Sunday, August 30, 2015


The great jazz vocal stylist Peggy Lee will be celebrated by USM’s release of the 3CD/1DVD package ‘Peggy Lee – Live In London’ on December 4.

The set captures the landmark recordings by Miss Lee in the British capital, including her full live show at the London Palladium in March 1977. This recording includes outtakes, rarities and rehearsals, while the first disc is the studio album ‘Peggy,’ which like the concert itself is being released in full on CD for the first time. The DVD features the full BBC show ‘Peggy Lee Entertains’ from 1981. The set forms a comprehensive record of the only recordings Peggy ever made outside of the US.

The masterful musicality of Peggy Lee, born Norma Egstrom in Jamestown, North Dakota in 1920, made her one of the great names in both the jazz and pop worlds for many decades. Known for such signature songs as ‘Fever,’ ‘Mr. Wonderful,’ ‘Is That All There Is’ and her vocals for the soundtrack of such classic films as ‘Pete Kelly’s Blues’ and Walt Disney’s ‘The Lady and the Tramp,’ she won a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1995.

Lee was uniformly admired by her peers, including Louis Armstrong, who described her as “the greatest ever since I heard her chirp the first note.” Tony Bennett called her “the female Frank Sinatra,” while Sinatra himself said “her regal presence is pure elegance and charm.”

‘Peggy Lee – Live In London’ is dedicated to the memory of her producer Ken Barnes, who produced the original recordings, compiled the new set and wrote the accompanying liner notes. The British-born Barnes, who was a film-maker, songwriter and musicologist among his other talents, also worked with Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire and many other great names. He sadly died on August 4 at the age of 82...

Friday, August 28, 2015


It truly took me a long time to warm up to the zombie genre. Other than a few bad Bela Lugosi zombie movies from the early 1930s, I really had to admit I was afraid of zombies. My brother in law was into AMC's The Walking Dead series, and he jokes me that I don't watch shows until they are off the air. Hey, I am finally getting into I Love Lucy! Anyways, I started watching The Walking Dead, and I got hooked. So it was natural that I would watch it's spin off series Fear The Walking Dead which debuted on August 23rd. It moves slower than its parents series but it is pretty good.

Set in Los Angeles, California, the series follows a dysfunctional family composed of high school guidance counselor Madison Clark, her English teacher boyfriend Travis Manawa, and her overachieving daughter Alicia and drug-addicted son Nick, in the onset of the zombie apocalypse. The four are forced to choose between profoundly changing or proceeding as their current flawed selves while they come to terms with the impending collapse of civilization.

What I can say from the first episode (which shouldn't be forming such negative impressions as it's only ONE EPISODE so far) is that it's definitely intriguing to see it from the beginning of the zombie apocalypse, with cool news footage sequences of what at the moment is an 'unknown virus', and people going off the rails seeing what they're trying to convince people is "people eating other people", and it's definitely great to see the reactions to the impending zombie apocalypse, as this show starts when society is still fully functioning but strange things are happening.

I also found the characters' reactions to the "incidents" that did happen to be completely relatable. The high school kid who had been following the various events online and predicted "the end of times" was written off as a conspiracy theorist and told to stop spending so much time online. Because "if there really was something to worry about, the authorities would have told us". The drug addicted guy (Nick) who witnessed it first hand dismissed it as a hallucination and either a sign of a mental disorder or a really bad 'trip'. He thought he must be crazy so he refused to talk to the police about it and instead went to his dealer to see if the drugs were laced with something. Even the people who watched the leaked shooting video online thought it must have been faked or there must be a logical reason for it (like bath salts). No one really saw this for what it is, which is exactly what I would expect if it ever happened in real life.

The debut of this series was the biggest debut in cable history, and it shows that the zombie drama is not going anywhere quick. While this series may not have me as intrigued as its parent series, I know where I will be every Sunday night at 9pm....


Wednesday, August 26, 2015


A good time in my house to watch a classic movie these days is either after the kids go to bed (around 9pm) or before they wake up (before 7am) so I was actually happy the one Saturday morning I woke up wide awake around 5am and put on TCM. I got a chance to rewatch one of my favorite movies - The Great Dictator. The Great Dictator is a 1940 American satirical political comedy-drama film starring, written, produced, scored, and directed by Charlie Chaplin, following the tradition of many of his other films. Having been the only Hollywood filmmaker to continue to make silent films well into the period of sound films, this was Chaplin's first true talking picture as well as his most commercially successful film.

At the time of its first release, the United States was still formally at peace with Nazi Germany. Chaplin's film advanced a stirring, controversial condemnation of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini's fascism, antisemitism, and the Nazis.

Chaplin's film followed only nine months after Hollywood's first parody of Hitler, the short subject You Nazty Spy! by the Three Stooges which itself premiered in January 1940,  although Chaplin had been planning it for years before. Hitler had been previously allegorically pilloried in the German film by Fritz Lang, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse.

The film was directed by Chaplin (with his half-brother Wheeler Dryden as assistant director), and also written and produced by Chaplin. The film was shot largely at the Charlie Chaplin Studios and other locations around Los Angeles. The elaborate World War I scenes were filmed in Laurel Canyon. Chaplin and Meredith Willson composed the music. Filming began in September 1939 and finished six months later.

Chaplin was motivated by the escalating violence and repression of Jews by the Nazis throughout the late 1930s, the magnitude of which was conveyed to him personally by his European Jewish friends and fellow artists. The Third Reich's repressive nature and militarist tendencies were also well-known at the time. Indeed, Ernst Lubitsch's 1942 To Be or Not To Be dealt with similar themes, even including another mistaken-identity Hitler figure. However, Chaplin later stated that he would not have made the film had he known of the true extent of the Nazis' crimes. This view became widely held after the scope of Nazi atrocities became apparent: for it took nearly twenty years for films to find the right angle and tone to satirize the era.

As Hitler and his Nazi Party rose to prominence, Chaplin's popularity throughout the world became greater than ever; he was mobbed by fans on a 1931 trip to Berlin, which annoyed the Nazis, who published a book in 1934 titled The Jews Are Looking at You, in which the comedian was described as "a disgusting Jewish acrobat" (despite the fact that Chaplin was not Jewish). Ivor Montagu, a close friend of Chaplin, relates that he sent Chaplin a copy of the book and always believed this was the genesis of Dictator. The similarity of the moustaches of Hitler and Chaplin has been widely noted. In the 1930s cartoonists and comedians often noted the resemblance. Chaplin chose to capitalize on this resemblance in order to give his Little Tramp character a "reprieve".

Charlie Chaplin's son Charles Jr. describes how his father was haunted by the similar backgrounds of Hitler and himself. He writes,
Their destinies were poles apart. One was to make millions weep, while the other was to set the whole world laughing. Dad could never think of Hitler without a shudder, half of horror, half of fascination. "Just think," he would say uneasily, “he’s the madman, I’m the comic. But it could have been the other way around." 

Chaplin prepared the story throughout 1938 and 1939, and began filming in September 1939, one week after the beginning of World War II. He finished filming almost six months later. The 2002 TV documentary on the making of the film, The Tramp and the Dictator, presented newly discovered footage of the film production (shot by Chaplin's elder half-brother Sydney) which showed Chaplin's initial attempts at the film's ending, filmed before the fall of France.

According to The Tramp and the Dictator, the film was not only sent to Hitler, but an eyewitness confirmed he saw it. This allegation has however, been denied by Hitler's architect and friend Albert Speer. Hitler's response to the film is not recorded, but he is said to have viewed the film twice. Some of the signs in the shop windows of the ghettoized Jewish population in the film are written in Esperanto, a language which Hitler condemned as a Jewish plot to internationalize and destroy German culture, perhaps because its inventor was a Polish Jew.

The movie is 75 years old now, but it is as compelling and moving as it was in 1940. I recommend this movie to everyone from classic movie fan to students of film. I could go on and on about this film, but I'll let you see it and be the judge...


Monday, August 24, 2015


Here is an excellent story I found about the death of silent movies. It is much better than anything I could write...

October 6, 1927 remains one of the most decisive days in the history of pop culture. It changed the course of an industry, the expectations of the public, and forever altered the form of an art.The event was the first public presentation of Warner Bros.’ The Jazz Singer starring Al Jolson—which was the first film to feature talking sequences. While experiments with sound dated back to the earliest days of cinema, it wasn’t until the introduction of Vitaphone (in which sound was recorded on a disc and then synchronized with the projector for proper playback) in 1926 that sound seemed a distinct possibility. Vitaphone’s trial run was synchronized musical accompaniment to the otherwise silent Don Juan, as well as several short subjects that featured lip-synced dialogue. Don Juan proved that a huge orchestra was no longer necessary to provide a symphonic score to a motion picture: now even the smallest theaters had the potential to wow audiences with the sounds of a full orchestra. The days of the silent picture accompanist were now numbered. But it was The Jazz Singer that really spelled the end of an era. Even though the movie was still only part-talkie and was largely silent with intertitles, it showed exhibitors and producers that audiences craved talking and singing and crying and laughing. They wanted sound pictures.

It was now up to the industry to catch up, and decide how to make “talkies” an economically viable reality. Fox’s introduction of Movietone (a sound-on-film process that replaced the necessity of synchronizing projection with a disc) only further cemented the industry’s investment in sound picture production. However, as historian Lewis Jacobs describes, there was still plenty to work out.

The entire industry, now in a panic, rushed into the production of sound pictures, hoping to make up for lost time… Major companies at first tried to play the game from all sides. Their production schedules included part-talkies, all-talkies, sound films, and silent films, the common supposition being that eventually the talkie would merely share the screen with the silent movie. But as time went on and more theaters were wired for sound, it became apparent that the talkies were entirely supplanting the “silents.”

The switchover from silent to sound in the American film industry, which began in late 1927, was primarily complete by 1929 (though even in that year silent pictures continued to be produced, though at a heavily reduced rate). And while the transition took longer overseas (as late as 1936 Yasujrio Ozu was still making silent films in Japan), the dominance of Hollywood in the world market assured that sound would soon become an international phenomenon.

All of which begs to ask, what happened on American screens in 1928? It was a pivotal year in the transition, an entire year in which silent and sound pictures shared theater marquees, and when both were viable commercial artforms. Though silents would still exist in 1929, their era was not just numbered—it was practically over. And while Charlie Chaplin would continue to make two silent films in the 1930s (City Lights and Modern Times), both are certainly anomalies and do not represent the dominant trends in the industry (and were also produced by his independent company and not by major Hollywood studios). Thus 1928 was truly a special year, in which the innovators of an art were able to continue making pictures with a clear end in sight.

How did filmmakers – actors, directors, writers, and all the other professionals that comprise a movie crew – respond to the silent screen’s last call? One thing is for certain: the silent cinema was far from dead. It was thriving with innovation, artistry, and entertainment. Moreover, the artform was still continuing to grow. With the influx of German émigrés such as F.W. Murnau and Paul Leni, expressionism was reinvigorating Hollywood and cinematography. Filmmakers as varied as Frank Borzage, John Ford, King Vidor, and Paul Fejos, were taking expressionism and, more than just giving it their own spin, were turning it into an fully American style that would come to dominate Hollywood production for the next several decades.

1928 also marks a division, of sorts, between two different eras of Hollywood idols. Many of the craftsmen behind the scenes continued to have successful careers well into the sound era, particularly directors such as Ford, Vidor, and Borzage. Sadly, Murnau and Leni suffered untimely deaths – Leni in 1929 of blood poisoning, and Muranu in 1931 in a car accident – that cut short their careers. As it is, we can only speculate of the heights they could have attained, had they the opportunity to continue making movies.

The faces of the silent screen, however, would be noticeably different. Lillian Gish, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Louise Brooks, and even Charlie Chaplin—these were the first generation of Hollywood royalty. But after the coming of sound, their careers would be severely diminished, at least on-screen. Chaplin’s productivity halted to a couple films per decade; Gish worked mainly on the stage, and later on television, returning to the cinema only on rare occasions; Pickford and Brooks gave up after a few sound picture, as did Fairbanks. Comedians such as Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Harry Langdon were still active into the talking era, however their status was marginal compared their hay days in the 1920s. Other actors, however, such as Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, and Gary Cooper (to name only a few) would continue successfully into the sound era.

Did the “talkies” kill the “silents”? In some ways, yes, the rivalry is as simple as that. Hollywood has always been an industry, and it always goes in the direction of profit. When “talkies” promised increased revenue, that’s where producers invested their time and money. But in other ways, the “talkies” never killed the “silents” because silent cinema never truly died. While some of the personnel were not able to make the transition, others certainly did. And while it took some years for sound technology to catch up to the sophistication of the camera, once it became a tool rather than a hindrance, the camera began to move with the same grace it did during the silent era. But most important, silent cinema never died because we still have the films. That so many are still lost and will never be recovered is an undeniably tragedy, but those do survive continue to astound, entertain, and inspire viewers some eighty years later…


Saturday, August 22, 2015


One of the great characters that appeared in countless good films was the great Cecil Kellaway. He was born on this day in 1890 in Cape Town, South Africa, where he gained an early interest in theatre acting, much to the displeasure of his parents. He was educated in South Africa and England, before becoming a touring stock company actor. By the early 1920s, he had settled in Australia, becoming a popular character comedian of the local stage.

Well-known as a comedian in South Africa, Kellaway came to Australia in 1921 under contract to J. C. Williamson Ltd. On 21 January 1922 he appeared as the comic father of four daughters in A Night Out at Melbourne's Theatre Royal. He made a hit and performed in revivals in 1924, 1926 and 1931. For sixteen years he played character roles in musical comedies with Williamson's New Musical Comedy Company and became a favourite with audiences in such roles as Count Orpitch in Katja (1925), the polite lunatic in The Belle of New York and the British major in Sons o' Guns (1931).

In 1932 he played in Blue Roses and Hold my Hand with Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard and in 1936-37 in The Gipsy Princess, A Southern Maid and The Merry Widow with Gladys Moncrieff; in the last as Baron Popoff he gave 'the audience a mild attack of convulsions with his gait, and his red boots and yellow pants'. Whatever his part, Kellaway played it with 'aplomb and careless grace'. Sometimes an inferior piece was partly redeemed by his acting — the Bulletin claimed that in a revival of Florodora (1931) Kellaway gave 'a depth and humanity to Tweedlepunch that even the author could not suspect was there'.

Though a native of South Africa, Cecil Kellaway spent many years as an actor, author and director in the Australian film industry until he tried his luck in Hollywood in the 1930s. Finding he could get only gangster bit parts, he got discouraged and returned to Australia. Then William Wyler called and offered him a part in Wuthering Heights (1939). From then on Kellaway was always in demand when the part called for a twinkling, silver-haired leprechaun.

After receiving acclaim for his main role in the Australian Cinesound film It Isn't Done (1937), for which he also provided the original story, he was screen-tested by RKO Pictures and put under contract. He returned to Australia for a second Cinesound film, Mr. Chedworth Steps Out (1938), before going on to a long career as a Hollywood character actor, with prominent roles in William Wyler's Wuthering Heights (1939), The House of the Seven Gables (1940), The Letter (1940), Kitty (1945), Love Letters (1945), as the husband of Lana Turner's character in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), Portrait of Jennie (1948), Harvey (1950), Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967).

He was twice nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, for The Luck of the Irish in 1948 and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner in 1967.

In 1959 Kellaway made a guest appearance on Perry Mason as chemist and murderer Darrell Metcalf in "The Case of the Glittering Goldfish". In 1961, Kellaway guest starred as MacKay in the episode "Incident In The Middle of Nowhere" on CBS's Rawhide. In 1967, Kellaway played the part of a wealthy older suitor in one episode of "That Girl".

Cecil Kellaway died after a long illness at West Los Angeles convalescent home on February 28, 1973. He was survived by his wife of 54 years Doreen, his two sons, and his four grandchildren. His interment was at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery. His cousins were fellow actors Edmund Gwenn and Arthur Chesney...

Thursday, August 20, 2015


Today I found out four of the five Marx brothers got their nicknames during a poker game.

The famed Marx family comedy act was made up of Julius, Adolph, Leonard, Milton, and Herbert Marx. But to all of us who know and love this delightful comedy group, we know these five characters better as Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Gummo, and Zeppo Marx, names four of the five were given one fateful night in 1915.

The boys got involved in a poker game in Galesburg, Illinois with monologist Art Fisher. It was a popular fad around this time to give everyone and anyone a nickname that ended in “o”. For instance, common nicknames were things like “Jingo” or “Bongo” or “Ringo” or “Typo” or “Cheerio”. (You get the idea.)

In this poker game, Fisher was dealing out the cards to the four Marx brothers and he gave them each their nicknames in rapid fire. “First, here’s a card for ‘Harpo’.” Harpo was the easiest, Adolph Marx played the harp.

“Here’s one for ‘Chicko’.” Leonard Marx was a notorious ladies’ man and, in those days, women and girls were often referred to as “chickens”. (Later, as now, the slang term became “chicks”, which had actually previously referred to children since the 17th century.) As Groucho later said, Chico got the nickname as he was a “Chicken chaser”.

You might be wondering at this point, why it was later “Chico” instead of “Chicko”. Supposedly, a typesetter accidentally left the “k” in “Chico” out in one town the brothers were performing in, and his name became “Chico” instead. This typo gave rise to the misconception that his name should be pronounced as “cheek-o”, when in fact the correct pronunciation is actually “Chick-o”. Although, Chico rarely corrected people when they pronounced it wrong, even show hosts who’d interview him.

Next to be dealt a card was Julius, “and here’s a card for Groucho”. As to why this nickname was picked, there are two popular explanations and one that for a long time was put forth by Groucho, which few believe. The first is that the name derived from Julius’ not-so-friendly demeanor. Julius denied this for most of his life. The second popular theory is that it had to do with an item he commonly carried with him, a big pouch-type container, popular at the time, called a “grouch bag” (a.k.a. a small purse that goes around your neck and under your shirt), where Groucho kept his money.

The origin story Groucho himself often put forth was that he got the nickname after “Groucho the Monk” from the Knocko the Monk comic strip. However, shortly before he died, Groucho said that he hadn’t been entirely honest about the origin of his name and that Al Fisher had given him the nickname because of a propensity towards moodiness. However, it isn’t clear if this is any more accurate than his “comic strip character” origin story.

The fourth and least-known Marx brother was Milton, “and here’s a card for Gummo”, Fisher said, as he dealt the final Marx brother his card. This one has two popular theories behind it, but the one the family (excepting Harpo) states is correct is that Milton often wore gumshoes (rubber soled shoes), hence the “gummo” moniker. The alternate origin put forth by Harpo is that Gummo was sneaky and would creep up on people like a gumshoe detective. In both cases, the origin is related to the rubber soled gumshoes (where gumshoe detectives got their name).

As to how the fifth Marx brother got his name, that one’s completely up for debate. A few years later, the new straight man and the youngest of the five brothers entered the act, replacing older brother, Gummo. Herbert Marx somehow became the infamous “Zeppo” Marx. Harpo said Zeppo was named in honor of a wild monkey who played on the bars and ran around named “Zippo”. Groucho, on the other hand, said in 1972 that Zeppo was named after the Zeppelin airships...