Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Now I Wear Coyote Underwear

There's a new dirt-cheap Bob Hope Collection from BCI packaging together the various Hope films that he either owned or bought from the studios. (Road to Rio, Road to Bali, The Lemon Drop Kid, Son of Paleface, The Seven Little Foys, My Favorite Brunette, The Private Navy of Sergeant O'Farrell, and a couple of others.) These movies have all been released and packaged together before, but the package says that the two Road movies, My Favorite Brunette, and Son of Paleface are all "Newly Restored Masters." (BCI released these four films on the now-defunct HD-DVD format, and that's why they were remastered and not the others.) Son of Paleface is by some distance the best movie in this set, and while it looks more or less the same to me as the other DVD releases -- which, fortunately, came from a good print -- the previous DVD release had some sound distortion problems, especially in the loud music, which this version does not have. So at the price, it's worth picking up either if you want Son of Paleface or if you just want an overview of Bob Hope's career from the late '40s to his bad late '50s and '60s period. (The Seven Little Foys is the last decent film in the set, and it's from 1955.)

Son of Paleface was Frank Tashlin's second film as a director -- his first, appropriately enough, was The First Time, which TCM will be showing in July -- and I just found out that he wrote an article for the New York Times about his experiences making the movie. Not a whole lot of insight into the production, since it's basically a humor piece, but it's still valuable as a behind-the-scenes account of the greatest and most subversive sequel before Gremlins 2, so I'm transcribing it here. He doesn't mention his animation background here, of course.

New York Times
October 5, 1952
"Son of Paleface" Went Thataway

By Frank Tashlin
Mr. Tashlin is the director and co-scenarist of "Son of Paleface," now at the Paramount.

Inasmuch as a certain lady reporter was in Culver City at the time, documenting the appetite and habits of a dog, the script of "Son of Paleface," Paramount production 10104, Revised, Final, White, came out of the Paramount mimeographing department unheralded. It consisted of a blue cover, 112 pages, weighing less than a pound.

During the preparation of the script the writers -- Robert L. Welch, Joseph Quillan and myself -- had eaten at Chasens at least three times and not one of us had been called "darling" by anyone. Even the East Coast myth of front-office interference was absent. Barney Balaban, Y. Frank Freeman, Don Hartman and D.A. Doran approved the script, set aside enough money to operate Oak Ridge for a day and signed contracts for four veteran performers to appear in the Technicolor production. After writing apologetic letters to the Paramount stockholders, these front-office gentlemen hied themselves to the Hollywood hills.

Bob Hope was veteran of thirty motion pictures; Jane Russell had pleased veterans in seven motion pictures; and Roy Rogers and Trigger had explored the vastness of Corrigan's ranch in eighty-eight motion pictures. The director of "Son of Paleface" was the veteran of one motion picture.

Previously -- as do most motion picture writers -- I had regarded directors as an evil, necessary to bring words and plot to their final two dimensions -- sour, growly gentlemen, critical of every page of script. With the star of shooting began an awareness of their problems; and, as director, I became extremely critical of two-thirds of the script -- the third I authored I insisted would play beautifully. I'm still insisting, though the floor of Eda Warren's cutting room, in some cases, proved otherwise.

Putting Mr. Hope through his paces has difficulties for the director. His thirty-picture memory draws a bead on the particular joke you are trying to sell him. He remembers a similar routine in "Road to Singapore." A fast rewrite is called for and the material is given what you hope is a new twist. No. Mr. Hope recalls that he did that twist in "Sorrowful Jones." His narrowed eyes, squinting at you down that much maligned nose, is a withering experience. Your puttees curl and your megaphone sags. Lunchtime is spent in digging for a new piece of business and Mr. Hope's approbation.

With Miss Russell I decided on a daring innovation. I photographed her legs.

The approach to directing Roy Rogers is the approach used by Cecil B. DeMille in his picturization of the Old and New Testament -- no deviation from the Sacred Word is allowed. The tenets in this case are contained in the unwritten Code of the West -- notwithstanding the birth rate in Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona, etc., motion-picture cowboys cannot indulge in "Fade Out" bussing. From Tom Mix to Roy Rogers, the present King of the Cowboys, this commandment has held fast. Horse kissing is perfectly permissible -- girl kissing, never.

The script called for Miss Russell to fall in love with Mr. Rogers. A serenade below her balcony was to culminate in an embrace. But at the last moment this was eliminated from the script... by breakfast-food lobbyists who claimed Young America might change their eating habits if ever their hero was seen caressing anything but his horse's furry nozzle.

My inexperience as a director reached nervous proportions the day Mr. DeMille arrived on the set, having consented to play a small part as a kind of Western Matthew Brady. This guest shot was in retaliation for a similar appearance made by Mr. Hope in a sequence of DeMille's "The Greatest Show On Earth." Directing Mr. DeMille (veteran of more than seventy motion pictures) in how to do the scene was like telling Washington how to spend money. Mr. DeMille saw the scene playing one way -- I saw it playing just the opposite. A crisis developed, with everyone taking sides. But I'll show them -- I'll do it my way in another picture.

As a youngster I remember the admiration I held for Frank Buck. His handling of wild animals filled me with awe. I realize now that my hero-worship was not misplaced. Animal direction is a craft all its own. In "Son of Paleface," besides Trigger, we had two vultures (the script called for buzzards, but the available Hollywood buzzards were at that moment occupied). Besides the vultures, we also had two penguins.

Contrary to a certain lady reporter, none of the creatures ate bananas -- and none insisted on lobster thermidor.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Golden Days of 1988

I notice that the first season of "A Pup Named Scooby-Doo" came out on DVD recently. This was a pretty interesting show and in its own way, fairly important. Though it was basically a children's show and doesn't have a lot of adult references or humor -- unlike Tiny Toons, done by a lot of the same people, or Mighty Mouse, which premiered a year before this, Pup wasn't trying to pull in grown-ups -- it had a nice combination of reverence and irreverence towards the Scooby-Doo franchise. It made fun of the clichés of Scooby-Doo and of H-B cartoons in general, but its style actually felt much closer to early H-B cartoons than any H-B show had been for years; early H-B character designs popped up among the supporting characters, there was no Scrappy-Doo, no plundering whatever movie or TV show was big at the time, and the stories were, in their tongue-in-cheek way, the most "pure" version of the series premise; it actually made the mystery-solving format kind of fun and cute.

It was also literally the first H-B show ever that actually looked better than previous H-B shows; Hanna-Barbera and indeed every other cartoon studio had been making cartoons that looked worse every year, Pup finally dumped the Ruby-Spears look that the studio had been doing for decades -- the flesh-colored eyes, the drab, ashen backgrounds -- and went for an angular look, stylized backgrounds, bright colors, Tex Avery takes, and even some decent animation (from Wang's Cuckoo's Nest studio, supervised by Glen Kennedy). Even the music was different, with doo-wop vocal tracks inspired by Little Shop of Horrors. Velma even had her own distinctive way of walking, and while they may have over-done it on the accompanying sound effects, it was the first time in a while that a character was actually characterized and given individuality by the way she walked.

Everybody in 1987-88 was scrambling to revive old characters, sometimes as kids, sometimes not (Mighty Mouse, Beany and Cecil). Within a few years, the people working on these shows would create new shows with new characters, but shows like Pup weren't just notable for the people who worked on them (notably Tom Ruegger, who conceived and produced the show, Charlie Howell, who co-wrote the first episode, Alfred Gimeno, and Scott Jeralds) but just for helping to establish the idea that network kids' cartoons could, and should, look a lot better than they had been for the previous 20 years.

This interview with Tom Ruegger gives a lot of great background information, including the information that Bill Hanna directed the first episode himself, the first time in a number of years that he'd done that. (By that point H-B shows did not have individual director credits for the episodes.)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Not Good, But Pleasantly Weird

I think that when a long-running show gets really bad -- not just mediocre, but really, really bad -- it sometimes becomes more interesting to watch than when it was just mediocre. That's because a show that has totally lost it and has no chance of being renewed for another season will sometimes do the most bizarre things, knowing that nobody's watching and nobody cares anyway.

That's what I was thinking when I saw an episode from the awesomely bad final season of Laverne and Shirley without Shirley (and for the most part without Lenny). Apart from being unbelievably depressing, since you're watching a show that literally has no reason to exist now that even its title is a lie, the writing and acting were about as bad as they could be. (Carmine: "I don't think you know the difference between right and wrong." Squiggy: "Sure we do. It's left and wrong that get me confused.")

But the good side of that is this: only a show that was completely destroyed, ravaged and wrecked would have thought to do this scene: Laverne has been mistaken for a murderer and sentenced to Death Row, a priest comes to guide her on that last mile, and he starts singing. And then the prison doors fly open and a gospel singing group comes out and leads everybody in a song and dance number. And Anne Ramsey is in the scene, as is Laraine Newman in a blonde wig. (The producers tried to compensate for Shirley's absence by having a different "funny lady" as a guest star every week.) The only thing that's missing is that the Ernie Banks who plays the priest is not the Hall of Fame shortstop.

Mind you, I don't think this scene is good. It's just nuts. There's no setup for it; this isn't a "musical episode." It's like they had nothing to do for three minutes so they decided to see if there were some singers available. And they sure didn't spend much time on the choreography. (At one point you can even hear Laverne's voice singing on the playback when Laverne's mouth isn't moving.) But it's endearingly crazy. Most shows today would be off the air before they got this ridiculous. That's only partly a good thing.

Friday, April 25, 2008

I Love Al Capp

Eddie Fitzgerald points us to this big post on Al Capp and Li'l Abner at the ASIFA-Hollywood Archive.

I don't think Capp is as well-known today as Walt Kelly, but, much as I love Pogo, I think in some ways I like Li'l Abner even better, and its best stories are about the best I've ever seen in comic strips. Capp's attitude to his characters was much less good-natured than Kelly's; he has contempt for most of his characters and most contempt of all for his "hero," Li'l Abner. But that gives a kind of complexity to the strip, because his open contempt for Abner butts against the moments of goodness and likability that he gives to Abner and other characters.

Update: In comments, Thad K points out that Mark Kausler has been posting strips from Capp's "Joanie Phoanie" story from the late '60s, the ultimate symbol of his decline into unfunniness. Too much is sometimes made of Capp's move to the political right; I don't think that specifically is what caused him to stop being funny. (My Dad recalls Capp going on talk shows and saying similar things in the '50s, when the strip was still funny.) Capp hated everybody and his sense of humor was very dark, very bitter. At some point the sense of humor started to fade away and all that was left was the bitterness; the problem with the Joanie Phoanie strip is not that he's angry at her or at student protests, but that there isn't much humor here. Plus he caricatures Baez, a good-looking woman, as an ugly crone: if Al Capp passes up an opportunity to draw a good-looking woman, you know he's letting his anger overwhelm his sense of humor and his love of drawing women.

WKRP Episode: "Hotel Oceanview"

I had intended not to jump around so much from season to season in posting these complete, never-gonna-be-on-DVD episodes, but this third season episode is the only one I have uploaded at the moment: "Hotel Oceanview," the fifth episode broadcast in season 3 and one of the weirder episodes of this or any sitcom: Andy, Herb and Mr. Carlson go to the terrorized and terrifying town of Dayton to try and land the Vicky Von Vickey Jeans account. Some of my favorite lines include "Dayton can be nasty after dark" and "I don't know, Art, but I know one thing, it's got fruit in it."

The Herb story is actually based on a sketch that the writer, Steven Kampmann, did when he was at Second City. I found this out when I was reading a book on the Second City and found a description of a sketch Kampmann created: he played someone who goes to a convention and meets a woman (Shelley Long) who claims to remember him from high school. Only later does he learn that... well, it's in the episode. Anyway, I realized that Kampmann basically rewrote the sketch as a story for his favorite character, Herb.

Music: "Rise" by Herb Alpert, "Sailing" by Christopher Cross, and the Toccata from Bach's Toccata and Fugue in d minor, a piece Hugh Wilson seemed to like a lot because he used it (for similar creepy effect) on Frank's Place.

Hotel Oceanview by carpalton

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Hornblows At Midnight

I was going to write something about one of the most underrated of all the great Hollywood producers, Arthur Hornblow Jr., based on the fact that Universal just released four great Paramount comedies on DVD and three of them -- Midnight, Easy Living and The Major and the Minor -- were Hornblow's. But TCM beat me to it by showing those three films as a tribute to Hornblow, and putting up this biographical profile of Hornblow and his career.

His best period was at Paramount from the late '30s through the early '40s, producing a series of comedies that managed to be great-looking and very funny. His star director was Mitchell Leisen and they made a great team on stylish-looking comedies, musicals and dramas. Some movie comedies are a little drab in terms of set design and lighting, while comedies that have great production values often let it overwhelm the comedy. Midnight is a lavish production and a first-rate comedy, while his Bob Hope productions, The Cat and the Canary and The Ghost Breakers, look like well-made suspense thrillers that happen to have Bob Hope dropped into them. (Ghost Breakers in particular must be one of the most quietly influential movies of all time; not only did Martin and Lewis remake it almost scene-for-scene as Scared Stiff, but all kinds of horror-comedies owe an obvious debt to that picture -- Scooby-Doo, for instance.) Leisen/Hornblow's Hold Back the Dawn is also a fine romantic drama that ought to be on DVD.

His productions after he left Paramount and moved to MGM are also intelligent and stylish but less consistently entertaining, but he did produce Gaslight, The Asphalt Jungle and Esther Williams' best picture, Million Dollar Mermaid. The way The Asphalt Jungle turned out for John Huston, as opposed to the post-production debacle he suffered the following year when Gottfried Reinhart was his producer on The Red Badge of Courage, illustrates the importance of having a strong, smart producer on a film.

The Buck Stopped

After a 20th Anniversary edition of John Sayles' Eight Men Out came out recently, I decided to read Eliot Asinof's original book again. It's still a very good read, though his decision to tell it like a novel makes it hard to tell exactly what's true and what's just speculation. (Some things are known to have happened; some things he's guessing happened based on the evidence, but they're all thrown together in this book.)

I hadn't thought about the scandal in a while. But since both Asinof and Sayles in their different ways portray Buck Weaver as the most sympathetic figure in the story, I have to say: it seems pretty clear to me that banning Weaver from baseball was the right decision.

Let's take as a given the assumption from Eight Men Out, that Weaver took no money, never intended to go along with the fix, and never played less than his best. (There are several problems with that assumption, like, how do we know he never expected to get any money even if he never got any? and how can someone play his best with the knowledge that his team is going to lose the game?) The purpose of kicking the Black Sox out of baseball was to reassure fans, who were only just now realizing how incredibly crooked baseball had become in the past few years, that the game wasn't going to be crooked any more. Weaver was known to be part of the group that was signed up to fix the World Series; fans knew that he knew about the fix in advance and through the whole Series. He wasn't such a well-known and beloved player that the fans would automatically believe the best of him. So unless he could have proven definitively that he didn't do anything at all to throw the Series, letting him play major league baseball would have looked to most fans like, well, a sign that crooked players weren't actually being thrown out of baseball. Which would have killed the effort to tell the fans, no, we're serious this time about cleaning up the game, really. (Yes, it is annoying that the team owners pretended to have a high-and-mighty attitude to a problem that they'd deliberately ignored for years.)

And the problem is that Weaver couldn't possibly prove that he didn't do anything to throw the Series. (I'm talking about the court of public opinion, not the criminal court, where there wasn't enough to convict any of the eight players and nobody even knew exactly what crime they were supposed to have committed.) The problem with being in on a plan to fix a game is that anything you do, any mistake you make, can be interpreted in one of two ways: as a legitimate mistake or a deliberate mistake. Weaver made mistakes during the Series. He ignored a signal, which caused some teammates to suspect that he did it on purpose; but then again maybe he didn't. He failed to drive in any runs, which led people to suspect that he wasn't trying, but maybe he was just unlucky. I don't know and I doubt even Weaver knew for sure; there's such a fine line between making a mistake accidentally, making it on purpose, and making it because you're really flustered and nervous (which guilty knowledge will do). When a player takes a bribe, or even agrees to take a bribe, that doesn't mean every mistake he makes is automatically a result of the bribe, but that's the point: there's no way of knowing, and if the fans are wondering whether Player X dropped that ball accidentally or on purpose, the game is ruined.

Also, I think people focus too much on questions of whether Weaver or Joe Jackson really helped throw the games through poor series play, which leads to the talking point that Jackson is exonerated by his high series batting average. It's pretty clear that most of the heavy work in throwing the games was done by the pitchers, Cicotte and Williams. (That's why Cicotte, the starter of the first game, was the first to get paid.) Jackson, in his Grand Jury testimony where he insisted he hadn't missed any plays on purpose (he said differently at other times) could think of only one play he'd seen in the whole series that looked suspicious. It's very hard for an individual hitter or fielder to throw a game except in unusual situations, like coming up in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded and the team one run behind. When it came to the hitters/fielders, the point was to sign up enough important position players so that the fixers could depend on them to throw the game if that was the only way to ensure defeat. Maybe they couldn't have been depended on; the point, however, is that the gangsters assumed they could depend on these guys to throw the game if needed, and the fix probably couldn't have happened without that assumption. If Joe Jackson and Buck Weaver had said no, then most of the best position players would have been actively working against the fix, and that might have derailed the whole thing. The way most of the games played out, Jackson and Weaver weren't required to strike out or miss plays on purpose (though maybe they did, but then again maybe they didn't); all that was really required to make the fix work was their consent.

This doesn't have much to do with Sayles' movie, by the way. That's a movie, not intended to be a factual record of what happened and why; Sayles is making a movie about how workers are scapegoated while the powerful people get off scot-free, and in that context, the portrayal of Buck Weaver makes sense. I just get the feeling that people tend to conflate the Buck Weaver from the movie (and the book, to some extent) with what actually happened, and forgetting that there are perfectly good reasons why athletes who are offered bribes and don't report them can get disqualified. (From Weaver's point of view, of course, he might have had good reasons to be afraid of reporting it even if he'd wanted to. But that makes Weaver sympathetic; it doesn't mean he shouldn't have been disqualified.) Sort of like you'll hear people conflating the innocent baseball-loving Joe Jackson from Shoeless Joe/Field of Dreams with the real Joe Jackson, an illiterate but intelligent person who knew he had done "An awful thing."

Monday, April 21, 2008

Bullfights Aren't Funny

I unexpectedly scored a copy of Disney's out-of-print "Complete Goofy" DVD set the other day. Ebay copies are out of my price range and blood pressure levels, but I happened upon a copy that was just sitting around in a used CD store. This store did not have any other rare cartoon DVDs; in fact that was pretty much the only cartoon DVD they had.

The first cartoon I watched from the set was "For Whom the Bulls Toil", a 1953 cartoon that sent Goofy to Mexico and made him a bullfighter, something that every cartoon character was required to go through around that time. (I've always been a little sympathetic to Eddie Selzer for telling Chuck Jones that "I don't want a cartoon about bullfights, bullfights aren't funny," because the context was that every cartoon studio including Warners had put out a bullfighting cartoon in the late '40s and early '50s. And it really isn't that great a subject. Bully For Bugs was like Jones' personal challenge to himself to see if he could put a fresh spin on what was already one of the lamest, most over-used cartoon stories around.) Anyway, the reason I watched it first was that it was my favorite Disney cartoon when I was a kid, probably my favorite Disney cartoon period, short or feature. I saw it in a special devoted to Disney "heroes," a catch-all subject that allowed them to recycle this cartoon and most of Ben and Me (another childhood favorite) and The Brave Little Tailor and maybe some other cartoons that did not become childhood favorites and which I have therefore forgotten about.

Seeing it again, I still like it despite the slight lameness of the subject. (Having Goofy unwittingly fight a bull before he gets into the bull ring is at least a little twist.) One thing I like about it is that it is a story cartoon. I find that even after Pinto Colvig came back to the studio, Jack Kinney and co. had gotten so used to their narrator-driven format that they didn't always give us enough of Goofy as a character, as opposed to a living illustration of whatever the narrator was talking about. Some cartoons work great that way, like "Hockey Homicide." Others might have been better with less narration and more character comedy, especially since the narrator format places a huge amount of emphasis on the quality of each individual gag, and great gags were never Disney's greatest strength. Other early '50s cartoons as well as Woolie Reitherman's Xerox-fest "Aquamania" tried to bring back the Goofy character but made him too much of a generic '50s suburban dad character, Dagwood Bumstead with buck teeth. (Or any teeth. Does Dagwood ever show teeth? How does he eat those sandwiches? Anywho...) The bull cartoon is one of the few I've seen where he really sort of seems a little like the early Goofy, even though I suppose technically it fits into the befuddled middle-class suburbanite persona they were giving him at that time.

The other thing about "Bulls" is that it points up a big difference between Disney's shorts and other cartoon studios' shorts: Disney always went for a little bit of verisimilitude. They're not realistic, of course, unless giant mice and ducks are considered realistic. But there's often at least some attempt to get real-life details right. So "Bulls" has real Mexican music on the soundtrack, the Mexicans mostly speak real Spanish and a Mexican actor was hired to do voices, the look of the cartoon is meant to at least suggest what Mexico looks like. In a bullfight cartoon by Warners or MGM, the Mexican setting is important only insofar as it's an excuse for jokes, broken English (or fake Spanish), "La Cucaracha" on the soundtrack. Disney would tone down the jokes somewhat to make a cartoon feel somewhat more like life (and the characters somewhat more like people), which was sometimes a weakness in short cartoons but was important for features.

Shows With Many Lives

I posted about the show Stingray on the other blog, but one thing I wanted to add here is that it's an example of a show that went through multiple lives. There are some shows that are never really popular, yet they always seem like they're on the verge of being a big hit, so people keep trying to bring them back. (I think Family Guy was the first show to really become a big hit after going through multiple comebacks like that. That or Charles in Charge.) In the case of Stingray the chronology is:

- Stephen J. Cannell produced a two-hour pilot for NBC. NBC declined to pick up the show (either because they didn't like the pilot or they couldn't agree with Cannell on what the series should be like).

- When NBC burned off the pilot as a two-hour movie special, which was often done with double-length pilots in those days, the ratings were unexpectedly huge. (This, by the way, was one of the reasons why TV producers in the '80s liked to do two-hour pilots: it increased the chances of getting the pilot "burned off" in a decent time slot, and thereby increased the chances that it might catch on after all.)

- The show was picked up for 13 episodes with Lawrence Hertzog as showrunner. Production moved to Canada, making it one of the first U.S. shows to film in Vancouver.

- The show didn't do nearly as well as a mid-season replacement as it had in the two-hour pilot form, and NBC didn't renew it for the fall season. But it was brought back the following mid-season with a combination of episodes from the first 13 and some newly-produced episodes, this time with Frank Lupo (co-creator of The A-Team, Hunter and Wiseguy) as the showrunner. Then the show was finally officially cancelled by NBC.

- But the show did well enough in some markets (probably overseas markets) and had enough of a cult following that in the early '90s Cannell decided to revive it for first-run syndication. But the star, Nick Mancuso, committed to another show and the project fell through. But...

- Cannell, ever willing to turn out inexpensive imitations of any show including his own, filled the spot planned for the new Stingray by coming up with Cobra, a bad series that not only used a similar premise to Stingray but sometimes recycled footage from that series to save money.

So that's a show with nearly 10 years of comebacks or attempted comebacks. It makes Charles in Charge look positively stable.

What are some other shows you could think of that just would not stay down, no matter how many times they were canceled?

Friday, April 18, 2008

WKRP Episode: "An Explosive Affair"

I won't be able to post much in the next few days, so here's a double-length episode with way too much music to ever be released on DVD: the season 4 opener, "An Explosive Affair." The main story is about the station receiving a bomb threat; the B story (about Mr. Carlson and his ex-receptionist) is a little undercooked, but Howard Hesseman's "phone cops" freak-out in part 2 is one of the most famous scenes from the show.

Music includes "Sweet Soul Music" by Arthur Conley, "Bad Mamma Jamma" by Carl Carlton, "Celebration" by Kool & the Gang, "Talk to Ya Later" by the Tubes, songs by Bob Marley and The Pointers, and most memorably, "Urgent" by Foreigner. (Can you imagine the end of Part 1 without that song? Wouldn't work at all.)

Part 1:

Part 2

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Stella Star!

Edward Hegstrom has a post about the most amazerrific of all Star Wars knockoffs, the one, the hopefully only, Star Crash (or, as it's called in Italian, Starcrash). Starring Marjoe Gortner, Caroline Munro, Hamilton Camp, the young David Hasselhoff and Christopher Plummer. Poor guy. The casting implies that he's the Star Crash level equivalent of Guinness, which just isn't fair.

Seanbaby also did a Star Crash review a few years ago.

The second way in which Star Crash is superior to Star Wars is Stella Star. She can’t act and she delivers her lines like she’s speaking English phonetically, but she is constantly fighting in a bikini. Even when she puts on a space jumpsuit, she picks a transparent one so you can still see her bikini. Her ridiculous hotness leads to some problems, though. The film’s editor seems to have had trouble cutting one single millisecond of Stella Star footage, so after she stammers out a line, there’s usually an awkward four to five second pause while the camera lingers on her face. As an actress, she’s not prepared for this, and most of the movie is her trying to look busy by contorting her face into intense stares.

Grudge Match: Batman vs. Superman - Election 2008

Once again, all the candidates for President are forced to drop out under mysterious circumstances, and the race is between two independent candidates: Batman and Superman.

Who will win the election? Batman, with his huge cash-on-hand advantage but his distinctly sub-par PR skills, or Superman, who is less good at dirty tricks but better at projecting a likable image and dealing with the media (particularly since he's a journalist himself and knows how the media works)?

Yes, I know that Superman shouldn't be eligible to run for President, since he is an alien. But who's to say the Constitution hasn't been amended in this scenario? Besides, since he doesn't have a Kryptonian birth certificate, they can't actually prove he's ineligible, and Ma and Pa Kent probably faked an American birth certificate for him.

(I was considering doing a Bruce Wayne vs. Lex Luthor election instead, but I had a feeling that it might have already been done in the comics.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Ollie Johnston

Update: Here is a 1956 Los Angeles Times article on Ollie Johnston's other great lifelong enthusiasm -- restoring and running antique trains. (Click to enlarge.) I know it's not related to his animation work, but I somehow feel like I can see that enthusiasm -- or maybe the fact that he just was so enthusiastic -- in his work. Obviously his animation does not depend on what he did in his off hours, but his work was that of a man who didn't do just what was required and no more. A man who has a hobby is a man who enjoys working hard at the things he loves, whether it's drawings or locomotives.

The Live Steaming clam-bake shown here took place at the Flintridge, Calif. home of Oliver Johnston. His layout, with 970 feet of track, is one of the largest in the west.

It takes about 5,000 hours to make a good model and minimum cost to have one built for you is $5,000 (Live Steamer Walt Disney recently had two built for Disneyland, cost: $35,000 apiece). Plans are procured from a railroad, then scaled down to 1/24, the most popular size. Most workmen scorn buying parts, make even their own nuts and bolts.

Johnston's La Cañada Valley 515 is a typical model. The locomotive is three feet, 11 inches long, weighs 251 pounds. The tender is three feet even, weighs 90 pounds loaded, which includes 45 pounds of water and the Live Steamer's favorite fuel: pea-size Welsh coal.

Nothing much happens on a run, unless a boiler explodes (very rare) or a flying cinder hits a shirt hanging on the line (pretty common). Mostly, the train just puffs and smokes around the track whistling for a grade crossing, stopping to take on water, finally pulling into the station.

Just, in fact, all the wonderful, exciting, fascinating things that make life, for a Live Steamer, really worth living.

Please see Jenny and Jerry's round-up at Cartoon Brew.

Via, here's Johnston in 1954 (right) with Milt Kahl (left), doing some work for the opening of Marineland.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Kismet Kate

The release of the movie version of Kismet on DVD is just another sad reminder that what could have been a terrific movie musical, done right, turned out to be a very weak one. I love the stage Kismet musical, but its tongue-in-cheek, bordering-on-parody operetta style is very difficult to bring off, and Vincente Minnelli, a director who didn't have much sense of self-parody and reportedly hated the show to begin with (and did it only so MGM would let him direct Lust For Life), was not the man to do it. And though you can get a sense of what Jack Cole's Broadway choreography was like, Cole's bawdy, showy style did not fit with the overly-tasteful Fred unit style; the sets, costumes and photography are not backing him up, and the numbers that were probably knockouts on Broadway just seem a little under-powered. Maybe this project would have been better at a studio like Fox, whose less tasteful photography and sets fit better with Cole's style (remember, Cole choreographed and directed the gloriously tasteless musical numbers in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes). You could say that Arthur Freed's relentless good taste did this project in. Though speaking of taste, one thing to be said for the movie is that -- due to the post-Moon Is Blue collapse of the Production Code -- none of the lyrics had to be cleaned up for the screen; even "Rahadlakum," a song about an aphrodisiac, was able to be recorded and filmed (the first part got cut, but for time, not content).

Of the principals, only Ann Blyth is really right for her part: Howard Keel just doesn't have the charisma and style for an Alfred Drake part. (Drake, interviewed about why MGM kept passing him over for movies, said: "They had a guy they used for my parts. He wasn't very good." I think Keel was good, but not for this part, or even for Kiss Me Kate.) Vic Damone was a terrible idea, Dolores Gray is good but doesn't really have the right kind of voice for "Not Since Nineveh" -- it was written for Joan Diener, a performer who had both a belt and a high soprano voice, and Gray can't do the soprano parts of the song -- and casting non-singer Sebastian Cabot as the villain forced them to cut the wonderful quartet that precedes "And This Is My Beloved."

One thing the DVD release enables me to do, though, is to do a side-by-side comparison of some of the original Alexander Borodin music and the songs that Bob Wright and Chet Forrest created for Kismet. Wright and Forrest's specialty was making pop songs out of classical music, something they'd been doing since the '30s when they were at MGM. Instead of just taking the classical tune and putting lyrics to it, they would take the main theme from the original piece and then compose a new "B" section, re-do the ending, and turn the whole thing into an actual pop song with an A-A-B-A structure. This is what they did with all three of the big hits from Kismet, "Stranger in Paradise" (from the Polovtsian Dances in Borodin's Prince Igor), "Baubles, Bangles and Beads" (second movement of Borodin's second string quartet) and "And This Is My Beloved" (third movement of Borodin's truly awesome second string quartet). As you can see in the video below, each of the songs has new material that wasn't in Borodin's original pieces, and that's how the songs become true hit songs instead of just classical music with new words.

There were a few songs in Kismet that didn't follow this pattern; "Rahadlakum" is a completely original composition by Wright and Forrest, and two or three songs are taken directly from Borodin with no newly-composed music. The passage that precedes the "Gesticulate" number (that song, by the way, is based on Borodin's first symphony) is just Konchak's aria from Prince Igor with English lyrics.

Friday, April 11, 2008

WKRP Episode: "Jennifer's Home For Christmas"

This fine Christmas episode from season 2 uses a plot hook that had been used before -- in fact, Happy Days did the "everybody brings a Christmas tree" thing only a year before this -- but does it better. Jennifer slipping into her real accent on the phone is one of my favorite jokes from the show. (In a strange way, Jennifer is to WKRP as Jack Donaghy to 30 Rock or Barney to How I Met Your Mother -- there's so much we don't know about these characters that the writers can have a lot of fun hinting at their unseen lives and backstories.) This episode guest stars George Gaynes -- who later directed an episode and worked for Hugh Wilson on Police Academy -- and takes advantage of his linguistic skills.

Music: "Merry Christmas Baby" by Chuck Berry, "Jingle Bell Rock," and the most famous recording of "Jingle Bells."

WKRP s02e11 Jennifer's Home For Christmas by carpalton

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Lucky Berkeleyites

If you're in or near the Bay area (and I'm not saying you shouldn't be), the University of California at Berkeley is holding A week-long Frank Tashlin retrospective. There have been a bunch of these recently, but all south of the border (the Canadian border, I mean); I especially recommend next Wednesday's screening of Artists and Models because while the DVD version looks fine, I have a feeling that the otherworldly riot of color would look even better on a big screen in a dark theatre.

A few random points on Artists and Models while I'm at it, since this is one of those movies I just love (there are greater movies, maybe even better movies by this director or these stars, but there are few other movies that are more fun), because none of them are worth a separate post in themselves:

1) The plot of Artists and Models, if you look at it rationally, has so many holes in it, even for a comedy, that the script would be thrown out of any screenwriting class. Some of this is probably due to cutting; it's a long movie and some scenes were cut for time (including Shirley MacLaine's solo "Bat Lady" dance, which appears to be lost), and I imagine some of the deleted scenes would explain why Eva Gabor's character starts out thinking that Dean Martin is the person she needs to seduce and then, without any explanation for how she found out the truth, switches to trying to seduce Jerry Lewis. But there are various other unexplained plot points, things that are brought up and then never referred to again (Martin is worried about telling Lewis that he's drawing the "Vincent the Vulture" comic because "then we'd be through as pals," but this is never addressed), and stuff that just makes no sense, like how can Martin's character draw a best-selling comic book under his own name without Jerry Lewis's character finding out about it? You just kind of have to go with it; it's like a '50s throwback to many silent and early sound comedies that were very loosely structured and informal and didn't ask to be judged by classic principles of story structure. But you can see why Jean-Luc Godard fell in love with Artists; the idea that a movie can ignore all rules of storytelling logic, and get away with it if the individual scenes are entertaining enough, must have been very encouraging to him.

2) The publicity photo of Martin, Lewis, and the four top-billed women in the film (all dressed, of course, by Edith Head, who did some of her best work on this picture), appears to be the one Shirley MacLaine was talking about when she wrote that Jerry Lewis was a real jerk during the taking of a cast publicity photo with these six participants. Apparently he tried to essentially direct the taking of the photograph and tell everybody where to stand and what to do. Viewed that way, it's kind of a metaphor for why their partnership broke up: Jerry standing there trying to control everything, Dean looking a little ticked off. (Click to enlarge).

3) I notice that while Shirley MacLaine's character is called "Bessie Sparrowbush" in the film, many cast lists give the name as "Sparrowbrush." I wonder if somebody sneaked the name "Sparrowbush" past the censors by deliberately misspelling it in the cast list.

4) When I tried to research this film I didn't come up with much (to find out anything about its production I'll have to wait until I can look at Hal Wallis's papers, which are housed at the Motion Picture Academy's library), but I did find a Sheilah Graham column, complete with a quote from producer Hal Wallis, revealing that the part of Dean Martin's love interest was originally offered to Lizabeth Scott, a longtime Wallis contractee who had already been Martin's vis-a-vis in Scared Stiff. Scott turned down the script, upon which Martin asked for Dorothy Malone, his other love interest from Scared Stiff. That same year, Martin also made You're Never Too Young opposite Diana Lynn, who had been his love interest in the two My Friend Irma movies.

Straight From the Hartley

I guarantee you I won't be doing Archie nostalgia posts all the time, but via this comment, I see that other bloggers are rediscovering Al Hartley's infamous Christian Archie comics. The insanity of these comics is different from the insanity of the Frank Doyle/Samm Schwartz story I wrote about below; the stories by Doyle and Schwartz are crazy because they're intentionally crazy, not to mention very funny, while Hartley's stories are crazy but sincere and they're kind of disturbing because they're so sincere. (Favorite line: "Now we have books that say we all came from monkeys -- and the children are starting to ACT like it!") I've written about these Spire comics in a previous post, but the thing I want to re-emphasize is that Hartley had actually been writing and drawing this kind of material in the mainstream Archie comics for several years. The reason he took it to a separate Christian comic is that his bosses at Archie asked him to cut it out. But he was a talented artist and apparently a very nice man, so I'm not surprised that he managed to talk them into letting him do the Spire titles.

I actually have some examples of Hartley's Christian material in the "regular" Archie titles (I don't have a lot of Archie comics left over from childhood, and I don't feel like going out and shopping for them, but I do have this one) from a "Sabrina's Christmas Magic" special issue in 1972. Hartley wrote and illustrated a lot of Sabrina stories in the early '70s and really seemed to get into the character despite the references to witchcraft. So in this issue, the first story has her going to meet Santa Claus, and teaching children about the importance of faith over reason (click on the images to see them enlarged):

And then, as if worried that that was too allegorical, Hartley gets specific at the end of another story which he wrote and drew for the same issue:

I don't want to sound like I am bashing Hartley; his injections of religion into the Archie world are actually quite sweet and non-sectarian, and honestly I think the publishers would have been better off letting him continue with that instead of doing the more hard-core Spire material. But I wonder how he squared that religious content with the portrayal of witchcraft, or the rather obvious cruel streak he displayed in the stories he wrote/drew:

I'm no theologian, but even as a kid I thought that there was something morally wrong about drowning somebody and laughing at it. Apparently Hartley's message is that if Sabrina doesn't like you, she will kill you and that's a good thing.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Syndication Performance

I was looking through the 1984 book "Television Comedy Series: An Episode Guide to 153 TV Sitcoms in Syndication," by Joel Eisner and David Krinsky. (Jerry Beck, back when he was working in TV catalogue sales for United Artists, is credited as one of their sources for the information.)

The book was useful at the time, when episode titles and writing credits were hard to find for most shows; it's been rendered obsolete by the passing of time and the availability of online episode guides. Also, the authors have a bizarre rant in their introduction about how badly television has declined since it started in with social issues and stuff. ("Television banned violence on network shows when they thought it was harmful to children, but did they ever stop to think what mental harm is done when a child believes prostitution, vasectomies, unwed mothers, V.D. etc. are all hilarious subjects?") However, one thing that Eisner and Krinsky have in many of their descriptions, which I find interesting, is a description of how the show did in syndication. (They got some of their information on the shows from TV stations and syndicators, so along with the episode lists they were presumably also able to find out how these shows were doing in reruns, or if they were even being rerun at all.) I thought I'd make a note of some of their descriptions to show how some shows were doing circa 1983 when they were writing this.

I don't know how accurate their information is, but I would suspect that it's fairly close to the mark because it mostly confirms things that were known already: all of the MTM comedies except WKRP performed disappointingly in syndication; Happy Days and its spinoffs all tanked in syndication but The Odd Couple was a huge syndication success; some of the Norman Lear comedies didn't do as well as expected.

One thing that's obvious, once again, is that there is no relationship between how popular a show is in first-run and how popular it is in syndication. Part of the reason is that syndication audiences tend to be younger (a bigger percentage of children is watching in daytime reruns than in prime time), but that can't be the whole explanation for every success or failure. Also it seems like shows that focused on women didn't do well in syndication at the time, though I think that's probably changed since then.

Barney Miller - "The series still does extremely well in syndication."

The Beverly Hillbillies - "The now-syndicated episodes are popular in many Southern cities but not elsewhere, perhaps because it is felt to be so out of date."

The Bob Newhart Show - "The series was very popular during its original run, but it has been a failure in syndication. It now usually runs during the middle of the night or early afternoon."

The Brady Bunch - "Remains one of the most popular reruns of all time."

Chico and the Man - "The series has all but died in syndication even though it is still run all over the country. This is due to the death of Freddie Prinze during the series. What makes matters worse is that now that Jack Albertson has also died, the series is in worse trouble. Within a few years, the show will probably disappear from the air completely."

The Dick Van Dyke Show - "The show was a big hit during the first years of its syndication. However, it has died out in popularity because of its dated look -- caused by the black and white film and fashions of that time."

Family Affair - "The series is still run occasionally but has become too dated for many people and has begun to disappear from many stations."

The Flintstones - "It is still a big hit over twenty years since it was first created, as it can never become dated."

Gilligan's Island - "Despite contemptuous reviews by critics... Gilligan's Island has remained one of the most successful syndicated comedy series of all time."

Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. - "Still a popular series today, Gomer Pyle's main audience is in rural areas of the U.S."

Happy Days - "The reruns have not done very well at all. Syndicated under the title Happy Days Again, it has been a big disappointment to the local stations which run the show."

The Jeffersons - "The series is not doing as well as it was expected to do."

Laverne and Shirley - "The series is still doing well on the network, but it is a complete failure in reruns despite the fact that it is running all over the country."

Mary Tyler Moore - "This was a very popular series during its rrun, but has suffered in syndication. This is also a more sophisticated series which fails to attract the attention of children."

Maude - "It has done very poorly in syndication."

Mork and Mindy - "It entered syndication in September 1983 and immediately died."

Nanny and the Professor - "Seen frequently on small rural stations (mainly UHF) but rarely in large cities."

The Odd Couple - "The series did fairly well on the network but is a big hit in syndication."

What's Happening! - "It didn't do very well on the network, but it is doing rather well in syndication."

Other shows that did well in syndication include:

The Addams Family
Get Smart
Green Acres
Hogan's Heroes
I Dream of Jeannie
I Love Lucy
Leave it to Beaver
The Munsters
Three's Company
Welcome Back Kotter
WKRP in Cincinnati.

Shows that didn't do well in syndication (as of this book):
Diff'rent Strokes
Here's Lucy
McHale's Navy
Our Miss Brooks
The Patty Duke Show

Beam Me Up, Raymond Scotty

I don't quite get what this Your Hit Parade show (from 1955) was trying to accomplish with the superimposed graphics (if those graphics are indeed part of the original; they seem to be). But it does lend a sort of prototypical music-video style to this performance by the show's bandleader, Raymond Scott (with his Quintette), of... well, you know which piece.

Sunday, April 06, 2008


I've always thought Charlton Heston was one of the better stars of the '50s and '60s when it came to choosing projects. With the collapse of the studio system, and star actors actually able to choose what movies they made and for whom, some stars made really bad choices. (See Brando, Marlon.) Heston made some bad movies, as everybody did, but he also picked some really interesting films that probably wouldn't have gotten made without him, like Will Penny (which he sometimes cited as his favorite).

He also had pretty decent taste in directors at a time when many stars preferred to work with hacks with whom they felt comfortable, or just didn't care who directed them; Heston most famously recommended Orson Welles for Touch of Evil, and also asked for Franklin Schaffner to direct Planet of the Apes. (Which is another movie that must have seemed fairly risky when he committed to it, given that it was produced by a man whose biggest previous credit was Dr. Dolittle.) He made a lot of good movies, and the reason his mannerisms are so easy to make fun of is that he was such a distinctive screen personality.

A Great ARCHIE Story You'll Never See Again

I still haven't found it, but I'd like to give a brief summary of this totally insane multi-part story. I read it in digests years ago, still have some excerpts of dialogue that I wrote in an old notebook, but what I don't got is the story itself. Still, I wanted to summarize it because it was so bizarre, in such bad taste, and so full of Frito Bandito-esque stereotypes that you'll likely never see it re-printed again. (I think it dates from the late '70s or early '80s, when Latin America was in the news a lot.)

Update: I finally found the story, in Jughead # 226, from 1974. I've added some screen captures from the story.

The artwork was by the great Samm Schwartz and I'm pretty convinced that Frank Doyle wrote it. Most of these stories didn't have credits, but the Vaudevillian dialogue was so Doyle-esque that it either had to be Doyle or a very good imitator of his style.

Here's how it shook down:

Mr. Lodge is upset because Jughead is always hanging around his house. (Why is his attention focused on Jughead, who normally doesn't hang around Lodge's place very much, rather than Archie, who actually is always there? Because this is a Jughead story. Go with it.) Smithers, Mr. Lodge's butler and -- in Doyle's stories -- also Lodge's buddy and confidante, suggests that Lodge should get Jughead out of the house by asking him to run an errand.

Lodge writes down a shopping list for Jughead, but accidentally gives him the credentials for an ex-diplomat whom he had hired to go down to an obscure village in Honduras and deal with a local bandito who is terrorizing Lodge's plant. (Yes, even Mr. Lodge is taking jobs out of America and building plants in low-paying Latin American countries.) Jughead reads the instructions and says: "Wow, when he sends you on an errand, he really sends you on an errand."

Using the credentials, Jughead is flown to Honduras to meet with the bandito, El Slobador. Turns out that El Slobador's campaign against the plant was just a ruse to get a valuable American down to his hideout: he and his men announce that they will hold Jughead for ransom and make Mr. Lodge pay $1 million for his return.

When Mr. Lodge gets the notice that Jughead is being held captive in Honduras and the banditos expect Lodge to pay $1 million to get him back, he finds this so funny that he goes into hysterical laughing fits and has to be taken to the hospital.

At the bandito hideout, Jughead spends most of his time eating the tamale pies and other delicacies cooked by El Slobador's mother, Mama. Mama is the worst cook in the world, and she appreciates the fact that this gringo is the only person who really enjoys her cooking. ("Nobody, not even you no good papa! -- ever appreciate Mama's cooking like this beautiful gringo!" "My no good papa still be here if he no eat Mama's cooking!")

Finding that Jughead has an unlimited appetite and will eat anything, the banditos all give him their food so they won't have to eat Mama's "rotten cooking."

With Mr. Lodge still in the hospital, Veronica, Betty and Archie decide that the only way to rescue Jughead is to go down to El Slobador's hideout and offer themselves as his new hostages: Veronica explains that Lodge won't pay to save Jughead alone, but he will pay to get her back.

When Betty, Veronica and Archie get to the hideout (El Slobador: "What is this, gringo country club?"), Jughead offers them one of Mama's tamale pies. Betty and Veronica eat one and immediately spit it out and writhe in pain.

BETTY: Jughead, that's terrible!
JUGHEAD: It's hard to take at first, but it'll stick to your ribs.
VERONICA: So would a can of Elmer's Glue All, but I wouldn't drink it!

When El Slobador finds out that Veronica is Senor Lodge's daughter, he decides that he can keep her and kill Jughead. (Jughead: "Thanks a lot, guys. Eveerything was great when I was his only hostage.") El Slobador is about to cut off Jughead's nose and send it back to America, but Jughead is saved by two things: one, Mama hits her son on the head to stop him harming her favorite gringo:

And two, El Slobador's men inform him that they don't want Jughead hurt, because if he dies, they'll have to go back to eating Mama's cooking.

El Slobador reluctantly agrees that Jughead is saving their lives, but he asks how they're going to make any money off this hostage situation. Archie, Betty and Veronica suggest that they should just stop being banditos, which the men laugh at: "It's tradition. All the men in this village are banditos and all the women are horrible, rotten cooks." But, while Jughead is in the hideout still eating everything in sight, Archie points out the real problem here:

Veronica then suggests that instead of being banditos, they should go work at her father's plant. The banditos are reluctant until she points out that the plant has its own cafeteria with food that is not made locally. Instantly every bandito in the village is lining up to apply for work at the American factory.

So the Lodge plant is saved, Jughead is safe, and the foursome return home. They visit Mr. Lodge in the hospital, where he has recovered from the laughing fit that almost killed him. Jughead thanks Lodge for entrusting him with this diplomatic mission by giving him a souvenir from the adventure -- one of Mama's tamale pies.

Friday, April 04, 2008

WKRP Episode: "Baby, If You've Ever Wondered"

The ninth episode to air in the second season, this episode is about the dreaded moment for every radio station -- the day the ratings arrive. It sort of wraps up the original premise of the series, resolving the original question of whether Andy would be able or willing to do what it takes to change the station. This episode is in many ways the one where the characters were really finalized: from this point on, all eight characters would be pretty much what they are in this half-hour.

Music includes: "Goodbye Stranger" by Supertramp, "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough" by Michael Jackson, and "Rockin' My Life Away" by Jerry Lee Lewis (who was probably the artist whose music was featured most often on this show).

WKRP s02e09 Baby, If You've Ever Wondered by carpalton

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Sleaziest Family Movies Ever

Someone should really write a biography of Joe Pasternak, the Hungarian refugee producer who saved Universal -- with his Deanna Durbin movies and Destry Rides Again -- and then moved to MGM and made stars out of Mario Lanza, Jane Powell and Kathryn Grayson. He produced hit movies for over 30 years, more than that if you count the films he produced in Germany and Hungary before he fled to America. None of his movies are great and few of his movies after his move to MGM are even good (some of his Universal productions still hold up very well), but he was probably MGM's most successful producer in terms of consistent box-office results, and he kept producing hits long after the rest of MGM was in a state of free-fall. So while Arthur Freed's musicals were way better than Pasternak's, Pasternak had fewer expensive flops and probably more big hits. And after the market for original musicals started to shrink, he re-calibrated and made a bunch of successful non-musical "family comedies" that could have been musicals if they'd had a few extra songs.

It's these '60s "family comedies" that are a strangely fascinating cultural relic, because Pasternak's success in this field involved making some of the sleaziest family movies in Hollywood history: movies like Where the Boys Are, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, Penelope and Please Don't Eat the Daisies are a very strange mixture of wholesome entertainment and sentimentality, the kind of thing Pasternak had known how to do since the '30s, with a large dose of sexism, leering and other examples of what passed for hip in the Rat Pack era. TCM showed two 1963 Pasternak productions the other day, The Courtship of Eddie's Father (directed by Vincente Minnelli, who had been Freed's guy rather than Pasternak's) and A Ticklish Affair (directed by George Sidney, who had worked for Pasternak as far back as Anchors Aweigh). Both are ultra-cutesy family comedies about adorable widows and/or widowers with adorable sons. But Courtship has a bunch of boob and butt jokes and the most sexist line in movie history, while A Ticklish Affair has, among other things, a scene where Red Buttons admires the short-shorted gyrations of Shirley Jones -- who plays his sister.

Nothing was sleazier than '60s family entertainment, for reasons I've outlined before, but somehow Joe Pasternak seemed to take it up a notch, so that his movies seem squarely aimed at the perfect early '60s family: two kids, one martini-swilling mom and one dad who leers at everything in skirts. It's like a series of movies for the people in Mad Men.

Towards the end of his career Pasternak, of course, wound up producing a couple of Elvis Presley movies, the kind of movie that's synonymous with wholesome sleaze. Neither of them were anywhere near as good as Viva Las Vegas, though (which was produced by Jack Cummings, the quietest of the big MGM musical producers but in some respects the most tasteful). Two of the writers on those films, Ted Flicker and George Kirgo -- who, like many writers in the '60s, bounced back and forth between medium-budget movies and TV -- recalled a bit about what it was like to work for Pasternak at a time when he was basically the only successful MGM producer left at the crumbling studio:

THEODORE J. FLICKER: Joe Pasternak called me and said, "The studio thinks that these two kids, Sonny and Cher, are going to be stars. What if you wrote and directed a picture for these kids, Sonny and Cher? You know, like "A Hard Day's Night"?" And I said, "I would love it!"

GEORGE KIRGO: Now this was a Friday when we talked, and over the weekend, Sonny and Cher were out and Presley was in.

THEODORE J. FLICKER: Joe called me and said, "The studio's decided that Sonny and Cher are not going to be big stars, and so they've cancelled the project. I feel terrible about this. But I've got an Elvis Presley picture going. You could write that, but you can't direct it because Norman Taurog" -- he won an Academy Award for "Skippy" (1931) -- "has already been signed to direct it." And I said, "Fine. The only thing is, this I won't write alone." I said, "I know who I want to write it with -- can I bring another writer in?" And he said sure, so I called George.

GEORGE KIRGO: He told me it was for Joe Pasternak, and I said, "I know Joe. Okay. What's it about?" And Flicker just shrugged and said, "We'll figure something out."

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Tiny Toons and Freakazoid DVDs Announced

Freakazoid! season 1 and Tiny Toon Adventures volume 1 will come out on July 29, the week after the San Diego Comic-Con (where, hopefully, Warner Brothers will give the sets at least some promotion).

The good news is that the first Tiny Toons set will have 35 episodes, meaning that if the pace keeps up they'd be able to release the whole series in only three sets. (This may be a nod to the problems they've encountered in getting out the fourth Animaniacs set.) Hopefully it'll sell well enough at the high-ish price point to justify bringing out the rest of the series. The episodes will be not in production order but airing order, which I think works better. If you look at the episode list you'll see that they "front-loaded" the run by putting many of their best episodes in the first couple of weeks; the poorer episodes, with bad animation or scripts that felt like recycled '80s Saturday morning cartoons (like "Sawdust and Toonsil," which has every '80s cartoon cliche imaginable, all played straight instead of parodied), were saved for after the show had already established itself.

Since Freakazoid! is my favorite of these shows I'm hoping like crazy that WB brings out the second of the two short seasons. The extras look terrific, including audio commentaries and original network promos, which the other shows don't have. How much information the WB lawyers have edited out this time remains to be seen/heard, but with F!, much of the stuff we need to know is in the show itself, like its frequent mockery of the WB's original conception of F! as a "toyetic," merchandisable show.