As promised, here’s part II of my musical post. On this beautiful, sun-kissed weekend what else matters but some fresh air, a good smoothie and some swell tunes?! So here we go, lean back. This is Radio Talking Classics for you with a selection of classic songs from Hollywood, Broadway and beyond.
Today, I am sharing something I just stumbled upon the other day. Blacklisted, a radio piece by Tony Kahn, son of screenwriter Gordon Kahn who was persecuted for fifteen years from the late 1940s to the early 60s. Accused of being a communist, he refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee and was thus blacklisted in Hollywood and driven into exile. Decades later, his son felt compelled to tell the story of his father’s fate and ultimately his own. A gripping tale about the beginnings of the Cold War and the effects of Second Red Scare on the lives of many artists, their friends and families.
Click here to listen to the complete radio play. If you’re interested in Hollywood’s Golden Age and it’s most unfathomable chapter, you won’t be disappointed, I’m sure. If you’re generally fond of American history, this will also please you beyond measure. Blacklisted is a personal piece that won’t answer all of your questions, but it offers a glimpse into an era we have learned to either glorify or demonize. It’s high time we listened more closely in order to get a better understanding of our own ambiguous times.
USA 1977-87, nine seasons, four specials, 249 episodes, approximately 50 minutes each, ABC, color. Produced by Aaron Selling, Douglas S. Cramer. Cast: Gavin MacLeod, Bernie Kopell, Fred Grandy, Ted Lange, Lauren Tewes, Jill Whelan, Ted McGinley, Pat Klous. Guest stars: June Allyson, The Andrew Sisters, Eve Arden, Gene Barry, Polly Bergen, Amanda Blake, Tom Bosley, Raymond Burr, Sid Caesar, Leslie Caron, Cyd Charisse, Olivia de Havilland, Patty Duke, Joan Fontaine, Greer Garson, Andy Griffith, Katherine Helmond, Celeste Holm, Gene Kelly, Werner Klemperer, Jack Klugman, Dorothy Lamour, Janet Leigh, Allen Ludden, Rue McClanahan, Leslie Nielsen, Lilli Palmer, Donna Reed, Della Reese, Debbie Reynolds, Marion Ross, Eva Marie Saint, Jaclyn Smith, Jean Stapleton, Gale Storm, Sada Thompson, Lana Turner, Gloria Vanderbilt, Betty White, William Windom, Shelly Winters, Jane Wyatt, Jane Wyman and many others
Plot summary: On the Pacific Princess, love and laughter are all-inclusive.
Review: In 1976, three TV movies launched the career of a special ship, the Pacific Princess. Based on a non-fiction book by cruise director Jeraldine Saunders, the so-called Love Boat traveled the world with Captain Stubing and his crew. Each week, they were accompanied by a wide array of guests stars ranging from Hollywood legends to contemporary starlets. Split into three different stories, every episode focused on love, comedy and drama. Written by three sets of writers, the weekly plots rarely crossed over but instead made The Love Boat crew the pivotal element that held them all together.
The Captain (Gavin MacLeod), Doc (Bernie Kopell) and bartender Isaac Washington (Ted Lange) were the longest serving members of an ensemble that appeared to be tight on camera and off. They were supported by Gopher (Fred Grandy) and Julie McCoy, played by Lauren Tewes, a young actress who successfully earned her stripes on TV in the first seven seasons. Eventually, they were joined by Jill Whelan as Vicki Stubing, the Captain’s daughter, and Pat Klous as Jody McCoy, Julie’s sister and replacement for the last two seasons. In 1979, Charlie’s Angels checked in on the Pacific Princess to solve a case and simultaneously introduce Shelley Hack as the latest angelic addition. Collaborations like that were rare but boosted ratings for Aaron Spelling’s other projects, Fantasy Island following suit in 1980.
Popular around the world during its ten year run, The Love Boat offered an escape from the grim realities of politically callous times. At the height of the Cold War, the program was bubbly, glamorous and diverting. A perfect vehicle for old stars and new ones alike and thus an evening favorite for boomers and their parents. Shown in reruns for many years, the first two seasons were finally made available on DVD in 2008. A great treat for anyone who has fond memories of flares, weekly cameos and the famous theme song performed by Jack Jones (as well as by Dionne Warwick in 1987).
Talkie of the Week: Disney Series
USA 1955, 75 minutes, Technicolor, Walt Disney Productions, Distributed by Buena Vista. Based on Happy Dan, The Whistling Dog by Ward Greent. Voice Talents: Peggy Lee, Barbara Luddy, Larry Roberts, Bill Thompson, Bill Baucom, Verna Felton, Stan Freberg, Alan Reed.
Plot summary: One of the greatest love stories of all time, a cocker spaniel and a mutt are sharing spaghetti in the moonlight.
Review: For anyone who is not fond of dogs, this film is probably a bore. For anyone who loves canines and their world, Lady and the Tramp is a gem. Inspired by true events and loosely based on a short story by Dan Green, Disney’s fifteenth animated feature tells the story of cocker spaniel Lady and her life in a posh neighborhood. As the only dog of her human owners, she is sheltered, spoiled and used to the comforts of a collar. Tramp is her direct opposite, a mixed breed, hardened and laddish. Charmer that he is, he impresses her with stories of a stray existence, of a life beyond her picket fences. It is a world she cannot get accustomed to although she slowly falls in love with the mutt who introduces her to it. When Lady suddenly runs into mischief and needs help to save her family from harm, it is Tramp who rushes to her rescue and ultimately wins her heart.
Presented in Cinemascope as the first of its kind, Disney’s “happiest motion picture” is colorful, elegant and delightful. Told from Lady’s perspective, the plot takes place in a world shaped by humans but experienced on four paws. The main characters are all canines, beautifully brought to life by Disney’s expert staff. With a carefully executed love to detail, Lady, Tramp, Jock and Trusty move and look exactly like the breed each one of them represents. With their previously demonstrated awareness of animal expressions and their idiosyncratic behavior, the Disney animators continued a tradition they had started with the production of Bambi in 1942. With a mixture of realism and fantasy, they created a world that doesn’t exist to tell a story that reflects human emotions and needs. Lady is like a child who takes her first steps in the world without parental guidance. In the beginning, she is still a little clumsy and naive, but always charming. The first lessons she learns are secondhand stories shared by her older peers. But before long, she has her own adventures.
What sets this film apart from similar stories are the combined talents and skills brought together by Walt Disney Productions. From the first glimpse of an idea in 1937 to the final sketches in the 1950s, the story was revised, improved and edited to become the classic it now is. Vocally perfected by Peggy Lee, the film premiered on June 22, 1955 and turned into an immediate success. Making more money than any other production since the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, Lady and the Tramp was re-released to theaters four times before the film was made available to the public on VHS in 1987. Today, it is available on DVD and Blu-ray with many extras, including deleted scenes and a making of. Although the film widely differs from modern productions, predominantly in language, attitude and design, Lady and the Tramp is the kind of motion picture that will never go out of style. It is a film blessed with unforgettable tidbits and scenes. From Lady’s first appearance to the famous spaghetti dinner and my personal favorite, the names of Lady’s owners, Jim Dear and Darling. It is a film from a bygone time when beauty still mattered and animated features invited us to dream. Watch the trailer here to refresh your memories. I’m sure the music alone will bewitch you within a short few seconds.
The sun is moody, my household’s a mess (as usual at the end of the week) and I have a long list of chores. And what do I do?! Procrastinate of course. I had a lovely breakfast, practiced my dancing steps and now I love to play some of my favorite songs to sweeten my day.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t stop singing along when a classic song comes up. Especially if it’s a tune I haven’t listened to in a while but have always loved. Once a song has popped up in my mind, another one usually follows and I end up with an entire playlist. So, fellow music lovers, let’s see what I’ve come up with so far. Maybe you’re in the mood to join my lilting.
TV classics: Family
USA 1976-80, five seasons, 86 episodes, approximately 50 minutes each, ABC, color. Produced by Leonard Goldberg, Aaron Selling, Mike Nichols. Cast: Sada Thompson, James Broderick, Gary Frank, Kristy McNichol, Elayne HeilVeil, Meredith Baxter Birney, Quinn Cummings.
Plot summary: Family life is not a walk in the park and no one knows that better than Kate and Doug Lawrence, two middle-aged parents who love and curse their kids at the same time.
Review: When Family premiered in the spring of 1976, the family shows had long been established on TV. Programs like Father Knows Best or The Donna Reed Show had coined the genre in the early days. Unlike its predecessors, however, Family dealt with issues and disputes in a serious way. Although joy and laughter belonged to the Lawrence’s household, the overall tone of the show was serious. In contrast to the early family sitcoms, Kate and Doug were loving but stern parents who had to deal with three children and their struggles.
Set in Southern California, the Lawrence family belonged to the upper middle class and led a comfortable life in Pasadena. Kate, played by a warmhearted but slightly melancholy Sada Thompson, was the female head of the household. A woman who had put her family before her own professional aspirations and thus fought with her own demons. Doug (James Broderick) was Kate’s husband and father of Nancy, Willie and Buddy. As an independent lawyer, he was the negotiator of the family, a strict man who had his convictions but wasn’t set in his ways. Nancy, the oldest daughter, was married in the beginning of the show but later divorced her husband. Selfish by nature and equally demanding, she had a difficult relationship with her mother whose own values differed largely from hers. Willie, the second-in-line, was a high school drop out who dreamed of becoming a famous writer. Buddy, the pet of the family, was his favorite sister. A tomboy on the outside, she was a teenage girl within. Insecure about her height and femininity, she slowly grew into a confident young woman who was a reliable and honest friend. As the youngest Lawrence offspring, she had suffered greatly after the loss of her older brother, Timothy, five years prior to the show’s beginning. His death a gash still tangible in the entire family.
It were topics like these that set the show apart from many others. Family didn’t shy away from touching uncomfortable or somber topics. Breast cancer, divorce and the doubts of an expectant mother are just some of the examples that made this program what it was: a story about a fictional family with realistic challenges and problems. Although not yet available on DVD as a complete collection, the first two seasons provide an insight into the difficulties and changes of the 1970s. Influenced by subjects and questions discussed at the time, the show now functions like a time capsule. No matter if you are fond of the era or critical of it like me, Family offers a wonderful cast and moving storylines. A real treat for anyone who wants to understand the sensitivities of a different time, as well as the roots of female characters who speak their mind. Kate Lawrence has always been one of my favorites, strong, hands-on and maternal. Here’s my favorite scene with her from the pilot, a great example of the style and tone of a show that started as a mini series and ended its run at the dawn of a new decade after five seasons.
Talkie of the Week: Disney Series
USA 1940, 125 minutes, Technicolor, Walt Disney Productions. Distributed by: RKO Radio Pictures. Master of Ceremonies: Deems Taylor. Music written by Johann Sebastian Bach, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Paul Dukas, Igor Stravinsky, Ludwig van Beethoven, Amilcare Ponchielli, Modest Mussorgsky and Franz Schubert. Music performed by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Review: In the late 1920s and 30s, Walt Disney first mixed animated pictures with classical music in a series of cartoon shorts called Silly Symphonies. As an advancement of this concept, he soon started working on The Sorcerer’s Apprentice based on Goethe’s famous poem and Paul Dukas’ composition. Created to boost Mickey Mouse whose popularity had suffered in the shadow of the Silly Symphonies, the piece was colorful and lavish, and thus soon burst the budget. Without much ado, Mickey’s short was included in another production, a film Disney’s favorite mouse was destined to become the signature star of. Designed as a concert with a Master of Ceremonies, a famous conductor and a real orchestra, Disney’s third feature broke new ground. By combining live action scenes with animated stories, Fantasia blurred the lines of reality and imagination, of classical music and pop culture imagery.
Released on November 13, 1940 the film was received with mixed reviews and mild audience approval. On the eve of America’s entry into WWII, the majority of movie goers was looking for funny cartoons rather than sophisticated culture. Unfortunately, Fantasia didn’t attract music lovers either. Instead, they turned up their noses at Disney’s picturesque concept. For them, the animation destroyed the power of classical music and its most appealing effect, the stimulation of the human mind and its imagination. It presented prefabricated pictures rather than create an atmosphere that allowed the audience to form their own inside their heads. That form of criticism may sound peculiar to film enthusiasts. After all, a movie is nothing but a sequence of moving pictures. But it is also a fair argument for anyone who appreciates the fine art of music and all the emotions it evokes.
Re-released to theaters several times during the war and after, Fantasia had a hard time making enough money and was finally presented in different versions and shorter cuts. Released as part of the Walt Disney Classics collection in 1990, the film finally found everlasting success on VHS and laser disc. It is now available in its full glory on DVD and Blu-ray as a compilation with Fantasia 2000, a film that finally continued what Walt Disney himself had once planned to be a series of motion pictures inspired by the best of classical music and tales.