Friday, November 19, 2010

Happy birthday, Alan Young!

Today’s birthday celebrant has always been held in the highest regard here at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, simply because his career spans so many of the areas I often discuss here on the blog: radio, movies and television.  Angus Young was born on this date ninety-one years ago in North Shields, Northumberland, U.K.—and though his Scottish burr can certainly go unmatched (particularly as the long-time voice of Walt Disney’s Scrooge McDuck) in dialect circles, he decided to change his name to “Alan” for the benefit of his show business vocation.

As a child, Alan’s often severe asthma attacks kept him bedridden and in front of the family’s radio…and that dictated the direction he would take in life; he became a broadcaster for the CBC and his success led to his own self-titled series in the summer of 1944 on NBC, filling in for Eddie Cantor.  The success of that program found him still gainfully employed come the fall…only this time on a new network, ABC—he spent two years there before moving back to NBC for another season.  Among the performers on his program: Jean Gillespie and Doris Singleton (who played his girlfriend Betty), Charlie Cantor, Hans Conried, Richard Lane, Elvia Allman, Jean Vander Pyl, Ed Begley and Jim Backus, who played the memorable Hubert Updike the Third (“Heavens to Gimbels!”).  Updike, the richest man in the world, was later recycled as Thurston Howell III on Gilligan’s IslandGilligan creator Sherwood Schwartz penned scripts for Alan back in his halcyon radio scriptwriting days.

In the fall of 1948, Alan Young became Jimmy Durante’s sidekick on Durante’s program, and continued on in that fashion even when NBC brought back Young’s series in January 1949.  By the fall of 1950, Alan had made the leap into television with a CBS comedy-variety show that garnered appreciative critical buzz and respectable ratings (the program even won an Emmy in 1951 for Best Variety Series)—but a switch to a situation comedy format in 1953 proved disastrous, and Young chose to concentrate on his movie career (which had started in 1946 with Margie), appearing in such films as Androcles and the Lion, tom thumb and The Time Machine.

When Young did return to television—and in a situation comedy, no less—it would be in the role of Wilbur Post, an architect who discovered that the new house he and his wife had bought had a most unusual equine in the adjacent barn…a horse that actually talked.  Mister Ed, a wacky fantasy sitcom that began life in syndication but then moved to CBS-TV in the fall of 1961, became a solid performer for the Tiffany network, lasting until 1966.  The series was popular in syndicated reruns but when it became one of the linchpins on Nickelodeon’s Nick at Nite schedule it became a phenomenon all over again—my brother-in-law even watched the show (he’s not a fan of black-and-white) though I should point out it was usually with his fraternity brothers and an endless supply of beer.

In Jordan R. Young’s The Laugh Crafters, Sherwood Schwartz reminisced about his experiences writing for Young’s radio show by pointing out that the comedian, whose broadcast personality of being shy and bashful (something that he is in real life), and others of his ilk, like Wally Cox “…take a step back when they walk into a room.  They’re never as immediately successful as more powerful kind of personalities…them that makes the loudest noise generally gets noticed.”  Thrilling Days of Yesteryear just wants to say that Alan Young certainly got our attention throughout the years (and continues to do so, at ninety-one years strong!), and we wish him and everyone else on the list the happiest of natal anniversaries:

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) – 20th President of the United States

William “Billy” Sunday (1862-1935) – Professional baseball player who had a come-to-Jesus moment and became one of the most influential hellfire-and-damnation evangelists of his era

George Barbier (1864-1945) – Stage and screen character actor whose films include Skyscraper Souls, The Man Who Came to Dinner and Yankee Doodle Dandy

Ned Sparks (1883-1957) – Stage and screen comic actor and founder of Actors Equity whose vehicles include 42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933, Going Hollywood and Imitation of Life

Erskine Sanford (1885-1969) – Mercury Theatre actor/Orson Welles crony whose films include Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, Ministry of Fear and Letter from an Unknown Woman

Clifton Webb (1889-1966) – Stage and screen character great whose fey, sarcastic persona was put to marvelous use in such films as Laura, The Dark Corner and the Mr. Belvedere movies

Chris-Pin Martin (1893-1953) – Rotund stage, screen and television character actor whose forte was sleepy Mexican stereotypes in films like the Cisco Kid movies and The Ox-Bow Incident and A Millionaire for Christy

Anton Walbrook (1896-1967) Austrian stage and screen character actor whose vehicles include The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, The Red Shoes and Lola Montès

Trevor Bardette (1902-1977) – Stage, screen and television character actor whose forte was B-westerns but also appeared in such films as They Won’t Forget and the 1941 serial Jungle Girl; played Old Man Clanton on TV’s The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp

Richard Alexander (1902-1989) – Another B-western/serial stalwart; he’s Prince Barin in Flash Gordon and Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars and “El Lobo” in Zorro Rides Again

Nancy Carroll (1903-1965) – Stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include Broken Lullaby, Atlantic Adventure and There Goes My Heart, also played Alice Aldrich on TV’s The Aldrich Family

Tommy Dorsey (1905-1956) – Trombonist and conductor/bandleader during the Big Band era; brother of Jimmy

Eleanor Audley (1905-1991) – TDOY character actress fave whose television roles include Eunice Douglas on Green Acres and Mrs. Vincent on My Three Sons; best known as the voice of the evil stepmother in Walt Disney’s Cinderella and Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty

Luke Short (1908-1975) – Western novelist whose works were adapted for such films as Coroner Creek, Station West and Vengeance Valley

Alan Baxter (1908-1976) – Stage, screen and character actor whose vehicles include Shadow of the Thin Man, Saboteur, The Set-Up and Judgment at Nuremberg

Gillo Pontecorvo (1919-2006) – Italian motion picture director whose oeuvre includes The Battle of Algiers and Burn!

Gene Tierney (1920-1991) – Smokin’ hot stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include Heaven Can Wait, Laura, Leave Her to Heaven, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and The Mating Season

Dick Wesson (1922-1996) – Stage, screen and television character actor who’s best known as the tiresome Rollo on the sitcom The People’s Choice; later became a writer and producer on such series as The Bob Cummings Show, The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction

John Daniel “J.D.” Sumner (1924-1998) – Singer who, along with the group known as the Stamps, sang backup behind Elvis Presley for many years

Jeane D. Kirkpatrick (1926-2006) – First female U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations

Larry King (1933-     ) – Athens, Georgia…hello…

Jack Welch (1935-     ) – Former chairman and CEO of General Electric and despite an appearance on 30 Rock is un dickhead tres, tres formidable

Dick Cavett (1936-     ) – Former comedy writer/standup comedian turned talk-show host whose birthday reminds me of a funny story Groucho Marx once told him…

Ted Turner (1938-     ) – Media mogul, philanthropist and restaurateur who would share the same contempt that I have for Jack Welch were it not for the fact that Ted did start up The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ (ka-ching!)

Garrick Utley (1939-     ) – One-time television journalist at NBC and CNN

Tom Harkin (1939-     ) – Junior U.S. Senator from Iowa whom I supported during the 1992 Presidential primaries, so it’s no big surprise that he lost

Warren “Pete” Moore (1939-     ) – Miracle

Dan Haggerty (1941-     ) – Former bodybuilder turned character actor whose films include Muscle Beach Party, Bury Me an Angel and The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, a movie that later became a 1977-78 TV series with Dan reprising his role

Calvin Klein (1942-     ) – Fashion designer

Ahmad Rashad (1949-     ) – Former college and pro football player turned NBC sportscaster

David Joliffe (1952-     ) – The dude who played Bernie, the red-haired student with an Afro as big as your head on Room 222

Tom Villard (1953-1994) – Stage, screen and television actor whom I mostly remember from one of the worst sitcoms in television history, We Got it Made

Robert Beltran (1953-     ) – Stage, screen and television actor whose vehicles include Eating Raoul, Night of the Comet and TV’s Star Trek: Voyager

Kathleen Quinlan (1954-     ) – TDOY actress fave whose vehicles include American Graffiti, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Apollo 13 and TV’s Family Law

Glynnis O’Connor (1956-     ) – TDOY actress fave whose vehicles include Those Lips, Those Eyes, Melanie, Johnny Dangerously and TV’s Law & Order

Ann Curry (1956-     ) – NBC anchorwoman for The Today Show and Dateline: NBC host whose name my father has difficulty remembering

Charlie Kaufman (1958-     ) – Academy Award-winning motion picture screenwriter and director whose films include Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Terrence “T.C.” Carson (1958-     ) – Film and television actor who does a lot of voice work today but is best remembered as Kyle Barker on the sitcom Living Single

Allison Janney (1959-     ) – TDOY actress fave best known as Claudia Jean “C.J.” Cregg on TV’s The West Wing; her movies include Big Night, American Beauty and Juno

Meg Ryan (1961-     ) – Terminally cute stage, screen and television actress, plastic surgery victim and, like Julia Roberts, the bane of my existence

Jodie Foster (1962-     ) – Academy Award-winning actress whose films include Taxi Driver, The Accused, The Silence of the Lambs and fifty gazillion Disney movies when I was growing up

Terry Farrell (1963-     ) – Stage, screen and television actress best known for her roles on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Becker

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quizshowbob said...

One time when I was in Caeser's Palace in Las Vegas, Ahmad Rashad gave me some candy.

I love Glynnis O'Connor. I saw that 'Ode To Billie Joe' movie so many times I lost count.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

One time when I was in Caeser's Palace in Las Vegas, Ahmad Rashad gave me some candy.

I think there are rules about that sort of thing, Bob. In the same category as accepting rides.

I love Glynnis O'Connor. I saw that 'Ode To Billie Joe' movie so many times I lost count.

I forgot to include that movie on my list but one I did mention and that I'd like to see again just for curiosity sake is Melanie, a weepie in which O'Connor plays a divorced woman whose scumbag husband is trying to get custody of their kid. Said husband is played by Don Johnson, and he was such a tool in that film that it essentially put me off anything he did afterward. Burton Cummings, former lead singer for The Guess Who, is also in that movie as the guy who both helps and is redeemed by O'Connor...though I should point out that his thespic talents would suggest he not quit his day job any time soon.

quizshowbob said...

I never saw the 'Melanie' movie. I have never cared for Don Johnson. There's just something about him that grates on my nerves.

Burton Cummings = 'Stand Tall' = Song now stuck in my head.

Pam said...

OK... it is not often that I "catch" you on something. Alan Young's North Shields, Northumberland is in the UK, not Canada.

[Does victory dance at catching the Shempster.] [Yes, I have a very limited life.]

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

OK... it is not often that I "catch" you on something. Alan Young's North Shields, Northumberland is in the UK, not Canada.

[Does victory dance at catching the Shempster.] [Yes, I have a very limited life.]

Okay, when you're done getting down with your bad self, let the record show that I have corrected the error.

Rick29 said...

Great biographical sketch on the wonderful Alan Young, who managed to never be upstaged by a talking palomino!

Matthew Coniam said...

We love Mister Ed at this address, but I didn't know he was still with us, I didn't know he was from Northumberland and I didn't know any of that stuff about his earlier career, so thanks, thanks, and thanks.
"Wilbur, where did you put those carrots?" is something of a catchphrase in our house.

Cinematique said...

Thank you so much for the article Happy Birthday Allan Young.
For me it wasn't Mr Ed that will stay in my memory but his wonderful performance alongside Rod Taylor in the classic movie The Time Machine. I found his performance both touching and funny.
BTW the DVD of the movie has a short movie on it featuring a reunion between Rod and Allan reprising their characters over forty years later, wonderful stuff!

Matthew Coniam said...

'He' being Alan Young, of course. I just read my comment and it looked like I was claiming Mr Ed is from Northumberland.