Saturday, 24 June 2017

Why Instagram Should Ditch The Algorithm

It has been a little over a year since Instagram began sorting its users' feeds by an algorithm. To say that users were unhappy about the introduction of algorithm sorted feeds would be an understatement. People complained on Twitter and even Instagram itself. Several articles and blog posts attacking Instagram's decision were published. As might be expected, there were even petitions to get Instagram to keep its traditional, reverse chronological feed. Unfortunately, despite widespread user outrage, Instagram went ahead with introducing the algorithm.

In that year very little has changed. People still hate the algorithm. In the past month alone I have read four articles (including ones on The Huffington Post and Mashable) attacking the algorithm. To this day people are still complaining about the algorithm on Twitter. I know from my fellow Instagram users that none of them like the algorithm. Instagram may have millions of users, but it would seem that many people are very unhappy with the app.

And there is very little reason they should be happy with the app. In my experience algorithms generally do not work. In theory algorithms on social media sites are supposed to show those posts in which one will most likely be interested, but in fact it seems as if it very rarely works out that way. In no particular order, the posts I am most likely to like on Instagram are cats, dogs, anything classic movie related, anything classic TV related, anything vintage, and classic pinups, among other thnigs. Despite this, on a regular basis, Instagram's algorithm regularly places food porn towards the top of my feed. Here I want to stress that I have absolutely nothing against people who post food porn. It is a simple case that I prefer other things to photos of food.

While Instagram's algorithm regularly places things in which I am less interested at the top of my feed, it also often places things in which I am very interested lower in my feed. I have an acquaintance whom I met on Google+ and now follow on multiple social media sites, although Instagram has become the place where I interact with her the most. I like very nearly all of her posts and I regularly comment on them as well. Despite this it is not unusual for her posts to be placed lower in my feed, well below even, well, food porn.

Beyond Instagram's algorithm not sorting posts correctly for some of us, it also appears to have had a detrimental effect on many people's engagement. While I saw no real change in my numbers due to the algorithm, I have read many places where individuals saw dramatic drops in the amount of engagement that their posts were receiving. They received far fewer likes and comments on their posts than before the algorithm was instituted. In fact, it seems to be one of the most common complaints about the algorithm. Now given Instagram is a social media app, I would think they would want to do everything they could to encourage engagement. Apparently the algorithm discourages it.

Of course, with the introduction of the algorithm also came tricks to manipulate it, some more honest than others. Some have resorted to bots. Others have resorted to hashtags. Yet others have simply tried to improve the quality of their posts. One technique that has developed of late is the "Instagram pod". An Instagram pod is an invite-only, private group of Instagrammers. Each time one of them posts something, he or she will send an Instagram DM to the others in the pod. The others in the pod will then like the post and leave a genuine comment. Here I must point out that the various means of manipulating algorithms shows how algorithms are flawed. Ideally, an algorithm is supposed to show an individual what he or she likes first. Unfortunately, to do so, Instagram and other social media sites take into account how many total likes or comments a post has. Quite frankly, I think any algorithm worth its salt would only take into account what a user has liked in the past and not how many total likes and comments a particular post has. This is probably why people so often see photos on Instagram in which they are not the least bit interested well above photos in which they are very interested.

As to why the algorithm was ever instituted, Instagram, like most other social media sites, claimed it was for the users' benefit. When Instagram announced they would be introducing an algorithm sorted feed in March 2016, they wrote on their blog, "To improve your experience, your feed will soon be ordered to show the moments we believe you will care about the most." The fact that most users abhor algorithms points to Instagram either not understanding what their users want or having an ulterior motive for introducing the algorithm. I suspect that ulterior motive is probably advertising. Quite simply, the algorithm gives Instagram much more control over the feed than they would have if it was in reverse-chronological order. Because of this they can make more space for ads. Indeed, the past year I think most Instagrammers have noticed a marked increase in advertising on the app.

While I don't think most people would begrudge Instagram making money, the problem I see is that the algorithm might well make ads less likely to be seen. Because of the algorithm I am trying to make sure that I don't miss any of my friends' posts. Because I am trying to make sure that I don't miss any of my friends' posts, I generally simply go right past any ads I might see unless it is from a company or artist I already follow. In other words, I think Instagram might well make more money through advertising if they had simply kept the feed in reverse chronological order.

Ultimately, I think if Instagram wants to keep its users happy it should do one of two things. The first is to ditch the algorithm entirely. I think they would see engagement go back up and they would even see users paying attention to the advertising on the site. Quite simply, it would be a good thing all around for everyone. The second is to follow the course set by Facebook and Twitter. Facebook has had its algorithm-based "Top Stories" feed for years, but learned long ago to give people the choice of a reverse-chronological, "Most Recent" feed as well. On Facebook, one never has to use the algorithm-sorted feed if  he or she doesn't want to. Twitter introduced an algorithm-sorted feed not that long before Instagram, but wisely gave people the choice of turning it off. Instagram could do the same. Again, it would make users happy. It would improve engagement. And Instagram might even see more advertising dollars. Regardless, I suspect the algorithm will hurt Instagram in the long run if they continue to use it. Unhappy users are users who are apt to leave, and if enough users leave, well, then Instagram won't be long for this world.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Bill Dana R.I.P.

Actor, comedian, and writer Bill Dana, who was best known for the character José Jiménez died at age 92 on June 15 2017.

Bill Dana was born William Szathmary in Quincy, Massachusetts on October 5 1924. His father, a Hungarian immigrant, was a real estate developer. His mother, Dena, worked in a millinery shop. It was from his mother's first name that Mr. Dana derived his stage name. His older brother was composer Irving Szathmary, who would go on to compose the Get Smart theme. Bill Dana grew up in a multi-ethnic neighbourhood and was exposed to several different languages while he was growing up.

During World War II Bill Dana served in the United States Army with the 263rd Infantry Regiment, 66th Infantry Division. Following the war he attended Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts from which he graduated with a degree in speech and drama. Afterwards he worked as a page at the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). He also formed a comedy team with Gene Wood and performed in night clubs in and around New York. He broke into writing for television with episodes of The Imogene Coca Show in 1954. He also began writing gags for various comics. Among them was Don Adams, for whom he developed the line "Would you believe...," which later became a catchphrase on Mr. Adams's show Get Smart.

In the late Fifties he wrote for The Steve Lawrence-Eydie Gorme Show and The Steve Allen Plymouth Show. It would be on a 1959 edition of The Steven Allen Plymouth Show that he made his debut as the character José Jiménez in a sketch in which José was an instructor of department store Santa Clauses. The character proved to be a hit and Bill Dana would spend the next decade playing José Jiménez. He appeared as the character on such shows as Swinging Spiketaculars, The New Steve Allen Show, The Red Skelton Hour, the animated short "I Want My Mummy" (1966), The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show, The Jackie Gleason Show, Batman, and The Hollywood Palace.  José Jiménez  was a recurring character on The Danny Thomas Show. From 1963 to 1965 Bill Dana starred as  José Jiménez on The Bill Dana Show.  Bill Dana portrayed José Jiménez  in various odd professions, including an animal trainer, a deep-sea diver, and even an astronaut. The Mercury astronauts themselves loved José Jiménez  and even named the character an honorary member of their team.

The National Hispanic Media Coalition, an advocacy group, even endorsed José Jiménez and invited Bill Dana to sit on their advisory board, which he did for the rest of his life. Today it might seem odd that a character now widely regarded as a stereotype would be embraced by some in the Latin community, but then it must be considered that José Jiménez was clean cut, hard working, sincere, and decent. In the Sixties José Jiménez offered a sharp contrast to such stereotypical characters of the era as the Frito Bandito and  Tuco Benedicto Pacífico Juan María Ramírez  (AKA "The Rat") in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). As the Sixties progressed, however, José increasingly became regarded as a negative stereotype and was even the target of protests. In 1970 Bill Dana stopped playing José Jiménez and even read the character's obituary at an event sponsored by the Congress of Mexican-American Unity in Los Angeles.

Despite the character's popularity, Bill Dana did more than play José Jiménez in the Sixties. He was the voice of the White Knight in the animated TV special Alice in Wonderland or What's a Nice Kid Like You Doing in a Place Like This?. He guest starred on The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Courtship of Eddie's Father, Get Smart, and Love, American Style. He wrote episodes of The New Steve Allen Show and The Bill Dana Show. He wrote the animated special Alice in Wonderland or What's a Nice Kid Like You Doing in a Place Like This?, the animated short "I Want My Mummy", the comedy special Jose Jiminez Discovers America, and the comedy special Don Knotts' Nice Clean, Decent, Wholesome Hour.

In the Seventies Bill Dana wrote episodes of All in the Family, Bridget Loves Bernie, Chico and the Man, and Donnie and Marie. He was one of the writers on the Get Smart movie The Nude Bomb (1980). He guest starred on The Snoop Sisters, Police Woman, McMillan & Wife, Ellery Queen, Switch, The Practice, Rosetti and Ryan, Vega$, and Flying High. He appeared in the films Harrad Summer (1974). I Wonder Who's Killing Her Now? (1975), and The Nude Bomb (1980).

In the Eighties Bill Dana was a regular on the TV shows No Soap, Radio and Zorro and Son. He had a recurring role on The Golden Girls. He guest starred on the shows Here's Boomer, Fantasy Island, Too Close for Comfort, Sledge Hammer!, and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. He wrote episodes of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and Matlock. In the Nineties he continued to appear on The Golden Girls. He guest starred on Lenny and Empty Nest. He appeared in the film Lena's Holiday (1991).

Regardless of how one feels about José Jiménez (I have to admit I have never been a fan), I think there is no denying that Bill Dana was a very talented man. He was a very good comedy writer. Not only did he provided Don Adams with a good deal of material (including the classic line "Would you believe..."), but he wrote of the best episodes of All in the Family ever ("Sammy's Visit", in which Sammy Davis Jr. guest starred). He also wrote quality material for everything from Chico and the Man to the Comedy Awards. On screen he played some very memorable characters, including Angelo on The Golden Girls, Mr. Fiscus on St. Elsewhere, and Mr. Plitzky on No Soap, Radio. While it seems likely that Bill Dana will always be remembered as José Jiménez, he did a good deal more.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

"Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer" by Nat King Cole

Today is the first full day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. As those of you who know me (and those of you who regularly read this blog, for that matter) full well know, it is my least favourite time of year. For me summer means heat, humidity, allergies, and generally feeling uncomfortable. It is probably the season during which I spend the least amount of time outside. Regardless, I have always liked songs about summer, and one of my favourites is "Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer" by Nat King Cole. It does hit some of the more enjoyable aspects of the season (soda, pretzels, going to the drive-in theatre, et. al.), even if it does overlook some of the more unpleasant aspects of the season "Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer" was Nat King Cole's last big hit while he was still alive. It peaked at no. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963. Sadly, Nat King Cole die less than two years later, on February 15 1965.

Without further ado, here is "Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer". This clip is from the 1963 BBC special An Evening with Nat King Cole.


Monday, 19 June 2017

Godspeed Stephen Furst

Stephen Furst, who played Flounder in the classic film National Lampoon's Animal House (1978), Dr. Elliot Axelrod on the classic TV series St. Elsewhere, and Vir Cotto on Babylon 5, died on June 16 2016 at the age of 63. The cause was complications from diabetes.

Stephen Furst was born Stephen Nelson Feuerstein on May 8 1954 in Norfolk, Virginia. He took an interest in acting while still young. By the time he was in high school he was already acting in local plays. Mr. Furst studied drama at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Mr. Furst made his television debut in an episode of Movin' On in 1975. He made his film debut in American Raspberry in 1977. It was the following year that he appeared as Flounder in National Lampoon's Animal House, catapulting him to fame. In the late Seventies he appeared in the films Take Down (1979), Swim Team (1979), Scavenger Hunt (1979), Getting Wasted (1980), Midnight Madness (1980), and The Unseen (1980). He reprised his role as Flounder on the short lived TV series Delta House, which was based on the film Animal House. He guest starred on Family and CBS Afternoon Playhouse.

In the Eighties Stephen Furst played the role of the awkward and often put-upon Dr. Elliot Axelrod on St. Elsewhere. He also played Father Gabriel "Gabe" Podmaninski on the short-lived show Have Faith. He guest starred on such TV shows as Newhart, CHiPs, The Jeffersons, Faerie Tale Theatre, MacGyver, Night Court, and Murder, She Wrote. Mr. Furst appeared in the TV movie The Day After. He appeared in such films as Silent Rage (1982), Class Reunion (1982), Up the Creek (1984), and The Dream Team (1989).

In the Ninties Stephen Furst appered as Vir Cotto on the science fiction series Babylon 5. He starred on the sitcom Misery Loves Company. He provided the voices of Fanboy on Freakazoid!, Hathi on Jungle Cubs, and Booster on Buzz Lightyear of Star Command. He guest starred on Gabriel's Fire, Dream On, Nurses, Melrose Place, Chicago Hope, and Diagnois Murder. He appeared in such films as Cops n Roberts (1995) and Goldilocks and the Three Bears (1995).

In the Naughts Mr. Furst appeared in such films as Title to Murder (2001), Echos of Enlightenment (2001), Sorority Boys (2002), Searching for Haizmann (2003), Living in Walter's World (2003), Autopsy Room Four (2003), Wild Roomies (2004), Everything's Jake (2006), and Seven Days of Grace (2006).  He guest starred on Scrubs and She Spies.

While Stephen Furst came to fame through his portrayal of Flounder in Animal House, he was talented enough that he was able to play many memorable characters over the years. Many probably know him best as Dr. Axelrod, the competent but awkward and frequently disrespected physician on St. Elsewhere. Yet others might remember him best as Vir Cotto, the humble, kind-hearted Centraui low noble who eventually became his people's prime minister on Babylon 5. Still yet others might remember him best as the voice of Fanboy on Freakazoid!, the comic book and superhero obssessed youth who wanted very badly to be a sidekick. While most of Stephen Furst's characters were lovable losers, he could and did play other sorts of characters, His role in The Unseen is unlike anything else he ever played  (I can't say more without spoiling the film).  In Midnight Madness he played a character, who unlike Flounder, Dr. Axelrod, or Vir Cotto, wasn't a bit lovable. Harold was an insufferable snob and essentially the antagonist of the movie. Stephen Furst was an extremely talented actor who had a particular gift for comedy and could play drama just as well.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Richard Boone: A Knight Without Armour..

It was 100 years ago today that Richard Boone was born. The actor would forever be known for his role as Paladin, the sophisticated, intellectual gun-for-hire on the TV show Have Gun--Will Travel, but he played many other parts throughout his career. While his biggest success was on television, he also appeared in several motion pictures and on stage as well.

Richard Boone was born on June 18 1917 in Los Angeles, California. He was a direct descendent of Squire Boone, the younger brother of legendary frontiersman Daniel Boone. He attended the Army and Navy Academy in San Diego and Hoover High School in Glendale, California. He enrolled at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, where he was college lightweight amateur boxing champion. He dropped out of college and then worked in the California oil fields and pursued painting at the California arts colony of Carmel. In 1941 he joined the United States Navy and served during World War II. While on the U.S.S. Enterprise he face bombing. He was on the U.S.S. Intrepid when it was torpedoed. He was on the U.S.S. Hancock when it was attacked by kamikazes. In the Navy he served as an aviation ordnanceman, an enlisted Naval Aircrewman, and a tail gunner on Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bomber

Following World War II, Mr. Boone studied at the Neighbourhood Playhouse and the Actors Studio in New York City. He made his debut on Broadway in a revival of Medea in 1947. He appeared on Broadway two more times, in The Man in 1950 and in The Rivalry in 1959. It was in 1950, while he was still with the Actors Studio, that he was asked by a actress studying there to help her with a screen test for 20th Century Fox. Mr. Boone was simply to feed lines to her from Tennessee Williams's play The Glass Menagerie. The screen test was directed by Elia Kazan, whom Mr. Boone knew through the Actors Studio, for director Lewis Milestone. Mr. Milestone was less than impressed with the actress, but he was impressed by Richard Boone's voice. He was signed to a seven year contract with 20th Century Fox and made his film debut in Hall of Montezuma in 1950.

Richard Boone would have a fairly successful career in feature films. He appeared in such movies as Man on a Tightrope (1953), The Robe (1953), Dragnet (1954), Man Without a Star (1955), The Tall T (1957), The Alamo (1960), Hombre (1967), The Arrangement (1969), and The Shootist (1976). While he saw a good deal of success in film, it would ultimately be television that would make Richard Boone famous.

Mr. Boone made his television debut in 1949 as a regular on the TV show The Front Page. He guest starred on such shows as Actors Studio, General Electric Theatre, Frontier, and Lux Video Theatre. It was while Mr. Boone was working on Halls of Montezuma that he met actor and producer Jack Webb. Not only would Mr. Boone appear on episodes of the radio show Dragnet, but he appeared in the feature film based on the radio and TV show as well. When Dragnet writer James E. Moser was developing a medical drama, Jack Webb quite naturally put him in touch with Richard Boone. It was then in 1954 that Richard Boone starred as Dr. Konrad Styner on the TV show Medic. Medic was television's first serious medical drama and would pave the way for all medical dramas to come, from Ben Casey to ER. While it was not particularly high rated (it had the misfortune of airing opposite I Love Lucy on CBS), it was critically acclaimed. It was nominated for several Emmy Awards, including Best Written Dramatic Material, Best Dramatic Series, Best Actor Starring in a Regular Series (for Richard Boone), and yet others. It won Emmys for Best Direction of Photography and Best Cinematography for Television.

It was in 1957 that Richard Boone was cast as Paladin in the Western TV series Have Gun--Will Travel. Paladin was a gun-for-hire and all around troubleshooter in the Old West. The title was taken from Paladin's business cards, which read, "Have Gun--Will Travel Wire Paladin, San Francisco." Have Gun--Will Travel differed greatly from most TV Westerns of the time. Despite being very skilled with a gun, Paladin preferred to solve problems without violence whenever possible. He was also an intellectual and bon vivant, enjoying fine clothing, the opera, the theatre, and fine food and drink. His knowledge spanned a number of subjects, from classical literature to philosophy. The show itself addressed a number of topics generally ignored on TV shows in the late Fifties and early Sixties, from prejudice to racism to corporate greed. Have Gun--Will Travel was often described as a thinking man's Western, a description that was fairly accurate.

From its very first season Have Gun--Will Travel proved to be a hit. For its first four seasons it ranked in the top five highest rated shows for the year, coming in at number 3 for 3 of those seasons. Its last two seasons it ranked a still respectable number 29 for the year. In all it ran six seasons before going onto a fairly successful run as a syndicated rerun. The show made Richard Boone a household name.

Sadly Richard Boone's next show would not be nearly as successful. The Richard Boone Show aired in the 1963-1964 season and was a unique take on the anthology series. It featured a repertory of players (including  Robert Blake, Harry Morgan, and Guy Stockwell) who would assume different roles in each episode. As to the episodes themselves, they varied from comedy to drama. The Richard Boone Show was critically acclaimed. It was also nominated for five Emmy Awards, even though it won none of them. Unfortunately, its ratings were not particularly good. It aired opposite the highly rated Petticoat Junction on CBS and it was cancelled at the end of the season.

Richard Boone's final TV show would be one of the rotating series that aired as part of the umbrella show NBC Sunday Mystery Movie. Hec Ramsey starred Richard Boone as the deputy sheriff of the same name. Set in the early 20th Century, Hec was a former gunfighter who preferred the newly emerging field of forensics to using his guns. The show was produced by Mr. Boone's old friend Jack Webb and created by Harold Jack Bloom. Hec Ramsey proved fairly successful, but ended after only two seasons because of disagreements between Richard Boone and Universal Studios.

Richard Boone continued to appear in movies in his later years, including The Shootist (1976), The Big Sleep (1978), and Winter Kills (1979). In 1970 he moved to St. Augustine, Florida, where he spent much of his time painting. Sadly, he developed throat cancer in 1980. He died of pneumonia the following year, on January 10 1981 at the age of 63. His final role was as Commodore Matthew Perry in The Bushido Blade (1981).

In addition to acting, Richard Boone also directed several episodes of Have Gun--Will Travel and The Richard Boone Show.

Richard Boone will almost certainly always be remembered as Paladin. And it is not at all a bad role for which to be remembered. Unlike many of the heroes on the TV Westerns of the Fifties, Paladin was a very complex character. He was sophisticated enough to appreciate a fine work of art, but at the same time tough enough that he could take out nearly anyone in a fight. Unlike many Western heroes he was not nearly superhuman, and could be fallible at times. He occasionally, though rarely, made mistakes. He was even known to cry at times, something unthinkable for most Western characters of the era. It should be little wonder that Have Gun--Will Travel is so well remembered. As played by Richard Boone, Paladin stood out from the rest of Western characters then on television.

Of course, while Richard Boone was best known for playing heroes on television (Paladin, Hec Ramsey), he was surprisingly effective at playing villains in movies. In The Tall T he played Frank Usher, the leader of a band of outlaws, opposite the protagonist Pat Brennan (played by Randolph Scott). Frank Usher was as villainous as they come, perfectly comfortable with committing cold blooded murder. At the same time, however, Richard Boone played him as a complex, even sensitive individual. He as not a run-of-the-mill Western bad guy by any stretch of the imagination. Although most closely associated with the Western genre, Richard Boone would even play villains in other sorts of films. In Man on a Tightrope he played Krofta, who both a member of the circus in the film and the Communist Party. As usual, he played Krofta not as a stock villain, but a complex character with his own motivations.

While Richard Boone was known for playing heroes on television and villains in films, he often played characters who were neither hero nor villain. An example of this is the role of Sam in The Arrangement (1969). Sam is the ageing and stubborn father of advertising executive Eddie Anderson (played by Kirk Douglas), who is experiencing a mental breakdown. While the film itself is not particularly good, Richard Boone's performance as Sam is still impressive. In Halls of Montezuma Richard Boone also played a character who was not necessarily of heroic proportions.  Lt. Col. Gilfillan is all too weary of battle and anxious as his Marines attack a Japanese held island in the South Pacific.

Ultimately Richard Boone stands out from many other actors known for Westerns and action movies in that he had the talent to play a variety of roles and to give the characters he played complex inner lives. It should come as no surprise that he acted in Shakespeare's plays on stage. In the whole of a career that spanned over thirty years, no two of Richard Boone's characters are ever alike. He may be best known for Paladin, but he played many other excellent roles.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Changes Twitter Should Make

Twitter made a few changes this week. For the most part these changes were cosmetic. They changed the icons (for instance, "reply" is now a word balloon). They changed some of the typography. Perhaps the biggest change was relocating one's settings. I don't know if these changes upset any Twitter users, but from my standpoint they were all so minor that I can't see how they would.

That having been said, I do think Twitter really should make some major changes. To me the Twitter interface has not been particularly user friendly since 2011. That is when they combined the tabs for retweets and mentions under a single "Notifications" tab. Recently Twitter somewhat improved this by placing a link under Notifications for only mentions. The problem is that still leaves likes and retweets mixed in with mentions under the All link. Personally I would like to see individual tabs for retweets, mentions, and likes. Twitter could still place these under the heading of Notifications. As it is right now it is difficult to sort likes and retweets from mentions. Indeed, this is why six years ago I switched to HootSuite for most of my tweeting.

As to Twitter's look, I really don't quite understand why they changed the icons. While I have no objections to the new icons, I didn't have any objections to the old icons either. What I do have an objection to is Twitter's colour scheme, which is among the absolute worst on the web. The Twitter bar at the top and the column containing tweet and the sidebars are all a blinding white. The background colour is an awful hospital blue. What I would like for Twitter to do is to give users back some customisation with regards to their Twitter experience. At one time we could have our own background images (I always used the Union Jack). I would like for them to bring back background images or, at least, let us choose our own colour schemes for Twitter. As it is, while I rarely use the Twitter platform itself (as I said above), for those times when I do I installed a userstyle that, well, paints everything black except for the text (which is white).

I won't even go into the changes I would like to see to profiles. Suffice it to say that I preferred them before Twitter ruined changed them in 2014. They would vastly improve things if they simply went back to the profiles as they were before May 2014. Ditch the cover image and bring back background images!

Of course, one major change Twitter made is that mentions no longer count towards the 140 character limit. While many people might like this change, I have to say that for me it was totally unnecessary. I never had any objections to mentions counting towards the 140 character limit. What I do object to are links counting towards the 140 character limit. Twitter is regarded by many as a news source, so that links to new stories are often tweeted. Unfortunately, due to the number of characters in links, it is often difficult to create a "headline" for any given link. If links are no longer counted towards the 140 character limit, that problem would be solved.

As to mentions no longer counting towards the 140 character limit, it did create one problem that I can see. Quite simply, in many cases when replying to a tweet, one does not want to reply to every single person mentioned in a tweet. A perfect example of this are "Follow Friday" tweets. I would like to be able to thank only the person who made the tweet. In the old days one simply deleted the mentions except for the individual who made the tweet. Now one has to click the reply icon, then place one's cursor in the tweet box that pops up, then click on the "Replying to" link, and finally uncheck the names in the box that pops up. This is a lot more steps, so many that I would actually be happy if they announced that mentions once more count towards the 140 character limit and returned to handling replies the way they once were!

Another change I would make is to give users the ability to hide inline images. At one time there was a way to hide inline images, although that was taken away sometime ago. I have a userstyle in place to hide inline images, although I would much rather be able to go into settings at Twitter and simply turn them off. 

There are two more changes I would make to Twitter and they are much of the reason I still don't use the Twitter platform. The first is that I would do away with the "While You Were Away" feature or, at least, give people  a way to permanently disable it. I find it more annoying than useful, as it disrupts my feed. The second is that I would do away with "Who to Follow" (which should be "Whom to Follow") within the feed. Having "Who to Follow" not only disrupts one's Twitter feed, it is also redundant given there is the "Who to Follow" sidebar on the right.


For the past few years Twitter has had trouble attracting new users. Over the past few years they have made quite a few changes in an attempt to attract new users. Personally, I suspect many of these changes not only drove any possible new users away, but may have driven old users away as well. In the end I think Twitter's best hope may be to go back the way it used to be, way back before 2011. I know that was the last time I regularly used Twitter's platform.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

The 50th Anniversary of The Dirty Dozen (1967)

Arguably the Sixties was the Golden Age of the war film, with such movies as The Longest Day (1962), PT 109 (1963), The Train (1964), In Harm's Way (1965), and many others released during the decade. It was also the era of all-star extravaganzas--action films filled with big name movie and TV stars. Among these were The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Great Escape (1963), The Professionals (1966), and several others. Among the war films that were also all-star extravaganzas (as was often the case), was The Dirty Dozen (1967). It would prove to be a blockbuster at the box office, making $45,300,000 and ranking as the fourth highest grossing film of 1967. And while it was criticised for its violence, it did receive its share of positive reviews. Yesterday it was 50 years ago that The Dirty Dozen was released. It opened in theatres on June 15 1967 in the United States.

The Dirty Dozen was based on the novel of the same name by E. M. Nathanson. Even before the novel was published, director Robert Aldrich tried to buy its film rights. Ultimately it was MGM who bought the rights to The Dirty Dozen in May 1963, a full two years before the novel was published. Fortunately, Robert Aldrich would wind up directing the movie adaptation anyway. After MGM made many failed attempts at a screenplay, Mr. Aldrich was brought onto the project. He brought in screenwriter Lukas Heller, with whom he had worked on What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962),  Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), and The Flight of the Phoenix (1965), to rework the script written by Nunnally Johnson (who had written such films as The Grapes of Wrath, Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid, and How to Marry a Millionaire).

As to the novel The Dirty Dozen, upon its publication in 1965 it proved to be a bestseller. The novel was very loosely based on an actual group during World War II, the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, of the United States Army, nicknamed "the Filthy Thirteen". Unlike the movie, the real-life Filthy Thirteen was not composed of convicts, criminals, and malcontents. They earned their nickname because they bathed and shaved only once a week, and never cleaned their uniforms. Instead they conserved their water to cook deer, rabbits, and fish that they had poached.

Given the era, it should come as no surprise that The Dirty Dozen would have an all-star cast. That having been said, that cast could have been very different. John Wayne was offered the role of Major Reisman that was ultimately played by Lee Marvin in the movie. Mr. Wayne turned the part down because of objections he had to a subplot in the original script in which Major Reisman was having an affair with a married Englishwoman. Jack Palance was offered the role of Maggott, but turned it down because of objections he had to the portrayal of the character's racism. Ultimately Telly Savalas was cast in the part. Several members of the cast were actual World War II veterans. Ernest Borgnine (United States Navy), Charles Bronson (United States Army Air Corps), Lee Marvin ( United States Marine Corps),  Robert Ryan (United States Marine Corps),  Telly Savalas (United States Army), Robert Webber (United States Marine Corps),  and Clint Walker (United States Merchant Marine) all served during the war.

While the novel The Dirty Dozen took its inspiration from the Filthy Thirteen, neither the novel nor the movie were based on a historic incident as many World War II movies were.  In fact, the movie The Dirty Dozen paid little heed to historical accuracy. For example, it seems as if the whole of the Dirty Dozen are armed with M3 submachine guns, also known as "Grease Guns". In truth, the Grease Gun saw very little use during World War II. It was also, contrary to its portrayal in the movie, notoriously inaccurate. Of course, The Dirty Dozen was never meant to be a documentary drama, but instead an escapist action film.

The Dirty Dozen also differed from many earlier World War II films in its anti-authoritarian tone. Not only do the Dirty Dozen themselves regularly defy their superiors, but, except for Major Reisman, those superiors are portrayed as detestable on the whole, and often stupid and downright deranged as well. This marked a dramatic shift from war movies as recent as The Great Escape in 1963, in which most Allied officers were portrayed as heroes and some level of patriotism was prominent throughout the film. Arguably The Dirty Dozen would spark a whole slough of anti-authoritarian protagonists in movies throughout the late Sixties, the Seventies, the Eighties, and up to this day. Frank Bullittt, Dirty Harry Callahan, Paul Kersey, and many other characters who regularly defy authority owe something to The Dirty Dozen.

Upon its release The Dirty Dozen received generally positive reviews. Alongside Bonnie and Clyde and other films it proved to be a source of controversy due to its violence. An article by Associated Press Movie-TV writer Bob Thomas (published in the August 31 1967 issue of The Lima News, among many other newspapers) addressed the violence in many recent films, including The Dirty Dozen, A Fistful of Dollars, and Beach Red. New York Times critic Bosley Crowther attacked The Dirty Dozen as "A raw and preposterous glorification of a group of criminal soldiers who are trained to kill and who then go about this brutal business with hot, sadistic zeal..."  He remained one of the film's most vocal detractors. While Pauline Kael had no objection to the use of violence in Bonnie and Clyde (which she strenuously defended against her fellow critics), she wrote that The Dirty Dozen "...offends me personally." Roger Ebert, then in his first year with The Chicago Sun-Times, also criticised The Dirty Dozen for its violence. While most reviews acknowledged that The Dirty Dozen was violent, the film did receive some positive reviews. Variety referred to it as an "...exciting Second World War pre-D-Day drama" and commended some of the performances in the film. In his review in the July 21 1967 issue of Life magazine, Richard Schickel commented of The Dirty Dozen, "Flawed as it is, however, it seems to me one of the most interesting films about the brutalizing effects of war that we have had from American film makes in the last decade."

The controversy over the violence in The Dirty Dozen was made even greater by the fact that 1967 saw the release of several films then considered extremely violent. The aforementioned Bonnie and Clyde, Beach Red, A Fistful of Dollars (released in Italy in 1964, but not in the U.S. until 1967), and Point Blank were also released that year. The growing violence in movies, as well as the growing sexual content in films (such as Blowup and Belle de Jour), led to the creation of the Motion Picture Association of America's rating system that took effect in late 1968.

The Dirty Dozen would inspire several films in a similar vein over the next several years. Play Dirty (1969) centred on a group of British convicts who were used as soldiers. The Inglorious Bastard (1977) could be considered an outright imitation of The Dirty Dozen. Starting in 1985 with The Dirty Dozen: Next Mission, there would be several TV movie sequels, including The Dirty Dozen: The Deadly Mission (1987), and The Dirty Dozen: The Fatal Mission (1988). In 1988 Fox aired a short-lived TV series inspired by the original movie entitled The Dirty Dozen: The Series.

Despite being attacked by some critics for its violence, The Dirty Dozen would prove to be a success upon its release in 1967. It would also prove to be influential. Not only did it inspire similar war films, but it was one of a group of films that escalated cinematic violence to new levels. Its anti-authoritarian tone would have a long lasting impact on American cinema that lasts to this day. For all the controversy it provoked upon its initial release, The Dirty Dozen remains one of the most memorable and influential films of the late Sixties.

Happy 10th Anniversary to Out of The Past: A Classic Film Blog

It was ten years ago today that Out of the Past: A Classic Film Blog was launched by Raquel Stecher. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Out of the Past, it is a wonderful blog dedicated to classic movies. Raquel writes on a wide variety of topics related to classic film, from movies set at New Year's to film noir. She also regularly reviews books on classic film, and she hosts the annual Summer Reading Challenge, in which participants read books on classic film and then review them on their blogs, Instagram, or Goodreads. Over the years Raquel has conducted several interviews, including ones with Kurt Norton (co-director and producer of the documentary These Amazing Shadows) and Sheena Ochoa (author of the Stella Adler biography Stella! Mother of Modern Acting).  Each year she also offers some of the best coverage of the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival one will find anywhere.

I am proud to say that I have read Out of the Past: A Classic Film Blog since its earliest days. While I had read other movie blogs before, it was the first blog dedicated exclusively to classic film I ever read. Raquel then became my first classic movie blogger friend. In fact, she was the first person I ever followed on Twitter. We do have a lot in common. We are both fans of Bobby Darin, Jack Klugman, Robert Mitchum, Norma Shearer, and the Charlie Chan movies. Raquel remains a dear friend to this day.

And I must say that I am very proud of her for 10 years of blogging! To give you an idea of why this is a major accomplishment, in the Naughts, Perseus Development Corporation did a study on the phenomenon of blogging. They discovered that 66% of all blogs had not been updated in over two months and many had apparently been abandoned. About a quarter of all blogs had only a single post, made on the day the blog was set up. In terms of the lifespans of most blogs then, a ten year old blog is positively ancient!

I urge all of you who have not yet done so to stop by Out of the Past: A Classic Film Blog. I guarantee that if you are a classic film buff you will enjoy it immensely. And I also want to wish Raquel a happy 10th blogiversary!

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Lookwell

Sadly, last week I eulogised Adam West, best known as Batman on the Sixties series of the same name and Mayor West on the animated series Family Guy. In the course of my eulogy I mentioned a pilot in which Mr. West starred in the Nineties entitled Lookwell. It is regarded as one of the best pilots never to have been picked up by a network. Indeed, over the years it has developed a cult following.

Lookwell was created by Conan O'Brien (who would later gain fame as a late night talk show host) and Robert Smigel (who would later be the voice behind Triumph the Insult Dog and would write the screenplays for Hotel Transylvania) It starred Adam West as Ty Lookwell, a has-been TV star who had been honourably deputised at the height of his fame and now believes that he can actually solve crimes.

Brandon Tartikoff, then chairman of NBC, was enthusiastic about Lookwell. Unfortunately, the leadership at NBC changed; even Brandon Tartikoff left in 1991. The new regime at the network was not enthusiastic about Lookwell. They aired the pilot in July 1991. It received absolutely miserable Nielsen ratings, coming in 92nd out of 92 shows aired during the week of July 22-28.  Lookwell would then remain an unsold pilot, albeit one that would come to be loved by many.

For those of you who have never seen Lookwell, it is available on YouTube. I have embedded it below. This particular version is from a rebroadcast on the now defunct cable channel Trio.


Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Summertime by The Zombies

I have to admit that I have always loved the song "Summertime" by George Gershwin. The song originated in his musical Porgy and Bess in 1935. Ira Gershwin was credited as co-writer on the song by ASCAP, although its lyrics were actually written by DuBose Heyward, who wrote the novel Porgy (upon which the musical was based).

While I do love the song, that's not to say that I don't have some problems with it. As many of you know, summer is my absolute least favourite time of year. To me the livin' is definitely not easy in summertime, at least not summertime where I live. It's hot. It's muggy. It's absolutely unbearable. Regardless, I still enjoy the song, even if I think it is more descriptive of spring or autumn (times when the livin' can truly be said to be easy).

Over the years several artists have recorded the song, including Billie Holiday (who was the first artist to have a hit with the song), Sam Cooke, and Al Martino. British band The Zombies recorded their own version of their song for their debut album, Begin Here (which was released in 1965). It also appears on the American version of Begin Here, which was retitled The Zombies. Although never released as a single, it would appear on various "Greatest Hits" albums, including Time of The Zombies and Zombie Heaven.

Without further ado, here is Gershwin's "Summertime" performed by The Zombies.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Glenne Headly R.I.P.

Actress Glenne Headly died on June 8 2017 at the age of 62. The cause was a pulmonary embolism.

Glenne Headly was born on March 13 1955 in New London, Connecticut. She spent most of her childhood with her mother in Greenwich Village in New York City. She had decided to become an actress by the time she was in second grade. She graduated from both the School of Performing Arts in Manhattan and the American College of Switzerland.  After various stage roles she joined the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago.

Glenne Headly made her film debut in the short "Bowery Dawn" in 1972. She made her feature film debut in 1981 in Four Friends. In the Eighties she appeared in such films as Doctor Detroit (1983), Fandango (1985), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Making Mr. Right (1987), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988), and Dick Tracy (1990). On television she appeared in the mini-series Lonesome Dove. She made her Broadway debut in Arms and the Man in 1985.

In the Nineties she played Dr. Abby Keaton on ER during the 1996-1997 season. She was also a regular on the short-lived TV show Encore! Encore!. She guest starred on the shows Fraiser, Hotel Room and The X-Files. She appeared in the films Mortal Thoughts (1991), Ordinary Magic (1993), Mr. Holland's Opus (1995), Sgt. Bilko (1996), Breakfast of Champions (1999), and Timecode (2000).

In the Naughts Miss Headly had a recurring role on the TV show Monk. She guest starred on the shows The Fugitive (2001), Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Grey's Anatomy, and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. She was a guest voice on Rugrats. She appeared in such films as Bartleby (2001), Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (2004), The Amateurs (2005), Comeback Season (2006), Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (2008), and The Joneses (2009).

In the Teens Glenne Headly guest starred on the show Psych, Parks and Recreation, and The League. She appeared in three episodes of The Night Of. She is set to appear in episodes of the Hulu series Future Man. She appeared on Broadway in Fish in the Dark. She appeared in the films Don Jon (2013), Dial a Prayer (2015), Merry Xmas (2015), Strange Weather (2016), and The Circle (2017).

Glenne Headly was certainly a talented actress. She could go from drama to comedy with ease (and on ER she often did). She had a gift for various accents, to the point that she could convincingly do a thick New York accent in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and then convincingly do an Arkansas accent in Lonesome Dove. Quite simply, Glenne Headly as a bit of a chameleon, able to play many different roles and play all of them well.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

The Late Great Adam West

Over the years many actors have had a significant impact on my life, so many that I probably could not name all of them at once. Perhaps no actor had as large an impact on my life as Adam West did. He was not necessarily my favourite actor of all time (although he certainly numbered among them), but I cannot think of any other actor who had quite the same effect on my life. Quite simply, Batman was the first show of which I was ever a fan. It debuted when I was only three years old and, after a little over two years on the air, it aired in reruns across the nation throughout my childhood. As a fan of the TV show Batman I quite naturally started reading comic books as soon as I could read. In fact, I loved comic books so much I decided I wanted to write them. Eventually I would shift from wanting to write comic books to writing fiction and still later non-fiction. Ultimately, I think it is safe to say that it is because of Adam West as Batman that I became a writer. What is more, I know of other men my age who can tell the same story. Sadly, Adam West died yesterday at the age of 88 after a short battle with leukaemia.

Of course, Adam West was much more than just Batman. Fans of classic television will remember him from the many guest appearances he made on Warner Bros.' various shows in the late Fifties and early Sixties. He appeared on nearly all of them, from 77 Sunset Strip to Maverick. Older fans might remember him as Sgt. Steve Nelson on the TV show The Detectives. Younger fans might remember him as Mayor Adam West on the animated series Family Guy. While Mr. West will always be remembered best as the Caped Crusader, he actually did much more in his career.

Adam West was born William West Anderson on September 19 1928 in Walla Walla, Washington. His father was a wheat farmer, while his mother was a pianist and opera singer. He attended Walla Walla High School and then Lakeside School, a private school in Seattle. When he was a senior in high school he worked for a local radio station, where he handled everything from being a disc jockey to reading the news to Sunday morning religious shows. At the same time he appeared in plays at a local theatre. Mr.West attended Whitman College in Walla Walla, from which he graduated with a bachelor's degree in literature. He did postgraduate work in communications at Stanford University. While at Stanford University he worked at the university radio station.

In the early Fifties Adam West entered the United States Army and served in the Signal Corps. He helped set up TV stations at bases in San Luis Obispo, California, and Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, and he also served as an announcer on the Armed Forces Network. After his service in the Army, Adam West took a job at a radio station in Sacramento, California before moving to Hawaii. There he was the co-host of the children's TV show The El Kini Popo Show with a chimp named Peaches. Among the highlights of his time on the show was getting to interview actor William Holden.

After several years in Hawaii, Adam West moved to Hollywood. It was there that he chose the stage name "Adam West". He took the name "West" because it was a family name and he simply liked the sound of the name "Adam". Hollywood agent Lew Sherrell spotted Mr. West in a production of Picnic at a community theatre. He set up a screen test for Mr. West and as a result he was signed to a contract by Warner Bros.

Adam West made his network television debut in an episode of The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse in 1954 (curiously enough, it was titled "The Joker"). He made his film debut in an uncredited role in Voodoo Island in 1957. Signed to Warner Bros. in the late Fifties and early Sixties he appeared in several of their films and TV shows. He appeared in the film The Young Philadelphians (1959) alongside Robert Vaughn, who would eventually play Napoleon Solo on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. He appeared on several of Warner Bros.' television shows, including Lawman, Sugarfoot, Cheyenne, Bronco, Colt .45, 77 Sunset Strip, Maverick, Hawaiian Eye, and Bourbon Street Beat. He seemed to be Warner Bros.' choice for playing legendary gunfighter and dentist Doc Holliday, as he guest starred in the role on no less than three of their Westerns: Lawman, Sugarfoot, and Colt .45.

Adam West eventually left Warner Bros. after which he continued to make frequent guest appearances on such TV shows as Johnny Midnight, Overland Trail, Goodyear Theatre, and Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse. He began the Sixties with guest appearances on such shows as Tales of Wells Fargo, Bonanza, Michael Shayne, and The Rifleman. In 1961 he received his first regular role on a television series, playing Sgt. Steve Nelson on the final season of The Detectives. Following The Detectives Mr. West guest starred on several shows, including such shows as Perry Mason, The Real McCoys, Laramie, Gunsmoke, Petticoat Junction, The Outer Limits, Bewitched, and The Virginian. He starred in the legendary TV pilot Alexander the Great opposite William Shatner. He also appeared in feature films, including Geronimo (1962), Tammy and the Doctor (1963), Soldier in the Rain (1963), Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964), The Outlaws Is Coming (1965), and I 4 inesorabili (1965).

In addition to making frequent guest appearances on TV shows and appearing in feature films in the early to mid-Sixties, Adam West also appeared in television commercials. In 1964 he appeared as a father of a little girl in a commercial for Kellogg's Sugar Frosted Flakes. More significant would be a commercial for Nestlé Quik in which he appeared in 1965. The commercial was a sly parody of James Bond with Adam West playing the dry-witted Captain Q. The advertisement attracted the attention of producer William Dozier, who was then in the process of putting together a TV show based on the long running comic book feature "Batman". After a screen test with newcomer Burt Ward as Robin, Adam West won the role of Bruce Wayne and his alter ego Batman.

Batman proved to be the smash hit of the 1965-1966 season.  Airing twice a week, the debut episode on Wednesday, January 12 1966, received a phenomenal  27.3/49 rating in the Nielsens. The Thursday night episode performed even better, getting a  29.6/59 rating. The show was still doing phenomenally well a month after its debut. For the week ending February 13 1965 it received a  28.5 rating. To give one an idea of just how large the audience for Batman was, today's top rated drama, NCIS, only managed a still respectable rating of 21.34 during its peak in the 2012-2014 season.

Batman not only proved to be one of the biggest television successes of the Sixties, but it also became an outright fad. There was so much Batman merchandise on store shelves that both Sears and Montgomery Ward had to dedicate multiple pages of their catalogues to Bat-paraphernalia. An exclusive soundtrack album for the TV show was released, and "The Batman Theme" by the Neal Hefti Orchestra was released as a single. The theme was also covered by such diverse acts as The Marketts, The Standells, and The Who. Adam West also appeared as Batman on other ABC shows. He appeared as Batman on The Milton Berle Show. Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin hosted ABC's preview special for their 1966-1967 season as well. A feature film was even spun off from the series. Batman was released on July 30 1966.

Unfortunately Batman would not maintain such impressively high ratings for long. When it returned for the 1966-1967 season its ratings were still respectable, but not nearly as high as they were. It lost its time slot to The Virginian on NBC. Worse yet, its ratings would continue to slide throughout the season. In attempt to save the show, the producers introduced a new character, Batgirl (played by Yvonne Craig), even shooting a presentation film for her. ABC renewed Batman on the strength of that presentation film, although it was cut back to once a week. Sadly, even Batgirl could not save Batman. ABC cancelled the show in the wake of still falling ratings. Its last original episode aired on March 14 1968.

Following the cancellation of Batman, Adam West found himself typecast.  He guest starred on The Big Valley in 1968. In 1969 he appeared in the film The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1969). Reportedly Mr. West was offered the role of James Bond in the film On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), but turned it down because he thought Bond should be British.

The Seventies would not be a pleasant time for Adam West. He appeared in the films The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker (1971), Curse of the Moon Child (1972), Partizani (1974), The Specialist (1975), Hooper (1978), and The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood (1980). He also appeared in several TV movies, including The Eyes of Charles Sand (1972), Poor Devil (1973), and Nevada Smith (1975). He guest starred on such TV shows as Night Gallery, Alias Smith and Jones, Alice, Police Woman, Operation Petticoat, and The American Girls. He would return to the role of Batman during the decade was well. He provided the voice of the character in the Saturday morning cartoon The New Adventures of Batman and played the character in two TV specials titled Legends of the Superheroes. While Batman had proven to be a hit as a syndicated rerun, Adam West got little in the way of residuals. To make ends meet he often appeared in the Batman costume at county fairs, rodeos, and store openings. Perhaps the lowest point of his career came when he was shot out of a cannon in costume at the  Hadi Shrine Circus in Evansville, Indiana in November 1977.

To a degree the Eighties would be better for Adam West. During the 1985-1986 season he starred as Capt. Rick Wright in the short-lived sitcom The Last Precinct. He also starred in the title role of the unsold pilot Ace Diamond Private Eye. He voiced Batman on the "SuperFriends" Saturday morning cartoons SuperFriends: The Legendary Super Powers Show and The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians. He guest starred on the TV shows Laverne & Shirley; The Love Boat; Hart to Hart; Fantasy Island; Murder, She Wrote; Zorro; and The Flash.  He appeared in the films One Dark Night (1982), Hell Riders (1984), Yellow Pages (1995), Young Lady Chatterley II (1985), Zombie Nightmare (1987), Night of the Kickfighters (1988), Doin' Time on Planet Earth (1988), Return Fire (1988), Mad About You (1989), and Omega Cop (1990).

The Nineties would see Adam West's career revitalised. He starred in the 1991 television pilot Lookwell, often counted among the best unsold pilots ever. In 2000 he began his long run on Family Guy as the voice of Mayor Adam West. He had a recurring role on the short lived comedy anthology Danger Theatre. He was a regular voice on the animated series The Secret Files of the SpyDogs. He was also a guest voice on Batman: The Animated Series, playing actor Simon Trent and the hero he had played on television, The Grey Ghost. He was also a guest voice on the animated shows Rugrats, The Critic, Johnny Bravo, Animaniacs, and Histeria!. Mr. West starred in the Comedy Central soap opera spoof The Clinic. He guest starred on such TV shows as Tales from the Crypt, The Good Life, Nurses, Space Ghost Coast to Coast, Hope & Gloria, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Burke's Law, Pauly, The Wayan Brothers, Murphy Brown, Diagnosis Murder, NewsRadio, and Pacific Blue. He appeared in the films Maxim Xul (1991), The New Age (1994), Run for Cover (1995), The Size of Watermelons (1996), An American Vampire Story (1997), Joyride (1997), and Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999). He provided the voice of Leonard Fox in the animated short "Redux Riding Hood".

The Naughts may well have seen Adam West at his busiest since the Sixties. He continued as the voice of Mayor West on Family Guy. He had a recurring role as Breathtaker on the TV series Black Scorpion. He had a recurring role as the voice of Mayor George on the animated series The Batman. He was a recurring voice (as himself, no less) on the animated series The Fairly OddParents. He guest starred on the TV shows The Drew Carey Show, The Mullets, The King of Queens, George Lopez, and 30 Rock.  Alongside Burt Ward he starred in the TV movie Return to the Batcave. He was a guest voice on the animated shows The Simpsons, Kim Possible, The Boondocks, SpongeBob SquarePants, and Batman: The Brave and the Bold. He appeared in the films Seance (2001), "From Heaven to Hell" (2002), Baadasssss! (2003), Tales from Beyond (2004), Buckaroo: The Movie (2005), Angels with Angles (2005), Sexina (2007), and Super Capers: The Origins of Ed and the Missing Bullion (2009). He provided voices for the animated films Chicken Little (2005) and Meet the Robinsons (2007).

In the Teens Adam West continued on Family Guy. He guest starred on the shows The Big Bang Theory and Powerless. He was a guest voice on the animated shows Jake and the Never Land Pirates, Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero. and Moonbeam City. He was the voice of Batman in the animated film Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016). The film reunited him with Burt Ward. He also provided the voice of Batman in the upcoming film Batman vs. Two-Face (2017), which again reunited him with Burt Ward.

I think there can be no doubt that Adam West will always be identified with Batman. It has often been said that the Sixties were dominated by Three Bs: The Beatles, Bond, and Batman. The show was certainly one of the biggest fads of the decade. And while Batman only lasted a little over two years, it would have continued success in syndication. To this day it still airs on TV stations and cable channels around the world. Much of the show's success rests with Adam West's performance as the Caped Crusader. The show was meant to be high comedy for adults and high adventure for children. To that end Adam West played Bruce Wayne and his alter ego Batman completely straight. Viewers of the show might find its situations totally absurd, but Adam West as Batman took them entirely seriously. In this regard it was one of the most brilliant comedies of all time, and its lead played his role brilliantly.

Of course, Adam West was much more than the Caped Crusader. Before his stint on Batman he made numerous guest appearances on television. He even played villains from time to time. In the Laramie episode "The Betrayers" he played cold-hearted outlaw Kett Darby, about as far from Batman as one could get. The Big Valley episode "In Silent Battle", made after Adam West had donned the cape and cowl, was even further from the Caped Crusader. Mr. West played Major Jonathan Eliot, a Civil War veteran who is an outright psychopath. And while Adam West may forever be known as the extremely straight-laced Batman, he could be charming and debonair in other roles. After all, he played the very Bondish Captain Q in that famous commercial for Nestlé Quik. In the 77 Sunset Strip episode "Thanks for Tomorrow" he played gambler Lonnie Drew. On Petticoat Junction he guest starred as Dr. Depew's handsome assistant Dr. Clayton Harris.

 Arguably Adam West was at his best playing comedy. Indeed, what may be his two most famous roles were in comedies: the extremely square Batman in Batman and the eccentric, often corrupt Mayor West on Family Guy. Lookwell numbers among the funniest unsold pilots ever made, in a large part due to Mr. West. While it did not run long, The Last Precinct was also a very fine comedy. Adam West definitely had a gift for comedy. His delivery was often perfect and his timing impeccable. Even in interviews Mr. West could be a very funny man, delivering one-liners that would make many experienced comics envious.

In the end Adam West will always be known best as Batman. And it was largely that role that shaped his career after 1966. That having been said, over the years he played many more roles and he played them well. He may always be best known as Batman, but he did much more.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Roger Smith R.I.P.

Roger Smith, who starred as Jeff Spencer on 77 Sunset Strip, died on June 4 2017 at the age of 84.

Roger Smith was born on December 18 1932 in South Gate, California. He was only six years old when his parents enrolled him in school for singing, dancing, and elocution. He was 12 years old when his family moved to Nogales, Arizona. There he took part in school plays and played on the football team. He went to the University of Arizona on a football scholarship, then served in the United States Navy.

It was when he was stationed in Honolulu while in the Navy that he met James Cagney, who was then filming Mister Roberts (1955). Mr. Cagney encouraged Roger Smith to go to Hollywood after he was discharged from the Navy.

Mr. Smith made his television debut on Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour in 1948, competing as a singer. He made his acting debut on television in an episode of Damon Runyon Theatre in 1956. He made his film debut in an uncredited role as a reporter in Over-Exposed that same year. Over the next few years he appeared in such films as Man of a Thousand Faces (1957), Operation Mad Ball (1957), No Time to Be Young (1957), Crash Landing (1958), Auntie Mame (1958), and Never Steal Anything Small (1959). He guest starred on such shows as The Ford Television Theatre, The Sheriff of Cochise, The George Sanders Mystery Theatre, Father Knows Best, Wagon Train, and Sugarfoot. It was in 1958 that he began a five season run as Jeff Spencer on 77 Sunset Strip. He also guest starred as Jeff Spencer on Hawaiian Eye and Surfside Six. He left 77 Sunset Strip when a blood clot was discovered in his brain.

In the Sixties Roger Smith played the lead role in the sitcom Mister Roberts, which was based on the play and the movie of the same name. He guest starred on the TV shows Kraft Suspense Theatre and The Farmer's Daughter. He appeared in the films For Those Who Think Young (1964), Rogue's Gallery (1968), and 7 uomini e un cervello (1968).

It was in 1965 that Roger Smith was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disease that causes  skeletal muscle weakness. In 1967 he married actress Ann-Margret. Given his condition, Mr.Smith retired from acting to manage his wife's career.

Mr. Smith also wrote as well as acted. He wrote several episodes of 77 Sunset Strip, as well as episodes of Surfside 6 and Mister Roberts and the feature films The First Time (1969) and C.C. & Company (1970). In 1960 he recorded an album titled Beach Romance, on which he sung 11 songs. He also produced several of Ann-Margret's television specials.

Roger Smith seemed to be born to play Jeff Spencer, the suave, wisecracking, non-practising attorney who worked alongside Stu Bailey (played by Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) as detectives at the address 77 Sunset Strip. He played the role perfectly. That having been said, he could play other roles. The more serious-minded Lt. Doug Roberts of Mister Roberts was in some ways a far cry from Jeff. In the Wagon Train episode "The Daniel Barrister Story" he played a doctor dealing with a smallpox epidemic. Mr. Smith was also a very good television writer. He penned one of the best 77 Sunset Strip episodes, "The Silent Caper", which unfolded with absolutely no dialogue. Married to Ann-Margret for a little over 50 years, he proved very adept at managing her career. Roger Smith's career as an actor may have been brief, but due to his talent both in front and behind the camera it remains memorable.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Peter Sallis Passes On

Peter Sallis, who played Clegg on Last of the Summer Wine and First of the Summer Wine, and who provided the voice of Wallace in the "Wallace and Gromit" films, died on June 2 2017 at the age of 96.

Peter Sallis was born on February 1 1921 in Twickenham, Middlesex. He attended Minchenden Grammar School in Southgate, North London before going to work as a bank clerk. During World War II he joined the Royal Air Force and served as an instructor at the radio school at Lincolnshire's Royal Air Force Station. It was a student there who asked Mr. Sallis to play the lead in a local production of Hay Fever by Noël Coward. He liked the experience so much that he decided to take up acting.

After the war Peter Sallis attended and graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He made his professional acting debut in London in September 1946 in a walk-on part in The Scheming Lieutenant by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. He made his television debut in 1947 as Quince in a production of A Midsummer's Night Dream. In the Fifties he appeared on the television series The Heir of Skipton and The Widow of Bath. He played the lead in the series The Diary of Samuel Pepys. He guest starred on the shows The March of the Peasants, Strange Experiences, The Black Arrow, The Invisible Man, and BBC Sunday-Night Theatre. He made his film debut in Stranger from Venus in 1954. He appeared in the films Child's Play (1954), Anastasia (1956), The Doctor's Dilemma (1958), The Scapegoat (1959), Doctor in Love (1960), and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960).

In the Sixties Mr. Sallis appeared on the TV shows Ameilia, A Chance of Thunder, Crying Down the Lane, and The Chem. Lab. Mystery. He guest starred on such shows as ITV Television Playhouse, Danger Man, Maigret, BBC Sunday-Night Play, It Happened Like This, The Avengers, Sergeant Cork, Z Cars, Doctor Who, and Catweazle. He appeared in such films as The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), The Mouse on the Moon (1963), The Third Secret (1964), Clash by Night (1964), Inadmissible Evidence (1968), Scream and Scream Again (1970), and Wuthering Heights (1970).

It was in 1973 that Peter Sallis first played Clegg in Last of the Summer Wine. Last of the Summer Wine ran until 2010, and he would continue to play Clegg for the entirety of its run. In the Seventies he also appeared on Bel Ami, The Moonstone, The Pallisers, The Capone Investment, Yanks Go Home, The Ghosts of Motley Hall, and Leave It to Charlie. He guest starred on the shows Paul Temple, Public Eye, Justice, The Persuaders!, Callan, The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, Raffles, Crown Court, and Tales of the Unexpected. He appeared in the films The Night Digger (1971), The Reprieve (1972), The Incredible Sarah (1976), The Haunting of Julia (1977), and Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (1978).

It was in 1989 that Peter Sallis first voiced Wallace in the "Wallace and Gromit" short "A Grand Day Out". He would voice Wallace in three more shorts ("The Wrong Trousers" in 1993, "A Close Shave" in 1995, and "A Matter of Loaf and Death" in 2008), as well as the feature film Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005). In the Eighties he continued to appear as Clegg on Last of the Summer Wine and also played the role in the prequel series First of the Summer Wine. He provided the voice of Rat in the animated series The Wind and The Willows and Oh! Mr. Toad. He appeared in the shows Strangers and Brothers, The New Statesman, and The Bretts. He appeared in the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation of Witness for the Prosecution.

In the Nineties he continued to appear as Clegg on Last of the Summer Wine and he continued as the voice of Wallace in the "Wallace and Gromit" shorts. He guest starred on Rumpole of the Bailey. In the Naughts he continued as Clegg on Last of the Summer Wine and voiced Wallace in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and "A Matter of Loaf and Death". He guest starred on Doctors and Kingdom. He appeared in the film Colour Me Kubrick (2005).

Peter Sallis was a great talent with a particular gift for comedy. As Norman Clegg on Last of the Summer Wine he was a bit of cynic and also a bit neurotic. He always wore several layers of clothing and, even though he had a driver's licence, the thought of driving would send him into a panic attack. He longed for a nice, peaceful retirement, only to find himself dragged into one of  Foggy and Compo's schemes more often than not. Wallace of the "Wallace and Gromit" films was in many respects far from Clegg. Wallace is kind-hearted and an eternal optimist. He also has a love of cheese, crackers, and tea. Although constantly inventing things, his inventions are generally overly complex devices of the Rube Goldberg type. Peter Sallis played both characters perfectly, to the point that it is very difficult to picture anyone else in the roles.

Of course, Peter Sallis played other roles besides Clegg and Wallace, often roles that were very different. In the Avengers episode "The Wringer" he played  Hal Anderson, John Steed's friend and fellow agent who is suffering from both shock and amnesia. In the Doctor Who serial "The Ice Warriors" he played scientist Penley. Over the years Peter Sallis played a wide variety of roles, from solicitors to preachers to military officers. Some were comic, while others were dramatic. Regardless of the role, he played all of them well.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

The 100th Anniversary of Dean Martin's Birth

I think it is safe to say that my family were Dean Martin fans. When I was little every Thursday night my father would pop popcorn, we would open sodas, and we would gather around the television set to watch The Dean Martin Show. We watched his movies as well, everything from the films he made with former partner Jerry Lewis to the ones he made with such stars as Frank Sinatra and John Wayne. My family may not have agreed on everything, but we were united in our love for Dean Martin. Indeed, Dean Martin has remained one of my favourite performers to this day. It was 100 years ago today that Dino was born.

Dean Martin was born Dino Paul Crocetti in Steubenville, Ohio on June 7 1917. His parents were Italian immigrants, and young Dino did not speak English until he began attending school when he was 5 years old. As a teenager he began playing drums. When he was in 10th grade he dropped out of Stebenville High School and worked a variety of jobs, from being a croupier in a speakeasy to working in a steel mill. He also sang with local bands, billing himself as "Dino Martini". He got his big break when he began singing with  the Ernie McKay Orchestra. In the early 1940s he started singing with Sammy Watikins's band. It was Mr. Watkins who suggested he change his stage name to "Dean Martin".

Dean Martin's singing career would be interrupted in 1944 when he was drafted into the United States Army. He served for a year in Akron, Ohio, but was eventually given a medical discharge because of a double hernia. After leaving the Army Dean Martin returned to singing. He was doing well enough performing in clubs on the East Coast that he attracted the attention of both MGM and Columbia Pictures, although neither signed him to a contract at the time. It was in 1945 that Dean Martin met comedian Jerry Lewis at the Glass Hat Club in New York City, where they were both performing. The two made their debut as a comedy team at the 500 Club in Atlantic City on July 25 1946.

Martin and Lewis's first performance was not particularly well received. The two then threw out their scripted gags in favour of improvisation. They soon proved to be very popular at the 500 Club, so much so that they were in demand all along the East Coast. It was not long before  the team began appearing on television and radio. Martin and Lewis appeared on the very first edition of Toast of the Town, later retitled The Ed Sullivan Show. They got their own radio show on NBC, The Martin and Lewis Show, which ran from April 1949 to July 1953. They appeared on such television shows as Texaco Star Theatre, The Saturday Night Revue, and The Colgate Comedy Hour. Naturally, Hollywood took notice of the team. In 1949, the same year that their radio show debuted, Paramount signed Martin and Lewis to a contract. Making their film debut in My Friend Irma in 1949, Martin and Lewis appeared in several movies until 1956, including At War With the Army (1950), Scared Stiff (1953), and Artists and Models (1955).

Even while he was working with Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin had a successful recording career. His 1949 single  "Powder Your Face with Sunshine (Smile, Smile, Smile)" went to no. 10 on the Billboard chart. His 1950 single "I'll Always Love You" went to no. 11. His 1953 recording of "That's Amore" went all the way to no. 2. In 1955 he hit no. 1 with his single "Memories Are Made of This".

While Martin and Lewis had proven successful as a team on television, on radio, and in films, their relationship gradually began to fall apart as the Fifties progressed. Dean Martin left the team ten years exactly after they had first performed together, on July 25 1956. Sadly, the two would not speak to each other privately for another twenty years.

If anything, Dean Martin would prove even more successful on his own than he had with Jerry Lewis. While his first film without Mr. Lewis, Ten Thousand Bedrooms (1957), failed at the box office, he would appear in a number of successful movies from the late Fifties into the Sixties. He had a box office success as one of the co-stars of The Young Lions (1958). He appeared in his first movie with fellow crooner Frank Sinatra, Some Came Running, in 1958. Mr. Martin even appeared in Westerns. One of his most successful films was opposite John Wayne, Rio Bravo, in 1958. He would co-star with John Wayne again in The Sons of Katie Elder (1965). From the late Fifties into the Sixties he would appear in such films as Ocean's 11 (1960), Sergeants 3 (1962), Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964), Kiss Me, Stupid (1964), Bandolero! (1968), and Airport (1970). Starting with The Silencers in 1966 Dean Martin appeared as superspy Matt Helm in four movies (in addition to The Silencers, they were Murderers' Row in 1966, The Ambushers in 1967, and The Wrecking Crew in 1969).

Dean Martin's recording career also continue to be strong throughout the late Fifties and Sixties. The year 1958 gave him two of his biggest hits, "Return to Me" and "Volare". In 1964 what may be his best remembered song (at least for Baby Boomers and Gen Xers who can remember his TV show) "Everybody Loves Somebody" was released.  He finished out the Sixties with such hits as "You're Nobody till Somebody Loves You" and "I Will".

Of course, Dean Martin had great success on television in the Sixties. He made a rare guest appearance on the Western Rawhide, in the episode "Canliss" in 1964. He also guest starred on several Bob Hope specials, and appeared on The Tonight Show several times. By far his biggest success on television would be The Dean Martin Show. Debuting in 1965, The Dean Martin Show ran until 1974. During the show's final season it featured celebrity roasts as a regular segment. The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts would continue as a series of specials after The Dean Martin Show left the air.  In the Seventies he also guest starred on Charlie's Angels, The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo, The Big Show, and Vega$. He appeared in the films Something Big (1971), Showdown (1973),  and Mr. Ricco (1975). He did a Christmas special on NBC in 1980.

After the Seventies Dean Martin's career slowed a bit. He continued to record, and even had a minor hit, "Since I Met You Baby", in the Eighties. He appeared in the movies The Cannonball Run (1981) and Cannonball Run II (1984).  He was a regular, playing himself, on the short-live comedy TV series Half-Nelson. He did a stadium tour with Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra in 1988. He performed in Las Vegas for one last time  Bally's Hotel in 1990.

It was in 1993 that Dean Martin was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died on Christmas in 1995 at the age of 78.

Dean Martin has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. In fact, last night I even dreamed I met Mr. Martin, dressed in a tuxedo as he would be in a night club act. I told him I was writing a tribute for him on my blog for his 100th birthday and that pleased him. I almost never dream of celebrities, so the fact that I dreamed of Dean Martin on the eve of his 100th birthday demonstrates just how significant he has been in my life. Dean Martin was the first crooner of which I was a fan, even before Bing Crosby. I always thought he was the coolest member of the Rat Pack (although I will confess Sammy Davis Jr. gives him a run for his money on that score). Quite simply, Dean Martin was always one of my favourite singers, comedians, and actors.

Of course, I am not along in my admiration for Dino. Ever since Martin and Lewis emerged on the scene in the late Forties, Dean Martin has had a huge number of fans. To me, at least, the appeal of Dean Martin is not hard to figure out. He had an easy-going, amiable style that made him instantly likeable. He also had a wry sense of humour, and could deliver absolutely hilarious lines with a fairly straight face. He was also one of the greatest crooners around. He had a rich baritone that could be very smooth or bouncy depending upon the song. Dean Martin's style was also very unique. When Dino sang a song, you knew it was Dino.

While Dean Martin began his career as a singer, he would also become an actor. Often his characters were much like his stage persona, that of a slightly drunken, relaxed playboy. That having been said, Dean Martin played a wider variety of roles in film than simply Dean Martin. In Rio Bravo he played Dude, the deputy sheriff who goes from being a drunk to being a competent lawman. In Toys in the Attic he played Julian Berniers, a young man who runs afoul of his spinster sister when he returns to New Orleans. In Airport he played Vernon Demarest, the checkride captain for TGA Flight Two. Surprisingly enough for someone who grew up far from the West, he appeared in several Westerns over the years, including 4 for Texas, The Sons of Katie Elder, Rough Night in Jericho, and others. In fact, aside from Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin may have been the only member of the Rat Pack who was entirely convincing as a Western hero.

Dean Martin has often been called "the King of Cool", a title he shares with Steve McQueen. As big a fan of Steve McQueen as I am, I have to confess that the title might rightfully belong to Dino. Steve McQueen was primarily an action star. On the other hand, Dean Martin could do it all. He could sing. He could do comedy. He could do drama. He could be an action star. And he could do all of these things while he was impeccably dressed. If Dean Martin is still immensely popular on what would have been his 100th birthday, it is perhaps because he was an extremely versatile performer with an easygoing style that pleased audiences. There simply wasn't anyone else quite like him.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Announcing the 4th Annual British Invaders Blogathon

Today I'm announcing the 4th Annual British Invaders Blogathon, a celebration of the best in British films, here at A Shroud of Thoughts.  While many people think of Hollywood when they think of classic movies, the fact is that the United Kingdom made many significant contributions to film over the years. From the Gainsborough melodramas to Hammer Films to the British New Wave, cinema would be much poorer without the British.  I've scheduled this year's British Invaders Blogathon  for August 4, August 5, and August 6.

Here are the ground rules for this year's blogathon:

1. Posts can be about any British film or any topic related to British films. For the sake of simplicity, I am using "British" here to refer to any film made by a company based in the United Kingdom or British Crown dependencies. If you want to write about a film made in Northern Ireland or the Isle of Man, then, you can do so. Also for the sake of simplicity, people can write about co-productions made with companies from outside the United Kingdom. For example, since 2001: A Space Odyssey is a British-American co-production, someone could write about it if they chose.

2. There is no limit on subject matter. You can write about any film in any genre you want. Posts can be on everything from the British New Wave to the Gainsborough bodice rippers to the Hammer Horrors. I am also making no limit on the format posts can take. You could review a classic British film, make an in-depth analysis of a series of British films, or even simply do a pictorial tribute to a film. That having been said, since this is a classic film blogathon,  I only ask that you write about films made before 1992. I generally don't think of a film as a classic until it has been around for thirty years, but to give bloggers more options I am setting the cut off point at twenty five years ago.

3. I am asking that there please be no duplicates. That having been said, if someone has already chosen to cover From Russia with Love (1963), someone else could write about another James Bond movie or even the James Bond series as a whole.

4. I am not going to schedule days for individual posts. All I ask is that the posts be made on or between August 4, August 5, or August 6.

5. On August 4 I will set up the page for the blogathon. I ask that you link your posts to that page.

If you want to participate in the British Invaders Blogathon, you can simply comment below or get a hold of me on Twitter at mercurie80 or at my email:  mercurie80 at gmail.com.

Below is a roster of participants and the topics they are covering. Come August 4 I will make a post that will include all of the posts in the blogathon:

The Filmatelist: "Swinging London British Films of 1966"

The Hitless Wonder Movie BlogDoctor Who and the Daleks (1965) and Daleks – Invasion Earth (1966)

The Stop Button: Kes (1969)

Cinematic Scribblings: Billy Liar (1963)

Below are several banners for participants in the blogathon to use (or you can always make your own):