Friday, November 17, 2017

Top 100 Classic Radio Shows

Don't you love it when you come home to find yourself tripping over a package delivered by UPS? This is exactly what happened to me last week and, discovering the box weighs a ton, carried it into the house to discover what was inside. Complimentary copies of the first of three books to be published this winter. Unlike the two reference guides published later this year, this one is a lavish hardcover coffee table book. Titled The Top 100 Classic Radio Shows, the book is a product of our fascination with the era that intrigued, educated and entertained listeners in equal measure. Through archives, personal interviews, and papers of those involved with programming during the golden age of radio, this book is the culmination of three decades of hard work, long road trips, thousands of hours of scanning photographs, and licensing recordings of the vintage radio broadcasts.

My co-author, Carl Amari, is the radio host of Hollywood 360, a weekly four-hour program focused on delivering the best of old-time radio programs, with trivia interlaced in between. Every Monday a new four-hour program is posted on the site and you can become a faithful weekly listener by visiting the link below.

Choosing what would specifically be considered the 100 greatest was not easy. Radio personalities Ed Wynn and Kate Smith were not included because their influence was more historical than entertainment. Few recordings exist from those two personalities, thus it was decided to cover only the programs that recordings commonly circulate among collectors.

From Amos n' Andy, Jack Benny, Little Orphan Annie, Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy and The Lone Ranger, this book serves as a primer for anyone wanting to learn the basics of Old-Time Radio 101, and various bits of trivia sprinkled on every page to serve as Old-Time Radio 102. The graphic layout is spectacular, easy on the eyes, and includes three bonus audio CDs in the inside back cover.

I was shocked to discover that a book this lavish, slick and glossy, full color and 224 large-sized pages is retailing $29.95. One would expect a retail price of $59.95. At least, that is what I usually pay for books produced in this same manner. It is now available on for a discount price.

Friday, November 10, 2017

For Sale: The Original Robby the Robot

Robby the Robot is back in the news again. He made his debut in the 1956 classic, Forbidden Planet, designed by a talented group of individuals at the MGM prop department, a radical advance from the walking tin cans that appeared in such films prior as The Phantom Empire and... well, name a movie that pre-dates Forbidden Planet and you know what I am talking about. He's become an iconic symbol for fans of classic science-fiction films, marketed as wind-up toys and figurines multiple times, and the costume was reused multiple times on other productions. And Robby is up for sale.

Robby was cool. He cost $125,000 to be made (equivalent of more than $1 million by today's inflation), considered themes expensive movie prop made up to that time, and was worth every penny. He looked like a million bucks. The diorama used as a backdrop of Altair IV looked cheap compared to Robby, who overshadowed the cast (with respect to Leslie Nielsen and Anne Francis) upon his first entry in Forbidden Planet. It was not until Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey that the bar was raised with science-fiction production. (Some might debate that Gort in The Day the Earth Stood Still was equally cool, and I won't dispute that.) 

Because Robby remained a prop on the MGM lot, he was recycled for use on numerous movies and television productions, from The Invisible Boy (1957), four episodes of The Twilight Zone, The Addams Family, My Little Margie, The Thin Man, Morky and Mindy, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.The Love Boat, Wonder WomanThe Monkees, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Hazel, Lost in Space and Columbo. Robby makes a brief appearance either in tribute or as a spoof in such films as Heavy Metal (1981), Gremlins (1984), The Big Bang Theory, The Simpsons, and in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

So it might come as a surprise that a recent auction at Bonhams will offer Robby the Robot to the highest bidder. In conjunction with Turner Classic Movies, the annual auction of movie memorabilia, props and costumes usually contains half a dozen eye-brow raisers. Among the items this year is a trench coat worn by Peter Falk on Columbo. 

Robby was on display behind glass as the 2006 San Diego Comic Con and had I known about that beforehand, I would have flown out there just to have my photo taken with the iconic movie prop. My only hope is that Robby will be purchased by someone who can put him on display at a museum for fanboys like myself to pay a visit.

The auction house offers an online catalog for curiosity seekers and potential bidders, with descriptions of the items. (I often read the descriptions for those occasional bits of trivia, which I find fascinating.) The link below offers a direct view of Robby the Robot as promoted on Bonham's website. 

The Bonhams auction will be held November 21. If you cannot wait to see what the gavel price will go for, check out Julien's November 17 auction when an x-ray of Marilyn Monroe's pelvis and Evil Kinevel's motorcycle goes up for sale.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Passing of Lois Laurel and Joan Winwill

In reading the latest issue of Bob King's Classic Images magazine, I was reminded that no matter how many newsgroups, Facebook groups and digital newsletters I subscribe to, there is always something news-related that fell below the radar. Proving that subscribing to hardcopy magazines in a digital age is still worthwhile. Case in point the mention of the passing of two women with minor acting careers.

Lois Laurel with her father, Stan Laurel
Lois Laurel, the only daughter of comedian Stan Laurel, died after a long illness in a Mission Hills, California, hospital on July 28, 2017. Her father was half of a legendary comic team of Laurel and Hardy. Her mother was actress Lois Neilson, the first of the comedian's four wives. She appeared in uncredited roles in several of their comedy shorts, The Chimp (1932), Swiss Miss (1938) and The Bullfighters (1945). She was married to actor Rand Brooks, who plays supporting roles in numerous movies including Scarlet O'Hara's first husband in Gone With the Wind (1939), and Lucky Jenkins in a number of Hopalong Cassidy movies. 

Among her favorite stories to relate was the day she received a phone call from a journalist who asked her if she was "the daughter of Laurel and Hardy." For those familiar with Stan Laurel's appearance on This is Your Life, Lois was among the guests on that telecast. You can watch that loving tribute through the link below and Lois appears at the 23:45 minute mark.

Lois Laurel was 89.

Joan Winmill Brown
Joan Winmill Brown passed away at the age of 89 in June 29, 2017, in Maui, Hawaii. Windmill was born in London, England, on December 21, 1921. She began her career as an actress on stage shortly after World War II. She played a major role in the hit play, The Chiltern Hundreds, at London's West End in 1947. She met Robert F. Kennedy after a stage performance and the two became romantically involved over the following year. The two year affair was ended when Kennedy's family put an end to the relationship. Following the breakup, her career took a downward turn as she frequently turned to barbiturates and sleeping pills to help with her insecurities. She took on a small role on stage as Mary Wells, the maid, in Bela Lugosi's British tour with the play, Dracula, from April through July of 1951. 

Joan Winmill Brown, as she was known during her 30 years of marriage to William F. Brown, was also the author of 18 successfully published books. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Halloween, Hollywood Style

I love Halloween. The time of year when the seasons change, the leaves change colors and an excuse to watch the good ol' horror films with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. My favorite are the Universal monsters like Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolf Man, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Mummy, The Invisible Man... well, you get the idea. And of course, I like to browse through my collection of photographs (and photographs people sent me) of gorgeous Hollywood starlets who also love to celebrate Halloween. Here are a few of them!

Adele Jergens

June Knight  1938

Yes, that's Virginia Bruce

Ava Gardner

Esther Ralston

Ida Lupino

Joan Crawford

Mae Murray of the Ziegfeld Follies
 Special thanks to David Tribble, for supplying some of these photos.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Premature Death of the Video Store

Movie Madness has been a Portland institution since 1991. Known for its vast collection, knowledgeable staff, and display cases full of legendary film props, the iconic Belmont, Oregon, storefront has a deserved reputation as one of the best video stores in the country. One visit and you will notice how the store has practically every movie you can imagine. There is a section devoted to silent slapstick, containing hundreds of commercial DVDs; another selection devoted to the films of Preston Sturges.

With the video rental business going the way of the Dodo, and a drop in membership over the last few years, the iconic video store was recently threatened extinction. Thankfully, the Hollywood Theatre in Portland started a Kickstarter to raise $250,000 by November 10, necessary to purchase the entire collection/inventory, including movie props and memorabilia, to transform Movie Madness into a community-focused, member-supported non-profit.

A Kickstarter to raise money and save a video store rental facility might sound offbeat by today’s standards, with Redbox, Netflix DVD rentals and Amazon streaming available at our fingertips. But this story has a surprising ending.

Dresses worn by Faye Dunaway
and Julie Andrews on display.
In the fall of 1970, Michael Clark got his start in the movie business as an apprentice editor for 20th Century Fox’s television studio on their Movie of the Week. Irwin Allen’s City Beneath the Sea was the first film he worked on. From there he worked his way up from studio to studio, working on both film and television productions until he landed the “job of a lifetime” as a post-production coordinator for MGM and Warner Brothers Studios. While in this position, he worked on films such as Poltergeist, Rocky IV, War Games and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

In 1990, MGM sold their studio lot to Sony Pictures, and moved to a corporate office. Clark was offered a position at Universal Studios, but instead he followed his ambitions and opened a video store. He went back to his hometown of Portland and created a film archive that had a little bit of something for everyone. A video store with a selection so large that it was almost impossible not to find the film you were looking for. At least, that was the goal.

Movie Madness and More opened doors on April 12, 1991, in a tiny 895 square-foot space, with 2,000 titles on VHS. From this began an empire that experienced multiple phases of growth. The first big change was the takeover of the adjoining storefront in 1993. Then in 1996 a hallway was constructed to incorporate what had previously been a garage in the back. Each expansion led to more shelves and more movies. In 2003, Clark purchased the building and four years later, installed permanent cases for his collections of costumes and props from iconic cinematic masterpieces such as Faye Dunaway’s dress from Bonnie and Clyde, the Fu Dog from Citizen Kane, the knife from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, the iconic baby buggy from The Untouchables, and Ingrid Bergman’s chair from Rick’s CafĂ© in Casablanca.

Though most of the pieces in the collection were purchased from various auctions, there were props donated from people Clark knew from his studio days. Even actress Margaret O’Brien donated multiple items for a display case in the video store. Thus, the video store doubles as a museum.

Today, you can rent a new release DVD or Blu-Ray for $4 for three days, and a regular DVD or Blu-Ray for $3 for three days. But hard times fell on the video rental and no amount of patronage was going to save it… until the Hollywood Theatre jumped in to save the day.

Last year the 71-year-old decided it was time to retire, but he did not want to see his life’s work up on eBay. So he approached the Hollywood Theatre and made them an offer that was too good to pass up. Program director Dan Halsted, who relied on Movie Madness for researching films to program at the theater, knew something had to be done. “I think there is a misconception right now that movies are all available online,” said Halsted. Having restored a 1926 movie palace, and opened a new Microcinema at Portland International Airport, the nonprofit organization thrives with 3,200+ members.

Movie Madness had an estimated 80,000 titles in the collection to choose from. Impressive when you consider the fact that, according to Variety in 2016, Amazon has 18,405 movies available for streaming (and 1,981 TV shows), Netflix had 4,563 movies (and 2,445 TV shows), and Hulu had 6,656 movies (and 3,588 TV shows.) Movie Madness had twice as many titles available as all three platforms combined. And the video store was facing the possibility of closing doors.

“Streaming services offer only the illusion of choice,” said a rep for the Hollywood Theatre. “In reality, their constantly-shifting lineup is dictated by studio licenses and distributor contracts, with titles subject to vanishing without notice.” And sadly, whenever there is an industry transition to a new format, movies are left behind. Obscure and cult titles rarely make the cut.

So on October 11, a Kickstarter was created with a goal of $250,000 to be raised by November 10. This was an all-or-nothing venture and a campaign to raise awareness, from local news coverage to distribution of postcards, to spread the word. (This was not the first video store to go the nonprofit route. Santa Monica’s Vidiots went nonprofit in 2012. Scarecrow Video in Seattle took the plunge in 2014.)

The response was overwhelming and the Hollywood Theatre reached their goal in the first nine days. Proof that physical home media still reigns supreme in an era where digital video streaming is considered by many as the wave of the future.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Funding The Lone Ranger Museum Display

Fred Foy is best known as the announcer for The Lone Ranger. It was Foy's memorable voice that opened the radio program with: "From out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver... The Lone Ranger rides again!" Foy wrote a book about the inner workings of the program but was unable to get it published before his untimely death. His daughter, Wendy, is now offering a signed and limited numbered first edition in order to raise money as a gift fundraiser to set up a museum display focusing on Fred Foy's history of The Lone Ranger. 

Only 250 copies of the book are available for a tax-deductible donation of $110, or more. These first editions will not be available for sale to the public so this is the only way you can get a copy. You can only get a copy of this book through this fundraiser. Each are hand-numbered and signed by Wendy Foy, Fred's youngest daughter. Check or money order can be made payable to "The Wabash County Museum" and the notation line should say "donation." The check or money order should be mailed to:

Wendy Foy
Po Box 1313
Wells, Maine 04090

Be sure to include your mailing address and if hand-written, legible so she can read it and know where to send the book to. 

And if you want to know more about Fred Foy, his daughter created a spectacular website dedicated to the voice that became synonymous with The Lone Ranger. I highly recommend it. Not only is this the most comprehensive website created by a family relative of radio and television's pop culture, but you will find yourself spending thousands of hours reading and listening. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Mystery of Robert Arthur

Robert Arthur once wrote that “suspense is that quality in a story which makes you want to keep on reading it to find out what happens. By this definition any good story, of course, has suspense in it. A love story can have suspense – does it end happily? A mountain climbing story can have suspense – does the hero get to the top of does he slip and fall over a cliff?” Such was the brief exploration in the mind of a writer who today is synonymous with The Mysterious Traveler radio program. Together with producer-director David Kogan, Arthur scripted more than half of the stories for the eerie program that was broadcast weekly over the Mutual Broadcasting System.

Robert Arthur’s accomplishments extended beyond a single radio program. Prior to his radio career he was a prolific writer of hundreds of short stories and novellas for pulp magazines. From science-fiction to detective fare, Arthur made a living hammering the keys of his typewriter and submitting stories to the editors of national magazines. Many of these stories were recycled for radio programs including Dark Destiny, Just Five Lines and Murder by Experts. He also recycled plots and characters from short stories for The Shadow, Nick Carter, Master Detective and Suspense. What adds to the confusion is deciphering which came first… the radio play or the short story?

“Death Thumbs a Ride” was originally published in the January 1942 issue of Weird Tales, then adapted into an episode of The Mysterious Traveler, re-titled “The Haunted Trailer,” for broadcast on June 3, 1952. The radio version featured a number of minor revisions when you compare the extant recording of that broadcast to the printed page. The radio version would later be re-written into short story form as “The Haunted Trailer” for Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghostly Gallery (Random House, 1962) and again in A Red Skel(e)ton in Your Closet (Grosset & Dunlap, 1965) and again in Red Skelton’s Favorite Ghost Stories (Tempo, 1970).

“Calling All Corpses,” published in the October 1948 issue of Dime Mystery Magazine, was an adaptation of an original radio play, “Welcome Home,” dramatized on both The Mysterious Traveler in 1943 and The Sealed Book circa 1945.

“Death Laughs Last,” broadcast on The Mysterious Traveler on the evening of September 24, 1944, was based on the short story, “The Dead Laugh Last,” published in the August 1942 issue of Detective Novels Magazine.

Also adding to the confusion is the fact that Arthur wrote under numerous aliases. Robert Forbes, John West, Anthony Morton, Andrew Fell, Jay Norman, Joan Vatsek (the name of his wife, incidentally), A.A. Fleming, Andrew Benedict, Pauline C. Smith, Andrew Saxon, John A. Saxon and Mark Williams have been verified. Further digging in the coming year may reveal a few more pseudonyms. The purpose of a pseudonym, by the way, was for writers to collect more money for their stories – including two or three submissions appearing in the same issue of the same magazine.

About half of his short stories have been reprinted in paperback and hardcover anthologies over the years, making it easier for curiosity seekers to find a copy without having to shell out $85 for a detective pulp magazine in the collector market. When The Mysterious Traveler branched into a series of five mystery magazines, Arthur was the editor and multiple short stories written by Arthur appeared within the same issue. During the mid-fifties, Arthur also ghost-wrote for Alfred Hitchcock for a series of hardcover and paperback anthologies. Besides the fact that one story in each of these anthologies were written by Robert Arthur, the copyright page always acknowledged “the invaluable assistance of Robert Arthur in the preparation of this volume.” This included Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories They Wouldn’t Let Me Do On TV (1957) and Alfred Hitchcock Presents: My Favorites in Suspense (1959).

Beginning in 1964, Robert Arthur began writing a series of children’s books in the hopes of cashing in on the success of such popular publications as The Hardy Boys and Rick Brandt. Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series comprised of 43 books. Arthur wrote the first nine, and the eleventh. Other authors assumed the task following Arthur’s departure.

He was twice honored by the Mystery Writers of America with an Edgar Award for Best Radio Drama; 1950 for Murder by Experts and 1953 for The Mysterious Traveler. Regrettably, recordings for the majority of his radio contributions do not exist in recorded form. No recordings are known to exist of his contributions for Adventure Into Fear (1945), The Teller of Tales (1950) and Mystery Time (1952).

On The Mysterious Traveler, The Sealed Book and other programs, Arthur and Kogan shared joint authorship but like Lennon and McCarthy, scripts were always written solo. This Halloween, when you take time to listen to an episode of The Strange Dr. Weird or The Mysterious Traveler, take a moment to remember that while those programs have an E.C. Comics feel of blood n’ thunder, the pulp style of science-fiction, fantasy and horror also have a pulp origin.