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A founder and guiding light of Reader�s Digest Video, Gary created many of their biggest TV triumphs � from America In The �40s (PBS) and Legends Of Comedy (Disney) to An Old-Fashioned Christmas (syndicated). He also created and/or wrote and/or produced such award-winning broadcast series and specials as Remembering The �70s, Elvis: A Three-Hour Special, On A Country Road (with Lee Arnold), Cavalcade Of Comedy, In Touch (with Kris Erik Stevens), The Golden Years, The Album Countdwon (Phil Hendrie) The Halloween Spooktacular and the legendary 52-hour History Of Rock �n� Roll (winner of Billboard�s �Top Special Program Of The Year� award).
The author of countless articles, liner notes and several books (The Top Ten; The Professional Song Guide, etc.), Theroux is a former format designer/programmer and Director of Special Features for radio syndicator Drake-Chenault Enterprises. A longtime DJ, actor, narrator, commercial spokesman, scriptwriter and UCLA instructor, Gary is also a dedicated entertainment historian, maintaining over 250,000 files (bios, photos, reviews, etc.) on more than a century of hit music, films and television programming. A half-million reference recordings on CDs, LPs, 45s, 78s and even cylinders (!) flesh out Theroux�s massive archive, along with film, video, thousands of artist interviews and a vast reference book library.
As active as ever, Gary continues to work in radio, TV and film and even had featured roles in two recent movies, �Taffy Was Born� and �Soft Money.� (The former just ran at the Cannes Film Festival.) Since 2003 he has worked as a producer-writer-narrator of audio and video productions for The Intervale Group and as a featured speaker for the Institute for International Film Financing. He�s one of the 25 industry leaders on the Nominating Committee of The Hit Parade Hall of Fame (see hitparadehalloffame.org) and has just finished his latest screenplay, a rollicking new Christmas comedy.
One of the most pretentious -- and worst -- movies of all time
Easily one of the worst movies of all time, this badly shot and edited pretentious bore did attract moviegoers in the late '60s on the strength of the then novelty of seeing a few fleeting nude scenes -- which,m just like the rest of this endless waste of motion picture film, were ineptly staged, lit, miked and photographed. The movie starts with a parade of brief man-on-the-street interviews of no interest to anyone and quickly goes downhill from there. All I can assume is that production company must have thought it would be fun to compile to feature-length a lot of embarrassingly amateurish garbage and throw in a few utterly unerotic sex scenes in order to see how much of the public could thus be enticed to waste their time and money. The gimmick worked -- at first -- until those so fooled began to warn their friends that they'd have a far better time undergoing root canal.
Car 54, Where Are You? (1961)
Easily one of the best-written, best performed and best produced sitcoms in television history
Easily one of the funniest sitcoms in television history. Everything about this show worked -- from the superb, rapid-fire writing and lightning-fast editing to the absolutely flawless cast performances. Way, way, way ahead of it's time, every FRAME of every episode of "Car 54" dazzles and delights. You watch and are amazed that so many perfectly crafted and performed gags plus so much story and vivid characterizations were crammed into every 22 minute outing. It's hard to pick a favorite episode, but one of the best features non-actor game show host Jan Murray judging an all-cop barbershop harmony contest in which every quartet entered sings the same song: 1910's "By The Light of the Silv'ry Moon." Murray's resulting slow descent into insanity is unbelievably funny and marked the high water mark of his career. After the high-rated show won an Emmy in 1963, everyone connected to "Car 54" expected it to be picked up for a third season -- but that never happened. Why? Because the wife of NBC's head at the time loved "The Virginian" -- and insisted that her husband expand that western to 90 minutes. That meant something 30 minutes long had to be dropped from NBC's prime-time schedule. Unbelievably, they chose to axe "Car 54" -- the best show on NBC at that time. Series star Fred Gwynne moved on to "The Munsters" and brought along his best friend from the "Car 54" cast, Al Lewis. Joe E. Ross teamed with Imogene Coca to star on the short- lived series "It's About Time." Both of those shows, of course, were enormous steps down from the brilliant insanity of "Car 54." The cancellation broke the heart (and creative drive) of eight-time Emmy winning series creator and chief scriptwriter Nat Hiken. After "Car 54," Nat's only major project was "The Love God," a minor Don Knotts movie. Hiken died of a heart attack in 1968 at age 54. The only good thing about Nat's early passing was that he didn't have to wince like the rest of us did when his "Car 54" concept was ruined by the producers, writers and cast of the insultingly bad 1994 feature film version. Of the original TV cast, only minor players Al Lewis and Nipsey Russell turned up in the movie via cameos (even though other original cast members were still around). Lewis later said he knew the film version was crap but needed the money.
The Hard Ride (1971)
An Embarrassing Waste Of Film
While the two leads here are adequate for this type of bottom-of-the-bill movie, one has to admit that this is the kind of film one would find at a drive-in in 1971 -- a drive-in occupied entirely by couples far too busy making out in their back seats to ever glance at the screen or even hook the speaker to their car windows. It's hard to figure what's worse here -- the lousy script and direction, idiotic soundtrack music, the cheapo production techniques, the poor editing, the badly choreographed fight scenes ("heightened" by inexplicable slo-mo) or the stupidly clichéd plot and characters. The motorcycle sequences are almost laughable. The childish dopes the movie tries to typify would have been just as awesome on bicycles with training wheels. What an embarrassing waste of film.
Woodchipper Massacre (1988)
Little Known Factoid
I've never actually seen this film but can tell you one thing about its production. While a comedy/oldies radio DJ in 1988, I got a call from the production company. They asked if I'd write and record a bit they'd drop into the soundtrack as sounds eminating from a TV (the television screen itself would never be shown). I said sure, wrote a parody of '50s sci-fi monster clichés, rounded up some sound effects and called in another DJ, Pam Landry, to play the female part. As she happened to be on the air at the time, she put on a long song, joined me at the mike in the production room and we cut the voicetrack in a single take. Giggling, she then went back to her show while I mixed in the goofy sound effects. We'd have never done it if we'd known that "Woodchipper Massacre" was going to be such a turkey -- but, then again, we never got paid for our efforts, either! -- Gary Theroux
Why Do Fools Fall in Love (1998)
Nice biopic -- if you think Lymon's wives were more important than he was
It was true in the '50s and still is today: it's no exaggeration to state that most hitmaking careers are over in 18 months. Teen idols fare the worst, and such was the fate of Frankie Lymon, who scored but three Top 20 hits between February 1956 and the summer of 1957: "Why Do Fools Fall In Love," "I Want You To Be My Girl" (both with The Teenagers) and "Goody Goody" (as a soloist). After that, the industry and music buyers considered him to be yesterday's former fresh face. And, like most young teens who become overnight sensations, Frankie's firework-long popularity came to cripple him later as a) people would not accept him as anything other than a 13-year-old and b) he was utterly unprepared to cope with real life once his flash of fame had ended. An insightful peek into Frankie Lymon's mercurial life would have made a great movie -- but this isn't it. Instead, we get only a superficial look at Lymon, as the movie focuses instead on the three women who claimed to be his wife. Lymon does not deserve to be shoved into the background of his own biopic, especially as his story is representative of the rise and fall of many flash-in-the-pan artists who find themselves revered by the public one minute and then dumped into history's ashcan the next -- often before they really reach the summit of their skills. (Believe me -- as the writer of "The History Of Rock 'n' Roll," I know this all too well.) The three women battling over his estate were more a footnote to his story than the real drama and far too much time is allocated to letting the three female leads each take a star turn. Yes, Zola Taylor was the best-known of the three, but she is portrayed following her run with The Platters as an in-the-money solo star headlining live shows with her giant hit "Only You." Are the producers kidding? Zola Taylor didn't even JOIN The Platters until AFTER "Only You" had become a million-seller! The Platters scored big as the most successful hitmaking singing group of the late '50s (1955-9), despite the fact that the "group" was really lead vocalist Tony Williams -- with the others as mere background singers. (What were The Doors, for example, without Jim Morrison?) Zola only sang lead on a couple of minor Platters chart items -- and after leaving the act, immediately sank into near total obscurity. The Platters' golden era ended in 1960 after Tony left on his ill-fated solo career. (I explored this in great detail while assembling a 60-track Platters career retrospective 3-CD box set.) None of The Platters really made much money at all -- as they were mere salaried employees of their manager, Buck Ram. Ram wrote much of their material, told them what to sing and how, produced their records, owned The Platters' name and (no surprise) kept nearly all of the loot himself. The portrayal of Morris Levy, who owned several labels including Gee (the recording home of Lymon and The Teenagers) was pretty accurate. Not all record labels screwed artists as thoroughly as Levy's did, but his methods were none too unusual for the time. In fact, they're not much different than what the industry does today!
Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982)
Along with "The Jerk," one of Steve Martin's top two finest films
I remember reading reviews in The New York Times and elsewhere in 1983 fawning over Woody Allen's brilliant and wholly original idea of inserting himself into old film footage in "Zelig." They'd not noted, of course, that everyone from Ernie Kovacs to John Zacherle had already done that "brilliant and wholly original idea" on television -- and, most notably, Steve Martin did it in a feature film, "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid," one year prior to "Zelig." While "Zelig" has its moments, it is ultimately tedious, running about twice as long as it's one-note gag treatment can sustain. In sharp contrast is the far more clever, inspired, fully developed, insightful and witty DMDWP, which, as noted. came out one year earlier. As often happens with groundbreakers set somewhere outside the norm, DMDWP was not exactly a box office hit -- a key reason why no sequels were ever made. That's unfortunate, as Martin's character was one of his finest creations and could have sustained more installments in the series. (Steve was never better on film than he is here.) It's good that the people behind "Police Squad" did not give up on it after it failed to fit within the confines of standard TV concepts around the same time. Reborn as "The Naked Gun" series of feature films, the "Police Squad" concept turned into three of the greatest comedy motion pictures of all time. DMDWP deserved a lot better than it got in 1982 as well, and I'm glad to see that it has finally found respect and its audience through television exposure (much like a previous box office bomb, "It's A Wonderful Life"). The kind of creativity Martin, Carl Reiner and the rest of the DMDWP crew put into their project needs to be strongly encouraged -- as it represents excellent comic film-making, as opposed to the witless parade of routine crudities that Hollywood ordinarily churns out.
Fine Performances Undercut By The Script
Garrett did a fine job recreating Gleason, including his voice -- although his one attempt at singing as Gleason missed the mark. As biopics go, this one was well shot, but loses points for it's chaotic structure (with far too many jarring flashbacks), key storyline omissions and factual errors. Among the omissions: Gleason's film work (all the way back to the '40s and on to the year before his death), his first TV sitcom ("The Life Of Riley" was a 1949-50 Emmy winner!) and what happened to him between 1956 (when the last non-interview scene supposedly takes place) and his death 30 years later (!). Among the goofs: the wrong cue music (his most-used TV theme was also a hit single for him in 1953, "Melancholy Serenade"; after introducing his variety shows, Jackie'd leave the stage to the strains of "That's A-Plenty", etc.) I was surprised to discover halfway through the film that he was still working the more-or-less small-time; too much screen time was devoted to his early years, which could have been greatly condensed. I also agree with another reviewer that the comedy monologues were uniformly terrible; one wonders why ANY of the audiences shown were laughing at all (except during the "Honeymooners" sequences). It's unfortunate that the producers chose to present Gleason in such a relentlessly negative light. Maybe their view was, "Hey, he's dead. He can't answer back and defend himself. He's from another era than we are so who cares? Let's just trash him." Gleason wouldn't have had the career he did is he was really so hopelessly bad and untalented. If he did have any redeeming qualities, the writers of this film chose to leave them out.
It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963)
The greatest comedy motion picture of all time
Yes, different people find different things amusing and there are some perpetually glum Gusses who can't stand amusement of any kind as it might make some people happier than THEY are. To me, though, there is no greater feeling than knowing that you have done something that makes others smile and feel better. That's why I have spent my entire career in entertainment -- as a comedy writer, actor, filmmaker and producer. That said, I can tell you this: "It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World" is nothing less than the greatest comedy motion picture of all time. Once the film begins -- and its magic has me within the first three notes of the opening theme --you are swept into the STORY and the delightful mix of idiosyncratic characters whose dateless blend of human foibles bring it so vividly to life. It's the perfect combination of comic characters, a brilliantly concocted and unfolded plot and ACTION that's both funny AND exciting. I think my all-time fondest wish would have been to be involved in making "IAMMMMW" -- but unfortunately they didn't cast too many 12 year olds from Armonk, New York. It did inspire me to make my first slapstick comedy short, however, using my Dad's 8mm movie camera. There'll never be another IAMMMW; too many of today's comics rely on crudity and foul-mouthed insults -- and, of course, with few exceptions, have little grounding in physical comedy. Yes, it would have been great if Ernie Kovacs had lived to participate and if some of the stars given but parts had expanded roles (Buster Keaton, Stan Freberg, etc.). Stan Laurel would have been an exceptionally welcome addition (had he not turned down the chance). But at least we get to see Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Jonathan Winters and others at their absolute best. Others have tried to duplicate the IAMMMMW formula and all have come up short. Let me tell ya -- it ain't easy to top perfection.
Pot o' Gold (1941)
More To This Film That Just Jimmy Stewart & Paulette Goddard
It's kind of interesting that while all the posted comments play up Jimmy Stewart and Paulette Goddard, only a few mention the music -- but that's what happens over time when some stars retain their luster (like Stewart) and others fade (like bandleader Hoarce Heidt). The movie "Pot O' Gold" was inspired by the runaway success of Heidt's incredibly popular radio show of the same name -- one of the most highly-rated of the era. Hoarce Heidt & his Musical Knights racked up 52 hits between 1937 and 1945 (when Heidt left music to go into real estate). Over it's run, the band scored several chart-toppers, including "Gone With The Wind," "Ti-Pi-Pin" and "I Don't Want To Set The World on Fire." (Amazingly, none of the "Pot O' Gold" soundtrack songs ever became hits.) Pianist Frankie Carle, cornet star Bobby Hackett, sax man Frank DeVol, electric guitarist Alvino Rey and singers Mary Martin, Gordon MacRae, The King Sisters and, yes, comedian Art Carney, too, all put in their time on the Heidt bandstand. "Pot O' Gold" marked the band and bandleader's only motion picture appearance.
Worth seeing; a fine family drama with heart and action
Anyone who thinks of Richard Kiel as simply a James Bond nemesis with metal teeth should see this, a film in which he stars as the victim of fearful people jumping to conclusions about those who are a little bit different than themselves. His tender relationship with the child Amy evokes similar scenes between the Frankenstein monster and another small but fearless little girl. This is a fine drama for kids -- well written, acted and produced -- although the ending, while moving, is a bit of a letdown. Ellen Crawford makes the most of her limited screen time; one wishes, though, her role had been bigger. Not quite sure why this film was rated PG; it's clearly a G, not unlike a lot of the best family movies of the pre-ratings era.