Saturday, September 29, 2018

Exciting new venture: A 'Happy Days' podcast!

A new podcast for a classic show!

Happy Days was one of the seminal shows of my TV-addicted youth. My family and I tuned into new episodes every Tuesday night on ABC, and I caught up with the reruns, airing under the name Happy Days Again, in syndication. I also followed the spin-offs, like Mork & Mindy and Laverne & Shirley. Hell, I even tried to watch Joanie Loves Chachi and Fonz and the Happy Days Gang. Who didn't know Richie Cunningham, Arthur Fonzarelli, Ralph Malph, and the other denizens of 1950s Milwaukee? I can still remember being thrilled when Ronny Howard and Henry Winkler guest starred on Sesame Street.

So I quickly said yes when Emily Freville (aka Cyber Leviathan) asked me to cohost a new Happy Days podcast. Our show is called These Days Are Ours, and we'll be going through the classic Garry Marshall-produced series episode by episode. In keeping with Happy Days tradition, new episodes of These Days Are Ours will be posted on Tuesdays. The first episode should be posted on October 2, 2018.

In the meantime, you can check out the show's official website and Twitter account.

UPDATE: Our first episode has been posted. Find it here.

Friday, September 28, 2018

If we can't change gun laws, can we at least change gun vocabulary?

This is a picture of Clint Eastwood holding a gun. It has nothing to do with the rest of the story.

After every mass shooting incident in America—and there seems to be a new one every few weeks—there's always a heated but ultimately pointless debate about gun laws. Some argue that we need stricter laws about who can legally purchase guns and what kinds of guns they can own. Others say that such laws not only wouldn't work but would violate the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Personally, I'm not a gun owner or user. I've never gone hunting in my life, though I do eat meat and wear leather so who am I to judge hunters? If it's really to control the animal population, as they say it is, I'm fine with it. Deep down, I don't think most hunters really give a damn about the animal population. I'm sorry, but I just don't buy that excuse. I think they just want to get out there and kill something, and they use the "animal population" story to justify it. But better they shoot a deer than a coworker, huh?

Then there's the old self-defense argument. If bad people break into your place, you'd want to shoot them, right? I don't think I'd be able to guard my home very effectively with a firearm either. That's always one of the big pro-gun arguments, isn't it? Protecting the homestead, a la Ralphie in A Christmas Story? Apparently, you need military-grade assault weapons for that, though. A Red Ryder air rifle's not going to get the job done.

I don't know if anyone's crunched the numbers on this, but I think it's much more likely that people are going to reach for a gun in anger during a dispute with family members, classmates, or neighbors than they are to shoot a burglar. I had a crazy uncle who lived down the street from my family, for instance, and he had a whole safe full of guns. It's a goddamned miracle no one in his family or his neighborhood got shot, because my uncle had a bad temper and liked his alcohol. Anger + booze + guns = family tragedy waiting to happen.

So I'm not a great believer in guns. But I still don't have a great deal of faith that gun control laws will change anything. And that's because I think the problem is something rooted deep in the American psyche. The idea that you can somehow fix your problems by going to a location (a school, a church, a warehouse) and shooting up the place is a fundamentally American concept, I'm sorry to say. I don't know how we got that idea, but it's there nevertheless.

The problem gets worse every time there's one of these mass shootings, and the news media goes into "tragedy porn" mode. The sad, demented individuals who commit these crimes are turned into instant superstars. I remember back in 2012 when that depraved young man with the orange clown hair opened fire in a Colorado movie theater during a screening of a Batman movie. His face was everywhere for days: TV, the internet, newspapers, magazines. Was there any surprise when he became something of a pop icon with his own fanbase?

Some media outlets, like YouTube's The Philip DeFranco Show, refuse to broadcast the names or faces of mass shooters. I applaud that. It's a good first step. But I think we need to make radical changes to the vocabulary surrounding guns and gun violence. The current terminology is too cool and empowering.

For instance, I hate that term "gunman." You could pick up a sword and start swinging it around wildly, but that doesn't make you a swordsman. The mere act of climbing onto a horse does not qualify you to be a horseman. You have to demonstrate some degree of skill first for those other titles. But all you have to do to be a gunman is hold a gun in any public place. It's not fair.

Besides, "gunman" sounds like the name of a costumed superhero, like Spider-Man or Superman. I suggest "some dude with a gun." Or, better yet, "Poopypants McGillicuddy." Nobody wants to be described that way on the news. Can you imagine? "Authorities say there is a Poopypants McGillicuddy on the roof of the 7-Eleven."

I also hate the term "active shooter." It sounds too much like a compliment. "Well, at least he's an active shooter. He's getting up off the couch, getting some exercise. He's not just some passive shooter, sitting there like a lump." This isn't cardio, CNN. It's mass murder. Stop giving these guys credit for being active. Suggested replacement: "Yosemite Sam" or "Poopypants McGillicuddy with explosive diarrhea." I know that's a lot of syllables, but we're talking about saving lives here.

Getting off on a tangent, I know the term "lone wolf" is more of a terrorism thing than a mass shooting thing, but there's some overlap between those fields. And that's definitely another term to retire. Let's leave the wolves out of this, huh? And, once again, the whole thing sounds too cool and heroic. I suggest using "friendless feeb" instead.

Lastly, the term "shooting spree" is beyond stupid. I can't believe we still use it, but I heard it in a news report just two or three mass shootings ago. Do I even need to explain this? "Spree" is a word you use with "spending" or "shopping," but not "shooting." It suggests a lighthearted romp, a carefree afternoon of fun and frolic. It should never be used in connection with murder. Hell, when I was growing up, there was a candy called Spree. So instead of "shooting spree," I say we use "fart-a-palooza."

You may say these terms of mine lack respect. But it's not true. I have tremendous respect for human lives, and I don't want them interrupted suddenly by gun violence. If we want people to stop committing these terrible crimes, we have to strip away every bit of dignity and power from them. Changing the vocabulary is one small way of doing that.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Magazine Odyssey, Part 17 by Greg Javer

Don't be like Judge Clara here. Reserve those judgments.

(top) Swedish Erotica (bottom) Ed Wood, 1978.
Inevitably, every few months, I find myself revisiting the many creative outlets that Edward D. Wood, Jr. pursued throughout his life. First and foremost are his early feature films, allegedly the "worst" of their kind ever made (i.e. Plan 9 from Outer Space, Bride of the Monster, and the like). Then there are Eddie's later X-rated flicks, first softcore and later hardcore. His writing career for adult magazines—including short stories, articles, editorials, photo captions, and pictorial texts—followed the same basic trajectory as his film career, with his work becoming more graphic and less personal over time. Once hardcore pornography achieved mainstream popularity circa 1972, Ed spent his remaining years producing sexually explicit material for that market.

Since I inherited this series three years ago, I have been loathe to make any unfounded Ed-tributions of my own. And yet, increasingly, I find myself scratching my head and wondering, "Could Ed Wood have written this? It sounds like him. Just how ubiquitous was this guy? I know he was insanely prolific, but just how prolific?" 

By the latter half of the 1970s, hardcore magazines had largely dropped any pretense of respectability and were simply publishing gynecological photos in close-up. Such publications had obsolesced earlier, more traditional adult magazines, which still copied the appearance of more orthodox periodicals with their mix of stories, articles, photos, texts, and ads.

By 1978, the year Ed Wood died, the multimedia Swedish Erotica brand for which he often worked had established itself as one of the most recognizable forces in the adult industry. It wasn't a Swedish company, of course; its roots were strictly in Hollywood, stretching back to the late 1960s. Eddie started writing for a Los Angeles-based company called Pendulum Publishers when it launched in 1968. Pendulum operated under a variety of imprints throughout the early 1970s, including Calga, Gallery Press, and Edusex. Under the banner of Cinema Classics, the company diversified into films, making occasional features like 1972's The Young Marrieds, written and directed by Ed Wood, and hundreds upon hundreds of silent 8mm porn loops. Many of these loops had subtitles written by Ed, and the extent of his likely participation in multiple creative functions on these films is not yet fully known.

Circa 1972, the company launched the Swedish Erotica series of loops that would become the flagship of the enterprise. By 1978, entries in this seemingly endless series often served a dual purpose, with images from the loops and other on-set stills filling the pages of glossy color magazines. One such publication, a Swedish Erotica "film review magazine," caught my eye recently. While it's undated, certain details within it lead me to conjecture that it was published in 1979. Ed Wood had recently passed by then, of course, but we now know that Eddie was cashing checks signed by Art Publishers, Inc—the company name under which Swedish Erotica was doing business—as late as 1978.

Swedish Erotica Film Review Magazine, Vol. 11 includes a pro-pornography editorial that, against my better inclinations, I surmise was written by Edward D. Wood, Jr. An "Ed-itorial," if you will. The tolerant tone of the article was, by the late 1970s, old hat. Overall, it reflects the "judge ye not" philosophy from Ed's 1953 film, Glen or Glenda, that foundational stone of Woodology for all us obsessives. The article's heavy use of ellipses is certainly characteristic of Ed Wood's writing.

Is this editorial an Ed-itorial? Read for yourself!

Compare the above to the disclaimer at the beginning of Glen or Glenda. Note the numerous, oddly placed pauses and the slightly stilted tone.

A disclaimer from Glen or Glenda.

Connie and her scarf.
The rest of the issue consists of images culled from numerous Swedish Erotica loops, accompanied by occasional text. The first article is a lengthy feature with images culled from Swedish Erotica loop #1115, "Hot, Black Soul." The action centers around an interracial threesome, consisting of two male "blacks," dubbed Captain and Taxes, and a white female identified as Connie. This is Connie Peterson, then a porn starlet. Notably, she's donning a pink neck-scarf, a staple of the Swedish Erotica brand.

The text reeks of Ed Wood in his latter years. It's thick with graphic sexual detail, while also evincing Eddie's self-imploding syntax and peculiar stream of consciousness, somehow stuttering and breathless at the same time. The text also includes some of the highly unique keywords that turn up often in Ed's adult texts, such as "jollies" and "stabbing."

Here are some choice excerpts from "Hot, Black Soul." The satisfied "Ummmmmmmmm" that emanates from Connie is a direct quote from the subtitles of the original loop. In that sixth and final clipping on the right, meanwhile, you'll find both "jollies" and "stabbing."

Excerpts from "Hot, Black Soul."

The magazine concludes with three brief photo features promoting three other Swedish Erotica loops. The accompanying capsule texts here are also suggestive of Ed's voice, but this is admittedly a stretch. If they are Eddie's work, however, they could be of great historical significance. Could these have been among the last published words by Edward D. Wood, Jr., perhaps printed shortly after his passing?

Did Ed Wood write this capsule summary?

What do you think?

For those who want to explore this subject further, the entire issue of Swedish Erotica Film Review Magazine, Vol. 11 is here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Collaborator Odyssey, Part 14 by Greg Dziawer

The man on the right is Ed Wood's drinking buddy Bill Morey.
  
Last week, I shared some memories of Ed Wood by film producer Jacques Descent. "Jack," as I called him, sadly passed earlier this year. In 1969, he co-produced and shot the still-missing Operation Redlight, an intriguing softcore sexploitation film starring and written by Ed. It was seemingly never distributed in its original form, although Jack recollected that about three years after its completion, a crew member who had worked on Redlight and who was still in his employ reported the he'd seen the film playing theatrically in a hardcore version, complete with explicit pornographic inserts.

Just this last weekend, I finally had the stomach to begin going through the cache of personal artifacts Jack gave me. Two items popped up, both of which made me reflect again about Operation Redlight, a true holy grail for Wood obsessives.

Item 1:

Arri zoom lens, 1967. Note the inscription: "Descent & Co. Hollywood."

I had seen this photo of a zoom lens before on Jack's personal website, now down since his passing but thankfully preserved by the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. Next to the tiny image on the site, the object is described: "Zoom lens for Arri Motion Picture film camera." It's listed in a section of the site called "Patents, Trademarks, Innovations," a timeline of Jack's career as an inventor. The lens, in fact, is the first item on the list and is given a date of 1967. Although an inscription on the item is evident in the photo, the image on the site lacked enough detail to make out the words.

An excerpt from Jack Descent's website.

Coming across the original photo gave me a new perspective on the lens. The inscription clearly reads "Descent and Co. Hollywood." As I thought about this for a moment, realizing the year was 1967, it dawned on me that this could have very well been the lens with which Jack shot Operation Redlight. In the absence of the film, I confess that this arcane possibility fascinates me more than it probably should.

Item 2:

A page from Jack Descent's scrapbook with an article about The Rockhound.

I'd already seen numerous newspaper clippings about the thwarted TV series The Rockhound. Like Operation Redlight, this was produced and shot by Jack, perhaps using that same unique zoom lens. As with Redlight, The Rockhound was directed by Don Doyle. Only the 1967 pilot ever seems to have aired. The proposed 30-minute docu-series about amateur geology would have been hosted by actor and real-life rock enthusiast Bill Morey.

When I came across a single page torn from an old scrapbook, I quickly noted that it contained a Rockhound article I had never seen before. The accompanying photo, showing Morey posing with crew members in front of the offices of Southern Utah Outdoor News, particularly amazed me.

But what does this have to do with Ed Wood, you may wonder? Well, at some point in the late 1960s, Bill Morey introduced Ed Wood to Jack Descent. This meeting is what eventually led to Operation Redlight. More significantly, Bill Morey is a colorful character in the Ed Wood saga who has remained invisible until now, as far as I can find. Morey is not mentioned at all, for instance, in Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy (1992). Jack described Bill and Eddie as "drinking buddies" and said that, whenever Ed stopped by Jack's studio/lab in Hollywood to try to sell him a script, he was with Bill.

Although the Rockhound series never aired, Morey played the character one last time in Desert Gems (aka 4 Days to Live), a 1973 feature film aimed at children. Shot and produced once again by Jack Descent, Gems was filmed in 35mm in the Mojave Desert. In it, the Rockhound partners with a shaman in a race against time to save a child's life. Improbable as it may sound, the film was based on a true story, no kidding (minus the Rockhound, of course).

Jack Descent (left) with director Deke Miles during the filming of Desert Gems.

Sadly, though all the necessary footage was shot, Desert Gems never made it into post-production. Little else is known of Bill Morey or of his friendship with Ed Wood, beyond what Jack shared with me. I was tickled to find this scrapbook news clipping, as it includes the first photo I had ever seen of Bill.

It was also the first photo I'd ever seen of Gerald Sylvain, a childhood friend of Jack's from Montreal who made the trek with him to Hollywood in the mid-1960s; and of Will French, an associate of Jack's. They worked on many films together, and Jack always remembered Will fondly.

The newspaper clipping revealed another cool detail: the Rockhound had a vehicle of his own. He was presumably going to drive it from town to town, episode to episode, as he searched for precious minerals and other valuable artifacts. The fact that he and his crew found a dinosaur bone, as noted in the newspaper caption, is simply awesome.

Alas, neither the lens nor the complete scrapbook were among Jack's personal effects. But there are more artifacts and stories to come about Operation Redlight as we piece together our knowledge of that mysterious film, bit by ephemeral bit.

Special thanks to my friend Jack Descent. You are missed.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Collaborator Odyssey, Part 13 by Greg Dziawer

The witching hour is now at hand, gentle reader!

Jack's studio/lab, Cinema 35.
"I have a sorrow streak for him," said late producer Jacques "Jack" Descent of Edward D. Wood, Jr. "I have always admired the outcast."

I first became friends with Jack about three years ago. In April 2016, six months into our friendship, I asked him to write a remembrance of Eddie, with whom he worked on several movie projects. Jack proved to be a valuable source of information about Ed Wood's years in the adult film industry.

Descent's name is one that devoted Wood fans should recognize. A French-Canadian transplant, Jack was running his own combination film studio and lab in the 1960s in North Hollywood, just as hardcore porn was achieving mainstream popularity. Into the 1970s, he printed 8mm adult loops for the under-the-counter/sex shop/home market, working for such interesting characters as Noel Bloom, son of Ed's loyal patron and publisher Bernie Bloom, and Mickey Zaffarano, the purported mob kingpin of '70s porn distribution. In fact, Jack unreservedly described Mickey as "a friend."

Meanwhile, Eddie was also toiling in the porno film business back then, writing subtitles and box cover summaries for those silent loops and likely directing and/or editing at least some of them. He even appeared on camera in an infamous loop called The Jailer, a fact that merited mention in Rudolph Grey's seminal 1992 text, Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. And an examination of the loop proves beyond doubt that Ed was there, a sombrero on his head and a dildo in his hand.

But I digress. 

The seeds of Eddie's association with Jack Descent go back to 1965. Born and raised in the rural outskirts of Montreal, Jack Descent arrived in Hollywood (via Detroit) and opened a camera shop on Santa Monica Blvd. that year. It was there he met a would-be actor and amateur geologist named Bill Morley. This would prove a crucial encounter in a number of ways.

Within a few years, Jack was making inroads into the film industry. As a producer and cinematographer, he shot a television pilot in 1967. Intended as a half-hour documentary series, The Rock Hound, as essayed by Bill Morley, was to explore the southwestern United States as an emissary of the then-popular fad of amateur geology. The pilot episode ultimately reached the airwaves, and the series was picked up, albeit by a rival network. But Rock Hound ended before it ever really got started. Tragically, a plane carrying the crew and footage for the series crashed.

News clippings about The Rock Hound. Click to see at full size.

Later, back in Hollywood, Bill Morley stopped by the Cinema 35 Center, Jack's then-newly-opened studio/lab, located in what had been a vast automotive repair complex, complete with two drive bays in front. This time, Bill brought a friend with him: Eddie Wood, by then a fortysomething writer of lurid paperbacks.

Jack's memory of Edward D. Wood, Jr. is one that differs substantially from the tragicomic, frankly derisive image that the cult filmmaker has maintained for decades. Gregarious, empathetic, and without judgment, Jack remembered Eddie as a friend and associate, terms of admiration and affection in an industry normally short on both.

It's easy enough to think of Eddie as merely a clownish drunk, stumbling around in a too-tight girdle and white vinyl boots, penning pornography, his Hollywood dreams dashed. But Jack Descent provided a different perspective on a man he knew over the course of nearly a decade. In all, Jack told me that he purchased five screenplays from Ed Wood. One of those scripts was turned into the still-missing Operation Redlight (1969). This film is something of a holy grail, since in addition to writing the screenplay, Ed also acted in the film—sometimes in drag, sometimes in a silk dressing gown—as Madame Bruce Hammerford (aka "Momma"), an on the-lam adult novelist who winds up running a brothel in Vietnam.

For a time, Jack told me, Ed Wood lived in an apartment not far from the Cinema 35 Center on Hollywood and Western. Ed and Bill Morley stopped by the place often, and Jack guessed them to be drinking buddies. For a time, the angora sweater Ed had donned in Operation Redlight hung in the front office at Cinema 35.

From April 2016, here are some of Jack's recollections of Ed:
Jacques Descent (1937-2018)
Finding, listing another book, story, film, does not make much difference nor does it change what we know about Ed Wood. Enough has been said, written and produced about Ed. We get the picture. 
I met and knew a different man than what is described in most all articles and bios about Ed. He was more subtle with me and was always trying to project himself in my presence as an honorable talent with achievement, as if he wanted to tell me that he had done great things and the seeming trash around him was merely a means of survival. Undoubtedly, he was a terrible businessman. 
Was he prolific in his writing? Of course! I have never met anyone like him, and he could not have fooled me by taking credit for work he had not genuinely done. When an idea for a story or a script evolved, or simply was talked over with Ed, and with the issuance of a $250 check as a 50% deposit for a 60 to 70 pages script, it would result in me receiving a well-prepared piece of writing within a week with Ed looking for the next $250. 
I feel I owe it to Ed to tell how I perceived him and how I really believe he was an incredibly talented person and had he received proper guidance and management he might have taken a much different course. I liked Ed and I liked his professionalism. Whatever we did, he was always punctual, well-mannered and always knew his stuff. That probably made it easier since he had written most of it. In productions he would listen to comments and suggestions, and he always wanted to please. I never heard him raise his voice at anyone. 
While he sometimes enjoyed the limelight in the trash business, he knew that he deserved and could do much better work if given the opportunity. He deserved more and better.

Jack and I spoke often of Ed in the years before he passed. He told me that Ed signed over the rights to Mama's Diary, the paperback novel upon which Operation Redlight was based, by signing an actual copy of the book. (Incidentally, that book is an exceedingly rare item these days. Try to find a copy yourself.) And Jack told me much more that I'll share with you in future installments of this series.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 70: 'Jail Bait' and the music of Hoyt Curtin

Hoyt Curtin and his misspelled credit from Jail Bait.

A tribute to Curtin.
For some composers, it pays to specialize. Find something the public likes and keep doing it as long as you can. Johann Strauss will forever be known for his waltzes. John Philip Sousa's name is synonymous with marches. For California-born-and-bred composer Hoyt Stoddard "Hoyto" Curtin (1922-2000), that specialty was cartoon music.

As the musical director for Hanna-Barbera from 1957 to 1986—excepting a sabbatical from 1965-1972—Curtin labored on such familiar shows as The Flintstones, Jonny Quest, The Smurfs, and Superfriends. His themes and background cues are known to generations of viewers and will hopefully be earning royalties for his family for years to come. The marvelous 1996 Rhino boxed set Hanna-Barbera's Pic-A-Nic Basket of Cartoon Classics is a tribute to all that Curtin accomplished. As you'd expect, much of his music is jolly and circus-like, appropriate for children's programming, but he was adept at writing jazzy or suspenseful music as well. I'm still holding out hope that his indelible score for Challenge of the Superfriends (1978) is released someday.

The standard showbiz origin story for Curtin, a World War II Navy veteran, is that he studied to become a film composer at USC but wound up writing advertising jingles (with great success) instead. Then, in 1957, animators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera asked him to compose a theme for their groundbreaking 1957 series The Ruff and Reddy Show. That series truly established the viability of made-for-television animation, and from there, Hanna-Barbera built an empire with Curtin in tow.

But television animation was only an outgrowth of theatrical animation, and Hanna and Barbera had already been doing plenty of that at MGM before branching out on their own. Hoyt had worked with them (sans screen credit) on numerous Tom & Jerry cartoons since 1954, and before that, he'd been toiling at lower-budget UPA, a studio best known for Mr. Magoo. In other words, he was hardly an animation novice by the time Ruff and Reddy came along.

So how did Hoyt Curtin, the king of cartoon music, wind up working for Edward D. Wood, Jr. on the sordid 1954 crime drama Jail Bait? In short, he didn't. The score is borrowed entirely from Ron Ormond's 1953 film Mesa of Lost Women. The connections between Jail Bait and Mesa are numerous. They were released by Howco Productions just a year apart, with J. Francis (or "Frances") White and Joy N. Houck "presenting" each film. Shared cast members include Lyle Talbot, Dolores Fuller, and Mona McKinnon. Interestingly, Hoyt's name is spelled correctly in Ron's film but rendered as "Hoyt Kurtain" in Ed's.

Spelling aside, this music is shockingly different from the rest of Curtain's music. It's shockingly different from just about all music: a cacophonous, queasy combination of flamenco guitar and avant garde piano jazz. Sometimes, it sounds like two different bands have been locked in a broom closet together and are fighting to get out. Ed Wood ladles on the music very heavily during Jail Bait to the point that it becomes a major distraction, but Curtin's curdled score—even though it was written for a different movie entirely—is perfect for this project. Jail Bait is a story of guilt, restlessness, and discomfort, and the score captures all of that. That trilling guitar sounds like a spider crawling up your back.

A tense moment from Footmen.
Ormond must have liked the score, too. As late as 1971, when he was making the truly outrageous and bizarre anti-communist propaganda film If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? with Baptist preacher Estus Pirkle, he was still recycling the Mesa of Lost Women music from 1953. At about the halfway point in Footmen, there's a memorable sequence in which a vodka swilling commie soldier staggers into the home of a God-fearing American couple and demands to spend the night with the wife. Curtin's clattering music on the soundtrack tells us that we're a long way from The Jetsons here.

Did Hoyt Curtin have a career outside of cartoons and those early commercials? After all, he had his own orchestra by the age of 14 and went on to study under Miklos Rozsa, the Hungarian-born composer for such epics as El Cid (1961) and Ben Hur (1959). But, no, it would appear that Curtin did not really flourish outside of the confines of Hanna-Barbera. His live-action credits are vanishingly rare. The top of his IMDb profile now shows the posters for such titles as Pixels (2015) and St. Elmo's Fire (1985), but these are just some of the many movies and shows to recycle Curtin's cartoon music.

Mesa of Lost Women appears to be Curtin's first live-action feature film credit, but it wasn't exactly his last. Over 20 years later, in 1975, Hoyt wrote the score for a very manly lumberjack movie called The Timber Tramps, starring Claude Akins, Tab Hunter, and Leon Ames. Amazingly, this film was originally distributed by Howco, too. Maybe they kept Curtin's name in their Rolodex? I first became aware of this movie in 1999, when I found a musty VHS copy lingering on the shelf of a Family Video in Flushing, Michigan. At the time, my IMDb review called Curtin's jaunty music "totally inappropriate" for this gritty film, but it's closer to what he was doing for Hanna-Barbera at the time. With appearances by Rosey Grier, Cesar Romero, Joseph Cotten, and Stubby Kaye, Timber Tramps is an oddity worth seeing. Based purely on this score, however, Curtin didn't seem to have much of a future as a screen composer.

Hoyt's last big chance to score a non-animated film came in 1979 with C.H.O.M.P.S., a rare attempt by Hanna-Barbera to break into live-action theatrical movies. This largely forgotten children's adventure film centers around a highly advanced robotic guard dog and features a cast chock-full of small screen stars like Conrad Bain, Valerie Bertinelli, and Jim Backus. Neither Hanna nor Barbera was too enthused about this project, but they were talked into it by producer Samuel Z. Arkoff, coincidentally Ed Wood's old business nemesis from the Bride of the Monster days. Curtain's score is exactly what you'd expect for a movie of this vintage: lots of "wocka-chicka" guitars and maybe a faint echo of Henry Mancini's Pink Panther music. Not only did this film fail to establish Hoyt Curtin as a big screen composer, the title character isn't even the most famous robotic dog in the Hanna-Barbera canon. That would be Dynomutt, Dog Wonder from 1976.

Hoyt Curtin retired without regrets in 1986, choosing instead to concentrate on developing lawn sprinklers. (No, really.) When he died in 2000, his obituaries focused solely on his cartoon work for television, neglecting Mesa of Lost Women, Jail Bait, Timber Tramps, and C.H.O.M.P.S. Hoyt's one weird quasi-flamenco score from the 1950s seems to have been an anomaly in a three-decade-long career. That's not an entirely bad thing. While I've come to love the music in Jail Bait, I'm sure Curtin would rather be associated with compositions like his adrenaline-fueled Jonny Quest theme, which continues to challenge trombone sections to this very day.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Random cartoon time, gang!

For a while, there was an outbreak of mismatched hands in comic strips.Victims included Mark Trail and Wilbur Weston.

Happy day after Labor Day, everyone! And guess what? I have another backlog of comics and cartoons I want to delete off my hard drive, so I'm dumping them all into one big post here at Dead 2 Rights. Enjoy or don't. It's your call. Either way, after today, they're gonzo.

Let's light this candle.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Revisiting the 1966 'Batman': What have I learned?

Batman was everywhere in 1966, including the cover of Mad.

A favorite from the cathode ray tube era.
This Saturday night, the nostalgia-based cable channel Me-TV airs its weekly hour-long Batman block for the last time. The network likes to turn over its schedule every now and again, and they've already cycled through the entire 120-episode run of the series. I suppose if I really need my Bat-fix from now on, I could just break down and buy that boxed set of the complete series.

But Me-TV's weekly airings of the 1966-68 Batman were a great way to watch the episodes at a reasonable pace. With a show as stylized and intense as this, two episodes a week are about all I could handle. Any more would be like trying to eat my own body weight in cotton candy. Besides, since the show was airing across the country, it was an opportunity to comment on each episode via Twitter in real time and commune with other Bat-fans. I'll miss that.

I wasn't alive when Batman originally aired, but I definitely saw the reruns on Channel 20, an independent UHF station in the Flint, Michigan area. Channel 20 was one of my main sources of entertainment and enlightenment during my formative years. It's where I saw The Abbott & Costello Show, The Three Stooges, The Adventures of Superman, and Lost In Space. (Coincidentally, Lost in Space will be occupying Batman's old time slot on Me-TV.)

While I had definitely seen episodes of Batman since then—I vaguely remember the show airing on FX or some other, similar basic cable network—I hadn't revisited the series in any kind of systematic way since my early childhood. But now, thanks to Me-TV, I've seen all the episodes a few times over. And here are my thoughts as an adult.

Batman is a Zen master. Robin is a hothead.

Peter Deyell and Lyle Waggoner.
Think just anyone could slip into some tights and be the World's Greatest Detective? Think again, citizen.

Batman would have been a very different series if producer William Dozier had gone with the other finalists for the roles of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. Respectively, Lyle Waggoner and Peter Deyell screen tested for these parts. The contrast between this Dynamic Duo and the familiar team of Adam West and Burt Ward is stark. Waggoner's take on the Caped Crusader is stolid, humorless, and utterly lacking in self-awareness. Isn't that how West played him, too? Well, yeah, but West brought a whole level of stylized humor to the part that Waggoner's interpretation totally lacked.

In the 1999 documentary Hollywood Screen Tests, Dozier's assistant Charles B. Fitzsimmons puts it best: "Adam and Burt were, in our opinion, absolutely perfect. Lyle could have performed it. Peter could have performed it. But it would not have been what it became with Adam."

Outside of Batman, Adam West was at home in purely comedic roles, like the delusional title character on the Conan O'Brien-scripted Lookwell or as the daffy, childlike mayor of Quahog on Family Guy. And then there was his classic appearance in the "Mr. Plow" episode of The Simpsons. His version of Bruce Wayne/Batman is one of the great pop culture creations of the 1960s, a man so totally caught up in his dream of protecting Gotham while dressed up as a bat that he doesn't realize it's ridiculous. Adam West seems to exist almost in a dream state on Batman, detached from reality even when he's supposedly relaxing at stately Wayne Manor. The actor all but croons his dialogue, and his dramatic... pauses, flowery phrasing, and over-pronounced diction might even put William Shatner to shame.

Robin, meanwhile, is often thought of as a wide-eyed, squeaky-voiced innocent, constantly in slack-jawed amazement at the events unfolding around him. ("Holy _____!" is his famous catchphrase.) And that was exactly how Peter Deyell played the part. But that's not how Burt Ward plays it. His Robin is a snarling pit bull whom Batman has to keep on a (figurative) leash. And, yes, I realize the animal metaphors are getting scrambled here. The point is, when Robin threatens to fly off the handle, it's Batman who has to keep him in check. Notice how often Burt Ward punches the inside of his palm when his character is upset. His growly voice is even deeper than Batman's!

Adam West's Batman is a true Zen master, almost eerily calm and reserved. Whereas Robin tends to act on instinct, Batman is contemplative and cool, often thinking three steps ahead of the week's villain. One of my favorite aspects of this version of the character is that he's a true believer in rehabilitation. He honestly believes his enemies can mend their ways, and he wants to see them become productive citizens. Unfortunately, he doesn't get much support from the higher-ups, as we'll soon see.

Yes, Commissioner Gordon and Chief O'Hara are useless. But so is every official in Gotham, which is why the city needs Batman so badly.

A pair of do-nothings.
It's a well-known trope of the '60s Batman series that Commissioner Gordon and Chief O'Hara are two past-their-prime do-nothings who spend most of their time shooting the breeze in Gordon's office. Meanwhile, the thousands of uniformed Gotham City policemen largely stay offstage. Whenever there's even the merest inkling of trouble, Commissioner Gordon is quick to call Batman on that fancy red phone he keeps under a glass dome like a freshly prepared pheasant.

But Gordon and O'Hara aren't the only screen doors on the submarine that is Gotham. Warden Crichton, who heads the Gotham City Penitentiary, is a weak, namby-pamby bumbler who has no idea how to keep the likes of Joker or Penguin under control. Prison escapes are incredibly common and incredibly brazen. Joker dips out during a baseball game in the rec yard. Shame's accomplices breach the walls of the penitentiary with an honest-to-goodness tank.

It would seem that, in the Batman '66 universe, the entire government consists of spineless bureaucrats who bow to the merest pressure. Take Mayor Linseed, for example. In "Nora Clavicle and the Ladies' Crime Club," he actually fires Commissioner Gordon at the behest of his wife, when the latter threatens to stop cooking and cleaning for him. That's it. That's all it takes. No mind control. No hostages. Just a tiny amount of nagging. If Mayor Linseed had been able to withstand that, an entire episode's worth of trouble could have been avoided.

Oh, and by the way...

Gotham is totally New York.

Mayor Linseed and Mayor Lindsay.
Not much to say here. While Marvel's characters tend to live in real-life places like Los Angeles, DC's characters often hail from made-up locales like Metropolis. And Metropolis, we all know, is DC's stand-in for New York City. But what does that make Gotham? Chicago? Christopher Nolan must have thought so, since he filmed The Dark Knight there. (He actually shot the Joker's bank robbery in an abandoned post office right across from the building where I was working at the time.) In Zack Snyder's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Gotham and Metropolis seem to be right next to each other on the map. Go figure.

But if Batman '66 is to be believed, Gotham is definitely New York City. Which makes sense, since "Gotham" is supposedly a nickname for New York. On this show, Gotham is governed by the weak-willed, glad-handing Mayor Linseed. This character is clearly named after John Lindsay, who was mayor of New York from 1966 to 1973. Lindsay, in fact, is both younger and more handsome than Linseed. Usually, it goes the other way in popular culture. And whatever state Gotham is in, its governor is named Stonefellow, a nod to Nelson Rockefeller, the real governor of New York State from 1959 to 1973.

That's all the evidence I need. Gotham is New York. I guess Metropolis must be Pittsburgh or something.

In this version, Batman is largely the protector of Gotham's wealthy elite.

A rich guy protecting other rich guys?
The Batman franchise has gone through many, many incarnations since 1939, some more serious, some less so. But one theme has remained remarkably consistent. If the rich people in Gotham are going to have some kind of fancy-schmancy fundraiser or pretentious art opening or whatever, one of the city's supercriminals is going to show up and cause chaos, partly for material gain and partly for the satisfaction of doing it. That happens again and again on Batman '66.

But maybe that kind of thing happens too often on the show. It seems like this Batman spends all his time at jewelry stores, furriers, high-end galleries, ritzy restaurants, and musty mansions. The villains on this show are forever trying to snag expensive trinkets like diamonds or rare books, and Batman is right there to punch them in the jaw. Sure, he'll come to the aid of the rank-and-file of Gotham, too, but that's usually only when a villain is attempting some city-wide scheme like poisoning the water supply. (What is it with bad guys and water supplies?) For the most part, Batman is like an unpaid, extremely violent security guard for Gotham's wealthy elite.

There's a classic scenario that I associate with the Batman mythos. Picture this. An average citizen of Gotham, perhaps an older, gray-haired lady, is walking along one of the city's lonely back streets at night, just trying to get home. Suddenly, this citizen is accosted by a snarling thief wielding a knife. It looks like the old lady is about to get robbed at the very least. But then, seemingly out of nowhere, a bat-shaped shadow appears from overhead. It's Batman! Our hero wastes no time, first disarming the thief and then knocking him out with a well-placed right hook to the jaw.

Stuff like that almost never happens on the 1966 Batman, and I have to wonder why. This version of the character is a little too uptown for his own good.

There's never been a hotter TV couple than Batman and Catwoman (or, more specifically, Adam West and Julie Newmar).

The ideal Mrs. Batman: Catwoman.
Long before such "will they or won't they" couples as Sam and Diane on Cheers or Dave and Maddie on Moonlighting, there was Bruce and Selina on Batman.

To my mind, there has never been a more intriguing romantic pairing than Batman and Catwoman on the 1966 Batman. The chemistry between Adam West and Julie Newmar is undeniable. It helps that no one has ever looked as good in the skin-tight Catwoman costume as Newmar. I could rhapsodize about the way she wears her belt! (In short, very low on her hips.)

Newmar's Catwoman is a flirty, clearly well-educated society girl who seemingly commits elaborate crimes just to get Batman's attention and alleviate her own boredom. She's clearly smart enough to make money in any number of legitimate ways. And it would be easy enough to sink her cat claws into some wealthy nitwit and drain his bank account. But she doesn't want any wealthy nitwit, not even Bruce Wayne. She wants Batman.

He wants her, too, but only if she can mend her ways and become a law-abiding citizen. That's the thing keeping them apart: their very natures. She could no more become a rule-following square than he could become a cat-burgling crook. Neither one can change, and so at the end of a caper, they have to part ways. It's almost tragic. He's a Montague; she's a Capulet.

One of my favorite running gags on the show, by the way, is Catwoman's complete and utter contempt for Robin. It's series canon that Robin is somehow too young to appreciate the opposite sex, so he doesn't understand why Catwoman holds such appeal for Batman. Catwoman, for her part, is bored and irritated by the Boy Wonder, whom she sees as an irksome impediment to her plans. I don't think she'd ever actually kill Batman, but she'd gladly push Robin off the side of a building without a second thought.

Alfred is incredibly underpaid and just all around awesome.

Give this man a raise!
Alfred Pennyworth, butler to millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, is a major part of just about any version of the Batman saga, and the 1966 series is no exception. In fact, this may be the most integral Alfred yet! This dapper, well-spoken majordomo (played beautifully by Universal contract player Alan Napier) raised Bruce Wayne single-handedly after the little rich boy's parents were killed, and now he manages the sprawling Wayne Manor without apparent help. I've never seen any other servants on Batman; maybe they're restricted to certain parts of the house, a la Beauty and the Beast.

Alfred knows all about Bruce's secret life as Batman, and he's perfectly at home in the Batcave (which he apparently accesses by elevator). And he doesn't just know about it; he actively participates in the crime-fighting enterprise. I mean, he's not literally out there punching bad guys every week, but he'll run risky errands for his boss all over town, sometimes getting himself kidnapped for his troubles. If the need arises, he'll even don the Bat-suit himself and impersonate the Caped Crusader, especially when it's necessary for Batman and Bruce Wayne to be in the same place at the same time.

That's a huge part of what makes Alfred so vital to the operation. He's instrumental in maintaining the Batman/Bruce Wayne illusion. Our hero's life is so complicated, so full of duplicity, that Alfred may be the only other person on earth who can keep it all straight. He's never fazed, this guy. "I'm sorry. Master Wayne is indisposed at the moment." "I'm afraid you just missed Batman, Commissioner Gordon." He even manages to tolerate Aunt Harriet and keep her from snooping around in Bruce Wayne's library. Whatever this guy's making, it's not enough.

One more great aspect of Alfred's character on this series is his relationship with Barbara Gordon/Batgirl. So let's discuss her next, shall we?

Batgirl was a great addition to the series, and you doubters can just shut your filthy mouths right now.

Batgirl: Oh, she's a worthy addition all right!
Like the third season of the original Star Trek, Season 3 of Batman takes a lot of heat from fans. and not without reason. ABC had obviously cut the budget by then, so there were fewer elaborate death traps for the Dynamic Duo and fewer full-scale Bat-fights. The writers, too, were grasping for ideas, so they wound up recycling plots from Seasons 1 and 2 or relying on increasingly far-fetched gimmicks. Even Adam West and Burt Ward seem a little checked-out during certain Season 3 episodes. Due to some contractual snag, Frank Gorshin's Riddler doesn't appear during this cycle of episodes. (John Astin briefly fills in for him.)

Nevertheless, I'll say the latter-day episodes are enjoyable, in sort of the same way that lesser-quality pizza is still pizza. The basic elements of the show—the Batmobile, the Neil Hefti theme song, the onscreen sound effects, the extremely arch dialogue, William Dozier's hyperbolic narration ("What's this?!")—are all still there. One of my favorite episodes, "Surf's Up! Joker's Under!," is from Season 3, and that one episode continues to inspire its own merchandise!

The best reason to watch Season 3, though, is definitely Batgirl. As played by former ballet dancer Yvonne Craig, she is a well-needed shot of adrenaline for the series. Whether as Batgirl or as mild-mannered librarian Barbara Gordon, daughter to the police commissioner, she's tough, sexy, and a total charmer, not to mention a fashion icon. She also gets her own cool theme song, co-written by Stan Freberg collaborator Billy May! What's not to like? I even enjoy her interactions with her pet bird, Charlie. Some might try to lump Batgirl in with such tacked-on TV characters as Cousin Oliver from The Brady Bunch or Scrappy-Doo from Scooby-Doo. Those people are misguided, to put it mildly.

One of my favorite aspects of the Batgirl character is that Alfred knows her secret identity and acts as her confidant and assistant. I could 100% see a Batgirl spinoff working, but I would have set the whole thing in England. Just come up with some reason for Barbara Gordon and Alfred Pennyworth to move to the UK, then have them be an Avengers-like duo, DC's answer to Emma Peel and John Steed. I'd have watched the hell out of that.

Sure, I have ideas for villains I'd like to have seen. Don't you?

My pick for Poison Ivy: Edy Williams.
Let's face it. When it comes to Batman baddies, there are the big four—Joker, Penguin, Riddler, and Catwoman—and then there's everyone else. But even here there are strata. Echelons of respectability, if you will. Foes like Mr. Freeze, Clock King, and Mad Hatter were all imported directly from the pages of DC Comics. Others, like Egghead, King Tut, and Bookworm, were created especially for the TV show but were well-received enough by fans to be accepted into the Bat-canon, eventually making appearances in the comic books and getting their own action figures.

When I was a kid tuning into Batman on Channel 20, I was always hoping for one of the big four. (Little wonder that the 1966 Batman theatrical movie includes all of them.) But I learned to appreciate some of the others, too, especially Otto Preminger's fussy, ill-tempered Mr. Freeze. (Perhaps as a result of growing up in Michigan, I was always interested in coldness-based heroes and villains, including Captain Cold and Killer Frost.) During my Batman re-watch, I've become a fan of Roddy McDowall's persnickety, leather-suited Bookworm and Cliff Robertson's befuddled cowboy Shame.

But I can't help wondering why some classic Batman villains from the comics never made it to the small screen. The seductive Poison Ivy debuted in June 1966, just in time to be immortalized on the series, but it never happened. This would have been a perfect role for perennial man-eater extraordinaire Edy Williams. Edy actually appeared on Batman a few times, but never in this part. A pity.

And what about Two-Face, arguably the most famous of the Bat-foes never to make it on the series? Edward G. Robinson might have knocked this out of the park, and it's not unreasonable to think that he'd do it, because he did guest star as himself on Batman once. (He and Batman discussed art!) But if they couldn't get Edward G. Robinson, the obvious choice would have been George Raft, the tough guy actor famous for habitually flipping a coin. How did this never happen?

Scarecrow, too, might have made a decent Batman character. The producers clearly loved using colored smoke bombs on the show, so Scarecrow's "fear gas" would be a natural. And I think Ray Walston, then probably best known for My Favorite Martian, would have done very well with this part. Ra'as al Ghul debuted just a wee bit late (1971) for this show, but I can definitely see Robert Goulet in this part.

To me, though, the biggest missed opportunity in Batman history was that they never got Jackie Gleason to play a villain. He would have been great at it, wearing tacky plaid suits, smoking cigars, and barking orders at henchmen. Jackie's Honeymooners costar Art Carney was tragically miscast as the pseudo-Shakespearean baddie Archer in a Batman two-parter that doesn't really work at all, But Carney would have made a great dim-witted sidekick to a Gleason villain. I'd have had Gleason play some kind of billiards-themed bad guy, spoofing his image from The Hustler (1961). The Pool Shark or Gotham City Fats or something like that. It would have made for some great visuals. Imagine the Dynamic Duo strapped to a giant billiard ball, about to be knocked into the ocean by a pool cue the size of a battering ram. Fortunately, our heroes are able to escape at the last second while Gleason and Carney have one of their trademark arguments. ("Will you get on with it?!")

As you can see, I've put a lot of thought into the 1966 Batman series. Probably too much. It might be a good thing that Me-TV is changing its schedule.