Singing Along II

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.

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Interview Treats

Many of you may already be familiar with these, but for those of you who are not, I am happy to introduce you to the Archive of American Television*. They offer a variety of in depth interviews with legendary faces behind and in front of the camera back in the earlier days of television. If you ask me about my dream job, this would be it: initiating serious, easeful conversations with the people who created my favorite screen memories.

Below you can find a selection of my favorite interviews, but there are many more for you to enjoy. If you’re like me, you’ll end up spending an entire weekend exploring the archive and listening to your favorite people. Just grab a cup of tea, some cookies and a blanket, then cuddle up on the couch with your laptop nearby and embrace the stories and memories of your childhood heroes. It’s a real treat!

Alan Alda, Julie Andrews, Bea Arthur, Tom Bosley, Carol Burnett, Tyne Daly, James Garner, Sharon Gless, Katherine Helmond, Shirley Jones, Eartha Kitt, Angela Lansbury, Jack Lemmon, Rue McClanahan, Mary Tyler Moore, Diana Muldaur, Phylicia Rashad, Della Reese, Marion Ross, Jean Stapleton, Gale Storm, Loretta Swit, Dick Van Dyke, Betty White, Jane Wyman and many others…

* The Archive of American Television is also on Youtube. You can find their TV Legends channel here.

Murder, She Wrote

TV classics: Murder, She Wrote

USA 1984-96, 264 episodes, 12 seasons, 45 minutes each, CBS. Created by Peter S. Fischer, Richard Levinson, William Link, Producer: Angela Lansbury, Peter S. Fischer, Richard Levinson, William Link, David Moessinger, Music by John Addison. Cast: Angela Lansbury, William Windom, Tom Bosley, Ron Masak, Guest Stars: Julie Adams, June Allyson, Barbara Babcock, Gene Barry, Polly Bergen, Len Cariou, George Clooney, James Coburn, Courtney Cox, Marcia Cross, Mike Farrell, Michael Horton, Kim Hunter, Shirley Jones, Brian Keith, Dorothy Lamour, Martin Landau, Keith Michell, Kate Mulgrew, Leslie Nielsen, Jerry Orbach, Cynthia Nixon, Richard Paul, John Rhys-Davies, Wayne Rogers, Mickey Rooney, Jean Simmons, David Ogden Stiers, Loretta Swit et al.

Plot summary: JB Fletcher is a retired English teacher gone bestselling author who writes mysteries for a living and solves real murders after hours.

Review: Already looking back on a renowned career in Hollywood and on the Broadway stage, Angela Lansbury became a household name when she entered America’s living rooms in the fall of 1984. As former English teacher gone mystery writer Jessica Fletcher, she won the hearts of audiences worldwide, solving crimes on paper and in person while sometimes butting heads with the police outside of her hometown Cabot Cove in Maine. Inquisitive by nature, Mrs. F found it hard to resist investigating the crimes she stumbled into, often bringing her own life in danger when she got too close to the truth.

Supported by some recurring characters, Jessica worked with her hometown sheriffs, Doctor Hazlitt, Scotland Yard and an agent from MI6. She solved murders on vacation and on book tours, found crimes that hit close to home but never got gritty. Her way of investigating was suspenseful yet family friendly. Murder, She Wrote was not CSI or Law & Order_ SVU.  The show relied on strong performances and a whodunit story rather than violence and exaggerated action. JB Fletcher was a widow and retired teacher, she didn’t carry a gun or used science jargon. She used her eyes and ears to observe and connect the dots – much like Miss Marple had, solving crimes a different way.

Always savvy, warm and assertive, Jessica Fletcher was a respected member of her community and extended family, always eager to expose the truth behind the crimes she got involved with. Angela Lansbury did a fine job creating one of TV’s most beloved characters, a part that put four Golden Globes on her resumé and a record of twelve consecutive Emmy nominations.

Canceled due to time slot changes in 1996, Murder, She Wrote has remained a popular program in reruns and on DVD. Living on in a franchise that includes mystery novels, games and four TV movies, JB Fletcher is still a beloved member of many households around the world and continues to entertain her fans both young and old.

Murder, She Wrote opening theme

Please Murder Me

Talkie of the Week: Please Murder Me

USA 1956, 78 minutes, black & white, Distributors Corporation America. Director: Peter Godfrey, Written by David T. Chantler, Ewald André Dupont, Donald Hyde and Al C. Ward. Cast: Raymond Burr, Angela Lansbury, Dick Foran, John Dehner, Lamont Johnson, Robert Griffin, Denver Pyle, Alex Sharp, Lee Miller, Russell Thorson

Plot summary: Attorney Craig Carlson falls in love with his best friend’s wife and asks for his approval to marry her. When his friend is found dead a week later, his widow is accused of murder and Craig defends her only to discover her darkest secrets.

Review: In Please Murder Me, Raymond Burr was cast as attorney Craig Carlson who falls in love with Myra Leeds, his best friend’s wife, played by Angela Lansbury. That was in 1956, the same year he started working on the Perry Mason pilot before she show went on the air on CBS to be a great success from 1957 – 66. The movie was Raymond Burr’s test run as a successful lawyer and a way for him to prove his leading qualities. A supporting actor since 1946, he finally got the break he deserved and made the best of it. Always immersing himself in his parts, Raymond Burr brought a lot of ruthless energy to his performance and built up a beautiful chemistry with his female co-star.

Angela Lansbury, a Hollywood veteran since 1944, brought an eerie quality to her performance, creating suspense and sizzling moments with Raymond Burr. As character actors, they both took the plot and made the best of it by adding depth to this emotional drama.

As a “typical” film noir, it is hard to summarize the plot without giving too much away. It is safe to say however that this film won’t leave you untouched. Thanks to the profound talent and expressiveness of its two leads, the film takes the step from diverting to excellent. Angela Lansbury and Raymond Burr aside, Please Murder Me was blessed with a decent cast of actors who breathed life into their characters and made the story believable. The perfect film for this moody April weather and a rainy Sunday night.

Available on DVD and online.

Ford Television Theatre

TV classics: Ford Television Theatre

USA 1952-57, 5 seasons, 195 episodes, 30 minutes each, NBC and ABC. Sponsored by the Ford Motor Company. Cast examples: Gene Barry, Joan Bennett, Barbara Britton, Raymond Burr, Bette Davis, Richard Denning, Irene Dunne, Barbara Hale, Brian Keith, Angela Lansbury, Maureen O’Sullivan, Larry Parks, Ronald Reagan, Barbara Stanwyck et al.

Plot summary: Like many anthology series of the time, the Ford Television Theatre presented a new story with a new cast of actors in different genres each week.

Review: Like many of its sister anthology series, the Ford Television Theatre presented a new story with a new cast of actors in different genres each week. Originally a radio program, the show was first broadcast like on TV in 1948 and picked up for a full run of 195 half-hour episodes in 1952. The show got its name from its sponsor, the Ford Motor Company and was often introduced by a commercial that presented the latest Ford models. Ford Television Theatre managed to attract a great variety of movie and working actors, including Barbara Stanwyck, Irene Dunne or Claudette Colbert.

Unfortunately rather hard to come by these days, the episodes differed in quality and are definitely still a matter of preference and taste. Barbara Hale’s appearance on Behind the Mask, for instance, increased the resonance of the episode for me which offers a storyline about a medical impostor that’s too complex for the format. Man without Fear on the other hand made perfect use of its thirty minutes and lived of its concise story and brilliant cast including Raymond Burr as a haunted fugitive who confronts the man who got him into prison. The Ming Llama presented Angela Lansbury with her captivating talents but failed to live up to the story’s apparent inspirational source, The Maltese Falcon.

All in all, it’s safe to say that Ford Television Theatre offered a decent collection of episodes with a great mix of stories from all kinds of genres. Some were based on true stories, others were plain entertainment, ranging from suspenseful to corny. Footnote on a Doll with Bette Davis as Dolly Madison was one of the latter and due to Ms. Davis’ reliably gripping performance, it’s one of my favorites. Remember to Live is another episode I greatly enjoy, especially because it made use of Barbara Hale’s background as an artist. Fugitives with Raymond Burr in a small role completes my current list of favorites, surprising enough not for his convincing as always delivery but for the main plot he’s only a side note in.

But no matter if you share my preference in actors, their talents and style, Ford Television Theatre created entertainment for everyone. So if you get a chance, check out some episodes and see how they affect you. Favorite actors or not, I’m sure you’ll discover more than just a single gem.

The 80s

The 1980s

Looking back, the 80s seem to have been dominated by aerobics, a blindingly rich pink and shoulder pads. What the decade brought us was yuppies, legwarmers and a 1950s comeback. Blue jeans were stone washed, perforated and often tight, and career women wore sneakers on their way to work and then switched back into their heels before entering their business palaces. Bows were big on prom dresses and wedding gowns, men had mullet hair, women perms, and artificial fabrics and colors were the thing to wear. Madonna released her debut album in 1983, The Bangles were popular and so was REM. Lean cuisine entered the market and dieting was a public motto now along with a general fitness craze.

On TV, Murder, She Wrote with super sleuth Angela Lansbury as J.B. Fletcher was mighty popular, as well as Family Ties, The Cosby Show, Growing Pains, The Wonder Years and Who’s the Boss. Other famous shows were The Greatest American Hero, Remington Steele, Fall Guy or ALF. Like in the 70s, the list of household names is long and many of these shows are still well received on DVD or in re-runs today. Continuing a tradition that started back in the 1950s and 60s already, the 80s brought us a lot of shows with Hollywood legends, familiar faces and names. Falcon Crest, for example, featured Jane Wyman, Hotel first Bette Davis and then Ann Baxter and Barbara Stanwyck graced a season of Dynasty‘s spin-off The Colbys. In 1985, my favorite Perry Mason returned to TV after almost 20 years of absence and reunited Raymond Burr with Barbara Hale as Della Street for twenty-six star-studded TV movie episodes that lasted well into the early 90s. Women continued to redefine their image on stellar shows like Cagney & Lacey, The Golden Girls and Designing Women, standing their post-feminist ground as working mothers, single women and retirees.

At the movies, teen flicks like Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or The Breakfast Club turned into box office hits, as well as dance movies like Dirty Dancing, Fame or Footloose (which was just recently remade). All in all, 1980s cinema was dominated by comedies, action movies and romance, creating stars like Molly Ringwald, Michael J. Fox or Patrick Swayze. Some of my decade favorites are Out of Africa, The Big Chill, Beaches, Mask, Matewan, The Doctor or Steel Magnolias. As the last full decade that knew how to create old style Hollywood momentum, the 1980s brought on many more memorable TV shows and films with a lot of stars that are still around these days, Richard Gere, Neil Patrick Harris or Michelle Pfeiffer only to name a few. The 80s also rediscovered class – now guess who’s fond of that?!

Studio 57

TV classics: Studio 57

USA 1954-56, 4 seasons,  124 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, DuMont (then syndication), black & white. Produced by: Revue Studios, Sponsored by: Heinz 57. Cast selection: Lex Barker, Jean Byron, Barbara Hale, William Hopper, Brian Keith, DeForest Kelley, Angela Lansbury, Peter Lawford, Peter Lorre, James Nolan, Hugh o’Brian, Aaron Spelling, Rod Taylor, Bill Williams, Natalie Wood and many others

Plot summary: An anthology TV series, Studio 57 featured different genres, plots, actors and storylines every week.

Review: It is hard to review and sum up a program as diverse as Studio 57. Not uncommon in the 1950s, Studio 57 was one of those anthology series that featured a different storyline and cast of actors every week. Although mostly introducing unfamiliar faces, the show also had its number of rising stars and well-known actors, including Angela Lansbury, Peter Lorre, Barbara Hale, Bill Williams or Brian Keith. With its diversity of genres, Studio 57 met the style of the many other anthology shows. Due its often marginally successful scripts and not always driving force talents and names, the show was rather short-lived.

One of the better known episodes is “Young Couples Only”, starring Barbara Hale, Bill Williams and Peter Lorre. With its science fiction plot, the episode is a good example for the often well cast shows but poor storytelling. Although not extremely suspenseful by today’s standards, the episode is great fun to watch for everyone who enjoys the marvelous talents of the lead actors. The script may not have given them a lot of material to work with, but they do the best with what they have. Peter Lorre is eerily spooky as the apartment building’s janitor, and Barbara Hale and Bill Williams do a beautiful-as-always job to stir up suspense, fear and suspicions with the little meaningful lines they got to convey the plot.

All in all, Studio 57 is a program for everyone who is interested in TV history, in anthology series and rarely shown material with a beloved or sometimes little known cast of actors. Selected episodes are available on DVD and very worth checking out if you want to get a more accentuated impression of the diversity of 1950s programs and a sense of the roots of contemporary TV.

Available online here.