Sunday, April 30, 2006
If you’ve been reading comics newssites recently, Marvel and DC are once again claiming trademark ownership of the term "super-hero." As I recall, this issue originally surfaced in the late seventies when Archie Comics put out their special Super-Hero Digests. The big guys yelled, "Cease and desist!" Okay, so Archie had always referred to their line in the sixties (Fly-Man, Black Hood, Shield, etc.) as "Ultra-Heroes," not "Super-Heroes." Or did they? Seen here is detail from a 1966 Transogram children’s board game called simply SUPER HEROES. Note that these are Archie heroes-Fly Man and Fly Girl, Black Hood, Mister Justice, Captain Flag, the Web, The Shield, the Fox, the Jaguar and Steel Sterling. How they settled on these particular characters for the board, I’ll never know. The Jaguar was from the early sixties and hadn’t even been published during the mid-sixties boom. The Comet would’ve rounded out the appearance of the popular MIGHTY CRUSADERS but he doesn’t appear. In his stead are three 1940’s characters who had only barely been revived in cameos in the nigh legendary Jerry Siegel tale "Too Many Super Heroes" (Hah! There’s that term again!) in MIGHTY CRUSADERS number four that same year. I don’t think there’s any actual lawsuits floating around on this issue and I certainly don’t claim any legal expertise. I know that a trademark gone unused for a certain period of time is considered abandoned and could conceivably be trademarked by others. Perhaps, since Archie hadn’t published hero comics for more than a decade, DC and Marvel’s lawyers felt justified in their legal maneuvering. I will say that at the very least it looks like a precedent to me for Archie to get in on the action!
Saturday, April 29, 2006
Just a brief pause, as I do from time to time, to thank you all for coming and for taking the time to comment (those of you that do) either here or in emails. I really appreciate it. Most recent stats indicate that I now have readers not only in Japan, the Netherlands, Australia and Switzerland but also in Bulgaria! Hi, guys! Linda Blair remains a hot search word topic so I will be revisiting her soon here on the blog. I think I said last time I just hope she realizes how popular she is on the Web. A reminder, too, that if you can't afford to put anything in the donations box at right (and I certainly couldn't right now myself!) clicking on the Google ads above really DOES generate a little income to help me keep up this enterprise and hey, come on, they don't bite! Click already. Oh, and don't forget my very first short story (or anything else) to be published in a book can be found in IT'S THAT TIME AGAIN 3 (Amazon.com: It's That Time Again 3). I'd love to know what readers think, good and bad. If I get enough reviews, maybe we'll do a collection of them here. Time for everyone's favorite section-Some links I haven't plugged before (or at least lately): Simon & Kirby - A really cool blog that is actually in touch with Joe Simon and thus gets the real scoop on a lot of things. Jack Kirby Comics Weblog -The new address of the poular Kirby Weblog. Now located at the Kirby Museum! Bubblegumfink-Reborn from the ashes yet again, Dave has been running lots of groovy things here since his most recent resurrection. Erotic Story Writers Group-My friend Lori's new site for those who like gay and lesbian (and a little straight) erotica. This is ADULT material and if you're easily offended, skip to the next link but for those of you who like this sort of thing, here 'tis. Greenbriar Picture Shows- I am consistently amazed at how much this site tells me what I DON'T know about classic movies and movie stars I thought I knew. Outpost Gallifrey- With the new DOCTOR WHO series upon us, this is your one-stop for all information! An Amazing Web -This guy's reading every issue of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and offering running reviews. Fun! adistantsoil.com- Longtime favorite comics creator Colleen Doran is blogging about all types of things, not just comics. Oddball Comics- Scott Shaw! and his OB comics move into their own expanded webspace after all this time. Explore for hours! Stupid Comics- Similar to ODDBALL COMICS, these folks deal with ridiculous comics, too, both mainstream and outre. Well, there's a few for you. I had more but my computer's acting up so we'll save them until next time.
When bearded, long-haired writer Alan Moore says something outrageous that makes you think in ways you hadn’t thought before, fandom calls him an eccentric genius. When bearded, long-haired artist Michael Netzer says something outrageous that makes you think in ways you hadn’t thought before, fandom calls him "bat-shit crazy." What’s the difference? Religion. To be more specific, Michael Netzer has, particularly with the advent of the internet, very publicly shared parts of his long personal spiritual odyssey and, like Steve Ditko with his hardcore objectivist philosophies, fandom just does not want to hear it.
In 1980 I took a Greyhound from Cincinnati to Columbus to meet one of my illustrative idols, Jim Steranko, at a comic book convention. I met him, he was cool, we talked and he autographed a Batman piece from MEDIASCENE for me. What I most remember about this particular convention, however, is meeting Mike Nasser. Mike is seen at left in the above photo with Bob Layton (who attended every single comic con in Ohio and Indiana in those days. It was like a rule.) and Columbus’s duly elected "Comic Book Queen," a nice, wholesome, friendly young woman who seemed to know nothing at all about comic books. Both Layton and Nasser were sketching away but Layton was lost in his art, speaking only when spoken to, while Nasser was working the crowd, enthralling everyone with details of what he was doing and why he was doing it as well as talking about upcoming work. He had, like Jerry Bingham, Bill Sienkciewcz and others, been dubbed a "Neal Adams clone" by comics fandom but, hey, you had to start somewhere. How many comics illustrators started out tracing Jack Kirby poses? The faces on Nasser’s characters were Adams-like but his bodies tended to be leaner and quite frankly, I enjoyed his inventive cover layouts more than those of his inspiration. In fact, his mostly DC work in the mid to late seventies had made him a favorite of mine. He had done a few WONDER WOMAN stories, some LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES, KOBRA and a whole bunch of nifty backup stories across the line. At Marvel, he even drew SPIDER-MAN.
A few years later, though, Mike Nasser’s art was nowhere to be seen in comics. I presumed that, like many before him, he had taken his talents into more lucrative fields. Then one day, I read in CBG that he had adopted the Hebrew spelling of his name (Netzer) and moved to Israel where he was starting a line of super hero comics including one they showed that looked to me a lot like Adams’ MEGALITH. It was actually called URI-ON. I looked for years for that comic at conventions (I don’t read Hebrew but my wife does!) but never found it. Again, since I knew Netzer’s talent, I presumed it was a success. I found out later it only ran a few issues, possibly because of politically-charged content.
Jump ahead more years and Michael Netzer reappears in mainstream US comics with a sharper, much more unique style. Then , however, he turns up with his own website, looking for all the world like Jesus Christ and sounding like him from time to time, also. The fan websites have a field day and the names start flying. The general presumption was/is that the man has gone off the deep end. He was living in a desert, talking about the endtimes, drawing and photo-collaging bizarre pieces for his website(Michael Netzer's FLAMING SWORD PRODUCTIONS - The Daily Flame ) and at the same time starting a comic book based political party! What th’?? Look closer, though, and read some of the actual interviews and articles ( http://www.adelaidecomicsandbooks.com/netzer.htm, Michael Netzer's New Comic Book of Life,Scream If You Want It - Lecturing the Workshop) he’s done recently and you see a man who’s simply utilizing his art, his background and his beliefs in his search for truth. One way or another, we all do it…just not so publically.
One former DC staffer described Michael Netzer on a message board as quiet and soft-spoken. That certainly doesn’t sound like the man I met at that long ago convention (which, according to the artist, was AFTER his spiritual awakening). Like all of us, he’s changed in 25 plus years. I don't really like to read books or articles by people who completely agree with me on things. In fact, I’ve always admired people who don’t think like I do. They broaden my perspective. They make me look at the world and myself in different ways. Many great comics creators can do that. Michael Netzer is certainly one of them.
Friday, April 28, 2006
Before he began writing comic books himself, later Marvel stalwart Mark Gruenwald was known as a great continuity buff, finding reasons and explanations for fitting comics together. He had a gift for somehow making a hundred stories of a character by a dozen different writers actually work…well as best as anyone could, I guess.
One of my favorite pieces by Mark is the extensive Justice League of America Reader section in the 14th issue of the official house fanzine, THE AMAZING WORLD OF DC COMICS, published in 1977. Written in several separate sections that deal with the history of the series, behind the scenes of the series, who knew whose secret identity when, cutaway headquarters maps, a checklist and a long list of guest stars, my favorite section consists of the individual bios of each JLA member. It’s there, in a remarkable and no doubt non-canonical (and yet undeniably sanctioned by DC itself) series of paragraphs that Mark Gruenwald dares to go on record with exactly where the JLA members reside!
AQUAMAN- Okay, a no-brainer. From Atlantis, described as "a domed city beneath the Atlantic Ocean."
ATOM-Ray Palmer’s college-based Ivy Town is logically said to be in Connecticut.
BATMAN-Now here’s where it starts to get interesting. Gotham City, Batman’s base of operations, a clear parallel to New York City (long known as Gotham), is said to be in New Jersey!
BLACK CANARY ran her alter ego Dinah Lance’s flower shop in Star City, Massachusetts.
THE ELONGATED MAN traveled a lot in his own occasional series and is said here to have no home base.
THE FLASH, on the other hand, runs through Central City…, OHIO???
GREEN ARROW is, of course, in the kitchen with Dinah in Star City, Massachusetts.
GREEN LANTERN’s original base of operations, the pre destruction Coast City, was logically in California.
HAWKMAN flew through Midway City, Michigan. Midway to what?
MANHUNTER FROM MARS, in his earlier John Jones identity is said to have operated out of Middletown, Illinois.
RED TORNADO does not list a base city.
SUPERMAN-Who knew that Metropolis, yet another NYC variation, was to be found in Delaware? Wouldn’t it be bigger than the state itself?
WONDER WOMAN, at the time of this issue, was working at the UN in the only REAL city mentioned here-New York City.
It’s a shame Mark Gruenwald passed away a few years back. I’d dearly love to see a detailed map of the US in the DC Universe and I’m not at all certain anyone else could do it half as well.
Thursday, April 27, 2006
Most comic book fans probably discovered illustrator Dave Gibbons with WATCHMEN, Alan Moore’s super-hero magnum opus originally published in twelve issues starting in 1986. If you were paying attention, you might have already been following his GREEN LANTERN work in the US or even his work for the long-running weekly 2000 AD and later the (supposedly) monthly WARRIOR in the UK. Presented here, however, is something you’ve probably never seen. It isn’t really a story, it’s a gag and not a particularly original and/or funny one at that. LOVE STORY originally appeared (at least in the US. Don’t know if there might have been a prior UK fanzine printing, perhaps?) in the tabloid pages of THE MONSTER TIMES way back in October,1974! Already, you can recognize his super-clean style that makes even the most horrible comics bloodbath a little easier to take. Credited writer is Dez Skinn who went on to be the heart and soul behind the ground-breaking WARRIOR magazine which debuted V FOR VENDETTA and Moore’s revisionist MARVELMAN amongst other memorable features. Skinn wrote a history of undergrounds a few years back and Gibbons, of course, went on to a memorable career as both a writer and an artist, most recently, I believe, involved in some of the mess that is DC's aptly named INFINITE CRISIS.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Could be. This ad appeared in comic books in the Spring of 1978, nearly a year after STAR WARS unintentionally revolutionized the American movie-going experience. Credited to the then new Joe Kubert School, this sure looks to me as though it's done by DC's ace war artist himself. The off-model Darth Vader was more than likely drawn that way on purpose as the ad states that the Sith Lord costume consists of mask and cape (with hood, perhaps?) After all, you don't want the kids expecting a helmet when all you're sending them for their hard-earned GRIT-selling money is a cheap mask and a thin cape with a hood. If this is a legitimate ad, and it almost appears to be in spite of the lack of any 20th Century Fox trademark indicators, why then is the lightsaber referred to as a SST Lazar (sic) Sword?
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Now here's a novelty--something I not only have never owned but had never even seen until this morning! This CAPTAIN AMERICA paperback was one of two Marvel novels to come out in the mid-sixties. The other was THE AVENGERS BATTLE THE EARTH WRECKER. Now THAT one I had--twice! Written by Otto Binder, best known for his sci-fi novels and his comics writing for CAPTAIN MARVEL and SUPERMAN (was this his only Marvel-related work?) I couldn't get into it when I bought it used in 1970 (10 cents!) so I tried again some years later (seven dollars) but still didn't care for it. I had heard about the CAPTAIN AMERICA one all along but never saw a copy at a convention or anywhere else! Then, this morning, this turned up on datajunkie, a marvelous site that I have been remiss for not mentioning during my radio period as they have been consistently posting dozens of OTR shows--in some cases entire series!--online for our enjoyment (if we had all the time needed to listen to all of them anyway). Today's post offers some SUSPENSE episodes and then a whole run of just really cool sixties and seventies mass market paperback covers--including this one. Ted White wrote the novel. I knew his name at the time only from his chapter in ALL IN COLOR FOR A DIME but he had been a BNF (Big Name Fan) in sci-fi fandom for years. He went on to be a respected sci-fi novelist and essayist as well as an early editor of HEAVY METAL. If I recall correctly, White was more than a bit into the counterculture. It would be interesting to read his particular take on Cap in the sixties. Today, as Dr. Progresso, Ted White maintains an online presence with a fascinating music website. Check him out!
Monday, April 24, 2006
Well, the 20th Cincinnati Old Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention is over and it ended with the announcement that, in spite of rumors to the contrary, there WILL be a 21st! I took pictures but can't afford to get them developed right now. It’s long since gotten to the point where my wife and I consider it as more of a family reunion than a convention. Oh, we hit the dealers’ room (picked up a copy of the terrible 1975 Superman TV musical!) but even it seemed considerably shrunken this year. As far as the re-creations, one of my two roles fell through due to various misunderstandings but the other was a juicy one in a SAM SPADE episode. My wife, Rene, ended up stealing that show, though, as a cackling witch! Still a treat to watch this year’s old pros including Bob Hastings, Hal Stone and LONE RANGER and DICK CAVETT SHOW announcer Fred Foy in action!
The bigger treat for us, though, was to hang with some of the OTR collector friends we’ve made over the past couple decades, kindred spirits that we see only once a year. Among these, as ever, are the inimitable Derek Tague, author Martin Grams and the Hughes Family, Dan, Kathy and Karen Hughes, who, as a family won this year’s Dave Warren Award for promoting old-time radio through re-creations. My wife and I, as last year’s winners, were asked by Derek Tague to help present the Warren Award to the Hughes Family. They, of course were oblivious to it. In a bizarre twist, we were also asked by someone else to help present a surprise award to Derek himself! The Hughes family WERE aware of this! Thus, we shared two secrets all weekend. We winked at Derek about the Hughes family award and we winked at the Hughes family about Derek’s surprise!
While they do perform, and quite well I might add, Dan and Kathy’s biggest re-creation is their daughter Karen, arguably the world’s biggest Jack Benny fan. Karen Hughes, grew up with her parents love of radio and has never hesitated to act as a missionary for the art form. An excellent actress herself, Karen, now 22, began coming to the Cincinnati Convention when she was only 11 years old and was cast as a little girl in a LONE RANGER script. This year, she re-created that role in a new, more star-filled re-re-creation of that same script.
Karen’s greatest love, however, is Jack Benny. She has converted classmates, boyfriends and now, her own students to the joys of radio comedy through Jack. As a huge Benny fan myself, I have been passing on Benny memorabilia to her for several years. This year, I presented her with a framed copy of the photomanipulated shot topping this article in which she, herself, replaces Mary Livingstone in the 1940’s Benny Show cast. A few years back, I also published an interview with the world's greatest Jack Benny fan in the magazine OLD-TIME RADIO DIGEST in which I referred to Karen as the very future of Old-time Radio. That still holds true. Old-Time Radio can only remain "old" for so long. If the new generations don’t discover it as a viable art form in and of itself, it WILL go the way of vaudeville. If that happens, it certainly won’t be Karen Hughes’ fault!
Dan Hughes and Kathy Hughes(the first person to request my autograph) are pictured above and Karen Hughes is pictured over the years with Derek Tague, myself and Ken Borden.
Sunday, April 23, 2006
Finally! IT’S THAT TIME AGAIN 3, the volume featuring my first ever publication in book form, is out and I have a copy right here in my hands. This third volume of new stories of old-time radio characters and stars features combinations of shows, sort of like TV crossovers only on radio only on paper.
Published by Ben Ohmart’s BearManor Media (although cheaper at Amazon.com: It's That Time Again 3), my first book is edited by nostalgia expert Jim Harmon whose books I’ve been reading for 35 years. I actually did a book report on one of them in the 9th grade! In the late seventies/early eighties, I even bought a whole bunch of mail-order OTR tapes copied from his personal collection.
As this is a blatant plug, I hesitate to actually review any of the stories. I will, however, say that in IT’S THAT TIME AGAIN 3, I’m surrounded by an eclectic mix of new and veteran writers including mystery/sci-fi author Dick Lupoff (ALL IN COLOR FOR A DIME), Harmon himself, Mike Leannah (editor of an upcoming Jack Benny-oriented anthology to which I may also be contributing), amazingly young and amazingly respected writer/collector/researcher/dealer/convention organizer and DR WHO fan Martin Grams, Jr and even my own cousin, Rick Phillips(On My Mind), for whom this is also a debut. Some of the other names are familiar but since there’s no "About the Authors" section I can’t place them.
As mentioned previously, my particular story is a hopefully amusing trifle in which super-serious insurance investigator Johnny Dollar (known as "the man with the action-packed expense account") ends up with the gang down at Duffy’s Tavern trying to hoodwink him. My wife thinks it’s hilarious so obviously, it is.
Other combinations in the book include Jack Benny having a run-in with Dick Powell’s singing detective, Richard Diamond, Fibber McGee and Molly meeting the Bickersons, Jack Armstrong teaming with cowboy hero Tom Mix, GUNSMOKE’s Marshal Dillon having a run-in with HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL’s Paladin and even a certain unnamed Man of "Action" helping fight the aliens in Orson Welles’ WAR OF THE WORLDS in my cousin’s tale.
My parents bought me a typewriter before I could even read and all of my life I’ve wanted to be a writer. I’ve published articles and interviews in magazines, I’ve written for local comedy troupes, I’ve edited works for others, I’ve done in-house writing for work, I’ve posted scores of pieces on-line before the blog and three hundred plus on this blog itself. Now this. A story of mine is actually in a book…in bookstores…at conventions…in libraries. On Friday, at the Cincinnati Old-Time Radio Convention, someone asked me to sign their copy. My first autograph! Sometimes I regret that I never really achieved my dream. But then I think…didn’t I?
Friday, April 21, 2006
"Big Dave" Warren had an ear for voice talent. He was the founder and director of The Dave Warren players, an ad hoc group of amateur performers put together at various nostalgia conventions as needed to re-create old radio shows. In 1989, Big Dave was brought in to critique the work of G.R.A.C.I.E., the old-time radio re-creation group co-founded by my wife and myself with Carolyn and Joel Senter, Karl Litzenmeyer, Dan Nather and Robert and Barbara Newman. Carolyn knew and had been inspired by Dave when she came up with the initial idea for our group and brought him in to watch us after we’d already had several rehearsals. We won his seal of approval right off the bat and he gave us a number of helpful tips. Perhaps more importantly, he cast me in the lead role of Jack in his own LET’S PRETEND adaptation of THE BRAVE LITTLE TAILOR to be performed at that year’s Cincinnati Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention. The rest of our group filled out other roles in TAILOR including my wife playing my mother. Dave Warren Players veteran Gary Yoggy played one of the bad giants. I also got to be Fred Allen in an ALLEN’S ALLEY skit and a sidekick to the great cowboy hero, TOM MIX. By the following year, G.R.A.C.I.E. had disbanded and it simply never occurred to me that I might get another role so we didn’t even attend on the first day of the convention. When we did arrive on day two, Big Dave let me have it with both barrels for not being there the day before and immediately inserted me into a part in ESCAPE, making me promise never to miss auditions again. For various reasons, many of which I don’t even know, The Dave Warren Players were supplanted in Cincinnati by annual open auditions and our excellent, long-time, nurturing director Don Ramlow. Dave, himself, however reappeared as actor occasionally and, at one point in the late nineties, cast and directed two AMOS ‘N’ ANDY re-creations for which I was chosen in advance to play important secondary roles. Dave Warren was also known as an illustrator whose work appeared on numerous radio-related small press mags and, in later years on cassette packages. Dave died a few years ago and, in tribute to him and his continuing influence, the Cincinnati Old Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention came up with the Dave Warren Award for those who preserve old-time radio by bringing it to life through re-creations. Gary Yoggy, who carries on the Dave Warren Players in Newark, was the first winner with director Don Ramlow the second. Last year in Cincinnati, my wife Rene and I won the dave Warren Award. We were pleased and surprised to receive joint plaques from previous winner Ramlow, leaving me, in one of those rare moments, quite speechless.
Today was day one of this year’s Convention and Hal Stone, radio’s Jughead, was drafted at the last moment to cast and direct everything as Don Ramlow was on site but confined to bed with an unexpected illness. Out of the several re-creations being cast, I have once again, after 17 years, been cast in major roles in two. Tomorrow, I’ll play the prissy Mr. Bright, voiced originally by Joe Kearns, in the light-hearted 1948 SAM SPADE episode, "The Fairly-Bright Caper." Rene has been cast against type as a witch in the same re-creation. Perhaps best of all, however, I will be portraying outlaw Burly Scott in the LONE RANGER episode, "Burly Scott’s Sacrifice" opposite original LONE RANGER (and DICK CAVETT SHOW) announcer Fred Foy as the Masked Man and Karen Hughes as my daughter. Karen, the ultimate Jack Benny fan, played the same role at age 11 at her first Cincinnati Convention ALSO with me as her father and Foy as the star! Nostalgia within nostalgia!
As the phoenix is a legendary bird, THE PHYNX is a legendary movie. The main reason is that hardly anyone had seen it until recent years when it’s turned up on the "collector’s market." THE PHYNX is one of those train wreck kind of movies that can aaaaalmost be enjoyable if you go into it expecting the worst…because you certainly do get it. If more than a relative handful of people had ever seen this picture (it was barely if ever released in 1970) it would undoubtedly do quite well in worst film lists. I’ve never considered movies like PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE or ROBOT MONSTER to be all that bad. After all, if you look at the low budget limitations in which the filmmakers found themselves, it’s pretty impressive that they came up with anything at all! No, THE PHYNX was not a low budget ten day wonder drive-in quickie. This was intended as a major release from a major studio with coverage in the teen mags to hype it to its intended audience. That’s why I consider it much more of a worst film candidate than anything Ed Wood ever touched.
Apparently intended by Warner Brothers to introduce the world to it’s Monkees-style made-up band, the Phynx (pronounced "finks"), the project reportedly fell victim to the merger/takeover with the Kinney Corporation that led to Steve Ross’s legendary reign at Warner Brothers (as well as DC Comics becoming part of that growing mega-conglomerate). The old regime’s pictures were either scrapped, tossed away in limited releases or sold straight to television while the new regime started more or less from scratch.
The Film itself? Oh, yeah. It’s essentially a several years out of date spy spoof in which a rock group made up of US agents goes to Albania to rescuer kidnapped American celebrities. Doesn’t sound too bad? Okay, let’s go into more detail. You’ll see.
First off, in a series of unamusing pre-credits sequences, we see crack US government secret agent Lou Antonio ( a fair actor and a prolific director. He of all the people involved should have known better) trying to sneak into Albania and being beaten at every turn by an evil General played by the ever-handsome Michael Ansara. This continues through animated, PINK PANTHER style credits. Finally, Lou visits his boss, the annoying (but Tony-nominated) actor Mike Kellin, who here spends the entire picture doing a really bad Bogart impression. Bogey, as he is even called, addresses a meeting of the government’s most secret undercover operative divisions that include Cuban revolutionaries, priests, hookers, black panthers, klansmen, advertising execs and boy scouts, all with signs like at a political convention. Number One, the leader of the group, a man so secret he wears a box over his head with a face drawn on it while talking like Jimmy Stewart (voiced by Rich Little who had a habit of appearing in barely seen films) appears and the plot, such as it is, is explained.
It seems that America’s most beloved entertainers are being kidnapped and taken to Albania for reasons unknown. In 1970 that would be Robert Redford, Paul Newman, The Beach Boys, Mary Tyler Moore and the like. In the world of THE PHYNX, however, America’s most beloved entertainers included George Jessel, Dorothy Lamour, Colonel Sanders (of KFC fame!), Butterfly McQueen (from GONE WITH THE WIND), Xavier Cugat (What? No Charo?), Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Patty Andrews (of the Andrews Sisters), Johnny Weismuller, Maureen O’Sullivan (Note-both Tarzan AND Jane), singer Marilyn Maxwell, Busby Berkley and his Golddiggers, Ruby Keeler (Al Jolson’s widow!), Rudy Valee, Louis Hayward, Andy Devine, Cass Daley, boxing great Joe Louis, Pat O’Brien, the Bowery Boys (Leo Gorcey who refused the chance to appear on the SGT PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND album cover but accepted this(!) and Huntz Hall) and finally, the Lone Ranger (John Hart who replaced Clayton Moore for one season and would later reprise the role on a HAPPY DAYS episode) and Tonto (Jay Silverheels). All very nostalgic and fun to see for us film buffs but probably completely unknown to this movie’s intended audience! What were they thinking?
The most disturbing image in the picture is the all-powerful computer, M.O.T.H.A Named in the time-honored but, again, out of date U.N.C.L.E. fashion, its name stands for Mechanical Oracle That Helps Americans. It looks like a shapely woman with its old-fashioned computer reels encased in Madonna-style cones and topping it like breasts. After you ask it a question, the card with the answer comes directly out of "her" crotch. Ugh!
M.O.T.H.A. tells the agents that the way to rescue the B-list celebs is to form a rock group of specially trained agents and make them so popular that they get invited to Albania. The computer chooses four oblivious college boys who are in short order taken against their will by Antonio and ensconced at a secret military base for training in combat and guitar chords. The young men who will become the Phynx are all pleasant enough although their line delivery is pretty bad. Nerdy A. Michael Miller, Native American Ray Chippaway, stud Dennis Larden and "Negro" ("No! Afro-American?" says Lou Antonio) Lonny Stevens (the only one with credits either before or after this fiasco!). The actors, like the Monkees before them, use their real names in a move apparently designed towards making them as real a rock group as the Monkees became. At the camp, they are trained by more cameo performers including cowboy star Clint "I was drafted…again!" Walker, Richard Pryor (looking at it now the biggest star in the picture, he appears for under thirty seconds), Trini Lopez (a genuinely funny scene in which he attempts to teach them guitar by having them play "the Farmer in the Dell") and for hand to hand combat, Harold "Oddjob" Sakata. When their training is done, Dick Clark himself pronounces them ready for the teens of America.
Legendary record producer PhilBaby is brought in to make their first record. Apparently legendary record producer Phil Spector refused to have anything to do with this mess so his obvious doppelganger is portrayed by Larry Hankin, a Second City vet who survived this and is still acting on TV today! This is probably the best satirical bit in the movie as we see the boys recording an okay piece of unmemorable bubblegum fluff entitled "What's Your Sign?" as PhilBaby demands angel voices and pipes in Guy Lombardo for backup!
After the sessions, the spies force Ed Sullivan into putting the group on his show and create a number of stupid, unfunny events that make them the most popular group of all time in a matter of minutes just so they can move the story along. Richard Nixon, the one celeb who probably didn’t even know he had a cameo in THE PHYNX is even seen signing "Phynxgiving" into law as a new holiday!
From this point on, we hear a number of songs, more than likely recorded by session musicians. They were written by the classic song-writing team of Mike Stoller and Jerry Lieber who were apparently saving their best material for something else as this ain’t it. As I said before, it’s mostly harmless pop but there isn’t a catchy riff in the bunch! That doesn’t stop James Brown from doing his cameo presenting Bogey with a gold record for the group, however.
There are supposedly wistful scenes in which one of the guys tries to "go home again" and a ridiculous scene that begins with "Ladies and gentlemen! The US government is pleased to announce…an orgy!" which leads to fully clothed extras writhing around with the Phynx in quick camera cuts for several minutes and Lou Antonio (who’s been wearing a stupid-looking afro wig since the early scenes) ending up with relatively ancient lesbian actress Patsy Kelly. After the "orgy," Lou carts the still clothed girls out with a forklift. Ha…Ha.
Ultimately, the Phynx are invited, as per the original plan, to Albania for that country’s national Flower Day Celebration. First, though, Martha Raye appears at the door and is accidentally shot by Bogey but not before telling the gang about the three map pieces tattooed on her three daughters' stomachs in three different countries. This leads to yet another long (or did it just seem that way) episodic aside in which the popular rock group plays with real X-Ray glasses and then has off-screen sex with hundreds of women in each country in an ultimately successful effort to find the map. What’s the map to? I don’t have a clue. Does it matter? I mean seriously. Are you not paying attention? None of this matters!
Finally we get the Phynx to Albania where we find that the ruler, Warner Brothers vet (and BEWITCHED’s Abner Kravitz) George Tobias has been kidnapping the American stars in order to keep his American wife, the ever-gorgeous (if a tad overweight) Joan Blondell, happy. He says that he’d be surprised if theya ctually wanted to leave as they were being treated so well. (As Joe Louis puts it later, "No income tax.") One by one they’re introduced as they enter for the rock group’s concert and even though it stops the picture cold (not that it ever really got started, mind you) this scene is THE highlight of THE PHYNX. After the group sings a dreadful ballad, the whole bunch of ‘em get homesick and start brainstorming about ways to get out of the country. Leo Gorcey, who hadn’t made a picture in fifteen years due to alcohol issues, starts to say something and Pat O’Brien, his priestly co-star in ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, shushes him. Leo responds with an amusing, "Sorry, fodder." Fellow original Dead End Kid Huntz Hall, however, suggests that the Americans all be smuggled out hidden in radish carts which leads to a sloooow, pointless ending. Along that final path, though, we see Maureen O’Sullivan (whose daughter Mia Farrow was a huge movie star at that time) begging long-time co-star Johnny Weismuller for "one last time" in case they don’t get out alive. The legendary jungle king of the movies obliges by saying, "Me Tarzan" to which Maureen responds, "Me Jane."
Even better, though is when the Lone Ranger (and keep in mind, he is, unlike the other celebs, consistently described as actually BEING the Lone Ranger, NOT the actor who played him) outlines his plan for saving the whole bunch of ‘em to his faithful Indian companion, Tonto (ditto. NOT Jay Silverheels but Tonto. Uhhhh-huh.) We’ll save them all, he says and Tonto replies, "Masked man brave." We’ll escape and fight the bad guys, ha says to which Tonto replies, "Masked man fearless." We’ll tackle the tanks with our bare hands to which the ever-deadpan Tonto replies, "Masked man loco."
Towards the end, the Phynx surprised me by doing a familiar song, "The Boys in the Band." While not a hit, this did get some radio play at the time but I cannot recall (or find out on the Net) who recorded it. I sincerely doubt that it was the Phynx version. I tend to believe it was the theme from the movie THE BOYS IN THE BAND, made that same year, and am not at all sure what it’s also doing here.
For many years, THE PHYNX topped my list of movies I’ve always wanted to see along with equally star-studded messes SKIDOO, WON TON TON-THE DOG THAT SAVED HOLLYWOOD (which weirdly reunited about a dozen of THE PHYNX’s geriatric legends) and LINDA LOVELACE FOR PRESIDENT. I’ve seen them all now. The latter, featuring the C-list likes of Mickey Dolenz and Vaughn Meader was a cheap exploitation movie and actually works on its own terms. WON TON TON was a definite misfire but not as bad as other mainstream films released around the same time and, hey, I actually like most of SKIDOO!
Bottom line-Bland leads, unappealing songs, meandering script, confusing direction (by TV vet Lee Katzin), celebrities so old your grandmother might not have known them even at the time and gags that make SUPER TROOPERS look funny! THE PHYNX is a genuine treat for any bad cinema buff.
Sorry about the lack of pictures in this post but I couldn’t even find any on-line except this one publicity shot of the former Tarzan and Jane from THE PHYNX.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
One of the coolest things about Old Time Radio was the integrated commercial. This was where the commercial was worked in as an integral part of the show itself. Usually done this way on comedy and variety series, someone would often mention the sponser's product and then for the next few minutes discuss it while seemingly continuing the regular storyline. Jack Benny excelled at this on his show, notably for Lucky Strike cigarettes in later years but also for various earlier sponsers including Jello in the early forties. Announcer Don Wilson would inevitably find at least one way to sneak in the litany of "strawberry, raspberry, cherry, orange, lemon and lime." Here's a publicity photo from this period that looks more than a little dirty to me somehow. Maybe it's the fact that the signs draw attention to the girls' chests, maybe it's Jack's lascivious look. Maybe it's Miss Strawberry's finger. Maybe it's the "Cherry" name so often used for porn stars. I don't know. I just know I feel sorry for the girl that got stuck being the lemon . The Cincinnati OTR Convention starts tomorrow and we'll have a report tomorrow evening.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
The fact that DC Comics rarely let the great Jack Kirby's version of Superman or Jimmy Olsen run without being retouched (or often completely redrawn) during the King's early seventies run remains a source of some controversy amongst Kirby fans. More often than not, Al Plastino's Supes or Murphy Anderson's Jimmy interacted with Jack's New Gods characters. As I pointed out in my previous post, though, Jack was hardly the only one to recieve this treatment. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a Marvel comic during a long period in the seventies that didn't have sometimes jarring John Romita heads on characters drawn by other artists. Heck, even the classic HULK ANNUAL number one with it's sweaty Steranko cover features a Marie Severin pasteover face! In fact, the very next comic I picked up this morning, ACTION number 342 from 1966 features a late Wayne Boring Superman story but, rather obviously to any Superman Family fan of the sixties, a Kurt Schaffenberger face on Lois Lane! Apparently the man who had drawn the series regularly for about two decades at that point couldn't draw a Lois that editor Mort Weisinger thought looked like Lois.
Jack Kirby’s so-called "Fourth World" books in the early seventies (NEW GODS, MISTER MIRACLE, FOREVER PEOPLE and JIMMY OLSEN) would, of course, have long-ranging effects in the DC Universe, particularly in the Superman titles. At the time, however, they were pretty much ignored by all of the other editors and writers with one notable exception. Legendary DC writer Robert Kanigher seems to have taken a liking to the concepts as they began to appear in the LOIS LANE issues he wrote. A mention here and there of Intergang, Morgan Edge, Darkseid, the Black Racer and, in the issue seen here, a full-scale plot based on "The Project" from Kirby’s JIMMY OLSEN. It seems that the mini Justice Leaguers seen on the cover are little "DNAliens" who tie Lois up on page two literally just long enough to put a drop of something on her lips that’s designed to make Superman go berserk when she kisses him. They later show up at her apartment but our intrepid heroine is prepared, having called the Project herself. They send her a bunch of, in Lois’ words, "Mini-me’s" specifically designed to save the day. Note that nothing is ever said here or in any other issue about what happened to either the mini-Leaguers or the mini-Loises. The Project somehow knows about the lips issue, too, and sends Lois a special lipstick that automatically stops the problem of the Man of Steel freaking out, just in time to leave room for a better written and really nicely drawn 8 page ROSE AND THE THORN story with art by Gray Morrow. Kanigher’s writing on this back-up strip was consistently better than on his Lois stories. Lois is depicted as a TV interviewer (although still working at the Daily Planet for some reason) who cares deeply about poor people but spends every waking (and sleeping for that matter) moment dreaming of Superman. Superman is likewise mooning over her the whole time! If E. Nelson Bridwell weren't the editor during this period, I'd swear the whole "story" was one of Julie Schwartz's famous "Draw the cover and then figure out how to fit it into the issue" bits. Lois looks good here with her seventies hairdo and fashions, provided by veteran comics artist Werner Roth, probably best known for a long, workmanlike stint on Marvel’s pre-revamp UNCANNY X-MEN. Roth’s Superman, however, appears to have been too off-model as most of his appearances, as with Kirby’s Man of Steel in the actual Fourth World titles, are obviously redrawn and/or heavily retouched by Murphy Anderson (along with at least the Hawkman head in the panel seen here, too!)
Around this time, I actually had a letter published in LOIS LANE mentioning a lot of these issues. I’m not sure now what it said, though because A) I don’t seem to have a copy of the issue anymore and B) as I recall, DC edited out anything negative I had to say and what was left was mostly praise for ROSE AND THE THORN.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
For some reason, my wife and I seem to have stopped taking a camera after the first couple of years but here are a few snapshots of the stars who attended those early Old Time Radio Conventions in Cincinnati. First is myself with Parley Baer. Parley was one of the all-time great character actors, appearing on radio in scores of roles from the forties through the seventies. His best known role on the air was that of Chester Proudfoot, Marshal Dillon's sidekick on radio's GUNSMOKE. On television he was a semi-regular on early ANDY GRIFFITH shows as the Mayor of Mayberry. He later would appear on just about every major sitcom in the sixties including several turns on BEWITCHED and THE ADDAMS FAMILY. In films, he was a familiar presence in heavy dramas such as THE YOUNG LIONS with Marlon Brando up through DAVE with Kevin Kline. I was priviliged to appear opposite Parley in re-creations of ESCAPE, NICK CARTER-MASTER DETECTIVE and SUSPENSE.
Willard Waterman was a working character actor who took over the role of THE GREAT GILDERSLEEVE in mid-1950 after its originator Hal Peary left. Waterman was blessed and cursed with a voice that sounded almost exactly like Peary’s when he wanted it to and the show continued its reign of popularity. He also appeared in films including AUNTIE MAME, THE APARTMENT and HOLLYWOOD OR BUST with Martin and Lewis. After a regular role on TV’s DENNIS THE MENACE and several years of guest-starring on sitcoms, he moved to Broadway appearing in, among other plays, the musical revival of MAME. A guest at two early conventions in Cincy, I murdered him in a WHISTLER episode and later played gravely voiced Judge Hooker opposite him in a GREAT GILDERSLEEVE re-creation.
Bob Hastings was radio’s best remembered ARCHIE ANDREWS and appeared in many other series including numerous episodes of the mid-fifties science fiction classic, X MINUS ONE. On TV, he became well known as Lt. Elroy Carpenter opposite Joe Flynn on McHALE’S NAVY and later was seen as Kelsey, the bartender who owned the bar on ALL IN THE FAMILY that eventually became ARCHIE BUNKER’S PLACE. Appearing in scores of other TV series including, KOLCHAK-THE NIGHT STALKER and WONDER WOMAN, he still found time to do a number of films, often for Disney Studios in the seventies including THE BOATNIKS and NO DEPOSIT, NO RETURN. More recently he was the voice of Comissioner Gordon in Paul Dini’s version of BATMAN and voiced a character in the popular video game, JAK AND DAXTER. Bob has been the most regular guest in Cincinnati and I have enjoyed appearing opposite him in about a dozen re-creations including a Ray Bradbury X MINUS ONE and twice as Jughead in ARCHIE ANDREWS.
Ezra Stone, radio’s Henry Aldrich, had just lost his wife (actress Sara Seeger) when he appeared at the Convention. Stone had quite the listing in WHO’S WHO with years of philanthropic work. Originally an assistant to legendary Broadway producer George Abbott, Ezra was cast as Henry in Clifford Goldsmith’s original stage appearance of the Aldrich Family. He followed the role to some radio sketches which eventually evolved into the long-running ALDRICH FAMILY series, along with THE GREAT GILDERSLEEVE, one of the first true sitcoms. During the war, Ezra was in the army where he and Irving Berlin had a famous friendship and an infamous falling out during the creation of the musical play and later film THIS IS THE ARMY. After radio, Ezra became a popular TV director, helming episodes of dozens of series including long runs on LOST IN SPACE, THE MUNSTERS and Diana Rigg’s ill-fated sitcom, DIANA. Actor Mark Goddard from LOST IN SPACE once told me that Ezra was a favorite director of everyone on the set. I appeared with Ezra as sidekick Homer in THE ALDRICH FAMILY and in several roles in a re-creation of the LUX RADIO THEATRE script of George S. Kaufman’s YOU CAN"T TAKE IT WITH YOU which soon after was added to Ezra’s WHO’S WHO listing! He told me I was one of the best "Homers" he had worked with (Yeah, I know. What was he gonna say? I sucked?) and I learned more about radio acting from him than from any of the fine radio actors with whom it has been my great pleasure to appear.
It’s been said that one of the true differences between the sexes is that women simply don’t "get" the Three Stooges. I have found this to be true more often than not. While women abhor their "violence," males of all ages tend to love them and appreciate them for their humor and good-naturedness.
Beginning with Moe Howard’s posthumously published autobiography the history of the Three Stooges has been chronicled in more volumes than the boys themselves could have ever imagined. Some are very good, some less so. All tell the story of the three (okay, make that ultimately six) guys who started out being second bananas and finally, long past what was thought to have been their prime, arguably became the biggest stars of the sixties after Batman, the Beatles and 007.
ONE FINE STOOGE by Stephen Cox and Jim Terry is the latest worthy book on the Stooges, a photo-filled authorized biography of frizzy-haired Larry Fine. The authors were granted unprecedented access to Larry’s friends, pictures and papers so there are many great stories here that have not been told before (including the controversies that led to Larry virtually disowning his OWN book, STROKE OF LUCK after the co-author screwed around with the facts).
Larry was, as in the title of his brother’s previous book, THE STOOGE IN THE MIDDLE and often served as a foil to both Moe and whoever was filling the third spot. On occasion he was given memorable bits but for the most part he was required to be there simply because the dynamics of the act didn’t work without him. In the extensive biographical bits about the real man, Larry comes across as nice. Very nice. He seems to have been a quiet, amusing man who would do anything to help someone out. He stayed with his abusive, alcoholic wife until her death out of pure love and rarely let any of his personal sorrow keep him from making someone laugh. A remembrance in the book by fellow Philadelphian Frankie Avalon recalls Larry as just a regular guy that the young singer liked hanging out with on sets, talking about the old neighborhood.
After the Stooges initial film career ground to a halt with ever diminishing returns in the late fifties, the act’s contract was terminated. As their old shows were rediscovered by kids on television, their career was revived and before long they were doing full length features and filling stadiums in personal appearances. Throughout the sixties, the boys did movies, TV appearances, cameos, and charity events. The last time I saw Larry, Moe and Curly Joe was on a 1969 episode of the game show TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES where I was absolutely flabbergasted to see how short they all were next to Bob Barker. According to the book, this was their final TV appearance. In 1970, while working on a TV pilot called KOOK’S TOUR (that was eventually released on 8MM film of all things!), Larry had a stroke and ended up in the Motion Picture Country Home. Far from stopping him, though, as Larry recovered enough to do so, he became more involved in charity work than ever, occasionally, as seen here, even abetted by his old crony, Moe.
As I said, Cox and Terry have come up with a worthy addition to Stooge history. Was it necessary? Perhaps not. It is, however, a fascinating portrait of a man everyone knows and yet few people really knew. Now if only someone would do a definitive bio on Shemp, the funniest one of them all and a great character actor to boot!
Monday, April 17, 2006
Video game characters such as Lara Croft, the various Pokemon and even Mario and Luigi live in richly detailed virtual worlds all their own. Perhaps that’s why I found it a bit disconcerting to have KINGDOM HEARTS, one of my son’s favorites suddenly pop up with anime-style Disney characters! The graphic novel version seen here features young spikey-haired traditional anime/video game hero Sora teaming up with sidekicks Donald Duck and Goofy! As their quest goes along they have encounters with Alice, the Cheshire Cat, 101 dalmatians, Chip and Dale and more! It’s all so…so…weird! Game’s kinda cool though!
Sunday, April 16, 2006
Silly me. I already ran a piece om HARVEY a while back. Oh well, here we see my OWN giant rabbit who lived with us from the late seventies into the mid-eighties. His name was Sidney Australia or, in the vaguest OTR tie-in of them all, Cedric Weehunt, the name of a character from radio's LUM AND ABNER. Sidney (note the lack of "y")was my choice for name, Cedric was what my father always called him. Around 1978, the landlord in our building asked me to help clean out an apartment. It seems the quiet, softspoken, mousy little girl that lived there left the place strewn with half-melted candles, exotic alcohol bottles, incense ashes, black light Kama Sutra posters and one four and a half foot tall stuffed rabbit! The landlord said I could keep anything I wanted so the rabbit came to live with me (along with the Kama Sutra posters but that's another story. Hotcha!) Growing up, I had never had stuffed teddy bears like most kids. My parents had always bought me stuffed bunnies for some reason so to me this was the ultimate manifestation of that. Although he's sitting on the floor in front of it here, Sidney sat in that gold colored chair in the living room for years like it was a throne. On Easter, he would supervise the egg hunts. We'd usually dress him in a tie. Visitors were naturally fascinated by him and often posed for pictures with him (usually holding him up by the ears). My mother put up with him but never really seemed to warm up to him and eventually, entropy being what it is, Sidney began to lose his stuffing and fall apart. He had to go. It was like losing a member of the family. We got rid of the chair around the same time as it reminded us of him every time we saw it. Now, though, it's good to recall our rabbit friend. They say every family has its secrets. The fact that we had a giant stuffed rabbit named Sidney Australia (or Cedric Weehunt) for nearly ten years was one of ours!
Saturday, April 15, 2006
One of my favorite illustrators is the late Gray Morrow, a unique craftsman in the comics industry in that his artwork always looked more realistic than that of his peers. He was also known for his often garish movie posters and beautiful science-fiction magazine illustrations. In 1965, however, Gray drew the illustrations for this book about the girlhood of Eleanor Roosevelt. Here you see the cover and just a few of the many partially colored sketches from the book. The series of which this volume was a part also featured several other volumes illustrated by comic artists including two by Wallace Wood. Many of these editions have been brought back into print in recent years (with new books added) complete with the original illustrations so check your local library or bookstore.