The Love Boat

TV classics

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.

Love Boat crewReview: 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).

The Far Horizons

Talkie of the Week: The Far Horizons

USA 1955, 108 minutes, color, Paramount Pictures. Director: Rudolph Maté, Written by Winston Miller, Based on the novel Sacajawea of the Shoshones by Della Gould Emmons. Cast: Fred MacMurray, Charlton Heston, Donna Reed, Barbara Hale, William Demarest, Alan Reed, Eduardo Noriega, Larry Pennell, Julia Montoya, Ralph Moody, Herbert Heyes, Lester Matthews, Helen Wallace, Walter Reed.

Plot summary: After purchasing the Louisiana Territory in the early 1800s, President Jefferson sends Meriwether Lewis and William Clark out West to explore the new territory and claim the adjacent land leading to the Pacific Ocean for the United States.

The_Far_Horizons_1955Review: There are a lot of things one could say about Paramount Pictures’ The Far Horizons, historically correct is not one of them. As one of the few features (if not the only) ever made about the Lewis and Clark expedition (1803-06), the film is a piece of fiction rather than a serious rendition of actual events. Dominated by a dramatic love story, the film borrowed an exciting setting to weave a colorful story around an adventure that in itself bears enough material for two feature-length adaptations. Based on Sacajawea of the Shoshones though, a novel by Della Gould Emmons, The Far Horizons falls sadly short of paying tribute to a now famous team of brave explorers.

Sacajawea, although praised as a key figure of the successful expedition, is but a mere shadow of the actual historic figure. Donna Reed – refurbished with a wig, her skin a deep made-up brown – did a decent job transforming herself into a native teenager who, as fiction would have it, falls in love with Charlton Heston’s philandering Lieutenant Clark. But the spark is strangely missing. Reduced to an unfortunate loser in love, Fred MacMurray did his best to flesh out his version of Meriwether Lewis, a man who (in real life) presumably committed suicide a few short years after completing his expedition but was on friendly terms with his fellow explorers. Barbara Hale played Julia Hancock, a young woman who choses Clark over Lewis in the beginning of the movie and has to deal with her fiancé’s change of heart when he returns to Washington in the end. Although none of the heartache ever happened, Barbara Hale’s scenes with the main characters are heartbreaking and one of the reasons to give this picture an honest chance. It’s also a plus to see this film released in widescreen format on DVD. Produced in Technicolor and VistaVision, the nature shots are beautiful and even breathtaking at times, the quality genuinely mid-1950s.

In general, The Far Horizons is not the kind of film you may turn to more than once (unless you are a fan of one of the above mentioned actors). Rated by Time Magazine as one of top ten historically most misleading films in 2011, the plot definitely leaves a lot to be desired. It is still a film, however, that – despite its many controversies – also has acting highlights towards the end and even offers discreet comments about society, including the status of the female sex.

Watch the original trailer here.

Merry Christmas!

As a holiday treat this year, I bring you a list of my favorite holiday films. So lean back and click the links to the trailers and teasers to get into a blithe mood for Christmas.

  • It’s a Wonderful Life: The older I get, the more I appreciate this film and the deeper I fall in love with it. James Stewart and Donna Reed are so powerful and touching in this film, for all of you who haven’t seen it yet, here’s a colorized version for you this season.
  • Miracle on 34th Street: Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn and a very young Natalie Wood – this 1947 original was remade for TV in 1955 and then again for theatrical release in 1994. Judge for yourselves which version you like best.
  • Barbara Stanwyck Christmas movies: Yes, she starred in two – in Remember the Night in 1940 and five years later in Christmas in Connecticut. Both films are not what you might expect of holiday entertainment and yet they capture the essence of the true meaning of Christmas.
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas: Yes, an animated classic from 1965. Charlie, Linus, Lucy, Snoopy – what’s not to love?! Never mind that Charlie Brown even manages to turn Christmas into a problem.
  • White Christmas: Yes, granted, the song was already a hit when the film was released in 1954, but the cast turned it into a smash of its own. Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen sang and danced to Irving Berlin’s beautiful music and thus conquered the hearts of a romantic audience.
  • The Bishop’s Wife: “Sigh, Cary Grant” as a friend of mine would put it. Yes, and David Niven and Loretta Young, too. Now if that’s not an incentive to watch this special film from 1947. It was remade as The Preacher’s Wife with Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington in 1996, but like so many remakes, at least for me, it doesn’t hold a candle to the charm of the original.

And last but not least, I recommend another Christmas favorite of mine, The Andrew Sisters Christmas album. Here’s a sample song from their joy-filled collection of songs -  exactly the kind of spirit I like on Christmas!

Season’s greetings to you all, wherever you are, and a wonderful start into a blessed new year 2013!

The Benny Goodman Story

Talkie of the Week: The Benny Goodman Story

USA 1956, 116 minutes, color, Universal Pictures. Director: Valentine Davies, Written by Valentine Davies, Cast: Steve Allen, Donna Reed, Bertha Gersten, Herbert Anderson, Robert F. Simon, Barry Truex, Hy Averbeck, Sammy Davis Sr., Dick Winslow, Shepard Menken, Jack Kruschen, Wilton Graff, Fred Essler, David Kasday, John Erman

Plot summary: As a boy, Benny Goodman studied the clarinet and discovered his love for the world of music, a world he took by storm and redefined as an adult.

Review: The film industry has always loved a good story that’s rooted in real life: Al Jolson, Tom Edison, Glenn Miller – the dream factory’s fondness for biopics reaches back to its early days when Hollywood itself was still a land.
The Benny Goodman Story is one of those biographical films – not as successful as its predecessor, The Glenn Miller Story from 1954, but every bit as musical and entertaining. Starring Steve Allen as Benny Goodman, the famous clarinetist, the film starts in the musician’s childhood and follows his path from his roots in Chicago to his ultimate success in California and the rest of the United States. Throughout the film, Allen gave a quiet performance of a man whose sentiments became tangible in his music. He was supported by a lovely Donna Reed whose character underwent a believable transition from a true skeptic to a woman who fell in love with Benny Goodman and his revolutionary music.

Although already blessed with two strong, experienced performers, the real excellence of this pictures lies in the performances and appearances of many real, contemporary artists, Ben Pollack and Gene Krupa to only name two. It is their music and enthusiasm that makes this picture special and papers over the cracks of a wildly fictitious story, another biopic tradition Hollywood continued with the production of The Benny Goodman Story. For anyone who can’t help but swing it to Goodman’s rhythm and tunes, this film is a real treat. Fifty-six years after its original release, the movie still has what it takes to attract a music-loving audience of all ages.

The film is available on DVD. You can watch The Benny Goodman Story trailer here.

The Art of Film-Making

I just recently had a conversation with my aunt who reminded me, once again, how little people know about the art of film-making. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s nothing essential, but for an industry that lives on creating images and myths, I find it interesting how inadequate a picture it draws of its most crucial bees in the hive. We all know that actors are important, that they put a face to a story and fill it with life, but who would they play without a script, who would they be without a director who guides them through it?

I know, during awards season, certain names are mentioned from time to time – directors more often than producers, editors or cinematographers. Thing is, it’s a process to create a film and takes a village to carry it from that first sparkle of an idea to an actual theater near you. It often takes years to raise the necessary money and many films are never made for many different reasons – from the studio system until today, some things never change.

Generally speaking however, film-making is hard work and requires skill, sweat and imagination. You need enthusiasm, a thick skin and dedication, no matter what position you are working in. From the set runner to assistants or the wardrobe department, if you don’t love your job, it will affect the production. And while that may be true for any job, be sure to know that film people rarely work on a regular schedule and are constantly looking for a new project to sink their teeth into. So if you don’t love what you do, why bother? Why put up with the hassle of possibly never seeing your project come to life?

If you’re working in the creative industry, failure, disappointments and frustration are as common as the flu. If you can’t deal with it, it’ll eat you up. So no matter how, if you want to write, compose or act, direct, produce or design, find your coping mechanism, because success is not easy to come by. Surround yourself with supporters, not with people who like to bathe in the possibility of meeting celebrities. Casting shows and gossip paper articles about actors and their supposed fairytale lives have shaped many people’s perception of an industry that has always relied on reinventing their own achievements and popular faces. Don’t buy into what they tell you and learn by doing what it means to make a film. And if you can spare a minute, sit down and imagine how different your favorite movie would’ve looked like with a different cast, score or coloring – it may give you a perspective of all the jobs that were pivotal to make it. Just look at Perry Mason, at Warren William’s portrayal in the 30s compared to Raymond Burr’s two decades later. The same character performed in such a different style and manner. Both perfectly cast if you ask me, but still so unalike in their delivery.

And while I’m at it, I’ve always thought that Barbara Hale would’ve been a beautiful Mary in It’s a Wonderful Life and I’m convinced that Raymond Burr would’ve tackled Stanley Kowalski in a hauntingly impressive way. Daydreaming aside, I also appreciate the wonderful casting we’ve seen in both projects and give kudos to the casting directors who managed to merge talent with chemistry. The Donna Reed Show is another example of a job well done and so is I Love Lucy, Perry Mason, and Our Miss Brooks. For my dream project, I always cast Bill Williams for the lead in The Adventures of Tintin, a film I would have loved to make had I been alive back in the 40s – a film that was released as an animated feature last year and is a great example for the art of film-making.

Personal Note On Spring Cleaning

It’s that time of year again: spring has finally arrived and I feel like cleaning out my cupboards, closet and shelves. I look at new (vintage) dresses and dust off my heels, I start looking for flowers and I’m back to cooking leaner meals.

When I grew up, I have to admit, I never grasped the meaning of spring cleaning. I knew my grandma did it with abandon and what was important to her has always mattered to me, but somehow the rejuvenating effect escaped me until a few years ago. I don’t know what started it, maybe I’ve just been getting older (and a little wiser I would hope), but now, spring cleaning starts my new year like I was always taught it would.

So along with scrubbing my floors and clearing out my basement, I also go through my boxes and files, my pictures and books, my movies and shows. And each year seems to awaken something new: a project, a friendship or a journey.

The funny thing about my spring cleaning is that it’s a process – though joyful and humbling at times, it also comes with a melancholy side. Last year at this time, I was mending my heart that had started to break the year before. This year, I feel like striking roots while looking for a change, a feeling that ties in with something I once read when I was still a kid, that most women have two hearts beating in their chest, that they have ambiguous feelings about marriage, career and motherhood.

I remember soaking up those words without understanding them, after all, I’d been taught that we could have it all. But when I was little, my mother was a housewife and my grandma retired, and I greatly cherished their presence. My mother returned to work as I got older, working part time without leaving the house before I’d been off to school. When I came home, she was always there with steaming food on the table and open ears to hear about my day. Now, I often remember how safe a feeling that was, how cushioned I felt, and I’m beginning to crave to create the same kind of haven for a family of my own. At the same time, however, I love to work and cherish having a career. Or to say it in my words: do I want to be a Barbie Hale or Della Street?

So far, I haven’t minded walking on the Della Street side of life (without having found a darling boss like Perry Mason or excelling at secretarial duties as naturally as his perfect girl Friday – fiction aside). But what if I’m craving to have more in life than that? How do I adopt that Babs Hale attitude I am so fond of, that “I chased him till he caught me” poise to use it on the Bill Williams of my heart who seems to be as shy as Our Miss Brooks‘ Mr Boynton? How do I get to be a Lucille Ball with a spoon of Lucy Ricardo, or a Donna Reed with a dash of Donna Stone? How do I learn to walk that tightrope Ms Hale and Hearty once described, that fine line between devoting yourself to having a family and being your own woman who leads a creative life?

You see, I’ve always taken great comfort and found inspiration in reading about female lives in times so different from ours today and yet so alike. My love for vintage was born this way, instilled by my grandma and our close-knit relationship.

My grandmother was born in 1916, a working mom of two girls who lost her son early on. She was married, of course, and yet juggled the household, her kids and the job she had been trained to do all on her own. By law, she wasn’t the head of her family, but she sure had to act as one. And when her health was troubling her, she didn’t have time to complain or rest, nor did she want to burden her family. What she really loved was cooking for us and our extended family, a whole apartment full of people at times. She never tired of running around to get more dishes, to serve more booze or cigarettes (yes, those were the days).

As a kid, I remember marveling at her in her apron dress, getting up early to follow a tight schedule every day. She always put her loved ones first and herself last without ever subordinating her personality. Like me, she loved Perry Mason and together we watched the TV movies with great pleasure (and a conjoint crush on Ray Burr), one of my favorite memories because Della Street has always reminded me so much of my grandma’s humble, demure attitude, her commitment and quiet joy.

I was truly blessed to have someone in my life who was always there for me, who understood me so deeply, who spoiled and loved me no matter what. I’ve been missing that a lot since she’s passed away -  the values and the trust she raised me with, her concept of family, love and community. I suppose that’s the question for me to answer this year, how to (re)create something that has been lost?

Now that’s my personal note on spring cleaning – apart from cupboards, sewing and dishes.

Vintage Christmas

So this is it, only one day left till Christmas Eve.  Let’s doll up and spend the holidays with some of those joyful classics. Have yourself a charming vintage Christmas. And bless y’all!

Christmas songs:

Christmas TV episodes:

Christmas radio:

It’s a Wonderful Life

Talkie of the Week: It’s a Wonderful Life

USA 1946, 130 minutes, black & white, RKO Radio Pictures. Director: Frank Capra, Written by: Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Jo Swerling and Frank Capra, Based on “The Greatest Gift” by Philip Van Doren Stern. Cast: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers

Plot summary: After never getting out of his hometown to lead the life he intended, George Bailey is facing a personal crisis on Christmas Eve which makes him realize how wonderful his life actually is.

Review: It’s a Wonderful Life is a Christmas classic, gladly revisited by families every year. Originally released on December 20th, 1946, the film is still as popular today as it was then, sixty-five years ago. George Bailey’s journey is still every bit as gripping, Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal still touching and Bedford Falls still as charming as it used to be when the film was well received by its audience and the industry.

It’s a Wonderful Life is the tale of a man who had great aspirations in life, who wanted to explore the world and dreamed of adventures and an education. A man who stayed behind when his father died to save the family business and name, who sent his brother to college instead of himself. A man who never wanted to marry until he met a girl he fell in love with, a girl who did not tie him down but helped him create a new dream of having a home and a family. That man is George Bailey, respected and loved by his family and friends. A man who has made a difference in so many people’s lives although he never seems to realize just how important his good deeds have been to his community.

It may sound depressing to hear that George Bailey is trying to take his life. It may sound cheesy to know that an angel was sent to help him out. But the film is none of that: neither dismal nor corny. It’s a Wonderful Life is a beautiful film about the joys of a simple life, of solidarity and love. It is a film about the meaning of Christmas, family and giving back. It is a film for the entire family, grownups and small ones. It is a film from a decade when movies still knew to uplift their audience although they had a touch of melancholy and morale.

James Stewart was the perfect choice for breathing life into a troubled George Bailey. His all-American, boyish charm adds the right amount of nostalgia and courage to a fantastic script. Donna Reed was an equally superb casting decision. Her mix of earthiness and grace complement Jimmy Stewart’s style in the best of ways, and although her part is a small one, her Mary Bailey makes quite an impression on screen. They are supported by a stellar cast of supporting actors, none of them outshining the other but creating an atmosphere of unity instead.

To sum it up, It’s a Wonderful Life is a true holiday gem. Although a variety of colorized versions have been released on VHS and DVD over the years, I personally prefer the original material in black and white which, like so often, only adds to the quality of the film. Online I found the color version and thus added it here for y’all to enjoy. For those of you who are still unfamiliar with this film, I really hope it will warm your hearts as much as it always warms mine. Merry Christmas!

Available on DVD. It’s a Wonderful Life feature film (colorized version)

The Donna Reed Show

TV classics: The Donna Reed Show

USA 1958-66, 8 seasons,  275 episodes, 20-25 minutes each, ABC, black & white. Produced by: Tony Owen, Bill Robert, Developed by: Donna Reed and Tony Owen. Regular cast: Donna Reed, Carl Betz, Paul Petersen, Shelley Fabares, Patty Petersen

Plot summary: Housewife and mother Donna Stone masters her everyday life with utmost love and a charming sense of humor as she takes care of her teenage-troubled children and pediatrician husband Alex.

Review: The Donna Reed Show is often referred to as a typical example of a 1950s family show. Built around housewife and mother Donna however, this show is hardly a typical example at all. Although many shows featured a loving stay-at-home mom at the time, this show finally focused on a female lead and her everyday challenges. A sitcom through and through, The Donna Reed Show tackles Donna’s household issues, marriage troubles and teenage quarrels with a kind twinkle in the eye. Although graver topics are being addressed in individual episodes, the show was basically designed to entertain and paint a wholesome picture of a warmhearted Stone family.

Developed by the show’s star Donna Reed and her producer husband Tony Owen, the show offers fully fleshed characters and a talented cast of actors. Donna Reed, best known for her endearing portrayal of Mary Hatch in It’s a Wonderful Life, is supported by Carl Betz as father-of-the-year Alex Stone (no pun intended) and their two perky children Mary and Jeff played by Shelley Fabares and Paul Petersen. Although, by today’s cynical standards, it may sound as if this family is too good to be true and thus unbearable to watch, The Donna Reed Show is a darling show that deserves a chance. It’s not by accident that she show lasted eight full seasons and was successfully rerun in the 1980s and early 1990s.

What makes this show stand out is not the often scrutinized image of the perfect housewife, beautifully played by Donna Reed. In actuality it’s the lighthearted, easygoing sense of humor that carries the show, as well as the then uncommon respect it shows for Donna Stone’s daily routine and all the obstacles that begged to confuse it. Uncommon then, to show a housewife and mother as more than just an adored yet needed piece of jewelry, and uncommon now, in times when a lot of TV housewives are either depicted as shrews, addicts or adulteresses.

The Donna Reed Show did mirror life in the 1950s as much as current shows do today. In essence, it is the ideal image of an era so different from ours now, a lovely show to watch with your kids (or alone) to remind ourselves how life could be without the snarky and that perpetual promise for women that we supposedly can have it all.

Available on DVD.