Archive for October, 2015

Darkness in the Late Career of Ruth Gordon

Posted in Hollywood (History), Horror (Mostly Gothic), Movies, Television, Women with tags , , , , , on October 30, 2015 by travsd


Today is the birthday of the great Ruth Gordon. (For my full article on her go here).

Since we’ve been doing so much Halloween posting, and the big day is tomorrow, I thought I’d devote a little post to some of the darker films that categorized her later work:


Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

The entire explanation for why Gordon wound up in the genre at all lies in Roman Polanski’s groundbreaking horror film. In fact, for me personally, the most horrifying moment in the movie is that betrayal (sorry! spoilers unavoidable!) when we learn that dotty, eccentric, lovable, “harmless” old Ruth Gordon is part of the Satanic coven that’s been using Mia Farrow’s womb as a devil farm. We had been hanging on to Gordon’s soothing presence throughout the movie as a last shred of possibility that the evil we’re fearing won’t come true. It does anyway. After this film (and a couple of wacky ones that preceded it) the writing was on the wall — the old gal was game; she’d do just about any crazy thing.


Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice (1969)

A psycho-biddy horror film by Robert Aldrich, who’d also been responsible for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962) and Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964). This film more closely resembles the former. Gordon plays a housekeeper who takes a job at the home of a widow played by Geraldine Page…a home where the housekeepers don’t seem to live very long.


Harold and Maude (1971)

True, Harold (Bud Cort) is by far the darker of the two, what with his fake suicides and his driving around in a hearse. By contrast, his lover Maude is all sunshine and roses. But then…she is sixty years his senior. And when we say senior, we mean senior. 

Isn't It Shocking 1

Isn’t it Shocking? (1973)

An ABC TV movie of the week, in which town sheriff Alan Alda (!) must investigate the mysterious deaths (electrically induced heart attacks, actually) of all the town’s senior citizens. Gordon is one of the town old folks, along with Will Geer, Lloyd Nolan, and Edmund O’Brien. 


The Great Houdini (1976)

Gordon played Houdini’s mom in the ABC tv movie bio-pic starring Paul Michael Glaser (a.k.a “Starsky”). You can’t tell the Houdini story without ghosts (fake ones, anyway), seances, and lots of dwelling on death, which this picture has plenty of.


Look What Happened to Rosemary’s Baby (1976)

Gordon was the only one from the original cast to return for this sequel, presented as an ABC TV movie. (Although it indeed has an all-star cast). It unfolds in unholy chapters over the span of several decades, much like The Omen sequels would later do, and like all such sequels is a lesser entity than the original, but still must be watched.


Don’t Go to Sleep (1982)

The ghost of a dead child comes back to haunt (and worse) her entire family, conveniently waiting until they move out to a spooky house in the country. Gordon plays the grandma, killed when she is frightened by the sight of an iguana.

On Herschel Bernardi

Posted in Broadway, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Jews/ Show Biz, Movies, Television with tags , , , , , , , on October 30, 2015 by travsd


Today is the birthday of Herschel Bernardi (1923-1986). I’m just gonna give a quick shout out, rather than let another year go by without doing so.

Without knowing I was doing so, I first knew him as the voice of Charlie the Tuna in Star-Kist commercials:


I’ve always interpreted the character as a Phil Silvers imitation, but maybe I’m wrong.

I think I first encountered his name in the credits to the 1974 Filmation feature Journey Back to Oz (he was the voice of the saw horse of that animated feature).

Bernardi is also well known for having been one of the formerly-blacklisted stars of the 1976 film The Front, and for having replaced Zero Mostel as Tevye in the original Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof. From 1970 to 1972 he starred in the CBS sitcom Arnie, and was one of the stars of the 1977 miniseries Seventh Avenue. Other movies he appeared in included Irma La Douce (1963), and Love with the Proper Stranger (1963)

What truly merits his ioncludsion here, was that Bernardi was a family of actors in the Yiddish theatre, on New York’s Second Avenue, the “Jewish Rialto”. In the 1930, he acted in Yiddish speaking films of Edgar Ulmer. In the 1950s he branched out into TV.

To learn more about comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from etc etc etc. To learn about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


Anna Case: Soprano in Vaudeville

Posted in Classical, Singers, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , on October 29, 2015 by travsd


Today is birthday of Anna Case (1888-1984). New Jersey born Case was said to have been the first person to sing at the Metropolitan Opera who hadn’t been trained in Europe. She debuted at the Met as a soprano in 1909, and sang with the company for a decade, in such works as Lohengrin, Carmen, Aida, and The Magic Flute. From 1919 through 1930, she gave concert recitals throughout the United States, including the vaudeville circuits. (E.g, she played the Palace in 1926). She retired in 1930 and married wealthy opera patron Clarence H. Mackey, father of Ellin Mackey, who married Irving Berlin. 

For more on vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

Chaplin, Normand & Co. in “Gentlemen of Nerve”

Posted in Charlie Chaplin, Comedians, Comediennes, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Mabel Normand, Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 29, 2015 by travsd


Today marks the anniversary of the release date of the Charlie Chaplin/ Keystone comedy Gentlemen of Nerve. This is one of what I call the ad hoc/ improv type silent comedies, shot at an actual car race. There is a nice feeling of ensemble in this little comedy, a confidence that bespeaks a gang of comedians that have been playing together for several months are just now coming into their own creatively.

Chester Conklin and Mabel Normand play a couple who come to watch the car race. As soon as they sit down in the stands, Chester starts flirting with a homely woman in a crazy hat (Phyllis Allen). Mabel pulls his nose to get him to stop. Meanwhile Chaplin and Mack Swain tussle about trying to enter the track. They shake hands. Then they try to sneak in through the fence. Whereupon Swain gets stuck. Charlie goes under his legs and through. A Keystone Kop  helps Mack out. Then Chaplin begins flirting with Mabel, pushing Conklin out of the way. By the end of the film, with much fooling around in between, Chaplin winds up with TWO girls.

To learn more about comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from etc etc etc


To learn about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


Be a Part of “The Moose Head Over The Mantel” (and See a Sneak Preview)

Posted in Horror (Mostly Gothic), ME, Movies, Movies (Contemporary), My Shows with tags , , on October 28, 2015 by travsd


My terrifyingly talented friends at Inappropriate Films shot this amazing and highly original horror film over the summer, with yours truly in a key role. Want proof?:


There’s a real slick trailer at this web address: Please do watch it!

I won’t lie, it’s a partial plea for post-production funds — they need to cut this dang deal, mix the sound etc etc. But even if you don’t have the scratch (or the inclination), I hope you’ll watch the trailer. It may just get you jazzed to see the film at least!

Tonight on TCM: Spooky Disney Classics

Posted in Hollywood (History), Horror (Mostly Gothic), Movies, VISUAL ART with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2015 by travsd


Tonight, in celebration of the Halloween season, TCM will show several Disney classics, most of which (kind of) have a spooky angle. Disney never allows itself to get TOO dark, but there are definitely treats on the menu tonight.

The highlight for me is the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” half of the bifurcated Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949). As I wrote here, television screenings of this animated short was one of my earliest exposures to that tale, or really any sort of “horror” whatsoever. Granted, Ichabod Crane is a comical character, and so is his horse, but the film does have great suspense and atmosphere, and it is most effective on small children, which I was. Perhaps the Halloween bug bit me right then and there. The Mr. Toad half of the film is most enjoyable as well, although it’s not the slightest bit scary, but it IS narrated by Basil Rathbone. 


Also high on my list of appropriate favorites here is the moody short The Old Mill (1937) one of the most perfect films the studio ever produced. The scary elements are merely a thunder storm and creatures of the night, but it is a glorious thing to look at and listen to. Lonesome Ghosts, released the same year is a spook comedy starring Mickey, Donald and Goofy.

Also on the menu are the live action Escape to Witch Mountain (1975) and Return from Witch Mountain (1978). These were huge hits when I was a kid; Kim Richards was a super-star with the 8-12 set. Although it is most hilarious that TCM classifies these films as “horror” in their description. It ain’t scary (unless you find flying Winnebagoes terrifying).

The evening kicks off with three tangential but appreciated classics: Three Little Wolves (1936), Three Little Pigs (1948), and The Big Bad Wolf (1934). Many have said that they found the wolf in the latter film very scary as young children, and he does sort of rate a place as perhaps the first great classic Disney villain.

And it all winds down in the wee hours with several spooky family comedies from the 1980s: Tim Burton’s original Frankenweenie short (1980), Mr. Boogedy (1986) and The Ghosts of Buxley Hall (1980). Details on show times can be found on TCM’s website. 

Elsa Lanchester: The Bohemian Bride

Posted in British Music Hall, Hollywood (History), Melodrama and Master Thespians, Movies, The Hall of Hams, Women with tags , , , , , , on October 28, 2015 by travsd

While it’s unfair to REDUCE her to this role, as many do, it IS the one which put her on the map, and, well, Halloween is 3 days away

Today is the birthday of the great Elsa Lanchester (1902-1986). Lanchester was still a going concern in my youth (Murder by Death, Willard and all those Disney movies) hence it took me a little time to put that stout older English lady together with her most iconic role (see above).

Va Va Voom, Elsa Lanchester!

Va Va Voom, Elsa Lanchester!

She was gorgeous and somewhat wild looking in her youth. Look at this (below). Damn! THIS was the person to play Eva Tanguay, Mitzi Gaynor be damned! (Well, not damned, just fired from The I Don’t Care Girl)


True to form, Lanchester actually WAS wild. She was born of bohemian, socialist, unmarried (on principle) parents, and got her start singing in avant-garde cabarets and night clubs in the late teens and twenties. In 1927 she met fellow cast member Charles Laughton in a play called Mr. Prohack. They married two years later, and maintained a loving, if typically unconventional) relationship (Laughton was gay). The pair played opposite each other from time to time on both stage and screen (e.g., The Private Life of Henry VIII, 1933, and Tales of Manhattan, 1942). Her role in Bride of Frankenstein (1935) was small, but prominent, and her image in the role was to become one of the most iconic in all of Hollywood cinema. Other notable roles included parts in The Bishop’s Wife (1947), The Inspector General (1949), Witness for the Prosecution (1957) and Bell, Book and Candle (1958). Then there were those Disney movies I mentioned: Mary Poppins (1964), That Darn Cat! (1965), and Blackbeard’s Ghost (1968). Her last movie was the terrible, completely incoherent “comedy” Die Laughing (1980) starring Robbie Benson. (I don’t know why we watched this one a few months ago, but we did…or some of it).


She also recorded several popular records of bawdy music hall songs, and penned two autobiographical books. And now, again, because Halloween —


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