Favorite Film – The 70’s

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I guess I saw this on Facebook some time ago.   Somebody had the idea to post a list of your favorite films.  The list was to consist of your favorites from each year of your life.  So, you start with your birth year and move ahead year by year and list all the films from each year.  I am SURE I have this idea written down in my notebook of “blog ideas”.  A post from the Avocado site came up in my “Reader” list of blogs that had the same principle, but with one exception – you can only pick one movie from each year. You can read that blog here:

https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/73828787/posts/2442817483

I am going to say that narrowing down just one film from each year will be next to impossible for me.  I am going to attempt to do it.  I have a feeling that I will go back in a day, a month, or year from now and think, “No, I should have picked _____ instead!”  At any rate, some of these will be easy to pick, and some I will have to “eenie meanie miney moe” to pick just one.  Maybe this is a topic I revisit each year?  I don’t know.

I am going to break it down by “decade”, so each post will include 10 films.  Deep breath.  Here we go – back to the year I was born:

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Of the 1970 films that made my personal favorite list, many have “war” themes:  M*A*S*H, Kelly’s Heroes, and Tora! Tora! Tora!  Other films include Dean Martin in Airport! and the Mel Brooks comedy The 12 Chairs.  Of all of the films from the year of my birth, if I had to pick my absolute favorite, it would be the classic biopic, Patton.

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George C. Scott is brilliant as Patton!  He won the Oscar for Best Actor for his role.  The film won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director.  It’s an amazing film.

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1971 was the year that George Lucas would release his film THX 1138, Gene Wilder starred in the classic Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and Clint Eastwood starred in the film that scares all radio DJs – Play Misty for Me.  But it is another Clint Eastwood film that gets my vote for my favorite film of 1971, Dirty Harry.

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There are so many good Clint Eastwood films!  It doesn’t take long for Eastwood to establish what kind of character Dirty Harry is! Come on, you know the quote:

“I know what you’re thinking: “Did he fire six shots or only five?” Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do you, punk?”

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1972 was the year we saw Burt Reynolds in Deliverance, Charles Bronson in The Mechanic, and the all star cast of the Poseiden Adventure that included Gene Hackman, Shelley Winters, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons and others!  It was also the year that introduced many to two of the best known adult films, Behind the Green Door and Deep Throat.  1972 is probably the easiest year to pick a hands down favorite for me – no doubt about it – Mario Puzo & Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather.

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The novel is amazing.  The movie is just as powerful!  The cast (many unknown at the time) is just perfect!  It is hard to imagine anyone else as these characters.  Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Abe Vigoda, Richard Conte, Alex Rocco, and so many others star in this superb film about family and power.  I don’t think a week goes by without me quoting this film!  The film won the Best Picture Oscar and Brando won (and refused) the Oscar for Best Actor.

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While 1973 had some good films, in going through my list, they all are just “ok” to me.  In other words, there is no real “WOW” movie for me.  Charlton Heston is good in Soylent Green, Al Pacino is good in Serpico, The Sting had Paul Newman and Robert Redford (and the tune The Entertainer), Clint Eastwood is back for a Dirty Harry sequel called Magnum Force, and then there was the Exorcist.  I guess if I HAD to pick a favorite, it would be American Graffiti – because of two things (1) the music and (2) Wolfman Jack!

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1974 was a bit more difficult to narrow down to just one film.  The reason for this is that I have some classic favorites that were released in ’74 and “how do I just pick one?”  Two of my favorite Charles Bronson films, Mr. Majestyk and Death Wish, came out this year.  Also, two of my favorite Mel Brooks films were also released – Young Frankenstein (“That’s Frahn-kun-steen”) and Blazing Saddles!  It did, however, become clear that the one film that had to be at the top for 1974 was The Godfather Part II.

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The first time I saw it, I hated it!  I can’t lie about that.  I was confused by the shifts from past to present.  However, it became very clear with a second and third watch that the shifting from past to present is what makes this movie SO amazing.  If you really must see it all in order, you can rent the Godfather DVD and watch it chronologically.  This movie is where you really see the genius of Francis Ford Coppola.  Robert Deniro is just amazing as Vito and Al Pacino’s portrayal of Michael is about as perfect as it can get.

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1975 was the year that had us doing the Time Warp, thanks to the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  The Sunshine Boys was supposed to star Walter Matthau and Jack Benny (there are clips of screen test shots on YouTube somewhere), but when Benny died, George Burns stepped in.  Jack Nicholson is “crazy” good in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Dean Martin starred in a forgotten favorite, Mr. Ricco.  The one movie that really stands out for me from 1975 is based on the Peter Benchley novel – Jaws!

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Like many, I couldn’t swim at the beach for some time after seeing it!  Now, they actually show it on a screen while people float in rafts and tubes on a lake in the summer time!  And who can forget the Jaws theme?

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In 1976, America celebrated it’s bicentennial year.  It was a very patriotic year and there were some good films in theaters.  The Watergate Scandal was the focus of All The President’s Men.  Clint Eastwood returned in another Dirty Harry sequel, The Enforcer and the western The Outlaw Josey Wales.  The wonderful Barbara Harris was featured in both Freaky Friday and Hitchcock’s Family Plot (two very opposite roles!).  Mel Brooks offered up Silent Movie, while an all-star cast (Charlton Heston, Robert Mitchum, Glenn Ford, Henry Fonda, James Coburn, and Cliff Robertson) appeared in the war film, Midway. We were first introduced to Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa in Rocky and Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor were first teamed together in Silver Streak.  There are many reasons I could pick any one of these as a favorite, but I am going to go with one I already featured as my favorite – Murder By Death.  You can read that blog here:

https://wordpress.com/post/nostalgicitalian.com/856

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It’s such a fun film and I revisit it often.

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1977 was a year of great films!  There was Woody Allen’s Annie Hall.  Then George Burns first took on the role of God in Oh, God. John Travolta danced to the Bee Gees in Saturday Night Fever. We were introduced to the comedy of the Zucker brothers with Kentucky Fried Movie. Mel Brooks saluted Alfred Hitchcock in High Anxiety.  The “other” space movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, hit theaters, too.  From here, I was able to narrow things down to two faves, but as I said, I can only pick one for the year. While Star Wars could easily be the top pick for 1977, I am going with Smokey and the Bandit.

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Burt Reynolds, Jerry Reed, Sally Field, and Jackie Gleason took us on a wild ride and this remains my favorite for a number of reasons.  First, it’s just funny.  Second, there are some very cool stunts.  Third, “East Bound and Down”.  Last, there are so many great quotes!

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Smokey JUST beats out Star Wars, probably because it’s a comedy.  Don’t get me wrong, Star Wars is a CLASSIC, and at some point I really need to blog about the influence of that film on me as a 7 year old kid!

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In 1978, we first meet Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s Halloween.  Peter Falk appears in the “sorta” sequel to Murder By Death in The Cheap Detective.  Robert Deniro and Christopher Walken star in The Deer Hunter.  Cheech and Chong go Up in Smoke.  Christopher Reeve first donned the cape in Superman.  Burt Reynolds starred as a stuntman in Hooper and tried to kill himself in The End.  We got chills that multiplied as we sang along with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in Grease.  I’m honored to have Eddie Deezen (who plays Eugene in the film) as a friend on Facebook and he often shares cool stories about the film.  Time to pick my favorite from 1978.  It is yet another very quotable movie – a comedy – National Lampoon’s Animal House.

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Kent Dorfman.  Flounder.  Pinto.  Bluto.  D-Day.  Otter.  Animal House remains as funny to me today, as the first time I saw it.  John Belushi is just awesome in this film.  I have said before that Belushi can emote more with just his eyebrows than any other actor.  I also love John Vernon as Dean Wormer – he is such a great actor!  It’s amazing that “Shout” from Otis Day and the Knights is still requested at weddings 40+ years later.  One of my most quoted movies!

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“Zero.  Point.  Zero.”

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Closing out the decade, I see my list of favorites for each year growing more and more.  In 1979, Sigourney Weaver appeared in the first (of many) Alien films.  George Hamilton’s comedic take on Dracula was in Love at First Bite.  Sylvester Stallone appeared for his second “round” as Rocky in Rocky II.  Star Trek became relevant again, as it appeared on the big screen for the first time (with the original cast members) with Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  Steve Martin brought The Jerk to life.  Alan Arkin and Peter Falk are great together in The In-Laws.  Robert Stack, Eddie Deezen, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and so many others appeared in 1941 (It didn’t do all that well at the box office, but I still love this silly film). To me, my favorite of 1979 goes to the genius of Jim Henson – The Muppet Movie.  I STILL marvel at this one!

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This was such a breakthrough film.  For the first time we saw Muppets walking!  We saw them riding bikes!  The technological stuff that was achieved in this movie is still awesome to me.  This movie had tons of big cameos (including Edgar Bergan’s last film role) and just wonderful music.  I blogged about the music previously and you can read that here:

https://wordpress.com/post/nostalgicitalian.com/1218

What a “groovy” and “far out” list, huh?  I will have to move on into the 80’s next time.  I can tell you, it will be much more difficult to pick just one for every year in THAT decade!

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Mystery Mania 2019

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As someone who loves a good mystery, I jumped at the chance to take part in the “Mystery Mania Blogathon” being hosted by Robin and her site, Pop Culture Reverie.  For this event, the topics could include movies, novels, video games, and TV shows.  While there are plenty of books and TV shows that I would have loved to write about, two movies immediately came to mind and I have chosen to write about them.  You can read what other bloggers have chosen for this event here:

https://popculturereverie.wordpress.com/

The Old Dark House Genre

Both of the films I am writing about would fall into what movie critics would call “The Old Dark House” genre.  This would be a sub-genre of the suspense/thriller/mystery film.  The genre tends to lean toward comedy, farce, parody, or whodunit mysteries. I wouldn’t call them “Haunted House” movies, as those tend to involve ghosts or the supernatural. Some common themes you may find in an Old Dark House movie include: (1) a group of people or strangers having to spend the night in some sort of castle, house, or mansion, (2) a murderer, creature, or some sort of madman on the loose, (3) usually the setting is a dark, foggy, or stormy night, (4) the house has hidden rooms or some sort of secret passageway (5) a butler, maid, or servants (6) a mysterious host, (7) pictures with removable eyes for spying on guests, and (8) possibly, a murder.

These movies are referred to as “Old Dark House” movies because they are similar to the plot of the 1932 film “Old Dark House” which starred Boris Karloff, Charles Laughton, and Gloria Stuart.  Other famous films of this genre include 1945’s And Then There Were None and The House of Fear, 1948’s Who Killed Doc Robbin?, 1941’s Murder By Invitation, 1975’s The Spiral Staircase, 1978’s The Cat and the Canary, 1985’s Clue, and 1980’s Private Eyes, which will be the second film I am writing about.  Oh, and of course, the first film I am writing about ….

Murder By Death (1976)

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There are a few reasons I chose to write about this film.  First, it is a very funny film written by Neil Simon.  The film is a comedy/parody that is loaded with quick and funny lines.  Second, it is a send up of some of the greatest literary sleuths and detectives.  The film parodies Charlie Chan, Nick and Nora Charles, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, and Sam Spade.  Finally, it has a simply wonderful and amazing cast.  Peter Sellers is Sidney Wang (Charlie Chan), David Niven and Maggie Smith are Dick and Dora Charleston (Nick and Nora Charles), Elsa Lanchester is Jessica Marbles (Miss Marple), James Coco is Milo Perrier (Hercule Poirot), and Peter Falk is Sam Diamond (Sam Spade).  Other greats in the cast include Eileen Brennan, Nancy Walker, Truman Capote, James Cromwell, Estelle Winwood, and Alec Guinness.

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A keen observer will notice that the opening credits are drawn by Charles Addams, who created the comic strip The Addams Family.  We see a body with 11 knives lodged in the back, followed by the 11 “suspects”.

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Whether it is deliberate or not, the plot to the film is fairly ridiculous.  Millionaire Lionel Twain (Capote) invites five of the world’s greatest detectives to his home to solve a murder that hadn’t been committed yet (it will happen at midnight that evening).  He offers a million dollar prize to the one who can solve the murder.  The cast avoid numerous attempts on their own lives, while stumbling on more than one apparent murder throughout the film.

One of the true joys of this film is the performance of Alec Guinness as the blind butler, Jamesir Bensonmumm.  The dialogue between Guinness, David Niven and Maggie Smith regarding his name plays out like an Abbott and Costello bit.  He has some very funny lines and he delivers them perfectly.  When asked about Mrs. Twain, Bensonmum says, “She murdered herself in her sleep, sir.”  When asked if it was suicide, he replies, “Oh no.  It was murder alright.  Mrs. Twain hated herself!”  Sidney Wang asks about loud growling and barking from a cage.  He is told by the butler that it is the cat.  When he is questioned again in disbelief, Bensonmum replies, “I’m afraid he is a very angry cat. Mr. Twain had him fixed … and he didn’t want to be.”

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It was while filming Murder By Death, that Guinness received his copy of a script for Star Wars.  He read the script between takes while in his dressing room. Guinness was not one to spend a lot of time in Hollywood, but he liked the script so much that he made the trip to play the part of Bensonmum.  He is also on record as saying, “The script made me laugh, and not many things in recent times have done that.”

Peter Sellers plays Mr. Wang as stereotypical as Charlie Chan was.  One of my favorite lines from him is: “Conversation like television set on honeymoon: unnecessary.”  James Coco plays his role very self centered and prissy.  He has some funny scenes with James Cromwell and some good lines.  He finds a bill in the butler’s pocket and notes “Everything here has been rented for tonight. The butler, the cook, the food, the dining room chairs, everything!”  When Jessica Marbles begins to question, “You mean …”, he interrupts and states, “Yes. This entire murder has been… catered.”  After he drinks wine and begins to choke, the guests gasp and react, but he puts them at ease by saying, “No, no, it’s all right. My wine is not poisoned. It was just a bad year.”

Not to take away from fine performances by Peter Sellers, David Niven, or James Coco (they are all wonderful!), but a highlight for me is Peter Falk’s performance as Sam Diamond.  He plays it almost in a Humphrey Bogart sort of way.  Throughout the film, the detectives are often scurrying and unorganized.  Falk does such a great job with this.  He has some very funny lines in the film.  One of my favorites follows a bit of a monologue from Sam:  “Now, if one of you gentlemen would be so kind as to give my lady friend here a glass of cheap white wine, I’m going down the hall to find the can. I talk so much sometimes, I forget to go.”  When the issue of trust comes up, he proclaims, “The last time that I trusted a dame was in Paris in 1940. She said she was going out to get a bottle of wine. Two hours later, the Germans marched into France.”

Peter Sellers, Peter Falk,  MURDER BY DEATH, Columbia, 1976, I.V.

As hard as it is, I won’t spoil the ending.  I will tell you that the climax of the film has many revelations that are just ludacris, more theories and unmaskings than every episode of Perry Mason, Scooby Doo, and Agatha Christie novel put together!  By the time it is over, you wonder what happened, in a good way.  Wang has a great line as he and his adopted son are leaving the Twain mansion in the morning.  His son says, “I don’t get something, Pop. WAS there a murder, or WASN’T there?”  His reply:  “Yes: Killed good weekend.”

Despite the wonderful script and all-star cast, there were some who had their doubts about the film.  David Niven’s son worked for a company that invested in the film and thought that it would be a flop and expected it to be a tax loss.  Peter Sellers wasn’t happy with his performance and the film in general, so he sold back his percentage of the film for a little over a million dollars.  To everyone’s surprise, the film was the eight biggest money maker of 1976.  The film is included among the American Film Institute’s 2000 list of the 500 movies nominated for the Top 100 Funniest American Movies.

The Private Eyes (1980)

The next film I chose to write about stars two comedy legends who are just as funny separately as they are when paired together – Tim Conway and Don Knotts.  Tim is best remembered for his work on McHale’s Navy and the Carol Burnett show and Don is remembered for his work on the Andy Griffith Show and Three’s Company.  The Private Eyes is not the first film where they starred together, but it is their last.  They were in Disney’s The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975) and the sequel The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, (1979) and The Prize Fighter (1979).  They did do a brief cameo together in Cannonball Run II in 1984, a film that was pretty much a flop.

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The Private Eyes is, again, an Old Dark House film.  Don Knott’s character Inspector Winship is an obvious parody of Sherlock Holmes and Tim Conway’s character, Dr. Tart, is a parody of Dr. Watson.  The film opens with Lady and Lord Morley being murdered in their car by a cloaked shadowy figure.  Winship and Tart are two American detectives who are transferred to Scotland Yard.  They travel to the Morley Mansion with a letter from Lord Morley, asking them to investigate his own murder.

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When they arrive at the Morley Mansion, they meet the Morley’s adopted daughter (and heiress), Phyllis.  They also meet the odd array of staff members who work for the Morley’s.  They include a samurai, a busty blonde maid, a hunchback, a gypsy, an insane butler, and a Nazi Nanny.

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As Winship and Tart begin their investigation of the Morley murders, the members of the staff begin to show up apparently murdered one by one.  A message is left with each body (more on that in a second) and each time they bring Phyllis back to where they body had previously been, it has disappeared.

The first of two running gags in the film is Dr. Tart’s pigeons.  He insists on sending messages back to “the Yard” via homing pigeons.  They never seem to make it, however, as each time he tries to send the message the pigeon usually ends up dying.  The other is the messages that are left on the dead bodies.

Outside of Tim Conway’s performance, the reason to watch this film is for the messages.  The messages are written as poems.  They follow a similar pattern each time and rhyme consistently right up until the last line, where all of a sudden, they don’t!  Each time the last line is read, you can see Tim Conway’s Tart, trying to make sense of it.  He knows there is another word that would rhyme – and actually make more sense – but the author doesn’t use it.  Once it happens in the first poem, you know it’s coming with each future poem, and it is a consistently funny gag throughout the film.

A few worth mentioning:

In this house it’s hard to survive
Some will be dead who are now alive
Mr. Uwatsum is gona cuz he knew too much
Bye for now but rest assured, we will keep in constant contact with each other
(Instead of keep in touch)

If Jock could talk, he’d give you a clue
But now that he’s dead, what can you do?
He deserved what he got, I don’t regret it a bit
By the way, you’re standing in bull caca
(instead of Bullsh*t)

And my favorite:

I said when I died that I’d come back
If you believe in ghosts then you’re on the right track
I’m out of the grove and roaming the moors
If you wanna be safe you’d better lock all the windows and screens
(instead of doors)

What is disappointing about the movie is there is so much potential for it to be a very good film, but it winds up being just mediocre.  We are introduced to these crazy house servants in the beginning and yet nothing really comes from any of it.  If the movie had been handled as more of an ensemble comedy (as with Murder By Death and Clue), it would have been a much better film.

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Tim Conway does not disappoint, but Don Knotts seems slow and tired.  I recently read where he had contracted mononucleosis during filming, so I am guessing his performance is lackluster because of this.   Outside of our stars, I should note that the relationship between Nanny & Justin (seen above) are fun to watch.    Justin has a very funny line when introducing Winship and Tart to Nanny.  Upon learning that they are from Scotland Yard, he says, “This is Inspector Winship and Dr. Tart. They were in the yard.”  To which Winship corrects him, “That’s FROM the Yard!” Sadly, again, there is so much that the film makers could have done with their characters.  They are very funny together, but their time on screen is limited.

I should also mention that Trisha Noble does a wonderful job as the very stunning daughter, Phyllis.  If she looks familiar, its because she went on to appear in the TV Series Strike Force as Sergeant Rosie Johnson, various TV series, and in Star Wars Episode III as Jobal Naberrie. In 1967, she changed her stage name from Patsy Ann Noble to Trisha Noble in order to distance herself from her years as a teenage popular singer.

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The film is more of a “who is left to have done it”, rather than a “whodunit” because of how fast the members of the staff are being bumped off.  There is a bit of a twist at the end, and I won’t spoil it for you – after all, this blog is all about mystery.  While there are some funny moments, it is one of those movies you want to sit around on a weekend and watch with the kids, they will probably find it funnier than you.

Thanks!

Thanks to Robin for allowing me to participate in the Mystery Mania Blogathon.  I hope you enjoyed reading this and I encourage you to read the other entries at the link provided earlier in this blog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Made in 1938”

 

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Introduction

Since I started blogging about a year ago, I have stumbled on some great blogs that focus on old movies, film noir, music, books, and various other things that I find interesting.  Some of these blog sites have hosted Blogathons, and I have participated in a few of them.  A while back, the “Pop Culture Reverie” and “In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood” sites announced their “Made in 1938 Blogathon”.  The only real rule that was that whatever you wrote about had to be something “made” in 1938.  This blog is my contribution to this blogathon. I am posting a day early, but you can read the other participants blogs by clicking:

https://popculturereverie.wordpress.com/

or

https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/

At first, I began to look at movies from that year, hoping there would be one of my favorites from that year.  Then, because of the celebrity birthday page I had on Facebook, I wondered if there were any famous people born in ’38 that I might find interesting to write about.  In looking over the list of celebrities, three stood out as having a significant part in my life, so I chose to write about them.  I hope you find this blog interesting and entertaining. What follows is a brief salute to a great impressionist/comedian, a great radio personality, and a great actor.

Rich Little (Born November 26, 1938)

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Rich Little shares the nickname “The Man of a Thousand Voices” with the great Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, etc).  While they both have many voices that they do, Mel’s were more original voices and dialects for cartoons, while Rich did impersonations or imitations of real celebrities.  He claims to be able to do about 200 voices, and he has had quite a career “being” other people!  He even eludes to this in the title of his 2014 book “Little by Little:  People I’ve Known and Been…”

I remember when we first got cable TV.  HBO often featured stand up comedy shows and specials.  One of the first specials I ever saw was Rich Little’s A Christmas Carol. I was mesmerized by this guy!  This special was like an awesome dream come true – all these big celebrities playing the different roles of the Dickens classic – except, they were all done by one man, Rich Little.  Can you imagine WC Fields, Jack Benny, Peter Sellers, Humphrey Bogart, Peter Falk (as Columbo), Jimmy Stewart, Richard Nixon, Johnny Carson, Laurel and Hardy, and Groucho Marx all in the same show?!  He made it happen!

As a kid, not knowing what I really wanted to do with my life, and thinking I was funny, I thought maybe I could do what he did.  After watching him often, and listening to him, I began to try out voices on relatives.  I really thought I did an excellent Richard Nixon, but in reality, I was doing a bad impression of Rich Little doing Richard Nixon.   (Later on in my radio career, while on Honey Radio I did create a few generic voices that I used on our morning show, but never anything close to what Rich has mastered!)

I was always excited when there was some new Rich Little Special on HBO, whether it was his stage act or his take on Robin Hood (which is where I first saw him do his Carol Channing, which blew me away).  Every time he did a new celebrity I hadn’t seen him do, I would watch in awe. There was no shortage of people he could do.

One surprising fact that I was unaware of was one of my favorite singers played a big part in his American TV debut.  He was asked by singer Mel Torme’ to audition for the Judy Garland Show in 1964.  He did, made an impression (pun intended) and made his first appearance on American TV on her show.  He stated in an interview that if you watch this appearance, you should watch Judy.  She had never seen him perform before they taped the show and her reactions are very genuine.  He went on to appear on other TV shows like Love on a Rooftop, That Girl, The Flying Nun, and Petticoat Junction in guest roles.  He is probably best known for his appearances on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Kopycats (a show featuring impressionists), and The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts.

Rich is often asked which impressions are his favorites.  He says he has many, but the two that stand out are Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Stewart.  His Reagan is just wonderful and President Reagan loved it too!  He did two albums as Reagan – “The First Family Rides Again” and “Ronald Reagan Slept Here”.  I owned them both, and they are very funny (one of them features a pre-Seinfeld Michael Richards)! His Reagan is a great example of how Rich can find something unique about someone and use it in his imitation.  I’ll be honest, I never knew how many times Reagan started a sentence with the word “Well…” until I saw/heard Rich doing it in his act!

Jimmy Stewart was the first celebrity impression he worked on (and it is amazing).  Rich was on the dais of The Dean Martin Roasts when Jimmy was the “Man of the Hour”.  He got to the podium and began to school Jimmy Stewart on how to do Jimmy Stewart!  After Jimmy tries to do all the things Rich is telling him, Rich finally tells him that there is no hope for him and that Jimmy was doing “The Worst Jimmy Stewart” he’d ever heard! Rich even went as far as to have the audience stand up and do Jimmy, to which Rich tells Jimmy that everyone does a better Jimmy Stewart than he did!  Word is this was all ad-libbed and Jimmy, being the amazing guy that he was, went along with it all.

It would be hard for me to pick my favorite Rich Little Impressions, because they are all so good.  Among his best, in my opinion, are Reagan and Stewart (just mentioned), Richard Nixon, Jack Benny, Don Rickles, Raymond Burr, Truman Capote, James Mason, John Wayne, Paul Lynde, and Johnny Carson.  His Carson was so good, he was asked to play him in the movie about the David Letterman/Jay Leno feud called “Late Night”. After seeing Rich do an impression of him, Jack Benny sent him an 18 karat gold money clip  that was engraved; “With Bob Hope doing my walk and you doing my voice, I can be a star and do nothing!”

How good are his impressions?  When David Niven was ill, he actually dubbed in lines for Niven in a couple Pink Panther movies.  He did the same for James Cagney in the 1984 film Terrible Joe Moran and for Gene Kelly in a 1991 Christmas special.  I’m not sure how true it is, but some people say that there was some fierce competition between Rich and Frank Gorshin (The Riddler on TV’s Batman), who was also a good impressionist.  Those sources say that this little rivalry only made Rich work even harder to perfect his voices.

In researching for this blog, I came across a quote from Rich that really made me admire him even more.  He said, “I don’t like it when people imitate someone for political reasons or if they hate somebody.  I’ve never imitated anyone that I’ve really hated.  Usually, it’s people I admire.”

Thanks Rich, for the many laughs you provided throughout my childhood. Sorry about my Nixon impression!

Wolfman Jack (Born January 21, 1938)

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Radio Legend!  What more can I say?!  He was one of the best.  He knew what people wanted and gave it to them.  He was a master at talking to his audience.  He could be making you laugh out loud one minute, and crying  the next.  I never had the chance to hear a live show of his, but I was lucky enough to hear some of his syndicated stuff growing up.  I can tell you this, I can only WISH to be as good and as talented as he was! In my 30 year radio career, I have never come close!

With the creation of the Internet and access to YouTube and other radio websites, some of Wolfman’s radio stuff is available to listen to and enjoy.  I’m no dummy, I know that he must have done a lot of prep for his shows, but everything seemed so spontaneous and ad-libbed!  Maybe it was, I don’t know, but I do know that it was good.  His interactions with listeners were always entertaining.  His random thoughts about peace, love, and brotherhood always hit the nail on the head.  In this world where hatred runs amuck, we could use more people like Wolfman spreading the “love” on the air.

I got into radio because of the guys I listened to growing up (Paul Christy, Jim McKenzie, Richard D., Boogie Brian, Dick Purtan, etc…), and so did Wolfman Jack.  To keep him out of trouble, his parents bought him a radio and he fell in love with R&B music.  He listened to Jocko Henderson from Philadelphia, Dr. Jive from New York, the Moon Dog from Cleveland, Alan Freed (who coined the phrase “Rock and Roll”), and his mentor John Richbourg from Nashville.  He spent a year at The National Academy of Broadcasting and landed a radio gig in Virginia where his on air name was “Daddy Jules”.

Three years later, he took his “Wolfman” character to XERF, a Mexican radio station that broadcast at 250,000 watts (5 times the power of any US radio station), and people listened!  The station pretty much covered most of the US.  The music he played (lots of great R&B) and his vocal stylings started to make news. His popularity grew and there were feature stories about him in Time magazine, Newsweek, and Life magazine.  Newspapers from all over the country all wrote about him, too, wondering, “Who is this guy and where did he come from?!”

In 1972, he became the host of an NBC show called “The Midnight Special” where he co-hosted and interviewed musical guests.  Director George Lucas grew up in North Carolina and was a fan of Wolfman’s show growing up.  In 1973, he cast him in the film “American Graffiti” and made sure that he got a small percentage of the profits from the film.  The success of the film brought Wolfman to New York to do a radio show on WNBC, but the commuting back and forth to do TV and radio became a hassle, so he moved back to California.

Wolfman Jack became the first radio DJ to nationally distribute his radio show.  The show was heard on over 2000 stations nationwide and in 53 countries! Along with his radio work. he continued to do movie work  and appeared on TV shows like The Odd Couple, What’s Happening, Vega$, Wonder Woman, Hollywood Squares, and Married…With Children. He also appeared as himself in the 1974 hit single by The Guess Who entitled “Clap for the Wolfman.”

In 1995, he wrote his autobiography (a must read for people in radio) “Have Mercy:  Confessions of the Original Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal,” which received good reviews in The New York Times and LA Times.  On July 1, 1995, after finishing a broadcast from The Hard Rock Café in Washington DC he boarded a plane and flew home.  He had been away from his family for days promoting his book.  He told his limo driver as they pulled in front of his house that he was happy to finally be home.  He walked inside, hugged his wife, and collapsed after having a massive heart attack.  He was 57 years old.

To close this section of my blog – here are some of my favorite Wolfman quotes:

“We are put on this earth to have a good time.  This makes other people feel good.  And the cycle continues.”

“I know it may sound corny, man, but I like to bring folks joy and I like to have a good time.  I know folks like to be with someone who’s having a good time.  You sure as hell don’t want to be with somebody who’s having a bad day.”

“Love is not a matter of counting the years – it’s making the years count.”

“If you do right.  Everything will come out right.”

And my favorite quote, which I often used (giving him credit, of course) to close my own radio show:

“Remember to keep smiling because a smile is like a light in the window letting people know your heart’s at home”.

Thanks, Wolfman, for being an inspiration to young DJ’s like me, and for being a positive in a world full of negativity!

Christopher Lloyd (Born October 22, 1938)

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When I first saw the trailer for Back to the Future, I was filled with anticipation.  It was everything a 15 year old boy could ask for, action, adventure, and time travel! I’ve always been a fan of time travel stories.  I have a collection of old radio shows that all have time travel as a theme.  What kid didn’t wonder, “What would it be like to see my parents as kids?  What would it be like to go back to the past?”  I had to see this movie!

The Back to the Future trilogy remains one of my favorites (second only to the Godfather).  Looking back now, I can’t imagine anyone but Christopher Lloyd playing Doc Brown.  While there are great characters (and actors) in the film, Lloyd makes it all worth watching!  He’s the epitome of a crazy scientist!  He’s everything you expect one to be!  He’s manic!  He’s constantly moving!  He’s always thinking and processing!  In an interview he said that there were times he was so into the role that he didn’t know exactly what he had done until he saw it on screen!  Believe it or not, he almost passed on the role!!

In an interview I found, he said that when he was initially contacted about playing the role, he had some doubts about it and seriously considered passing on it.  He was in Mexico when his agent called to tell him that the producers wanted to meet with him.  “I was anxious to do a play that I had been offered back east, and I wasn’t sure this was something I wanted to get involved in at that point.”  Luckily, his future wife Carol reminded him that “I always told myself never to turn anything down without at least checking it out.” After the meeting he says he was “ready to put on the wig and hop into the Delorean!”

Doc Brown is probably one of two roles that Christopher Lloyd will forever be identified with.  The other is that of “Reverend” Jim Ignatowski on the TV show Taxi.  That character won him two Emmy Awards!  I have always appreciated when a TV show has a great ensemble cast – Taxi was one of them.  Each character stands out in their own way, and Reverend Jim never ceased to make me laugh!  One of the greatest scenes in this show is when Jim has to take his driver’s test.  Almost all of the gang is there while he is taking it and trying to help him.  If you’ve never seen it – it’s comedy gold! Here is the link:

Christopher is one of those actors who is believable in comedy roles as well as dramatic roles.  I have always felt that is what makes a great actor.  He reminds me a lot of Robin Williams, in that he can play comedy for comedy, play straight for comedic effect, and nail a dramatic role perfectly.  In his first movie role, as a psychiatric patient in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, he is brilliant!  It is one amazing performance!

He is one of those actors that has so many memorable roles.  It would be impossible to give space to each one of them.  One movie that sometimes gets over looked is the 1985 comedy Clue.  As Professor Plum, we are treated to Christopher playing straight for comedic effect.  In one of my favorite scenes, the characters are paired off to search areas of the house.  Plum is paired with Mrs. Peacock (played brilliantly by Eileen Brennan) and he looks at her and says, “It’s you and me, honey bunch.”  As strait as he says it, that line cracks me up every time!  What an amazing cast in this film!

As someone who doesn’t care too much for movie remakes, I was pleasantly surprised at the Addams Family films.  I loved Christopher as Uncle Fester.  I always felt like the TV show was more comedy than dark comedy.  The films were closer to the comic strips and I thought Christopher captured that dark comedy and mischievous aspect of the character in his portrayal of Fester. This is probably because he was a fan of the comic strip and claims to have always read the New Yorker Magazine (where the strip was featured in every issue).

Two of Christopher’s roles were so powerful they scared me!  The first being that of Klingon Commander Kluge in the 1984 film Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.  He is just so vicious, and over the top in this film.  One of my favorite scenes is where one of his crew destroys a ship and he yells that he wanted prisoners.  The crew member says it was a lucky shot.  At this, his anger boils over and Kluge kills the crewmember.  After this, he simply says “Animal.”  He really does a great job of showing us how crazy the character is.

The other role that scared me was his role as Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?  As much as I hated him throughout the movie, when he snaps and goes nuts at the end, wow!  When he is run over by the steamroller you are almost happy!  When he melts, you are ecstatic! When an actor makes you hate a character he is playing that much – he’s done it right! He says that people come up to him often and mention how much this character scared them, so I am not alone.  He also says that he loves playing villains, because it’s a “license just to be as bad as the script allows you to be”.

There are many other movies that Christopher has played in that you may be familiar with, like The Dream Team, Dennis the Menace (Switchblade Sam is an awesome villain), and My Favorite Martian.  He has done so much more that I wish I had been able to see.  For example, in 2010, he starred as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman in a Weston House Production. I can only imagine how well he played this iconic role.   In 2008, he played Scrooge in a production of A Christmas Carol with John Goodman and Jane Leeves.  WOW – I would LOVE to see him as Scrooge!!!!  Many have played Scrooge, and played him well…but I know that Christopher’s interpretation would have been off the charts!

He continues to do voice work (my kids loved him as the Hacker on Cyberchase), television, and movies and is very active on social media. If you don’t already, follow him.

Thanks, Christopher for entertaining so many over the years!  You are a treasure!

In Closing

I want to thank the hosts of this blogathon, “Pop Culture Reverie” and “In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood”,  for allowing me to participate.  It was a lot of fun for me to think about these three influential men and their work, and ultimately write about them.  I hope that you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.