Debunking The Myth of Simplistic Old Movies

It's a Wonderful Life, on the bridge still
Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life

It was C. S. Lewis who first coined the phrase “chronological snobbery.” This is the belief that the ideas, writing, and art of the past are outdated or irrelevant to “the now.” Chronological snobbery takes many forms. Sadly, it can even be found in the evangelical church, particularly when it comes to old-fashioned forms of worship.

Another form it takes in popular culture is the snide dismissal of old-fashioned cinema. My generation views old movies as stuffy and phony, full of goody-two-shoes and sappy happy endings. As far as they’re concerned, old movies are for old people. Old, politically incorrect, white people, to throw in a few more modifiers.

I submit this as yet further evidence that my generation has no clue what it’s talking about when it talks about movies, art, or culture.

Continue reading “Debunking The Myth of Simplistic Old Movies”

On Bing Crosby and the Sexual Revolution

Bing Crosby, old

Few voices are as inimitable or instantly recognizable as that of Bing Crosby. Warm, yet cool, he defined an American generation, and he remains one of the best-selling pop singers of all time.

In 1977, Bing Crosby gave his last televised interview. The interviewer, Barbara Walters, was known for asking prying, uncomfortable questions. She chose to leave no stone un-turned when it came to interrogating Bing about culture, morality, and its connection to his own family. Walters maintains a pleasant tone throughout, but it is clear that she saw herself as one of the cultural elite, while Crosby represented a generation whose cultural influence was gradually slipping away.

However, if she expected to one-up or throw off the Crooner King, she was sadly mistaken. And thanks to YouTube, we can see for ourselves just how mistaken she was.

Continue reading “On Bing Crosby and the Sexual Revolution”

Youtube Find: Vintage Cathedrals Music

Some of us don’t have the space to amass a vinyl collection or the vinyl players to enjoy it on, but we still love vintage music. The other day, I found a goldmine of Cathedrals music on Youtube, including albums from the 60s/70s/80s that you still can’t purchase digitally. The music has been digitized from the user’s collection, and while the quality varies from record to record, it’s better than a through-the-air recording like some other vintage Cats uploads. The user hasn’t gathered most of them into playlists, but if you go to his channel and click “See more” enough times, from a certain point on it’s nothing but vintage Cathedrals records. Better yet, here’s a link to all the songs at once, generated by searching “Cathedrals” on the channel, though this doesn’t group songs from the same album all together. Also, it appears that the videos for Climbing Higher and Higher were accidentally uploaded with no sound. Otherwise, full albums all told include:

With Brass, 1966

Focus on Glen Payne, 1968 (full playlist here)

Welcome to Our World, 1972 (full playlist here)

You Ain’t Heard Nothing Yet, 1979

Featuring George Younce, 1983

Individually, 1983

Voices in Praise Acappella, 1984

The Prestigious Cathedral Quartet, 1984

An Old Convention Song, 1985

Worship His Glory in Acappella Praise, 1993

Some of Their Finest Moments, 1994 (best-of collection, middling quality)

Radio Days, 1996

Acapella Favorites, 2000 (best-of collection)

***

I haven’t even scratched the surface of it all yet, but one album I do have in my collection already that’s uploaded here in excellent quality is 1984’s Prestigious Cathedral Quartet. Recorded with tenor Danny Funderburk, baritone Mark Trammell, and pianist Roger Bennett, this album featured a few of the Cathedrals’ signature songs and a few forgotten gems. It includes one of my absolute favorite Cathedrals songs ever, which to my knowledge has never been recorded by anyone else. It should be. It’s called “Next Time We Meet,” and it’s absolutely haunting. Somebody please bring this one back. Thank you:

Recently Added: 60s Time Capsule

Goooood morning! It’s 0700 and I am waking up to another day of back to school excitement, this semester with an extra dose of crazy thanks to my new (minimum-wage) job as a teaching assistant. But thanks to the Good Morning Vietnam soundtrack, I have a fresh batch of retro tunes to get me out of bed and kick-start my mornings. For those of you who can actually remember when some of these little gems first came out, you are so very welcome. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a very important caffeinated beverage to go inhale whilst I boogaloo around the kitchen.

 

Dancing In the Rain: The Donald O’Connor Story (Part III of III)

A great while ago the world began
With a hey ho, the wind and the rain
But that’s all one, and our play is done
And we’ll strive to please you every day.

 Twelfth Night, Act 5, Scene 1

***

Part I here

Part II here

In 1975, the BBC asked Donald O’Connor if the musical was dead. His succinct answer: “No. It is dead the way we used to make ’em.” He spoke without resentment. It was just a fact.

Donald O’Connor was the last of the song and dance men. Known as “the youngest old-timer in show business,” it was his misfortune to reach the height of his powers precisely when the song-and-dance musical was dying. Rising to take its place were the spontaneous musicals, the Sounds of Music and Oklahomas and West Side Stories. Characters were ordinary people expressing their feelings, not entertainers putting on a show. There was no longer a place for O’Connor’s particular skill set on the big screen. So it was back to his first love: the stage.

Shifting base of operations to Las Vegas gave the restless performer a steady audience and the ability to nurture fresh talent. One young lad joined him for a special performance to commemorate his 30th anniversary in the business, which nearly doubled as a 31st birthday party. (Candid footage of the reception shows O’Connor surreptitiously piling an extra slice of cake on the boy’s plate.) With a happy second marriage and a growing new family, it seemed that he had landed on his feet. His son Fred later recalled, “I was very blessed to have my dad as my dad… We were never without anything, and the things we really wanted, he told us ‘These are things that you have to work for.’ And I’m glad he did.” Daughter Alicia fondly remembered how he would delight the children with quicksilver impressions, saying that “You never knew who was coming to dinner.” But as O’Connor danced closer to the line between “drinker” and “alcoholic,” he fought a rising fear that like his father and brother, he would not live to the age of 50.

Continue reading “Dancing In the Rain: The Donald O’Connor Story (Part III of III)”

Dancing In the Rain: The Donald O’Connor Story (Part II of III)

“I was born and raised to entertain other people. I’ve heard laughter and applause and known a lot of sorrow. Everything about me is based on show business. I think it will bring me happiness. I hope so.” — Donald O’Connor, Parade, 1954

 

***

Read Part I here.

Gene Kelly knew what he was doing when he hand-picked Donald O’Connor as his right-hand man in Singin’ In the Rain. His own ballet training was perfectly complemented by O’Connor’s raw hoofing talent. O’Connor later credited Kelly with teaching him to be a “total dancer,” from the waist up. Each borrowed motifs from the other to create their iconic synchronized routine “Moses Supposes.”  But working with Kelly had its tense moments. In this rare interview clip (edited by yours truly), O’Connor shares a priceless anecdote about the legend’s famously short temper on the set of their number “Fit as a Fiddle”:

The memories of Debbie Reynolds also offer some insight into O’Connor’s gentle, professional personality. When Gene became frustrated with Debbie, he would take it out on Donald. But Donald bore it with perpetual good humor. In one instance, as all three practiced a step in “Good Morning,” Kelly himself was unknowingly repeating an error while blaming O’Connor for it. Reynolds expected O’Connor to retaliate at any minute, but all he said was “I’m sorry.” Finally, Kelly stopped and announced, “I’m doing it wrong! Why didn’t you tell me?”

Yet for all his abrasiveness, Gene recognized a professional when he saw one: “Nobody else in the business could have taken the beating I gave Donald O’Connor in Singin’ In the Rain… Donald comes from vaudeville. He’s disciplined. I’ve seen him rehearse a step a thousand times.” Looking back on it all, O’Connor could only laugh and say “Working with him? Yeah, he was miserable. No, we had a great time together… I was never offended by Gene, I love the guy too much.”

Of course, “Make ‘Em Laugh” is the number that everyone remembers from O’Connor’s work in the picture. When MGM released its compilation That’s Entertainment, this was the one that could still make listless audiences break into spontaneous applause in the theaters. Mark Steyn has described it as “the essence of entertainment,” adding “Its only purpose is to delight. Which is a lot harder than it sounds.”

Continue reading “Dancing In the Rain: The Donald O’Connor Story (Part II of III)”

Dancing in the Rain: The Donald O’Connor Story (Part I of III)

Actor Donald O'Connor

Part II here

Part III here

Quickly: Who’s the most talented entertainer you can name? For many, it would be the man who just took his own life last month. An older generation might name Dick Van Dyke. Yet another generation might reach still further into the past, to silent film stars like Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. What do legends like these all share in common? Answer: They all had an extraordinary gift for making anyone happy, except themselves.

To that remarkable list, I would add another name. I would add the name of the man who immortalized laughter in three short minutes of pure genius on film. I would add the name of Donald O’Connor.

Perhaps Paramount exec A. C. Lyles said it best: “Donald O’Connor’s name, spelled backwards, would be talent.” Gene Kelly simply dubbed him “The O’Connor.” But his story sounds too painfully familiar: a lightning-fast comic wit, a master of improv, full of explosive energy and beloved by fans, yet privately haunted by divorce, addiction and depression. Except that his story does not end like so many other sad, sad stories. No, my friends. This is a story that ends with hope. Continue reading “Dancing in the Rain: The Donald O’Connor Story (Part I of III)”

A Book a Week: America’s Favorite Movies, Behind the Scenes

Here is the first of my used bookstore finds: America’s Favorite Movies: Behind the Scenes, by film historian Rudy Behlmer. Published in 1982, this now out-of-print work is a treasure trove of primary source material for some of the most enduring classics of Hollywood’s golden age. It covers some that I either don’t know or don’t care for, but it also includes many personal favorites such as The Adventures of Robin HoodStagecoachCasablancaThe African QueenSingin’ in the Rain, and High Noon. These are movies whose staying power derives largely from the fact that you don’t have to be a stuffy film critic to appreciate them. No directorial narcissism or abstract mucking about, just good stories well told, made by people committed to getting it right, sometimes at enormous personal cost. The book also sets their production in rich historical context, explaining how they were affected by the Depression, WWII and the Cold War. Herewith, a few quotes and notes that I found to be of particular interest (with trailer links in the titles).

Continue reading “A Book a Week: America’s Favorite Movies, Behind the Scenes”

A Book a Week: Gloria Jean, A Little Bit of Heaven

Gloria Jean, A Little Bit of Heaven

As promised, here is my review of the biography of child singing star Gloria Jean, written by Scott and Jan MacGillivray. The sub-title is A Little Bit of Heaven. Presumably this was chosen because That Awkward Moment When I Caught a Skin Rash From Bing Crosby, Mel Torme Proposed, and Donald O’Connor Hugged Me So Hard He Broke My Ribs would’ve run a tad long.

Although this isn’t an autobiography, Gloria is generously quoted from interviews conducted by the authors, so her own voice still comes through clearly. And what a treat it is! Gloria Jean is one of those people you’re not likely to have heard of. She never attained the legendary status of a Shirley Temple, and most of her work is out of print. But once you get to know her, you’re very glad you did.

Continue reading “A Book a Week: Gloria Jean, A Little Bit of Heaven”

Monday Morning Humor: Classic Tongue-Twisters!

Carol Burnett and Roddy McDowall are absolutely marvelous together. My, didn’t he grow up to be charming? 😉 They bide their time before breaking into “Moses Supposes,” but there’s so much good stuff here I figured I’d save myself a little time and just embed the whole thing. My only question: Shouldn’t it be “Thus, the seething sea sufficeth us?” Methinks he slippeth!

***

Roddy: “Try this one. Captain Craxcomb cracked his cousin’s coxcomb…”

Carol: “Will you knock that off?”