Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Interesting Developments related to Classic (and Modern) Media

”The News on Parade Corporation presents- News on Parade... Corporation News!” (Newsreel Announcer- voiced by Harry Shearer on The Simpsons Season 5 episode “$pringfield”)

As we are approaching the month of May, At The Matinee presents some interesting (semi-recent) news items related to classic and modern film. 

VITAPHONE DISCS ON DISPLAY AT AN OLD OPERA HOUSE (?) The Shepherdstown Opera House in Shepherdstown, West Virginia might have something of interest for us film buffs.  The theater was built in 1909, and has the distinction of being the first theater in the state of West Virginia to screen sound motion pictures. 
According to an April 24th article in The News-Post on the theater’s revitalization efforts, there is a photograph of theater owner Larry Crumbo in the “green room” of the opera house.  On the wall of the green room, there are two film reels and several large phonograph records on the wall (minus the framed record on the piano). 

At The Matinee wonders if those discs could be Warner Bros. Vitaphone recordings (or sound discs produced by another studio for “sound-on-disc” projection systems)?  

Could this hold the key for Vitaphone features or short subjects with missing soundtrack disc(s)?  ATM has contacted The Vitaphone Project  for input on this.

CRACKLE OFFERS SELECT UNIVERSAL FEATURES FOR STREAMING: Sony’s Crackle streaming video service is known for its selection of vintage and cult Columbia features and TV shows, but has now added films from a competing studio. 

Variety reported that Sony has licensed 140+ feature films from Universal Pictures to be streamed on its Crackle platform.  Not sure if any vintage Universal or pre-1948 Paramount sound features will be included on the service in the near future. 

CRAIG FERGUSON TO LEAVE CBS’ THE LATE LATE SHOW: Yet another late night host is stepping down.  Weeks after David Letterman’s announcement of retirement from Late Night television- Craig Ferguson is leaving The Late Late Show on CBS (which comes on after Letterman’s Late Show).

Ferguson announced that he will step down from the show in December, to focus on other projects- including a new game show, Celebrity Name Game.   No word on who is going to be the successor host for The Late Late Show.   

IN MEMORIAM: At The Matinee remembers character actor Bob Hoskins, who passed away recently at the age of 72.  Many audiences may remember him from the 1988 animated/live-action fantasy film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?  

Thursday, April 24, 2014

90th Anniversary of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Early 1925 advertisement for MGM, which was
called "Metro-Goldwyn" Pictures, as
featured in Photoplay Magazine.

At The Matinee looks back at the once-mighty Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios (or MGM), along with its iconic films and personalities.

April 24, 1924: Theater magnate Marcus Loew (1870-1927) decided to merge his two studio holdings- Metro Pictures Corporation and the financially troubled Goldwyn Pictures Corporation, along with joining Louis B. Mayer (1884-1957)’s production firm. The merged company would use the Goldwyn Pictures trademark, "Leo The Lion"- along with the motto Ars Gratia Artis (which is Latin for Arts for Arts Sake). The Goldwyn Studios in Culver City, California would be used for the merged company; and as for Samuel Goldwyn- he wanted no part in the merged studio, as he would remain an independent producer for the rest of his career.

While Loew was chairman of MGM, Mayer would be vice president of the studio, and Irving Thalberg (1899-1936) would be in charge of production. The new studio’s first series of films would be He Who Gets Slapped with Lon Chaney, and two productions that were previously with Goldwyn- Erich Von Stroheim’s Greed and Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ (with Ramon Novarro)- which would be the most expensive film ever made at the time of its release in 1925.

That same year, the studio would have another epic hit- King Vidor’s World War I masterpiece, The Big Parade (adapted from Lawrence Stallings’ novel, Plumes) with John Gilbert. With the success of those features, MGM would be the most profitable studio in 1926.

As the motion picture industry was transitioning from silent pictures to sound features, MGM would be the last studio to make the switch to sound pictures- beginning with the 1929 musical The Broadway Melody, which was the first all-sound picture to win an Academy Award for best picture. This would make MGM a specialist in filmed musicals throughout the company’s “golden era”.

“MORE STARS THAN THERE ARE IN THE HEAVENS”: MGM boasted itself with this motto, as the studio had many notable personalities throughout the “golden age”- such as Lionel Barrymore, Greta Garbo, Lew Ayres, Norma Shearer, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Spencer Tracy, Jean Harlow, William Powell, Myrna Loy, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Katherine Hepburn, Bing Crosby, Angela Lansbury, James Stewart, Lana Turner, Wallace Beery, Ann Miller, Jackie Cooper, Elizabeth Taylor, Fred Astaire, Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly, Greer Garson, Van Johnson, Esther Williams, Red Skelton, and many more personalities who were in MGM features during the studio’s glory years.

NOTABLE MGM FILMS: Some of the most memorable films that MGM produced over the years were The Champ (1931), Queen Christina, Grand Hotel (both 1932), David O. Selznick’s Dinner At Eight (1933), The Thin Man, Treasure Island (both 1934), A Night At The Opera (with the Marx Brothers), Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, and the 1962 re-make), The Great Ziegfeld (1936), Boys Town, Marie Antoinette (both 1938), Ninotchka, The Wizard of Oz, Goodbye, Mr. Chips (all from 1939), The Philadelphia Story (1940), Woman of the Year, Mrs. Miniver (both 1942), Lassie, Come Home (1943); Meet Me In St. Louis (1944), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), Easter Parade (1948), Adam’s Rib, On The Town (both 1949), Father of the Bride, Annie Get Your Gun (both 1950), An American In Paris (1951), Singin’ In The Rain (1952), Brigadoon (1954), , Blackboard Jungle (1955),  Teahouse of The August MoonForbidden Planet (both 1956), Jailhouse Rock (1957, with Elvis Presley),William A. Wellman’s re-make of Ben-Hur (with Charlton Heston, 1958), How The West Was Won (1961), Lolita (1962), The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964), Grand Prix (1966), Point Blank, The Dirty Dozen (both 1967), Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Shaft (1972), That’s Entertainment! retrospective features (1974, 1976, 1994), Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys (1975), Paddy Chayefsky’s Network (1976), and many more.

Though the studio lost its luster after the company's ousting of Louis B. Mayer in 1951 (and after several complicated corporate takeovers over the years)- movie buffs (myself included) still remember the great classics from MGM’s glory days.

Thankfully, we can see many of the classic (and contemporary) MGM features on Turner Classic Movies, on Public Television, DVD, Blu-Ray and on Warner Archive Instant.

More stories related to the unfortunate downfall of MGM will be featured in later editions of At The Matinee.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Happy 20th Anniversary to Turner Classic Movies

Leaflet for Turner Classic Movies, which was included with many classic
WB, MGM, & RKO features on DVD (via corporate sibling Warner Home Video).
At The Matinee salutes Turner Classic Movies (TCM) on the network’s twentieth anniversary! 

April 14, 1994: Ted Turner’s classic film network launched with a ceremony from New York City’s Times Square. It was significant, since it was the centennial celebration of the first public showing of a motion picture in the city.

Joining Turner on that day to launch TCM was host of the new network (and noted film historian)- Robert Osborne, along with iconic Hollywood personalities Jane Powell, Celeste Holm, Van Johnson, and then-president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences- Arthur Hiller.

The first film to be shown on TCM was the 1939 David O. Selznick masterpiece (adapted from Margaret Mitchell's epic novel)- Gone With The Wind, which is Ted Turner’s favorite movie. The bulk of the channel’s programming would come from Turner’s extensive classic film holdings: the pre-1986 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer library, the pre-1948 Warner Bros. holdings, and the RKO Radio Pictures library- which TCM’s competitor, American Movie Classics (AMC) still had broadcast rights to at the time.

It should also be noted that the entire Turner Entertainment holdings would come under the control of Warner Bros., when Turner merged his media holdings with Time Warner in 1996. This meant that Warners’ pre-48 films (including cartoons & short subjects) would be reunited with the studio, with the addition of the pre-1986 MGM films and the RKO features. Over the years (after the demise of AMC), TCM has shown classics from other major studios and archives, in addition to the classic MGM, Warner Bros., and RKO titles.

A “long wait” for TCM in the Frederick area: The cable provider in the area, Frederick Cablevision did not carry Turner Classic Movies when it launched in 1994 (just like many of the nation’s cable operators) - they carried AMC. If you have read the introductory statement in my first blog post back in January, then you may have noticed that I’ve had self-interest in classic cinema at an early age by watching films on public television, the “original” AMC (pre-2002), as well as reading Chronicle of the Cinema- a comprehensive resource on film.

September 30th, 2002: It was a disappointing day for us classic film buffs. The day that TCM’s competitor, American Movie Classics (AMC) decided to ditch its classic movie format for good. My family, friends, and I were disappointed to learn that AMC went into a “different direction”. My only source for classic movies after AMC’s demise (before the availability of TCM in the area) was WETA’s Saturday classic film showcase- which is still going strong.

During that time, many cable operators across the nation scrambled to get TCM on their systems. It was a long process in the Frederick area (unless one subscribed to satellite) - where our local cable company was acquired by Adelphia, which eventually entered into bankruptcy proceedings, meaning that no new channels were added to the lineup. In 2006, Adelphia would be swallowed up by the monstrosity known as “Comcast”. It took nearly eight years to get TCM onto the area’s “one and only” cable system.

First Glimpse of TCM (Before it would be available in Frederick): My first exposure to Turner Classic Movies happened in summer 2003, while the family was vacationing in Delaware (the Hotel’s cable system carried TCM). We all enjoyed the channel’s classic film offerings, along with some vintage Warner Bros. “Vitaphone” short subject features.

“ALWAYS UNCUT AND COMMERCIAL FREE”: That is a true statement, whereas many cable networks have lost their main programming mission over the years- TCM is still sticking to its core format. Throughout the years, Turner Classic Movies has shown the best from the “golden age” of Hollywood, along with rarely-seen features and short subjects, classic foreign films (under the title TCM Import), Silent Sunday Nights (a silent film showcase), the Young Film Composers Competition for silent films, and much more.

In addition to the great classics on TCM, several modern cult and contemporary films have been shown over the years. Several documentaries on film, filmmakers and personalities have been shown on the network, including Movies & Moguls: A History of Hollywood, Cass Sperling Warner’s The Brothers Warner, and a documentary series that was originally shown on sister network TNT- MGM: When The Lion Roars (hosted by Patrick Stewart).

And of course, the introductions and stories behind the films to many classics on TCM, presented each evening by Robert Osborne- and on weekend afternoons (and evenings) by Ben Mankiewicz.

There have been various “Guest Programmers” over the years, where personalities get to talk with Osborne about their favorite classic features for that night’s schedule. Some of the guests have been iconic comedian Bill Cosby, award-winning actress Cloris Leachman, iconic television personality Regis Philbin, filmmaker Spike Lee, USA Today columnist Whitney Matheson, animator Matt Groening, iconic talk show host Dick Cavett, late night talk show host Conan O’Brien (who hosts “Conan” on sister network TBS), animation historian Jerry Beck, veteran newsman Jim Lehrer, and iconic Muppet Kermit The Frog. There’s also the TCM Classic Film Festival (which just recently wrapped up at the TCL Chinese Theatre) and the TCM Classic Cruise.

The network has also been active in the field of film preservation, working with The Library of Congress, the UCLA Film & Television Archive, and other preservation organizations. They have also had nationwide revival screenings of classic films in theaters across the country- the one-day 70th screening of Casablanca (1942), and a newly restored version of Frankenstein (1931, in conjunction with Universal Pictures). Unfortunately, these classics weren't shown in the Frederick area, and as I've stated before- classic cinema is under-appreciated in Frederick.

The network has kept up with the ever-changing pace of digital technology, as subscribers to TCM can now watch two feeds of the network via the “Watch TCM” app (for smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers). Also included in this service are several classic features that are available on-demand.

At The Matinee (and the author, a “millennial” classic film buff) wishes Turner Classic Movies on its
twentieth anniversary. Here’s looking forward to many more years of great classic film through TCM.

TWENTIETH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL: Turner Classic Movies is going to have a special, Twenty Classic Moments, which will feature the network’s best iconic moments. Hosted by Ben Mankiewicz, the special will air this evening at 7:00 PM EST. After that, TCM will air the film that started it all, the 1939 epic Gone With The Wind at 8:00 PM EST.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

(Daily Matinee Special Edition) - Stephen Colbert: The Next Host of CBS’ “Late Show”

Cover from the 2007 compilation DVD,
The Best of The Colbert Report.
(Comedy Central/Paramount Pictures Corp.)
Good News, Nation! Although At The Matinee is a blog dedicated to classic/contemporary film and television, the writer thought that it would be appropriate to bring up recent developments in the field of late night television.

If you've heard Thursday’s announcement, multi-talented comedian Stephen Colbert will succeed David Letterman as host of CBSThe Late Show in 2015. It should be noted that Letterman (along with CBS) was considering Colbert to be one of the top successors for hosting The Late Show.

Colbert’s big announcement was featured on his old Comedy Central show, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Colbert first appeared as a “correspondent” on the program- first with Craig Kilborn when the show started in 1996, and with Stewart from 1999-2005). Colbert also talked about hosting The Late Show on his celebrated Daily Show spin-off series, The Colbert Report.

His contract with Comedy Central will finish at the end of 2014. It’s possible that Colbert will have to give up his hilarious “arch-conservative” character when he jumps over to CBS next year.

In the words of Colbert, this writer gives “a tip of the hat” to Mr. Colbert and especially to one of the greats of late night- David Letterman. Here’s hoping that Colbert’s future CBS late night gig will be an enduring success in 2015!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Special Edition- In Memoriam: Mickey Rooney (1920-2014)

From a 1938 issue of World Film and Television Progress (Lantern Media Archive)
At The Matinee is saddened to hear about the recent passing of iconic film actor Mickey Rooney.  Rooney died at the age of 93 this past Sunday in California, according to the Los Angeles Coroner's Office (via The Los Angeles Times).

Born Joseph Yule, Jr. to vaudeville performers Joe and Nell Yule in 1920, he made his acting debut on the vaudeville stage as a toddler in his parents' act.  When his parents split up while at the age of four, he went with his mother, heading to Hollywood, California.  Yule's first film performance came in 1926, in Not to be Trusted.  Soon thereafter, he was cast in the Mickey McGuire film series (based off of the comic strip of the same name)- which ran from 1927 to 1934.

Near the conclusion of the McGuire series, Yule began to use his character's name as his own (specifically on the vaudeville circuit), but legal issues prevented him from doing so.  Upon being signed to Metro-Goldwyn Mayer in 1934 (through the suggestion of his mother and a studio publicist)- he changed his name to Mickey Rooney.

He was lent to Warner Bros. in 1935, appearing in Max Reindhart's rendition of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream as Puck- opposite Warner contract players James Cagney, Olivia DeHavilland, Dick Powell, Joe E. Brown, and Frank McHugh.

Back at MGM in 1937, Rooney first portrayed Andy Hardy in the film "A Family Affair", with Lionel Barrymore as his father, Judge James Hardy.  The film was originally considered a "B" picture, but was an unexpected success (.  This would lead to the successful Andy Hardy series of films (with Lewis Stone as the father), spanning from 1937 to 1946.

Throughout his time at MGM, Rooney became close friends with Judy Garland, their first film together was 1937's Thoroughbreds Don't Cry.  She also appeared with Rooney in three Andy Hardy films, beginning with 1938's Love Finds Andy Hardy, and in various musicals such as Strike Up The Band, Babes In Arms, and Babes on Broadway.

In addition to the musicals and Andy Hardy films, Rooney appeared in the 1938 film Boys Town, with Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan (along with a young Gene Reynolds- would would later become an accomplished award-winning Television writer/director/producer, notably for the TV adaptation of M*A*S*H).  Rooney would receive a special Academy Award for his performance in Boys Town. He would also portray Huckleberry Finn in Richard Thorpe's adaptation of the Mark Twain story in 1939, and would portray Thomas Edison in 1940's Young Tom Edison.  He would become Hollywood's number one box office draw in 1939, beating Clark Gable and Errol Flynn.

In 1944, Rooney enlisted in the United States Army during the Second World War, entertaining troops in the nation and in Europe (during and after the war).  After serving  for only 21 months, he was awarded with the Bronze Star Medal for entertaining troops in combat areas.

After the war ended, Rooney found it difficult to find roles- mostly playing minor characters in his later films, but with one notable part in 1954's The Bridges At Toko-Ri with William Holden, Grace Kelly, and Fredric March.  Rooney would jump over to television, with his own short-lived TV series, The Mickey Rooney Show that same year.  He also had a supporting Oscar nomination in 1956 for The Bold and the Brave.

Another minor film role that he had was in Stanley Kramer's 1963 comedy masterpiece- It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World.  He would also make guest appearances on popular television programs such as The Twilight Zone and Naked City.

Better chances would come for Rooney in the 1970s.  He returned to Broadway in a song-and-dance play, Sugar Babies- which was nominated for a Tony Award.  In 1979,  he played a horse trainer in Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of The Black Stallion- for which he earned an Oscar nomination.

In 1981, Rooney was praised for his performance in Alan Landsburg's made-for-television movie Bill; about a mentally challenged man living on his own.  He won an Emmy and a Golden Globe award for his performance in Landsburg's teleplay.  Rooney received an honorary Oscar in 1983.

He lent his voice (portraying himself) in a 1995 episode of The Simpsons- titled "Radioactive Man" (from the show's "golden era").  Rooney tries to comfort Bart's best friend- Milhouse Van Houten (voiced by Pamela Hayden), who doesn't want to go on with playing "Fallout Boy" in the Radioactive Man movie.  Here's a snippet of the dialogue between Mickey Rooney and Milhouse:

Mickey Rooney: Milhouse, listen- you can't quit this movie.  I've seen your work; it's good- very, very good.  "Van Johnson" good.

Milhouse: I know I'm good.  Movie stardom is just so hollow.

Rooney: Hollow?!  The only thing that's hollow in show business is the music industry.

Note: This writer agrees with that statement.  No offense, but even today- the music industry is still hollow.

Rooney was married eight times, one of his marriages was to Ava Gardner, which was short-lived.  He had an obsession with horse racing, and lost his fortunes several times in life.  Most recently, Rooney's struggles received significant attention in 2011 when he asked a Los Angeles court to appoint a conservator to protect him from his stepson and stepdaughter.  Rooney would take his case to Congress, delivering an emotional testimony for the stop of elder abuse by family members and caregivers.

Rooney would continue working until the end, attending various classic film ceremonies and events.  One of his last film roles was in The Muppets (2011).

Farewell to the "Mickster", Mickey Rooney (1920-2014).

Greenbriar Picture Shows (a great classic film blog operated by John McElwee) also has a tribute piece to Mickey Rooney.

Turner Classic Movies will have a tribute to Mickey Rooney, with his classic films airing on April 13th.  Most of Rooney's classic MGM features (along with the 1935 Warner Bros. rendition of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream) are available on Warner Home Video, and through their Warner Archive & Warner Archive Instant imprints.

Olive Films (under license from Paramount) has several Rooney flicks on DVD & Blu-Ray disc- including the 1953 Bob Hope-Marilyn Maxwell comedy Off Limits, Rooney's 1954 comedy effort for Republic Pictures- The Atomic Kid (with Elaine Davis & Robert Strauss), and Otto Premiger's 1968 farce with Jackie Gleason, (which is considered a cult classic today) Skidoo.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Television Corner (Special Edition): David Letterman Retiring from Late Night Television in 2015

Letterman's 2010 book, Late Show Fun Facts-
from At The Matinee's vast media archive!
If you've heard the news recently- or watched Thursday evening's Late Show With David Letterman on CBS, Letterman made an announcement about his retirement in 2015.  With competition from Jimmy Kimmel* on ABC, and Jimmy Fallon's incarnation of The Tonight Show on NBC, the celebrated late night comedian announced that he was going to step down after three decades of hosting late night television.

Through his two shows, Late Night With David Letterman on NBC from 1982-1993, and the Late Show on CBS, we have seen many personalities, dignitaries, and iconic guests on the series- such as Bill Murray, Regis Philbin, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Martin, Meredith Viera, celebrated newsman Tom Brokaw, Martin Scorsese, Billy Crystal, Jerry Seinfeld, "Jungle" Jack Hanna, Keith Olbermann, Stephen Colbert, Patrick Stewart, Rachel Maddow, Jay Thomas and his famous "Lone Ranger" story (during the holiday season), Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama.

His shows have had many iconic segments- such as Stupid Human Tricks, Dave's Record Collection, Small Town News, Know Your Current Events, Stupid Pet Tricks, and most famously- the Top Ten list.

Let's not forget Letterman's Late Night/Late Show crew- bandleader Paul Shaffer, Biff Henderson, Tony Mendez, Pat Farmer, Hello Deli owner Rupert Jee, and Alan Kalter- who took over announcement duties when veteran announcer Bill Wendell (1924-1999) retired in 1995.

Letterman's announcement can be seen on the official CBS Late Show YouTube channel.  CBS News also reported on his announcement hours before Thursday night's broadcast of the program.

Late Night television will never be the same again once Letterman steps down as host in 2015.

*Denotes this writer's preferred comedic picks in addition to Letterman and Kimmel, along with Craig Ferguson, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Conan O'Brien.  Of course, there will always be the "original king of late night", Johnny Carson (1925-2005).