Tuesday, January 17, 2017

SPOTLIGHT ON LEON ERROL

Anyone who knows me, knows that my love of classic movies basically started with watching Bing Crosby movies. Years ago I was watching the Bing Crosby-Carole Lombard film We're Not Dressing from 1934, and what I liked about the film, (next to Bing's singing) was the comedic appearance of character actor Leon Errol. His bits were sort of corny, but I found myself laughing at some of them! Errol was born Leonce Errol Sims in Sydney in 1891, Errol had toured Australia, New Zealand and the UK in a variety of theatrical settings, including circuses, operettas, and Shakespeare, by the time he arrived on the west coast of the U.S. in 1905. In Portland, Oregon he managed a touring vaudeville company troupe, giving an early boost to the career of a young comedian named Roscoe Arbuckle.

By 1911 Errol had graduated to the New York big time in the 1911 Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway, notably in two skits with the legendary Bert Williams. Errol's sister, Leda Errol (née Sims) was a personal friend of Ziegfeld Follies star Fanny Brice, and she appeared with him in the Ziegfeld Follies doing one and two act plays. He appeared every year in the Follies through 1915, when he is also credited as director of the show that included W.C. Fields, Ed Wynn, as well as Marion Davies as one of the Ziegfeld Girls.


Errol made his first film, a comic short subject called Nearly Spliced, in 1916 (it was not released before 1921), for pioneering east-coast producer George Kleine. By 1930 he'd left Broadway and turned his full attention to movies, third-billed for Samuel Goldwyn's One Heavenly Night in 1931. The box-office for that film was disappointing, but overall Errol made a smooth transition to films in a variety of comedy roles. His comic trademark was a wobbly, unsteady walk, moving as though on rubber legs; this bit served him well in drunk routines.


Errol starred in a long string of two-reel comedy shorts, which began at Columbia Pictures in 1933. He also starred in two early three-strip Technicolor shorts made at Warner Brothers, Service With a Smile (released 28 July 1934) and Good Morning, Eve! (released August 5), just beating the RKO Radio Pictures release La Cucaracha (31 August) as the first live action, wholly Technicolor release.

Moving to RKO Radio Pictures in 1934, he continued to make six shorts per year until his death in 1951. Most of these were marital farces in which Leon would get mixed up with a pretty girl or an involved business proposition, and face the wrath of his wife (usually Dorothy Granger); the theme tune to the series was the nursery rhyme, London Bridge Is Falling Down.


Leon Errol is well remembered for his energetic performances in the Mexican Spitfire movies opposite Lupe Vélez (1939–43), in which Errol had the recurring dual role of affable Uncle Matt and foggy British nobleman Lord Epping. Monogram signed Errol to appear as fight manager Knobby Walsh in the eight entries of their "Joe Palooka" sports comedies (1946–50). Leon Errol's most famous non-series appearance is in the nonsensical comedy feature Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941), starring fellow vaudeville and Ziegfeld alumnus W. C. Fields. Errol's next-to-last film, Lord Epping Returns in 1951, reprised his famous characterization (and some of the gags) from Mexican Spitfire.

Footage from Errol's short subjects was incorporated into RKO's compilation features Variety Time, Make Mine Laughs, Footlight Varieties, and Merry Mirthquakes. RKO kept Leon Errol in the public eye by reissuing his older comedies through the mid-1950s. His RKO shorts soon became a staple of syndicated television.

Errol married Stella Chatelaine in Denver, Colorado in 1906. She died on November 7, 1946 in Los Angeles. Five years later Errol suffered a fatal heart attack, on October 12, 1951, aged 70. They had no children. Leon Errol never received the fame of some character actors did, but his comedic timing highlighted many great films of the 1930s....


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

REST IN PEACE: BUDDY BREGMAN

Buddy Bregman, the talented orchestra leader who was a driving force on many great LPs of the 1950s and 1960s has died. Bregman backed Bing on his excellent album "Bing Sings Whilst Bregman Swings" in 1956...







Sunday, January 8, 2017

BARRY FITZGERALD - 1945

Here is a charming article that appeared in the New York Times on  January 14, 1945. It detailed actor Barry Fitzgerald's rise in fame and how he dealt with it...



Fitzgerald Meets Fame — and He Frowns
By FRED STANLEY

HOLLYWOOD — In Hollywood these days everyone, it seems, is excited about Barry Fitzgerald - except Barry Fitzgerald. On the basis of his performance as the whimsical, petulant old parish priest in Paramount's ''Going My Way,'' the New York critics have just given him their award for the best film acting of the year.

Today Barry Fitzgerald is in greater demand by the studios than any character has ever been in the history of the film city. One conservative estimate, by people who figure such things out, has it that if the 56-year-old Irish actor accepted all of the parts that have been offered to him in the past four months he would be working in front of the cameras, night and day, for the next two years. Film producers calculate that Fitzgerald's name in the cast of one of their products now means increased returns at the box office. That fact explains an increase in his ''per picture'' pay to $75,000 more than three times his pre-''Going My Way'' rate.

To all of which Barry Fitzgerald says: ''I am now just another Hollywood celebrity and that's downright boring.'' He doesn't understand why being a successful actor should mean that he can, per se, set the general public an example by smoking so and so's cigarettes or wearing this or that brand of underwear.


Gone are the days, he will regretfully tell you, when he could walk down the street unrecognized and just watch people go by. Now the people watch Barry Fitzgerald go by. In Hollywood he is too easily recognized, pointed out, stared at and besieged by that curious American phenomenon, the autograph seeker.

He finds it all rather bewildering. He resents the disruption of his previously inconspicuous private life. He can't even browse in Los Angeles book shops or join in a discussion with strangers at some out-of-the-way barroom or drug store without being tagged as Father Fitzgibbon. His old clothes and cloth cap, which once kept him inconspicuous, now make him a marked man.

And along with fame have come obligations - obligations which are particularly distressing to Mr. Fitzgerald, who cheerfully admits to being a ''very lazy man.'' Fame has brought sacks full of fan mail to be answered. It has resulted in invitations to parties and social events - for he is now being recognized, even by some of the town's so-called ''greats.''


Sunday, January 1, 2017

BING AND JERRY LEWIS

I usually do not trash a fellow artist and talent - especially on this blog but there is something wrong with Jerry Lewis. At this time of the year we get to hear the timeless Christmas recordings that Bing sang, which is great. However, the abuse stories and negative articles come out about Bing's personality and demeanor as well. I usually take these with a grain of salt, but I want to respond to an interview that Jerry Lewis recently gave.

Jerry Lewis, who recently appeared in the news for an extremely awkward seven-minute interview with the Hollywood Reporter in which he gives short one-word answers and antagonizes his younger interviewer, gave a more engaging talk to WTF Podcast host Marc Maron in September of this year.

Maron sat on the interview until recently because, while entertaining and informative, the interview ends abruptly when Lewis decides he’s tired of answering questions.

Maron managed to get more out of Lewis than THR, though, and one juicy part came at the end when Jerry discussed Bing Crosby.

“Bing Crosby was an independent son of a b***h,” Lewis says with a tinge of disgust in his voice.” When Maron asked if that meant Bing was “not a nice guy,” Lewis responded, “I didn’t say that. I can only say that I did not enjoy his company.”

Lewis speculated Crosby didn’t like him because “he thought I would take his toop (toupee) off.”

“We went and did a telethon for needy children. I walk on stage and Bing, he walked the other way. Never did talk to him again,” Lewis said, adding that “he did it out of fear.”

“He feared that I would do something nuts to him. He had five sons, who thought he was a schmuck, too,” Lewis said.


I take what Jerry Lewis as the ramblings of a frail and bitter entertainer. Mickey Rooney was the same way. Rooney even at one point said "Bing never even entertained the troops". As for Lewis, Bing did not have five children, and even after the supposed telethon mishap, Bing did talk to Jerry. Jerry obviously has a selective memory as he has forgotten the times he subsequently golfed with Bing, had dinner with him in London and was invited to play in the Crosby Pro-Am. Bing and Dean Martin also gatecrashed the Eddie Fisher show on which Jerry was guesting in 1958. In my opinion, Bing did  not run in the same crowd as Jerry. Lewis, who stopped being even remotely funny after Dean Martin dumped him sixty years ago. Lewis is one of the most notorious miserable people in Hollywood to this day.

It's sad when an aging star has to resort to spreading gossip about a fellow star who has been dead nearly 40 years. What is next - Jerry Lewis to say that Al Jolson beat him? Even though Bing died too young in 1977 at the age of 74, we did not see Bing because truly elderly. We have the misfortune now of seeing Jerry Lewis now as a faded star and an obviously miserable and angry man...




Wednesday, December 28, 2016

REST IN PEACE: DEBBIE REYNOLDS

Rest in peace legendary actress Debbie Reynolds. She appeared with Bing in the movie Say One For Me (1959), and she appeared on his televisions special celebrating Bing's 50 years in show business in 1977...




Sunday, December 25, 2016

WHAT DID BING THINK OF DAVID BOWIE?

Bing may have been somewhat aware 0f Bowie by word of mouth from a relative or colleague, but I doubt Bowie would have been on the Pop culture radar of the 73 year old Crosby, esp. when Pop culture wasn’t as widely disseminated as it is today.
A month after the special featuring their duet, Crosby was dead of a heart attack. The special was broadcast on CBS about a month after his death.
"Peace on Earth," an original tune that Bowie sings an arrangement that weaved “Little Drummer Boy together was written in about 75 minutes, Bowie and Crosby nailed the performance with less than an hour of rehearsal.
It's unclear, however, whether Crosby had any idea who Bowie was.

If anyone has definitive clues as to what Bing thought of David Bowie, I would be interested in hearing your comments...

Sunday, December 18, 2016

GUEST REVIEW: WHITE CHRISTMAS

Bruce Kogan is back with a review of the yuletide classic White Christmas...

By 1954 the song White Christmas had become such a timeless classic that it was inevitable that a film would be made around it. And of course the star would be none other than Bing Crosby. But who to star with him.

Originally this was to be the third Irving Berlin outing for Bing and Fred Astaire. Then Donald O'Connor was to co-star, but finally Danny Kaye teamed with Der Bingle. Proved to be a felicitous combination.

By then Rosemary Clooney had worked in a few films well and more importantly, she had clicked with Crosby on the radio. Bing had teamed with several girl singers over the years, like Connee Boswell, Frances Langford, Mary Martin, Trudy Erwin, Carole Richards, Peggy Lee and a trio of sisters named Andrews. But he always said Rosemary Clooney was it for him and besides Mary Martin, the only other one who did became a leading lady for him.

It's not remembered because of the success of her solo career, but Rosemary Clooney started as a duo with her sister Betty who retired early to raise a family. So with Vera-Ellen as her sister in the movie, that was an aspect of the plot Rosemary could handle with ease.


The plot such as it is involves Bing and Danny as a song and dance duo who've expanded into the production end of show business. Through a little bit of a con game worked by Vera Ellen, the two meet a singing sister act like the Clooney sisters were. The sisters turn out to be headed to Vermont to work at a resort and the smitten guys go along with them.

Problem is there ain't any snow there. It's an unheard of 68 degrees Fahrenheit in early December. And the place is owned by Crosby and Kaye's former commander from World War II, played by Dean Jagger. He's about to lose his shirt and his pride. So our intrepid quartet go to work.


Irving Berlin's score for White Christmas is about half new songs and the other half from previous scores. That's how it was when you got Irving to work for you. Listen carefully even to the background music. You will not hear one note of a non-Berlin song.

One of those songs was a personal favorite of mine, Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep. I recall in grade school in Brooklyn it was a song that the teachers had us sing in the school assemblies. Little did I know that it was introduced by the guy who proved to be my favorite entertainer. It's a patented philosophical Bing Crosby song that he did best and it serves as a ballad to woo and win Rosie. Bing sings it and then Rosie joins him in the reprise.

Danny Kaye has two good numbers. The first The Best Things Happen While Your Dancing is clearly originally for Fred Astaire, though Kaye and Vera Ellen make a lovely couple on the dance floor. The Choreography number I think was also done for Astaire, but here dancer John Brascia does the complicated dance routine while Kaye sings. I'm sure Astaire would have handled both jobs had the film been made with him.

All the stars do the Minstrel Show/Mandy number, but Vera Ellen really shines in it. She was a great dancer, really sparkled in every film she did.


Besides Sisters, Rosemary Clooney has a grand torch ballad that sold a few platters for her in Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me. She had a wonderful singing voice and the most impeccable diction of any female singer ever. You don't miss one throbbing word on any of her ballads.

White Christmas was Paramount's first film done in their wide screen process called VistaVision. And of course it was proper that their number one star for over 20 years be in this film. Of course jokes about Bing's derrière and the wide screen got into the repertoire of a certain comedian named Hope.

Just like the song that inspired it, White Christmas has proved to be a timeless holiday classic and will remain so...


BRUCE'S RATING: 9 OUT OF 10
MY RATING: 8 OUT OF 10


Monday, December 12, 2016

BELLS OF ST. MARYS CHILD STAR DIES

Joan Carroll, a former child star who appeared in Meet Me in St. Louis opposite Judy Garland and The Bells of St. Mary's with Bing Crosby, has passed away, it was recently accounced.

Carroll died Nov. 16 near her home in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, her son, Joe Krack, said.

Carroll played Garland's younger sister Agnes, who pulls a dangerous prank with the youngest sister, Tootie (Margaret O'Brien), in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944). The actress was sidelined for a few days during filming after she needed an emergency appendectomy.

Carroll then portrayed the struggling eighth-grade parish student Patsy who at first doesn't get any sympathy from Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary's (1945).

Carroll made quite the impression as Ginger Rogers' younger sister Honeybell in Primrose Path (1940), then was loaned by RKO so she could appear on Broadway as Geraldine in Panama Hattie, a Cole Porter musical comedy about sailors in the Panama Canal Zone that starred Ethel Merman and ran from October 1940 to January 1942. (Shirley Temple had turned down the part.)

"For sunshine and sentiment, little Joan Carroll, who is now fully 8 years old, is wholly captivating," Brooks Atkinson wrote in his review for The New York Times. "She and Miss Merman get along together beautifully, and gruff old codgers are going to choke a little this Winter when tot and temptress sing 'Let's Be Buddies' and bring the house down."

Carroll also appeared opposite Ruth Warrick in two films: Obliging Young Lady (1942), in which she played the daughter of wealthy divorcing parents, and Petticoat Larceny (1943), where she was a young radio star who goes undercover to better understand her roles (and then gets kidnapped).

The Bells of St. Mary's was her last film. She continued to live in Beverly Hills, got married and then moved with her family to Colorado, her son said.

Born Joan Marie Felt in Elizabeth, N.J., Carroll and her folks came to California in 1936 when she was 5. She made her film debut in One Mile From Heaven (1937) opposite Claire Trevor and later appeared in Mr. Moto's Last Warning (1939), Basil Rathbone's Tower of London (1939), Anne of Windy Poplars (1940) and Tomorrow, the World! (1944).

Survivors include her other children Ann Marie, Mary Anne and James; her brother James; 14 grandchildren; and 19 great-grandchildren. A donation in her name may be made to Sacred Heart Jesuit Center, P.O. Box 128, Los Gatos, CA 95031.

Carroll was 85 years of age.


Saturday, December 10, 2016

PHOTOS OF THE DAY: BING AND VERA-ELLEN

It's that time of the year to dust off the 1954 musical White Christmas and watch Bing and Danny Kaye dance upon your yuletide screen. Bing's leading lady in the film was Rosemary Clooney, but I wanted to see if I could find any pictures of Der Bingle with Danny Kaye's love interest in the film - Vera-Ellen. Here's what I found...














Saturday, December 3, 2016

MOVIE REVIEW: GOING HOLLYWOOD

Many people love films about Hollywood like Sunset Boulevard (1950) and Singin In The Rain (1952) and rightfully so. However, there are some hidden film gems about Hollywood that I really love to watch. One such film is a 1933 offering from MGM - Going Hollywood.

Going Hollywood was primarily a starring vehicle for rising crooner Bing Crosby. Bing had become a superstar a year earlier with a popular radio show and his first feature film for Paramount Studios, The Big Broadcast (1932). However, the studio was still unsure what to do with their instantly hot product. Was Bing a singer who acted or an actor that could sing? Paramount loaned Bing to MGM, which is something they would really not do much in the future. This film would be Bing's first film for MGM studios, which at the time was the biggest film studio in the world. Bing would not make another film at MGM for 20 years and the only other movies he made for the studio would be: High Society (1956), Man On Fire (1957), and That's Entertainment(1974).

Back to Going Hollywood, the film was also a vehicle for actress Marion Davies. Despite a lifelong relationship with paper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, Davies was a star who was becoming more famous for her relationship with Hearst than for her movies. This film did little for Davies' career, but she did look beautiful in the film. Rounding out the cast were great supporting stars as Stuart Erwin, Fifi D'Orsay, Ned Sparks, and Patsy Kelly.


The plot of the movie has Bing basically playing Bing Crosby. He is a crooner going to Hollywood for his first starring role. Fifi D'Orsay is his girlfriend and uptight French leading lady. When I first saw the movie as a teenager I really hated her, but that is a sign of a good actress. Her role in the film was to make you hate her. Marion Davies, basically plays a stalker. She plays a school teacher at an uptight private girl's school who dreams of a relationship with the crooner. When she quits the school, she hitches a train to Hollywood to meet Crosby. She gets a small role in the film Bing is working on with D'Orsay, and as the relationship between Bing and Fifi disintegrates, the career and love life of Marion Davies looks up as she makes Bing realize that she is the woman of his dreams.


Despite a great opening in Grand Central Station, not much of the "real" Hollywood is used, which is unfortunate. The music is written by the great Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, and the film shows the debut of the popular torch song "Temptation". Other musical highlights include Bing singing "Beautiful Girl" to a young Sterling Holloway (of Winnie The Pooh fame), the bizarre Busby Berkeley-like number "We'll Make Hay While The Sun Shines", and the underrated "Our Big Love Scene". Bing and Marion Davies both looked great in the movie, and the film holds up well 72 years after it was made.

The Hollywood plot of stars going to Hollywood for fame and fortune is a plot line that is still used to do this day. Also the storyline about a failing production, an out of touch director (Ned Sparks), a naive producer (Stuart Erwin), and an uptight prima donna (Fifi D'Orsay) is again something that is a part of modern Hollywood as well as this vintage 1933 Hollywood. The movie is about Hollywood, but like in many movies, the personality of Bing Crosby overshadows the whole film...

MY RATING: 10 OUT OF 10