Thursday, February 23, 2017

Big Stars Small Screen – Sunset Boulevard

This is the first post in a series looking at stars that you know on the big screen (motion pictures) appearing on the small screen (television). Often movie stars from the Golden Age found long fruitful careers on the small screen, whereas megastars from the post-studio era often cut their teeth on TV before moving to the big screen. Each post, we'll look at one film, and then find TV shows where the people associated with that film appeared. 

We'll try to keep it to appearances where you can stream single episodes. It's probably not worth buying dvds of a whole season of My Three Sons, just to see Gloria Swanson in one episode. As a result, don't be surprised if you see series like Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone show up all over the place. Also, I've often joked that Murder, She Wrote was where great movie stars went to die, sorry. But if there was a classic film star still working in the 1980s and 1990s, it's quite likely that they did a guest spot on Murder, She Wrote. Big Stars Small Screens would not be possible without the help of the number 1 online film and TV resource, IMDB.

Yes, I know, that's not the shot
where she said it.
Since the title of this series is based on a quote from Sunset Boulevard, I thought it only fitting to start with that film. Unfortunately, none of the top three billed stars did a lot of TV. As an actor, William Holden only made a couple of TV movies, but I did find a show you might have forgot about where he appears as himself. Gloria Swanson appeared on a number TV shows, but very little is available streaming. However, I did find a couple things on YouTube (more is out there if you poke around). There's nothing for Erich von Stroheim except for a couple episodes of a 1950s TV series, Orient Express, not available as near as I can tell. Fortunately, as you go further down the cast list, you get a more small screen appearances. 

[Note that streaming info was true, I hope, at the time I wrote this. Your mileage may vary.]

William Holden

William Holden never did much television. However, one of TV's greatest stars worked for years in the 1930s and 1940s as a Hollywood contract player with making much of an impact, only to take the small screen by storm with a comedy series named after her in the 1950s. Of course, we are talking about Lucille Ball and I Love Lucy. In seasons 4 and 5, Lucy's husband Ricky (Desi Arnaz) decides to take a crack at Hollywood, bringing Lucy and neighbors the Mertzes (William Frawley and Vivian Vance) with them. 

I Love LucyEpisode 114
Season 4, Episode 17, titled "L.A., At Last"
Available on Hulu and CBS with subscription, and individual episodes available on YouTube, iTunes, Amazon Video, and Google Play

In the episode where the Ricardos and Mertzes first arrive in Tinseltown, Ricky is called to the studio leaving Lucy, Fred, and Ethel to fend for themselves. The trio decide to go to The Brown Derby restaurant in hope of spotting movie stars. When William Holden is seated in the next booth, hilarity ensues. I won't go into more detail for those who may not have seen it. Even if you have, it is well worth going back to.

Gloria Swanson

Gloria Swanson appeared on a number of TV shows in the 1960s, but nothing I could find streaming. In the early to mid-1950s, Gloria Swanson sought to create a musical adaptation of Sunset Boulevard, under the name Starring Norma Desmond and later simply Boulevard. Initially, Swanson had received verbal approval to proceed with the project from Paramount but later that approval was rescinded. The following video shows Gloria Swanson singing "Those Wonderful People (Out There In The Dark)" on The Steve Allen Plymouth Show from that ill-fated musical.

If you poke around, there are a number of talk show appearances of Gloria Swanson, but this interview with Barbara Walters from 1981, I find the most interesting. In this interview, she discusses her career and personal life including her relationship with Joseph P. Kennedy, father of John F., Robert, and Ted Kennedy.

Nancy Olson

Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Season 4, Episode 17, titled, "Total Loss"
Available on Hulu with subscription

Nancy Olson plays the script-reader and William Holden's writing partner/love interest in Sunset Boulevard. She did quite a bit of TV work into the early 1980s and even appeared in an episode of the HBO series Big Love in 2010. In this episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Olson plays an overextended dress shop owner who looks to Ralph Meeker to help her out of her financial predicament with let's say less than perfect results.

Fred Clark 

The Dick Van Dyke Show
Season 4, Episode 30*, titled "One Hundred Terrible Hours"
Available on Netflix and Hula with subscription, and individual episodes available on iTunes and Amazon Video
*Multiple online sources give the episode as 30, when I watched on Netflix, it was given as Season 4, episode 27.

In Sunset Boulevard, Fred Clark played Mr. Sheldrake, the producer from whom William Holden tries to get a job. He appeared on numerous TV shows in the 1950s and 1960s and had a recurring role on The Beverly Hillbillies as Dr. Roy Clyburn, the real doctor who is always trying to prevent Granny from doctorin'. He also was on Bonanza, I Dream of Jeanie, The Addams Family, and others. This episode of The Dick Van Dyke is a flashback episode where Rob tells a story of being a radio DJ and staying awake for 100 hours as publicity stunt. Fred Clark plays Rob's boss at the radio station.

Jack Webb

Dragnet 1967 (second series)
Season 1, Episode 1, titled "The LSD Story"
Seasons 1-4 available on Hula with subscription, and individual episodes available on YouTube, Amazon Video, and Google Play

Though Jack Webb has a small role in Sunset Boulevard, he is best known as Joe Friday on two separate TV series Dragnet 1951-1959 and Dragnet 1967 1967-1970 (they incremented the year in the series title as the show progressed). Jack Webb starred in all episodes of both TV series. I watched "The LSD Story" where Detectives Friday and Gannon tackle a new drug on the scene, LSD, which at the start of the episode was still legal. They are after user turned pusher, Blue Boy. At one point in the episode, they find themselves on the Sunset Strip, Sunset Boulevard, Daaaa da da daa.

Buster Keaton 

The Twilight Zone
Season 3, Episode 13, titled "Once Upon a Time"

Available on Netflix and CBS with subscription, and individual episodes available on iTunes, Amazon Video, and Vudu

Buster Keaton has a cameo in Sunset Boulevard as part of Norma Desmond's waxworks. He had numerous appearances on TV in the 1950s and 1960s. My favorite and the easiest to find is the "Once Upon a Time" episode of The Twilight Zone. Buster Keaton plays a janitor in 1890, working for a pair of scientists who have invented a time travel helmet, and he is transported forward in time to 1962. The beauty of the episode is that the portions set in 1890 are done as a silent film complete with dialog cards while the 1962 part is a talkie. Though the episode was written by Richard Matheson (The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Omega Man), I imagine that at least some of the visual gags were improvised on set by Keaton. Either that or Matheson really understood Keaton's comedy. Whatever the case, the results are awesome.

Bonus  – Carol Burnett as Norma Desmond at a Restaurant

In the 1970s, Carol Burnett and Friends did skits featuring Norma Desmond and her manservant Max. I remember seeing them as a kid, but didn't associate it with Sunset Boulevard, which I hadn't seen at that point. I only made the association in the last couple of years when someone mentioned it while live-tweeting Sunset Boulevard on #TCMParty. Though over-the-top, these sketches are still quite funny. In the following video, the Norma Desmond skit starts at about 0:56.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Comic-Con Ukulele Finished at San Diego Comic Fest

Last summer at Comic-Con International San Diego, I had comic artists draw art on my ukulele. By the end of Comic-Con, I was just about finished and only had about five spots left. The idea was to do all tikis and hula girls. You can see details on the first batch of art from Comic-Con at

Last weekend at Comic Fest, a small San Diego convention, I got it finished up. This is what the finished uke looks like. See below for the back.

First up we have, Dan Bois. He wanted to do a simple Moai tiki.

Dan Bois

Next up, Stephen B. Shilling. Stephen's portfolio was full of really cool Godzilla comic. He suggested the tiki-fied Godzilla.

Stephen B. Schilling

Next, we have William Stout. He is one of those guys who's been around forever and has been working since the late 1960s. He was one of the first artist to appear in the American version of Heavy Metal in the 1970s. He specializes in dinosaurs, and his murals of prehistoric creatures are on permanent at a number of museums, including the San Diego Natural History Museum, the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and others. He has done everything from rock album covers to production design on feature films. William Stout was the main reason I went to Comic Fest. At a larger show like Comic-Con International or WonderCon, you're lucky to talk to someone like William Stout for more than a minute or two, much less get a sketch. At a smaller convention, I figured it would be worth a shot. I had met him before at WonderCon, and I mentioned something he was doing at that show. Then I threw it out there, "Could I ask you to do a sketch?

"You could ask," he said. "But you probably won't get it." Fair enough, but I pulled the ukulele out of the case anyway and explained that I was trying to get all, hula girls and tikis. He said that he had just designed a Cthulhu tiki. I said that would be perfect, and the next thing I knew he was doing it. That's one of the advantages of doing something like this. Sometimes people who don't normally do quick sketches will do it because what you have going is cool. 

William Stout

A friend Dean LeCrone is someone I met at a steampunk event last year. I mentioned that I was doing this at Comic-Con, and since he also does cartooning, he said he'd be happy to do something. The problem was I was never able to catch up with him there. Well, he was at Comic Fest. We looked at the back of the ukulele, and there were already two large pieces and room for just one more. The weird thing was that though they were done by different artists, the two pieces (tiki by George Davis and hula girl by Billy Tucci) kind of worked together as a whole, and we thought we should continue with that. I suggested maybe a moon, and then it hit me what I wanted, the moon from Georges Méliès 1902 science fiction film, A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans la Lune).

Back  before

Back after
Dean LeCrone

Now, at this point, I figured I was done. There really wasn't any more room. There was one problem though. At Comic-Con, one artist had done a piece with art pens that smeared real badly, just from handling it in taking it in and out of the case. Sitting next to Dean was an artist/inker, Joel Stokes, and I got him to clean it up/ink it with a Sharpie as well as he could based on what was left of the original. I love it.

Joel Stokes
When I get things like this done, I usually leave for a while. Mostly, I don't want rush them. Plus, you never know, sometimes you get really great work because the person doesn't have anything better to do. And if someone wants to make a masterpiece out of a simple convention sketch, who am I to complain. When I got back, Micheal Aushenker, who was sitting on the other side of Dean, was working on something. It's not a hula girl or a tiki, but it was a small spot, I wasn't going to worry about, so I'm psyched.

Michael Aushenker

Saturday, February 18, 2017

3 Beekman Place – The Art Direction/Set Decoration of Auntie Mame

31 Days of Oscar Blogathon
This post is an entry in the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon hosted by Paula at Paula's Cinema Club, Aurora at Once Upon a Screen, and Kellee at Outspoken and Freckled.

In Auntie Mame, there are only about fifteen separate locales shown in the film. Most are relatively simple sets, shown only for a minute or two. A few others are fairly complicated, but from art and set design standpoint the real star of Auntie Mame is Mame's apartment at 3 Beekman Place, New York. The apartment is shown throughout the film and in most cases has a completely different decor each time it is shown. Further, all are fantastic. 

Auntie Mame received a total of 6 Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Actress (Rosalind Russell), Best Supporting Actress (Peggy Cass), and of course, our topic Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White or Color for Malcolm C. Bert, Art Direction, and George James Hopkins, Set Decoration. 

Auntie Mame was the second of two Academy Award nominations for Art Director Malcolm C. Bert. The other nomination was for A Star Is Born (1954). Malcolm Bert's other credits include East of Eden, Rebel without a Cause, The Pajama Game, and numerous TV shows, such as Gun Smoke, Bewitched, and The Monkees.

Set Decorator George James Hopkins was nominated for eleven Oscars in his long career.  He won four Academy Awards for A Streetcar Named Desire, My Fair Lady, Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff?, and Hello, Dolly! His other credits include Casablanca, Mildred Pierce, Strangers on a Train, and The Great Race. In the silent era, he has credits as actor, writer, costume designer, and production manager, among others.

In the credits for Auntie Mame, Robert Hanley is listed as Consultant for Interior Design. I assume this type of credit was rare at the time, but considering how spectacular the interiors of 3 Beekman Place are, presumably some of the credit should go to Hanley as well. 

As I was writing this, I came to realize that the sets in Auntie Mame all serve a certain function. Obviously, 3 Beekman Place is an extension of Mame's vibrant personality, showing her enjoying life's banquet, while the rest of the world starves to death. The apartment is almost another character in the film, a character much more interesting than many of the living breathing people in the film. 

Let's start with the other locales and see how they work. All can be put into a number of different categories:
  • Places Mame works – Early in the film, in fact only weeks after Patrick arrives, the stock market crash of 1929 occurs, wiping out Mame financially, forcing her to get a job. From these scenes, you learn something about Mame. First, in a very funny way, you learn how hopelessly ill-prepared she is to support herself, but more importantly, you learn how much how much she loves Patrick and that she is willing to do anything for him. Mame's jobs include, a small role in Vera's play Midsummer Madness, telephone operator at Widdicombe, Gutterman, Applewhite, Bibberman, and Black, and saleswoman at Macy's toy department, where she meets her future husband Beau (Forrest Tucker).
Widdicombe, Gutterman, Applewhite, Bibberman,
and Black
[You can click on images to enlarge; in some cases, they may seem blurry, especially if camera or actors were moving, probably, a reflection of way I did screen captures]
  • Patrick's schools – These places show one thing, Mr. Babcock's efforts to make Patrick as unlike Mame as possible. Fortunately, it doesn't take. The first of these is the Bixby School, where Mr. Babcock wants Patrick to go. Patrick doesn't attend school there, but rather Mame sends him to a progressive school in Greenwich Village where the children play fish family. Afterwards, Mr. Babcock insists that Patrick attend a boarding school, St. Boniface. Later, a grownup Patrick attends Rumson University also at Mr. Babcock's behest, but at Rumson, Mame is constantly sending Patrick souvenirs from her exotic travels.

St. Boniface
  • Places Mame goes – After marrying Beau (Forrest Tucker), they travel to Egypt on their honeymoon. You also see that Auntie Mame and Uncle Beau take young Patrick to Paris. Presumably, this was one of many trips they took Patrick on while he was growing up. The last of these is the Matterhorn, where Beau falls off the mountain. None of these sets are particularly extravagant. To be honest, the Matterhorn looks a lot like the ride at Disneyland to me. 
Yodel le he hooooooooo!!!
Finally, we see two other homes. Honestly, I think this is to show how normal people live in comparison with Mame, but really we are talking about how other upper-class people compare.

  • Peckwood – This is Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside's family plantation. It is a very traditional Southern mansion. You could film a historical drama about the old South there. Reflected is old money, and the pursuits of the gentry of a bygone era, horses and fox hunts. The name of the plantation, Peckerwood, is the traditional name of plantation.
  • Upson Downs – This is the estate of grownup Patrick's fiancee's parents. Often they mention that it is a restricted community, and Mr. Upson wants to buy the property next door to prevent a world-reknown cellist from moving in because he is Jewish. You really only see the patio, but there are interesting details beyond the honey daiquiris, such as a spinning wheel and butter churn alongside the ceramic lawn gnomes. Obviously, this is new money, trying to impress people with valuable antiques placed out-of-doors. The self-dubbed name of Upson Down is a title they invented to try to usurp the tradition of the old money.
Upson Downs
3 Beekman Place

This is why we're here. Auntie Mame's apartment appears throughout the film, and often is used as a time marker in the film. There are six distinct decors. In addition, Auntie Mame uses the chandelier as transitional element from one decor of the apartment to the next.

First appearance – Oriental decor. This our introduction to Mame and 3 Beekman Place, when a frightened, newly orphaned Patrick shows up. The first view of the apartment is an elaborately carved Chinese dragon door with steam shooting out the nostrils and a gong that plays when you ring doorbell. Also the dragon eyes open into a peephole for the servant, Ito, to screen the party guests. The color palette is muted with cream walls, to highlight the Oriental art and statuary virtually everywhere. This is also one of the few times that you see more than a glancing view at the upstairs of the apartment.

Dragon door, Patrick's first impresion

Ito looks through peephole

Even piano is Asian inspired

First view of Mame and one of few
views of upstairs

Behind Mame is another interior dragon
 door and Chinese lion, lower right

Oriental screen separating dining room

Mame introduces Patrick to fish berry jam
(cavier), served from Buddha's belly

Great details here, Asian demon statue
behind Mame and Patrick, guests cooking
on open flame, and Vera with long handle
on Martini glass

Oriental details mostly obscured by party
guests, but what a view of Brooklyn Bridge

First lady of American theater being carried
to bed; note traditional banister

At foot of stairs, banister morphs into
dragon head

Sculpture room, where Mame's sculptor
friend had lived

Mame's bedroom suite

Oriental chandelier, dissolves into chandelier
for next incarnation of Beekman Place

Second appearance – Modern traditional decor. Bear in mind I know very little about design. Possibly, there is a name for this. I call it modern traditional. Modern fits. I added traditional most because it retains traditional elements like columns and urns. The color palette is blues, grays, and purples. We see it both before and after stock market crash. After the crash, you can see evidence of Mame's dire financial situation.

Modern chandelier 

Workmen hang new modern art; note
new banister on stairs

Mame's bedroom, completely new look
from last time we saw it

Marie Antoinette room, were Vera
routinely passes out

Entry foyer, note simplified columns/urns
and modern painting on right

Patrick mixes martinis, great bar cart and
modern art on right

Simple elegant furniture

Exterior hallway decorated to match

More modern art center above Patrick

And behind Mame here

After stock market crash, Patrick provides
his own art, signed Patrick Picasso, his
black and blue period

 More evidence of their dire financial
situation, wall (center) shows where art
formerly hung, now hocked; also bar
cart (right) now empty 

Third appearance – French provincial, I think. Mame returns to Beekman Place after Beau has died. The color palette is light taupe with black and gold accents. To me, this is the least interesting. Still, everything is elegant and tasteful, and you do see evidence of Mame's exotic nature with some of the accent pieces.  

Again we start with chandelier

Banister is same as last, but sash accents
have been added

Entry way, with decorative palm tree

Mame in mourning, note obelisk
behind Vera

French provincial desk and cherub
on terrace 

Elegant details abound, especially around
fireplace (left)

Fourth appearance – Library decor. At this point in the film, Mame is fully immersed in writing her memoir. Naturally, she has redecorated in a library motif. The artwork and sculpture has a Renaissance feel. This is where we meet Patrick's fiance, Gloria Upson, who comments on the decor, "Books are awfully decorative, don't you think?" That about sums her up.

Another chandelier, a little more ornate
than last

Bannister appears to be same as Oriental
one without the dragon
Spiral library ladder to get at those
awfully decorative books

New piece of furniture added, editor and
ghost writer, Brian O'Bannion

Miss Gooch, types up Mames manuscript;
note Shakespeare bust

The muse can take many forms, such as
the harp behind Mame

Grownup Patrick enters to Roman-inspired
busts either side of door

Author Mame takes break at
mahogany bar 

Fifth appearance – Danish modern decor. After being entertained by the Upsons, Mame redecorates to return the favor and welcome them to the family. This time it is the work of famed designer, Yul Oolu. Of all the incarnations, of 3 Beekman Place, this is my favorite, though I don't think I could live there without regular infusions of Flaming Mames.

New chandelier, well, sort of

Sculpture that can be used upside down

Simple modern banister and Mame
feeds the fish

That's right, fish

And outside the apartment, more fish

What Danish modern is complete without
kinetic sofa

Drinks all around, love centered doorknob
in background

And of course lotus nectar for Patrick's
former teacher

Mobile gets in Mr. Babcock's, umm, hair

He's not the only one with something in
his hair

Sixth and final appearance – Indian decor. It is now years later. Patrick has married Pegeen, a woman worthy of both him and Mame. They have a son, roughly the same age as Patrick was when he came to live with her. Mame has come full circle, though perhaps spiral is a better term, because each time around, you end up on a different level. Thus, 3 Beekman Place returns to the East, India this time.

What do you know, another chandelier

Stair banister same as previous but
updated to blend with Indian motif

Mame adorned in gold

Front entry foyer

Great relief behind Mame; fish have
been replaced by flowers

Mame leads her new protege up
the mountain


Auntie Mame didn't win any Oscars. The Oscar for Art Direction-Set Decoration for 1959 went to Gigi. I honestly don't think I can complain about this. Art direction for Gigi was both innovative and first class with the design inspired by famous French art of the era. Perhaps on a different year, Auntie Mame might have fared better, but that doesn't take away the wonder that is 3 Beekman Place.