The Door To Yesterday #32

Hello again!

It’s been quite a while since I last posted a new “Door To Yesterday” but I’m back and promise to keep the missives coming!

A vintage TV trove at Cedars Sinai

I recently spent ten days in Cedars Sinai Hospital here in Los Angeles and one of the few things that helped retain my sanity was that they have an in-house TV channel devoted to vintage programs of comedy, variety and magic. Presented by The Board Of Governors of Cedars Sinai in association with veteran television film & video distributor and noted nostalgia authority Paul
Brownstein, the comedy menu includes a veritable treasure trove of classic sitcoms from years gone by including The George Burns & Gracie Allen Show (from the period around 1952 when Fred Clark was still playing Bea Benadaret’s husband before Larry Keating took over a year later), The Jack Benny Program and from later years: The Dick Van Dyke Show and Here’s Lucy. Also regularly featured are episodes from Groucho Marx‘s game show You Bet
Your Life, The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, The Smothers Brothers specials and The Bill
Dana Show.

I grew up watching the Burns & Allen and Jack Benny programs when they were shown on British television by the BBC with all the commercial spots removed. I naturally realized this but what I didn’t discover until years later was that both series had dual sponsors; this meant that one week a Burns & Allen show would open announcing that the sponsor was Carnation Milk (“from contented cows”!) and then the program would end telling viewers that the following week’s episode would be brought to the airwaves by B.F. Goodrich. Watching some of the vintage Jack Benny shows, I also noted that sponsorship appeared to be split between State Farm Insurance and Jello.

It’s fascinating to look back at just which American TV programs were imported into Britain. Yes, series such as Burns & Allen and Jack Benny plus Sid Caesar and I Love Lucy and even “The Adventures Of Hiram Holiday” with Wally Cox all made it across the water but “The Honeymooners” never did originally; decades later, the BBC showed some of the old “Honeymooners” episodes for the first time but the experiment was not successful. Therefore Jackie Gleason was only known over there from his movie appearances. Similarly, Milton Berle was hardly known in Britain, likewise Red Skelton, Ed Sullivan and even Johnny Carson!

The one exception to the performers and series mentioned above was the multi-talented Phil Silvers and his wonderful American army series “You’ll Never Get Rich” which ended up being re-titled “The Phil Silvers Show“: not only was it successful in its home country but it struck a longterm nerve with the British public, so much so that it still turns up on BBC schedules over there from time to time. Amazingly, it’s as funny today as it ever was. Created by Nat Hiken, it ran on CBS from 1955 to 1959 and in addition to starring Phil Silvers as Sgt. Ernie Bilko, it boasted a wonderful cast of supporting characters including Paul Ford as the bumbling Colonel Hall, Harvey Lembeck & Allan Melvin as Bilko’s two henchmen Corporal’s Barbella & Henshaw plus Maurice Gosfield as the rotund Private Duane Doberman and Joe E. Ross as Sgt. Rupert ‘Ooh ooh’ Ritzik.

There’s a terrific 50th Anniversary DVD set of “The Phil Silvers Show” which includes a previously unseen audition tape and 18 choice episodes drawn from the whole series plus some great clips of Phil’s appearance on TV talk shows. In addition, the first complete season of the Bilko shows is also available on a recently released 5-DVD set.

For those Phil Silvers enthusiasts who want to collect everything they can lay their hands on, you may remember that in 1957, Columbia released the following album on which Phil played trumpet…

Thought for the week

I always seem to disagree with the Grammy ® Awards and the announcement of the latest nominations found me once again grumbling as I read through the categories. It seems understandably likely that Justin Bieber will win in the Best New Artist stakes but my complaint is not about who is nominated (although surely Drake’s breakout began in 2009) but rather that three extremely talented girls aren’t . In my humble opinion those who deserved an equal nod are Ke$ha, Nicki Minaj and the classical crossover singer Jackie Evancho.

Vladimir Putin sings Fats Domino!

My favorite YouTube video of the moment is of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin serenading an audience (including Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell) by singing the 1940 American ballad “Blueberry Hilland singing it in English! Written by Al Lewis, Vincent Rose and Larry Stock, the song is most associated with Fats Domino who sold a million copies of it on Imperial in 1956 but among earlier versions was one by Glenn Miller & His Orchestra (with vocal by Ray Eberle) on Bluebird in 1940 and another by Louis Armstrong on Decca in 1949; it was even featured by singing cowboy Gene Autry in one of his many movie successes, “The Singing Hill”, released by Republic in 1941.

Top to bottom: Fats Domino, Glenn Miller, Gene Autry

Johnny Otis’s “Speech”

All the talk about the new film “The King’s Speech” which documents the speech impediment problem that King George VI tried so valiantly to overcome reminded me of a song that R&B/R&R singer Johnny
Otis wrote and recorded back in 1959. There had been records about stutterers before such as a rockabilly opus called “Stutterin’ Papa” by Buck Griffin on MGM in 1956, but Johnny Otis came along later with “Mumblin’ Mosie” which I always remember packed a powerful punch from the moment you heard it!

Otis was also a standout drummer and bandleader who cut a string of major R&B charted records in 1950 and 1951 on Savoy Records. He later signed with Capitol and in 1957 enjoyed a huge British hit with a big beat version of the old 1920’s Sidney Clare/Con Conrad song “Ma! He’s Making Eyes At Me” which featured Johnny & his band (collectively known as ‘The Johnny Otis Show’) featuring vocals by Marie Adams & The Three Tons Of Joy. The following year found Johnny at the centre of the “Hand Jive” craze which was touched of by his song “Willie And The Hand Jive“. Then in 1959, Johnny released his “Mumblin’ Mosie” but it ran into protests because it was alleged that its lyric could be construed as ridiculing folks with similar speech disorders; Capitol in the U.S. subsequently withdrew the record but not before the song had found its way overseas where British rocker Cliff Richard covered it for EMI’s Columbia label.

Credit where credit was due

Do you remember the days when movie credits almost always ran before the beginning of the film? These days, it’s not unusual for you to have forgotten who is in the movie by the time all the credits have run. This same delayed display of opening credits also now occurs regularly on television, particularly in dramatic series. But of course, the big difference between yesteryear and today is that there are so many, many more credits. You start to wonder just how many executive producers it really takes to make a TV show!

Below is a wonderful example of the way movie credits are never displayed these days. It’s from the opening of the 1950 Warner Bros. release “Backfire” which is currently available on DVD in Warner Home Video’s fifth Film Noir Collection box-set. When was the last time you saw five leading players listed on one card?!

“Surfin’ Bird” re-surfaces!

Believe it or not, the 1963 oldie “Surfin’ Bird” by The Trashmen is #3 on the British singles chart this week! A hard-driving garage rock anthem, “Surfin’ Bird” was actually a combination of two songs “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow” and “The Bird’s The Word“, written and recorded by the west coast R&B group The Rivingtons.

Movie Quote of yesteryear:

She came at me in sections…more curves than a scenic railway!”

Spoken by Fred Astaire describing Cyd Charisse in “The Band Wagon” (MGM: 1953)

Rock on!


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