Once again, it’s time to step back and take a look at how far Cracked Rear Viewer has come, and where it’s going in 2018. When I started writing this blog in June of 2015, I didn’t know what I was getting into! It takes a lot of time and effort, and you Dear Readers have certainly rewarded me far beyond my expectations. As of this writing, 2017 has seen 24,456 visitors (doubling last year) view my musings a record 36,756 times. As Sally Field once said, “You like me! You really like me!”. I thank you, one and all.
I’ve tried out some new things this year, some successful, some not so much. The Cracked Rear Viewer Facebook page has given this blog a huge boost; if you haven’t subscribed, please do so! Book reviews on classic film subjects have proved popular, and I’ll continue those in the New Year, as well as my “Familiar Faces” posts. But its movies that are the cornerstone here, and without further ado, here are the Ten most popular posts of 2017:
1- A tie between two classic cowboys: Clint Eastwood in THE BEGUILED (originally published April 2016) and John Wayne in THE SEARCHERS (Sept. 2017). The Clint post gained traction due to the recent Sofia Coppola remake, while The Duke reigns eternal in the hearts of film fans (including Yours Truly – expect more on Wayne as 2018 unfolds!)
2- THE VIOLENT YEARS (April 2017): I pulled out an old VHS copy of this Ed Wood-scripted movie when my DirecTV went down for a few days. The post took off like a comet, surprising and delighting me! This post is the one that got me thrown out of a certain Facebook page (no names, please) for this picture of the video’s hostess with the mostess, Mamie Van Doren:
4- Why I Think ERASERHEAD Sucks! (Nov. 2015) gained views because of David Lynch’s recent TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN on Showtime. I like Lynch, but still think ERASERHEAD is overrated. To each his own.
5- John Ford’s FLESH (July 2017): An obscure Ford entry, part of my “Pre-Code Confidential” series, starring Wallace Beery as a German grappler. The post exceeded expectations when a Pro Wrestling site called F4WOnline picked it up. Thanks, Dave Meltzer and Bryan Alvarez!
6- Marilyn Chambers in David Cronenberg’s RABID (April 2017): I don’t know if it’s because of Cronenberg, porn icon Marilyn, or the fact it’s a great movie; all I know is RABID was one of this year’s most popular posts!
7- 1931’s THE MALTESE FALCON (May 2017): Another “Pre-Code Confidential” post, the original version of Dashiell Hammett’s pulp classic drew a lot of viewers. Most in the “Pre-Code” series do, so expect a lot more in 2018!
8- SEX IN THE CINEMA by Lou Sabini ( July 2017): My look at a book that covers over 100 Pre-Code films, written by film historian Lou Sabini, who also hosts a wonderful Facebook page titled MY “REEL” LIFE. Thanks for the autographed copy, Lou!
9- John Wayne in THE COWBOYS (Dec. 2017): Duke again, in one of his best 70’s Westerns. Like I said, John Wayne is eternal!
10- Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (Nov. 2017): Number One in a new series spotlighting Pulp Fiction writers and their characters, featuring Spillane’s notorious gumshoe. I’m looking into more for 2018; stay tuned!!
As always, I thanks the crew at Through the Shattered Lens for letting me repost my ramblings on their fantastic site. And the biggest shout out of all goes to all you Dear Readers who make it worthwhile! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some writing and editing to do… see you Next Year!!
Since I’m a Massachusetts-based writer and unrepentant Boston sports fan, I’m dedicating this final “In Memoriam” post to two legends in their respective sports. The Red Sox’ Bobby Doerr was MLB’s oldest living player when he died in November at age 99. Doerr was a Hall of Fame second baseman, 9 time All-Star, and one of the best hitters and fielders at his position. Hockey Hall of Famer Milt Schmidt played 16 years with the Boston Bruins, eight of them on the feared “Kraut Line” alongside Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer. Schmidt also coached the Bruins from 1954-66, and passed away in January at 98.
Perhaps the saddest loss in Boston sports was former Boston Celtic first round pick Fab Melo, who died at the tender age of 26 from a heart attack in his native Brazil. Quincy, MA native Sam Mele (98) roamed right field for Boston and 6 other teams; as a manager he guided the Minnesota Twins to the AL pennant in 1965, losing to the Dodgers. Jimmy Piersall (87) played center for the Sox and others; the film FEAR STRIKES OUT starring Anthony Perkins was based on his life. Big Don Baylor (68) went to the World Series with The Red Sox in ’86, the Twins in ’87, and the A’s in ’88. NHL defenceman Gary Doak (71) helped the Bruins win the 1970 Stanley Cup.
The New England Patriots lost quite a few alumni: quarterback Babe Parilli (87) was the franchise’s Tom Brady before there was a Tom Brady. Wide receiver Terry Glenn (43) died in a car accident. A pair of Pats head coaches left the field: Dick McPherson (86) and Ron Meyer (76). Cornerback Leonard Myers died of cancer at 38. Lastly, I’ll ask we just remember Aaron Hernandez’s play on the field, and not the tragic mistakes that led to his demise at age 27.
Other sports stars gone include Hall of Fame pitcher and former U.S. Congressman and Senator from Kentucky Jim Bunning (85), Detroit Tigers & Red Wings owner (and Little Caesar’s founder) Mike Ilitch (91), Chicago Bulls exec Jerry Krause (77), MLB player and World Series winning manager (with the Phillies) Dallas Green (82), Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney (84), Seattle Seahawks tackle Cortez Kennedy (48), baseball umpires Ken Kaiser (72) and Steve Palermo (67), 18 year MLB vet Lee May (74), Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian (94), TV sports producer Don Ohlmeyer (72), NBA superstars Darrall Imhoff (78) and Connie Hawkins (75), play-by-play man Bob Wolff (96), Wimbleton champ Jana Novotna (49), Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson (86), NY Giants quarterback Y.A. Tittle (90), Blue Jays and Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay (40), and premier sportscaster Dick Enberg (82). “Oh, my!” And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Leonard Reiffel (89), the physicist who invented the Telestrator!
The world of professional wrestling was hit particularly hard in 2017. Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka (73) was an innovative high-flyer extremely popular with fans, while Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan (72) was one of the game’s most hated managers. George ‘The Animal’ Steele (79) was noted for chewing up turnbuckles, and portraying Tor Johnson in Tim Burton’s ED WOOD. Ivan Koloff (74) won the WWWF title from Bruno Sammartino back in ’71. Other grappling greats who passed include announcer Lance Russell (91), ‘The Big K’ Stan Kowalski (91), Burrhead Jones (80), Bruiser Bob Sweetan (76), Otto Wanz (74), Buddy Wolfe (76), Chavo Guerrero Sr (68), ‘Outlaw’ Ron Bass (68), Dennis Stamp (68), Japanese hardcore star Mr. Pogo (66), Tom Zenk (59), Nicole Bass (52), Matthew ‘Rosey’ Anoa’i (47), and a pair of “Pretty Boy”‘s, Larry Sharpe (66) and Doug Somers (65). Boxing lost former middleweight champ and RAGING BULL subject Jake LaMotta (95), trainer/manager Lou Duva (94), and Muhammed Ali’s personal physician, “The Fight Doctor” Ferdie Pacheco (89).
Turning our attention to the world of comics, SWAMP THING co-creators Len Wein (69) and Bernie Wrightson (68) both passed away in 2017. Two underground legends, Jay Lynch and Skip Williamson, were both age 72 when they passed. MAD magazine writer Stan Hart (88) also won Emmys for his work on THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW. Fran Hopper (95) was one of the few female artists working during the Golden Age. Dick Locher (88) was the artist on the strip DICK TRACY for decades. Marvel Comic’s Gal Friday ‘Fabulous’ Flo Steinberg (78) was an important part of that company’s emergence in the 60’s, as I’m sure was Stan Lee’s beloved wife Joan (93). Artists Rich Buckler (68), Dave Hunt (74), Sam Glanzman (92), Bob Lubbers (95), and Dan Spiegel (96) are also among the departed. And though he wasn’t in comics, painter Basil Gogos (88) will always be remembered for his FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND cover art.
An era ended when PLAYBOY Magazine founder Hugh Hefner (91) died, as did three-time Playmate of the Month Janet Pilgrim (82). SPORTS ILLUSTRATED writer and author (ALEX: THE LIFE OF A CHILD) Frank Deford was 78; New York Daily News columnist and author (THE GANG THAT COULDN’T SHOOT STRAIGHT) Jimmy Breslin was 88. Jean Stein (83) wrote the definitive oral history EDIE, about Warhol superstar Edie Sedgwick. Robert James Waller (77) was known for his book THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY; Donald Bain (82) for COFFEE, TEA, OR ME? Authors Brian Aldiss (92), Louise Hay (90), Miriam Marx (daughter of Groucho, 90), and Nancy Friday (84) all left us this year. (Just before posting, I learned one of my favorites, Sue Grafton, author of the Kinsey Milhone “Alphabet” mysteries, passed away today at age 77). And finally, two names that won’t be familiar to you, but deserve their last bows. One is Stanley Weston (84), who is credited with inventing the action figure, prized possession of every fanboy! The other gentleman, Robert Blakely (95), was a graphic designer who created this iconic sign…
Let us all pray we don’t wind up running to one in 2018!
Rose Marie, whose career spanned from Vaudeville to the Internet, passed away at age 94. She began in show biz as a 3 year old child singer, featured in early talkie shorts and the 1933 film INTERNATIONAL HOUSE, along with W.C. Fields, Burns & Allen, Bela Lugosi, and a host of other luminaries of the era. Rosie opened for Jimmy Durante at Las Vegas’ brand new hotel/casino The Flamingo in 1946, ushering in that city’s birth as an entertainment destination. She’s best known as man-crazy Sally Rogers on THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW (1961-66), and was a featured regular for years on THE HOLLYWOOD SQUARES. The word “legend” gets bandied about all too frequently, but in this case it’s more than appropriate. Rest in peace, Rose Marie; thanks for the laughter.
The world of rock’n’roll lost two of its architects in 2017, giants who can never be replaced. Chuck Berry (90) was rock’s poet laureate, a smooth showman who chronicled the life and times of 50’s teens with songs like “Johnny B. Goode”, “School Days”, “You Never Can Tell”, and the anthem “Rock and Roll Music”. New Orleans pianist Fats Domino (89) contributed his barrelhouse, let-the-good-times-roll sound on hits like “Blueberry Hill”, “Blue Monday”, “I’m Walkin'”, and “Ain’t That a Shame”. Music will not see the likes of these two originals again, and Cracked Rear Viewer respectfully dedicates this post to their memories.
Rock music suffered another one-two blow when Gregg Allman (69), who helped usher in the Southern Rock style with The Allman Brothers Band, passed away in May. Five months later, superstar Tom Petty died at age 66, taking his beautifully jangling guitar sounds with him. Both men remain staples of FM Classic Rock radio. Boston-based guitarist J. Geils , leader of the eponymous J. Geils Band, left us at age 71. Allman Brothers percussionist Butch Trucks (69) also departed, along with classic rockers Overend Watts of Mott the Hoople (69), prog rock drummer Clive Brooks (67), John Wetton of King Crimson and Asia (67), Steely Dan cofounder Walter Becker (67), AC/DC’s Malcom Young (64), Black Sabbath’s Geoff Nicholls (68), Steppenwolf’s Goldy McJohn (72), Prince percussionist John Blackwell Jr (43), and arranger Paul Buckmaster (71). All left us way too soon.
Reaching back into rock’s roots, legendary blues harpist James Cotton died at age 81. Other greats who passed include Lonnie Brooks (83), Guitar Gable (79), drummer Casey Jones (77), rockabilly pioneer Sonny Burgess (88), white soul shouter Wayne Cochran (78), Delta bluesman CeDell Davis (91), Chicago bluesman Robert Walker Jr (80), gospel blues singer Leo Welsh (85), and James Brown drummer Clyde Stubblefield (73). “The French Elvis” Johnny Hallyday (74) was little known in America, but a worldwide success elsewhere. R&B stars Della Reese (86), Al Jarreau (76), Junie Morrison of The Ohio Players (62), ‘Philly Sound’ singer/songwriter Bunny Sigler (76), Bobby Freeman (“Do You Want to Dance”, 76), Robert Knight (“Everlasting Love”, 72), Pete Moore of The Miracles (79), The Main Ingredient’s Cuba Gooding Sr (72), and soul man Charles Bradley (68) are also no longer with us.
70’s Teenybop idol David Cassidy, who made all the little girls scream as star of TV’s THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY and had hits like “I Think I Love You”, “Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted”, and “Cherish”, succumbed to organ failure at 67. Tommy Page (“I’ll Be Your Everything”) was a young 46. Gary DeCarlo of Steam (75) will always be remembered for the sports anthem “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” . Joni Sledge of Sister Sledge (60) hit it big with “We Are Family”, which became the theme song for the 1979 World Series winning Pittsburgh Pirates. Songwriter Ritchie Adams (78) not only composed the 1961 hit “Tossing & Turning”, but the theme for TV’s THE BANANA SPLITS!
More musicians we’ll miss: Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Audioslave (52), Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington (41), Husker-Du’s Grant Hart (56), Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip (53), The Afghan Wigs’ Dave Rosser (50), Faith No More’s Chuck Mosely (57), The Lollipop Shoppe’s Fred Cole (69), and Pat DiNizio of The Smithereens (62). Paul O’Neill (61) of the fantastic Trans-Siberian Orchestra is gone, so too are reggae stars Earl Lindo (64) and Michael Prophet (60), Mitch Margo of The Tokens (70), power pop singer Tommy Keene (59), gospel queen and Tony winner Linda Hopkins (92), “Bluer Than Blue” singer Michael Johnson (72), ‘Godfather of Jam’ Bruce Hampton (70), and Vegas entertainer Buddy Greco (90).
Country music fans mourned the passing of multi-talented Glen Campbell (81), Don Williams (“I Believe in You”, 76), M-M-Mel Tillis (85), Montgomery Gentry’s Troy Gentry (50), steel guitar wizard Billy Mize (88), and Cajun legend D.L. Menard (85). The world of jazz lamented the losses of singers Jon Hendricks (96) and Keely Smith (89), guitarists Larry Coryell (73) and John Abercrombie (72), drummers Ben Riley (84) and Sunny Murray (81), Big Band singer Dick Noel (90), saxophonist Arthur Blythe (76), accordionist Dick Contino (87), composer/arranger Dominic Frontiere (86), and producer Tommy LiPuma (80).
Those behind the scenes gone in 2017 include VILLAGE VOICE critic Nat Hentoff (91), Casablanca Records exec Larry Harris (70), AC/DC producer George Young (70, who also played with 60’s group The Easybeats and penned their hit “Friday On My Mind”), SHINDIG TV producer Jack Good (86), and producer/exec Pierre Jaubert (88). Each and every one of these individuals contributed to make music that’s accessible to everyone. May they rest in peace, and may YOU, Dear Reader, go out and enjoy as much live music as you can… before it’s too late.
Classic movie lovers suffered a huge loss when long-time TCM host Robert Osbourne passed away at age 84. Robert’s extensive film knowledge and warm personality were always a welcome presence in my home, as I’m sure it was in movie lover’s across the country. Cracked Rear Viewer respectfully dedicates this post to the memory of the gone-but-never-to-be-forgotten Robert Osbourne.
Old movie buffs (some say weirdos!) like myself also mourned the loss of many of our favorite stars in 2017. First and foremost there was comedian/actor/writer/director… you name it, Jerry Lewis did it! From his early days clowning with partner Dean Martin to his final dramatic role in 2016’s MAX ROSE, Lewis was a show business legend in every respect. Beautiful Anne Jeffreys (94) starred at RKO with everyone from Frank Sinatra (STEP LIVELY) to Bela Lugosi (ZOMBIES ON BROADWAY ), and also made her mark in television with the ghostly sitcom TOPPER. Danielle Darrieux (100) was a star in America (THE RAGE OF PARIS) and her native France (THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE…). Another French icon, Jeanne Moreau (89), became an international star in THE 400 BLOWS, JULES AND JIM, and VIVA MARIA! Emmanuelle Riva (89) starred in HIROSHIMA, MON AMOUR. Cool blonde Dina Merrill (93) is remembered for her work in DESK SET, OPERATION PETTICOAT, and THE YOUNG SAVAGES.
Roger Moore (89) took over the role of Agent 007, James Bond, and made it his own. Marvelous Martin Landau (89) lent his talent to everything from Hitchcock’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST to Tim Burton’s ED WOOD, winning an Oscar for his portrayal of Lugosi. Don Gordon (90) is one of my favorite character actors, appearing in BULLITT and PAPILLION alongside his good friend Steve McQueen. Skip Homeier (86) made a name for himself in TOMORROW, THE WORLD!, THE GUNFIGHTER, and HALLS OF MONTEZUMA, among many, many more great films. Lola Albright (92) was superb in CHAMPION , THE SILVER WHIP, and A COLD WIND IN AUGUST, but most fans remember her as sexy singer Edie on TV’s PETER GUNN. Elsa Martinelli (82) was another international star noted for American films HATARI! (with John Wayne) and THE VIP’S.
The list of supporting players gone in 2017 is long indeed: Francine York (80), Dick Gautier (85), Howard Leeds (97), Richard Karron (82), Miriam Colon (80), Clifton James (96), Anita Pallenberg (75), Richard Anderson (91), Frank Vincent (80), Harry Dean Stanton (91), Don Pedro Colley (79), Roy Dotrice (94), John Dunsworth (71), Jack Bannon (77), Karin Dor (79), John Hillerman (84), Ann Wedgeworth (83), Earl Hyman (91), Rance Howard (89), Robert Hardy (91), Ji-Tu Cumbuka (80), and Bernie Casey (78).
John Hurt (77) graced us with his presence in A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, ALIEN, and the HARRY POTTER films. John Heard (71) was so underrated in CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER and CUTTER’S WAY; even in sub-par movies like C.H.U.D. he gives it his all. Alec McCowan (91) gave sterling performances in FRENZY and TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT. Bill Paxton (61) left us much too soon; his parts in APOLLO 13, TWISTER, and A SIMPLE PLAN were just the tip of the iceberg for his talent. ROCKY and THE KARATE KID director John G. Avildsen (81) will be sorely missed.
More losses: Our Gang’s Juanita Quigley (86) and Leonard Landy (84), CLERKS’ Lisa Spoonauer (44), writer John Gay (SEPARATE TABLES), Spaghetti star Tomas Milian (84), W.C. Fields’ IT’S A GIFT daughter Jean Rouvenol (100), porn director Radley Metzger (88), Tim Piggot-Smith (70), beautiful Israeli actress Daliah Lavi (74), Tino Insana (69), actor/stuntman Sonny Landham (76), Gleane Hedley (62), ANIMAL HOUSE’s Stephen Furst (63), Hywel Bennett (73), Barbara Sinatra (90), actor/playwright Sam Shepard (73), Joseph Bologna (82), documentarians Bruce Brown (80) and Murray Lerner (90), Czech actor Jan Triska (80), Dennis Banks (80), peplum hunk Brad Harris (84), GROOVE TUBE and MODERN PROBLEMS director Ken Shapiro (75), director (THE LION IN WINTER) and editor (DR. STRANGELOVE) Anthony Harvey (87), producer Martin Ransohoff (90), THE SOUND OF MUSIC’s Heather Menzies (68), director George Englund (91), sound mixer (THE GODFATHER, STAR WARS , THE DEER HUNTER) Richard Portman (82), director Robert Ellis Miller (89), and cinematographers Gerald Hirschfield (95), Fred J. Koenekamp (94), and Harry Stradling Jr. (92).
Horror film fans were shocked by the passing of two titans of terror: directors George A. Romero (77) and Tobe Hooper (74). Elena Verdugo (92), who fell in love with the Wolf Man in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN , also left us, as did WEREWOLF IN A GIRL’S DORMINTORY’s Curt Lowens (91), EXORCIST author/filmmaker William Peter Blatty (89), THE BLOB producer Jack H. Harris (98), Kathleen Crowley (TARGET EARTH, CURSE OF THE UNDEAD, 87), WAR OF THE PLANETS and WILD, WILD PLANET star Tony Russel (91), SILENCE OF THE LAMBS director Jonathan Demme (73), Ed Wood stock player Conrad Brooks (86), THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI’s Quinn O’Hara (76), the man in the GODZILLA suit, Haruo Nakajimi (88), Nancy Valentine of THE BLACK CASTLE (89), Hammer star Jennifer Daniel (THE REPTILE, KISS OF THE VAMPIRE, 81), Elizabeth Kemp of HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE (65), Suzan Farmer (DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKNESS , DIE, MONSTER, DIE!, 75), Italian director Umberto Lenzi (EATEN ALIVE, CANNIBAL FEROX, 86), THE BOOGEYMAN director Ulli Lommel (72), THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD director Peter Duffell (95), actress Suzanna Leigh (THE DEADLY BEES, LUST FOR A VAMPIRE, 72), and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD sheriff George Kosana (81).
Television lost some of it’s biggest stars of the 60’s and 70’s. America’s Sweetheart Mary Tyler Moore left us, as did MANNIX he-man Mike Connors (91), PERRY MASON’s Barbara Hale (94), GOMER PYLE himself, Jim Nabors (87), Robert Guillaume of SOAP and BENSON (89), and TWIN PEAKS’ Miguel Ferrer (61). Another TWIN PEAKS vet, Michael Parks (77) also departed, along with my favorite Philip Marlowe of all, Powers Boothe (68). TV’s Caped Crusader, the one, true BATMAN, Adam West (88), is no longer Mayor of Quahog, R.I. Erin Moran (56), kid sister Joanie on HAPPY DAYS, is gone, so too is “America’s top trader, TV’s big dealer”, Monty Hall (96), creator and host of LET’S MAKE A DEAL. BRONCO’s Ty Hardin (87) will no longer be riding the range. BATTLESTAR GALACTICA’s Richard Hatch (71) will no longer roam the galaxy.
“Mr. Warmth” Don Rickles (90) left us with a huge comic void to fill. Vaudevillian Professor Irwin Corey (102), king of double-talk, is silenced. LAUGH-IN alums Chelsea Brown (74) and Patti Deutsch (73) both took their smiles away, as well as Shelley Berman (92), Dick Gregory (84), Bill “My name Jose Jimenez” Dana (92), and Jay Thomas (69). Voice actress supreme June Foray (99), rotund stand-up comic Ralphie May (45), sitcom writer Bob Schiller (98), Eddie’s bro Charlie Murphy (57), WALLACE & GROMIT’s Peter Sallis (96), and THE GONG SHOW impresario Chuck Barris (87) have all left, making the world a sadder place.
Other TV names pass us by: 77 SUNSET STRIP’s Roger Smith (84), DALLAS’ Jared Martin (75), CAGNEY & LACEY’s Harvey Atkin (74), IRONSIDE’s Elizabeth Bauer (69), SNL’s Tony Rosato (62), voice actor Bill Woodson of SUPER FRIENDS (99), THE COSBY SHOW’s Earle Hyman (91), THE SOPRANO’s Frank Pellegrino (72), soap star Mark LaMura (68), THE PEOPLE’S COURT’s Judge Joe Wapner (97), director Peter Baldwin (THE WONDER YEARS, 86), SCOOBY DOO’s Daphne, Heather North (71), David Letterman’s mom Dorothy Mengering (95), and GREEN ACRES writer/director Richard L. Bare (101).
Animators Hal Geer (100) and Bob Givens (99) both left their marks with Warner Brothers’ Looney Tunes. Stuntmen Red West (81) and his cousin Sonny West (78) were both part of Elvis’ Memphis Mafia. Critics who’ve gone on include Richard Schickel (84) and Roger Greenspun (87), and long-time New York gossip columnist Liz Smith (94), too. All these men and women have made watching films and television a better experience for us all, and we’re certainly grateful for their contributions. Rest in peace.
Before Rudolph, Charlie Brown, and The Grinch, nearsighted cartoon star Mr. Magoo (voiced by Jim Backus ) headlined the first animated Christmas special, MR. MAGOO’S CHRISTMAS CAROL. First broadcast on NBC-TV in 1962, the special is presented as a Broadway musical, with Magoo as Ebeneezer Scrooge. Directed by Chuck Jones acolyte Abe Levitow , it features songs by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill (FUNNY GIRL), and a voice cast that includes Morey Amsterdam , Jack Cassidy , Royal Dano, Paul Frees (of course!) , Jane Kean, and Les Tremayne. And yes, that is Magoo’s fellow UPA cartoon stablemate Gerald McBoing-Boing as Tiny Tim! Besides 1938’s Reginald Owen version , this may very well be my favorite adaptation of Dickens’ Christmas classic! So here’s my Christmas gift to you all, MR. MAGOO’S CHRISTMAS CAROL in its entirety!:
Irving Berlin’s beloved Christmas classic was first introduced in the 1942 film HOLIDAY INN, starring Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds, and Virginia Dale. Bing and Marjorie (dubbed by radio singer Martha Mears) croon the perennial yuletide tune by the fire, which forever became associated with Crosby. Though many have covered it, nobody sings “White Christmas” like Bing! Enjoy “White Christmas”, and Merry Christmas to all!:
Alvin, Simon, and Theodore, collectively known as The Chipmunks, have been around a long time! Created by Ross Bagdasarian (under the pseudonym Dave Seville), “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” was a #1 hit in 1958, and even earned three Grammy Awards! Get ready to enjoy the squeaky trio as they trill their first big hit!:
Eighty year old Fred Astaire takes on nine different roles in THE MAN WITH THE SANTA CLAUS SUIT, his next to last film. Fred is as charming and debonair as ever, and his presence is what carries the saccharine script, with three varied tales of romance, comedy, and drama interwoven and played by a cast of Familiar TV and Movie Faces, kind of like a “very special Christmas episode” of THE LOVE BOAT.
Gary Burghoff (M*A*S*H’s Radar) is a nerdy math teacher in love with his neighbor, a beautiful (are there any other kind?) fashion model (Tara Buckman, THE CANNONBALL RUN). The model secretly digs him too, but the nerd’s too shy to express his feelings, until a chance encounter with a jeweler (Fred) leads him to rent a Santa suit and propose before she makes the mistake of marrying a rich, handsome playboy (again, are there any other kind?). This leads to slapstick hijinks as he pursues her down the runway at Macy’s. Will they finally get together? Is this a TV Christmas Movie? Of course they do!
Story #2 involves John Byner (BIZARRE) as an ex-restauranteur turned street bum because of his fondness for booze. Byner’s got another problem: he found the gun used in a recent bank robbery, and the hoods who dropped it are after him. Taking a cue from his bell-ringing buddy (Ray Vitte, THANK GOD IT’S FRIDAY), he too rents a Santa suit to disguise himself and rob a pair of rich ex-vaudevillians (Nanette Fabray , Harold Gould). But the lush passes out, and instead of calling the cops, the couple, along with their butler (Danny Wells, THE SUPER MARIO BROS. SHOW) and their two obnoxious grandkids, nurse him back to health. Then the crooks show up, demanding their gun or else everybody gets it! This one also ends on a slapstick note and, corny though it may be, was my favorite segment, thanks in large part to old pros Fabray and Gould doing some nostalgic soft-shoe routines.
The third story arc gets more heavy, as Bert Convy (TATTLETALES) plays a failed novelist, now a self-important senatorial aide whose work caused him to become estranged from his wife (Brooke Bundy, from just about every TV show made in the 70’s, not to mention A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS) and son (Andre Gower, THE MONSTER SQUAD). The uptight Convy gets the idea to dress like Santa from his chauffeur (Fred again) and surprise the boy before attending a big political speech by the senator. The kid runs away, Convy and Bundy argue, but you just know by the time the credits roll they’ll all be together for Christmas Eve.
Fred pops up everywhere in this, as the costume shop owner, chauffeur, jeweler, an Irish cop, a Macy’s floorwalker, cabbie, hot dog vendor, and Salvation Army chorus director. I don’t think it’ll spoil things to reveal he’s really jolly old St. Nick himself, in New York to spread some Christmas magic to the protagonists. Astaire is graceful as ever, and though he doesn’t dance, he does get to warble the theme song “Once a Year Night” in that trademark light-as-air voice. The late 70’s New York locations add atmosphere, and the cast is more than capable of making the syrupy material work. THE MAN IN THE SANTA CLAUS SUIT won’t disappoint fans of confectionary Christmas films, and it does gives us all one more chance to see Fred Astaire perform his own brand of onscreen magic. What more could you ask for in a Christmas TV Movie?
Around the time he was making SPIDER BABY, horror movie icon Lon Chaney Jr. recorded “Monster Holiday”, a cover of Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s yuletide follow up to “The Monster Mash”. Chaney’s certainly no Bing Crosby, but he sounds like he’s having a lot of fun! Backed by LA session musicians The Wrecking Crew, enjoy Lon croaking “Monster Holiday”!: