Sunday, March 27, 2022

Vital Viewing (Sidesplitting Siblings Edition)


Harold Nicholas was born on this day in 1921 (he died in 2000.)

Harold's older brother Fayard (1914-2006)


Here's the two of them together, but the above photo is a bit misleading, as the Nicholas Brothers were rarely seen...

  ...sitting still.

I briefly wondered if I should do this post as an "Under the Radar", my recurring feature dedicated to talented people who never quite achieved fame, but the above advertisement convinced me that the Nicholas Brothers were famous enough, at least in their day. Touring the continent--that would be Europe--triumphant appearances in England, France, Sweden, Portugal, Italy and Denmark. Unfortunately, here in North America, the continent of their birth, there were no triumphant appearances in the United States South, either live or on film. On the latter score, their motion pictures either were all-black productions (and often shorts) which never made it past the Mason-Dixon line, or mostly white pictures that featured the two of them in specialty numbers (one of which they shared with a pre-Carmen Jones Dorothy Dandridge, Harold's then-wife) that existed outside a movie's main storyline, so as to be easily edited out when it was shown in the land of Dixie. But such scenes weren't edited from the films shown in London, where Harold and Fayard became popular enough to warrant a Royal Command Performance in 1948. What did King George VI care about Jim Crow?

Produced by Jack Haley Jr (the Tin Man's boy), 1985's That's Dancing! was an offshoot of Haley's That's Entertainment! film compilations. Starting in 1974, these were themselves theatrical films that celebrated the heyday of the Hollywood musical. What made TD! a bit different from TE!, is the latter was solely dedicated to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which could give someone too young to enjoy that heyday the misleading impression that only MGM made musicals in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s. In fact, all the major Hollywood studios produced musicals. It was a very popular form of movie entertainment in that era. Now at the time Metro did have deeper pockets than the other studios, and eventually was able to lure stars of the genre who had originally achieved success elsewhere. For instance, Fred Astaire first rose to fame at RKO before hearing the roar of Leo the Lion. Astaire eventually danced through enough of MGM's Metrocolor product to be featured quite prominently in all three That's Entertainment! movies, but was never seen dancing with Ginger Rogers in black-and-white. That's Dancing! redresses this imbalance by showing production numbers from all the major studios, thus giving you a more rounded picture of motion picture history (part of MGM's generosity in that regard may have had something to do with then-owner Ted Turner also owning the film libraries of several of its competitors, but I'm just speculating.) The Nicholas Brothers did do one film for Metro, The Pirate, but most of their cinematic movements were at 20th Century Fox (which I guess qualifies them these days as Disney Legends), including Down Argentina Way, which is featured in That's Dancing! Because it's a bit similar to another clip I want to show you, I'm going to skip DAW for now, but I will show you Harold and Fayard, now in their golden years, promoting the release of That's Dancing! Watch:

They seem like a couple of nice guys.

And they were a couple of nice kids. Their mother was a pianist and father a drummer who played in their own band at Philadelphia's Standard Theatre, which from 1914 to 1931 specialized in black vaudeville entertainment. Oldest boy Fayard got to see all the top black entertainers at his parents' place of employment and obviously was quite taken with the dancers. Entirely self-trained, he taught his sister Dorothy and kid brother Harold how to dance, and they formed their own act, The Nicholas Kids. Dorothy soon dropped out and that was when the act's name was changed to The Nicholas Brothers (of course they were that before there ever was an act.) Their combination of tap and acrobatics got them noticed pretty quickly, playing not just the Standard but now-legendary Cotton Club (though at the latter only white audiences were allowed to see them perform, discrimination at its most head-scratching.) Then came Broadway. The Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 (a show that also featured Bob Hope and Josephine Baker), and the very next year Rodgers and Hart's Babes in Arms. All well and good, but none of that meant posterity. For that you needed moving pictures, especially for those two, who, after all, moved pretty damn fast, examples of which now follow.

First up is a scene from an all-black movie about an all-black radio station none-too-subtly titled The Black Network. Fayard is 21 (but looks 15) and Harold is 15 (but looks 10.) Watch:


As you watched them dance, did you keep in mind that it's supposed to be a radio audition? At least it was tap and not ballet.

Finally, we jump ahead seven years to 1943, by which time both brothers were old enough to drink, not that it matters since they couldn't possibly have done what you're about to see next unless they were cold sober. Deciding to do it in the first place, then they might have been as high as a Sun Valley chairlift. Here's the preternaturally amazing Nicholas Brothers at their amplified-tapping, gravity-defying, land speed record-breaking, bone fracture-resistant best. But first you have to sit through a few minutes of Cab Calloway (and that, my friends, is hardly a hellish experience):

And to think, spandex hadn't even been invented yet!





Saturday, March 19, 2022

No Exit

When it rains, it pours.

Especially if you're the one accidentally seeding the clouds.

I was in a bit of a rush last week. I was in the process of buying a car, which necessitated the running of all kinds of errands. That, along with a full-time job, left little time to work on this blog, and I really just should have taken a break from it, but couldn't. Shadow of a Doubt is a major creative outlet for me, and an existential one as well. I'm not much of an existentialist in my personal life or my work life. I'm more of a reluctant determinist. Or maybe just a third-rate actor reading from a script titled Perfunctory Etiquette. Life outside this blog involves compromise, self-restraint, tact, and socialized behavior in general, all necessary ingredients for a functioning society, but not always nourishing for the soul. Neither is doing what you have to do to keep from being economically disenfranchised or systematically marked for, if not destruction, then at least capitalistic irrelevance. Writing about a 1960s sitcom or a 1950s comic strip or a 1930s musical may seem rather trivial to you, but it's a much less angst-filled experience than trying to get a rusted license plate off a car or driving along a busy thoroughfare looking for the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, which ends up being on a side road anyway. As Jean-Paul Sartre once said, "Hell is other people", especially if there's about ten of them standing in line in front of you waiting to get their auto registration. Intent on not letting an absurd universe keep me from my blog, I carved out some time to work on it, and work fast on it. Too fast, as it turned out.


Existentialist-wannabe that I am, I often look for examples of existentialist behavior in the creative types I regularly write about. I was going to do a post last week on the actor Will Geer, best known for playing the high-spirited grandfather on The Waltons. Geer led a fascinating life. He was a folk singer as well as an actor, and in the 1930s ran in the same circles as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. Now, if you know anything about Guthrie's and Seeger's politics, politics that Geer wholeheartedly shared, then you won't be surprised to learn that the future Grandpa Walton spent much of the 1950s on the Hollywood blacklist. Then there's Geer's personal life. 12 years after the actor's death in 1979, it was reported that Harry Hay, founder of the Mattachine Society, a pre-Stonewall LGBTQ group, had once been a former lover of Geer's. This relationship began in 1934, the same year Geer married actress Herta Ware, with whom he had three children. This for me made Geer even more fascinating, and I was quite eager to include the information in my post. The problem came when I tried to elaborate on this same-sex relationship. How long did this love affair last? When did it end? Did Geer's wife know about it? For that matter, Hay himself for a while had a wife--did she know about it? The relationship first came to light in a 1990 biography titled The Trouble with Harry Hay: Founder of the Modern Gay Movement by Stuart Timmons. I went to Google Books, but while Timmon's book is listed, no excerpts are provided. Elsewhere online I was able to glean a bit more on the Geer-Hay romance, though only from Hay's point of view. Originally an actor, Hay met Geer when both were in a play in Los Angeles. Hay at the time was apolitical, but not once he hooked up with Geer, who got him involved in all kinds of radical causes, so much so that the two thespians spent more time in picket lines than onstage. They helped organize dock workers, maritime workers, agricultural workers. Soon a thought occurred to Hay. Why not organize homosexuals? All told it took about 15 years and the publication of Alfred Kinsey's Sexual Behavior in the Human Male before Hay felt confident enough to do so. 1950 finally saw the formation of the Mattachine Society, which, in its various incarnations, had a good 20-year run, and laid the groundwork for the modern LGBTQ movement. And all because Harry Hay and Will Geer were an item.

Except Will Geer and Harry Hay were no longer an item in 1950, their relationship not having outlasted the Great Depression (the same time setting as The Waltons) Now, Geer was very proud of his radical past and that he had refused to name names when asked to by the House Un-American Activities Committee. He didn't just spend the subsequent blacklist-induced years of unemployment moping around but instead established an artist's colony for others (including Woody Guthrie) who had run afoul of the HUAC on land he owned in Southern California's rural Topanga Canyon. I know it sounds a bit corny, but it's said that when Geer was on his death bed, his ex-wife, his three grown children, and several grandchildren sang Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" to the actor as he took leave of consciousness. Yet there was a limit to Geer's social activism and that was gay rights, the one (at the time) radical cause he was, in light of Hay's revelation, conspicuously silent about. It was not my intent a week ago and it's not my intent now to pass judgement on that silence. Geer was 70 years old when TV stardom came his way. He had had enough controversy by then. Existence may precede essence, but essence has a way of catching up. And was Geer even gay or bi in the first place? Harry Hay is the only male to have ever gone on record as having had sex with Geer, and as I said before, not until 12 years after the latter's folk musical demise. That Hay's claim has gained relatively widespread acceptance in the years since makes me suspect that a lot of males have gone off the record about their own trysts with Geer, but I don't know that for a fact. And suppose Hay was the only one? I don't believe gay urges are temporary, they're there in youth as well as old age. If anything is deterministic it's that. But Geer wouldn't necessarily had to have acted upon those urges. Why does any of this matter? Well, I wanted to use Will Geer as a prime example of the artist-as-existentialist (whether he saw himself that way or not), but his personal life becomes nonexistent after he divorced Herta in 1954. Of course, I could just ignore his personal life as I did when I wrote about Charles Nelson Reilly. Had Geer's 1930s affair been with George Cukor or Christopher Isherwood, I would have. But Harry Hay has credited Geer with his political awakening, a political awakening that led to a major social movement, and that was too intriguing for me to pass up. I just wanted something from Geer's own point of view on the subject, and I couldn't find it.

Also, I needed to get that license plate off. A whole can of WD-40 and that damn bolt still wouldn't budge. I'd have to take it to the garage. 

So I put the Will Geer post away for some other time. I guess you could say that some other time was a week and a half later, today, and you just read it. But you see, here it's meant to be just a prologue, a sorry example of my boneheaded perfectionism. Because the rest of this post has very little to do with Geer or Harry Hay. Instead, it might as well be subtitled...

...How I Fucked Up My Own Blog.

  So I decided to do a post on the beginning of Daylight Savings Time instead, which at the time was still a few days off. Not that I was going wait. I was going to get that post done tonight. I very quickly gathered up a trio of YouTube videos on the subject, came up with a title, some prose to introduce each video, and--viola!--I was done. Now, I even though I got it done that night, I wasn't going to post that night. I would just leave it in draft until the 13th.

Now, those of you with blogs of your own know that you can date the premier of your posts far in advance, but I rarely do that. I like to be able to tinker with it right up to the end if I can.


Sometimes it's a finger, sometimes it's an arrow. Most of the time I don't care what it is, as long as it guides me to wherever I want to go on a screen.

Now this intricate piece of machinery DOES care whether it's an arrow or a finger.

If I choose the red--er, box on the left...

...I get this, seen by me and nobody else. Take note of the word in the upper-left-hand corner.

Same as this word, and that's the word I was trying to click. But I was moving that arrow or finger or whatever it is so furiously on the screen...

...that I clicked this instead.

Now the mistake is easy to fix, and fix it I immediately did.

However, there was a problem. The name of this blog appears in a number of blogrolls, such as the one above, and that pleases me. You'll note a post I did four months ago. Click on the title, and you'll get...

...that post naturally enough. However, were I to... 

...and then go back to that blogroll....'s still there! However, were I actually to click the title of that post, you wouldn't get that post, but instead this message...

The post you are looking for does not exist.

This has happened to me in the past, and I've always just shrugged it off. So someone clicks it on and wonders what the heck is going on. I don't know if it was the stress of buying a car or going to work or trying to get off a rusty license plate, but this time it really...

...pissed me off. I was determined to get that title of the rescinded post off other people's blogrolls. Remember "Speaking Pravda to Putin", that post I did on Ukraine? I reverted it back to draft and then timed it to come back on a week later, the very day I accidentally posted the post about Daylight Savings Time. Then I checked people's blogrolls. For some reason it didn't take. So I decided to copy the Ukraine post and repost it that way. Still didn't take. I kept going back-and-forth, and I'm not sure exactly how I did this but...

...this got clicked on. "Speaking Pravda to Putin" was no more.

So now I was determined to get that back.

As you can see, there's no shortage of advice on how to restore a deleted post. If I only understood what they were trying to tell me. It's all so technical

Somehow I was led to this feature on the "Settings" page. What could it hurt to turn it on?

Well, "Speaking Pravda to Putin" never showed up. Instead...

...every single post I've done since 2008 was duplicated. Two of every "Quips and Quotations." Two of every "Vital Viewing." Two of every "Graphic Grandeur." 14 years of blogging had had become 28 years with just a flick of a cyberswitch! Oh, now I was truly in existential hell.

As it turned out there was a fairly easy, if somewhat time-consuming way, to get rid of all those duplicates.

On the dashboard page with all the posts, each duplicate alternated with the original. All I had to do was scroll down, check one off, and mark the other for deletion. I kept the tops and got rid of the bottoms, thinking it wouldn't make a difference. I was all the way to 2018 when I felt the need to go to the bathroom. Before I did, I clicked on the trash can, and four years of check marked boxes disappeared. It was when I came back that I realized my mistake (as if I hadn't made enough of those already.)

See all those zeros?  It means those particular posts got no comments. Except that those posts DID get comments. The posts were cloned, but not the comment sections. Only the originals had the original comments. And those were bottom posts, the one I had marked for destruction. Four years of comments were gone!

I was devastated. I don't know about anywhere else, but when it comes to the Shadow of a Doubt comment section, Heaven is other people. I value your comments, and take them very seriously. I don't always respond to them right away, because I want to think carefully about how I'm going to respond. Now due to my haste and stupidity, the blog had undergone a virtual vivisection.

Fortunately, the comments weren't completely wiped out. They still exist on one of the dashboard pages. Now I've to get them on the duplicate posts, no simple task.

It may change once I get this posted, but as I write this it's still in draft, and that means the posts on this particular page starts at the top with "Error" and ends at the bottom with "Under the Radar: Dick Miller". With the exception of "Error" (in which case I had glumly turned off the commenting), I restored everything you folks have contributed going back to January 30, 2002, not a huge length of time I admit. What I've done is copied the comments and pasted them in whatever post they were in originally, and then added your names. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I could still link your names back to your blogs, so that if you click on Andrew, that takes you to High Riser, and Mike gets you Billions of Versions of Normal. I couldn't do anything about when these comments were dated. If Shady Dell Knight, Debra She Who Seeks, or Mistress Maddie left comments on January 30, it's now recorded as having been put there March 13, when I added them again. Your profile photos, those little pictures next to your comments, are also absent. So there's no Parnassus landscape, no Moving with Mitchell's smiling face, no Jenny Woolf's cat in a bonnet. Sorry. However, if you really do want that picture next to your words, all you have to do is copy those words, paste them into the comment box and--presto!--there's your picture. I'll then remove the duplicate.

I hope to eventually restore every comment going back to 2018, but it's going to take a while. In the meantime, if there's a particular comment that you left that you cherish, let me know and I'll see if I can put it on the fast-track.

As for that license plate, the guy at the garage couldn't get it off either, at least not with a wrench or pliers. The bolts had to be drilled off. The plate now rests not too far where I'm now typing. I may keep it. That way the next time I make a stupid mistake, I can hit myself over the head with it. That may be even more existential than working on a blog.