Friday, January 30, 2015

HERE COME THE 70'S!: FROM THE COVER OF TV GUIDE

IN THE LAST WEEK OR SO, AS IS MY WONT, I'VE BEEN BINGING ON SOME OF MY FAVOURITE "COMFORT TV".  For years now, I've been thinking about posting about what makes a TV show "Comfort TV" for me -- rather than just a TV show I like or even love.  Because loving a TV show does not make it "comfort TV"; I love "LOST" and BORIS KARLOFF'S "THRILLER" but neither one of those qualify.  For something to be "comfort TV", it has to have that quality of warm coziness in my mind like settling down into a comfy recliner.   

However, pretty much anything from the 1970s has at least some portion of "comfort" with me automatically.  After all, it's the decade where I spent my childhood and have the most vivid and lovely memories.  If I see a movie or TV show from the 70's, I always get an immediate feeling of coming home.  And every movie or TV made today which tries to evoke that 70's feeling and atmosphere ALWAYS gets it completely wrong; yes, I'm talking to YOU "THAT 70'S SHOW". 

So starting here, I'm going to bring you a year-by-year glimpse of the 1970s from the platform of the cover of TV GUIDE; a magazine that was everywhere then but nowhere now.  I'll be doing a series of posts in the coming weeks each focusing on a single 1970's year and my favorite TV GUIDE covers from that year.  Add to that a little comment or two about why a particular cover "does" it for me.  Today we're going to look at TV GUIDE COVERS from the year 1970!

 
THE WEEK OF JANUARY 24 - 30
 
This is Tom Jones.  This is also the oft-mentioned childhood home of yours truly on Linwood Avenue in Maple Surple where my mother, who was a huge Tom Jones fan, would often spin his LP's while she danced around the living room.  My mother, who has a real talent for drawing, drew a portrait of Tom Jones which she actually framed and presented to him when she saw him live.  We have photos of the event.  If I had done more planning for this post, I'd've had her dig out the photos for me to post.  Ah well, tomorrow is another day...
 
 
THE WEEK OF FEBRUARY 7 - 13
 
This is a superb, colourful cover for BEWITCHED in that wonderful circa 1970 pop art style.  It also depicts one of the most confusing aspects of TV; that of suddenly replacing an actor with another actor playing the same character.  The unspoken switch from Dick York to Dick Sargent still is fodder for countless stand-up comedians to this day.  I must say that the likeness of Sargent isn't very whereas Elizabeth Montgomery (an early TV crush of mine ... stick around, there will be others...) looks quite like her.  Love the easter egg purple and yellow too!
 
 
THE WEEK OF APRIL 4 - 10
 
Oh my . . . THE BRADY BUNCH.  Where do I begin.  Is there anyone of "a certain age" who didn't grow up with THE BRADY BUNCH on TV every day after school?  And we watch every single episode, didn't we?  Over and over until we knew them by heart.  This is probably why I've never gotten around to buying them all on DVD; even though I'd love to have them and would watch them at the drop of a hat, I've seen them  so many times that I've never felt the need to buy them yet.  But as Tom Jones showed us, tomorrow is another day...
 
 
THE WEEK OF APRIL 11 - 17
 
A classic Hirschfeld caricature of Carol Burnett.  This was another show I loved as a kid and watched over and over in reruns.  Particularly the skits involving Eunice, Mama & Ed.  This later provided the template for the show MAMA'S FAMILY which I was not really a fan of.  But those classic sketches on THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW . . . when is someone going to put them all together onto a DVD?!?!?!
 
 
THE WEEK OF JUNE 27 - JULY 3
 
 
It looks like Liza's gonna do a TV special, doesn't it?  Could this be the award-winning LIZA WITH A Z?!?!?  Nope, I guess not.  That was in 1972 apparently.  But this cover gives me the perfect opportunity to reminisce about that famous car drive to Atlantic City in the 80's with my friend Paulster.  Paul's car was in the shop or something because we took his father's car -- and neither one of us thought to bring any tunes.  Paul's father only had one tape in the car; it had Neil Diamond's THE JAZZ SINGER soundtrack on one side and LIZA WITH A Z on the other.  We listened to them on a loop for the entire round trip and, believe it or not, never got sick of them.  It was the first time I had heard either one of them but I've loved them ever since.  Hey, though in THIS photo it looks like Liza's preparing for her role decades later on ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT!!!  Whooooooaaaaaaahhhh!!!
 
 
THE WEEK OF JULY 4 - 10
 
This show is SO 1970 to me!  Bill Bixby's super cool sunglasses.  And that little sports car with the top down!  Wow, this also brings to mind ANOTHER Paul story!  Also back in the 80s, I had made a VHS tape of many different TV show episodes which I guess Paul had asked me to do; he occasionally asked me to make videotapes of TV shows or music videos which he'd play on the TV in the camera shop in which he worked.  Anywho, the video was full of many classic shows.  Somehow, Paul's brother borrowed the tape one day and told me he enjoyed it -- except how in the hell could I put THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE'S FATHER in amongst all those other great classic TV shows!!!  Ah well, you can't please everybody.
 
 
THE WEEK OF AUGUST 8 - 14
 
Ohhh, Donald!  THAT GIRL.  Yeah, I think Marlo Thomas was another one of those childhood crushes of mine.  I loved this silly show.  Especially the one where she gets a bowling ball stuck on her big toe!  And another good reason to have this cover here is that this issue was on the stands the week of my 5th birthday!
 
 
THE WEEK OF AUGUST 15 - 21
 
Johnny Carson painted by Norman Rockwell!?!?!?!  Well, Johnny, I guess by this point you could say that you've really made it!  Naturally I was much too young to watch THE TONIGHT SHOW through most of the 70's, but by the end of the decade I was staying up late enough to catch it.  Also the local UHF station Channel 17 ("The Great Entertainer"!!!) showed a compilation show called "THE BEST OF CARSON" at, I believe, 10pm every weeknight.  Now, THOSE were the days!!!
 
 
THE WEEK OF SEPTEMBER 26 - OCTOBER 2
 
Oh, and now we come to YET ANOTHER of my childhood crushes:  Denise Nicholas on ROOM 222.  Sadly, this is a terrible photo to use for the cover; you can hardly get a good look at ANYBODY!  Oh yes, and I actually own the DVD box set of ROOM 222, I'll have you know!  Once again, I'll flash forward to the 80's when I was working at Rustler Steak House and the albums of TVToons ("TELEVISION'S GREATEST HITS") came out featuring all those classic TV theme songs.  One night after closing, my co-workers and I were sitting around a table and I was playing the cassette in a tape recorder while everyone would guess which show each theme was from.  No Meg, it's not SMOKEGUN.  Anyway, there was one theme song which was always familiar to everyone but which no one could place -- and that was the theme to ROOM 222.  How did the theme from such a short-lived show which practically never showed up in reruns become so memorably stuck in everyone's minds?  Granted, it's a great instrumental theme, though.
 
 
THE WEEK OF OCTOBER 3 - 9
 
Another of those terrific 70's pop art style portraits; this time of comedy legend Red Skelton.  I have no particular story to relate for this cover.  Suffice it to say that any excuse to show Red Skelton needs no explaining!
 
 
THE WEEK OF OCTOBER 31 - NOVEMBER 6
 
 
I was never a fan of cop shows.  THE ROCKFORD FILES was pretty much it for me.  I indeed never watched MANNIX.  However, when I was very little I remember being over my Aunt Mil's house and MANNIX was on the TV and the episode has haunted me since that day.  I only dimly recall the plot but it scared the beejezus outta me!  It was something to do with a kid being kidnapped and held for ransom.  At one point, the kid managed to get the kidnapper to let him go to the bathroom and, again I dimly recall, that I think the kid managed to climb out of the bathroom window and run away.  I wish I knew what episode of MANNIX this was because I'd love to see it again after all these years. . .
 
 
THE WEEK OF DECEMBER 5 - 11
 
 
And finally we bring 1970 to close with this nice, painterly portrait of Dick Cavett.  Again, my mother was a fan of Cavett's and his talk show was addictive watching back then.  Cavett always had an uphill televisual battle in the talk show stakes since he is an intellectual and we Amuricans frown on stuff like that.  Also, the mention of Julia Child on the cover gives me a chance to state that THE FRENCH CHEF with Julia Child on PBS was and is major comfort TV viewing for me.  I love love love Julia Child and even as a kid watched her cooking show on public television.
 
 
So tune in next time when TV GUIDE and I walk you through 1971.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

MOST-WATCHED DIRECTORS OF 2014

IN MY "ULTRA-FANDANGO MIND-BENDING FLICKERS PROJECT 2014" OVER AT MY LETTERBOXD.COM, I KEPT TRACK OF ALL THE MOVIES I WATCHED IN 2014.  This way I can also see which directors I watched the most last year.  In first place with the most movies watched with six movies:

ROY WARD BAKER
(AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS, DR JEKYLL & SISTER HYDE, DON'T BOTHER TO KNOCK, THE MONSTER CLUB, THE SKULL, VAULT OF HORROR . . . and 7 if you count the MST3K version of MOON ZERO TWO!!!)
 
In second place with 5 movies watched each is a 3-way tie:
ROGER CORMAN
(THE HAUNTED PALACE, HOUSE OF USHER, THE PIT & THE PENDULUM, THE RAVEN and THE TOMB OF LIGEIA)
 
 
QUENTIN TARANTINO
(DEATH PROOF, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, KILL BILL VOL. 1, KILL BILL VOL. 2 and PULP FICTION)
 
 
MICHAEL CURTIZ
(CASABLANCA, DODGE CITY, MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM, THE PRIVATE LIVES OF ELIZABETH & ESSEX and WE'RE NO ANGELS)
 
In second place with 4 movies watched apiece are:
JACQUES DEMY
(BAY OF ANGELS, LOLA, UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG and YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT)
 
ALFRED HITCHCOCK
(DIAL M FOR MURDER, MARNIE, REAR WINDOW and THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY)
 
MICHAEL POWELL
(A CANTERBURY TALE, EDGE OF THE WORLD, I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING and A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH)
 
 
In third place with 3 movies watched apiece are:  Terence Fisher, Edgar G. Ulmer, Emeric Pressberger (as Powell & Pressberger), John Ford, Lloyd Bacon,  Howard Hawks, Roy William Neill, Richard Donner, Charles Lamont and Spike Jonze.

   

Thursday, January 01, 2015

THE THEATER OF THE MIND

I'VE HAD AN ALMOST LIFE-LONG LOVE AFFAIR WITH "OLD-TIME RADIO SHOWS". 
Like probably most kids who grew up in the 70s-80s, I think my very first encounter with old radio drama would've been when a teacher played the famous Orson Welles "WAR OF THE WORLDS" broadcast from his MERCURY THEATER OF THE AIR episode of October 30, 1938. 
While this was cool, it didn't ignite an "old radio show" mania in me yet.  And in fact, come to think of it, even Orson wasn't my very first encounter with radio drama; even if it WAS my first hearing of "old time" radio.  No, when I was VERY little, I used to listen to the (at that time) brand new production of radio drama called "THE CBS  RADIO MYSTERY THEATER" which aired, I believe, late every Sunday night on WCAU-AM radio. 
Always a fan of the horror genre, I would listen to it on my portable radio (which had a built in flashlight and a clock with actual minute hands) under my pillow after bedtime.  THE CBS MYSTERY THEATER was hosted by E.G. Marshall and was an early-70's update of classic old radio horror shows like INNER SANCTUM.  However, I didn't know that yet.

It was probably around 1977 when my friend Ed Jacoby told me that the local PBS radio station WUHY-FM (what is now WHYY) was airing old radio shows every weeknight and I should check them out. 
I happened to be over his house at the time and we tuned in.  I still know exactly what the first show I heard was because, in the waning final minutes I quickly grabbed my Radio Shack tape recorder, held it up to the speaker and recorded the last 3 minutes of the show.  It was FIBBER McGEE & MOLLY and the episode was "FIBBER FIXES DOC'S CAR" originally broadcast on April 6, 1948.  And I enjoyed it so much I was hooked.  The old radio shows didn't hang around PBS Radio very long but soon I'd be able to listen to RADIO CLASSICS on WCAU-AM every night from 8-10pm hosted for most of it's run by Gary Hodgson.  I even managed to discover through judicious hunting through the bins of WEE THREE RECORDS or SAM GOODY at the Mall an occasional old radio show LP.  The first record I ever bought was JACK BENNY AND FRED ALLEN (THE RADIO FEUD CONTINUES) on Radiola Records. 
Not only did I spin this on the turntable endlessly but I also found inside a card to mail away and received a mail order catalogue from Radiola.  Soon I was ordering vinyl records from David Goldin at Radiola and would amass quite a vinyl collection.  These Radiola Records sported superb cover artwork which are all suitable for framing and I still own all of them (as well as other LPs from Nostalgia Lane or Murray Hill).  And then, wonder of wonders, when my mother worked as a checker at ACME, she called me up and told me the supermarket had a spinner rack filled with old radio shows on cassette tape and did I want her to buy me some.  You've gotta be kidding!  These tapes were put out by Metacom on the Radio Reruns label and I would get scads of them over the years.  The very first one she brought home, I also still do remember:  it was THE JACK BENNY SHOW episode entitled "THE IRS PAYS JACK A VISIT".  Immediately following that was a tape of the classic horror show INNER SANCTUM entitled "MURDER COMES AT MIDNIGHT"; it starred Mercedes McCambridge who was held hostage by an escaped murderer and it's still probably my favourite episode of INNER SANCTUM ever!  McCambridge as Mrs. Canning was properly terrified but she also proved to be resourceful and had a surprise or two in store for her tormenter. 
Also in this initial batch of RADIO RERUNS was the classic SUSPENSE episode "SORRY, WRONG NUMBER" starring Agnes Moorehead in a performance so riveting that the radio station had to continually rerun the show due to listener requests!  In the 1990s, Radio Reruns seemed to fade away and Radiola disappeared; Goldin apparently sold his master tapes to a company called Radio Spirits whom I then bought a ton from in those years. 

But before all that, in my early radio days, I had to search the school library and they actually had several old radio show LPs which I could take out.  The first two I checked out were this 3 LP box set of THE SHADOW on Murray Hill records as well as a comedy compilation of radio comedians called THE GOLDEN AGE OF COMEDY (click the links in red to see my write-ups on both these seminal albums). 
The comedy LP was filled with major radio comedians like Jack Benny and Fred Allen as well as little-known but hilarious comics like "The Mad Russian" (Bert Gordon) and "Baron Munchausen" (Jack Pearl).  I would play this record to death, as well as the Shadow box set.  Can you imagine?!?!?  Three vinyl records with six episodes of THE SHADOW!!! 
My favourite of all of them was the episode entitled "THE CREEPER" which featured a creepy-voiced troglodyte of a kidnapper who travelled beneath the city in a forgotten maze of underground tunnels; he would take advantage of a power outage and, when beautiful (and rich) young socialites would go down to the darkened basement to change the fuse, the Creeper would abduct them and take them down down down to his dark catacombs.  I particularly remember listening to these SHADOW records in the late autumn/early winter evenings when I'd drop the needle on the vinyl, settle down with my bowl of chocolate chip mint ice cream and immerse myself in the fantastical night world of the Shadow.  Even the commercial were a joy!  THE SHADOW was famously sponsored by Blue Coal on the east coast but the episodes in this SHADOW box set were sponsored by Goodrich Safety Silvertown tires ("with the life-saver tread"); even these ads were so evocative as the announcer described the rain-slicked roads -- they were the perfect atmospheric accompaniment to the autumnal, dark night world of THE SHADOW! 

Here is where we get into the true aspects of radio as "the theater of the mind" and all those clich├ęd comments from old codgers about how radio was better than television.  I'm not one of them -- I grew up with television -- but it's true that you cannot really compare the two -- they're two different beasts, actually.  Listening to an old time radio show really gets your synapses firing on all cylinders.  It's got less in common with television and more in common with storytelling.  When you listen to a great storyteller spinning a yarn (hopefully a spooky one around a campfire, natch) your imagination is unleashed and you feel yourself conjuring up every detail as if  you're in the story yourself.  The same happens when you listen to one of these old radio shows -- particularly the spooky or suspenseful ones but even the radio comedies -- you experience being in those darkened catacombs alongside the Shadow
or ringing the doorbell of that pleasant little house with the overstuffed closet at 79 Wistful Vista,

you're really walking door-to-door along with Fred Allen on Allen's Alley and asking Senator Claghorn, Titus Moody, Mrs. Nussbaum and Ajax Cassidy for their views,
and visiting that house halfway up on the next block where Sade apologises that the beef punkles aren't quite done so dinner will be a little late. 
When you listen to old time radio, the sounds connect to something deep inside your brain and unlock the fantasy life which seems to have faded away as we become "grown-ups"; it unlocks a sense of wonder when you hear the infamous squeaking door open as Raymond invites you into his INNER SANCTUM
or when you hit the rain-slicked streets of Chicago and pound the NIGHT BEAT along with reporter Randy Stone of the Chicago Star. 
You're actually riding along with THE GREEN HORNET as he careens in his souped-up car "the Black Beauty" to his next adventure fighting racketeers and you're strapped in to blast off in that rocket to the far reaches of the unknown as the countdown reaches X MINUS ONE. 
You will travel all around the globe as ESCAPE frees you from the four walls of today into a half hour of high adventure or else you'll be quaking  in your boots as that chilling moment occurs when Arch Oboler encourages you to turn your LIGHTS OUT, everybody!  You can be sitting right in the cockpit with Captain Midnight as he soars his airplane overhead  and tries to outwit Ivan the Shark or you can tag along for the fun and excitement as amateur adventurers-for-hire Jack, Doc & Reggie
(yes, that IS Tony Randall in that photo) tiptoe into the temple of the vampires or hear the terrifying scream of "the thing that cries in the night" on the brilliant I LOVE A MYSTERY serial.  There are even still some surprises left to someone who has been listening to old radio shows since the late 1970s; it was only in the last five years that I first heard about an old radio show called "THE COMIC WEEKLY MAN"
which featured said man reading the Sunday funnies, doing voices and featuring organ music and sound effects -- the kiddies (including Little Miss Honey) could read along to the funnies they had a home!  How great would this have been to a kid back in 1950?!?!?!  What a charming, charming show!  And need it be said finally that every visit to THE JACK BENNY SHOW is like you're hanging out with a group of your best friends and having the time of your life. 
That's what old time radio does for me.  Every so often I need to get my ticket and revisit the "theater of the mind" that is old time radio in order to reconnect with that sense of wonder and imagination which we all hunger for.  Oh, here's Mr. First-Nighter now to show me to my box...return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear!

As an extra special bonus:  inside every Radiola Record was a sheet like the one pictured below which contained a card to mail for a free catalogue.  Here is the paper that is still in my very first Radiola record:

 



I'd also like to thank the sparkling Ms. Star whose post about Jack Benny on her blog inspired me to write this little paean to the golden age of radio.  As always, Ms. Star, you are an inspiration!

AND THIS WEEK ON OUR SISTER AUDIO BLOG "BATHED IN THE LIGHT FROM ANDROMEDA" YOU CAN LISTEN TO SEVERAL OF THE RADIO SHOWS MENTIONED IN THIS POST!

JANUARY WITH THE SUPER-HEROES

2015 HAPPENS TO BE THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF "THE LAND OF CERPTS AND HONEY" BLOG.  It hardly seems possible that I started it a decade ago!  To commemorate this milestone and to illustrate how the pages of the calendar fly by, I will be posting here each month some illustrations from those classic old Marvel and DC Comics calendars from back in the 1970s.  Here we have January (click on the pictures to biggify them):

Marvel's 1975 Calendar with Spider-Man by John Romita Sr.
 
 
DC's 1976 Calendar with Legion of Super-Heroes art by Neal Adams & Dick Giordano
 
  
Marvel's Bicentennial 1976 Calendar with the Invaders with art by Frank Robbins & Frank Giacoia
 
 
Wonder Woman battles Cheetah in DC's 1977 Calendar with art by Jose Delbo & Vince Colletta
 
 
Batman battles Dr. Light in DC's 1978 Calendar with art by Dick Giordano