Saturday, February 28, 2015

ATM Remembers: Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015)

Advertisement for another well-known Leonard Nimoy
series, Alan Landsburg's In Search Of... (from a 1977 issue of Broadcasting).

"Live Long and Prosper."
1969 Paramount Pictures
syndication advertisement
for Star Trek (pictured in
the advertisement are
William Shatner,
Leonard Nimoy,
and DeForest Kelley.
At The Matinee remembers iconic actor Leonard Nimoy, who died at the age of 83 on Feburary 27th. Nimoy was best known for his role as "Mr. Spock" on the cult Gene Roddenberry science fiction series, Star Trek.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts on March 26, 1931 to Nina and Max Nimoy, Leonard Nimoy became interested in acting at the age of 8, After acting in high school productions at English High School, and in college productions at Boston College.  He left Boston before graduating, setting his sights on the west coast to study acting in Pasadena, California.

Nimoy would settle in Hollywood after a short stint with the U.S. Army Reserve in 1953.  He was also working "odd jobs," including a job as a soda jerk and driving taxi cabs.  One of Nimoy's first acting breaks was an uncredited role in the 1954 cult sci-fi film, Them!

After several parts in iconic TV shows, including Dragnet, The Twilight Zone, and Bonanza- Nimoy worked on a TV series created by Gene Roddenberry, The Lieutenant (1963-64).  This would eventually lead Nimoy to his biggest break, in the role of the half-vulcan science officer "Mr. Spock" in Roddenberry's celebrated sci-fi series, Star Trek (1966-69. alongside William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, and James Doohan).

In a 2005 interview with CBS News, Nimoy stated that he adapted Spock's iconic hand sign, from blessings that the rabbis gave during his childhood.

In 1967, the production company that produced the show with Roddenberry's Norway Corporation, Desilu Productions, was sold by Lucille Ball to Gulf+Western Industries, which acquired Paramount Pictures one year earlier (the Desilu lot, which was the former RKO lot, was Paramount's next-door lot, and all studio operations would be consolidated into Paramount).  As a result of this, Paramount's recorded music division, Dot Records, was in desperate need of new talent for their record label.  The studio looked to their new TV talent as possible recording artists.  Nimoy was one of them (the other was Greg Morris, from another Desilu-turned-Paramount series, Mission: Impossible, which Nimoy would join shortly after the cancellation of Star Trek from 1969-71).

That same year, Nimoy released his first album on Dot- Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock's Music From Outer Space.  More albums would follow, including The Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy (1967), The Way I Feel (1968), The Touch of Leonard Nimoy (1969), and The New World of Leonard Nimoy (1969).

Though Star Trek was not a smash success during its 79-episode run on NBC, it would become a cult phenomenon (as well as a big moneymaker for Paramount), as "trekkies" have been religiously watching the show (and its numerous spin-off series), along with popular Star Trek conventions that Nimoy attended over the years.  He would also lend his voice to the Star Trek animated series, which ran from 1973-74, and would reprise his role of Spock in several movie adaptations of the TV series (he directed two Star Trek films).  He would play the role of an older spock in J.J. Abrams' filmed adaptation of Star Trek (opposite Zachary Quinto, who plays a younger Spock), and Star Trek: Into Darkness.

He would also host Alan Landsburg's syndicated television series, In Search Of..., which lasted from 1976 to 1982.  Nimoy was also an accomplished photographer, poet, and art collector.  He portrayed Vincent Van Gogh's brother, Theo, in a one-man play titled "Vincent."

He would also lend his voice in several episodes of The Simpsons, and in Matt Groening's spin-off, Futurama.  Nimoy lent his voice to a mint-condition Spock figurine in an episode of The Big Bang Theory (during the program's fifth season in 2012).

Farewell to one of the greats, Leonard Nimoy.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Vintage Academy Gold- 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

At The Matinee offers a new category for the month of February, titled Vintage Academy Gold, in honor of tonight's Academy Awards ceremony.

Poster art for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968),
from an MGM promotional ad (featured in
Boxoffice Magazine).
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)- Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke's science-fiction work  is one of my favorite films, and was light years ahead of its time (in regards to the incredible special effects in the film).

Filmed in Super Panavision 70mm and Metrocolor (MGM's trademark color process for films that were shot on Eastman Kodak's Eastmancolor stock), Kubrick's masterpiece was panned by critics and average moviegoers, but was popular with younger movie audiences at the time.  At first, MGM executives were reluctant to release the film, but then followed Kubrick's advice.

The film premiered at the Uptown Theater in Washington, D.C. on April 2nd (which was remodeled to show films in the Cinerama format), and played at the theater for 51 weeks.   This was during the time when traditional three-strip "Cinerama" prints were phased out for single-strip 70mm Cinerama projection prints.   On an interesting note, my father saw 2001: A Space Odyssey at a Cinerama venue in Atlanta, Georgia during its original release in 1968.

Kubrick's masterpiece was nominated for four Academy Awards, and won one Oscar for best special effects. 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the all-time greats in science-fiction film.  To quote one of my Hood instructors- "If you want to see 2001: A Space Odyssey, see it on the biggest screen possible."  Now if Frederick had a respectable cinema venue...

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Turner Classic Movies will show 2001: A Space Odyssey during its "31 Days of Oscar" schedule of Academy Award-winning films, this Sunday at 12:45 PM EST.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Technology Corner: Radio Shack (1921-2015)

 Radio Shack advertisement from
May 1976, as featured in
The News-Post.
The place that was once known for the "do-it-yourself" electronics hobbyist has bit the dust.  Radio Shack Corporation recently filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, as a result of sagging sales, poor customer service, and declining stock values.  This was also due in part to the New York Stock Exchange delisting the company's shares.  About half of the company's 4,000+ stores are expected to close, with speculation that Sprint and Amazon are interested in acquiring former Radio Shack locations in the near future.

Founded in 1921 as a store for ham radio enthusiasts in Massachusetts, the company would later expand to selling other electronics components, including high-fidelity sound systems.  Radio Shack would be later acquired by Texas businessman Charles Tandy in 1963 and would soon rise to prominence.   Radio Shack's parent company would expand into the field of personal computers, introducing the Tandy TRS-80, the first fully-manufactured personal computer.  The stores would later expand their offerings to visual communication products, along with cordless and early cellular phones.

In recent times, Radio Shack would move away from hobbyist electronics, and moved from that field, as the Radio Shack considered that smartphones would be the answer to the company's future.  Because of that decision, products that Radio Shack was known for would be discontinued (audio components, electronic kits, etc.), along with their iconic catalog that satisfied the electronics enthusiast.  That was one of many signs of the company's downfall.

Here's what could have saved Radio Shack:

-Not doing away with hi-fi components: Realistic and Optimus were Radio Shack's popular house brand for stereo and speaker components.  It was a bleak time for audio/hi-fi enthusiasts when Radio Shack did away with their audio components lineup, and partially lead to the downfall (or mergers) of high-fidelity speaker manufacturers.   Unfortunately, in this day and age, low-end, dinky iPod/MP3 speaker docks and overpriced (yet poorly-made) headphones rule the audio world.  

-Not doing away with the catalog: The Radio Shack catalog was the "heart and soul" for the electronics enthusiast.

-Cater to those that aren't interested in smartphones: Not everyone has a smartphone, and not everyone is interested in one.  Stick with the basics that made Radio Shack great in its glory days, by catering to those who are interested in the "do-it-yourself" electronics field.

Farewell, Radio Shack.  It will have its place with all of the short-lived niche electronic stores that the former Tandy Corporation had- Video Concepts, Computer City, and Incredible Universe.   The store will also have its place with former stores such as Woolworth, Gee Bee, Hills, Montgomery Ward, Sam Goody (which was absorbed by FYE), just to name a few.  I guess I was lucky enough to experience these stores long ago.

More on Radio Shack and stereo components are featured in an earlier post..