Saturday, September 4, 2010

Olin Howland (1886 - 1959)

Olin Howland had a 50 year career in movies and TV.  His first film was called Hick Manhattan in 1918 when he was billed as Olin Howlin, a name he used many times.  He made about ten silent films, then started in talkies in the 1930s.

One interesting film from 1919 seems to be an early version of Tarzan, done in silent comedy style.  Here is the plot of Beresford and the Baboons taken directly from IMDb:

"Beresford, the son of the Earl of Swank, is lost on a desert island as a boy. There he is found by a tribe of baboons and raised as one of them. They teach him the lore of the jungle: mining engineering, stud poker, and hem-stitching. Eventually however he is discovered by an expedition which includes a young lady with whom he falls in love."
Written by Jim Beaver

Other than the lessons taught by a baboon, that is basically the story of Tarzan, right down to being found by Jane.  I wonder if Beresford is available anywhere.  I would like to see it.

1934 put Olin in Treasure Island with Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper.  He was in A Star is Born in 1937 with Janet Gaynor and again in 1954 with Judy Garland.  He made one film in 1944 with Laurel and Hardy called Nothing But Trouble.

In the 1940s he was working at Republic Pictures making westerns.  Three with Roy Rogers.  He also worked with John Wayne in four films and Yakima Canutt in seven.

One of those was Gone with the Wind (1939).  He played a carpetbagger in a small role, but hey!, it was GwtW, one of the biggest films of all time.

He started in TV in the 1950s, but continued making films.  An early, giant bug, sci-fi/horror film in 1954 starring James Whitmore called Them! is in his filmography.  BTW, Them! was about giant ants.  In that era almost any bug could become a giant star in film due to radiation.

He was in two films with James Stewart including Spirit of St. Louis in 1957.  His last movie was The Blob in 1958, starring a young Steve McQueen.  The Blob was made in Phoenixville, PA, not far from where I live.  The Colonial Theater is still there and has a Blob Fest every year.

It is a shame that many of Olin Howland's roles were uncredited, but you must envy the life he led, working in over 200 roles and with so many stars.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner!

I was thinking about Patrick Swayze (1952 - 2009) yesterday, and above is his most famous line.  That was from Dirty Dancing (1987).  I think, perhaps, Ghost (1990) was a better film.  He was more experienced by then.  Dirty Dancing was his seventh film, Ghost was his 12th.  I count 32 movies for him, plus a load of TV.

Let's look at who else was in Ghost, other than Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg

I am not sure what to think of Tony Goldwyn (b. 1960).  One man's star is another man's supporting actor.  I put him in the latter category.  He has 62 acting credits and 16 as director.  That's not bad.  His choice of projects seems to be fairly intelligent.  I very much enjoyed The Pelican Brief (1993), and he latched on to Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai (2003). 

I think everyone's favorite in Ghost was the Subway Ghost played by Vincent Schiavelli (1948 - 2005).  He was born in Brooklyn and I doubt he ever tried to get rid of his NY accent. 

Early projects of Schiavelli included One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1974), and he also showed up in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eight Dimension in 1982.  I detect some quirkiness here.  He was even a holographic weapons salesman on "Star Trek: The Next Generation." 

Schiavelli has 153 roles listed on IMDb.  He was a bad guy in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and if you get into a James Bond flick, you have arrived.  He even wrote three cookbooks and spoke fluent Italian!  Lots of talent there.

Rick Aviles (1952 - 1995) played the killer, Willie Lopez.  Aviles was a stand up comic, and his first film was Cannonball Run (1981).  The film he made after Ghost was The Godfather: Part III, and his last film (in which he appears) was Waterworld (1995).  23 roles total, including some TV.

Ghost seems to have faded in popularity.  I don't see it listed "on demand" or even on some of the movie channels.  Is that Demi Moore's fault?  Maybe not...she was rather fetching in this one.  Much, much better than her all-too-serious performance in Striptease (1996).  We all know that Whoopi Golberg really held Ghost together!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Will Rogers (1879 - 1935)

I guess Will Rogers really isn't a Bit Actor.  He was a really big entertainer all over the world.  As far as movies go, the films he appears in are no longer on anyone's "must see" list, except for the novelty they may contain.  Does that make him a Bit Actor in film?

Rogers was famous in vaudeville for his political humor spoken while doing rope tricks.  He started making films in 1918, and his first 21 films were silent.  That works for rope tricks, but his popularity really started to increase after sound films came in and people could hear what he had to say. 

In the late 1920s Rogers also made some short, and I am sure humorous, documentaries all across the globe. You won't find any big Hollywood names appearing with Rogers in most of his films. He was the star. He does show up in a cameo in Hollywood (1923) which also has cameos of every living star available. I have never seen such a cast!  Other than that, no Barrymores, Gishes, or Pickfords.

1929 was his first appearance in film with sound.  Happy Days was a review with many Hollywood stars.  Reviews were popular in the early soundies because they could show off the new technology.  (I wonder what Will Rogers would think of 3D movies with surround sound?)

In some of his sound films we see more recognizable names.  A 15 year old Mickey Rooney in The County Chairman in 1935.  Billie Burke, Myrna Loy, Stepin Fetchit, Alan Hale, Janet Gaynor, Sterling Holloway, and others worked with him in some of his other 53 films, and he made some films with director John Ford.

Sadly, he was killed in a plane crash in 1935 in Alaska.  In 1952 his son, Will Rogers Jr., played his father in a biopic called The Story of Will Rogers and it had quite a cast.  Rogers as a child was played by Frank Bank who went on to play Lumpy on "Leave it to Beaver."  And then in 1961, Bob Hope narrated a biography of him on "Project XX."  You will find other documentaries as well.

I'll leave you with a Will Rogers quote.  "There's only one thing that can kill the movies, and that's education."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Jurassic Park (1993)

Jurassic Park in 1993 was a very popular movie.  It spawned two sequels, that were not quite as good.  I am sure it helped a lot of careers along the way.

The principal actors need not be covered here.  Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, and Sir Richard Attenborough don't need me to write about them.  Although, Laura Dern is the daughter of Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd, for those of you who read yesterday's post.  (Bruce Dern shot John Wayne in the back in The Cowboys from 1972.)

Joseph Mazzello (b. 1983) played Tim Murphy, Attenborough's grandson.  J.P. was his sixth acting role.  He started at age seven.  His acting career is going well, and he is a talented performer.  He recently appeared in a TV mini series called "The Pacific" about our involvement in that front of WWII.  It was a very good series, produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg.  Don't miss it!

Ariana Richards (b. 1979) played his sister, Lex.  She had 25 roles pre-J.P. and about ten after.  She was the little girl in Tremors (1990) who always jumped on her pogo stick.  She also appeared in Prancer (1989).  After completing college, she became an artist.  Way to go, Ariana!  Get out of this crazy business!

Mazello and Richards both appeared in the first sequel, The Lost World: Jurassic Park in 1997.

Can you qualify Wayne Knight (b. 1955) as a Bit Actor?  He played Dennis Nedry, the computer programmer.  He has appeared 81 times in movies and on TV.  I don't even remember him in Dirty Dancing (1987).  J.P. came after he was in Everybody's All-American (1988); Born on the Fourth of July (1989); V.I. Warshawski, Dead Again and JFK, all in 1991; and Basic Instinct (1992).  He was a riot in Basic Instinct, watching Sharon Stone uncrossing her legs and trying to stay cool.  Knight has made a place for himself on TV series' and also doing voices.

There was also Bob Peck (1945 - 1999) who played the hunter/security chief Robert Muldoon.  He has 44 roles to his credit.  And don't forget Martin Ferrero (b. 1947) as the scum-sucking lawyer Donald Gennaro.  Ferrero also has 44 roles in his list, including Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1993) and Get Shorty (1995).

I think Jurassic Park has a place on the must see list.  The special effects alone make it a blockbuster.  It was ranked #1 in 1993, grossing over $357,000,000, and won three Oscars for effects and sound.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Eddie Foy, Sr.; Jr.; & III

Three little Foys.  I guess that is more famously the Seven Little Foys.  Let's start at the beginning, but we will only cover film accomplishments, and only for Eddies (plural).

Richard Fitzgerald came to America from Ireland.  His son, Edward Fitzgerald, who became Eddie Foy at age 15, was one of the best loved stage and vaudeville performers of all time.  Richard was in no movies.  He died in 1862 and they weren't invented yet.

Eddie Foy, Sr. (1856 - 1928) was only in a handful of movies from 1910 to 1919, and they would all have been silent.  His last film was called Yankee Doodle in Berlin which had nothing to do with George M. Cohan.

Senior knew Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and Doc Holliday, and was appearing in Tombstone, AZ at the time of the Gunfight at the OK Corral. 

He and his seven children were billed with him as The Seven Little Foys.  One of them was:

Eddie Foy, Jr. (1905 - 1983).  Junior made 62 movies and had about 19 TV appearances.  His first two films were silents, then he started acting in his own films in 1929 in Queen of the Nightclubs, which was also George Raft's film debut, and was directed by brother Bryan Foy.

Junior was in some good movies and was able to sing and dance in a lot of them.  I bet his father would have loved doing that as well.  He was in Bells are Ringing in 1960 with Judy Holliday and Dean Martin.  Later he appeared in several of the Gidget movies, and his last film, in 1976, was...are you ready?...Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood.  (I have to watch that film.  It had a great cast.)

Eddie Foy III was Junior's son.  Born in 1935, he worked mostly in the casting department and as a producer.  He acted in five movies and on five TV productions.  His best known film would be Run Silent, Run Deep with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster in 1958. 

All of the above Foys, including the four other Little Foys, appeared in only one film together, that was in 1915 in a movie called A Favorite Fool.  It would have been great to have them in a sound film.

Eddie Foy, Jr. was able to play his father in four movies and on TV once.  One of those films was Yankee Doodle Dandy starring James Cagney as George M. Cohan in 1942.  A later film in 1955 called The Seven Little Foys was made about their family.  That one starred Bob Hope as Eddie Foy, Sr. and also included James Cagney again playing George M. Cohan

What a talented family.  Which actors today will leave a legacy like this one?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Henry Fonda vs. Mel Gibson

Last night I watched two movies.  Ransom, the Mel Gibson movie from 1996 was first, then I just tuned in to Turner Classic Movies in time to catch 12 Angry Men (1957).  Let's look at the differences.

Both films had great directors.  12 Angry Men was directed by Sidney Lumet (b. 1924) and Ransom by Ron Howard (b. 1954).  Yet, 12 Angry Men is considered an "A List" classic film, and Ransom is certainly not.

Both films are remakes.  12 Angry Men was originally a 1954 teleplay on "Studio One in Hollywood."   Ransom was a remake of a 1956 film starring Glenn Ford called Ransom!, which was in turn a remake of a "United States Steel Hour" teleplay called "Fearful Decision" which aired in 1955.  (Side note, Mel Gibson owns an airline in his movie...Glenn Ford owns a vacuum cleaner company!)

According to Wikipedia (the all-knowing Internet resource!) Ransom has grossed over $309,000,000.  According to Robert Osborne (who I really do believe!) on TCM, 12 Angry Men didn't even earn Henry Fonda his $300,000 investment back.  It was not a very popular movie when it came out.

12 Angry Men was shot in 21 days, had a cast of only 16, and all of them are great actors.  (There are no women in the film at all.)  It was shot entirely in a two room set, except for the first few seconds of the film when the judge is giving his instructions to the jury, and the epilogue as they leave the courthouse. 

Ransom has a cast of 88 people by my count, and probably cost a fortune for all the location shooting.  The cast is also filled with famous and wonderful actors and actresses.  No matter what you think of Mel Gibson off screen, he is a talented and versatile actor in the movies.  Ransom also includes Rene Russo, Gary Senise, Lili Taylor, Delroy Lindo, and many others.  That's top shelf in my book.

Both movies have small details that bring tension and realism.  They are both actually realistic and possible.  There are not many camera tricks in Ransom, but as filming progressed for 12, they used longer lenses to give the film a feeling of the room closing in.  Plus, some of the close head shots were a bit unnerving.

Why will people be watching 12 Angry Men long after everyone has forgotten Ransom

One thought is that the caliber of acting is believable in 12, with the possible exception of Lee J. Cobb who gets a little carried away with his anger.  Ransom (I think) may have a bit too much over acting, violence and blood.

But when you look at the story line of each film, 12 Angry Men explains our rights and responsibilities as Americans.  It reaffirms everything our Constitution stands for.  It also takes a stand against prejudice, and shows that coming from a slum does not necessarily mean you are a criminal.  Each one should be judged by their actions, not their background.  It allows reason to triumph over bigotry.

Also, we may all be called for jury duty sometime, but how many of us will have our son kidnapped?  It is a matter of how we can relate to the story.

Ransom only shows that a man taking a stand against a criminal may or may not come out ahead.  It could have ended with his son being killed by the kidnappers, and almost did.  In my opinion, there was no reason for Gibson to fight Senise to the death at the end of the film.  There were hundreds of police and FBI watching, with guns drawn!

Well, that's what I think.  And BTW, I don't think I would have watched Ransom AFTER 12 Angry Men.  I like a good taste in my mouth!

Sunday, August 29, 2010


I had to shampoo the carpets today, company is coming.  That got me thinking about cleaning ladies, and the one I remember from TV is Shirley Booth as "Hazel."

There were four main characters on "Hazel" each week.  Don DeFore played George Baxter the father, Whitney Blake was his wife, Dorothy.  Bobby Buntrock was the son, Harold, and of course there was Hazel Burke the maid.  Let's quickly look at each one...I'm tired!

Bobby Buntrock was born in 1952 and played in "Hazel" for the entire run from 1961 to 1966.  Previously he was in single episodes of "Wagon Train" when he was seven, then "Mister Ed," "The Donna Reed Show," and "Burke's Law."  He later played thrice in "The Virginian."  He died in an auto accident in 1974.

Shirley Booth (1898 - 1992) only has 13 items listed on IMDb.  I would have thought she was a veteran actress with loads of roles in her long life.  She was a star on Broadway from 1925 to 1970, so that accounts for her income.  She won an Oscar, a Golden Globe and two Emmys, plus several other awards.  I remember her on TV in "The Glass Menagerie," but it was her first film, Come Back, Little Sheba in 1952 that made her famous to a wider audience.

Don DeFore (1913 - 1993) has a longer screen career with 73 roles in movies and on TV.  His second film was Kid Galahad in 1937 starring Edward G. Robinson, Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart.  Not a bad start.  He made 29 movies before giving TV a try in 1950.  Before "Hazel" he had a recurring role as Thorny Thornberry on "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet."  He worked until 1987 and his last appearance was on "St. Elsewhere."

Whitney Blake (1926 - 2002) is the winner with 78 listed roles.  She started her screen acting career on TV in 1956, in a show called "Medic."  She made a few movies and TV movies as well.  Almost all of her TV appearances except "Hazel" were single or two episode gigs.

I am not sure why "Hazel" captured my attention when I was a kid.  I would have been eleven when it premiered.  Maybe it was Shirley Booth's talent.