Thursday, May 29, 2008

Heaven Just Got Funnier

With the passing of Dick Martin the other day and now Harvey Korman, I feel compelled to acknowledge these two great funny men.

"Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" was a huge show back in my youth. I was probably too young at the time to get some of the wink,wink, nudge, nudge humour, but there was still plenty of things I enjoyed, including Arte Johnson's "Verry Interestink" nazi peeking out from behind the fern, the poems "By Henry Gibson", and of course, the introduction of soon-to-be-famous Goldie Hawn, go-go dancing with mod graffiti painted all over her bikini clad body. And then there were the hosts: straight man Dan Rowan with his ever present pipe, and the sly comic playboy, Dick Martin. The show was often topical, with Dan and Dick commenting satirically on recent news events in their monologue, but mostly there was a real scattergun, non sequitur approach to the comedy, with lots of verbal puns and crazy visuals. Definitely a product of the swinging sixties!

Harvey Korman was part of one of the funniest comedy ensembles on TV, as a cast member on "The Carol Burnett Show". I think many would agree that the show hit its stride when Tim Conway joined the cast several years later, acting as a great comic foil for the suave Korman. It was always great fun to see how the poker faced Conway would, through brilliant comic timing and physical comedy, cause Korman to have to stifle the urge to break out laughing. With Harvey Korman being so tall and sophisticated, next to short, dumpy little Tim Conway, the two comedians made for a great study in contrasts. This is something that I try to stress in my teaching of character design to the Sheridan animation students too, as physical contrast can immediately help to communicate personality types to your audience, as well as add visual variety. By the way, speaking of animation, Harvey Korman also had a second career as a cartoon voiceover actor, supplying many voices on such shows as "The Flintstones", including the little green alien with the big head, The Great Gazoo.

Anyway, rather than mourn their loss this week, I would like to celebrate the legacy they left us. Here's to two of TV's great funny men:

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Happy Birthday Vincent Price!

Today I'd like to celebrate that master of camp horror, Vincent Price, on the 97th anniversary of his birthday. He's long been a favourite of mine, though ironically my first introduction to him as a kid was seeing him on the TV game show, "Hollywood Squares"! However, I soon thereafter started catching his movies on TV, particularly all of his Edgar Allan Poe adaptations for director Roger Corman. While most of these films were played fairly straight, it was the more comic film, "The Raven" that I liked the best, especially since it costarred veterans, Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff. I also like the black humoured, "Theatre of Blood", which I understand was a favourite of Price himself.

Back in 1976 I decided to write a fan letter to Vincent Price, along with sending him a caricature I had drawn of him at that time. I took a chance and sent it care of "Hollywood Squares", as I didn't know where else to send it. Happily it found him, and sometime later I received this postcard back from him thanking me for the sketch. As you can imagine, this 16 year old kid was overjoyed!

A couple years later I was doing cartoons for "The Ottawa Citizen" newspaper, including the occasional celebrity caricature for the entertainment section. One of the writers on staff, Tony Lofaro, was keen to use my work and one day he called me to ask if I was aware that Vincent Price was coming to Ottawa's National Arts Centre to appear in "Diversions and Delights", his one man show portraying Oscar Wilde. I'd actually already purchased a ticket to go see the show, but Tony was offering something better. He knew I was a huge fan of Price and told me that there was a small press gathering to be held at the NAC prior to his performance and that, since Tony himself couldn't make it, would I like to use his press pass and attend myself? Wow! Obviously I took him up on the offer.

The press gathering was indeed a rather intimate affair with not more than about 10 or 12 people in attendance, including Gord Atkinson, a local radio personality who had a syndicated show that celebrated the Golden Age of entertainment. It was held in a large conference room at the National Arts Centre with a big rectangular table that we all sat at. Without much delay, Vincent Price arrived and greeted us all very warmly. After doing an interview for Gord Atkinson, he proceeded to take questions from us all regarding his career. During the whole interview I had been busily sketching a caricature of him as he spoke, which I will scan in later today and add here tomorrow. Afterward, we all got to chat very informally with Price and I presented him with a caricature that I'd painted and framed up beforehand. Also, to my thrill, somebody took a photo of us together and promised to send me a print. Though the quality of the photo is not great, it is still a very treasured momento of a very wonderful day. As you can see, I was a pretty scruffy looking 18 year old teen!

I'll always recall that Vincent Price was a very warm and kind gentleman who took the time to chat with a young fan about his films and made everybody feel very welcome that day. He was a class act and I miss him very much.

PS: Sorry I haven't posted much lately. I even missed my post count hitting the 100,000 mark! Thanks for coming back despite my tardiness - I'll try to post more often! :)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Remembering Frank

This Wednesday, May 14th 2008 will mark the 10th anniversary of the passing of Frank Sinatra. It's hard to believe that it's already been ten years, as I remember well the morning I heard it on the radio news. Though I knew it was coming due to Frank having been quite ill for some time, there was still a shock in hearing it and it filled me with great sadness to know that Frank was now gone.

Just a couple weeks prior, I'd gotten a call from a local showplace where I'd had tickets to see Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme in concert. I'd been looking forward to seeing them on their scheduled play date of May 15th, but now the theatre was calling to say that they'd had to cancel their appearance. Hearing the news of Frank's passing, I realized then why they'd cancelled - they knew it was coming and wanted to be close to Frank and his family for when the inevitable tragic day arrived. Sure enough, in the days that followed, there were Steve and Eydie seen arriving for the funeral. Having opened for Sinatra in concert for a few years and being close friends of his, I imagine they were devastated.

For all of my lifetime, there had always been Sinatra, and his music had appealed to me even as a young kid. To this day, I have a singular memory of being at the drive-in in the late 60's and hearing Frank Sinatra singing "That's Life" on the car speaker before the movie commenced. I was probably only about 7 or 8 at the time, yet his music was already an influence on me. By the time I was in my teens, I would look forward more to Frank singing "New York, New York" on the radio than anything my peers were into at the time. I reckon I was a strange kid, but I'd always enjoyed the music that my Dad played around the house more than what was popular with kids of the day. Dad was big fan of Bing, though, and never had any of Frank's records, so I guess I sought them out on my own.

In my mid-twenties I got into Sinatra's music big time, especially since I had started taking ballroom dancing lessons and found myself dancing the foxtrot to a lot of Frank's big hits. To this day I'm still an avid social ballroom dancer and there is nobody I like dancing to better than the swinging sounds of Sinatra. "Fly Me to the Moon" with its Quincy Jones arrangements and with Frank backed up by The Count Basie Orchestra, just can't be beat!

This month in honour of the 10th anniversary of Frank Sinatra's passing, Turner Classic Movies is running many of his films every Sunday and Wednesday nights, as well as several of his TV music specials from the 60's. I've got my DVD recorder working overtime to get as many of these films as I can, some of which I've never seen before. Of course I already have many of his films on DVD that have been available thus far, but it's great to see some titles that Turner is running are also going to start being released on DVD in the next little while. Just like Frank's music, I also tend to prefer his movies from the early 50's onward, especially as he was hitting his stride in both media during the late 50's/ 60's era. My favourite films are not necessarily all out musicals, but still those with a musical bent, like "Pal Joey", "The Joker is Wild", and a guilty pleasure, "Robin and the 7 Hoods", despite what the critics said about it!

Anyway, I hope some of you fellow Sinatra fans are also enjoying the films on TCM, as well as continuing to listen to the great legacy of popular music that he has left us. Yes, Frank Sinatra will be a subject often discussed in The Cartoon Cave...