Monday, August 25, 2008

VAN JOHNSON'S BIRTHDAY AND 42ND STREET




Today is Van Johnson's 98th birthday. and today was the premiere on Broadway of "42nd Street"produced by David Merrick at the Winter Garden Theatre back in 1980. Speaking of the The old trooper first, however, Van was the star of such films as "Everybody Dance" "Till The Clouds Roll By" and of course "Brigadoon" lives now in quiet retirement in New York. His acting career began in earnest in 1936 in the Broadway revue New Faces of 1936. In 1939, he landed a part in Rodgers and Harts Too Many Girls in the role of a cute college boy (after being Gene Kelly's understudy in Pal Joey). RKO then signed him to a short-term contract to star in the film adaptation of the play which became Johnson's film debut. Good old MGM picked up his contract from RKO soon after and cast him in several bit parts. In 1942, while en route to a preview screening for Keeper of the Flame, he was involved in a car crash that left him with a metal plate in his forehead. Fate? Maybe! This little accident exempted him from service in World War II. After this incident, MGM built up his image as the "all-American boy" by co-starring him in films with June Allyson and Esther Williams, among others. He also had serious roles in films such as "A Guy Named Joe", "A Week-End at the Waldorf, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo and that war classic "Battleground". In the 50's, Johnson even made a very memorable appearance on "I Love Lucy". Johnson left MGM for Columbia Pictures to co-star in The Caine Mutiny (1954) to much acclaim. (His scar from the car crash is very visible in this film.) He also enjoyed one of his most memorable leading roles in the 1954 musical Brigadoon, with Gene Kelly. In 1955, Johnson made a memorable appearance on I Love Lucy.Since 1960, his film career has been minimal. Johnson guest-starred on television shows such as Batman, Here's Lucy and The Love Boat and in the mini-series Rich Man, Poor Man. In 1985, he enjoyed something of a comeback. He toured with the hit Broadway musical La Cage aux Folles and appeared in a supporting role in Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo.For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Van Johnson has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6600 Hollywood Blvd. The story of the premiere was amazing. Here was this incredible musical that was opening to rave reviews and good old David Merrick steps up to the mike after all of the applause and announces .. "But this is tragic..." He went on to say that Gower Champion had died that very afternoon. Good old publicity hound Merrick had kept this quiet from everyone except book writer Michael Stewart-- even the young girl in the cast that Gower was having an affair with at that time! All for publicity! David Merrick was a creep-- a piece of work. Some day I should attempt a musical on this creep-- it might just sell.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

LOST GENIUS

Who could forget "Singing In The Rain" Here is Gene in that classic scene!





We lost today what I might call the world's greatest lyricist of all times. Oscar Hammerstein was the pioneer of everything that musical theatre holds dear today. Before Hammerstein, Broadway musicals had meaningless little trifle stories and plots upon which great songs were hung. The story meant nothing but a means to the end to get a great song to the audience. Oscar began this tradition with "Showboat" in 1927 with the incredible Jerome Kern. Oscar died on this day in 1960. I was thirteen years old at the time. Little did I know how much influence this amazing man was going to have on my very own life. Broadway mourned Oscar's passing by darkening all the lights in the Broadway community (the first time this had been done since World War II) for one whole minute. Imagine that! The second gentleman featured on the page today is playwright/screenwriter Sydney Howard. Mr. Howard wrote a little play that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1924 called "They Knew What They Wanted". It was the story of an Italian grape grower who woos a woman in a letter to get her to marry him but has supplied her with another man's picture with his correspondence. She arrives, finds out the truth, but forgives him and marries him. Later when she has had relations with one of the man's stewards and becomes pregnant, he forgives her and remains married to her, regardless. Funny thing, that play was later the basis of the Frank Loesser Broadway musical, "The Most Happy Fella" Sidney's biggest kudo came with winning the Academy Award for adapting the Margaret Mitchell novel "Gone With The Wind". But due to a tragic tractor accident on his farm, that happened on this day in 1939, Mr. Howard never got to see that award. To this day, however, posthumously or not, he is the only individual to win both the Pulitzer Prize and the Academy Award. Today also would have been Gene Kelly's 96th birthday. What an incredible entertainer. Now, I'm sure, he's teaching the angels how to dance! A real funny thing: the last movie he did while alive was "Xanadu"-- an amazing flop! But today, the Broadway musical version continues to play to big audiences. I was sorry to learn that Stephen Schwartz's revival of the new production of "Godspell" has been delayed to the pulling out of a major investor. And so the show will NOT go on as planned. I am surprised. Stephen is the hottest ticket on Broadway these days with "Wicked" approaching it's five year anniversary at the Gershwin Theatre in New York. And bad economy or not, "Godspell" is still a wonderful and very established show. Interesting note: There will be a special Broadway concert on October 14th at the Gershwin called "The Yellow Brick Road: The Roads Not Taken" in which all of the cut songs and scenes from the original incarnations of the Wicked musical before 2003 will be presented in a special one night charity concert. Stephen, I am told is busy at work dusting off these forgotten treasures and orchestrating them all-- it just goes to show you-- composers must never throw anything away and they must keep everything they write properly filed and ready to go--just in case. This is going to be a major fundraiser!

Friday, August 22, 2008

A VISIT TO THE PAST

This is the present day Santa Monica Pier and the new Pacific Park amusement comple. It should not be confused with the classic Pacific Ocean Park that oopened on July 27, 1958 and was on a totally different pier a mile south of this. For a while Pacific Ocean park really competed with dear old Disneyland. This park although much smaller has a lot of charm and color.





Yesterday, August 21st, John Nugent and I decided on a day at the Santa Monica Beach. It was a beautiful summer's day on the sand and on the pier which is pretty damn amazing. It simply has more life and more color and more characters than you will ever meet anywhere. We had packed a really nice lunch and cold drinks and sat out in the sun for a couple of hours. Then we walked to the pier and played some amusement games and actually played 9 holes of miniature golf. I hadn't played miniature golf in at least 6 years. The concert that evening was really wonderful. First there was Gerry & The Pacemakers who's amazing hits from the 1960's were "A World Without Love" and "Don't let the Sun Catch you Crying. As unfathomable as it seems from the distance of over 30 years, for a few months, Gerry & the Pacemakers were the Beatles' nearest competitors in Britain. Managed (like the Beatles) by Brian Epstein, Gerry Marsden and his band burst out of the gate with three consecutive number one U.K. hits in 1963, "How Do You Do It," "I Like It," and "You'll Never Walk Alone." If the Beatles defined Mersey beat at its best in early 1963, Gerry & the Pacemakers defined the form at its most innocuous, performing bouncy, catchy, and utterly lightweight tunes driven by rhythm guitar and Gary Marsden's chipper vocals. Compared to the Beatles and other British Invasion heavies, they sound quaint indeed. That's not to say the group were trivial; their hits were certainly likable and energetic and are fondly remembered today, even if the musicians lacked the acumen (or earthy image) to develop their style from its relentlessly upbeat and poppy base. Gary formed the group in the late '50s featuring himself on guitar and lead vocals, his brother Fred on drums, Les Chadwick on bass, and Arthur Mack on piano (to be replaced in 1961 by Les McGuire). They worked the same Liverpool/Hamburg circuit as the Beatles, and ran neck and neck with their rivals in local popularity. They were signed by Epstein in mid-1962 (the first band to do so besides the Beatles), and began recording for the EMI/Columbia label in early 1963, under the direction of producer George Martin. Their first single was a Mitch Murray tune that Martin had wanted the Beatles to record for their debut, "How Do You Do It?" The Beatles did record a version (found on the Anthology 1 release), but objected to its release, finding it too sappy, and in any case more interested in recording their own, gutsier original compositions. It suited Gary's grinning, peppy style well, though, and went to number one before it was displaced from the top spot by the Beatles' third 45, "From Me to You." But there was more: next came Peter & Gordon-- wow do you remember "Lady Godiva" "A Knight In Rusty Armor" and "Woman" which was really written by Paul McCartney under a pseudonym. Then surprises: The Tremeloes performed "Silence is Golden" and Joan Baez made a special appearance. It was really a wonderful day.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

WE REMEMBER A LYRICIST AND A BOMBSHELL




In 1983 on this date, the world lost an amazing artist: a lyricist by the name of Ira Gershwin. Think of the songs "Fascinating Rhythm" "Swanee", "Someone To Watch Over Me" "Our Love is Here To Stay" and with guys like Arthur Schwartz ("I'll Guess I'll Have To Change My Plan") and Jerome Kern ("Far Away & Long Ago")Wow what an amazing life! While his younger brother, George began composing and "plugging" in Tin Pan Alley from the age of eighteen, Ira (believe it or not, folks) worked as a cashier in his father's Turkish baths. What an artist must start off doing can be out right amazing! It was not until 1921 that Ira became involved in the music business. Alex Aarons signed Ira to write the music for his next show Two Little Girls in Blue with co-composers Vincent Youmans and Paul Lannin. His lyrics were well received and allowed him to successfully enter the theatre world with just one show. Not too bad in any one's dictionary! Well, It was'nt until 1924 that Ira and George teamed up to write the music for their first Broadway hit, Lady, Be Good! Once the brothers joined together, their combined talents became one of the most influential forces in the history of American Musical Theatre. Together, they wrote the music for over twelve shows and four films. Some of their other more famous works include "The Man I Love", "Summertime" and "They Can't Take That Away from Me". Their partnership continued up until George's sudden death from a brain tumor in 1937. Ira was simply devastated and he could barely function. There are reports that I read that say he never again believed in God. My favorite story is that George and Ira were writing songs for a little picture called "The Goldwyn Follies of 1938" when George collapsed and died. The picture which was producer Samuel Goldwyn's first use of Technicolor starred Adolph Menjou, The Ritz Brothers and Edgar Bergen and Charlie Mccarthy plus some small time new performers. There was still one melody left for the picture and after about a month had passed, the MGM studio was getting really impatient and antsy about Ira finishing the lyric. They kept calling him. "Please, Ira, we need that lyric!" The picture was going to be released in February of 1938 and this was August of 1937. Ira wrote the lyric not intended as a love song for a married couple or a couple of lovers-- oh no-- this song was a love song from one brother to another. The song was "Our Love is Here To Stay" And if you haven't looked at those lyrics lately, I suggest that you do. ("In time, Gibraltar may tumble, the Rockies may tumble: they're only made of clay, but our love is here to stay." Wow! Following his brother's death, Ira waited nearly three years before writing again. After this interlude, he teamed up with such accomplished composers as Jerome Kern (Cover Girl), Kurt Weil (Where Do We Go from Here?, Lady in the Dark), and Harold Arlen (A Star Is Born). Over the next fourteen years, Ira continued to write the lyrics for many film scores and a few Broadway shows. But the failure of Park Avenue in 1946, a 'smart' show about divorce, co-written with composer Arthur Schwartz, was his farewell to Broadway . As he wrote at the time, "Am reading a couple of stories for possible musicalization (if there is such a word) but I hope I don't like them as I think I deserve a long rest." Ira died on August 17, 1983, fifteen years ago and is now interred in the Westchester Hills Cemetery, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. Together, the Gershwin siblings left behind a legacy that would help shape American Musical Theatre. Solely, Ira played a huge part in bringing about a new type of song lyric: a smart, witty, vernacular style that the common man could relate to and enjoy. And now we move on to the bombshell. Today would have been the 118th birthday of the one and only Mae West. My cousin was the cinematographer on her very last picture called "Sextette". Dear God! It took the poor thing two hours to do one scene! But in her golden days, Mae West was absolutely beautiful and incredibly amazing. On the premiere of "Catherine The Great" Mae quipped to the opening crowd "Catherine had over four hundred lovers-- I did what I could in a couple of hours!" Her classic pictures with WC Fields was simply one of the funniest pictures ever. Personal wise, John and i continue our marketing efforts. So keep your fingers crossed.

Friday, August 15, 2008

A VISIT TO THE REAGAN LIBRARY

An Aeriel shot of the Reagan Library-- Beautiful!



Yesterday, the 14th,John Nugent and I took a little trip to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. I must tell you that I came away from this most beautiful and classy place with a profound new respect for Ronald Reagan, our 40th president. I was reminded and educated on just how many amazing things he did for this country in two terms as our president. The Berlin wall came down during his administration and Russia went from "the evil empire" to our friend. What a difference a few years make. I also came away with a new profound respect for dear Nancy Reagan. My goodness, what an amazing lady. She was a very classy first lady and supported her husband in so many ways. She had style, originality, dedication and courage you would not believe. Reviewing the assassination attempt on Reagan's life in March of 1981, I was amazed to discover just how close Ronald Reagan came to death during his hospitalization. Ronald Reagan made an ultimate journey from his hometown in Dixon, Illinois to California. I was reminded of a great quote by his dear friend and fellow actor Jimmy Stewart who summed it up best "Only in American can a man begin by being second banana to a chimpanzee and in his same lifetime become President of the United States" Of course, the chimpanzee reference is of his "Bonzo" movies that he made in the 1940's. Here are some other facts that I learned The actual construction of the library , itself began in 1988, and the center was dedicated on November 4, 1991. The dedication ceremonies were the first time in United States history that five United States Presidents gathered together in the same place: Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush. On that historic day, six First Ladies also attended: Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, and Barbara Bush.When the Reagan Library opened it was the largest of the presidential libraries (with roughly 153,000 square feet).It held that title until the dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas on November 18, 2004. With the opening of the 90,000-square-foot Air Force One Pavilion in October 2005, the Reagan Library reclaimed the title in terms of physical size; however, the Clinton Library remains the largest presidential library in terms of materials (documents, artifacts, photographs, etc.). Like all presidential libraries since that of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Reagan Library was built entirely with private donations, at a cost of 60 million dollars. For fiscal year 2007, the Reagan Library had 305,331 visitors, making it the second-most visited presidential library, following the Lyndon B. Johnson Library; that was down from its fiscal year 2006 number of 440,301 visitors, when it was the most visited library. The Reagan Library, under the authority of the Presidential Records Act, is the repository of presidential records for Reagan’s administration. Holdings include 50 million pages of presidential documents, over 1.6 million photographs, a half million feet of motion picture film and tens of thousands of audio and video tapes.The Library also houses personal papers collections including documents from Reagan’s eight years as Governor of California. Also a surprise when I got home was a job lead for Pre-Paid Legal. So we shall see where this leads. I also went to see my old friend J. Eric Schmidt and finally met his kids who are now sixteen year old twins. Eric looks better than ever, laid back, money secure and is sitting on top of the world with damn little worry. He dis everything right! I was happy for that, but a wee bit jealous--oh well! I was sorry to hear that his dad (who is so wonderful) is dying of brain cancer. Well, acceptance of that is tough, but Eric has had his parents much longer than I got to hold on to mine. Today the 15th is the feast of the Assumption of my heavenly Blessed Mother-- of whom I am very devoted. She has intervened so many times in times of trouble for me.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

WE REMEMBER ALFRED HITCHCOCK


Today would have been the 108th birthday of the master of suspense. Mr. Alfred Hitchcock. Well, everybody knows about his most famous pictures that he made like "Psycho" but here are a few fun facts:
Number #1 --Hitchcock had an intense dislike of egg yolk. He once said:
"I’m frightened of eggs, worse than frightened, they revolt me. That white round thing without any holes … have you ever seen anything more revolting than an egg yolk breaking and spilling its yellow liquid? Blood is jolly, red. But egg yolk is yellow, revolting. I’ve never tasted it."

Biographer Patrick McGilligan confirmed Alfred Hitchcock's avoidance of eggs
while noting that the director had actually tried them as a young man, then discovered he didn't like them. He was especially annoyed by poached eggs His daughter Patricia, however, stated that "He loved souffl├ęs."Hitchcock references his distaste for eggs in the film "Sabotage," in which a character expresses a similar opinion.Hitchcock also had a serious fear of the police, which was the reason he said he never learned to drive. His reasoning was that if one never drove, then one would never have an opportunity to be pulled over by the police and issued a ticket. However, Patrick McGilligan wrote that "though Hitchcock pooh-poohed driving, insisting to interviewers that he didn't even know how, he often chauffeured his daughter to school at Marymount [a private academy for girls, and for a long time drove her to Sunday Mass." His fear of the police can be attributed to a circumstance encountered by Hitchcock in his youth, which he told a number of interviewers and mentioned in the PBS documentary The Men Who Made the Movies. In an attempt to punish Hitchcock for an instance of misbehavior, Alfred's father detailed in writing that the young Hitchcock had engaged in some form of childish mischief. Hitchcock's father then handed the description to Alfred, sending him to the local police station to demonstrate his wrongdoing. In response to the written notice, the on-duty police officer immediately brought Hitchcock to an empty cell and locked him there for a full 10 minutes, citing the justification for this action as a means to reprimand the young boy. Undoubtedly, history has recorded this incident as scarring. This perhaps influenced his signature theme in his movies where an innocent person would become entangled in the web of another guilty person's behaviour. This can be noted in many of his films, and a possible reason would be due to his hatred for authority and his siding with the innocent. He also manages to convey this message to his audience in order to allow them to take his (the innocent) side.

Here are some great Alfred Hitchcock quotes:
"Suspense is like a woman. The more left to the imagination, the more the excitement."

"Drama is life with all the boring bits cut out."
Here are some trivia facts:
Mel Brooks's
High Anxiety is one of the most famous parodies of Hitchcock's work. A 2000 episode of That '70s Show
portrays the characters watching Hitchcock's movies on Halloween, and then a series of events in their lives resemble scenes from his movies.
On
The Simpsons episode "A Streetcar Named Marge", Homer, Bart and Lisa walk into a nursery home where the babies quietly suck their pacifiers, and as the walk out, a caricature of Hitchcock walks by with dogs on leashes (this sequence references The Birds).In Joe Dantes movie Matinee, a gas station attendant recognizes John Goodman's B-movie producer character as "... the guy who makes them scary movies." After receiving an autograph, he says "Thanks, Mr. Hitchcock." Good news also on the home front -- The libretto for "Broadway Angels is now finished and ready to be printed!

Friday, August 08, 2008

A REMARKABLE DAY IN HISTORY




On this day in 1974, Richard M. Nixon became the only president of the United States to resign his office for as he said "the good of the nation". I remember that day very well. I was living in Goleta, above Santa Barbara. The funny thing is the date itself. Because also on August 8th in 1968, The Republican Party officially nominated Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew (remember him?) as president and vice president. Richard M. Nixon will always remain a most unique specimen of US History. He was a god man in many ways, but he also was a control freak. He actually thought himself above the law. Gerald Ford succeeded Nixon as the 38th president the next day at noon and served Nixon's remaining eight hundred and ninety-five days in office. I remember a great comedian by the name of David Frye who could imitate Nixon and Lyndon Johnson so perfectly. There was a bit where Nixon (upon winning the election) decides because he is "the president-elect" to go to Washington DC and rings the doorbell at the White House at eleven o'clock at night to get a tour of his "new pad". Hysterical! In it Richard Nixon even attempts to sell Lyndon Johnson a used car. To which Lyndon dryly proclaims "Buy a used car?-- From YOU? Today is also Esther Williams 87th birthday. I love Esther. What I didn't know was that she had a hot and heavy romantic relationship with actor Victor Mature during the filming of the MGM movie "Million Dollar Mermaid". She was also involved romantically with actor Jeff ("Combat") Conway but broke it when she discovered that he was a cross dresser-- imagine that. Yesterday I got paid $158.00 to evaluate new cars-- that was sure easy money! Well later.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

THE REAL "TORCH SINGER"-- HELEN MORGAN


This is what's left of the old Helen Morgan piano that she would "sit on" in that crowded night club which made her famous. You can see it at Orange County fair this year. There wasn't much left of it and t was rescued from an auction and made into this garden tribute.

Does anyone remember the great singer Helen Morgan? She died tragically in 1941 -- a drinking problem plagued her all of her life. I remember as a kid watching the movie "The Helen Morgan Story" that starred Paul Newman and Ann Blythe. Helen was really the first and the very best of the "Torch Singers"Helen was born 'Helen Riggins' on August 2, 1900 in rural Danville, Illinois. Her father was a farmer and a schoolteacher. After her mother remarried, she changed the last name to 'Morgan'. Her mother's second marriage ended in divorce, and she moved to Chicago with her daughter. Helen never finished school beyond the eighth grade, and worked a variety of jobs just to get by. In 1923 she entered the Miss Montreal contest, even going to New York to meet Miss America Katherine Campbell, but when she returned, her American citizenship was discovered and she was disqualified. She also worked as an extra in films. By the age of twenty Morgan had taken voice lessons and started singing in speakeasies in Chicago.Helen Morgan's high, thin, and somewhat wobbly voice was not fashionable during the 1920s for the kind of songs that she specialized in, but nevertheless she became a wildly popular torch singer. Her heart bled about hard living and heartbreak onto her accompanist's piano. This draped-over-the-piano look became her signature look while performing at Billy Rose's Backstage Club in 1925. In spite of the National Prohibition Act of 1919 outlawing alcohol in the United States, Morgan became a heavy drinker and was often reportedly drunk during these performances.During this period several Chicago gangsters tried to help fund her various attempts to open her own nightclub. However, Prohibition agents kept too strict an eye on her and these attempts failed. In 1927 Helen Morgan appeared as Julie LaVerne in the original cast of Show Boat, her best-known role. She sang "Bill" (lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse and Oscar Hammerstein) and "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" in two stage runs and two film productions of the famous musical over a span of 11 years. (In the first film version of Show Boat, made in 1929, Morgan appeared only in the song prologue; Alma Rubens played Julie in the film proper, which was mostly silent. However, Morgan did play the role in the 1936 film version of the musical.)
After appearing in the 1929 film version of Show Boat, Morgan went on to star in Kern and Hammerstein's Broadway musical, Sweet Adeline. The title was a pun on the famous barbershop quartet song. In the musical, Morgan introduced the songs "Why Was I Born" and "Don't Ever Leave Me." Oddly enough, when Sweet Adeline was filmed in 1934, Morgan's role went to her future Show Boat co-star, Irene Dunne, who possessed a lovely soprano, but was certainly not a torch singer. Helen was noticed by Florenz Ziegfeld while dancing in the chorus of his production of Sally in 1923 and she went on to perform with the Ziegfeld Follies in 1931, the Follies' last active year. During this period she studied music at the Metropolitan Opera in her free time.In the late 1930s Morgan was signed up for a show at Chicago's Loop Theater. She also spent time at her farm in High Point, New York. Alcoholism plagued her and she was hospitalized in late 1940. Her career underwent something of a comeback in 1941, thanks to the help of manager Lloyd Johnson. However, the years of alcohol abuse had taken their toll. She collapsed onstage during a evening performance of George White's Scandals of 1942 and died in Chicago of cirrhosis of the liver on October 8, 1941. Helen was married three times, to a fan Lowell Army, whom she met at a stage door while she was performing in Sally (see--that kind of stuff really does happen, folks) , to Maurice "Buddy" Maschke (they married on May 15, 1933 and divorced several years later), and to Lloyd Johnson, whom she married on July 27, 1941. Helen was portrayed by Polly Bergen in a 1957 Playhouse 90 drama, directed by George Roy Hill, and won an Emmy Award for her performance. That same year, the aforementioned mentioned feature film The Helen Morgan Story starred Ann Blyth as Morgan. Johna and I went to the Santa Monica Beach on Thursday. It was simply a beautiful day and I won a stuffed animal in the arcade. I haven't done that in absolute ages. The marketing campaign that we've begun continues. We are really proud of the packages and they look really professional.