Podcast: Life According to "Hey Arnold!"




My daughter Nora joins me to talk about what was probably her (and my) favorite Nickelodeon animated series when she was a kid -- "Hey, Arnold!" We talk about the show's philosophy of diversity as strength and review some memorable episodes, including "The Stoop Kid," "The Pigeon Man," "Ghost Bride" and "Helga on the Couch," detailing the life of' Arnold's truest love/fiercest enemy, Helga Pataki.

Pre-Code vs. Post-Code: "The Crowd Roars" and "Indianapolis Speedway"

Pre-code versus post-code is the difference between a Duesenberg and a Hummer, between cafe au lait and chocolate milk, between a camisole and a union suit.

Take the differences, for instance, between the 1932 film "The Crowd Roars" and the 1939 film "Indianapolis Speedway." Same story (by Howard Hawks, who also directed the first film), same setting, same characters (with different names, in some cases), even much of the same racetrack footage. By the way, want to know how to switch up your stock footage of a crowd? Just flip the image, like this:












And, since these are Warner Bros. films made in the 1930s, naturally both of them feature Frank McHugh -- playing the same character, and even with the same name. Spud. (Frank McHugh was born to play guys named Spud.)

But there's a distinct difference in the way the film's romantic relationships are portrayed, and, by extension, in the relationship between the brothers at the center of the story.

The brothers are Joe and Eddie Greer, played by James Cagney and Eric Linden in "The Crowd Roars" and Pat O'Brien and John Payne in "Indianapolis Speedway." Joe is a world-famous racing driver who drinks and carouses a little too much, tilting slightly but not totally into arrogance. Eddie is his hero-worshiping brother, who also wants to race.


In the 1939 version, Joe's reluctance to work with Eddie has a noble basis -- he wants Eddie to finish college, at Joe's expense. But after Joe leaves his hometown and his visit with Eddie to return to Los Angeles, he finds an unexpected stowaway.

In the 1932 version, Joe's reluctant to work with Eddie for two reasons -- one is because of Eddie's inexperience, but the other is that Joe doesn't want Eddie to know that he's shacking up with longtime frail Lee (Ann Dvorak). Once Eddie enters Joe's life, Joe starts giving the cold shoulder to the bewildered Lee. In "Indianapolis Speedway," by contrast, Joe and Lee (Gale Page) are already engaged, which makes their coupling a little more legitimate. When Joe gives Lee the brushoff in "Indianapolis," he makes it clear it's because he wants to tutor Eddie. In "The Crowd Roars," Lee grins and bears it, but in "Indianapolis Speedway" she gets rightfully honked off. Here are the two scenes:







But the real woman trouble in both movies comes from Lee's friend. In "The Crowd Roars," her name is Ann (Joan Blondell) and in "Indianapolis Speedway" her name is Frankie (Ann Sheridan). In both movies, she's first portrayed as bad news, and Joe doesn't want her "corrupting" his pure younger brother. In "The Crowd Roars," when Ann meets Eddie and starts showing some leg, Joe sneers, "Why don't you stand on your head while you're at it?" -- a line that's as likely to show up in "Indianapolis Speedway" as I am to grow a tail. In "Indianapolis Speedway," Frankie -- who's the roommate of Ann -- is known for feminine wiles that have driven at least one racer track wacky. (Sheridan, at the peak of her reign as Warner's "Oomph Girl," is top billed here -- and like Blondell, she is shown in the skimpiest post-code outfits possible.)

Here's how Cagney and O'Brien handle the problem of the other woman:







Even by Cagney standards, the character of Joe is wound unusually tight. His obsession with keeping Eddie from sinful entanglements and what he perceives as loose women -- playing around for me, but not for thee -- goes beyond brotherly concern and makes him seem like a hypocrite.

O'Brien portrays Joe as a little wearier -- the movie is telling us that what he needs is to settle down with a good woman, but it'll take him about 65 minutes to figure that out.

All around, in fact, the Joe in "Indianapolis Speedway" seems more human and more vulnerable. The relationship between the brothers is much warmer -- in the 1932 film, Joe dominates Eddie the way that Cagney naturally dominates the more diffident Linden. Payne, by contrast, has a stronger screen presence and makes more of an impression opposite O'Brien.

In both versions, Joe's downfall comes when, out of anger at Eddie's romance, he causes a fiery crash that kills Spud (Twice!). Joe is spooked and can't bring himself to race again, but he gravitates toward Indianapolis on the day of the 500. Eddie is racing, and when he is injured, Joe jumps back behind the wheel with Eddie as his co-driver. Guess who wins?

In the 1932 film, the reunion between the brothers isn't even played out -- Joe just jumps in the car and takes off. But in the 1939 version, there's a spoken rapprochement between the brothers, capped off when Eddie gives Joe his trademark cigar to chomp on for good luck. Guess who wins?

Here are the full credits for "The Crowd Roars" (which also features several real-life drivers as themselves) and "Indianapolis Speedway."




Podcast: The Miracle of "A Charlie Brown Christmas"






"A Charlie Brown Christmas" wasn't intentionally created to be timeless, but because of its simplicity and sincerity, timeless it is. Miraculously, it avoids every cliche associated with children's animation and is a perfect blending of music, words and images that clearly conveys one man's vision and philosophy -- Charles Schulz, who drew "Peanuts" from 1950 until his death in 2000.


Sources:

Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography, by David Michaelis

A Charlie Brown Religion: Exploring the Spiritual Life and Work of Charles Schulz, by Stephen J. Lind

"How 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' Almost Wasn't," Jennings Brown, ny.com, November 16, 2016

"The 'Charlie Brown Christmas' Special Was the Flop That Wasn't," Carrie Hagen, smithsonian.com, December 9, 2015

Podcast: The Keefe Brasselle Story, or Godfather Knows Best



Keefe Brasselle’s show business career includes a few movies, some TV work, probable arson, extortion, kickbacks, assault with a deadly weapon and lots of threats of bodily harm. His unholy alliance with a CBS executive led to the executive’s downfall, and his repeated boasting about his mafia connections, along with his lack of any real talent, made him a bitter has-been reduced to writing and acting in a 1970s drive-in quickie. In this episode we examine Brasselle’s career and his unsavory associations.

Podcast: The World Accordion to Lawrence Welk



The rise of Lawrence Welk and of rock and roll happened at roughly the same time -- maybe in reaction to each other. Welk's band played classic white-bread tunes -- waltzes, foxtrots and polkas -- and were television favorites for an amazing three decades. Reruns of the show still air on PBS stations across the country. We look at Welk's popularity, despite his awkward stage presence, and the musical "family" he featured on his show, including the Lennon Sisters. 

Podcast: When Maude Findlay Had an Abortion


In the fall of 1972, the first spinoff from "All in the Family" premiered. It was "Maude," with Beatrice Arthur as Edith Bunker's liberal cousin. And right out of the gate, "Maude" took on controversial topics like psychotherapy, black militancy and modern morality. Then on November 14, in the ninth episode of the series, Maude found out she was pregnant at age 47. She considered her options, including abortion, which at the time was legal in New York state, where the show was set. (The U.S. Supreme Court wouldn't legalize abortion nationwide until 1973.) Maude's decision to get an abortion would go largely unnoticed during the episode's original run, but when summer reruns came along the show received a firestorm of criticism, driving the idea of abortion -- and even the mention of the word itself -- off of network television for the next fifteen years.

The WHAS Crusade for Children, Take One

The 69th annual WHAS Crusade for Children took place earlier this month, raising over $5 million to support children with special needs in Kentucky and Indiana. For decades the Crusade has been a well-oiled fundraising machine, utilizing volunteers from across the region who do everything from holding benefit events to walking door to door for contributions.

The Bingham family, who owned WHAS when the Crusade began, well understood its standing as a community institution -- when they sold WHAS in the mid-1980s, they included a covenant that the subsequent owners could never cancel the Crusade.

Here's how it started, on September 12, 1953, according to Variety:


You're forgiven if the celebrities, aside from singer Mel Torme and tennis ace Pancho Gonzales, don't ring a bell. Ray Malone was a tap dancer who, a few years earlier, had been a regular on the NBC late-night show "Broadway Open House." Here he is with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Fran Warren was a singer whose biggest hit was "A Sunday Kind of Love." Robin Morgan was 12 at the time -- she was a young actress who played Dagmar on the TV series "Mama." Today she's a poet and activist. I don't have the slightest idea who Mary Farenga is.

The telethon happened before my time, but I did hear one behind-the-scenes story about it. Legend has it that Mel Torme (seen here with Crusade emcee Jim Walton) got very upset when the crowd in Memorial Auditorium gave him only polite applause while they went crazy for Randy Atcher. Sorry, Velvet Fog, but there's no fighting the power of "T-Bar-V Ranch" -- at least not in Louisville. 



 

Podcast: Elvis Presley, Year One


Elvis Presley wasn't born in 1956, but his career was. He began the year barely known outside the south, but under the management of Col. Tom Parker he spent the year making his mark on TV variety shows hosted by Milton Berle, Steve Allen and Ed Sullivan; and his recordings for RCA, beginning with "Heartbreak Hotel," dominated the pop charts. By the end of the year he was arguably the best-known entertainer in America, with broader fame still to come.




Podcast: Orson Welles' Radio Days





In 1934, Orson Welles came to Broadway in a production of "Romeo and Juliet" and within a year he was putting his mellifluous voice to use by doing a lot of radio work, including as part of the stock company, imitating famous newsmakers, on "The March of Time." While producing and directing shows on Broadway, he was also making a name for himself as the title character on "The Shadow" and, later, scaring America to death with "War of the Worlds." Today we consider Welles's work as a rising star on the radio, leading to an offer from Hollywood.

Sources:

Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles's War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News, by A. Brad Schwartz

Orson Welles on the Air: Packaging Welles, orsonwelles.indiana.edu

"This Ageless Soul," Russell Maloney, The New Yorker, October 1, 1938

Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles, by David Thomson

The Mercury Theatre on the Air, mercurytheatre.info

Screen Capture Theatre: "The Fast and the Furious," or Race Relations

Blah blah blah blah another edition of Screen Capture Theatre! This time it's the 1954 film ...



Look at that truck crashing and blowing up! It has
nothing to do with the plot!



No, this movie isn't about trucks. It's about
race cars, specifically this sleek white Jaguar driven
by the equally sleek Dorothy Malone.



Dorothy is the fast one, and John Ireland is the furious one.
He's an escaped prisoner who doesn't take to answering
questions, not even if they're asked by Zach Galifianakis.

 

John takes Dorothy and her car hostage and won't even let
her go to the bathroom.



They cleverly elude police roadblocks because their car
is so inconspicuous.



John still doesn't let Dorothy go to the bathroom ...



... until they enter a road race as a way of escaping to Mexico.

 

At the race Dorothy meets an old flame ...

 

... but she's starting to take a liking to John ...



... and when they shack up together overnight they
create a few sparks of their own.



Then it's race day!



John has left Dorothy behind for her own safety...



... and through the miracle of rear projection he crashes
past customs and into Mexico.



But wait! Dorothy's old flame is involved in a
startlingly realistic crash with a twig. 



By stopping to save the old flame, John demonstrates his
decency. And he and Dorothy start smokin' again.




Podcast: Liz and Dick and Lucy and the Ring






In 1969, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were arguably the world's most famous married couple, and they became even more well known when Burton bought his wife a 69-carat diamond ring that cost over a million dollars. At a Hollywood party, their paths crossed with Lucille Ball and an unlikely idea emerged -- within weeks the Burtons were taping an episode of "Here's Lucy" as themselves, with the ring as a special guest star. This is the story of a very large diamond, two very popular movie stars and one of America's favorite comic actresses -- and how they all came together to make TV history.

Sources:

" 'All I Could See Was Elizabeth and That Rock': What Happened When Taylor and Burton Were Filmed for Next Week's Lucy Show," James Bacon, TV Guide, September 5, 1970

"The Taylor Burton Diamond," worthy.com

Loving Lucy: An Illustrated Tribute to Lucille Ball, by Bart Andrews

Elizabeth Taylor: A Private Life for Public Consumption, by Ellis Cashmore

The Richard Burton Diaries, edited by Chris Williams