy mojo into the sound era.
Chase's high water mark in talkies, in this writer's opinion, would be several tremendously funny, romantic and charming farces co-starring the most beautiful, talented comedienne whose name was not Carole Lombard or Claudette Colbert, Thelma Todd. Two particularly wonderful short comedies in which Chase and Todd co-star are Looser Than Loose (1930) and The Pip From Pittsburg (1931).
Quoting the press release for tonight's show:
"He was one of the most prolific and influential comedians of the 1920s, with a film career that spanned nearly three decades. Today, some 77 years since his passing, Charley Chase (a.k.a. Charles Parrott) still remains one of the most beloved silent screen clowns among modern day fans of classic film comedy.
Chase boasted a lengthy resume, including actor/director/writer and producer, from the 1910s straight into the 1930s. With stints at the Al Christie studios and, most importantly, Mack Sennett's Keystone Studios, it was his arrival at the Hal Roach studios in 1920 where he would reach superstardom in comedy film history. Beginning with one reelers and later moving on to two-reel shorts for Roach, the Chase comedies were centered on situational comedy rather than overt slapstick. Chase knew comedy like no one else did and it clearly shows in his films as both an actor and director.
That Slapstick Show! returns to the great outdoors over at The City Reliquary with its second annual Celebrity Film Roast. Sit back and relax while we honor one of the true comedy masterminds of the silent film era. This special screening will include some rarely seen shorts, so don't miss out—and bring your cinephile friends!
Live accompaniment will be provided by ragtime pianist Charlie Judkins!
Also: There will be a mini tag sale featuring VHS tapes, DVDs, books, filmic collectibles and other goodies...all from the personal collection of That Slapstick Show! co-organizer and cohost Tommy José Stathes."
The City Reliquary is located at 370 Metropolitan Avenue in Bugs Bunny's hometown of Brooklyn, NY. The Celebrity Roast Of Charley Chase starts at 8:00 p.m. For the most up-to-date information, please call (718) 782-4842 or e-mail The City Reliquary at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more info on Mr. Chase's highly varied directorial career, see Lame Brains And Lunatics: The Good, The Bad And The Forgotten Of Silent Comedy by historian Steve Massa. For a comprehensive look at Charley's later work, there's The Charley Chase Talkies 1929-1940 by James L. Neibaur.