Thursday, July 31, 2008

Answers to the Sixties TV Quiz

Here are the answers to the Sixties TV quiz from July 15:

1. What was the name of the road (and hence the TV series) down which Tod Stiles and Buz Murdock travelled in a classic Corvette?

Route 66

2. On what Sixties sitcom was one of the local eateries the Bluebird Diner?

The Andy Griffith Show

3. What was the name of the Cartwrights' cook on Bonanaza?

Hop Sing

4. What was the name of Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin's superior on The Man From U.N.C.L.E.?

Mr. Alexander Waverly

5. What Sixties series made in Britian centred on superspy John Steed and whomever was his partner of the moment?

The Avengers

6. What 1966 sitcom featured a beach house located at either 1334 N. Beechwood or 1438 N. Beechwood (the number of the house mysteriously changed at one point)?

The Monkees

7. What Dr. McCoy's first name on Star Trek?


8. How did Ironside become confined to a wheelchair on the show of the same name?

A sniper's bullet paralysed from his from the waist down.

9. On what series was a character only known as Number Six imprisoned in a place known only as The Village?

The Prisoner

10. On Laugh In what was the award which Dan Rowan and Dick Martin gave for dubious achievements in business, government, or by famous people?

The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate Award

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The 50th Anniversary of NASA

It fifty years ago today that President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed National Aeronautics and Space Act which established National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA. NASA would be responsible for the space programme, as well as civilian and military aerospace research.

The creation of NASA was the result of the Soviet Union's own space programme, which had successfully launched Sputnik on October 4, 1957. The United States Congress felt that this presented a threat to the U.S.'s status as the world leader in both defence and technology. For that reason President Eisenhower and his advisors decided that the creation of a new agency dedicated to space travel and aerospace research was needed. NASA would begin operations on October 1, 1958. The Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union was on.

In its early days NASA had its share of failures and successes. An example is NASA's Pioneer unmanned spacecraft meant to make flybys of the moon, collecting data and taking pictures. Pioneer 1, Pioneer 2, Pioneer 3, and Pioneer 4 never reached their intended destinations, although at least . Pioneer 4 provided NASA with important information on tracking objects through space. Of course, eventually NASA would have more than its share of successes.

Indeed, it would not be long before an absolute space craze would sweep the United States. On May 25, 1961 President John F. Kennedy gave his historic speech before a joint session of Congress in which he not only urged Congress to provide the space programme with more funds, but set the goal of landing a man on the moon. It was a little less than a year later, on February 20, 1962, that John Glenn would orbit Earth three times in Friendship 7. Between President Kennedy's speech and John Glenn successfully orbiting Earth, the United States was overcome by a mania for anything that had to do with space. In fact, the space craze of the Sixties could be NASA's biggest contribution to pop culture.

This is reflected in American broadcast television in the Sixties. The number of sitcoms which aired space oriented episodes is incredibly huge. Gilligan's Island was visited by a robot built by NASA for space exploration and Russian cosmonauts. The Monkees thwarted an alien invasion. Herman Munster thought he was talking to Martians on a ham radio (actually, it was a couple of kids). On Bewitched Aunt Clara inadvertently summoned aliens to Earth. And there there were sitcoms that either had space as a theme or touched upon space in some way: My Favourite Martian (on which a Martian became stranded on Earth), I Dream of Jeannie (on which Jeannie's master, Major Tony Nelson, was an astronaut), and It's About Time (in which two astronauts travel back in time to the Stone Age). The spy dramas would also touch upon space occasionally, as in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode "The Love Affair (in which Solo and Kuryakin must thwart a THRUSH plot to build a spaceship)." There were also the science fiction series Star Trek and Lost in Space, which featured individuals travelling through space in the future.

Space would even play a role in commercials. The most obvious example of this is perhaps Tang. Around since 1957, the drink did not really become a success until it ws used on the Gemini flights in 1962. Quite naturally, commercials for Tang mentioned that it was the drink of astronauts, using space oriented themes in their adverts well into the Seventies. Pillsbury developed "Space Food Sticks" for NASA, which it then sold to the general public. In 1965 Quaker Mills introduced the breakfast cereal called Quisp, whose spokesman was an alien with a propeller atop his head, named, appropriately, Quisp. The cereal itself was shaped like little saucers. Even products not associated with NASA or space used space themes in their commercials. In the late Sixties there was a commercial for Fritos in which the Frito Bandito attempted to con astronauts on the moon out of their Frito Corn Chips!

Quite naturally, space oriented toys were very popular throughout the Sixties. Perhaps the best known were Mattel's line of Major Matt Mason action figures. Introduced in 1966 to capitalise on the space craze, Major Matt Mason was phenomenally popular. The line of toys were produced until the early Seventies, ended by Mattel not because they had declined in popularity, but because Mattel felt that the space programme had. Marx produced their own line of astronaut action figures under the name "Johnny Apollo," from 1968 to the early Seventies. Colorforms manufactured a line of Outer Space Men, figures of aliens from outer space. Eldon produced an astronaut figure for younger kids called Billy Blastoff which only lasted a couple of years. There were also many toy robots. In 1968 Ideal produced a line of four battery powered robots called Zeroids. Topps produced a line of humorous toy robots called Ding A Lings, which also sold only for a couple of years. There were also many, many battery operated, tin robots on the market, such as the Horikawa Astronaut battery operated toy robot.

Motion pictures had gone through a cycle of science fiction films in the Fifties that even included such space oriented entries as Destination Moon, When Worlds Collide, and Forbidden Planet. Perhaps for that reason the movie industry did not embrace the space craze as other media had. Still there were a few films that either touched upon space or centred upon space, one of which was very influential. The 1963 sequel to The Mouse That Roared, The Mouse on the Moon featured the tiny country of Grand Fenwick attempting to beat both the Americans and the Soviets to the moon. In The Glass Bottom Boat Doris Day's character worked at NASA. Planet of the Apes used space travel as a means of throwing its hero into the far future. Perhaps the most famous, and certainly the most influential, space movie of the Sixties was 2001: A Space Odyssey. Released in 1968, it became a smash hit which would have a lasting influence on all science fiction films to come. Marooned, released in 1969, centred on three astronauts stranded in space. Doppelganger (AKA Journey to the Far Side of the Sun) was a live action film made by Supermarionation master Gerry Anderson and centred on a mission to a planet in Earth's orbit, but on the exact opposite side of the sun.

Of course, the space craze of the Sixties was perhaps when NASA was most popular. The broadcast networks covered both the rocket launches and splashdowns live in those days. And both always did very well in the ratings. During the Sixties the astronauts were household names. Indeed, Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, John Glenn, and Alan Shepard are still well known. There was enormous support for NASA in these days and the agency had little difficulty receiving funding.

Sadly, in the early Seventies, after Apollo 11, interest in the space programme died down. NASA would make even more achievements in the coming decades: Skylab, the Viking unmanned spacecraft to Mars, the space shuttle, the Mars Exploration Rovers, and others. Despite this, the average American probably rarely thinks of NASA or the space programme, and pays little attention to the agency's missions except in case of disasters such as Challenger and Columbia. Astronauts are no longer household names. Even Tang no longer mentions the space programme in its advertising. NASA has achieved much in its fifty years, but sadly it is not as popular as it was in its heyday of the Sixties.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Archie Andrews Radio Show

Most Americans have grown up with Archie comic books. If one is a younger Baby Boomer or older Gen Xer he or she might even remember the Archie cartoons that aired throughout much of the Seventies. But long before those cartoons, Archie appeared in his own radio show called Archie Andrews, also known as The Adventures of Archie Andrews.

Archie first appeared in Pep Comics #22, December 1941. The creation of Bob Montana, Archie is the archetypal seventeen year old, living in Riverdale and attending Riverdale High. Archie proved to be such a success that he would eventually share the cover of Pep Comics with the magazine's star The Shield and would eventually shove him off the cover completely. Archie would receive his own title in Winter 1942, only a year after his first appearance. Eventually MLJ would change its name to Archie Comics and would even discontinue their superhero line entirely. Archie would even receive his own newspaper comic strip in 1946. A radio show was a natural extension of this success.

Archie Andrews debuted as a 25 minute, five day a week show on NBC's Blue Network on May 31, 1943. This was a mere 28 months after the character's debut in Pep Comics. The initial incarnation of Archie Andrews only lasted until December 24, 1943. The show was not off the air for long, however, as it returned on the Mutual Broadcasting System as a 15 minute programme on January 17, 1944. This incarnation only lasted until June 2, 1944. This time Archie Andrews would be off the air for an entire year, returning on June 2, 1945 as a 30 minute show that was broadcast once a week on NBC. This time the show lasted until September 5th, 1953.

Over the years Archie was played by a number of different actors. Charles Mullen played Archie in the initial Blue Network run. Jack Grimes played the role while it was on Mutual. Grimes would later provide the voice of Goofy in a few cartoons and later Jimmy Olsen on the Sixties Superman cartoon and additional voices on Speed Racer. At some point Burt Boyar played Archie, but I don't know if that was late in the Mutual run or early in the NBC run. I definitely know that on the NBC run Bob Hastings played Archie. Hastings would have a long career in television, guest starring on shows from Gunsmoke to Murder She Wrote. He played Lt. Elroy Carpenter on McHale's Navy and Tommy Kelsey on All in the Family. He was the voice of Commissioner Gordon on Batman: the Animated Series.

In all, counting the various breaks in its run, Archie Andrews would run about a total of nine years. This was a very healthy run for a radio show. Ultimately, it was one of the most successful radio shows based on a comic book character (although not nearly as successful as The Adventures of Superman, which ran from 1940 to 1951).

Having listened to a couple of episodes from the NBC run of Archie Andrews, it is easy to see why it was a success. It is a very funny show. Archie Andrews is a classic situation comedy, starting out with a situation (Archie wants to get Veronica a bottle of bubble bath for her birthday, Archie's father is trying to stay cool during a heat wave), upon which complications are piled until everything reaches a head in a very hilarious climax. If you are a fan of old time radio or of Archie, I recommend you give the radio show a listen sometime. Archie Comics has several episodes available on their official site.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Phenomenon That is The Dark Knight

This weekend The Dark Knight made another $75,630,000. Its total now stands at $314,245,000. That broke the record the biggest 10 day opening. It is also just short of the summer's highest gross so far, that of Iron Man, which stands at $314,905,000. In other words, in a day or two The Dark Knight will be the top grossing movie of the summer.

The question of course is why The Dark Knight is doing so phenomenally well. Many will point to the death of Heath Ledger. And there can be no doubt that has played a major role in the success of the film. Heath Ledger was a wildly popular star. His death made headlines for days. It would be a surprise if the film featuring his last completed role would not be a roaring success.

That having been said, I am not sure that accounts for The Dark Knight being a veritable phenomenon. Consider this, Rebel Without a Cause was released less than a month after James Dean's death. And the film did very well at the box office. And yet it wasn't even the top grossing film of 1955, which was Lady and the Tramp, which took in a whopping $93,600,000. Dean's final role would appear in the film Giant, released in 1956. The film also did very well, grossing $35,000,000. And yet it was only the third highest grossing film of the year, after The Ten Commandments and Around the World in 80 Days. If we were to expect The Dark Knight to follow the same pattern as the movies made by James Dean released in the wake of his death, then it seems to me that it would not be nearly as successful as it is.

It would then seem to that there are other factors at work behind the phenomenon of The Dark Knight. Among these I believe is the intrinsic appeal of the character of Batman. Unlike Superman, Batman is a mere mortal. He can wounded. He can be killed. This makes him more accessible to the averager person who is not a comic book fan and thus easier for them to identify with than the Man of Steel and other superheroes. Not only is The Batman physically vulnerable, but in some respects he is also psychologically and emotionally vulnerable. The Dark Knight has his share of inner demons. Indeed, his parents were brutally murdered in a mugging which he saw with his own eyes. The tragedy gave young Bruce Wayne not simply the desire to fight crime, but nearly a compulsion to do so. While it is true that other superheroes have had tragedies that started their careers--Spider-Man's Uncle Ben was similarly murdered--but Batman was the very first. As a hero born of tragedy, he is then all the more easier for the common man to sympathise with and identify with.

Indeed, the phenomenon of The Dark Knight is nothing new. In 1966 the TV show Batman debuted to phenomenal ratings and resulted in an absolute craze for the Caped Crusader. In 1989 the film Batman became the top grossing film of the year and still ranks number nine in the list of worldwide top grossing films when adjusted for inflation. It too resulted in Batmania. In many respects, then, history is simply repeating itself.

Of course, The Dark Knight would not be the phenomenon it is if it was not for the fact that it is a great film. Had it been absolutely horrible, it would probably still be a success, but it would not be the success it is. Indeed, The Dark Knight features some of the best performances not only of any superhero film, but of any film in recent history. Most notable is Heath Ledger's portrayal of The Joker, which is chilling in a way that even Hannibal Lector was not. Although Ledger has received the most praise, every one of the cast turned in great performances. Indeed, Christian Bale's turn as Batman is easily the best of his career.

Similarly, the script is wonderfully complex, adding depth to the characters and addressing deeper issues than any superhero film before it. Not only does the film address the themes of good and evil found in many superhero movies, but it also addresses such issues as the delicate balance between order and chaos, the fragility of human nature, and even to what extremes the fight to defeat evil itself can itself become an act of evil. These deeper themes no doubt speak to many viewers.

That is not to say that the film cannot be enjoyed as an action movie. The Dark Knight has some of the most spectacular action scenes ever seen on film. In fact, Christopher Nolan shows an outright gift for such scenes. Of course, over all Nolan's direction on the film is the best of his career. Parts of the film were shot using the IMAX process, and Nolan put it to good use. There are wide angle shots, hand held shots, and virtually every other camera shot known to man. Christopher Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister deserve kudos for a job well done.

The fact that The Dark Knight is a great film probably does owe to a lot of its success. Viewers see the movie and then often see it again. There can be no doubt that The Dark Knight is receiving a lot of repeat business. Many viewers will no doubt tell others about the movie, with the result that many will go see The Dark Knight who might not otherwise see a superhero movie. Word of mouth is then probably driving much of the film's business. While the quality of a movie does not always mean it will be a success, it can certainly help in being so.

The Dark Knight is then a phenomenon for more than the fact that Heath Ledger died. Much of its success may be due to the intrinsic appeal of The Batman, a character who perhaps appeals more to the average person than other superheroes. Its success is also due to the fact that it is a great film, with standout performances, great action scenes, and outstanding direction. Had The Dark Knight been a lesser film, then, it might not be breaking box office records.

Friday, July 25, 2008

A Sixties TV Show Quiz

As regular readers of this blog probably already know, Beth of the lovely voice laid down a challenge for me at the first of the year. The challenge was simply this: I must create and post one pop culture quiz a month in A Shroud of Thoughts. The quizzes can have a single theme or simply be a collection of random things. At the end of 2008, the reader who has accumulated the most points throughout the year will win a pop culture related prize. For those of you curious about the prize, I decided that it will be a pop culture related key chain of the winner's choice, to cost no more than $5.00 (minus sales tax). The price limit is for the simple fact that I can't afford platinum plated key chains... I'll provide the answers around the end of the month.

For this month's quiz the topic is simply TV shows which aired in the Sixties.

1. What was the name of the road (and hence the TV series) down which Tod Stiles and Buz Murdock travelled in a classic Corvette?

2. On what Sixties sitcom was one of the local eateries the Bluebird Diner?

3. What was the name of the Cartwrights' cook on Bonanaza?

4. What was the name of Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin's superior on The MAn From U.N.C.L.E.?

5. What Sixties series made in Britian centred on superspy John Steed and whomever was his partner of the moment?

6. What 1966 sitcom featured a beach house located at either 1334 N. Beechwood or 1438 N. Beechwood (the number of the house mysteriously changed at one point)?

7. What Dr. McCoy's first name on Star Trek?

8. How did Ironside become confined to a wheelchair on the show of the same name?

9. On what series was a character only known as Number Six imprisoned in a place known only as The Village?

10. On Laugh In what was the award which Dan Rowan and Dick Martin gave for dubious achievements in business, government, or by famous people?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Best Sitcoms of Each Decade

Tonight I thought I would engage in what could be a fun exercise. Basically, I would chose what I consider to be the two best sitcoms from each full decade of American network television from the Fifties to the Eighties. I must state that my choices are more or less subjective, although many of the shows received their share of good notices and awards. Anyway, here goes...

The Fifties: The Fifties saw the sitcom in its infancy. Despite this it would produce its fair share of classic comedies. The Honeymooners, Make Room For Daddy, Mr, Peepers, Our Miss Brooks, and Topper all aired during the decade. It wasn't easy narrowing it down to just two shows, but here they are.

The Phil Silvers Show (AKA You'll Never Get Rich, AKA Sergeant Bilko: This classic series was set in Fort Baxter, a sleepy military base in Arkansas where things were so dull that Major Sergeant Ernie Bilko, played by Phil Silvers, entertained himself by coming up with any number of money making schemes.His men, particularly Corporal Rocco Barbella (Harvey Lembeck) and Corporal Steve Henshaw (Allan Melvin) often aided him in these schemes. Bilko watched by the careful eye of Colonel Hall (Paul Ford), who was sadly outmatched by him.

The Phil Silvers Show was characterised by sharp dialogue and often interwoven plots. It also often combined the believable with the utterly absurd. Throughout the show there was an emphasis on slapstick. The Phil Silvers Show was not only critically acclaimed, but became one of the biggest hits on CBS. The series won five Emmys in its first season alone, and won three consecutive Emmys for Best Comedies. The Phil Silvers Show would become a huge success in syndication. It also proved to be influential. It inspired imitators from the cartoon Top Cat to McHale's Navy. Even such latter day shows as M*A*S*H would feel its influence.

I Love Lucy: Today, after it has been rerun literally thousands of times, we tend to take I Love Lucy for granted. In reality, however, it was a very revolutionary sitcom. Indeed, it was one of the earliest shows to utilise the three camera setup that would later be used to shoot most sitcoms. And while I Love Lucy clung almost religiously to its formula, with Lucy developing one hair brained scheme after another, only to be thwarted by her husband Ricky, through that formula it developed some of the most hilarious situations in the history of televison. The Vitametavegemin.commercial Lucy shoots and gets drunk while doing so, Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory, the enormous loaf of bread that blew up Lucy's oven when she tried baking it the old fashioned way, all of these are well remembered classics. I Love Lucy was not the first television sitcom, but it was the genre's first true hit. And its influence can still be felt today.

The Sixties: The Sixties may well have been the Golden Age of the TV sitcom. This makes picking the two best comedies of the era very, very difficult. After all, this is the decade that produced such classics as The Addams Family, The Beverly Hillbillies, Bewitched, F Troop, Get Smart, Gilligan's Island, He and She, I Dream of Jeannie, The Monkees, My Favourite Martian, and yet others I have probably overlooked. Ultimately, however, I could only choose two, and these are the two I chose.

The Andy Griffith Show: On the surface, there one might be expecting nothing extraordinary about a sitcom centred on a sheriff in a small town in North Carolina. Nothing could be further from the truth. In many respects The Andy Griffith Show was a revolutionary show. First, despite its title, the focus of the series was not on Sheriff Andy Taylor (played by Andy Griffith), but on the town of Mayberry itself and to a lesser degree all of Mayberry County. Because of this, The Andy Griffith Show developed one of the earliest ensemble casts in the history of television. There was Andy's bumbling deputy, Barney Fife (played by the great Don Knotts), the local drunk Otis Campbell, the somewhat forgetful barber Floyd Lawson (Howard McNear), service station attendant Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors--later replaced by his cousin, Goober Pyle, played by George Lindsay), and several others. The ensemble approach served The Andy Griffith Show well, as its approach to comedy was not through jokes, gags, or one liners, but grew from the characters themselves. This set it apart from the vast majority of sitcoms that had aired up to that time.

The Andy Griffith Show was at the top of its ratings for the entirety of its run. So popular was it that when Andy Griffith decided to leave the show, it more or less continued with a new lead character (farmer Sam Jones, played by Ken Barry) as Mayberry R.F.D.. The show also proved very influential. It would spark a cycle of rural sitcoms that would continue for the rest of the decade. The Andy Griffith Show would go on to become of the most successful shows in syndication, still running today.

The Dick Van Dyke Show: Debuting in the early Sixties, well well written, intelligent sitcoms were rare, The Dick Van Dyke Show was the exception to the rule. The show centred on Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke), who divided his time between writing for The Alan Brady Show and his home life with wife Laura (Mary Tyler Moore). Despite its title, like The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show was a true ensemble comedy. Plots not only focused on Rob and his life at home or his life at the office, but on his co-workers as well: Maurice "Buddy" Sorrell (Morey Amsterdam), a writer who fancied himself as a "human joke machine (which he was), Sally Rogers (Rose Marie), who was always trying to find a husband and quoting from her Aunt Alice, Melvin "Mel" Cooley (Richard Deacon), the show's overbearing producer who only got his job because he is Alan Brady's brother-in-law, and Alan Brady (Carl Reiner) himself, the egomaniacal star of the show. The strengths of The Dick Van Dyke Show were many. The jokes often came fast and furious, particularly when Rob, Buddy, and Sally were in the office. Dick Van Dyke had ample opportunity to demonstrate his gift for physical comedy (Rob Petrie was a bit clumbsy). The show also featured one of the first realistic portrayals of a marriage on television, even go so far as having Laura wear capri slacks instead the stereetypical dress and pearls. Most notable, The Dick Van Dyke Show was one of the first sitcoms to feature intelligent, but always humorous, looks at such serious subjects as death, marital infidelity, psychiatry, race, religion, and even teaching one's child about sex.

Although it was not a hit in its first season, The Dick Van Dyke Show was soon at the top of the ratings. When it ended after five seasons, it was because of Carl Reiner's desire for the show to go out on top. The show would win several Emmys over the years. It would also prove a success in syndication. Ultimately, The Dick Van Dyke Show would prove a lasting influence on television, influencing shows ranging from Bewitched to Mad About You.

The Seventies: In many respects, the Seventies was a bit of a comedown from the Sixties when it came to sitcoms. The decade simply did not produce the same large number of classics. Still, it would produce quite a few: All in the Family, The Jeffersons, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Maude, The Odd Couple, Taxi, and Three's Company (M*A**S*H I don't count, as I think of it as a dramedy). This still made it hard to pick the final two.

Sanford and Son: The early Seventies saw American television dominated by a cyle of relevance oriented sitcoms such as All in the Family and Maude. One of the few sitcoms to debut during this time that was of a more traditional type was Sanford and Son, a show based on the classic Britcom Steptoe and Son. Like the British original, Sanford and Son centred on a curmudgeonly, old junk dealer and his rather more ambitious son. Despite being based on an earlier source, Sanford and Son quickly developed a personality all its own, largely due to the comic genius of Redd Foxx as Fred Sanford. For the most part the plots centred on Fred's various schemes to make money. Fred was often helped by his none too bright friends in these schemes, Grady (Whitman Mayo) and Bubba (Don Bexley). The show benefited from a great supporting cast, including LaWanda Page as Fred's nemesis and sister in law Esther, his son Lamount's shady friend Rollo, Hal Williams and Howard Pratt as the two local beat cops.

WKRP in Cincinnati: Coming towards the end of the decade, WKRP in Cincinnati focused on a radio station that once played elevator music but was making the shift to rock 'n' roll. WKRP in Cincinnati was definitely a character driven comedy, with some of the strangest characters to ever appear on a sitcom. Perhaps the oddest was Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman), a burnout DJ who cynical, neurotic, and seemingly always sleepy, despite always drinking coffee. Nearly as odd was Les Nessman (Richard Sanders), who was almost totally incompetent and obsessed with "the Communist threat." Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner) was the boorish, nearly dude advertising account executive at WKRP, who constantly chased receptionist Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson), despite the fact that he was married. WKRP in Cincinnati was constantly being moved by CBS, even though it picked up Emmy nomiatons (in the end it would pick up ten). Somehow it managed to last five years. When it went into syndication, WKRP in Cincinnati became a run away hit.

The Eighties: The Eighties would see the return of the family sitcom, due to the success of The Cosby Show. Sadly, many of these simply were not very good. That is not to say that there weren't good sitcoms that were released during the decade: Family Ties, The Golden Girls, Kate and Allie, Married with Children, Night Court, and Sledge Hammer. Here, in my opinion, are the two best,

Cheers: Cheers may well be the most successful Eighties sitcom of all time. Although in its first season it received extremely low ratings, Cheers ratings would rise until by its fourth season it ranked in the top twenty and in its fourth season the top ten. It remained there for the rest of its run. Initially centring on the relationship between ex baseball player and bar owner Sam Malone (Ted Danson) and waitress Diane Chambers (Shelley Long), the show swiftly became more of an ensemble piece, often focusing on waitress Carla Tortelli (Rhea Perlman), other bartenders Coach (Nicholas Colasanto) and later Woody Boyd (Woody Harrelson), and patrons Cliff (John Ratzenberger) and Norm Peterson (George Wendt). IT was because the show had become an ensemble piece that it was able to survive the death of Nicholas Colasanto as Coash and the departure of Shelley Long as Diane. In fact, if anything else its ratings even grew higher. After its cancellation, Cheers went into one of the most successful syndication runs of all time. In fact, it can still be seen in most television markets.

Newhart: Today Newhart seems almost forgotten, which is a shame, as it is easily one of the funniest shows of the Eighties. This was Bob Newhart's second sitcom, this time featuring him as how-to book writer Dick Loudon, who takes over a rural Vermont inn with his wife Joanna (Mary Frann). The town was filled with some of the most eccentric characters ever seen on television. Handyman George Utley (Tom Poston) was incredibly dull witted. Michael Harris (Peter Scolari) was the exceedingly manipulative producer of the TV show Dick hosted. Stephanie Vanderkellen (Julia Duffy) was a spoiled rich girl, whose parents had cut her off, who could seem to accept being poor. Strangest of them all were the brothers Larry, Darryl and Darryl (William Sanderson, Tony Papenfuss, and John Voldstad), local backwoodsmen. The two Darryls never speak, while Larry always speaks in a monotone, often making outrageous claims (that more often than not prove to be true), Despite its title, Newhart was most certainly an ensemble comedy, which much of the humour coming from the inhabitants of the town. The series could also tend to be a bit surreal, especially when Larry, Darryl, and Darryl were involved. The surrealistic elements tended to increase as the seasons passed, until they became fairly pronounced in the show's final season. The final episode, in which the show gave in entirely to its surrealistic tendencies, is a classic.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Golden Girl Estelle Getty R.I.P.

Actress Estelle Getty, best known for playing wise cracking Sophia on The Golden Girls, passed yesterday at the age of 64.She had been suffering from Lewy body dementia for many years.

Estelle Getty was born Estelle Scher in New York City on July 25, 1923. She entered entertainment through the Yiddish theatre and performed as a comedian in Catskills resorts. In 1947 she married Arthur Gettleman, from whom she took her stage name. They remained married until his death in 2004. While married she worked as a secretary for an attorney, although she continued to act in smaller theatres in New York. Getty made her film debut in a small part in Team-Mates in 1978. Small roles in Tootsie and Deadly Force would follow.

In 1982 she received her big break, being cast as Mrs. Beckoff in Torch Song Trilogy on Broadway. She made her television debut in a guest appearance on Cagney and Lacey 1983. It was in 1985 that Getty was cast in the role that would bring her face, that of Sophia on The Golden Girls. Despite being younger than both Bea Arthur and Betty White, Getty played the octogenarian mother of Dorothy on the show. The series would run until 1992. Getty would reprise the show on the short lived spinoff, The Golden Palace.

Getty guest starred on the shows Newhart, Empty Nest, Nurses, and Touched by an Angel. She appeared in the films Mask, Mannequin, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, Stuart Little, and The Million Dollar Kid.

Although Estelle Getty found success late in life, she undoubtedly a talented actress. Sophia Petrillo was one of the most memorable characters on television and, no doubt, much of the reason for The Golden Girls success. She also displayed that talent playing the mother of Cher in Mask and many other roles. Although she will chiefly be remembered as Sophia Petrillo, she deserves to be remembered for so much more.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Mad Men

The second season of the TV series Mad Men on AMC debuts this coming Sunday. For anyone who hasn't seen it already, I urge them to do so. It is a rather remarkable show.

Part of what makes Mad Men so amazing is that it is such an incredible recreation of the advertising world of 1960. Indeed, the show has come under attack because both drinking and smoking is so prevalent. Here I must point out that this is entirely accurate. Cigarette sales reached their peak in the Sixties. And while Reader's Digest had the series of many articles attacking smoking, "Cancer by the Carton," as early as 1952, there was still not a lot of concern over the effects of cigarettes. As to the drinking, Jerry Della Femina, a copywriter of the Sixties and later founded his own agency, said of the show in The New York Post, "Picture a bunch of drunks talking to each other through a cloud of smoke--that's really what the '60s was." W. Watts Biggers, once an account executive at Dancer Fitzgerald Sample and creator of Underdog, let his sons read his book on the creation of Underdog, How Underdog Was Born. He said their only reaction was to ask how he survived all those martini lunches. I remember reading several years ago in a book of essays about the Fifties (I think it was published by Time/Life, but the title escapes me) one by a former executive who said that at the firm where he worked then the secretaries were largely hired for their looks, not their typing skills. And it was expected for one to try to seduce his secretary. Allen Rosenshine, one time CEO of BBDO in New York Post, said of Mad Men, "I won’t deny that there was drinking, but it was never like that. And if anybody talked to women the way these goons do, they’d have been out on their ass." I can only assume that perhaps, even in the Fifties, this was something that varied from firm to firm.

What is more remarkable is that for a period piece Mad Men is relatively free of anachronisms. There are exceptions. Although it is only 1960, the show features IBM Selectrics from 1961. The reason for this is simple. The Selectric was available to some businesses in 1960. The problem is that the production simply could not get enough of them. What few ones they could get simply did not work. Creator and producer Matt Weiner then simply went with the 1961 models, which are readily available and worked much better.

That having been said, I have caught two much more glaring anachronisms on the show. The first is a scene in which one of the character's daughters is caught playing with a dry cleaning bag and the character yells at her. This might have been acceptable if the show took place ten years earlier, but for a mother in 1960 to simply leave a dry cleaning bag lying around in easy access of children or for her not to have warned her children about dry cleaning bags is unrealistic. It was in the late Fifties that The Society of the Plastics Industry spent a large amount of money and time on a national campaign educating the public that plastic bags, particularly dry cleaning bags, present a danger to children. For a character in the show to have left a dry cleaning bag lying around, then seems unrealistic. A much more glaring anachronism appears when men from Sterling Cooper are making a new pitch to Lucky Strike cigarette executives. Faced with the fact that cigarettes are harmful for one's health filling the news, they pitch the slogan, "It's toasted." The problem is that "It's toasted" had been in use by Lucky Strike since 1917! A better choice would have been the slogan the brand had actually used in the early Sixties, "Lucky Strike separates the men from the boys...but not from the girls."

Mad Men is more than a remarkable recreation of both Madison Avenue in the Sixties and society in general in 1960. The series boasts some of the best writing in television today, not only examining the fictional Sterling Cooper advertising agency, but the impact working there has upon its employees. The majority of the characters are very well developed, from the Don Draper, the show's protagonist and a junior partner at Sterling Cooper with a mysterious past, to Pete Campbell, a junior account manager from a well placed family with too much ambition and too few ethics. These characters are brought to life by one of the best casts in television. Particularly standing out are Jon Hamm as Don Draper and Vincent Kartheiser as Pete Campbell.

Mad Men also benefits from good production values. Although produced on a cable series budget, the show looks much more expensive than it really is. This is greatly aided by talented directors, with experience ranging from The West Wing to House.

If you missed the first season, Mad Men is well worth the rental price to catch up on it on DVD. And by all means, if you enjoy quality television, you must not miss the second season.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Dark Knight

This weekend The Dark Knight broke box office records, a remarkable feat for a movie that was not released in May. The reason may well be simple. With The Dark Knight Christopher Nolan has given us a remarkable film that is unlike any superhero movie ever made.

There are those who will say that he has transcended the genre, but as a comic book fan I know this is not true. After all, comic books are capable of great artistic works. What Nolan has done instead is brought Batman back to his roots, as a dark knight who had more in common with pulp heroes such as The Shadow and The Spider than his fellow comic book heroes such as Superman and Captain Marvel. The early Batman stories were dark, gritty and full of violence. In the first Joker story alone, The Joker killed four people. In the second story featuring the Harlequin of Hate, he killed seven more. This was the world of the early Batman stories and Nolan has translated that world perfectly to the screen.

Indeed, Heath Ledger's realisation of The Joker on the big screen may be all the more chilling for fans of the comic books, because Ledger has grasped the heart of the character in a way that no actor before him (not Jack Nicholson and certainly not Caesar Romero) ever has. Even for people not familiar with the comic books, Ledger's performance of The Joker must go down as one of the most terrifying in film history. His Joker does not commit murder and mayhem for profit or an agenda or any rational reason. As Alfred, Bruce Wayne's loyal butler observes, "Some men just want to watch the world burn." This makes The Joker all the more frightening, for his acts of terror simply cannot be predicted.

While much is made of Heath Ledger's performance, it would be unfair not to state that the whole cast of this film gives what may be the best performances of their careers. Christian Bale stands out as Bruce Wayne and The Batman, pondering if perhaps if it is time for The Batman to retire with the arrival of earnest, new district attorney Harvey Dent. Aaron Eckhart is excellent as Harvey Dent, the crusading DA who has his own share of darkness to deal with, Both Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman give their best as Batman's allies, Bruce Wayne's butler Alfred Pennyworth and Lucius Fox, CEO of Wayne Enterprises and Batman's armourer. Gary Oldman, after long being the consummate heavy (after all, he played Sid Vicious, Dracula, and Dr. Zachary Smith), proves again he can play a good guy by reprising his role as Lt. Jim Gordon.

There is no shortage of action in The Dark Knight. The movie includes some of the most thrilling action scenes of late to grace the screen, including a three way chase between The Batman, The Joker, and a Gotham City paddywagon. Another highpoint is the first meeting between the Harlequin of Hate and The Caped Crusader at, of all places, a fund raiser held in Wayne Tower. And the film is undoubtedly cinematic in scope and epic in scale. Some scenes were shot using IMAX technology. One scene will particularly stand out in viewers' minds, as Batman stands atop a skyscraper (possibly the tallest in Gotham) looking out over the city, right before leaping downwards, his bat cape unfurling like wings.

The Dark Knight is ultimately much more than a superhero movie. In many respects, this is very much a crime drama, with more in common with the pulps of old and movies such as The Road to Perdition (itself based on a graphic novel) than the Spider-Man. It is definitely not a movie for children. Not only might they be disturbed by The Joker's acts of violence (at one point he kills a mobster with a pencil....), but they probably would get lost in what is a complex, deeply psychological plot.

There are those who will chalk up the movie's already incredible box office to the death of Heath Ledger (The Joker was his last completed role). I suspect it is much more than that. Batman is perhaps the superhero with the most visceral appeal, an ordinary man (albeit a rich one) who has built himself to the peak of perfection and chosen to fight crime. Is it any wonder that in 1966 and 1989, and now perhaps again, the world was in the grip of Batmania? But more than that, it may be because Christopher Nolan has given us a truly remarkable film. The Dark Knight is a true epic, a crime drama in which the hero wears a bat suit and the villain is a psychopathic clown. Alongside such recent entries as Iron Man, it certainly shows what superhero movies can be. In fact, I dare say, The Dark Knight may be the greatest superhero movie of all time.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Guillermo del Toro has directed well received genre movies and critically acclaimed films. His movie, El laberinto del fauno (Pan's Labyrinth) not only received critical acclaim, but received six Oscar nominations. It won three. Mike Mignola worked on such comic book projects as Batman: A Death in the Family and Gotham by Gaslight. In 1994 he created the Hellboy series. Not only would Hellboy become a cult favourite, but would go onto win both Harvey and Eisner awards. Del Toro's 2004 movie Hellboy would change Hellboy from a cult character to a household name.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army is not of the same quality as El laberinto del fauno. I do not think it is even as good as the first Hellboy movie, but it is nearly its equal. Del Toro has once more succeeded in giving us another very fine and very entertaining film.

In this go around Hellboy and his comrades at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence find themselves in the position of having to prevent all out war between mankind and the world of fairy tale creatures (fairies, trolls, and so on). It seems that there has been a truce between man and the fairy world for thousands of years, and now Prince Nuada of Bethmoora wishes to break the truce for total war on man.

As might be expected of a movie that centres on legendary creatures, Hellboy II: The Golden Army is filled with wonders. As might be expected, the fairy tale creatures of del Toro and Mignola are hardly the lovable sort found in the Shrek movies. In fact, with the exception of the elves (the ruling elite of the fairy tale creatures) such as Nuada and his twin sister Nuala (who more or less look human), most of the creatures are downright monstrous. As might be expected, Hellboy gets to battle another gigantic creature, in this case an Elemental or Forest God that rampages through part of New York. Of course, most of the creatures are closer to human size. Among these is Mr. Wink, an enormous troll who serves as Nuada's enforcer, and the many denizens of the Troll Market (del Toro's own homage to the cantina from Star Wars Chapter IV: a New Hope. By far my favourite creatures were perhaps the smallest. Tooth fairies are tiny, little more than the size of Tinkerbell. Unlike their namesake, however, tooth fairies are vicious little critters who are definitely not intent on leaving money in exchange for teeth... Not all of the unusual characters are from the fairy realm. Introduced in this film is another character from the comic books, Johann Krauss. Krauss is a disembodied ectoplasmic spirit who must wear a containment suit (complete with bubble helmet) in order to have a physical form. Krauss, voiced by Seth MacFarlane, is also one of the most entertaining characters in the film.

As might be expected, all of this entails a good deal of special effects. Fortunately, the special effects in Hellboy II: The Golden Army are in top form. Indeed, the Golden Army of the title is so convincing it is hard to believe they simply weren't built in some factory in Detroit.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army also has some truly great action scenes. Prince Nuada is absolutely deadly with the spear and sword, making him a challenge even for Hellboy. The battles with the various fairy tale creatures are well executed and often very original. The sequence with the tooth fairies must be seen to be believed.

As impressive as the special effects and action sequences are,
Hellboy II: The Golden Army may be at its best in its quieter moments. Ron Perlman and Selma Blair are in top form portraying Hellboy and Liz as their relationship has reached a crisis. Hellboy's resentment of Krauss (who is now his superior) makes for some amusing moments. Perhaps best of all is a scene between Hellboy and Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), both lovelorn, getting drunk while listening to Barry Manilow.

While Hellboy II: The Golden Army is not quite as good as Hellboy, it is nearly its equal. It is a entertaining, fun film with strong characters, great dialogue, and some fantastic action sequences. And it is so filled with wonders, all made convincing through excellent special effects, that for two hours at least, viewers will believe in fairies.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Talk Show Host Les Crane Passes On

Talk show host Les Crane passed on July 13 at the age of 74.

Crane was born on December 3, 1933, although it is unclear where he was born. By some reports he was born in New York City, but according to an American Broadcasting Company biography he was born in Long Island. The New York Daily News claims he was born in the Bronx, while IMDB and other websites claim he was born in San Francisco. He was born Lesley Stein. Regardless, he graduated from Tulane University and served four years in the Air Force as a pilot. He first rose to prominence at KKYA in San Francisco as a rock'n'roll DJ. He then moved to KKGO in San Francisco, where station manager Don Curran gave him the last name of "Crane." KKGO could be received as far as Seattle, Washington. When the late night talk show Crane hosted became a hit, he was then known in several states. Crane was often known for being brusque with callers to his show, even violating usual standards of politeness by hanging up on them. His style was open and forthright.

It was in 1964 that ABC hired him to host ABC's Nightlife (also known as The Les Crane Show, the first late night talk show to challenge Johnny Carson. Crane's show relied on spontaneity and Crane showed no respect for the traditions of TV talk shows. The New York Times referred to Crane as "the bad boy of late night television," He interviewed celebrities such as Richard Burton and Shelley Winters, as well as more important individuals such as Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and even controversial Governor of Alabama George Wallace. The Rolling Stones had their first interview on American television on Crane's show. Unfortunately, although the show was well received by critics, it never seriously challenged Carson. As ABC's Nightlife the show only lasted from November 1964 to February 1965. Revived as The Les Crane Show, it only managed to last from June 1965 to November 1965.

Following the cancellation of The Les Crane Show, Crane hosted another talk show on WNEW in New York. This one also lasted briefly. He also had a small acting career. Crane guest starred on such shows as Burke's Law, The Virginian, and It Takes a Thief. He also appeared in the failed television pilot, I Love a Mystery and the film An American Dream.

In 1971 Crane had a hit with a spoken word record, his interpretation of the poem “Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann. He won the Grammy for Best Spoken Word Recording. In 1980 Les Crane expanded into the software market, becoming the CEO of Software Toolworks. Among other programmes the company manufactured were the Chessmaster series and Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing.

Les Crane was a true innovator in his field. His outrageous antics pre-dated those of similar hosts such as David Letterman and Conan O'Brien. In some respects, he could be considered a forerunner of shock jocks, except that he tended to quite a bit more polite. Although his show on ABC only lasted briefly. Crane would have a lasting impact on late night talk shows.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Dark Knight Trailer

Today I am feeling a little under the weather and a bit tired. I thought instead of a usual post, then I would simply post the trailer to what could be the most widely anticipated movie this summer, The Dark Knight.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Actress Evelyn Keyes Passes On

Evelyn Keyes, one of the last surviving cast members of Gone With the Wind passed on July 4 at the age of 91. The cause was ovarian cancer.

Keyes was born November 20, 1916 in Port Arthur, Texas. She grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. While still a teenager she danced in nightclubs. She left for Hollywood at the age of 17. She was discovered by director Cecile B. DeMille. He cast her in his 1938 film The Buccaneer. Keyes played several uncredited parts in movies, as well as more substantial parts in Sons of the Legion, Sudden Money,and Union Pacific. It was in 1939 that she was cast in the part for which she was best known, that of Scarlet O'Hara's younger sister Suellen in Gone With the Wind.

Although never a major star, Keyes would go onto several significant roles in film. She was the female lead in Before I Hang in 1940. In 1941 she starred in Here Comes Mr. Jordan. She appeared in A Thousand and One Nights, The Jolson Story, and Mrs. Mike. She appeared in several low budget films noir, including Johnny O'Clock, The Prowler, and The Big Combo. In the Fifties she appeared in The Seven Year Itch and in a small part in Around the World in Eighty Days. Keyes retired in 1956, but would make a few appearances on film and television afterwards. She appeared in Return to Salem's Lot and Wicked Stepmother, and guest starred in Murder She Wrote.

Keyes was nearly as well known for her personal life as she was her movie roles. Among others, she married directors King Vidor, John Huston, bandleader Artie Shaw, and producer Mike Todd. She wrote a popular autobiography, Scarlett O'Hara's Younger Sister, as well as the novel I Am a Billboard and the memoir I'll Think About It Tomorrow.

Evelyn Keyes was a fairly talented actress. She starred in a variety of films, from epics to horror. In some ways, however, she was even more talented as a writer. Her autobiography, Scarlett O'Hara's Younger Sister was a funny and witty look at Hollywood during the Golden Age of movies. She will probably be remembered best as Scarlet O'Hara's younger sister, but she should be remembered for more.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Ride Lonesome

If I had to name my favourite Western star, it would not be John Wayne, as hard as that may be to believe. Instead, I believe I would choose Randolph Scott. He did not begin his career as a Western star. In fact, he played a rather wide variety of roles. But after World War II he would become the Western star par excellence, Most often he played the lone, hard bitten hero who lived by a code all his own.

Among the best Western movies Randolph Scott ever made were those directed by Budd Boetticher. And among the finest Westerns Scott made with Boetticher was Ride Lonesome. Directed by Boetticher from a script by Burt Kennedy, it is a movie that is often overlooked in the annals of Western films.

In fact, describing the plot of Ride Lonesome hardly does it justice. In some respects its plot even sounds somewhat typical. Randolph Scott plays ageing lawman Ben Brigade, who must protect a recently widowed woman (Karen Steele) as he transports a prisoner (James Best) to Santa Cruz to be hanged. Along the way he must contend with outlaw Sam Boone (Pernell Roberts), who wants the reward money for the prisoner for himself, and Boone's sidekick Whit (James Coburn). To make matters worse, the small group is pursued by the prisoner's brother (Lee Van Cleef) and his gang.

What sets Ride Lonesome apart is the strength of essentially a character study spiced up with plenty of action. It features some of the richest dialogue and some excellent characterisation. Ride Lonesome is very much a psychological Western. Kennedy's script is given life by one of the best casts of any of the Boetticher/Scott collaborations. In fact, Ride Lonesome is interesting to watch as a historical document alone. Pernell Roberts received third billing in this film to Randolph Scott and Karen Steele, appearing in it only a year before he would assume the role of Adam on Bonanza. James Coburn appeared in his first feature film role, only a few years before he would be a major star. James Best played in a number of movie Westerns and television Westerns, this well before he would become familiar to audiences as Roscoe P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard. Finally, there is Lee Van Cleef in one of his earliest roles as a Western villain.

Adding to the high quality of both the script and cast is Boetticher's use of the camera. He used CinemaScope to its full advantage here, with travelling shots and long takes. Ride Lonesome was shot entirely outdoors, and Boetticher uses the wide landscapes to give the film the feel of existing well outside of civilisation. It is almost as if the film takes place in a world all its own, a world to which Ben Brigade has been condemned.

Ultimately, Ride Lonesome is a Western at its most basic. Unlike High Noon or The Searchers, there is no social commentary to be had here. Instead it is simply a riveting look at dangerous men living in a dangerous land at a dangerous time. Strangely enough, in creating a very basic Western on a low budget, Boetticher and Scott succeeded in making a film that in many respects truly epic.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

After July 4th

I don't guess I am the only one who feels just a little down when a holiday is over. After all, holidays are a break from the everyday, workday routine. A good many of us have time off from work on holidays, They are times of celebration which families usually spend together. It is perhaps natural then for someone to hate to see a holiday go.

In some respects, I think this is more so with July 4th than most holidays. Halloween ends, only to have Thanksgiving right around the corner. Thanksgiving ends, only to have the Yuletide less than a month away. Christmas might end for many with December 25, but New Year's Day is only a week away. July 4th is a different case entirely. Once July 4th is over, there is nothing left but the long, hot days of summer. It is true Labour Day comes in September, but in my mind it's not a real holiday. It is simply a day off from work, and it is not even that for many.

It is times like these that I think the American holiday calendar may be poorly designed. Between July 4th and Halloween, there are no holidays of importance. There are no days when families gather together for celebration. No holidays with strong traditions attached to them. Most places in the United States have county fairs, but they vary widely as to when they are scheduled. For Randolph County, Old Settlers does not arrive until mid-September (there is the County Fair, but it comes too soon after July 4th, and has never really impressed me).

Sadly, I am not sure if there is much solution to this problem. There is a holiday in August that the United States could have celebrated had the English speaking world not given up many of its old festivals. Lammas was a festival celebrating the first wheat harvest of the year, traditionally held on August 1. Indeed, its name derives from Old English hlaf "loaf" and mæsse "mass." On that day it was customary to bring the first loaf of bread made from the new wheat into the church on this day. And it was traditional for tenants to present their landlords with some of the freshly harvested wheat. It was generally celebrated as the holy day of St. Peter in Chains, but given its emphasis on the harvested wheat it might actually date back to the days of paganism. Celebrating Lammas would give Americans a holiday in August.

The only question is whether or not Americans would even celebrate Lammas. The sad fact is that many modern Americans do not give much thought as to where their food actually comes from. I seriously doubt they give much thought to wheat or how the bread they eat is made from wheat grown right here in the United States. Lammas may then not be a good choice for an August holidays.

Regardless, it seems to me that there is a need for one. After all, the time between July 4th and Labour Day is rather long, and often hot, dreary, and drab. Worse yet, Labour Day is actually not much of a holiday. It seems to me that there is a real need for a real holiday that falls in August.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Character Actor Don S. Davis Passes On

Character actor Don S. Davis, who had roles on Twin Peaks and Stargate SG-1, passed on June 29 at the age of 65. The cause was a heart attack.

Davis was born in Aurora, Missouri on August 4, 1942. Davis attended Southwest missouri State University in Springfield, where he majored in theatre and art. He received a Bachelor of Science in theatre at Southwest Missouri State College in Springfield. His college career would be interrupted by a stint in the U. S. Army. He served three years in Korea. Afterwards, he received a Masters in theatre at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Davis taught at that university for seven years before receiving a Phd there. Davis would later move to Vancouver, where he taught at the University of British Columbia.

It was while he was at the the University of British Columbia that he began acting. He made his television debut in 1982, guest starring on Joanie Loves Chachi. He appeared in The Journey of Natty Gann in 1985 and made appearances on various TV movies throughout 1986. In 1987 he left academia to pursue acting full time. Davis appeared in the movies Malone, Stakeout, and Watchers. He also guest starred on The New Adventures of Beans Baxter, MacGyver, Wiseguy, and 21 Jump Street. He was a regular on the cult TV show Twin Peaks, playing Major Garland Briggs.

Davis would spend the Nineties making a number of guest appearances on such shows as Highlander, Northern Exposure, The X-Files (as Scully's father), The Outer Limits, and Profit. He was a regular on the series Madison. He appeared in the films A League of Their Own, Cliffhanger, Needful Things, Hideaway, and The Fan. It was in 1998 that Davis assumed the role he would play the longest, that of Major General George Hammond on Stargate SG-1. In all, he would spend ten years on the show. In the naughts Davis would appear in the movie Seed, The Still Life, and Woodshop.

Davis was one of the best character actors of recent years. His speciality was authority figures, playing Major Briggs on Twin Peak, Scully's father Captain Scully on The X-Files, and General Hammond on Stargate SG-1. No one could be quite as convincing in a uniform. Although best known for playing authority figures, Davis was quite capable in any role he took. Indeed, in the movie Savage Island he played Keith Young, the patriarch of a family involved in a long running feud with the Savages, a family of hillbillies who lived up to their name. Davis was a very versatile actor and one of the most talented character actors to come down the pike in a while. It is sad that he died so soon.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Different Looks of Blackhawk

Having written about Quality Comics yesterday, today I thought I would do a pictorial on what might be their third longest running title. Blackhawk debuted in Military Comics #1, August 1941. It proved to be one of Quality Comics' most popular features. Blackhawk received his own title in winter 1944.

This is Blackhawk #9, winter 1944. Although it is the first issue of Blackhawk's own title, it is numbered "9" because it took over the numbering of Uncle Sam Quarterly. It was in Jim Steranko's History of Comics that artist Chuck Cuidera explained the look of the Blackhawks' the uniforms. He said, "The Germans had designed such great costumes, we decided to use them ourselves. It was like fighting fire with fire." By this time Blackhawk was very popular, selling as much as superheroes such as The Flash and Captain America. Here I feel like I must apologise for the very stereotypical Chinese man conducting the Blackhawks. That is Chop-Chop, the Blackhawks' cook in the early days of the series and hence the squadron's sidekick. Sadly, Chop-Chop was a very typical portrayal of Asians during World War II. It is to be noted that over the years Chop-Chop would change to the point where he would also wear a Blackhawk uniform and pilot his own plane.

This is Blackhawk #57, October 1952. The Blackhawk Squadron would change very little in appearance after World War II, although Chop-Chop was drawn more realistically, even if he was still a stereotype. Their opponents did change. With the War over, they could no longer fight Nazis. Of course, an exception was made for Blackhawk's archnemesis, Killer Shark. A Nazi operative still loyal to the cause after the fall of Hitler's regime, he would return even decades after the war to fight the Blackhawk Squadron. Other than Killer Shark, however, The Blackhawks' chief opponents would now be from the Soviet Union and Communist China. It must be kept in mind that this was the height of the Cold war and the same time period as the Red Scare.

This is Blackhawk #133, February 1959. It is the first appearance of Lady Blackhawk. Even after DC Comics acquired Blackhawk, the squadron's appearance would not change for many years. DC Comics would make some other, more drastic changes. One was in the enemies they faced. For whatever reason, DC chose to no longer pit the Blackhawks against Commies, instead giving them a variety of opponents, from crime cartels to pirates. Most popular at DC Comics were science fiction menaces such as mad scientists, robotic opponents, and alien invaders. Increasingly, Blackhawk became rather silly. To a degree, this was typical of DC Comics at the time. As early as the late Forties, DC Comics would add science fiction-type plots to titles that were far from science fiction in genre, such as the frontier drama Tomahawk. In the Fifties they even did it to Batman, who had faced gangsters and supervillains in his heyday. The addition of a female character to a previously all male comic strip was also typical. This was the era when Batwoman joined the cast of Batman and Supergirl was introduced. Lady Blackhawk was Zinda Blake, a woman who wanted to become the first female Blackhawk. She continued to appear in the pages of Blackhawk until nearly the end of the book's run.

With Blackhawk #197, June 1964, the Blackhawks received new uniforms. Many fans hate these new uniforms. They prefer the original uniforms, which had a total black colour scheme, to these red, black, and green ones. Myself, I actually like them. I must confess that while I love the originals, by 1964 they were looking a bit dated. That having been said, I don't think I did not approve of the other change this issue brought. Having started as a private, paramilitary squadron, the Blackhawks were now attached to a secret government agency. Personally, I preferred them as freelancers. Despite the fact that they now worked for the government, the Blackhawks still faced silly, science fiction menaces.

Blackhawk #226, November 1966, is a case in point. This issue features the story "The Secret Monster of Blackhawk Island." That's the right. The Blackhawks have been on Blackhawk Island, located somewhere in the North Atlantic, for 25 years and they never knew they had a monster! The next two issues wouldn't be much better, featuring "The Perilous Positive-Negative Man" and "Chop-Chop the Warlock." Here I must say a few words about Chop-Chop. Although still bearing that demeaning name, he had become less of a stereotype. With Blackhawk #197, June 1964, he slimmed up, received a uniform, and was no longer drawn as a stereotype (although he was sort of a jaundice orange now). He even received his own plane!

This is it, the lowest point in the Blackhawks' history, Blackhawk #230, March 1967. Sales for the title had been declining for the past several years. Instead of realising that the pseudo-science fiction plots were probably what was hurting sales, DC Comics decided instead that the Blackhawks must become superheroes. After all, this was the era of the Batman TV show. To this end, the Blackhawks received silly powers and equally bad uniforms in what was deemed "The New Blackhawk Era." The process took three issues, beginning with Blackhawk #228, January 1967 and culminating with #230. In this three part story, the government agency was back and demanded the Blackhawks disband or become superheroes.

The silly superhero phase seriously hurt Blackhawk's sales. To save the book, DC Comics then returned the Blackhawks to their original uniforms and their status as a paramilitary group. This occurred in Blackhawk #242, August-September 1968, shown here. This issue was scheduled to feature art by Reed Crandall, who had worked on the book at Quality Comics, but he had to bow out of the project. In the story, the government agency is destroyed by the villain, the Black Mask. Their superhero costumes having also been destroyed, they become what they once were. It turns out that the Black Mask is none other than Blackhawk's brother, who was badly injured in World War II but repaired by the Nazis. Sympathetic to the Nazis and angry at his brother, he now seeks to destroy Blackhawk.

Blackhawk was cancelled with #243, October-November 1968. It returned with #244, January-February 1976. The Blackhawks had new uniforms and various new opponents, Among their new enemies were Anti-Man, a villain with anti-matter powers, and the Bio-Lord, a machine intelligence wanting to kill al humans. The Blackhawks would also face Nazis again. One was the Sky Skull, a Nazi war criminal. Of course, another was Killer Shark, who returned in Blackhawk #250, January-February 1977. Sadly, this would be the final issue of this revival. The series is important as it was the very last one in which the Blackhawks were featured in contemporary times. Every revival every since has featured them in their glory days, World War II.

Because of that, every revival has featured the Blackhawks in their original uniforms. There was another short lived revival in 1982, with stories by Mark Evanier. This revival was actually more successful, lasting from #251, October 1982 to #273, November 1984. In 1987 Howard Chaykin wrote a Blackhawk mini-series which was very revisionist. It gave Blackhawk a real name, Janos Prohaska. It also a rather vulgar drunk. A Blackhawk series followed in 1988 in Action Comics. It received its own title in March 1989. It lasted until #16, August, 1990. Since then Blackhawk has only appeared in Blackhawk Special #1, 1999. This oneshot was set in Vietnam and written by John Ostrander. Since then Blackhawk and his squadron have only made cameos in various DC titles. It is safe to say, however, that they will probably be revived again one day.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Quality Comics

Since the Sixties people have been accustomed to think of there being only two monolithic comic book companies: DC and Marvel. During the Golden Age of Comics (roughly 1938 to 1949), however, this was not the case. There were several prominent comic book publishers during those early years. The forerunner of DC Comics, National Comics, was the giant even then, owning as they did both Superman and Batman. Their sister company, All-American, may well have been the second biggest, owning as they did The Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and the Justice Society of America. I am not sure who the number three comic book publisher was. It could have been Fawcett Publications, whose Captain Marvel even outsold the Man of Steel at times. That having been said, it is also possible that it could well have been a long defunct publisher known as the the Quality Comics Group.

If the name "Quality Comics" doesn't sound familiar, then perhaps some of the characters it published will. Quality Comics was the home of such big names as Blackhawk, Plastic Man, Doll Man, and reprints of The Spirit. All four characters were so popular that they outlasted the Golden Age. Indeed, Plastic Man would barely survive into the Silver Age. The last issue of Plastic Man was cover dated November 1956, one month after the Barry Allen version of The Flash had debuted in Showcase #4, October 1956. Blackhawk would survive into the Silver Age, National Periodical Publications (AKA DC Comics) continuing to publish it until November 1968.

Quality Comics was founded by printer Everett "Busy" Arnold in 1937. Arnold had received his nickname "Busy" as a boy because he talked so much in class that his teachers were always calling him a "busybody." Receiving a degree in economics from Brown University in 1921, Arnold entered the printing business when he became a sales representative for printing press manufacturer Goss Printing Company. He would sell presses to both Eastern Color Printing (who would later publish Famous Funnies #1, May 1934--the first American comic book) and the McClure Syndicate. It was in the Twenties that Arnold learned about colour printing.

Around 1930 Arnold would become the vice president of Greater Buffalo Press after its president Walter Koessler invested in a colour press so as to print Sunday newspaper comics sections. It would be in 1936 that Arnold would have his first brush with the comic book industry. That year he helped John Mahon and Bill Cook, both of whom had worked for National Allied Publications (the ancestor of DC Comics), set up Comics Magazine Inc. Their first comic book, The Comics Magazine, published in May 1936, included both reprints and original features such as Dr. Mystic (the first published work of Jerry Schuster and Joe Siegel, creators of Superman--Dr. Mystic would become Dr. Occult at DC). The Comics Magazine was renamed The Funny Pages in September of that year. In its November 1936 it would featured the first appearance of The Clock, the first masked comic book character.

By 1937 Busy Arnold realised that comic books were a medium which could soon be making a good deal of money. To this end he founded Comic Favorites, Inc in conjunction with the newspaper syndicates the McNaught Syndicate, the Frank J. Markey Syndicate and the Register and Tribune Syndicate in October 1937. That month the company published their first comic book, a collection of reprinted newspaper strips called Feature Funnies. Initially, Harry "A" Chelser would provide the magazine with original material, although eventually Arnold would turn to the famous Eisner-Iger shop for his original material.

Arnold's entry into the world of comic book publishing would not be without its battles. Almost immediately he found himself sued by Eastern Color Printing over the name Feature Funnies, which they maintained infringed upon their own Famous Funnies. Arnold successfully defeated the lawsuit by proving that the word "funnies" had been used for comic strips long before Eastern Color Printing's initial publication of Famous Funnies. Despite the lawsuit from Eastern Color, Comic Favorites Inc. was doing well. The company would acquire The Clock, who made his first appearance in Feature Funnies #3, December 1937. This made The Clock the first masked hero published by what would become Quality Comics. The company would continue to publish him until Crack Comics #35, Autumn, 1944.

Nineteen thirty nine would be a historic year for Arnold's company. Busy Arnold and the Cowles Brothers (who owned the Register and Tribune Syndicate) bought out the shares of both the McNaught and Markey syndicates in Comic Favorites, Inc. Renamed Comic Magazines, Inc., the company would go through a few other changes as well. Feature Funnies was renamed Feature Comics with its twenty first issue, June 1939. It was two months later that the company published Smash Comics #1, August 1939, its first magazine with all new material. In December 1939 the company would also have one of its first big hits, a character who may have also been the company's first superhero. Debuting in Feature Comics #27, December 1939, Doll Man was the creation of Will Eisner, although the character would be most closely associated with artist Reed Crandall. Doll Man was the first hero with the ability to shrink in size, although he kept the strength of a full grown man even at his doll size. Doll Man proved to be very popular, getting his own title, the first issue cover dated autumn 1941. He was published until 1953.

As historic as 1939 would be for Comic Magazines, Inc., 1940 would be even more so. Late in 1939 and early in 1940 Everett Arnold began exploring the idea of a Sunday supplement for newspapers roughly in comic book form. He used his connections with the Greater Buffalo Press to make contact with various editor and showed them a presentation using features already published by Comics Magazines Inc. While nearly all the editors liked the idea, it was an editor from the Washington Star who stated that while he liked The Clock by George Brenner, he did not like the art. He much preferred the art in Lou Fine's comic strip in the presentation. For his part, Busy Arnold was concerned about that Lou Fine might work too slow to meet newspaper deadlines. It was then that Arnold turned to Will Eisner. Eisner then developed The Spirit. The Spirit was a detective named Denny Colt, who was presumed dead. It was with the blessing of his friend the police commissioner that Colt became The Spirit, a masked vigilante operating out of Wildwood Cemetery. Arnold and Eisner worked out an agreement whereby Eisner would essentially retain ownership of The Spirit. The same agreement would apply to the eventual backup features, Lady Luck and Mr. Mystic. "The Spirit Section," as it came to be called, was first published on June 2 1940. "The Spirit Section" proved very popular, lasting until October 5, 1952. From October 1941 to March 1944 there was a daily Spirit strip. The Spirit would also be reprinted in Quality comics titles, including Police Comics starting with #11, October 1942 and running in that title until #42, May 1950, and in his own title from its first issue in 1944 until its twenty second and final issue in August 1950. He has been revived frequently since then, and next year he will have his own major motion picture.

It was in February of 1940 that Comic Magazines Inc. moved from New York City to the Gurley Building in Stamford, Connecticut. It was perhaps because of the move to that city that the company and Arnold's other companies and imprints (such as E.M. Arnold Publications) would become known collectively as "the Quality Comics Group," the Connecticut Historical Society theorising that he perhaps drew the name from Stamford's nickname of the "Quality City." The "Quality Comics Group" imprint would first appear on Crack Comics #5, September 1940. The year would also see the debut of some of Quality's most popular superheroes: Uncle Sam (created by Will Eisner and debuting in National Comics #1, July 1940), The Ray (created by Lou Fine, debuting in Smash Comics #14, September 1940), and Quicksilver (created by Jack Cole and Chuck Mazoujian, first appearing in National Comics #5, November 1940).

By the end of 1940 Quality Comics was established as one of the most successful comic book companies in the industry, with popular characters such as Doll Man and Uncle Sam to its name. Much of the company's success was no doubt due to Everett M. Arnold himself. Busy Arnold could be a bit of a curmudgeon with his artists, alternating between flattering his artists and delivering them stinging criticisms. At the same time, however, Arnold was widely considered the fairest publisher in the industry at the time. He was well known for frequently giving his artists bonuses when he felt that they had done particularly good work. For all his strengths and weaknesses, Arnold attracted the best artists to Quality Comics and most of them worked for him for years. Eisner himself worked with Arnold from 1939 to 1950. Jack Cole worked for him from 1940 to 1953.

It was in August 1941 that two comic books would debut which would insure that Quality Comics would be one of the top companies in the industry during the Golden Age. That month was the cover date for Military Comics #1, which featured the premiere of Blackhawk. Blackhawk was created by Will Eisner, Chuck Cuidera, and Bob Powell. Blackhawk was the otherwise unnamed leader of the Blackhawk Squadron, also called the Blackhawks, a team of ace pilots of several different nationalities (Andre was French, Olaf was Norwegian, Chuck was Texan, and so on). The group appeared in Military Comics until that book became Modern Comics in November 1945. They received their own title in 1944 when Uncle Sam Quarterly became Blackhawk. Blackhawk was popular enough that his title not only survived the Golden Age, but would continue to be published until November 1968 (although after December 1956 it was published by DC, not Quality). Blackhawk would be licensed for publication in the United Kingdom and Australia. It would also inspire a short lived radio show on ABC that ran from September 1950 to December 1950, and a 1952 Columbia serial with Kirk Alyn in the lead role.

Of course, August 1941 also saw the publication of Police Comics #1, which featured the debut of Plastic Man. Plastic Man was the creation of Jack Cole. Cole initially wanted to call the character "India Rubber Man." Busy Arnold disagreed, suggesting that he should name the character after a substance that brought to mind the future--he should call him "Plastic Man." Plastic Man was not the first stretching hero, but he was certainly the most versatile Golden Age character of the type and the only one who lasted beyond an issue or two. He was also strikingly original, as one would expect from Jack Cole. Plas (as he was called for short) started out as "Eel" O'Brian, a petty hoodlum. He and his gang were robbing a a chemical plant when they were surprised by the night watchman. O'Brien escaped, but only after he had been wounded and covered in chemicals. Realising that his fellow gang members had abandoned him, he turned his back on crime and used his new powers (to stretch into any shape) to fight it. The following issue he received a sidekick in the form of Woozy Winks, who was bumbling and overweight, but blessed by a gypsy so no harm would ever become him. Together the two fought some of the most bizarre supervillains ever. Cole wrote Plastic Man in a half serious, half humorous style with a completely off the wall visual sense. Plastic Man could literally become anything. Plastic Man proved to be very popular. He received his own title in 1943. He lasted in Police Comics until it became a crime comic book with #102, October 1950. His own title would survive exactly one month into the Silver Age, ending with issue #64, November 1956. Strangely, despite the character's popularity, it would take DC ten years before they revived him. Despite this fact, he would influence such Silver Age characters as Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four and the Elongated Man of DC Comics.

Already owning such popular characters as Doll Man and Uncle Sam, the addition of Blackhawk, Plastic Man, and The Spirit only added to the company's success. Quality would add one more successful character to its roster before the end of World War II. Kid Eternity debuted in Hit Comics #25, December 1942, a book which, despite its title, was in much need of a hit. Created by Otto Binder and Sheldon Moldoff, Kid Eternity proved to be the hit the title needed. He was an unnamed kid who died when Germans sunk the ship he was on. About to enter the afterlife, the Gatekeeper decided that he must have died by mistake and so Mr. Keeper, the entity who had made the clerical error, was charged with the responsibility for the kid. It was Mr. Keeper who gave him a unique superpower. Using the word "Eternity" he could summon any historical or mythological figure to come to his aid. Kid Eternity proved popular. He starred in Hit Comics until it ended its run with #60, September 1949. He received his own magazine in Spring 1946. It lasted until November 1949. He has been revived by DC Comics from time to time since then.

The end of World War II also saw superheroes begin a slow decline in popularity. Quality then began to expand into other genres. Among those genres was humour. Tall, leggy, blonde Torchy had been created by artist Bill Ward while in the military and her strip had been carried by Army newspapers around the world. When Ward returned from the war, it was Quality Comics who published Torchy. She started as a backup in Doll Man with issue #8, Spring 1946. She appeared there until #28, May 1950. She also appeared in Modern Comics from issue #53, September 1946 to September 1949 and her own title from November 1949 to September 1950. Another enduring humour character at Quality was Marmaduke Mouse. The chief lackey of King Louie (a lion), he first appeared in Hit Comics #35, Spring 1944. He received his own title in Spring 1946. Ultimately, it would last until #65, December 1956, making it the last comic book ever published by Quality. In the end, Marmaduke Mouse would be Quality Comic's fourth longest lasting feature, after Blackhawk, Plastic Man, and Doll Man. Quality had other humour titles as well, including All-Humor Comics, which ran from 1946 to 1949. Candy was their teen humour feature. She debuted in Police Comics #37, December 1944. She received her own title in Autumn 1947. She lasted in Police Comics until it became a crime title in 1950. Her own title lasted until #64, July 1956. Other humour titles included Gabby and Jonesy.

Like many comic book companies at the time, Quality Comics would also take to publishing Westerns. Crack Comics became Crack Western with #63, November 1949. Quality Comics would take an even bigger leap into the burgeoning romance genre. Starting in 1949, they published such titles as Campus Loves and Flaming Love. In all, the Quality Comics Group would publish over 15 different romance titles before it closed its doors. Its most successful romance title would be Heart Throbs first published in August 1949. The final issue published by Quality was #46, December 1956, making it one of the last titles published by the company. DC published it thereafter, until #146, October 1972. It was then retitled Love Stories and lasted until #152, November 1973. This makes it one of Quality's longest running titles (alongside Blackhawk) when its DC run is counted as well--over 24 years.

Quality also expanded into crime comic books, although their titles were always much tamer than those published by Lev Gleason (Crime Does Not Pay) and E.C. Comics (Crime SuspenStories). Police Comics became a crime anthology with #103, December 1950. It would last in that format until its cancellation with #127, October 1953. One of the characters featured in its new format, private eye Ken Shannon, would receive his own title in October 1951. It lasted until April 1952. Another character, Treasury Agent Trask, appeared in Police Comics with #103, December 1950 as well. His feature was renamed "T-Man" after two issues. Trask received his own title, T-Man #1, in September 1951. T-Man #38, December 1956, was among the last titles Quality ever published. Oddly enough, despite the popularity of T-Man, DC Comics did not pick up the title. Quality Comics' other crime features never received their own books, but included Inspector Denver and Dan Leary, State Trooper.

Quality Comics would also expand into, for lack of any better term, the adventure genre. These were titles that might be set in different time periods, but can be more or less classified together because of their emphasis on derring-do. In some ways such swashbuckling adventures were nothing new for Quality Comics. The Gallant Knight was featured in early issues of Feature Comics. Abdul the Arab had a home in Smash Comics. The Fifties would see Quality Comics publish titles that specialised in swashbuckling adventure. Buccaneers lasted for eight issues from 1950 to 1951. A much more successful title was Robin Hood Tales, beginning with #1, February 1956. In fact, Robin Hood Tales would last until the very end of the Quality Comics Group, #6, December 1956 being among the last magazines published by the company. It became one of the few titles that was continued by National Periodical Publications. who published it for seven more issues, until #14, April 1958. It may have been possibly cancelled due to sales, although it is also possible that it was discontinued becuase National Periodical Publications had already been publishing its own Robin Hood stories in the pages of The Brave and the Bold (its own adventure title) since #5, April-May 1956. Quality Comics also published The Exploits of Daniel Boone from #1, November 1955 to #6, October 1956, nine years before the Fess Parker TV show debuted.

Quality Comics would also publish war comics. Of course during World War II Military Comics included such features as Blackhawk, The Death Patrol, and The Sniper. And Blackhawk had been published for years. The Fifties would see an important new war title. G.I. Combat debuted in October 1952. It had started out with an anti-Communist bent, but moved more towards World War II stories as time wore on. It proved popular enough that after Quality published its last issue with #43, December 1956, DC Comics picked it right up, publishing it until #281, January 1986. Counting in its run under DC Comics, G.I. Combat would be the longest running Quality title of all time, surviving a full 34 years. While at DC Comics, G.I. Combat would see the debut of some of its most popular war features, including Sgt. Rock and The Haunted Tank. Quality also published Yanks in Battle for a mere four issues in 1956. It was not picked up by DC Comics.

In 1950 Busy Arnold would buy out the Cowles Brothers shares in Quality, making him the sole owner. Sadly, for Arnold there were dark days ahead for comic books. The late Forties saw the beginning of the outcry over violence in comic books. Such protests would only become more pronounced as the Fifties progressed. The loudest voice in this anti-comic book hysteria was Dr. Frederic Wertham, a liberally leaning psychiatrist who was convinced sex and violence in comic books caused delinquency in children. Quality was much more responsible than many other comic book companies of the time. In fact, Dr. Wertham's notorious book Seduction of the Innocent, only refers to one Quality title. Even DC Comics, whose magazines of the time are generally considered the tamest outside of Archie Comics, were mentioned more!

Still, even Quality Comics would come under attack. Torchy had been one of Quality Comics' most popular features. Sadly, while the feature was totally innocent (Torchy Todd was guilty of no more than being pretty), Torchy was listed by Dr. Frederic Wertham in 1950 as being among the comic book titles that was unacceptable for children to read. Quality Comics stopped publishing Torchy for that reason. Another attack upon another Quality title would come a few years later. With Web of Evil #1, November 1952, the company would make its only entry in the horror genre. Web of Evil was tamer than other horror titles of the time, but even it would be mentioned in Seduction of the Innocent. Web of Evil would not be a success at any rate. It only lasted until #21, December 1954. Supposedly, the final issue of The Spirit, #22, August 1951, was mentioned in the New York State Joint Legislative Committee to Study Comic Books as well. Other than those three titles, the only time Quality Comics came under attack was when an ad appearing in their magazines for books called How to Hypnotize--A Master Key to Hypnotism was mentioned by Wertham in front of the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency.

Regardless, in the end the anti-comic book hysteria would hurt the sales of all comic book titles, particularly from 1954 to 1956. And in many respects Quality Comics was not the powerhouse it had been in the Golden Age of comic books. Their greatest strength was always their superhero line. When the superhero craze began to fade away after 1945, Quality would lose what were once some of their most popular characters. It was a perhaps a sign of the times that in 1950 Quality Comics published 153 titles, but by 1951 they were down to publishing only 84 titles (the bulk of cancelled titles were from their romance line). Even the two juggernauts the company published, Blackhawk and Plastic Man did not sell as they once did. Blackhawk had started out as tied to World War II. When the Blackhawk Squadron no longer had Nazis to fight, the series lost something of its former glory. Jack Cole had left Plastic Man in 1950. While such talents as Alex Kotzky and John Spranger took over in his stead, no one could truly replace Jack Cole on Plastic Man. The title suffered in comparison to what it had once been with Cole on the book, and this was reflected in its sales.

Other matters would make it even more difficult for comic book companies to survive in 1956. The American News Company was the largest and oldest magazine distributor in the United States. With the exception of National Periodical Publications (AKA DC Comics), which was distributed by Independent News (owned by DC itself), the vast majority of comic book publishers were carried by the American News Company. It was in 1956 that the Department of Justice found the American News Company guilty of restraint of trade. As a result, it had to divest itself of every newsstand it owned. The effect on the comic book companies was devastating. Dell Comics simply went out of business. What would become Marvel Comics nearly did; they had cut back on the number of titles they published and go to DC Comics and Independent News for distribution. I have never read if Quality Comics was among the companies affected by the collapse of the American News Company, but it would not surprise me in the least.

With sales in decline, Everett M. "Busy" Arnold decided to leave the comic book industry. He sold Quality Comics--lock, stock, and barrel--to National Periodical Publications (DC Comics). Quality Comics published its last magazines in December 1956, surviving only two months into the Silver Age. DC Comics continued to publish Blackhawk, G.I. Combat, and Heart Throbs for years. They would revive Plastic Man in 1966 and yet more times over the years. In the Seventies they would bring back many of the other Quality Comics characters, from Kid Eternity to Doll Man. But sadly, Quality Comics was gone after 19 years of existence.

As to Busy Arnold, having sold Quality Comics, he founded Arnold Magazines Inc. and entered the Men's Adventure field. He published such titles as Homicide Detective Story Magazine and Crime and Justice Detective Story Magazine. Arnold's magazine, Classic Photography, would be deemed obscene by the U.S. Postal Service in 1957, innocuous as it would seem now.

Of course, the question remains, how different would comic book history be if Busy Arnold had not closed the Quality Comics Group in 1956? It is possible that Arnold could have sought another solution other than selling his titles and characters to National Periodical Publications. What would become Marvel survived by cutting back on titles and going to Independent News for distribution. The American Comics Group, the small company known for Herbie and Adventures into the Unknown, cut back on their titles after 1956 and editor Richard Hughes wrote nearly every story from that time forward. Charlton, a small publisher also based out of Connecticut, survived because they kept their operating costs exceedingly low (it was notorious as the company which paid its artists the lowest rates in the industry). It is then conceivable that Quality Comics could have survived.

Indeed, as of 1956, the Quality Comics Group was still publishing several titles. Candy, Marmaduke Mouse, Plastic Man, T-Man, and several romance titles survived to the very end. Blackhawk, G.I. Combat, Heart Throbs, and Robin Hood Tales would survive the demise of the company, published by National Periodical Publications (although Robin Hood Tales only lasted another year). Quality Comics could have survived, especially if they had cut back on titles (a few of the romance titles could have easily have gone). Indeed, it was in October 1956 that an event occurred that turned the fortunes of comic books around for the next decade. That month was the cover date of Showcase #4, the comic book which launched the Silver Age with the debut of the Barry Allen version of The Flash. With a staple of Golden Age characters much richer than most companies, the Quality Comics Group could have eventually joined the new rush for superheroes. Plastic Man was still being published at the end of 1956. They could have revived such classic heroes as Doll Man, Kid Eternity, Quicksilver, The Ray, and Uncle Sam. And with the roster of artists that Busy Arnold always employed, the company could have easily produced brand new superheroes. In the end, with National Periodical Publications publishing new superheroes, Quality Comics could have made the industry too crowded for Marvel Comics to have risen from the ashes. Today we might still speak of two monolithic comic book companies, but instead it would be DC Comics and the Quality Comics Group.

Even though the Quality Comics Group did not survive the year 1956, it would be Quality Comics that would be Busy Arnold's greatest legacy. The Spirit is one of the most famous characters to emerge from the Golden Age of comics, and has been published on and off ever since. Both Blackhawk and Plastic Man survived the Golden Age and are still relatively well known characters. G. I. Combat became one of the longest running war titles in the history of comics, although it spent the vast majority of its years at DC. Although few today would recognise its name, Quality Comics was a giant in the comic book field in the Golden Age, and its influence continues to be felt even today.