Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Old lang what?
Auld Lang Syne is a poem written by the Scottish poet Robert Burns in 1788. The literal translation of the title is "old long since" but colloquially it means "long, long ago" or "days gone by".
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Written by Irving Berlin for the 1942 Paramount Pictures musical, Holiday Inn (starring Bing and Fred Astaire), Let's Start The New Year Right was released as the A side of White Christmas (also featured in the film).
Speaking of Guy Lombardo, here's a clip from the 1950's of Guy and His Royal Canadians performing one of their biggest hits, Boo Hoo...
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Monday, December 22, 2008
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the effect that It's A Wonderful Life has on yours truly; no matter how often I watch this movie (and to be honest, I lost track long ago), I still get a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye during the final moments. Today I present a clip of the final nine minutes of the film. I suppose you could skip ahead to the five minute mark, but it won't hurt to watch the whole thing - it might even do your soul some good.
In case you've been living in a cave and have never heard of the movie, I'll set it up for you. George Bailey, played by James Stewart, is a hard working family man who has sacrificed for others his whole life. On Christmas Eve he becomes despondent (I won't go into details but it involves the loss of $8000 through no fault of his own). He starts to think the world would be better off had he never been born. Enter the apprentice angel Clarence who shows George exactly what the world would be like had he never been in it (among the changes: his war hero brother Harry died as a child since big brother George wasn't around to save him from drowing; his four children were never born; his beloved town of Bedford Falls has become the sleezy, seedy town of Potterville). George begins to realize the effect he's had on the world around him. The clip starts at the scene where George realizes his wife Mary, played by Donna Reed, doesn't recognize him.
Yep, it happened again - I've got the sniffles and tears are rolling down my cheeks as I type this. Frank Capra really knew how to tug at the old heart strings, didn't he?
A few actors who are not in this scene are:
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Back when I was a just a wee lad, I absolutely adored Alvin and the Chipmunks. I'm talking about the original version created by Ross Bagdasarian in the late 50's, not the 1980's version and not the 2007 Jason Lee live action film. I loved watching repeats of the early 1960's cartoon The Alvin Show; I had all of their albums (including The Chipmunks See Doctor Doolittle and The Chipmunks Sing the Beatles,) and my pre-adolescent Yuletide was not complete unless I listened to Christmas with the Chipmunks (Volumes 1 and 2) at least 100 times. This morning I received an early Christmas present courtesy of YouTube; a clip from the aforementioned Alvin Show featuring Alvin, Simon, Theodore and David Seville (all voiced by Bagdasarian) performing The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late), the 1958 Billboard # 1 hit (the only Christmas song to reach # 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Pop Singles Chart). I, in turn, offer it to you for your Yuletide enjoyment.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You - Bill Squire
I'm a big fan of old school rap (I've been known to bust out Sugar Hill Gang's Rapper's Delight at the most inappropriate times), and Run-D.M.C. is at the top of my list. Christmas In Hollis was featured in 1987's A Very Special Christmas, the first in a series of compilation albums produced to benefit The Special Olympics. Why I like this video: Mischievous elves, dogs with antlers, Santa leaving $1000,000 in cash, cheesy special effects and a cool beat courtesy of the late Jason Jam-Master Jay Mizell - what's not to love?
From 1979, another low key video featuring Paul, Linda and the band singing, dancing and generally having fun. Why I like this video - I'm a big fan of the Beatles, I like this song, and I'm a sucker for primitive special effects.
Proving that I am one of the gayest straight men on the planet, my final video is this black and white version of Mariah's 1994 hit. Why I like this video- Mini skirts, go-go boots and a black and white retro setting - do I really need to explain further?
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Christmas with the Cartwrights
Direct from 1963 we bring you one of the most bizarre Christmas albums ever recorded; Christmas on the Ponderosa. If you're reading this blog you probably don't need an introduction to Bonanza, the the television western which ran from 1959-1973. The series was a standout during a time when Westerns predominated the television landscape and was in the top 5 rated TV programs for 9 of the 14 seasons it aired (reaching number # 1 for 3 of those seasons). It was a merchandising powerhouse that spawned Ponderosa and Bonanza steakhouses, comic books, action figures, lunch boxes, assorted toys and even a Ponderosa theme park in Lake Tahoe, NV. After the original series ended, there were three TV movies and a short-lived "prequel" series.
With dialogue intermixed with songs, this album plays like a recording of a Bonanza Christmas Variety Show (which unfortunately does not exist). Original cast members, Lorne Greene (patriarch Ben Cartwright), Dan Blocker (middle son Hoss) and Michael Landon (youngest son Little Joe), lend their voices to song and dialogue. Pernell Roberts, who played eldest son Adam. did not take part in the recording session (Ben explains that "he's in St Joe and won't be home until after New Year's") fortunately, they flashback to last year's Christmas party where Adam sang The New Born King (and insert a previously recorded song). Assorted actors playing friends and neighbors join in the party along with The Ken Darby Singers to add some professional voices to the mix (FYI Ken Darby was an Oscar and Grammy Award winning composer, arranger and conductor who wrote the Elvis Presley hit Love Me Tender).
If you're a fan of Bonanza (such as yours truly; among the traits I inherited from my Dad is a love of this show), this album is a must-have. There are some Christmas standards (Hark! The Herald Angles Sing; Deck the Halls; Oh Come, All Ye Faithful and Jingle Bells) as well as some not-so traditional tunes (Lorne Greene performs Stuck In The Chimney with a Swedish accent and Michael Landon tells how Santa Got Lost in Texas). Fortunately, it's still in circulation and a CD can be ordered from Amazon for a mere $6.98. Go out and buy it immediately.
Now, as an added blog bonus, here's a mid-60's recording of the great Johnny Cash performing the theme from Bonanza.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
I love the movie and I love this number in particular. The song is set in the club car of an express train heading north from Florida. I've always had an inexplicable love of trains and one of the great regrets of my life is that I wasn't alive to travel by train during the golden age of passenger rail travel. I suppose it appeals to the romantic in me. Bing, Danny and the girls make snow seem so appealing, don't they? It's a sweet song, not one of Irving's best, but delivered with such sincerity that you can't help but want to run out and frolic in the snow.
Of course, life is always more fun in old Hollywood musicals. The truth of the matter is that I hate winter and snow in particular. Sure, there is great beauty in a country landscape the morning after a snowstorm; the sunshine reflecting off the snow-covered trees, branches dripping with ice cicles. And I'll admit there are a few snow-related activites that I begrudgingly enjoy (sledding, snowball fights, building snowmen and snow forts with my son). And thanks to Irving Berlin, I've been brainwashed into longing for a white Christmas. Still, if I had my way, winter would exit December 26 and take all traces of snow with it. Living in New England as I do, it's unlikely that will ever happen even with Global Warming (speaking of which - as I write this it is 7 degrees outside - damn your lies, Al Gore).
Saturday, December 6, 2008
To enhance your Yuletide enjoyment, I offer this 1986 medley of Christmas tunes performed by the reunited Monkees (Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork). This video was created by MTV and features the music channel's mid-80's crew and staff, including VJs Martha Quinn, Alan Hunter, Downtown Julie Brown (and a couple of others whose names I can't remember - hanging my head in shame). I discovered this accidentally; one more reason why I love YouTube...
Friday, December 5, 2008
As cynical and sarcastic as I am 11 months of the year, when it comes to Christmas, I'm as merry as a school boy and as giddy as a drunken man (to paraphrase the post-conversion Scrooge). I love the cheesy music and the kitschy decorations and the same tired movies and television specials I've watched countless times. I love the traditions and the memories and festive yuletide cheer. Sure, the reality of the season often doesn't match the hype, and the joy is in the build up more so than the actual day, but none of that matters. Yes, it's a time of crass commercialism, but I choose to believe that people really are kinder and more caring this time of year (statistics prove that in the United States at least, the majority of annual charitable donations are made in the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day).
To prove what a sentimental slob I am about the holiday, I freely and publicly admit this: I still get choked up during the closing moments of It's A Wonderful Life when Harry Bailey raises his glass and offers this toast "To my big brother George, the richest man in town" (cue assembled cast singing Auld Lang Syne). Even though I know it's coming, I still weep like a baby.
To kick off the Yuletide festivities here at the Museum, I present a bit of holiday kitsch. Here's a husky-voiced Lucille Ball performing We Need A Little Christmas from the the 1974 film version of Jerry Herman's hit musical Mame:
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Lost Weekend 2008
The past six days have been a blur of sorts; hours of sleep punctuated by periods of coughing, sneezing, shivering, sweltering and just plain being miserable. Finally, under the combined weight of my wife and mother-in-law's nagging, I went to the ER where I was poked, prodded, swabbed and tested. All of the tests came back negative. The prognosis of the ER Doctor? I have some type of "viral crud". I can expect to be better in one to two weeks (talk about non-specific diagnoses). Well, I am finally feeling well enough to focus (at least temporarily). I did manage to go to work for a few hours today. The upside to all this is that I've had absolutely no appetite and have lost six pounds in a week. Mom was right - there is a sunny side to every situation.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Here in New England there is an old tradition in which five kernels of corn are placed at each setting on the Thanksgiving table in remembrance of those less fortunate and as a wish for prosperity in the coming year. This tradition has its source in the struggles of the Pilgrims to survive those first long winters in the New World; at times they were forced to subsist on a daily ration of five kernels of corn. By placing the kernels at a table overflowing with abundance, we remind ourselves of those things for which we are most grateful, and that we should share our good fortune with others.
I love a parade
History tells us that the first Thanksgiving, held during the autumn of 1621, was made possible in part through the beneficence of Tisqantum aka Squanto, the surviving member of the Pawtuxet Indians. For the Pilgrims he acted as wilderness guide, teacher and interpreter. He mediated a peace treaty with the Wampanoag Indians and his assistance helped the Pilgrims survive. Yet it was another Native American, an Abenaki Indian named Samoset, who was the first to encounter the Mayflower's passengers. Samoset spoke limited English, and it was he who introduced the Pilgrims to Squanto, who had spent several years in England and was much more fluent in their language.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Between catching up on things at work and getting ready for the holidays at home, I've been ridiculously busy this week; however, I had to take a minute to wish a happy birthday to Noel Neill, the first actress to portray Lois Lane on film. She appeared as Superman's girlfriend opposite Kirk Allyn in the Columbia serials Superman (1948) and Atom Man Vs Superman (1950) and then reprised the role opposite George Reeves in the 1950's TV classic The Adventures of Superman (beginning with the second season). To a generation of Superman fans, she was Lois Lane.
Noel Neill Fun Fact: according to Larry Thomas Ward, author of Truth, Justice, & The American Way: The Life And Times Of Noel Neill, The Original Lois Lane, the number 2 pin-up girl among WWII GIs (after Betty Grable) was Noel Neill.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
45 years ago today, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. Kennedy, the youngest man ever elected President, was 46. Oswald fired three bullets from a sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository as the President's motorcade passed through Dealy Plaza in Dallas TX. One bullet missed. A second bullet struck JFK, passed through his throat and hit Texas Governor John Connally. The third bullet was a fatal head shot.
In his 2007 book Reclaiming History, Vincent Bugliosi, the famous prosecutor and author, looks at the entire assassination in minute detail. Almost half of the 1600 page tome is an examination and refutation of the various conspiracy theories including a look at some of the other 82 alleged assassins. It is an exhaustive and intricately researched work (including a separate CD containing end notes and source notes) and is mandatory reading for anyone with a serious interest in the subject.
- Americans have grown suspicious of authority and jaded with government. Events over the past four decades prove that those in power will distort the truth and lie to suit their own ends. Starting with George W Bush's claim about WMDs in Iraq it is easy to draw a line of suspicion backwards to Richard Nixon and Watergate and from there further back to disbelief in the findings of the Warren Commission.
- If you lie with enough conviction and frequency, people will eventually believe you. Most of the conspiracy theories are based on distortions of truth, errors in analysis, sloppy research and outright lies.
- For many, John F. Kennedy was the symbol of a new era; call it Camelot or the New Frontier. He was young, smart, photogenic and he inspired a generation of Americans. He was a hero and we need our heroes to die in heroic ways; their deaths should have meaning. In short, we don't want them to be the random acts of lone gunmen; it doesn't fit into our perception of how things works.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
I couldn't let today pass without mentioning my favorite corporate spokesmouse. As the good people at Disney measure these things, Mickey Mouse turns 80 years-old today. That's because Steamboat Willie, the first publicly released cartoon featuring the Mouse opened on this date in 1928. It was actually the third Mickey Mouse animated short . What were the first two? I'm glad you asked...
The Gallopin' Gaucho - Poor Walt couldn't find a distributor for Plane Crazy but that didn't stop him and partner Ube Iwerks from creating this second Mickey short in the summer of 1928. Like it's predecessor, it was a silent film. As the title suggests, it features Mickey and company in a South of the Border adventure.
Monday, November 17, 2008
November 17, 1973
35 years ago today, deeply embroiled in the Watergate Scandal, President Richard Nixon appeared in a nationally televised press conference and uttered the sentence that has become his epithet.
It also provided a catch phrase for Nixon impressionists and impersonators the world over.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Hoagy Carmichael - In the very first Bond novel, Casino Royale, author Ian Fleming describes Bond as resembling this American composer, singer, pianist and actor. Bond's love interest Vesper Lynd remarks "Bond reminds me rather of Hoagy Carmichael, but there is something cold and ruthless." In his third Bond novel, Moonraker, Fleming again has a character note the resemblance describing Bond in this way: "Rather like Hoagy Carmichael in a way. That black hair falling down over the right eyebrow. Much the same bones. But there was something a bit cruel in the mouth, and the eyes were cold" Hoagy Carmichael Fun Fact: His most famous songs, Stardust and Heart and Soul are two of the most recorded American songs in history (who keeps track of this stuff?).
Barry Nelson - He is the first actor (and so far the only American) to portray Fleming's secret agent. He appeared as American agent Jimmy Bond in a 1954 adaptation of Casino Royale for the Television anthology series Climax! I own this but can't bring myself to watch it.
Cary Grant - the suave, debonair star was Fleming's top choice. He doesn't really resemble the author's description of the character though. Anyway - Grant was too big a star and too expensive.
David Niven - the equally suave British actor turned down the role because he felt he was too old (he was 51 when Dr. No began filming). He ended up playing the character in the 1967 comedy adaptation of Casino Royale.
Patrick McGoohan - this American-born actor (who spent most of his life in the UK) was currently starring in the British TV series Danger Man (known as Secret Agent here in the US) and turned down the offer to play 007. A few years later he co-created and starred in the cult classic spy-drama The Prisoner.
Musical Interlude: Speaking of Secret Agent, when it was shown in the USA, a nifty new theme song by singer-songwriter Johnny Rivers was added. Here's Rivers lip-syncing the song on some mid-60's American Bandstand clone.
Richard Burton - the British actor had just won a Tony Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of King Arthur in the musical Camelot. In 1965 he was nominated for an Oscar for his role in the film version of John Le Carre's Cold War drama The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. I wonder if Liz Taylor would have replaced Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder?
Stewart Granger - the British actor was a popular leading man at the time and had even played H. Rider Haggard's famous hero Allan Quatermain in King Solomon's Mines. He might have made a decent Bond.
There you have it the actors who might have been Bond. Sean Connery was chosen and the rest is history.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Because there's something just so gosh-darn irresistible about murderous barbers and human flesh-filled meat pies...
The above clip is from the 1982 production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, the 1979 Tony Award-winning musical by Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and Hugh Wheeler (book).
The character of Sweeney Todd first appeared in The String of Pearls: A Romance, a nineteenth century penny dreadful. Originally, Todd was a barber who murdered his customers for their money (his preferred method was by slitting their throats with a straight razor). In 1973 playwright Christopher Bond gave Todd a tragic back story and turned him into a somewhat sympathetic character motivated by revenge rather than greed. The Sondheim musical is based upon Bond's play.
Todd's accomplice, Mrs. Lovett, the pie shop proprietress who uses her pies to dispose of his victims (said pies being very popular with her unsuspecting customers) was there from the beginning. Later versions have her develop a crush on the barber, but she remains pretty much the same.
Since his first appearance over 160 years ago, the Demon Barber has become a multi-media phenomenon appearing on stage (drama and musical), film (at least 5 versions including 2 silents), television (3 separate productions), radio (in a 1947 CBC dramatization and as a character in an episode of The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes), and dance (in a 1959 performance by The Royal Ballet Company). He even appeared in the pages of a comic book (by Neil Gaiman).
The most recent version is Tim Burton's 2007 film adaptation of the Sondheim musical starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. I finally saw this over the weekend and enjoyed it more than I expected; I'd seen the original Broadway production back when the world was young and was a bit hesitant. I had no idea that Depp could sing - and he has a surprisingly powerful voice (is there anything he can't do?). At times it over-shadowed Carter's softer voice, but both were excellent in their roles. My main complaint was that Burton removed my favorite number, The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
I decided to do some research and it turns out that Bugtussle (or a variation thereof) is the name of at least three real towns:
Oxford, AK, Eureka Springs, AK and Sibley, MO are real too. Silver Dollar City is a theme park in Branson, MO (Paul Henning was a native of Independence, MO and apparently referenced real places in Missouri and Arkansas.). I also found a Pixley in California and Illinois. I'm pretty sure that Hooterville is not real.
Monday, November 10, 2008
I hadn't intended on actually doing a blog about today's birthdays; confession time - birthdays are my fall back when I can't think of anything else to write about (unless of course it's the birthday of a Pop Culture Icon). Nevertheless, the shear number of famous people born today makes it impossible for me not to make note of it:
Winston Churchill - my favorite British Prime Minister
Mabel Normand - Silent movie comedy star who's affair with silent movie director Mack Sennett is the stuff of legend (at least it is among silent movie buffs).
Ellen Pompeo -American actress, star of the medical drama Grey's Anatomy.
Check out the list of people who died on November 10:
Norman Mailer - American novelist, essayist etc etc. I've never read any of Mailer's works from start to finish. The last time I tried was with his 1983 novel Ancient Evenings (I think it was the scene where a young girl performs fellatio on her grandfather that turned me off)
Jack Palance - Rugged, American movie actor known for his tough guy roles (and for the one-handed push ups he performed at the age of 73 as part of his acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor during the 1992 Oscars).
Diana Coupland - British actress best known to fans of British comedy as Jean Abbott on Bless This House.
Julie Hagerty - American stage, screen and TV actress. I especially loved her as stewardess Elaine Dickenson in Airplane! "There's no reason to become alarmed, and we hope you'll enjoy the rest of your flight. By the way, is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?"
Julie Harris - Multiple (five Tonys and three Emmys) award winning stage, screen and TV actress. My favorite Julie Harris movie is The Haunting, Robert Wise's 1963 film version of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House.
Julie Kavner - American actress best known as the voice of Marge Simpson (and her sisters, mother and aunt), and as Brenda Morgenstern in the 70's spin-off comedy Rhoda.
Julie London - Sultry American singer and actress. Her version of Cry Me A River has been known to make grown men weep and turn to Jello. Don't believe me? Check out Julie's cameo in the 1956 musical-comedy The Girl Can't Help It. Poor Tom Ewell never had a chance...
Julie Madison - Bruce Wayne's (aka Batman - as if you didn't know) first comic book girlfriend made her initial appearance all the way back in 1939.
Julie Newmar - Hands down, my all time favorite Catwoman and the runner-up in the 1966 Hottest TV Actress Contest. First place goes to Diana Rigg (aka Emma Peel), of course.
Julie Schwartz - my all-time favorite comic book editor and one of the chief architects of the super-hero revival of the mid 1950s.
Jule Styne - American songwriter/composer responsible for such hits as Gypsy, Bells are Ringing, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Peter Pan, Funny Girl, and most importantly, Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol!