June 18, 1913: They Call It Sam’s Song

Violinist, meat-packer, usher, tinsmith, elevator operator, and lyricist, Sammy Cahn (no relation to Kublai or Genghis) penned his first lyrics at the age of 16 – “Like Niagara Falls, I’m cahnFalling for You,” not one of his most notable successes. But he kept writing them, giving up those other professions, until he got it right, and got it right again, and again.

     Over the course of his career, Cahn was nominated for 23 Academy Awards, five Golden Globe Awards, an Emmy and a Grammy. In 1988, the Sammy Awards, for movie songs and scores, were created in his honor.

With Jimmy Van Heusen, Cahn wrote so many songs for Frank Sinatra that the two were almost considered to be his personal songwriters. Oscar winners “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “All the Way,” and “High Hopes” were all introduced in films by Sinatra.  Add “Love and Marriage,”  “The Tender Trap,” “My Kind of Town,” “Come Fly with Me” and a host of others.

     The pair also won an Oscar for “Call Me Irresponsible” and received nominations for “Pocketful of Miracles,” “The Second Time Around,” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” Cahn and Jule Styne added nominations for “I’ll Walk Alone,” “I’ve Heard That Song Before,” and “It’s Magic.”

Cahn was born on June 18, 1913, and died in 1993.

June 16, 1917: Whipping Boy

Harrison Ford cracked a mean bullwhip as the title character in the Indiana Jones series of films. Ford wasn’t born brandishing a bullwhip; he had to learn it for the films. And he was taught by bullwhip master, Lash LaRue born on June 16, 1917.

Like many actors in the 40s and 50s, LaRue spent most of his career making B-Westerns. Originally hired because he looked enough like Humphrey Bogart that producers thought this would draw in more viewers, he used his real last name as the name for most of his film characters. He was given the name Lash because, although he carried a gun, he was noted for preferring to use an 18-foot-long bullwhip to take on bad guys. Lash not only disarmed bad guys, he performed many stunts such as saving people about to fall to their doom by wrapping his whip around them — often while at full gallop on Black Diamond, his trusty horse — and pulling them to safety. Lash, like a guy named Cash, was also known for always wearing black.

After starting out as a sidekick to singing cowboy Eddie Dean, he earned his own series of Western films and his own sidekick, Fuzzy Q. Jones (Al St. John), inherited from Buster Crabbe. He also got his very own villainan evil, cigar-smoking twin brother, The Frontier Phantom.

His films ran from 1947 to 1951. The comic book series that was named after his screen character lasted even longer, appearing in 1949 and running for 12 years as one of the most popular western comics published.

 

I hope some animal never bores a hole in my head and lays its eggs in my brain, because later you might think you’re having a good idea but it’s just eggs hatching. ~ Jack Handey

 

June 11, 1933: Werewolf? There Wolf.

Actor, comedian, director, screenwriter, author and activist Gene Wilder was born on June 11, 1933.  After his first film role playing a hostage in Bonnie and Clyde, he went on to star in such memorable films as Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, The Producers, Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles.

 

wilderInvention, my dear friends, is 93% perspiration, 6% electricity, 4% evaporation, and 2% butterscotch ripple.” — Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

 

“The clue obviously lies in the word “cheddar.” Let’s see now. Seven letters. Rearranged, they come to, let me see: “Rachedd.” “Dechdar.” “Drechad.” “Chaderd” – hello, chaderd! Unless I’m very much mistaken, chaderd is the Egyptian word meaning “to eat fat.” Now we’re getting somewhere!” Sigerson Holmes in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Smarter Brother

 

“You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. They’re people of the land. The common clay of the New West. You know – morons.”The Waco Kid in Blazing Saddles

 

wild1

“This is a nice boy. This is a good boy. This is a mother’s angel. And I want the world to know once and for all, and without any shame, that we love him. I’m going to teach you. I’m going to show you how to walk, how to speak, how to move, how to think. Together, you and I are going to make the greatest single contribution to science since the creation of fire.” – Dr. Frankenstein in Young Frankenstein

 

wilder2

I’m in pain and I’m wet and I’m still hysterical! – Leo Bloom in The Producers

May 7, 1885: Comin’ Through the TV, Shootin’ Up the Land

An essential player in Hollywood westerns was the leadinggabby man’s sidekick, and many sidekicks became just as famous as their starring partners: Andy Devine was Jingles to Wild Bill Hickock, Pat Buttram and Smiley Burnette were both sidekicks to Gene Autry, Jay Silverheels was Tonto to the Lone Ranger, Leo Carillo was Pancho to the Cisco Kid. The top sidekick was, of course, Gabby Hayes, born May 7, 1885. Through the 1930s and 1940s, he was sidekick to Hopalong Cassidy in 18 films and to Roy Rogers in 41.

The third of seven children, George Francis Hayes was born in an upstate New York hotel owned by his father. As a young man, he worked in a circus and played semi-pro baseball while a teenager. He ran away from home at 17, and joined a touring stock company. He married Olive Ireland in 1914 and the duo enjoyed a successful vaudeville career. Although he had retired in his 40s, he lost money in the 1929 stock market crash, and he felt the need to work again.  He and his wife moved to California and he began his movie career, taking various roles until finally settling into a Western career.

Hayes first gained fame as Hopalong Cassidy’s sidekick Windy Halliday in many films between 1936-39. He left the Cassidy films in a salary dispute and was legally prevented from using the name “Windy.”   So “Gabby” Hayes was born.  He gained fame as a sidekick to stars such as John Wayne, Randolph Scott, and, of course, Roy Rogers – beginning with Southward Ho in 1939 and ending with Heldorado in 1946.

Offstage Hayes was the complete opposite of his screen persona – an elegant bon vivant, man-about-town and connoisseur. He died in 1969.

On the subject of his movies: “I hate ’em. Really can’t stand ’em. They always are the same. You have so few plots – the stagecoach holdup, the rustlers, the mortgage gag, the mine setting and the retired gunslinger.”

“You’re a good-looking boy: you’ve big, broad shoulders. But he’s a man. And it takes more than big, broad shoulders to make a man.” — High Noon

“There are only two things that are better than a gun: a Swiss watch and a woman from anywhere. Ever had a good… Swiss watch?” — Red River

“A gun is a tool, Marian; no better or no worse than any other tool: an ax, a shovel or anything. A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it. Remember that.” –Shane

“You don’t look like the noble defender of poor defenseless widows. But then again, I don’t look like a poor defenseless widow.” –Once Upon a Time in the West

May 2, 1932: Benny and Bing

benny3Although he was first heard on radio as a guest of Ed Sullivan, Jack Benny debuted his own radio show for NBC on May 2, 1932. After six months he moved to CBS and then in 1933 back to NBC. Although he continued to jump back and forth on networks, his radio program lasted until 1955, some five years after his television program appeared.

Benny was a fixture on radio and TV for three decades, and is still considered one of the best. He was a master of comic timing, creating laughter with pregnant pauses or a single expression, such as his signature “Well!

Appearing with him over the years were Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Don Wilson, Dennis benny2Day, Mary Livingston, Phil Harris, Mel Blanc and Sheldon Leonard. Leonard helped Benny produce what was said to be the longest laugh in radio history. Leonard as a holdup man approached Benny and demanded “your money or your life.” Benny remained silent. Finally, Leonard said “Well!?” and Benny answered “I’m thinking it over!”

Bing Crosby was born May 2, 1904. A jackdaw with a cleft palate could have sung it successfully,” he said.

If lawyers are disbarred and clergymen defrocked, doesn’t it follow that electricians can be delighted, musicians denoted?  – George Carlin

April 28, 2004: It Was Shear Pleasure

Some folks will go to great lengths to avoid sitting in a barber’s chair. So it seems will some animals. A New Zealand Merino sheep named Shrek — not to be confused with the bald green guy of the same name — really didn’t want to be shorn. So he went on the lam in the late 90’s, living as a fugitive, hiding in caves, always looking back over his shoulder.  He avoided capture for six years but alas someone finally fingered him and he was apprehended in April 2004. And on April 28 the now incredibly woolly Shrek went under the shears. It took a mere 20 minutes to denude him, and the entire indignity was nationally televised. The suddenly svelte Shrek gave up 60 pounds of wool, enough to suit 20 New Zealanders.

Now famous, he took tea with the Prime Minister on his tenth birthday and was allowed to spurn the shears for another 30 months before being shorn on an iceberg off the New Zealand coast (certainly a jumping the shark event). Shrek bought the sheep farm in 2011.

April 28, 1874: Sardine in Honorable Tin Can

Following the death of Warner Oland, who had successfully brought the character of Charlie Chan to the screen in 16 films, Twentieth Century Fox began the search for a new Chan. Sidney Toler, who was born in Warrensburg, Missouri, on April 28, 1874, was chosen to play the detective, and filming began less then a week later on Charlie Chan in Honolulu. Through four years and eleven films, Toler played Charlie Chan for Twentieth Century Fox. Fox terminated the series in 1942, following the completion of Castle in the Desert. Sidney Toler went on to star in eleven more Charlie Chan films for Monogram Pictures. Very ill during the filming of his last two Chan pictures in 1946, Toler died in 1947.

The character of Charlie Chan was created for the novel The House Without a Key in 1925 by Earl Derr Biggers. Biggers loosely based Chan on a real-life Honolulu detective named Chang Apana. He conceived of the heroic Chan as an alternative to the many stereotypical villains such as Fu Manchu that typified the so-called Yellow Peril, a prevailing vision of the menace of Asia. Sounding like a turn-of-the-century Donald Trump, Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune intoned: “The Chinese are uncivilized, unclean, and filthy beyond all conception without any of the higher domestic or social relations; lustful and sensual in their dispositions; every female is a prostitute of the basest order.” Luckily, Greeley is remember more for urging young men to go west.

Over four dozen films featuring Charlie Chan were made, beginning in 1926. Movie-goers took to Chan, but in later years critics found that in spite of his good qualities he too was an Asian stereotype. Many also objected to the fact that he was played by Caucasian actors in yellowface.

In addition to his great detection, Charlie Chan was noted for the aphorisms sprinkled liberally throughout the films. A handful of the very many:

Accidents can happen, if planned that way. (Dark Alibi)

Action speak louder than French. (Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo)

Bad alibi like dead fish – cannot stand test of time. (Charlie Chan in Panama)

Detective without curiosity is like glass eye at keyhole – no good. (Charlie Chan in the Secret Service)

Even wise fly sometimes mistake spider web for old man’s whiskers. (Charlie Chan’s Chance)

 

chan

 

April 23, 1983: Me Tarzan. Flash, Too.

Athlete turned actor, Buster Crabbe (Clarence Linden Crabbe II), looking back over his career, could easily have said “been there, done that.” After winning Olympic gold in 1932 for freestyle swimming, Crabbe dived into the movies, eventually starring in over a hundred movies, first taking a turn as the jungle hero in Tarzan the Fearless in the 1933 serial and a variety of jungle men in movies such as King of the Jungle that same year,  Jungle Man in 1941, and the 1952 serial King of the Congo.
Leaving the jungle for the far reaches of space, he played both Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. His three Flash Gordon serials were Saturday morning staples in the 30s and 40s. The serials were also compiled into full-length movies. They appeared extensively on American television in the 1950s and 60s, and eventually were edited for release on home video. Later on television, Crabbe also found his way into the French Foreign Legion. As his acting career wound down, he became a spokesman for his own line of swimming pools. He died on April 23, 1983.

April 4, 1914: Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down

The Perils of Pauline, one of the earliest American movie serials and a classic example of the damsel in distress genre, premiered in Los Angeles on April 4, 1914. Every week for twenty weeks, actress Pearl White faced imminent danger and sure death at the hands of pirates, hostile Indians, gypsies and various mustachioed villains, escaping at the last possible second through her own ingenuity, resourcefulness and pluck. Her adventures in Pauline and the follow-up Exploits of Elaine were popular movie fare through the 1920s. Neither serial was a true “cliffhanger” in which episodes end with an unresolved danger to be resolved at the beginning of the next installment. Instead White jumped in and out of the jaws of death in each installment.

Like many other silent film stars, Pearl White performed her own stunts for the serial, at considerable risk. During one scene, the hot-air balloon she was piloting escaped and carried her across the Hudson River into a storm, before landing miles away. In another incident, she permanently injured her back in a fall.

And of course White was more than once tied to railroad tracks by a mustache-twirling villain. One such scene was filmed on a curved trestle in New Hope, Pennsylvania on the Reading Company’s New Hope Branch. Now referred to as “Pauline’s Trestle,” it is a tourist attraction offering rides from New Hope to Lahaska, Pennsylvania, across the original trestle.

 

cliff-hanger

[klif-hang-er]

noun

1. a melodramatic adventure serial in which each installment ends in suspense in order to interest the reader or viewer in the next installment.

2. a situation or contest of which the outcome is suspensefully uncertain up to the very last moment:

Stopping for a moment, she convinced herself that she had to have a good lead over her pursuers, if they were even following her. She had to find Paul. Looking around, however, she realized that not only didn’t she know where Paul was, she didn’t know where she was. She decided to work her way back in the same general direction from which she thought she had come, keeping herself hidden. If they were chasing her, they would not be stealthy. She’d hear them before they saw her. And try to find Paul. Or someone else to help. But who?

Her foot caught the bottom of her sarong, and she fell to the ground. “This damn outfit,” she said aloud as she tried to untangle herself. “I might as well be wearing a strait jacket.”

She pulled herself up to her hands and knees and looked around. There just a few feet ahead of her, two golden eyes blazed in the dark. At first pantherthey were disembodied, hovering in the air, but as they stared at her, she began to discern an outline of whatever it was that possessed the eyes. It was big, really big, and as black as the night around it. It was a cat, at least four feet at its shoulders. And it wasn’t purring.

Get me off this cliff.

March 21, 1867: On a Show Boat to Broadway

“Curtain! Fast music! Light! Ready for the last finale! Great! The show looks good, the show looks good!”

American Broadway impresario, Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld, Jr. was born March 21, 1867 (died July 22, ZigfeldFollies19121932). The theater bug came to Ziegfeld early; while still in his teens, he was already running variety shows. In 1893, his father, who was the founder of the Chicago Music College, sent him to Europe to find classical musicians and orchestras. Flo returned with the Von Bulow Military Band — and Eugene Sandow, “the world’s strongest man.”

Ziegfeld was particularly noted for his series of theatrical revues, the Ziegfeld Follies, inspired by the Folies Bergère of Paris – spectacular extravaganzas, full of beautiful women, talented performers, and the best popular songs of the time – and was known as the “glorifier of the American girl”.

“Let us grant that a girl qualifies for one of my productions. It is interesting to note what follows. First, it is clearly outlined to her what she is expected to do. She may be impressed at the outset that the impossible is required, but honest application and heroic perseverance on her part plus skillful and encouraging direction by experts very seldom fail to achieve the desired results. But it is only through constant, faithful endeavor by the girl herself that the goal eventually is reached.”

He also produced musicals in his own newly built Ziegfeld Theatre – Rio Rita, which ran for nearly 500 performances, Rosalie, The Three Musketeers, Whoopee! and Show Boat. Several of his musicals hit the movie screens, including three different versions of Show Boat. William Powell played Flo in the 1932 biopic, The Great Ziegfeld, and a 1946 film recreated the flamboyant Ziegfeld Follies.

 

February 22, 1956: Not Your Typical Barbarian

You can pretty much be certain you’ve got a turkey on your hands when you’ve got actors such as Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead (Endora on Bewitched), and John Wayne (!) playing Mongolians, when the entire film is shot in one location in a desert in southern Utah (haven’t we seen that rock before?) and when you have such dialogue as:

“Joint by joint from the toe and fingertip upward shall you be cut to pieces, and each carrion piece, hour by hour and day by day, shall be cast to the dogs before your very eyes until they too shall be plucked out as morsels for the vultures . . . pilgrim.”

The Conqueror, released on February 22, 1956, was the epic story of a 12thconqueror century Mongol warlord who worked his way up the barbarian ladder to become the infamous Genghis Khan. Produced by Howard Hughes, it was meant to be his crowning cinematic masterpiece. The film cost $6 million to film in Cinemascope and Technicolor and is frequently ridiculed in the same breath as Plan 9 from Outer Space, another 50s flop which cost about $2.99 to make. Hughes spent another $12 million to buy back every single print of the film after its disastrous release.

The Conqueror not only destroyed RKO, the studio that made it, but wiped out a good number of the cast and crew. The shooting location turned out to be downwind from Yucca Flats, Nevada, where the government was merrily testing atomic bombs, and the cast and crew received far more than the recommended daily allowance of radioactive fallout. Nearly half of them, including Wayne, were later diagnosed with cancer (although Wayne also smoked six packs a day).

February 22, 1907: Hey Youse

sheldon_leonardThose who remember his screen appearances at all are most likely to recognize him as Nick, the surly bartender who gives George Bailey and Clarence the heave-ho in  It’s a Wonderful Life. As an actor, Sheldon Leonard, born on February 22, 1907, specialized in playing supporting characters, most often gangsters or or other tough guys with names like Pretty Willie, Lippy, Jumbo, Blackie, or, notably, Harry the Horse in the 1955 film of Guys and Dolls. He spoke with a thick New York accent, usually delivered from the side of his mouth.

His many appearances in movies and television spanned six decades. But it was as a producer and director that Sheldon Leonard really made his mark. He began a new career as a television producer in the early 50s and turned out a succession of hit series — The Danny Thomas Show (Make Room for Daddy), Gomer Pyle: USMC, The Andy Griffith Show, and The Dick Van Dyke Show (winner of 21 Emmys). He had another success in the mid 60s with I Spy, the first series to cast a black actor (Bill Cosby) as an equal co-star with a white actor in a dramatic role.  Leonard is also informally credited with having invented the spin-off,  the practice of using an episode of a series as a backdoor pilot for a new series.The character of Sheriff Andy Taylor was introduced in an episode of The Danny Thomas Show, which led to the series The Andy Griffith Show. 

Sheldon Leonard died in 1997.

 

It’s hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse. ~ Adlai E. Stevenson