Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Hugo - Will It Become a Classic?

Well, I saw my very first 3D movie last weekend...at least since The Three Stooges released a few in the 1950s to be viewed with red/blue glasses.  We saw Hugo (2011) at a Regal Cinema, and we enjoyed the movie very much.  But not everything about it.

The best part was that we went on a Sunday evening, with Monday being a school day.  There were, maybe, ten people in the theater.  No one was talking, no one was texting.  And there were also no employees anywhere to be seen.  We got tickets at the box office (one person), bought popcorn (two people), and saw no others working.  There was no one to take our tickets as we walked down the looooong corridor to theater #6 (of 24).  I guess you can skip buying a ticket on Sunday nights, but you didn't hear that from me.

The first disappointment was the insane number of ads and previews.  The movie was listed as starting at 7:25 p.m., but the titles did not roll until 7:45.  The 2D ads ended at 7:25 and the 3D previews started then.  After the previews there was an announcement to come even earlier to see more previews, but we won't rush to the theater next time.

Hugo is a wonderful story that takes place around 1930, and it includes a history lesson on early cinema that will make it a favorite of film buffs.  Georges Melies (1861 - 1938) figures prominently in the film, played by Ben Kingsley (b. 1943).  Much has been written about Hugo already, so I won't bore you with details or give away the plot.  These are just a few thoughts about the experience.

The story hinges on an automaton that is being repaired by a young, orphaned boy.  As a young boy, I used to frequent The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, where they have an automaton (probably built before 1800) very similar to the one in Hugo.  In fact, the one at the F.I. was part of the inspiration for Brian Selznick's book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, on which the movie is based.

Franklin Institute Automaton
In the movie, after the machine started working again, it wrote down the name of it's creator, which was previously unknown.  When the F.I. received theirs in 1928, it had been damaged in a fire and also had to be repaired.  The automaton at the F.I. was mis-identified as being built by a French inventor named Maelzel.  After its repair, it also wrote the name of its creator, Henri Maillardet, and the mystery of who built it was solved.

As far as the movie, I loved the story and I loved the acting.  Everyone was perfectly cast and did their job well.  So what was wrong?

The effects were over the top.  This seems to be the way things are going.  As with Spooks and Pardon My Backfire, both from 1953 with The Three Stooges, the 3D effects are sometimes used just because they can.  The opening scene has us flying through the train station, between people and things and through clocks, and it sets you up right from the start.  There is no reason to have so many overhead shots with the camera pointing straight down.

If you stay for the credits (and I usually do) you will find 436 names under the heading Visual Effects Artists.  That includes matte painters, computer graphics people, animators, plus all of their coordinators, supervisors and managers.  I know its a big job, but that's a bit much.  I wonder how much of the $170,000,000 budget went to them.

Also, the use of hand held cameras to add instability to some scenes is not appreciated (by me).  I had vertigo last winter after a fall on the ice, and it was not pleasant.  Why has that become a standard in every new film with some action scene?  Is Steadicam so expensive to use?

All that being said, I will buy Hugo for my film library.  The story is simply that good.  Go to the theater and see it in 3D if you haven't already.  It is an experience.  Will it become a "Classic Movie?"  Who knows.  That's not up to me.  I didn't like The Polar Express (2004), but that is being shown every Christmas.

Below is a link to an article written by Richard Bann for the Laurel and Hardy web site.  He speaks about Hugo and Georges Melies in answer to someone's question about Stan Laurel embracing magic in his films.  I always enjoy reading items by Dick Bann, who has written several books on classic movies.

The link is not easy to navigate.  Go to http://www.laurel-and-hardy.com/ and click on 'Did You Know' on the left side of the page.  Then, click on 'Ask Lois' at the top.  There is no way to give you a direct link...sorry.  Lois Laurel-Hawes is Stan's daughter.  Next, scroll down the page to the question from John Raynor, which is not too far down.  If you can find it, I hope you enjoy it.  And spend some time on that web site.  It is also worth the trouble.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Gifts

Christmas 2011 is almost here.  I was thinking about the many gifts we have that keep us happily entertained all year long.  Here are some of the things I am thankful for having.

First, for my loving wife who is enjoying classic movies with me.  She has learned a lot about these old films, and guess what, she really likes them!  She has found favorites in Bette Davis, Fred and Ginger, Busby Berkeley, William Powell and many others, and is fast becoming a Barbara Stanwyck fan.  She even likes old Sherlock Holmes films.  More than once she has come home from Costco with a collection of classic movies on DVD, and she is currently reading the biography of Siegmund Lubin.

Turner Classic Movies.  One of the best gifts we have is TCM.  And not just for the wonderful, seemingly never ending, list of movies they broadcast.  Yesterday morning, as a filler between movies on TCM they showed the faces of all the actors and actresses who passed away during 2011.  It was a true tribute to them all.  And not just the big stars like Elizabeth Taylor, James Arness, Peter Falk, Jackie Cooper and Harry Morgan, but ten names of lesser known people for every name you know.

TCM also shows some wonderful one and two reelers as fillers.  Old newsreels, travelogues and comedy shorts added between films make you feel like you are back in the old days at the theater.  I just saw a clip of Mario Lanza from The Great Caruso (1951) singing Ave Maria.  It was obviously shown in theaters as a holiday treat between shorts and feature films back in the day.

TCM has also given us Robert Osborne, one of the most knowledgeable movie historians on TV.  I know that TCM has a research department second to none and they give Mr. Osborne much of his material, but he will probably forget more about classic films than I will ever know.  He interviews stars, and hosts films in the Hollywood Essentials series with various stars who add their own insight.  Every film intro includes something I don't know, and that only enhances the experience.

The IMDb and TCM web sites are two valuable resources for any film buff.  How can these things be free?!?  They have more information than you could ever want, and I find myself absorbed in them almost every day.  A wonderful gift to us all, if you ask me.

One of my favorite things is the Encore Western channel.  Almost every night I can see "Have Gun, Will Travel" and "Gunsmoke" plus some great movies.  They will be showing Apache (1954) starring Burt Lancaster tonight.  What a great way to watch good TV without having to think too much.

While I am talking about TV, let's not forget FiOS.  We switched from old metal cable to a fibre optic system as soon as it was available in our area.  What better way to send great old movies, than to speed them on as light.  The quality is very good, the DVR is a great invention, and it is so versatile to use.  If I see that a movie is going to be on, I can set up the DVR to record it from any computer on the Internet.

Movie Blogs are also on my grateful list.  I started blogging almost two years ago because there wasn't much being written about Bit Actors.  It seems to be catching on, and hits on my blog are gradually increasing every month.  I have also met some wonderful friends here, though not in the flesh.  Bloggers are located all over the world, so it doesn't matter much where you are, we can be friends.  And groups like the Classic Movie Blog Association keep us together.

I am going to replace my old desktop computer in January, so that should give me more flexibility to capture content, and have pictures and maybe film clips available.  Who knows, maybe an HDTV and Blu-ray are in my future.

I am hoping for the new Laurel & Hardy: The Essential Collection DVD set and a bottle of good Scotch for Christmas.  Simple pleasures for a simple mind.  And if I don't get a chance later, I hope your holiday season is as happy as it can be, and it is filled with classic films.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Thurl Ravenscroft, Dramatic Basso Profondo

I am always fascinated by a good voice.  Some of my all time favs in the movies are the great voices of Basil Rathbone (1892 - 1967) and Andy Devine (1905 - 1977).  Right up there with them is Thurl Ravenscroft (1914 - 2005), a name not well known, but an unmistakable voice that probably hundreds of millions of people have heard, mostly without knowing it.  He is as famous for uncredited roles as Marnie Nixon (b. 1930) is for all of her ghost singing in major musicals.

While not strictly an actor, Thurl was a singer and voice artist in more than 50 titles from 1940 to 1998.  Most frequently he worked for Walt Disney...in animated films and shorts, and also as a voice heard at the Disney theme parks. 

Some of his early work was in Looney Tunes, working with Mel Blanc (1908 - 1989).  By the way, Blanc has over 1,000 titles listed on IMDb!  Thurl's first live action film was a comedy called Puddin' Head (1941) starring Judy Canova (1913 - 1983) where he was a singer in the Sportsman Quartet.  He also appears in Lost Canyon (9142) with William 'Hopalong Cassidy' Boyd.

In the late 1940s he starts a singing group called The Mellomen.  They worked in films and provided backup for singers as diverse as Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley and Arlo Guthrie, not to mention Spike Jones.  You can hear Ravenscroft and The Mellomen in Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951) and Peter Pan (1953).

In 1954 The Mellomen appear in The Glenn Miller Story with James Stewart.  He was also the singing voice for Stewpot, played by Ken Clark, in South Pacific (1958). 

Back to Disney animated features Sleeping Beauty (1959), 101 Dalmatians (1961) and The Sword in the Stone (1963).  Also in 1963 he appears with Elvis in It Happened at the World's Fair.

I am not sure I have heard this, but he is listed as a voice singing in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969).  I'll have to dig that one out and listen more closely.  And more Disney features, The AristoCats (1970) and The Many Adventures of Whinnie the Pooh (1977).

So the next time you find yourself at Disneyland or Walt Disney World, listen for Thurl's voice in everything!  The Tiki Room, Pirates of the Caribbean, as the lead singer in The Haunted Mansion song Grim, Grinning Ghosts, and calling 'All Aboard' at every train station. 

This time of year, you can't go more than a few feet from a radio without hearing Thurl singing You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch! from the 1966 TV short "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!"  And his most famous part, also uncredited, is as Tony the Tiger for all the commercials for Frosted Flakes cereal.  I told you that you knew him!  He was Grrrrreat!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Margo Martindale

It occurs to me, from time to time, that most of what is written about Hollywood is about actors.  I have written about many actors, and very few actresses.  I should spend more time with actresses, or rather writing about them.

I was rambling through IMDb, as I am prone to do, and came across Days of Thunder (1990), The Rocketeer (1991), The Firm (1993), and Sabrina (1995).  An odd selection of movies that are somehow similar in quality.  Not great movies, but good movies.  And all have Margo Martindale (b. 1951) in perfect Bit Parts.  She has speaking lines in all of them, but not a major role in any.

Honestly, I don't remember her in her first film, Days of Thunder.  It was a racing movie with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.  Margo's part must have been very small.  Her next time on the big screen was The Rocketeer, that I wrote about a few days ago.  She played Millie the waitress, and was perfectly cast.  She looks like a waitress.

She had a better part in Lorenzo's Oil (1992) and a better starring cast with Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon.  Then, Nobody's Fool (1994) with Paul Newman, and Sabrina (the remake in 1995) with Harrison Ford.  It is interesting to see that she made multiple movies with many of the big names, which means she must be in demand.  Four with Nicole Kidman, three with Susan Sarandon, two with Meryl Streep, two starring Tom Cruise, etc.

Forward a few years to Practical Magic (1998) with Sandra Bullock and Kidman again.  Here she played a housewife who is a non-believer in magic, but comes around in the end.  In 2002 Margo has a small role in The Hours, but that movie stars Meryl Streep (and Kidman again), and anything with Meryl Streep has got to be good.  I haven't seen The Hours, but it should be on my list.

Million Dollar Baby (2004) a boxing film about a woman (Hilary Swank) and her trainer, Clint Eastwood.  That movie won four Oscars.  And more recently you can see Margo in Hannah Montana: The Movie (2009) if you really want to, and Secretariat (2010). 

She also worked on television in several movies and had regular roles on "100 Centre Street," "The Riches," "Dexter," "Mercy," "Justified," and "A Gifted Man."

A slight Texas twang in her voice and a presence on screen that just makes you love her.  Margo Martindale is a perfect Bit Actress.  You'll recognize her every time you see her.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Roy Roberts - Another Familiar Face

I happened to catch Chinatown (1974) on TV this past holiday weekend.  This is a great Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway movie, made in the style of a 1930's murder mystery.  Lots of twists and turns to keep you thinking.  More movies should be made this way.  It is easy to watch.

I also saw the new Green Hornet (2011) movie, starring Seth Rogan.  It is the very antithesis of what could be called a classic film.  Rogan is severely mis-cast as the hero.  He would look more at home remaking Animal House (1978).  Plus the quick cuts in every action sequence makes it impossible to follow which car is being wrecked and who is being injured/killed.  Don't waste your time on that one.

Back to Chinatown.  Early in the film Mayor Bagby is talking about a reservoir project, and I knew I had to write about him.  Roy Roberts (1906 - 1975) is a face that everyone who has ever watched TV or been to the theater has seen. 

Chinatown was his second to last film.  He ended his movie career in 1975's The Strongest Man in the World, starring Kurt Russell.  (Chinatown was better with ten Oscar nominations and a win for Best Writer, compared to Strongest's no Oscars or nominations for anything.)  The funny thing is that he was 68 years old when he made Chinatown, but he looked the same at least ten years earlier as Admiral Rogers on "McHale's Navy."

Roberts' first major film was Guadalcanal Diary (1943) starring Preston Foster, Lloyd Nolan, and William Bendix.  Of course, there were loads of war movies turned out in the 1940s, and Roy was in many of them.  His next film was The Fighting Sullivans (1944). 

In 1946 he was in My Darling Clementine as the mayor.  It was his only time working with director John Ford.  Before moving to television, he made so many films with so many stars that it would be difficult to pick the best, or even to do enough research to find his larger parts.  He lists close to 200 titles on IMDb. 

Here are just a few pre-TV titles -
Gentleman's Agreement (1947 with Gregory Peck)
Captain from Castile (1947 with Tyrone Power)
Joan of Arc (1948 with Ingrid Bergman)
He Walked by Night (1948 with Richard Basehart)
Force of Evil (1948 with John Garfield)
Chain Lightning (1950 with Humphrey Bogart)
Skirts Ahoy! (1952 with Esther WIlliams)
Stars and Stripes Forever (1952 with Clifton Webb)
And so many more...

It was interesting that he could go from a co-starring role in one film to an uncredited role in his next.  A true sign of a great Bit Actor. 

Roberts' television work started in the early 1950s and it agreed with him.  His first regular role was "My Little Margie" but he appeared as a player in many shows before that.  He did teleplays and spots on series' but rarely more than three times. 

He hit it big as Captain Huxley on "The Gale Storm Show" appearing in over 80 episodes.  He went on to have regular parts on "McHale's Navy," "The Beverly Hillbillies," "The Lucy Show," "Bewitched," Petticoat Junction," and "Gunsmoke."  I also saw him in a "Gunsmoke" episode this weekend. 

I think we will be seeing Roy Roberts' face for many years to some.

What films did you watch over the Thanksgiving weekend?  And which Bit Actors did you see?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Laurel and Hardy New Release!

Last month a new collection of sound Laurel and Hardy films was released by Vivendi EntertainmentLaurel & Hardy The Essential Collection includes all of the boys talkie shorts and many of the Hal Roach feature films.  Missing are silent films and the later 20th Century Fox films.

I bumped into a great write up by one of my heroes, Leonard Maltin on the MovieFanFare blog, which is part of Movies Unlimited.  I would be lost without Maltin's Movie Guide.

I have written several times about The Boys, and also about Richard Bann, who was instrumental in bringing the collection out.  Dick Bann was also heavily involved with the restoration of these films through the efforts of UCLA Film Preservation.  Since Dick is one of the most knowledgeable film historians in this area, he was able to guide the restoration of all of these films to include the original logos and titles. 

Many original 35mm prints were recovered, and the quality of these films (which I have not yet seen) is supposed to be incredible. 

My love of Laurel and Hardy goes back to my youth, watching them at The Keswick Theatre in Glenside, PA on Saturday afternoons.  I also watched them on our old RCA 12" black and white television in the 1950s and 1960s. 

Then, in the later 1970s, I joined The Sons of the Desert, the international Laurel and Hardy appreciation society.  Now I could watch the films at meetings in 16mm prints on a large screen.  Many of those prints were rather poor dupes, though, so the quality was hit or miss.  The movies were always great!  One meeting was held at the Keswick, and we were able to rent a 35mm print.  That was a treat, especially because I was in the projection booth that night.

Some of the films started being released on video tape and then on DVD.  But these were usually made from the old television prints, and again, quality suffered, as well as content.  The television versions were not the same as the theatrical releases, but that's all that was available.

Dick and others have also recorded commentary tracks for some of the films, and there are also quite a few special features included to make this collection a must-have.

I suggest that you first read Dick Bann's article on the official Laurel and Hardy web site, and also check out the UCLA Film Preservation site.  Just click on my links.  Make a donation to UCLA, then write down the "Laurel & Hardy The Essential Collection" on  your holiday wish list.  Santa may be kind to you.  I am hoping he is to me!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Eddie Jones and The Rocketeer

I watched The Rocketeer (1991) the other day.  It is a movie my kids always liked, and it has some great nostalgia mixed in to a comic book story about an aerobatic pilot in the late 1930s who finds a rocket pack and flies off to save his girlfriend and the world from the Nazis.  It may not appeal to everyone, but I never met a movie I didn't like.

If you are a classic film buff and haven't seen this film, it is worth the time.  You will no doubt recognize a character made up to look like The Hoxton Creeper from the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes film, The Pearl of Death (1944).  The Creeper was played by Rondo Hatton (1894 - 1946) and he reprised the role in House of Horrors, released in 1946.

Hatton made only 22 films before a fatal heart attack took him.  His appearance, that garnered him the role in Pearl, was due to the disease acromegaly, which disfigured him into the Creeper.  It is thought that Abraham Lincoln, and another Bit Actor named Andre the Giant (1946 - 1993), also suffered from acromegaly.  

In The Rocketeer, the Creeper part was called Lothar and was played by 7' tall Tiny Ron.  Ron has only 19 titles listed on IMDb.  But I think there will always be roles for a 7' Bit Actor!

A face you will probably recognize, but may not know the name, is Eddie Jones (b. 1937).  Jones played Malcom, who worked at the airfield and helped at the air shows. A year later he played Marla Hootch's father in A League of Their Own.

Jones stared out in acting slowly, but kept up a good pace.  He is in Trading Places (with Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd) in 1983 as Cop #3.  He had recurring roles on television in "The Equalizer" and "Dark Shadows," and later as Jonathan Kent on "Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman."  He had a regular part in "The Invisible Man."

On the big screen you can see Eddie in Cadillac Man (1990), The Grifters (1990), and Seabiscuit (2003) among many others.  At 75 years old, he is still acting.

The only other thing I want to mention is the music of The Rocketeer.  It is fabulous.  Of special note is the torch singer, played by Melora Hardin (b. 1967) at the South Seas Club.  She isn't listed in IMDb as a singer per se, so I am not sure it is her voice, but it was perfect.  I wish there were still clubs like that.

As far as the stars of The Rocketeer, I think they may have taken it a bit too seriously.  Timothy Dalton (b. 1944) especially.  But I think Dalton always takes his roles too seriously.  Terry O'Quinn (b.1952) played Howard Hughes, and he was very good in the part, even though it was very small.  

If you haven't seen it, SEE IT!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Back from Vaca at Walt Disney World

Yes, this is a blog about Bit Part Actors, but I just spent a week with a full cast of the best actors and actresses on the planet. The cast members at Walt Disney World.

Everyone (if you know anything about Disney) knows that all of the employees of the Disney organization are called "cast members." You don't apply for a job there, you audition for a part, and hey don't wear uniforms, they are costumes, etc. Each ride is a "show" and they follow a script. 

We spent five days and four nights at Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort. Highly recommended for a relaxing atmosphere that is needed after a day at one of the theme parks. And the combination of going in October, plus a AAA discount, made our trip quite affordable. Think about this...the room at a Disney moderate resort (they have value, moderate and premium), a day in a theme park (usually about $85), and the Disney Dining Plan that paid for almost all of our food, was only about $100 per person/per day.

We spent a day at the Food and Wine Festival in Epcot. Held in the fall, the festival includes many extra-cost demonstrations, some concerts, and booths scattered around the park where you can buy samples of food and drink from different countries. I was very happy there!

While at Epcot, we visited the Mexico exhibit. I am amazed every time I walk in there. Inside, no matter how hot and bright the day is, you are brought OUTSIDE at night, to a Mexican plaza with shopping stalls and a restaurant. It is fun! They also have a short boat ride. Please be careful stepping into your boat...

The ride is basically a travelogue of Mexico, and it stars Donald Duck, Jose Carioca, and Pancito, from the 1944 Disney animated feature, The Three Caballeros. This feature was very similar to a 1942 feature, Saludos Amigos, featuring Donald and Jose. These travelogues were made to bolster our ties with South America during World War II.

Of course, Donald Duck was voiced by Clarence 'Ducky' Nash (1904 - 1985). Ducky would usually walk around with his Donald marionette and let Donald speak for him. Nash had quite a career for basically only playing a single role...but who among us wouldn't have done the same thing, given the chance?

IMDb lists 188 titles for Nash, plus 7 more as himself. In addition to Donald, he also voice Donald's nephews a few times, plus a bat, a bullfrog, Figaro in Figaro and Cleo (1943) and a sequel, and that's about it from 1934 to 1983.

In my collection I have The Reluctant Dragon (1942) which was released as a DVD titled Behind the Scenes at the Walt Disney Studios starring Robert Benchley (1889 - 1945). It is a priceless look at how things were done to create the wonderful animated features we grew up with. Ducky Nash is featured recording a scene as Donald with Clara Cluck, voiced by Florence Gill (1877 - 1965). 

What fun! I can't wait to go back. Maybe next fall, as long as the economy keeps the prices down!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Buster Keaton

There are many names that shine when you think of silent movies.  Buster Keaton (1895 - 1966) is certainly one of them.  But he was not always a star.  In fact, his star shown brightest for only a few years in his long acting career of over 150 titles.

Keaton started acting at age three in his parents' vaudeville act, along with partner Harry Houdini (1974 - 1926).  From what I have read, it was a tough act for Buster, who was physically mistreated on stage in the act, in search of laughs.  He took all the punishment, and always came up with his stone face in the end.  A trait he never lost.  His father's problem with alcohol finally ended the act, and I hope it was before Buster was seriously injured. 

His first small part in film was The Gangsters in 1913 (of course, everything in 1913 was a small part), and he started in a movie career in 1917.  His friendship with Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle (1887 - 1933) would last through over 20 films together.

Keaton took second billing (or lower) to Fatty in many of these early films.  But he also was a writer and director for some of them.  In 1920, Keaton gets top billing in the short film, One Week.  His first feature length film, The Saphead, was released the same year. 

Shortly after that, Arbuckle fell into legal troubles that ended his acting career, but Buster was off and running.  1920 to 1929 would be his finest decade. 

Of the best, we have The Navigator (1924), Sherlock Jr. (1924), The General (1926), and Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928).  I have previously written about The General, which is considered one of the best examples of silent film.  And Steamboat Bill Jr., would inspire Walt Disney to make the first Mickey Mouse talkie, Steamboat Willie, also in 1928.

In many instances, silent film stars would lose their glow with the advent of sound films.  This was not the case with Buster Keaton, but he declined none-the-less.  His many personal problems led to drinking.  He moved to MGM, and lost his creative control, which deepened his depression. 

By 1940 he was in his third marriage, this time to Eleanor Norris (1918 - 1998) who is credited with helping Buster end his drinking so he could get some work.  His movie career continued, but he would never be a big star again.  He had many small appearances in great films such as In the Good Old Summertime (1949), Sunset Boulevard (1950), and Limelight (1952).

After growing up watching old Buster Keaton two-reelers on television, I was pleased to see him in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) with the greatest comedy cast ever assembled for a movie.  He belonged in that film, and even at age 68 he still had his screen charm and his ability to play a physical part. 

Keaton also found some television work, but he was misplaced in Beach Blanket Bingo and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, both in 1965 with Annette Funicello.  His final film was A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966) starring Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers and Buster Keaton

Keaton's huge house in Hollywood was purchased by James Mason, and Mason found a treasure trove of Buster's old nitrate films in a hidden closet.  Luckily Mason knew these films were important and he made sure they were preserved for us to enjoy. 

That's quite a story about one of the greatest silent movie stars, who became a wonderful Bit Actor.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Buckaroo Banzai

And the full title is The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984).  BB has become a cult movie over the years.  In my opinion, it is because the cast was amazing, creative, and uninhibited.

Most of the cast of BB were Bit Actors at the time.  Some went on to become much bigger stars, and many were chosen because they were unknown.  It is Peter Weller's (b. 1947) fifth movie, and was made before Robocop (1987).  Jeff Goldblum (b. 1952), John Lithgow (b. 1945) and Christopher Lloyd (b. 1939) each had a few more films under their belt, but were not yet household names. 

I guess the first read of the script of BB, before auditioning for a part, would scare away any A list star.  Here we have a neurosurgeon/physicist who is also a test car driver and has a rock band (and no time for much else, I imagine), trying to prove that his overthruster will allow him to drive through a mountain.  I can't see Harrison Ford (b. 1942) jumping at that role.  And did I mention, all the bad guys in the movie are named John, and the good guys are all Hong Kong Cavaliers.

Ellen Barkin (b. 1954) is the love interest, Penny Priddy.  Barkin has had a few good roles, including The Big Easy (1986) and Ocean's Thirteen (2007), and she has won an Emmy Award.  I don't put much weight on the Emmy, because I appeared in an Emmy winning documentary once!

Lewis Smith (b. 1956) only has 29 titles listed on IMDb, starting in 1981.  He goes on to play Curly Bill in Wyatt Earp (1994) starring Kevin Costner, but mostly he does guest parts on television.  He played Perfect Tommy, well, perfectly in BB. 

Robert Ito (b. 1931) has always been one of my favorites, ever since I got to know him as Sam on "Quincy M.E." starring Jack Klugman (b. 1922).  Ito has 129 titles listed now, but his career started a while ago.  His first movie was Women of the Prehistoric Planet (1966) starring Wendell Corey (1914 - 1968).  I think Wendell should have his own entry in my blog someday.  Corey may be best known as Det. Lt. Doyle in Rear Window (1954, and one of my favorite films), but his career ended after he appeared in The Astro-Zombies (1968). 

Just a few more names...Vincent Schiavelli (1948 - 2005) is another John (but he already looks like an alien), and Yakov Smirnoff (b. 1951) plays the National Security Advisor, of course.  The full cast list is long and distinguished!

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is a complex film that requires some minor understanding of physics to at least get some of the theory, and a quick wit to get all of the inside jokes among the more obvious ones.  It is a film that must be seen more than once to fully enjoy it.  But if you are trying to make sense out of it, you may have to see it many more times. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Big House and Chester Morris

Sometimes I wonder how my brain works.  In idle conversation last week, a friend of ours was mentioning that she didn't want a big house.  That got me thinking about the 1930 gangster movie, The Big House, starring Chester Morris (1901 - 1970) and Wallace Beery (1885 - 1949).  Now you are probably wondering how my brain works.

I haven't seen The Big House in quite some time, but I remember the movie as being quite gritty, almost artsy in the filming.  Early talkies had less than optimal sound and that added to the dark feel of the film, and the hopelessness of being in prison.

Chester Morris started acting on the stage and made a few silent films from 1917 to 1925.  His first talkie was Alibi in 1929, and he had the starring role.  He was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in that film.  He was now off on a movie career as a star.

The Big House was the next year, and it was also a big hit.  Morris played many gangsters and detectives in the decade of the 1930s, co-starring with a fine bunch of popular stars.  By 1940, he was losing his stardom, and I think we could categorize him as a very popular Bit Actor from that time on.

The next decade saw him in B-movies, including a series of Columbia films where he played Boston Blackie.  I believe they made 14 Blackie films in the 1940s, and this is where Morris is best remembered.  I should take a closer look at the full cast of these films, because they are one of the best sources for great Bit Actors.

Boston Blackie's Chinese Venture (1949) was his last in the series.  It starred Morris and Richard Lane (1899 - 1982) as Insp. Farraday.  This would also be Morris' last movie in a starring role.

The 1950s brought television, and Morris was seduced by the dark side.  In fact, I only counted three movies on IMDb from 1950 to 1970 for him.  The rest was TV.  I am sure his name was remembered by the new television audience, so this was probably a good move for him..  His movie career hadn't made him another Bogart or Cagney, and television was rapidly taking over the leisure time of the new bunch of younger viewers.  (Including me.)

Morris shows up in many of the teleplays that were popular in the 1950s.  Shows like "Omnibus," "The Phillip Morris Playhouse," "Studio One in Hollywood," "Playhouse 90," and "The United States Steel Hour."

The 1960s brought many new series' to TV, and Chester obliged by appearing in "Rawhide," "Naked City," "Route 66," "Suspense," and "Dr. Kildare."  I am amazed that Morris was able to shape his career so neatly into decades!

His final role was a movie, The Great White Hope (1970) starring James Earl Jones (b. 1931) in his fourth film.  Chester Morris passed away in 1970, a victim of an intentional overdose while he was suffering from cancer.  His death took place in New Hope, PA, which is not too far from where I live.

I wonder if he knew how much pleasure he brought to his fans over the years?  I certainly hope so.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Andrew Duggan

I happened on a broadcast of "Cheyenne" on Encore Westerns the other day, and decided to watch it.  I instantly recognized Andrew Duggan (1923 - 1988) as the villain, so here he is.  The episode was called "The Angry Sky" from 1958, and Duggan played a judge who was also trying to be a great criminal.  Good old Cheyenne Bodie, played by Clint Walker (b. 1927) figured it out in no time.

After some work on Broadway, Duggan started his screen acting career in teleplays in 1949.  I would say that he was best known as a guest star on over 100 TV shows.  He appeared on "Cheyenne" at least six times, but he also worked on the big screen.  He has 174 titles listed on IMDb, so let's look at some highlights. 

His first movie was Patterns (1956) starring Van Heflin (1910 - 1971) and written by Rod Serling (1924 - 1975).  It appears that his early films were mostly B movies with stars like Randolph Scott (1898 - 1987) and Rory Calhoun (1922 - 1999).  In 1958 he is in The Bravados starring Gregory Peck

In 1959 he got his own TV series, "Bourban Street Beat" that lasted only one season.  Still, it was top billing.  Along at this time, he is listed as the trailer narrator for several films, including Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962).  After Bourbon was cancelled, one of it's spin offs, "77 Sunset Strip," provided Duggan with some guest work.  He also was the narrator for PT 109 in 1963.

A bigger hit for Duggan was Seven Days in May (1964) starring Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas.  Later in the 1960s he had a recurring role as Brig. General Ed Britt in "12 O'Clock High."

After playing many high ranking military officials, Duggan finally gets to play the president in James Coburn's spy spoof, In Like Flint (1967).  1969 brought his last starring TV role in "Lancer."  In 1971 he played John Walton in the TV movie, "The Waltons" before it was made into the popular series. 

Speaking of presidents, Duggan played Dwight D. Eisenhower in "Tail Gunner Joe" (1977), Lyndon B. Johnson in The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (1977), an unnamed president in "A Fire in the Sky" (1978), President Eisenhower again in a TV mini-series "Backstairs at the White House" (1979), and Eisenhower again in his final television role in "J. Edgar Hoover" (1987). 

Somewhere in there he appeared on "M*A*S*H" as Margaret Houlihan's father, Col. Alvin 'Howitzer' Houlihan, and as a character called 'Hacksaw' on "Charlie's Angels."

Andrew Duggan's final movie was A Return to Salem's Lot (1987), which was not rated very good on IMDb.  All in all, I think he had a great career with a lot of varied work.  Although never a big star, he certainly qualifies as a great Bit Actor.  We can even forgive him for mistakes like Frankenstein's Island (1981)!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Virginia Davis and Walt Disney

I started thinking about early Walt Disney (1901 - 1966) live action films and took a look at IMDb.  Well, Disney produced over 650 films, mostly shorts and most of the early films were animated.  With no easy way to figure out which were live action, I decided to continue looking at other resources.

On Wikipedia I found that Disney's first successful cartoon series' were the Alice Comedies.  Starting with the 1923 silent short, Alice's Wonderland.  These films included live action and animation.  Alice was originally played by Virginia Davis (1918 - 2009).  Walt himself, and Virginia's mother Margaret Davis also appeared in the film.  Also included in the film is Ub Iwerks (1901 - 1971), the legendary animator of the Disney Studios, and co-creator of Mickey Mouse (b. 1927).

There were about 57 entries in the Alice series. and they were made during Disney's move from Kansas City to California.  Virginia moved with the studio, to help Margaret's ambitious hopes for her daughter.

Virginia worked in 15 of the Alice Comedies, and also in a few more silents with Ronald Coleman (1891 - 1958) and Harry Carey (1878 - 1947).  In 1932 she appears in Three on a Match, with a young Bette Davis (1908 - 1989) and Joan Blondell (1906 - 1979), and also Humphrey Bogart (1899 - 1957).  She plays Blondell's character when she was young. 

Virginia went on to a few more uncredited roles before giving up acting.  Notably, she was in: College Holiday (1936) with Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen; You'll Never Get Rich (1941) starring Fred Astaire (1899 - 1987) the year before he made Holiday Inn; a couple of Betty Grable (1916 - 1973) films; and her final film was The Harvey Girls (1946) starring Judy Garland.

Wikipedia credits her with several films that don't appear in IMDb, and I have no way of checking those listed.  If you see Virginia Davis in Flying Down to Rio (1933), please let me know.

After leaving Hollywood, Virginia eventually started a career as a realtor in the mid-west, and ended up selling homes back in California.  She was later sought out by Disney fans and regained more popularity than she had when she was making films.  That must always be a shock to actors who thought they left their old career in the dust.

She certainly qualifies as a Bit Actress, and I would say a successful one, even with a short career spanning just 18 years and 28 films.  She helped make Walt Disney a household name.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Don't Think Twice, It's Bob Dylan

Labor Day weekend is upon us.  I am not sure where I'll be or what we will be doing for the next few days, so here I am, writing.  I found a new, free music service on the Internet called Spotify.  It has a few ads, but it isn't very intrusive.  What I like is the ability to search and easily create playlists that are saved in the cloud.  You can then retrieve the same playlists on any computer.

Music is integral to movies, and could be considered a Bit Actor of sorts (I guess).  Well, maybe that's stretching it a bit, but this is my blog and one song has grabbed my attention.

I heard the Bob Dylan song "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" and wondered how many versions are available by different artists.  I counted over 65 different recordings, but they didn't have one on Spotify by Dylan, who wrote the words.  I heard quite a few who tried to sound like him, though.

The song came to my attention years ago because I used to listen to Peter, Paul and Mary a lot.  I met all three of them several times.  Nice folks.  They had a big hit with the song, which went to #9 on the charts.

Some of the versions I heard today (I have been listening to the same song for over three hours) are truly terrible.  Many are by folk singers and they tend to all sound the same.  Elvis Presley recorded it.  I am currently listening to it sung by Shinji Tonomura in Japanese (I think).

If you try this, watch out for karaoke versions.  It seems the same version is released on multiple karaoke albums, so they all sound exactly the same.  Feel free to sing along.

The absolute best version out there is by The Wonder Who.  As a joke, Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons did a rock'n'roll version of DTT,IAR in 1965, but they didn't use their real name.  It was such a hit that it reached #12 on the charts!

Let's look at the history.  Bob Dylan (b. 1941) wrote it down in 1962 and released it in 1963.  The melody was taught to him by (or stolen from) a folksinger named Paul Clayton (1931 - 1967) who was popular in the Greenwich Village scene.  Clayton called the song, "Who's Gonna Buy You Ribbons When I'm Gone?"  Dylan and Clayton both had recording contracts and their record companies fought out lawsuits over the song, but the two artists remained friends.

The melody is actually from an older folk song called, "Who's Gonna Buy You Chickens When I'm Gone?" and that one is in the public domain.  I love that title!

As far as the movie connection, so I can stay somewhat on topic...  According to Wikipedia, the song was used in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973).  Then Bob Dylan made a four hour long movie called Renaldo and Clara (1978).  It was used in other Dylan films, Hearts of Fire (1987) and Masked and Anonymous (2003).  In 2007 it is in I'm Not There, a bio/musical with Dylan influence.  Plus you will hear it in countless documentaries about Dylan and the era that brought music of the same genre.
Bob Dylan had numerous other songs recorded for soundtrack use, and he appears in six movies and a TV movie.  He is heard on well over 300 soundtracks.
There was also a movie released in 1999 called Don't Think Twice, that has nothing to do with the song or Dylan. 
I am approaching six hours of listening to the same song.  They are playing in artist first name order.  I'm still waiting for the Ts to play so I can hear The Four Seasons version.  I'm up to Steel Train, whoever that is.  It must be like a movie marathon...I'm not tired of hearing it!
Have a great holiday weekend!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hurricane Irene Missed Key Largo

Thankfully, Hurricane Irene went through the Philadelphia area with little damage.  My problem now is that there are few hurricane movie titles.

The Hurricane shows up first in 1926.  That would be a silent film, but it has no storyline listed, so it is probably lost.  In 1937 there is a Dorothy Lamour and Jon Hall film called The Hurricane that includes a big storm.  I have never seen it, though.

The Hurricane (1999) is a Denzel Washington film about a boxer, not a storm.  Hurricane Season (2009) is a Forrest Whitaker film about high school basketball after Hurricane Katrina.  And Eye of the Hurricane (2011) is in post-production.

What is your favorite movie that includes a hurricane?  For any real classic film fan, the only answer is Key Largo (1948), and I think I would agree.  The only problem with Key Largo is that I won't write about Bogart, Bacall, Barrymore or Robinson.  Not even about Claire Trevor.  They aren't Bit Actors.

Thomas Gomez (1905 - 1971) is.  He played Curly, one of the thugs.  He also appeared in almost 100 other titles in his career.  He started out in Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942) starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce.  A good start!

That first year Gomez was also in Who Done It? starring Abbott and Costello, and Pittsburgh starring John Wayne and Marlene Dietrich.  He made eight films with Turhan Bey (b. 1922), and one more with The Duke.

In 1950 Gomez got to work with Barbara Stanwick in The Furies.  In 1951 he stars in The Harlem Globetrotters as Coach Saperstein.  Then, in the mid-50s, he can be found on TV.  He has quite a good list of films and television, but nothing as big as Key Largo.  His final movie was Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) and he appeared on "Gunsmoke" in 1972.

Harry Lewis (b. 1020) played Toots, another bad guy.  He has 59 titles listed on IMDb, starting in 1941, after a time running a successful hamburger restaurant.  His first film was Dive Bomber starring Errol Flynn.  He made five films with Flynn.

After Largo, Lewis works with Edward G. Robinson twice more.  In Vice Squad (1953) and The Ten Commandments (1956).  As I have said before, everyone in Hollywood was in The Ten Commandments.

Lewis' also did a lot of television work, and his final film was The Astral Factor (1976) starring Stefanie Powers (b. 1942) about a strangler in jail who learns to make himself invisible.  (A little too late, if you ask me.)

Another Largo henchman, Ziggy, was played by Marc Lawrence (1910 - 2005).  He has 217 titles listed, and was in everything from If I Had a Million (1932) with an all star cast including Gary Cooper, Charles Laughton and W. C. Fields, through two James Bond films (Diamonds are Forever (1971) and The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)), to two "Star Trek" appearances on "The Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine."

Lawrence's final film is Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003) with Brendan Fraser, Steve Martin and Timothy Dalton

I would be remiss in my duties if I failed to mention one of the Seminole Indians who was killed by the gang.  Jay Silverheels (1912 - 1980) played Tom Osceola, and he went uncredited.  I'm glad he recovered in time to become Tonto the next year on "The Lone Ranger."

I must watch Key Largo again.  It is a classic hurricane movie.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Earthquake in SenSurround

The year was 1974.  SenSurround Sound was invented by a loudspeaker company call Cerwin Vega.  SenSurround was basically a set of sub-woofers that would produce a low frequency rumble to shake the theater and all who were in it.  Perfect for a movie called Earthquake.  Since we just had an earthquake of our own on the east coast of the USA yesterday, I thought a quick look at this movie to be appropriate, or at least, timely.

The cast is amazing, with Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, George Kennedy, Lorne Greene (playing Gardner's father, despite being only 7 years older), Genevieve Bujold (in a Bit Part due to her part being edited), Lloyd Nolan, Walter Matthau (as a drunk in an extra's part.), and Victoria Principal.

The movie wasn't as good as the cast list.  Lots of love triangles, cheating, jealousy, and overall bad feelings, as sometimes happens in LA.  So they had an earthquake to set things right.  Most of the leads die leaving only the good people to start over.  That sounds like a movie plot. 

How about the real Bit Actors?  Well, we have Monica Lewis (b. 1922) who appeared in some earlier films such The D.I. (1957).  She did a lot of TV shows as an actress or a singer.  After 'Quake she went on to Airport '77 (1977 of course), Rollercoaster (another SenSurround film), The Concorde... Airport '79 (guess what year), and The Sting II (1983). 

Wonderful John Randolph (1915 - 2004) played the mayor.  He looks a bit like Carl Reiner, don't you think?  Randolph has 173 titles on IMDb, including everything from The Naked City in 1948 to You've Got Mail 1998, and a few others after that.  He even managed to be in a coupla Planet of the Apes films in between. 

We also see Donald Moffat (b. 1930) in a small part as a doctor.  Of his 117 roles, my favorite is as the taxman in Popeye (1980 - That's a "45 cent rowboat under the wharf tax.")  He went on to play Lyndon Johnson in The Right Stuff (1983), and the president in Clear and Present Danger (1994).  Love those movies!

The real star of the film was SenSurround.  When the film premiered at Grauman's, they had to fasten a net below the ceiling to catch the chandeliers in case they fell.  Actually, SenSurround worked a bit too well.  It sickened viewers and caused complaints from the neighbors, so after a few more films, it was discontinued.  Where's their sense of humour?

This weekend the Philadelphia area will be treated to The Arrival (1996) of Hurricane Irene.  What's next...Armageddon (1998)?  Maybe I'll watch 2012 (2009), or just look out the window.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Paul Newman

I know, Paul Newman is NOT a Bit Actor.  Well, he was at one time.  Let's take a look.

Paul Newman was born in 1925.  After the war and his stint in the navy, he graduated from college and went to The Actor's Studio in New York.  His Broadway acting was successful, and led to some television and then movie opportunities.  I would say that he did everything right to start an acting career.

Oh, those early television days!  Paul started out in "Tales of Tomorrow" which is a show dim in my memory.  The series only aired for two years, but presented quite a variety of suspense stories, and an equal number of great actors.  Look for Boris Karloff, Gene Lockhart, Leslie Nielsen, Thomas Mitchell, Brian Keith and many others...if you can find the episodes to watch.  The Internet is your best choice here.  It is such a shame that the primitive production value of these early shows keeps them from becoming true collector classics.  Kinescope was the best they could do to preserve the moment.

Next up was a spot on "Suspense," another anthology series of suspenseful stories.  Most of the stars are the same as on Tales, but "Suspense" went on for a few more years, so add a few more stars. 

Newman appeared on "The Aldrich Family" next.  He is listed on IMDb as an 'occasional cast member.'  All of these early roles were short term deals.  He wasn't much more than an extra, I am sure, but I haven't seen any of them. 

He was on "You Are There" three times.  That was an interesting series hosted by Walter Cronkite (1916 - 2009) that attempted bring some history to TV land by taking the audiuence back to the time of certain events and interviewing the people who made it happen.  In one episode, Paul Newman was Plato!  OK.

Paul appeared a few times on "The Web," which had nothing to do with the Internet.  It was live presentations of mysteries.  All this time, he is making friends and watching the performances of some great stars. 

There were a few more television dramas before his big screen debut in The Silver Chalice (1954).  I think he was less than thrilled with the result of his first movie.  It was a box office disaster.  The film starred Virginia Mayo (1920 - 2005) and Jack Palance (1919 - 2006) in a drama about creating the cup of Christ.  It was so bad, that Newman took out a full page ad to apologize for his performance.

So Newman went back to TV for a couple of years.  He got to play Billy the Kid for the first time on "The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse."  We'll come back to Billy the Kid later.

His next film was a starring role, but I don't think Newman was a full fledged star yet.  He played Rocky Graziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956) and got good reviews. 

As he continued to climb the ladder to stardom, he gets top billing in The Rack (1956) and The Helen Morgan Story (1957) starring Ann Blyth (b. 1928), and then Until They Sail (1957) with Jean Simmons (1929 - 2010) and Joan Fontaine (b. 1917).

1958 was Paul Newman's golden year.  Four films that year.  The Long, Hot Summer; The Left-Handed Gun (yes, Billy the Kid again); Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; and Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys!  All hits, and two of them with Joanne Woodward (b. 1930) who would become his long time wife. 

Paul Newman was no longer a Bit Actor.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Denver Pyle

I bet everyone has seen Denver Pyle (1920 - 1997) in something on TV.  He has over 250 titles on IMDb, and that doesn't include the multiple times he appeared in the same series'.  He goes back a bit further, though.  Let's take a look.

Pyle always seemed to play a slow, southerner with a great, gruff, drawn out speaking style and the ever-present coveralls.  He started acting on the big screen in 1947, after doing some theater.  His first film was The Guilt of Janet Ames, starring Rosalind Russell, Melvyn Douglas and Sid Caesar.

In 1950 he was in Vaughn Monroe's  (1911 - 1973) first film, Singing Guns, about a thief who shoots and then saves a sheriff and then becomes his deputy.  I'll have to look for that one.  I like Vaughn Monroe, and he only acted in two films.  The same year, Pyle was in The Flying Saucer, and early attempt at a classic Sci-Fi theme.

His early career wasn't much to talk about, so I am glad he gave television a try.  He appeared in many early western series, and drifted into other roles, including "Ramar of the Jungle" and "Commando Cody."  I think, being born in Oklahoma and working on a ranch, he was happiest in westerns.

In 1957 he appeared in The Left Handed Gun with Paul Newman, and Jet Pilot with John Wayne.  He was starting to be noticed.

Pyle's best work happened after 1960, when he joined up with Wayne again in The Alamo and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).  There were regular parts on "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp," "Have Gun - Will Travel," "Zane Grey Theater," "The Rifleman," "Cheyenne," "Death Valley Days," and "Laramie."  He even shows up as Uncle George on "The Dick Van Dyke Show."

I remember him as Briscoe Darling on "The Andy Griffith Show."  The Darling clan was in about six episodes as a mountain family with a flair for bluegrass music.  Those were the days!

In 1964 he appears in John Ford's last western, Cheyenne Autumn, and in 1967 he gets to spit in Faye Dunaway's face in Bonnie and Clyde.  Pyle's last movie with The Duke was Cahill U.S. Marshal in 1973. 

According to one writer in the IMDb trivia pages, Denver Pyle was almost cast as Matt Dillon for "Gunsmoke."  James Arness did a fine job with that role, and Denver appeared on at least 14 episodes.  The two of them had worked together once before, in The Lone Hand in 1953.

In the 1970s, Pyle is getting more into his crotchety old man days.  His two most famous roles are probably for "The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams" and "The Dukes of Hazard."  His final movie appearance was in Maverick (1994) as an old gambler on the riverboat.  The riverboat scene in that movie is a great place to spot all the old western stars.

Over the years, Pyle worked in six Audie Murphy films, and six with John Wayne.  He also worked with many of the later B western stars, like Tim Holt, Bill Elliott and Allan 'Rocky' LaneDenver Pyle is a Bit Actor who added a lot to movies and television.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

William Fawcett

I must say, William Fawcett (1894 - 1974) has always been a favorite of mine.  I think it is because the old Saturday morning TV show, "Fury," was one I never missed, and Bill Fawcett was a regular as Pete the ranch hand. 

Fawcett worked as an actor from 1936 to 1972, and I believe he always looked like an old man.  He was a professor of theater and had a Ph.D., working at Michigan State University before the war.  He did appear in one movie in 1936 (The King Steps Out starring Franchot Tone) as a strongman, so maybe he didn't look that old back then.

After WWII, he decided to give acting a try as a full time career, and he went on to appear in almost 250 titles on the big and small screens.  I'll try to pick some good examples of his work from each decade.

In the 1940s, Fawcett made eight westerns with Eddie Dean (1907 - 1999).  Dean was a singing cowboy who came along a little too late.  Dean did manage to make over 50 films, and ended up on "The Beverly Hillbillies." 

Fawcett also made two films with Lash La Rue (1917 - 1996), Pioneer Justice and Ghost Town Renegades, both in 1947.

The 1950s brought television.  Doc T. (for William Fawcett Thomas) was already working in movie serials, appearing in some Kirk Alyn (1910 - 1999) Superman episodes, and in several others, including Tex Grainger, Pirates of the High Seas, Captain Video and Blackhawk.  He started on TV as a regular on "The Range Rider" series around 1952, starring Jock Mahoney (1919 - 1989) and Dickie Jones (b. 1927).

The 1950s were his most prolific years.  He could be seen on TV everywhere, from "The Lone Ranger" to "Whirlybirds."  Did we really call helicopters 'whirlybirds?'  He also appears in No Time for Sergeants (1958) as Andy Griffith's father, and Damn Yankees! (1958) starring Tab Hunter.

1961 brought his only work with John Wayne in The Comancheros.  The next year he is uncredited in The Music Man, and he even gets to sing a line in The Wells Fargo Wagon.  I just saw him the 1964 Audie Murphy movie, The Quick Gun, but he has a very small part as the bartender.  No mistaking that face, though.

Again, the 1960s find him in all sorts of TV shows, from "Perry Mason," Hazel," and "The Smothers Brothers Show."  And a few TV series' you may not remember..."T.H.E. Cat" and "Pistols 'n' Petticoats."

You can't always make good choices for work in Hollywood.  Bill Fawcett can be found in Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1966) starring John Lupton (1928 - 1993) and in her last film, Narda Onyx (1931 - 1991). 

Fawcett's last movie was The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969) starring Kurt Russell.  And after stints on "Bonanza," "Gunsmoke," and "The Virginian," Bill made his final appearance in the TV movie, "The Manhunter" in 1972, starring Sandra Dee (1942 - 2005).

William Fawcett had quite an acting career.  He never really was the star of any movies or TV shows, but he added a lot, just by looking old.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Fritz Weaver

Fritz Weaver sounds like a name from Spike Jones.  Sorry, that was Doodles Weaver (1911 - 1983).  Fritz Weaver (b. 1926) was a fine actor, and it may be questionable to include him as a Bit Actor. 

Weaver started acting in television in the late 1950s.  His first film was Fail Safe (1964) where he played a colonel.  There were a lot of colonels in that one.  Weaver's deep voice and great facial expressions of terror, disgust or horror help him to stand out.

He was very active on TV through most of his career.  You can find him on most of the dramatic and western series, including "Rawhide," "The Fugitive," and "Combat."

His next film was The Maltese Bippy (1969) starring Dan Rowan (1922 - 1987) and Dick Martin (1922 - 2008).  While "Laugh-In" was a big hit, I am not sure the movie was as good, and it didn't have Goldie Hawn

To put him back in his element, Fritz appeared multiple times on "The F.B.I." and "Mission Impossible" over the years of those well received shows.  It suited Weaver.  As did most dramatic or suspense roles. 

Weaver has a major part in The Day of the Dolphin (1973) starring George C. Scott (1927 - 1999).  Then, a few years later, he is in a trio of decent movies...Marathon Man (1976), Black Sunday (1977) and Demon Seed (1977). 

A year after appearing in 1977 on "The New Adventures of Wonder Woman" he has, perhaps, his best television role.  He plays Dr. Josef Weiss on the TV mini series "Holocaust."

Weaver appears in one segment of Creepshow (1982) which is a very interesting, and campy, horror flick by Stephen King (b. 1947).  The cast includes Hal Holbrook, Adirenne Barbeau, Leslie Nielsen and E. G. Marshall.  I loved it!

His final film was the 1999 remake of The Thomas Crown Affair starring Pierce Brosnan and the wonderful Rene Russo.  I thought that version held up well in comparison to the 1968 Steve McQueen version.  That sort of comment always causes a reaction from the public.  I do love McQueen, the King of Cool.

Fritz continued to work on the TV series, "Law & Order" up until 2005.  He is now 85 years young, so I hope he has the health to continue appearing in roles, even if they are small ones.  His voice can be heard on many History Channel documentaries, so Fritz Weaver will be around for quite a while.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hi-Hat Hattie McDaniel

Here is a Bit Actress who needs to be recognized on my blog.  Her accomplishments were amazing, yet she never really became more than a Bit Part player in most of her movies.

Hattie McDaniel (1892 - 1952) was born in 1892 to former slaves, her father actually fought in the Civil War in the U. S. Colored Troops.  She graduated from high school in Denver, CO, and was able to get some work singing on the radio and recordings.  She is considered the first African American woman to sing on the radio.  After the stock market crashed, she worked as a waitress in a club in Milwaukee, and eventually became a regular on their stage.

McDaniel started as an extra or a singer in films in the early 1930s, with stars Lew Ayers, Una Merkel, Lionel Barrymore, Hoot Gibson and Marlene Dietrich.  It has been my thought that a novice in Hollywood could learn their trade by observing the more important stars in a film, and I am sure Hattie was no exception.

In 1933 she worked with Mae West (1893 - 1980) in I'm No Angel, also starring Cary Grant (1904 - 1986).  She then scores a big role opposite Will Rogers (1879 - 1935) in Judge Priest (1934), and even sings a duet with him.

The next year she works with the biggest star in Hollywood, Shirley Temple, in The Little Colonial.  This was another chance to work with Lionel Barrymore (she made four films with Barrymore), and also with Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson

If you have a chance to watch some of McDaniels' films in chronological order, you can probably see her refining and enlarging her 'Mammy' character.  She starts out as a maid, but slowly starts getting more confident in her ability, almost to the point of becoming confrontational.  You can see the changes between her part in Alice Adams (1935) with Katharine Hepburn and The Mad Miss Manton (1938) starring Barbara Stanwyk and Henry Fonda.

1935 saw her in China Seas with Jean Harlow and Clark Gable, then 1936 and Show Boat starring Irene Dunn.  Hattie plays Queenie and gets to sing again.  Another Harlow film, Libeled Lady (1936) with William Powell and Myrna Loy, and then a major role in Saratoga (1937), again with Harlow and Gable.  A busy couple of years!

She was in Vivacious Lady (1938) with Jimmy Stewart and Ginger Rogers, and in 1939 she worked with Oliver Hardy in Zenobia, one of the later films he made without Stan Laurel due to a contract dispute.  Hattie's roles finally settled back into less than great parts for Hattie as the years progressed. 

Hattie McDaniel is best remembered as Mammy in Gone With the Wind (1939), and this may be her strongest role as a maid.  That part won her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.  She was the first African American to win an Oscar, and the first African American to attend the award ceremony as a guest rather than a servant.  The next time an African American actress would win an Academy Award was 51 years later when Whoopi Goldberg took one for Ghost in 1990.

Courtesy USPS.com
After that big year, she continued to work hard, but in smaller roles.  She was in They Died with Their Boots On (1941) with Errol Flynn, and in 1942 in George Washington Slept Here with Jack Benny.  In 1946 she works for Walt Disney in Song of the South, appropriately.

She ends her acting career on TV, starring in a handful of episodes of "Beulah" in 1952, after replacing Ethel Waters in the role.  She would be replaced by Louise Beavers and soon after that she died of cancer.  She was the first African American to be buried in Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles.

Hattie McDaniel must have been quite a lady.  She was also active in charity work, and in bringing respect to her middle class community of Sugar Hill in Los Angeles.  Although she made quite a good salary for most of her work, she had a load of medical bills at the time of her death and left an estate of only $10,000.  Not fair for such an impressive actress.  She didn't just open doors, she knocked down walls for future generations.