Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A new Jackie Chan film, an old fashioned comic romance and an AIDS benefit are among this week's DVD offerings.

Red Hot + Blue
In 1990 attorney and art teacher John Carlin came up with an idea of having contemporary artists record their versions of Cole Porter songs for a CD that would both raise awareness and money for AIDS research and treatment.

At the time AIDS was still quite new to many people and the CD was accompanied by a television special designed to address issues about the disease.

Shout Factory has released a combination DVD and CD of Red Hot + Blue that has the original CD featuring artists such as U2, Sinead O'Connor, the Neville Brothers, Debbie Harry, Iggy Pop, Annie Lennox, and David Byrne as well as the television special, which features videos of many of these artists.

It's interesting to view this special now over a decade from its creation as some of the performances and videos still pack a punch, while others seem like artifacts from the late 1980s.

Annie Lennox had the pipes to do Cole Porter justice, as did Jody Watley and k.d. lang. Sinead O' Connor, on the other hand, seemed to be straining to fit into a non-rock tune and Kirsty MacColl & The Pogues murdered "Miss Otis Regrets/ Just One of Those Things."

Some of the artists were people whose names and careers have faded a bit since 1990 - who remembers Erasure, Les Negresses Vertes or Aztec Camera?

The videos themselves reflect their time. Some are gimmicky (Erasure's "Too Darn Hot") and some are playful ("Don't' Fence Me In" by David Byrne). The best focus on the performance as opposed to video effects.

Proceeds from the sale of this new collection will benefit AIDS programs.

Last Holiday

This re-make of a 1950 Alec Guinness comedy is a sweet old-fashioned romantic comedy. Queen Latifah stars as Georgia Byrd, a quiet hard-working department store clerk who leads a life of unfilled dreams. She catalogs them in a "possibilities" book, which includes photos of a co-worker with whom she's in love (LL Cool J) and places she would like to visit - including an Austrian resort where one of her favorite chefs works.

A trip to the doctor after an accident at work supposedly reveals she has three weeks to live. Her reaction? Take all of her savings and inheritance and, in her words, "Blow it!"

So, she takes off to Austria and the resort she has dreamed about. There her entrance - via helicopter - and her willingness to spend money catches the eyes of a crooked industrialist (Timothy Hutton) and a senator from her home state (Giancarlo Esposito).

The knowledge that she is going to die frees Byrd from her inhibitions.

Now, we know she isn't going to die. There is no suspense about her condition. Director Wayne Wang doesn't care about reality. He just wants his audience to have a good time with this love story.

Queen Latifah is in almost every scene in the film and she ably carries the film. The transformation from a timid shop clerk to a woman willing to jump off of a dam is one she makes with ease.

Aside from several muted sexual references, this film could have been made 50 years ago.

And that is not a bad thing.

Patton Oswalt: No Reason to Complain Uncensored

I've seen Patton Oswalt in acting gigs on sit-coms, but I had never seen his stand-up comedy until I watched this DVD. If you like the cynical urban musings of Dave Attell, then you'll probably enjoy Oswalt's brand of comedy.

Since I'm a huge Attell fan, I have to give a big "thumbs up" to Oswalt.

This DVD has the uncensored version of this Comedy Central special and the censored version that was on the cable channel. You can pick the one that is right for you. Like Attell, Oswalt has the ability of using some language that some might find funny, while others will find offensive.

The other special feature on this disc is a series of comedy shorts called Food for Thought. Oswalt co-stars as one of two over-night clerks in a 24-hour grocery store. I had never seen these before and I was reduced to tears by some of them.

The Myth

It's taken about two years for Jackie Chan's last film (New Police Story, 2004) to make its way to American video stores - it has been available in Asian video outlets for over a year. I imagine it might take an equally long time for Chan's newest film, The Myth, to get into your local Blockbuster or Hollywood Video.

Chan has made statements that he doesn't care as much about the American market as he once did largely because of how his Asian-made films have been re-cut and dubbed. Apparently that is why there was no theatrical release for New Police Story and probably won't be one for The Myth.

However, Chan's fans will have no problem securing a DVD of The Myth from online retailers that has English sub-titles.

Is it worth the effort? Absolutely.

Chan made his name with many audiences in two films in the 1980s in which he played a dashing archeologist. Here he reprises that kind of character in a much more serious way. He plays Jack Lee, an archeologist who won't raid tombs and won't take artifacts out of their country of origin - someone quite different than his character in The Armor of God and Operation Condor.

He is also plagued with vivid re-occurring dreams of a possible past life when he was a general in the Qin Dynasty. He is approached by a friend William (Tony Leung), a physicist, about searching for an anti-gravity artifact from the Qin Dynasty and Lee's past and present lives collide.

While there is a little of the patented Chan comic action, most of the film is played very straight and Chan does very well in the flashback sequences to ancient China. The action sequences are impressive, as are the epic war scenes.

It would seem that when one considers this film and New Police Story, it's not hard to imagine that the 52-year-old star is commenting on his past successes, not unlike what Clint Eastwood did with his definitive western The Unforgiven.

It's a fun film and one that fans of Asian cinema - and Jackie Chan - should enjoy.

© 2006 Gordon Michael Dobbs. You should know the drill by now: these are my words alone.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

I'm going to start posting some of the interviews I've done with stand-up comics. So far the group has included Richard Lewis, David Alan Grier, Tommy Davidson, Jim Bruer, Dave Attell, Caroline Rhea, Brett Butler, Jay Mohr and Bob Nelson, among others. The over-whelming majority have ben fun interviews and almost none of them were "on."

However the latest, Judy Tenuta, was as on as any comic could be and it was a hoot.

I've interviewed a fair number of comedians who've appeared in our area, but I've never been serenaded by one before.

But then, I've never talked to Judy Tenuta before.

Tenuta will appear at the Hu Ke Lau for one show June 10 at 5:30 p.m.

Speaking from her California home at 8 a.m., Tenuta first told me that it wasn't too early for her to do an interview, because she has a lot of energy in the morning.

That proved to be an understatement.

After telling me that she was wearing her gold lamé leopard bikini, she told me to hang on while she fetched her accordion. Popping on her speakerphone, she launched into a song extolling the virtues of the Hu Ke Lau.

I discovered that I wasn't going to get many in-depth answers about the nature of comedy. Whether it's on stage or over a telephone, Tenuta is a total entertainer.

Tenuta is a veteran on the national comedy scene whose act is part political commentary, part audience participation and part religious and social satire.

The comic can also be very politically incorrect. Talking with her proved to be a wild ride.

Sometimes she describes herself as a "petite flower." Other times, she calls herself a goddess and preaches the faith she invented herself: "Judyism."

She said she loves appearing in Massachusetts - she will also be at the Comedy Connection at Faneuil Hall in Boston - and that it's been a while since she performed at the Hu Ke Lau.

"I love it. It's been five years since the last time and they were sweet enough to have two of the [Polynesian] dancers carry me on stage," she said. "I want them to do a fire dance around me."

She also likes the venue because the audience is "lit," by the time she arrives on stage, she said.
"We are all best friends by then," she added.

Tenuta is one of nine children of a Polish-Italian family from Chicago. She said her brothers were required to play musical instruments, but unlike them, she enjoyed the accordion.

When asked how much of her act is ad-libbed, Tenuta replied that she "makes it up right there."

"I do have certain things [planned] on a kind of mental outline, but you never know," she said.
Tenuta revealed she will be husband-hunting while in Chicopee and Boston and she does have her eye on one New England celebrity.

"Quarterback Tom Brady needs to meet the goddess now. I expect him to be at Faneuil Hall for the goddess!" she said.

She will be asking - or dragging - various men on stage to audition as potential husbands. Among her requirements are the candidates "have to complete a sentence and should have a wallet."

He should also be "pretty cute," as she said, "the goddess is pretty cute." Candidates also should bring presents and flowers to increase their attractiveness.

One last word: Tenuta warned that candidates have to have a job.

"The goddess will not be supporting a pig," she added.

©2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs who takes full responsibility for what is published here.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Here's a grumpy old man post. For added effect imagine me waving my cane in the air as I wrote this.

Is it my imagination or have using your indicators when driving just become a quaint memory from the past?

I must be getting old, as my powers of telepathy have definitely waned at a time when I'm supposed to divine what other drivers are going to do.

How about the use of ashtrays in cars? Do the new cars not come with them? Is that why people routinely flick their butts out the window? And while some older cars must come with ashtrays, parking lots must no longer have trashcans as I see little mounds of butts routinely on the asphalt.

We all know that it's required to listen to other drivers' choices of music, not our own. This applies not only when you're driving, but also when you're at home in your living room trying to watch television or listen to your music.

And four-way stops have become exercises in knowing when to stare someone down and when not to establish eye contact so you can sail through the intersection.

Are people behaving worse when behind the wheel? A recent study about road rage has our own capital city as one of the worst places in the nation to drive.

"Norwalk, Conn. - May 16, 2006 - The commute to work can be an unpleasant one for people across the country, and folks in Boston have one of the noisiest roads to travel.

"In a new road rage study, Boston was ranked first as likely to honk at other drivers, compared to 19 other major American metro areas.

"Boston was also tied for the No. 1 ranking for "more likely to curse another driver," along with Chicago. Overall, Boston was ranked the fifth least courteous city...

"The In The Driver's Seat 2006 AutoVantage Road Rage Survey, released today, was conducted to determine the driving habits and attitudes of commuters across the U.S. and to learn more about consumer views on the topic of road rage.

"Least Courteous Cities (Worst Road Rage): Miami; Phoenix; New York; Los Angeles; and Boston.

"Most Courteous Cities (Least Road Rage): Minneapolis; Nashville; St. Louis; Seattle; and Atlanta...

"American drivers also feel that stress, frustration, bad moods, and being generally aggressive contribute to the widespread phenomenon of road rage.

* 'People being stressed out.'

* 'People cut you off and do not signal.'

* 'They think the road belongs to them.'

"Behaviors by other drivers that cause stress for commuters, and which can lead to road rage, include:

* Driving too fast (57 percent observe this happening every day)

* Tailgating (50 percent see this every day)

* Cutting over without notice (44 percent see this every day)

" Commuters also reported that other drivers frequently:

*Talk on their cell phones (98 percent observe this at least once a week)

*Run red lights (59 percent observe this at least once a week)

*Slam on the brakes (54 percent see this happening at least once a week)

"As a reaction to rude or bad driving by others, people surveyed reported that they:

* Honked their horn at the offending driver (40 percent)

* Cursed at the other driver (32 percent)

* Waved their fist or arms (9 percent)

* Made an obscene gesture (8 percent)

* Called the police to report the driver (5 percent)."

So how would you evaluate where you live?

© 2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs
I guess someone could possibly take offense at this posting, expecially if you're a bad driver who causes the rest of us to want to kill you. If that's the case, I take full responsibility for your anger.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Air Pirates!
I recently interviewed Gary Hallgren, one of the legendary underground artists who were sued by Walt Disney Studios back in the 1970s for copyright violation. He was a nice guy and it was a pleasure to speak with him.

A cartoonist and illustrator whose legal battle with the Walt Disney Studios helped define just how far parody could go is now making his home and career in the Pioneer Valley.

Gary Hallgren was one of the "Air Pirates," a group of underground cartoonists who produced a series of comic books in 1971 featuring Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters doing definitely non-Disney activities.

A prolonged lawsuit was eventually decided in Disney's favor, but the cartoonist and illustrator didn't allow the case to affect his career. He has been commissioned by publications such as The New York Times, Forbes, Men's Health, The Wall Street Journal, MAD Magazine and Entertainment Weekly, among others, for illustrations. He draws much of the syndicated comic strip Shylock Fox.

And he has even done freelance work for the Disney Studios.

Currently he is working on the illustrations for a series of five books on health. To this date, You, The Owner's Manuel and You, the Smart Patient have been published and Hallgren recently finished a series of illustrations for a third book.

Publishers Weekly noted Hallgren's illustrations in its review of You, The Owner's Manual, "The book has an entertaining feel: friendly elves guide readers through illustrations of the body and cartoons feature alien creatures that enter the body and cause illness. The humor is irreverent (e.g., muscle cells surrounding dead heart tissue "start fighting with each other, like Jerry Springer's guests, instead of supporting each other, like Oprah's."

Hallgren lives in Granby with his wife, a native of South Hadley, and daughter, and has his studio in Holyoke at Open Square.

Settling in Massachusetts to live was "coming home to roost, so to speak."

Studebakers and comics

His studio - which Hallgren described as the "best studio I've ever had" - reflects Hallgren's interests and career.

There is eye candy on every wall. A print of a cover of a comic by Robert Crumb hangs on one wall. Hallgren said that in the heady days of the early 1970s no one could have envisioned that artists such as Crumb would have become as popular as they have.

A poster heralding a concert by the rock band of which Hallgren was a member is near his computer as are vintage ads for Studebaker cars.

Hallgren is a life-long Studebaker fan - "always was and always will" - and has restored a Studebaker truck. He is currently working on restoring a Skyhawk.

Hallgren said that he was a fan of newspaper comic strips when growing up and published his first cartoon in his high school newspaper. He noted that some of the acknowledged masters of comic art, including George Herriman (Krazy Kat), George McManus (Bringing up Father) Chic Young (Blondie) and Carl Barks (Donald Duck comics), are among his influences.

A set of books shelves is loaded with art books and collections of comic strips and on the walls are paintings that are Hallgren's takes on vintage comic characters.

In one painting, Dagwood's dog Daisy is seen tearing a mouse apart. The caption reads, "Dagwood, come quick Daisy's caught a mouse."

The rodent in question resembles Mickey Mouse.

Another painting shows a close-up Dick Tracy and his assistant Sam Catchem with the words "Bulletin !! Bullet in!!"
The one Hallgren displays in the window of the studio shows Blondie and Dagwood in bed asleep. Blondie is dreaming of Mr. Beasley, the letter carrier, while Dagwood has Betty Boop on his mind.

These vintage characters may not be familiar to younger people today, but Hallgren said. "They have been in my brain since I was a little kid."

While copyright laws prohibit him from reproducing these canvases, he is allowed to create singular works.

He said that he enjoys playing with these icons of popular culture.

Re-constructing Mickey

He graduated from Washington State University where he studied painting and design. After graduation he trained as a sign painter.

Hallgren had his own sign painting business when he first met Dan O'Neill, then the creator of Odd Bodkins, a successful syndicated comic strip, at a rock concert in Washington in 1970.

Hallgren recalls that O'Neill was drawing comic strips about the rock concert from the media tent set up at the concert.

"I was impressed that an 'over-ground' artist was at the rock festival," he said.

O'Neill was impressed with the lettering Hallgren had done on a side of a van and wanted to meet the artist. Hallgren said that he had been thinking about trying to break into the undergrounds but had no idea where to start.

When O'Neill invited him to California to start up a studio and take on the Disney Studios, Hallgren said, "It sounded like a plan."

Artists Bobby London, Ted Richards and Shary Flenniken joined Hallgren and O'Neill.

And with the publication of three comic books that used Disney characters to lampoon their own image and contemporary politics, Hallgren said, "We did do what he [O'Neill] said. We were focused enough to make it a semi-reality."

The Disney Studios did sue them for copyright infringement and the case was not resolved until 1980. The court decision helped clarify the limits of parody and use of copyrighted characters.

Hallgren said, "Knowing what I know now, I would have handled things differently." And yet he added, "I would do it all again."

He is still in touch with Flenniken and with O'Neill and said there was an effort to put together a reunion project, but it proved not to be financially worthwhile.

Ren & Stimpy

Hallgren has long wanted to have a comic strip of his own, and has come close on several occasions to closing a syndication deal. He was in the running for taking over Nancy and had proposed a comic strip based on the Eloise series of children's books.

He was considered for both assignments based in part on his ability to copy the style of other artists.

In several illustrations for magazines such as Entertainment Weekly, he showed his skill at capturing various styles in illustrations on the animation industry.

Hallgren was interested in working in animation and was approached to come to Los Angeles to work at Games Animation, the studio then producing the Ren & Stimpy cartoons. Hallgren was hoping to become a background painter - he was a fan of the show - but instead he was seen fulfilling a role of "a minder," Hallgren said.

He was seen as an older artist who could be a role model to the younger ones and manage them to make sure they made their deadlines.

That wasn't for him, he explained.

Lifetime of work

When asked if he had a favorite project, Hallgren paused and then mentioned a magazine cover. When told this reporter hadn't seen it, he walked across the studio and brought back three leather art portfolios to a table.

Inside were hundreds of pieces of art, mostly by Hallgren but also original by O'Neill and others.

Hallgren never found the cover illustration, but a quick look through the pages of the portfolios was like taking a whirlwind tour of the artist's life with illustrations from major mainstream magazines, art for video boxes, and original pages from Hallgren's underground comics.

Web site

Hallgren has had a busy and successful career in illustration since 1979 and he is concerned about the future of illustration, as more and more art directors have turned to the use of stock photography to accompany articles, instead of commissioning original illustrations.

Unlike many other artists today, he still works in traditional artistic methods and does not use a computer to aid in drawing or coloring a project.

He isn't a Luddite, though, and he would like to "get a presence going" on the Internet.

He is considering launching a web site, though, to showcase his years of work. His plan is to post a new item each day.

"If I'm a cult figure at all, I'm a very tiny one," he said with a smile. "I'd like to get a little bigger one."

© 2006 Gordon Michael Dobbs.
This is my blog. Blame me.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Here's a bit of a mystery for you animation fans.

I don't know recall buying this photo, but I must have picked it up at Cinefest, the annual film festival in Syracuse, NY, that has been my source for many of my additions to my still collection in the past 15 years.

There are no identifying numbers or codes on the still that would give me a more firm date, but I would hazard a guess somewhere from 1928 to 1930.

The reasoning behind my guess is the doll at the far left, "Milton," which closely resembles Mickey Mouse. Mickey parodies and steals popped up several places in animation at that time ( there are several Mickey appearances in Fleischer cartoons, for instance).

The dolls all wear a name tag that also reads "See my pals at your favorite theatre."

I'm no expert on the Aesop Fables series. Frankly, many of them just seem amazingly repetitive to me. They just seem to glom together into one big ball of mice running from someone.

What's your take?

© 2006 Gordon Michael Dobbs
This blog is mine alone. Blame me if you don't like it.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Da Vinci Code Mania! Just got this release.

As the media hype reaches a boiling point over the release this Friday of a new motion picture including inflammatory claims about Jesus Christ, most American Catholics do not believe the basic premise of the film or the book on which it is based, a new Le Moyne College/Zogby International/Contemporary Catholic Trends telephone survey shows.

The survey of Catholics nationwide also found that the movie The Da Vinci Code will drive more Catholics than not to the scriptures. A plurality -- 42% -- said that after hearing about the book and movie, they intend to seek truth by studying the Bible more closely.

The movie is based on a novel by Dan Brown. According to news reports, its plot revolves around a conspiracy by the Roman Catholic Church to cover up the "true" story of Jesus. The book claims the Vatican supposedly knows it is living a lie concerning Jesus, but it does so to maintain its influence. The book also speaks to a church-led conspiracy to suppress Christ's alleged marriage to Mary Magdalene, and his fathering of a royal bloodline with her. The book contends she is the real Holy Grail because she carries the "blood" of Jesus within her, whom Leonardo da Vinci worked into his art. Critics of the novel and movie describe the plot as inaccurate and sacrilegious.

The survey shows that two-thirds of Catholics who were familiar with The Da Vinci Code storyline did not believe that the leaders of the Catholic church understand the truth as portrayed in the film but are suppressing it. Just 12% said they believe the book over their church leaders. More than one in five - 21% - said they are unsure about the claims in the book.

Women were less certain of their church leaders than men. While 78% of men said they do not believe church leaders are suppressing the "truth" as portrayed in the film, just 58% of women agreed. One in four women said they were unsure about the suppression of information about Jesus by church leaders.

There was little difference of opinion on the topic between those who had been raised Catholic and those who had converted to the faith.

Asked whether recent reports about the book or movie would affect their personal efforts to seek truth through studying the Bible, 42% of Catholics said it would make them more likely to do so, while 18% said the reports would make them less likely to do so. One-third of respondents said the media reports would have neither effect on their pursuit of truth.

The survey was conducted May 2-10 of 1,049 Catholics nationwide, and carries a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Some of the faces behind some of the voices

When I was a kid I was fascinated by cartoons and by the faces behind the voices. It has been one of my most pleasurable tasks as a writer to interview some of these talented actors. For me, a kid whose favorite character was (and remains) Popeye, having the opportunity to spend time with the late great Jack Mercer was one of the highlights in my professional life.

Over the years, I've tried to pick up stills of movie actors who had a secondary role as a voice performer and will post some periodically on this blog.

The first one here is of Charles Ruggles (far left), the comic character actor who popped up in a parade of Hollywood films in the 1930s. Here he is seen with Charles Farrell and an actress whose last name is Bradley. Some day I'll figure out the name of this picture, but it shows Ruggles in a typical situation: he usually was an innocent bumbler in well over his head.

Ruggles was a member of the Jay Ward stock company and played Aesop in Ward's versions of Aesop's Fables.

Next is a shot of the voice of Jimminy Cricket, Cliff Edwards (far left). He seen with opera star Lawrence Tibbets (center) and Roland Young (sorry, I don't have the name of the woman playing a nurse) from the film The Southerner.

Edwards was an accomplished blues singer who found himself in a wide variety of supporting roles in movies that went from Buster Keaton comedies to westerns. His recordings could be fairly bawdy for the time and I always wondered if Walt Disney knew or cared about that.

©2006 Gordon Michael Dobbs
These are my opinions alone.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Here's a look at a footnote in animation history.

I was going through a collection of cartoons from Judge, a popular humor magazine the late 1890s through the 1920s. Judge was similar to the old Life magazine as it had short essays and cartoons. Life was a superior magazine, though, as it had political commentary, theater reviews by Robert Benchley and movie reviews by Robert E. Sherwood.

Judge had James Montgomery Flagg as its star illustrator, while Life boasted of Charles Dana Gibson.

I was looking through my two Judge collections looking to see if Harrison Cady, the illustrator I'm currently researching, had contributed to Judge (his cartoons were in Life). I didn't see any Cady, but here is one of several cartoons by J.R. Bray, arguably the father of modern animation productions techniques.

Bray was half of the Bray-Hurd patent on cels and has been credited to have been the producer to have figured out how to make cartoons like Henry Ford made cars: on a production line.

Bray is largely forgotten today. His greatest success was in the silent era with his Col. Heeza Liar series,– which was out-shined by Felix the Cat and Ko-Ko the Clown.

One of the mostinterestingg parts of Bray's legacy is that he launched the careers of Max Fleischer and Walter Lantz, two men whose careers in animation became far better known to the public than Bray's.

The cartoon is from a 1908 collection from Judge, although I think the date is "'03."

© 2006 Gordon Michael Dobbs
Opinions expressed in this column are mine alone. So there!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Just got this in and thought some folks might find it interesting :

Americans think it will use nuclear weapons against enemies; Plurality thinks U.S. lacks the military might to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions

In the wake of forceful pronouncements from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, two-thirds of American adults now view Iran as a security threat to the U.S. a new Zogby Interactive poll shows. The details of the survey are included in the May edition of Zogby's Real America newsletter, now available at

The poll of 5,892 adults nationwide also finds 58% Americans believe it is inevitable Iran will use nuclear weapons against its enemies if it acquires the technology, while just 19% believe Iran's reasons for developing atomic weapons is purely for defense purposes. The online poll was conducted April 28 through May 1, 2006.

Yet despite their belief that a nuclear Iran poses a threat, a 45% plurality of Americans believe the U.S. does not currently have the necessary military resources to prevent Iran from attacking another nation.

A clear partisan divide has emerged on the issue of Iran and how to deal with it. While Republicans and independents view the Islamic Republic as a threat to the U.S.--93% of Republicans and 63% of independents hold this outlook--Democrats are split, with 42% viewing Iran as a threat and 43% believing Iran poses no threat to the U.S. This stark Republican-Democrat split holds up on a number of questions on how to deal with the Iranian regime.

Support for Limited Military Options

Despite concern about the ability to prevent Iran from harming its enemies, a 55% majority of Americans backed various solutions utilizing either limited aid and military support for an indigenous resistance or even air strikes targeting Iranian nuclear facilities in addition to diplomatic efforts. Just one-third -- 32% -- of Americans backed a solely diplomatic approach to Iran, while fewer -- 4% -- endorsed full-scale war against the theocratic regime.

The partisan divide is sharp here, too. While 77% of Republicans back the two limited military roles for the U.S., as do 51% of independents, a 54% majority of Democrats believe that diplomacy alone is the best policy for dealing with Iran.

While Americans back the limited use of the military to thwart Iranian nuclear ambitions, there is no desire among any group for a protracted involvement like in neighboring Iraq, with just 26% in support of the U.S. bringing about regime change.

Israel, Other Middle Eastern Countries Viewed as Likely Iranian Targets

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's threat that Iran would "wipe Israel off the map" has clearly made an impression on Americans. While 66% view Iran as a threat to the U.S., 85% see it as a threat to Israel. Nearly as many -- 79% -- believe Iran, which fought a protracted war with neighboring Iraq during the 1980s, poses a security threat to other Middle Eastern neighbors. A lower 62% see it as a threat to Europe.

A narrow 55% majority of Americans favor intervening to prevent an attack on Israel by Iran, and a stronger 58% would back the U.S. retaliating against Iran if it attacked Israel. In both instances, however, roughly one in four Americans oppose armed conflict with Iran. And a 43% plurality opposes U.S. nuclear retaliation for an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel, while 39% would back an atomic strike. Even fewer Americans -- 34% -- support the use of ground forces against Iran if it attacked Israel.

As with other questions, there is a profound partisan divide over the issue of retaliating on Israel's behalf. Despite the weak support from the overall population for retaliating against Iran if it used atomic weapons against Israel, 59% of Republicans would back a retaliatory nuclear attack.

A Zogby Interactive poll in January found the nation split on the question of whether to use U.S. military forces acting without allies to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons, with 47% favoring it and 47% opposing it. However, 64% said they favored joint U.S.-European military intervention to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The new Zogby Interactive survey included 5,892 respondents nationwide between April 28 and May 1, 2006, and carries a margin of error of +/- 1.3 percentage points.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Here's part two folks of the chapter from the Tom Tyler project. The image is from one of two Dixie Cup promotional items thatI have on Tom. This one from when he was at Republic co-starring in the Three Mesquiteers series.

Tyler’s first film was Let’s Go Gallagher! and Moving Picture World’s review (Oct. 10, 1925) reported, “More than ordinary interest for the picture patron is attached to the F.B.O. production ‘Let’s Go Gallagher,’ because of the fact that it serves to introduce an entirely new ‘Western’ star in the person of Tom Tyler. He proves to be a well-built young fellow of pleasing personality, a regular he-man who is an athlete, a good scrapper and a fine rider. In fact he posesses all of the requirements of this type of role and can hold his own with the majority and outdistance many of his rivals in the field. We feel sure that the fans will like him.”

The review continued with “so much material has been worked into the story that there is something doing every minute with no let down. There is action from start to finish. This picture should please the Western fans who have demonstrated that they don’t care for familiarity of the situations provided there is plenty of action, good fights and hard riding and a likable star. Let’s Go Gallagher! fills this bill to a ‘T’.”

The trade paper has similar good things to report on Tyler’s second film, The Wyoming Wildcat.

“’ The Wyoming Wildcat’ should prove a satisfactory attraction where ‘westerns’ are liked for it contains a good proportion of all of the elements which have proven their popularity in pictures of this kind, plus the appeal of the ‘kiddie’ angle, which will make it especially alluring to the children.”

In a Nov. 26, 1925 trade ad, F.B.O. listed reports from exhibitors about the first Tyler picture. L. Deyo of the Miers Theatre in Schoharie, NY, wrote the film was “a wonderful western feature with a wonder star,” while R.A. Preuss of the Arvada Theatre, Arvada, Colorado wrote “a knockout…I hope F.B.O. will star him on another like this.”

The ad read “Out of oblivion and into national prominence in three months is an unheard of procedure. But none can deny that Tom Tyler with little Frankie Darrow (sic) and Napoleon the mutt has justified the tremendous advance ballyhoo accorded them.

The format for Tyler’s films were set with that first film of having Tyler’s character interact with a juvenile played by Frankie Darro. The phrases “Tom Tyler and his pals ” “Tom Tyler and his buddies,” referring to Darro on his Shetland pony and Beans the dog, became common on the advertising and promotional material.
Having re-occurring co-stars, especially a child, gave the Tyler films a difference among the hundreds of low-budget westerns that were being made at the time and subsequent reviews noted Darro’s appeal and contribution to the series.

Darro went on to a long career in film. As a teen and young adult, he both starred in major studio films such as Wild Boys of the Road to low-budget films and serials to walk-ons in many films as a jockey. He later made one series of films at Monogram in the late 1930s and early 1940s in which he was often paired with the black comedian Mantan Moreland and another which centered around college life.

Acrobatic and athletic, Darro had an urban energy in his sound era performances, and seemed to be cut from the same cloth as James Cagney. If he had been able to land a contract position at a major studio, Darro could have easily played the kind of roles that Mickey Rooney had played at MGM.

Darro came from a show business family whom he apparently supported as a child and had a difficult life thanks to a tangle of relationship problems and alcoholism. One career problem was his short stature, which limited the roles for which he was considered.

On screen Darro and Tyler had true chemistry and seem to genuinely care for one another. It’s a puzzle that when Tyler was performing in independent Westerns in the 1930s and when Darro was also a freelancer that no enterprising producer thought to team them back up.

F.B.O. ran a trade ad on Feb, 13, 1926 in Moving Picture World that featured a letter from an exhibitor.

H.R. Rehfield of the Royal Theatre in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, wrote the F.B.O. offices “Knowing you to be very interested in how all F.B.O. pictures go over at my house, believe it will interest you to know that Tom Tyler and his gang again broke my Saturday records. You will recall that I did the best Saturday business to date when I played Let’s Go Gallagher! and the kids (or grow-ups too for that matter) did not forget what a wonderful picture he made so they all came back again to see The Wyoming Wildcat and believe me they all ate it up as it is sure fire and contains plenty of comedy, hard-riding and several good scraps to say nothing of the big climax where Tom and his horse plunge into the river from a high cliff to rescue the heroine. Little Frankie Darrow sure pleases the kids as he is a very finished little performer and as I previously stated I hope F.B.O. keeps him in the cast.”

Interesting to note that Darro’s name is spelled by F.B.O. with a “w,” although in other materials his name is “Darro.”

The Bible of show business, Variety, did not get around to reviewing a Tyler film until Dec. 1, 1926 when it ran a review of Out of the West.

“This ‘western’ has all the earmarks of a picturized version of a Frank Merriwell. It looks like the old Merriwell stuff with the home run hero at the bat. This may not sound like a ‘western,’ but it is a western crowd that plays; all cowhands with Tom Tyler, the big hero.

“Not much to it, but some rough riding by Tyler and he’s a roughrider all over the lot. There are several good laughs, one not intended, but spontaneous just the same. This unexpected laughter came when little Frankie Darro discovers the hero is a captive in a cave on the day of the big game he is to pitch. Little Frankie conceived the idea of attracting the guard outside. As the guard steps into the open, he is socked on the bean from above by a rock or boulder flung downward by Frankie. Tyler is a hard worker. He takes his screen assignment pretty seriously, but he is not afraid to mess up is physiognomy in the rough stuff. Frankie Darro is a child of the movies; he knows his onions right now and he’s only a whisper, so to speak.”

The plot revolved around neighboring ranches with rival baseball teams.

It should be noted that Variety, along with many other critics, viewed westerns, especially those made by studios such as F.B.O. as lesser entertainment. Perhaps it was the repetition of plots or story points or that many westerns emphasized action over characterization that turned off critics.

The screenwriters at F.B.O. seemed to take the challenge seriously of coming up with plots that were set in the West, but didn’t necessarily involve crooked bankers, earnest widowers, renegade Native Americans and water rights. Although Tyler’s F.B.O. film are full of typical elements such as misunderstandings that lead to the hero having to prove himself innocent of something, one wouldn’t expect a film such as Terror from 1928.

The American Film Institute’s catalog of silent films includes the following synopsis: “Buddy Roberts, who lives alone with is sister, Lucille, in a deserted house on top of a mountain begins to receive threatening letters and to see apparitions. With no family to turn to, he writes to cowboy star Tom Tyler and asks for assistance. Tom is about to leave for a vacation and gladly comes to help out his desperate young fan. Tom defeats the outlaw gang threatening Buddy and Lucille, restores a large sum of money (hidden by the late uncle) to the children and promises to bring them to Hollywood with them.”

Other Tyler westerns had plots that tried to avoid some of the western cliches:
• The Tyrant of Red Gulch has Tyler as Tom Masters, a cowboy who helps the prisoners of a mad Russian who controls a mining settlement.
• Phantom of the Range was set in contemporary times and had Tyler as an actor stuck in a western town and having to get a job as a cowboy, The plot included real estates swindles and a charge of Bigamy!
• The Masquerade Bandit (1926) had a story in which Tyler’s character inherits a ranch and a hidden treasure from a friend, who is secretly a railroad bandit. The gang wants their booty and the sheriff thinks Tyler is the bandit.
• Red Hot Hoofs (1926) has Tyler breaking his promise not to fight when a boxer comes to the ranch and he needs the prize money to help his girlfriend’s brother.
• The Cowboy Cop (1926) had Tyler playing a cowpuncher whom is new to contemporary Los Angeles and becomes a mounted police officer. The film’s climax, though, involved a chase scene with cars and motorcycles.
• Lightening Lariats (1927) had Tyler’s character protecting an exiled boy king from a Balkans nation.
• Tom and his Pals (1927) featured a movie company coming to shoot a film at a real ranch with a lot of jokes at the visitors’ expense.
• Gun Law (1929) had the heroine of the film refuse Tyler’s proposal of marriage and he wins her when he is able to put a valuable marble quarry (!) in her name.

So what was a Tom Tyler F.B.O. western really like? Thanks to Sinister Cinema ( there is now one Tyler F.B.O. available for viewing, Texas Tornado (1928). Taken from an original print from Europe, the Sinister version has missing footage, but is extant enough to get a sense of the direction and production value of these films.

First the title, like many Western titles, has little to no connection with the plot, other than the film is set in Texas.

The second thing one notices is that with a running time of about an hour, F.B.O. wastes little time in telling the story. In an “adult” Western, there would be back-story and motivation to set up the plot. Here’s the viewers are thrown right into the story with little preparation. This story-telling shorthand is undoubtedly what irritated so many reviewers about the program western.

Texas Tornado opens with the Briscoe family being held captive by the evil Latimer. It seems that of Latimer stalls them long enough they can’t make it to the bank in time to renew the lease on their ranch. Oil has been discovered on Latimer’s neighboring ranch and he wants the chance to drill on this ranch.

When it looks the bleakest, in rides Tom King (Tom Tyler) to visit the ranch. Perhaps he was there to help renew the lease since apparently he helped set it up. However he is able to rescue the Briscoe family – which includes a child (Frankie Darro) who is King’s nephew – over-power Latimer and set off for the bank.

With Latimer close behind, King takes off for the bank. He doesn’t know that Latimer has positioned men along the trail to town to stop everyone and they ambush King.

King fights them off and is aided by his daughter and young Buddy.

King makes it to the bank on time and renews the lease and secretly arranges with the bank to underwrite the loans made to Briscoe for the exploration of oil on the ranch.

Latimer later attacks Briscoe, which places him in a coma, and implies King who breaks out of jail. He learns that Buddy has been kidnapped and tracks the boy down. Escaping from Latimer and his men, King is shot by the heroine, who thinks that King has kidnapped Buddy.

She and Buddy try to escape from Latimer and Buddy climbs into box suspended over a canyon to reach the other side. The box opens accidentally and Buddy is hanging over the canyon.

Luckily King has just been grazed by the bullet and manages to rescue Buddy, and punch out Latimer once more. Latimer recovers quickly enough to draw down on King, but then the sheriff, who has been tracking King since his jail break shows up and reluctantly has to bring him back to jail.

Rufus, the ranch’s cook, shows up at that moment to tell the sheriff that Briscoe has regained consciousness and has revealed that Latimer was his attacker. The sheriff has his man, the daugher has a new boyfriend, and Buddy gets to meet his long-lost uncle, who is, of course, King.

The plot has so many unanswered questions that one almost doesn’t want to consider them. What is the relationship between King and Briscoe that motivates King to do everything he does? Why is Buddy in care of the Briscoes? Why does King happen along to the Briscoe ranch at this time?

With this kind of film, it’s best not to consider those questions, but rather it’s best to marvel at its construction. This film’s great pace obscures these concerns. Instead we get some great riding footage with close-up from camera trucks, and several wonderfully staged fight scenes.

Some writers have noted in assessing Tyler’s career that he didn’t seem to be able to throw an effective looking punch on camera during his low-budget series in the 1930s. While the fights in the Poverty Row Reliable Pictures series were often less than satisfying, one could see that in this F.B.O. Tyler was a very effective stuntman.

Besides the action sequences, Tyler’s performance was under-stated at a time when the demands of silent film making often had actors over-playing their pantomime. Tyler and Darro are very appealing together and Darro shines in his role.
All in all, Texas Tornado has many of the elements one wants from a low-budget Western. One wishes that more of Tyler’s F.B.O. films would surface.

In another trade ad featuring remarks from an exhibitor, Born to Battle (1926) was featured and notes the action content of this F.B.O. production.

“Tom Tyler – I never did see a title fit like this one did. If he doesn’t battle I have failed to ever see a battle and to carry out the title the kid has a battle that absolutely sets the kids wild…Out of the 800 that is made every year I do not believe I could have selected anything that would have filled the bill as good as this one did. I used Born to battle for the kids’ Christmas morning [show], but I had oodles of adults ask me after the show if I wouldn’t run it in the afternoon instead of [Harold Lloyd’s] The Freshman which I was using….C.E. Longacre, Dixie Theatre, Dickson Tenn.”

Several things should be noted here. A well-made medium budget western such as this one can be more entertaining to the right audience than one of the classics of silent comedy. Budget didn’t mean much to this audience. What they wanted to get from a western, Born to Battle obviously delivered.

This was before the boom in the B-movies in the 1930s and ‘40s. Although today the phrase “B-movie” is used to describe either low-budget films or inferior movies, really what the term meant was a film that was rented out to theaters at a flat rate rather than a percentage of the box office. A B-film was affordable programming, especially for smaller theaters and could be used to be half of a double feature.

A well-made B-film could easily match his more expensive cousin in entertaining an audience.

The second point is that Tyler’s films, again like those of his sagebrush colleagues, were considered entertainment for kids and for less discriminating adults. Already there was a distinction between “adult” westerns and “non-adult” westerns. Adult westerns, like The Iron Horse, The Covered Wagon or Tumbleweeds usually featured better known stars in stories that emphasized adult situations usually told on a epic scale. And adult western was bound to have more scenes involving character and plot than action.

Tyler’s star was on the rise, though Moving Picture World, June 11, 1927 reported “…With Tom Tyler rapidly taking the place recently vacated by Fred Thomson, F.B.O.’s program of western pictures is taking a place second to none in the industry.
“Tyler has made rapid strides during his two years with F.B.O. and with his horse ‘Flash’ and dog ‘beans’ has become one of the leading favorites on the screen.”

Even Variety was occasionally expressing a positive opinion on a Tyler western. “A pleasing mixture of those western ingredients which patrons of the adventure stands enjoys and expect. Contains speed, constant action, unpretentious love theme, and a rippling of comedy through out. Consequently it can’t fail to click in the paces where they crave lots of pepper in their film fares, even at the expense of reasonability,” wrote the reviewer on Cyclone of the Range on May 4, 1927.
The Variety review of Splitting the Breeze indicates what kind of play the F.B.O. westerns received in some theaters. It was viewed on a double bill for a single day at the Arena Theater in New York City.

“Plenty of riding and gun-play in a fast-moving western that will appease the customers of the one, two, and three-day grinds.” In other words, theaters that changed their bills after one, two, or three days.

The review continued, “And Splitting the Breeze is a box office picture for houses using this type of cowboy drama.”
Variety, though, could damn with faint praise as it did with its review of The Flying “U” Ranch on Nov. 2, 1927.

“Average horsey aroma for the cowboy addicts…Tyler’s pictures seem to be selling well in their certain market, so there is no use suggesting that his director deviate from aged cowboy stories. The customers seem not to notice they’ve seen each picture anywhere from several times to several hundred. Photographed clearly and directed simply. Very simply.”
And then Variety could blast a film with both barrels: “One of the Woolworth plots of the plains. Story padded in way so unusual as to be obvious to grind audiences; the only one who will sit through The Avenging Rider.

“Director apparently had bunch of female extras on pay roll. Used them with ridiculous comparison to cut-in and drag along customary ranch murder case. Dames in dusty country and bearded men flitted around barn in classic veils or high cut bathing outfits.

“Tom Tyler forces rough expression and grabs the close-up which make it monotonous. Thing is generally nonsensical and abnormally hacked.” (Nov. 14, 1928)

Toward the end of the 1920s, some people in the film industry seemed to think that westerns were falling out of favor with audiences and critics alike and the Variety review of Trail of the Horse Thieves reflects this change in taste.

“This western takes the usual tack where the hero s believed in the wrong by ingenious friends. It is just one of those which are gradually dying in the grinds.

“Tom Tyler overacts to a painful degree and Little Frankie [Darro] seems to be aping him. Cave effects and quicksand substitute as the applause point the flat lands and the noose. Change is somewhat of a relief.”(Feb. 20, 1929)

Yet exhibitors who sent their reports into the Feb. 2, 1929 edition of the trade paper Exhibitors Herald-World generally had good things to say.

“Terror Mountain: Tom Tyler – not a straight western, but a pleasing picture – J.L. Seiter, Selma Theater, Selma, Cal.”

“Terror Mountain: Tom Tyler – December 20… Wow! Whadda you know about that! Our leading moneymaker for 1927 and 1928 not making expenses – not only that, but losing money for us. Well, it was a disagreeable rainy night so much so in fact that even the manager stayed at home by the radio rather than face the elements. Our operator said it was an average Tyler picture. – H.B. Grice, Aiken Mills theater, Bath S.C.”

“Tyrant of Red Gulch” Tom Tyler…An out of the ordinary Western that should have general appeal. A supposed idiot furnishes good comedy throughout the picture. Yes, Frankie Darro is in this picture, too… H.B. Grice, Aiken Mills theater, Bath S.C.”

“The Phantom of the Range: Tom Tyler …One of Tom’s best Westerns…J.P. Johnson, S. of N. theater, Ambrose, N.D.”

Even, though, Tyler’s career would appear to be solid, several events out of his control changed his professional life.

© 2004 Gordon Michael Dobbs

Standard disclaimer applies.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Ever write something and you just don't know what to do with it? I started a book on the western star and character actor Tom Tyler in 2004 and then found out much to my dismay I had missed the boat.

(That's Tom there giving a bad guy his due from one of his 1930s B-westerns.)

I was beat to market by another book on the actor.

Now my book would be different, but I doubt I could find a publisher for mine since there's one out there already. That means some sort of self-publishing venture and I don't know if I have the time – especially since another project seems to be looming on the horizon that is much more a sure thing.

So I'm going put one of my chapters up here on the blog in several chunks just so it actually goes some place.

Note: "Bill Burns" is William Markowski who was given the name "Tom Tyler" when he started at FBO studios.

Needless to say, but I will: ©2004 Gordon Michael Dobbs.

Tom Tyler: The Cowboy Who Wanted to Act
Chapter Two

Movie writer, director and producer Oliver Drake remembered how he learned of his friend Bill Burns’ good news.

In his autobiography, Drake wrote, “I hadn’t heard from Bill Burns for months and none of my friends had seen or heard from him…Then one Wednesday evening, I came home and there was a message for me that the landlady had taken over the one telephone in the building. It was from Bill Burns. He asked me to call him at a new number at eight o’clock that evening. After having dinner and cleaning up, I went to the hall phone and called him. Bill answered the phone himself and after exchanging greetings, he hit me with a bombshell. He said that her had had several screen tests during the summer and in September had signed for F.B.O. studios as a western star. He had made one picture for them, which they liked, and they picked up his option for three more years and had changed the name to Tom Tyler.” (Written Produced & Directed by Oliver Drake, 1990)

Bill Burns, formerly William Markowski, was now Tom Tyler, a name Drake reported was picked from a book.

For Markowski, this must have been a dream come true. After three years of trying to break into motion pictures with minimal success, he had the chance to star in a western produced by the company that made the highly popular Fred Thomson western films.

Markowski didn’t forget his friend Drake in the midst of his good fortune.

Drake wrote that ‘“I tried to blurt out my congratulations, but he stopped me with a chuckle. ‘This isn’t all I called you for,’ he said. ‘I talked to the top brass here at the studio about your ideas for western stories; and Edwin King, the vice president in charge of production, said he would like to meet you and discuss the idea of your submitting some stories for the studio.”
Over the next three years, Drake was able to submit a number of scripts to F.B.O.

Drake was impressed with his first visit to the F.B.O. lot.

“I walked through the door of this magic kingdom and looked around; it was truly a beautiful place. In front of the administration building on the lot side was nothing but lawn, trees and criss-crossing walks that went to various buildings and stages – one of the nicest studios in the business,” he wrote.


F.B.O. had been founded in 1920, by the British firm of Robertson-Cole, which distributed British automobiles in this country and imported and exported films. Its studio on Gower Street was built in 1922.

By 1925, the studio had changed hands and was bought for one million dollars by banker and business speculator Joseph P. Kennedy, who had decided that there money to be made in the picture business.

Kennedy had purchased a group of movie theaters and having a studio that would provide product for them as well as others was a dominant economic model of the film industry until the Supreme Court outlawed the practice in 1949.

F.B.O. is a difficult studio to assess today as the bulk of its films have been destroyed. The rule of thumb among archivists is that 75 percent of the silent films made in this country are lost. In some cases, older films were simply stored and ignored by studios – a dangerous practice as the silver nitrate film on which they were printed became volatile with age and literally could explode and burst into flames.

In other cases the studios actually sold the prints and negatives to companies that would reclaim the silver from them.
At the heart of the issue was the perceived commercial potential of films. Once the sound revolution had taken place in the late 1920s, the box office value of silent films was greatly diminished. In a few cases, such as the sound re-issue of William S. Hart’s western epic Tumbleweeds (1925) in 1939, there was a nostalgic appeal to a select audience.

In an era in which theater owners had programs twice a week and special children’s shows and late night screenings as well, too many people, often including their producers considered films an ephemeral art form.

Kennedy transformed F.B.O. into RKO in 1929 through a series of business deals and perhaps the nails were driven into the coffin at that time for the company’s archives of silent films. The new RKO management dismissed the stable of western stars and wanted to distance itself with the bread and butter films of the past.

What kind of a studio was F.B.O? An article in the August 8, 1925 edition of Moving Picture World gave readers a glimpse. Like other studios, F.B.O. tried to offer exhibitors a varied line-up of product. The top of the line for the studio was its “Gold Bond” films – a reference to valuable negotiable securities and not the medicated bath powder.

The F.B.O. line-up for 1925-26 included 12 “Gold Bond” productions including Drusilla with a Million, Parisian Nights and If Marriage Fails? which, the article noted, all played at the Capitol and Colony theaters in New York City.

Today, the name of a theater means relatively little, but from the 1920s through the end of the 1940s, where a film played could add prestige to the production.

Big city theatre owners were looked upon as showmen, as well as businessmen, and if they selected a movie to showcase, other exhibitors took notice. The choice a theatre owner made was crucial, because in the era 50 years before the multi-plex,, they only had one screen. If an exhibitor made the wrong choice, they were stuck with a dog. Generally, the F.B.O. product was geared to smaller communities that might have less competition and have somewhat lower expectations.

Other films in that 1925 season included a newspaper drama The Last Edition, a railroad melodrama The Midnight Flyer, two films based on the popular romance novels of author Laura Jean Libbey.

At that time, the studio’s stars included western hero Fred Thomson, who eventually was lured to Paramount before his untimely death in 1929 and actress Evelyn Brent; comic action star Maurice “Lefty” Flynn and stuntman tuned star Richard Talmadge.

The studio released a serial that year, The Adventures of Mazie and had a series of short comedies starring Hank Mann and Chester Conklin. The studio was also the distributor of the animated cartoons produced by the Bray Studios.

Although with its schedule of westerns, it might be tempting to view F.B.O. as a silent equivalent to Republic Pictures – a modest studio that knew how to turn out profitable films aimed at small town audiences.

Why make low-budget westerns if there was little prestige? The late film historian William K. Everson provided an answer in his book A Pictorial History of the Western Film: “The market for double-bills was growing, Westerns were popular and they were still the cheapest kind of film to make. And since they didn’t have to worry about even semi-literate dialogue, clean photography…fast action was all that they had to worry about.”

Moving Picture World’s headline read “F.B.O. announces Tom Tyler as ‘surprise western star” in its August 8, 1925 edition.
The story, which carried no byline, read: “Tom Tyler, a young man who was born as William Burns in Port Henry, NY, just twenty-two years ago, is the new ‘surprise star’ who has signed by Film Booking Offices to take the lead in a series of western pictures. He strongly resembles George O’Brien, built on a larger and more powerful scale.

“Mr. Tyler, a team star of the Los Angeles Athletic Club and has been appearing on the screen for less than a year. He has, however, already been spotted by film experts, and was offered an attractive contract by Metro-Goldwyn –Mayer just after the day he had been gobbled up by F.B.O. He appeared in Elinor Glynn’s The Only Thing, and has supported Fred Thomson. He also played several roles with Joe Brown productions and was featured in The Midnight Express.

“Tyler hold the American and world’s record in weight-lifting in two events; the one ‘clean and jerk’ at 240 1/2 pounds and the two hand ‘snatch’ at 213 pounds, He is an expert horseman and spend much of his time on his father’s ranch in Wyoming. He has won renown at football and is a track and field star.

“F.B.O. seems to be specializing in world’s champions. While the personnel of the big Hollywood studios does not include any fistic title holders and there is no disposition on the part of the powers that be within the organization to annex any pugilists, almost every department of athletics is represented by F.B.O. stars who are champions in their lines. Fred Thomson, Maurice ‘Lefty’ Flynn, Dick Talmadge, Bob Custer and others all hold American or world’s record marks and now Tom Tyler has been added to this galaxy of ‘outdoor’ stars. With his attractive personality, modest disposition, a winning smile, and a great screen presence and with the line-up of rattling stories which has been so far been purchased for him, the new ‘surprise star’ should be a whale of a pleasant surprise for exhibitors and fans.

Let’s go Gallagher! is the tentative title of the first Tyler production. It is a fast moving western, replete with action."

The announcement was part fact and part Hollywood fiction. Tyler’s father did not have a Wyoming ranch and he was not an “expert horseman.” According to publicity materials released by Universal to hype Tyler’s 1932 serial Clancy of the Mounted, Tyler accepted the F.B.O. contract “when he couldn’t as much mount a horse.”

“That time he arose at daybreak everyday for a month and actually learned to be one of the best horsemen of the movies in time to save his job,” the press materials continued.

Tyler did become a fine horseman as evident in his films.

There is no mention anywhere that Tyler was a “renown” football and track star, either. Whether or not he was going to be offered a contract at MGM is not known. This writer has never read of any indication that MGM was interested in Tyler.
If MGM had been interested, Tyler must have been chagrined, to say the least, that he had signed up with little F.B.O. when he could have been part of the studio that boasted it had “more stars than there are in heaven.”

MGM would have a contact Western star in Col. Tim McCoy and later signed a “straight” actor, Johnny Mack Brown, under contract who would become a fixture on the B-western scene for 20 years.

Tyler’s accomplishments as a weight lifter were true, though. He did hold AAU records and Buster Crabbe told this writer in 1972 that he would see Tyler working out on weights at the Los Angeles Athletic Club, while Crabbe was in the pool. Unfortunately, the two action stars never met.

In 1926, an annual publication titled American Athlete called Tyler, “a perfect example of the all around athlete. He scales 197 pounds in trained condition and is surprisingly fast on his feet…Among his other accomplishments, he can perform an astonishing variety of acrobatic tricks and daring stunts on the horizontal bar.”

It is interesting to note the emphasis F.B.O. placed on athletic accomplishment. Many sportswriters have called the 1920s “The Golden Age of Sports” when Babe Ruth, Red Grange and Bobby Jones dominated their sports. Perhaps having signed literally one of the strongest men in the country appealed to the company.

More tomorrow

Thursday, May 04, 2006

I received this e-mail from Congressman Richard Neal last week and thought it was of interest. The following is an excerpt:

“Citing his mismanagement of the Iraq war, Congressman Richard E. Neal today called for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. After more than three years at war, approximately 2,396 American casualties, and with no honorable exit strategy in sight, Neal said it was time for Rumsfeld to step aside. In October 2002, Neal was 1 of 133 House Members who voted against the resolution authorizing the use of military force against Iraq.

“‘Since the beginning of the war, I have had serious concerns and reservations about Donald Rumsfeld’s leadership,’ said Neal. ‘I never believed that the Secretary of Defense sent enough troops to Iraq, but he dismissed those who questioned his judgment at the time. When Army General Eric Shinseki told Congress in 2003 that that ‘several hundred thousand troops’ would be needed to secure postwar Iraq, he was rebuked by Rumsfeld. That was a defining moment for many Americans who had doubts about the war. It suggested the Secretary of Defense was not listening to the advice of his military commanders. Unfortunately, events in Iraq have proven that General Shinseki was right.

“In the last month, seven retired military commanders have publicly called for Rumsfeld's ouster. Army General Wesley Clark, Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni, Army Major General John Batiste, Marine Corps Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold, Army Major Gen. Paul Eaton, Army General John Riggs and Army Major General Charles Swannack Jr., have all urged the Secretary of Defense to step down…”

The newspaper company for which I work has published a number of stories and photos that tell the stories of local people who are serving their country in Iraq at this time. We have taken our role as community journalists seriously on this subject as none of us want coverage of this conflict to devolve into just a numbers game of causalities and death.

I certainly support the men and women who are doing their duty.

I grew up in an Air Force family. When I was a kid the slogan “Peace is our Profession” was something I either heard or read quite often. I never heard warmongering from anyone. People in the armed forces know exactly the price of conflict and they take it very seriously.

The administration of any military action is the result of a civilian authority (the President, the Secretary of Defense) making decisions based on information brought to them from a number of sources. They are not obligated, though, to follow the advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or other military authority.

I can’t remember another time when so many retired generals came forward to criticize an administration on the management of a war.

With the fragile state of the world today, can we afford to continue ignoring them?

You know the drill, by now. These are my words alone.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A classic sit-com makes its DVD debut this week.

Sgt. Bilko: The Phil Silvers Show 50th Anniversary Edition

Television has a way of rewarding actors who are successful in creating a characterization by typecasting them. The late Phil Silvers wound up playing variations of his Sgt. Bilko role for the rest of his life and remained the eternal con man.

Although this military comedy was on only from 1955 to 1959, it made its mark as one of the shining lights in television comedy. This DVD set shows that even after 50 years, the light has dimmed.

The show recounted the misadventures of Master Sargent Ernest Bilko, the head of a motor pool platoon at an army base in Kansas. Bilko is the master of the barracks schemers. He runs a number of side businesses that prey on his men, as well as a profitable gambling operation. His superior officers know he's no good, but they just can't get the goods on him.

Bilko is no villain, though. Silvers and show co-creator Nat Hiken invested the character with a real humanity that made the character very likable and very, very funny.

The show stood out with its cast of character actors and former burlesque comedians. There's not a glamour guy in the bunch, but a lot of funny second bananas. And the show was the first to have an integrated cast in which African-American performers were treated the same as everyone else.

The three-disc set features 18 half-hour episodes as well as some great extras, such as the "lost" audition show, the final Phil Silvers interview and commentary from Dick Van Dyke, Allan Melvin and others who appeared on the show.

This is a great collection. If you've never heard of Sgt. Bilko, this is a great time to get acquainted.

Event Horizon
Oh boy, what a bad film! This big-budget science fiction film has money to burn on computer effects, impressive sets and a good cast including Lawrence Fishburne and Sam Neill, but what it lacks is a decent script and a director who knows how to tell a story.

Event Horizon is the name of a space vessel with a remarkable new engine that creates a black hole so it can travel through great expanses of space in short time. It has been missing for seven years and then turns up near Neptune. Fishburne is the captain of the rescue ship assigned to go there and return the ship to Earth for study.

Accompanying him is the engineer who designed the radical spacecraft, played by Sam Neill.

Philip Eisner's script basically is an update of any "ghost ship" cliché you've every read or seen. We know there will be something bad on board, largely because Neill's character is having hallucinations and he's not even near Neptune!

Once the rescue crew is aboard, they all experience horrendous events from their past and horror film fans know this is a cue to expect even more horrendous events. You see, when the ship made it maiden voyage through a black hole it actually went through Hell - Hell, I tell you! - and the ship wants to take the rescue crew back there with it.

Yeah, sure.

There's a separate disc of extras in which the filmmakers act as if they had made some sort of masterpiece.

Mean spirited, explicit and just plain stupid, Event Horizon is a movie to avoid.

Bachelor Party Vegas
This comedy aspires to be in the same genre as Animal House, Bachelor Party, American Pie and the like: young men doing dumb things for our amusement.

While Animal House is considered a modern comedy classic, Bachelor Party isn't bad enough for Tom Hanks to wipe off his resume and American Pie launch a series of popular films, this wannabe is just that: a poseur.

The plot centers on a group of friends who travel from Chicago to Las Vegas for a weekend bachelor party. The trouble is that everything that could go wrong, does go wrong and while this is supposedly to be funny, it falls flat.

As the guys go from one failed situation to another one wonders juts how all of this is going to be resolved. The twist at the end is designed to add to the hilarity. Trust me, it doesn't.

Listen I wanted to like a film in which Kathy Griffin played an Elvis impersonator, but I just couldn't.

Forgotten Noir: Kit Parker Double Features
Archivist and producer Kit Parker has worked out a deal with the folks at VCI Entertainment to release a series of films from the 1950s in themes double feature DVDs. The first purports to be "film noir," but frankly it isn't.

Film noir is a fairly specific term describing a movie largely set at night, often times telling a crime story with characters who are morally ambiguous. The Maltese Falcon, Farewell My Lovely and Detour are three examples of this genre.

The two films in this release, Portland Expose and They Were So Young are not film noir. They're exploitation movies that undoubtedly graced a lot of drive-in screens.

Portland Expose is a hard little crime film that is a docu-drama about the rise of organized crime and shady labor unions in Portland Oregon. Edward Binns - a familiar face from '50s cinema - is a married man with a family just trying to make a motel and restaurant a success when the mob moves in. He fights back by going undercover.

This film pulls few punches, although it ends in a rushed manner. For crime movie fans, this unassuming 1957 film should be a find.

They Were So Young, from 1954, is a cheesy little number that would be best enjoyed if Mystery Science Theater 3000 was still on the air. What it needs is a commentary pointing out it faults to make it watchable.

Johanna Matz, Scott Brady and Raymond Burr star in this movie about young fashion models being lured to Brazil for something other than displaying the latest Paris fashions to department store buyers. Burr had been typecast as villains and plays the kingpin behind the sordid operation. I bet he dropped on his knees and thanked all that's holy when he got the role of Perry Mason in 1957 and knew he would never have to do such tripe again.

Both films look great and the extras include trailers from the movie and a commentary from the assistant director of Portland Expose.

As always these are my words. I'll take the blame.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Are you old enough to remember roadside zoos? How about tacky "Indian" tourist traps? Going across country in 1967, I remember signs out west for hundreds of miles advertising a tourist trap featuring a "giant"jack rabbit. It indeed had one, a huge concrete sculpture and my brother and I browbeat my poor father into stopping. The joint, as I recall, was a let-down.

My dad then had to live through my brother wanting to stop at every Stuckey's we passed...pecan products and clean restrooms...because he was collecting the James Bond trading cards he bought at each stop.

The Mohawk Trail here in western Massachusetts had a bunch of "Indian" shops. One had a cage in which there was a baby rattler. Naturally the eight-year-old me thought it was a snake. I peered in as it was a baby rattle! Big joke on the kids!

I thought that era in Americana was over. After all the roadside zoos had a lot of sad looking animals in them. However there's a new place in Deerfield called Dr. Spooky's that seems to be reviving some of that Barnum-esque promotion that seemed so common when I was a mere boy and beardless youth.

Here's a press release I received from them:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: "I Boo!" A real wedding at Dr. Spooky's
Animal Museum!

Who: Liz and Sun will be exchanging their vows at Dr. Spooky's Animal

What: A real wedding! Complete with bride, groom, vows, and officiant!

Where: Dr. Spooky's Animal Museum, 220 Greenfield Road, South
Deerfield, MA

When: Saturday, May 13th at 1:00 p.m.

How it happened: Liz and Sun were nearly finished with their wedding
plans - all that was was missing was the location! During a recent visit
to Dr. Spooky's Animal Museum, the final piece of their planning fell into
place - they decided to be married in Dr. Spooky's! Liz and Sun worked
with owner, Frank Campiti, to arrange for their wedding vows to be
exchanged in front of their favorite animals - the bats! Liz and Sun will
be married on Saturday, May 13th at 1:00 p.m. and welcome the public
to join in their festivities (general admission applies).

The amazing Mark Martin has been to Dr. Spooky's and had a mixed review, but I've not gone as yet. My wife is pretty dubious about the while thing.

Part of me hopes competent and trained people are taking care of whatever animals they have. I'll be pretty upset if I go and they're not.

But the eight-year-old in me is dying to find out what's going on there regardless.

As always these are my words and no one else's.