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Monday, May 11, 2020

First, it is time for the airing of grievances. Jerry Stiller is dead. Sure, he was 92 and had a long successful career, but it’s just another nail in the coffin for that 60s style of comedy duos that entertain so many millions when TV had an endless stream of variety shows on every night of the week.

Stiller was New York through and through. And his life mirrored that of many males of that era, formed by a depression and a World War and all the crazy twist and turns that followed. After serving in the Army, he took up acting in the theater. There he met his future wife and partner in comedy Anne Meara who died in 2015 after being a mother to comedian Ben Stiller and his sister Amy. A common man’s Nichols & May, Stiller & Meara were always a welcome attraction on the Ed Sullivan Show.

The 1970s found him working on Broadway with The Ritz and Hurly-burly among the more notable. Films included The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three and John Waters’ Hairspray where he was husband to Divines Edna Turnblad.

But he achieved lasting fame as Frank Costanza, the father George Costanza on Seinfeld. Bombastic, hot-tempered and roiling with righteous indignation, Frank also has the distinction of creating his own holiday, Festivus, which moved over into the real world to become the second most celebrated holiday after Halloween.

Later he landed in a (too) similar role in The King of Queens.


April 1, 2020

This quarantine is driving me nuts. I watch so much tv now that a nurse practitioner has to come in twice a day to rotate me in my BarcaLounger so I don't get bed sores.


March 16, 2020

Trapped by the Coke-a-cola virus, Pearl and I are just hanging around the house and watching the paint dry. *

January 9, 2020:

'Well, would you Believe Buck Henry is Dead?'

I knew him from 1964–65's 'That Was the Week That Was,' the satiric TV show that was sponsored by the Republican Party who would buy the airtime and then pre-empt the show. But Buck Henry was much more than a saber rattler with a rapier wit. He wrote the screenplays of The Graduate, Candy, Catch-22, and many more. He was a cast member on the old New Steve Allen Show way back in 1961. From 1965 through 1970 (and beyond) he made a lot of money as the co-creator and head writer for Get Smart with Mel Brooks. He made not so much money from Captain Nice in 1967 and Quark a decade later and which I kinda liked. In his final years he did a lot of guest spots on television, shows from Will and Grace and 30 Rock. Oh, yeah, and he helped define Saturday Night Live in its nascent days years when it was funny and subversive before it became unfunny and corporate. Buck Henry died yesterday after a long illness at 89.


January 9, 2020:

Face to Face on Facebook


The Ritz Brothers were the Tex Avery of comedy, pure uninhibited id running amuck singing gibberish, eccentric dancing and pulling faces. The Marx Brothers hung out in a real world but the Ritz Brothers were torn from the comic pages and doing Smoky Stovers only better. Their best film was the Goldwyn Follies, a mixed bag of highbrow pretension and lowbrow comedy. Only they stand out in a clutter contract-actors including Adolphe Menjou, Kenny Baker, and Bobby Clark. Between them and periodic appearances by a low-key Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, in the laugh department the film is from hunger. On YouTube I suggest you check out NBC's All-Star Review, broadcast on May 17, 1952 that has them as hosts and gives quick glances of the TV technology of the era. Looking dazed and confused are co-stars Jack Webb and Peter Leeds (who often worked with Stan Freberg on his classic recordings ['too piercing, man, too piercing']).


February 5, 2019

It was like 7 degrees last weekend. 30s yesterday; 60 today. Then back down to the 40s tomorrow. I sure would hate to be an expansion joint right now.


February 2, 2021

Mitch just stuck his head out from his hole and saw his shadow. That means six more weeks of gridlock.


February 4, 2019

The Death of 'I Know Him!' Dick Miller

As a kid I was aware of actor Dick Miller as much as I was Lugosi or Karloff or Lee. It was all because of “Double Chiller Theater”, a Saturday night marathon of no-budget horror films that Channel 6 ran from 11:15 PM to 3 or 4 AM Sunday mornings in the early 60s. If they were showing another one of Roger Corman’s grind-’em-out epics, Miller was certain to be in it, livening up whatever role, large or small, he was given. It is reported that he has upwards of 200 credits to his name, and I have no reason to doubt it. Those directors who got their start in Corman’s film factory tended to include Miller in each new film they made, a sort of good-luck talisman towards box office success. Whatever the film, whatever the budget, whatever the level of box office success, be it “The Terminator”, or “Gremlins”, or “Matinée”, (a personal favorite), Miller always stood out. He starred magnificently only once – in Corman’s 1962 grand guignol throw-away, “A Bucket Of Blood” as a no-talent sculptor who finds success in plaster-covered corpses. Miller died yesterday, still working, grinding it out at 90.


I Remember...

The Lenape Funhouse was a death trap that I loved. It was all wood – tinder wood really, painted pitch black with spider webs ticking your forehead. Outside was a caged clown manically laughing as blasts of cold air shot up your legs. Floors would drop out from under you or suddenly tilt side to side. And finally, weak sunlight would break through the darkness. A desperate dash towards a possible escape. You would sit on a long bench that would collapse a drop you on a long conveyer belt that pushed you towards the exit as fake fruits and vegetables fell from the ceiling.

This childhood dreamland came to a sudden cruel end in the early 1960s I am told when the park’s owner decided to close it rather than let blacks in. But others say that it was hearsay and the family kept the park open until the mid Seventies. Much of it had to be torn down due to termite damage . <*>


Sweet Rose Marie

She was 96 if she was a day. Not the 94 that has been officially reported. To a child star the difference between being 6 and 8 can be the difference between a rising career and one that was approaching its end. So, if they shaved a few years off Baby Rose Marie's age, so what. The true miracle was that her career lasted for over nine decades until it ended Thursday afternoon with her death at home.

Almost all anyone ever talks about was her role on the Dick Van Dyke show as comedy writer Sally Rogers. It was based on the career of Stella Diamond whose droll wit would have given even Dorothy Parker dry mouth.

But Rose Marie Mazzetta made the role her own, as did all her cohorts on the show, adding heart, intelligence and touching quirkiness to what could have been a one-dimensional role. But I hope you will remember her for more than that. She was a star at 10, at 20, and every year after that until hobbled by ill health that was never able to rob her of her good spirits. Watch her back in 1929, a Shirley Temple with brass knuckles who could belt out a song like Sophie Tucker: It's here on YouTube at



All Star Comedies

Charles Ruggles. Burns & Allen. W.C Fields. Director Norman McLeod: I just watched "Love in Bloom," "Six of a Kind" and "Here Comes Cookie" with the aforementioned talent in various combinations. How could such a lineup create something so uninspired and why would anyone shoot it, let alone release it? RKO in the 30s seemed to have a predilection for throwing radio names in underwritten scripts to create second features that were below even those modest goals, pictures that no one would want to be associated with or even watch. No matter how cheaply they were to produce, they couldn't have made back their money.


Basil Gogos was as much Famous Monsters of Filmland as was Forrest J. Ackerman. His covers, in their expressive use of color, created a sense of dread in his portraits of Dracula, Frankenstein and the Phantom of the Opera. He died on September 13, 2017 in Manhattan at the age of 88. He swathed his horrors in vivant hues that were strictly expressive and would seemingly inspire the lighting in the films of Mario Brava. Shadows would be dark green, highlights cold blue, all because Famous Monster Jim Warner wanted covers that would stand out on the magazine rack.

Gogos was born in Alexandria, Egypt on March 12, 1929, and started drawing while working in the family clothing shop after the emigrated to New York City. After a stint in art school he had begun illustrating stories in men's magazines. Then in 1960 he did his first cover for Famous Monsters of Filmland, a portrait of Vincent Price in Roger Corman, 'House of Usher' After Warren dropped him as his price began to rise, he pretty much abandoned magazines for 'high art,' taking only the occasion commission, like the cover of Rob Zombie's 1998 album, 'Hellbilly Deluxe.' For a whole generation of 1960 boys he captured the macabre magic of those gothic horrors playing late night on TV.


'Ring, Ring: Shelley Berman's Dead.'

Shelley Berman would tell you never let a documentary crew follow you around for weeks on end for a candid behind the scenes look of your life. One false move, like flipping out at the stage crew, and everyone will hate you. That's exactly happen to Shelly in 1961 and his career never recovered, reducing his career to sporadic bar gigs and guest roles on sitcoms (usually as the main comic's father or uncle).

He really wanted to be an actor, but when that never materialized, he began creating mini- plays using a trope as old as the phone itself, the one-sided conversation (remember 'Cohan on the Phone'?) He pioneered the comedy lp along with Mort Salh, Bob Newhart, Jonathan Winters and Nichols and May. In fact, he had wanted create a three-person improve group with Nichols and May, but they quickly left him behind. It as a slight he never forgot.

Out on his own, he forged his unique style of comedy that resulted in such classic lps as 'Inside Shelley Berman' (1959), 'Outside Shelley Berman' (1959), and 'The Edge of Shelley Berman (1960)'.

On Friday, he lost a long battle with Alzheimer's at the age of 92.


'I never learned hate at home, or shame. I had to go to school for that.'

For Dick Gregory, his comedy and his political activism went hand in hand. In a time when it was considered a political move for a white person to welcome a black into their home, Gregory would walk out onto the stage of a Tv talk shows with the casual certainty of a man who knew he belong there. He was the first African-American comic to perform regularly in front of white audiences, thanks in no small part to the numerous Playboy Clubs that booked him regularly and the commitment of Jack Paar not to kowtow to the networks and sponsors.

Raised by a single-mom, Gregory got an athletic scholarship to Southern Illinois University but was forced to leave when he was drafted in 1954. It was there that he began doing stand-up in camp shows which after he was discharged eventually led to a nighttime gig as an MC at Chicago bar while delivering mail during the day. Then Huge Hefner caught a performance one night and had him booked into his clubs. He was working steadily after that going from $50 a week to $250 almost overnight.

Like Mort Saul his humor was always topical, literally torn from the headlines of newspapers and magazines. He put his word to good use by becoming a civil-rights activist and, later an opponent of the Vietnam War. He marched in Selma, Ala. He was wounded during the 1965 Watts riots and arrested in Washington for protesting the Vietnam War. He even ran for mayor of Chicago in 1967 but lost (no surprise, it was to Richard Daley).

Then he ran for president, losing again, this time to Richard Nixon.

In later years when he was asked why he doesn't just slow down now and take it easy comedian had a stock answer: 'I tell 'em, the fight for freedom is out there ' it ain't at my house.'

Dick Gregory died on Sunday, August 20, 2017 at the age of 84.




Sunday, August 20, 2017, Las Vegas, Nevada:
Good or bad, he was an auteur; a Jerry Lewis Film was a Jerry Lewis film. Only he could have made �The Nutty Professor,� poring all his self-loathing into it while still finding room to take on the love-hate relationship with his suave older brother, Dean Martin. When he died at his Las Vegas home yesterday, the polarizing comic left a legacy that included such technical innovations as video assists, which let the director immediate see what the camera saw without having to wait. Movies were better for it � and not just his.

He also commanded a rare measure of creative control, retaining the rights to many of his films, making his films just the way he wanted and making them cheap enough so that everyone made money. This didn�t hold true in other business ventures, like his chain of Jerry Lewis Theaters, push-button movie houses that showed only 16mm prints of �family-friendly� films. (The one in Newark quickly went bust, it first became a porno, then a Blockbuster. When it was finally torn down the bank sowed the lot with salt. But I digress�)

His film career began when Paramount Pictures producer Hal Wallis saw Martin and Lewis as a potential replacement for the aging Hope and Crosby team. Their anarchic style perfectly reflected the post war nihilism brought back by soldiers who had face instant death day after day. Until their break ups in 1956 they ground out a string of top grossing films while still finding time for tv, radio and recordings. (Lewis� did some of his best work in a series of novelty records for Capital, only ruined when he decided to sing serious, like an over-blown Jolson.)

On his own he became a triple threat man writing, producing and directing such top grossers as �The Ladies Man,� �The Errand Boy,� and �The Nutty Professor.� Only his attempt at a live variety show on ABC in 1963 failed�- and failed big, created one of the great tv disasters of all time, lasting a scant 13 weeks before he pulled the plug.

In the 1970s his directing career slowed down as he began to buy into the critical accolades from foreign film critics. Soon he signed on to appear in other director�s works, most notably Martin Scorsese�s �The King of Comedy� and the criminally neglected 1995 Peter Chelsom�s film �Funny Bones.� Such efforts helped rehabilitate his reputation in America, but never matched the way he was lionized in France where he received a Legion of Honor award in 1983. But even they couldn�t muster much enthusiasm for his last film, the lachrymose, �Max Rose� when it was screened at their Cannes Film Festival in 2013.

Hokey Smokes! June Foray died today�

Thursday, July 27, 2017: June Foray, the voice of everybody�s favorite flying squirrel and everybody�s favorite Commie spy Natasha Fatale, died early today at the age of 99. It was amazing how such a big talent could be contained in such a tiny woman. Standing next to her I would tower over her.

Many felt sad as their childhood closed another door.

Foray was heard everywhere. She was Witch Hazel, Nell Fenwick, Dudley Do-Right�s gal,� Granny in the �Tweedy and Sylvester� cartoons and every little girl in nearly every cartoon. She also was the voice of a talking doll on the Twilight Zone.

They say she was born June Lucille Forer in Springfield, Massachusetts started working in radio at the age of 12. Over the years she performed tirelessly, but rarely in front of the camera, from �Lux Radio Theater� to �The Jimmy Durante Show.� She was heard on Steve Allen�s morning radio show, �Smile Time.� In the 1950s she, Peter Leeds and Daws Butler became part of Stan Freberg stock company for such classic comedy recordings as �St. George and the Dragonet,� �Little Blue Riding Hood and CBS radio�s �The Stan Freberg Show.� Then there was all her work with Jay Ward�

I interviewed her many times over the years and met her in person at the Museum of Broadcasting for a special night saluting Rocky and Bullwinkle where she elicited my help in a plan to ditch Mae Questel and go explore the city on our own (�I love Mae dearly,� she whispered. �But she can be a little stuffy.�) Unfortunately, we got shanghaied into a cocktail party, which was fun � but not as fun as running amuck in New York with June would have been.

I�ll play a lot of tunes featuring June after the interview with Ron Donte of The Detergents this Sunday.

June would have been 100th this September.

HUNE, 2017: Jos� Jim�nez is dead. He was 92.

His father was Bill Dana, who had a long career behind the scenes as a comedy writer, actor and producer. He created Jim�nez in 1959 for an appearance on �The Steve Allen Show� in a sketch about training Santa Claus impersonators to say,�Jo Jo Jo.� Dana was born William Szathmary in Quincy, Mass., on Oct. 5, 1924. He went to Emerson College in Boston, graduating in 1950 with a degree in speech and drama. An appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show as reluctant astronaut Jim�nez led to his 1963 program, The Bill Dana Show where Jim�nez was a bellhop and Jonathan Harris the hotel manager. Don Adams was the house detective. Beside working with Don Adams on �Get Smart,� he also wrote the classic episode of �All in the Family,� guest starring Sammy Davis Jr. Jos� Jim�nez is dead. He was 92. <>�

The Children of Don Herbert

The Futile Gesture of Marching for Science

DATELINE: April 22, 2017: It was the proverbial taking coals to New Castle. A bunch of aged college town habitu�s painfully walking with arthritic hips and knee replacements around the town of Newark, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the University of Delaware. It was cold and damp but it made us feel like we were achieving something. And it brought back memories when we stopped the war. It was a creative crowd, raised on black and white tv, dangerous home chemistry sets and Sputnik, joining the rocket club and blasting them off in the backyard and scaring the cats. Lightly raining, umbrellas soon outnumber the placards three to one few. Some of the signs exhibited the creativity that is the scientific spark. One read, �Black Holes Matter.� Another, �Free Schr�dinger's cat.� I wore a shirt my girlfriend gave me that read, �I�m with Stupid,� with a large red arrow pointing straight up. All was going well until many of us decided we needed a bathroom break around the time the Deer Park Tavern came in view, promising to catch up with the rest shortly. There, we raised a glass to the late Don Herbert and recalled a time when there were no such things as �Alternate Facts.� When I returned to my group, a little buzzed and very tired, I flashed back to the last protest I in so many years ago and shouted, �Pigs off campus!� I was asked to leave, and seizing the opportunity, did so.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Gonged At Last: Chuck Barris, star of the �Gong Show� is Morte

I hated �The Dating Game.� �The Newlywed Game, �too. But �The Gong Show�! Every day at 11:30 I would tune in to the madness that was bludgeoning American culture to a deserved death. It�s creator, Chuck Barris died yesterday at his home in, where else?, Palisades, N.Y. He was 87.

He denied it, but everyone seemed blissed out on coke, including those at the network who let him run amok. But the show really caught the zeitgeists of the 70s, a decadent Studio 54 stripped five days a week. The show broke ground in so many unrespectable ways: two young girls calling themselves �The Nickle Ride� servicing a popsicle (�That�s how I got started in the business,� said panelist Jay P. Morgan, encouragingly.) A guy with a paper bag over his head telling bad jokes known as �The Unknown Comic.� �Gene, Gene the Dancing Machine.� Jay P. Morgan again, this time exposing her breasts. The list is long and rich.

He tried to turn the Gong Show into a feature film, working with Robert Downey, Sr, but the old friends found their shared sensibilities oddly at odds. Downey walked and Chuck made a mess of movie on his own.

Oh, yeah, he also wrote the hit pop song, �Palisades Park� in 1963. And he wrote a book that claim he was a hit man for the CIA that George Clooney made into a really good film.

Chuckie was one of a kind. And that was enough. According to his New York Times obit, when asked how he would be remembered he admitted, �I think on my tombstone it�s just going to say, �Gonged at last,� and I�m stuck with that�.

Gonged maybe, but not forgotten.

Thanks to everyone who donated to Crazy College during our fund drive. Thanks too to Debby and Barb for coming in to talk about the Arts Alliance and theResident Ensemble Players. And of course a special tip o' the hat to Vicki Kelly and family for coming down and talking about her appearance on Jeopardy...

DEAR CRAZY COLLEGE READERS: This week we ask our readers to help us. To protect our independence, we'll never run ads until someone offers us money. We survive on the kindness of strangers. If everyone reading this right now sent me one gold bar, a fist full of diamonds or just a box of American money, this fundraiser would be gone almost as fast as I would. Yep, that�s about the price of buying my integrity � many times over. We�re a non-profit organization, but not because we want it that way. Crazy College is something special. It is like a library or a public park where you can all go and do things you would never do at home. If Crazy College is useful to you, take one minute to empty your bank account and send a certified check to me care of this station in an envelope marked �Not a Bill or a Summons�. Thank you. (And thanks to Wikipedia for the idea.) We also take old cars (Thanks to NPR for THAT one).

Friend us on Facebook, now with twice the calories and half the insights! Better yet Follow us, like a stalker. Then walk like an Egyptian.

To write us directly, use the link on the left or type "". Posted: No Phishing.

Of all the film versions of Charles Dickens� �A Christmas Carol,� only two stand out. Surprisingly in an elemental way, Mr. MaGoo�s A Christmas Carol has its own peculiar charms, if not good animation. But it is the 1951 version starring Alastair Sim that not only is a near perfect adaption, but also a flawless film, period.

A large part of that success is due to the casting of Alastair Sim in a role that he was seemingly destined to totally inhabit, while Patrick MacNee and Michael Hordern and make the most of their limited screen time as a young and old Jacob Marley, respectively. (Look for Ernest Thesiger as the undertaker. He�s always a pleasure!) It pays tonight, Thursday, December 22, at 11:30 PM on TCM.


It�s the most wonderful time of the year for game show lovers. The usually unwatchable and terminal anemic Game Show Network ends each year with a two-week look back at two classic Goodson-Toddman Productions; �I�ve Got a Secret� and �What�s My Line?� The latter is clearly the better of the two, but both are snapshots of a more civilized time that may or may not have really existed. While Bill Toddman was mostly the shrewd businessman who kept the company afloat, Goodman saw to the day-to-day �creative� ends, keeping the cash cow game shows contented. No easy task that when one of the panelists was the very prickly Henry Morgan, the American humorist who was more of a curmudgeon than a wit. (On one showing of �I�ve Got a Secret,� Morgan seemed in such a sour mood I thought they might can him on air. But I shared his exasperation when the guests� secret turned out to be that they were wear hats made by the current welter-weight champion of the world, to which he harrumphed, �How could you really expect us to guess THAT!?!� Ah, out of the mouths of mad men....

But the best was "I've Got a Secret" moment was when Jonathan Winters' mother was on. She was as crazy as he was! Had her own radio show and did the same sort of wacky voices as he. The nut doesn't fall very far from the tree, it seems. When Gary Moore asked her to do so of her far out voices she said, "Not for what you're paying." They quickly went to commercial...

After watching a few episodes, the first thing that becomes apparent and off-putting is the utter sexism that permeated the culture at the time. If the contestant is a woman and at all attractive by the standards of the day, one could count on a surfeit of woof whistles from the audience. Wolf whistles, really? It's like something out of a Tex Avery cartoon. The first question the host would ask a woman after she signs in, please, is invariably, "Is it Miss or Mrs?" And woe to her if the answer is the former. If so, the male members of the panel will do everything but that: show her their male members. It's a tawdry type of sexism that imprisons both genders, nearly as offensive as the smutty double entendre - no, make that the diminutive, �entendre.� This would remain the fashion of the day all through in the �liberated� Sixties into the libertine Seventies. I think here of the likes of Richard Dawson, who had all the charm of a porno booth operator - and only half the wit.

Why they don't run these old black and white game shows year �round is beyond me. Oh, yeah, they're in black and white. And advertisers don't like black and white, even advertisers for bladder swings and no-stick pans ("Get the second one, free! just pay separate handling and shipping...").

Cool Ghoul John Zackerle died yesterday (October 27, 2016) at the ripe old age of 98. He should have waited three days, but I guess he just couldn�t hold out. Last week I was all set to run a program of horror interviews, of which Zackerle was to be featured but switched to a more appropriate hour of horror novelty tunes instead. Look for it to run early next year. Zack was tv�s second horror host, the east coast�s answer Los Angeles� Vampira who started on KABC-TV in in 1954. Zack�s gig started 3 years later when WCAU bought a package of classic monster films from Universal Studios and had him host the program as Roland. In weeks he was a hit. Before that he had been on the station�s live cowboy show, Action In the Afternoon as undertaker Grimy James. It was from that role that he got the frock coat and cryptic voice and morbid laugh. A move to the Big Apple for more money led to a career that continued until just months ago when he retired from making personal appearances. While Zack had many imitators, few approached his anarchic spirit. Cleveland�s Ghoulardi came closest with METv�s Svengoolie carrying on the tradition today. Good night, John, whatever and wherever you are.

Dateline August, 2016: Another of the seven seals has been breached with the release of a new film about Florence Foster Jenkins starring Meryl Streep. She was born rich on July 19, 1868 and stayed that way until her death from a heart attack on November 26, 1944. Jenkins put her music to useless use, fancying herself a talented opera singer, probably the degenerative effects of syphilis contracted from her husband. The mercury cure didn�t help thing any either. Her search for the lost chord ended in defeat that she refused to acknowledge, determined to foist her vocal stylings on anyone unawares.

In spite of public demand, Jenkins rented Carnegie Hall for a solo performance on October 25, 1944. Lovers of cultural car wrecks snapped up tickets and the house sold out way in advance. Many celebrities attended, including song writer Cole Porter, �Amal & the Night Visitors� composer Gian Carlo Menotti, game show contestant Kitty Carlisle and soprano Lily Pons. And keep an eye out for Ken Burn�s new 3-hour documentary on Mrs. Miller set to air during their next fund drive.

April 11, 2016

Well, do you want to buy a duck?

Joe Penner on TCM

Last week you learned too much about Charles Butterworth, thanks to TCM�s brief retrospective of his films. Tuesday brings two films featuring Joe Penner, who most of us know only as Egghead, a minor Warner Brothers cartoon star until he had his place usurped by Daffy, Elmer and Bugs. Pretty much forgotten today, and deservedly so, radio made Penner a national start in the early 1930s. His non sequiturs became catch phrases: Oh, you nasty man!�, �Wanna buy a duck?,� Don�t ever dooo that!!� He was strange in a Pee-wee Herman kind of way, only meaner, always smoking a big cheap cigar and whimpering. TCM will run two of his films starting at 6:00 AM with �Life of the Party,� (he isn�t) followed at 7:30 with �New Faces of 1937� (he wasn�t). That latter also has Milton Berle, Harriet Hilliard and not just one dialect comedian but TWO: Bert �The Mad Russian� Gordon and Albert Brook�s father, Parkyakarkus. Two films not to be enjoyed but to be experienced.

Famed comedy team �The Two Ronnies� down to none after death of Ronnie Corbett at 85

April 2, 2016

Ronnie Corbett, the diminutive half of British comedy television faves The Two Ronnies has died at 85 on Thursday, March 31, missing April Fool�s Day by mere hours. His partner, Ronnie Barker, passed away, or to put it in more scientific teams, died in 2005. The two first came to prominence in the 1960s, on �The Frost Report, � David Frost�s follow up to That Was The Week That Was.�� It was there that they met, performed and wrote alongside with John Cleese. Their signature sign-off, �Now it�s goodnight from me,� �and it�s goodnight from him� lived on well beyond the end of their show in 1987 after a 16 year run.

Corbett was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1930 and soon began performing in cabarets and later onstage and films. Barker and Corbett teamed up in 1971 for the BBC in their own show, �Two Ronnies,� a joyous mix of comedic acts and musical numbers. After the show ended, he starred in a sitcom �Sorry!� in the �80s and hosted the game show �Small Talk� in the 1990s My favorite sketch took on the British social classes and can be viewed here

Breaking News!

Friday, April 1 TCM Salutes Charles Butterworth!

When I was Director of Special Programming for the Philadelphia Film Festival, I would threaten to book a Charles Butterworth Retrospective if they were giving me grief about some other project. This April Fools, Turner Classic Movies is doing just that. Event though it�s only three films and it starts at 9:15 AM, it�s a long overdue acknowledgment of one of the great under-appreciated comic character actors, today know only as the voice inspiration for Cap'n Crunch. Only Jay Ward would have remembered Charles Butterworth when they we casting the part.

The festivities start with my favorite Butterworth movie, �Hollywood Party (1934), one hour and 9 minutes of surreal weirdness featuring nearly all the great second bananas including Jimmy Durante as Schnarzan the Conqueror, Baron Munchausen, Laurel and Hardy, Lupe Velez, Ted Healy and his Stooges and Mickey Mouse. 10:30 AM brings �Baby Face Harrington� from the following year with �We Went to Collage� bringing up the rear at 11:45 AM.

Not to be missed. Never to be Repeated.

(Photo Caption, above) From the "Reach for a Puppy instead of a Smoke" Dept:

Where are the great toys of yesteryear? On eBay at unimaginable prices. I use to buy these in the late 50s at truck stops everywhere for 15 cents and I'd give your right arm to get one now (but not money). I wonder what made the cigarettes puff those perfect smoke rings.

The post office keep returning my letters. They said my Forever Stamps have died.

When I was 8 there was an Easter Egg Hunt that the sitter took me to. I won this giant chocolate rabbit of many colors. It was too good to eat, I just kept it on display. One August night when it became clear that soon it would be time to go back to school, I broke it open and dug in- but not until I took some photos to document the occasion. On the walk home from the Easter Egg Hunt I also found a $20 bill. Hell on Easter Sunday morning I didn't even try to find the basket. I paid my brother to do it.

Breaking News!

Saluting Charles Butterworth on TCM April 1, 2016

When I was Director of Special Programming for the Philadelphia Film Festival, I would threaten to book a Charles Butterworth Retrospective if they were giving me grief about some other project. This April Fools, Turner Classic Movies is doing just that. Event though it�s only three films and it starts at 9:45 AM, it�s a long overdue acknowledgment of one of the great underappreciated comic character actors, today know only as the voice inspiration for Cap'n Crunch. Only Jay Ward would have remembered Charles Butterworth when they we casting the part.

The festivities start with my favorite Butterworth movie, �Hollywood Party (1934), one hour and 9 minutes of surreal weirdness featuring nearly all the great second bananas including Jimmy Durante as Schnarzan the Conqueror, Baron Munchausen, Laurel and Hardy, Lupe Velez, Ted Healy and his Stooges and Mickey Mouse. 10:30 AM brings �Baby Face Harrington� from the following year with �We Went to Collage� bringing up the rear at 11:45 AM.

Not to be missed. Never to be Repeated.

Went and saw �Selma� last night on the recommendation of a friend who told me it was a musical biography of Selma Diamond�s life. Boy, was I disappointed.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014 � Unfailingly approachable, insatiably inquisitive, Tony Auth was always a pleasure to run into. The first time I met the Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist was at a Philadelphia Art Opening back in 1999. Turns out he was a fan of the show and especially wanted to talk about Tom Lehrer whom I had just interviewed. At year�s end I got one of his Christmas Cards in the mail. Tony died on Sunday at 72.


Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival

Right over the bridge near Cowtown in Woodstown, New Jersey is The Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival, help this year on August 29 through 31. It's always a great time, a great vib, a great setting, great food and, oh, yeah, REALLY great music. Impeccable sound and great sight lines make it fun for everyone

The 2014 bluegrass music line-up is set to include:

Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys

Dailey & Vincent

Suzy Bogguss

Rhonda Vincent & The Rage

Claire Lynch Band

Seldom Scene

Hope o see you there!

I beat Dale Dallabrida to this bardo by weeks in the late Fall of 1950. He use to come over and play on this death trap of a toy that was only possible to be manufactured in those time, a sew saw that went circular instead of up and down. The harder you pump the handle the faster it would swirl until you would fall off vomiting.

Sometime in the early 70s we met up again, now as broadcasters on the University of Delaware radio station. Dale Dallabrida and Al Macetti filled a late night spot with a great show called �White Noise/Window on the World,� which found the two and whoever else happened by or called in participating in a rondolet of insignificant news stories, random chatter and running jokes, all mixed with madness by sound engineer Mark Moss. He would turn the random chatter into a miasma of voices spinning from speaker to speaker, or to fry like bacon in a skillet or descend into a spiral re-verb. Al and Dale would trade odd news headlines with each other, a continuing favorite coming from some Business page, but repeated so often that it became a sort of mantra, �Red Ink Blurs Blue Skies as Tax Time Approaches.� Adding to the absurdity was the musical background: the same side of a Time-Life album played over and over for two and a half hours. John Cage would have been proud.

Dale also had a band at around this time with Al and Mark, one of the most exciting theatrical experience I have ever had, called "All You Can Eat". I especially remember the extravaganza they put on at Mitchell Hall. It was an all-out production, a full band augmented with a large horn section and too many drummers. Suddenly out of a side door obscured my mist, a refrigerator was rolled in on a handcart, the door flung open and out stepped the cryogenically preserved Kid Hollywood, looking all the worlds like a reprobate Ziggy Stardust. The show had a sharp satiric edge; the music had its edges, too, like a prog-rock version of the Mothers of Invention or The Tubes.

Later Dale formed another musical aggregation (there were many), this one called "Lucky Dogs". Al and Dale collaborated on what I consider one of the best novelty records of all time, ranking up there with the best work of Tom Lehrer when it comes to prosody, structure and wit. It's been a favorite on Crazy College ever since. It's called �The Dietary Secrets of Attila The Hun� and here's a link.

On Tuesday, August 5, 2014 Dale beat me to the next bardo and that is our loss. Good luck on your new adventure.

Below is a curio that Chris White made for the annual Blobfest held in Phoenixville, PA. It's really a bar of soap, which is what you would be if the Blob got ya.

My Years in Radio Part 1

On Sunday, July 13, 2014 Crazy College celebrated its first 30 years polluting the Ether. Which got me thinking about how it all began....

It was the winter of 1971 when I went to a meeting for the campus radio station WHEN, a 10 watt carrier current station that was only able to be heard in campus dorm rooms or bleeding in over the university phone lines. It was the closest thing to onanism sanctioned by the University.

In short order I was offered an air shift - 2 AM to 6 AM Saturday nights, really Sunday mornings if you wanted to be precise, which I was and the program director wasn�t. So, off course, I showed up 24 hours early...

At the time when I joined, WHEN was a Top 40 station under the iron rule of a pathetic martinet name Dave Aydelotte, whose father was the long time broadcasting legend on WDEL, Dick Aydelotte. Looking like every other ROTZ Nazi that glorified war without ever having actually participated in one, Dave sported a severe crew cut was the perfect accoutrement to the smartly tailored coat and tie he wore every day around the station � and not in some retro-cool sort of way. I was in my own sort of uniform � black bellbottoms and t-shirt with hair down below my knees. We took an immediate dislike to one another. He did a show called �Midnight Matinee,� playing Easy Listening music that supposedly would make the most reluctant Sorority girl give it up. �Hello, you. I'm speaking only to you,� he would croon in a soto voice that was the mirror opposite of the bellicose tone he used to assert his authority around his fiefdom. He was sickeningly out of touch � even more so than I am now.

In the air studio, next to an ashtray, was a small box of 40 45s, the only music that was to be played, hand-selected by the music director to be safe and wholesome. This was somewhat odd since the first song played when the station powered up in October of 1968 was John Lennon�s �Revolution.�

Fortunately, the program director, a student named Greg Lamoreaux, was aware of how out-of-date the station was, given the turbulent times and was receptive when I suggested that my show would be entirely programmed with the latest British imports, underground lps heard only at off-hours on Philadelphia's few underground stations and whatever else tickled my fancy. Permission was granted with an indifferent shrug, since the damage I could do at 2 AM on a Sunday morning was, like our audience, not only minimal but non-existent.

Al Engberg was a friend from high school, a moody introvert who looked like Art Garfunkel, especially when standing next to me who shared a similar physiometry to Paul Simon, even down to our hairlines. Since Al and I had similar taste in music, I invited him to co-host, as I suffered from a bit of mic timidity at the time. He would be �Mr. Words,� I would be �Mr. Music�. Both roles merged before the first hour was over when some sort of radio freewheeling, free-association, free-for-all ensued.

I christened the show �Side Two,� grabbing the metaphor of the alternate side of an Lp for this program�s commitment to the alternate side of the current music scene. It also was in reference to a line from Firesign Theater's debut album where a newly liberated political prisoner is asked, �What side are you on?� �Side Two.� �Then you're with us, come with me.� On February, 21, 1971, we did our first show, starting cold with a David Frost impersonator interviewing people about shirts, then leading into a Bonzo Dog Band cut about same, followed by Moby Grape's �Omaha� (�Listen my friends, I'm yours forever�). We were off and running.

In those wee hours over the next six months we explored the entire 45 collection, finding many neglected gems, including The Move's newest, �Brontosaurus� a heavy dirge we like so much we played it back to back for a few times � and for many weeks after. Later in the evenings, as boredom would set, we would sometimes hold 45 Races�, putting two copy of the same record on two different turntables to see which one would finish first. Usually the shift would end with us hanging a microphone out the window and mixing in the sounds of the sunrise behind the music. The climax would come when the mechanical street sweeper rumbled down the street.

Al Engberg, eating his words

We were left alone and ignored, forgotten about really, until finally each of us scored shifts of our own, teaming up periodically on Side Two for what only I would consider �Specials.� Most notable, I suspect, was our annual Junior Woodchuck Rock and Roll Extravaganza, (�Eight days and three nights of Peace, Love and Underhandedness�), mirroring with ham-fisted subtlety, the Woodstock Festival of 1969. We would drag a microphone down a flight of stairs to the Men�s Room where I would interview the Sana-flush Man from the Woodstock movie (here channeled by Al who would punctuate his insights with the sounds of flushing. We wasted a lot of water that night.) The whole thing ended in a rainstorm that collapsed a dam and washed everyone away. The National Lampoon unknowingly stole the idea for their off-Broadway review, Lemmings, that was much inferior if I do say so myself, and I do.

One afternoon with nothing better going on in our drab retched lives, we went into the studio and began cutting public service announcements. Al began reading one about the danger of children running with sticks and I for no good reason adopted a child's voice and exclaimed, �Oh, goody, stick it in my eye!� Playpen Hijinx was born. Autobiographical in tone if not detail, it recounted the adventure of Little Billy, his older Brother Alie, their mother Agnes and father Ralph (who sounded just like Walter Cronkite channeling Ralph Kramden.) Their tormented neighbor was Mr. (Edgar) Kennedy, to whom Billy once was driven to observe, �You know something, Mr. Kennedy, you're not a nice man.� Now preserved on various episodes of Crazy College, I, and pretty much no one else, consider Playpen Hijinx to be some of the best comedy writing I ever did.

It is odd how much things have changed. As late as 1975, smoking was allowed in most areas of the university and the student center served wine at Bacchus, (later it would be stripped both of alcohol and smoke and renamed �The Blue Hen Club�.) And during its annual fund drive in 1975, the campus radio station offered as one of its premiums official WXDR rolling papers. Those, clearly, were different times. More changes were to come...

Geo. in the studio in 1984 as Side Two was winding down a 13-year run.

End of Part 1

July 20, 2013 He was "Maverick." He was Jim Rockford. James Garner" has died at the age of 86. Garner made his name as the laid back gambler who tried not to ever use his gun in the 1957-1960 oater that had more rough and tumble action off screen than on. Warner Brothers drove him hard until the actor demanded a co-star to share the work load. They cheated him out of money. And he finally walked, anticipating a career in the movies that never even came close to his success on TV. A decade later he returned in 1974-1980 series "The Rockford Files." It had the same attitude, flip, irreverent and once again the studio cheated him out of money. Only this time he sued and won.

Probably his best big screen role was in "The Great Escape" (1963) with Steve McQueen and a host of others. More recently Clint Eastwood put him in his "Space Cowboys" in 2000.

He waqs born to a hard childhood as James Scott Bumgarner in Norman, Oklahoma and left high school during the war to become a merchant marine. Later he joined the army and served during the Korean war before deciding that acting was a safer way to make a living.

June 14, 2014 One of our last links to the silent film era has died. Carla Laemmle was the niece of Universal Pictures studio founder Carl Laemmle and as such had the run of the studio. She had bit parts in a bunch of great films, most notably the 1925 Phantom of the Opera and most importantly 1930's Dracula where she spoke the first words in the world's first talking horror film, reading from a travel guide on the road to Transylvania, "Among the rugged peaks...� Born on October 20, 1909, she died Friday at the age of 104.

Dateline: June 1, 2014 - Tv star Ann B. Davis died at her home in Texas today after a fall in the bathtub, proving that cleanliness really is next to godliness. Those of a younger age mourn her as Alice, the housekeeper on The Brady Bunch; I know her best from "The Bob Cummings Show" which ran from 1955 to 1959 where she played Charmaine Schultz (aka �Schultzy�), plain-Jane secretary to Cummings' womanizing photographer. Rumors that her father was Nazi death-camp guard Sargent Schultz have been disproved through a detail examination of surviving genealogy data.

A friend said he thought the show was called "Love That Bob". It was - in syndication

At the time when the show was on prime time and creating new episodes, the conventional thinking was that putting a show into syndication while still in first run would dilute the brand. The solution: syndicate under another name. �Dragnet� was syndicated originally as �Badge 714�. � Bonanza� went out as �Ponderosa� and the �Bob Cummings Show� became �Love That Bob� (�I think you're going to like that picture!�) Cummings was an interesting guy. He was a strong utility player in films, sometimes getting the lead in a major film like Hitchcock's �Saboteur.� 50s Tv offered him an opportunity to be font and center week after week, in a show produced by George Burns' production company. Paul Henning was the line producer. He would go on to do �Beverly Hillbillies,� �Pettycoat Junction, and, best of all, �Green Acres.�

Bob was a health nut, eating nuts and berries and, worst of all, kale but the rigors of weekly TV back when 36 episodes a year were the norm proved more that his lean diet could support. He would go on to do �Beverly Hillbillies,� �Petticoat Junction, and, best of all, �Green Acres.�

Bob was a health nut, eating nuts and berries and, worst of all, kale but the rigors of weekly TV back when 36 episodes a year were the norm proved more that his lean diet could support. Co-star Rosemary De Camp introduced him to the notorious �Dr. Feelgood� who would pump up his famous clients (including JFK) with amphetamines while telling them it was just a cocktail of vitamins. Bob never was able to escape his addiction, dying some 30 some years later, still hooked, in 1990 at 80.

May, 2014

Obama did so well at the Press Club dinner last night doing stand-up that Comedy central offered him Corbett's old time slot.

Crazy College notes with sadness two noteworthy deaths: On Saturday, May 3 Tv star Efrem Zimbalist Jr., died at the age of 95 at his California ranch. He died the way I would want to go, quickly while out gardening. He probably is best remembered for his role on the long running shown �The F.B.I.,� a apologetic for J. Edgar's private vendetta agency that ran for nine seasons starting in 1965. I liked him better in �77 Sunset Strip�which started in 1957 which featured one of the all-time great theme songs and made a Edd Burns, a star, if only a quick super nova. These detective scripts were so generic that they would later be recycled to such other shows as �Surf Side 6� and �Bourbon Street Beat� with the most minor of changes.

More importantly to my anarchic sense was Al Feldstein, who took over Mad Magazine in 1956 and made it the apex of American satire He died on Tuesday at his ranch in Paradise Valley, Montana at the age of 88.

Everything I liked about Mad was created under his auspices thanks to his smart hire of such writers and artist Don Martin, Antonio Prohias (creator of �Spy vs. Spy�, Dave Berg (�The Lighter Side of ...� and Mort Drucker, whose caricatures satirized every important move for decades. He also promoted office moron Alfred E. Newman to the status of corporate mascot whose interrogative, �What � me worry?� was adopted by the counter-culture as something of a mantra. Credit his sensibility for such later off-springs as The Harvard Lampoon, National Lampoon, �Saturday Night Live,� �The Simpsons,� �South Park,� - it's why we turn a jaundices eye on everything, from TV to government to life itself.

Don't miss the Parisian Carnival on Governors Island!

The Fete Paradiso is an odd sort of "museum". This collection of historic French carnival rides encourages you to climb on board and ride them. Taking over a far corner of Governors Island, a national park in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, these antique rides from the collection of Francis Staub include wooden merry-go-rounds with hand-carved animals, the boat wing ride, a carousel of bikes. You'll feel like your back in Paris on a warm summer Sunday afternoon during the Belle Epoch.

One of the carney barkers told me that the way to tell a French merry-go-round from one made in the U.K. is the direction of its rotation: English rides turn clockwise; European turn counter-clockwise. How reliable is a carney barker I leave up to you to decide.

I got to get up-close to the orchestrion, which had been supplying the music to one merry-go-round for another for over a hundred years. These are the original punch cards that drove the whole thing, made of very thick cardboard.

How many of these life-size caricatures can you identify on this early 20th century carnival game called the Music-Hall Ball Guzzler?

We were able to recognize Josephine Baker, Maurice Chevalier and Charlie Chaplin. Some, like the Fratellini Brothers, seem lost to the shadow of time, but I am told were stars just as big in their day

Fete Paradiso ran all Summer in 2013. And, by the way admission was free; the ferry ride over and back was free. And the rides and games only cost $3 each. This is New York, where a Mimosa is $17 and parking is $70 a day?

The end of the year once again brings the a break from the lame programming the is endemic to the Game Show Network. But only for one week - now through New Year's when at 3 AM they run - rerun - old episodes of "Ive Got A Secret" followed by "What's My Line?". Why, you ask, don't they run them year round? The answer is easy: they're in black and white and advertisers don't like black and white, even advertisers for bladder swings and no-stick pans ("Get the second one free! just pay separate handling and shipping..."). The best from last year was "I've Got a Secret" when Jonathan Winters' mother was on. She was as crazy as he was! Had her own radio show and did the same sort of wacky voices. The nut doesn't fall very far from the tree, it seems. When Gary Moore asked her to do some of her far out voices she said, "Not for what you're paying." They quickly went to commercial...

My best Christmas gift ever. There was a rivalry between those who had Gilbert Chemistry Sets and those of us that had Porter. What I wouldn't give to find a copy of the old lab manual of instructions....

"We saluted Allan Sherman"

We had a good size crowd listening on Sunday, November 10, 2013! Were YOU one?

There weren't many laughs the last week of October 1962. America was facing nuclear annihilation at the MAD hands of the Russians under the cover of Cuba. But still Allan Sherman managed to get a giggle or two out of the Kennedy cabinet during those dark days, according to this incisive biography by cultural historian Mark Cohen. Even the rest of us American laughed too, enjoying his "Sarah Jackman" between the news bulletins that came over our AM radios as we hunkered down in our dank cellars with hastily collected buckets of water and cans of food. The album was such a national phenomena that when things finally calmed down, it even took precedence in the classroom, when my 5th grade teacher spent one whole morning playing the LP for us. (This may explain my poor math scores but finely developed sense of humor) Like too many who get "instant fame" after a long haul craving it, Sherman succumbed to his worst demons, loosing it all, love, fame, success and even his life. An erratic personality, the product most likely to a miserable childhood, Allan bummed around the fringes of success, before stumbling into it in the most unbelievable way.

Even today, children of every age can sing a verse or two of his biggest hit, "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh,� the classic novelty tune about a boy writing home to his folks about how terrible summer camp is.

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July, 2013


Noboy's ever done THAT before!!

Justin Bieber Explodes when Crowd Boos his Surprise Appearance

Dateline Friday, June 21, 2013 Wilmington, Delaware
Aging boy toy Justin Bieber exploded - literally - Friday night in front of a crowd of over a thousand fireworks enthusiasts gather at the annual display at the Hagley Museum, housed on the grounds of America's first gunpowder works.

The cause of the incendiary outburst was the result of the unexpected arrival of his image during the climax of the night's firework display that started out as a Salute to Duck Tape and devolved into an incoherent m�lange of randomly selected songs punctuated by a spectacular display of pyrotechnics. The topic of next year's presentation, Great Powder Mill Disasters, offers the promise of a more spectacular display.

The Time I Met Ray Harryhausen at a Museum

Terry Gilliam said it best when he heard that the master animator Ray Harryhausen had died. "What we do now digitally with computers, Ray did digitally long before but without computers. Only with his digits".

Ray brought life to inanimate simulacra of wire, foam and fur for a dozen of films, having apprenticed under Willis O'Brian, the maker of King Kong and Mighty Joe Young.

One time he came to Delaware and I got to shake his hand.

It was back in the late 80s. I was talking to a friend who happened to be a curator at the Delaware Art Museum. It's a small museum, started in the late 1800s by local rich ladies who took art classes drawing still lifes with the disciples of Schoonover and Wyeth who had made the surrounding rural areas their home. Those days were long gone; the dusty dim maze of walls lined with dusty dim portraits received few visitors anymore, which was a shame really as a lot of it was quite good. It was a museum in transition, always looking for traveling shows that would be inexpensive to mount but popular enough to draw some attention. My curator friend was in charge of just such a show, opening in just a few weeks: an exhibition of Frederic Remington sculptures, oh, and by the way "some guy name Ray Harryhausen who made movies and was a big fan was coming to the opening night. Ever hear of him?" I was flabbergasted. He had started my love of movies as a child, scared me senseless with Earth vs. The Flying Saucers and the Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. I blurted out in what amounted to a yell, "Don't you know who he is?" and proceeded to tell him his history - in detail. I also suggested that Harryhausen would be a bigger draw then Remington would be and that they should get a press release out immediately. I also suggested they contact a local AM radio host, Mr. Movie, whose photographic memory gave him more facts than taste which he would prove every Saturday night for a few hours.

Opening night was mobbed with art lovers, movie lovers and the few who were both. The talk show host got an interview and wasted the opportunity asking the same basic question that Ray had answered too many times before to really be engaged. I really couldn't get close enough to be introduced, so I spent my time drinking champagne and eating the various canap�s while admiring Remington's skill of capturing movement in clay and bronze and realizing THAT was why Ray was such a fan.

Delaware in August can be brutally hot - even late in the evening. The museum's air condition did its best but I still sought relief outside on the steps, already a bit crowded by others who didn't mind the humidity. One turned out to be Ray's wife. We talked for a while about all sorts of things, including, of course, Ray and his films until Ray finally appeared, anxious to leave, but held back by his wife who forced an introduction. "Ray, this is the man who helped set this up" (overstating my involvement). With a smile and a handshake he said, "Well, it was a great evenings." "It was great to have you here," I replied, adding "- and I love your films." With that they were gone and I went back in for another glass of champagne.

I've never seen so much poetry with so many strings attached. The Cashore Marionettes were in town last April to present a program of moving vinettes lifted from everyday life. A touch of Chaplin, a bit of Tate and a whiff Keaton made for a quietly profound vision of the human condition in all its manifestations.

Aloha to the Pineapple Princess

The passing of Annette Funicello

APRIL, 2013 � I would run into the house every weeknight at 5:30 slamming the screen door behind me. Parking myself mere inches from the small 12 in screen with the rounded corners, I would remained glued to the TV for the next 30 minutes until it was time to say goodbye to all the company. I was a member in good standing with the M.I.C.K.E.Y.M.O.U.S.E. Club.

I was too young to appreciate the charms of a young woman nearly twice my age, but for many Annette Funicello was their first big crush. Now, at the age of 70 she is gone, joining the ever -growing pile of childhood relics that clutters up corners of my soul. While I didn�t mind her presence in the Beach Party movies, I have really come to appreciate her pop recordings, catchy as anything, bouncy with their double-tracked vocals. (Multi-track me that many times and you'll even think that I can sing.)

And I must say, I certainly admired her courage in her long battle with multiple sclerosis, a battle she won for over 25 years.

She was born on October 22, 1942, in Utica, New York, moving to Los Angeles four years later. She made her debut on the Mickey Mouse Club on October 3, 1955, becoming its most popular member faster than you could say �Meeska, Mooska, Mouskateer�. Three years later when the show packed up and left town, she began showing up on other TV shows, most notable, Zorro (1957). It was also when Disney teamed her up with in-house song smiths Bob and Dick Sherman to cut a series of top-40 pop singles, including �Tall Paul (1959),� and my favorite, �Pineapple Princess," (1963). The money was terrible. Walt started her at $100 a week back in 1955 and it never got much above $350. Who was her agent?

Uncle Walt also folder her into some great family-friendly features like The Shaggy Dog (1959), Babes In Toyland (1961), The Misadventures Of Merlin Jones (1964), and The Monkey�s Uncle (1965). The 1960s found Annette�s acting in full bloom, in a series of beach party movies, filling out her talents in some very conservative one-piece bathing suits (a concession to a worried Walt) while making chaste eyes with Frankie Avalon.

Not much happened after that. Then in the late 80s, the tabs started whispering about her being spotted drunk in public, but true-to-form they were wrong. It was the start of her multiple sclerosis, a disease she finally made public in 1992 went public to squelch the rumors. Beloved by many, her passing touched many in a way few stars ever do � sincerely.


Golden memories of Little Golden Records

They�re back on cd!

I remember the Little Golden 78s I use to get at the food store as a kid. Mom would placate me with whatever must-have I must have that day; 29� to shut me up was a bargain, I demand twice that amount now. They usually came in a handsome picture sleeves; inside, pressed into the same sort of plastic that most of my toys were made from, was a bright yellow disk that would soon take me aloft on wings of song to some new musical kingdom. I had a small record player, laminated in that 1950s slightly-oily brown leatherette that the more joyous 1960s outlawed. The tone arm was made of cast iron, I kid you not, and for the needle mom would cut the head off a darning pin and use that. That must have been some really tough plastic.

My favorite Little Golden Record was a two sided classic of Halloween spook music. Just some guy at a big organ doing that creep music that may have been just one big clich� but was really effective, especially through the cobweb of surface noise my turntable cut into it after the first play. The label was so worn that it was illegible, which added even more to its foreboding lore.

Little Golden Records was founded in 1948 by the Grammy-Award winning children's music producer, Arthur Shimkin. After graduating from college with a degree in economics, he was hired to work in Simon & Schuster�s business department where he was tasked with coming up with a new marketing concept. His only viable suggestion was for a kids' record labels as an adjunct to Simon & Schuster's Little Gold Book imprint (It seemed parents loved these little 25� volumes, but tired of reading them to their kids much sooner than their progeny tired of hearing them. His solution: a companion 78 that would allow mom and pop to get back to their martinis quicker). Lots of big name stars were recruited over the years to cut sides for the label, names like Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Captain Kangaroo, Roy Rogers, Burl Ives, Johnny Cash and Art Carney.

In 2009 Shout Factory had released a few titles on their subsidiary Micro Werks. Two of the best were the Alfred Hitchcock Spooky Stories cd (featuring his droll self introducing each cut) and the Famous Monsters of Filmland album that had tantalized so many of us from the back of the magazine (How I longed to hear it at the time, but $1.99 plus 25� for postage was big money back then, so the dream was delayed for near 45 years. I must admit it turned out to be a disappointment.)

Then in 2011, Verse Music Group acquired the rights to the Golden Records name and the entire back catalog along with the name and has begun a series of reissues, including a whole line dedicate to the really older stuff under "Timeless" series (More details on these when I get my hands on 'em!) One of their first rereleases was a cd collection entitled Spooky Halloween Hits that features highlights from two of the labels rare forays into long playing albums. One was called "Halloween" which, according to expert Greg Ehrbar (See his Kids Music link on this site's sidebar) dates from the late 60s/early 70s, presented here in stereo for the first time. The woman behind that album was one Kay Lande, who did a lot of recording for a lot of labels besides Golden, including Simon Says and RCA-Camden. She was just coming off a four year stint as the co-host with Paul Tripp of Tv's "Birthday House," a daily morning children's show on WNBC that aired in the New York market starting in 1963. Tripp was best known as the creator of the 1945 "Tubby the Tuba."

Most of the rest of the songs on the cd are from a later lp called "Spooky Halloween" featuring the Wonderland Singers backed up with what sounds like a grand theater organ. Greg claims that "Spooky Halloween" has a very distinctive sound to his well-honed ears. �I can hear studio singers like Steve Clayton in there," he says. "This was all parodies of public domain songs with Halloween lyrics. Just two of the songs on this new compilation are truly vintage. "The Ghost's Lament" is from the early 60s with the Glow-Tones (aka The Golden Singers) conducted by Jim Timmens. (You always know the Timmens stuff because of the vibes.) The best song on the CD is "My Friend the Ghost" from 1953 which is by Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey (I think that's Jimmy singing).�

It's good to have Golden Records back. Their simplicity and directness is as timeless as childhood, but fortunately, not a fleeting.

A link to the Golden Record website can be found on this site's sidebar, where you can also download a mini-disk of classic Easter songs for free. Music from these cds will be appearing on various editions of Crazy College in the coming weeks. Stay "tuned".


Bye-bye Kevin Aers

1943 - 2013

In the early 70s the music scene was pretty bleak. We didn�t know it at the time, but we were waiting for punk. Until then we had to subsist on the empty calories offered by the likes of Gentle Giant and Hatfield and the North. The only thing fresh at that time was The New York Dolls. And Kevin Ayers. But he was fresh because he still held to his hippie ideals and refreshed them with some gorgeous psychedelic pop.

He came out of the art-rock band Soft Machine (whose debut LP is a masterpiece on par with �Absolutely Free�). But sheer laziness (which was his underling philosophical principle) and a tendency to get bored easily drove him into the arms of a solo career that was always interesting for its first decade or so. His debut solo work was pure acid-laced pop, mysterious and ebullient, in love with the shadows of the twilight where the heat lightening would run from verse to verse. The title track, Joy of a Toy, was used as the theme song to my Side Two radio show pretty much from Day One in 1972 and some of his even sillier songs who crop up on Crazy College now and then. He retired and disappeared to the pure white sands of the Spanish beaches with an enviable regularity. His last days were spent in Montolieu, Frances, seemingly happy to be left alone, on the last dregs of February, 2013 at the age of 68.

This is going around like the flu when the pope quit unexpectedly in February 2013, but it made me laugh, so here it is!

So long to Sally Starr

It�s kinda hard to believe she�s dead. Sally Star, two days after her 91st birthday. Of all the local kids show hosts who seemed like family to me, only Gene London and Pixanne live on.

Really, she was only famous for one thing � one BIG thing:Popeye Theater�

I�m trying to remember the show (was it really 50 years ago?) It shouldn�t be this hard, considering the hours I spent watching it every day, five days a week, 52 weeks a year. I remember it starting weekdays at 4 PM with Sally in full cowgirl regalia, her finely tooled boot resting on a rather rickety fencepost. First off: 30 minutes of Popeye cartoons. (I quickly came to realized if it had the sliding doors it would be a good one, but even the later ones were ok.) Then at about 4:30 we�d get twenty minutes with some combination of the Three Stooges. There, if there were rays coming off the Statue of Liberty like it was radio-active (a real possibility in those duck-and-cover day), then it would one of the good ones with Curly. Filling out the first hour was another cartoon, maybe Huckleberry Hound or Yogi Bear. They were ok, but didn�t have the artistry of any of the Fleischer films by a long shot. At 5 PM it was Rock and his Friends, who would fill our little minds with subversive ideas and surreal madness for the next quarter hour. From then on it was downhill; more cartoon, some good, so bad until 5:55, when, like clockwork, the show wound down with the worst of the worst: Clutch Cargo with Spinner and Paddlefoot, or, later, Space Angel. Bad drawings with superimposed lips, like some sort of Daliesque nightmare. A whole week to tell one really lame story....

Later on, with the arrival of a new decade and a young president, the station bought another package of cartoons, newly minted, with limited animation but worse, limit imagination: Beatle Bailey. Crazy Cat. And bad, bad Popeyes... They may not be good but they were in color and that�s what the advertiser wanted! These new series were commissioned by King Features, the distributor of the comic strips, produced by Al Brodax who would do the same sort of damage to the Beatles when they turned into pen and ink.

But I digress...

Sally Starr was born on January 25, 1923 as Alleen Mae Beller in Kansas City, Missouri. The second oldest of five girls, she teamed up at the age of 12 with her sister Mildred to perform as the "Little Missouri Maids" But fame, local, but lasting, would elude her until she began hosting her beloved afternoon children's program in Philadelphia on WFIL-TV sometime in the early 1950s. Her trademark greeting was, "Hope you feel as good as you look, 'cause you sure look good to your gal Sal" and she ended her show with "May the Good Lord be blessing you and your family. Bye for now!" In 1965 we even got to see her on the big screen in the Three Stooges� final film, The Outlaws Is Coming as sharpshooter Belle Starr. (The Stooges gave cameos to many of the Kids show host across the nation who ran their Columbia shorts as a way to get a lot of free publicity. Moe was no dummy...) When her show was canceled on Channel 6 in 1971 (A syndicated program was cheaper and attracted young women, not kids who could only demand so much Bosco), Starr took the demotion and the pay cut and when over to a local UHF station (Channel 29) to host the early afternoon movie. Gone was the fringe jacket and cowboy hat. Instead they stuffed into a too-tight black dress that frightened the horses (even her favorite, �Pal�.) The show didn�t last.

Her later years grew harder and harder and is told in more detail by others. In a nutshell: A move to Florida, a fire in her house trailer that destroyed all her mementos, a quiet return to the Garden State, then personal bankruptcy and a willingness to take any job for any money, just to keep going. She continued to make personal appearances to the last (where parents � soon, grandparents � would push their smelly dirty kids in her face and tell them how much they loved their Aunt Sally). She was also an AM DJ and operated a pizza parlor in Atco, New Jersey.

In 2006 I booked Sally into the Franklyn Institute for an evening of her cartoons. The museum forgot to tell anybody she was coming, but her fans found out anyway and packed the place. Even the torrential rains that made driving a nightmare wouldn�t keep them away. She walked with a cane now and never stood any longer than she had to, but she greeted everyone with a smile, signed her photos (even old cynical me asked her for one, see above). While we ran the cartoons she had seen too many time to count and too many times to watch again for the money we were paying, we sat in the a dark corner of the basement next to the boiler, eating slightly dried out cold cuts and gossiped about the other local hosts. But that�s another story for another time

One last Christmas photo: this is a candy cane holder my grandma made me back in the early 50s, probably from a pattern from some woman's magazine

The new year brought a return to the lame programming the is endemic to the Game Show Network. Why the don't run some of the old black and white game shows is beyond me - oh, yeah, they're in black and white and advertisers don't like balck and white, even advertisers for bladder swings and no-stick pans ("Get the second one, free! justy pay seperate handling and shipping..."). The best was "I've Got a Secret" when Jonathan Winters' mother was on. She's a crazy as he is! Had her own radio show and did the same sort of wacky voices as he. The nut doesn't fall very far from the tree, it seems. When Gary Moore asked her to do so of her far out voices she said, "Not for what you're paying." They quickly went to commercial...

We had a great time when World Cafe Live at the Queen (in Wilmington, DE) showed the "Sing Along Sound of Music" last Friday, December 28, which I got to host. It was a full house and the crowd was ready and willing to sing. It was one big party, really the social event of the holiday season. During the costume contest when it came time to vote, some guy in the front yelled �Everybody wins!� and the audience instantly agreed. Then he added �everybody gets a hundred dollars!� I turned to the contestants and said �great, see the guy in the front row for your money!� to which his 10 year old son, who was on stage next to me, said, �Well, there goes my college fund!�

Keep you eye on the schedule of the Queen. They got lots a great things going down in this retro-distressed theater, that I use to go to as a kid to see Hammer horror films.

Lachrymose Lake

Wed, Dec 19, 2012: Looking forward to seeing you in 2013 - � if the Mayans are wrong. If not, please join me in the next bardo for drinks and light refreshments.

Puppetmaster Gerry Anderson is dead

So long, Gerry Anderson, the creator of Thunderbirds and other string thing Tv shows from my youth. Reports say that Anderson, who was 83, had been suffered from Alzheimer�s since 2010. While it was Thunderbirds that became an international hit back in 1965, I was always most impressed with his earlier show which ran from 1963 to 1965 called Fireball XL5. In fact, as a kid a burnt a big patch of paint off a neighbor's car trying to replicate those rocket ships by stuffing a mixture of sugar and saltpeter in the back end of a pencil after removing the eraser (don't try this at home, though where you can buy saltpeter in this day and age is beyond me.) He and his wife had a long string of kid show hits in the 60s. I always wondered what his trademarked "Supermarionation" was; obits reveal it was his innovative system of syncing the puppet's months to the prerecorded dialog through radio tripped triggers. Some of Anderson�s other big titles were the live action Space: 1999, and UFO,plusCaptain Scarlet and Supercar.

As the end of the world comes and goes to no visible effect, I am reminded of all the Tv specials and feature films that we let loose of the public in 1984. For some reason Tv had 3 dramatizations of what nuclear annihilation would look like and in the cinema even more (plus Orwell�s 1984 with Richard Burton as �Big Brother�.) But to me the best of the bunch is missing from this list: �Threads.� a British television drama produced by the BBC. It was written by Barry Hines and directed by Mick Jackson, in that faux documentary-style that was all the rage back then, following the travails of two families in Sheffield in northern England after a nuclear war. Unrelentingly grim with an ending that will leave one weak, the show played only once on PBS to much acclaim. Totally believable, how this masterpiece (yes, �masterpiece�) has been forgotten is beyond me. I bought a PAL copy to play to family and friends on festive occasions, whenever I want them to leave. Add this to your list of holiday gift-giving ideas.

Bah, Humbug

A Dissenting Voice Against Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol

Tv's first animated holiday special was not an auspicious start. Originally airing in December 1962, led to the equally bad 1964 TV series The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo. Almost everything g about is sub-par. Watching this special and one quickly realizes why Jim Backus and Paul Frees remained comic character actors; neither give anything close to a good performance. Just as poor is the animation and most of the background design. Limited animation doesn't mean bad animation; just the opposite in fact. It takes a better talent than is displayed here to capture the essence of a character and the emotion of a scene in a few insightful poses. The original songs do tend to be effective thanks to the Broadway team of Jule Styne (music) and Bob Merrill (lyrics), who would soon begin to work on Barbara Streisand breakout musical, Funny Girl. As for the design, backgrounds are cluttered, rarely does the eye know where it is suppose to be looking and charters get lost against the blobs of color. Only the graveyard scene works successfully. UPA's best days were clearly behind them; most of the creative talents (most notably layout artist John Hubley and writer Bill Scott (who went on to Rocky and Bullwinkle) had been driven out by the McCarthyism of the 1950s. What instigated this re-appraisal was the recent rebroadcast of the special on NBC on Dec 22, 2012. Severely cut from its original 53-minute running time by a good (well, not "good") ten minutes to make room for a clutter of commercials, NBC excised the framing device, truncated songs and, of course, zips through the credits, a move for which, I suspect, most of the people who worked on this "special" were grateful.

See me in ledderhosen!

Dec 1, 2012: For some reason the folks at the Queen Theater in Wilmington, DE have asked me to host their "Sing Along Sound of Music" on Friday, December 28. I expect you all there and I EXPECT YOU TO SING! It should be fun. SOULD BE, but will it? only time will tell because I won't.

It�s the most wonderful time of the year for game show lovers. The usually unwatchable Game Show Network ends each year with a two-week look back at to classic Goodson-Toddman Productions; I�ve Got a SecretandWhat�s My Line? The later is clearly the better of the two, but both are snapshots of a more civilized time that may or may not have really existed. While Bill Toddman was mostly the shrewd businessman who kept the company afloat, Goodman saw to the day-to-day creative ends, keeping the cash cow game shows contented. No easy task that when one of the panelists was the very prickly Henry Morgan, the American humorist who was more of a curmudgeon than a wit. (On Tuesday morning�s showing of I�ve Got a Secret, Morgan seemed in such a sour mood I thought they might can him on air. But I shared his exasperation when the guests� secret turned out to be that they were wear hats made by the current welter-weight champion of the world, to which he harrumphed, �How could you really expect us to guess THAT!?!� Ah, out of the mouths of mad men....

After watching a few episodes, the first thing that quickly becomes apparent is the utter sexism that permeated the culture at the time. If the contestant is a woman and at all attractive by the standards of the day, one could count on a surfeit of woof whistles from the audience. Wolf whistles, really? It's like something out of a Tex Avery cartoon. The first question the host would ask a woman after she signs in, please, is invariably, "Is it Miss or Mrs?" And woe to her if the answer is the former. If so, the male members of the panel will do everything but that: show her their male members. It's a tawdry type of sexism that imprisons both genders, nearly as offensive as the smutty double entendres - no, make that the singular - soon to become the fashion of the day in the liberated Sixties. I think here of the likes of Richard Dawson, who had all the charm of a porno booth operator - and only half the wit.

The shows run currently at 2 Pm on the Game Show Network through the start of the New Year on Comcast 179

Welcome to the Monkee House

The past was present once again at the Keswick Theatre on November 29, 2012 when the pre-fab four, The Monkees, showed up a few years early to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this 60s cross-platform phenomenon. At one time, in 1967, in fact, the band outsold The Rolling Stones and the Beatles combined, which says as much about why you should never listen to vox populi on matters that really matter (like art and restaurants). Don't get me wrong, I like the Monkees, still do, in fact. Their best has withstood the test of time in ways that many of their contemporaries fail to do. (RE: "Mrs Bown You've Got A Lovely Daughter" and that ilk) And if the dreaded "powers that be," (read: "Don Kirshner"), had listened to Michael Nesmith, the Monkees would be remembered today as the band that first fused country with pop. Only a few examples ever slipped by Kirshner. Listen with fresh ears and an open mind to such cuts a "Poppa Green's Blues," "Sweet Young Thing" and, later, "You Just May Be the One."

When Davie Jones died unexpectedly earlier this year, the band's remaining members, Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork and, perhaps most importantly, guitarist Mike Nesmith, all got back together for a twelve-stop tour that seems to me must have involved an awful lot of planning for so few dates.

Mickey Dolenz, 67, who, with Jones, was lead singer on most of the group's big hits, still has the voice, and his drumming has only gotten better in the intervening decades. Today he still looks pretty much the same, harder in the face, perhaps, and thicker around the waist. Nowadays he always wears a hat, indoors and out, in the style of Mike Love, fooling no one in the process. Peter Tork, the oldest at 70, is also the most versatile instrumentally, proving his mettle on delicate harpsichord breaks and tasteful banjo solos. It is also clear that he was most valuable to the group's sound for his arranging prowess, which more than made up for his inability to write a decent song (excepting, "Do I Have to Do This All Over Again," from that unfairly neglected 60s cinematic touchstone, "Head.")

In the concert, the boys really proved their pop music muscle when they highlighted much of what was good on their third album (and the first that they really created on their own),"Headquarters." Today it sounds fresher and more fully realized than it did on vinyl, which is saying a lot considering how bad the sound was at the Keswick.

In it's first 4 years together, the band managed to produced 11 platinum and eight gold albums, four of which went to No. 1. The Monkees also toted up 12 Top 40 singles, six of which went gold, five hitting Number 1. That's 12 Top 40 singles and 18 hit albums more than I will ever do, that�s for sure.

Without little Davy around to cover some of their most popular songs, it would seem nigh impossible to tour. But where there's a bill - a bunch of bills, big bills, really (the show was sold out) - there's always a way. Projected footage of Jones singing was the obvious answer but inviting someone in the audience, chosen at random (supposedly) to perform "Daydream Believer" was the solution they tried that night. Surprisingly this amateur talent, who recalled that over-stuffed dummy Mr. Schneider that use to grace a corner of their fab tv pad, equipped himself rather well - too well to this suspicious mind. Indeed he did much better than Tork did on his signature tune, "Your Auntie Grezelda," a hard one to mess up, even by baying dogs. But Tork's voice is pretty well shot, from age, from medical problems, whatever, but gone. Dolenz had the unenviable job of singing Nesmith's nonsense lyrics that is that psychedelic trifle "Daily/Nightly." Unable to afford a genuine Moog synthesizer (so the bit goes) to supply the requisite sounds, Nesmith charged into the breach and supplied enough glugs, gurgles and bleeps to satisfy Wendy Carlos even back when he was merely a Walter.

So what if the guys didn't have the time (definitely) or even the talent (not so definitely), to play much on their first two albums. That was pretty much standard operating procedure back then, and a lot of great pop (and Motown) music was created that way. Back then it was clearly an A&R man's medium. I'm thinking of the likes of Snuff Garrett and Mickey Most mostly. And the list of people who played on their albums reads like a who's who of rock's greatest, most famously, Neil Young, Steven Stills, Glen Campbell... And when they did take control of their music, they showed they had the stuff. "Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd." is one of the best time capsule of the 1967 scene ever recorded - and it holds up to this day. To find that 45 years later they can still command the stage, back by family and friends, and make a geriatric audience throw down their canes and start the fruge in the isle is no small achievement. Sure the audience was old and the ushers were older, but the contact high lasted longer than four hours and nobody thought the need to call their doctor.


Turhan Bey (right) next to Kharis the mummy. Through the judicious use of tana leaves, Bey would live to be 90 years old.

Turhan Bey

It�s amazing to me how important he was to this 12 year old horror film fanatic considering that he really made only two horror films. The co-star of �The Mummy�s Tomb� and �The Mad Ghoul� has died, Turhan Bey. His exotic looks and continental voice made him one of Hollywood�s go-to guys to play devious Egyptians, even though he was born of a Turkish father and a Czechoslovakian mother. Of course, no one in any of those mummy films were born anywhere near Egypt. Even in his most famous films like �Arabian Nights� (1942), �Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves� (1944), �Sudan� (1945) and �Night in Paradise� (1946), his usual co-stars were such exotics as Jon Hall (American), Sabu (Indian) and Maria Montez (Dominican). Still Bey, the George Sanders of the Sand, gave �The Mummy�s Tomb� the only �real� sense of atmosphere it had. Reputedly a nice man and a well-respected photographer, Bey died on September 30, 2012, at the age of 90.

The Innocence of Muslims is one of the few independently produced films I know of to show a Prophet.

Just saw last year�s Academy Award-winning Foreign Film, A Separation, a stunningly moving drama from Asghar Farhadi that is morally complex as it is psychologically insightful. Pity we will have to blow the whole country off the map when they get the bomb.

Check out "Bernie," a true story turned into a pitch-black comedy by directer/writer Richard Linklater, starring Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine.



Friday, October 12, 2012

Everybody had a great time at The Atlantic City Film Festival and attendence broke all expectations! Film director Robert Downey, Sr came down and presented his most famous movie Putney Swope, (1969) to apprecative crowd. Daring to argue that all men, regardless of race, color or creed, are equally corrupt, Putney Swope freed African Americans from the crystalline shackles of the Sidney Poitier stereotype that was almost as demeaning (and clearly as confining) as Stephen Fetchit�s image was a generation earlier. New York Magazine placed it on their list of the Year�s Top 10 Films.

In 1960, he began writing and directing basement-budgeted, absurdist films which became touchstones of the then-burgeoning underground film movement: Balls Bluff (1961), Babo 73 (1963), Chafed Elbows (1965) and No More Excuses (1968). (The last three recently received a major restoration partially funded by Martin Scorsese�s film foundation before being collected in a five-film box set released on Criterion�s sister label, Eclipse, earlier this year.)

Downey the writer/director became a major influence in the still minor underground film movement, but his style would quickly be co-opted by many in main-stream cinema. His take-no-prisoners manner of movie making would also become an inspiration to the next generation of outsider artists. Downey created a signature visual comic style as unique as Richard Lester�s, but with a lot more bite. His pacing recalled that of Laurel and Hardy if they had ever been directed Antonioni. His sense of humor was as dark as Brecht (Bertol) and Beck (Julian).

After Putney Swope came Pound (1970), wherein humans play dogs hoping to be adopted before their time runs out and they are gassed. The film ends with man�s best friends riding a train car into the afterlife while the Mexican hairless sings �Just One More Chance� through a megaphone. Downey concluded his unofficial trilogy of redemption with Greaser�s Palace (1972), an outrageous restaging of the life of Christ in spaghetti western terms. Where Leone�s man-with-no-name was an a-moral avenging angel, here it was a zootsuited Jesse who parachutes into a dusty ghost town as the world prepares to end not with a bang but a whimper. This time it was New York Post and TIME that put one of Downey�s film on its list of the year�s best.

Since then Downey�s take-no-prisoners sense of humor continued cutting a path in Two Tons of Turquoise to Taos Tonight (1975), his plotless home movie/surrealist collage and Hugo Pool (World Premier, Sundance 1997), a film that examines a day in the life of a female pool cleaner in Hollywood. Rittenhouse Square (2005) was his second teaming with Max Raab, having been a consultant on Raab�s award-winning STRUT! (2003). In addition to his film credits, Downey also directed episodes of The Twilight Zone (1985) and David Rabe�s play, Sticks and Bones (1973) for CBS. From time to time, he acts (badly, according to him) and can be seen in films such as Boogie Nights (1997), Magnolia (1999) and Family Man (2000). He lives in New York City with his wife and currently has several irons in the fire with which he hopes to raise some new blisters. The head writer of Boardwalk Empire was there and gave us a sneak peak of an upcoming episode and talked about how they produce the series. Make plans to be there next year!

-Liner note by Geo. Stewart from a press release

Book of the Moss Club Pick

Interested in the glory days of radio? Here�s a book you will really want to look for. Jack Benny, An Intimate Biography is NOT a warts and all expos�, but it does go into more detail than usual about the economics of the golden days of radio and the early days of TV by one in a position to know. Author Irving A. Fein who worked with the star from 1947 until his death in 1974. He also tells lots of amusing stories that must have been told a thousand times at the Friar�s Club, traces Benny�s history in decent detail and along the way paints broad portraits of his many friends and contemporaries.One surprising discovery from the book: Stan Freberg seems to have borrowed the bit about Stephen Foster trying to write his songs and unknowingly being inspirired by those around him from a bit on the Benny program featuring Connie Frances decades before it showed up on Stan's United States of America Volume II! Great minds may think alike, but it smells a little fishy to me. Ask for this tiny tome at your library or at any good used book store

The Changing Face of the Novelty 45: 1965 v. 1967

The cultural shift between 1965 and 1967 in America was seismatic. America had just begun to shake off the consumer-driven conservatism of the 1950s and was joyously, innocently, celebrating the charms of the Beatles and the optimism of the new values that they engendered. The Big Three networks still were offering mostly tired sitcoms that reinforced the only-slowly changing cultural norms. Shows like Dobie Gillis, Andy Griffith, and that dreadful Smothers Brothers sitcom where Tommy was an angel. In two years time Tom and Dick would have their own variety show and would start shoveling cutting edge political satire and subversive music into the open minds of our nation�s impressionable youth. The times they were a changing, indeed � and changing fast.

1965 and Gomer Pyle

The reality of Viet Nam only tangentially touched Mayberry when gas station attendant Gomer Pyle ended up in the United States Marines (safely ensconced in the reserves) on a Tv spinoff of the same name. Its star, Jim Nabors, who had a deep rich baritone singing voice, was willing to take advantage of his sudden popularity and grab a few bucks by recording a whole Lp of novelty tunes in the country twang of his alter ego. Roger Miller�s �You Can�t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd� joined 9 other tunes, nearly all as catchy and clever, including one about a T-bone Talking Woman who had a �Hotdog Heart�. Produced by future star of Bread, David Gates, with generous help from Leon Russell, it�s a Tv cash-in that actually exhibits a touch of effort. And it is suddenly available again, only now as a download.

1967: Male Fraud and Mayhem Two years later American innocence had be replaced by confrontation as personified by a Grand Rapids� AM newscaster who recorded an epistolary recitation-on-45 called "An Open Letter to My Teenage Son." Over a turgid rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic,� the stern, no-nonsense voice of Victor Lungburg listed everything that today�s youth was doing wrong for four long unforgiving minutes. Finally, after assuring his son that he will always love him, he ends his missive with a rather contradictory warning that if Junior should decide to burn his draft card, then he might as well burn his birth certificate, too, because �from that moment on, I have no son."

It was what every tongue-tied parent wanted to say to their scion, but dared not, because American families rarely spoke about anything that really mattered back then. It became a local hit, before being picked up for a national rollout by Liberty Records, home of the Chipmunks, on Armistice Day. It sold a quarter of a million copies in the first two days, the perfect example of �45-ripped-from-the headlines.�

So popular was the record that Lundberg soon appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show to perform his �song�. And like any good novelty record, it spawned a lot of others trying to ride its wake. Oh, what I would give to hear a copy of "A Letter to Dad," by Every Father's Teenage Son or "A Teenager's Answer" by Keith Gordon, all forgotten now, cultural artifacts of immeasurable importance.

Of course an LP followed close behind, with titles that pretty much say it all: "Frogs and Freedom," "To The Flower Power," "To The Destroyers." It�s the best music manifestation of the Libertarian party line that ever found a home in a cutout bin. And it�s a cultural curio well worth finding by ironist even today.

By Christmas the 45 had spun for the last time on Billboard�s Top 40, quickly becoming nothing more than auditory junk mail, returned unopened, address unknown.

In the tradition of all great tragic operas, Victor Lundberg died drunk, alone, estranged from his kids, on Valentine's Day in 1990. He was 66.

Want to see how this article was gutted, but with a lot more other obscure musical treasures? Then go here:



Andrew Sarris

I literally sat at his feet. As a graduate film student at the University of Delaware, I and the other grad student in what was really a one-man department, enjoyed a casual evening of conversation at our professor�s house with Sarris, sitting on the floor drinking wine and not trying to embarrass myself by saying anything too inane. His influence on the American public�s appreciation of film aesthetics the 1960s cannot be overstated �- or really conveyed so many years later, when cinema has returned to being mostly entertainment of the grossest form. As the one who imported to these shores the French concept of Director-as-Auteur, Sarris showed us a way to understand film in a new light, one that brought the aesthetics of many other arts into play, creating, to overstate things in simplification, the artist version of the Grand Unification Theory of Art. He help create the Golden Age of Film, when it was taken for granted that in educated circles the works of Fellini and Korosawa were part of the basic curriculum and new discoveries unspooled every week at the local Film Society that graced even the most cloistered town. Andrew Sarris died June 2o, 2012.

MITZI SCOTT 1918-2012

From May, 2012:

We are saddened to learn of the passing of Mitzi Scott on May 3, 2012, at the age of 93. She was the third wife Raymond Scott, the innovative bandleader and composer who was one of the first to exploit the recording studio as a musical instrument. He also was one of the first to explore the potentials of electronic music, creating a nascent version of the sequencer using mechanical/analog technology. Born in New York in 1918, she started dancing at age 10, and performed for many years at the Roxy Theater. She married Raymond Scott in 1967 and cared for him for many years after his stroke in 1986. Afterwards she protected his archives and was instrumental in protecting his legacy. When I interviewed her back in 1993, she was a font of information and a delight to talk to. Look for a repeat of the Raymond Scott program on Crazy College in the near future. Photo courtesy Stan Warnow


(1969) 12:00 AM This Saturday, May 1, 2012

Goon Show star Spike Milligan's mordant tale of the last survivors of a 3 minute nuclear war has a who's who (and what's what) of British comedy, including a 17 month pregnant Rita Tushingham, male nurse Marty Feldman and Peter Cook and Dudley Moore as two policemen who hover over the survivors in a balloon shouting "keep moving" to no one in particular. Directed by Richard Lester from a stage play co-authored by Spike, it's a surrealist nightmare, a sequel of sorts to Thornton Wilder's Skin of Our Teeth as performed by Monty Python. Whether we'll get the letterboxed version available from BFI or Turner's embarrassing panned and scanned print only time will tell. But if it's the latter, skip it.UPDATE: ONCE AGAIN TURNER SHOWED A REALLY TERRIBLE TRANSFER OF A WONDERFUL FILM, DESTROYING LESTER'S COMPOSITIONS WITH A PAN AND SCANNED PRINT. GET WITH IT, TCM. It's easy: BUY THE BFI DVD AND RUN THAT!

A Page of of my poems from 1967:

Amos Vogel
He was 91 when he died in his New York apartment on Tuesday, April 22 (2012). Few had opened my eyes wider to what cinema could be than he, thanks in large part to Cinema 16 which distributed the films of Robert Downey, Kenneth Anger, Andy Warhol and Maya Deren. His manifesto-in-book-form, �Film as a Subversive Art,� helped energize underground film as it moved more into the mainstream (only to get eaten by Steven Spielberg�s shark and left for dead). Anyone who goes to the movies has felt his influence. Even the worst Hollywood movie is more self-aware now, whether it knows it or not.

From April, 2011. It may be old news now, but it's still interesting:

Big happenings happened on Tuesday night, April 12 at the Paley Center in New York City: A Celebration of Tv�s first master, Ernie Kovacs, a subversive original before there was even much about Tv to subvert. Tv was always Ernie�s personal playroom and if we wanted to join in, that was fine with him. This pre-release party for Shout Factory�s box set of Kovacs rarities that hit the streets a week later, Keith Olbermann, (to quoting from the press release) led "a discussion about Kovacs�s offbeat sensibility and how it paved the way for future experimentation by Monty Python, David Letterman, and MTV. George Schlatter and his wife Jolene Brand will put their friend�s life in perspective, while two of the most innovative creators of contemporary television, Robert Smigel and Joel Hodgson, will examine why Kovacs remains relevant today. Historian Ben Model will reveal how he curated the definitive box set of Kovacs�s work, which will be released by Shout! Factory on April 19.� Ernie�s personal motto was �Nothing in Moderation,� and the new Shout Factory box set lives up to that. I�m particularly excited to see the reconstruction of the Eugene Show, now back in its lenticular color, extracted from a 16mm Eastmancolor print tweaked by the magicians at Film & TV Archives at UCLA. Everyone points to Laugh In as Kovac�s heir apparent, but I would give that honor to its spin-off, the underrated Tune-In, a show that had no canned laughter unlike its predecessor. Kovacs hated the trance-breaking intrusion of a laugh track; his shows were as more like Kubla Khan�s pleasure-dome than a video version of Hellzapoppin, and all the better for it! I remember looking at the original 2- inch tapes when they arrived at the museum, so uneven on the spool from the hundreds of handmade splices, neatly glued, like raisins in a pudding. And I remember the trouble Ron Simon had finding 2� machine that would still play it. As a baby I was nursed in front of Tv as my mother and I watched Kovacs on the Corner and I�m not sure which nourished me more. Kovacs was understating things when he would end the shows with �It�s been real.� The truth was that it had been surreal...

A Crazy College Christmas Top Ten
By Geo. Stewart Producer/Host of Crazy College

Nothing says �Merry Christmas� to an aging rock star like that annual royalty check from their thrown-together holiday 45. I think here of local boy George Therogood who wrote one of the best in 1984, �Rock & Roll Christmas.� Others keep doing it every winter, like lemmings to the sea: Homer & Jethro did a sleigh-load of 'em over the years. And then, when you finally get twelve of �em done ya got an album, guaranteed to sell again each and every December!

For the last tenth of a century I�ve been hosting a radio show dedicated to all musics odd, silly or forgotten called Crazy College, and heard on our more adventurous public radio stations. Come December I face the dilemma of just how much noel nonsense can a normal listener take. The problem is that there are just so many great Christmas novelty records that each year it gets harder and harder to winnow it down to just an hour or two.

Picking the ten or so tunes that will make up a typical program can quickly become an unwelcome task: I gotta listen to a lot of really bad, unfunny releases just to find an hour worth sharing with you, the listening public. Let�s skip the most obvious ones that you�re already familiar with, like David Seville and his Chipmunks 1959 hit �The Christmas Song� [you know, �Christmas, Christmas time is here�� punctuated with David�s frantic yelps of �Alvin!�] Let�s forget the newest edition to the classic cannon, Elmo & Patsy�s �Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer� [1979] that spawned a slew of parodies, like the one from redneck comedian Cledus T. Judd, �Grandpa Got Run Over By A John Deere.� Let�s forget Stan Freberg�s Green Christmas [1958] with its refrain to �Deck the Halls with advertising� or Tom Lecher�s �A Christmas Carol� [1954] where he wobbles �Angels we have heard on high, tell us to go out and buy!� Everyone knows and loves these. Some become popular for inexplicable reasons; One of the most requested is Allan Sherman�s update of the Twelve Gifts of Christmas; it�s also is one of the weakest parody of that song�.And what�s up with them singing dogs?

Here�s some of my favorites you might want to avoid [ear protection is recommended.]

1. Gene Autry�s �Santa�s Coming in a Whirlybird� [1959]. Santa gets an up grade from the old sleigh. �If you been good and you don�t goof, the Whirlybird�s gonna land on the roof.� --which will surely play havoc with your new shingles.

2. In 1976 Tiny Tim did a similar themed disco ditty he called �Zoot, Zoot, Zoot, Here Comes Santa In His New Space Suite.� Overlooked by almost everyone, cherished by the cognoscenti.

3. I also still have a soft spot for the Royal Guardsmen, who in 1967 did a seasonal follow-up to their top forty hit, �Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron,� called �Snoopy�s Christmas.� It seems one Christmas eve so many years ago the pup and his aerial adversary, the Red Baron, called for a truce just long enough to toast one another. Then they began shooting again.

4. Another rarity worth a quick spin is by a Canadian group of session men, The Beatmas Rubber Band, whose one shot cd of traditional Christmas carols was done in the style of the Beatles. Their version of �Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer� was done to the tune of �Taxman� and they meld perfectly! Try it yourself in the shower, it really works well!

.5 The Bob Rivers Comedy Corp is a group of morning DJs hailing from the west coast. Over the course of the last fifteen years or so, they have managed to put out a stocking full of Christmas parodies, most of which are unusually good! Their cd from 2000 contains two of my personal favorites. One is a rather sick attack on the aforementioned David Seville and his rodents called �Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire.� But the better of the two is a smart co-opting of Good Vibrations: �I�m stringing up decorations. It�s straining the power stations.� The later is clearly some sort of a classic [what sort, You decide.]

6. Late in their careers, when all those eye pokes had left them near blind with cataracts, the final formation of Three Stooges invaded a recording studio to knock out six sides of seasonal silliness, the best of which is the descriptively titled �Wreck the Halls� where Curly Joe asks �What harm can one more little piece of tinsel do?� Answer: plenty!

7-8. If you have enough talent you can be amusing and still make good music. Here�s two examples. In 1953, Louis Armstrong & his Commanders were awaiting the arrival of Big Red with their �Zat You Santa Claus?� And the Waitresses some twenty eight years later set a rather touching short story to some clever music in something like four minutes in their classic �Christmas Wrapping� tale.

9. I guess we must leave some space for those ever present naysayers. In 1958, Mr. Magoo himself, a.k.a. Mr. Thurston Howell III himself, a.k.a. Mr. Jim Backus recorded one of my favorites, �Why Don�t You Go Home for Christmas?� Ole Jimbo�s having so much fun here you can almost hear the ice tinkling in his highball glass.

Then there�s Loretta Lynn�s very bitter �To Heck with Old Santa Claus� from 1966 [�When he goes dashing through the snow I hope he falls!�]

Forty years before Ashcroff with all his homeland security paranoia became the fashion, Ray Stevens and the ACLU band recorded a song about another super-snooper entitled �Santa Claus Is Watching You!�

But I�ll have to give the #9 spot to Ray Davis and the Kinks for their punk-rock masterpiece from 1977, �Father Christmas [Give Me Some Money�]. It says it all, and in so doing says too much.

10: Let�s end this Top Ten on a happier note, musically, if not lyrically. In 1987 Dan Hicks re-appeared suddenly out of the past with his peppy �Somebody Stole My Santa Claus Suit� [but, sucker, you can keep it �cause don�t give a hoot.] Dan�s band is as hot as that red flannel must have been. No wonder he won�t miss it.

Enjoy the sounds of the holiday while you can because come the 26th we won�t be hearing �em again for at least another year. And, ya know there just aren�t that many novelty Easter songs out there�.

Some articles from the 1990s in Rewind Magazine:

Why I Like Silent Movies

�The subtle magic created on the carved wood block by the oriental master print makers of Japan is known around the world as "ukiyoe"; "the floating world." It would seem to also apply to another art form, one that born just a hundred years ago in 1996, and did not talk for it's first 30 years. Is there a better term than "ukiyoe" for the fleeting, ethereal magic of the "silent" film? For, unlike "talkies," rooted in a reality of banal blather and background noise, the Silent Film moves like a dream, image after image drifting by, shimmering in a miasma of silver moonlight, taking to us in our own inner voice. And what lips could not, kohl lined eyes would say.

"Silent films" are called silent only because we could not hear the actors speak. But silent was not a word any contemporary would have use to describe the din of a nickelodeon. Even the smallest store front theater would have an out of tune upright banging out familiar songs that may or may not some relationship to what was going on upon the white sheet hanging from the wall behind. One could count on the largest theaters to have a full orchestra to accompany the feature, after giving an abbreviated program of light classics and popular music. By the mid teens all but the most poverty row film would arrived with a cue sheet of suggested music, while manyfeatures would supply original scores with full orchestration.

What we see today in most instances is better than what even a silent film's first night audience ever saw. Modern projectors are brighter, their lenses sharper. Our film stock has finer grain, even if the image has little silver in it and lays upon an acetate base not quit as clear as its more explosive antecedent. Gone are the days of a 16 mm dup of a dup, with no differentiation between its blacks and whites, with no music, projected too fast -- or worse, too slow when someone has decided to print each frame twice in a desperate attempt to get closer to silent speed. The truth is silent films were not dark and grainy -- a silver nitrate print shimmered like faire dust. Nor did they flicker or move at exaggerated rates [unless it was being done for comedic effect.] Today it is often possible to see a silent film in a nice theater with a good 35 mm print, and that is the best way to do it. But you would be limiting yourself to just a handful of titles when there are now literally hundreds of titles available on video. Here are some new releases out on video that I like:

Tol'able David

[US 1921, HENRY KING, 91 MIN]

Director Henry King [Twelve O'clock High, Song of Bernadette] was raised in the backwood mountains of Virginia and returned there to shoot on real locations for this production. D.W.Griffith star Richard Barthelmess plays the young man who fate forces to take on three of the foulest villians ever to be captured on film [they even kill his dog!]. But it is the beaucholic atmospher that has made this the classic it is, preserved here with the love and care expected from a Kino release. King discusses the making the film in a 16 minute adendum shot on video just beforehis death.



Unfairly forgottn now, William S. Hart was the Clint Eastwood of his day, stoic, silent, distant, with as much bad in him as good. Here he plays train robber Black Deering, betrayed by one of his own men, forced to flee into the unforgiving desert and into the arms of a forgiving widdow. But his redemption doesn't last long... Tranferred from an original tinted and tone print, the film exhibits some of its age in the last reel that will not affect your enjoyment of one of Hart's best films. Filling out the bill: an unfunny 2 reeler Mack Sennett programmer starring Max Swain and Edgar Kennedy, His Bitter Pill.


One year before his death, Rudolph Valentino went independent with this picture about a modern day Don Juan who beomes mesmerized by his bosses wife. Only Valentino could hold his own against the lavish sets of William Cameron Menzies [Gone With The Wind] and the costuming of ledgendary fashion mavin Adrian. But he does with aplum.


[US, 1927, 81 MIN, PAUL LENI]

In his first American production [Dave, check that] Director Leni [Waxworks] brings the gothic sensabilities of his native Germany to bare on this, one of the best and most influencial this genre, clearing inspiring Todd Browning's 1930 adaptation of Dracula , James Whale's Frankensteinand most obviously his brilliant reductive Old Dark House. It's a pity Jon Debolt wasn't made to watch this before his overblow and bombastic travisty The Haunting: Leni hides his freights in the half seen shadows, and the slowly sliding trap door, not through computer tricks. Included is a good Harold Lloyd short , 1920's "Haunted Spooks".


[US, 1926, 67 MIN, JAMES YOUNG]

Lionel Barrymore stars in this Crime & Punishment varient as a man haunted by the vision of his murder victum after a fatefull run in with a carnival hypnotist ([a pre-Frankenstein Boris Karloff, looking every inch like Dr. Caligari.) Rounding out the bill: Rene Clair's The Crazy Ray.



Legendary horror star Lon Channey Sr gives a star making performance as the insane criminal mastermind Blizzard who became twisted in youth when an incompitant doctor amputated the boy's legs. Now that he is a man with the power of the underworld in his hands, he plans his revenge and it involves the doctor's daughter....

Stella Maris

[USA, 1918,]

America's sweetheart, Mary Pickford, plays two orphans in this Dickensian melodrama about a crippled girl, adopted by a loving, well off, family who shield her from the sorrows of the world -- a world that her doppelganger Unity Blake knows in all its ugliness. While Pickford gives her usual endearing performances as the title character, at times being coyingly annoying by acting annoying coy, she manages to loose herself in the role of Unity, creating one of her most vivid characterization of childhood lost.

Here's my Cinema Jewel Case column, published in Rewind Magazine, before it was improved by an editor, circa 1999.


See Geo's mind in!

Interview with TOM LEHRER
Catch All
(as Catch Can)




In an industry known for its shortsightedness, it is fortunate for us that the one Hollywood studio that made the best musicals also had the best archival habits. Not only did MGM save the original soundtracks from the recording sessions from such classics as "Singing in the Rain", "Meet Me In Saint Louis", "Kiss Me Kate", but they saved a good number of the alternate "stems", or angles, as well, allowing Turner Classics in collaboration with Rhino Records to generate true stereo recordings of some very famous music. Fortunately by 1952 MGM wasrecording all their musicals in stereo on 35 mm magnetic stock so anything from that date forward is in pretty good shape.

One of their best rescue efforts was released last year: Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's "Gigi", the only musical they ever wrote together expressly for the screen. Indeed for the first time they were basically hired hands, to put it too crudely -- but the man doing the hiring was producer Arthur Freed, who had also garnered the services of director Vincent Minnelli for this A team. Talent in front of the camera was also top shelf: Leslie Caron [second choice after a disinclined Audrey Hepburn], Louis Jourdan, [second choice after an unavailable Dirk Bogarde!], and Maurice Chevalier [first and only choice -- and soon to have a new signature song, "Thank Heavens For Little Girls"]. And one cannot forget Hermione Gingold!

Too long overshadowed by the tremendous success [and, obviously, superior] musical My Fair Lady, which was continuing its Broadway run at the time, Gigi is still a charming confection, as light as an eclair, a bubblelly as the champagne they serenade. Oddly, Gigi made for a better film, a nice quiet little bit of froufrou compared to the overblown pretence that could wound, if not kill, even a piece of musical theater as indestructible as "My Fair Lady". It is great to be able to hear the score to "Gigi" again in true stereo; for years the only available sound track was marred by an impenetrable patina of reverb and truncated numbers. Indeed be careful to look for the Turner/Rhino version as CDs of the old Lp still turn up in many record stores and the Turner CD includes all the musical cues, a few demo recordings and many extended songs later tightened up for the film.

Two classic musicals by Vincent Minnelli, 1944's "Meet Me In Saint Louis" and 1946's "Ziegfeld Follies" both appear in stereo for the first time, and one would swear that they were recorded just yesterday, the sound is so clear and full and spacious. Here's hoping that some day soon someone at the studio will decide to marry the stereo tracks to a newly strucked IB technicolor prints of these to musical masterpieces and rerelease them theatrically.

Oh, one can dream....

Another fun soundtrack from Turner is the Deluxe edition of "The Wizard Of Oz" containing two CDs of music and a full color 50 page book. Again many truncated numbers are restored to their original length and several entire tunes dropped from the film are presented in their proper context. While this version of "The Wizard Of Oz" is in mono, rumor has it that Turner Films might re-release the film next year theatrically with a true stereo music track, thanks to the discovery of all those different recording "stems"! Also promised for next year: the score from Stanley Kubrick's version of "Lolitta", and a recently discovered recording of Max Steiner's "Casablanca", conducted by the composer and featuring all the cues.

Here's a batch of my Cinema Bookshelf columns from Rewind Magazine before improved by the editors.

by Geo. Stewart

To a culture that no longer respects the bifurcation of Life into its public and private sectors, Robert DeNiro's loud silences seem oddly quaint -- an affectation akin to an effrontery. So it is of no surprise, then, that Andy Dougan has trouble in formulating a totally unified portrait of the man in his new biography entitled accurately enough "Untouchable" [Thounder's Mouth Press, $24.95]. Born during the Second World War to bohemian artists whose Greenwich Village loft knew the likes of every painter and poet, every theorist and thinker, this side of NYU, DeNiro was soon [to quote Dougan] "largely responsible for his own upbringing"; his parents busy enough with their own.

Uninterested, undisciplined, unexceptional at school, DeNiro left to study with Adler and Strasberg where his genius was quickly realized, nurtured, and developed. In short order his intense, heavily mannered technique found critical favor in "Glamour, Glory And Gold", a bit of camp fun from one Jackie Curtis and it soon proved to be the perfect accoutrement to the revolution in styles that was the touchstone of the nascent underground cinema movement in New York. It was through his work with Brian DePalma in "Greetings" and "Hi, Mom", that he came to the attention of Francis Ford Coppula, then casting the first of his Godfather films, and, most importantly, to Martin Scorsese.

Renoir had Gabin. Fellini, Mastroianni. Now Scorsese had found his cinematic surrogate in DeNiro. Together they would make films that defined their time and redefined the art of film. A fuller examination of this partnership is to be had in Mary Pat Kelly oral history of our most talented active director entitled "Martin Scorsese, a Journey" also just out on Thunder's Mouth Press (a great marketing gimmick was missed here by not packaging the two in a slip case and including a joint index!) In some three hundred pages Kelly collects quotes from every important collaborator of Scorsese's, tracing his career up to and including 1991's "Cape Fear". As taciturn as is DeNiro, Scorsese is effusive; always the engaging professor desperate to share his insights as if their sheer energy gives him pain until expelled. Where it becomes clear in Dougan's biography that DeNiro is intuitive, consumed with a fear of not finding that one insight which will make his performance come alive [explaining to some degree his mania for research and his passion for staying in character once he finds it], Scorsese, it is equally evident, is a man in total control of his medium, able to explain every shot, every camera move, every cut. And since so much of corsese is in his films, Kelly's biography may lack surprises, but catalogues details. Both books are marred by an inability to address directly the effects that cocaine may have had on both men's work in the Disco Seventies. One wonders about 1977's New York, New York, with its wonderful bombast, like some Simpson/Bruckheimer Art film, all sound and fury, and yet still managing to signify plenty. Some directors -- and some actors -- just can't helprevealing things about themselves. They are the good ones. It should not surprisingly, then, that the book that best gets into the heart of this man -- and therefore his art -- is by the man himself. Published here in 1989 by Faber & Faber, "Scorsese On Scorsese" is just that -- excerpts from the director's writings, lectures, and conversations organized chronologically by editors David Thompson and Ian Christie, designed as a companion to the Nation Film Theatre of London's retrospective of Scorsese's career.


When one is ones own Boswell, one is destine to stand in good light. So it should come as no surprise as to who stand in the shadows, who lingers in the shade in Mia Farrow's new autobiography "What Falls Away" [Doubleday]. Mia had only a moderately interesting story to tell before the nightmarish collapse of her twenty-"odd" year relationship with one Woody Allen. For its first two hundred pages "What Falls Away" is just another of those generic celebrity tell-all destined to be quickly relegated to the remainder table: an easy read with its breezy style, trafficking in those mildly interesting antidotes that are the coin of the talk show circuit. Even her years with Frank [Sinatra] are chronicled with a quiet civility that, if accurately reported, would have earned him the moniker "Chairman of the Boring" rather than "Chairman of the Board". Farrow has too little to say about most of her pre-Allen film work, "A Dandy In Aspic", "Rosemary's Baby", "John & Mary", and perhaps rightly so: it is not an impressive body. Even "Secret Ceremony" is disposed of in less space than I get for this throwaway column --and she was writing first hand about working with Elizabeth Taylor and Joseph Losey. Only her time with Allen gets covered in any sort of detail, and of course it is her time with Allen that we are most interested. She does not disappoint: Allen comes off as a man even more neurotic than his film persona. Unfortunately, Farrow maintains the same even-handed tone that mars the entire tome indelibly. Her feeling seem more chronicled than felt, and when she comes across the pornographic pictures of her daughter that her lover had left lying around for her to discover, well, one doesn't really expect such objective journalism. I guess, conceivably, that was the only way she could handle the retelling of such a heinous betrayal from a man who's most cogent explanation for his child abuse was the rather lame aphorism "the heart wants what it wants."

Julian Fox has the unenviable distinction of being the first to write about the art of Allen since the scandle in "Woody, Movies From Manhattan" [Overlook Press]. As film scholarship the book falls short, only lightly touching on themes and motifs in a ouevra that presents a really consistent world view. In its stead we get a fascinating glimpse at the production histories of the over thirty films Allen has directed or been involved. It has been well known for some time that Allen has always planned for reshoots several months after principle photography has been completed -- a throwback to the old Hollywood Studio days that ended when stars became free agents and not full time employees. But I was amazed to learn how much Allen rewrites and reconceptualizes, how much is undiscovered until that first rough cut. The themes and even the narrative of a film like "Annie Hall", according to Fox, did not appear until Allen and his editor removed many hours of extraneous plotlines and digressions, like a sculpture chipping away marble until the statue is revealed. And while Fox does not ignore the effects the scandal has had on Allen's career [none, apparently], he does his best to overlook the tawdry autobiographic strains that run through all of Allen's mature films. It is these very elements that make his films so unique, him one of the great filmakers of all time, and "Husbands & Wives" so uncomfortable to watch today.


Even friends and family found it hard to say very many nice things about the man who brought to life such characters as Inspector Clouseau, and Dr Strangelove. Indeed even Peter Sellers seemed highly critical of Peter Sellers the man, often stated that he saw himself as just another acting job: "I know him well" his most recent biographer, Roger Lewis, quotes him a saying about himself. "Sometimes he bores me, sometimes he frightens me. Frequently he bewilders me. Occasionally he astonishes me, and sometimes I think he's mad." An unparalleled mimic who wanted to be the next Alex Guinness, a brilliant character actor who starved himself into becoming a romantic lead, Sellers's tale is one of an egocentric's decent into dementia, a psychosis so severe that it could only go unnoticed in Hollywood. Somehow Roger Lewis manages to make sense of it all in "The Life And Death of Peter Sellers", as much an essay as it is a conventional biography. "He became whoever he was playing", Mr Lewis told me in a recent interview. "And that's what determined the sort of films he made." --And the sort of films he unmade, for the books is a�compendium of projects ruined by Seller's whims, abandoned by him half way through, or disowned and vilified when pasted together by others. The most tantalizing project that died a-borning was from the pen of the great Indian director Satyajit Ray who found a core of truth inside Sellers' often crude portrayals of "wily oriental gentlemen". To be called "The Alien" it finally did appear on screen after many a rewrite, and many years in "turn around", deformed and disfigured beyond recognition, retitled "ET, The Extra Terrestrial". In Ray's version, Sellers was to have played a rich Indian whose adopted western ways makes him as much an stranger as the titular visitor from the stars. It sounds like a role that would have been as challenging -- perhaps more so -- as Chauncey Gardener in "Being There."

While the abandonment of "The Alien" might have been a great loss, not so, one suspects, of "The Day the Clown Cried", Jerry Lewis' attempt to one up Chaplin in the pathos department. Here he plays a circus clown sent to a Nazi concentration camp to entertain the children on their way to the gas chambers. After viewing a rough cut of this never released film, satirist Harry Shearer branded it "a painting on black velvet of Auschwitz." How someone could be so blind, and pigheaded, and insensitive becomesclear in "King Of Comedy, the Life and Art Of Jerry Lewis", a surprisingly even handed biography by Shawn Levy. I say "surprisingly", because the book started out with Lewis' participation until one day he took umbrage at something and attacked the author. It's all in the book -- how a poorly educated borscht belt comedian became big, really big, when accidentally teamed with a lounge singer, how he soon became addicted to adulation of the French and soured by the disinterest at home. Now there appears some sort of repoucmoun: he can be our comedic elder statesman as long as he promises never to release that film.


Anthony Perkins, "it seems, was fighting typecasting in every aspect of his life" when at 41 he suddenly married long time groupie Berry Berenson and became a father after years of being a very active homosexual. That's how author Charles Winecoff tells it in "Split Image" [Dutton], the first major biography of the conflicted star, best remembered -- and typecast -- as the title character in Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho". Like many celebs of his era Perkins' secret "other" life was a secret well kept from the public and yet to few of his co-workers who seemed to accept it much better then Perkins himself. Dominated by his stage mother, haunted by his father's early death, Perkins was determined to cauterize this "monosexual isolation" from his heart. And perhaps he did manage to do so, but only after years of brutal psychotherapy. A feckless charmer in public, yet really a closet misanthrope, Perkins was the true victim here, a casualty to his fractious soul which asserted itself in so many memorable performances -- and undermined many others. Winecoff traces his thesis monomaniacal, at the expense, unfortunately, of delving deeply into the roles that made Perkins famous.

Surprising, Hitchcock and Perkins got along famously during the making of Psycho and remained lifelong friends. Perhaps the great director only got his kicks by tormenting his blonde leading ladies. Unfortunately this is about the only subject that "Hitch" never addressed in his writings, recently collected by Sidney Gottlieb in a enlightening little tome entitled "Hitchcock on Hitchcock" [University Of California Press]. Few other directors were so much in control of their medium -- and none were able to write as well about it -- as Alfred Hitchcock.

With more and more Tv programs being released on home video, it is fun to read David Bianculli's "Dictionary Of Teleliteracy, Television's 500 biggest Hits, Misses, and Event" [Continuum Press]. For