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THE O. HENRY PLAYHOUSE was a 1957 syndicated TV series lasting 43 episodes, starring Thomas Mitchell as the celebrated 19th century author and raconteur native to New York. "Two Renegades" was only the fourth to air, featuring a highly intriguing cast, topped by the legendary John Carradine, with up and comers Charles Bronson and John Cassavetes. The year is 1905, 40 years since the Civil War ended, but Doc Millikan (Carradine), from Yazoo City, Mississippi, still harbors resentment for how his beloved Confederacy met its defeat, still convinced that they had the upper hand over the North. Bronson plays adventurous soldier of fortune Barney O'Keefe, whose stay in Panama is nearly cut short by a near fatal illness, successfully treated by Doc Millikan. The grateful O'Keefe decides to forsake his Massachusetts roots and join his savior's 40 year old cause before returning to New York, where he is befriended by O. Henry (Thomas Mitchell), who then journeys down to Panama to discover the unrepentant doctor about to face a firing squad. The problem is how the famed author can save the unsuspecting O'Keefe from a similar fate before time runs out. This was the last reunion for Thomas Mitchell and John Carradine, co-stars in two of John Ford's best remembered classics, "The Hurricane" and "Stagecoach," coming two years after they appeared together in a CLIMAX! adaptation of "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." This was only the beginning for Carradine and Charles Bronson, soon to star together in "Showdown at Boot Hill," then years later a final Western in 1977, "The White Buffalo."
A highlight from the final days of RAWHIDE, "Duel at Daybreak" offers us the chance to see Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson face off against each other, two actors who abandoned television for European stardom on the big screen. Rowdy's latest drover is Roman Bedford (Brendon Boone), a young Southerner from Savannah, whose knowledge of the post-Civil War activities of rancher Mason Woodruff (Larry Gates) put him in the crosshairs of Del Lingman (Charles Bronson), Woodruff's ramrod, a short tempered sharpshooter with designs on his boss' pretty daughter Vicki (Jill Haworth). The opening scene establishes that Roman and Vicki already know each other, silently observed by the disapproving Lingman, who proceeds to emotionally browbeat Bedford for not carrying a gun, leading to the Southern tradition of an honorable 'duel at daybreak.' Rowdy (Eastwood) and Jed Colby (John Ireland) offer their expertise to the novice, who proves to be a decent shot when there's nobody shooting back. Bronson is wonderfully evil, a truly intimidating villain that no one dares oppose, just two years prior to his leaving Hollywood for movie stardom overseas.
"Bright Lights" was for years virtually unseen, unappreciated in its day due to the huge number of musicals that exploded across early talkie screens. Shot by director Michael Curtiz in two-strip Technicolor in Dec 1929, its belated release on Sept 21 1930 found an unreceptive audience, so the film was pulled back, its 73 minute running time trimmed by five minutes, and reissued under the new title "Adventures in Africa" (the only existing title on all current prints, all unfortunately in black and white). Top billed Dorothy Mackaill had been a huge star in silents, somewhat overshadowed by the large cast, but still able to spice things up in all her scantily clad glory, director Curtiz failing to hide anything as she undresses in silhouette. Her singing isn't too bad either, but the songs tend to slow the pace of a wild, over the top script that juggles her impending marriage to wealthy socialite Fairchild (Philip Strange) with various backstage shenanigans on the night of her farewell performance. Frank Fay, then husband of Barbara Stanwyck, co-stars as Louanne's possessive former partner, who listens to her stories to the press about some of her past experiences, including a naval baring number in South Africa titled "Song of the Congo," witnessed by Portuguese smuggler Miguel Parada (Beery), whose lascivious attempt at rape finds her throwing a lit oil lamp at his face. Now on her last night in the Broadway footlights, Miguel (to no one's surprise) just happens to be in the audience, a hidden gun just waiting to exact revenge. It's somewhat jarring to find such a comedic ensemble huddled into a murder mystery for the film's second half, after Miguel winds up shot dead with his own pistol (at least the pace picks up at this time). The solution doesn't make much sense, and the possibility of a second murder at the fadeout really makes this musical a true pre-code oddity (lots of suggestive dialogue survives: "that's the cleanest proposition I've had all day!"). While most of the performers have long since faded from memory (Dorothy's making a comeback, God bless her), one uncredited actor was here making his screen debut at age 23, a Shakespearean wannabe calling himself 'Peter Richmond,' eventually going by the name John Carradine by 1935. Arriving in sunny California in 1927, Carradine was living a vagabond life, working as an artist and dishwater to make ends meet when not performing on stage, meeting his idol John Barrymore around this time with the goal of doing "Richard III." In adopting Barrymore's lifestyle of drinking and carousing, the already flamboyant Carradine found a kindred spirit, each possessing 'The Divine Madness,' forever looking down his nose at movie work, never mentioning this film while touting his next title, "Tol'able David," as his first (understandable, since there he had a featured role). In "Bright Lights," Carradine appears at the 11 minute mark for a period of 20 minutes, mostly off camera among the many newshounds gathered in Louanne's dressing room for a spot of note taking. He's the tallest one, clean shaven and wearing a hat, a newspaper photographer who gets to speak two lines, a total of four words: "Telegraph here" and "sure, sure!" Always seen in the background, he enjoys over two minutes screen time, while the unbilled blonde chased by boozing reporter Frank McHugh, Violet Madison (Jean Laverty), surely deserved a screen credit ("no matter where you hide it, I'll find it!"). He undoubtedly looked upon this as a quick buck, not intending to have a future in the movies, but by 1936 his screen career was assured, his affinity for on screen perfidy earning him kudos in John Ford's "The Prisoner of Shark Island."
With this 1933 Paramount feature, "To the Last Man" (its TV title "Law of Vengeance"), John Carradine made his Western debut, and though he's only on screen for exactly 16 seconds he certainly did enough of them over the years (particularly on television) to nearly surpass his more famous horror resume, which actually begins with his next role in James Whale's "The Invisible Man." A remake of a 1923 silent of the same name, it's a story familiar from eons ago, feuding Kentucky families carrying their generational grudge out West, to the community of Grass Valley, Nevada. The film opens with Mark Hayden (Egon Brecher) returning home from the newly ended Civil War, determined to avoid any further bloodshed by moving his family away from their bitter enemy Jed Colby (Noah Beery Sr.). His young son Lynn is present when Jed cold bloodedly shoots old Grandpa Spelvin, at his side cousin Pete Garon (John Carradine, who has no dialogue). Grandpa identifies the two killers to Lynn, while his father counts on the law to settle the matter by jailing Colby for a period of 15 years ("murder? Why it was feudin' pure and simple!"). Jack La Rue continues his streak of playing scheming evildoers as Colby's former cellmate Jim Daggs, whose job is to locate the Hayden clan so that Jed can continue the feud, even after a passage of 15 years. Daggs intends to marry Jed's wildcat daughter Ellen (Esther Ralston), only to find a rival in newcomer Lynn Hayden (Randolph Scott), who remembers seeing his grandfather shot by Ellen's father, but wants to assure her that their elders' fight should not be their own. Brother Bill Hayden is played by Buster Crabbe, with Gail Patrick as sister Ann, Barton MacLane as her husband, the one who kills Carradine's Pete Garon off screen, in answer to the Colbys' year long raid of cattle rustling (Shirley Temple makes a strong impression as their daughter). Such a strong cast, coupled with Henry Hathaway's straightforward direction, and a total absence of a music score make this a better than expected early talkie Western, a formulaic plot with several pre-code twists and turns that keep the viewer off guard. John Carradine was making only his 8th feature film, Shirley Temple her 4th, while other unbilled actors included Erville Alderson, Harry Cording, and young Delmar Watson.
The Dec 14 1955 broadcast honoring silent screen comedian Harold Lloyd finds him one of the more amiable subjects, incredulous at being tonight's subject, but a willing participant (Groucho Marx steals the introduction at the popular Brown Derby restaurant). Lloyd's boyhood found young Harold emulating his literary idol Tom Sawyer, promising to teach magic tricks to any friends willing to do chores for him. The flip of a coin saw his father taking the Nebraska family out to sunny California, where Harold tries to find work as an extra in Hollywood, along with aspiring actor Hal Roach, who would become the producer that launched Harold's starring career. We learn about how the exit of brunette leading lady Bebe Daniels led to her replacement, Mildred Davis, a success opposite Harold first on screen in several films, then off screen, with 46 happy years of wedded bliss (her nickname was 'Mid'). Their three children also make a brief appearance, Gloria (mother of granddaughter Suzanne), Peggy, and Harold Jr. (also an actor, who sadly passed away just three months after his father). The most poignant story relates how Harold lost the thumb and forefinger on his right hand (occasionally visible during the show) because a prop bomb turned out to be quite real, its explosion putting Lloyd in the hospital for three months in 1919, unsure whether he would ever be able to act on screen again. His huge success with the eternally optimistic 'glasses' character was a natural extension of his own outlook on life, and we see clips of his most famous sequence from "Safety Last," clinging for dear life from the hands of a tall building clock (the culmination of his fascination with stunt oriented 'thrill comedy'). Makeup artist Wally Westmore shares Harold's tremendous competitiveness, and we learn about his three decades of work as a Shriner for the Masonic Temple. It's a glowing tribute to, as Ralph Edwards puts it, 'an American institution.'
The Apr 3 1957 broadcast honoring the legendary silent screen comedian Buster Keaton preceded the release of "The Buster Keaton Story," marking a kind of renaissance in his up and down career. As complete a filmmaker as the revered Charlie Chaplin, Keaton never had the resources that Chaplin enjoyed, and needed the support of producer and brother in law Joseph M. Schenck to churn out one incredible classic after another. The painfully shy and reserved Keaton lacked any kind of ego at all, quite humble to be able to just keep working, and when he is surprised by Ralph Edwards one can see how nervous he was to be the honored guest (quickly handing off his cigarette!), though he loosened up and had a great time among old friends like vaudevillian Will 'Mush' Rawls and actress Louise Dressler, who discussed the rough stage act that he did with his mother and father, where local authorities were always shocked that little Buster never had any bruises or broken bones. Buster talks about his first screen role opposite Fatty Arbuckle in 1917's "The Butcher Boy," where he was hit in the face with a sack of flour, looking away to keep from flinching until Arbuckle instructs him to turn his head ("it'll be there!"). Edward Cline, his co-director on virtually all of his starring shorts, shares tales of Buster the practical joker, while Donald Crisp, who only worked on "The Navigator," discusses Keaton's generosity, and one of the most dangerous stunts in his career, a house front falling over him in "Steamboat Bill, Jr." The still current star Red Skelton, whose best gags were often suggested by Keaton, is joined by Donald O'Connor, who portrays Buster in the new biopic, relating the tale about how quickly Buster recovered from a recent illness once he learned how much money Paramount wanted to pay for his life story. Buster's lovely wife Eleanor is joined by sons Bob and Jim, a gathering that often finds the sad faced comedian rather emotional, a warm tribute indeed to the silent screen's immortal 'Great Stone Face.'
This Mar 18 1973 broadcast featured horror film star and Renaissance man Vincent Price, 61 years old at the time, with brief appearances from wife Mary Grant, their daughter Victoria, and his son Barrett. Among the famous faces in the studio audience are Jane Wyatt, Dorothy McGuire, Kay Medford, Anne Seymour, and Mary Wickes, with high praise from the folks back in his hometown of St. Louis. Hans Conreid gets things started, as Vincent talks about the early days of 'silent television!' We see one longtime friend from St. Louis (sponging rides off of Vinnie, the first to own a drivers license), his roommate at Yale, a tribute from his Broadway co-star Helen Hayes, and testimonials from artists who knew Vincent from his days with Sears, such as Oliver Howe and Donna Whitewing. The most amusing stories are supplied by Samuel Z. Arkoff, the president of American International Pictures, who featured Price in 24 films over 14 years. He begins by proclaiming that Vincent "is an unusual star in that his pictures usually make money," then goes on to share the tale of how Price would up his salary working overseas, leading Arkoff to believe that his star was living the exotic life of an 'Oriental potentate,' when he was really living quite modestly, spending the extra money on art. Vincent Price's sense of humor is showcased throughout, his work in films taking a back seat to his lifelong interest in art, his philosophy shared by the legendary Helen Hayes: "the man who limits his interests limits his life."
This Feb 21 1990 broadcast honored the 76 year old Peter Cushing, OBE, with a studio audience of Hammer Films brethren like Sir James Carreras and Anthony Hinds. A clip from "She" is followed by the star herself, Ursula Andress, who describes her role as 'She who must be obeyed' (Peter: "yes darling and you still are, what would you like me to do?"). From "Star Wars," "At the Earth's Core," and "Legend of the Werewolf" we see David Prowse, Caroline Munro, and David Rintoul. Peter's longtime friend David Gray talks about their first meeting aboard a train in 1938, while Ernie Wise continues his money changing trick that partner Eric Morecambe used to pull on Cushing. Actress Gwen Watford credits Peter for launching her career by suggesting her for a co-starring role as his wife in a 1958 TV production of "The Winslow Boy." After scenes from "The Curse of Frankenstein" and "Horror of Dracula," Christopher Lee pays tribute to his dearest friend by describing their working relationship as both 'a delight and a despair,' finally advising him to 'step out!' to Peter's absolute delight. Additional tributes are provided by Freddie Jones, Joanna Lumley, Peter Ustinov, and Sir John Mills, the most recent Watson to Cushing's Sherlock Holmes. Peter Cushing was a fine actor and technician, yet he preferred to credit his late wife Helen for all of his success, and here confessed that 'no man is an island,' in regard to his camaraderie with every cast and crew member on each film he made. There aren't many surprises in store, but the eternally gracious actor remains in high spirits throughout, more often than not unable to keep from laughing, glad that he remembered to wear his toupee!
The Nov 20 1957 broadcast of THIS IS YOUR LIFE took place three days prior to Boris Karloff's 70th birthday, and he wasn't just surprised, he was shocked; a man who zealously guarded his privacy and hated talking about himself, when Ralph Edwards suggested that many surprises were in store, Boris jokingly replied "I hope not!" He soon got to enjoy himself with the numerous guests that appeared, beginning with an old schoolmate he hadn't seen in 50 years, who admitted that Boris was hardly "a distinguished scholar at Uppingham" (Boris: "so many people could have said that!"). With all his older brothers involved in the consular service, young William Henry Pratt chose to make his way as an actor in North America, with one guest discussing a role he played in North Dakota, playing one of the ugly sisters in "Cinderella!" Another from San Francisco talked about his many hours spent in the dressing room perfecting the art of changing his appearance (Boris: "anything to cover myself up in other words!"). Makeup wizard Jack Pierce greets Boris with an electrode like the one he used to glue on the actor's neck (Boris: "I used to call it the alemite cup!"). Broadway producers Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse share their inspired tale of casting Karloff in "Arsenic and Old Lace," as a criminal who was transformed by a plastic surgeon to look like Boris Karloff, later done in Anchorage by a new theatrical troupe represented on the show by Frank Brink. A lifelong cricket fan, Boris was especially pleased to see famed bowler Jim Laker, presenting him with a cricket ball suitably inscribed and autographed by the entire Surrey team. The show concludes with an appearance from his wife Evie and daughter Sara Jane, whose 19th birthday fell on the same day as her father's. Boris may not have liked being the subject but he proved a good sport about it and did seem to have a nice time.
Nov 21 1956 saw this broadcast as one of the very last appearances together of Abbott and Costello, the latter a poignant subject, shocked but not displeased at being surprised. We learn about his sports crazy youth in his hometown of Paterson, New Jersey (I wonder if Paterson's Bert Wheeler was watching?), where he earned his status as free throwing champ of the entire state, his short lived boxing career, followed by an unsuccessful stint in 1920s Hollywood as no better than a stuntman/extra, changing his last name from Cristillo to Costello in honor of actress Helene Costello. Bud Abbott warmly talks of their partnership, especially the 1945 rift in which they 'magnified a difference of opinion.' By far the most riveting story is told by the team's longtime manager Eddie Sherman (the main subject of the Bob Thomas book BUD AND LOU), discussing the tragic death of Costello's beloved son Lou Jr., who drowned in the family swimming pool after getting loose from his playpen. His father had only just recovered from a year long bout with rheumatic fever, heroically going on to perform that same night on his radio show to keep his promise to his little boy. Lou's look of sorrow is quickly replaced by joy at meeting some of the other children he had met and/or taken care of, such as a young girl known as 'Goldilocks,' and a once paralyzed young man now able to greet his benefactor by running onto the stage. The show closes with his receiving a wristwatch as a gift from orphans living at the youth foundation he began in honor of his late son, and a scene gathering together his wife, three daughters, two grandchildren, and even his mother. A wonderful tribute to an often underrated performer whose aching heart led him to strive that much harder to bring happiness to others. The saddest postscript to this 1956 broadcast is that both Lou and wife Anne were deceased by the end of 1959, just three years later.
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