Friday, October 20, 2017
Born Isaiah Edwin Leopold in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on November 9, 1886, he ran away from home in his teens and eventually adapted his middle name "Edwin" into his new stage name, "Ed Wynn", to save his family the embarrassment of having a low comedian as a relative. In his youth, Wynn worked as an onstage assistant to W. C. Fields. Fields caught him mugging for the audience during his "Pool Room" routine and knocked him unconscious with his cue. Wynn became a headliner in vaudeville in the early-1910s, and was a star of the Ziegfeld Follies starting in 1914. He was best known as a comedian, billed as The Perfect Fool (and starring in a musical revue of that name on Broadway in 1921). Wynn also wrote, directed and produced many shows. He was famous for his silly costumes and props, and he always worked "clean," making his shows suitable for the entire family.
He hosted a popular radio show, The Fire Chief for most of the 1930s, heard in North America on Tuesday nights, sponsored by Texaco gasoline. Like many former vaudeville performers who turned to radio in the same decade, the stage-trained Wynn insisted on playing for a live studio audience, doing each program as an actual stage show, using visual bits to augment his written material, and in his case, wearing a colorful costume with a red fireman's helmet. He usually bounced his gags off announcer/straight man Graham McNamee; Wynn's customary opening, "Tonight, Graham, the show's gonna be different," became one of the most familiar tag-lines of its time. Sample joke: "Graham, my uncle just bought a new second-handed car... he calls it Baby! I don't know, it won't go anyplace without a rattle!"
By 1930 Wynn was a radio superstar, and he reprised his radio character in two movies, Follow the Leader (1930) and The Chief (1933). Near the height of his radio fame he founded his own short-lived radio network, the Amalgamated Broadcasting System, which lasted only five weeks in 1933.
Wynn was offered the title role in MGM's 1939 screen adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, but he turned down the role, as did his Ziegfeld contemporary W. C. Fields. The part finally went to Frank Morgan. In the late 1940s Ed Wynn hosted one of the first comedy-variety television shows, and won an Emmy Award in 1949. Buster Keaton made guest appearances with Wynn, establishing him in television as well.
After the end of Wynn's television series, his son, actor Keenan Wynn, had encouraged him to make the career change rather than retire. Ed Wynn reluctantly began a career as a dramatic actor in television and movies. The two appeared in two productions: the 1957 Playhouse 90 broadcast of Rod Serling's play Requiem for a Heavyweight. Ed was terrified of straight acting and kept goofing his lines in rehearsal. When the producers wanted to fire him, star Jack Palance said he would quit if they fired Ed. On live broadcast night, Wynn surprised everyone with his pitch-perfect performance, and his quick ad libs to cover his mistakes. Ed and his son also worked together in the Jose Ferrer film The Great Man, Ed again proving his unexpected skills in drama.
Requiem established Wynn as serious dramatic actor who could easily hold his own with the best. His role in The Diary of Anne Frank won him an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor in 1959. Also in 1959, Wynn appeared on Serling's TV series The Twilight Zone in "One for the Angels". Serling, a longtime admirer, had written that episode especially for him, and Wynn later starred in the episode "Ninety Years Without Slumbering". For the rest of his life, Ed skillfully moved between comic and dramatic roles. He appeared in feature films and anthology television, endearing himself to new generations of fans.
Wynn provided the voice of the Mad Hatter in Walt Disney's film, Alice in Wonderland and appeared as the Fairy Godfather in Jerry Lewis' Cinderfella. His performance as Paul Beaseley in the 1958 Jose Ferrer film The Great Mangarnered him nominations for a "Best Supporting Actor" Golden Globe Award as well as a "Best Foreign Actor" BAFTA Award. The following year saw him receive his first (and only) nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Mr. Dussell in The Diary of Anne Frank (1959). In That Darn Cat! (1965) he played Mr. Hofstedder, the watch jeweler. One of his best-known performances during later years was Uncle Albert in Mary Poppins. In addition to Disney films, Wynn was a popular character in the Disneyland production The Golden Horseshoe Review. His last movie was The Gnome-Mobile (1967) in which he played the character Rufus. His role as the toymaker in "Babes in Toyland" is a classic featuring all of his charisma and comedic talent.
Ed Wynn died June 19, 1966 in Beverly Hills, California of throat cancer, aged 79. He was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. His grave marker is beautiful, and it summed up his life...
Saturday, October 14, 2017
Bing’s next stop was the London Palladium for a two-week engagement. Then he and his band went to Brighton where they performed their final performance on October 10. The next day Bing was a guest on the Alan Dell radio show, where he sang eight songs with the Gordon Rose Orchestra. Later that day he posed for photos for the Seasons album. The next day Bing headed for Spain to play golf and die.
On the afternoon of October 14, 1977, Bing was playing at the La Morajela golf course near Madrid, Spain. He finished 18 holes with a score of 85, and with a partner, defeated two Spanish golf pros. After his last putt, Bing bowed to applause and said, "It was a great game." He was about 20 yards from the clubhouse, when he collapsed from a massive heart attack. His three golfing companions remarked that he did not look tired and was even singing around the course, though he seemed to be favoring his left arm near the end of the game. They thought he had slipped. They carried him to the clubhouse, where a physician attempted to revive him, to no avail. Bing Crosby was dead on arrival, at the Red Cross hospital. He was 74.
A few hours after learning of her husband’s death, Kathryn issued a statement, "I can’t think of any better way for a golfer who sings for a living to finish the round." Their son Harry, 19, and the family’s former butler, Alan Fisher, flew to Spain to accompany Bing’s body back to LA.
The most widely heard voice of the 20th Century and maybe all time was silenced on that fateful day on October 14, 1977...
Friday, October 6, 2017
After Raging Bull was completed, Scorsese thought about retiring from feature films to make documentaries instead because he felt "unsatisfied" and hadn't found his "inner peace" yet. He had purchased the rights of a script by film critic Paul D. Zimmerman. Michael Cimino was first proposed as director but eventually withdrew from the project because of the extended production of Heaven's Gate. Scorsese pondered whether he could face shooting another film, particularly with a looming strike by the Writers Guild of America. Producer Arnon Milchan knew he could do the project away from Hollywood interference by filming entirely on location in New York and deliver it on time with the involvement of a smaller film company.
In the biography/overview of his work, Scorsese on Scorsese, the director had high praise for Jerry Lewis, stating that during their first conversation before shooting, Lewis was extremely professional and assured him before shooting that there would be no ego clashes or difficulties. Scorsese said he felt Lewis' performance in the film was vastly underrated and deserved more acclaim.
Robert DeNiro prepared for Rupert Pupkin's role by developing a "role reversal" technique, consisting in chasing down his own autograph-hunters, stalking them and asking them lots of questions. As Scorsese remembered, he even agreed to meet and talk with one of his longtime stalkers. DeNiro also spent months watching stand-up comedians at work to get the rhythm and timing of their performances right. Fully in phase with his character, he went as far as declining an invitation to dinner from Lewis because "he was supposed to be at his throat and ready to kill him for [his] chance."
According to an interview with Lewis in the February 7, 1983, edition of People magazine, he claimed that Scorsese and De Niro employed method acting tricks, including making a slew of anti-Semitic epithets during the filming in order to "pump up Lewis's anger." Lewis described making the film as a pleasurable experience and noted that he got along well with both Scorsese and De Niro. Lewis said he was invited to collaborate on certain aspects of the script dealing with celebrity life. He suggested an ending in which Rupert Pupkin kills Jerry, but was turned down. As a result, Lewis thought that the film, while good, did not have a "finish." In an interview for the DVD, Scorsese stated that Jerry Lewis suggested that the brief scene where Jerry Langford is accosted by an old lady for autographs, who screams, "You should only get cancer," when Lewis politely rebuffs her, was based on a real-life incident that happened to Lewis. Scorsese said Lewis directed the actress playing the old lady to get the timing right.
Even though Jerry Lewis was basically playing himself in the film, he definitely had a good range. Surprisingly DeNiro took a back seat to Lewis in the film. My favorite scene in the film is near the end when a crazed Sandra Bernhard is trying to seduce Jerry. It was pure film gold. The film originally did not make a lot of money, but in recent years it has developed a big following. The movie also showed that Jerry Lewis was a lot more than the slow man-child that he portrayed in most of his films...
MY RATING: 9 out of 10
Friday, September 29, 2017
Greer Garson was born on 29 September 1904 in Manor Park, East Ham, then in Essex, now part of London, the only child of Nina (née Nancy Sophia Greer; died 1958) and George Garson (1865–1906), a commercial clerk in a London importing business. Her father was born in London, to Scottish parents, and her mother was from Drumalore (or Drumaloor), County Cavan. The name "Greer" is a contraction of "MacGregor", another family name.
Louis B. Mayer discovered Garson while he was in London looking for new talent. Garson was signed to a contract with MGM in late 1937, but did not begin work on her first film, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, until late 1938. She received her first Oscar nomination for the role, but lost to Vivien Leigh for Gone with the Wind. She received critical acclaim the next year for her role as Elizabeth Bennet in the 1940 film, Pride and Prejudice.
Garson starred with Joan Crawford in When Ladies Meet in 1941, and that same year became a major box-office star with the sentimental Technicolor drama, Blossoms in the Dust, which brought her the first of five consecutive Best Actress Oscar nominations, tying Bette Davis' 1938–42 record, which still stands. Garson won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1942 for her role as a strong British wife and mother in the middle of World War II in Mrs. Miniver. (Guinness Book of World Records credits her with the longest Oscar acceptance speech, at five minutes and 30 seconds, after which the Academy Awards instituted a time limit.) Also nominated for Madame Curie (1943), Mrs. Parkington (1944), and The Valley of Decision (1945), she frequently costarred with Walter Pidgeon, ultimately making eight pictures with him: Blossoms in the Dust (1941), Mrs. Miniver (1942), Madame Curie, Mrs. Parkington, Julia Misbehaves (1948), That Forsyte Woman (1949), The Miniver Story (1950), and Scandal at Scourie (1953).
In 1951, she became a naturalised citizen of the United States. She made only a few films after her MGM contract expired in 1954. In 1958, she received a warm reception on Broadway in Auntie Mame, replacing Rosalind Russell, who had gone to Hollywood to make the film version.In 1960, Garson received her seventh and final Oscar nomination for Sunrise at Campobello, in which she played Eleanor Roosevelt, this time losing to Elizabeth Taylor for Butterfield 8. Her final role for television was in a 1982 episode of The Love Boat.
Tuesday, September 26, 2017
However, I had the fortune to scrape some pennies together and treat myself to Don Ciccone Sings Brian Gari. A treat it definitely was. Every track, even the radio interviews and audio outtakes, was great to hear.
Don Ciccone was the lead singer and songwriter of The Critters.Ciccone wrote the group’s hit, “Mr. Dieingly Sad,” which reached the Billboard Top 25 in 1966. He later joined Frankie Valli’s Four Seasons from 1973 through 1981 before becoming the musical director and bassist for Tommy James and the Shondells. Don Ciccone had a fabulous voice that was sadly silenced on October 8, 2016 at the young age of 70.
The songs that Don sang were written by Brian Gari. Brian has been in the industry for fifty plus years has written almost 900 songs. He had his first song published at 15 and recorded at 17. He signed with Vanguard Records in 1975 recording for them through 1976. For the next few years he performed his songs in New York comedy and cabaret clubs such as the Ballroom, Reno Sweeney, Catch a Rising Star, the Improv, the Comic Strip and the Copa. All along he was writing what was to become his first Broadway musical, LATE NITE COMIC , which debuted in October of 1987 at the Ritz Theatre (now the Walter Kerr.) The album made Top 10 for film and show albums at Tower Records. His songs have been performed and/or recorded by such artists as Margaret Whiting, the Tokens, Jana Robbins , Kaye Ballard, Lesley Gore., Andrea Marcovicci, and now the late great Don Ciccone.
Don recorded the musical gems over a period of time from 1971 to 1990. Despite the twenty year period, what is great is that Don's voice aged so well. As for the songs, it makes me happy that someone like Brian Gari is continuing to write great compositions. My favorite recording is a surprisingly upbeat - "Where Did The Music Go", but there really isn't a bad song on the album. Other high points of the CD are songs like "Bicycle Ride", "Happy Thoughts", and "I Just Had To Say My Last Goodbye" - which is another favorite of mine.
An added feature is a great radio interview that Don Ciccone had with a young Alan Colmes. Colmes sadly died last year as well. You can see the admiration that Brian Gari had for Ciccone as this CD is lovingly put together. You can also see the admiration that Don had for Brian as he really sang all of the songs here with love and respect. The world is seemingly in chaos now, but this CD shows that beauty and creativity is not dead. The late Don Ciccone would be proud...
MY RATING: 10 out of 10
If you would like to buy a copy of this CD, please order through this link for the $14.99 price:
Friday, September 15, 2017
Thursday, September 14, 2017
You Don't Own Me" was a popular song written by Philadelphia songwriters John Madara and David White and recorded by Lesley Gore in 1963, when Gore was 17 years old. The song was Gore's second most successful recording and her last top-ten single. On November 27, 2016, the Grammy Hall of Fame announced its induction, along with that of another 24 songs.
The song expresses a threatened emancipation, as the singer tells a lover that he does not own her, that he is not to tell her what to do or what to say, and that he is not to put her on display. The song's lyrics became an inspiration for younger women and are sometimes cited as a factor in the second wave feminist movement. Gore said, "My take on the song was: I'm 17, what a wonderful thing, to stand up on a stage and shake your finger at people and sing you don't own me." In Gore's obituary, The New York Times referred to "You Don't Own Me" as "indelibly defiant". The song was Gore's last top-ten single.
The song was covered by Australian singer and songwriter Grace and was released as her debut single. It features American rapper G-Eazy. Grace's version was produced by Quincy Jones, who also produced the original recording by Lesley Gore, and Parker Ighile. It was released on 17 March 2015 one month after Lesley Gore died, and peaked at number one on the ARIA Charts, later being certified 3× Platinum by the ARIA. The song was also a success in New Zealand, peaking at number five for two consecutive weeks, and in the United Kingdom, peaking at number four.
In an interview with House of Fraser, Grace said "[Quincy Jones] told me how the song came out during the feminist movement and how it was such a strong statement. I loved the song, started researching Lesley Gore and fell in love with her as an artist. [You Don't Own Me] really inspired me."
The song was featured in the third trailer for the 2016 film Suicide Squad and appeared on the film's soundtrack album as I wrote earlier. The song was a favorite song of my dad's and he had Leslie Gore's 45rpm of the song. However, it now brings tears to my eyes as I see my daughter sing it. To me the song represents the future of women like my daughter and a better life they will hopefully have...