Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 118: "Hellborn" (1956-1993)

Hellborn is like a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces.

One of the many mysteries of Ed Wood's Night of the Ghouls (1959) occurs just four and a half minutes into the film. Ostensibly a follow-up to Bride of the Monster (1955), Ghouls is another of Wood's supernatural horror thrillers. The plot revolves around a phony medium, Dr. Acula (Kenne Duncan), who inadvertently manages to summon the dead while performing fraudulent seances in a spooky mansion. For some reason, though, narrator Criswell takes a few minutes to talk to us about juvenile delinquency:
Your daily newspapers, radio, and television dares to relate the latest in juvenile delinquency. At times, it seems juvenile delinquency is a major problem of our law enforcement officers. But is this the major horror of our time? Is this violence and terror a small few perpetrate the most horrible, terrifying of all crimes our civil servants must investigate? The National Safety Council keeps accurate records on highway fatalities. They can even predict how many deaths will come on a drunken holiday weekend. But what records are kept? What information is there? How many of you know the horror, the terror I will now reveal to you?
As we hear this voice-over monologue, accompanied by hot jazz drumming and a wailing siren, Wood shows us flashes of seemingly unrelated footage: a police car whizzing from somewhere to somewhere else; young people dancing and eating at a pizzeria called Jake's Pizza Joint; two men (Ed Wood and Conrad Brooks) fighting in a pit as a crowd watches; a gang of three men beating the tar out of a fourth man as a girl stands off to the side; a car going off the road and tumbling down a cliff before crashing into a tree, etc. Apart from the shots of the police car -- this is another of Ed's many police procedurals -- none of this footage belongs in Night of the Ghouls. So what's it doing there? 

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Podcast Tuesday: "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail"

Ron Howard and Al Molinaro on Happy Days.

This is what my campaign posters looked like.
Let me tell you two dumb stories about my past. The first happened when I was a high school sophomore in Flushing, MI. Near the end of the school year, the principal announced over the P.A. that student elections were approaching and that interested candidates should sign up in the main office. The way it worked was, students were elected at the end of one school year and took office at the beginning of the next. I had no interest in this, but one of my classmates thought it would be funny to suggest loudly that I run for president. Other students found this funny, too, and began chanting my name. 

Just like that, I was in politics. I had been challenged directly by my peers. What was I supposed to do? I didn't feel I could back down. Besides, I liked the attention, even though it was negative attention. So I ran for class president. I decided to have some fun with the campaign, canvassing the school with nonsensical posters. One was just a photocopied picture of Simon & Garfunkel with their eyes crossed out and squiggly mouths drawn in, accompanied by the cryptic slogan "VOTE BLEVINS." Never mind which office I was seeking. My lone campaign speech was just a rant that I had cribbed entirely from Bill Murray in The Rutles (1978). ("The scene is here in Flushing! The whole world's eyes are on Flushing!") It was exciting, I'll admit that.

Appealing to the lowest common denominator, I actually won the election. This was not a good thing. The joke had gone too far. My opponents were kids who actually took the election seriously and sincerely wanted to be in student government. I, on the other hand, was an idiot who really didn't want to do much of anything other than watch television. My presidency was a total bust. After mere weeks of dodging student council meetings the next year, I quietly resigned. The silver lining is that the vice president was a really nice, smart, quiet kid who had run unopposed, and my resignation meant that he was now president. Still in all, I felt so guilty about the whole sordid mess that I haven't talked about it to anyone for decades. It established an unfortunate pattern in my life: big promises with no follow-through. 

(Technically, though, since my posters and speech were all surreal nonsense, I hadn't actually promised anything. I guess we really do get the government we deserve.)

Flash forward about 10 years. By then, I was a (bad) high school English teacher in a smallish, isolated town in northern Illinois. Apartments being rare in this part of the world, I was living at a motel with a somewhat shady reputation. Next to the motel was a strip mall with an even shadier reputation. It contained a pawn shop, a massage parlor, and some third business I cannot recall. The parlor was the subject of much speculation around town. Indeed, it was one of the few local businesses that stayed open past 11. In the front window, there were sexy female mannequins dressed in lacy lingerie.

Nearly all the clientele, however, accessed the building from the back entrance. On warm nights when there was nothing much to do, I'd climb up to the second story of the motel and watch them come and go in their shiny pickup trucks. I don't think I ever saw even one employee of the massage parlor in the entire year I lived there, just the customers. It honestly did not occur to me until long after I had moved away that I could have gone to the massage parlor myself and learned first-hand what went on inside that building. I consider this a missed opportunity for learning and personal growth in my life.

What do these two stories have in common? Very little, except that this week on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast, my cohost and I are reviewing the December 12, 1978 episode "Richie Gets Framed," which involves both a student election and a massage parlor. How do these elements fit into Happy Days and do they make for a satisfying story? Listen and find out!

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Ed Wood Summit Podcast #9 by Greg Dziawer

This week, Greg looks at the great prognosticator, Criswell.

Criswell. I need merely to mention his name and it will certainly conjure him in your mind, with his spit-curled hair, tux, and over-the-top theatricality. Although best remembered today for introducing Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), he was a household name for a quarter of a century, with a nationally syndicated column of predictions and frequent appearances on TV talk shows with the likes of Jack Paar and Johnny Carson. He even had his own show based upon his column, on KTLA's channel 13 in Los Angeles. Maila Nurmi occupied the dressing room next to him during the run of her stint as horror host Vampira.

Join me as we spend a little time marveling at the strange and wonderful predictions of The Amazing Criswell, including his thoughts on sex, politics, education, medicine, and the end of the world. And remember, depending on where you hear it, he was somewhere between 87% and 90% correct in his predictions.

Here's that Mae West song about Criswell that I mentioned during the podcast.

And here's a latter-day example of Criswell's syndicated column, this one taken from the March 12, 1980 edition of Cicero Life from Cicero, IL. He died in 1982.

Criswell was still predicting in 1980.

All episodes of The Ed Wood Summit Podcast can be found here!

Further Criswell content:

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Podcast Tuesday: "Fonzie is Basically Magic Now"

Don Most, Ron Howard, James Randi, and Anson Williams on Happy Days.

Doing a podcast about Happy Days was not my idea. Sure, I watched the weekly nostalgic adventures of Richie Cunningham and his Milwaukee pals when I was a kid, but it was never a show I'd given a great deal of conscious thought. I don't think this lighthearted series lends itself to close scrutiny or deep analysis. Still, as my cohost and I have covered over 120 episodes of the sitcom, I've kept myself entertained by researching the careers of the numerous actors, writers, and producers who worked on it over its 11 seasons.

It helps when I'm already a fan of the guest stars. So far, I've gotten to talk about Jesse White, Diana Canova, Howdy Doody, Jack Riley, Michael Pataki, and many more. The Season 6 episode "The Magic Show" offers one of the most exciting guest stars yet: James Randi (1928-2020), aka The Amazing Randi, the world-renowned magician and skeptic who made a career of debunking so-called psychics and faith healers. Randi's career has fascinated me for years, and it was a special treat to see him on a show I was already covering.

But how does James Randi fit into the Happy Days universe? What kind of story could possibly require his unique talents? Find out when we review "The Magic Show" on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 117: The Showdown (1952)

Tom Keene is Tom Keene in Tom Keene, U.S. Marshal.

Ed Wood and Tom Keene on
the set of Crossroad Avenger
Edward D. Wood, Jr. was a genre hopper for his entire movie career, working as a writer and/or director anywhere he might find a paycheck. He will always be known, first and foremost, for his science-fiction and horror films of the 1950s, his very name conjuring up images of cemeteries, monsters, haunted houses, and UFOs. Eddie's more adventurous fans will check out his extensive work in pornography in the '60s and '70s. Along the way, Eddie dabbled in crime stories (Jail Bait, The Sinister Urge), while a couple of his films could be loosely defined as social issue dramas (Glen or Glenda, Married Too Young).

But then there are Ed's Westerns -- too many in number to be ignored. More of them seem to keep turning up, too. In this series, I've already reviewed Crossroads of Laredo (shot in 1948 but not completed until 1995), the failed TV pilot Crossroad Avenger: The Adventures of the Tucson Kid (1953) with Tom Keene, and two of Eddie's collaborations with would-be Western star Johnny Carpenter -- Son of the Renegade (1953) and The Lawless Rider (1954). 

Throughout all these projects, Eddie's approach to the Western genre has been remarkably consistent. He was intent on upholding rather than subverting the standards of the simple cowboy films he grew up on, with squeaky clean heroes, hissable villains, and extremely chaste love interests. In his showbiz primer Hollywood Rat Race (ca. 1965), Eddie decried the rise of morally ambiguous "adult" Westerns and yearned for the black-and-white moral certainty of the old cowboy pictures. (If you want to see Eddie get freaky with the Western genre, you'll have to check out his short stories.)

Recently, a reader named Steve Frisch contacted me to let me know of the existence of another Wood Western: 1952's The Showdown, an unsold TV pilot starring Tom Keene (1896-1963).  "I like The Showdown more than any other of Wood's Western films," Steve wrote. "Nice to see with help and money what Ed Wood was capable of." The 26-minute pilot, viewable here, was restored (beautifully) in 2018 by Jeff Joseph of the massive film archive SabuCat. The footage, as provided by Ronnie James, is in remarkably good condition.

Admittedly, this title was almost completely unknown to me. On one of Eddie's mid-1950s resumes, he included The Showdown under his list of "Television Feature Credits," along with Crossroads of Laredo and Crossroad Avenger. Eddie claimed to have written The Showdown for Sidney R. Ross Productions.  I can find virtually nothing about Sidney R. Ross or his company, but it's the same outfit behind a couple of other unsold 1950s Tom Keene pilots: Double Noose and War Drums. Rudolph Grey briefly mentions The Showdown in the filmography section of Nightmare of Ecstasy but offers no further details.

Ed Wood's fans will find the credits to The Showdown intriguing because Ed is listed prominently by his own, real name during the opening titles. So, like The Lawless Rider, this is a canonical Wood work with no cause for skepticism. Specifically, Ed Wood and Tom Keene are credited with the original story, while the teleplay was penned by John Michael Hayes. A native of Massachusetts, Hayes (1919-2008) was near the beginning of a long, prominent screenwriting career that would stretch into the 1990s. He's best known for having scripted four of Alfred Hitchcock's films: Rear Window (1954), The Trouble with Harry (1955), To Catch a Thief (1955), and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). Hayes even earned an Oscar nomination for his adaptation of Peyton Place (1957).

Alfred Hitchcock with Showdown scripter John Michael Hayes.

Much like Crossroad Avenger, The Showdown was conceived as a pilot for a weekly Western series for Tom Keene, who'd been a prolific star of low-budget Westerns in the 1930s and '40s. The show would have been called Tom Keene, U.S. Marshal and would have taken place circa the 1880s. One hint of the time period is that the song "Over the Waves," composed by Juventino Rosas in 1888, plays during a saloon scene. As the title suggests, the stoic Keene plays a marshal who patrols a swath of land in Texas near the Mexican border and reports to mild-mannered Col. G.W. Foster (Jonathan Hale) of the 5th Cavalry Regiment. Keene's chubby, comedic sidekick is a Mexican stereotype named Lopez played by Italian-born actor Frank Yaconelli. Keene and Yaconelli had previously worked together in films like Western Mail (1942) and Arizona Roundup (1942).

The Showdown was directed by Derwin Abbe (1903-1974). A New Yorker who often went by the name Derwin Abraham professionally, he helmed numerous Columbia serials in the 1940s before becoming a prolific TV director in the 1950s. His credits there include Hopalong Cassidy, The Cisco Kid, Judge Roy Bean, and Highway Patrol. A project like The Showdown was comfortably in his wheelhouse. The Lopez character, for instance, is very similar to Leo Carrillo's Pancho from The Cisco Kid. (Sample Lopez dialogue: "This is a fine kettle of frijoles!")

Abbe's cinematographer on this project was Harold E. Stine (1903-1977), another Hollywood veteran with a solid filmmaking background. Stine started as a sound engineer in the '30s, moved onto visual effects in the '40s, and finally became a cinematographer in the '50s. Many of his credits are in TV -- The Adventures of Superman, Sugarfoot, Lawman, Hawaiian Eye, Cheyenne, and even the groundbreaking sitcom Julia. But he worked on some very high-profile films, too, including MASH (1970) and The Poseidon Adventure (1972).

With capable professionals like Hayes, Abbe, and Stine on hand, you might expect that The Showdown lacks the stylistic quirks of Eddie's other projects -- the off-kilter dialogue, the erratic editing, the surreal continuity errors, etc. You'd be right. This is a very competent production, one you probably wouldn't associate with Ed Wood if his name weren't in the opening credits. If coherence and normalcy are what you crave in a Wood project, The Showdown is for you. 

Just like Crossroad Avenger, The Showdown is intended as a vehicle for Tom Keene, who was both a friend and collaborator of Edward D. Wood, Jr. in the 1950s. Ed was so proud of his association with Keene that he even name-checked the actor in his book Watts... After (1967), published several years after Keene's death. Admittedly, I've never quite understood Keene's appeal. He's handsome enough and speaks his lines clearly in a deep, authoritative voice, but he seems to lack any charisma or self-awareness whatsoever. Like most Wood fans, my introduction to Tom Keene was his role as Colonel Tom Edwards in Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). In that film, Keene brings an amusing, matter-of-fact blankness to such absurd lines as, "How could I hope to hold down my command if I didn't believe in what I saw and shot at?" Keene is similarly colorless in Wood's The Sun Was Setting (1951).

Ernest N. Corneau's book The Hall of Fame of Western Film Stars (1969) -- a volume Eddie himself is known to have possessed -- gave me a newfound appreciation for Tom Keene. Corneau writes:
Tom was a star who helped mature the Western gradually but gracefully. He made certain that the plots of his pictures were believable and chose to characterize the hero as intelligent as well as a man of brute strength. He toned down the violence without taking away the sense of excitement. Having set the pattern, he introduced a hero who could think as well as fight and, in a short while, this pattern was adopted by William Boyd in the popular Hopalong Cassidy Westerns.
Every cowboy series like this needs a "baddie of the week" for the hero to either shoot or arrest. In this case, it's Killer Carson (Don Harvey), a masked bandit and gunslinger (allegedly "the fastest draw in the West"). Carson's favorite pastime is to provoke others to shoot at him so he can kill them in self-defense, just to watch 'em die. That's technically legal, but the robberies definitely aren't. Plus he's killed some Wells Fargo guards along the way, so Foster dispatches Keene and a very reluctant Lopez to "bring him back alive" from a nearby town called Dry Creek. Lopez is especially disappointed because he and Keane were supposed to go to Laredo for a little much-needed rest and relaxation. But a hero's work is never done.

Dissolve to the local watering hole where we meet Melody (Betty Ball), your typical Western saloon girl with the requisite heart of gold. Carson naturally wants to get his paws all over Melody. ("You and me can burn up this cheap town!") Just about everybody in Dry Creek is afraid of the smirking, swaggering Killer Carson and gives him a wide berth, but a local named George foolishly challenges him and quickly pays the price. The grizzled, elderly sheriff (Lee Phelps) tells Carson to leave town at sundown, but Carson simply scoffs and says he's having too much fun to leave.

Outside the bar, Keene and Lopez plot how to bring Carson to justice. Lopez just wants to gun him down and be done with it, but Keene has a better plan. They'll "turn outlaw" and gain Carson's confidence. This is rather similar to the plot of The Lawless Rider, in which Johnny Carpenter's square-jawed hero has to pretend to be a baddie in order to defeat the villain. (Was this a common ploy in B-Westerns? I'm not schooled enough in the genre to know.)

Lopez is dubious of this plan, but an undaunted Keene adopts the alias Matt Cleaver and demands to join Killer Carson's poker game. Melody recognizes him instantly and almost blurts out his name, but Keene soon gets her to play along with the charade. To me, Keene looks far too neat and tidy to be a convincing outlaw, but he ingratiates himself to Carson with some flattery: "I hear you're faster with a gun than a hungry rattlesnake after a gopher." Keane seals the deal by showing off his sharpshooting skills, and Carson agrees to bring him in on his next job.

Keene then wins $10,000 from a very unamused Carson in a poker game. Our hero later admits to his sidekick that he cheated, but what does it matter? This was the money Carson had stolen during the Wells Fargo job, and now Keene can hand it over to the bemused sheriff. Back at the bar, Carson and his men plan their revenge. They'll use Melody as bait to lure Keane into a trap and kill him.

Our retirement-age sheriff is resigned to his gloomy fate. He'll either have to face Killer Carson in a gunfight or lose his job as sheriff. But Marshal Keene thinks there might be another way. He visits the local blacksmith, played by the legendary Bud Osborne, a key Ed Wood stock player who also appeared in Bride of the Monster (1955) and Jail Bait (1954), as well as Crossroad Avenger and The Lawless Rider. After flashing his badge, Keene convinces Osborne to let him inspect Killer Carson's saddlebags. There, he finds some telltale Wells Fargo money sacks, which will come in handy as evidence when they put Carson on trial for his crimes.

Bud Osborne and Tom Keene square off in The Shootout.

A distraught Melody arrives at the sheriff's office and tells Lopez all about Carson's plan to ambush Keene in the backroom of the saloon. "Tom Keene was kind to me once," she explains, "and I owe him something." Melody's plan is that she and Tom should leave town together before Carson has a chance to shoot him. Oblivious to all this, Keene is about to walk right into Carson's trap when Lopez shows up at the last second to warn him. A brief shootout ensues, with Keene and Lopez easily wiping out Carson's thugs. Carson himself, however, escapes.

Melody, Keene, and Lopez think that Carson has skipped town for good, but the world-weary sheriff knows better and prepares for an old-fashioned gunfight in the middle of the street. Sure enough, Carson fires a few shots directly into the sheriff's office, knocking a light fixture off the wall. The sheriff is prepared to face Carson directly, but Keene insists on locking the sheriff in a cell for his own protection. To save the local lawman's reputation, Keene disguises himself as the sheriff -- the second alias he's taken on in this show. "With these clothes on and in this light," Keene says, "they'll think it's you." Never mind that the marshal and the sheriff look nothing alike and that no one with functioning eyesight could believe they were the same person.

At last, two minutes before the end, we arrive at the titular showdown. It's shot just the way you'd expect -- with a lot of cross-cutting between Keene and Carson and occasional cutaways to the nervous onlookers watching from the sidelines. Obviously, since this was the first episode of a proposed series, Marshal Keene is triumphant. But, keeping with his image as the thinking man's cowboy, he doesn't just shoot Carson in the gut. Instead, he shoots the guns out of Carson's hands and arrests him. True to his word, Keene hands the prisoner over to the sheriff and assures the townsfolk that the aged lawman is still up to the task.

Like the Lone Ranger, Marshal Keene isn't interested in any compensation for his heroism. The $10,000 should be returned to Wells Fargo, he says, and any reward money should go to Miss Melody. "Oh, well," says Lopez. "I would only spend it foolishly anyway." Keene cheerfully and quickly agrees. Chuckles all around and we fade to black.

(front row from l to r) Lee Phelps, Tom Keene, Don Harvey, and Frank Yaconelli in The Showdown.

Obviously, Tom Keene, U.S. Marshal did not become a series. But should it have? Did the networks let a potential hit slip through their fingers? Keene admirably strived for realism and intelligence in his scripts, but I can't imagine too many adults finding this material compelling enough to tune in every week. That leaves kids as the only possible audience. That might not have been bad news. After all, Ernest N. Corneau compared Tom Keene to Hopalong Cassidy, and Hoppy's fans were generally children. Would 1950s kids have enjoyed The Showdown? I'm dubious.

At that time, Tom Keene, U.S. Marshal's biggest competitor would have been The Lone Ranger, which ran on ABC from 1949 to 1957. That series had a number of advantages, however. Its hero had a lot of cool, memorable gimmicks: the mask, the secret identity, the theme song, the silver bullets, etc. On the other hand, Keene's character doesn't really have any memorable hooks, apart from his speed and accuracy with a firearm. And didn't pretty much every cowboy star have that? No way would kids find Lopez as exciting a sidekick as Tonto, even though the former can certainly take care of himself in a gunfight.

Finally, we must consider whether Ed Wood's unique voice can be heard anywhere within The Showdown. Like Wood's other Westerns, this story centers around a clear-cut conflict between an unambiguously good man and an unambiguously evil one. But I think that's true of most early Westerns, especially those aimed at a young audience. One might also be tempted to draw a parallel between the saloon scenes in The Showdown and the many scenes set in bars and cocktail lounges in Ed's later films, stories, and novels. Again, though, the saloon is an extremely common location in Westerns of that era. Where better to have a poker game or a fistfight?

Ed Wood's films are also noted for their highly improbable plot twists. Anything like that here? Eh, sort of.  It's kind of a stretch that anyone would take Marshal Keane seriously as an "outlaw" for even a second, considering that he changes neither his appearance nor his demeanor. Keane's plan to impersonate the sheriff near the end also seems half-baked at best. But I don't know if any of this gives The Showdown that signature dreamlike quality of Wood's best-known work.

I suppose there are traces of Ed Wood's personality in some of the supporting characters. The character closest to his heart was probably Melody. Tawdry though they are, saloon girls bring a touch of femininity and romance to the Old West. They're certainly the only ones in Dry Creek wearing anything frilly or lacy. In The Showdown, Melody's affections can be bought by anyone with money to spend. She's lived a shameful life and is not proud of her whiskey-soaked past. But Marshal Keane recognizes something salvageable in this woman, and it's implied that the reward money might allow her to start fresh in a new town. That kind of redemption arc might've appealed to Ed.

Then there is our aged, melancholy sheriff, who is certain that he has outlived his usefulness. He seems to have made peace with his own death, even if it comes at the hands of Killer Carson. Death was one of Ed Wood's major obsessions as a writer, a theme he returned to again and again in print and on the screen. More than any other passage in The Showdown, this fatalistic dialogue between the sheriff and Marshal Keane seems particularly Wood-ian.
SHERIFF: So that's what I've gotta do -- face him on the main street at sundown and kill him.

(The sheriff leans forward so that Lopez can light his pipe.)

KEANE: Sheriff, I don't like to say this, but you don't stand much chance drawing against the Killer.

SHERIFF: I know it, Marshal, but maybe God'll be on my side. You see, I'm an old man. If I lose this job, I don't know where I'd get another one. So I've gotta take my chances. Either I'll win and still be sheriff or I'll lose. Then my troubles'll be over.

KEANE: Well, you're old enough to know your own mind.
I'm reminded of passages from Eddie's two most famous films. Glen or Glenda (1953), for instance, has Bela Lugosi say, "There is no mistaking the thoughts in a man's mind." Plan 9 has this quasi-poetic narration by Criswell during the funeral scene at the beginning of the film. Note especially the "sundown" motif.
CRISWELL: All of us on this earth know that there is a time to live and that there is a time to die, yet death is always a shock to those left behind. It is even more of a shock when death, the proud brother, comes suddenly without warning. Just at sundown, a small group, gathered in silent prayer around the newly-opened grave of the beloved wife of an elderly man. Sundown of the day, yet also the sundown of the old man's heart, for the shadows of grief clouded his very reason.
What we're witnessing in The Showdown is both the literal sundown of the day and the figurative sundown of an old man's heart. It's quirky little moments like this that make the film a worthwhile viewing for all Wood fans and raise it above the status of a mere curiosity.

ADDENDUM: Reader Douglas North informs me that The Showdown seems to have gotten at least one television airing after all, alongside War Drums and Double Noose. On June 7, 1957, a Louisiana newspaper called The Crowley Post-Signal ran a brief article informing readers that a series called Cowboy Theater would be returning to NBC on Sunday, June 9. Among the offerings were War Drums, Double Noose, and Showdown. According to the article, these shows "will be a half hour in length and will star Tom Keane [sic] as a Western Marshal." So maybe they were all part of the same series.

The Showdown made it to air in 1957.

As for Cowboy Theater itself, I can find no record of a nationally broadcast series with that title on  NBC or any network. However, numerous local affiliates across America aired programs called Cowboy Theater in morning and afternoon time slots, obviously seeking a young audience. In Crowley, Louisiana, Cowboy Theater aired sporadically throughout the late 1950s on a station called WBRZ-TV, generally on Saturday or Sunday mornings. WBRZ started in Baton Rouge in 1955 as an NBC affiliate and remained with the peacock network until 1977. Today, it still exists as an ABC affiliate. 

I am not surprised that The Showdown eventually aired. It is quite competent Western entertainment -- the picture and sound quality are excellent -- and would comfortably fill a half hour on a station's schedule. It is only a matter of time before War Drums and Double Noose surface as well.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Podcast Tuesday: "Stolen Kisses"

Ron Howard behind bars on Happy Days.

Since our podcast is about a nostalgic family sitcom that premiered 47 years ago, it's not often that we get the chance to be current, relevant, or topical on These Days Are Ours. But this week, by sheer coincidence, we're covering the 1978 Happy Days episode "The Kissing Bandit" at the exact same time that nonconsensual kissing by fictional characters is suddenly a hot topic on social media. Does Happy Days have anything vital to add to this conversation? We'll leave that to you to decide.

The plot of "The Kissing Bandit" has nice guy Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard) being falsely arrested by the Milwaukee police on suspicion of breaking into women's homes and kissing them without permission. Richie swears he's innocent, and his friends and family believe him. After all, his sister Joanie (Erin Moran) points out that he doesn't even kiss on the first date! Eventually, Richie's pal Fonzie (Henry Winkler) devises a trap to catch the real Kissing Bandit (Charlie Dougherty). It involves Richie dressing up in women's clothes and acting as bait to lure the Bandit into the Cunninghams' living room.

Does it work? Is Richie exonerated? Find out when my cohost and I review "The Kissing Bandit" in the latest installment of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood/Dziawer Odyssey, Part 15 by Greg Dziawer and W. Paul Apel

Frank Leahy (lower right) arrives at Notre Dame University.

If you've been paying any attention to this series lately, you've surely noted my recent obsession with former Notre Dame head football coach Frank Leahy, the hero of Ed Wood's unproduced biographical screenplay The Frank Leahy Legend (1975). Once a mere footnote in my research on Ed—a strange topic for a script I wrongly assumed to be missing— Frank has become a persistent subject that I can't shake.

Faithful reader W. Paul Apel, who joined me on a recent Ed Wood Summit Podcast to dissect the screenplay, mentioned that he was planning to visit Leahy's grave. "Send me pics," I excitedly said. And so he did. He also penned an anecdote about his visit that I'm happy to share with you. Perhaps this will provide some ritualistic finality, and I'll be able to let go of Frank Leahy. We'll see.

Special thanks to W. Paul Apel for sharing the story of his visit and his pictures of Frank's grave and surrounding environs. I wonder if all of that peace and quiet makes Frank yearn for the sound of rolling thunder across the bleachers at the stadium at South Bend.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Podcast Tuesday: "Halfway Home for Thanksgiving"

A bewigged Tom Bosley on Happy Days.

A redesigned Homer and Marge.
By the time The Simpsons became a weekly series in 1989, it had been a recurring segment on Fox's The Tracey Ullman Show for two years. The American television-watching public was already quite familiar with the antics of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie. By The Simpsons' second season, the show's writers were already confident enough to deviate from the show's formula. For instance, the scripts that year included "The Way We Was," a flashback episode set in the 1970s featuring teenage versions of Homer, Marge, and even Barney Gumble. Season 2 was also when The Simpsons did its first "Treehouse of Horror" episode, which was abnormal in two ways. Not only was it an anthology (three self-contained segments linked by a wraparound story), but it placed the characters into wild scenarios involving ghosts, haunted houses, and even aliens from outer space.

The Simpsons' second season proved that the series and its characters were mutable and adaptable. The show now had free reign to do all kinds of experiments, messing with the characters' designs and placing them into all kinds of bizarre scenarios -- historical, futuristic, or purely fantastic. You could argue that the show already had a head start because it was animated. Would viewers of a live-action sitcom forgive this kind of creative liberty from a weekly series?

The answer is, sort of, sure. Within reason. Happy Days tested its luck, stylistically speaking, with a Season 6 episode called "The First Thanksgiving," which originally aired on November 21, 1978. This holiday story largely takes place in the year 1621 and offers us Pilgrim-era counterparts of Richie, Fonzie, Ralph, Potsie, Joanie, Howard, Marion, and Al. This is arguably the second nonconventional Happy Days episode we've seen so far, with the first being Season 5's musical extravaganza "Be My Valentine."

Does this stylistic gamble pay off? Find out when my cohost and I review "The First Thanksgiving" on the newest installment of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast. Incidentally, this episode marks the rough midpoint of the entire Happy Days series. I don't know if that's a milestone or not, but I'm treating it like one.