Forget Mickey Mouse. The earliest cartoon I can remember is Felix The Cat, which premiered on tee vee when I was just a year old.
However, Felix The Cat is a lot older than that. In fact, he’s one of the very first stars of the silver screen, going all the way back to the Silent Era in 1919. Among his mysterious beginnings is that way back then Felix went by the nom de mouse of Master Tom. Why? What was he trying to hide?:
Master Tom left behind his former life with a name change for his 3rd movie, “The Adventures of Felix.”
Felix’s origins remain disputed. Australian cartoonist/film entrepreneurPat Sullivan, owner of the Felix character, claimed during his lifetime to be its creator. American animatorOtto Messmer, Sullivan’s lead animator, has also been credited as such. What is certain is that Felix emerged from Sullivan’s studio, and cartoons featuring the character enjoyed success and popularity in the popular culture. Aside from the animated shorts, Felix starred in a comic strip (drawn by Sullivan, Messmer and later Joe Oriolo) beginning in 1923, and his image soon adorned merchandise such as ceramics, toys and postcards. Several manufacturers made stuffed Felix toys. Jazz bands such as Paul Whiteman‘s played songs about him (1923’s “Felix Kept On Walking” and others).
By the late 1920s, with the arrival of sound cartoons, Felix’s success was fading. The new Disney shorts of Mickey Mouse made the silent offerings of Sullivan and Messmer, who were then unwilling to move to sound production, seem outdated. In 1929, Sullivan decided to make the transition and began distributing Felix sound cartoons through Copley Pictures. The sound Felix shorts proved to be a failure and the operation ended in 1932. Felix saw a brief three-cartoon resurrection in 1936 by the Van Beuren Studios.
Felix cartoons began airing on American TV in 1953. Joe Oriolo introduced a redesigned, “long-legged” Felix, added new characters, and gave Felix a “Magic Bag of Tricks” that could assume an infinite variety of shapes at Felix’s behest.
This is the Felix I remember from my childhood and this may have been the first song I knew by heart:
I loved the cartoons that featured Poindexter and The Master Cylinder.
Sadly, most of the Felix The Cat cartoons now found on the innertubes have these horrible wraparound segments. However, if you can last out that first 60 seconds, there’s still a classic Felix The Cat cartoon at the chewy center:
This year the big news from Tinsel Town was that all is forgiven and Felix The Cat — one of the very first balloons — would return to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
And, on this sad Throwback Thursday, to all the others we lost in 2016:
Pat Harrington Jr., David Bowie, René Angélil, Alan Rickman, Dan Haggerty, Glenn Frey, Abe Vigoda, Paul Kantner, Maurice White, Vanity, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Harper Lee, Umberto Eco, Sonny James, George Kennedy, Pat Conroy, Nancy Reagan, George Martin, Keith Emerson, Frank Sinatra Jr., Rob Ford, Joe Garagiola, Garry Shandling, Patty Duke, Merle Haggard, David Gest, Doris Roberts, Chyna, Prince, Papa Wemba, Billy Paul, Guy Clark, Morley Safer, Alan Young, Nick Menza, Muhammad Ali, Theresa Saldana, Gordie Howe, Anton Yelchin, Ralph Stanley, Bernie Worrell, Bill Cunningham, Alvin Toffler, Scotty Moore, Elie Wiesel, Michael Cimino, Noel Neill, Garry Marshall, David Huddleston, Pete Fountain, Barry Jenner, Kenny Baker, Fyvush Finkel, Lou Pearlman, Matt Roberts, Toots Thielemans, Gene Wilder, Jerry Heller, Lady Chablis, Greta Zimmer Friedman, Alexis Arquette, Edward Albee, W.P. Kinsella, Curtis Hanson, Bill Nunn, José Fernández, Arnold Palmer, Shimon Peres, Tommy Mykal Ford, Steve Dillon, Janet Reno, Leonard Cohen, Robert Vaughn, Leon Russell, Gwen Ifill, Sharon Jones, Florence Henderson, Fidel Castro, Ron Glass, Grant Tinker, John Glenn, Joseph Mascolo, Alan Thicke, Zsa Zsa Gabor, George Michael, Ricky Harris, and Richard Adams (among others).
According to the Wiki: On this day in 1947 The Screen Actors Guild implements an anti-Communist loyalty oath.
With the election of racist, xenophobic, and mysoginyst Donald J. Trump, it’s more important than ever to use this as a learning experience, unless we want to repeat it.
The Loyalty Oath came during the Communist Witch Hunts of the ’40s and ’50s, in which both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan made their bones. It was the era of Joseph McCarthy. ‘Merkins were being warned that there were Communists under every bed, or inside every pumpkin in the case of Nixon.
The House Un-American Activities Committee ramped up in 1938 to find subversives and Communists in ‘Merka, not that it was illegal to be a Commie. By the next year HUAC issued its “Yellow Report,” which called for the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
When the war ended HUAC considered briefly investigating the KKK, but decided against it to go after Commies some more. That led to 9 days of hearings in 1947 on Communist influence in the entertainment industry, most notably Hollywood. Ronald Reagan, who was President of the Screen Actors’ Guild, went before HUAC and, famously, named names.
Many of the film industry professionals in whom HUAC had expressed interest—primarily screenwriters, but also actors, directors, producers, and others—were either known or alleged to have been members of the American Communist Party. Of the 43 people put on the witness list, 19 declared that they would not give evidence. Eleven of these nineteen were called before the committee. Members of the Committee for the First Amendment flew to Washington ahead of this climactic phase of the hearing, which commenced on Monday, October 27. Of the eleven “unfriendly witnesses”, one, émigré playwright Bertolt Brecht, ultimately chose to answer the committee’s questions.
The other ten refused, citing their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly. The crucial question they refused to answer is now generally rendered as “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” Each had at one time or another been a member, as many intellectuals during the Great Depression felt that the Party offered an alternative to capitalism. Some still were members, others had been active in the past and only briefly. The Committee formally accused these ten of contempt of Congress and began criminal proceedings against them in the full House of Representatives.
In light of the “Hollywood Ten”‘s defiance of HUAC—in addition to refusing to testify, many had tried to read statements decrying the committee’s investigation as unconstitutional—political pressure mounted on the film industry to demonstrate its “anti-subversive” bona fides. Late in the hearings, Eric Johnston, president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), declared to the committee that he would never “employ any proven or admitted Communist because they are just a disruptive force and I don’t want them around.” On November 17, the Screen Actors Guild voted to make its officers swear a pledge asserting each was not a Communist.
“When I joined the Screen Actors Guild in 1973, I signed the loyalty oath that, 20 years earlier, the SAG Board of Directors had made a requirement for membership. I never stopped to consider what it was I was signing. It was one in a series of papers I needed to fill out, and I was so eager to join the Guild, I probably would have signed anything they put in front of me. And I did. That’s one of the most frightening legacies of the Blacklist Era: the institutionalization of fear and prejudice.
You see, the Guild Board had not yet removed the loyalty oath from our bylaws. In fact, no action was taken until some new members refused to sign it. Those new members were the rock group The Grateful Dead, and the year was 1967.
Only after The Grateful Dead refused to sign did the Board of Directors reconsider the necessity of a loyalty oath as a precondition for joining a union of artists. Even so, the oath had become so ingrained and institutionalized by that time that initially it could not be entirely eliminated. It was simply made optional. Another seven years would pass before, in July of 1974, a year after I joined, the loyalty oath was finally removed from the Screen Actors Guild bylaws.
That’s right. It was the Grateful Dead that finally broke the back of the Loyalty Oath. Masur continues, as he make amends on the 50th Anniversary of the Oath:
Tonight, the Screen Actors Guild would like to express how deeply we regret that when courage and conviction were needed to oppose the Blacklist, the poison of fear so paralyzed our organization.
Only our sister union, Actors Equity Association, had the courage to stand behind its members and help them continue their creative live [sic] in the theater. For that, we honor Actors Equity tonight.
Unfortunately, there are no credits to restore, nor any other belated recognition that we can offer our members who were blacklisted. They could not work under assumed names or employ surrogates to front for them. An actor’s work and his or her identity are inseparable.
Screen Actors Guild’s participation in tonight’s event must stand as our testament to all those who suffered that, in the future, we will strongly support our members and work with them to assure their rights as defined and guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.
With the ugly hate rhetoric that came out of the Trump campaign, we could do worse than remembering how the Grateful Dead stood up for the First Amendment. And, with Donald Trump about to take the oath of office for POTUS, it’s incumbent on all of us to stand up for Muslims, Immigrants, Mexicans, LGBT communities, and Black folk and not allow the hate to define us.
Let us be defined by who we defend.
The same goes for Trump supporters.
The Grateful Dead released their debut LP the same year
they refused to sign the Screen Actors Guild Loyalty Oath.
The innertubes are full of movie lists. Here’s another one.
What makes this list different is that no understanding of the Not Now Silly Newsroom is complete without studying the following flicks.
The idea of this column came to me on Halloween when I was dial-flipping. On one channel was The Big Valley, a Western series that went on 4 seasons too long past the pilot episode. This wooden pot-boiler starred Barbara Stanwyk, trying to prove she was no longer past her prime after a very successful movie career; Lee Majors, years before he was worth 6 million dollars; Linda Evans before she became a 10 to John Dereck, who dumped her for Bo Derick; Peter Breck, an actor as boring as his name; and Richard Long, who would never, ever, ever bill himself as Dick Long.
Then I flipped to another channel. I went from watching Richard Long in a Western to watching him in a Horror flick and my love of that flick came rushing back to me:
This is the first Horror flick I can remember. I was 7 years old and, for the life of me, can’t remember who thought it was a good idea to take me to see this one. However, it scared the crap out of me and turned me into a Horror fan. Horror is a separate genre from Monster movies. But a subset of Horror might be Suspense, which naturally led to a love of Alfred Hitchcock.
Another Documentary — err — Fantasy along the lines of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, but much better. Tony Randall, long before The Odd Couple, stars as the titular Dr. Lao, but also the other 6 faces referenced in the title: The Abominable Snowman, Merlin the Magician, Appollonius of Tyana, Pan, The Giant Serpent, and Medusa.
It sounds complicated but it’s as simple as this: A traveling circus, run by the mysterious Dr. Lao, arrives in a small western town in the late 1800s, and nothing was ever the same again.
These days the movie is criticized for its cultural appropriation and the fact that Randall plays an Asian character with a sing-song accent. However, if you can get past that, a delight is waiting for you.
[It’s a sheer coincidence this ended up as #7 on this list.]
This is the only actual Documentary on this list.It’s not on the list because I know the filmmaker and went to the movie’s premier. It’s on the list because the movie spoke to me deeply. I saw it very soon after I had liquidated my entire collection of vinyl.
I had a eclectic collections of rare, out of print, and/or highly collectible LPs and singles. Selling them one by one on eBay turned out to be: 1). A monumental task; 2). Highly lucrative.
One record, that I bought for 25 cents Canadian at a lawn sale, went for $585 US. What was it? It was Tennessee Williams reading Tennessee Williams, with a cover by illustrator Andy Warhol before he became the famous Pop Artist Andy Warhol.
At any rate I was still mourning the loss of my record collection when I saw Alan Zwieg‘s terrific doc. I identified with the obsessive record collectors Zweig interviewed, while he also dug deep within himself to understand why he is just like them.
I have since seen several of his other documentaries and each one explores a dimension of my personality I never realized was there before. You’ll have to see them to understand.
Here’s all you need to know: A Rock and Roll Western, written by The Firesign Theatre, based on Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, with Country Joe and the Fish, Elvin Bishop, The James Gang, The New York Rock Ensemble, and Don Johnson before he moved to Miami and became Vice.
This movie is a fictional look at a real event. Elvis Presley really did show up at the White House without an appointment demanding to see President Nixon so that the POTUS could give the drug-addled King of Rock and Roll a law enforecement badge so he could help fight drugs.
Richard M. Nixon: By the way, Elvis, did you ever, ah, mess around with Marilyn Monroe? Elvis Presley: No, sir. Richard M. Nixon: Well, the Kennedys did, you know. Hoover played me the tape. Elvis Presley: Well, gee, Mr. President, I kinda wish I had a tape of this meetin’, so I could play it for muh wife and muh little daughter. Richard M. Nixon: Tape-record meetings.
[suddenly intrigued] Richard M. Nixon: Hmm…
The Boy Friend started as a 1954 musical written by Sandy Wilson. It ran in London for over 2,000 performances and became Julie Andrew’s debut on Broadway, or any ‘Merkin stage for that matter. When it was finally made into a movie it was directed by the King of Excess, Ken Russell (not to be confused with the current Miami District 2 Commissioner).
Russell re-imagined the story as a play within a play. The movie follows the backstage shenanigans and love affairs of the cast of a down and out theatrical troupe about to mount that old chestnut The Boy Friend in a seedy theater somewhere in the south of England. Into the mix comes A Big Deal Hollywood director, scouting the production for his next cinematic extravaganza.
As backstage assistant manager Polly, played by Twiggy in one of her few movie roles, falls in love with the male lead Tommy, played by Tommy Tune, she suddenly has to step into the lead role when Rita falls down and breaks her leg.
What makes this such a spectacular movie is that members of that ragtag cast imagine themselves in a all singing, all dancing, all talking extravaganza. It’s during these reveries is where Russell shines. The dream sequences are directed in his patented excess, capturing perfectly the musicals of the ’30s and ’40s by directors like Busby Berkely.
Hieronymus Merkin has recently turned 40, and is in the midst of preparing a film that details his life’s history and development. Portraying himself as a marionette being controlled by an unseen puppet master, young Merkin is led away from the innocence of youth and into the waiting arms of one woman after another by Goodtime Eddie Filth. With Filth’s guidance, Merkin steadily transforms into a self-centered womanizer, save only for the longing he feels for his one lost love, Mercy Humppe. As the producers of his life story scream for him to come up with an ending, Merkin must look back and decide what, if anything, he’s learned from his experiences. Written by Jean-Marc Rocher <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This was one of the first movies I ever saw that made me think about the process of making movies, something I eventually went to college to do. And, in a great wallop of synchronicity, Alan Zweig also went to Sheridan College a few years after me, to learn his craft.
While it’s easy to find some of the songs from the soundtrack LP, I’ve been unable to find my favourite tune “On The Boards,” sung by Bruce Forsyth as Uncle Limelight. Here it is recreated by singer Anthony Newley, who not only wrote all the songs in the movie, but directed it as well.
Take it from me. You’ll be a better person once you’ve watched all of these movies.
Taking home the Academy Award — it wasn’t officially nicknamed Oscar until 1939 — for Outstanding Picture (later known as Best Picture) was Wings, a silent World War One Gary CoG and Charles “Buddy” Rogers, with Gary Cooper in one of his earliest roles.
Unlike the Academy Awards of today, the 1929 awards — honouring films from ’27 and ’28 — was a private affair that cost $5 to attend, and that included dinner. The ceremony itself, hosted by swashbuckler Douglas Fairbanks, lasted a mere 15 minutes and is the only one not presented on radio or tee vee. Compare this to current glitzy Oscar telecasts that have to work hard to contain themselves to 3 hours, with dozens of awards given out at a lunch ceremony earlier.
Here is the 1929 Academy Award for Outstanding Picture:
There was also no drama about the 1st Academy Awards; winners had been announced 3 months earlier. Twelve Oscars statuettes were given out that night. Stolen directly from the WikiWackyWoo:
Above: Larry, Moe and Curly, not necessarily in that order.
Dateline May 5, 1934 – The Three Stooges release their first short “Woman Haters” and nothing was ever the same again.
The Three Stooges made more than 190 two-reelers over a 26 year period, but they started in the knockabout world of Vaudeville. Ted Healy was already a hit in Vaudeville when, in 1922, he took on new actors for his stageshow. Among them was Moe Howard, a childhood friend that had appeared, briefly, in the earlier act Ted Healy and his Southern Gentlemen.
Moe’s job was to act as an average audience member who is called onstage. Hilarity ensues. The showbiz term for this stock character was “stooge.” Soon Shemp, who was Moe’s real life brother, and Larry Fine joined the act. They appeared with Healy in one short, “Soup To Nuts.” but after a dispute over the movie contract, Larry, Moe and Shemp went solo, or as solo as a trio can go. They also took with them some of the material they had performed with Healy.
Intellectual property rights being intellectual property rights, Healey sued. However, he lost. As it turned out the material was owned by the show’s producer, the Shubert Theatre Corporation, which gave the Stooges the right to perform it.
The Three Stooges then had a brief rapprochement with Healy and were to appear together in a new Shubert production. However, when Healy got a better offer, he quit the show, taking Two Stooges with him; Shemp, who had threatened to quit previously, finally decided to pack it in. In need of a third Stooge, Moe suggested his younger brother. Jerry Howard joined the act as Curly.
Healy and the Stooges signed a contract with MGM in 1933 and made a number of shorts. When that contract expired a year later The Three Stooges split from Healy for good. Soon afterwards they signed with Columbia and released “Woman Haters,” the first official Three Stooges short
Growing up I watched a lot of Three Stooges in my time, but I don’t recall ever seeing this one. It’s all done in rhyme and song, all 20 minutes of it. There’s no way they could carry that over 2 2-reelers, let alone 190. Enjoy:
Dateline November 18, 1928 – Mickey Mouse appears in “Steamboat Willie,” the first all-singing, all-talking, all-musical cartoon.
What made “Steamboat Willie” such a revelation to movie-goers in 1928 was that the cartoon was entirely synchronized with the music and sound effects. While we take that entirely for granted today, this was a giant advance in the technology of the day. Walt Disney’s tour de force came less than a year after the release of “The Jazz Singer,” the first full-length “talkie.”
Dateline October 2, 1890 – Julius Henry Marx is born in NYC. Later he is nicknamed Groucho and, along with his brothers Chico, and Harpo, became one-third of the greatest comedy team of all time: The Marx Brothers.
The Marx boys started in Vaudeville as singers. The Four Nightingales were Julius, Milton (also called Gummo), Arthur, and another boy named Lou Levy. They were always near the bottom of bill. After one performance in which the audience was more interested in a mule kicking up a fuss in Nacodoches, Texas, they started cracking wise onstage. Among the ad libbed gems: “Nacogdoches is full of roaches” and “The jackass is the flower of Tex-ass.” As it turned out, they were better comedians than singers. Instead of getting angry, the audience loved them. The Marx Brothers completely rewrote the act (read: borrowed a skit about a schoolroom and had it rewritten to suit themselves) and toured in variations of it for the next seven years or so, adding Chico along the way.
There were actually 5 Marx Brothers. 1938: Front L-R:
Harpo, Chico, Groucho; Back L-R: Zeppo, Gummo
Each of the brothers played upon a comedy trope popular at the time. Harpo played a “Patsy Brannigan:” An Irish ruffian. He was uncomfortable speaking onstage, so he took the advice of his show-biz uncle Al Shean to remain silent and mime. Chico used an Italian accent that had, in real life, helped him avoid some bullies who were looking for a Jewish kid. Groucho played the teacher in this “Fun In Hi Skule” skit with a German accent. However, after the Lusitania was sunk a German accent was no longer funny to ‘Merkins. Groucho dropped the accent and became the character we know today: a rapid-fire, joke-cracking Lothario.
After seven years The Marx Brothers found themselves at the top of the bill and starring in their own Broadway shows, two of which became their first two movies: “The Cocoanuts” and “Animal Crackers.”
FUN TRIVIA: The action in “The Cocoanuts” takes place in Coconut Grove, Florida, during the land boom of the 1920s. Coconut Grove is also the location of the E.W.F. Stirrup House, which I am trying to save from a rapacious developer. Take a few minute to read about my ongoing series dedicated to the campaign to save this 120-year old house, which is currently undergoing Demolition by Neglect.
In all, The Marx Brothers made 13 movies together and Groucho made another 13 movies without his brothers. By the time Groucho became a radio show host for “You Bet Your Life,” which he later took to tee vee, he had already been in show biz for nearly half a century.
Here are some highlights of Groucho’s long career.
This was Phyllis Diller’s first appearance on national tee vee:
Just think: Had it not been for that mule in Texas all those years ago, we might have never heard of The Marx Brothers. We are lucky to have had them.
Dateline September 20, 1971 – Namesake James Westerfield died from a heart attack at the age of 58. Born in 1913, James A. Westerfield was one of those character actors that you’ve seen dozens of times, yet few people know his name.