Wednesday, February 29, 2012

R.I.P. Davy Jones

Wow. Wasn't expecting THIS news!

Nanny and the Professor

I've been watching a lot of episodes of NANNY & THE PROFESSOR lately, recorded way back when the FX network was actually a fun place to hang out. A favorite series back in 1970, it had a likable cast and a lovely theme song. Essentially it was a belated TV version of MARY POPPINS starring English actress Juliet Mills (daughter of Sir John sister of Hayley and former CARRY ON star) and handsome Richard Long (former co-star of the Ma and Pa Kettle movies and THE BIG VALLEY). Rounding out the cast were three personable kids and a big sheepdog named Waldo.

This Viewmaster reel was one of only two I ever bought (since I can't see 3-D), the other predictably being BATMAN. NANNY & THE PROFESSOR was never a huge hit but was marketed extensively during the three seasons it was on. There were comic books, a series of novels, colorforms, paper dolls and even two later spin-off animated cartoons that reunited the cast.


The Dell comic books below were some of the last in a long line of licensed TV series comics from the by-then fading rapidly company. 

The novel tie-ins were written by prolific hack writer --in the true sense of the word--William Johnston who also did a fun DICK TRACY novel around that same time. 

The SATURDAY SUPERSTAR MOVIE was an experimental Kids show offering longer-form cartoons, sometimes based on older TV series (including THT GIRL and THE BRADY BUNCH). NANNY & THE PROFESSOR got two animated outings.

Phoebe Figallily arrived at the Everett household with a perplexing mix of ESP and seeming magic that was never completely acknowledged or spelled out, even to the viewers. The family quickly fell in love with her, presumably even the Professor although that was only in subtext. OOver the course of the series, we met eccentric relatives and old friends but nothing was ever explained. In fact, the actual plots sometimes left much to be desired, even for a silly sitcom. 

Juliet Mills, now on Facebook, continued her career, appearing soon after NANNY in a nude scene in Billy Wilder's AVANTI with Jack Lemmon. She resurfaced on the soap PASSIONS many years later as a real witch. Richard Long, a very wooden actor but always a welcome presence,  sadly succumbed to heart disease just a short time after the series and the cartoons. Even more tragic was the fate of Trent Lehman, the younger son on the show, who hanged himself just ten years later. David Doremus, Trent's older TV brother, had a recurring role on THE WALTONS for a while but ultimately left show business. Kim Richards, one of the cutest TV child stars ever, went on to star in both of Disney's popular WITCH MOUNTAIN movies and later in a shocking scene in John Carpenter's original cult classic ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. After years out of the spotlight, her private issues have sadly become very, very public recently as one of the most troubled of the REAL HOUSEWIVES OF BEVERLY HILLS.  

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Jean Dujardin

I haven't been able to see very many movies in recent years. The good part of that is that there really haven't been many I wanted to see, either. When pressed, though, as to my current favorite actor, I have generally named Jean Dujardin. Until recently, this was met with blank stares but now, with THE ARTIST multi-nominated at tonight's Oscars, I sometimes get a "Me, too!" response.

Behind the million dollar grin and the twinkle in his eye, he's capable of giving very nuanced performances in both comedy and drama. I first saw him in LUCKY LUKE, the big-screen adaptation of the classic French comic strip western. As much as I enjoyed Terence Hill's TV series version of the character from the early nineties, Jean was visually much more the character. Not realizing it was the same guy at first, I next saw the two OSS117 films, reviving a serious Bond-type spy series of the sixties as over-the-top comedy. Then I saw CA$H, a French caper film similar in style somewhat to OCEAN'S 11 and its sequels. In that one, his charm is still evident but his performance more serious. I was impressed.  

And then, as unlikely as it might seem, comes THE ARTIST. In spite of some idiotic complaints that Jean Dujardin might steal the Oscar from more deserving American stars (and that how can he even be nominated for best acting when he doesn't have any dialogue!. Idiots.) and that THE ARTIST should only have been nominated in the Best Foreign Film category, the man is an excellent film actor and one of the most charismatic stars to come along in decades. 

Good luck, tonight, Jean! Win or lose, you are still my favorite current actor! 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Bronze Age Sub-Mariner Splash Page Saturdays # 52

Okay, so the anatomy here is pretty wonky, Subby's head virtually non-existant and, worse, the hated bright yellows and pinks are back. Still...can't you feel the excitement leap off the page in ways it just wasn't doing in, say, IRON MAN or THE INCREDIBLE HULK during that same period.

Continuing creator Bill Everett's triumphant return to Namor's adventures, this issue spotlights the Japanese hero/anti-hero Sunfire better than anyone before or since has done.

Add to that the endearing characterization and drawing of Nita (Namorita) and the whole issue, dialogued by Mike Friedrich, is another winner!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Dennis The Menace on TV and in the Comics

As a kid, I loved DENNIS THE MENACE on television and in the Sunday newspapers. We didn't see the daily single panel Dennis in the newspaper we got. Somehow, though, I never read the comic books until recently but they are such a delight--better, dare I say it, than Hank Ketcham's own work! 

Here we see some early publicity in the comics for the TV series, starting with the announcement of Jay North's casting as Dennis. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Italian Slow Cooking

I'm working on a project with Cider Mill Press, publishers of the just-released OFFICIAL BARF BOOK by Craig Yoe (with a full dozen sections credited to yours truly!) and as part of that project, we now have yet another new blog, at least temporarily.

ITALIAN SLOW COOKING is a celebration of the upcoming cookbook of the same name by former USA TODAY Food Editor Ellen Brown, to be released in early April. (That's the book--not Ms. Brown.)

I dearly love Italian cuisine and wish I could afford to eat at Olive Garden more than once every few years but this book is about how one can duplicate those same delicious flavors right at home. On the blog, we'll be exploring Italian cooking from all angles as well as spotlighting some recipes and tips from the book. We even went out and purchased an inexpensive slow cooker the other day so we can try some of the recipes first hand and report unbiased reviews on how they are.

So if you, too, love Italian food, please check out our newest blog and tell your friends. It's definitely something different from booksteve!

If you're already sold just by Ellen Brown's reputation, ITALIAN SLOW COOKING can be pre-ordered through the link here at the bottom of the page.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

NOT Fu Manchu

The great Christopher Lee made 5 films in which he played the infamous master villain and embodiment of the "Yellow Peril," Dr. Fu Manchu. As hard as it is to believe...this film, Hammer's bigger-budgeted TERROR OF THE TONGS, is NOT one of them. That is Chris Lee but that is NOT Fu.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Hal Stone--Time Flies

Proving the old adage that time flies, today marks the fifth anniversary of the passing of Hal Stone, a man I only really ever met a handful of times but a man I still find myself missing.

To quote myself from 2007: Hal Stone’s biggest show biz claim to fame was a long run as classic sidekick Jughead on the ARCHIE ANDREWS radio series. Following that stint, he spent decades directing mostly TV commercials and by all accounts enjoying it immensely. He was smart, gentlemanly, and genuinely witty but also a curmudgeon of the first order. I worked opposite him as an actor in old-time radio re-creations and under him as a director. During casting, he was amazing to watch as he cast multiple roles by ear and instinct. As a director, he appreciated that the actors—even those of us who were and are amateurs—knew what they were doing by the time we got to a read-through. He took a nurturing but essentially hands-off role when it came to anything but timing.

Having portrayed Jughead twice myself opposite original ARCHIE ANDREWS Bob Hastings, I was initially disappointed when Hal started coming to the shows knowing that he owned that role. That first year, though, we met up in the hallway of the hotel and exchanged an impromptu conversation in full Jug voice to scattered passerby applause. That won me over. He signed a copy of his autobiography to me a couple years later and then wrote me a nice email when I reviewed it here at the Library about a year ago. In recent years he had become a welcome fixture of the radio conventions and a keeper of the flame for OTR on various web boards and newsletters. 

Maybe it was because of the Jughead connection. Maybe that's why I appreciated him so much. Before Hal even started coming to the Cincinnati Convention, Dan Hughes pointed out to me that he held court regularly on the OLD TIME RADIO DIGEST, an email subscriber "newsletter. I joined and there he was. I was impressed by his knowledge, his sense of fun and his writing style. Then they announced he was coming to Cincinnati and I was, as I said, a bit put out as the Jughead role was my very favorite role and the only one I'd played twice! I needn't have worried. He won me over in a second.  

Almost immediately, I heard rumors that his politics leaned quite the opposite of mine but I didn't care. One could say the same about many in the old time radio hobby. That wasn't what we all had in common but it didn't come between us and our mutual love for OTR either.

Watching Hal onstage with Bob Hastings was an absolute delight. In fact, their nearly six decade long friendship had gotten to the point where I would have paid money to see the two of them sniping at each other good-naturedly up there on stage, script or no script. They were both consummate professionals and their instinctive timing together was just incredible.

Hal had a book out. He had originally intended to write about his television days but was convinced to write his radio memoir first. I missed it the first couple of years he came to Cincinnati but here's what I wrote when I finally got it: Unlike many celebrities, Hal lives in the present. He tells great stories of "the good old days" but he prefers to deal with today. His informal autobiography is one of my favorite OTR related books and that’s where you’ll find most of his great anecdotes about life, radio and television.

Hal brought a limited number of copies to the convention at first and I kept missing them. Finally, in 2004, I grabbed the last copy in the dealers room, just before I had to hurry off to a re-creation. I arrived early and there was still a group on stage rehearsing a different show. Not wanting to be conspicuous, I sat in the back row…next to Hal. He saw the book in my hand, sighed and whispered "Now you’re gonna want me to sign it." With a flourish, he pulled out a pen, grabbed the book, and wrote the nice inscription seen here, then tossed it back in my lap as if he were just so put out having to do all that work. 

The year Hal became our director was fun. Our regular director, Don Ramlow, took ill and Hal had offered to direct a SAM SPADE re-creation in which both Rene and I were cast. I had warned our son, David, then about 8 years old, that he had to behave because Mr. Stone had been in the business longer and might not have the patience Mr. Ramlow had shown with little boys. As we arrived at rehearsal, Hal didn't have us onstage at all but sitting in a circle in chairs for a read-through. David walked up and stood in front of him just staring. I tried to coax him back. Finally, Hal addressed him, rather like Clifton Webb's Mr. Belvedere: "Can I help you, young man?" Without missing a beat, David said, "My daddy says you're older and grumpier than the regular guy." The ensemble cracked up while Rene grabbed Dave and I sheepishly attempted to turn invisible. Hal looked at me as the laughter died down and deadpanned, "You can be replaced."

But I wasn't...and working under his quirky, encouraging direction was a revelation and a treat after years studying the more traditional directing of Mr. Ramlow.

In between Cons, I was always pleased to continue to read Hal's often opinionated rants on the OTR Digest. One day his Digest comment mentioned that he was going in for routine surgery and that he'd be back posting in a week or so. It was the complications from that routine surgery that took Hal Stone from us...five years ago today. Sigh. I still miss you, Hal. Time flies.

The photo at top comes courtesy of Derek Tague and was taken by Mitchell Weisberg in October of 2002 at New jersey's Friends of Old-Time Radio Con.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Hooray For Wally Wood

Wally Wood's having his best year in decades with lots of new retrospectives on the late artist. Keep abreast of it all by checking out: