Monday, March 30, 2015

WHAT A CHARACTER: PETER LORRE

I am always announcing who may favorites are, but without a doubt my favorite character actor all time was Peter Lorre. His style and accent made him popular with his fans. Born Laszlo Loewenstein in Rosenberg, Austria-Hungary (now Ruzomberok, Slovakia) on June 26, 1904, his parents were Alois and Elvira Lorre. He was educated in Vienna, but at age 17, he ran away from home, working as a bank clerk in Vienna, and then making his acting debut in Zurich, Switzerland.

He was a virtual unknown for seven years, playing bit parts in numerous films in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, until 1931, when German director Fritz Lang cast him as a psychopathic child killer in "M" (1931). After several more German films, the Nazis came to power, and in 1933, he left for Paris, and in 1935, for Hollywood. He was able to find work immediately, and played Raskolnikov in "Crime and Punishment" (1935).

In the late 1930s, he played Japanese sleuth, Mr. Moto, in a series of eight Mr. Moto B films, and became a Hollywood icon after roles in "The Maltese Falcon" (1941) and "Casablanca" (1942). In 1938, the Nazis used images of Peter Lorre from "M" in their propaganda film "Der Ewige Jude" ("The Eternal Jew"), to portray Jews in a negative light.

After the war, he went to Germany, where he wrote, directed and starred in "Der Verlorene" ("The Lost One") (1951), paying homage to his former homeland. After that movie, his roles declined, and his last movie was with Jerry Lewis, in "The Patsy" (1964). He was actually the first James Bond villain, playing the role of Le Chiffre, in "Casino Royale" (1954), long before Sean Connery made 007 a hit star in the 1962 film, "Dr. No." He also was in the original "Voyage To The Bottom of The Sea," where he played Commodore Lucius Emory.

He was married three times, first to Celia Lovsky (1934 to March 1945, divorced), then to Karen Verne (25 May 1945 to 1949), and last to Anne Marie Brenning (21 July 1950 until his death). He had one child, a daughter, Catharine, born in 1950. Catharine was almost abducted by the Hillside Stranglers, Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono, who let her go when they found out she was Peter Lorre's daughter; she discovered this when they were finally caught.


Sadly his daughter died very young. Catharine suffered from juvenile diabetes- As she grew older, complications from her diabetes took a greater toll until in her final year she was hospitalized at Harbor General. At that point, she was suffering vision and circulation problems. She spent upwards of a year there and died shortly after. She died of sepsis and encephalomalacia, complications from diabetes, on May 7, 1985, at age 32. Sadly, unbeknownst to family and friends, she sat in the morgue for nearly a month before funeral arrangements were made.

Peter's voice style was often imitated in films and cartoons, and he was easily one of the most mimicked and caricatured of the Hollywood stars. Once, while he and Vincent Price went to view Bela Lugosi at Bela's funeral, and upon seeing Bela dressed in his famous Dracula cape, quipped "Do you think we should drive a stake through his heart just in case?". Peter Lorre died in failing health after having a stroke on March 23, 1964...

Saturday, March 28, 2015

FORGOTTEN ONES: DEE KEATING

There were so many big band singers in the 1930s and 1940s. Some made it like Jo Stafford and Peggy Lee. However, for all the stars that made it there were many vocalists that were forgotten after the big band era ended in 1945. One of those singers was the great Dee Keating. She was born in Malverne, NY about 1920  and passed away in Bellmore, NY in the year 1965 of an accidental overdose.

In the late 30s, the goal of many young women was to be the girl vocalist in a name dance band. Al Donahue's band recorded and toured and was successful but Al was not a great instrumentalist or singer. In fact he was basically a corny society violin player that changed his band's style to swing in the 30s. So, although Al didn't have the most famous band in the land, it was definitely a competent swing band with good musicians and good charts. Dee got lucky in 1939. Paula Kelly (of future Modernaire fame) the girl vocalist in Al's band got pregnant 

Dee then married the lead trumpet player in the band, Hank Madelina.  This didn't stop Hank from quitting the band abruptly in 1939 and leaving them in Cincinnati OH.  Well they managed to find a 16 year old trumpet prodigy named Ray Anthony to take over the lead chair. He got very friendly with Dee but she was a woman and he was a teenager. Plus she was still married to Hank. Fast forward to 1942. Ray had left to play with Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey and then form his own band in the Navy.  Hank was back with Al Donahue and Dee gave birth to a girl named Patty. After a short maternity leave, Dee stayed with Al Donahue until 1945. (Her relatives took care of Patty) This is when Ray got out of the service, formed a great dance band, got a contract with Capital Records and kept his band going, in one form or another, until just a few years ago. (at 91, Ray is still in good shape and is Hugh Hefner's best friend) 

Dee went with Ray's band, her name at this point, being Dee Anthony.  In 1952, Ray Anthony divorced Dee to marry blonde bombshell starlet, Mamie Van Doren. Dee then became a lady of leisure in Manhattan. (Ray paid her lots of alimony and Patty was kept conveniently out of the picture by being sent off to boarding school) One of her boyfriends being Artie Shaw..  She ended her life in an accidental overdose while living with a CBS cameraman on Long Island in 1965...




I want to thank Dee's nephew Jim Coleman for all the information he provided in this article...

If anyone knows the whereabouts of Dee Keating's daughter Patty, please contact me...

Thursday, March 26, 2015

MY GRANDFATHER WAS FRED ASTAIRE

If you ask Tyler McKenzie about his grandfather, he might dance around the topic. That's because his grandfather was Fred Astaire, and he is shy about discussing it. But he did, with the West Seattle Herald, and seemed to develop a bounce in his step recalling hanging out with perhaps the greatest dancer in the world.

Full disclosure, they were related through marriage, but Fred and Tyler were as close as any grandfather and grandson, he said. Tyler's father, Richard, married Fred Astaire's daughter, Ava, (pronounced AH-vah) who raised him.

"My parents divorced when I was very young, and my mother passed away when I was seven, so my brother and I then lived with my father in West Hollywood and that's when he married Ava," said McKenzie, 50, a real estate broker with Windermere, formerly at their Alaska Junction office and now manager at their Green Lake office. He lives in West Seattle and serves as Delridge Neighborhood Development Association Board Chairman.

Richard's McKenzie Gallery was very successful. He painted realistic portraits of stars including Barbara Stanwyck, Tyler recalled, adding that they moved into a relatively modest home in Beverly Hills.

"I'd see Fred frequently when we were living in Beverly Hills." he said.

"In 1972 when I was 11 my parents went on a trip to Europe, came back, and said, 'Kids, we're moving' and just packed us up and we went to London where we lived for three years," said Tyler. "They found a home in Ireland. We moved there from London. I finished my high school in Ireland. My parents still live there, in County Cork.

"He actually came to Ireland to do a film, Purple Taxi," said Tyler of his famous grandfather. "We spent a significant amount of time together traveling around there then.That was in 1977. My mother was his closest confidant, especially after his sister Adele died." (in 1981)


Long before Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire began his career performing with his sister Adele when he was just four and she was six. They were born in Omaha. They toured the country with their mother, Ann and Ann's sister.

"They were a performing dancing dual," Tyler said. "Many people don't realize that until Adele retired she was the bigger star.

"I knew him well," Tyler said of Fred. "We played pool together and talked about stuff. He was a lovely, considerate, interesting man. But I was very cognizant of the fact that despite the fact that he was my grandfather, he was something else that was very meaningful to everybody," said Tyler.

"We'd be walking down the street on our way to dinner and the world would stop because people would stop on the street and gasp when they recognized him. It was a bizarre feeling to be moving with the spotlight, and to be just outside the shadow of it.

"I think Fred Astaire embodies elegance," Tyler continued. "He had gravitas in that he was gifted, a physical genius. My mother would tell me he didn't work out, didn't adhere to any physical regimen to be any stronger or more nimble. But he rehearsed constantly and with absolute deliberation over and over again so that by the time a number was on the big screen it was indeed perfect.

"It was a product of excruciating difficult work and very long hours," he said. "And so that grace is the embodiment of hard work. He was a hardworking man who was able to manifest that in absolute elegance. But he did have a gift. He was imbued with a natural precision that was his genius. Where his craft came into play was his ability to tap it, to release it. He performed since age four. That's all he knew."



SOURCE

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

PAST OBITS: GENE NELSON

I can not believe I have never featured an article on dancer Gene Nelson. In my opinion he was a slightly wooden actor - but boy could he dance! Here is his obituary fron the New York Times on September 18, 1996...


Gene Nelson Is Dead at 76; Athletic Hollywood Dancer
By DINITIA SMITH
              
Gene Nelson, who played Will Parker, the blond, boyish, high-stepping lasso dancer in the 1955 film version of ''Oklahoma!,'' died on Monday at a hospital in Calabasas, Calif. He was 76 and lived in Los Angeles.
He had been suffering from cancer, said his daughter, Victoria Gordon.

Mr. Nelson, who was also a choreographer, performed as second lead in numerous Broadway and Hollywood musicals. He was an athletic dancer who in the course of his career danced on ships, up a banister and over a Volkswagen.

In ''So, This Is Paris'' with Tony Curtis, he leaped high in the air while a bicycle zipped under his jack-knifed legs. Clive Barnes of The New York Times praised his ''flashily effective 30's-style acrobatic dance solo'' in the 1971 Broadway production of ''Follies,'' for which he won a Tony.

Though Mr. Nelson was considered to have a good, light singing voice, he was frequently overshadowed by Gordon MacRae, with whom he appeared in ''Oklahoma!,'' ''Tea for Two,'' and ''Three Sailors and a Girl.'' Mr. Nelson rarely got the girl; that honor usually went to MacRae.

Mr. Nelson, whose original name was Eugene Berg, was born in Seattle. His family moved to Los Angeles, where he was a gymnast and ice skater in high school. He once said that a Saturday afternoon spent at the movies as a teen-ager watching Fred Astaire dance in ''Flying Down to Rio'' changed his life and made him want to become a performer.

In 1937, he joined the Sonja Henie Hollywood Ice Revue and made his first appearance at the Center Theater on Broadway in ''It Happens on Ice.''

During World War II, Mr. Nelson toured with Irving Berlin's all-male ''This Is the Army,'' entertaining American troops in Europe. Then he moved back to Los Angeles, where he won a two-year contract with 20th Century Fox playing roles in ''I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now'' and ''Gentleman's Agreement.''


In 1948 he appeared in Gower Champion's production of ''Lend an Ear,'' which got him a three-year contract with Warner Brothers. There he appeared with Doris Day in ''Lullaby of Broadway'' and ''Tea for Two,'' which also starred MacRae. He appeared with James Cagney in ''The West Point Story.''

As Mr. Nelson aged -- at least in the terms of the dance world -- he tried his hand at serious dramatic roles. Failing to find success, he began directing films, including two with Elvis Presley, ''Kissin' Cousins'' and ''Harum Scarum.'' Mr. Nelson also directed episodes of numerous television series. He liked to tick them off on his fingers. ''Eight 'Riflemans,' '' he told The San Francisco Chronicle in an interview in 1992, ''32 'Donna Reeds' '' and ''24 'Mod Squads,' '' to name but a few.

He was married three times, to Miriam Franklin, Marilyn M. Fields and Jean Martin. All of the marriages ended in divorce.

In addition to his daughter, of Manhattan, he is survived by two sons, Christopher, of Burbank, Calif., and Douglas, of Los Angeles, and three grandchildren, all of Los Angeles...


SOURCE

Saturday, March 21, 2015

ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE: A 1939 REVIEW

Buried in a year of releases with Gone With The Wind and The Wizard Of Oz, Rose Of Washington Square has always been a favorite musical of mine. Here is the New York Times review as it appeared on May 6, 1939...


Twentieth Century-Fox Strolls Down Melody Lane in 'Rose of Washington Square,' at the Roxy

Twentieth Century-Fox's latest tour down Melody Lane has come to the Roxy under the blushing title "Rose of Washington Square," the Rose being neither Al Jolson nor Tyrone Power (as we had feared), but Alice Faye, who flowers lushly in the cabarets and flounces of the post-war years.

Obviously designed as a thematic sequel to "Alexander's Ragtime Band," the picture makes much the same capital of its sentimentally evocative score, its nostalgic reminders of the speakeasy era, its delicate reminder that the Nineteen Twenties already have become a "costume period."


Bearing the usual prefatory denial of any factual basis, the film tells the story of the loyal Ziegfeld star who married a thief and confidence man, stuck by him through his disgrace and poured all her love and faith into the song "My Man," which she sobbed out each night from the Ziegfeld stage. Miss Faye doesn't resemble Fannie Brice; she doesn't sing "My Man" as well, either. If she did, of course, it would have been just too coincidental.

Nunnally Johnson, who wrote the script, has not succeeded in giving it appreciable dramatic power. Miss Faye's heartbreak never seems to be much deeper than her make-up. Mr. Power's Bart Clinton, an almost equally superficial study in weak criminality, is not afforded a single scene by which his ultimate romantic regeneration can satisfactorily be explained. Mr. Jolson, playing himself and doing it extremely well, is the only member of the starring trio whose performance has warmth and vitality.
Atmospherically, however, the picture has interest. Mr. Jolson's singing of "Mammy," "California, Here I Come" and others is something for the memory book. So is Miss Faye's full-mouthed chanting of "The Vamp," "Rose of Washington Square," "I'm Just Wild About Harry" and a few others. Mr. Johnson would have been wiser, we believe, to have built his tale about Mr. Jolson's career. The picture was at its best when the Mammy specialist held the spotlight...



SOURCE

Thursday, March 19, 2015

MY FIVE FAVORITE CHILDREN MOVIES

I always liked cartoons like the old ones from Warner Brothers. I could take or leave Mickey Mouse at Disney, but there was nothing like a Bugs Bunny cartoon. I never thought though that I would watch as many cartoons as I do now that I have young children. Amazingly some of them are quite good, and some have a lot of elements that appeal to adults and parents as well. Here are my five favorite children movies that I have seen in recent years:


5. HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (2000)
It is hard to believe that this movie is nearly 15 years old, so I guess it it hardly considered a recent children's movie. In actuality, I saw this movie in the theater even before I was married or had children. I saw it with two other friends. Jim Carrey was the perfect grinch, and although I am not a huge Carrey fan, he made you forget he was Jim Carrey. Directed by Ron Howard, there is a lot of adult comedy in the movie, and I remember in the movie theater laughing more than the children there did. I thought my son would be afraid of the movie, but he loved it.

4. FINDING NEMO (2003)
This was another movie I saw with my children well after the movie came out. My son wasn't into the film as much as my wife and I were. The story of a father and son always tugs at my heartstrings. Not only are my happiest moments now spent in doing things with my son, but I also reminds me of my childhood and everything my father never did with me. I will admit many moments in the movie were tear jerkers for me, but it was a great movie.


3. HAPPY FEET (2006)
This is another movie that my wife and I like more than my son does. It is a little long for my son's attention span, but there is just something so cute about cartoon Penguins. I loved the voices that the late Robin Williams provided for the film. I haven't watched the movie since Williams' death and Brittany Murphy also is gone, but the movie is fun to watch. The topics in film - saving the habitat for the Penguins is a very adult issue, but the film was done in a way that it appeals to both adults and children.

2. THE CAT IN THE HAT (2003)
Here is another live action version of a Dr. Seuss book. The movie was not as successful as the Grinch  movie, but lately this movie is all my son wants to watch. The Cat is played by Mike Myers, whose schtick gets a little old sometimes. A lot of times, it feels like The Cat is just Austin Powers in disguise, but the movie is well done. There are some really surprising adult jokes in the movie that thankfully pass over the heads of our children. The movie is short so it holds my son's interest, and I actually really love Alec Baldwin's role as the sleazy boyfriend of the Mom. Unlike the Grinch again, you don't get the backstory for the Cat, but it's just a fun movie.


1. FROZEN (2013)
This movie had to be on this list, I can not see how I could avoid it. I was laughing because the cartoon won an Oscar. My son went to see it in the movie theater with his grandmother, and I told my wife that our son saw an Oscar winning movie before we did. The film has everything for children, from peppy musical numbers to cute unsual second banana (like the talking snowman). There are some surprising adult themes when the princesses parents were killed when their ship was lost at sea, but luckily my son always seems to be doing something when that part comes on. Disney set the bar pretty high with this film, and although I have seen the film countless times now I never seem to get tired of the movie and neither does my children. I guess that is the most important thing!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

PEGGY LEE: THE EARLY YEARS

One of my favorite vocalists to come out of the big band era was the great songbird Peggy Lee. Her voice was as audio aspirin to anyone who had the pleasure of hearing. She was one of the biggest recording artists at Capitol Records in the 1940s and Decca Records in the 1950s, but I wanted to profil some of her earlier and formative years.

Lee was born Norma Deloris Egstrom in Jamestown, North Dakota on May 26, 1920, the seventh of eight children of Marvin Olof Egstrom, a station agent for the Midland Continental Railroad, and his wife Selma Amelia (Anderson) Egstrom. She and her family were Lutherans.[Her father was Swedish American and her mother was Norwegian American.  Her mother died when Lee was just four years old. Afterward, her father married Min Schaumber, who treated her with great cruelty while her alcoholic father did little to stop it. Later, she developed her musical talent and took several part-time jobs so that she could be away from home.

Lee first sang professionally over KOVC radio in Valley City, North Dakota in the mid 1930s. . She later had her own series on a radio show sponsored by a local restaurant that paid her a salary in food. Both during and after her high school years, Lee sang for small sums on local radio stations. Radio personality Ken Kennedy, of WDAY in Fargo, North Dakota (the most widely heard station in North Dakota), changed her name from Norma to Peggy Lee.  Miss Lee left home and traveled to Los Angeles at the age of 17.

She returned to North Dakota for a tonsillectomy, and was noticed by hotel owner Frank Beringin while working at the Doll House in Palm Springs, California. It was here that she developed her trademark sultry purr – having decided to compete with the noisy crowd with subtlety rather than volume. Beringin offered her a gig at The Buttery Room, a nightclub in the Ambassador Hotel East in Chicago. There, she was noticed by bandleader Benny Goodman. According to Lee, "Benny's then-fiancée, Lady Alice Duckworth, came into The Buttery, and she was very impressed. So the next evening she brought Benny in, because they were looking for a replacement for Helen Forrest. And although I didn't know, I was it. He was looking at me strangely, I thought, but it was just his preoccupied way of looking. I thought that he didn't like me at first, but it just was that he was preoccupied with what he was hearing." She joined his band in 1941 and stayed for two years.


In 1942 Lee had her first No. 1 hit, "Somebody Else Is Taking My Place", followed by 1943's "Why Don't You Do Right?" (originally sung by Lil Green), which sold over a million copies and made her famous. She sang with Goodman's orchestra in two 1943 films, Stage Door Canteen and The Powers Girl.

In March 1943 Lee married Dave Barbour, a guitarist in Goodman's band. Peggy said, "David joined Benny's band and there was a ruling that no one should fraternize with the girl singer. But I fell in love with David the first time I heard him play, and so I married him. Benny then fired David, so I quit, too. Benny and I made up, although David didn't play with him anymore. Benny stuck to his rule. I think that's not too bad a rule, but you can't help falling in love with somebody."When Lee and Barbour left the band, the idea was that he would work in the studios and she would keep house and raise their daughter, Nicki. But she drifted back to songwriting and occasional recording sessions for the fledgling Capitol Records in 1947, for whom she produced a long string of hits, many of them with lyrics and music by Lee and Barbour, including "I Don't Know Enough About You" (1946) and "It's a Good Day" (1947). With the release of the US No. 1-selling record of 1948, "Mañana", her "retirement" was over.

Thankfully Peggy did not stick to her retirement. Her time with the big bands was relatively short, but her tenure with the Benny Goodman Orchestra saw her emerging as a formidable vocalist. Her early years performing showed that she definitely had the talent, and it paved the way for her super stardom as a singer and jazz vocalists for decades to come...