Showing posts with label Televison. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Televison. Show all posts

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Addams Family Mansion

 Charles Addams and his wife before College Hall, the structure at the University of Pennsylvania that inspired the mansion seen in the Addams Family cartoons.  Known as a "ladies' man," Addams married several beautiful women, none of whom were murdered.  

Friday, January 19, 2024

Washing Our Feet

Like many cities in the South, by 1963, Jackson, Mississippi, closed all of its public swimming pools rather than integrate them as required by the Civil Rights Act.  The city argued that closing the facilities didn't violate the Civil Rights Act because closing the facilities impacted both races equally.  The Supreme Court upheld this view.

In 1969, Fred Rogers's television program, "Mr. Rogers Neighborhood," had a huge impact nationally but still had a very small budget.  Realizing the impact his program had on people, Rogers wanted to say something positive about integration, but since his program was for small children, he didn't want to do it in a confrontational way, and he needed it to not cost very much money to produce.

In "Mr Rogers Neighborhood," actors portrayed the characters children might recognize in their neighborhood.  They were postal workers, police officers, shopkeepers, handymen, and others.  In May 1969, as the issue of integration and public swimming pools grew, Rogers had an idea for a segment involving Officer Clemmons.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Fran├žois Clemmons was a black singer.  By the time he began working for Fred Rogers, he had spent time singing in the Harlem Spiritual Choir and the Metropolitan Opera.  Fred Rogers knew Clemmons was a gay man but hired him anyway for his program, a move that was, by itself, very controversial at the time, especially considering that Rogers was an ordained minister.  Clemmons played the neighborhood policeman, which was somewhat controversial as Mr. Roger's Neighborhood appeared to be white.

Without making any sort of confrontational statement, Rogers thought that Mr Rogers and Officer Clemmons could take off their shoes and dip their feet in a cool plastic wading pool together on a hot summer day.  The taking off or changing of shoes was often used to represent a time of relaxation or intimacy, a letting down of defenses, on the program, as Mr Rogers changed his leather "work shoes" to cloth loafers to begin every show.

Before coming to television, Fred Rogers was a minister.  In the Christian faith, the idea of washing one's feet has a deep spiritual meaning, one he hoped would be evident to adults watching the episode.  For children, he hoped to gently instill the idea that black men and white men could swim together and be friends with nothing to worry about.  When the two finished washing their feet and quietly talking, they shared a towel to dry their feet, reinforcing the "washing of feet" theme while also making it evident that sharing a swim or a towel wasn't dangerous.  He feared that hearing adults argue about integrating swimming pools might make children afraid of it, so this was his gentle means to show them there was nothing to worry about.  

In Mississippi, where much of the argument over integrated pools originated, children like me never saw this episode when it first aired because the Mississippi legislature refused to fund public broadcasting for fear it would spread a communist, race-mixing message, even though the funds for it had already come down from the federal government.  (Sound familiar?)  It wasn't until late in 1969 when the Mississippi Legislature voted to create the Mississippi Public Broadcasting System, which wouldn't go into effect until 1970, almost a year after the pool episode of Mr. Rogers.

In 1993, when Clemmons made his final appearance on Mr Rogers Neighborhood, Rogers and Clemmons recreated the pool scene, where they sang "There Are Many Ways to Say I Love You" together.  After soaking their feet together, Rogers used a towel to dry his own feet and then used the same towel to dry Clemmons' feet, mimicking the moment in Christ's life when he washed the feet of the apostles.   

Fred Rogers understood that gestures are often a far better way to teach than words.  Trying to mend the wounds of the world in the minds of children, he invoked a gesture he knew well from the life of Christ.  Humility creates an environment that breeds love.

Monday, January 15, 2024

Star Trek Honors Actor's Partner

Melissa Navia quickly became a fan favorite on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.  Something of a newcomer, fans didn't really know much about her going in, but her magnetic personality soon made her a favorite.  Soon after learning that she had a part in the exciting new series, Navia also found out that her husband had leukemia.  Shortly before the last writer's strike ended, he passed away.  Strange New World writers and Show Runners decided to honor one of the fictitious nebulas in the show after Brian Bannon, Navia's late husband.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Tarzan Not Talk Like Frankenstein

 Tarzan not stupid.  Tarzan learn English and French from book before Tarzan meet Jane.  Movie Tarzan very different from book Tarzan.

Seriously, I don't know how Johnny Weismuller became so popular.  Besides the jungle setting, Weismuller's Tarzan is nothing like the character in the books.  Come to think of it, the creature in Shelly's Frankenstein didn't talk like that either.  Maybe audiences in the 30s had a thing for mute strongmen.  

Tarzan of the novels was very articulate and possessed almost super-human intelligence.  He learned to read and write from the books in his father's treehouse, without any other human interactions.   When Tarzan visits America in the first novel, he behaves like an exemplary English gentleman, a far cry from Weismuller's nearly wordless interpretation.

Besides the fake ears they made for the Indian Elephants to make them look African, the best thing about Weismuller's first Tarzan film is Maureen O'Sullivan in her 1932 costume.  (Much more leather was added to her buckskin bikini by the next film.)  Subsequent films ended up almost a parody of the character from the first film.

Weissmuller's Tarzan introduced the trope of the chimpanzee sidekick, which actually isn't in the novels.  Although several chimpanzees have been reported as the original Cheetah through the years, they likely used several throughout the different films, as chimps get pretty dangerous to work with as they mature. The Cheetah you see on screen never seems to grow, even though sometimes a few years pass between productions.  Chimps are notorious poop-throwers and biters.  Many trained chimps had their canine teeth removed to make them slightly less dangerous.  Training methods often involved dramatic beatings and occasional drugs.  They solved this problem for 1984's Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, by having Rick Baker create all the apes using human actors.  Even today, Baker remains Hollywood's greatest gorilla man.

 Tall, attractive, and an Olympic athlete, Weismuller looked the part, but any resemblance to the Tarzan in the books ends there.  Much has been made of the lengths MGM sound designers went through to develop Weismuller's famous Tarzan yell, but Weismuller insisted it was his own voice, and in later life, he was able to perform it live.  It can't be too much of a stretch to believe it was his own voice; after all, even Carol Burnett could imitate it. 

I'm not sure what I would have thought of Tarzan if Weismuller was my first exposure.  Willis O'Brien's Skull Island certainly made an impression on me, so maybe the MGM jungle would have been as memorable.  My first Tarzan, however, was Ron Ely.

Ely's Tarzan was in color.  He was articulate and educated like the Tarzan of the novels.  He's why I picked up my brother's copy of Tarzan and the Leopard Men (1932) and never looked back.  

Ely's Tarzan was set in the modern-day (the 1960s) and sometimes featured very modern concepts.  One episode even had computers.  There was no Jane for his Tarzan, (but I was six, so who cares?) He did have a son character, who was written as an orphaned Mexican boy.  They never explained how a Mexican orphan ended up in Africa.  Manuel Padilla Jr. played several television roles before Jai on Tarzan.  He could deliver his lines, and child actors you could work with were pretty hard to find, so he got the job I guess.

There were 57 episodes of Ron Ely's Tarzan.  He performed most of his own stunts, and he had the scars to prove it, including more than one lion bite.  After the initial run, they played in a re-run every Saturday afternoon until I was twelve or thirteen.  By the time I did see a Weismuller Tarzan, I was already under the spell of King Kong and obsessed with 1930s adventure cinema, so I soon saw all of them.  (Thank you, Ted Turner) 

After Tarzan, Ely was never out of work very long.  The next time he caught my eye was George Pal's, Doc Savage.  I loved the Doc Savage novels and had about ten of them.  Pal intended to do a straight version of Savage like in the books, but the finished product was pretty campy and did poorly with audiences.

Pal originally wanted Steve Reeves to play Doc Savage, but he was too old and unavailable.  Ron Ely was only too happy to get the role. Initially, Pal and Ely hoped to make several Doc Savage films and end Pal's storied career on a high note.  Fate had different plans, though. Doc Savage was released in 1975 and bombed.  It never played a first-run theater in Jackson, so I had to get someone to take me to the drive-in to see it.  

Ely never stopped, though.  He even ended up taking over the job of hosting the Miss America Pagent in 1980 when Bert Parks retired.  

There would be many more Tarzans after Ron Ely, but he was my first, and when I read the novels now, it's his voice I hear.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Meeting Big Bird and Kermit The Person

 Mine was a very loving mother.  She often found humor in taking advantage of our naivete,  "fooling" us, and getting us into more than a few adventures.

Using a congressional grant, the Public Broadcasting System went on air in 1969, bringing several local public stations into a national network.  Mississippi Public Broadcasting went on air the following year, with their studios located on 16th section land off Ridgewood Road in North East Jackson.  

My father had a Missco Employee come and install UHF antennas on the massive VHF antenna hidden in our attic.  Seven-year-old Boyd could then see the new hit show on PBS called Sesame Street.

Although Sesame Street utilized a generous grant from the Carnegie and Ford Foundations, they still needed money, so by 1972, they began doing roadshows featuring some of the show's cast.  Somehow they picked Jackson for a stop, and it was the biggest event for the short-pants set that year.  Bob, Gordon, Susan, Mr. Looper, and Big Bird were slated to appear.

I think the adults were more excited than the kids.  Somehow my mother had the job of picking up some of the cast at the Jackson airport.   I suspect it had something to do with the Junior League because other mothers had a similar task, and the Junior League was always up to something. 

Mom's task was to pick up two men from the cast in our Ford station wagon and deliver them to their hotel near the Coliseum. I saw the circus, the rodeo, and the Harlem Globetrotters at the Coliseum, so that was pretty much hollowed ground for little guys.

At the airport, we waited and waited.  Eventually, two bearded men hopped in the car.  One was older than the other and carried a large, oblong bag.  Mother introduced them to me.  One was Carrol, and one was Kermit.  "Kermit, the frog?" I asked.  "No, no," he said, "I'm Kermit the Person.  I make muppets like Big Bird and Oscar." 

Kermit Love was a Broadway designer and a long-time collaborator with Jim Henson.  He fabricated Big Bird, Oscar, Mr. Snuffleupagus, and Cookie Monster.  A gentle creature with a Santa-sized beard, he explained how "Snuffy" operated with two men inside.  The bag in his lap contained Big Bird's head!  He undid the zipper and showed me how to work Big Bird's eyes with the pinky of one hand. 

"Carrol is Big Bird!" Mother said.  Mother fooled me before, so I was dubious.  I wasn't rude enough to say it, but this fellow was clearly a young hippie and NOT Big Bird.   He must have met this reaction before because he raised one hand above his head, moved his fingers like a mouth, and said, "Hi!"  Suddenly Big Bird appeared before me.  I was a believer.

I wanted that drive to last forever, but it didn't.  We dropped the men off at their hotel, and that was the last I ever saw of Kermit The Person.  The show was great, featuring a few skits and songs with human characters, and Big Bird was the star.

After the show, I saw a cluster of even littler kids crowded around Carrol Spinney at the door to the Coliseum Green Room.  My sister and Lee Kroeze, her childhood companion and neighbor, were among the pint-sized fans. Spinney must have taken the heavy bird body off and only wore the Big Bird legs 

Carrol Spinney and Kermit Love
 on the set of Sesame Street.
working the puppet head above his own. Talking to his young fans in Big Bird's voice, I don't think they noticed his body was missing.  

My sister got his autograph and saved one of the dyed-yellow turkey feathers constantly falling off Big Bird's costume.  She displayed her Sesame Street autographs and her Big Bird feather in a frame in her room for many years. Hopefully, she still has it somewhere.  

Spinney and Love Shoot an outdoor scene.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Godzilla and Perry Mason

 In 1954, Japanese studio Toho, released Gojira, a copy of America's Beast From 20,000 fathoms, remade with political and strong anti-nuclear overtones.  It quickly became the most attended, highest-grossing release in Japanese film history.  

The uncut film in Japanese found a limited release in the USA, almost exclusively in Japanese neighborhoods.  In 1956, American producer Joseph E. Levine paid Toho $25,000 for the American rights to distribute Gojira.  Gojira was a made-up word with no English equivalent, so Levine sounded it out phonetically and came up with "Godzilla."

Afraid American audiences wouldn't appreciate the film's political overtones, Levine trimmed out almost twenty minutes.  He then injected scenes shot in Los Angeles with American actor Raymond Burr with body doubles of Japanese characters in the original footage to try and match the existing Japanese footage.  He randomly picked Steve Martin's name for Burr's character many years before the banjo-playing comedian became famous for his song "King Tut".  

Adding the subtitle "King Of The Monsters", Godzilla was released to American Audiences in 1956 to the same baby boomer, drive-in audiences that fueled the 50's sci-fi craze and rivaled the success of many home-grown films.  

The original Japanese version was hard to come by in the US.  As monster obsessed as I was, I never saw it myself until bootleg versions became available on VHS in the 90s.  

In 1957, CBS hired Burr to play Perry Mason, one year after Godzilla King Of The Monsters.  Mason was a pulp novel character featured in over eighty novels beginning in the 1930s.  He appeared in films and radio with other actors before television.  

Perry Mason flipped the typical pulp novel detective formula by making the title character a defense lawyer rather than a policeman or a private eye.  Perry Mason never really defended anyone as we know it. His clients were never guilty.  He used detective skills rivaling Hercule Poirot and invariably proved his clients never committed the crimes they were accused of. Often he exposed the true culprit in the courtroom itself! 

Burr's original run as Perry Mason ran from 1957 to 1966, revived in the seventies, and several made-for-tv movies in the eighties.  Burr was tall, steely-eyed, and wore impossibly angular suits.  He had the looks of a matinee hero, and he was also quite gay, in a time when American men were being arrested just for being gay.

Burr had a short-lived, studio-arranged marriage to a woman he hardly met.  Following that, he simply lied and made up two more wives, both of which he invented melodramatic deaths for, making him a grieving widower in the public's eye.  

Burr's actual life partner was actor Robert Benevides.  They were together from 1960 until Burr's death in 1993.  Benevides was not a terribly successful contract actor who had small parts in The Outer Limits and The Monster That Challenged The World.  He gave up acting to do production work on Burr's projects, including executive producer of all the Perry Mason TV movies. 

After 1975's Terror Of Mecha Godzilla, the fifteenth Gojira film, Toho Studios put the character in abeyance for nine years.  In 1984, Toho considered reviving the character for its thirtieth anniversary.  Koji Hashimoto took over the reins as director, with the working title: Gojira Returns.  Hashimoto took the bold step of making his film a direct sequel to the 1954 original, ignoring all the intervening fifteen films.  

Roger Corman's New World Pictures purchased the rights to distribute Gojira Returns in the US.  Renamed Godzilla 1985, they again reached out to Raymond Burr to shoot American sequences to cut into the Japanese footage.  Burr was delighted to comply, expressing a fondness for the monster.  In the thirty years since Godzilla King of The Monsters, comedian Steve Martin became a star, so Burr's character was renamed just Mr. Martin.

Corman negotiated a deal with Dr. Pepper for product placement in the American shots.  Burr refused to comply, so another actor was shot constantly holding a Dr. Pepper can
.  Burr's scenes took a little over a day to shoot.  He reportedly wrote Godzilla's epilogue himself.  

Gojira Returns gave new life to the series and new Japanese and American Godzilla films continue to this day.  Perry Mason returns to television without Burr and both franchises thrive into the twenty-first century.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

HBO's Julia, Episode 7 Foie Gras

I've remarked before how much I'm enjoying this program.  This week's episode is especially good.  

If you enjoyed the banter of David Hyde Pierce and Bebe Neuwirth on "Fraiser" you'll find this episode a treat.  Later in the episode, Julia encounters Betty Freidan, author of "The Feminine Mystique", a foundational book involving the burgeoning feminist movement, for a powerful tet-a-tet about Julia's program and its influence on the role of American Women.

Toward the end of the episode, Julia has a moving encounter with someone most of you will recognize.  I have no idea if it's based on a real-life encounter, but I'd like to think so.

HBO hasn't yet decided about a season two of "Julia".  Let's hope they pick it up.  

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Re-posted From The Constant Monster Blog When I was a kid, between the years of 1971 and 1975, WAPT-TV, the ABC affiliate in Jackson Mississippi had their own horror movie series called Horrible Movie. 

 Horrible Movie was broadcast on Saturday nights after the news. It featured mostly old Universal Monster movies. Movies both from the classic 30's era, like Dracula and Frankenstein, but also the revival in the 40's like The Wolfman and even Universal's Sci-fi Era films from the 50's like The Creature From The Black Lagoon and The Monolith Monsters

 The host of the show was an unpleasant woman named SCARTICIA, who wore a slinky black dress similar to The Addams Family's Morticia, who she was clearly named for. Unlike Morticia or Vampyra, who wore similar outfits, Scarticia had a painted-on extreme old-age makeup, and her black wig was more matted than luxurious. 

I haven't been able to find out a whole lot about Scarticia, except that her real name was Annette and she was fairly young at the time. Her day job was working as a secretary to the station's general manager. Scarticia called her loyal viewers (like me!) "animals" and generally acted like they were monsters themselves, which was a lot of fun. 

Usually, Horrible Movie was broadcast from the studio with only a chair or a sofa as set pieces. I can remember at least one occasion though when the show was broadcast from a wrestling ring in the old Armory on the fairgrounds where WAPT also occasionally broadcast Mid-South Wrestling. Scarticia's guests included characters like "Thing" which was a guy covered in fabric looking like a cross between the blob and McDonald's Grimace, The Black Genie, and Dr. Choke Throttle. 

 Her regular co-host was Scoop Gravely, played by local radio and TV personality Ed Hobgood. Horrible Movie was a big hit among a certain age group in Jackson. In one episode, Scarticia showed a stack of letters she received from a local junior high school. She acted like she was going to read them, but instead threw them up in the air saying "who has time?" 

 The early seventies was also the era of "Streaking" where people ran naked in public places for no particular reason. One Saturday night, Scoop Gravely said Scarticia was caught streaking and he'd show us videotape after the next commercial segment. When Scoop returned, the videotape he promised showed a naked doll with black hair "running" in front of a still photograph of downtown Jackson. 

When Horrible Movie ran the 1933 classic King Kong, Scoop said he also had a videotape of a real, live dinosaur in Jackson. The tape showed a yellow Marx Toy Brontosaurus in front of the same photograph of downtown Jackson.

I only have this one photograph of Scarticia. (click to enlarge) If you have any more, please send them in and I'll post them. If you have any information about Horrible Movie or memories about this classic show, please share those too and I'll post them here.

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