Monday, August 8, 2016

And The Angels Sing For Pete Fountain

I was very sorry to hear that we lost the legendary Dixieland clarinetist, Pete Fountain this past Saturday, August 6th at the age of 86. I grew up listening to Pete’s music when I was a kid, as my dear Dad was a huge fan and played his jazz records regularly on the family hi-fi. In my Dad’s opinion, Pete Fountain was right up there with Louis Armstrong when it came to playing Dixieland jazz. Though I was quite young at the time, I loved what I heard and I inherited my Dad’s taste in “hot” jazz music.

I remember when I was a teen in the 1970s, Pete Fountain used to make regular guest appearances on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, where he would play an extended jazz session alongside Doc Severinsen and the NBC orchestra. Pete was a native of New Orleans, and I know he was often called upon to participate in the annual Mardi Gras parade. I’m sure that the people of New Orleans are now mourning the loss of one of their favorite sons. RIP Pete Fountain.

Here's a clip of one of Pete Fountain's guest appearances on The Tonight Show!

And if that wasn’t bad enough, I also learned that we lost Ricci Martin, son of the great Dean Martin on that same day as well. Ricci’s death was particularly tragic, as he was only 62. In recent years Ricci Martin had brought his touring show entitled A Son Remembers- Dean Martin’s Music and More to Mississauga’s Stage West hotel. My Mom and I had seen him in performance on two different tours there, and I had gotten to meet with him and present to him a caricature I did of his famous father. Ricci was a very dear guy, very gracious and generous with his fans, and I wrote about having met with him in an earlier blog post. I am heartbroken at his untimely passing, and I send my condolences to his family.

I’d like to dedicate this post and caricature to my late father and mother, John and Ann Emslie, for their instilling in me a love of great music. Thanks, Mom and Dad - I love and miss you both very much! 

Monday, May 9, 2016

In Praise Of William Schallert

I heard earlier today that we lost the veteran character actor, William Schallert at the ripe old age of 93. Whether or not you know his name, anybody who grew up with TV from the 1960s and 70s will undoubtedly recognize that face, and probably his voice as well!

William Schallert will probably best be remembered in his dual roles as Martin Lane and twin brother Kenneth, fathers of twin cousins, Patty and Cathy respectively, on The Patty Duke Show. And it is a sad coincidence that we lost Patty Duke herself only this past March. Schallert can be seen in this show episode at the 4:45 mark:

But he was also a very familiar face appearing on countless TV series of the era in guest star roles, including Perry Mason, The Lucy Show, Mission: Impossible, The Wild Wild West, and the famous Star Trek episode, The Trouble With Tribbles. Get Smart fans will also fondly remember Schallert as the ancient Admiral Hargrade, the original Chief of Control.

Although he was usually cast as the easygoing, lanky and likeable gentleman and fatherly type, there were the rare occasions where he was cast against type as the villain. One of these roles had Schallert cast as a sharpshooting hired killer in the episode, The Empty Hours on the early police drama, 87th Precinct, based on the series of crime novels by Ed McBain (of which I am a huge fan!)

William Schallert was primarily a TV actor, but he did make a number of films as well. When I think back on it, I suspect that my introduction to him was when he played the gentle and understanding Professor Quigley in Disney's 1969 comedy, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. He was the foil to Joe Flynn's bombastic and frugal college head, Dean Higgins, where he championed the students' various causes against a highly reluctant college administration.

I mentioned earlier that TV viewers of that era would likely know William Schallert's voice, even when heard separately from his familiar image. That's because Schallert's pleasant, folksy voice was pitching numerous products on TV commercials throughout the 60s and 70s. There was one voiceover he did that I was not aware of as being him, though. One of the regular commercial assignments he had was as Milton the Toaster, the animated character on the Kellogg's Pop Tart ads. Here he affects a Brooklyn accent, so I didn't find out it was him until years later!

William Schallert was one of the last oldest surviving veterans of 1960's TV, so his passing really does make many of us sad and wistfully nostalgic for that innocent and vastly entertaining era. RIP William Schallert, and thanks for all the wonderful memories!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Happy Birthday, Eric Goldberg!

I see that today, May 1st, is the birthday of that master Disney animator, Eric Goldberg. Here's a photo of myself and Eric when he came to do a presentation at Sheridan College back in September 2013. Eric is a delightful, jolly little fellow, and his sprightly animation for Disney famously includes the Genie from Aladdin, which Eric caricatured to resemble his voice actor, the great Robin Williams. I have written about that in this previous blog post.

Other characters that Eric has skillfully brought to life in Disney films include Phil, the grouchy little satyr who reluctantly agrees to act as personal trainer to Hercules (who looks uncannily like his voice actor too - Danny Devito!) He also animated Louis, the alligator and aspiring Dixieland jazz trumpeter from The Princess And The Frog. More recently, Eric revived Donald Duck, José Carioca the parrot, and Panchito the rooster, known collectively as The Three Caballeros, for the renovated boat ride in the Mexican pavilion at EPCOT's World Showcase. Which was a fitting assignment, given that the original film characters were masterminded by the legendary animator, Ward Kimball, and Eric is very much this generation's equivalent of Ward, with the accent on highly cartooned design and rapid fire movement in much of his output.

But my favourite animation by Eric Goldberg is the brilliant Rhapsody In Blue segment from Disney's Fantasia 2000, which he directed with so much passion (with wife, Susan Goldberg art directing), as he got to base the overall look on the style of one of his artistic heroes, New York's legendary Broadway caricaturist, Al Hirschfeld. I too share Eric's admiration for Hirschfeld, as he has been the biggest influence on my own approach to drawing caricatures.

I know that Eric was just up this way again only a week ago, giving a lecture and workshop at the Toronto TAAFI animation festival. I regret not being there to see him myself, but I've heard back from several of my former Sheridan College students who were thrilled to hear his lecture and learn animation tips from him. I'm sure it would have been a most enjoyable event.

Happy Birthday to you, Eric Goldberg!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Happy Birthday, Jim Garner!

"Aw, c'mon Dennis!"
"Sorry, Jimbo, but I can't help you out this time".

This scene played itself out many times over on the hit NBC series, The Rockford Files, whenever private investigator Jim Rockford would pop into LAPD headquarters hoping his buddy, Sgt. Dennis Becker would run a licence plate for him or agree to provide any other professional favour that only the police can.

So on what would have been the 88th birthday of my favourite actor, James Garner, I'd also like to pay tribute to Jim's dear friend and colleague, Joe Santos, who played Sgt. Becker and whom we sadly lost just a few weeks ago on March 18, 2016, after he suffered a heart attack at the age of 84.

Joe Santos was completely believable as the constantly beleaguered, overworked and under-appreciated Sgt. Dennis Becker, with his Brooklyn accent and moon face always sporting a hangdog expression. Though he was Rockford's best friend off-duty, on the job Dennis had to be careful not to be seen doing Jim any favours that might go against official police protocol, lest he be caught by one of his superiors, either Lt. Diehl or Lt. Chapman, both of whom detested poor Rockford and still viewed him as a bad news ex-con (despite his being innocent of his charge and given a full pardon after being released from prison). Fortunately, friendship and loyalty always won out in the end, with Dennis following up on Rockford's tips and often showing up with his fellow cops just in the nick of time to get Jim out of a tight spot in the climax of many episodes.

The Rockford Files had one of the best ensemble casts of any TV detective show back in the 1970s, and due to Jim Garner's legendary generosity to his fellow actors, all his co-stars remained loyal friends to Jim off-screen as well. Though Joe Santos played many other roles in his long career (including the role of Frank Sinatra's father, Marty, in the 1992 TV miniseries, Sinatra), he will always be best remembered as harried but loveable Dennis Becker, who happily, eventually got promoted to Lieutenant for all his hard work and dedication!

So here's to both Jim Garner and Joe Santos - two wonderful actors and good friends, both on and off screen!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Happy Birthday, David Frankham!

This dashing young fellow is British actor, David Frankham, as he appeared in the 1961 adventure film, Master of the World. It was the second of three films in which he co-starred alongside Vincent Price, the other two being Return of the Fly (1958) and Tales of Terror (1962). In fact, David credits Price with getting him cast in this role when the original actor had to bow out. 

But today is a very special day, as today Mr. Frankham hits the age of 90 years old, and is still quite the spry fellow living down in warm and sunny New Mexico!

Science fiction TV fans may recall David Frankham from his guest roles in The Outer Limits (“Nightmare”) and Star Trek (“Is There in Truth No Beauty?”) However, to many longtime Disney fans like myself, David Frankham will always be beloved as the voice of Sgt. Tibbs, the heroic little tabby cat who helped rescue the puppies in Disney’s animated classic, One Hundred and One Dalmatians.

I’ve written before of how the Disney artists would often try to incorporate some of the physical features and mannerisms from the actors who provided their voices. And I believe that they were able to translate some of Mr. Frankham’s facial features into the feline features of Tibbs. The little cat shares his big soulful eyes, small pointed nose that juts out sharply, and especially the pouting lower lip on a small mouth. 

As it happens, Sgt. Tibbs is my favourite character from the film, as I love the irony of a skinny little cat risking his nine lives trying to protect 101 puppies, knowing full well that as grown-up dogs they’d likely give him a lot of grief! Tibbs moves in quick zigzag patterns, in contrast to the slow plodding movements of The Colonel, his sheepdog commander, and so that also makes him the natural choice to embark on a stealth mission, as he can easily dart through small confined spaces undetected by the two Cockney villains, Horace and Jasper. David Frankham created a quick, attentive vocal mannerism to match his physical movements, and the little cat is so respectful of his superiors, eager to carry out his mission to the best of his abilities. In short, Mr. Frankham and the Disney animators have combined their talents to create a heroic and memorable little personality that will live on in the hearts of all Disney fans forever!

So in closing, I want to wish David Frankham a very Happy 90th Birthday and sincere thanks for playing a part in my childhood movie memories!

Here he is in the trailer for Roger Corman's Master of the World (1961):

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

"Nudge, Nudge, Say No More!"

Back in the beginning of May 2015, I'd received a freelance assignment that intrigued me and turned out to be a lot of fun to do. The request came from the Just For Laughs company, who are based in Montreal and put together various comedy specials for TV, as well as the Just For Laughs live comedy festivals featuring many well-known and up and coming stand-up comedians.

It turns out they were putting together a comedy tour featuring Monty Python alumni, John Cleese and Eric Idle, where the two of them would sit and chat on stage, reminiscing about their work on Monty Python's Flying Circus and the movies that the TV show begat. It was my caricature of John Cleese in his role as the Minister of Silly Walks from a few years back that the folks from Just For Laughs had seen on Google images, leading to their hiring me for this assignment, and they wanted Cleese still depicted in that role. For Eric, I suggested his "Nudge, Nudge" character, as that seemed to me his most iconic role and very representative of Eric's style of humour. They agreed, and I forged ahead on the caricature of this funny duo!

The show itself was only scheduled through October, and was limited to Florida and a few other southern state playdates. Cleese himself joked about how it was really just a good excuse for an all-expenses paid Florida vacation for he and Eric! Though I unfortunately did not see the show myself, friends of mine who did were good enough to send me a photo of my caricature projected large on a screen above the stage before the show got underway. 

Then, just a week before Christmas I received an early present. The folks from Just For Laughs had not only honoured my request for a poster as a souvenir, but they'd had John and Eric autograph it for me as well! It was certainly a big thrill, and a great addition to my collection of autographed caricatures I've amassed over many years. Here is that signed poster:

Just today, I was alerted to this Daily Mail article on John Cleese and his outspoken criticism of how today's political correctness is attempting to restrict what a comedian is allowed to say, particularly in venues on the college and university circuit. Cleese is in good company, as other comedians such as Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, and Bill Maher have made similar observations. And having taught at a college for eleven years myself, I share these views also. Students are not as easygoing as they used to be, and these comedians are quite right to be concerned about the future of comedy when subjected to arbitrary restrictions out of fear of it being considered "offensive".

Here's a video of John Cleese speaking his mind on this unfortunate phenomenon:

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Happy Birthday, Pamela Sosnowski!

Though this blog has been somewhat dormant for awhile, I’ve recently started to revive it with a flurry of new posts, celebrating entertainers that I like. Today the Cartoon Cave would like to try something a little different, in that I’d like to salute one of my fellow bloggers, Pamela Sosnowski, on her birthday. Pam is the creator of the Go Retro blogsite, which is devoted to pop culture of the Mid-20th Century, a subject also close to my heart. In fact, over the last couple years I’ve been gradually adding more and more links to the Cartoon Cave's sidebar, listing numerous blogs devoted to Mid-Century Modern art and entertainment, as this is what I’ve always loved best.

I’ve been reading Pam’s Go Retro site for quite a while now, and I really enjoy the subjects she chooses to write about. Go Retro is of a likeminded nostalgic bent to my own Cartoon Cave, and I find Pam’s posts quite informative and delightfully written. More recently, Pam and I have become friends through Facebook, and I'm very happy to have met her through that online venue. We seem to share a lot of common interests, and it turns out that Pam’s all-time favourite male vocalist is none other than Bobby Darin, who is also a favourite of mine, second only to Frank Sinatra on my list!

So in honour of her birthday, I’ve created this caricature of the lovely Pam Sosnowski, and I would like to encourage my readers who share an interest in Mid-20th Century pop culture to please go check out Go Retro for more warm nostalgic memories of the glorious past!

Happy Birthday, Pam!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

RIP Alan Rickman...

Only one day after we lost Disney's Robin Hood, Brian Bedford, comes the tragic news this morning that the Sheriff of Nottingham (from Kevin Costner's version), Alan Rickman, has died at the age of 69 following a bout with cancer. Admittedly I have only seen a handful of Rickman's films, so I do not feel I could do him justice in trying to sum up his career. Like many moviegoers, I am most familiar with him in the role of Professor Snape from the Harry Potter films, and was introduced to his work in the aforementioned, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. However, I based this caricature of him drawn several years ago from his role in the romantic comedy, Love Actually.

Alan Rickman was probably one of the most distinctive actors we've known in the last couple of decades, with his unique facial features, highly nasal voice, and slow, articulate delivery of his dialogue. He always played the part of a villain to the hilt, with an underlying dark humour not unlike that of Vincent Price or George Sanders. In the contemporary film world of actors who are mostly blandly attractive pretty boy types, Alan Rickman was one of a disappearing breed of truly distinctive character actors, and he certainly made his mark on the films of his generation.

With the deaths of David Bowie, Brian Bedford, and now Alan Rickman, this has truly been a devastating week for the Brits. So sad...

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Farewell, Brian Bedford...

It always saddens me to hear about the death of a performer I like, and especially so when it happens to be one that I’ve had the great fortune to have met. Such is the case with Brian Bedford, an actor primarily known for his work on stage, yet also having performed in a number of feature films and TV show guest appearances.

I first became aware of Brian Bedford in 1973, when I saw Disney’s animated feature, Robin Hood up on the big screen when I was just 13. Brian was perhaps the only actor in the film’s voice credits that I had never heard of, and ironically he was the voice of the title character, Robin Hood the fox! I just loved that film, as I was quite taken by the concept of the Robin Hood legend being re-enacted with a cast of anthropomorphic animals. (And that was long before I’d ever heard the word, “anthropomorphic”!) Despite it not being particularly well thought of by animation film critics, it still remains a personal favourite Disney feature of mine, as I still believe it has some of the most enjoyable characterizations, even if the plot is merely serviceable.

My photo of Brian Bedford from 1980.
I wish we'd had digital cameras back then!
Several years later, Brian Bedford started to appear at Canada’s Stratford Festival, in Stratford, Ontario. In 1978, my parents agreed to take me to see him at Stratford, in a production of Private Lives, opposite Maggie Smith. We drove there from Ottawa, and I was able to arrange before the show for permission to visit with Brian backstage after his performance, as I had drawn a caricature that I wished to present to him. Brian had given the word that we’d be welcome, and so we headed backstage after the show (and passed Maggie Smith in the hallway, who smiled at us as she was just heading home). Brian Bedford was absolutely charming, and graciously spent about a half hour with us, chatting with me about both his voice work in Robin Hood, as well as his role in Grand Prix, the only live-action feature I’d seen him in, and on which I had based my caricature of him. Coincidentally, Brian's co-star in Grand Prix was James Garner, my alltime favourite actor, whom I have featured numerous times on The Cartoon Cave!

As the tragic race car driver, Scott Stoddard, in Grand Prix 1966
We saw him again at Stratford a couple more times over the years, and also were able to visit with him when he appeared on the Toronto stage in a production of Whose Life Is It Anyway? The caricature pictured in the photo above is a second one I’d done of him, presented to him at Stratford in 1980. Every time I saw him, he greeted me by name, even remembering the fact that I’d hoped to one day work for Disney. That would actually happen for me in 1984, but I don’t believe I saw him again after then, and I think he’d have been happy to hear that news if I’d gotten in touch again. I really wish now that I had. Brian Bedford was a true gentleman and a very kind fellow. I will miss him very much.

Monday, January 11, 2016

RIP David Bowie

I've never been a rock fan per se, so my knowledge of David Bowie's career and music legacy is very limited. However, it certainly did come as a shock to read of his passing this morning at the relatively early age of 69.

Because I was not a rock enthusiast, I really don't know his work in his "Ziggy Stardust" persona of the 70s at all. In fact, it wasn't until he recorded the title theme from the 1982 remake of Cat People that I took notice of what was actually a very good voice, deep and resonant and very theatrical. I still like that song, Putting Out The Fire to this day.

The caricature above I created originally for one of the online weekly caricature contests a few years ago. Here's another sketch I did at the time which I never did develop further, based on his iconic appearance singing the Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth duet with Bing Crosby on Bing's final Christmas special that aired in 1977 posthumously after Bing's death the previous summer.

I think the way I'd like to remember David Bowie best, though, is not alongside Bing, but rather, in this music video duet he performed with his fellow English rocker and contemporary, Mick Jagger. In their cover version of Dancing In The Street, Mick and Bowie are just having so much fun that it's impossible to resist their energetic charm! Enjoy!