Thursday, November 28, 2013

Haunted by Streetcars in "Hell Bound"

It’s this haunting image of the discarded Los Angeles streetcars in the 1950s that is etched in my memory from the 1957 film noir “Hell Bound” with John Russell as the bad guy.  In the final scene he is being chased and hides in a streetcar in a junk yard which I assume is near the Harbor Freeway.
It’s a sad reminder of how greed trashed a environmentally friendly transportation system to enable freeways and smog.  That’s progress.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Shoe Dog Nightmare Haunts My Nights

A nightmare about selling women’s shoes awoke me this morning and I need to purge myself of the hoax I perpetuated in the ‘50s and 60s on gullible consumers.  I was a women’s shoe dog for entry level retailer Edison Brothers Stores (Leeds, Bakers and Chandlers) in Spokane, Seattle, and Oakland.
Teen girls were a challenge with one asking to see “boss” shoes and I assured her that the boss’ size 11s would not be to her liking.  Then I would get the prospect who plopped down in the chair and announced that she “was waiting for a party.”  (The last party were had here was a bust.)
I hated myself and loathed the customers.  I was fired from Chandlers in Seattle when I went home to Spokane for spring break during Easter, a prime sales time then for shoes.  Particularly scary were wedding parties buying fabric shoes to be dyed to a fabric sample the ladies supplied.  One always hoped the shoes would be a perfect match but you couldn’t rely on the artisan who did the dying and also doubled as the janitor.
At all these stores we were expected to sell “extras” like handbags and shoe polish which resulted in extra commission.  I was particularly dysfunctional in littering the store with scores of shoes and the poor customer couldn’t make a choice.  But then many customers viewed shoe shopping as a sport and had no intention of actually purchasing.
I graduated to a public relations job at Fisher Blend KOMO-TV (ABC) in 1962 so I kissed off shoe sales but returned to it in Oakland in 1964 when I was unemployed.  My last shoe gig was in 1980 for a day or two as a “floater” at Sears in St. Paul which was really easy.  

Now it’s all self-service at Kohl’s, DSW and Penneys.  Maybe Nordstorms actually has sales help.  Who cares.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Courthouse Makes Commanding Presence in Downtown Spencer

The historic Clay County Courthouse in downtown Spencer, Iowa, is a notable architectural achievement.  It grabbed my attention on a visit to Spencer on Tuesday and inside I found a 1930 exhibit on the Civil War “relics of the Grand Army of the Republic" presented by the Women’s Relief Corps.  The building was restored in 1981-82.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Fond Memories of Movies at Two Spirit Lakes

IOWA — The great thing about growing up in the 1940s is that you could go to super neat places like Spirit Lake, Iowa, (shown here) as Gary H. did and see a great movie at the downtown theater, which sadly is closed. 
Of course, our family had several lake choices in the Inland Empire including Spirit Lake, Idaho, with its funky movie house where I saw “It Happened on Fifth Avenue” with Victor Moore and Gale Storm.  I also cut my foot on a beer bottle in the lake and had stitches and a tetanus shot.
The Iowa Spirit Lake has a lot more history including a massacre and a famous tour boat, the Queen, which is remembered with a statue of the captain (shown here).  Also it is near the two Okobojee lakes and an amusement park with a wood track roller coaster.  It doesn’t get any better.

Although it was never part of my life, a kid couldn’t go wrong at Saltair on the Great Salt Lake in the early 1900s.

Movies on Recently Erected Drive In Screen

IOWA — The recently built Super 71 Drive in Theater near Spirit Lake is somewhat of a head scratcher.  Why when most drive ins have been demolished is anyone  building a new one?  Obviously this is creative capitalism, going against the grain.  I was glad I could actually verify with my owns eyes that the Superior 71 exists but is closed for the season.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Students Score Hit with Fiddler Musical

After receiving a standing ovation Saturday for their performance of “Fiddler on the Roof,” it will be difficult for the Edina High School students to return to planet earth on Monday with locker doors slamming and teachers’ dirty looks.  
Having seen a professional production of Fiddler in October, I had low expectations that were quickly dispelled by the take charge teen attitude.  Here’s a musical with definite baby boomer appeal and it has endured more than 40 years.
The very tricky ghost of Lazar Wolf’s wife in the dream sequence was flawless which is a miracle considering the actress was perched on a lift.  Other scene stealers were Zach Farhat as Tevye and Tori Adams as Hodel.
When I look back at the humble efforts of the Lewis and Clark High School actors in 1958 with “Lil’ Abner” I realize we have advanced with student productions given “Fiddler” which makes “Glee” almost believable.

There are sufficient reasons why the Twin Cities has the third highest theater attendance per capita in the country and I think it starts with the public schools here.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Crawford Swings the Axe in "Strait Jacket"

Academy Award winner Joan Crawford recycles a grotesque version of Sadie Thompson in the 1964 horror flick “Strait Jacket” and and the results are hilarious in a cheap flowered dress and fright wig.  
The scene that is borrowed from “Rain” is where a vampish Crawford turns up the music on the phonograph and makes vampish moves on her daughters young boyfriend.
Crawford’s late career script choices were quite bizarre and “Strait Jacket” and “Bizerk!” have similar plots which I won’t spoil.  “Strait Jacket” is a William Castle drive in movie exploitation vehicle and Crawford made another film for him at Universal-International.  

It was a tough time for golden era stars and Bette Davis made “Bunny O’Hare” for American International that is unbelievably and hilariously bad.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Opera & Politics Don't Mix

Jeff Johnson in a Sunday Pioneer Press opinion piece wants us to believe, without offering any supporting evidence, that Minnesota lacks a “true level playing field,” whatever that means, and this makes us less attractive to business.

Johnson is recycling an old conversation about government vs. business and the role of government as if it hasn’t been on the agenda during 20 years of Republican and libertarian governors and now a Democrat governor.  

Instead of offering us facts and figures, Johnson got bogged down in cliches like “the best of times and worst of times” that really don’t make much sense in the context of state government.  Unfortunately he squandered an opportunity to offer new ideas in this opinion piece.

Dads who need to marry off their daughters to get cash inflowing are the topics in the opera “Arabella” and in the musical “Fiddler on the Roof.”  Unlike the opera/musical “Les Miserables,” “Arabella” doesn’t generate any sympathy for the central characters.  Who gives a rip if Arabella marries the country bumpkin or not?  So my opera buddy fell asleep in the first half and I watched the time during the remaining acts wondering if I would retrieve the Chrysler before 11 pm when the parking ramp closes.  The pace at which Arabella was moving toward the altar gave me pause.
The Minnesota Opera Co. does a spectacular job of presenting singers and orchestra in beautiful sets and costumes.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

“The Conqueror” Comes at End of Golden Era

More Vegas production number than Mongolian tribal ritual, is the dance of the scantily clad ladies in the 1955 Howard Hughes RKO Radio spectacular “The Conqueror.”  But then this should be expected in a Hughes movie.
In a classic bit of miscasting, John Wayne plays Genghis Kahn and Susan Hayward is the object of his lust who is featured in the sensuous dance sequence which is probably a reason to watch.
Special mention goes to Victor Young for a thrilling soundtrack and to Utah’s Escalante Desert, which, according to the Halliwell book, was the site of nuclear bomb tests.  Much of the movie was filmed in Utah and several of the actors, who also were smokers, died of cancer including Wayne, Hayward and Dick Powell, the director. 
“The Conqueror” came two years after the first Cinemascope film, “The Robe,” also a big budget epic.   Wayne was believable in “Back to Bataan” (RKO) and was good in “Flying Tigers” (Republic) but John Carroll  was the scene stealer in the later.
With a better actor in the lead, “Conqueror” might have been decent.  Wayne was intrigued by the script when he saw it on a desk at RKO Radio studios.  Wayne apparently decided he would play it as an Asian cowboy.  
Powell capped a distinguished movie career with “Conqueror,” having been in ‘30s Warner Brothers musicals and in the ‘40s RKO Radio film noir.  He is remembered for the “Four Star Theater” on TV.

YouTube features “The Conqueror.”

Monday, November 04, 2013

Jennifer Eckes Hits Right Notes for Bacharach

I was transported Sunday to 1966 dream-like at Joe’s LB in Boise with a combo performing “The Look of Love.”  Actually I was at the Bloomington Black Box Theater listening to Jennifer Eckes performing that same haunting melody which was also a hit for Brazil 66.  

“What the World Needs Now: The Songs of Burt Bacharach and Hal David” was a much appreciated salute by singer Eckes and Arnie Fogel, longtime Twin Cities performer and radio personality.  It was sobering to see the advanced ages of all those attending yesterday because I consider B&D music cool and contemporary and how did we all get so old?

Forty-five years ago as young adults we had music choices.  We could hear B&D music on MOR radio stations such as KHJ, LA; KFRC, SF; and KBOI and KIDO, Boise.  I  think those stations rivaled the Top 40 in listenership back then.  Now I listen to B&D music on Pandora.

The highlight of the show was Eckes singing “One Less Bell” in a mash-up with “A House is Not a Home.”  The musical backup was minimal and of course a synthesizer or an orchestra would have been ideal, but then we were in a very small theater.

Eckes is a performer who deserves a bigger audience and I hope she gets it.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

NBC’s Dracula Suffers From Poor Scripts

Halfway through the NBC Dracula series with Jonathan Rhys Meyers I switched to my DVD of the ’43 PRC vampire feature “Dead Men Walk,” which was more entertaining.  Meyers is a super actor and I love him in “Velvet Goldmine,” but this NBC series is boring.

What “Dead Men Walk” has is some interesting B actors of the era including George Zucco, Dwight Frye and Fuzzy St. John.  Frye plays the vampire’s best friend in this feature and is remembered as the bug eating Renfield in the ’31 “Dracula.”  You can’t beat Frye for crazy guy and of course St. John is always fun as the back woods simpleton.

There’s also a hysterical old lady and the innocent young woman played by Mary Carlisle who was paired with a handsome hero whose name escapes me.