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the otto files

where the classics never go out of style

I wrote yesterday of my first Sinatra concert in April of 1980. In truth, It was the only actual “Sinatra Concert” I ever attended although I did see him perform live one more time about four years later in the summer of 1984. Back in those days, Sammy Davis Jr. used to host a Pro-Am Golf Tournament in Hartford, Connecticut. On the Saturday night before the final Sunday round, there was a benefit concert to support whatever charity the tournament supported. I don’t remember now what it was. Anyway, that summer of 1984, Frank Sinatra opened Sammy’s benefit show with five songs. Interestingly, the only song I can remember him singing now is “This Is All I Ask” which had originally been released almost thirty years  before on one of my all-time favorite Sinatra albums, 1965’s September of My Years. Following Frank was a tremendously funny comedian and impressionist named George Kirby who I knew from an obscure little show in the 1970s entitled The Kopykats. Finally, the main attraction of the evening, Sammy Davis Jr., came out and bowled us over, as expected.

Needless to say, that night in 1984 in Connecticut I was NOT ten feet away from the stage like I had been in April of 1980 and I did not know anyone in the show. By 1984, Vinnie Falcone had moved on. He’d parted company with Sinatra in 1982 although he did come back for a spell during the 1985-1986 concert season. The most significant change was I didn’t go back stage after the concert either although, to be technical about it, I didn’t in 1980 either. Here’s what happened:

When my Uncle Bob, mom, and I exited the theater that night in 1980 I was euphoric. I was so excited I thought I was going to burst! We waited for a few moments in the lobby outside and were quickly joined by Vincent Falcone in his tux. He, too, was pumped up. According to Vince, the show we had just seen was one of the very best “The Old Man” had done in recent memory. Falcone almost always referred to Frank Sinatra as Mr. S., The Old Man, or Boss – never as “Frank.” I seem to remember that Vince actually had to sit down while he discussed the show with us. He was sweating and a little out of breath. We stood around him happy to share in his enthusiasm and wanting to thank him for the great show we had just seen. However, as wonderful as the afterglow of the concert was, the more Falcone talked to us out in back of the theater, the more I began thinking, “Oh no, is this it?”

Now, I should say that while I was thinking “Is this it” I was simultaneously chastising myself for such an ungrateful thought. However, you must remember, Vinnie Falcone wasn’t just some local musician playing with the big headliner. He was Sinatra’s Musical Director, pianist, and conductor! I had already heard more stories over the past four years of my uncle having hung out with Vinnie and the Sinatra entourage. I wasn’t really expecting to hit the crap tables with them but I was hoping to just get introduced and shake his hand!

But no, instead we just kept talking and talking for what seemed like two weeks to me. The longer this went on, the more I realized we weren’t going to meet Sinatra. And why should we? We were literally just the sister and nephew of a friend of the conductor . . . from Rochester, New York, no less! By this time, I was more or less lost in my internal labyrinth of thoughts when all of a sudden I heard, like a foghorn cutting through the fog, “Let me get changed and we’ll go downstairs and see the old man.” Wait! What? Did he just say we were going to see . . .? Vinnie got up and was gone and I’m sorry to say that I now have absolutely no recollection whatsoever of what happened in the time that we were waiting for Vinnie to get changed. We must have talked about what was going to happen but it’s just a total blank. All I remember are the butterflies that were bouncing around in my stomach.

The next thing I remember is walking down the corridors of Resorts International Casino, the gaudy, fabulous corridors. I do remember passing a high-end chocolate shop where earlier in the day we had bought some delicious dark chocolate non-pareils. Next thing I knew, we were entering one of the many lounges in the hotel. There was live music emanating from inside the room but the band stand was in the furthest back end of the room. On the right was a long bar stretching halfway down the entire length of the room. A Maitre D’ came over to us and immediately we were headed for the left side of the room directly across from the bar where there were tables and then a raised platform with more tables. The raised platform area with the tables was actually roped off with those large velvet ropes you used to see in theaters. Do they still have those? Anyway, the rope was pulled back and with Vinnie leading the way, we ascended the two steps onto the next level, literally and metaphorically. All of a sudden, before I knew what happened, there was Frank Sinatra in front of me. Vince was introducing all of us and Frank barked to someone, “Get some chairs and put them around the table.” Someone grabbed three chairs and we squeezed in to the group that was Sinatra’s audience around this low coffee table in the lounge.

Once again, it’s hard to remember the seating assignments perfectly after all these years but I know there was someone to Frank’s right at the table but I don’t remember who that was. Continuing counter-clockwise around the table was Paul “Skinny” D’Amato, best known for running The 500 Club in Atlantic City for many years. It was at The 500 Club that the team of Martin & Lewis was actually born in July of 1946. D’Amato was a long time Sinatra pal. Frank felt a special loyalty to D’Amato because, according to Sinatra, he was one of the few guys who continued to hire him during the dark days of his career in the late 1940s and early 1950s. To D’Amato’s right was Yours Truly. I know, right!?!? To my right was Uncle Bob, then my mom, then either Vinnie or the former Police Commissioner of NYC and then a young woman and Bobby Marx, Barbara Marx’s son. There may have been one or two other people on the outside fringe of the circle but I can’t remember it all clearly.

There are only a few things I took pains to remember all these years, one being the fact that I was sitting next to “Skinny” D’Amato. The other was Sinatra’s attire. He was wearing a black, faux silk warmup jacket with a colorful NBC peacock over the left breast. I think he had just finished shooting some special at NBC and that’s where he got the jacket. He regaled us with a few stories of his days with Dean and Sammy. It was thrilling to me because I was essentially in a bar at 2:00 am as part of Frank’s inner circle, if only for that one night. At the time, the stories were thrilling to me although I imagine many in his internal group had heard the stories numerous times before. The one I remember best had to do with the 1961 marriage of Sammy Davis to May Britt, a fair-haired, caucasian actress. Sinatra, as Sammy’s best man, was making various arrangements for the affair. He and Dean went looking for a gift for the happy couple. They went shopping for a sofa for the couple’s new home. They agreed on a style they liked and when the salesman asked what color or design they wanted for the actual fabric that would cover the sofa Sinatra said, “Oh, Mr. Martin can choose that.” Sinatra said on the day of the wedding, the sofa was wrapped and delivered to the Davis home where the wedding took place. It came time for the gifts to be opened and when they unwrapped the sofa, the sofa was covered in a black and white zebra stripe design. Frank said, “I turned to Drunky [Dean] and said, ‘What the hell is that?’ Dean said, ‘What? I thought they’d blend right in!'”

My next memory has to do with the Trilogy album that my Uncle Bob had purchased for me at the concert. At some point, someone asked or suggested that Mr. Sinatra sign the album for me. Sinatra said, “What should I write? Vince mentioned that the young man (me) listened only to our music – the standards, the big bands, the great composers. They were all amazed and impressed that I didn’t like any of the current rock music and that my musical interests were focused solely on Sinatra and his contemporaries. Someone found a sharpie and handed it to Sinatra who proceeded to write something on my album. Before I saw what he wrote, a few others in the entourage got a glimpse of the inscription and laughed and complimented Sinatra on his clever note. When I got the album back I read, “For Billy – “Rock Stinks” 1980 Frank Sinatra”

Trilogy, by the way, was the album that contained this song that forever after became a Sinatra staple in all of his concert performances. Here’s one just two months after we had seen Sinatra in A.C. Falcone is conducting and that’s the great Tony Mottola on guitar.

At some point, it was time to leave. I seem to think Frank had told one of his guys that he needed to go to the men’s room and with that Uncle Bob or Vince decided it was probably time for us to go as well. By this time it was past 4:00 am. We all got up to say our goodbyes and Frank got up and reached across the table to shake my hand. Then he squeezed my cheek between his thumb and index finger before giving me a little tap and telling me that I needed to get to bed.

But that wasn’t the end. No, what came next is actually the moment that lived on in memory and lore in our family for years and years and it had absolutely nothing to do with me. Remember I told you that we were seating around a low, circular coffee table? Well, I was only two people away from Frank at the table so it was easier for him to reach around one side to shake my hand and give my face the little love tap. However, in my mother’s case, she was directly across the table from Sinatra so there was the expanse of the table’s diameter which was probably 3-4 feet wide. Now you need to know that my mother always had a thing about how she carried herself. She was very much a lady. The older she got, whenever we’d drive her somewhere when it came time for her to exit the passenger seat of the vehicle she would invariably say, “How to get out of a car gracefully?” She was always very aware and concerned about being clumsy. She wasn’t really clumsy at all but for whatever reason, she was wary of it. Now Sinatra reaches out to my mother to say goodbye. He grasps her hand and leans slightly over the table and puckers up for a kiss. My mother grabs his hand and looking back at him puckers her lips and makes an air kiss. And that was it!! Essentially, Frank Sinatra had given her the go ahead to come on in for a landing to one of the most famous pair of lips in American history and my mother rebuffed him!

For years afterward, my mother would say, “I can’t believe I had the chance to kiss Frank Sinatra and I blew it!” The reason she didn’t take the smooch from Ol’ Blue Eyes was because she was afraid to lean over the table, lose her balance and cause a scene. It all worked out because it made for a wonderful story to tell. My mother – the only woman in America to refuse a kiss to the heartthrob of the bobbysoxers. By the way, my mother had actually been one of those screaming kids that saw Sinatra at the Paramount in the 1940s!

Oh and there was one more ridiculous addendum to this story. During the concert I had taken some pictures with the camera that  I had with me. However, not knowing or thinking yet about the possibility of meeting Sinatra, I burned through the roll. Remember, these were the days before digital so you only had 12, 24, or 36 pictures to a roll. Now we’re in the lounge and someone remembers to ask for the autograph but NO ONE THINKS TO ASK FOR A PHOTO!!! So 37 years later, I have the misty memories of a magical night but no photographic evidence. And we thought my mother’s blunder was our biggest goof!

Next up, my reunions with Vincent Falcone in the years following my Sinatra Summit.

 

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Heartbroken yesterday to learn of the passing of Vinnie Falcone, pianist, arranger, and musical director of some of the greatest interpreters of the Great American Songbook.

Mr. Falcone was born and raised in Syracuse, New York. He played in clubs in small combos and large aggregations starting in the 1950s. In the early 1970s he decided to try his hand at the next level and moved to Las Vegas to establish residence before being eligible to join the Musician’s Union, Local 369, of  that city. He began playing house piano at the old Thunderbird Hotel where he came to the attention of Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme. He was hired to play second keyboard for the couple at a Caesar’s Palace engagement. He so impressed the management at Caesar’s that he eventually became the house pianist there.  The first headliner who used his services at Caesar’s was Frank Sinatra. Sinatra was the biggest act in Vegas and one of the most demanding. He was a perfectionist when it came to the music. Mr. Falcone passed the test for Mr. Sinatra and within a couple of years Vincent Falcone Jr. was Frank Sinatra’s Musical Director traveling all over the world with “The Chairman of the Board.”

In 1970 when Vinnie Falcone made his way to Las Vegas I was six years old. I had never met Mr. Falcone and had absolutely no idea who he was. However, by 1970, my Uncle Bob had known Vinnie for a few years. Both had, at one time or another, worked for a gentleman named Guido Singer in Syracuse, New York, selling pianos. I don’t think either had any idea when they met in the 1960s that they would enjoy a close and devoted friendship for the next 50+ years of their lives.

In 1976 my father died. I was 12 years old. A few years before his passing, I had begun to dig around in my dad’s big band albums and I liked what I heard. He also some some Sinatra albums and I liked those as well. In car trips he would play Sinatra on the 8-track tape player which is where I first heard a full sampling of the Sinatra repertoire via the “Sinatra: A Man and His Music” album that originally came out in November of 1965. When my dad died, I comforted myself with all the things that had brought him happiness including his music. Not long after, Falcone started playing more regularly with Frank Sinatra and my Uncle Bob took a trip to Las Vegas to attend a Sinatra show. When he came back he regaled me with stories of hanging out with Vinnie, Mr. Sinatra, and one of my dad’s and my favorite comedians, Flip Wilson. I was beyond impressed. I wanted so badly to hear and meet Frank Sinatra. One day I said to my uncle, “Uncle Bob, I need to see Sinatra before either he or I die.” It sounds like a rather silly thing for a 12 year old to say except when you consider that my dad’s sudden departure had left me somewhat shell-shocked  and rather obsessed with death. Those days after my dad’s death had left me with a rather fatalistic sense of reality. In truth, that fatalism has never completely left me.

In late March or early April of 1980, my uncle told me that “WE” ( he, my mom and I) were going to see Sinatra at Resorts International Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on April 11, 1980. I was thrilled to no end. So it was that a short time later on a bright and crisp Friday morning we drove down the New York State Thruway to Buffalo where we caught a commercial jet to Philadelphia and then a small prop plane to Atlantic City. The whole experience was exciting but I was so consumed about what was ahead and seeing Frank Sinatra live in concert that I was unable to focus on much of anything else. You need to know that by the time we took this trip, I had spent a solid four years listening to Frank Sinatra’s music almost exclusively. At that point in my life I listened to Frank, Dean, Sammy, Bing and some Ella. Beyond that, I listened to Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James and some of the music of my siblings’ generation like the Beatles or the Supremes. That was it.

My recollection isn’t perfect but I know we saw Sinatra on a Friday night. They did two shows – one at 8:00 p.m. and another at either 11:00 or 11:30 p.m. We attended the late show. When we entered the showroom, we were shown to a table right in front of the stage. I’m sorry. Let me repeat that so I can be sure you understand. We were seated at a table RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE STAGE. We were seated at the end of the table furtherest away from the stage. I was at the very end of the table, or head of the table, depending on how you look at it. What I did not realize at the time was that we were seated at “The Sinatra table” with people like Barbara Marx’s son Bobby Marx, a former police captain of the city of New York and other invited guests.

In April of 1980, Frank Sinatra was in fine voice. He had just spent the past year recording what he thought might very well be his last great album, a three record set entitled Trilogy: The Past, Present, and Future. It was an imperfect album to be sure but there’s no denying that it included some really fabulous recordings. I would learn years later from Vince that Sinatra had treated himself and his vocal chords a little better in those days leading up to and during the recording of that album. I’ve always assumed that was why when we saw him just a few months after recording on Trilogy had been completed (they finished in December of 1979), he was still sounding great!

The repertoire that night consisted of songs I knew well such as “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” Street of Dreams,” and “Lady Is A Tramp,” as well as songs that were not as familiar to me at the time like “You and Me, We Wanted It All,” “More Than You Know” (verse included), and the spectacular new arrangement of “The Song Is You.” Prior to entering the showroom, I had been suffering from a pounding sinus headache, no doubt due to the cold and windy April walk on the beach and the change in pressure experienced during the up and down of my two different plane flights that day. That said, when the show ended I felt better than ever before. I can only imagine the amount of adrenaline that was coursing through my body during the performance. All I really remember about the performance other than the songs themselves was thinking to myself, “I’m sitting here and Frank Sinatra is right there. Frank Sinatra is 10 feet away from me singing ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin.'” I was extremely conscious of the unbelievable circumstances of what I was witnessing. And extremely grateful.

***Next post will include our time with Vinnie after the show and the meeting of his employer. 🙂

 

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Two of the “Ocean’s 11” crew – the original crew – shared birthdays today: Richard Conte and Norman Fell. In fact, Conte’s character plays the vital role in the outcome of the 1960 heist film.

Richard Conte was a dark, tough looking Italian and subsequently played lots of tough guys roles in the movies and on television. From 1960 – 1968, Conte appeared in four Frank Sinatra movies: Ocean’s Eleven (1960), Assault on a Queen (1966), Tony Rome (1967), and Lady in Cement (1968). In the first half of his career, he appeared in some critically acclaimed war pictures as well as some top-notch film noir: Guadalcanal Diary (1943), A Walk in the Sun (1945),  Somewhere in the Night (1946), and House of Strangers (1949). For all the great roles and great films he appeared in, he will probably be best remembered for one of his last roles as Don Emilio Barzini in The Godfather (1972). In the immortal words of Don Vito Corleone: “Tattaglia’s a pimp. He never could have out-fought Santino. But I didn’t know until this day that is was Barzini all along.”

Norman Fell was one of the character actors who seemed to be in everything in film and television for over three decades. For better or for worse, despite Fell’s long and varied career, he is ultimately remembered for one rather dopey role – that of Mr. Roper, the nosey landlord on Three’s Company (1976 – 1981). In truth, he was a regular on other TV series as well including 87th Precinct (1961-1962), Dan August (1970-1971), and Needles and Pins (1973-1974). Nevertheless, I’m sure most people would be even more surprised to know that in addition to Ocean’s Eleven, he also appeared in such movie classics as The Graduate (1967), Bullitt (1968), and Catch-22 (1970). Personally, I liked it best when he surprised me with roles and appearances I wouldn’t expect like showing up as Sigmund Freud in Bewitched (1966) or playing himself in a Pepto Bismol commercial. Now that was unexpected!!

With Fell in this commercial is actor and legendary TV director Noam Pitlik.

Lest we forget, Norman was also the cop that came upon Smiler Grogan and the gang of goofballs in It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World!

In recent days, Norman Fell has achieved something of a cult renaissance as he is often mentioned on Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast as one of the host’s favorite character actors. I would certainly agree with Mr. Gottfried on that opinion.

Happy Birthday Richard Conte and Norman Fell – wherever you are!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Everyone’s favorite bumbling sitcom Nazi would have been 97 years old today. Werner Klemperer was born in Germany on March 22, 1920. His father, Otto Klemperer, was a world famous symphony conductor. The family, which was Jewish, wisely fled Europe in 1935.

Werner Klemperer would go on to have a solid and steady career in theater, films, and television. Although he never arrived in America until the age of 15, he spoke without any discernible accent. That may be because according to IMDB, Klemperer worked under the great Shakespearean actor Maurice Evans in a U.S. Special Services unit during WWII. It’s interesting to note that both Evans and Klemperer had classical backgrounds but found their greatest fame on American sitcoms – Klemperer as the bumbling Colonel Klink on Hogan’s Heroes and Evans as the pompous Maurice, Samantha’s melodramatic father, on Bewitched.

In a fascinating bit of trivia, the IMDB site also claims that Werner Klemperer and Gary Busey are the only two actors in history to have appeared on the three longest scripted shows on television: Gunsmoke, The Simpsons, and Law and Order. In fact, it’s rather fitting that Klemperer’s reappearance as “Colonel Klink” on The Simpsons episode in 1993  would prove to be the veteran actor’s last TV part before his death in 2000.

Any Baby Boomer who grew up in the 1960s and/or 1970s will always remember Werner Klemperer and his Hogan’s Heroes cronies with great fondness. It’s also important to note that people like Klemperer, John Banner (Sgt. Schultz) and Robert Clary (Cpl. Labue) were all either victims of, or refugees from, Nazi Germany. Their intent was to degrade the Nazis, not glorify them.

In his later years, Klemperer found great joy and success in traveling around with various philharmonic orchestras and narrating classic pieces like “Peter and the Wolf.”

Here’s Colonel Klink and another icon of 1960s television.

Here’s Colonel Klink in his more natural element.

Klemperer discusses Klink and more on an appearance with Pat Sajak.

A more serious Klemperer in two chilling scenes from Judgment at Nuremberg (1961).

And finally, his swan song as Colonel Klink.

Diiiiiiisss – miiiiiissed!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Happy Birthday to one of the most talented men in the history of American entertainment! I love Carl Reiner for numerous reasons and projects that he has given the world. Nevertheless, he could have invented the light bulb and I still wouldn’t have been as grateful for that daily necessity as I am for his invention of “Alan Brady,” one of my all-time favorite TV characters. Also notable is the creation of The Dick Van Dyke Show itself, one of the top 5 greatest sitcoms ever. The original Dick Van Dyke Show was called Head of the Family with Carl Reiner playing the “Rob Petrie” character. The show was based on Carl Reiner’s experiences with Sid Caesar and Your Show of Shows in the early 1950s. The original pilot of Head of the Family was not picked up but when Sheldon Leonard saw it, he thought it had potential. Reiner initially balked because he didn’t want to do it again and fail again but Leonard, in essence, told him, “We’ll get a better you.” That “better Carl” turned out to be Dick Van Dyke and the rest is history. Here’s the cast of The Dick Van Dyke Show singing praises to their boss, Alan Brady. I add my own voice to the chorus of adoration.

Carl Reiner is 95 today. That, in and of itself, is impressive enough. You want to be REALLY impressed? Watch this clip from Reiner’s appearance last week with Conan O’Brien. Just incredible.

And speaking of all-time favorites, here is my favorite few minutes from one of the greatest TV shows ever. Mary Tyler Moore is brilliant in this scene. Carl Reiner is brilliant in this scene. The styrofoam heads are brilliant in this scene. It is perfect. “Fellas, here’s the guy who’s given us 60+ years of laughter and joy.” Thank you Carl Reiner, thank you Alan Brady. May you have many, many happy, healthy birthdays to come!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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If you read through posts on this site it will quickly become obvious that I love character actors and actresses. As of late, I’ve taken to recording birthdays of thespians, musicians, comedians, etc. to salute here on this site, on my Sinatra and Company Facebook page, and on my weekly radio show. Today is a jackpot day with AT LEAST five wonderful character actors who were all born on this day.

PAUL FIX: Paul Fix is one of those guys whose face is more familiar than his name. In fact, with the possible exception of just one of the March 13th celebrants, this is true for all of the actors we’ll salute today. Fix became a fixture (pardon the pun) in Western films and TV shows starting back in the earliest days of talking films. His IMDB list well over 300 credits! And while IMDB may not always be the most reliable source, it usually errs on the side of not having all of an actor’s credits as opposed to listing more than the actor deserves. Fix was probably best known for his role of Marshall Micah Torrance on the series The Rifleman, (1958-1963) with Chuck Connors. According to IMDB, he was also a friend of John Wayne’s which seems likely since he appeared in well over 15 films with the Duke. It’s undeniable that he always seemed to show up in the wild west as a man of respect – judge, doctor, or sheriff. However, as you look through his incredible list of credits you’ll note that he also crops up in films that are far from the old west, particularly in the first half of his career: After the Thin Man (1936), Black Friday (1940), The Ghost Breakers (1940), Alias Boston Blackie (1942), and The Bad Seed (1956). Still don’t know who he is? You will once you see his face. Paul Fix was born March 13, 1901.

 

FRANK WILCOX: Next up for our birthday salute is Frank Wilcox. He is another character actor with an amazing list of credits numbering in the 300s! Like Fix, Wilcox was known for primarily respectable characters like judges, doctors, bankers, and big businessmen. However, he could also play the occasional bad guy, usually one who was a shyster of sorts or perhaps just a little unethical. Wilcox was also adept at comedy. He made numerous appearances on both The Jack Benny Program (1954-1963) and The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show (1953-1957). For Baby-Boomers like myself, he’s probably best remembered as Mr. Brewster from The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-1966). He played a rather sophisticated oil man who indulged the Clampetts as best he could because Jed had a hell of a lot of oil! I haven’t seen a Beverly Hillbillies episode in quite a while but I seem to remember that Jed’s sister played by Bea Benaderet (aka Betty Rubble) always “had a thing” for Mr. Brewster. Like Fix, Wilcox had a long film career before becoming a staple on television. He appeared in such films as They Died With Their Boots On (1941), Across the Pacific (1942), Cass Timberlane (1947), and The Greatest Show on Earth (1952). He also showed up over a half dozen times as a judge on Perry Mason (1957 – 1966). Frank Wilcox was born on March 13, 1907.

 

PAUL STEWART: This may be my favorite of the actors celebrating March 13th birthdays. Paul Stewart had a long and distinguished career. He began on radio as a member of Orson Welles Mercury Theater Players and was involved in the famous 1938 “War of the Worlds” broadcast. He made his featured film debut in Citizen Kane (1941). He went on to a long career in films and television usually playing a dark, sinister character of some sort or another. More often than not, he portrayed gangsters or members of a crime syndicate. He was a prolific artist with a deep, mysterious voice that no doubt explains his success on radio. In researching this little tribute, I learned that in the 1950s and 1960s, Stewart tried his hand at directing. He worked as a director on  episodes of M Squad, Michael Shayne, and Checkmate. He even helmed an episode of The Twilight Zone, “Little Girl Lost” (S3, Ep.26). I recently caught Stewart on an episode of Perry Mason. When I tend to think of Paul Stewart, I think of a Rockford Files episode from 1977 entitled “Irving the Explainer.” Rockford Files was a favorite show of mine as a kid so perhaps that explains why I think of that role first when I think of Stewart. As I remember it, the character was multi-dimensional – he was a good guy who’d done some bad things. I can tell you this – very little, if anything, Paul Stewart ever did on radio, films or TV was anything but top-notch. Paul Stewart was born on March 13, 1908.

 

PETER BRECK: I have two words for Peter Breck – “Nick Barkley.” Hands down, if you recognize Peter Breck, you recognize him as Barbara Stanwyck’s #2 son, Nick Barkley, on the popular series Big Valley (1965-1969). He also appeared in a long-forgotten frontier series called Black Saddle (1959-1960). The series was cancelled after two seasons but it got him a contract at Warner Brothers which led to his appearance in a number of TV series shot at the studio during the 1960s including Maverick starring James Garner. Breck turned up throughout the series as the legendary Doc Holiday. Again, in reading about Breck today I learned that he grew up in my hometown of Rochester, New York and attended John Marshall High School. Peter Breck was born on March 13, 1929.

 

LESLIE PARRISH: Ms. Parrish is the only one of our celebrants who is still with us. She turns 82 today. She was a familiar presence on TV during the 1960s with roles in such popular shows as Perry Mason, 77 Sunset Strip, Hawaiian Eye, and The Wild, Wild West. She may have logged fewer appearances in feature films than television but the roles she landed were memorable. She was Daisy Mae in the 1959 feature L’il Abner and she co-starred with Vic Morrow and fellow March 13th birthday pal Peter Breck in Portrait of a Mobster, (1961). However, her most important film may have been The Manchurian Candidate (1962), where she played ill-fated Senator Jordan’s (played by John McGiver) daughter Jocelyn. She was also married for 20 years to Richard Bach, author of the ’70s bestseller Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Leslie Parrish was born on March 13, 1935.

Happy Birthday to all the above thespians. I thank them for lifetimes full of entertainment!

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In honor of Harry Belafonte’s 90th birthday, we celebrate the great entertainer and political activist with a favorite song of mine and Dr. Tim’s!!

Harry Belafonte was born in Harlem, New York City in 1927 but spent about eight years of his childhood in Jamaica.

Here’s another catchy tune I’ve always liked. This features Harry with just a touch of support from the wonderful Julie Andrews.

And then there’s a whole other side, a totally separate reason to love and admire Harry Belafonte. It is not just for the views he expresses in this next clip but for the fact that he’s spent his life standing up and fighting for the ideals he believes in. If only this clip weren’t as meaningful and relevant today as it was 50 years ago!

Finally, I dare you to watch this clip without ending up with a big smile on your face as I did. Happy Birthday Mr. Belafonte!

 

 

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Thanks to an e-mail from my friend, “Dr. Tim,” I now have this song stuck in my head like a ’74 Chevy sinking in the mud. I believe this was a deliberate attack on his part to purposely deposit it in my brain so it would keep playing over and over and over, as it now indeed is. Thanks Tim. Thanks a lot.

By the way, it’s not a bad song. It’s just sad. Very, very sad. Thanks again Timmy.

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I remember seeing Tin Men in the theater many years ago and liking it but I honestly didn’t remember it being this funny. Then again, when I saw it in the theater back in 1987, I was a 23-year-old kid who’d never been married or had children and who just recently had become part of the daily work force. In other words, the years of life experience I’ve gained since my initial viewing of this film have almost certainly added to my enjoyment of it. This is a brilliantly funny and affecting film.

The film revolves around the lives of two Baltimore aluminum siding salesmen, aka “Tin Men,” in 1963. The plot is set into motion when BB (Richard Dreyfuss) is pulling his brand new Cadillac out of the dealership and is immediately hit by a passing Cadillac driven by Tilley (Danny DeVito). The accident sets into motion a feud of epic proportions between the two men that ultimately resorts in vandalism, assault and battery, and divorce. Sounds serious and yet, while there is a certain poignancy inherent within the story, it proves to be an extremely funny movie.

This is character driven comedy at its best. The humor comes from the portraits that writer/director Barry Levinson provides of the main characters and their cohorts who are in the business of selling aluminum siding, as well as dreams, to unsuspecting homeowners. Tilley (DeVito) and BB (Dreyfuss) work for different companies but the salad days of their business may be drawing to a close as there is a home improvement commission that has been established to look into claims of fraudulent sales practices being employed within their industry. Both of their lives are headed for big changes that are only propelled by their “accidental meeting” and subsequent hatred for one another.

The supporting cast of this film is one of the best you will find in any movie of the 1980s or any decade for that matter. BB’s team consists of John Mahoney, Seymour Cassel, Richard Portnow and Michael Tucker. Mahoney is best known for playing Martin Crane on the long running sitcom Frasier but as wonderful as that show was, it doesn’t do justice to the brilliant acting abilities of Mahoney. Years ago I saw him in an American Playhouse production on PBS of The House of Blue Leaves and was absolutely blown away. I think Mahoney is one of the very best of his generation. When I think of Seymour Cassel, I think of John Cassavetes. Cassel appeared in no less than half a dozen Cassavetes projects through the years including Minnie and Moskowitz and The Killing of A Chinese Bookie. His one one of the more ubiquitous faces of the last 50 years of film and television production. Portnow has one of the great ethnic character actor faces and is still was one the busiest actors in Hollywood. Michael Tucker is best remembered for his portrayal of Stuart Markowitz on the popular drama, L.A. Law.

Tilley’s “team” consists of Bruno Kirby, Stanley Brock, Jackie Gayle and J.T. Walsh. Stanley Brock is a personal favorite because I have fond memories of a recurring character he played on Barney Miller for many years named Bruno Bender. He was a busy character actor for three decades but one that found too few parts that truly took advantage of his comedic talents. He fits perfectly into the milieu of Tin Men. Bruno Kirby and J.T. Walsh were two of the very best character actors of the 1980s and 1990s. Kirby, although younger than Walsh, had a longer film and TV resume stretching all the way back to the 1970s on projects like Room 222 and Kojak and, most famously, as the young Clemenza in The Godfather, Part II. He later went on to co-star in comedy classics like When Harry Met Sally and The Freshman. J.T. Walsh seemed to be everywhere in the late 1980s throughout the 1990s. He captured roles in popular films such as Good Morning Vietnam, Backdraft, Hoffa, Slingblade and many others. Walsh died in 1998 at the age of 54 and Kirby left us in 2006 at the age of 57 – two great talents who exited the stage much too soon.

As brilliant as both Dreyfus and De Vito are in this film, the comic prize goes to Jackie Gayle as De Vito’s pal Sam. I don’t know if it’s because I remember Gayle from his appearances on the old Dean Martin Roasts when I was a kid or if it’s just my appreciation for his character’s obsession with Bonanza but he had me rolling on the floor just about any time he was in the scene. His acting resume is a short one but it’s all worth it for his characterization in Tin Men.

I seem to remember that Diner, Tin Men, and Avalon, were all part of a Barry Levinson trilogy. They all somehow reflect Levinson’s formative years in Baltimore. Diner and Tin Men are much more comedic with Avalon being a more serious drama but they are all solid winners. I haven’t seen Avalon in many years but I remember it being a really great film. That said, of the three, I think it’s safe to say that Tin Men is the funniest.

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Oh what a tremendous service Turner Classic Movies provides for the civilized of this nation! Earlier this week TCM ran The Magnificent Yankee, an MGM production from 1950 starring Louis Calhern as Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and Ann Harding as his wife of 57 years, Fanny Bowditch Holmes. I had never seen this rather obscure film before and can’t imagine where else I might have seen it other than TCM. Like many historical biopics of the mid-twentieth century, I imagine it probably takes liberties with the true history of Justice Holmes and his career but it’s certainly a more charming and engaging film than most of its kind. Calhern remains Calhern and yet, he seems to capture the spirit of what you would imagine Oliver Wendell Holmes to be like.

The greatest praise I can give to the film is that upon its completion, I made my way to the computer to order a book on Justice Holmes in the hopes of learning more about him. It made me think about the power of film and TV to actually encourage research and learning. We are always anxious to point out the most dreadful product that Hollywood has to offer and with good reason. Film and television production is always good for some truly awful trash whether it be an inane 22 minute situation comedy, a graphically and unnecessarily violent police procedural or a poorly researched news or documentary piece. That said, the truly well done entertainments in those areas are just as worthy of our praise as the flotsam is of our disposing.

Whenever I see Louis Calhern I always think of him as Uncle Willie in the musical remake of The Philadelphia Story, MGM’s delightful 1956 musical, High Society, starring Grace Kelly, Celeste Holm, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. He was the most charming dirty old man ever on film. Sadly, it was his last film as he died at the age of 61 following the completion of High Society. Throughout his career he played more than a few historical figures including not only Justice Holmes but men like Julius Caesar and “Buffalo Bill” Cody. He made his mark in classic comedies like Heaven Can Wait, (1943) with Don Ameche, Blonde Crazy, (1931) with Jimmy Cagney, and as Groucho’s nemesis, Ambassador Trentino, in the classic Marx Brothers comedy, Duck Soup, (1933). He could also play a menacing and imposing heavy when it was called for, as he did in the noir classic, The Asphalt Jungle, (1950).

The Magnificent Yankee includes a long roster of familiar faces of some of the best of Hollywood’s character actors. Any black and white classic of the silver screen is, for me, like looking through an old family photo album. An old movie filled with familiar character actors and actresses fills me with warmth and nostalgia for a youth well spent watching hours of classic films and television. Ann Harding is most recognizable for her role as Mary O’Connor is the holiday favorite, It Happened on Fifth Avenue, (1947) although she worked in films going back to the 1920s and appeared in a number of television programs in the 1950s until retiring sometime in the mid-1960s. Eduard Franz plays Louis Brandeis while Ian Wolfe plays a descendant of the Presidents Adams. Finally, familiar TV faces Richard Anderson and Philip Ober also adorn the festivities.

The film was nominated for two Academy Awards, one for Costume Design and one for Mr. Calhern as Best Actor in a Leading Role. Calhern lost out to Jose Ferrer for his role as Cyrano de Bergerac. It should be noted that Calhern’s physical resemblance to Justice Holmes was quite remarkable.

And the real Justice Holmes.