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Thursday, June 23, 2016

"America's Funniest Family" In 1966 ...

Shall We Celebrate 50 Years of Munster Go Home?

Advise for anyone who's been holding on to Munster Go Home posters or memorabilia --- sell now. Those there for the network run would have to be sixty, or pushing it, so how much longer can the stuff fetch hundreds? Nostalgia is an engine that eventually plays out ... or dies out. Even sub-channels are ditching really old TV. The Munsters debuted in 1964 and was gone within two years (5/12/66). Batman was credited with doing it in. Universal released a Munster feature after the show's demise(summer '66). Fox did the same for Batman. 1966 was a great year to be a fan, or become one. There was even Star Trek coming with the new school year. Add to these Lost In Space, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Addams Family (what episodes were left of it), so many more of fanta-sort that glutted airwaves and would cede only to horror/sci-fi features that filled daytime or late, late slots. Keeping up with it all was full-time work. Munster Go Home was a "Good Times" DVD I found forlorn and unopened in the basement --- why would I have bought it in the first place? --- but at long last has come revisit. Will Greenbriar's be the only fiftieth year recognition?

Munster Go Home was never much good, but it was in color. And not just color, but rich IB Technicolor, a process in waning days, but vibrant enough still to haul weakest product across finish lines (Munster Go Home was shot on Eastman negative, but prints were Tech, which made stunning difference). I saw it during a week visiting Grandmother in Kings Mountain, NC. The Munster engagement was followed by Paradise --- Hawaiian Style, also Technicolor, also not so good. A drug store next to the Joy Theatre got in the Castle Of Frankenstein 1967 Fearbook, a colossal event as there had lately been a regular issue arrived on stands, and two in succession was nirvana beyond words. The monster mags embraced fad TV because it sold copies, thus CoF with Batman and later Star Trek covers, Monster World #2 putting the Munsters on its front, and later The Addams Family. I regarded these a pander, but a necessary commercial expediency. There was always Chaney Sr., Karloff, et al, on the inside. We knew where Beck and Ackerman's hearts really lay.

I'm sure I never laughed once at Munster Go Home in 1966, the series strictly one-joke for me, and besides, sending up classic monsters was never a concept I'd endorse. People seemed too near to laughing at them as it was, thanks to chatterbox late night hosts, so why encourage it further with spoof movies and TV? It occurs to me now that the Munsters may have been the only meaningful exploit for Universal's monster franchise during the 60's. What else did they have beyond this and licensing the images for Aurora models, here-and-there toys, billfolds, tee-shirts, all pretty cheesy, that utilized familiar and Uni-owned faces. Lugosi, Jr. sued for monies deriving from license of his father's image, but what monies? (monster mags didn't pay for use of stills from Universal, or anyone's, horror movies) I don't know of any concerted effort Universal made to spread its horror legacy, despite the 60's being peak of a monster boom and youth's shared hunger for Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy, and so on. Now we have Universal concocting a multi-million plan to resurrect its monsters a la the Marvel heroes, but will that come to greater success than relative non-effort of fifty years ago?

One thing Munster Go Home did right was finish-up with Herman racing his "Drag-ula" against sport cars in an English derby (the film set there, which disappointed some who preferred the familiar Munster house setting). A smart idea was offering the Drag-ula as a model kit, Grandpa at the wheel rather than Herman. Toys being a humbler enterprise in 1966, I'd not imagine the replica reaped millions, but whatever it got was so much found money for Universal, theirs an exertion little beyond signing of a license agreement. Munster Go Home had been shot during March-April 1966, Army Archerd of Variety calling it a "hush-hush vox pouli test" by Universal to maybe revive the cancelled series in event the movie clicked (show principals were under contract through July). This time it was figured to go out under U's syndication arm rather than with a network. Yvonne DeCarlo was meanwhile gratified by royalties she was getting for "Lily Munster" toys being sold to tourists at Universal's gift shop, though it was stipulated that should she costume as Lily during her upcoming nightery act, the studio would claim 50% of her take. The solution? --- play it strictly as Yvonne and not Lily. There is a 2006 DVD of Munster Go Home that gets good reviews at Amazon, selling at bargain $7.58 (on a double with TV-movie The Munster's Revenge).

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Other Miller Band I Didn't Know

News To Me: Glenn Miller Had A Brother and His Name Was Herb

Here was occasion to learn something new, an ad from 1943 touting Glenn Miller's brother as bandleading attraction at Cleveland's RKO Palace. I never realized Glenn had a sibling who also performed, let alone that they resembled each other so. Turns out Herb managed Glenn's band through the 30's, had played a trumpet himself since age 12, and carried on the Miller legacy right into the 80's. Herb did trumpet duty with Charlie Spivak after the manager stint with Glenn, then formed his own group while earning a master's degree at the University Of Michigan. This ad finds Herb sharing a bill with Ann Corio, a burlesque name who also did a string of exotic cheapies for PRC, then Monogram. These paved way for successful stage appearances through the war, rather like Bela Lugosi's traveling spook show getting tread from budget pics he headlined for those same companies. Her mild (assuredly very mild) strip act assured Ms. Corio top placement on the Palace's bill, even as her "Undress With Finesse" act would need to be toned way down for family patronage. To satisfaction of latter came Eddie Foy, Jr., a vaude face since forever and lately onscreen in Yankee Doodle Dandy, in which he played Eddie Sr. Final note re Herb Miller --- at first when I saw he was "Carrying On In The Miller Manner," I thought the performance was post- Glenn's demise, but turns out Palace date at hand was October 8, 1943, so Carrying On must have been in terms of Herb continuing while Glenn served with armed forces.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Masterpiece On The Chopper's Block

Citizen Kane Comes To Television

Citizen Kane Makes L.A. Art House Landing in May, 1956 

First off, research for this piece was done primarily by writer/historian Russell Merritt, who generously shared with me his findings. We both were interested in movie afterlives on TV, especially notable ones like Citizen Kane. I waited on good visuals before doing this post, and so came ads for Gotham's first televising of Kane during Thanksgiving week of 1958. This wasn't the film's TV premiere, however. Los Angeles seems to have had first home exposure to Citizen Kane on January 6, 1958, over Channel 9, KHJ (the station ran Kane each night for a week, save Saturday). Most of the RKO library had been playing television from 1956, but some titles were withheld, including Citizen Kane. The reason was a theatrical reissue, Kane enjoying success at art houses and even a few mainstream situations. I'm aware of no TV broadcasts of Kane prior to L.A.'s in January 1958, but would welcome data to the contrary. New York's WOR (Channel 9) had Citizen Kane some months later (November 1958) on its Million Dollar Movie, a showcase for their RKO library. There were two primetime playoffs each night of Thanksgiving week, the first at 7:30, and again at 10:30. The Welles classic occupied a two-hour time slot, with regular programming during the 9:30-10:30 break between the two Kane showings (among these, Science-Fiction Theatre, Harness Racing from Yonkers, Top Pro Golf, and Man Without A Gun, starring Rex Reason). Variety noted fact that ads for WOR's broadcast were carried in the Hearst-owned New York Journal-American, a newspaper that had banned mention of Orson Welles or Citizen Kane when the film was released in 1941.

Welcome as it may have been to free viewing, there were those who deplored surgery WOR performed on Citizen Kane. The New York Times' Jack Gould spoke for disaffected fans of Welles and his masterpiece. To Gould's mind, any viewing experience would be compromised by "the rules of TV advertising." While acknowledging the station's expansion from a customary ninety-minute slot to two hours for Kane, Gould condemned "a total of nine interruptions" during the film. Within these, the columnist estimated "roughly twenty advertisements for individual services, plus several more advertisements in behalf of WOR-TV's own schedule." Citizen Kane ran 119 minutes, so of course there would have to be cuts. What remained of Kane was free at least, thus a far larger NY audience seeing it on the "Million Dollar Movie" than had done so in paying situations. Citizen Kane would widen reach into other television markets. Chicago saw it on December 4, 1958 ... in a ninety-minute time slot, so imagine the vivisection when you factor in that plus commercials inserted. WTTG in Washington had a 1-4-59 broadcast along with an interesting blurb in TV listings: "The movie parallels the life of a great publishing figure who was the Nation's most successful failure." A slam on departed Hearst by a rival paper?

Russell Merritt's new book, co-written by J.B. Kaufman, Silly Symphonies: A Companion To The Classic Cartoon Series, is coming soon, and available for pre-order now at Amazon. It is a second and expanded edition of an original that has been out of print for some time and is highly collectible.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Monthly Balm For Film Lovers

A 70's Club We Wanted To Join

One upon a time there was a Book-Of-The Month club for movie lovers. The ad above is from 1973, which is close enough to when Movie Book Club started. This was a first monthly obligation by mail I'd been involved with. Record clubs were around, but tainted by parents who hit ceiling when offspring joined without permission, leaving Mom/Dad to rid family of the incubus. Temptation to join was bushel of goods for a dollar, sometimes less, after which body and soul, certainly allowance, belonged to the company store. I thought long before pulling trigger on the Movie Book Club. Would they send me to Devil's Island for missing a payment? What if good titles played out and I was obligated to buy novelizations of latest disaster pics? Doubt was removed from a start, for the Movie Book Club proved a very good thing. I'd be a member for almost as long as the club itself lasted, which memory suggests was plentiful years. 1973 saw dawn upon boom in movie books, enough output finally to support a club. Members would receive a monthly update, with a suggested volume plus others you could choose instead, or add on. You had to let them know by a set date lest the selection arrive along with billing.

I always looked forward to the newsletters, so never was stung by unwanted stuff. My interest being strong as it was, there were always titles to entice. Note the picks here for new members: Citadel's "Films Of ..." series in abundance, a new one of these every few weeks, it seemed. Back in pre-imdb, this was only way to survey an entire career, with photos besides. There were also the William K. Everson books, each a gem, and no less pleasing to read today. Everson was among treasured few with real wit to his writing. I'd baldly imitate him in whatever college themes I was pressed to compose. Getting books through the club was lots easier and more convenient than bird-dogging stores (none around here catered to buffs) or ordering from a publisher. Was there any figure so solitary as a vintage movie fan in 1973? The Movie Book Club, plus few mags and fanzines being published, made it seem we were part of a broader community, even if getting to membership meant crossing one of more state lines.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Hilton Hysteria In Middletown!

Novelty Act Writ Large

Those sweethearts from Freaks were a busy conjoined pair in years leading up to, and after, the Tod Browning classic of 1932. North Carolina had a stake, it seems, in Siamese twins. The Barnum-exploited originals, Chang and Eng Bunker, retired to my home county, had a passel of kids, went broke after our side lost in the Civil War. A hundred years later, the Hiltons were traveling with a Freaks revival when their roadshow sharpie left his troupe high/dry near Charlotte. The gals wound up weighing meat at a local market through much of the 60's, died in 1969. This vaude appearance was much earlier, 12/26/28, in Middletown, Ohio. Everyone from miles around was figured to be there. The Hiltons did scores of stops like this, real talent an augment to the physical novelty. Male performers would often come out and dance with the pair, one such swain a young Bob Hope. Also-on-Sorg-bill The Burns Twins are hopelessly outclassed for being mere twins, and not conjoined. Statistics at the time said nine sets of Siamese twins had been born in the last 200 years, so chance of copycats crabbing the Hilton's act was nil. There's a recent documentary about the girls. Apparently, they were abused pretty badly by handlers. The duo has a large fan/cult following. Their other movie, a starring one (Chained For Life) has shown up on TCM, and is available on DVD.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

20th Fox Lets It Snow

Sun Valley Serenade (1941) Is A Swing Vacation

Fox Crew and Cameras On Location at Sun Valley

The Sirius music service I subscribe to has a Christmas channel that each year uses It Happened In Sun Valley among holiday rotation. I never considered this a Yule song, but maybe it should be for celebration that is Sun Valley Serenade, my nominee for best of all black-and-white Fox musicals (favorite in color? The Gang's All Here). Unaccountably not on DVD, Sun Valley Serenade has gone wished-for and unfulfilled since a laser disc release that was 20th's last word till recent arrive of HD broadcasts on the FXM network, which look/sound great. Want the Glenn Miller songbook in toto? This one has nearly that. Fans of the sweet band King (wait, I should say Orchestra) must regard this a Holy Grail. Certainly the movie does, its camera pulled slowly back as His Reverence begins a first full-on number (and there's little wait, for it comes early). We can guess or look at history re Miller's popularity, living/listening in 1941 an only way to truly feel his impact. Fox put Glenn prominent on every poster and ad. He wasn't an actor, played not himself (instead, a character named "Phil Corey"), but Miller in background amounted to patron idea of foreground, him not needing to talk or emote to be in command. Demon publicist Milton Berle refers to theirs as "the sweetest band in the country," which Miller's group was, but who wants to know about sweet bands in 2016? Glenn Miller can be called, at least, the most fashionable of an unfashionable breed of vintage bands.

He'd came back big in 1954 with The Glenn Miller Story, so much so that Fox reissued both Sun Valley Serenade and Orchestra Wives (soon afterward came rock/roll to splinter music's audience). The Miller orchestra had continued after the war under leadership of Tex Beneke (some good CD's available), "ghost bands" US-touring through the 60's and (how far?) beyond. Dying out of the initial audience and celebration of "true" jazz pushed Miller into margins afterward, a 1985 revive of The Glenn Miller Story doomed to fail. Like all big bands, Miller's played heavily at movie housing, before and between flix, but his live act was confined to larger cities that could fill capacity, small bergs making do with screen work by him and the boys. Miller knew rubes bought records too, and had juke/radio access, so film appearance was a needed thing, whatever the better $ he could earn on roads or shellac sales. Sun Valley Serenade could cross-promote his latest 78's set, while Miller staff handed out Serenade flyers at all touring stops. This was synergy revved up for the good of all, no one with access to media failing to get word of Sun Valley Serenade. Personality helped a bandleader unless music was exceptional enough not to need it. Glenn was one that didn't need it, his being screen spoon bread mattering not the least. Glenn became Tyrone Power with lift of baton and making with the Miller sound.

The Nicholas Brothers with Dorothy Dandridge
Someone should mention Sonja Henie, a freak sensation of the time, or so it seems to watchers now who'd not imagine a decade of profit-makers attributable to her. Henie wasn't glamour by H'wood reckoning, but they'd make her seem so by prevailing duck-to-swan measures. None of swans could pinwheel like Henie, however; I shouldn't think anyone would look to spin at speed enough to leave brain damage, an always-highlight that bothers me near as much as Ben Turpin's always-crossed eyes. Wasn't there limit to what human bodies could give for sake of entertaining? Henie characters had to work harder to land their man, this necessary to make happy fades credible. Her persistence after John Payne is more stalking by modern definition, but there again is wacky fun of oldies where they address contest between sexes (Zanuck felt the Henies should duplicate what he called the "perfect formula" of Deanna Durbin pics at Universal). Ice shows were a roaring pastime then, folks skating lots for recreation too (is it as popular today?), so seeing Henie perform was both thrill and inspiration (like Astaire dancing, many a customer came away saying, "Let's rent skates and try ourselves"). Fox had to top each Henie specialty with a bigger one, her "black ice" revue at Sun Valley's finish a spectacle no coliseum could duplicate. She'd decline and exit movies eventually (to travel with skates, and probably bigger money), this after twelve years doing one screen thing wonderfully well and making us pay to watch it.

Back in Hollywood and Shooting a Sun Valley-Set Dance Number

Movies always saw fun in folks busting their rear on skis, as snow was soft and one could plunge off abyss to no serious harm. Zanuck had sent a unit to capture winter wonder of Sun Valley, a retreat he knew from vacationing there. Technical assist is credited to Otto Lang, a ski instructor that DFZ befriended, and eventually made a Fox producer, which shows, I guess, how pliable moguls could be when approached on leisure grounds. Location footage ended up a best boost Sun Valley could hope for, and surely would have paid higher had the war not complicated American life a few months after Sun Valley Serenade was released. Train arrival to the resort has romance few vacation spots, at least ones in the US, could boast, making me wonder if Sun Valley still offers access by rail. Background mattered most to Fox musicals, maybe because they couldn't beat leader Metro at any other level, but wait, 1941 was still wide open for any firm to lead at song/dance, and I expect if you asked fans that year who made the best tune-fests, they'd say 20th. Certainly MGM had nothing in 1941 to top the Glenn Miller showcase that was Sun Valley Serenade.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Westerns Changed --- They Didn't

More Old Men Mount Up In Bandolero! (1968)

A western Dad could take Junior to see, Bandolero! stood tall for what was left of establishment cowboys as closure of the range drew nigh. Whatever else spaghettis were, they told at least surface truth of grime and gore at heart of frontier life, Hollywood seeming childish beside them (but really, what was silly as most spaghetti westerns?). True Grit brought us up even, then advantage was Italy's again with Once Upon A Time In The West, to which we threw gauntlet of The Wild Bunch. Who knew these would exhaust the West as resource for myth-making, all of statements made and topic closed by finish of the 60's. Had movies and television  wrung the genre dry? Youth didn't care save conventions being challenged, or better, demolished, as by Leone and Peckinpah. Beyond that, what was left? By new decade, westerns were for elders and stick-in-mud fans. John Wayne's began to slip, while heir apparent Clint Eastwood toted guns to better effect in modern dress. Still there were stars, less defined by the term, who'd stay in saddles for those who recalled lead men in chaps on routine basis, and prospering by it. No more, that seemed, as cultural change swept out saloons.

I went to see all the old-man westerns where fading names were paired like bulbs pitted against a room pitch dark. We could choose Bandolero! on paying basis at the theatre or stay home and watch Jim Stewart/Dean Martin gidd-yap on television, and in color by summer '68 for many families. This dealt out most movies labeled ordinary, which Bandolero! was, whatever our pleasure in it now (for me, considerable). Color TV closed widespread accounts for theatre-going, folks having less-than-ever reason to pay piper that was boxoffices. By way of sample, The Sons Of Katie Elder, with Martin and John Wayne, ran primetime ABC in January 1968, Stewart with Two Rode Together ubiquitous in syndication from 1965. All their color westerns were tube-fed, or soon would be. Had Bandolero! been made cheaper, then perhaps ... but to do outdoors well, as in wide, color, and with names, took more cash than came back in quicksand 60's. Bandolero! lost $911K, despite $7.3 million in worldwide rentals. Trouble was, it cost $4.4 million.

I liked old-men westerns as antidote to Italy. No flies lit on James Stewart, and we'd not look so close on pores of Dean Martin's skin. Bandolero! was a western on terms readily understood, not markedly different from Gunsmoke or The Virginian other than knives jabbed in deeper or Raquel Welch having back of her shirt torn off. That last was focus of advertising, a policy to persist even unto DVD release when Bandolero! was tendered as part of a Raquel Welch promotion. I was shocked at fourteen to hear Raquel's character declare that she was "a whore at thirteen," one more veil ripped from propriety of homegrown westerns. Also we got Martin killing civilians in a holdup and Stewart robbing same bank after dust is cleared, anti-heroes to give Italos a run for money (trouble was, the imports were done cheaper and so got more profit). Bandolero! was taken less serious when new for Martin clowning on Thursday night NBC and frivolous Matt Helm for increasingly sorry vehicles. It's late date, but obvious now what good and serious work he does here. Dean liked westerns and respected them, so no wink or walk through this part.

James Stewart rides in under credits to Jerry Goldsmith scoring by Jew's-harp, this not a first US nod to maestro Ennio Morricone. Bandolero! would be Jim's best western work since last with Ford. I'd forgot what humor he could invest where content allowed, this having not been case in unpleasant ones like Shenandoah and Firecreek, the first bearing stench of 60's Universal, the second an ordeal of town siege and unrelieved misery for him and most of cast. Bandolero! let Stewart relax and have fun with at least a first half, saving big brother and bottled-up stuff for very effective shading to his and other characters nearer a finish (much of Bandolero! is revamp of themes from Night Passage). Stewart, Dino, Kirk Douglas, Lancaster, Widmark, Fonda, Mitchum, Peck, a whole flock of roosters who'd flown since the war, did old man westerns right through the sixties and much of seventies. King Rooster was Wayne, of course. Go to enough of theirs, as I certainly did, could make you forget there was counterculture abroad in the land. We think of the time as all hippie beads and come the revolution, but these were still doing might is right on strict traditional terms, each a fill-up in face of times changing perhaps too fast.
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