Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Podcast Tuesday: "Sleeveless in Milwaukee"

Ted McGinley and Henry Winkler on Happy Days.

Beauty standards change from decade to decade and not just for women. It applies to men, too. Take Happy Days, for example. The popular sitcom happened to come along during the 1970s when a new kind of male sex symbol was dominating pop culture. Instead of the tanned, blond-haired, quasi-Aryan hunks of a previous generation (think: Tab Hunter and Troy Donahue), we were getting earthier, quirkier film and television stars whose names and faces often reflected their ethnic background (think: Jewish or Italian). This was the decade of John Travolta, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Sylvester Stallone, and more. 

In other words, it was a perfect time for Jewish-American actor Henry Winkler as Italian-American mechanic Arthur Fonzarelli. Henry definitely didn't look like Paul Newman or Robert Redford, let alone Tab Hunter. He was short of stature and slight of build. He didn't have a lantern jaw or perfectly symmetrical facial features either. In some early publicity pictures, he even has a slight unibrow! But it was the 1970s and Henry's look fit the times. There's a whole episode of the sitcom Taxi about this change in the male beauty standard. Fair-haired, traditionally handsome Bobby (Jeff Conaway), an aspiring actor, sees all the good roles going to guys like his buddy Tony (Tony Danza), a dark-haired Italian-American.

I've noticed a repeating pattern in 1970s pop culture regarding male stars. Producers will often pair a light-haired "pretty boy" actor with a dark-haired, more earthy type. That way, I guess, all the bases are covered. Think of Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford in Star Wars, David Soul and Paul Michael Glazer in Starsky & Hutch (1975-1979), Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in All the President's Men (1976), John Schneider and Tom Wopat on The Dukes of Hazzard (1979-1985), and, yes, Ron Howard and Henry Winkler on Happy Days (1974-1984).

The 1980s in many ways marked a return to the values and aesthetics of the 1950s, with newly-installed president Ronald Reagan as the new Dwight Eisenhower-esque father figure to the country. Consequently, the traditional hunks of that era made a comeback in popular culture. On Happy Days, this was marked by the addition of a new character, Roger Phillips, played by the muscular, athletic Ted McGinley. Producer Garry Marshall was specifically looking for an actor who looked like a bronzed California surfer. Ted filled that role nicely, at least once he got his hair dyed. (How Ted hated those humiliating visits to the beauty salon!) Happy Days was pretty shameless about promoting Ted/Roger as a sex symbol, putting him in short shorts or other revealing outfits as often as possible.

This week on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast, we're reviewing Season 9's "Great Expectations," an episode that largely revolves around Roger. At one point, in order to make him more attractive to the ladies at a party, Fonzie rips the sleeves off Roger's shirt, revealing Ted McGinley's well-sculpted arms. It's like Fonzie is passing the torch to a new generation of male pinups.

Does this make for a good episode of the show in 2023, however? Find out by listening to our latest episode. It's available below.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 141: The strange journey of the 'Glen or Glenda' theme

William Lava smiles with pride, having learned his music is in an Ed Wood movie.

Ed Wood rarely had the luxury of working with a composer on his films. From one end of his directing career to the other, with the exception of Bride of the Monster (1955), he had to rely on so-called stock or library music, occasionally to great effect. Who can forget Trevor Duncan's bombastic "Grip of the Law," which plays during the opening credits of Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957)? Or Hoyt Curtin's queasy, discordant music heard throughout Jail Bait (1954)? Today, though, I'd like to turn your attention to a bit of stock music that Ed used not once but twice: "Presenting the Doctor" aka "Secret of the Silent Hills" by William Lava (1911-1971).

The end of the line for Looney Tunes.
If you know William Lava's name at all, you're probably a fan of classic cartoons. Bill is best known as the composer for Warner Bros.' Looney Tunes series from 1962 to 1969. Unfortunately, these were the dying days for that franchise, so William Lava's name is on a lot of uninspired, cheaply-made cartoons. If you've ever suffered through a lackluster Cool Cat or Bunny & Claude short, you were listening to Bill's music. 

Cartoon historians tend to take a dim view of William Lava, comparing him unfavorably to his predecessors, Carl Stalling and Milt Franklyn, and dismissing his music as "mechanical." It's important to remember, though, that Bill was working under relatively spartan conditions during his Looney Tunes tenure. Theatrical cartoons were less in demand in the 1960s, largely thanks to television, and their budgets shrank accordingly. Sometimes, these cartoons would even be scored with stock cues that Bill had composed previously. The original Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies series finally petered out with the abysmal Injun Trouble (1969), and Bill himself passed on two years later at the age of only 59.

It was an ignoble end to a surprisingly varied and interesting career that merits further attention. What can you say about a man who co-wrote the theme for F-Troop (1965-67) and composed the score for Al Adamson's notorious Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971)? He was no slacker, that's for sure. A Minnesota native, Bill Lava arrived in Hollywood in 1936 and soon embarked upon a career writing music for radio, film, and (eventually) television that would keep him busy for the rest of his life. Until he became associated with animation, laboring on both Looney Tunes and Pink Panther, Bill was never confined to one genre. In his early days, he scored comedies, dramas, Westerns, and more. 

In 1940, Bill wrote the music for RKO's The Courageous Dr. Christian, the first entry in a five-film series starring Jean Hersholt (yes, the namesake of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award) as a crusading doctor. Over the opening credits of this medical melodrama, we hear a lush, orchestral theme known as "Presenting the Doctor." 

In 1951, Ed Wood brazenly purloined "Presenting the Doctor" and used it as the theme song for his soapy made-for-TV short, The Sun Was Setting. The film credits no composer, certainly not Bill Lava, but Eddie gave himself a credit for "Music Arrangement," suggesting perhaps that he personally selected this bit of stock music. He must have been especially pleased with this choice, because he re-recycled "Presenting the Doctor" as the theme to his debut feature, Glen or Glenda (1953). Decades later, Howard Shore cleverly quoted "Presenting the Doctor" in his score for the biopic Ed Wood (1994). If you own the soundtrack album (and you should), you can hear the Glenda theme in the tracks "Ed and Kathy" and "Ed Takes Control."

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Podcast Tuesday: "Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear"

John Hart and Henry Winkler on Happy Days.

"It was before my time" is one of my least-favorite excuses for being ignorant. When you think about it, virtually everything is before your time. Even if we limit ourselves to just human history, that's about 200,000 years. The average lifespan in America is only about 77 years -- a mere blip on the radar. That means we've missed 99.999% of what humans have done. Why do we insist on limiting ourselves to the 0.001% that happens right in front of us during our exceedingly brief lives? The past has been recorded in many, many ways. We owe ourselves to find out about it while we're here.

Sure, much of human history has gone unrecorded or has vanished with time, but here's the miracle of popular culture: the memorable, noteworthy stuff (movies, TV shows, pop songs) tends to be archived and preserved for future generations. Much of it gets rereleased and re-rereleased and re-re-rereleased over a span of decades, well beyond the lifespan of its original creators. In the past, we had to rely upon physical media -- books, records, tapes, etc. -- but in more recent decades, we've been busy uploading all this stuff to the internet for instantaneous streaming. The past is more accessible than ever. Take advantage of it.

I'm saying all this stuff because, this week on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast, we're reviewing "Hi Yo Fonzie, Away!" In this episode from 1982, Fonzie (Henry Winkler) finally meets his idol, the Lone Ranger (John Hart). Forty years ago, this mattered. Two major pop culture characters were being brought together in the same space at the same time.

Today, despite the many hours of media he has generated (mainly radio shows and TV episodes), the Lone Ranger is in danger of disappearing from the public consciousness simply because he isn't "relevant" anymore. (God, I hate that idiotic and much-abused word.) If people today know him at all, it's from his disastrous 2013 movie. That film didn't do well at the box office, so we consigned the Lone Ranger to the junkheap of history. Who knows? Fonzie himself may join him someday.

Before all that happens, refresh your memory by listening to the latest episode of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast. It's available right now. Just click that play button below.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 140: Some Woodian curiosities, nothing more...

An illustration from Charles Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop.

How did he do it? How did Edward D. Wood, Jr., a man with an out-of-control drinking problem, remain so prolific during the most chaotic years of his life? Even in the 1970s, when he was spiraling toward oblivion at an alarming pace, Eddie was still dependably churning out short stories, articles, novels, film scripts, and more -- all written in his unique style. 

Meanwhile, I, a total non-drinker, can barely find the time or energy to compose even a single blog post a week about dear Eddie. Work has been heavy lately, and when I get home from a long shift, all I want to do is collapse. Keeping the podcast going is a hell of a lot of work, not all of it fun, but I've managed to keep doing it. That's pretty much my only semi-creative outlet these days.

Still in all, I'm determined not to let Ed Wood Wednesdays die or even go into hibernation. It's my stated goal to post something to this series every week in 2023, barring some huge disaster or emergency. To that end, I'll point you toward some of the more interesting Ed Wood-related items I've come across lately.

Jordan Todorov, my co-author on the Steve Apostolof book (still available), posted a link to a 2004 interview with artist Chester "Chet" Collum, who created the posters for The Snow Bunnies (1972), The Cocktail Hostesses (1973), and Fugitive Girls (1974), as well as the covers for Ed Wood's novels Killer in Drag (1963) and Watts... the Difference (1967). Collum is remarkably forthcoming about his career: how he worked, what he was paid, why he stopped, etc. A must-read for Wood fans.

Meanwhile, some Ed Wood fans are doing very interesting things on YouTube. For instance, the amazing Kelly Luck has created an anaglyph 3D version of Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957) that you can watch if you happen to have a spare set of red-and-blue glasses lying around. Being a B-movie junkie, I always have plenty of those damned things, and I can say that Kelly's version of Plan 9 works great and provides a fun new way to see this much-dissected movie. As with the colorized version, this edition made me spot new details in a film I've already seen dozens of times by now. (For some reason, I started fixating on Jeff and Paula Trent's patio furniture.)

Another great YouTube channel belongs to one Dennis Smithers, Jr. Let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, Dennis is providing a real service to the Wood fan community with his so-called "circumcised cuts" of Eddie's adult films from the 1960s and '70s. What he's done is take out all the sex and nudity, leaving just the acting and dialogue. Here's his version of Orgy of the Dead (1965).

Fun, right? It does my heart good to know that Ed Wood is still inspiring his fans, all these decades after his death. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Podcast Tuesday: "Roll Over, Scott Baio, and Tell Anson Williams the News" (OUR 200th EPISODE)

Henry Winkler and a bust of Mozart on Happy Days.

Two hundred episodes. Jesus, how did we ever let things get this far? 

Yes, this week marks the 200th installment of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast, which started in October 2018 and has continued more or less steadily since then with its goal of reviewing each episode of the classic ABC sitcom Happy Days (1974-84). We're about 80% of the way toward achieving that goal now as we cover the show's ninth season out of eleven.

Sometimes, I feel like my cohost and I are playing an incredibly prolonged game of chicken. Surely, after a while, one of us will admit that doing a podcast about Happy Days is a ridiculous idea with an incredibly narrow appeal and stop this madness. But we don't. Neither of us is willing to back down. So the podcast continues—episode by episode, season by season. Garry Marshall is holding us hostage from beyond the grave.

As it turns out, our 200th episode is a review of the February 1982 episode "A Touch of Classical" in which Fonzie (Henry Winkler) tries to get the kids at Arnold's to embrace classical music over rock. He's doing all this to get in good with his new girlfriend, a sophisticated music teacher named Cynthia (Small Wonder's Marla Pennington). The episode's highlight is a dream sequence in which Fonzie imagines himself to be Tchaikovsky. You call tell it's a dream because this version of Tchaikovsky is aggressively heterosexual.

What did we think of "A Touch of Classical"? There's one way to find out. Just click that play button down there and listen to the 200th episode of These Days Are Ours.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 139: Ed Wood in Spanish REVISITED!

Detail from a vintage travel poster that I thought was neat. It has no direct connection to Ed Wood.

My recent 2022 Ed-Vent Calendar series, which you can read here, was meant to be spontaneous, informal, and off-the-cuff. For the most part, I did not plan the articles in advance, nor did I do any intense research for them. They were more like journal entries. That definitely applies to Day 15, a brief little blurb about how Ed Wood's movies were marketed in Spanish-speaking countries. It's a topic about which I know very little (as the article attests) but which does interest me.

A poster for Aranas Infernales.
Well, that post received a very informative response from a reader from México named Jordan. I'd like to share his email with you now.
Hello, Joe. 

I am a B-movie fan from México and I have been reading your blog for several months now. As a legitimate Ed Wood fan I must say that I loved it. It's great to have people dig out more and more information about the man, even if it's something small.

What inspired me to message you is your post about the Spanish lobby cards and posters for some Ed Wood movies. Wood has had a virtually irrelevant presence in México and Latin America and most people were not even aware of his movies until the 1994 Tim Burton movie, which played often on cable. However, there are some small things to discuss.

In your post, you speculated that Plan 9 from Outer Space probably had a Spanish dub. This is probably not the case. Movies around that time were not actually dubbed into Spanish, at least not for the most part. Mexicans had to watch movies subtitled, in their original language or just go to a similar-looking Mexican production. There is speculation regarding a possible Spanish dub of Plan 9, there are several accounts of people who swear they watched a Spanish version of the film. Supposedly, there was a dub made for it around the 1990s and the last time it was shown on TV was around the early 2000's in both Peru and Puerto Rico. I have seen the movie on Mexican public television but it was always subtitled.

There is an entry for Plan 9 in a wiki database for the dub industry in Mexico, in the entry, only Bela Lugosi is credited to have a dub actor. As you can see this is a problem because he doesn't talk in the film! So there's obviously no dubbing credit attributed to his character. The rest is empty.

As of now, the dub is considered lost media and there's no real way to confirm its existence. The closest thing we have to a Plan 9 Spanish dub was a clip from Night of the Creeps (1986) that showed the movie and the dubbing of the Tim Burton movie. Among Spanish speakers, dubbing is a big deal. We worship our dubbing actors. Not only that, but Spanish dubs made in Latin America are hard to come by when it comes to cult movies or even classic older films. These are often considered treasures.

We hope that the Plan 9 dub is eventually found. Weirder things have happened. We recently discovered two Larry Buchanan pictures in Spanish. Who knows what we will find in the future?

As a bonus, I will add that the Mexican horror/sci fi/wrestling movie Arañas Infernales (1966) features shots taken directly from Plan 9 from Outer Space, the flying saucer shots, and basically a whole scene from Teenagers from Outer Space (1959) (the dog scene). It's a fun film that I recommend to B-movie fanatics. You probably already know this but I thought I should mention it, just in case.

Thanks a lot for your work. I will certainly be looking forward to another entry in your blog.
Jordan later sent me an addendum concerning Peliculas Coloso (Colossal Films), the company that distributed Plan 9 in México. In my original article, I speculated that Plan 9 must've been the company's only release, but Jordan has evidence to the contrary. He says he's found Spanish lobby cards for Adventure Island (1947), Midnight Manhunt (1945), Double Exposure (1944) and La malquerida (1949), all from Peliculas Coloso.

Fascinating stuff, no?

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Podcast Tuesday: "Frankie Avalon Live! (Without Annette)"

Henry Winkler and Frankie Avalon on Happy Days.

I've written about this before, but my musical education as a youth came from a collection of very worn 45 RPM singles I received from my mother, who in turn got them decades earlier from the jukebox at her parents' bar in Northern Michigan. So many weird, great '50s hits were in there, including Pat Boone's most rockin' song by far, "That's How Much I Love You." (No, really, give that song a chance.)

In addition to that deathless classic, Mom had records by Annette Funicello ("Tall Paul"), The Robins ("Cherry Lips"), Dodie Stevens ("Pink Shoe Laces"), Johnny Preston ("Running Bear'), Fats Domino ("Whole Lotta Lovin'"), Alvin and the Chipmunks ("The Chipmunk Song" and "Alvin's Harmonica"), and even Ray Anthony (the Peter Gunn theme b/w "Tango for Two"). These songs became the soundtrack to my childhood. I didn't understand why the other kids in the neighborhood didn't know them.

One of the records in my mother's collection was "Why" by Frankie Avalon, the last #1 hit of the 1950s. Mom would have been about 13 when it was a hit, exactly the right age to appreciate the swoony, squeaky clean romanticism of it. Mom and I bonded over our love of rock and pop hits from the '50s and early '60s and would frequently sing along to the oldies station on the car radio. The first compact disc I ever owned was an Art Laboe Oldies But Goodies compilation that included another Avalon classic, "Venus." (I made that purchase at my mother's suggestion and have listened to that album many hundreds of times since .)

"Why" and "Venus" have been burned into my brain for decades, and I've seen a few of Frankie Avalon's movies, like Grease (1978) and Skidoo (1968), plus a couple of those Beach Party movies he made with Annette. But I can't say I've ever given much thought to the cultural phenomenon that is Francis Thomas Avallone. Decent enough singer and actor, but why did he briefly become such a cultural sensation? Why was he a cultural touchstone for my mom's generation? What was it about this guy?

This week on the Happy Days podcast, we're reviewing "Poobah Doo Dah," a 1982 episode guest starring Frankie Avalon himself. Yes, Frankie and the Fonz are together at last! Does this make for a classic? Find out this week on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 138: "Plan 9 from Bed-Stuy (Featuring the Notorious T.O.R.)" (2022)

Criswell in "Plan 9 from Bed-Stuy."

How did you spend the last day of 2022? I spent it remixing the theme music from Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957). Let me explain.

For a while now, I've been wanting to do an article about Trevor Duncan's "Grip of the Law," the dramatic, instantly recognizable composition we hear during the title sequence of Plan 9. Presumably it was music supervisor Gordon Zahler, not Ed Wood personally, who chose this bit of stock music. Nevertheless, this recording has become practically synonymous with Ed. When that iconic title card reading "Written-Produced-Directed by EDWARD D. WOOD, JR." appears on the screen—arguably the high point of Ed Wood's career—it's Duncan's music on the soundtrack.

English composer Trevor Duncan.
Like many examples of so-called "library" or "production" music, "Grip of the Law" has been used in numerous movies, radio shows, and TV series since the '50s—mainly British ones, I should point out, since Duncan was an Englishman who worked directly for the BBC. Outside of Plan 9, the most prominent use of "Grip of the Law" in America was probably Anatomy of a Psycho (1961), though I fondly remember hearing it on one of Bob & Ray's radio shows, too.

Anyway, I was listening to "Grip of the Law" on repeat recently while trying to figure out what I wanted to say about the darned thing. As an amateur musician, my instinct was to tap my toe to the beat. That's when I noticed something odd: "Grip of the Law" does not have a standard 4/4 rhythm like most popular music. I might be embarrassing myself here (and I'm sure more knowledgeable musicians will be quick to correct me), but it sounds like it's in 5/8, a la John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) theme. The song is off-kilter. It keeps the listener feeling unbalanced.

Just as an experiment, I decided to build a standard 4/4 loop around some string parts from "Grip of the Law." This took some trial and error, but eventually I pieced together a convincing 4/4 loop that was still recognizable as the Plan 9 theme. Then, apparently having nothing better to do, I kept adding parts to it, mainly horn hits, until I had a piece of music that ran a little over a minute. To that, I added an 80 BPM (beats per minute) drum loop.

The track still didn't feel "complete" to me, so I added some second-hand vocals to it. The monologue at the beginning ("Mother Earth is pregnant for the third time..") comes from "Maggot Brain," a classic 1971 track by Funkadelic. The rest of the vocals come from "Dead Wrong" by The Notorious B.I.G. I chose this track for a couple of reasons—the ghoulish title, most obviously, and the fact that it was released posthumously on the Born Again (1999) album. I suppose I saw a parallel between Ed Wood patching together a Bela Lugosi movie and Bad Boy Records patching together a Biggie Smalls album.

Was I done yet? Nope. I still needed to make a video for the track. My video-editing skills are limited at best, but I did what I could with some borrowed clips from Plan 9. And thus was born "Plan 9 from Bed-Stuy (Featuring the Notorious T.O.R.)." That title, by the way, is a reference to the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, aka the home of The Notorious B.I.G.

I realize this is a lot of explanation for a silly, minute-long video, but sometimes I feel like overexplaining myself. Here's the video, if you haven't seen it. Enjoy or don't. Either way, it's free. (Remember, you get what you pay for.)