Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Catching up and notable passings

Mucho regrets for allowing the fields of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear lie fallow for the past three days; when I wasn’t taking a series of mini-breaks to watch movies on TCM (most of which I had previously seen and thought it redundant to write about: The Narrow Margin [1952], Torn Curtain [1966], Anatomy of a Murder [1959], etc.) I was in the completion stages of a pair of Radio Spirits projects and allowing my long-running bout of insomnia screw up my sleep system nine ways to Sunday. I’ve got another RS assignment to work on the meanwhile, but I’m going to try and do my darndest to get something that passes for substantial up at least every day in the interim.

I learned from the Mayor of Toobville himself, Toby O’Brien, of two regrettable passings of late—the first being songwriter/composer Vic Mizzy, who has shuffled off this mortal coil at the age of 93. Mizzy made a great many contributions to popular music, composing (or co-composing) classic tunes like My Dreams are Getting Better All the Time, The Whole World is Singing My Song, Three Little Sisters and Pretty Kitty Blue Eyes for the likes of artists such as Perry Como, Doris Day, Dean Martin and Billie Holiday. Many of the songs he wrote were written in tandem with his partner Irving Taylor; the two men appeared on Major Bowes’ Original Amateur Hour and won (I was surprised to learn this, by the way) an amateur contest on Fred Allen’s radio show.

Mizzy achieved his greatest fame as a composer of television theme songs; among the programs he supplied with catchy tunes were Klondike, Kentucky Jones, The Pruitts of Southampton (aka The Phyllis Diller Show) and The Don Rickles Show. But his television immortality was cemented when he wrote two memorable themes for the classic situation comedies The Addams Family and Green Acres. Of Family he observed on CBS’ Sunday Morning in 2008: “That’s why I’m living in Bel-Air: two finger snaps and you live in Bel-Air.” (Of Acres, I can only say that I have been known to belt this one out at karaoke for the mere price of a beer.)

Mizzy also composed scores for countless movies—including a quintet of Don Knotts films: The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966), The Reluctant Astronaut (1967), The Shakiest Gun in the West (1968), The Love God? (1969) and How to Frame a Figg (1971). (For the oddest reasons, the music score composed by Vic Mizzy that immediately leaps to my brain’s frontal lobe is that of The Busy Body [1967], which is better than the actual movie itself.) His cinema score resume also includes The Night Walker (1964) and Don't Make Waves (1967).

Actor Joseph Wiseman has also rang down the final curtain at the age of 91, and though he’s probably best-known to today’s audiences as the gentleman who essayed the titular villain in the first of the James Bond features, Dr. No (1962) he’s always been a particular favorite here around Rancho Yesteryear with solid performances in films like Detective Story (1951), The Garment Jungle (1957), The Unforgiven (1960), The Night They Raided Minsky's (1968), Lawman (1971) and The Valachi Papers (1972). He was a frequent presence on television as well—guest starring on various series like The Untouchables, The Twilight Zone (in the memorable episode “One More Pallbearer”), Wagon Train, Night Gallery, The F.B.I. and Crime Story, on which he had a recurring role as crime boss Manny Weisbord.

His appearance in William Wyler’s Detective Story has some significance in that he was one of several actors (the others were Horace McMahon, Michael Strong and Lee Grant) who reprised their roles from the Broadway production; indeed, Wiseman distinguished himself in a goodly number of turns on stage with plays like Abe Lincoln in Illinois, Joan of Lorraine, The Lark and the title role in In the Matter of Robert J. Oppenheimer. His last stage triumph was as a witness for the prosecution in a revival of Abby Mann’s Judgment at Nuremberg, produced in 2001.

R.I.P. Messrs. Mizzy and Wiseman. You will both be terribly missed.

To try and close this out on a semi-positive note, Charles Joseph Parrott was born in Baltimore (Ballmer to the natives), MD on this date 116 years ago—a man who’s better-known as Charley Chase, the unsung comedian who’s been the topic of an essay or two recently here at TDOY. Many thanks to Yair Solan for reminding me of this, by the way; his tribute website is a must-see for anyone with a passing familiarity with this great movie comedian, and I plan to celebrate Chase’s natal anniversary by sitting down with Robert Youngson’s 4 Clowns (1970) later today, which I recently purchased at Vintage Film Buff.com.

And because every comedian needs a dependable straight man—or in this case, straight woman, I should also like to pay tribute to the 127th anniversary of the birth of the Marx Brothers’ favorite female foil, Margaret Dumont. Saying that Dumont worked well with the brothers Marx is like saying Einstein was the guy good at math—because in addition to Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo, Madame Dumont also appeared alongside comedic notables like Wheeler & Woolsey (Kentucky Kernels), W.C. Fields (Never Give a Sucker an Even Break), Laurel & Hardy (The Dancing Masters), Danny Kaye (Up in Arms), Red Skelton (Bathing Beauty), Jack Benny (The Horn Blows at Midnight) and Abbott & Costello (Little Giant). Not too shabby for an actress who supposedly (according to Groucho) never understood the jokes.

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1 comment:

C. Jerry Kutner said...

According to the L.A. Times obit, Mizzy also *sung* the Addams Family theme (that's his voice you hear, multi-tracked) and helped coordinate the shooting of it so that the visuals, e.g. finger-snapping, matched the music.