Archive for September, 2016

Todd Robbins Returns in “True Nightmares”!

Posted in Horror (Mostly Gothic), PLUGS, Television with tags , , , , on September 30, 2016 by travsd


We are very excited to report that our friend Todd Robbins’ show True Nightmares on the Investigation Discovery network, has been renewed for a second season and that the season premiere is tomorrow night (Saturday, October 1, 2016 for those of you readers who don’t know how to look at the dates on blogposts). It is most savvy of them to launch this show during Halloween season!

We watched every episode last year and lapped it up like liquor. How could we not? Read our interview with Todd when he launched the series last year here.

William Conrad: The Man With the Big Voice

Posted in Hollywood (History), Melodrama and Master Thespians, Movies, Radio (Old Time Radio), Television, The Hall of Hams with tags , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2016 by travsd


Today is the birthday of William Conrad (John William Cann, 1920-1994).

Conrad was one of those figures I frequently write about who were cheated of respect by their times. Conrad was a show business veteran with an amazing resume stretching back decades: an actor, director and producer who was successful in all three media: radio, television and cinema. And yet to millions of Americans in the 1970s, he was just “the fat guy on Cannon“.

My dad was a fan and had remembered him from his radio stardom, so as a kid I had an inkling that Conrad was more than just the portly tv detective. Conrad studied drama at Fullerton College, and was already writing, producing, directing and acting in local Los Angeles radio in his early 20s. Gifted with one of the best voices in the business, deep, resonant, forceful and stentorian, he ranks with Orson Welles as one of the medium’s most successful actors, playing over 7,500 roles over the decades, most famously Matt Dillon in the radio version of Gunsmoke (1952-1961).

Unlike Welles, Conrad was not associated with classics and literature so much as noir and crime stories and the like. By the mid 40s, he had broken into films, too, and you can see him in such gritty classics as The Killers (1946), Sorry, Wrong Number (1948) and The Naked Jungle (1952). Among other movies, he also produced and directed the camp horror classic Two on a Guillotine (1965), as well My Blood Runs Cold and Brainstorm (both also 1965–busy year!), and produced the rock and roll musical The Cool Ones (1967), and the early Robert Altman film Countdown (1968).

In the post radio days he was still in demand as a voiceover artist and narrator. That’s him as the announcer on the cartoon Rocky and Bullwinkle  (1959-1964) and The Fugitive (1963-1967), in the 1970 John Wayne film Chisum, and the tv nature series The Wild, Wild World of Animals (1973-1978).


And of course, his trilogy of portly policemen on Cannon (1971-1976), Nero Wolfe (1981), and Jake and the Fat Man (1987-1992). One of his last gigs was narrating the movie Hudson Hawk (1991).

These are just a few benchmarks. To truly detail all of his career accomplishments would take a blogpost many times this length. One of the things that interests me a great deal is the parallelism with the career of Orson Welles, and the ways in which they diverged. In a way, Welles was a prisoner of his brilliance as an actor and director — ironically it kept him from getting more of the bread and butter type work that paid the bills and that he was fully qualified to do. He barely achieved even a toe-hold in television. Whereas Conrad was admittedly much more of a journeyman. Because of it, there was room in his life to become the major television star he was during his last couple of decades. But that came with its own ironic twist — very few people knew about his own credits behind the cameras.

And then there’s the obvious fact that they both possessed similar body types, especially in later years. I imagine the pair of them butted heads over many a gig over the decades.

At any rate, a man to be celebrated — he kept millions of people entertained for over half a century.

R.I.P. Herschell Gordon Lewis (on Political Symbolism in “2,000 Maniacs”)

Posted in Horror (Mostly Gothic), OBITS with tags , , , , , on September 26, 2016 by travsd


Just got wind that the “Godfather of Gore” Herschell Gordon Lewis has passed away.  An interesting dilemma for his afterlife: shouldn’t his “heaven” be some sort of funhouse representation of “hell”? How would that work? It might confuse some folks up yonder.

Anyway, I’ve seen but one of Mr. Lewis’s movies, but I was so mesmerized by it that I considered doing a blogpost about it. Not sure why I didn’t. It may have been during October (Halloween month), which is normally a busy blogging time for me. At any rate, I’ll spill a few remarks about it now. A few red, dripping remarks.

The film was 1964’s 2,000 Maniacs. I’d long known of Lewis’s legend, mostly through John Waters’ enthusiasm for him (the title of Multiple Maniacs is an homage). And the title of the film was also the inspiration for the name of the band 10,000 Maniacs. I expected something bloody and probably boring. It turned out to be neither of those things. (Yeah, there’s blood, but the effects don’t look realistic by today’s standards, nor is their much of it by today’s standards, although there is plenty of torture and violence).


But more to the point: the film turned out to be surprisingly interesting, even thought-provoking. Oh, don’t get me wrong: there’s plenty of “hack, hack, hack”, “slash, slash, slash”, and “crush, crush, crush.” But Lewis, a former English professor invests the plot with all kinds of loaded symbolism that adds something like meaning to the film. Basically, a carload of big city Yankees get detoured to a remote Southern town which is in the midst of a Civil War centennial celebration. They get invited to take part in the festivities. Only too late do they discover that they are to be sacrificed in retribution for a Union victory over the town 100 years earlier. The kids are picked off, one by one, and served up as barbecue, until two of them manage to escape — and then the town disappears, Brigadoon style. The townfolk were apparently the ghosts of the original war victims.

No, but, really, go ahead and fly it over your state capitol

No, but, really, go ahead and fly it over your state capitol

Recall that this came out in 1964, the very time when civil rights workers, black and white, were being harassed, maimed and murdered throughout the South. It gives the film a political and social resonance it wouldn’t otherwise have had, and may well not have been particularly intended. But it’s there to be read: two different value systems clashing. If you’ve ever seen photographs of lynching or other KKK terror tactics (firebombings etc), you won’t regard it as the biggest leap to link a Confederate flag and “horror”.

Offended? Good. Looked at from a certain angle, 2,000 Maniacs just may be a more profound civil rights statement than The Defiant Ones or Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? Who better than a Gore King to remind us that history is written in blood?

Fields Fest Lives!

Posted in Comedians, Comedy, EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, Hollywood (History), Jugglers, ME, My Shows, PLUGS, Vaudeville etc., W.C. Fields with tags , , , , , , on September 26, 2016 by travsd


December 25, 2016 will mark the 70th anniversary of the passing from our plane of the great stage and screen comedian W.C. Fields. To mark the occasion we have organized Fields Fest, a festival of talks, screening and other events to celebrate the life and career of the Great Man. Fields Fest is our follow up to the highly successful Marxfest, which took place in May of 2014. 

Here’s some of what we have planned. Stay tuned for updates!:


Tuesday, November 1, 7:00pm: Launch event at the Lambs: W.C. Fields for President

Did you know that in addition to being one of the most popular American entertainers of the 20th century, W.C. Fields was also a proud member of The Lambs? The clubhouse will once again be filled with the stories and charm so often on display from Fields during a special night on Tuesday, Nov. 1, at 7 p.m. The team behind the upcoming stage show W.C. Fields For President (based on the humor book Fields for President, recently re-released with a new forward by Dick Cavett) will present a night devoted to the showman’s legacy. The event will bring to The Lambs actor-circus performer Glen Heroy, star of the one-man show, and its writer-director, the mountebank Trav S.D. (author of No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous), and Lauren Milberger, as Gracie Allen!. A suggested donation of $10 supports The Lambs Foundation. 3 West 51st Street. Attendance is limited, RSVP to Kevin Fitzpatrick, kevin [AT ]


Thursday, November 17, 7:00pm: Hear and Now with Rachel Cleary

Trav S.D. and Glen Heroy (of W.C. Fields for President) will appear on Rachel Cleary’s Radio Free Brooklyn show. Listen to it here:

Fields and his comedy cohorts from the Ziegfeld Follies

Fields and his comedy cohorts from the Ziegfeld Follies

Saturday, Nov. 19, 1:00-3:00 PM: W.C. Fields History Walk
Walk in the footsteps of W.C. Fields and see where he lived, worked, and socialized. This two-hour walk is led by Kevin C. Fitzpatrick, author of The Algonquin Round Table New York: A Historical Guide (Globe Pequot) and Under the Table: A Dorothy Parker Cocktail Guide (Lyons Press). See more than a dozen locations associated with his life and times in a spirited walk. Meeting point: in front of the Shubert Theatre, Shubert Alley (44th Street between 7th and 8th avenues). The walk will encompass approximately 25 blocks, so wear comfortable shoes. The walk is open to the public. Kids, strollers, and dogs welcome. Buy tickets in advance by emailing Kevin: kevin [at] fitzpatrickauthor (dot) com. Tickets are $20.00 each.



Tuesday, November 22, 7:30pm: The Bank Dick (1940)

The classic Fields film, introduced by Dr. Harriet Fields, W.C.’s only granddaughter and global health activist, at the Cinema Arts Center, Huntington Long Island:


Young Fields in his days as a vaudeville tramp juggler

Thursday, December 1, 6:30pm: “W.C. Fields in Vaudeville”

Trav S.D. talks about the great comedian’s early years in show business as a juggler in vaudeville and a revue comedian, and the many ways those experiences influenced his later motion pictures. The talk will be illustrated and will draw from the author’s research on the comedian for his blog Travalanche ( and his popular book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous. At the Mid-Manhattan Branch of NY Public Library, 455 Fifth Ave, Sixth Floor. FREE

"Sally of the Sawdust" (1925)

“Sally of the Sawdust” (1925)

Saturday, December 10 1.30pm: “W.C. Fields in Astoria: The Paramount Silents”

Many people know that W.C. Fields had one of the most distinctive speaking voices of the classic comedy era. What they may not realize is that prior to the advent of talking pictures, Fields was a SILENT comedy star. From 1924 through 1928 he appeared in ten Paramount features filmed at that studio’s Astoria Queens facility. In this illustrated talk author and lecturer Trav S.D. takes you up close to this lesser known stretch of the Great Man’s career, and shows how much of Fields’ silent work presaged his better known talkies. At Greater Astoria Historical Society, Queens:


Monday, December 12, 7pm: “W.C. Fields: From Dime Museums to the Jazz Age” an illustrated talk by Trav S.D., sponsored by Zelda Magazine

A look at screen comedian W.C. Fields’ growth from humble sideshow and dime museum juggler to sketch comedian and one of the biggest stars of sophisticated Broadway revues like the Ziegfeld Follies, George White’ Sandals and Earl Carrol’s Vanities. Along the way meet the glittering stars he shared the limelight with like Louise Brooks, Fanny Brice, Will Rogers and Eddie Cantor. Admission: $8. Location: Morbid Anatomy Museum, 424 Third Avenue, 11215 Brooklyn NY

Sunday, December 25, 4pm: W.C. Fields Memorial Pub Crawl

The culminating event of Fields Fest, in honor of the 70th anniversary of the day in which The Great Man met the Man in the Bright Night Gown. Location TBA


Thursday, December 29, 7:00pm: The Man on the Flying Trapeze

A screening of Field’s often overlooked 1935 Paramount classic The Man on the Flying Trapeze at Metrograph. Celebrity guest speaker TBA.

The Marx Brothers and the Golden Age of Vaudeville!

Posted in Comedy, Comedy Teams, Hollywood (History), Marx Brothers, Movies, PLUGS, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , on September 23, 2016 by travsd


Opening tonight at New York’s Film Forum: an exciting screening series entitled the Marx Brothers and the Golden Age of Vaudeville. The curators actually seem to have lumped two series ideas together into one, but what care I? Both halves are well worth seeing.

If you’ve already seen the Marx Brothers’ classics to death, there are several reasons to attend this series anyway: 1) the films look better big; 2) the films laugh better with an audience; 3) several have been restored and are thus better looking prints, and, lastly 4) a couple of have a few seconds of previously missing footage restored. This last reason alone will make the Marx nuts come out in force, I know. Any new scrap of film containing  boys will be more than welcome. And September 25 our friends from I’ll Say She Is will be judging a Marx Brothers look-a-like contest!

As for the other films in the series, there are several programs of Vitaphone shorts of vaudevillians, including many previously unscreened ones, and that always gets me excited. And then there’s the recently restored Paul Whiteman movie The King of Jazz (1930) which I still have yet to see. I hope I get to make it over there! I’ll probably know everyone in the audience. It runs through Sept 29, with a kicker screening on October 25 of Vitaphone Varieties, Part 2. All the information is here. 

To find out more about vaudevilleconsult my book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


Windows on the Bowery, Part Two

Posted in Bowery, Barbary Coast, Old New York, Saloons, EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, ME, My Shows, SOCIAL EVENTS with tags , , , , , , on September 23, 2016 by travsd


An excellent time was had by all assembled (I decree it) at last night’s celebration for the Windows on the Bowery exhibition at the historic HSBC bank on the lower Bowery in Chinatown. You may recall our coverage of Part One, the Cooper Union opening, from my earlier blog post.  As you may recall, because you are paying strict and close attention to every aspect of my life, I wrote two the panels, included in the show, and these are them:



But frankly all of the panels are terific and they really made me wish for a way-back machine so I could visit all the theatres, museums, and such like that used to thrive on the Bowery back in the day.  You want a clearer picture? You want to see the rest of them? GO THERE. I told you where it is at the top of the post.

Here are some candids I took at the event:

David Mulkins of the Bowery Residents Committee, principle mover, shaker and chief bottle washer of the project talks to Ralph Lewis of Peculiar Works Project (whom I learned last night lives in one of the historic buildings!)

David Mulkins of the Bowery Residents Committee, principle mover, shaker and chief bottle washer of the project talks to Ralph Lewis of Peculiar Works Project (whom I learned last night lives in one of the historic buildings!)

Mulkins addresses the adoring throngs

Mulkins addresses the adoring throngs

HSBC Bowery Branch staff, who have every reason to be proud of this civic minded project

HSBC Bowery Branch staff, who have every reason to be proud of this civic minded project

The word in the circle is "Success". Ain't it the truth, ain't it the truth?

The word in the circle is “Success”. Ain’t it the truth, ain’t it the truth?

Why the World Needs More John Housemans

Posted in BOOKS & AUTHORS, Broadway, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Hollywood (History), Impresarios, Indie Theatre, LEGIT, EXPERIMENTAL & MUSICAL THEATRE, Melodrama and Master Thespians with tags , , , , , on September 22, 2016 by travsd


 Today is the birthday of that great theatrical man John Houseman (1902-1988). We’ve already done a biographical post on him (read that here), and we’ve done one on his late career television show The Paper Chase (read about it here).

Earlier this year I chanced to read the first volume of his three part memoir, Run Through, which he wrote in the 1970s. I found the book both inspirational and consoling. How heartening it is to know that, even for the greatest theatrical geniuses of the age, working on these now legendary productions, life was still feast-or-famine, precarious, on top of the world one minute, broke as a hobo the next, always surfing the miserable yet exhilarating metaphysical tsunami of risk — risking your reputation, your very SELF, repeatedly on the altar of the public’s approval. When looked at this way, is there any doubt that the theatre begins NOT with storytelling, but with human sacrifice? At the volcano’s mouth, at the stake, in the coliseum? It’s not just “putting on a show” — it’s KILLING yourself to put on a show, trying to make something important that will make a memorable impression on the audience, will make some kind of alchemical change in their heads. What a rush. Clearly he felt the same way, although perhaps to a less pathological degree than his partner Orson Welles. 

My other take away from this book is how badly the theatre needs more Housemans. Indie theater in particular has more than its share of wanna-be Welleses. Everyone can’t play the coddled genius in this life; someone has to pay the baby food bills. Much rarer and arguably more necessary than aspiring geniuses are willing, hard working business managers. The elephant in the room when discussing Welles, yet rarely brought up, is the fact that the “charmed” phase of his career ended when he alienated Houseman. With Houseman out of the picture, Welles’ life became a struggle instead of the cakewalk it had always been until that point.

Houseman spent his young adulthood toiling behind desks in a series of responsible positions which even he found dreary (he traded grain until the stock market crash). But it taught him worldly skills and discipline. What made Houseman even rarer, of course, was that he was such a highly cultured businessman. In fact most people today think of him primarily as an actor. He was also an accomplished writer, dramaturg and director in addition to being a producer, and was well cultivated in ALL of the arts. Thus, when it was his task to raise money for a project, he was a full creative partner and collaborator. He was necessary to the art; he wasn’t just a bean-counter in some compartmentalized department (as I’ve often witnessed in larger arts organizations). He knew whereof he spoke. Thus I say and say again:  The best thing that could happen to the arts in this country would be to start churning out far fewer Wellses, and many more Housemans. WAH! I WANT MY HOUSEMAN!

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