Sunday, March 24, 2013

Burgess Meredith in 1941

By all accounts a quirky man in real life, I've been a fan ever since The Penguin waddled across my TV screen in early '66. Here's a portrait of the artist 25 years earlier than that.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Nana Visitor

I first became aware of actress Nana Visitor when she appeared as Ellen Dolan, The Commissioner's daughter, in the TV movie version of THE SPIRIT in the eighties. Frankly, I didn't like the casting and was less than impressed with her. That would change.

DEEP SPACE NINE is often cited by fans as their least favorite STAR TREK series. I can see that and I'd probably far as favorites. BUT...I'm convinced it's the BEST series in terms of the writing and characterization. At its best STAR TREK isn't about the future and outer space, it's about people, and DS9 is far and above the others in terms of the depth given to its people by the writers and actors. DS9 was never afraid to present real change and character growth as opposed to the illusion of change that always ends up back at status quo by the closing credits. One of the best characters on DS9--and in all of Trek-dom--was Kira Nerys.

Major Kira was at first a reluctant ally of Starfleet. She was a former Bajoran freedom fighter forced into her status as the number two officer on a Space Station in a war zone by circumstance. Over the series' seven seasons, Major Kira, played by Nana Visitor, would grow and develop like no character in STAR TREK had done before.

Deceptively "nice" throughout, as brought to the table by the actress and the writers, Kira had a temper, a fierceness that snuck out from time to time and yet vulnerability. She had a spiritual side, a romantic side, a silly side and deep loyalties to those whom she felt had earned them. Also a truly great smile. As the somewhat serialized storyline of DS9 progressed, all the characters changed but Nerys changed most of all and taken in context, it was impressive to watch Nana Visitor pull it off as strongly as she did.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Life of Pat Buttram (So Far) 1941

With GREEN ACRES "Mr. Haney" still a quarter of a century into his future, here's an amusing dialect bio, possibly actually written, as stated, by actor Pat Buttram (who was also Gene Autry's B-western sidekick).

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Goodnight Children...Everywhere


My first exposure to British television was probably Gerry Anderson’s FIREBALL XL-5 back when I was five years old. The US imported quite a few shows from the UK back in the day and I became enamored of THE AVENGERS, THE PRISONER and even DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE. Cliff Richard and the St. Trinians girls turned up regularly on the UHF channels in old movies and staid old PBS (or NET at the time) offered more highbrow fare on MASTERPIECE THEATRE. Eventually they picked up britcoms such as Pauline Collins in NO, HONESTLY! before finally presenting DOCTOR WHO, RED DWARF and MYSTERY! One of my favorite British programmes of late has been LIFE ON MARS.

That said, in spite of starting out with kids’ shows, I knew virtually nothing about the history of UK TV for kids when I ran across Ian Hartley’s 1983 GOODNIGHT CHILDREN…EVERYWHERE at a used bookstore in the early nineties. I was intrigued by the appearance of William Hartnell’s DOCTOR WHO on the cover and purchased it immediately.

The book does a splendid job of capturing the early radio and television world of British children, detailing not only the shows that they listened to but also their reactions to them. One mother wrote the BBC to ask that they not have the sounds of horses’ hooves at the end of a radio show as her daughter became afraid that the horses were about to gallop out of the box! Early, simplistic television shows are given equal time with the sixties puppet shows and even US imports such as THE LONE RANGER and TOP CAT (called BOSS CAT in the UK due to a conflict with the brand name of a cat food.) Familiar personalities are profiled as if they were old friends.

One has to presume that these are the shows and stars that the Beatles and the rest of the British Invasion groups watched and listened to growing up. These are the shows that influenced the people who most influenced pop culture in the sixties.

I didn’t live in this world of Daphne Oxenford, Mr. Pastry and BLUE PETER and reading about it is, in a way, like reading the history of an alternate universe. If you have even a trace of Anglophile in you, however, it’s a most imaginative and wondrous universe! It makes me wish I HAD lived it.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Murder Can Hurt You

This was  a fun TV-movie for anyone who grew up watching the niche detectives of the seventies. It was simultaneously a knowing lampoon of all those shows as well as itself a rip-off of the theatrical hit, MURDER BY DEATH which featured parodies of movie detectives.

Directed by a man with sitcom chops, we get here a lot of sitcom actors and a few surprises, all laughing it up almost MAD magazine style in sometimes dead-on versions of the now classic TV heroes.

TAXI's Tony Danza is "Lambretta," a take on Robert Blake's BARETTA.
ROCKY co-star Burt Young is perfect as the rumpled COLUMBO doppelgänger, "Palumbo."
STARSKY & HUTCH become "Studsky & Hatch" as played by M*A*S*H's Jamie Farr and Kopykat John Byner.
Telly's KOJAK is sent up by that other bald TV favorite, THE LOVE BOAT's Gavin MacLeod.
HEE HAW singer Buck Owens is the Western marshal "MacSkye" as opposed to Dennis Weaver's McCLOUD.
BATMAN'S King Tut, Victor Buono, wheels in as Raymond Burr's Chief IRONSIDE with GOOD TIMES star Jimmie "JJ" Walker as his "pusher."
And finally, HAWAIIAN EYE veteran Connie Stevens replaces Angie Dickinson's Sgt. Pepper as "Salty."

Other TV familiar faces appearing include Richard Deacon from THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, HAPPY DAYS' Roz Kelly, Gunilla Hutton from PETTICOAT JUNCTION and HEE HAW, Marty Allen, Liz Torres and Mason Adams and the whole silly mess is narrated by GET SMART's Don Adams.

MURDER CAN HURT YOU doesn't seem to turn up very often these days but I did catch it again just a couple of years back and found myself laughing at all of its in-jokes and just plain silliness.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Car 54, Where Are Your Comics?

So many of my favorite TV series as a kid had their own comic books. This one ran six issues from Dell (note the fifteen cent price on the first issue!) beginning in 1962.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Bobby Sherman in Concert

HERE COME THE BRIDES star Bobby Sherman was the favorite of my sixth grade girlfriend and I tried to at least dress like him that year myself. Here's an ad I clipped from his sole concert appearance in the Cincinnati area. There was never any talk of this girl and I going. I mean, look at the prices! Five bucks! That was a fortune to an 11 year old! A review at the time pointed out that there were near-riot like conditions, mostly led by just that--11 year old girls!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Bob Shreve Obits

Bob Shreve is a Cincinnati area TV legend having done everything from being our local Bozo the Clown to introducing me to Charlie Chaplin shorts and Three Stooges comedies at the age of two or three when he hosted them in the early evening. He's best remembered for his long-running role as the perhaps slightly tipsy ringmaster of the Past-Prime Playhouse, a live overnight movie show. I was privileged to appear with the zany Shreve on his show as part of a comedy troupe in 1980. We also worked with Bob on a live show at Fountain Square where I snapped the photo below. A few years later, he shopped every so often at the Waldenbooks where I started and it became obvious he could never remember anyone's name so I was always "bud" and "pally" to him, in spite of my nametag. Years later I actually served to seed the Bob Shreve fan club when I provided them with tapes of my appearances on his show that night. It was the first of many tapes that people managed to come up with over the years.

Thursday, March 7, 2013


I was 8 years old when MANNIX went on the air and 16 when it ended. It was a major part of my formative years and still one of THE best TV detective series in my opinion (2nd perhaps only to THE ROCKFORD FILES). MANNIX was created, written by and with a now-classic music score by the folks who brought you COLUMBO and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. The opening split-screen montage was new and impressive for 1967 and the theme was one of the most memorable TV instrumentals of its day. 

Mike Conners, a small-time actor with a forgettable previous TV series, was MANNIX. Mannix was the square peg that didn't quite fit into one of the round holes at the high tech computer detective agency, Intertech, run by Joe Campanella's Lew Wickersham, based not so loosely on Universal's head honcho, Lew Wasserman. 

MANNIX was popular enough to merit a number of tie-ins such as paperback novels, Viewmaster reels, model kits and soundtrack albums.

 From the second season on, with no explanation, Joe Mannix was a more typical PI, complete with Gail Fisher as his secretary and  sometimes sidekick, Peggy.

MANNIX went out on a high note with still good scripts and performances in 1975. Reruns were already going on around the country and continued for many years afterwards before, in more recent years, the series has become available on DVD.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Who Am I This Time?

I had seen THE DEER HUNTER and a few of his smaller roles by 1982 but it was this AMERICAN PLAYHOUSE TV presentation of WHO AM I THIS TIME?, adapted for a Kurt Vonnegut short story, that won me over to Chrostopher Walken. 

Basically this is the story of Helene, Susan Sarandon's character, temporarily in a small town on business. She is asked to audition for the town's local play and reluctantly does so...poorly. Until she meets Harry. Harry stars in all the town's plays. He's a handsome, tough guy, bad boy magnet to women and has fans out the proverbial...except during the 50 weeks or so of the year when he isn't acting. Then he's just the shy, stammering klutzy Clark Kent who sweeps out the local store. 

But he brings out the best in Helene and she thinks that they're really bonding...only to find out that the Harry she loves just doesn't exist between she sets out to change that. 

Low-budget but well-directed by Jonathan Demme with great performances from the two leads which are the only ones that really matter as the rest of the cast is pretty much window-dressing.