Saturday, December 18, 2010

Happy birthday, Hal Kanter!

Those of you with a passing familiarity with this ‘umble scrap of the blogosphere are aware that I called Savannah, GA my stomping grounds for a number of years (even though I’m not a native) and as such am always pleased to give a shout-out to notables who called “the pretty lady with the dirty face” their birthplace.  Today’s celebrant can claim that honor, he was brought into this world ninety-two years ago (and, as of this post, is still with us) in the “State of Chatham” and forged a successful career writing comedy for radio, TV and the movies.  He’s Hal Kanter, who once summed up his show business achievements by remarking: “I’m the internationally famous writer-director who’s known to his barber as ‘Next!’”

Even as a youngster, Kanter knew that writing would be his profession—he sold his first newspaper article at the age of 11, and was a full-fledged newspaper reporter by the age of 16.  He migrated to California just shy of legal adult age to become “the ghost writer of a ghost writer” for a comic strip and broke into radio not long after that.  He successfully peddled gags (anonymously) to the likes of Jack Haley and Joe Penner before getting a big break in New York contributing material to Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson’s mega-successful Hellzapoppin’; it was also at that time that he started to receive his first on-air radio credits by penning a number of episodes for the dramatic anthology Grand Central Station.

Like most future comedy writers of his generation, Hal did his bit in WW2 working for the Armed Forces Radio Service, and upon being demobbed found his talents in demand on such shows as Philco Radio Time (Bing Crosby’s show), Amos ‘n’ Andy and Beulah.  But Kanter was bright enough to see that television was going to be the next big thing, and so he got in on the ground floor working for Ed Wynn’s comedy-variety series in 1949.  Later in the decade, he would create (as well as direct and produce) George Gobel’s successful TV series while at the same time contributing to screenplays for the likes of Bob Hope (Off Limits, Casanova’s Big Night), Martin & Lewis (Money from Home, Artists and Models), Elvis Presley (Loving You, which he also directed) and Rowan & Martin (he wrote and directed their cult comedy-western, Once Upon a Horse).

In the 1960s, Kanter was responsible for creating two series—the first was Valentine’s Day, a critically-acclaimed sitcom that unfortunately lasted only a single season but did introduce actor Jack Soo to TV audiences, who would get to know Soo better as the hilarious Det. Nick Yemana on Barney Miller.  The other program was the groundbreaking Julia, the first contemporary situation comedy to feature a black actress (Diahann Carroll) in the lead role.  This show would run for three seasons on NBC from 1968 to 1971.  Kanter later worked on such shows as The Jimmy Stewart Show and Chico and the Man before serving a hitch as executive producer of All in the Family.  In the twilight of his career he would become well-known as the co-writer of the yearly Academy Awards telecast, a job he started performing in 1952.

Happy birthday to you, Mr. Kanter—you’re one of my comedy heroes.  And the brightest of natal anniversaries to your fellow celebrants as well:

Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) – Evil Communist dictator guy

Gladys Cooper (1888-1971) – Renowned English stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include Rebecca, That Hamilton Woman, Now, Voyager, Thunder on the Hill, My Fair Lady and TV’s The Rogues

William “Stage” Boyd (1889-1935) – Stage and screen actor whose off-screen naughtiness got the other William Boyd—aka Hopalong Cassidy—unwarranted negative publicity; Stage’s vehicles include The Locked Door, City Streets, The House on 56th Street and the dreadful 1935 serial The Lost City

Edwin H. Armstrong (1890-1954) – Electrical engineer and inventor who brought us frequency modulation (FM) radio

Bobby Barber (1894-1976) – Bit player seen often in Abbott & Costello’s films and their TV series; he was employed by Lou to be their “court jester,” throwing pies and pulling pranks to keep up the energy level on their mirthmaking

George Stevens (1904-1975) – Motion picture director-writer-producer who began as a cameraman on Laurel & Hardy’s shorts and whose oeuvre includes The Nitwits, A Damsel in Distress, Gunga Din, The More the Merrier, A Place in the Sun and Shane

Wilf “Montana Slim” Carter (1904-1996) – Canadian country music singer-songwriter and yodeler

Kam Tong (1906-1969) – Stage, screen and television character actor best known as the Carlton Hotel’s “Hey Boy” on TV’s Have Gun – Will Travel

Celia Johnson (1908-1982) – English stage and television actress who did appear in a handful of motion pictures, notably In Which We Serve, This Happy Breed, Brief Encounter and The Captain’s Paradise

Mona Barrie (1909-1964) – British born stage and screen character actress whose vehicles include Charlie Chan in London, Something to Sing About, Men are Such Fools, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, Skylark and The Devil’s Mask

Abe Burrows (1910-1985) – Composer, musician, writer and humorist best known as the author of the stage musical Guys and Dolls and the film The Solid Gold Cadillac; also wrote such radio shows as Duffy’s Tavern and The Danny Kaye Show

Jules Dassin (1911-2008) – TDOY motion picture director god whose oeuvre includes Brute Force, The Naked City, Thieves’ Highway, Night and the City, Rififi and Topkapi

Freddie Steele (1912-1984) – Former world middleweight boxing champ who dabbled in acting in such films as Hail the Conquering Hero, Story of G.I. Joe, Black Angel and A Foreign Affair

Lynn Bari (1913-1989) – B-picture actress and pinup gal who also made inroads into early television with such shows as Detective’s Wife and Boss Lady; her films include The Falcon Takes Over, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Nocturne and The Amazing Mr. X

Bill Zuckert (1915-1997) – Ubiquitous stage, screen and television character actor whose vehicles include Ada, Shock Corridor, Hang ‘em High, The Trouble with Girls, How to Frame a Figg and Born Again

Betty Grable (1916-1973) – Leggy stage, screen and television actress/pinup gal whose vehicles include Tin Pan Alley, Moon Over Miami, I Wake Up Screaming, Springtime in the Rockies, Coney Island and The Dolly Sisters

Ossie Davis (1917-2005) – TDOY character actor-director fave whose vehicles include Gone are the Days!, The Hill, Do the Right Thing, Jungle Fever, Get On the Bus and Bubba Ho-Tep

Danny Simon (1918-2005) – Comedy writer brother of Neil who worked on such radio shows as Milton Berle’s and TV programs as Your Show of Shows and The Colgate Comedy Hour

J P Miller (1919-2001) – Emmy Award-winning television writer and playwright who wrote many productions during the Golden Age of Television but is best known for Days of Wine and Roses, which was adapted as a feature film in 1962

Ralph Levy (1919-2001) – Emmy Award-winning television and motion picture director-producer best known for his work with Jack Benny, Burns and Allen and Petticoat Junction; he also directed the pilot for I Love Lucy

Larry D. Mann (1922-     ) – Stage, screen and television character actor whose TV vehicles include Accidental Family and Hill Street Blues; he’s also known for his voice work including cartoons featuring the Blue Racer and Crazylegs Crane

Peggy Cummins (1925-     ) – Stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include The Late George Apley, Escape, Gun Crazy, Curse of the Demon and The Captain’s Table

Roger Smith (1932-     ) – Stage, screen and television actor once married to Ann-Margret but best known for his TV roles as Jeff Spencer on 77 Sunset Strip and the titular officer on the sitcom Mister Roberts

Rosemary Leach (1935-     ) – English stage, screen and television actress best known here at TDOY as Ronnie Corbett’s wife in such Britcoms as No, That’s Me Over Here!, Now Look Here and The Prince of Denmark; her other Britcoms include Life Begins at Forty and My Family

Roger E. Mosley (1938-     ) – Stage, screen and television actor best known as sidekick T.C. on the TV series Magnum, PI

Harvey Atkin (1942-     ) – Canadian stage, screen and character actor best known for his TV gigs as desk sergeant Ronald Coleman on Cagney & Lacey and judge Alan Ridenour on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

Alan Rudolph (1943-     ) – Motion picture director-writer whose oeuvre includes Welcome to L.A., Remember My Name, Choose Me, Trouble in Mind, The Moderns and Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle

Keith Richards (1943-     ) – If the Rolling Stones guitarist-songwriter looks this bad at 67, what do you think he’ll look like twenty years from now?

Steven Spielberg (1946-     ) – Academy Award-winning motion picture and television über director-writer-producer whose oeuvre includes Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, The Color Purple, Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan

Gregory W. Mank (1950-     ) – Author, film historian and horror movie expert

Leonard Maltin (1950-     ) – Author, film historian and critic whose books on animated cartoons, comedy shorts, old-time radio, etc. have been a major influence here at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear

Gillian Armstrong (1950-     ) – Australian motion picture director-writer-producer whose oeuvre includes My Brilliant Career, Starstruck, Mrs. Soffel, High Tide, The Last Days of Chez Nous and Little Women

Jeff Kober (1953-     ) – Stage, screen and television character actor best known as Sgt. Evan “Dodger” Winslow on TV’s China Beach

Ray Liotta (1954-     ) – Stage, screen and television actor whose vehicles include Something Wild, Field of Dreams, Goodfellas, Unlawful Entry, Turbulence and Cop Land

T.K. Carter (1956-     ) – Stage, screen and television actor who had regular gigs on such TV shows as Just Our Luck, Punky Brewster, Good Morning, Miss Bliss and The Sinbad Show

Brad Pitt (1963-     ) – Stage, screen and television actor whose vehicles include Thelma & Louise, Se7en, Twelve Monkeys, Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Inglourious Basterds

Katie Holmes (1978-     ) – Stage, screen and television actress best known as Joey Potter on TV’s Dawson Creek; currently suffering from Stockholm Syndrome as a result of her marriage to Tom Cruise since 2006

Christina Aguilera (1980-     ) – Skanky pop music vocalist

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1 comment:

Stacia said...

Is "Once Upon a Horse" better than "The Maltese Bippy"? This is a general question sent out to the universe at large.

I had no idea Mosley was born in 1938. Last time I saw him (which was admittedly almost a decade ago) he didn't look much older than he had in the 1980s. In fact, now that I think about it, he looked the same age from the 70s when he was on "The Rockford Files" all the way until that episode of "Arliss" I saw. He should get more work, because he is awesome.