Monday, November 28, 2016

Florence Henderson, RIP -- November 28, 2016

I was sad to learn of the death of Florence Henderson, who played Carol Brady on The Brady Bunch.  My memory may be wrong, but I remember both The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family airing on Friday nights on ABC.  I used to play at a friend's house Fridays, but we had to stop when the first show came on.  I don't remember if he was more interested in Maureen McCormick (Marcia Brady) or Susan Dey (Laurie Partridge).  I liked Susan Dey. 

It was interesting that after both shows went off the air, the original Bradys appeared in several sequels, and then at least two movies in the 1990s.  For the Partridges, there was an animated series and one reunion.  I wonder why the difference. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016 -- November 24, 2016
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  I'm grateful for health and life, my family, and my coworkers.

The photograph shows actresses Jean Arthur and Lillian Roth playing Pilgrims. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Jack London 100 Years -- November 22, 2016

Exhibitors Trade Review -- 15-September-1923

100 years ago today, on 22-November-1916, writer Jack London died at his ranch in Glen Ellen, California.  For many years, people said his death was a suicide because of ill-health, but it was probably a result of sickness, alcoholism and an accidental overdose of morphine.  His was the first case I can remember reading of someone who died as an atheist.  I spent a lot of time thinking about it, especially when we visited his resting place, under a big rock at Glen Ellen.
 One of his most popular novels, The Call of the Wild, has been made into at least five motion pictures and one television series.  People love dog stories.
Moving Picture World, 05-September-1914
Jack London was interested in motion pictures.  He worked with actor Hobart Bosworth on adaptions of several of his stories, but not The Call of the Wild

Moving Picture World - 18-July-1914

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Lupita Tovar, RIP -- November 16, 2016

I was sad to learn of the death, at the age of 106, of Mexican actress Lupita Tovar.  She was one of the last living people who appeared in a silent movie as an adult.  She is most famous in the US for appearing in the Spanish language version of Drácula, which was shot at the same time as the Bela Lugosi version.
Carlos Villarias played Conde Drácula.
 In 1936, she starred with Buster Keaton in a British movie, An Old Spanish Custom, also known as The Invader

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Robert Vaughn, RIP -- November 14, 2016

It has been a rough week.  Last Tuesday I was looking forward to having our first woman President.  In addition to that,actor Robert Vaughn has died.  We didn't watch Man From U.N.C.L.E., so I wasn't familiar with his work there, except through a single issue of a comic book. 

I remember  him from movies like The Magnificent Seven and Bullitt, and from guest appearances on television programs.  He usually played intelligent characters. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Charlie Chaplin and the Flea Circus -- November 12, 2016

This post is part of  the At the Circus Blogathon hosted by at Crítica Retrô and Summer from Serendipitous Anachronisms.  Because this has been such a rough week, they have extended the time of the blogathon. 

Film Fun, August, 1915
By the late 1910s and early 1920s, Charlie Chaplin was the world's most popular film actor and his character, the Little Tramp, was the most loved film character.  In 1914, Chaplin earned $150 a week from Keystone while appearing in 36 movies, including one feature.  In 1915, Chaplin earned $1,250 a week with a $10,000 signing bonus from Essanay.  He appeared in 14 movies.  In 1916 and 1917, Chaplin earned $10,000 a week with a $150,000 signing bonus from Mutual.  He made 12 movies.

In 1918, Chaplin signed with First National, agreeing to produce 8 movies for $1,000,000.  Some time between 1919 and 1923 or 1924, Chaplin was tired of playing the Tramp.  He created a new character, Professor Bosco, proprietor of Bosco's Flea Circus, and began shooting a movie we now know as "The Professor."  He completed one scene and then stopped.

Your first question might be, why did he stop?  I don't know.  Your second question might be, what is a flea circus?  That I know.

New York Clipper, 05-October-1912
Flea circuses were popular attractions in dime museums and circus sideshows in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries.  Later they became a popular subject for jokes.  There were two primary types of flea circuses, those which used living fleas and those which used mechanical devices.

To create a flea circus with living creatures, a "trainer" would collect fleas, which was easier when standards of cleanliness were lower than they are now, and observe them.  Some fleas tend to jump and others tend to walk.  The "trainer" divides the fleas by type.  Each selected flea of either type gets a harness of gold wire around its neck.  A jumper is presented with a lightweight ball.  The flea tries to jump away, but is restrained by the harness, so it kicks the ball.  The walkers pull carts or other vehicles.  Fleas are very strong for their size, so they can move relatively large objects.  Mechanical flea circuses might be salted with a few live fleas to make it seem as if they used living fleas as performers. 

Here is example of a flea circus using live fleas.

Moving Picture World, 29-April-1911
 The flea circus became a popular subject to demonstrate microscopic movie photography. 

Chaplin's "The Professor" begins with a shot of the Professor limping wearily down an alley.  He climbs down a stairway and enters an open doorway.  A box under his arm is labelled "BOSCOS FLEA CIRCUS."    An old man holds out his hand, requesting payment.  The Professor finds a coin and hands it to him.  The old man inspects the coin and gestures for the Professor to enter.  We see a large, dirty room full of beds.   Flophouses offered beds to transients or otherwise homeless people.  The blankets and pillows were rarely changed, so flophouses were know for bedbugs, fleas, pillow pigeons and other tiny livestock.

The Professor selects a bed and sits down.  He soon starts to feel bites.  He finds a flea up his sleeve and teaches it to jump from hand to hand.  He has it jump through a hoop formed by his fingers into the box to join the circus.

The Professor sees his neighbor scratching his beard.  The Professor checks the box to make sure all the performers are present.  He pulls a flea out of his neighbor's beard, inspects it and puts it back.  The Professor lies down to sleep and kicks the box to the floor.  Everyone starts scratching.  The Professor pulls out a lion tamer's whip and drives all the fleas back into the box.  They perform various tricks like a high dive and hopping between his feet.

The Professor puts the box on the floor and goes to sleep.  A dog comes along and sniffs inside the box, opening the lid.  The dog starts biting and scratching.   The Professor awakens with an itch.  The dog walks out of the flophouse and  the Professor chases him with the whip.  The last shot shows them running away down the alley.

Even though Chaplin abandoned "The Professor," he didn't forget the flea circus.  In 1952, he released Limelight, which many people think was Chaplin's last great film.  He played Calvero, a washed-up music hall performer.  One of Calvero's routines involves "Phyllis and Henry, Performing Fleas."  He repeated some of the gags from "The Professor,"  especially the fleas jumping from hand to hand and the whip. 

Flea Circuses were a popular source of jokes in animated cartoons.  Here is "The Flea Circus" (1953) by Tex Avery.  It features a French flea circus, Le Cirque Des Fleas.  I like the shots of the audience watching the show through their magnifying glasses.  Watch what happens when a dog appears.  This was a popular gag. 

A flea circus later turned up on Sesame Street.

Washington DC Evening Star, 02-August-1913
And finally, this story of a dog running off with Herman Koenig's performers, reminds me of the conclusion of "The Professor."

This post is part of  the At the Circus Blogathon hosted by at Crítica Retrô and Summer from Serendipitous Anachronisms.  Thank you to Lê and Summer for all the hard work.  Thank you to everyone who visited and I encourage you to read and comment on as many posts as you can.  Bloggers love comments.  

This post is my fifth blogathon post of 2016 and my 45th since 2007.  This is my 27th blogathon.    This page has a list of all my blogathon posts. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Blue Dahlia -- November 11, 2016

Happy Veterans Day, everyone. This was a rare 1940s movie about a soldier with PTSD.  William Bendix played Buzz Wanchek, who had a metal plate in  his head and showed all the signs of what was then called shell shock and traumatic brain injury. His friends Johnny and George, played by Alan Ladd and Hugh Beaumont, try to help him, but couldn't do much.  I imagine this happened a lot in real life.
I thought this was one of William Bendix's best performances.

Alan Ladd played with Veronica Lake for the third time.  Ladd had been discharged from the US Army because of his health.  There was a threat to recall him, which forced producer John Houseman and Paramount to make the movie in a hurry.  They began shooting before the script was complete.
John Houseman produced the movie.  He had worked closely with Orson Welles in the various Mercury Theater projects.
George Marshall directed.  He had directed many Laurel and Hardy movies.
Raymond Chandler wrote the original story and the screenplay at the request of John Houseman.  The studio did not use his original idea for the ending.  He didn't like Veronica Lake, whom he called "Moronica."  Even though he was born in the US and became a naturalized citizen of Great Britain, he served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in World War One. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Grauman's Chinese --Adolph Zukor -- November 3, 2016

Sid Grauman was a San Francisco showman who came to Los Angeles and built three major houses, the Million Dollar, the Egyptian, and the Chinese. The theater has hosted many film premieres, but is most famous for the hand and footprints (and hoofprints and nose prints and other types of prints) in the forecourt.

Movie mogul Adolph Zukor left his hand and foot prints in the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese on 05-January-1953. Zukor was one of the founders of the Famous Players Film Company ("Famous Players in Famous Plays") in 1912. Famous Players eventually evolved into Paramount. Zukor was still chairman emeritus when he died in 1976 at 103. DSCN4153.

I took this on 18-July-2009.
Moving Picture World, 25-July-1914