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Archive for the ‘author John Greco’ Category

by John Greco

I’m an only child, so sibling rivalry is not something I’ve experienced firsthand, but I have seen friends, relatives, all whom to different degrees have experienced, maybe still do, this kind of competition. In Everybody Loves Raymond, it’s up front in every episode. It obvious, Raymond is his mother’s Marie, favorite. She not shy about expressing this even when older brother Robert stands nearby looking on with his hound dog face. “It’s all about Raymond…” he says more than once over the shows nine-year run.

Speaking about Marie, there are many adult children who like to live near their parents. There are others who rather be far, far away. Some want to have it both ways, be near their parents, and yet keep them at a safe distance. I think that is where Ray Barone fits. Raymond is needy, he needs his mother’s attention, her reassurance, but he doesn’t want her bursting in the front door unannounced, along with the rest of the family. Despite Marie’s smothering and controlling nature. He, and Robert, like many kids, cannot go against Mom. When there is a conflict between Marie and Ray’s wife Debra, Ray cannot help but side with his mother though he knows he should be on Debra’s side, not only because she’s usually right, but for the sake of peace in the house. Debra’s wrath can be devastating. (more…)

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by John Greco

My parents and I moved to Bensonhurst when I was three days shy of my eleventh birthday. Like the Kramden’s we were a blue collar family and lived in an old apartment house. However, it was in better shape than Ralph and Alice’s two room apartment. For one thing, we had three and a half rooms! We also had a refrigerator instead of an icebox, a better sink and stove, and my Mom eventually got her first clothes washer! Alice, on the other hand, in the first of the classic 39 episodes, complains to Ralph that they have been living in their dingy place for 14 years, and their electric bill was still an embarrassing thirty-nine cents! Cheap even for the mid-1950’s.

Ralph Kramden and company made their first appearance on the now long defunct Dumont Network. The show was called The Cavalcade of Stars, and premiered in 1949. Jackie Gleason made his first appearance as host of the variety show in 1950. A four week stint turned into a steady gig. Among the shows guests were Paul Winchell, Joey Bishop, Morey Amsterdam, Connie Boswell (of The Boswell Sisters), Liberace, Ella Fitzgerald and Billy Daniels. The show also included sketch comedy, one of which was The Honeymooners with Gleason as the blue collar bus driver. Art Carney was picked up to play Ed Norton, Ralph’s best friend and neighbor. Jane Randolph was hired as Norton’s wife, Trixie, and Pert Kelton was Ralph’s wife, Alice. The sketches ranged from ten to twenty minutes long, sandwiched in with the show’s other entertainment.

In 1952, Gleason left the ailing Dumont Network and skipped off to CBS with the premiere of The Jackie Gleason Show. Regulars included the June Taylor Dancers, Sammy Spear and his Orchestra, and Frank Fontaine as Crazy Guggenheim. The show consisted of sketch comedies with Gleason portraying a variety of characters including Reginald Van Gleason, The Poor Soul, Joe the Bartender and, of course, Ralph Krandem in The Honeymooners. At CBS, Audrey Meadows replaced Pert Kelton as Alice. The backstory has it that Meadows auditioned for the Alice role during the original Dumont days, but Gleason felt she was too attractive for the role of a frumpy housewife, and went with the more stout hardcore Kelton. By the time Gleason moved to CBS, Kelton became mixed up in the McCarthy witch hunts. Meadows meanwhile dressed herself down wearing no makeup, dowdy clothes, convincing Gleason she would make a good Alice. Though Meadows’ Alice was a softer version, she gave back to Ralph with some of the show’s best zingers. The earlier Pert Kelton/Alice episodes are only available as kinescopes if at all. The sketches from Gleason’s CBS variety show have been complied on DVD and are available as The Honeymooners Lost Episodes. (more…)

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by John Greco

Your Show of Shows premiered on Saturday, February 25th 1950. It was a live 90 minute variety show consisting, for most seasons, of 39 episodes. It was the equivalent of putting on a new Broadway show every week. The show starred Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca with Carl Reiner and Howard Morris as regulars. James Starbuck would join the cast in 1951.    Among the show’s writers, were Mel Brooks, Neil and Danny Simon, Mel Tolkin and Lucille Kallen. One of the misconceptions is that Larry Gelbart and Woody Allen wrote for Your Show of Shows. Gelbart actually wrote for Caesar’s Hour and Woody Allen worked on a few episodes of The Sid Caesar Show.

The man behind the idea was Viennese born Max Liebman who for years before the show’s premiere was in many ways priming himself for his big moment. In the 1930’s Liebman worked at the Tamiment Resort in the famed Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. He worked as a social director and on Saturday night, he along with the aid of plenty of talented performers, and backstage folks, put together original shows every week. He wrote, directed, produced, worked on scenery, costumes and more. Liebman said, “I was doing what you might call television without the cameras.” For four years Liebman did the writing for all the Tamiment shows. In 1938, Sylvia Fine[1] joined his staff.  It was through Fine, Liebman would meet a young Danny Kaye who would join his group.  Around this same time, a young comedic spirit by the name of Imogene Coca also joined the Tamiment gang. With the show consistently receiving excellent reviews, the best skits and music were compiled and taken to Broadway under the title The Straw Hat Revue.

Liebman would leave Tamiment and join Fine working on routines for Danny Kaye, whom Fine soon married. He would join Kaye as one of his writers in Hollywood for various MGM films. During the war years Liebman had the opportunity to work on putting on a revue called Tars and Spars for the Coast Guard. The revue was a recruiting tool, and had Victor Mature as the show’s big attraction. However, more importantly, a member of the group was a guy named Sid Caesar. It was the first time they would work together. A few years later, after the war, Liebman would work with Caesar again on his act when he opened at the Copacabana. (more…)

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by John Greco

The Odd Couple was one of those shows that was never a huge hit during its original TV run. For five-seasons it ran on ABC and not once did it crack the Top 20 in the Neilson ratings. However, once the show was cancelled and put in syndication, it became a favorite, still running today on various cable stations and streaming services. The shows two stars made more money once the show went into syndication than they did during the original run.

The show was based on Neil Simon’s hit Broadway play [1] that opened in March of 1965 and ran for more than two years. Walter Matthau played Oscar Madison, the sloppy, gambling sports-writer for The New York Herald with Art Carney as the finicky television news writer, Felix Unger. [2]  The play won numerous Tony Awards including Best Play, Best Actor for Matthau, and Best Director (Mike Nichols). In 1968, the play was turned into a film with Matthau recreating his role as Oscar and Jack Lemmon brought in to play persnickety Felix.  The film opened at Radio City Music Hall, and like the play was a financial and audience hit.

In 1970, ABC with Garry Marshall behind the scenes brought the show to television. Jack Klugman who earlier replaced Walter Matthau on Broadway was brought in to play Oscar. A perfect Tony Randall was brought in to play Felix.  Randall, like Klugman, was familiar with the original material having played Felix, opposite Mickey Rooney as Oscar, in various productions. Rooney apparently was considered for the role of Oscar before the producers settled on Klugman. The Odd Couple was Marshall’s first of many development deals that would result in future hit shows like Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley and Mork and Mindy. The transfer from Broadway to film to television did result in a few changes to the characters. One of the most notable is Felix who in the play and film is contemplating suicide. Randall’s TV Felix though depressed never goes that far.  (more…)

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invasion-of-the-body-snatchers-15

by John Greco

An allegory on the infiltration of communism in America? A metaphor for people turning a blind eye to the McCarthyism hysteria that was sweeping the country in the early 1950’s? An attack on the potential dangers of conformity and the stamping out of individuality? Don Siegel’s 1956 gem of a film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, has been said to really be about any and all of these themes since its debut now more than fifty years ago. Siegel, who should know, never mentions any of this kind of subtext in his autobiography, A Siegel Film, so one can assume, all the “readinginto this classic science fiction film that has been done is just that, critics and filmgoers reading their own thoughts and ideas into a work of pop art…and there is nothing wrong with that! After all, isn’t personal interpretation one of the elements and joys of good art? Admirer, analyze, come up with theories, themes beyond what even the artist conceived.

The film is based on a serialized novel, written by Jack Finny, published in 1954 in Collier’s Magazine called, The Body Snatchers. It was produced by Walter Wanger (notoriously known for shooting  talent agent, later a producer, Jennings Lang. Wanger believed Lang was having an affair with his then wife, actress Joan Bennett) and directed by low budget action director Don Siegel. Siegel already had ten feature films under his belt including The Big Steal, Duel at Silver Creek, Private Hell 36 and Riot in Cell Block 11. Allied Artist agreed to back the film and screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring was on board to adapt Finney’s superb novel. (more…)

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the-day-the-earth-stood-still

by John Greco

If we don’t stop killing each other we will be exterminated. That’s the message given by one of the greatest science fiction films ever made. World War II ended with the dropping of a couple of devastating nuclear bombs over two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing more than 129,000 people. Over the next few months, more than another 120,000 people would die due to burns, radiation poisoning and other after effects of the bomb. The bombing ended the war at a high cost. And while it ended the war, it was just the beginning of a new era in warfare. Ever since, along with Russia’s own testing of a nuclear bomb in 1949, the fear of nuclear war has hung over us like a massive mushroom cloud. In the world of science fiction, films like The Incredible Shrinking Man, Godzilla and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms to name a few, have used these fears to demonstrate what our future may be. In 1951, came an early entry in the field. It remains to this day one of the best. Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still warns us that if we don’t stop killing each other, we may not have a future. It won’t be just giant genetically modified monsters we’ll have to worry about.

Of course, mass killing of humans by humans is nothing new. It goes as far back as to the Old Testament. However, modern man seems to have developed a knack for killing off so-called undesirables: The Armenians early in the 20th century, The Holocaust, The Killing Fields of Cambodia just to name a few. The list really does go on right up until today in Syria.

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seconds3

by John Greco

The biggest problem John Frankenheimer’s 1966 movie Seconds had at the time of its original release was having Rock Hudson in the lead role. Hudson was still a huge star (he was one of the top 10 most popular stars from 1957 to 1964), however, his fans were not interested in seeing him in such a dark science fiction/psychological film, and filmgoers for this type of film were not going to see a “Rock Hudson movie.” The results? Seconds died a quick death at the box office. In retrospect, while Hudson was no Robert De Niro he does gives one of the best performances of his career in a film unlike anything he ever did before or after. Frankenheimer had been on a roll since the beginning of the 1960’s. In the previous five years, he made The Young Savages, All Fall Down, Birdman of Alcatraz, The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May and The Train followed by Seconds, though he would soon embark on a more erratic course from which he would not recuperate from until the 1990’s with a series of excellent TV movies.

Man is never satisfied with who he is or what he has in his life. What if your family life had lost its purpose? Your job had lost all meaning, and your entire life was one big disappointment? What if you were given the chance to change your life, erase it all and start all over again?  What if you could live the life you have only dreamed about?  For Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) this chance happens when he meets an old friend, presumed to have died year’s earlier, who arranges a meeting that puts Arthur in contact with a secret group only known as “The Company.” The Company offers wealthy bored individuals a chance at a completely new and revitalized life. They will fake Arthur’s death, provide extreme plastic surgery and give him a completely new identity. In Arthur’s case, as an artist known as Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson).  (more…)

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