Boston Blackie began life as a jewel thief and safecracker in a series f pulp stories written by Jack Boyle. He reached his greatest fame in a series of mystery movies produced in the 1940s by Columbia Pictures. In the movies, Blackie was now a reformed jewel thief, who nonetheless is always suspected by police inspector Farraday of being the guilty party in the mystery of the moment.
Portrayed on the screen by Chester Morris, Blackie was the engaging, witty rascal, always one step ahead of the police. He was drawn into solving these crimes in order to clear his name and get the cops off his back. A strong undercurrent of comedy ran through the popular series.
The film series (14 in all) led to a concurrent radio series beginning in 1944, initially also starring Morris.
It was inevitable, then, that Boston Blackie would get the call in the early days of TV. However, several changes were made that probably doomed the character to a short run. Blackie’s criminal past was hardly ever mentioned. Exactly what he did for a living was never explained, but he definitely was not a private eye. So, why he spent all his time solving other people’s mysteries was the biggest mystery of all. He wasn’t a cop. He wasn’t getting paid. And he wasn’t suspected by the police. He was just a buttinsky.
Blackie was portrayed by Kent Taylor on the TV series. Lois Collier was cast as Blackie’s ever-present girlfriend, Mary with Frank Orth playing Inspector Farraday as an even bigger blockhead than he was the movies.
Produced by Ziv Television (who also gave us Bat Matterson, Sea Hunt & Highway Patrol among others), the series was only in production for 2 seasons (1951-1952) and was sold directly to local stations through syndication. Despite the low number of episodes, many stations continued to rerun the series until color really took hold and series with far more episodes made Blackie a thing of the past.
The series is remembered to day only because its lead gave Jimmy Buffet the inspiration for his song “Pencil-Thin Mustache” – an ode to several long-gone shows from TV’s earliest days.
As the series has passed into the public domain, there are several video collections of various episodes available for the home video market.
Now, more than half a century later, there has never been a rock & roll film that has surpassed “A Hard Day’s Night.” Not only is it a great rock movie and a great time capsule showing how insane Beatlemania was at its height, but it is simply a great movie (having made many “100 Greatest Films” lists) that influenced many subsequent filmmakers and is credited with single-handedly inventing the music video.
The next time you watch this classic, here are some things you can watch for that you might have missed before.
- The film’s shooting title was “Beatlemania.” Who made the actual decision to change it to “A Hard Day’s Night” is in dispute, but all agree the phrase was originally created by Ringo after a grueling work session.
- United Artists was sure that the Beatlemania was just a passing fad. They authorized a very small budget ($500,000) and memos at the time show that the studio thought the film would lose money. They were really only interested in the soundtrack album (where they believed they would make up the money they lost on the film). That’s the main reason the film was shot in black and white.
- Those opening scenes, where the boys are being chased by rabid fans to and through Marylebone Rail Station in London? The boys really are running for their lives. The film company used genuine Beatle fans who actually were trying to get their hands on the Fab Four.
- Look closely and you’ll see that George falls during that chase and Ringo goes tumbling after him. There was no way to cut due to those screaming fans. So the lads have to pick themselves up and continue their mad dash.
- While the script seems at times to be ad-libbed, it was all scripted. Screenwriter Allun Owen spent several weeks with the Beatles and all concerned say he came away with an incredible knack for being able to mimic their cheeky style.
- One of the young schoolgirls on the train was Patti Boyd, who went on to become George Harrison’s first wife and later, Eric Clapton’s wife. She was also to inspire the songs “Something (In the Way She Moves)” and “Layla.”
- In the famous “Can’t Buy Me Love” scene (credited with being the very first rock video), John was not available for the filming and so a double was used for the aerial shots.
- There is an “in” joke in the constant references to Paul’s grandfather as a “clean old man.” At that time, the actor playing John McCartney (Wilfred Bramell) played a junk man on British TV’s Steptoe and Son (the later American version was named Sanford and Son). As Steptoe, Bramell was constantly called a “dirty old man.” So the “clean old man” gags were funny to British audiences, but went right over the heads of American audiences.
- During the rapid fire press conference/cocktail party, asked what he calls his hairstyle, George replies, “Arthur.” That name was picked up and used as the name of an early trendy New York discotheque (pre-Studio 54).
- Don’t know if you’ll recognize him, but a very young Phil Collins is in the audience of kids at the televised concert that comes near the end of the film.
- Studio execs at United Artists in the States thought the Beatles’ accents would be incomprehensible to American audiences and asked that their real voices be replaced by voice actors with more “proper” British accents. Director Richard Lester declined their request.
- Where’s Paul’s solo scene? The other three Beatles all get short solo scenes: George with a TV producer, John with a dancer, and of course, Ringo going “adventuring.” But why no solo scene for Paul?
- Actually, there was. It was an encounter between Paul and an actress that happens while Paul is out looking for Ringo. The scene was shot but cut from the film because director Richard Lester felt it simply didn’t work. It came off as too stagey. Alas, the footage for this unused scene was destroyed by the studio in the days long before home video and bonus features were ever dreamed of. However, the scene did make it into the paperback novelization of the film and the actual script for it can be found here.
- The group’s name, “the Beatles,” is never said, even once, during the film. (It does appear on Ringo’s drum kit, the stage lighting during the concert and a helicopter at the end, but no one ever mentions their name out loud.)
Do yourself a favor and rent, buy or stream a copy of this classic soon.
Why did June Cleaver always wear high heels & pearls when performing household chores? The heels actually started in the second season – and for a very good reason. Her boys were growing taller and producers wanted June to maintain a height advantage over Wally & the Beaver to reinforce her role as mother.
The pearls were Barbara Billingsley’s idea and for a very good reason. She had a surgical scar at the base of her neck that she didn’t like. The pearls hid the scar.
A wild sitcom that lasted only a single season, but should have lasted longer, I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster had a talented cast. John Astin was Harry Dickens while Marty Ingels played Arch Fenster, two borderline incompetent carpenters. Emmaline Henry appeared as Dickens’ wife, Kate.
Other series regulars were the construction crew that joined the title character on jobs: Frank DeVol as Myron Bannister, David Ketchum as Mel Warshaw, Henry Beckman as Bob Mulligan, and Noam Pitlik as Bentley. Notable guest stars who appeared during the show’s brief run included Harvey Korman, Ellen Burstyn, Lee Meriwether and Yvonne Craig.
Is there a Baby Boomer worthy of the name that hasn’t seen Rebel Without a Cause? Doubtful, James Dean in that red jacket has become an everlasting icon of teenage angst and ambivalence.
But here are a few things about that classic film you may not know:
The title comes from a 1944 book – Warner Brothers purchased the rights to a book about a juvenile delinquent named Harold who wound up in the federal pen in Pennsylvania, For years, they tried to work into an acceptable screenplay. In fact, one of the first writers to try was a guy named Theodore Geisel – or as we know him better – Dr. Seuss.
All true fans know that 328 Chauncey St., Apartment 3-A is the Brooklyn address that Ralph Kramden and his wife, Alice, lived at in The Honeymooners.
That was bad news for Shurleen Conway. She REALLY lived at 328 Chauncey Street, Apartment 3-A in Brooklyn. Die-hard and somewhat deranged fans of the classic show continued showing up at her residence well into the 1980s hoping to catch a glimpse of Jackie Gleason’s alter ego.
There is no record whether she threatened to send them Bang! Zoom! To the Moon!
I Walked with a Zombie may be the best movie with the dumbest title in motion picture history. Cranked out by b-movie horror unit at RKO pictures in 1943, this low budget gem is far better than you might expect.
This was the second in a strong of really good low-key horror movie produced under the supervision of Val Lewton, one of filmland’s most underappreciated artists.
RKO had two rules he had to follow. One, he had to produce his films on a small budget. Two, he had to use titles the studio’s marketing department had already dreamed up and tested. The studio didn’t care about the actual plots, as long as Lewton used the titles.
So after they saddled Lewton with The Cat People and he turned that title into a really great horror movie, they gave him an even sillier title for his follow-up.
I Walked with a Zombie concerns a young nurse (Frances Dee) who arrives at a sugar plantation on the Caribbean island of Saint Sebastian. She is to care for the invalid wife of the plantation’s owner, played by Tom Conway. The wife appears near catatonic and is given to taking silent, dreamlike walks at night. The local legend is that the wife is not sick, but actually dead and returned to life as a zombie by the island’s voodoo practitioners.
Mousketeer Roll Call: Darlene Gillespie
The story of Darlene Gillespie is not one that would lend itself to a Disney movie.
She was the daughter of a Canadian song and dance team. In 1943, her parents relocated to the Los Angeles area when Darlene was just two and began grooming her for a career in show business. By 1955, she was already an accomplished singer and dancer. She passed her audition for The Mickey Mouse Club and became one of the core cast members who stayed with the show during its entire first run.
What we at home never knew is that she was involved in an intense backstage rivalry with Annette Funicello. Dueling sets of stage parents put their friends and relatives up to flooding the Disney studio with fan mail for each of the respective girls. While Darlene did get to star in one of the Mousketeer serials (“Corky & White Shadow”) and play a major part in the second “Spin & Marty” serial, as the show progressed (along with Annette’s bustline), it became obvious who was the top Mousketeer.
Gillespie did cut a couple of albums for Disney, just like Funicello, but they didn’t receive the push from Disney’s marketing arm that Annette got.
When The Mouse Club ceased production, Disney kept Annette under contract, but Darlene had to go her own way. Her acting career quickly fizzled. Over the years, she made a few stabs at re-launching a singing career, but nothing really came of those.
Darlene worked for many years as a nurse and, in fact, greatly assisted her fellow Mousketeer Karen Pendleton when Karen had the car accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down.
Sadly, her last bit of notoriety came in 1998 when she was arrested in a securities fraud scheme that she cooked up with her husband. Darlene was sentenced to two years in prison, but wound up only doing 3 months. In 2005, she and her husband were back in court on charges of fraud. Those charges were eventually dropped. The husband who landed her in the slammer passed away in 2008.
Darlene is still with us, living in relative anonymity having finally reached a financial settlement with the Disney Company after a years-long battle over royalties she claimed she was owed for her work on that TV show. Sadly, that protracted legal battle led to an estrangement with the rest of the surviving Mousketeers.
As these photos prove, the make-up team on Back to the Future got things pretty close when it came to aging their stars (except Lea Thompson is far prettier than they made her appear).
Thomas Wilson and Crispin Glover are pretty darn close.
We'd have a Pepsi Free in their honor (if we could find one).
Okay, now here's an even more recent photo of Michael J. Fox, Thomas Wilson, Christopher Lloyd and Lea Thompson.
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