LISTEN TO BOOMTOWN RADIO! “ALL the Music That Matters for the Generation That Created Rock 'n' Roll”

Before A Christmas Story, before the Grinch and Charlie Brown, most Baby Boomers’ holiday tradition was watching the movie White Christmas, the 1954 musical starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen. We saw it so often, we probably knew almost every line by heart.

But here are a few things you probably didn’t know about the movie:

1. The Danny Kaye part was intended for Fred Astaire. The movie began as a quasi-remake of Holiday Inn, the black & white film that first teamed Bing Crosby and Astaire and the movie debut of the Irving Berlin song, “White Christmas.” But Astaire had announced his retirement (it wouldn’t stick) and turned the part down. It was then offered to Donald O’Connor, who accepted. Then he became ill and had to bow out. So, Kaye was the producers' third choice.

2. The musical number “Sisters” wasn’t in the original script. Crosby and Kaye were horsing around with the girls’ costume on the set. It cracked up director Michael Curtiz so much that he had the number worked up and included in the film.

3. Try and see Vera Ellen’s neck. Throughout the film, Vera is always wearing a turtleneck, scarf or other covering around her neck. No one knows why. Some theorize that there was some flaw in her neck that she was covering up. Others think it was Vera Ellen’s attempt to create a trademark look for herself.

4. While Rosemary Clooney plays Vera Ellen’s older sister, she was actually 7 years younger than her co-star. Also, Bing Crosby was a bit older than Dean Jagger, who plays “the old general” in the film. By the way, Bing was nearly twice Clooney’s age (51 to her 26!).

5. If you look closely, you’ll see future West Side Story star George Chakiris as a chorus boy in the production numbers.

6. The photo of “Benny the Dog-Faced Boy” who was brother to Rosemary & Vera is a photo of a grown-up Alfalfa Switzer of Little Rascals fame.

7. Bob Fosse worked on the film as an uncredited choreographer. It was early in the legendary dancer/choreographer/director’s career and Vera Ellen brought him on to choreograph her numbers, but without screen credit.

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: Karen Pendleton

While some of watched The Mickey Mouse Club and focused on Annette, many of us who were a little younger paid attention to the youngest Mousketeers, Karen & Cubbie. Cubbie O’Brien grew up to become an accomplished professional drummer, but whatever happened to Karen Pendleton?

Hers is a bittersweet story. Karen did not continue in show business after the Mouse Club show wound down. Instead, she finished school, married lawyer Mike DeLaurer in 1970 and had a daughter in 1973.

Then, her life took a downward turn. First, she was in a bad car accident in 1983 that left her paralyzed from the waist down. For a woman who had a passion for dancing, it was a devastating turn of events. That was followed by a divorce in 1985.

Instead of retreating from life, Karen made a decision to push forward. She went back to college, completed her Bachelor's degree in psychology and then went on to earn her Master’s degree, one of only two Mousketeers to earn a postgraduate degree.

She went into counseling for women, working at women’s shelters and holding classes on single parenting.

Karen has also appeared in many of the frequent Mousketeer reunion events sponsored by Disney and in 2014 she was given a Disney Legend award.

 

There were 7 regular cast members of that deathless TV classic Gilligan’s Island; yet during the first season, the show’s catchy theme song only mentioned 5 by name. The Professor and Mary Ann were just lumped together as “the rest.”

When the show was renewed for a second season, Russell Johnson and Dawn Wells asked that their characters’ names be included in the song. At first, the network flatly refused, claiming re-recording the song would be too expensive. Then suddenly, they changed their minds and had the song revised.

What happened?

The show’s star, Bob Denver, had gone to the network and said if the song wasn’t changed, he wanted his name removed from the opening credits. The network panicked and gave in.

The rest of the cast did not find out what Denver had done until 20 years after the show went off the air!

Three Coins in the Fountain is solid proof of how easily entertained we were in the 1950’s. This piece of cinematic junk food was actually nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in the year of its release. Sadly, watching it today, one can’t help but notice that the background scenery is the most interesting part of the movie!

Made when Cinemascope was the newest gimmick studios were employing to lure people away from their newly beloved TV sets, Three Coins involves the extremely thin story of three American working girls searching for husbands in Rome, with a brief side trip to Venice.

Jean Peters, Maggie McNamara and Dorothy McGuire play the ladies in question – designed to represent young, very young and dangerously approaching middle age. They all work as secretaries – Peters and McNamara for a make-believe U.S. Government agency, “The United States Distribution Agency,” and McGuire for expatriate American author Clifton Webb (playing a far less venomous version of his character from Laura).

All of us who grew up in the 60’s watched Hogan’s Heroes, the show that demonstrated just how hilarious life could be in a Nazi POW camp. The show ran for 6 seasons on CBS and then for decades more in syndication (even reaching German viewers in the early 90s’).

Here are a few things about the show that you may not know:

Even though she was the daughter of established screen actor Robert Montgomery, Elizabeth Montgomery had to work her way up the ladder of success in Hollywood the way many of her contemporary actresses did.

That meant posing for cheesecake photos while waiting for her big break. In this shot, we see the future Samantha Stevens creating magic by wiggling something other than her nose!

Anyone who knows TV history knows that Seinfeld pulled one of the biggest con jobs in American broadcasting history with their claim that they were “A show about nothing.” Every single episode had a main plot and secondary plot (A and B plots in TV jargon) – just like every episode of every sit-com on the air at the time.

The REAL “show about nothing?” Well, that was unquestionably The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Never has the word “adventure” been so misused!

Those of us of a certain age can remember when TV didn't broadcast 24 hours a day. After the Blue Angels had gone screaming across the sky as "The Star-Spangled Banner" played in the background, most stations put up what was known as a "test pattern." The stations kept broadcasting these cards until they resumed programming the next morning. They were also displayed when networks or local stations lost their transmission signal from remote locations. These were cards designed to help technicians calibrate broadcasting equipment as well as home TV sets.

When color came to dominate television, the test pattern was replaced by color bars, although even those are no longer needed to tune contemporary broadcasting equipment or flat screen TVs.

The most famous test pattern was one of the first - developed by RCA in 1939. It's known as "the Indian head" test pattern because of its inclusion of a Native American in full headdress.

For a time, NBC (owned by RCA) created an additional test pattern, featuring the network's biggest star:

In November, 1956, NBC became the first network to build a variety show around a black headliner when they debuted The Nat “King” Cole Show.

Nat "King" Cole was already an extremely popular singer, with 17 Top 10 hits. His show was well-received an attracted big name talent like Tony Bennett and Ella Fitzgerald as guests. Yet, by December of 1957 the show was gone!

Why?

It wasn’t lack of ratings. Nat “King” Cole competed well. The problem was advertising. The New York agencies were afraid to place their sponsors on a show headlined by an African-American. They feared negative reaction to their clients’ products in the South. The show was only able to attract sponsors at the local level, like Reingold Beer in the New York area.

For a short time, Cole and his guests all agreed to work for AFTRA scale, the equivalent of minimum wage for TV performers. But after a year, Cole became disillusioned and quit, telling reporters, “Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark.”

NBC kept trying, bringing Bill Cosby in to co-star in the hit spy series Ispy beginning in 1965. Three years later they would launch Julia, a sit-com that starred Diahann Carroll.

But it wasn’t until 1970 that the network was finally able to create a variety show starring a black entertainer that could attract national sponsors. That was The Flip Wilson Show.

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