Saturday, June 24, 2017

Happily Backward

It may be a sign of the times that, lately, I've been immersing myself in the 1940s and 1950s. I've long been a fan of singers from that era -- Doris Day, Peggy Lee -- but nowadays I find myself choosing to watch 1940s movies, read 1940s books, and otherwise transport myself to the mid-20th century.

As a rule, I'm not inclined to sigh nostalgically over a bygone era -- especially one that I didn't personally experience. If these forays into vintage pop culture are soothing in many ways, they can certainly be disturbing in others. I recently read a vintage mystery (fresh off the 25-cent rack at my local used bookstore) that was well-written and, for the most part, enjoyable. But the author's casual racism pervaded the story. Even allowing for the way social attitudes change over time, I found it distasteful enough to conclude that, in some cases, the past may be better left in the past.

But research for my two most recent book projects has led me to find real enjoyment in some of the most unassuming, escapist B movies. There's something to be said for films in which the world is put right in 70 minutes or less, thanks to the best efforts of good people. I'll just leave it at that.

Friday, June 16, 2017

That's My Little Margie!

Sixty-five years ago tonight, Americans had their first look at a television comedy series called My Little Margie. Airing Monday nights at 9 p.m. (EST), it was the summer replacement for TV's Number One show, I Love Lucy.

TV critics were not impressed, and predicted a hasty -- and well-deserved -- demise. But as one observer later said, "Nobody liked it but the people." The show caught on immediately, making leading lady Gale Storm a full-fledged television star. The series lasted four seasons, and played in reruns for decades afterwards.

Be on the lookout next spring for my book on the life and career of Gale Storm.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Curti on Freda

Congratulations to my friend and colleague Roberto Curti on the publication of his newest book, Riccardo Freda: The Life and Films of a Born Filmmaker (McFarland). His knowledge of and appreciation for the Italian motion picture industry would be difficult to match. I had the privilege of giving him a small assist in preparing this book, for which he kindly acknowledged me in print. It was my pleasure to do so.

Roberto is that rare author who does excellent work while being prolific enough to make me feel like a real slacker. He also imparts a tremendous amount of valuable information and commentary without sacrificing readability. 

I'm eager to see what he produces next.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

An Encouraging Word

After a long week of researching and writing  (I'm actually working on two books simultaneously), this was a sight for weary eyes. Thank you, Classic Images and Laura Wagner! My fellow McFarland author Derek Sculthorpe, whose books I've spotlighted in reviews on this blog, gets a well-deserved shout-out in the same column.

Keep this sort of thing up, and I just might write more books!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Memorable Miss Lee

"It's a Good Day" to remember one of my favorite singers, Miss Peggy Lee, born on this date in 1920.

Peggy Lee was both popular with listeners, and respected by critics, winning a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995. Among the peers who admired her work were Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, and Frank Sinatra, who said, “Her wonderful talent should be studied by all vocalists; her regal presence is pure elegance and charm.”

Her career lasted from her early days with the Benny Goodman orchestra in the 1940s through the 1990s, when she sometimes performed from a wheelchair — and still charmed audiences. In her later years, she successfully sued Disney for her share of the profits from the video releases of Lady and the Tramp, the hit 1955 animated film for which she contributed not only her vocal but her songwriting skills. (Remember “The Siamese Cat Song”?) She passed away in 2002.

I listen to her almost every day.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Mr. Burr's Birthday

One of television's finest actors, Raymond Burr, was born 100 years ago today. Although he'd enjoyed a successful film career in the 1940s and early 1950s, he reached his pinnacle of fame during his nine-year run as Erle Stanley Gardner's lawyer hero Perry Mason in the popular CBS series (1957-66). No one-hit wonder, he came back in 1967 to star in NBC's Ironside, which kept him busy for another eight years. Until shortly before his death in 1993, Burr continued to reprise his most famous character in highly rated TV-movies, the proceeds from which often went to fund one of his many charitable interests.

Burr deserved a better biography than the one he got in 2008, whose author wasted quite a bit of space and energy making disparaging remarks about the actor's weight, and treating his sexual orientation with minimal respect. But Burr still has plenty of fans who respect both the man and his work. Which is as it should be.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Miss Crawford"s Legacy

Joan Crawford, the epitome of a movie star, died 40 years ago today. Though interest in her life and career has remained steady over the years, there's been a heightened awareness this spring, thanks to the television miniseries Feud. Her two memoirs are back in print, and a younger generation is becoming aware of her.

I'm all for that. I just hope those lured in by the gossipy fun of the TV show go past that to discover the fine body of work she left behind, and appreciate the achievements of a woman from a disadvantaged background who reached the top not only through talent and opportunity, but through sheer force of will.