Thursday, 19 January 2017

"Uprising" by Muse

I don't feel up to a full fledged blog post tonight, so I will leave you with one of my favourite songs from recent years. "Uprising" was the first single from Muse's 2009 album The Resistance. The album was largely inspired by 1984 by George Orwell. In fact, the song "Resistance" from the album makes frequent references to the novel. While "Uprising" makes no direct references to 1984, its lyrics clearly owe something to the novel, as well as other dystopian works. "Uprising" proved rather successful. It went to no. 9 on the UK singles chart and no. 37 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Without further ado, here is "Uprising" by Muse


Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Google+ R.I.P.

Okay, I'll admit the title is a bit melodramatic. Google+ isn't really dead. Unfortunately on January 24 2017 Google will be shutting down Classic Google+. It will be replaced by New Google+, the new iteration of the social media site, despite the fact that New G+ doesn't seem very popular with users. For many of us long time G+ users (I've been around since the beta), it certainly seems as if Google+ is over.

Google+ was launched on June 28 2011. For whatever reason the tech media would claim that Google+ was a "ghost town". This was an outright lie. As early as the beta Google+ became a very busy place with plenty of people and plenty of posts. There would be lively discussions of the sort one would not see on Facebook or Twitter. To give you an idea of how successful Google+ was, I have more followers on G+ than I do on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn combined. Indeed, I made several close friends there and they are the sort of friends I can see having for the rest of my life. Google+ was an active and vibrant place where one could easily find people with whom one had a great deal in common.

Sadly, Google+ would change over the years. Over time it would lose some very useful features. Ripples was a tool that would show how one's post had been re-shared. It was quite useful for those concerned about the reach of their posts on Google+, and fun to play with for the rest of us. Hangouts on the Air was a livestreaming service. Sadly, it was moved over to YouTube. Over time features would be introduced that were not nearly as useful. Communities (which are sort of like Facebook groups) proved very popular at first, but now it seems to me that most Communities are inactive. Collections are essentially collections of posts, not unlike Pinterest boards. A lot of users played with Collections at first, but now it seems to me that most of the people I know ignore them.

Of course, much of the reason for these changes in Google+ were changes in management.  Vic Gundotra, the executive who had been in charge of Google+ from its inception, left in 2014. Since then there have been a few more changes to management.  Sadly it seems to me that the relatively new leadership seriously misread how many people use Google+. On November 18 2015 they introduced New Google+, a radical redesign of Google+ that places more emphasis on Collections and Communities. It was not received well by many Google+ users. Fortunately, one could always remain on Classic G+.

Sadly, that will end on January 24 2017. Whether Google wants to accept it or not, many Google+ users loathe New Google+. I suspect once it becomes the only choice for G+ users, many of us will use G+ much less frequently. I suspect yet others will simply leave. The problem with New Google+ is twofold. The first is its emphasis on Collections and Communities. Quite simply, from what I have seen Collections are not that popular. I know a few people who have their own Collections, but most people I know simply ignore them. They don't create Collections, nor do they follow other people's Collections. Because of that it certainly is not something one would want to base a social media site around.  Of course, I have one major problem with Collections myself. Quite simply, someone who is not following me can follow one of my Collections. I really do not like that and it is why I don't have any Collections. I want my posts in the Collections to be public, but as far as I am concerned only those people who follow me should be able to see those Collections.

As to Communities, as I said earlier, initially they were quite popular. Unfortunately as time passed the novelty wore off and many Communities became inactive. I have three Communities and of those three only one gets posts with any kind of regularity. I think Google needs to face up to the fact they got it right the first time. Google+ isn't an interest-based social network, it is a people-based social network. People are not interested in following Collections. They are interested in following people.

The second is that with New Google+ they have deprived Google+ of much of its functionality. Chief among these is circle management. For those who have never used Google+, circles are essentially lists into which users can organise people. Each circle has its own stream, making it easy to keep track of posts. Classic Google+ had a fairly efficient tool for organising circles, complete with a "drag-and-drop" interface. Sadly that sort of circle management is missing from New Google+. That makes it very hard to manage circles on the New G+.

Another bit of functionality that was lost with New Google+ is an adequate means of curating one's photos. With Classic Google+ one could organise photos into albums and even decide which photos other users see by highlighting them. Sadly all of that is gone with New Google+. Photos are just bunched together and there is really no efficient way for the user to sort them, let alone decide which photos other users should see. I suspect depriving Google+ of any real photo management tools could be due to Google wanting users to use Google Photos. Unfortunately, some of us choose not to use Google Photos because its photo management tools are about as bad as those of New Google+. They really ought to have retained the Classic Google+'s tools for curating photos, not to mention dramatically overhaul Google Photos.

Yet another bit of functionality that was lost with New Google+ was integration with Hangouts (quite simply, chat). One of the things I have always enjoyed about Google+ is the ability to chat with my friends there. Since Hangouts are not integrated with the New Google+, I will now have to have an entirely different window open for Hangouts. That is hardly efficient and very inconvenient for many G+ users. It would be much easier to have Hangouts right there on Google+.

New Google+ has several other problems that I will not go into. Suffice it to say that it is far inferior to Classic Google+. In fact, it is so inferior to Classic Google+ that many G+ users are puzzled as to why Google would even consider replacing Classic Google+ with New Google+. As far as I can tell, people want efficient photo management tools and Hangouts; they don't want Collections and Communities. I think with New Google+ that Google has seriously misread the wants and needs of their users, and as a result they will see usage of Google+ plummet. In that case I think they will be forced to either reintroduce some of the functionality of Classic Google+ into New Google+ or discontinue it. Sadly, given Google's history (remember Google Reader?)  I suspect they will simply discontinue it. If that is the case, then it will be very sad, because Classic Google+ was the best social networking site of which I have ever been a part.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

William Peter Blatty R.I.P.

Screenwriter and novelist William Peter Blatty died on January 12 2017 at the age of 89. He worked on such screenplays as The Man from the Diners' Club (1963) and A Shot in the Dark (1964), as well as such novels as Twinkle, Twinkle, "Killer" Kane (1966) and The Exorcist (1971).

William Peter Blatty was born on January 7 1928 in New York City. He attended  Brooklyn Preparatory School on a scholarship. In 1950 he graduated from Georgetown University with bachelor's degree in English. Following his graduation from college, Mr. Blatty worked a variety of odd jobs, including a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman, a beer truck driver, and a United Airlines ticket agent. He served for a time in the United States Air Force.He earned a master's degree in  English literature from George Washington University in Washington D.C. He worked for the United States Information Agency as an editor based in Beirut, Lebanon.


William Peter Blatty's first novel, Which Way to Mecca, Jack?, was published in 1959. It was followed by the novel John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! in 1963. That same year saw his first credit as a screenwriter, for the movie The Man from the Diners' Club. In the Sixties he co-wrote the screenplays for A Shot in the Dark (1964), What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966), Gunn (1967), The Great Bank Robbery (1969), and Darling Lili (1970). He wrote the screenplay for Promise Her Anything (1966). Mr. Blatty wrote an episode of Insight. He published the novels I, Billy Shakespeare (1965) and Twinkle, Twinkle, "Killer" Kane (1966).

In the Seventies he did uncredited work on the film The Omega Man. His novel The Exorcist was published in 1971 and adapted as the film The Exorcist (1973). His novel Twinkle, Twinkle, "Killer" Kane was adapted as the film The Ninth Configuration (1980). He wrote another episode of Insight.

His novel Legion was published in 1983. His novel Demons Five, Exorcists Nothing: A Fable was published in 1996. In the Naughts he published the novels Elsewhere (2009), Dimiter (2010), and Crazy (2010).

While many places are remembering William Peter Blatty as the author of The Exorcist, I think his career as a screenwriter should not be forgotten. In the Sixties he collaborated with director Blake Edwards on the screenplays of several classic films, including A Shot in the Dark, What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?, and Gunn. Alone he wrote the screenplay for The Man from the Diners' Club. While Mr. Blatty saw a good deal of success with The Exorcist (in the United States alone it sold 13 million copies), he had quite a bit of success as a screenwriter as well.

Of course, he did see success as a writer. Even before The Exorcist he had seen some success with John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! and Twinkle, Twinkle, "Killer" Kane. While he will probably always be remembered as the author of The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty did much more.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941)

Alfred Hitchcock is well known as the Master of Suspense. And while he was known for injecting comedic elements into his suspense thrillers, he was not particularly well known for comedy. Those new to the oeuvre of Hitchcock are then often surprised to learn that not only did he direct several comedies in his career, but he even directed an American screwball comedy. That screwball comedy was Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941), and it marked the only time Hitchcock worked with legendary star Carole Lombard.

With the international success of such films as The 39 Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1939), it would only be a matter of time before Hollywood would come calling on Alfred Hitchcock. It was then probably no surprise when he signed a seven year contract with Hollywood producer David O. Selznick in March 1939. Prior to leaving his native England, Alfred Hitchcock expressed the desire to direct Carole Lombard, although he wanted to cast her in a serious role. Following the director's arrival in the United States, it was Myron Selznick who introduced Hitchcock to Miss Lombard, the two of them having Mr. Selznick in common as their agent.

As to Mr. & Mrs. Smith, it originated with screenwriter Norman Krasna. Mr. Krasna came up with the idea of a married couple who learn that, because of an error, they are not legally married. He sold the original story and its screenplay to RKO in November 1939. Carole Lombard eventually became attached to the project. Both she and Hitchcock implored RKO to assign him as director on the film. While Hitchcock would later claim that he did the film as a favour to Miss Lombard, at the time he appeared to show a good deal of enthusiasm for Mr. & Mrs. Smith. During the first week of shooting, Mr. Hitchcock said, "I want to direct a typical American comedy about typical Americans."

Both Carole Lombard and Alfred Hitchcock initially wanted Cary Grant for the male lead role of David Smith. Unfortunately, Mr. Grant was much too busy at the time to take on another role. The two of them considered a number of different leading men, including Fredric March and George Brent. Eventually Robert Montgomery was signed to the role.

While Alfred Hitchcock was well known for practical jokes on his sets, on the set of Mr. & Mrs. Smith it was Carole Lombard who responsible for the best practical jokes. Nineteen forty was a Presidential election year, with Republican candidate Wendell Willkie running against incumbent Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt. While Carol Lombard was a staunch Democrat, Robert Montgomery was a staunch Republican. Every morning after Mr. Montgomery parked his car, Miss Lombard would cover it in bumper stickers for President Roosevelt. Robert Montgomery took this all in good stride, simply removing the stickers every evening. Of course, the next morning Miss Lombard would again cover his car in bumper stickers for FDR.

Alfred Hitchcock was not spared from Carole Lombard's practical jokes either. Mindful of the remark Hitchcock was alleged to have made that "actors are cattle", she set up a pen on the first day of shooting and in the pen placed three heifers with the nameplates Lombard, Montgomery, and Raymond (for Gene Raymond, the second male lead). Hitchcock allowed Carole Lombard the rare honour of directing him in his cameo for Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Miss Lombard demanded retake after retake, telling Hitchcock that he had not quite gotten it right.  Hitchcock had not intended to use Miss Lombard's take of his cameo, but it proved to be so good that it was the one that made it into the film.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith was released on January 31 1941. It received positive, if somewhat unenthusiastic reviews. The film did do somewhat well at the box office, making a profit of $750,000. Later in his life Alfred Hitchcock was somewhat dismissive of the film. Alfred Hitchcock claimed that he did the film primarily as a favour to Carole Lombard. In an interview with François Truffaut, he said,  "I more or less followed Norman Krasna's screenplay." and "Since I didn't really understand the type of people who were portrayed in the film, all I did was photograph the scenes as written."

Sadly, Mr. & Mrs. Smith would be the next to the last film Carole Lombard ever made. Afterwards she would only make To Be Or Not To Be (1942). Mr. & Mrs. Smith would also be the last of her films to be released while she was still alive (To Be Or Not To Be was released on February 19 1942, a few weeks after her untimely death in a plane crash).

While Hitchcock himself would later dismiss Mr. & Mrs. Smith still holds up fairly well today. Certainly its premise is a bit thin, but it is elevated by the performances of its principals, a lively script, and Hitchcock's always inventive direction. The film even shares some of the hallmarks found in Hitchcock's suspense thrillers, including a couple being stuck on a parachute ride at the New York City World's Fair (heights being a recurring theme in Hitchcock films from Saboteur to North by Northwest), mistaken identity, and even a McGuffin that drives the plot forward (the Smiths' marriage). Hitchcock may have dismissed Mr. & Mrs. Smith, but there is no reason for classic film buffs to do so. It is very much an underrated screwball comedy that is still recognisably a Hitchcock film.


Saturday, 14 January 2017

Dick Gautier Passes On

Dick Gautier, who played Hymie the Robot on Get Smart and Robin Hood on Mel Brooks's cult TV show When Things Were Rotten, died yesterday, January 13 2017, at the age of 85.

Dick Gautier was born in Culver City, California on October 30 1931. His father was a French Canadian who worked as a grip at MGM. Dick Gautier spent parts of his childhood in Montreal. He showed an aptitude for drawing cartoons while very young. In high school he participated in the drama club. Upon graduating from high school he became a stand-up comedian, playing various nightclubs. He served for a time in the United States Navy. Stationed in San Diego, he booked performers for Special Services. After serving in the Navy he returned to stand up comedy. It was when he was at the Blue Angel in New York City that Gower Champion saw him and then asked him to audition for the part of rock star Conrad Birdie in the upcoming Broadway show Bye Bye Birdie. Dick Gautier got the part and made his Broadway debut in 1960. As Conrad Birdie in Bye Bye Birdie he made his television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Dick Gautier first appeared in a scripted drama in a guest appearance on The Eleventh Hour in 1963. In 1966 he was cast in the recurring role of Hymie the Robot on Get Smart. He was part of the regular cast of the short-lived sitcom Mr. Terrific. He guest starred on such shows as The Baileys of Balboa, Gidget, Teh Patty Duke Show, Bewitched, Love on a Rooftop, The Flying Nun, and The Debbie Reynolds Show. He made his film debut in Ensign Pulver in 1964. He also appeared in Divorce American Style (1967), as well as a cameo in Maryjane (1968). Mr. Gautier co-wrote the screenplay for Maryjane with Peter Marshall.

In the Seventies Dick Gautier played a regular role on the short-lived sitcom Here We Go Again and the lead role on When Things Were Rotten. He guest starred on such shows as The Doris Day Show; Love, American Style; The Mary Tyler Moore Show; Banacek; Diana; Hawkins; The Rockford Files; Kolchak: The Night Stalker; Marcus Welby M.D.; Man From Atlantis; Wonder Woman; The Love Boat; and Charlie's Angels. He appeared in the films Wild in the Sky (1972), The Manchu Eagle Murder Caper Mystery (1975), Fun with Dick and Jane (1977), and Billy Jack Goes to Washington (1977). He co-wrote the screenplay to Wild in the Sky with Peter Marshall.

In the Eighties he guest starred on such shows as Happy Days, Too Close for Comfort, Trapper John M.D.; Quincy M.E.; Fantasy Island; Knight Rider; Alice; Matlock; Murder, She Wrote; and Charles in Charge. He reprised his role as Hymie in the 1989 television movie Get Smart Again! He provided voice for such television cartoon series as G.I. Joe, InHumanoids, The Transformers, Foofur, The New Yogi Bear Show, and The Smurfs.

In the Nineties Dick Gautier provided voices for such animated shows as Batman: The Animated Series, Tom & Jerry Kids Show, The Pirates of Dark Water, The Addams Family, Captain Planet and the Planeteers, and Cow & Chicken. He guest starred on such shows as The Munsters Today, Silk Stalkings, and The Golden Palace. He appeared in the film The Naked Truth (1992). He made his last appearance on screen in a 2010 episode of Nip/Tuck.

Dick Gautier was known for his skill at celebrity caricatures. He wrote and illustrated several books on the art of caricatures and cartooning, including The Art of Caricature, The Creative Cartoonist, The Career Cartoonist, Actors as Artists, and many others. He also wrote articles for TV Guide, National Lampoon, Mad, and many others.

Dick Gautier was a very talented and very funny man. He was capable of a number of different voices and could make his face do almost anything he wanted it to. In many respects this made him perfect for the role of Hymie, as he could be very convincing as a robot. He could also be convincing as heroic figures (or parodies thereof). He played Robin Hood in When Things Were Rotten and played Batman in a 1973 Department of Labour public service announcement about equal pay for women alongside Burt Ward as Robin and Yvonne Craig as Batgirl. He played a number of different roles during his career, including  service station attendant Hal Walters on Mr. Terrific and womanising former quarterback Jerry Standish on Here We Go Again. With an extremely adaptable voice, Dick Gautier could play nearly any role he wanted.

Friday, 13 January 2017

The 75th Anniversary of Archie

It was on December 22 1941 that Archie Andrews, better known simply as Archie, made his first ever appearance. It was as a back up feature in Pep Comics #22 (December 1941), sandwiched between various superhero and action/adventure strips. Archie wasn not even menioned on the cover. Despite this, Archie and his friends at Riverdale High School have since become an established part of American popular culture. Archie has been adapted to several different media, including a newspaper comic strip, a radio show, several animated TV series, and the upcoming live action series Riverdale. The character's enduring popularity may be due in large part to his sheer longevity. Alongside Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, he is one of the few characters to have been published continuously since the Golden Age of Comic Books.

Pep Comics, the comic book in which Archie made his first appearance, was published by MLJ Magazines. The company had been founded in 1939 and took its name from the first names of its founders: Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit, and John L. Goldwater. Like many comic book companies in the early days of the Golden Age, they originally made their name with superheroes. Pep Comics #1 (January 1940) saw the debut of The Shield, the first ever patriotic superhero (he predated Captain America by over a year). MLJ Magazines would produce a few more popular heroes besides the Shield, including The Black Hood (who had a short-lived radio and his own pulp magazine) and The Hangman. By the time Archie first appeared, MLJ was already doing quite well in the comic book business.

Indeed, Archie was not even the first teen humour character published by MLJ. Wilbur Wilkin, made his first appearance in Zip Comics #18 (September 1941), about three months before Archie's debut. Wilbur differed from Archie in that he was blond, but that was very nearly the only difference. Like Archie, Wilbur was part of a love triangle, although Wilbur was dating a blonde while being pursued by a brunette. And like Archie he tended to be a bit clumsy. That having been said, Wilbur Wilkin never saw the success that Archie Andrews would.

As to the creation of Archie, that has long been up for debate.  Publisher John L. Goldwater claimed that he had been inspired by either the teenage character of Henry Aldrich (then well known from the radio show The Aldrich Family and the series of "Henry Aldrich" movies spun off from it) or the teenage character of Andy Hardy (played by Mickey Rooney in a series of films) to create Archie, and drew upon his own experiences for the various characters. He then assigned writer/artist Bob Montana to the project.

Despite John L. Goldwater's claim to have created Archie, there is another who has also been credited with the character's creation. Quite simply, artist and writer Bob Montana drew upon his own experiences as a teenager (which in 1941 would not have been that long ago) to create Archie and his friends. From 1936 to 1939 Bob Montana kept a sketchbook of life at Central High School in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Evidence in favour of Mr. Montana's creation of the characters came when his daughters published the sketchbook online for a time several years ago. Yet more evidence supporting the claim that Bob Montana created Archie and the gang at Riverdale came in the form of film critic Gerald Peary's documentary Archie's Betty (2015), in which Mr. Peary sought to track down the real life people from Haverhill upon whom Archie and his friends may have been based.

Of course, it is possible that there is some truth to both John L. Goldwater and Bob Montana's claims to have created Archie, particularly given the collaborative nature of Golden Age comic books. As MLJ's publisher, John L. Goldwater might have come up with the initial idea of a comic feature centred around an ordinary teenage boy, drawing inspiration from Henry Aldrich, Andy Rooney, or both. It even seems possible that the character of Archie derived his name from one of Mr. Goldwater's childhood friends as he claimed. It seems possible that John L. Goldwater then assigned Bob Montana to produce such a comic book feature and Mr. Montana then developed the various characters based on his experiences at Central High School in Haverhill. It seems possible John L. Goldwater even had some input into those characters. Sadly, since everyone at MLJ Magazines in 1941 is dead now, it seems likely we will never know the whole truth behind the creation of Archie.

Pep Comics #22 not only marked the first appearance of Archie, but also blonde girl-next-door Betty and his best friend Jughead, as well as Archie's parents. Betty's friend and rival for Archie's affections, Veronica, would be introduced a few months later, in Pep Comics #26 (April 1942). Archie's rival Reggie would appear for the first time a few months later, in Jackpot Comics #6 (Summer 1942). Other characters, such as Moose and Midge, would be added over the next several years.

The appearance of the characters would change even during the Golden Age. Archie in his first appearance in Pep Comics looked somewhat goofier than he would later, to the point many people today might not recognise the character in his first appearances. Over time Bob Montana's style would change, so that by the late Forties Archie somewhat more resembled the character that American Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are familiar with.

Regardless, Archie proved very popular very quickly. Almost from the beginning he was appearing as a backup feature in two comic books (Pep Comics and Jackpot Comics). With Pep Comics #36 (February 1942) he made his first appearance on the magazine's cover, although he shared it with The Shield and Hangman. With Pep Comics #41 (August 1943) he  began regularly appearing on its covers, always with The Shield and Hangman. By Pep Comics #51 (December 1944) Archie had entirely displaced The Shield on the covers of the magazine. Archie received his own magazine in December 1942 with Archie Comics #1. In 1946 MLJ Magazines even changed their name to Archie Comics. The last vestiges of MLJ's superhero past would be swept away when The Shield G-Man Club (introduced with Pep Comics #15, May 1941) became the Archie Club with Pep Comics #66 (March 1948).

The continued popularity of Archie would see new comic books featuring the character as the Forties progressed. Black Hood Comics became Laugh Comics with issue 21 (winter 1946), another title featuring Archie and the Riverdale gang. The year 1949 saw the first spinoff from the Archie feature, Archie's Pal Jughead #1(January 1949). It would be followed by Archie's Rival Reggie (February 1950) and Archie's Girls Betty and Veronica (March 1950).

The appearance of Archie characters would change with the Fifties. Dan DeCarlo, who had previously worked on Millie the Model at the company later known as Marvel Comics, had first started freelancing for Archie Comics in the early Fifties. In 1957 Mr. DeCarlo began working for Archie Comics on a more regular basis. Given permission to use his own style rather than trying to mimic that of Bob Montana, Mr. DeCarlo established the look of Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, and other characters with which most Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are familiar. Quite simply, Dan DeCarlo's style became Archie Comics' house style for decades to come. The year 2015 saw a relaunch of the "Archie" titles, complete with a more modern look for the characters.

Over the years further titles featuring Archie and his friends would be added, including such titles as Archie's Pals 'n' Gals, Little Archie, Life with ArchieArchie's Mad House, and yet others. New characters would also be added to the feature. Chuck Clayton, the first African American character in the "Archie"feature, was introduced in Life with Archie #110 (June 1971). Cheryl Blossom, a redhead who would serve as both Betty and Veronica's rival for Archie, first appeared in Betty and Veronica #320 (October 1982). Kevin Keller, the first gay character to appear in the "Archie' titles, was introduced in Veronica #202 (September 2010).

The popularity of Archie would soon lead to the feature being adapted to other media. On May 31 1943 the radio show The Adventures of Archie Andrews debuted on the NBC Blue Network, only about a year and a half after the character first appeared in comic books. This initial incarnation of The Adventures of Archie Andrews would only last until December 24 1943. It would not be off the air for long. It returned only a few weeks later on the Mutual Broadcasting System as a 15 minute programme on January 17 1944. This version would last until June 2 1944, after which the show would be off the air for a whole year. It returned on June 2 1945 as a 30 minute show that was broadcast once a week on NBC. This time the show lasted until September 5 1953. In all The Adventures of Archie Andrews lasted nine years, a long time for any radio show.

In 1946 Archie Andrews found himself in another medium. It was that year that McClure Newspaper Syndicate began the newspaper comic strip Archie. Archie was drawn and written by Bob Montana himself, who would continue to do so for the next 28 years. Dan DeCarlo took over the Archie newspaper strip following Bob Montana's death. In 1992  writer Craig Boldman began collaborating with Dan DeCarlo on the newspaper strip. Craig Boldman collaborated with artist Henry Scarpelli for much of the Nineties until 2009. Fernando Ruiz then took over as the newspaper strip's artist. The Archie newspaper comic strip continues to this day, after nearly 70 years in publication. It is currently distributed by Creators Syndicate.

While Archie would see success both on radio and newspapers, success on live action television would evade Archie and the Riverdale gang. In 1962 a pilot titled Life with Archie was produced for ABC. Life with Archie starred Frank Bank, best known for playing Lumpy on Leave It to Beaver, as Archie Andrews. Former child actor Jimmy Hawkins played Jughead, while Barbara Parkins (later of Peyton Place) played Veronica and former Mousketeer Cheryl Holdridge played Betty. The pilot failed to sell because the prospective sponsor, American Tobacco Company, could not see Frank Bank as anything but Lumpy on Leave It to Beaver.

A second pilot, simply titled Archie, was produced by Screen Gems in 1964. This pilot was once again produced for ABC. In this pilot Archie Andrews was played by John Simpson, whose only other credit is as one of the dead in Night of the Living Dead (1968). Betty was once more played by Cheryl Holdridge, while Veronica was played by Mikki Jamison, who would later play Officer Jim Reed's wife Jean on Adam-12. Jughead was played by Jerry Brite, for whom Archie would remain his only credit. Archie very nearly made it to ABC's fall schedule, but was bumped in favour of another show.

The Seventies would see two more live-action pilots for TV shows based on the "Archie" comic book feature. Once more both pilots were for ABC. The first of the two pilots, simply called Archie, aired on December 19 1976. David Caruso (later of N.Y.P.D. Blue and CSI: Miami fame) was set to play Archie Andrews, but a contract dispute before rehearsals resulted in the part going to Dennis Bowen, who had the recurring role of Todd on Welcome Back, Kotter. Audey Landers, later a star on Dallas, played Betty. Hilary Thompson, who would later appear on the sitcom Operation Petticoat, played Veronica. Derrel Maury, who played Jughead, later went onto appear on the TV shows Apple Pie and Joanie Loves Chachi. This pilot did not sell and a second pilot with the same cast was made. This pilot, titled The Archie Situation Comedy Musical Variety Show, aired on August 5 1978. It did not sell either. Both pilots were a mixture of sketch comedy, situation comedy, and music. Neither are particularly well respected today.

Yet another pilot would be attempted in 1990, although this would have a twist. Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again featured the characters fifteen years after they had graduated from Riverdale High School. Archie was a lawyer who was engaged to someone other than Betty or Veronica. Betty was a grade school teacher. Veronica had been married and divorced four times. Jughead had gone through a particularly tough divorce. Christopher Rich, who would play Miller Redfield on Murphy Brown, played Archie. Lauren Holly, later of Picket Fences, played Betty. Karen Kopins, who had appeared on Dallas, played Veronica. Sam Whipple, who had appeared on Open All Night and would later appeared on Seven Days, played Jughead. Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again aired on NBC on May 6 1990. It did not receive particularly good reviews and performed miserably in the ratings. A new series was then not in the offing.

While no live action series based on the "Archie"comic book feature would emerge in the 20th Century, the 21st Century will see a TV show based on Archie and his friends. Riverdale is set to debut on The CW on January 26 2017. Riverdale looks to be a much darker take on the world of Archie and his friends than the original teen humour comic book feature. Indeed, comparisons have been made to Twin Peaks.

While Archie would see little success on live-action television, it has seen a good deal of success with regards to animated TV series. On September 14 1968 the Saturday morning cartoon The Archie Show debuted on CBS. The Archie Show was produced by Filmation and was a fairly loyal adaptation of the comic books of the time. An important part of the show was music. On the show Archie, Jughead, Veronica, Betty, and Reggie had their own band called "The Archies". Don Kirshner served as the music supervisor on the show and assembled a group of studio musicians to record The Archies' songs. Even though The Archies existed nowhere but the animated cartoon, the fictional group would have hits in the real world. Their first single "Sugar Sugar" went to no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. "Jingle Jangle" peaked at no. 10, while "Bang-Shang-A-Lang" peaked at no. 22.

The Archie Show proved enormously popular. It would even start a prolonged cycle on Saturday mornings of cartoons centred around fictional bands, including The Cattanooga Cats, The Hardy Boys, The Brady Kids, The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids, and yet others. Even  Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! owes something to The Archie Show. As originally conceived, it would have been about a rock band that travels around the country solving mysteries. In the end Hanna-Barbera dropped the music angle entirely. The Archie Show led to two more Archie Comics properties making it to television. Hanna-Barbera, looking at the success of The Archie Show got the rights to Archie Comics' title Josie to create Josie and the Pussycats, which was another show with a fictional band. Filmation themselves got the rights to Sabrina the Teenage Witch and introduced her in segments during The Archie Comedy Hour in 1969. She received her own series in 1971.

The Archie Show would prove so successful that Archie and the Riverdale gang would occupy Saturday mornings for much of the Seventies. That having been said, its format would change over time. In 1969 the show was expanded to an hour as The Archie Comedy Hour. Archie's Funhouse in 1970 incorporated an audience of children before a giant jukebox. Archie's TV Funnies in 1971 not only featured Archie and the gang, but cartoons based on such newspaper strips as Dick Tracy, Nancy, and so on. The U.S. of Archie in 1974 had the character re-enacting moments from American history. While all of these shows aired on CBS, in 1977 The New Archie and Sabrina Hour aired on NBC. The show was a mixture of new segments and segments from earlier shows. The New Archie and Sabrina Hour would receive poor ratings and would not even last out the season. It would be the last Filmation show based on Archie Comics to air.

Ten years later, in 1987,  DIC Entertainment produced a new Saturday morning cartoon based on the "Archie" comic book feature. The New Archies centred on Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, Reggie, and other characters when they were attending Riverdale Junior High. The series only aired for one season on NBC, although it would be repeated in 1989.

It would be another 12 years before the next animated series based on the "Archie" comic book feature. Archie's Weird Mysteries was produced by DIC Entertainment and initially aired on weekday mornings on the broadcast network PAX starting in 1999. Afterwards the series was syndicated to local stations throughout the United States. Archie's Weird Mysteries differed from many adaptations in that it featured Archie and the Riverdale gang investigating monsters and supernatural creatures ranging from a sea monster to vampires. It ran for 40 episodes. A tie-in comic book began in February 2000 and ran for 34 issues.

Archie's Weird Mysteries would result in the only feature length film to feature Archie and his friends. The Archies in Jug Man was a TV movie that debuted on Nickelodeon Sunday Movie Toons and was afterwards released on DVD. In the movie a new, underground, geothermal heating system inadvertently thaws out a frozen Neanderthal who looks a lot like Jughead. The film was produced by DIC Entertainment and used the same cast and many of the same crew as Archie's Weird Mysteries.

In 2013 a new animated series, It's Archie, was announced. The series was to be produced by The MoonScoop Group and would centre on the Archie characters when they were in middle school. Unfortunately since 2013 no new information has been released, so it seems possible that It's Archie might never come to be. 

Archie would ultimately outlast the many other teen humour comic book features that proliferated from the Forties into the Sixties. Archie outlasted Archie Comics' own Wilbur, Marvel Comics' Patsy Walker, DC Comics' Leave It to Binky, and many others. There were many periods during the past 75 years when the Archie titles were the only teen humour comic books being published. Indeed, as pointed out above, along with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, Archie is one of the very few characters to have been published continuously since the Golden Age.

There are probably several reasons that Archie has lasted all these years when other teen humour comic books did not. Much of the reason for Archie's success is most likely the classic love triangle of Archie, Betty, and Veronica. After all, here was an average teenage guy, who was not particularly good looking himself, being pursued by a knockout blonde and a drop dead gorgeous brunette. This scenario was bound to appeal to young boys just discovering girls. It also provided for a great deal of conflict, as Betty and Veronica plotted various means of drawing Archie's attention away from the other.

Of course, even beyond the triangle of Archie, Betty, and Veronica, there has always been an undercurrent of sex running throughout the Archie comic books, especially in the Forties and early Fifties. In Veronica's first appearance in  Pep Comics #26 a number of boys (Archie included) are openly staring at her. When she drops her ruler, the boys struggle to the one to retrieve it for her. In the early Fifties there is the classic Bob Montana cover of Archie Comics #50 (March 1951). The cover features Betty relaxed on her sofa and saying over her phone, "No, Archie, this isn't Veronica--you called the wrong number, but if you come over to my house I'll gladly refund your nickel!" There has always been a tendency for people to dismiss Archie comic books as clean and wholesome, but for much of their history they portrayed the reality that many teenage boys and girls only have one thing on their mind without becoming overly prurient or salacious. Again, this would give the Archie titles an appeal to any teen just discovering the opposite sex.

Another reason that Archie proved to be such a success is that the various Archie titles lacked the sort of gender boundaries that existed for many comic book titles in the mid-20th Century. It is true that there were girls who read superhero titles and boys who read romance titles, but for the most part during the mid-20th Century comic book genres were drawn along lines of gender. Boys read superhero comic books, Westerns, and war comic books. Girls read romance comic books and the various career girl titles (such as Millie the Model). Teen humour titles in general and the Archie titles in particular differed from other comic books in that they appealed to both sexes equally. Quite simply, there is something in the various Archie titles that appeals to everyone, whether they are male or female, still a teen or long past their teenage years.

Of course, the ultimate reason for the continued popularity of Archie after all these years has only a little to do with the sexual undercurrents in the titles or even the fact that the comic books appeal to both sexes. In the end the reason that Archie has lasted while all other teen humours faded away is probably because Archie developed a cast of well developed and often very original characters. While many of the other teen humour titles through the years relied on various teenage stereotypes current at the time, the various Archie titles concentrated on developing characters who often strayed from the popular stereotypes. While Archie was a clumsy, girl crazy teen in the Henry Aldrich or Andy Hardy mould, Jughead was cynical, generally indifferent to girls, and could be downright sarcastic at times. Betty was blonde and sweet natured, but she was never dumb. In fact, she is one of the most intelligent characters in the "Archie" comic book feature. Veronica was spoiled and vain, but she can often be sweet and concerned about others as well. Very few of the Archie characters are one-dimensional, not even supporting characters such as Moose and Mr. Weatherbee. Most of them are complex characters who went well beyond those featured in other teen humour books from the Forties and the Fifties. This has allowed the various Archie titles to survive while many other teen humour comic books have fallen by the wayside.

This past December Archie celebrated 75 years of existence, far longer than many other comic book characters. He has appeared on radio, in a newspaper comic strip that continues to this day, on live action television, and in several animated TV series. In the end Archie has proven to be the most successful teen humour character in any medium. After all, most people today don't know who Henry Aldrich or Andy Hardy are, but they certainly know who Archie Andrews is. One has to suspect that Archie will be around for another 75 years.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

More News from the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival


Unless circumstances change dramatically in the next few months, it looks like I won't be making the TCM Classic Film Festival this year. Most of the reason I would like to attend the festival is that I would finally be able to meet my many classic film friends in person (many of whom I have known for years). Of course, much of the reason I want to attend the festival is the opportunity to see films I love on the big screen for the first time.

Indeed, yesterday Turner Classic Movies released more news regarding the festival, including news about some of the films that will be shown this year. Among these films are some of my absolute favourites. There are going to be screenings of both Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) and The Palm Beach Story (1942). Arsenic and Old Lace is my favourite Frank Capra film besides It's a Wonderful Life (1946), while The Palm Beach Story is my absolute favourite Preston Sturges movie. They are also showing two of my favourite Pre-Code movies The Front Page (1931) and Twentieth Century (1934).  Another must-see movie for me would be Harold Lloyd's film Speedy (1928).

Of course, much of the appeal of the TCM Classic Film Festival are the honoured guests. This year Peter Bogdanovich will be on hand for screenings of his films The Last Picture Show (1971) and What's Up, Doc?. Genevieve Bujold will introduce Le Roi de cœur (1966--King of Hearts for we English speakers). So far the guest I would want to see the most is Kate MacMurray, Fred MacMurray's daughter, who will take part in the festivities surrounding the premiere of a restored version of The Egg and I (1947) for its 70th anniversary.

This year's festival certainly looks to be shaping up to be a good one. I have no doubt more TCM will add more films to the schedule that I love, as well as more special guests. I look forward to seeing my classic film friends posting blog posts about the festival and pictures from it!