James Garner

When I heard the news about James Garner’s death, I was unable to make an entry on Talking Classics. However, I was saddened by the news but glad to have come across a good selection of his work since.

He was one of those actors who always entertained me, on television and on the silver screen. I liked him on Maverick and The Rockford Files, loved seeing him in multiple Westerns or quarreling with Doris Day. I enjoyed him alongside Julie Andrews, guest starring on shows such as Chicago Hope or as a regular on 8 Simple Rules. As an old man, he made me smile in Space Cowboys and cry in The Notebook. In interviews, he always came across as a likable human being, as someone who did not take his career for granted or saw himself as the center of the universe. He was married once, for 58 years, an avid sports fan and a veteran of the Korean War. He worked several jobs before he started acting at the age of 25 without formal training but a lot of life experience instead. For his natural talent, he was rewarded with an Academy Award nomination, three Golden Globes and two Emmy awards.

On July 19, James Garner died at the age of 86 in his home in Los Angeles. He will long be remembered for his genuine career as well as his support for the University of Oklahoma – and, thanks to the internet, for the smart and funny things he had to say about it.

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Hazel

TV classics: Hazel

USA 1961-66, five seasons, 154 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, NBC and CBS, black & white and color. Based on a comic strip by Ted Key. Cast: Shirley Booth, Don DeFore, Whitney Blake, Bobby Buntrock, Maudie Prickett, Ray Fulmer, Lynn Borden, Julia Benjamin.

Plot summary: In the Baxter home, Hazel takes the reins over her boss, his darling wife and their precious offspring. But who would mind with her warmth, street smarts and delicious cooking? After all, Hazel is the kind of gem any family would love to call their own.

HazelaReview: Hazel Burke is the kind of woman families dream of: she’s caring, funny and a true original. Her food is the best in the neighborhood and her attitude ranging from cheerful to saucy, her opinion mostly unasked for but always spot on.

For five years, Shirley Booth played Hazel and bewitched the fictional Baxter family as much as her audience, first on NBC and finally on CBS. In 154 episodes, Hazel looked after little Harold (Bobby Buntrock) and his parents Missy (Whitney Blake) and Mr. B (Don DeFore). Based on a comic strip by Ted Key, the show was created as a comedy program and primarily sponsored by the Ford Motor Company (later co-sponsored by Bristol-Myers). An instant hit on NBC, the show was nominated for four Emmys and one Golden Globe, including two consecutive awards for lead actress Shirley Booth. Shot in color for the majority of its run, Hazel was moved to CBS in 1965, introducing new cast members as well as Procter & Gamble and Philip Morris as new sponsors. Despite respectable ratings, the show was not renewed for a sixth season but was frequently rerun in the 1970s through 2000s.

Available on DVD, the show is still as fresh and funny as it used to be when it first aired on Thursday nights at 9:30 pm. With its sweet storylines, Hazel is the perfect gem for anyone who enjoys a mix of tender comedy and innocent family entertainment. As one of those shows circling around a female lead, Hazel has had a lasting effect on generations of children who longed to have a live-in maid whose tongue whipped up sassy remarks as fast as her hands whipped up culinary treats.

Want a taste of Hazel, watch a sample episode here on Youtube.

Golden Globes 2013

When I grew up, I was big on awards shows. Over the years, that interest has waned and I just keep track of potential nominees and actual winners. After last year’s delight (I’m still so in love with The Artist), this awards season is a lot less appealing to me and my vintage taste, but it has its perks nonetheless.

Last night, Argo‘s success pleased me, for example, and so did the buzz (however mild)  about Lincoln, two films the Hollywood Foreign Press Association rewarded with Golden Globes. Adele was also honored with an award for Skyfall, her musical contribution to the untiring 007 phenomenon, and so was Julianne Moore for her haunting imitation (rather than mere portrayal) of Sarah Palin in HBO’s Game Change. Dame Maggie Smith also got another nod for her memorable cameos on Downton Abbey and Amour (a film I still haven’t been able to convince myself to watch) received a Globe in the Foreign Language category.

For all of you who are interested in a complete list of winners, here’s a link to the official site of the HFPA. Acceptance speeches are available all over the internet, but none is so wildly raved about as Jodie Foster’s 6 minutes 45. Any further comment on the content of that speech is unnecessary in my opinion, so I won’t go into details about it. Go see it on youtube if you haven’t already seen or heard about it – or be bold and don’t give a hoot in the first place.

McMillan & Wife

TV classics: McMillan & Wife

USA 1971-77, six seasons, 40 episodes, approximately 90-120 minutes each, NBC, color. Cast: Rock Hudson, Susan Saint James, John Schuck, Nancy Walker, Martha Raye et al.

Plot summary: Police commissioner Stewart McMillan and his young wife Sally solve murders they didn’t plan to stumble into.

Review: Originally an NBC Mystery Movie, McMillan & Wife premiered on September 17, 1971 as a so-called wheel series, sharing its time slot with Columbo and McCloud. Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, the show presented a married couple of sleuths and thus continued a tradition Hollywood had started with Nick and Nora Charles of The Thin Man movies in the 1930s and 40s. Entertaining and lighthearted, the series benefited from the charm and charisma of its two main leads, as well as their supporting stars Nancy Walker and John Schuck. Nominated for several Emmys and Golden Globes, the ladies of show left a lasting impression on their audience, critics and peers, while Rock Hudson created a character who was every bit as handsome and congenial as his most successful silver screen alter egos.

Scheduled for release as a complete boxset on December 4, 2012, McMillan & Wife is a treat for anyone who grew up loving mysteries that were light rather than gruesome. Blessed with popular guest stars of its time, including Tom Bosley, Linda Evans, Barbara Feldon, Roddy McDowall, Donna Mills, Stefanie Powers and David Soul, the show continues to be diverting and funny – a good example of a decade that shaped a new generation of mystery dramas, as well as a new dynamic between men and women which led to other successful shows such as Hart to Hart or Scarecrow and Mrs. King.

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

The nominations are in…

This is the “out of the ordinary” post: the nominations for the Golden Globes are in! And yes, my heart beats a little faster because there’s so much love for vintage on this year’s list.

Leading my personal favorites list is The Artist, a film set in the 1930s and shot entirely in black and white. A silent movie. A true decleration of love to film history and an almost lost art of filmmaking. It is closely followed by Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen’s latest masterpiece. A film that describes that longing for a world so different from ours and still so very much alive if only we look for it. The Help comes in third on my list. A great adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s book with a stellar cast of women who warped me right back into the not so swinging sixties.

More appreciation for vintage is reflected in The Adventures of Tintin, J. Edgar, Mildred Pierce and My Week with Marilyn. Boardwalk Empire, Downton Abbey and War Horse, although set in the beginning of the 20th century, also go on my list for getting recognition. All very different projects and not always my cup of tea but worth watching nonetheless.