CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: David Niven’s Later Years

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.   Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

Last week, we looked at early life and performances of the talented David Niven…today, a look at the second half of his career.

After having nearly a perfect run of film roles as a leading man for two years, David Niven left Hollywood to serve in the British Army fighting for the Allies in World War II .

Unlike many “A list” actors, Niven didn’t struggle to find quality leading roles in pictures immediately upon his return.

One of his first films was the traditional holiday classic, The Bishop’s Wife.  Initially he was cast as Dudley, the angel, but co-star Cary Grant decided he would be better suited to play that role…Niven obliged and was given the role of “The Bishop.”

He also found success by performing in radio productions throughout the decade, appearing in both dramatic and comedic roles on the nation’s top rated shows like the Lux Radio Theatre, Kraft Music Hall and the Screen Guild Players.

David closed out the 1940s by starring in other, more mediocre films like Magnificent Doll with Ginger Rogers, The Other Love, co-starring Barbara Stanwyck, and The Perfect Marriage with Loretta Young. Niven appeared in several other films that failed miserably at the box office and, in low spirits, left Hollywood to return to England.

It would be almost a decade before Niven had consistent success again in America, with hits like 55 Days at Peking (with Charlton Heston), Please Don’t Eat The Daisies (with Doris Day), The Pink Panther (starring Peter Sellers) and his Academy Award-winning performance in Separate Tables (he was hosting the Oscar’s ceremony that year and remains the only person ever to win a “Best Actor” award the same year he hosted the show).

James Bond novelist Ian Fleming had Niven in mind when he penned his novels and wanted him to star as the titular character when 007 was about to make his big screen debut, but Niven declined the role.  Ironically, Niven would play Bond in the 1967 parody of the Bond film series, entitled Casino Royale.

David would continue in starring and supporting roles through the 1970s and into the early 1980s–his last major part was in Better Late Than Never with Art Carney and Maggie Smith (Nevin’s role was offered to fellow movie icon William Holden, who refused the role due to a salary issue).

While contemplating retirement, Niven was persuaded to recreate his sinister character, Sir Charles Lytton, in the controversial Trail Of The Pink Panther and its sequel, Curse of the Pink Panther. Both films were shot concurrently under the watchful eye of original “Panther” director Blake Edwards.

The British actor came back to be part of these films that were supposedly made as a tribute to Peter Sellers, who had passed away in 1980. “Trail” used clips of Sellers from earlier movies and scenes that had previously ended up deleted from earlier films.  The Sellers’ estate would later take exception to the use of the late actor in the film and sued (and won its case against) United Artists for using Sellers’ likeness without permission.

Unbeknownst to Edwards, Niven was suffering from ALS.  It became evident early in the production that Niven was in poor health as they could barely hear the actor say his lines.  When the dailies revealed that all of Niven’s audio was completely unusable, legendary impressionist Rich Little was brought in to overdub all of David’s lines while they were still shooting the films.

Niven did not know this was taking place and only learned that his lines were overdubbed when he read a report in a newspaper after production had wrapped.  He vowed never to work with a movie production company again.

After refusing medical attention, Niven passed away on July 29, 1983. He was 73.

Be on the lookout for classic films featuring David Niven on RCN-TV.  To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

 

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Cary Grant’s Later Years

 For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

In celebration of the birthday anniversary of Cary Grant we continue last week’s examination of the legendary actor’s career.

Following his own personal dissatisfaction with The Philadelphia Story, Grant appeared in the first of four movies under the direction of Alfred Hitchcock in 1941’s Suspicion.  Like the former flick, Grant did not get along well with his co-star Joan Fontaine and would never work with her again.  Hitchcock was also critical of Grant, citing it was a mistake to cast him in the role.  Ironically enough, Hitchcock would later criticize James Stewart with the same offense 17 years later and referred to Stewart as “no Cary Grant.”

That same year, Grant received his first Oscar nomination for Penny Serenade.

According to Turner Classic Movies, Grant also benefited largely from the film industry’s production code for the 1944 dark comedy Arsenic And Old LaceThe movie was based largely on the stage play but the film code would not allow for certain scenes to be shown.  In its place, Director Frank Capra would substitute loosely scripted exchanges where Grant would just have to go “over the top” and playup a made-shift scene instead.  

The biggest example of this is at the film’s climax.  The film code (in the 1940s) would never allows for murderers to get away without punishment in a comedic film, so the scene in which the “old ladies” are given poisonous wine to the police was replaced with Grant kissing his finance, running around the house exuberantly and running out into the street yelling “Charge!” (a humorous reference to a recurring joke throughout the film).

According to the Graham McCann autobiography Cary Grant: A Class Apart, Grant would later say “Arsenic” was the worst performance of his career and he hated the dark subject matter (his character’s family was all insane).  This might be because his real life mother was also institutionalized early in Grant’s childhood.  His father also left him on his own as a teenager when he found a higher paying job in another city.

Two of Grant’s most memorable roles occurred in 1946’s Notorious (co-starring Ingrid Bergman and directed by Hitchcock) and 1947’s The Bishop’s Wife (with Loretta Young and David Niven).  The following year Grant was named the fourth highest box office draw in the world, but his failure in films like Monkey Business and Dream Wife led to the idea that his days as a leading man were over. Cary then left the film industry and didn’t work at all for several years.

His fortunes changed in 1955 when Alfred Hitchcock complained about Stewart’s performance (for the first of two times) in the rebooting of his own film, The Man Who Knew Too Much.  Grant would star in two Hitchcock-directed film classics, playing his usual suave, leading man persona, in To Catch A Thief and North by Northwest.

Ian Fleming then approached Cary Grant about playing James Bond in 007’s film debut, Dr. No, ironically after Grant’s former co-star, David Niven turned down the role. But Fleming had to withdraw his offer when Grant said he would only portray the super spy in one film and would not commit to a lengthy film series.

After starring in Charade and Father Goose, he had become increasingly disillusioned with cinema in the 1960s, rarely finding a script which he approved of. He remarked: “I could have gone on acting and playing a grandfather or a bum, but I discovered more important things in life” and dedicated his time to his daughter and grandchildren.  According to Gary Morecambe and Martin Sterling’s book, Cary Grant: In Name Only, they would go on to say that Grant knew after he had made Charade that the “Golden Age” of Hollywood was over.

Twenty-three years later, just hours before he was scheduled to appear on stage talking about his life, he suffered a stroke.  Despite medical personnel on the site, Grant refused any treatment and died a few hours later.  He was 82.

Grant is regarded as one of the greatest Hollywood actors ever. To this day, he frequently is positioned in the top two or three spots in various film critics and media outlets “all-time” greatest actors’ listings.

Be sure to check out some of Cary Grant’s legendary performances in Charade, His Girl Friday, and other classic films on RCN-TV.  To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Cary Grant’s Early Years

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.   Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

As we approach the birthday anniversary of one of cinema’s classic actors, we salute the talented career of Cary Grant.

Cary Grant was born Archibald Alec Leach, on January 18, 1904 in Bristol, England.

Unlike other actors who sometimes toiled in other occupations or had other interests before pursuing roles in the entertainment industry, Grant knew at an early age that he was destined for acting.  In the Graham McCann autobiography, Cary Grant: A Class Apart, Grant’s mother would teach him song-and-dance numbers at the age of four and he would frequently go to the theatre to see many great performers, including a very young Charlie Chaplin.

Grant would be befriended by the Pender theatrical performers in England who trained him to be a stilt walker and later asked him to join their touring production.  He was seen on Broadway performing with them in America as early as nine years old.  Back in England he continued to work as a lighting technician behind the stage. He seemingly forced his school to expel him at the age of 14 by constantly breaking school rules (he’d frequently be found in the girls’ lavatory).  Three days after his expulsion, Grant rejoined the Pender touring group.  

According to Cary Grant: A Celebration by Richard Schickel, Grant boarded the same ship that Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford were taking for their honeymoon. Grant played shuffleboard with Fairbanks and used him as a role model going forward.  After arriving in New York City from that trip he performed (at the age of 16) at what was then the largest theater in the world, the New York Hippodrome.

He performed on the stage and in pictures throughout the 1920s and early 1930s.  In 1927 he signed a film contract with Paramount Pictures, which demanded Archibald begin using a stage name–both parties mutually agreed on “Cary Grant.”  One of his big early films, She Done Him Wrong, (starring Mae West), reportedly saved Paramount from bankruptcy and gave Grant a significant pay increase.

While 1935’s Sylvia Scarlett was a box office bomb, it was an important film for Grant in that it was his first leading role and a performance which earned him rave reviews.  It also formed a successful partnership with Katherine Hepburn–a pairing the two would repeat several times over the next decade.

When his next film, Wedding Present, turned out to be a major success, Grant did not renew his Paramount contract and became the first “freelance” movie actor in Hollywood.  It was unheard of in this time period for a major actor to not “belong” to a specific film production company.  Grant changed his mind over the next 18 months as several of his movies were not successful and he signed a contract with Columbia Pictures in 1937.

While his films for the next two years had largely mixed reviews, Grant’s performances seemed to be always praised by critics and movie goers alike.  Grant reunited with Heburn for what would be, by far, the pair’s most successful movie (critically and financially) — the Academy Award winning, The Philadelphia Story.

When up-and-coming actor Jimmy Stewart stole the spotlight from Hepburn and Grant in the film and won an Oscar for his performance, it formed a rift between the three actors.  Grant never wanted to work with either performer again.

Grant would not be disappointed for very long as one of his next job offers came from a then, still somewhat obscure (to American audiences anyway) British director by the name of Alfred Hitchcock…we’ll examine those and other experiences next week here at The Showplace.

In the meantime, you can see Grant in one of his early classics, His Girl Friday, this Sunday at 4:00 p.m. on RCN-TV.  To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: The “Funny Side” of Leslie Nielsen

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.  Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

This week, we continue our look at the life and career of Leslie Nielsen. Prior to 1980 and for the previous 30 years, Nielsen was largely typecast as a serious dramatic actor.  When Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker came up with their idea for the movie, Airplane!, they wanted to create a grand spoof of the Airport film serials and the other “tragedy films” that were popular in 1970s theaters. To do so, they wanted to find dramatic actors and non-traditional comedic personalities that you would never think of to star in a comedy film.

Their idea worked to perfection…but even the producers were surprised how well things worked.

By casting the “dramatic” acting of Nielsen in a role keying upon delivery of dead-pan comedic lines (some of the funniest in film history), the producers were astonished at how well the “serious” Nielsen dished out his comedic lines flawlessly.  The film — and Nielsen & #39’s delivery — was not a fluke.  Leslie would go on to have overwhelming success as a comedic actor for the next 30 years.

Due to the success of the movie, Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker were given the green light to create their own situation comedy and, no surprise, penned it with Leslie in mind as the main character.

Even though this series only lasted six episodes, the Police Squad series, which was reportedly cancelled by ABC because they “didn’t get the humor,” would go on to become one of the best comedy series of the early 1990s.

The man known in the industry for his dramatic performances was now one of the most sought-after comedy actors on the planet.

In addition to the Naked Gun/Files of Police Squad movies, Nielsen would star in successful spoofs like Spy Hard (picking apart films like the Die Hard, the James Bond film series and others) as well as ripping on classic horror films in Mel Brooks’ Dracula: Dead and Loving It.  He also became the logical choice when Walt Disney decided to make a live-action version of the popular cartoon character, Mr. Magoo.

Even as he began to slow down as an actor at the age of 81, Nielsen would frequently steal scenes in his appearances as The President in the Scary Movie film series, as “Uncle Ben” in Superhero Movie and even in his last role as a cross-dressing bar owner in the horror-film spoof, Stan Helsing, starring Diora Baird and Keenan Thompson.

Leslie’s career spanned 60 years, appearing in more than 100 films and 150 television programs and portraying more than 220 characters Nielsen died in his sleep after complications from pneumonia in 2010. He was 84.
You can see many of Nielsen’s acting performances in films like Project: Kill as well as guest starring appearances on Bonanza and other classic television programs on RCN TV.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: The “Serious” Side of Leslie Nielsen

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

Over 40 years ago this month, arguably the greatest comedy in cinematic history, Airplane!, premiered in America.  To pay tribute, we take a look at one of the film’s most memorable characters. 

Ask someone to give you their favorite Leslie Nielsen acting role, and you’re likely to get at least a half dozen completely different answers, such as:

  • Commander John J. Adams in the ahead-of-its time sci-fi classic, Forbidden Planet 
  • The tragic captain overruled into sailing into a monsoon in the 1972 epic blockbuster, The Poseidon Adventure 
  • His career-changing role as the straight-laced but hilarious Dr. Rumack in the classic drama-films’ spoof, Airplane!

(“Surely you don’t mean that…Yes, I do — and don’t call me Shirley!”) 

  • The bumbling detective Lt. Frank Dreblin on TV’s Police Squad and the wildly successful Naked Gun film series
  • TV guest appearances ranging from his “good sheriff turned gun-wielding serial killer” performance on Bonanza to his unique, musical singing role on The Love Boat 

…and many, many more!

Born Leslie William Nielsen on February 11, 1926 in Saskatchewan, Canada, he was a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force before becoming a disc jockey and studying acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre in New York City.  Leslie was turned on to the acting bug by his famous half-uncle, Jean Hersholt, and his turn as the titular character, Dr. Christian, in the popular film, radio and television series in the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s.

In his Boston Globe obituary it claimed that Nielsen was very shy as a teenager and desperately wanted to talk to and learn from his famous relative but Hersholt died before the two could actually meet.

In his Chicago Sun-Tribune obituary it was reported that his father was an abusive man who beat his wife and sons, and Leslie longed to escape. When he graduated from high school at 17, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, though he was legally deaf and actually wore hearing aids for most of his life.

Despite a great amount of self-admitted insecurities, Neilsen’s acting career kicked into high gear in 1950, performing in 46 live-action television productions within the year.

In 1956 he appeared in the film, The Vagabond King, helmed by White Christmas director Michael Curtiz, whom Nielsen would later refer to as “a charming sadist.”  While that movie was not viewed as a success (Nielsen would later nickname this film, “The Vagabond Turkey”) he himself drew praise for his performance and was signed to a long-term contract with MGM.

Over the next 24 years, Leslie would thrive in Hollywood as a dramatic actor.

With the exception of a rather bizarre, mostly musical edition of The Love Boat, in which he had to hang on and belt out tunes alongside singing giants like Cab Calloway, Ethel Merman, Della Reese and others, Nielsen was known throughout the entertainment industry as someone who could only do serious roles.

But that was all about to change forever.

You can see one of Neilsen’s dramatic roles in the 1976 action film, Project: Kill on RCN-TV.  To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN-TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website. We’ll have more on Nielsen’s career-altering role and subsequent successes, next week here at the Showplace.

 

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Dan Blocker

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation. 

 Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances. 

 One of the most popular characters on 1960s’ television was the loveable, good-natured Eric “Hoss” Cartwright on the long-running western, Bonanza, played by the equally jovial, larger-than-life personality, Dan Blocker. 

Bobby Dan Davis Blocker was born in DeKalb, Texas, on December 10, 1928.  After attending a Texas Military school, he was a standout in college football for four years before being drafted into the United States Army to fight in the Korean War. He received the Purple Heart for wounds suffered in battle.

Between 1953-1958, Blocker taught high school English and drama, in addition to teaching at middle and elementary schools.  During the latter year, he received a small part in a Three Stooges’ movie, where he was billed as “Don” Blocker.  He and his wife then moved to California for Dan to try his hand at acting.

Over the next few years Blocker earned several guest appearances on television (including playing the blacksmith on Gunsmoke — the show that would spark a string of successful western-themed TV shows, including Bonanza).

He also appeared in several film projects, including two movies co-starring Frank Sinatra:  Come Blow Your Horn and The Lady in Cement.

Stanley Kubrick attempted to cast Blocker in his film, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.  Peter Sellers elected not to add the role of Major T.J. “King” Kong to his multiple other roles, but according to the film’s co-writer, Terry Southern, Blocker’s agent rejected the script. The role went to Slim Pickens, who played the iconic scene of riding an atomic bomb down while waving his cowboy hat.

However, the role that would make Dan a household name was that of “Hoss” … a character he portrayed for 13 seasons.  He even helped launch a string of restaurants called the Bonanza (not to be confused with the Ponderosa chain) and frequently appeared in character as “Hoss” for publicity events.

Blocker was selected for several guest-starring appearances on NBC’s popular The Flip Wilson Show comedy hour and the Jack Benny hour-long TV specials in the later 1960s.  However, most of Blocker’s acting in the 1960s and early 1970s was primarily spent on The Ponderosa.

According to Bear Family Records, Blocker portrayed his character based on the following line:

“We shall pass this way on Earth but once, if there is any kindness we can show, or good act we can do, let us do it now, for we will never pass this way again.”

By many accounts, the actor and his on-screen personality had very similar views on life and towards other people.  Both the fictional “Hoss” and actor Dan Blocker were warm, gregarious and larger-than-life individuals and were admired by people inside and outside of Hollywood.

On May 13, 1972 before Bonanza’s 14th season premiere was scheduled to begin shooting, Blocker went in for gallbladder surgery but developed a blog clot during the procedure and died that same day.  He was 43.

Until Blocker’s death, an unwritten rule in television was never to acknowledge a character’s “death” on screen.  However, after starting the fall 1972 season with no mention of Hoss’ non-appearance on the show, and facing mounting pressure from fans to acknowledge his passing, the writers and producers knew they had to break rank.  On a November episode the cast “announced” Hoss’ death–although the reason for his character’s passing was not mentioned during the program’s original run.

The loss of Blocker to the show marked the beginning of the end of Bonanza.  Without Hoss’ good-natured personality to balance the show, the ratings fell hard that final year, and most fans of the show will clearly state that the Ponderosa was never the same.  Even subsequent incarnations of the show seemed to fail miserably when compared to the first 13 seasons with Blocker in the saddle for this iconic western program.

Dan’s legacy lives on in his sons.  David is a successful Emmy Award-winning film producer and Dirk Blocker has appeared in a number of films and most recently as a regular on the wildly popular NBC comedy, Brooklyn 99.

Tune in or set your DVRs to see Dan Blocker’s legendary turn as “Hoss” on Bonanza every Sunday morning at 9am on RCN-TV.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

 

 

 

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: My Favorite Brunette

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

My Favorite Brunette is regarded as one of the top cinematic performances in the incredibly lengthy career of Bob Hope. But this 1947 film had a lot more going for it than just it’s leading man, who by this time had already become one of the biggest names in show business.

“Brunette” was actually the second of three “My Favorite…” movies that was produced by Paramount Pictures. Five years prior, Hope starred in My Favorite Blonde, which also featured Madalyn Carroll. Four years later, Hope returned for My Favorite Spy, co-starring Hedy Lamarr.

Aside from the title, the main star and a somewhat similar “misdirection/wrong identity” formula, the three movies had very little in common. “Brunette” was by far the most financially successful of the three films and was the only one of the three that was universally praised by critics and fans alike.

While the first film came at the peak of the film noir era and incorporated many elements from that time frame, “Brunette” was more of a classic romantic comedy. If anything, the second film poked fun at the noir-style, as that brand of filmmaking had, by that time, become passe. Clearly, the second film had jokes that were much funnier and fresher than its predecessor, which is no surprise when you look at the two writers who penned this screenplay.

Writer Jack Rose was coming off a successful turn in writing another Hope vehicle, The Road To Bali, which is also regarded by many as the best of that film series. Rose had success writing jokes for Hope and Milton Berle for each one’s radio shows. Rose would go on and be nominated for three Academy Awards for his writing and also scripted all of the episodes in the 1960s comedy, The Good Guys.

The other writer of this film was Edmund Beloin. Beloin had established himself as one of Hollywood’s best comedic scribes by co-writing all of the scripts for The Jack Benny Program when the program first became the number one rated show in the country in 1936.

He too had success in films in the latter 1930s and throughout the 1940s, also working with Rose on the “Bali” film. Beloin would go on to write for classic television shows like The Lucy Show, My Three Sons, and Mayberry RFD.

Speaking of “The Road To…” movies, “Brunette” also benefited from having Hope’s cohort in those films, Doroth Lamour, as a co-star in this flick. The chemistry between Hope and Lamour clearly works better than it does in the other “My Favorite” entries and makes this particular film’s pace much quicker, more familiar and thoroughly more entertaining.

One last benefit of this film is the supporting cast. Peter Lorre and Alan Ladd both lent solid contributions in advancing the movie’s plot while, at the same time, played against type. Both actors are used in the comedic take of poking fun at the noir style.

Fellow established movie veteran Lon Chaney Jr. was also featured prominently, playing Willie, which was based on his character in the film classic Of Mice And Men.

Last but not least was the cameo of Bing Crosby. Throughout the 1940s and early 1950s, it became almost expected that a film featuring any one of Hope, Crosby or Lamour, would have at least one of the others popping up for a brief, uncredited role in the film.

Tune in for My Favorite Brunette, this Monday at 2:30pm on RCN-TV. To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN-TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on ATVN, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

 

Phantom of the Opera (1925)

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.   Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

While there have been many versions of The Phantom of the Opera, the 1925 version of this classic story remains one of the best.

That being said, it’s safe to say that the production of this great silent film did not go very smoothly.

Produced and released almost two years before the first talking movie, The Jazz Singer, was released, this “Phantom” story stars Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin, Norman Kelly, John St. Poli, Arthur Edmund Carewe and Gibson Gowland.  The film is an adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel “Le Fantome De l’Opera.”

Chaney was highly sought after for the role, following his success in the lead role of 1923’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

In addition to being arguably Lon Chaney’s greatest role, he was incredibly involved in many aspects of the film’s production.  At times, he directed scenes in place of official director Rupert Julian.  Chaney also created and invented many of the “make-up tricks” that he incorporated into his role as the deformed anti-hero, self-imprisoned in the French Opera House.

According to legend, Carl Laemmle, the president of Universal Pictures, took a vacation to Paris in 1922. During his vacation Laemmle met the author Gaston Leroux, who was working in the French film industry. Laemmle mentioned to Leroux that he admired the Paris Opera House. Leroux gave Laemmle a copy of his 1910 novel The Phantom of the Opera. Laemmle read the book in one night.  He later bought the film rights and soon became the film’s producer.

The original premise (and screenplay) stayed extremely close to the original source but subsequent script revisions strayed wildly after the initial first draft.

Production began in mid-October, 1924 and instantly found problems. According to director of photography Charles Van Enger in the 1970 book “American Cinematographer,” Chaney and the rest of the cast and crew had strained relations with their director, Rupert Jullian. Eventually the lead star and director stopped talking, so Van Enger served as a go-between. He would report Julian’s directions to Chaney, who responded “Tell him to go to hell.” As Van Enger remembered, “Lon did whatever he wanted.”

Despite having a great reputation with Universal, Jullian’s directorial mediocrity was obvious to the crew. For example:  according to Van Enger, Julian had wanted the screen to go black after the chandelier fell on the Opera audience. Van Enger ignored him and lit the set with a soft glow, so the aftermath of the fall would be visible to the film audience.

Furthermore, the ending to the movie was rewritten completely — at least four times.

The initial rough cut of the film came in over four hours long…completely unheard of for motion pictures in the 1920s.  Over two-and-a-half hours of the original prints ended up on the cutting room floor.

The initial screening of the film was so negative, that the premiere date was delayed (several times in fact) and the movie was constantly in a state of reshooting, rewriting and re-editing for months.

When the film was finally released, reviews were still mixed.  However, as time has marched on, the more contemporary reviews cite fewer flaws and more polish than the initial critics.

TV Guide gave the film 4-out-of-5 stars, calling it, “one of the most famous horror movies of all time. The Phantom of the Opera still manages to frighten (audiences) after more than 60 years.”  On Rotten Tomatoes, The Phantom of the Opera holds an approval rating of 90% following its most recent review in October 2020.

Film historians also have praised this version of the film, citing many innovative techniques, from Chaney’s own make-up skills to unique examples of camera positioning and lighting strategies throughout the film.  The fact that this picture had to overcome so many challenges to reach its initial release (and even then, has had to withstand reworkings several times thereafter) have only added to the picture’s lore.

(One more interesting note:  the last surviving cast member was Carla Laemmle, niece of producer Carl, who played a small role as a “prima ballerina.” She was 15 in the movie and passed on in 2014.)

Is it truly a classic masterpiece?  You can decide for yourself when you check out the original film version of The Phantom Of The Opera.  Tune in and set your DVRs for Friday, June 11th at 10pm on RCN TV.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

 

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: “The Milton Berle Show”

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

One of the new programs added to the RCN-TV lineup this year is a television show that excelled because of a comedian’s mediocrity on radio.  While Milton Berle was a popular entertainer, film star and comedian, he did not have the greatest success in radio in the 1930s and 40s. He was a hit as a guest, would get good reviews as a fill-in star, and had a two-year run as host on a panel show.  However, his physical brand of humor never could really resonate with audiences .. .until television came along.

Initially, The Texaco Star Theatre (the first name of his television program) targeted fellow comedian Jack Carter as the host — one of several the sponsor wanted to “try out” to lead their new 60-minute comedy show. However, Berle (comic contestant #2) was such a success when his “month” to host came, that they made Milton their permanent star.

The reason for his success?  Berle took all the physical comedy from his radio program, combined it with the pure slapstick from his vaudevillian days and mixed in some outrageous attire (Berle was frequently dressed in drag).

Berle dominated Tuesday night television for the next several years, reaching the number one slot in the Nielsen ratings. At his height he would also bring in as high as a 97% share of the viewing audience, meaning all but 3% of everyone whose TV was turned on, was watching Berle.

Here are a few other barometers that showed how popular his TV show was.

Movie theatres either closed or offered less showings on Tuesday nights because few people left home to see movies on the night Berle’s show aired. Restaurants and other businesses would also shut down for the hour or closed for the evening so their customers would not miss Berle’s antics.  According to his 1974 autobiography (co-written by Haskel Frankel), he notes that in Detroit, an investigation took place when the water levels took a drastic drop in the reservoirs on Tuesday nights between 9:00 pm and 9:05 pm.  It turned out that everyone waited until the end of the Texaco Star Theatre before going to the bathroom.

Wrap up your Memorial Day weekend with a mini-marathon of some of the best moments of Berle’s television show, starting this Monday at 9:00pm.  Make sure you tune in or set your DVRs to RCN TV.  And when you do, make sure to listen for a rather “unique” and quite loud laugh in the audience. It belongs to Milton’s mother, Sadie. She was often used as a “plant” by Berle to help ignite the audience to laugh at jokes Milton wasn’t sure about or to make sure the audience gave a wild reaction when he came out in some of his more bizarre costumes.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Gary Cooper’s Early Years

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

 For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.   Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

Gary Cooper is known for some of the most iconic shots and soliloquies in cinema history.  From his long stare across the town in the famous, wide, crane shot ahead of the climactic showdown in High Noon, to his tear-jerking speech as Lou Gehrig in Pride of the Yankees, you can’t examine Hollywood’s Golden Era without highlighting Cooper’s contributions to the industry.

Born Frank James Cooper on May 7, 1901 in Helena, Montana, Gary’s parents sent him overseas to gain an “English education.”  He returned to America before his 11th birthday and spent his teenage years living the life of a cowboy.

When he was 15, he was injured in a car accident.  According to Larry Swindell’s “The Last Hero: the Biography of Gary Cooper,” his doctor’s misguided recommendation included Cooper’s recuperation consisting of horseback riding.  This caused a permanent disability and left him with his characteristic stiff, off-balanced walk now so familiar to film followers.

While still attending high school he also enrolled in an art school where many of his drawings and watercolor paintings received acclaim and attention in the community.  While his credibility grew as an artist while enrolled in Iowa’s Grinnell College (he was named the school yearbook’s art editor), he ironically was turned down for a position in the school’s drama club.

Aside from selling editorial cartoons to a local newspaper, Cooper struggled to find work as an artist and, after two years, left to join Poverty Row, working silent film Westerns as an extra (for $5 a day) or as a stuntman (for $10/day).

Cooper’s first important film role was a supporting part in 1926’s The Winning of Barbara Worth starring Ronald Colman.  Cooper relied on his own persona for the role, and the film’s success, based largely on Cooper’s performance, helped garnish major attention.  MGM reportedly rushed to offer Cooper a long-term contract, but he held out for a better deal—finally signing a five-year contract with Paramount Pictures for $175 per week.

While Cooper had an unremarkable career in silent films, his first “synchronized sound” film, Lilac Times, proved to be one of the most successful pictures of 1928.

Cooper then starred in The Virginian a year later, directed by Victor Fleming (Wizard of Oz, Gone With The Wind) and helped to establish the standard Western codes and conventions that are still used to this day.

While other leading men struggled to adjust to “talkies,” Gary’s deep, clear and natural–yet understated–delivery endeared him to audiences worldwide.

Meanwhile, Paramount, anxious to cash in on Cooper’s popularity, began starring him in as many films as they could.

Just SOME of his films in 1931 alone include Fighting Caravans with French actress Lili Damita, the Dashiell Hammett crime film, City Streets, co-starring Sylvia Sidney and Paul Lukas, I Take This Woman with Carole Lombard, and His Woman with Claudette Colbert. The demands and pressures of making ten films in two years left Cooper exhausted and in poor health. He had lost thirty pounds during that period and left Hollywood for Italy, where he lived for the next year.

Rested and rejuvenated by his year-long exile, a healthy Cooper returned to Hollywood in April 1932 and negotiated a new contract with Paramount for two films per year, a salary of $4,000 a week, along with director and script approval.

Cooper would soon star in one of his most memorable roles in A Farewell to Arms, which would prove to be one of Gary’s most challenging performances.  The film also  ignited a long-standing relationship with the original story’s famous writer, Ernest Hemingway.  Plus, a series of iconic performances and film classics would soon follow–and several future Showplace blog entries about Coop, yet to come!

You can see Cooper star in 1932’s A Farewell to Arms this Tuesday, May 25, at 9am (also featuring Helen Hayes) on RCN-TV.  Also, keep checking back to the “Showplace” for more insights on this great actor in early Hollywood history.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.