Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Summer Nose-talgia #31: James Shigeta, R.I.P.

We're so sorry to hear of the passing earlier this week of the wonderfully talented actor James Shigeta, a fixture on movie and TV screens since 1960.  Born in Hawaii on June 17, 1929 to Japanese parents, Shigeta started his performing career after studying drama at New York University and serving in the Marine Corps during the Korean War.  Musically gifted as well as a good actor, Shigeta got his show business break when he found himself in Japan and used his singing to establish himself and eventually make his way back to the U.S. and American stardom.

We'll direct you to several complete obituaries for his entire life story, like this one from the Los Angeles Times, this one from The New York Times, a nice one from The Onion AV Club, but we especially want to point out the tremendous amount of episodic TV work he did during his career.  Shigeta moved easily between movie and TV roles, the latter which were probably his bread and butter over the years.  He appeared on everything from Dr. Kildare to Medical Center to Kung Fu to Ben Casey to Perry Mason to Ironside to Mission: Impossible and many more including more recent hits such as Beverly Hills 90210 and Babylon 5.  Action movie lovers particularly remember his great turn as the boss of Bruce Willis' wife in the original Die Hard movie.

We'll share here a few looks at his movie and TV work, then direct you to one of his most powerful TV performances in an episode of the original The Outer Limits.

First of all, this is a lovely overview of James Shigeta's career from 2006 when he was honored at the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival:

One of the young Shigeta's most prominent movie roles was in 1961's Bridge to the Sun opposite Carroll Baker:

James Shigeta did all his own singing when he co-starred in the big screen version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's charming San Francisco-set musical Flower Drum Song:

He also does some dancing in this elaborate musical number from the movie:

Here is the reunion of Jack Lord and James Shigeta in an episode of Hawaii 5-0 in 1968.  A reunion, you ask?  They co-starred together in a very interesting movie Walk Like a Dragon in 1960:

The one amazing James Shigeta performance that we really want to share with you is in an episode from The Outer Limits entitled "Nightmare".  Shigeta stands out in a cast of stand-outs, including a very young Martin Sheen.

In case the embed doesn't work, you can watch the episode on Hulu by clicking here.

James Shigeta, June 17, 1929 - July 28, 2014.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Summer Nose-talgia #30: Captain Lou Albano!

The 1980s were a wild decade and nobody personified the awesome '80s like wild-haired professional wrestling personality Captain Lou Albano.  Born on this date in 1933, Albano was one of the key figures responsible for the unlikely but meteorite rise of pro wrestling to the pop culture super-prominence that it held for at least a decade and that it's managed to keep very much alive ever since then.

Pro wrestling had long been a staple on TV as a cheaply-produced sports-like commodity airing in individual markets with talent from local promoters.  Though he certainly didn't achieve it by himself, the World Wrestling Federation's (now WWE) Vince McMahon was able to propitiously parlay a particularly colorful crop of performers wrestling under his banner plus the perfectly-timed (for him) rise of national cable channels looking for programming into a genuine phenomenon.  Captain Lou was an important part of the "Rock n' Wrestling" component of the puzzle, a union wrought from a chance meeting with top rocker Cyndi Lauper and which burgeoned into winning -- by anyone's standards -- partnership.

The former bad-guy wrestling manager Albano became a star consorting with Lauper in her chart-topping music videos and on TV in matches which were aired as spectaculars at the time MTV was still making history with its pop music sensibility.  In the mid-1980s even NBC stepped into the ring with its late-night Saturday Night Main Event and USA Network essentially defined itself with its many hours of McMahon-produced wrestling in primetime.  Albano was along for the ride and branched out into other TV appearances, co-starring in several motion pictures and starring as the world-famous videogame plumber in 65 episodes of the animated (with live action segments) The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! beginning in 1989.

Albano never abandoned wrestling even after dabbling in other show business endeavors; he was always associated with his character of Captain Lou and was a fan favorite.  He passed away in 2009 at the age of 76 after a life-long career of bringing enthusiasm, humor, compassion and solid workmanship to his adoring audiences.

Let's highlight Captain Lou's career with some fun clips from his impressive resume!

An early 1980's wrestling interview with Vince McMahon:

Lou Albano in a ringside interview with legendary wrestling announcer Mean Gene Okerlund:

1983's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" video by Cyndi Lauper co-starring Captain Lou as her father:

In 1985 Cyndi recorded "(The Goonies 'R') Good Enough" for the Steven Spielberg-produced film The Goonies.  The long 2-part music video featured Captain Lou and various other wrestlers including Roddy Piper as well as many of the film's actors:

Somehow the WWF got the idea that the wrestlers releasing their own album was a good idea:

This is what "Rock N' Wrestling" was all about:

In 1987 Captain Lou had his own phone hotline:

Captain Lou made a spot for band NRBQ parodying a well-known direct response commercial for a classical music collection that used to run all over late-night TV back then:

In 1987 Captain Lou and Rowdy Roddy Piper tag-teamed on Hollywood Squares:

In 1989 came The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!:

Captain Lou does an anti-drug PSA:

Captain Lou Albano was fondly remembered:

For a full-length look at Captain Lou Albano, circa 1985:

Captain Lou Albano, July 29, 1933 - October 14, 2009

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Summer Nose-talgia #29: Norman Lear -- They're All in His Family!

Legendary TV producer Norman Lear celebrates his 92rd birthday today!  From his early years writing for top television comics like Martha Raye, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Danny Kaye and many others, Lear worked his way -- mostly through the power of laughter -- into creating his own TV empire.  His string of hits is long and vital, and though you may think that all his shows were politically-provocative material such as All in the Family or Maude, you might have forgotten that he also put his writing/producing imprimatur -- and that of his various production entities -- on a slew of fairly mainstream shows.

We highly recommend reading about Norman Lear's long and distinguished life, including his WWII experience and his prodigious show business career.  You should check out Norman Lear's own website by clicking here and look into the incredibly interesting work being done on the subject of entertainment's impact at USC Annenberg The Norman Lear Institute (Click Here) in Los Angeles.  He sat down for a five-hour interview -- not nearly enough time! -- at the Archive of American Television, available by clicking here.  Mr. Lear is also a dedicated political activist who founded People for the American Way and sponsored a nationwide tour of one of the rare copies of the Declaration of Independence a few years ago.

What we're going to show you is a collection of the opening credits from a wide selection of Mr. Lear's output, both the shows most connected with him and others that he helped create or produced and distributed through his companies.  You might be surprised at some of the titles.  We're undoubtedly missing a few that should be in but it's quite a bunch in any case.  (For more info on many of the comedies, Sitcoms Online is a terrific source).

Did you know Lear co-created Henry Fonda's half-hour western The Deputy in 1959?

Of course, Lear's groundbreaking All in the Family from 1972 and its rebirth in Archie Bunker's Place in 1979:  We also recommend this great article from The New Yorker about AitF & Lear, click here:

Sanford and Son, 1972:

Maude, 1972:

Good Times, 1974:

The Jeffersons, 1975:

Hot L Baltimore (promo), 1975:

One Day at a Time, 1975:

Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, 1976:

The Dumplings, 1976:

All That Glitters (promo), 1977 -- theme song here:

Fernwood Tonight (full episode), 1977:

America 2 Night (full episode), 1978:

Diff'rent Strokes, 1978:

The Facts of Life, 1979:

Palmerstown (promo), 1980:

The Baxters, 1980:

Silver Spoons, 1982:

Gloria, 1982:

Square Pegs, 1982:

Who's the Boss, 1984:

a.k.a. Pablo, 1984

227, 1985:

Sunday Dinner, 1991:

The Powers That Be (scenes from), 1992 -- theme song here:

704 Hauser, 1994:

Channel Umptee-3, 1997:

We'll close with this wonderful clip of Carroll O'Connor:

Happy Birthday to Norman Lear, a great creative force and a great American!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Summer Nose-talgia #28: Estelle Getty, A Real Golden Gal!

Today would have been actress Estelle Getty's 91st birthday; born in 1923, she left us just a few days over six years ago in 2008.  The passing of the beloved actress, so much loved for her portrayal of Bea Arthur's mother Sophia Petrillo in the long-running sitcom The Golden Girls, was a huge blow to her legions of fans, all of whom worshiped Sophia's acerbic, hilarious and often inappropriate remarks to Bea as her mostly well-grounded daughter Dorothy, Rue McClanahan as the randy Blanche and Betty White as the absurdly-grounded Rose.  Though this group functioned as a beautiful ensemble and everybody probably had their special favorite Golden Girl, there was nobody who didn't love it when Sophia chimed in.

The Golden Girls ran from 1985 - 1992 for 177 episodes; when Bea Arthur left at the end of the run Sophia, Blanche and Rose kept going another season together on The Golden Palace as the ladies opened a small hotel.  Audiences weren't yet ready to say goodbye to Sophia Petrillo, however, and Estelle Getty reprised the character on the sitcom Empty Nest where she appeared on over fifty episodes during its run from 1988 - 1995.

NYC-born Getty got her show biz start in the Catskills where she'd wait tables and try her hand at comedy on the resort stages.  She kept at it, juggling real life secretarial gigs and small theater roles until she landed the role of playwright Harvey Fierstein' s mother in the original stage version of Torch Song Trilogy.  Guests roles on TV and small roles in features -- including Cher's mother in Mask -- finally led to her big break when the 62-year old got the part of Sophia Petrillo, the 80-something year old mother of the Bea Arthur character.  Bea was in fact barely one year older than Getty at the time.

Nobody says it like Sophia Petrillo -- here are some choice Estelle Getty moments in the role of a lifetime:

An early interview with the cast of The Golden Girls on The Merv Griffin Show:

In 1988 Estelle Getty won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series -- she was nominated each year from 1986 thru 1992 and this was her sole win:

She and Betty White were featured in a great Clueless parody on the 1996 MTV Movie Awards:

Estelle Getty passed away on July 22, 2008 -- three days before her 85th birthday -- from complications of Lewy body dementia.  Her death was met with genuine sadness; she had created one of the most memorable comedy characters in all of TV history and audiences were devastated.

YouTube is full of fan-made Estelle Getty video tributes, tangible proof of the lasting affection that her fans hold for her and her masterful portrayal of Sophia Petrillo.  Here are just a couple of them:

The Flaming Nose remembers with fondness and respect the talented and hilarious Estelle Getty.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Summer Nose-talgia #27: Ruth Buzzi's Birthday -- One of TV's Top Laugh Ladies!

(We apologize for some formatting errors in this post -- we will correct these asap.)

Great comedy has always been a stalwart of television, and though each era thinks that it's the only one to have enjoyed comic brilliance, audiences have never suffered from a dearth of laughter.  In the 1960s as the older comedians -- Benny, Hope, Lucy among other -- were winding down their TV efforts, there was a resurgence of variety shows starring singers and just before that a show came around that changed the face of American TV comedy.

Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In premiered in September of 1967 and for the next over 130 episodes American comedy was never the same.  U.S. audiences had probably never seen anything quite like it -- it was cheeky, sexy, and lightning fast, featuring an ensemble cast of comedians headed by comics Dan Rowan and Dick Martin.  One of the people making Laugh-In so laugh-filled was actress/singer/comedienne Ruth Buzzi who is celebrating a birthday today. The East Coast-born Buzzi started out as an energetic high school cheerleader whose natural ebullience propelled her into show business where her multiple talents and boundless comedic gifts were soon in demand.

After studying at the Pasadena Playhouse and co-starring in stage and musical engagements across the country, she began to make a name for herself in TV variety shows, eventually leading to her career-making work on Laugh-In.  (Footage of Ruth Buzzi's act with Don DeLuise from a variety show -- probably The Entertainers -- introed by John Davidson is available here.)  She also starred on The Steve Allen Comedy Hour and you can see the beginnings of her famous Laugh-In Glady Ormphby character in this intro sequence:


From Laugh-In onward there was no stopping Ruth Buzzi.  She became known and loved for her versatility, her ability to create characters both hilarious and touching, and for her musical talents which she frequently displayed on Laugh-In and during her ongoing career.  Buzzi was a mainstay on the many variety programs airing during the 1970s and 1980s, and her resume is deep and impressive.  She also made successful forays into dramatic roles which further displayed her vast range.  The best way to appreciate the divine Miss Buzzi is to simply enjoy her performances!

A little of her comedic virtuosity on Laugh-In:


 More here and here.

Night Gallery "Witches Feast" 1971 with Agnes Moorehead


Ruth Buzzi was a frequent guest on The Dean Martin Comedy Hour and on his celebrity roasts:

Ruth also made several guest appearances on The Carol Burnett Show during the early 1970s:

She lent her comic gifts to The Burns and Schreiber Comedy Hour:



ABC Afterschool Special from 1974:


Guesting on Tony Orlando and Dawn:

Ruth Buzzi guests on The Muppet Show in 1976:

  from 1976

Ruth co-starred with Jim Nabors in the Saturday morning kid show The Last Saucer in '76:

Ruth recorded a song which made it onto the charts:

  from 1977

From the TV movie Once Upon a Brothers Grimm in 1978:


The Donny and Marie Show from February 1976:

And assorted other Ruth Buzzi comedy skits and musical numbers from The Donny and Marie Show:



Lyle Waggonner and Ruth Buzzi team for a hosting gig:

Ruth was a semi-regular on Sesame Street starting in the early '90s:



Jo Anne Worley, Ruth Buzzi and the cast of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In Past and Present Christmas Special perform on the 67th Annual Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade televised by NBC (1993)

Ruth made a spectacular cameo on the soap opera Passions in 2003:


Ruth being photographed on her Texas ranch in 2010:

And some new comedy from Ruth from 2011:

Ruth Buzzi and her husband have been proud residents of Texas for several decadesand she keeps busy with performing (including lots of voiceovers) and a full schedule of charity appearances for her favorite causes, plus raising cattle on their ranch.  You can also keep up with Ruth on her Twitter account!

The Flaming Nose wishes a very Happy Birthday today to Ruth Buzzi, one of the genuine legends of TV Comedy!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Summer Nose-talgia #26: Senor Wences -- S'all right!

Completely adorable, utterly unique, indelibly Spanish and indefatigable --  he didn't retire from show business until he turned 100 years old -- the entertainer known as Senor Wences was a legend.  Is a legend, actually, as his routines and trademark phrases continue to be a vital part of popular culture.  Born in Salamanca, Spain, in 1896, Wenceslao Moreno briefly flirted with becoming a bullfighter but soon traded in the red cape for a career in ventriloquism.

Wences is known and loved for his ingeniously simple little friend Johnny -- formed from nothing more than his own hand and a little grease pencil -- and his other cheeky companion Pedro who was a head who resided in a wooden box.  Years touring nightclubs in Europe and the U.S. ultimately brought the popular vaudevillian to nationwide fame when he started appearing on American television variety shows like those headlined by "Mr. Television" Milton Berle, Jack Benny and others, including of course Ed Sullivan.  Senor Wences continued to be a hit performer on the variety stage including a very successful stint on the bill with Danny Kaye when he was one of the most popular headliners in the U.S. and in London.  In fact, when he was 90 years old Wences went on tour with the show Sugar Babies with Ann Miller and Mickey Rooney.

Now let's watch some Senor Wences!  He was also an amazing juggler (which you might not remember).  He is still completely hilarious today, with a delightfully absurd sense of humor that is utterly with-it and not at all corny or dated.  Wonderful timing!

In 1947 he made an appearance in the Betty Grable movie Mother Wore Tights:

An early TV appearance with Ed Sullivan:

Senor Wences' act starts about 27:45 in on this next one, but of course it's from a Jack Benny special so you know the whole thing is great!

Beautiful color footage from The Ed Sullivan Show:

Three hilarious cereal commercials featuring Senor Wences:

Senor Wences on The Muppet Show:

In 1959 Senor Wences released a 45rpm single with songs featuring two of his catchphrases:

Here are a couple more commercials starring Senor Wences:

You can watch a commercial he did for Spain's tourist trade from 1981 by clicking here.

In 1986 he appeared in the Showtime comedy special The Garry Shandling Show: 25th Anniversary Special where Shandling played a talk show host.  If after watching this you want to catch the whole terrific special, you can see it at the link here:

Senor Wences' 100th Birthday in 1996 received a lot of attention especially in the show business community.  Wences at the time lived just a few blocks from the old Ed Sullivan Theater in fact, and he has a street named after him.  Shortly after his 100th Wences passed the torch and his actual puppets over to ventriloquist Michele LaFong who had become one of his close friends and who he believed was the perfect person to keep his beloved characters alive, which she has.  Check out her website here.

(There is a great set of articles about Senor Wences on this Spanish-language site which can be translated.  Very nice!  Be sure to click here to read about a documentary on Wences' life.)

The wonderful Senor Wences passed away on April 20,1999 at the age of 103.  His artistry was incomparable, his act simple and sweet, and his legacy of laughter never-ending.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Summer Nose-talgia #25: The Incredible Mr. Don Knotts -- July 21, 1924 - Feb. 24, 2006

Don Knotts had the perfect face and body for comedy -- skinny, wide-eyed, expressive hands and voice just made for playing the high-strung characters he became famous for.  From his days honing his comic persona on The Steve Allen Show to his long-time reign as one of TV's funniest characters on The Andy Griffith Show and later on Three's Company, West Virginia-born Don Knotts never missed a comedy beat or failed to infuse his portrayals with humanity.

Especially Barney Fife.  Without Knotts' tremendous skill as an actor, Barney would have been just a nervous wanna-be with delusions of grandeur, a pipsqueak bully with a badge.  It was Knotts who allowed us to see Barney's vulnerabilities, and Andy Griffith who understood that playing straight man to Knotts would be the key to success for his new sitcom.  Sheriff Andy Taylor was Barney Fife's rock, and Fife knew it.  And America's TV viewers knew it, too.

So here's a little Don Knotts for you.  A brilliant comedian, a talented actor, a funny guy.

As is written on Don Knotts' headstone, "He saw the poignancy in people's pride and pain and turned it into something hilarious and endearing" -- so true.

We fondly salute Don Knotts, born this day in 1924.