Saturday, July 29, 2017

Under the Radar: June Foray

You may not recognize the name or the face, but you just might recognize some of  the characters she played:

Lucifer the cat

Knothead and Splinter

Lena Hyena

Magica De Spell

Nell Fenwick


Grandmother Fa

Jokey Smurf


Granny (replacing Bea Benaderet in 1955)

Witch Hazel (Disney)

Witch Hazel (Warner Brothers)

Cindy Lou Who

Natasha Fatale

And now here's something we hope you'll really like...

Rocky the Flying Squirrel!

When I reflect on the people who bring cartoons to life, I tend to think of such great animators as Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, Friz Freling, Bob Clampett, Max Fleischer, Otto Mesmer, William Hanna and Joseph Barbara (when their work appeared on the big screen), Paul Terry, Gene Deitch,  Ub Iwerks, Ward Kimball, Ollie Johnson, Frank Thomas, Jack Kinney, and, of course, Iwerks', Kimball's, Johnson's, Thomas', and Kinney's boss, Walt Disney. But the best animation might all be for naught if the characters being animated all talked like that guy on the phone who tells you he's sorry but the number you're trying to reach has been disconnected. Also, if the animation is itself naught  (e.g., William Hanna and Joseph Barbara when their work appeared on the small screen) and that makes the voice artists all the more necessary. So though Ms. Foray has left us, let's hope her particular vocal chords, along with those belonging to Mel Blanc, Daws Butler, Don Messick, Clarence Nash, Arthur Q. Bryan, Paul Frees, Stan Freberg, Howard Morris, Bill Scott, Jim Backus, Alan Reed, and the aforementioned Bea Benaderet are forever preserved through movies, TV, and even computers.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Graphic Grandeur (The Road Not Taken Edition)

Yes, the signature on these strips reads Gus Edson, who took over The Gumps after Sidney Smith's death in 1935, but he had an assistant in the late 1940s who may have penciled or inked or lettered or do whatever comic strip assistants do. According to some sources, he even drew the whole strip on occasion.

Martin Landau 1920-2017
The assistant later caught the acting bug.

North by Northwest (1959) That's the back of Cary Grant's head.

From the same film, that's Landau's foot and Grant's hand (unless they're stunt doubles--you can never be sure.)

 Landau played master-of-disguise spy Rollin Hand on TV's Mission: Impossible for three seasons. That's his real-life then-wife Barbara Bain in the center.

 Landau and Bain also appeared together on the runaway moon TV science fiction series Space:1999.

Not generally considered a high point in Landau's career, but I just had to show it. The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island, a 1981 made-for-TV movie in which he played a mad scientist, with Bain as his, I don't know, lab assistant, I guess. This would be the last time husband and wife performed together on screen. The two divorced in 1993. That's 12 years after this film debuted, so I really don't think it was the cause of the split.

Things turned around for Landau in 1988 when Francis Ford Coppola cast him as Abe Karatz, business associate of 1940s automobile designer Preston Tucker in Tucker: The Man and His Dreams, based on a true story. Landau was nominated for, but did not win, an Academy Award.

A clip. That's Jeff Bridges as Tucker.

In Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), Landau played Judah Rosenthal, a successful ophthalmologist who has his mistress just as successfully dispatched, and, for a while anyway, feels a tad guilty about it.  Landau was nominated for, but did not win, an Academy Award.


In this clip a conscience-stricken Judah relives a childhood memory. Man, listen to that family talk about the Holocaust and the nature of evil over dinner. I can't imagine what the conversation was like during dessert.

 As a down-on-his-luck Bela Lugosi in 1994's Ed Wood. Johnny Depp plays the title character, an independent film director who tries to engineer a comeback for the former horror star, and acquire a bit of fame for himself in the process (which he actually succeeded in doing, though both men were long dead when it finally happened.)

Lugosi's opinion of a fellow horror movie icon.

Makes up for not winning that Reuben.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Spotlight: Ginger Rogers

The actress/singer/dancer was born on this day in 1911.

The extremely talented Rogers first became a star on Broadway in the George and Ira Gershwin musical Girl Crazy, which means diddly-squat to those of us not living in New York City in 1930. Fortunately, a Hollywood contract--and posterity--soon followed.

However, at first her Hollywood stardom did not quite equal her Broadway stardom. For instance, she gets fifth billing in Gold Diggers of 1933, though I will admit the "and" makes her name stand out a bit. More significantly, she stars in the musical film's opening number.

"We're in the Money"--I have no idea why, but dig the way she switches over to pig Latin right toward the end.

Ogersray isay estbay owknay orfay erhay anymay ilmsfay--excuse me, I meant to say, Rogers is best known for the many films she co-starred with Fred Astaire in the 1930s (plus one final one in the late '40s) Though the pairing was and is justly celebrated, they weren't quite equals. Dancing was Astaire's main thing in the 1930s, and if that's all you're concerned with, you're probably better off seeing the man in a movie with Eleanor Powell or Cyd Charrise. Rogers, of course, could dance, too, but it's telling that she rarely gets a solo number. Does that mean we should regard Top Hat or Hold That Fleet as basically Fred Astaire films? Not if you're concerned about more than the dancing. Astaire's singing was OK, but he could barely act--at least not in the 1930s (he had gotten much much better at it by the time the nuclear war drama On the Beach was made in the late 1950s. He must have found the apocalypse inspiring.) Rogers could sing as well as Astaire, and could act circles around him--usually at just that moment he was dancing circles around her. And it's that dichotomy that made them click as a team.

And someone once said, she had to do everything he did, but backwards and in high heels.

A brunette Rogers went dramatic in 1940s Kitty Foyle...

...and won an Oscar.

As good as Rogers was in that, in my opinion her real forte was comedy. Here she is with a young David Niven in 1939's Bachelor Mother.

Let's jump ahead to the 1970s, when a still-vibrant Rogers tripped the light fantastic with none other than Johnny Carson (poor Ed never got the chance to cut in.)

Ginger Rogers died in 1995, but her films endure. Good thing Hollywood called.


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Graphic Grandeur (Technology Edition)

Cartoonist Rube Goldberg was born on this day in 1883. During his long life, Goldberg drew comic strips, funny postcards, and political cartoons, but is best know these days, and in fact was best known in those days, for a series of cartoon inventions in which a simple end was accomplished through an unjustifiable means. Most of these fanciful machines appeared in a once-popular now-defunct general interest magazine called Collier's under the title The Inventions of Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts in the late 1920s and early 1930s, but Goldberg seems to have done similar-type strips (including some of the aforementioned political cartoons) both before and after that time frame, though minus the Butts name. Actually, it was the cartoonists own name that we now associate with such devices. I'm sure somewhere or other you've come across the term "Rube Goldberg machine", but perhaps didn't know what it meant. Well, here's some examples:

If you squint (sorry, but part of the cartoon is cut off if I try to make it any larger) you might see the names Marcantonio and Faye Emerson, two people well-known in their day but largely forgotten about now. Vito Marcantonio was a liberal Republican (you read that right) congressman back in the 1930s. His New York City district was the same district that propelled Fiorello La Guardia, another liberal Republican, into the mayoral office. Marcantonio seems to have been to the left of La Guardia as he quit the Republican Party and joined  the socialist-leaning American Labor Party as the '30s gave way to the '40s. His constituents didn't seem to mind this walk on the radical side, as he served in Congress another ten years. Goldberg, a Republican but not a liberal, did seem to mind, as I can't can't think of any other reason the cartoonist would have placed him behind the Japanese emperor. As to why the latter is in a baseball uniform, it probably has something to do with the his country being under U.S. occupation, and thus undergoing a process of "Americanization". Faye Emerson was a movie and early TV actress who got as much attention for her personal life as for any film or series that she starred in. Emerson's second husband was Elliot Roosevelt, son of  President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Her inclusion in this cartoon, however, may not have been a political jab as she had divorced the New Dealer's son by the time this appeared. She was one of TV's first sex symbols and known for wearing low-cut gowns, most likely the object of the photographers attention. 

Skitch Henderson was an up-and-coming TV band leader when he married Miss Emerson.  He later on conducted the Tonight Show Orchestra for Steve Allen, Jack Parr, and, until he was replaced by Doc Severnson, Johnny Carson.

Gorgeous George was an early TV wrestling star known for his humorously flamboyant preening. Like a lot of ex-presidents, Hoover spent his retirement (which lasted some 35 years) making speeches.

Born on the Fourth of July, Goldberg was an American original who got one of the highest accolades that can be bestowed on an American original: his own postage stamp in 1995. Of course, you have to be deceased to get that particular accolade. Fortunately, there were a few others that came Goldberg's way while he was still around to bask in the glory.

The above won Goldberg the 1948 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning 

Goldberg was the first president on the National Cartoonist Society, and in 1954, the award given out by the society--sort of like an Oscar or Emmy--was renamed the Reuben (what "Rube" is short for.) That's Goldberg on the left  handing the Rueben to Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz in 1955. Goldberg himself won the award in 1967, but I can't find any photos of that, so you'll just have to settle for this one of him and Sparky.

Rube Goldberg died in 1970. He spent his childhood in the horse-and-buggy era and lived long enough to see a man walk on the moon. No wonder he was so obsessed by technology.