Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Wednesday’s checklist

Monday, January the 14th, commemorated (among other birthdays) the natal anniversary of TDOY actor fave William Bendix—who, despite his lengthy film, TV and radio career playing Brooklyn natives, was actually born in New York City proper.  Bendix, a fine character actor who was capable of playing both comic (Who Done It?, Kill the Umpire) and menace (The Glass Key, The Dark Corner), would probably the first thespian to admit he was no Olivier—but he turned in some truly splendid performances on the silver screen, notably in the likes of Lifeboat, The Blue Dahlia and Detective Story.  (He even nabbed an Oscar nomination in 1942 for his supporting role in Wake Island, the one movie my father always remembers that Bill was in.)

But his best-known role was inarguably that of the lovably inept titular patriarch of The Life of Riley, a situation comedy that made its debut on the Blue Radio network on this date sixty-nine years ago.  Riley not only made the leap to television (in two different versions—the first starring a pre-Honeymooners Jackie Gleason as Riley because Bendix’s contract with Hal Roach wouldn’t allow him to do TV) but in a 1949 feature film that I quite honestly believe is one of the best examples of a radio-to-movie adaptation.  A lot of that credit must go to Riley’s creator, Irving Brecher (who will celebrate a birthday tomorrow), whose original choice for Chester A. was the one, the only, Groucho…but despite the positive reaction to the audition record, sponsors simply weren’t willing to buy the Marx brother as a responsible parent (even though he was one in real life).  I’ve written a little about The Life of Riley at my other gig at the Radio Spirits blog—which I invite you to peruse at your leisure.  I’m a big fan of the show, and have been fortunate to contribute liner notes to two of the company’s Riley CD sets, which is literally like being paid to attend a party.

One of the godfathers of silent film comedy, Richard M. Roberts, was nice enough to slip me a note during class to gently correct me that the host of The Silent Comedy Film Festival—the television program I mentioned in yesterday’s post on Harold Lloyd and Safety Last! (1923)—was not author/film critic Walter Kerr but the late Herb Graff, one of the great New York cinephiles and a silent comedy devotee.  (I am red-faced with embarrassment, though Richard did point out that Kerr guested on a few of the segments.)   Richard went on to say that the 1975 series was only sold to a few PBS stations so I was quite fortunate (indeed I was—it fueled my already burning passion for these great classics) to see the show; his Phoenix affiliate also carried the program and he became a Lloyd Hamilton fan from watching as well.  Many thanks to Richard for keeping me honest.

In the recent Coming Distractions post outlining the goodies to come on The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ in March, I mentioned that March 4 would commemorate the centennial birthday of John Garfield, and that the channel would be featuring some of the actor’s film showcases.  Patti at They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To is also planning a celebration for Julie—this upcoming March 1 through 4 she will host a John Garfield centennial blogathon, and she urges all Garfield fans to participate.  I told her that if no one had already called dibs on my favorite of Garfield’s films, Force of Evil, I’d only be too happy to tackle it…if not, I would go with We Were Strangers.  She cheerfully informed me that I could do both.  I’m going to go with Force of Evil and if time permits I’ll throw in Strangers as a bonus…and if I really have some copious free time I might throw in a few radio surprises involving one of my favorite film actors as well.  This is Patti’s first blogathon so it sure would be nice if you could participate…and if you can’t, a tasteful gift would be appropriate.

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