Friday, August 29, 2014

Summer Nose-talgia #38: Ben Gazzara & "Run for Your Life"

Today we salute actor Ben Gazzara and his terrific mid-1960s NBC-TV series Run for Your Life; his 84th birthday would have been yesterday.  The acclaimed stage, TV and screen actor added his serious dramatic chops to this effective series with a dynamic premise: Gazzara was Paul Bryan, a successful young lawyer who receives a devastating medical prognosis from his doctor -- he'll be dead in just a few years.  Bryan faces the prospect of his untimely end with a resolve to start living his remaining time to the fullest . Run for Your Life started as an episode of Kraft Suspense Theatre in April of 1965 and the series started in the fall of that year.  Here is "Rapture at Two-Forty" which served as the pilot:

The series had a wonderful Emmy-nominated theme and score by composer Pete Rugolo:

Produced at a time when some of the best actors around were guest-starring on series television, Run for Your Life found Gazzara as Paul Bryan jet-setting around Europe and soon the whole world, hob-nobbing with hobos, cavorting with kidnappers, mingling with dictators, hanging out in haunted houses, and generally mixing it up with an ever-changing cast of characters.  Run for Your Life was essentially an anthology series, in the vein of  "road" shows like Route 66 or The Fugitive, with only the main character remaining the same but the setting and plot changing every week.  These roaming shows allowed the show's writers license to send Bryan out into the world with no restrictions. No family around to keep ailing Mr. Bryan grounded -- he was a free bird flapping his wings for what might be the last time.

Highly recommended for a long visit is the wonderful website The Ultimate Episode Guide to the Run for Your Life TV Series which is accessed by clicking here.  Beautifully arranged with lots of clips, inside information, and a comprehensive episode guide with special background info which delves into the series' timeline, the TUEGttRfYL site is a delight. I especially appreciate the emphasis on the impressive guest cast roster -- such great names, so many not with us anymore but also so many just on the brink of discovery. (Here's a blog -- click here -- with a nice discussion of actress Barbara Hershey's guest role on RfYL.)

For instance, how about singer/actress Claudine Longet (at the time the wife of Andy Williams, click here for a fascinating article about him and click here for a great website devoted to her) who played Paul Bryan's lover in a two-parter, serenading him:

Or Lesley Ann Warren as another of Bryan's girlfriends:

Ben Gazzara passed away in 2012, lauded as one of the most powerful actors ever, one whose overall career was less about making himself a star but instead giving outstanding performances in whatever roles he did undertake.  It's worth reading some of the excellent obituaries, such as from Time Magazine here, from the Hollywood Reporter here, People magazine here, and The Guardian here. Though evidently he later somewhat pooh-poohed his three year run as Paul Bryan in Run for Your Life as he reflected on his work with John Cassavettes and in other edgier projects, he had nothing to apologize for.  He was nominated twice for an Emmy Award for his work and stands out as a memorable TV figure of the time.

Run for Your Life ran as a weekly series from September 13, 1965 until March 26, 1968 and went into syndication but not to any stunning success.  It most recently ran on the digital channel COZI TV and though no official DVD release has happened yet there are some to be found if you look.

With its dolorous premise but exciting execution, Run for Your Life lives on in TV history as a series which managed to combine globetrotting adventure with an overall sense of mature contemplation of the inevitable.  For television, that's more than enough to make it stick.

With Joan Collins in an episode

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Summer Nose-talgia #37: "In Search Of" with Leonard Nimoy

In case you hadn't noticed lately, cable TV network schedules are brimming with monsters, mysteries, aliens, UFOs, bigfoots, historical conundrums and everything else fantastical that might or might not exist or have existed on Earth.  TV audiences' perpetual interest in these kinds of esoteric anomalies is nothing new, and one of the most fondly recalled series in this genre is the syndicated half-hour In Search Of which premiered in 1977.  Veteran producer/writer/creator Alan Landsburg drew upon his years of documentary television experience with shows such as The March of Time, National Geographic specials and The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau to fashion this modestly budgeted but extremely effective, impeccably produced look into the unusual.

Landsburg dipped his toe into the real-life mystery genre several years before the debut of In Search Of with a quartet of specials about Ancient Astronauts, a subject that still lives on in glorious style with H2's Ancient Aliens series hosted by the enthusiastic Giorgio Tsoukalos.  Three of these were hosted/narrated by Twilight Zone and Night Gallery creator Rod Serling, a perfect choice to lend an air of erudite intensity and credibility to these out-of-this-world subjects. When the decision was made to create a weekly series with similar material, Serling was the first choice but unfortunately had passed away in 1975.

The decision to bring in former Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy was a brilliant one.  The original Star Trek series at the time was enjoying an unprecedented (in all of TV history) renaissance thanks to syndicated reruns; the first big screen motion picture wouldn't come out until 1979. Nimoy's fine reputation playing the brilliant Vulcan science officer Mr. Spock played into both the weirdness of In Search Of and also into the sense that the show would treat these subjects with seriousness and respect, which it did.  Nimoy was never less than convincing, curious, involved and absolutely the perfect choice to present this material.  His intelligent presence was the fascinating firmament which gave In Search Of its lasting pop culture gravitas.

The original unforgettable opening and closing theme segments feature Nimoy's terrific narration and set the stage for the unusual delights to come:

144 episodes over five years, a respectable output and more than respectable entertainment legacy for both Mr. Landsburg and also for Leonard Nimoy.  I wasn't a kid when these shows came on, but those who were often report that In Search Of had a deep influence on them, simultaneously frightening them and also opening up their minds to the wonders of the universe.  Click here for one account, and here's another guy's report of his Bigfoot fear fueled by ISO, and finally one here from a man who loved the show. The rest of us just thought it was immensely interesting and entertaining, often food for thought and a not-to-be-missed treat.

After it left local TV syndication In Search Of was picked up by the A&E cable networks who reworked the iconic theme song and deleted the Nimoy visual segments -- bah and just plain stupid; they made the show and were restored for a run on History Channel. (In the early 2000s there was a short revival on the Sci Fi network starring The X Files actor Mitch Pileggi.)

Let's take a look at a few example of the wide variety of segments covered on In Search Of. Some of these have the original theme, some are from other runs with less Nimoy and different theme, but at least the Nimoy narration is there --

How about the Kennedy Assassination and Lee Harvey Oswald:

How about the Ogopogo lake monster?:

The Tunguska Incident in Russia:

For the Biblically inclined, Noah's Ark:

Of course, here's Bigfoot:

The unsolved disappearance of Michael Rockefeller, son of Nelson Rockefeller -- this episode was always one of my favorites, seemed quite tragic for all concerned:

And Leonard Nimoy's own interest in the history of artist Vincent Van Vogh and his brother Theo brought this half-hour:

In addition to the previously mentioned productions, Alan Landsburg was also responsible for the extremely popular That's Incredible! series from the early 1980s as well as a string of popular TV movies like Adam (about the Adam Walsh murder whose aftermath led to John Walsh and America's Most Wanted), Bill (with Mickey Rooney as a mentally challenged man), The Jayne Mansfield Story (starring Loni Anderson & Arnold Schwarznegger), The Ryan White Story (about the young boy who contracted AIDS) and so many others.

Alan Landsburg passed away on August 13th of this year at the age of 81.  Read about his distinguished career by clicking here, here, and here. Renowned cryptozoologist Loren Coleman (he worked on the show with Landsburg) gives a thoughtful personal recollection here. Landsburg was also very involved in thoroughbred racing; read that world's farewell to him hereLeonard Nimoy continues to enjoy a special place in the hearts of all Star Trek fans for his portrayal of Spock and also for his thoughtful and artistic impulses which have enriched the world at large.

The entire In Search Of series and specials has been released in a complete DVD set which is sold on Amazon, among other venues.  (This set seems to restore the original theme and all Nimoy content which is exactly the way it should be seen.)

Literally all the "unexplained mystery" genre programs on TV today owe their existence to In Search Of.  The series' legacy and spirit of exploration and adventure is alive and well today after forty years!

I was at this NATPE but missed visiting the suite!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Summer Nose-talgia #36: "Laverne & Shirley" & Cindy & Penny

For fans of physical comedy and all the hilarity that it can bring, almost no series have come along to rival all-time classic I Love Lucy's domination of that category...except Laverne & Shirley.  The series debuted on ABC in 1976, a spin-off from the popular Happy Days, and in our memories the two series are forever linked in TV history.  During the years -- from around 1976 - 1979 -- when these two shows topped the ratings charts they were literally unbeatable.  Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams -- who's celebrating her 67th birthday today -- made the show a hit.

Laverne & Shirley debuted in January of 1976 and immediately settled in as a hit, nestled comfortably behind similarly top-rated Happy Days and sharing a Garry Marshall production company ethos which made the two shows into a near-seamless one hour of bright family comedy.  Because it seldom happens these days, it's almost shocking that by the time Laverne & Shirley ended its network run in 1983 it had amassed 178 episodes.  (Happy Days similarly got up to 255 episodes; it began two years earlier and went an additional year beyond.)  Both shows have enjoyed a long life in syndication and with their release on DVD it's become clear that the affection in which they are both held is justified. (Review of Season 3 release here and also here, Season 4 release here, Season 5 release here.)

Perhaps Laverne & Shirley didn't have the political punch or menopausal mirth of Maude, nor the raucous high school smart aleck sass of Welcome Back, Kotter, nor the urban comedy flavor of The Jeffersons, but what the two titular ladies did have was impeccable comic timing, the never-ending courage to get in there and try anything, and a wonderful depiction of female friendship. Unfortunately late in the run this relationship seemed to have unraveled off-screen in real-life and ultimately led to the show's end, but while it lasted it was a true partnership of equals.  I always thought they had a better friendship than Lucy and Ethel, the latter always relegated to being the frumpy sidekick to Lucy, whereas Laverne and Shirley really did it all arm-in-arm together.  For instance, this wonderful sequence -- one of their best -- from the Season 2 episode "Guinea Pigs" where sleep and food-deprived Laverne and Shirley won't miss their fancy party:

We can't ignore the terrific supporting cast of Laverne & Shirley including Michael McKean and David Lander as Lenny and Squiggy, those two offbeat and off-kilter pals and neighbors of the girls.  Before Kramer on Seinfeld made entering a room into a tour-de-force moment to savor, Lenny and Squiggy never failed to amuse with their own trademark arrivals.  Phil Foster as Laverne's father Frank, Eddie Mekka as Shirley's sometime boyfriend Carmine and show-biz veteran Betty Garrett as the girls' landlady (and later Laverne's stepmother) Edna Babish added to the goings-on which happened around Laverne and Shirley's apartment, or Frank's pizza parlor, or the Shotz Brewery where they worked.  Listen to what Garrett had to say about Cindy Williams and Penny Marshall:

Nothing says it better than watching some Laverne & Shirley!

"Laverne & Shirley Meet Fabian" -- shades of when Lucy and Ethel broke into Cornel Wilde's hotel room but very great in its own way!  From Season 3:

From Season 4, "Supermarket Sweep" (this is in 3 segments):

"Fat City Holiday" from Season 5:

"The Diner" from Season 5, one of the favorite Laverne & Shirley episodes featuring the famous "Betty, please" bit which is discussed by Penny Marshall in this 2013 interview, click here:

How about the 1995 Laverne & Shirley Reunion special which commemorated the 20th anniversary of the series:

Fans still adore Laverne & Shirley -- like these dedicated folks at the LAVERNE & SHIRLEY place and other site which are listed there -- and you can count us in their number.  Cindy Williams reminisced about the series a couple of years ago in an interview available here and a few months ago in Parade magazine here, and here's another interview with Penny Marshall about her 2012 autobiography about her life and multifaceted Hollywood career.  (Phil Foster passed away in 1985, Betty Garrett in 2011.)

In 2012 Laverne & Shirley was honored with a TV Land Fan Favorite Award -- well deserved!

(If the 3rd video doesn't work, please click here.)

 In case your funny bone hasn't been sufficiently tickled yet, here's a compilation video of sixty or so Laverne & Shirley clips to enjoy -- it's wonderful.

Happy Birthday to Cindy Williams today, and thank goodness for Laverne & Shirley!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Summer Nose-talgia #35: Bill Irwin & "The Regard of Flight"

If thirty years ago qualifies something for nostalgia -- and it probably does for a lot of people -- and Mondays call for a special kind of awesome, then today's Nose-talgia entry is a perfect fit!  Brilliant actor, comedian, clown, dancer -- everything! -- Bill Irwin's magnificently hilarious theatrical piece "The Regard of Flight" aired as a PBS Great Performances back in 1983.

If you're not familiar with Bill Irwin then you haven't been paying attention to American entertainment for the past several decades.  From motion pictures to television to Broadway, Bill Irwin has not only been a commercial success but more importantly has remained one of the leading artistic forces in this country. His background lies in traditional clowning but like many clowns and comics he also is a skilled dramatic actor of uncommon talent and sophistication.  Lest you doubt his acting cred, from 2005:

And a few years earlier on the Tony Awards show:

But what we want to bring to you today is his brilliant "The Regard of Flight"; I saw it onstage in Los Angeles right around the time it aired on PBS and it absolutely changed my life.  If you haven't seen it at all, you will be charmed.  If you have you've probably have not seen it in a long time and you will adore it all over again!  M.C. O'Connor co-stars as the critic and Doug Skinner is the musical maestro.  (Visit his website here.)

PBS followed it with his "Clown Bagatelles" -- video quality not as good but still wonderful to watch!

I've been a fan of Bill Irwin for over thirty years and did a longer post on him a year of so ago here at The Flaming Nose.  I'm still in love!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Summer Nose-talgia #34: Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer, The Little Rascals' Little Tenor!

Everybody of a certain age remembers growing up with The Little Rascals constantly playing on afterschool TV right alongside The Three Stooges and classic cartoon favorites.  Back when children's shows were mostly local in origin various regional hosts would happily present the then twenty to thirty-year-old popular theatrical shorts to a whole new generation of fans.  The timeless antics of the rambunctious and genuinely hilarious child performers assembled by producer Hal Roach never failed to amuse and would continue to do so today if they were running anywhere (which I don't think they are) though some of the shorts are available on Hulu (click here). ( BTW, The Little Rascals are what these shorts were called on TV, originally known as Our Gang).

The Little Rascals favorite stalwart Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer was born on August 7, 1927.  One of the most popular characters of the troupe, Alfalfa was an ardent heartthrob and serenading romeo, singing his heart out -- mostly off-key -- to his beloved Darla.  The amusing scrapes and shenanigans of the Rascals surely reminded movie-going audiences the first time around in the 1930s of their own childhoods at a more innocent time.  When they became a TV staple decades later they were a fascinating look backwards at a time that the kiddy audiences had no direct knowledge of  -- and the shorts were not originally produced as children's entertainment anyway but designed as general comedy material -- but could relate to through the timeless quality of the humor.

Ah, if only real life could always be as uncomplicated and fun as the exciting onscreen existence of The Little Rascals.  That real life for Carl Switzer found him still continuing to work in Hollywood after the Rascals shorts wound down in 1940, but the once-adorable little boy Switzer was now an awkward teenager with a reputation as somewhat of a troublemaker and wild child on sets.  Even so, he was still talented and continued to land roles in features, other short subjects and later on TV series, though he also became sought-after for his off-screen second career skills as a dog-breeder and a hunting guide to the stars.

A not-too-successful marriage in 1954 didn't boost Switzer's happiness quotient much, and even more unhappily his successful canine businesses ultimately resulted in a much-discussed attack on Switzer which ended in his death on January 21, 1959 at the age of 31.  Still the subject of a lot of controversy -- the judge ruled "Justifiable Homicide" during the trial of Switzer's killer -- the violent shooting of a man who would forever be known as the innocent little Alfalfa was a shocker.

The mysterious murder has been covered in some detail on several websites, including an account on The Crime Library (click here), a great story by fellow actor Eddie Deezen on Neatorama (click here), this one from Frank's Reel Reviews (click here), and this page as part of a Little Rascals tribute site (click here).  In terms of more general info, there is a nice overview page on Our Gang available by clicking here, TCM ran an Our Gang tribute at one time and there is a nice article available by clicking here, an article debunking the Our Gang curse here on, one about the curse here, and you can get a great overview by visiting the Our Gang Wikia by clicking here.

We'll revisit Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer with a couple of clips of his comedy moments, then an episode from his later career on TV's Science Fiction Theatre from 1955, and finally an episode from the terrific E! network show from 1998 Mysteries and Scandals, hosted by A.J. Benza, on Switzer's life and untimely death. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Summer Nose-talgia #33: "One Step Beyond" & Pippo the Clown! Scary!

People always get a few shows mixed up in their memories.  Lots of folks conflate episodes of Twilight Zone, One Step Beyond, Thriller and The Outer Limits, especially the first two because they were (mostly) half-hours and shared a lot of actors.

Whereas Twilight Zone had writer Rod Serling's acerbic gloomy presence looming over its introductions to the dramatic delights to come, One Step Beyond had the far more gentle John Newland -- he directed most of the episodes -- to lead us into what were very often touted as real-life stories of the supernatural.  Genre fans will also note that Newland directed the very good "Errand of Mercy" episode of Star Trek: TOS in 1967.

Despite decent syndicated exposure One Step Beyond never quite achieved the high visibility and genuine cult status of Twilight Zone, but those of us who watched both found ourselves loving quite a few of the episodes.  They were a little nuttier than Twilight Zone, often had an international flair -- not a TZ trait at all -- and then there was that frisson of authenticity that often made them genuinely spooky.

One of the most memorable episodes perfectly combined a straight-up creepy subject matter -- a clown! -- with a gritty urban sensibility which honestly could have come from the Twilight Zone.  You can understand why people think this might be a TZ except if it were it would certainly end up in "best of" marathons on holidays and would be better known.

Christopher Dark & Yvette Mimieux

Shaughnessy as Pippo

Shaughnessy as himself

From 1960,  it's called "The Clown" and stars an 18 year-old Yvette Mimieux in one of her first acting roles; her big break in The Time Machine would come later that same year.  Veteran actor Mickey Shaughnessy played the clown named Pippo, and actor Christopher Dark (a very frequent guest star on TV until his death in 1971 at the age of 51) played Yvette's hot-tempered husband.  There's a short history of clowns at the beginning of the episode, and it's interesting to note that the name Pippo is a traditional clown name used over the years by various performers (even after this episode!).  Enjoy!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Summer Nose-talgia #32: Carroll O'Connor's Many Faces

Though Carroll O'Connor will forever be known for his groundbreaking portrayal of Archie Bunker on Norman Lear's All in the Family, he was also a familiar face on other TV shows over the years.  As a gifted character actor O'Connor made guest appearances on many of the top drama shows starting in the early 1960s as well as doing movie work all through his career.  He was, before All in the Family catapulted him to TV superstardom, a very solid working actor respected for his craft.  Be sure to look at his extensive list of credits to get a look at how much experience he had under his belt before Lear tapped him for Archie.

We celebrate Carroll O'Connor's vast range with a few photos from his entertaining TV work:

In an episode of Naked City from 1962:

In Stoney Burke from 1963:

Death Valley Days from 1964:

The Outer Limits from 1964:

  The Fugitive from 1964:

  The Man from U.N.C.L.E. from 1964:

Voyage to the Bottom on the Sea from 1964:

 I Spy from 1966:

 The Time Tunnel from 1966:

The Wild Wild West from 1966:

Mission: Impossible from 1967:

That Girl from 1967:

All in the Family from 1968:

In the Heat of the Night from 1988:

Party of Five from 1996:

Here are a couple of PSAs starring the real life Carroll O'Connor, speaking about some very important issues.  O'Connor was not only an actor but an involved citizen of the world.

Carroll O'Connor -- August 2, 1924 - June 21, 2001