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Thursday, December 31, 2020

Cheaper The Better, Say Some


Baddest Men In The Whole D--n Town

A public's first glimpse of James Cagney in White Heat must have been a startler, as he looks like a deranged Buddha in a passenger seat en route to robbing a train, replete with cold sore on his lip and whatever star looks he had forever passed. The caveman had gone sedentary, and weight gain was result. Cagney could and would trim down where necessitated by dance segments or a part he respected. He didn't respect White Heat beyond a usual committed performance. Why give up good eating to play another bad man? Cagney saw potency in the yarn and knew it would revitalize a stalled career (he'd been in only two since 1945, and one, The Time Of Your Life, flopped dismally), but he'd shun White Heat in hindsight as "cheapjack" and a poor example to youthful watchers. For all of that however, White Heat is first choice of Cagneys you'd show a general audience, it being a most modern and crackling of his vehicles, far and away the one that represents him best in crime mode.

White Heat
seems too an audition, as in … might Steve Cochran be our next Cagney? He was spotlighted in The Damned Don’t Cry a following year, star in fact with Highway 301, also a 1950 release. Latter is a low-budget pearl, done astonishingly for $530K, so even if it clocked but $759K in domestic rentals, plus $845K foreign, the wretched thing still takes profit. Let no one kid you, B’s were alive and well after the war, especially at Warners. Highway 301 was produced by Bryan Foy. What he knew about saving money was mystery still to Scotsmen, though easy to overlook is how well many of his B’s turned out (Foy could also be trusted with something important, like House of Wax). What I savor about Highway 301 is its taking place along an eastern seaboard like real-life robberies said to have inspired the yarn. “Tri-State” gang as menace was exclusive focus here, no stalwarts in opposition (even White Heat had John Archer for reassurance, with Edmond O’Brien gone undercover). Highway 301 just has Steve Cochran plus low lives in support, them and molls picked off one by one by this worst of heavies as each disappoint Steve for one reason or other.

Remember when Metro took licks for making trashy bad apple flix like Rogue Cop? But people want them, they cried, we can’t just do Jane Powell musicals. Highway 301 was a little like that, though I doubt Warners went abashed for placing its shield upon 301 or for that matter, tawdrier ones (Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye … banned in Ohio!). In fact, they were proud enough to Strand-book Highway 301 solo, the Gotham site as much landing strip for gangsters as the Rialto up streets for horror. Insecticide here was enough vaudeville to float the audience in/out on wings of song and comedy, lest Highway 301 nauseate them unduly. In fact, it was the Strand bunch that had cheered White Heat most lustily, Cagney being there one matinee and hiding his face for shame. Interesting how Jim could play his Cody so brutal, then distance himself coyly for natural reaction the perf evoked (kids liked him shooting up the joint). To Highway’s vaude help came headliner Dave Apollon with his mandolin (“remarkably nimble fingering,” said Variety), some singers, a juggler, dancing “with a lifelike female dummy.” One of Apollon’s boys crooned “Mona Lisa,” a hit of the day. Emcee Florian ZaBach made with violin arrangements, him recognized as the fastest fiddler “in history.” I cite these for proof that a Highway 301 was seldom driven alone, vaudeville as here, or at least a second feature (more likely, Highway 301 as tail-end). Modest to extreme where alone, this a reason why loaded bills were needed to make one like this seem a money’s worth.

Chunks of Highway 301 were shot in Winston-Salem, practically home ground for me. Tri-staters rob tellers there, then scoot to hideouts that are Warner backlot located. You almost want a picture like this to be miserly … that way no one’s close-supervising, or caring much. Highway 301 is cruel and grubby as penned, then directed, by Andrew L. Stone. Was he paid by the body count? Steve steps off an elevator to shoot a woman fleeing down stairs from him, an act cold/cruel to make even his “Big Ed” from White Heat seem a square dealer. Appears to me that Cochran’s “George Legenza” was really Ed branching off from Cody Jarrett’s gang to organize his own, a doomed enterprise even if George was sane where Cody was not, him still lacking organizational skills Jarrett had, plus being just too mean to live. By the bye, I hear the term “chop suey” so frequent on screens as to wonder, what actually is it? Are there “chop suey joints” anymore? Seems criminals always ate in them, before or after bank jobs or looting a train. Here then is definition: “A Chinese-type dish of meat stewed and fried with bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, and onions, and served with rice.” Sounds good, but what happens if I walk into a Chinese restaurant and ask for chop suey today? Would it be considered a derisive term? Can’t prepare it myself, so one day maybe I’ll take a chance and try ordering chop suey out. The waiter might at least have seen Highway 301 and serve me accordingly.

Three state governors sat for on-camera intro to Highway 301. Had they got glimpse at what they were endorsing? One was North Carolina’s W. Kerr Scott, who I recognize because our 60’s-built dam and reservoir was named after him. And talk about a down home accent! Scott makes me sound like Noel Coward by comparison. NC theatres made great hay of Scott appearing, let alone Highway 301 taking place at least part-time here. That happened so seldom, you see. I actually watch Highway 301 often (courtesy Warner Archive) and am here to say it is swell by any measure, being boldly shot on barest sets as if daring us to object. You watch this and wonder if other Warner B’s from the period are as good. Alas, most are not. Crime topic was what they did best, as WB couldn’t help getting the genre right. There would be Crime Wave a few seasons later, then The System, both good. Then came Folsom Prison expose, a Communist for the FBI, each cheap as the last, but making up with raw energy. If weaving a Cagney or Bogart from Steve Cochran or David Brian or Frank Lovejoy seemed beyond them, well … blame the times, and incapacity to spend as the firm might have a decade sooner. Pictures like Highway 301 show how a Golden Era was fast eroding, but where mayhem was focus, Warners had few peers, and for these at least, cheapness is an enhancement. Is it safe to say production values are a deterrent to repeat-watching a Highway 301, or ones like it? Stripped-down sometimes makes for a best sit-down, a strongest case B’s make, and primary reason they wear so well.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Why Must Any Movie Appeal To But One Gender?


Critic, Choose Your Weapon

It is given that men must not admire women’s pictures, a truism then, and as much so now. The term since what, the 80’s?, is “chick flick,” as damning as “weeper,” “soaper,” name the poison. To like a woman’s picture was equivalent to embrace of romance novels or “True Love” mags off a newsstand rack. Worse was forfeit of maleness itself should a man endorse films best attended by a fairer sex. Who among them would catch a latest Bette Davis by himself? Ones who saw these at all were presumed to have been dragged there by women. What with men in uniform, 40's femme-centered features took high placement they’d not enjoy again. Soon as the war was over, rules changed for women’s pictures appealing not just to women, this by way of playing rougher and let wronged wives or sweethearts square account with erring mates by whatever violent means was handy. Plus tamp up the sex so that men could enjoy better the suffering of an Ann Sheridan, Gene Tierney, or Lana Turner. What we call “film noir” was to large extent women’s pictures refitted for men back from combat, or boys hardened by account of fighting from father/brothers. Women’s pictures in extremis these were, so much as to seem not like women’s pictures at all, Mildred Pierce a butch heroine pursuing many of things men wanted, money, status, partners useful on practical terms. Leave Her To Heaven and The Postman Always Rings Twice featured women aggressive to a killing point, and what men late of life-death struggle wouldn’t find that engaging?

To Each His Own
, beside these, was lavender and old lace, WWI- set in a small town where a worse thing that can happen to a single girl happens to Olivia De Havilland. Latter being David who publicly slew an industry Goliath (WB) made unwed motherhood pale by comparison, so setting strife a generation back lent conviction where the theme done modern may have seemed smaller matter a resourceful woman might overcome. It was six years after all, plus eternity of wartime, since Kitty Foyle. Dealing with a past was dealing with morality way more rigid, to which some became impatient, even hostile. Critic Herb Sterne: “In theme, To Each His Own is the type of sob saga that today still seeks to rape the lachrymal ducts between the hand-lotion advertisements and the cake recipes of the women’s magazines.” Now there’s a review fairly dripping of condescension, typical of darts thrown at distaff drama. Sterne lauds “atmosphere … carefully sustained,” finding De Havilland “wonderfully effective,” soothing words like candy given a child that’s been punished too severely. If a man reviewed a picture like To Each His Own, he just about had to pull back on praise, or make it faint enough that dogs wouldn’t hear. The gentle-or-not-pan, mildest approval weighted by sarcasm, was all most males had to give where it came to a genre easier to scorn, or at the least, ridicule.

James Agee’s was a moderate voice, but not on behalf of, or even in disapproval, of To Each His Own, him souring the more as 1946 wore on and reference to the film continued to surface in columns the critic wrote. Excerpts from these reveal how drama directed toward women could get under the skin of a man. An initial TIME review (6/17/46), credited to Agee and Hillis Mills, stuck a knife at least part-way in, To Each His Own “a double helping of expertly stewed, exquisitely served corn … in the hallowed, melodramatic tradition of Way Down East.” Had Agee forgot that to scotch melodrama was to do away with the essence of movies? His stab went deeper: “Besides the millions of women it is aimed at, the film may interest students of the fantasy-life of US womanhood in its less attractive aspects.” Fighting words, assuming Agee or any critic was taken seriously for social comment, as opposed to just steering us to, or away from, current films. Something was broiling however, for Agee wasn’t done --- he’d be back to attack To Each His Own on 7/6/46, this time writing for The Nation, “I cannot recommend To Each His Own highly enough to those who can still bear to be interested in what goes on in the cerebral powder-rooms of middle-class American women; or who still care to measure the depths to which some professionals will dive, self-deluded or otherwise, in the effort to profit by the pathological aspects of such women.” Whatever skill To Each His Own displayed, said Agee, was “irresponsibly employed.” Did his wives or girlfriends read this stuff? If so, I bet he spent nights on the couch, or arrived home to find clothes strewn on the lawn.

Again came the critic (8/31/46), his principal focus The Big Sleep, “a violent, smoky cocktail” that offered “nonsensical solace of hard rain on a tin roof.” Apt phrasing, we could all wish to be as fluent, but what made Agee turn a laser on To Each His Own in the midst of this, his defense of The Big Sleep based in part on comparison with “the really bottomless vileness of films like, for instance, To Each His Own, which walk the streets unchallenged and never even pass a serious medical inspection, it seems to me about as toxic as a package of Tums.” Now this is hating a movie bad, but Agee had venom in him yet. Last mention made of To Each His Own was 10/26/46, this time in a review of import The Well-Digger’s Daughter, which also dealt with “the consequences of having an illegitimate child.” Agee admired the French film, thought it forthright and honest, To Each His Own all the more a canker beside it, “so little worth talking about that I will make few more comparisons: let it suffice that from the moment the girl knows she is pregnant she acts like the moral coward nearly everyone in Hollywood and in the audience requires her to be, and that every plot complication and tearjerk from there on proceeds from, and exploits, premises of cowardice, cynicism, and the rottenest kinds of sentimentality.”

Where critic attack is so vicious as this, you begin to wonder if somehow it might be personal. Did To Each His Own strike a nerve in Agee’s own life, a family problem intersecting with the narrative? I’ve known people to turn on a film where it reminds them of a person or event they’d as soon forget. There seems nothing in To Each His Own to merit such outbursts, much less coming back to the topic over a period of months to renew the grudge. To Each His Own is about a nice girl in a small town who meets a WWI flyer, spends a night with him, finds herself in a family way just as word comes that he won’t be back to speak wedding vows. TCM ran To Each His Own in HD some time back and I watched. As melodrama, “woman’s” or not, it is splendidly done, acted finely down the line, scrupulous to the period depicted. Olivia De Havilland transitions from dew of youth to harsh middle age. The actress would refer to hers as a “Madame X” part, fitting because like that one and Stella Dallas, mother love is what makes Each go round. To call De Havilland's "Jody" a “moral coward,” the film vile without bottom, suggests To Each His Own went ferociously afield of occasions where the theme was done before, not the case, however, from where I sat. To Each His Own was well-received for giving its audience a set of conflicts, then a resolution, that would satisfy and send all home assured that no status quo had been challenged. This may be what got Agee's goat. Did he feel it was time we upturned spent standards, in fact all of ones To Each His Own upheld?

I wanted the average 1946 viewer’s response, and again got it from Conrad Lane, though I use “average” advisedly for suspecting few moviegoers of the time were so perceptive as Conrad. He remembers To Each His Own vividly, went with his lately back-from-service brother and latter’s wife to see it. Conrad at sixteen thought To Each His Own was terrific, but how willing was he to share that approval with other boys at school? Mostly it was girls he engaged on the subject, and they were eager to talk about To Each His Own, pleased no doubt to know a boy who would admit liking the movie. It surely took a mighty secure guy to carry banners for To Each His Own. And think of how doing so put him in good with any number of fair classmates he might want to know better. I certainly used Gone With The Wind to that effect at college age, on one occasion running my 16mm print at an all-girl prep school, hundreds of them in attendance, me the only boy. It was like that time Bob Hope bragged of being a night watchman at Vassar. Of course, by the time I came up, they weren’t making movies like To Each His Own anymore. My fixes all came from television --- Intermezzo, Mr. Skeffington, The Heiress. Let the record show I adored them all, still do.

To Each His Own
is much about “judging.” Publicity acknowledged it, plus suffocating morality observed twenty-five years before, distance which made situations palatable. Old times were not better times in this context. Out-of-wedlock childbirth was messy still … consider Ingrid Bergman’s upcoming scandal … and To Each His Own being Code-blessed meant De Havilland suffered plenty for transgressing. Was/is there such a thing as “Love Too Exquisite To Last,” as if a really good tumble must always be punished somehow? It amuses me to think of how stars and studios put across stuff like this while pursuing libertine lives offscreen, depending, of course, on how powerful or insulated from consequence they were. Syrup poured over sin was often a theme song purred by whatever crooner “understood,” in this case Tony Martin, whose To Each His Own platter was lobby-given to “The First 200 Ladies” in attendance (so what if a guy wanted one, would he be marched out of doors as a disgrace to his gender?). Offscreen familial spat between Olivia De Havilland and sister Joan Fontaine lent To Each His Own further frisson. A still taken at the Academy Awards banquet (Olivia won) suggests she snubbed Joan when the latter came forward to congratulate. Both acknowledged later that this was indeed the case, a feud to flash on/off forever. Lots of lore is out there on To Each His Own, producer Charles Brackett’s diary as edited by Anthony Slide and published in 2014 (It's The Pictures That Got Small: Charles Brackett on Billy Wilder and Hollywood's Golden Age), plus the classic survey of director Mitchell Leisen’s career by David Chierichetti. To read these is to feel you were on board for whole of production and release of To Each His Own, film history beautifully told.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

A Devil's Island Christmas


We're No Angels (1955) a Holiday Evergreen

A nice seasonal offering. I campus-played it not many years ago and the students liked it. Bogartians ignore or renounce We're No Angels as a stagy and unworthy thing done toward the end, but I'll bet he enjoyed the job better than most during the 50's. Bogart learned from The African Queen that an untapped audience, broader than he’d known before, was there and waiting to watch him work, given format beyond crime or dark topic. His casting in Sabrina was enabled by Queen, plus an Academy Award that proposed him for broader things. The 50’s may be where Bogart captured his widest popular audience, as in no one need be nervous going to see him. Was return to perceived type in The Desperate Hours a welcome one? Based on remarks he made at the time, Bogart suspected not. We’re No Angels is him settling comfortably into comedy, a garden I envision Bogart tilling often had fate been kinder (plan for he and Bacall to do what became Top Secret Affair … there were even costume tests). We’re No Angels dresses Bogart and fellow angels (Peter Ustinov, Aldo Ray) in more/less pajamas, or attire as lounge-fitting. There is little outdoor work, virtually everything interior and dialogue-driven. It must have seemed to Bogie like being back on Broadway, minus the night work.

His part is that of benign crook, a role assumed over and again for radio guest sketches and personal apps. In fact, Bogart had played hoodlums, if at all, for comedy since the war (even at eve of conflict, All Through The Night), entertaining troops, though limited there as what could he do but parody the tough persona? There was TV opposite Jack Benny, the trench coat again to comic effect. Was it harder taking The Desperate Hours serious for his spoofing bad men so long? "Maybe I'm getting too old to play a hoodlum," was Bogart's answer to that film's tepid response from critics and public ($1.6 million in domestic rentals, well below what 50’s Bogart had been realizing). Anybody’s Christmas movie tended to become their best-remembered movie, J. Stewart with It’s A Wonderful Life, Crosby and White Christmas. Barbara Stanwyck said late in life that fan letters she received were mostly about Christmas In Connecticut. We're No Angels being plugged into TCM holiday schedule ties it closer to Yule ornaments, a cheery gift to unwrap each year. Better still is how We're No Angels looks, wide and lush color-rendered as 1955 saw it. Appearance of movies, as of people, is everything.

We're No Angels
had played legit as My Three Angels (1953-54) to 344 performances, where Walter Slezak had Bogart's part, Jerome Cowan and Darren McGavin in the Ustinov/Ray spots. Plays were still a safest source for ready-made properties, this one needing little for translate to movies. Paramount spent but $1.6 million to accomplish that. Bogart would probably have been paid around $200K for his end, or a percentage to assure at least that. He was relaxed and adept with the comedy, a good teammate to Ustinov and Aldo Ray. We're No Angels gets a mid-point goose when Basil Rathbone enters the fray as a Scrooge-like relation who's a threat to sympathetic Leo G. Carroll and Joan Bennett. The three Angel's disposal of villainy was surely negotiated in minute detail with Code watchers, as it comes close to getting away with murder --- in fact, two murders. We're No Angels brought $2.7 million in domestic rentals to Paramount, that plus reasonable foreign income would have put it in profit. There were two NBC network runs, the first on 12/9/64, these good for $200 or so K. The show now streams off several platforms in HD and looks like a million. There is also a Blu-Ray recently released.

Monday, December 21, 2020

All Aboard For Trips Backward


Nostalgia --- Theirs and Ours

Heritage Auctions does a publication called “Intelligent Collector,” which may by its name be a misnomer, for how intelligent is it to OCG (Obsessive-Compulsive-Gather) when heirs will fertilize auctions or yard sales with what we leave behind? I call Heritage the intelligent ones, for depending on how long they stay in business, a same “rare” and “sought-after” lobby card for The Maltese Falcon will freshly sell one generation after another as respective owners pass. Perceptive hoarders say we are mere custodians of treasure, that all of it scatters again eventually. I’ll not belabor collecting today, have done so previous to numbing effect, but will point up an article in the latest Heritage issue titled “Sweet, Sweet Nostalgia,” premise of which reads, “Collectibles give us some degree of comfort in an otherwise topsy-turvy world.” Settled is the world being topsy-turvy, flocks taking daily refuge in the past. Call it a nostalgia pandemic if your humor leans dark. I find myself lately startled by old movies where people shake hands and hug and have parties. A lot of us are drawn to classics because they show life as it was and will not be again. Never has that been more the case than now. I always flattered myself that interest in antique film was studied as opposed to superficial, not an escape, but a serious embrace of things past, nothing so lightweight as “nostalgia.” Given present circumstance, however, it has become for me, and many … an escape.

Nostalgia is, always was, ingrained in us. Maybe not so much 150 years ago when life from start to finish was mere struggle to stay alive. Oh, to relive magic childhood digging for turnips, then dying young because a rabid dog bit you. So when did nostalgia get hold? Surely not before the Civil War. Soon as creators could express themselves on film, they did so in terms of nostalgia. Think again of One Sunday Afternoon, The Happy Years, a list gone on and on. Literature was there long before movies. Mark Twain used Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer to detail his own past. There are two kinds of nostalgia, then … theirs and ours. Sometimes theirs becomes ours. Like with old time radio that celebrants don’t remember first-hand, but celebrate anyway. Or me sat in at age twenty with old men reliving cowboys and serials, them all gone now. As mentioned before, their nostalgia became my nostalgia. Still is, for why else do I watch Spy Smasher? Walt Disney concocted oceans of nostalgia for us, but also for himself. Pollyanna in 1960 was an intensely personal project, being set in an era when Walt grew up. It fairly oozes memory, his, not ours. First edit ran 134 minutes, but Disney would not let director David Swift trim a frame … too precious a scrapbook was this. We sat restless as result, and Pollyanna did less than was hoped, a “their” that would not translate to “our.” But then 1961 brought The Parent Trap, ultimate “ours” among cheeriest of live action experiences to come from Disney. Scenes still play in my head. Latter-day saw remakes and sequels to exploit nostalgia for The Parent Trap that peaked in the 80’s, sustained through the 90’s, strung even to a 2020 reunion short for 1998’s one-of-numerous reboots.

Old enough favorites must give way to new, or at least newer. The first Parent Trap blows out 60 candles soon, enough finally being enough. Time we headed for the barn and let the ’98 cast reminisce. Sixty years after all … that’s like doing a 1925 Phantom Of The Opera reunion in 1985, Mary Philbin all alone to take bows. Who survives of Parent Trap ’61 other than Hayley? More instance of theirs becoming ours: American Graffiti and Animal House. Graffiti came out (1973) amidst thrust of 40’s swing to middle-agers, TV crowded with Time-Life album sets pitched by couples old (to me at the time), but not so old as to be pathetic. And I sure respected their music. Beside it, Graffiti stuff sounded punk. I was old enough to remember ’62, but young enough not to get misty over it. Levels of nostalgia for American Graffiti would multiply to become a precious artifact of 1962 and 1973. There may even be one or two more Graffiti cast reunions before tides go forever out. Pop/rock band Chicago did a 1975 hit, Old Days, their lament for 50’s past conveyed by fairly aching lyrics, “darkened dreams of good times gone away.” I bought the single, being a fan (Old Days reached #5 on Billboard’s Hot 100). Here were emblems of anything-go 60/70’s wanting nothing more than to go back to their innocence. The 70’s was a crest for rear-viewing, as though everyone at once realized they were older and needed to take stock. Fun times of yore were best liked, evidence Graffiti, then close cousin Animal House, a harder dose (R-rated) we were ready for by SNL-saturated 1978. House took place in the early 60’s, seemed current but for relic cars and poodle skirts, plus inevitably, the music track, old tunes by now embedded as best tunes, many agreed that anything was preferable to bane-of-late 70's disco. Older folk who remembered and younger ones who disdained current fads found common ground with Animal House.

Animal House
was another to wax nostalgic, then usher waves of nostalgia for itself. Could modern crowds be roused as in 1978-79? Oops, used the word “crowd,” a term now quaint as “audience,” or “theatres.” I guessed when it was new that Animal House would become a sort of ultimate campus movie, booked for weekends to kingdom come. That prospect folded on 3/5/82 when John Belushi died, nostalgia hard put to bear reality so harsh. Surrender to a preferred past won’t stand clutter. Speaking of ado over music, its overtake of movies a given, is there anything so unexpected as vinyl outselling CD’s? 62% of all physical music revenue, they say. That must mean young people are buying, but why? To co-op my youth? Talk about living in someone else’s past. I want a demonstration of records sounding better than discs. Can’t return the favor, however, by showing 16mm (or even 35) capacity to beat digital, cause for me, it just ain’t so. Theirs/Ours again, brooms forever sweeping way. So where are model railroads, an ultimate “theirs,” or so I assumed. New-minted collectors, like for vinyl, may Christmas shop at the sole “directly owned” Lionel Train retailer in the United States, located in Concord, NC (will withhold double exclamation mark within these parentheses). A part of me would drive there (88 miles), observe buyers, and ask, Whose nostalgia is this anyway? There must be more devotees than I figured, even if but a few more. Do pilgrims now come to Concord like miracle seekers to Lourdes or the Vatican?

Theirs: Star Trek, the original series, and passed. Star Wars, the first three, passing fast, may-be past too. Certain movies that obsess, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for random example, unending fuss as to owners muffing one transfer after another, to which I would ask, is it principle of the G.B.&U thing, or do fans really intend to keep watching those three hours right to their own showdown with eternity? I await delivery of Warner Archive’s fresh The Curse of Frankenstein, looking better than ever they say. It will please because I never had illusion of Curse being other than cursed visually, first drive-in exposure in 1968 a fast-faded one. Not the memory, the print itself. Anything upward of that will be vast improvement. Theirs/Ours/Mine: Cartoons, Our Gang, Universal horror. How many who saw these first-run grew up to bask further in them, collect them? I’ve suspected it was mostly, if not overwhelmingly, a 1950's-1970’s group. Television accomplished that, a non-stop feed. Try reviving Our Gang today, or cartoons, at least ones I cared about. Great nostalgia while they lasted, for those who recalled them new, theirs becoming ours to spectacular affect. Nothing draws comment at Greenbriar like The Three Stooges or Abbott-Costello, long ago kid show hosts a common thread whenever chat concerns comedy and cartoons. Should TCM use an on-air clown or barker to really bring back Saturday and after-school programming? TCM is featuring Laurel and Hardy this month, me poised with VCR to check transfers, critical of each for nit-pickiest of reasons. Armchair archivism. Focusing on prints rather than performance. I’m calmest watching 8mm, so maybe should stick to those.

Eddie Cantor Contemplates His Personal Gallery of Greats

Was “their” nostalgia richer? Eddie Cantor would have said yes. Twilight years for him were spent saluting greats he had known and worked with. Old songs got reprised by Eddie on the Colgate Comedy Hour. He and wife Ida peruse a scrapbook as Eddie tells again what fabulous entertainers he had the honor to befriend. Among last things Cantor did was As I Remember Them, a book of short chapters dedicated to colleagues who became legends. Eddie’s nostalgia was like nobody’s that ever lived, at least in fields of show business. I also read Ralph Bellamy’s memoir, When The Smoke Hit The Fan. He reminisced about a long career on stage and in films. Bellamy came up slow, went hungry between uncertain jobs, had his own stock company for a while, learned ropes a hardest way. Born in 1904, he experienced acting from all angles, every media. Bellamy’s generation understood the craft by means unique to that period, having worked legit, road companies, movies, radio, television, whatever format emerged through the twentieth century. Ralph Bellamy had pals he invited to share memories, expand on accounts he gave of shared adventures, thus input from James Cagney, Edgar Bergen, George Burns, Lillian Gish, Bob Hope, Walter Kerr, King Vidor, many more. Each recall Good Old Days they knew. For instances: Milburn Stone tells of medicine shows that came to his boyhood town, how they operated, who got fleeced. Dore Schary entertained in the Catskills, wrote skits, performed, tells all about it. Nostalgic icing on Bellamy’s cake. They must have liked Ralph plenty to kick in so eloquently. He was a writing host inviting all and sundry to fill in detail from every field of entertainment. No source captures “their” nostalgia so vividly. These people got the best of a most colorful era in show business. What we are heir to is their precious memories and whatever we can generate for our own. Either way yields a feast, theirs or ours.
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