Thursday, January 31, 2008

Cut to the Chase


I mentioned a little over a week ago how Martin Grams, Jr. of Finders Keepers had a sale on some of the Andy Clyde Columbia shorts and how that afforded me the opportunity to re-watch many of the two-reelers that entertained me during the halcyon days of my television childhood. Rodney Bowcock, Mr. Grams’ faithful Indian companion, also sent me a hefty cache of the old Columbias the same week, including a nearly complete accounting of the two-reelers former Hal Roach comedian Charley Chase cranked out for the Lady With the Torch.

Chase made a total of twenty comedies for Columbia between 1937-1940, and I’ve been fortunate to see sixteen of them. Many of the shorts Rodney sent me I previously owned on VHS (a collection that I recently bequeathed to my musician friend The Chief, because I figured he was the only person I knew who would appreciate them) but a handful of the shorts in the “Bowcock collection” were completely new to me. The first of these, The Grand Hooter (1937), was Chase’s debut for the studio and while it’s nothing really special (Charley’s wife is annoyed that he spends all his free time with his lodge buddies), it moves along at a breezy clip and generates a chuckle or two. (It’s also one of two shorts in which Charley sings, which was a speciality of his at Roach.) The best of the not-previously-seen shorts is Skinny the Moocher (1939), in which Charley’s upcoming nuptials (to TDOY character fave Ann Doran) are jeopardized by his valet, kleptomaniac John T. Murray; it’s got a number of generally funny scenes. The other two shorts, The Mind Needer (1938) and The Sap Takes a Wrap (1939), don’t do a lot for Chase’s reputation; Needer might very well be the worst of Charley’s Columbia output were it not for the fact that it needs to stand in line behind Man Bites Lovebug (1937).

Chase fans have a tendency to malign his Columbia shorts, particularly when compared to his rich output at Roach, but in watching Charley’s available Columbia product I was surprised to see that his batting average remained fairly high. The Wrong Miss Wright (1937), The Big Squirt (1937), Many Sappy Returns (1938), The Nightshirt Bandit (1938), Pie a la Maid (1938), Rattling Romeo (1939), The Heckler (1940) and His Bridal Fright (1940) are all first-rate comedies, with Wright, Squirt, Returns and Maid my particular favorites. Wright was a sound remake of Charley’s classic silent Crazy Like a Fox (1926), and because I saw Wright before Fox I was curious to see how the material would play in a silent comedy since it would appear to rely an awful lot on dialogue. (Much to my relief, Fox works just fine.) Bandit is a two-reeler I remember vividly from my childhood, particularly the gag with the recliner that opens up a trap door in its seat, dropping the reclinee into a dunking pond. Greg Hilbrich at The Shorts Department says that none of the Chase shorts were included in the package Columbia put together for television (a compendium Columbia/Screen Gems dubbed The Hilarious Hundred…even though it contained 200 two-reelers), and though I don’t mean to disparage his thorough research I’m nearly positive I saw it on TV (along with its remake, Andy Clyde’s Go Chase Yourself [1948])—I can’t figure out where else I would have seen it.

There are four remaining Columbia Chase shorts that I have not been able to see—From Bad to Worse (1937), The Chump Takes a Bump (1939), The Awful Goof (1939) and South of the Boudoir (1940). (If anyone knows a source for these, drop me an e-mail.) I have seen Chump’s remake, Wife Decoy (1945), which stars Hugh Herbert (and is one of Herbert’s better Columbia efforts), and Boudoir was also remade as a Herbert vehicle entitled When the Wife’s Away (1946)—I’ll watch the Herbert version when Mr. Hilbrich gets around to sending me the comedies I recently purchased off of him on eBay.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tales of Yesteryear Clutter…


As I type and post this, I’m starting another auction on eBay in my never-ending battle to rid myself of all the excess possessions I’ve collected over the years—the emphasis this time around is books, of which I’ve added nearly 130 more to the ones I’ve previously posted. (Most of them are movie-oriented, so I have a feeling I’m going to be getting a call from Stacia’s better half pretty soon.) There are also a few other odds and ends, and while I’m never too proud to accept charity you’re welcome to skate on over and see if there’s anything you can use.

One of the oddities I’ve posted is a collection of Three Stooges Journal bulletins that I managed to squirrel away all these years; the Journal being the once renowned newsletter of the Three Stooges Fan Club, an organization run by individuals who really cared about preserving the legacy of the knockabout trio as opposed to the people who took over the franchise to make a pile of money. (I will not sully this blog by mentioning their names *cough* Comedy III *cough* but they know who are they are.) The issue shown in the picture is of particular interest because it features a review of the 1951 George O’Brien western Gold Raiders (a B-western in which Moe, Larry and Shemp play O’Brien’s sidekicks) written by…well, modesty forbids me from mentioning his name but it’s none other than your humble narrator. This may very well be the first thing I ever had published outside of my high school newspaper, and I would love to say that I was handsomely rewarded for this privilege…but, of course, that would be a bold-faced lie. If you’re interested in reading it, it’s available here, but keep in mind that this was written in my novice days as a hack writer (I’m much older now, and a far more accomplished hack) and I was very kind to the movie only because I managed to track down a crappy VHS copy. It’s since been released on DVD, and when I caught it again a few months ago I was a bit ashamed that I was so effusive in my praise. I thought, “Well, maybe the review has vanished in the mists of time”—until I located this on the Internets. (If you look at this list of authors, you’ll see I’m not the only one who cut his teeth on this august publication—Aaron Neathery of The Third Banana, serials expert Buck Rainey, film historian Jim Neibaur and Paul Gierucki are just a few of the individuals who not only contributed articles, but are far better known and respected than I.)

You might also notice on some of the descriptions of the items that I’m selling that I’ve sort of channeled my inner Henry Morgan. (Here’s a good example, and I do not exaggerate when I say this is the dumbest Christmas gift I’ve ever gotten.) Most of the snarkier descriptions were written at the end, when I get sort of impatient with all the work that goes into writing these doggone things and I’d rather be doing something else. I’ve actually some success in selling certain items by poking fun at it, so I guess Henry knew what he was talking about.
Okay, enough of this self-aggrandizement, as my friend Elisson might describe it. I’ll try to have something of substance up tomorrow, I promise.

Told you so

From the Associated Press:

DENVER -- Democrat John Edwards is exiting the presidential race Wednesday, ending a scrappy underdog bid in which he steered his rivals toward progressive ideals while grappling with family hardship that roused voter's sympathies but never diverted his campaign, The Associated Press has learned.

The two-time White House candidate notified a close circle of senior advisers that he planned to make the announcement at a 1 p.m. EST event in New Orleans that had been billed as a speech on poverty, according to two of his advisers. The decision came after Edwards lost the four states to hold nominating contests so far to rivals who stole the spotlight from the beginning -- Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.

(dusting off hands) Well, my work is done here...who's next?

American graffiti


Friday, January 25, 2008

The death knell for John Edwards’ campaign...



I really don’t like to get too political on this blog, partly because it would be kinda presumptuous for me to preach to you about my views and…well, partly because it would be presumptuous for you to do the same. But I feel it’s my duty to point out to you in the interest of public service that John Edwards’ campaign is not long for this world.

That’s because I’ve decided to throw my support to him in the Georgia primary February 5th.

I’m the kiss of death when it comes to presidential primary campaigns. I think a lot of this is due to the fact that unlike a great many voters, I reject the whole sports metaphor of “going with someone who can win.” Four years ago, every Democrat I bumped into was saying that John Kerry needed to win the nomination because “he’s the only one who can win.”

Suffice it to say, I don’t have to tell you how that turned out.

1988 was the worst. I first went with Bruce Babbitt; even though his keen intelligence and ready wit was a sure handicap among voters…he ended up dropping out. I then switched to Paul Simon…and the same thing happened. Ditto with Joe Biden. (At this point in his career, he had not quite become the long-winded foreign policy expert I would later come to know and despise.) I wound up with Michael Dukakis by default. 1992 was just as bad. I started off with Tom Harkin, who was just what I was looking for, an old-fashioned Democratic populist. When Harkin bowed out, I went with Jerry Brown because I really didn’t like Bill Clinton, who reminded me of a used car salesman. Bill ended up becoming my 1992 Dukakis.

In 2004, I supported Congressman Dennis Kucinich in the Democratic primary. My parents, as is their wont, thought I was crazy. (And maybe I am…) But to be honest, I liked Dennis. As a rule, he said what he believed and many of his proposals—radical as though they may seem to “weak as water” Dems—reflected a lot of my beliefs. I don’t, for example, think for-profit insurance companies should make decisions regarding healthcare for patients (I think that’s why doctors were invented)…so that’s why I supported Kucinich’s stand on a single-payer healthcare system. His positions on getting out of Iraq, campaign finance reform, same-sex marriage, our bloated military budget and the “war on drugs” all matched mine to the extent that when I did vote for him in the 2004 primary, I felt a profound sense of calm knowing that I could look myself in the mirror and be satisfied that I clung to my principles.

Come 2008, I was still in Kucinich’s corner (and he was in mine, blog-wise—I had a Kucinich button linking to his website). He was the only candidate who believed (as do I) that the namby-pambies that call themselves the Democratic party should get off their collective spotty behinds and impeach the President and Vice-President for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” as it so eloquently states in the urine-stained document (since the Bush administration got hold of it) known as the U.S. Constitution. Granted, I don’t agree with every stand he takes—Kucinich is a vegetarian and my opinion is that if God in His infinite wisdom didn’t want us to eat animals He wouldn’t have made them out of meat. And that whole New Age-y Shirley MacLaine thing he’s got going on…well, include me out, as Samuel Goldwyn once reportedly remarked.

Kucinich has announced his intentions to drop out of the 2008 race today, and it’s not going to take a rocket scientist to figure out why. His grassroots support isn’t even close to what he had four years ago, he’s not been able to raise the necessary “mother’s milk of politics” to keep going, and as in 2004, the major television news networks ignored him at every turn—either portraying him as some sort of UFO-spotting wacko or dismissing from the debates altogether (Las Vegas, I’m talking to you!), Part of the fun in watching the Democratic debates was in Dennis’ participation; he would stand there and frustrate the hell of the moderators with his insistence on discussing bread-and-butter issues as opposed to playing their little horserace-horseshit games. Well, Kucinich fought the law (“but the law won”)—he’s no longer a mosquito to the MSM and they can concentrate once again on the utter idiocy of forcing a female candidate and an African-American candidate to gambol and frolic in their political mud wrestling match.

I’ve watched nearly all the Democratic debates so far, and with each debate I've become more and more impressed with John Edwards. His fiery, anti-corporate populism (a great deal of which, I’m sure, was "liberated" from Kucinich) has struck a cord with me…despite that I still had some reservations regarding his sincerity. (I’m not talking about the $400 haircuts, which is an idiotic topic for anyone to be obsessed with, but his troublesome Senate record: voted for the Iraq war and later regretted it, voted for No Child Left Behind and later regretted it, voted for favored nation trade status for China and later…well, you get where I’m going with this.) But let’s face facts: Obama gives a nice speech, but he’s all icing and no cake—I can’t get a fix on what he stands for, other than “hope.” And I won’t vote for Hillary Clinton even if you put a gun to my head; I’m not willing to endure another eight-year soap opera with the Clinton dynasty. (I love how Michael Eric Dyson once put it on a Hardball appearance: “Give someone else a chance!”) Here’s how fun it is at my house: my mother is a diehard Clintonista and my Dad is sold on Obama. Oddly enough, they’re still sharing the same bed.

If I commit myself to a candidate, I don’t like to, as a rule, back out on my obligation (I told one of Kucinich’s people that while I was strapped for cash at the time they called me the Congressman still had my vote). Yet I seriously considered supporting Edwards’ candidacy by voting for him on February 5th. (Lucky for me, with Kucinich’s departure, I can now do this and feel no guilt or remorse.) But if anyone reading this blog feels the way I do, I should warn you that my track record on picking presidential winners is positively dismal; the only time I came out on top was in 1992 and 1996 and even then I was asking myself “What the hell have I done?” the morning after. The talking heads are in agreement that John might become the “kingmaker” in the Democratic Party…well; we’ll see what happens now that I’m on board…

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Vinyl is final

Previously on Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, I mentioned posting a big honkin’ lot of vinyl old-time radio LPs on eBay that I was optimistic would net me a rather large amount of moolah. As it so happens, it did…but not without the wacky complications that usually ensue as part of life’s rich sitcom. Let me take this moment to explain…particularly since I have nothing else ready to post, blog-wise.

I originally advertised these records in our local Tell ‘n’ Sell, and the response was so underwhelming that I decided soon after to throw caution to the winds and put them on eBay…which I have to tell you, was a laborious task in itself. Three days into the auction, I’ve received a few nibbles—which isn’t a really effective gauge, since the action doesn’t really start until the last day or so. It is at this time that I receive an e-mail from Tom Brown of First Generation Radio Archives informing me that he collects the kinds of LPs I have on eBay and if I can square it with them, he’d like to buy the whole enchilada lock, stock and combination plate.

I call Tom and we discuss the cheapest way to send the collection, which would appear to be Media Mail. Because I am poor but honest, I give him the same deal I advertised in the paper—$175 takes it away—but since he is out in the wilds of Spokane he agrees to pay the Media Mail shipping, too. So half an hour later, I’ve wiped all remaining traces of the records in the auction (save for the LPs that already have bids on them) with my handy dandy eBay Turbo Lister 2. I did, however, receive e-mails from two potential bidders asking where the LPs went…and I patiently explained to them the time-honored concept of “money up front” in my responses. The next day, I glance at the auction and see that three of the records have jumped up in the bidding and I was all set to come down with a case of seller’s remorse when I noticed that Tom was bidding on those as well. (What a prince of a chap!)

One of the great things about eBay is that they’re joined at the hip with PayPal, so if you don’t mind PayPal taking a large bite of your sales sandwich you can use their service to print postage right from your very own computer, You cannot, however, use the USPS’ Carrier Pick-up function—which, in theory, allows you to give the packages you’re mailing to your postal person to take back to the post office (what the hell, they’re going back in that direction anyway)—because I have tried this and it works as well as letting your dipsomaniac aunt have the keys to the liquor cabinet. We tried handing one of the carriers a package on one occasion and the guy told us he just wasn’t going to take it. He said his union gives him the right to refuse heavy packages (the damn thing wasn’t at all heavy; it weighed five pounds at the most) and when I went down to the Post Office to complain to the supervisor, all I got was “I shall certainly give him a stern talking-to.” (I’m guessing the carrier was also put in time-out for ten minutes or so.)

So, because I have to do the actual mailing myself, I just got back an hour ago from taking these packages to the Post Office; there were twelve in all and it would really have been ironic if there were thirteen (get it? Box 13? Never mind…). I’m curious as to whether or not Tom ever has trouble with his carrier (he gets a lot of packages with the same size and weight as the ones I sent) because anytime I get something my guy gives me a dirty look when he has to come up to the house with some of my recently purchased DVD booty. (Or course, I did get him in Dutch with his supervisor so he might be ticked about that.) In closing, I would just like to thank Brother Tom for his generosity and for making our living room junk-free again (this last part comes from my mother, of course).

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Shameless self-promotion

I received the latest Radio Spirits catalog in today's mail, and here's what I found on page 13:



As Dale Carnegie once observed, "There are no sweeter words in the English language than the sound of a man's own name..."

Suffering sciatica!


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The last time I saw Paris


TVShowsOnDVD.com comes out of the gate this morning with great news for Jay the Bug Man (our exterminator here at Castle Yesteryear) and other Mission: Impossible fans—season four is coming out on May 13, courtesy of the fine folks at CBS-Paramount. This is the season that saw the departures of both Martin Landau (Rollin Hand) and Barbara Bain (Cinnamon Carter); Hand, the master-of-disguise, was replaced by a character named Paris (whether that was his first or last name was never explained) that was portrayed by the recently out-of-work (his Vulcan gig on Star Trek was cancelled) Leonard Nimoy. I’m glad to hear that MI is selling well enough to warrant additional season releases; I’m a bit behind in my repeats but I hope to rectify that situation once things calm down a bit around here.

CBS-Paramount has also announced the upcoming release of the first season of the sci-fi cult series The Invaders, which had an unfortunately brief run on ABC-TV from 1967-68. Invaders has already seen a Region 2 release that I picked up on sale from Amazon.co.uk last year, but for those without access to a region-free player it’s reassuring to hear that its Region 1 debut is not too far off in the future (street date: May 6). The release will contain the first seventeen episodes from the 1967 half-season, and at the risk of getting into a dust-up with any fans I've always preferred the first season and felt the show took a wrong turn in its sophomore year when it tweaked the show to add the character of Edgar Scoville (Kent Smith) to assist the protagonist, David Vincent (played by Roy Thinnes). Anyhoo, to those of you who have been patiently waiting for them to land, The Invaders are on their way…

One more announcement from TVShowsOnDVD.com to gladden the hearts of classic television fans: VCI Entertainment has posted on their website news of the arrival of Burke’s Law: Season 1, Volume 1 March 4th…including a pair of nifty “previews” it’s worth your while to check out. Laughing Gravy, Heap Big Ticket Taker at In the Balcony, informed me a few days ago that VCI has assigned him the arduous task of compiling some liner notes for the first release, which will feature the first sixteen episodes of Season Numero Uno. (And yes, Toby, I told Gravy about your Burke’s Law theorem and he says he’ll run it past the VCI people…as soon as he can convince them of your sanity.)

TVShowsOnDVD.com was also nice to enough to reassure concerned Perry Mason fans (we know who we are) that CBS-Paramount’s upcoming 50th Anniversary release doesn’t necessarily mean the death knell for further DVD releases of the venerable legal series. According to them, “The 50th Anniversary DVD is simply a great way to experience some of the most memorable episodes from the groundbreaking series and rich bonus materials.” I don’t know about you, but I plan to hold them to that.

Finally, in a follow-up to yesterday’s rant about being screwed in a big way re: the Umbrella Entertainment release of My Favorite Martian: The Complete Third Season, Chertok Television’s Peter Greenwood has sent me an e-mail apologizing for this turn of events and he swears he knew nothing about the Amazon release (which, it would now appear, is available from Barnes & Ignoble as well). The speculation among Pete and some other members of the Home Theater Forum (including the “Master of His Public Domain,” BobH) is that Amazon apparently did some sort of bulk buy (and this has been to known to happen in the past) from Umbrella to sell off the remainders here in the U.S. (I’m surprised that Martian didn’t sell that well, seeing how Bill Bixby is practically a national icon among the Aussies.) Greenwood says that if such a deal was cut, you better strike while the iron is hot because the DVD set’s first run was a limited edition. While “skepticism” has always been my middle name (my parents spelled it “gskepticism”—the “g” is silent) I’m going to take Peter’s word for this…particularly since he promised to send me a nice gift, like a commemorative Ray Walston set of Martian antennae. (Hey—I can’t be bought…but I can be rented.) For BobH and the rest of the HTF crowd, I hope you score on the lower price on these sets…but I’m still not gonna lend you my Region 2 Peter Gunn DVDs.

“Ohhhhh…my oh my!”


Mention Andy Clyde to any B-western movie fan, and they’ll no doubt conjure up memories of the actor who played second banana (as “California” Carlson) to William “Hopalong Cassidy” Boyd in dozens of oaters from 1940 to 1948 for Paramount and United Artists, and who also rode alongside Whip Wilson at Monogram for a short time afterward. For fans of classic television, Andy is fondly remembered for his roles as cantankerous neighbor George McMichael on the sitcom The Real McCoys and as the endearingly eccentric Cully Wilson on Lassie.

But for classic movie aficionados, Clyde earned a reputation as a hard-working clown who enjoyed several decades of success working for comedy king Mack Sennett and studios Educational and Columbia. In fact, during his stint with Sennett, Andy worked his way up from extra to studio star—though, it should be pointed out, Andy's “star” status depended a good deal on the inconvenient truth that most of Sennett’s discoveries eventually left his studio because the “King” was notoriously tight with a buck.

I was exposed to Clyde’s Columbia comedies almost from the time I was able to walk over to a TV set and turn it on, and thanks to a recent purchase from my pal Martin Grams, Jr. (“the Isaac Asimov of old-time radio”) at Finders Keepers, I found myself engaged in my favorite pastime over the weekend: wallowing in nostalgia. I’ll readily attest that on the list of classic movie comedians, it’ll take the individuals discussing the subject a while before they get to Andy, but having watched a goodly number of his two-reelers over the past few days, I certainly wouldn’t give his career short shrift. Many of these shorts—particularly from 1934-41—are thoroughly enjoyable; capturing the spirit of the old Keystone comedies in an endearing fashion. Sure, the shorts didn’t often make a lot of sense (then again, neither did the Keystones), and shooting schedules were so tight that the idea of the leisurely pace prevalent at, say, the Hal Roach studios, was a luxury Columbia couldn’t afford. But when all the cylinders were firing (stars, script, direction, etc.) side-splitting comedy was nearly always the result.

In his book The Great Movie Shorts, Leonard Maltin singles out Clyde’s 1935 two-reeler Alimony Aches as particularly noteworthy, but after having watched it for the first time this weekend I’d have to say that he apparently has more enthusiasm for it than I. But I also viewed It Always Happens (1935) for the first time as well, and I really got a big kick out of this one; Andy mistakenly ends up in a compromising situation with his new boss’ wife as she somehow ends up in a state of undress in Andy’s automobile (shades of Charley Chase’s Limousine Love) while her hubby is riding shotgun alongside Andy. The out-of-control car sequence in this short is first-rate, and was directed by one of the shorts department’s top directors, Del Lord, who was also at the helm of another one of my favorite Clyde vehicles (if you’ll pardon the pun), Caught in the Act (1936)—in which a wild motorcycle ride is the highlight of a fast and frenetic comedy that finds Andy mistakenly accused of being the notorious “kissing bandit” Jack T. Kisser. Happens, by the way, was a remake of a short that Andy made for Sennett in 1931 called Taxi Troubles; the material was also reworked in another one of Clyde’s Columbias, His Tale is Told (1944), and a short that Bert Wheeler made for the same studio in 1950, Innocently Guilty.

Other Clyde favorites include the Lord-directed Old Sawbones (1935), in which Andy is a small-town medico competing with another M.D. (James C. Morton) as to who will be county physician. Since the board making the decision is deadlocked as to who they’ll choose, it’s decided that whoever sees the most patients in one week will get the prize…but when this results in a tie, a board member pulling for Andy tips him off that his rival’s wife is about to have a baby, and a frantic chase ensues that, once again, is the highlight of the two-reeler. (This chase was so well-done that it was recycled for another top-notch Clyde comedy in 1940, Money Squawks.) Am I Having Fun! (1936) is also a pip; Andy has been taxiing around a soused Arthur Houseman around for the past few days when Houseman (who’s a PR agent) realizes he was supposed to meet a visiting potentate scheduled to have a publicity photo taken with some chorus girls. Houseman talks Andy into posing as the dignitary, but when the real McCoy shows up—as well as Andy’s jealous wife and his brother-in-law—the short becomes a rollicking comedy of errors with hysterical in-and-out-the-door chases amongst the backdrop of a ritzy hotel. There’s also The Peppery Salt (1936), which contains one of the eye-poppingest gags you’ll ever see in a Columbia short: Andy inherits a lunch wagon (dubbed “The Admiral Dewey”) and in the process of nailing up business signs is unaware that he’s driving nails right into a ship docked behind his diner. This results in the eatery being pulled away with the ship as it departs for points unknown, and Andy’s customers end up getting dunked in the drink after getting off their stools and going back to work.

Andy made three two-reelers that, curiously enough, tell a continuous story beginning with Love Comes to Mooneyville (1936), in which he and rival Bob McKenzie compete for the hand of widow Esther Howard. Andy wins the day in that one, and in Stuck in the Sticks (1937), he’s all set to marry Esther when McKenzie phonies up a wanted poster announcing that Howard is on the lam for forgery and swindling charges…that turn out to be true! (In marrying Bob, Esther ends up taking him for one large in the process.) The saga comes to a close in He Done His Duty (1937), in which Andy and Bob end up tangling with another con-woman, played by Dorothy Granger. (Andy and Esther would return to this formula in the 1943 short Wolf in Thief’s Clothing, with Emmett Lynn taking over the rival role from McKenzie.)

Heading into the forties, many of the Clyde comedies didn’t have the freshness of Andy’s previous efforts, only because the rise in production costs made many of the Columbia shorts more studio-bound. I do like Andy Clyde Gets Spring Chicken (1939), a funny outing that casts Andy as a millionaire whose thoughts lightly turn to love every spring…and whose attempts to romance a bevy of showgirls living next door are consistently thwarted until they learn he has mucho dinero. Other noteworthy Clyde efforts include Yankee Doodle Andy (1941), Host to a Ghost (1941), All Work and No Pay (1942) and A Maid Made Mad (1943). Much of the fun watching the 1940s Clyde efforts derives from recognizing plots from other comedies: Heather and Yon (1944) reworks the Buster Keaton Educational short Jail Bait (1937), and A Miner Affair (1945) casts Andy and Charles Rogers as “the two Stooges,” being a remake of Moe, Larry and Curly’s Cash and Carry (1937). In the mid-to-late forties, finding a well-done Andy Clyde comedy could often be a daunting affair, but I have to admit I like efforts such as Spook to Me (1945) (a “scare” comedy that teams Andy with Dudley Dickerson, who performed a similar function in the “scare” comedies Hugh Herbert made for the same studio) and The Blonde Stayed On (1946), as well as the Edward Bernds-directed Andy Plays Hookey (1946), Wife to Spare (1947) and Eight-Ball Andy (1948). (Hookey is a must-see short, only because writer Clyde Bruckman manages to compress the W.C. Fields feature he directed, Man on the Flying Trapeze, into two reels.) Though there are still a good many Clyde offerings I’ve yet to see, I think the last really good one was Go Chase Yourself (1948), a remake of the Charley Chase Columbia vehicle The Nightshirt Bandit (1938). (I remember seeing both these shorts as a kid and wondering how two comedies that essentially shared the same plot could star a young guy and an old one; this may have been my introduction into the “recycling” methods so frequently used by the studio.)

In addition to the Andy Clyde comedies, I was also able to score some DVDs containing some of the other Columbia comedy shorts with stars that aren’t billed with “The,” “Three,” and “Stooges” in the title; these were obtained in a deal I made with Rodney Bowcock, Martin’s partner-in-crime. I’ll highlight some of these performers in days to come.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Well, he USED to be my favorite martian…

I’ve spoken about DVD Price Search in the past, a nifty website that allows you to do a bit of comparison shopping on the price of DVDs at online stores, and while I try to make it one of my first stops in the morning when I sign on, computer-wise, I don’t always remember to do so. I do, however, make it a definite on Mondays and Thursdays, because they usually have a heads-up as to what upcoming releases have been added to their database and the prices of which at selected online stores.

So, I’m surfing through Price Search earlier this a.m., and I find this little nugget of information—which, needless to say, has made me a mite cranky and the forecast is for continued crankiness throughout the rest of the day:

My Favorite Martian: The Complete Third Season

If you’re wary of clicking on this link, let me give you the news. This release—due out February 5, 2008—is the same one that I ponied up sixty-eight simolians (that includes s&h) for back in November. (It’s now priced at Amazon.com at $33.99, American.)

Why would I do such a thing, you may be asking, when I could have waited until February 2008 and purchased the third season for far cheaper? Because I made the financially stupid mistake of listening to Peter Greenwood, a representative for Chertok Television, who posted the news about the Australian release of Martian over at the Home Theater Forum, and responded—to a query as to whether the set would be released in a less expensive set here in the U.S.—“I’m afraid not.” Greenwood whined that he was sorry about the set being so expensive but it was produced for the smaller Australian market, and it had a lot of really nifty extras, and the inflated price tag was necessary to justify the costs of same, blah blah blah. To cut to the chase on this one, the son of a bitch lied his ass off.

Now, I’m not one of those individuals who demands extras on every friggin’ DVD I buy. Sure, they’re nice to have, but I realize that with a lot of the releases I purchase—the majority of which are either classic films or vintage television—most of the people who participated or assisted in cranking them out have long left this world. I’m betting many would enjoy a MFM set with an archival interview featuring star Ray Walston (this is not, by the way, on the Season 3 set—I’m just using this as an example) but really, what the hell is he going to tell me that I don’t already know? “In the end, it was a paycheck.” Gee-minently…I sure didn’t see that coming.

In conclusion, I simply must chalk this up to “lessons learned.” I trusted someone who works in television, ferchrissake, which employs more weasels than you can shake a stick at, if that’s your idea of a good time. Cue the wryly ironic Who song.

When the lights go down in the California town

I noticed on my Bombast web page this morning that singer-songwriter John Stewart has passed on at the age of 68. Stewart was a favorite of mine, having recorded one of the best pop singles of the 1970s (Gold, which he sang with Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks) and written countless others, notably Daydream Believer—a mega-hit for the Monkees and later Anne Murray. (He also wrote a #1 for Roseanne Cash, Runaway Train.) Stewart’s style—kind of a country-rock with some folk mixed in (he was a member of the musical group The Kingston Trio)—was a welcome tonic to the noxious musical period dominated by disco, and he most certainly will be missed.

I was also saddened to learn of the deaths of two television icons, the first being Allan Melvin—whose passing at age 84 generated a billion television and internet headlines that read: "‘Brady Bunch’ Actor Dies.” Yes, Melvin did play Sam Franklin, the butcher boyfriend of Brady housekeeper Alice, but this consummate character actor left such an amazing television legacy that many folks will fondly remember him for a variety of roles: Cpl. Steve Henshaw on The Phil Silvers Show, Sgt. Charley Hacker on Gomer Pyle, USMC, and the luckless Barney Hefner on both All in the Family and Archie Bunker’s Place. He will also be remembered for his contributions to animation, as the voice of not only Drooper of The Banana Splits and Bristle Hound (in the It’s the Wolf! segments) on The Cattanooga Cats but Hanna-Barbera superstar Magilla Gorilla. (He also voiced Punkin’ Puss on that show’s supporting segment, Mushmouse and Punkin’ Puss.) R.I.P., Allan—yours is a loss that will be felt by all.

In closing, I must also pay tribute to one of my favorite actresses, Suzanne Pleshette, who completes the “bad things happen in threes” trilogy by going to her rich reward at the age of 70, just days before she was to be celebrated with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Her TV-icon status was established between 1972 and 1978 as Emily Hartley, the schoolteacher wife of psychiatrist Bob Hartley in a sitcom that’s become the yardstick by which classic TV comedies are measured, The Bob Newhart Show. She would later figure in large part in the series’ finale of Newhart’s other comedy classic, Newhart, and even though everyone in the universe should know how that plays out I won’t be a spoiler and give away the ending. (I innocently made a comment one time about the ending of Citizen Kane on an e-mail list and got reamed by someone with a stick up his ass because I revealed this apparently confidential information, even though—again—it’s a good bet that people who haven’t seen the movie knows "Rosebud" is his goddamned sled. Uh...sorry about that.) Pleshette also appeared in a self-starring sitcom, Suzanne Pleshette is Maggie Briggs, and made regular appearances in shows like 8 Simple Rules and Good Morning, Miami. It would, of course, be unfair not to mention that she also did some first-rate work in movies; she’s best known as the ill-fated schoolteacher in Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) but she also made an impact in films like Rome Adventure (1962), Blackbeard’s Ghost (1968), The Power (1968) and my personal favorite, Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971).

The obit for Pleshette says that she passed on due to respiratory failure, and while I mean no disrespect I can’t say that surprised me all that much. She always had a pretty throaty voice but it was obvious that by the time she did Miami years and years of cigarettes had transformed her pipes into a Lucille Ball baritone. Nevertheless, it’s heartbreaking to see the icons of your youth depart, and all I can say is that I will miss her presence tremendously.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

No, that's the "Frank Burns" of television news...


Of Masonry, crockery and other odds and ends…

You may have already read about this elsewhere, but in case you haven’t TVShowsOnDVD.com has announced that CBS/Paramount will be releasing Perry Mason: 50th Anniversary Edition this April 8th. It’s a nifty little four-disc package containing some of the series’ most offbeat and guest star-laden episodes, including The Case of the Deadly Verdict (where Perry loses a case), The Case of the Twice-Told Twist (the only episode in color) and The Case of the Final Fade-Out (in which Mason creator Erle Stanley Gardner plays a judge). The 1985 TV-movie reunion, Perry Mason Returns, is also being included, as well as screen tests, interviews, promos, etc. I’m optimistic that this release is a positive sign that more Mason sets are coming in the future…though the price tag on this one is a little heftier than it should be; it practically costs the same as those wretched split-season sets they’re selling now. (Also, Perry Mason premiered on CBS in the fall of 1957, so they’re a bit behind with the anniversary celebration.)

I don’t have as much free time as I normally do because of the de-cluttering, packing, eBay activities, etc. but I did get an opportunity to see a pair of movies of recent vintage via the good people at Columbia House (some sort of bogo sale, if memory serves me correct). The first, which I enjoyed very much, was Hollywoodland (2006)—a fictionalized detective drama about the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of TV’s Superman, George Reeves. Very well made film, and the acting is astoundingly good; particularly Ben Affleck (who has a tendency to phone in a lot of his performances in films) as the tragic Reeves, Diane Lane as his mistress, and Bob Hoskins as the mistress’ husband, MGM mogul Eddie Mannix. I also caught a glance at Zodiac (2007), a film based on the notorious California serial killer in the 1960s/1970s; I didn’t care much for the film’s over length (though I realize it was necessary to tell the story) or the “heroics” of Jake Gyllenhaal (as newspaper cartoonist Robert Graysmith) but the performances by Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox (as attorney Melvin Belli) and especially Robert Downey, Jr. were all splendid (and it’s always good to see Candy Clark in a movie, even if it was a teensy role).

Two weeks ago, I put an ad in the local Tell ‘n’ Sell advertising approximately five acres of LPs that I’ve managed to collect over the years, mostly old-time radio but some comedy (Richard Pryor, George Carlin, etc.), and the ad basically said: “Haul it away for $175 or best offer.” Since then, I had two people call: one who got frustrated because he couldn’t follow the directions to our house that my father gave him over the phone (so he just never showed up) and the other who told me he’d give me a call back but…well, I don’t need to finish this, do I? So it became readily apparent that the demand for these albums was going to be relatively nil.

As it happens, I’m sitting on the living room couch one Saturday night, watching the Republican/Democratic debates, and staring at the albums, which I gathered up and stashed in the living room so that individuals interested in them wouldn’t trip over the other mounds of crap I have in our back room (which we have dubbed “the shipping department”). As I sit and stare, I say to myself: “I should just go ahead and try to unload these on eBay”…and that’s what I went ahead and did. Most of these old-time radio albums are from Radiola, Mark 56, Nostalgia Lane, Golden Age, etc.—various labels devoted to putting OTR on vinyl in the 1970s and 80s—and if you’re interested, I’m sure you find some rare goody or two that starts out with an unbeatable starting bid.

Someone e-mailed me about some items I’ve had listed on eBay for two or three weeks now, and I feel compelled to reveal that the Pfaltzgraff Arborwood Aspen dinnerware isn’t actually mine but my Sister Kat’s. Since posting these dishes, we’ve sold one…a coffee mug. Anything the vast readership of TDOY can do to put a few shekels in her pocket would be most appreciated, particularly since she had to purchase a new car over the holidays after her truck said “F**k it!” in the Lowe’s parking lot at the Deerfield Shopping Plaza.

I realize that posting here has become most infrequent, and for that I’m truly sorry; I’m going to try to have something else up this week but it’s another busy one (got another First Generation Radio Archive project due shortly) and I never seem to have any time to sit down and hunt and peck. As always, if you took the time to relieve me of some of the excess crap I have around here I’m most appreciative: Stacia at She Blogged by Night is building her library with some recent acquisitions she purchased from yours truly, as is my pal Chandu from In the Balcony, and a dedicated OTR collector in New York now has possession of about 80% of my OTR collection…which is reassuring, since now I can call and check on it whenever the need arises. (Oh, and I can’t forget P.M., a newcomer to the blog who bought some stuff, too…) In the meantime, write if you get work and hang by your thumbs…and remember, it’s milder…much milder.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Harry in your pocket


Over at In the Balcony, Laughing Gravy has selected the Ford at Fox collection as 2007’s DVD of the Year. And really, it’s kind of hard to argue with that choice…with twenty-four films and a wealth of incredible bonus material, you’d be hard pressed to ignore that, humongous price tag aside, it’s an essential set for any classic movie fan. A few individuals have reported that Ford at Fox is available for about a third off the retail at Costco…but since we don’t have one within our neck of the woods I settled for one of the smaller Ford sets—the Silent Epics box—currently on sale at Amazon.com.

In any other year where Ford at Fox was not released, however, my pick for DVD of the Year would easily go to Lost and Found: The Harry Langdon Collection, a marvelous collection of the forgotten silent clown’s cinematic gems (including seventeen silent shorts, a respectable representation of most of the surviving comedies he made for producer Mack Sennett between 1924-26) released by All Day Entertainment, which I mentioned in a teensy preview back in October. The Langdon set did make the honorable mention list at ITB, which is available here along with previous winners of past years.

My introduction to Harry Langdon came about much the same way as I learned of Buster Keaton and Charley Chase, through the Columbia comedy two-reelers that I watched as a kid on WCHS-TV (Charleston, WV). I’ll be the first to say that Langdon really didn’t translate well to talkies—the sound shorts he made for producer Hal Roach are so abysmal I’ve only managed to be able to sit through one of them, 1930’s The Head Guy—but I think some of his Columbias are first-rate comedies, including His Bridal Sweet (1935), I Don’t Remember (1935) and Cold Turkey (1940). The sound comedies included on Lost and Found are two representatives from his Educational period, Knight Duty (1933)—which I enjoyed very much—and Hooks and Jabs (1933), which caused me to shrug my shoulders (though both of these shorts do feature Vernon Dent, best known for his myriad appearances alongside the Three Stooges although he was a mainstay in Langdon’s silent and sound shorts as well). There’s also a curio—kind of an early infomercial, if you will—called Love, Honor and Obey (the Law) (1935) that was used as a promotional contest gimmick for the Goodrich Tire people; the surprise is, it’s not a bad little two-reeler, with Harry as a groom unfashionably late for his nuptials and second banana Monte Collins (also a fixture in the Columbia shorts) as the “friend” who tries to sabotage him at every turn.

I was also exposed to some of Langdon’s silent work in my youth courtesy of Walter Kerr’s Silent Comedy Film Festival on PBS (a staple of my television schedule during the 1970s), so re-watching shorts like Feet of Mud (1924), All Night Long (1924) and Saturday Afternoon (1926; perhaps Harry’s best-known silent short) brought back a flood of memories for me. But there were a good many of the Langdons I hadn’t seen, and I particularly enjoyed The Luck o’ the Foolish (1924), The Sea Squawk (1925), His Marriage Wow (1925), Boobs in the Wood (1925) and Fiddlesticks (1926). (There’s a great gag in Boobs that literally made me roll off my bed with helpless laughter: Harry’s in a saloon, and he drinks a slug of whisky—the effects of which send him right on his ass to the floor. Moments later, when he’s handed another round, he lifts it to his lips…hesitates…and then sits down on the floor, where he proceeds to down the second drink. A brilliant bit and one that could only come from Langdon.) Seeing these shorts in chronological order allows you to see the development and progression of Langdon’s screen character, and lays waste to the myth (one that I must reluctantly admit I've bought into in the past) established in Frank Capra’s egomaniacal autobiography The Name Above the Title (which a chuckling Richard M. Roberts refers to as “wonderful fiction”) that Langdon floundered, film-wise, like a fish until Capra, Arthur Ripley and Harry Edwards rescued him with their collective input. I’ve listed my favorite shorts here, of course, but the great thing is that all of the Langdon silents are entertaining…with the possible exception of Smile Please (1924)—which is too incoherent to remain particularly memorable.

Lost and Found also includes Harry’s first feature film, His First Flame (1927), which he made for Sennett several years earlier but was not released until after his third film for First National, Long Pants (1927). I posted about Flame sometime back after having watched a DVD of the film purchased from Grapevine Video, and I had hoped that this version would be a bit more watchable since the Grapevine print had a good deal of nitrate decomposition. (Alas, that decomposition is present on the Lost and Found version as well.) What I would really have liked to have seen was one of Langdon’s self-directed features: Three’s a Crowd (1927) and The Chaser (1928) apparently do exist (the third feature, Heart Trouble [1928], is believed to be lost)—but I’m not certain if their absence here is because of their rare availability or because they’re still under copyright (or perhaps a bit of both). Fortunately, Langdon’s first three features—Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (1926), The Strong Man (1926) and Pants—are available on a must-have DVD set by Kino (Harry Langdon: The Forgotten Clown).

An original feature-length documentary appropriately entitled Lost and Found tops off this remarkable set; it’s an informative and clip-filled tribute to Langdon’s career with commentary from several film historians and silent comedy fans including Ken Gordon, Ben Model, Steve Massa, Bruce Lawton and William Schelly, author of Harry Langdon: His Life and Films. Several of these same individuals also contribute commentaries to the films, and offer cogent observations...despite the fact that a few of them (David Kalat, I’m talking to you!) often voice their opinions in a tone that suggests they’ve brought down major pronouncements from the Gods of Comedy. The Langdon set is also jam-packed with great bonus features; among the highlights are an excerpt from Horace Greeley, Jr. (1925), one of Langdon’s earliest comedies (filmed for producer Sol Lesser for Principal Pictures in 1923); a Eddie Quillan comedy from 1927 entitled Catalina, Here I Come (Mack Sennett tabbed Eddie to impersonate Langdon after Harry left the studio; except for the participation of Madeline Hurlock and Andy Clyde this short is an abysmal affair); and a 1942 “soundie” that features Harry singing (or, to be more accurate, lip-synching to Cliff Nazarro’s vocals) Beautiful Clothes (Make Beautiful Girls). One-reel versions of selected Langdon shorts (a couple are culled from an obscure 1961 syndicated TV series called The Funny Manns starring Cliff Norton) and appearances in short-subject series like The Voice of Hollywood and Hollywood on Parade also just barely scratch the surface of the goodies to be found on Lost and Found.

All Day Entertainment, in collaboration with Lobster Films and Facets/Cine-Notes, have brought silent comedy fans a treasure trove of vintage material that brings to light the largely forgotten (but nevertheless influential) career of the curious of all the silent clowns (it was Walter Kerr who once memorably described Langdon as looking like “a baby dope fiend”). With the recent announcement that Langdon’s finest silent feature, The Strong Man, has been added to the 2007 National Film Registry (a year that also saw the inclusion of Charley Chase’s classic Mighty Like a Moose [1926]), it’s fortuitous timing that this box set has arrived just in time to re-evaluate this great comedian and give him his proper due. If you are a silent comedy fan, and you haven’t picked up this collection—shame on you! And for those of you who have never experienced Langdon’s magic…Ivan-Bob says check it out.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The clock has stopped…but the game still has a quarter to go…

I had originally intended for this post to be the last in 2007, but I became a little preoccupied with watching the ‘rents during last night’s big New Year’s Eve bash. (I’ve never witnessed two people get positively giddy with excitement as they do over a Law & Order marathon…particularly when the damn show is on about six times a day.) So I guess this makes the first post of a brand new year.

The game plan was, of course, to be ready to be out of Rancho Yesteryear by the end of December, but to use the wise words of frequent TDOY commenter Pam: “I just knew that wasn’t going to happen.” As of this writing, we’re still valiantly trying to escape from the clutter currently holding us hostage here. It would appear that I severely misunderestimated the amount of crap I’ve managed to accumulate over the past two decades, but in my defense—I’ve made a fairly serious dent in selling off a good piece of it on eBay (click on the button to your right for current offerings, if you’re curious). I just wanna tell ya, I need to thank several individuals for doing their part in finding a new home for my junk, particularly “The B-Man” at the In the Balcony message boards, Stacia from She Blogged by Night, and Harlan Zinck, major domo at the First Generation Radio Archives (who has since informed me that his middle name is NOT “Bonus,” as I previously thought, but “Low Overhead”).

Speaking of the esteemed Mr. Zinck and FGRA, the Archives have rolled out another one of their can’t-be-beat Premier Collections for the month of January, a second volume of Amos ‘n’ Andy broadcasts from the first and second seasons of their half-hour sitcom version (which began in the fall of 1943). I’ve found myself tremendously enjoying the early sitcom years; many of the episodes blend comedy and pathos in a truly entertaining fashion. The standout shows in this set include “Get Acquainted,” in which Andy’s attempts to join a Harlem singles’ club inadvertently create problems for the Kingfish and Sapphire’s already rocky marriage (the wrap-up on this one is so well-written it’ll sort of disillusion you that the series became a formulaic parody in later seasons) and “Chauffeur,” an uproarious outing that finds Andy accused of the theft of $2,000—with his pal Kingfish hilariously trying to defend his friend’s character during the trial. Again, the argument has been made that with the change in format (the half-hour sitcom), a character like Amos became rather superfluous but these early shows demonstrate that he could still be used effectively (particularly in “Get Acquainted”) before the writers got lazy and reverted to the “Con of the Week” formula concentrating solely on Andy and the Kingfish. FGRA also has a pair of Radio Masters collections available this month: The Adventures of the Falcon (which I discussed previously during TDOY’s halcyon Salon days) and a second volume of Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch—which are priced a little lower than the Premier Collections…only because the Premiers come directly from the original discs.

Though Christmas was a little lean this year, I didn’t mind so much (simply because I really couldn’t think of anything I absotively, posilutely wanted…other than the Ford at Fox collection, and I can certainly wait for that); I did manage to get a few goodies like a new mouse (which I most assuredly needed) and a new keyboard (the family was complaining that most of the letters were missing on the old one due to overuse). I was the recipient of a few gift cards, two of which I’ve already put to use procuring the Gunsmoke: Season 2, Volume 1 and Make Room for Daddy: The Complete Sixth Season sets due out in a few weeks. I’ve picked up a few “rootpeg” DVD sets of some older and neglected TV shows that I hope to write about in upcoming posts; one of them which I will mention today is a hilarious 60s sitcom created and produced by Leonard (Get Smart) Stern entitled I’m Dickens…He’s Fenster, starring John Astin (as Harry Dickens) and Marty Ingels (Arch Fenster) as a team of inept carpenters.

Dickens/Fenster isn’t really all that obscure; despite its one season-run it was offered up in syndication for many years (there were thirty-two episodes telecast). I bring it up primarily for two reasons: one, the late great Mel Tolkin (who passed away in November) was the show’s story editor and wrote many of the scripts; and two, in “Googling” the series, I came across this assessment of the show, courtesy of my fellow pop culture Kliph Nesteroff at Classic Television Showbiz:

Unfortunately, the show is crap. It didn't last long and it is obvious why, but it at the very least, managed to spawn a pair of Dell Comics adaptations. This may be one of the rare instances in which a cheap sitcom's cheap comic book knock-off was actually better than the show.

Now, I’m a huge admirer of Kliph’s essays—particularly the content he’s contributed to WFMU’s Beware of the Blog—and I certainly know that comedy is subjective…but if he based this opinion on the one episode he posted to the CTS blog (a very funny outing entitled “Harry the Father Image”) he really should tuck a few more episodes under his belt because I couldn’t stop laughing during "Image", particularly in the second half when Astin’s Harry is having to juggle the logistics involving Arch’s fiancée, former girlfriends and co-workers—all who have descended en masse at the House of Dickens. Story editor Tolkin and Don Hinkley brought a real Sid Caesar-ish Your Show of Shows quality to many of the scripts, blending some riotous physical comedy with first-rate one liners. (Injured when something has fallen on his foot in one episode, Dickens is hopping up and down until Fenster asks him: “Are you hurt, Harry?” “No!” is Dickens’ steamed reply—“I’m doin’ an Apache war dance!”)

Robert Leszczak at The Classic TV Archive calls the show’s pilot “a very funny episode of a show which should've been around for a few seasons”—something with which I wholeheartedly agree. Some of the hysterical episodes I purchased (from the dark corners of the Internets, where you don’t even use the restrooms if you can avoid it) include “Here’s to the Three of Us,” an outing where Harry and wife Kate (Emmaline Henry, a.k.a. Amanda Bellows on I Dream of Jeannie) decide to throw a dinner party for their married friends…and Arch isn’t invited, and “Hotel Fenster,” the final show of the series that features Arch playing host to co-workers Harry, Mel Warshaw (Dave Ketchum, a.k.a. Agent 13 on Get Smart) and Bob Mulligan (Henry Beckman, a.k.a. Capt. Clancey on Here Come the Brides), whose wives have kicked them out of the house and are forced to sleep over at their friend’s apartment. “Carpenters Four” is also pretty hilarious, spotlighting a talent show put on by the construction company and featuring the quartet of Astin, Ingels, Beckman and a young man billed as James Nabors—who later went to work for some guy named Wally and his service station just outside of Mayberry. There are a number of future familiar faces popping up in many Dickens/Fenster episodes: the aforementioned “Image” features Ellen Burstyn (billed as McRae) as Arch’s fiancée, future Batgirl Yvonne Craig has a bit in the show’s pilot episode (“A Small Matter of Being Fired”) and Sally Kellerman plays a high-toned museum director whom Fenster is determined to romantically woo in “The Bet.” (Moundsville, West Virginia’s own Frank DeVol also had a recurring role on the show as Harry and Arch’s boss, the wonderfully deadpan Myron Bannister; DeVol provided the theme music for many TV shows [notably My Three Sons] and also appeared alongside Martin Mull and Fred Willard on Fernwood-2-Night.)

But the real gem among the episodes I purchased is “The Joke,” described by author Arthur Salm in a May 27, 2007 San Diego Union-Tribune article as “the quintessential statement on humor”:

One of the principals...hears a joke and tells it to the other. One of them thinks the joke is funny and the other doesn't. They decide to settle the matter by telling the joke to a group of friends, but they divide 50/50. Soon, the whole town has split into roving bands of baseball-bat and chain-wielding “It's a funny joke!”/“It's not a funny joke!” zealots.

I can attest to Mr. Salm’s on-the-money assessment because I told “the joke” to my mother, who thought it was hysterical. Telling it to my sister Kat produced a completely opposite reaction. (I’d tell the joke here but there’s a visual element that necessitates I tell it in person.)

Despite the fact that I’m Dickens…He’s Fenster followed ABC’s popular The Flintstones (still a top thirty show in its third season) on Friday nights, it also faced fierce competition from CBS’s Route 66 and NBC’s Sing Along with Mitch…so the sitcom was cancelled after one season. It would be television’s loss; though I was never a big fan of Ingels (I always remember him as the voice of Hanna-Barbera’s Auto Cat and because he married Shirley Jones and later went on a crusade against television) I have to admit he’s very effective as the carefree bachelor Fenster, and Astin’s always been aces with me—he later, of course, achieved television immortality with The Addams Family but he’s funnier on Dickens/Fenster…and his physical comedy antics are an absolute scream. Don’t take my word for it—judge for yourself (and thanks to Kliph for finding this on the Internets, by the way).