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Monday, August 22, 2016

When Sunday Night Became Event Night

Disney and RCA Create A Wonderful World Of Color TV Sales

Dateline December 1961: NBC execs and affiliates meet to celebrate 35 years of network success. Parent company RCA has a greater than ever stake in the peacock, its feathers plumed for record number of color broadcast hours (1,630 for 1961-62 said NBC trade ads). All of brass is convened at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, RCA board chairman Gen. David Sarnoff delayed thanks to stop-off in Oklahoma "to be inducted into an Indian tribe as a chief." Sarnoff had been media's power incarnate for longer than most people had been aware of television, and earlier, radio, him credited with virtual invention of broadcast itself. The Big Chief came west on prime mission to sell America on color TV, his partner in merchandising the biggest single name in family entertainment, Walt Disney. What wouldn't we give for a transcript of these two in private conference? Walt was deeper in bed with RCA than any advertiser his company had ever dealt with. Archaic days of ABC and Peter Pan Peanut Butter were by the boards for good --- this was Big business. Walt Disney's Wonderful World Of Color had premiered on Sunday, 9/24/61, and color set sales were rocketing since. Retail stores had customers at the door on Monday mornings, waiting for demo of RCA's color miracle. Would Walt take time to personally conduct NBC visitors through Disneyland during convention week? Yes, he would.

Sarnoff and NBC boss Robert Kintner estimated a million as "good round figure" of sales for color television, nearly half that generated since RCA's early '61 push. There were 179 NBC affiliates broadcasting in color, but prices for a home set came high, beyond reach of most. Initially $1000 when RCA first offered color in 1954, now the cost was half that, but how many had $500 to sink in such a luxury? Sarnoff and crew were confident we'd come up with it somehow, especially now that their network, at least on big viewing Sundays, was a virtual paint-box. The campaign needed a name like Disney's to shake consumer money off trees, and even though it would be mid-sixties before color really took hold, this was a good start. Whatever lucky family had a set could count on neighbors stopping in for Disney and Bonanza parlay. What child of the era didn't beg Mom/Dad for family purchase of the rainbow? That little COLOR box on TV Guide listings was narcotic all sought, but few could afford. I'd defy anyone who grew up in the 60's not to remember when a first color set entered the house.

NBC had been after Disney since his dissatisfaction with ABC became known, first for an animated situation comedy after fashion of The Flintstones, "nixed" by Walt, "who has frequently been described as a man who won't undertake a project unless he likes it," said Variety. He didn't like this one, so no go. Besides, each episode would cost upward of $80K, a figure NBC blanched at. They had their deal by then (February 1961) for the Sunday series, but wanted more. Would Disney let the network re-run his western shows from the ABC pact, such as Zorro, Texas John Slaughter, etc.? Thumbs down for that too, said WD. He was for color only, and a brightest showcase to display it. Walt would spend "way over what I get" from NBC, adding that "I'm not selling color for RCA. I'm selling it for myself." Here was certainly truth being told, as The Wonderful World Of Color would be a best-ever venue to promote all things Disney, including his theatrical features and the Anaheim park. First WD theatrical product to get the Sunday night push was Grayfriars Bobby, an October-November release that rode meteor of initial NBC Disney weeks, where it was advertised at conclusion of each high-rated episode.

Premiere night was brazen for making color the be-all for watching, Variety commenting that Disney's "entertainment quotient" was, at least for a first half, left "dangling on a promissory note" as he delivered what amounted to a "demonstration piece" for RCA television. Who'd complain, however, of Walt himself giving guided tour of Sunday night's future, now securely in his hands? Lead-in was The Bullwinkle Show at 7:00, also color, and opportunity for families to settle supper dishes and gather round the tube for main event that was Disney. NBC figured dials pointing their way for whole of an evening, Bonanza having been moved to 9:00 and also a showcase for color. Even black-and-white hiccup of Car 54 --- Where Are You? got traction for coming between Disney and the Cartwrights, Proctor and Gamble grabbing exclusive sponsorship in hope that Disney's audience would stick out another thirty minutes with the net while waiting for Bonanza. As to Disney sponsor, it was, of course, RCA, but also Eastman Kodak, which was a fit, as they were pitching color possibilities of a new camera line. The Wonderful World Of Color was bold statement that a black-and-white viewing world was soon to go, with NBC and RCA applying the push. Question, though: Did viewers lacking finance for the expensive new sets resent the crowd-out?

Disney emphasized progress, as he'd been wont to do over a long career, showing clips from Steamboat Willie to illustrate how he'd put a silent era to rout ("crude and primitive" he called the 1928 short). Glimpse Walt gives of first-in-Technicolor Flowers and Trees also points up refinements needed, that he had supplied with Fantasia, highlight of which illustrates animation in full-flower. The Wonderful World Of Color was nothing if not polished. There are songs, including a theme, written fresh for the occasion by the Sherman Brothers, and a new cartoon character, Prof. Ludwig Von Drake, joins the menagerie. Von Drake was less funny than talkative, easing some of Walt's host duty as weeks rolled up in that first season. Lengthy lecture on color values eats thirty minutes before we plunge into Donald In Mathmagic Land, a featurette that had gone out with Darby O' Gill and The Little People to 1959 theatrical dates.

Disney policy changed little for all of dramatic switch to a new network and color. Lots more would tune in, simply for muscle NBC had over comparative puny ABC. There would be library dependence, as with the old Disneyland program. First-run movies in two, even three, parts, captivated viewership over the 1961-62 haul. Second Sunday of premiere season offered The Horsemasters, a teens in saddle deal that Disney had shot on economy basis with an English crew. Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates, had been intended for theatres, said Variety, but re-routed to The Wonderful World Of Color, and amounting to a "World Premiere" of this rather handsome feature. More of latter was The Prince and The Pauper, which had Guy (Zorro) Williams in derring-do that rival networks could scarcely compete with for production gloss. Several of these saw Euro play in theatres, where they'd stand ground against any major release (The Prince and The Pauper presently streams in HD at Vudu and Amazon). Disney didn't want The Wonderful World Of Color to be a kid's show, and so doled out cartoon episodes sparingly --- he'd also drop westerns --- while ramped up was nature and Euro-shot "People/Places" stuff, which made each Sunday a decision for viewers. No two Disney episodes were alike, which was how he wanted it. The 9/24/61 premiere of The Wonderful World Of Color showed up recently on TCM's Disney night, hosted by Leonard Maltin, giving us a first opportunity in fifty-five years to savor a historic night in broadcasting. Let's hope more episodes are forthcoming.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Sci-Fi With A Stinger On It

Corman's Filmgroup Does The Wasp Woman (1959)

Roger Corman takes initiative to do his own sci-fi cheapies outside Jim/Sam oversee. He was a maverick that way, tried same again with one of the Poes (Premature Burial), but got outflanked by wily Arkoff. All these guys kept steely eye on the purse, w/ aesthetics in a back seat. That may be what made pictures better, or at least gave them nervous energy. The Wasp Woman was allegedly done in five days for $50K, and for all I know, that figure may be generous. Actors always spoke of Corman thrift in awed terms. He evidently made PRC look like a plush sofa by comparison. Just how cheap? Well, how about not copyrighting any of his Filmgroup indies for a start, not so bad a bungle where it's disposable tissue like The Wasp Woman, but 1963's The Terror could have enhanced groceries right to a present day. Instead, both these and other Filmgroups enrich scavengers who labored none of (at least) eighteen-hour days Roger put in.

I submit that The Wasp Woman could be nicely remade with CGI. The concept, if not execution in 1959, has real value. If the movie's PD, couldn't someone update Kinta Kertuche's story and cash checks from there? Scripting was Leo Gordon, who I could never picture at a typewriter. He was toughest guy or menace in a hundred films, then played the part at autograph fairs in the 90's. I was frankly too afraid to approach him. The man fairly growled at fans. Who did he think he was --- Leo Gordon? The Wasp Woman tackles femme issues as would year-later The Leech Woman, these exploitable now as then. Will Susan Cabot's age and loss of looks cost her a career in cosmetics? She'll try a doubtful serum to turn back clocks, always a mistake in movies (I wish for once it would work, and make everyone, including viewers, happy). Cabot makes far-fetch believable, a good actress bringing expertise from a seven-year U-I contract to bear on Corman's speed-the-plow. How she real-life perished is a bone-chiller (murdered by her dwarfism-beset son, details horrific).

The Wasp Woman was sold on the top-end of a dualler with Beast From Haunted Cave, latter by most accounts a real stinker. 1959 was late to be fobbing off black-and-white combos. There had been too many ... and too few giving value for money. Even kids were now wary. Shocker money derived better from color (Horrors Of The Black Museum) or chillers more saleable (House On Haunted Hill with sure-thing Vincent Price). Roger Corman was wise enough to see dips ahead and so cast lot with AIP to do Price-in-color House Of Usher, a goose to the genre that would garner profits way ahead of  B/W cheaters. How to promote The Wasp Woman other than with sarcasm? Cartoon ads looked like corner of pages from The New Yorker, flattering suckers that they were above such silliness, but come and let us take your money anyway. The device had been used by Bill Castle on behalf of Macabre (a big hit for such undeserving product) and House On Haunted Hill, then Columbia pinched it for The Stranglers Of Bombay. Ridicule of horrors, even if gently applied, meant the brand was in trouble unless someone breathed in new life, which would come with the Poes, and of course, Psycho, which turned all of screen thrilling on its head and made effort like The Wasp Woman look all a more feeble by comparison.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Columbia's Suggestive Selling for 1958

Cowboy's Trailer Puts a Pox On Lousy Old Westerns

Twilight Time recently got out a Blu-ray of 1958's Cowboy. Directed by Delmer Daves, Cowboy came of that period when studios drew thick line of demarcation between theatre (read, better) westerns and long-in-tooth ancients playing round-clock on TV. Columbia did a Cowboy trailer to point up then-now of sagebrushing, central gag played at the expense of oldies (and at You Tube here). "Adult in every sense of the word" brags on-camera Jack Lemmon over this freshest of product not to be confused with kid stuff on the home box. Ignored is glaring fact that Columbia produced much of that kid stuff once upon a long past, and had glutted tubes with same since early in the fifties. Cowboy's preview starts with a disgruntled viewer clicking his remote control from identical action of one western to another. As with Gregory Peck's 1956 household in The Man With The Gray Flannel Suit, there seems no relief from saddle sores inflicted by television. "I'm plumb sick of childish westerns," he says, to which Jack Lemmon replies, "Me too," both fed up, as are we, or at least we should be, right? But wait, didn't this anonymous viewer, Jack Lemmon, and in fact, a whole of their generation, grow up with the very westerns they now disdain?

50's adults cared less to recapture youth. Maybe because growing up for them (a Great Depression, with war on both ends) was no rose garden like for offspring that thrived in a postwar boom, and have sought since to relive it. One trip back they did have, and cherish, was to action Saturdays of small-town Bijou setting, memories that fueled lifetime love for "childish" westerns Columbia asked them now to renounce. In fact, it was largely adults, and predominately male, sitting day-night for Ken Maynard, Bob Steele, Hoot Gibson, on broadcast loop, heroes that Cowboy proposed to replace with Glenn Ford, Jack Lemmon, and Technicolor on a wide screen. There was room for the latter, and a ready enough audience, but nothing would erase sentiment for front rows from which senior class of cowboys were seen, and revered. Men who renewed contact with old favorites on 50's television would tighten embrace of their past as the 60/70's ushered in nostalgia publishing, western fan conventions, and gather of 16mm westerns re-printed for TV use (film collecting, at least in the South, revolved largely around cowboys). These were really the pioneers of old movie love that expresses itself today through TCM, Blu-Ray sales, and festival/cruises to feed nostalgia's appetite.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Can We Improve On Perfection?

She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949) Is Like Being Back There

Have we reached the point of maximum quality for home viewing? Warners' Blu-Ray of She Wore A Yellow Ribbon convinces me so. I can't imagine anything improving on this, unless ... 4K? There are some classics (mostly from Columbia) we can stream in ultra-advanced clarity, but would labels release familiar titles yet again on 4K?  Question becomes how much perfection the human eye can discern. My own can go no further (I have to wear chair-to-screen viewing glasses as it is). She Wore A Yellow Ribbon isn't likely to look better unless afterlife permits visit to Monument Valley circa 1949 where John Ford and crew are shooting. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. A 4K disc of this or any favorite might reveal more than filmmakers intended. That's already a complaint among purists toward HD, especially where wires and other artifice are exposed in special effects. There must be some distance between us and the image we watch. Getting much closer to She Wore A Yellow Ribbon would have us invading Ford's space (but you know it's coming with the inevitable She Wore A Yellow Ribbon in virtual reality, release date 2026).

1966, and the National Near It's End
Like other, and famous RKO's King Kong and Citizen Kane, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon took years achieving optimal quality, at least for watchers at home. For too long, it played black-and-white on television, arriving after other RKO titles because of a 1957 theatrical reissue. By the mid-sixties, and after takeover of the library by United Artists (in April 1959), She Wore A Yellow Ribbon was made available in color for syndicated broadcast. The RKO lot of 720 features had been broken into sixteen smaller packages, and sold to 152 markets. She Wore A Yellow Ribbon was part of "Group 16," which included 25 titles. The only other one in color was Blackbeard The Pirate. The old RKO's would be a tougher sell as the decade wore on and station buyers became more color-conscious. She Wore A Yellow Ribbon meanwhile lingered in theatres well into into the 60's. Greensboro, NC had a downtown grindhouse, the National, whose double, if not triple, bill policy, brought forth oldies long unseen elsewhere. Closed by the end of 1966, one of the National's final bookings was She Wore A Yellow Ribbon with Wake Of The Red Witch, Yellow Ribbon presumably one of the 1957 35mm prints still in service.

Film collectors dreamed of having She Wore A Yellow Ribbon. It was regarded an acme of Technicolor cinematography. There were B/W prints, of course, objects of contempt and to be avoided, while color prints on Eastman stock fared little better for likelihood of pinkish or faded hue. There had been Technicolor prints made in 1949 for military and non-theatrical rent. Identifiable by their bright blue soundtrack, these were lovely for full and un-faded spectrum, but focus was soft and physical condition iffy, survivors (precious few) having passed through unskilled operator hands and meat-grinding projection. Still, this was a closest we could come to an authentic She Wore A Yellow Ribbon on 16mm. I mention all this to demonstrate how truly lost this great show was for so many years, and what a revelation the Blu-Ray is by comparison. It is a wonderful film made more so by a best-ever presentation. If there are 1949 theatrical prints extant (or an 1957 IB on safety stock), I'd love seeing how one would look beside this new disc. Our already high estimation of She Wore A Yellow Ribbon will be enhanced by what Warner Archives has put in circulation. They are to be congratulated for such a beautiful job.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Swim On In, The Art Is Fine

Ice Or Ice-Age Movies, Take Your Pick

I include both these ads to show vary of entertainment put before Washington populace on 11-18-52. Also there was Billy Eckstine performing live at the National Guard Armory, Loretta Young and Jeff Chandler in Because Of You at the Ontario Theatre, and Van Heflin on stage in The Shrike for two weeks only. Ice Capades or Ice Follies hit seemingly all towns of any size back then. The Capades took fifty years to die, wrapping up in the mid-nineties after a public finally had enough. The DuPont Theatre opened as an art house, maintained that policy for years. To tout "Two Memorable Silent Films" was bold for no-talk being much as smallpox warning in 1952. Critic laud was a given for The Last Laugh and Caligari, each earning reams of praise since the 20's, but how much of common clay came to watch? Arties got by thanks to subscriber types who'd show for whatever they ran, hence "season tickets" that were popular. We could wonder what the prints looked like, a certainty that Caligari for one wouldn't approach amazing Blu-ray we now have. Folks felt refined for watching art flix, like obligatory stop at galleries or a poetry reading. Note The Lady Vanishes on its last day before the silent combo lands. United Artists was distributor for that Hitchcock reissue, and picked up $88K in domestic rentals for their distributing pains, a nice number for a pic confined mostly to sure seaters (but wait, The Lady Vanishes also played our Liberty Theatre that year, so there were some mainstream bookings). The DuPont and similars got things seen that would not have been otherwise, and who knows but what lifelong fans and historians got born as result of being dragged there by friends or family. The Last Laugh is a foreign fave of mine. Shouldn't there be a Blu-Ray out on Region One by now?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Longest Saturday Night At The Movies

Primetime's Endless Marnie March

Lately re-watched this hugely unpleasant Hitchcock film, first view having been NBC's Saturday Night At The Movies. This was Marnie's TV premiere, November 4, 1967, and site where many millions more saw it than in theatres. Whatever mass opinion there was of Marnie, at least during the 60's, would be formed here, and from NBC's rerun on 6-11-68. The November airdate scored a 26.4 rating, among highest that season for an NBC movie, the encore seeing 19.5 (The Birds, shown 1-6-68, would be a ratings phenomenon with 38.9). What really hurt Marnie, then and in retrospect, was how long it took both evenings to get through it. NBC devoted two hours and forty-five minutes to the 130 minute film --- an already lugubrious sit swollen further by thirty-five minutes of commercials. I remember this and other nights where network movies ran way past bedtime. We didn't want them cut, heaven knows local stations did enough of that. As midnight loomed and eyes gave way to fatigue, how could anyone come away from Marnie with good impression? Yet here was where overwhelming majority would be exposed to Hitchcock's effort, and form their opinion.

It made little difference what critics wrote where a film was so weighed down. Pauline Kael said Marnie was Hitchcock "scraping bottom," while Robin Wood judged it a masterpiece. I had not read either of them for being thirteen and not yet a subscriber to highbrow journals. What I and other TV Guide readers had (millions across the land) was Judith Crist and her weekly column of picks and pans. Just as there were infinitely more who saw Marnie on NBC than on paying basis in theatres, so too did Crist readership soundly overwhelm Kael followers. So how come so many venerate Kael still, but forget Crist? When Kael died (9-3-2001), there was tribute galore, while Crist passed on (8-7-2012) with far less notice. Perhaps it was case not of how many read you, but who. Crist was the name known to me in 1967, not Kael. She didn't like Marnie either ("just tolerable ... unworthy of the master"), which probably flipped at least a few hundred thousand viewers to Hogan's Heroes/Petticoat Junction that 1967 night, or Dale Robertson in The Iron Horse over at ABC.

Marnie today is at least every visual thing you want it to be, thanks to a lovely Blu-Ray in proper 1.85, or similarly broadcast on various satellite channels in HD, a fair shake at last for a Hitchcock so long in the shade. Marnie falls in the ten year category for me, that being how often I've come back to it, with reaction differing each time. At thirteen, I was too young to fully get it, overpraised it once I finally did, and now realizing this last might be a final watch. Does there come turning point for a show that's been in our lives from childhood, or at least adolescence, where we ask, Will I ever be here again? That's mortality that whispers often as I look at familiar films with mixed emotion and figure maybe it's a last visit, that less thinking my time is closing in than recognition that there are a thousand others I want to see before bells toll, so why drop another 130 minutes on Marnie? Wouldn't increasingly precious hours be better spent with North By Northwest? (speaking of long ones)

Marnie is filled with good moments. Great ones, in fact. Marnie's robbery of the Rutland safe as a hard-of-hearing cleanup woman mops outside, the storm and "stop the colors!" that lead to a closer-than-close up kiss, and best of all, the camera slow closing in on party arrivals of which Marnie's nemesis Strutt (Martin Gabel) is last to enter (a highlight similar to Hitchcock's long approach to the key clutched by Ingrid Bergman in Notorious). What the director needed, but didn't have, for Marnie, was an actress of Bergman's capacity to play the title role. Tippi Hedren invites no interest, let alone sympathy, at least from me. It isn't that Hedren is a bad actress. I understand too little of the craft to properly criticize those who apply themselves to it. Where do ones of us who've never seriously acted come off razzing those who have? In the end, it's a purely instinctive response. I don't enjoy Tippi Hedren as Marnie because she projects no vulnerability, as I believe a Bergman would (too old by 1964, I realize), or Hitchcock's first choice, Grace Kelly might have. It's no good to spend a whole movie recasting the main part. This time I leaned toward Eva Marie Saint as possible substitute. Next time ... but wait, there might not be a next time.

All movies, at least competent ones, invite us to identify with a character. For women here, it would presumably be Hedrin as the title character, which puts me to wondering how women generally react to Marnie, outside of Kael and Crist, that is. She's any man's worst nightmare for sure, the more so because Hedrin plays so utterly nasty to Mark Rutland as done by Sean Connery. "Frigid" but barely describes Marnie ... she's more a floating iceberg. I don't believe for a moment that last act revelations will straighten this woman out. So what if she now knows it was her that clocked Bruce Dern, that a small valise among baggage Marnie carries. The character is so hardened, so cruel to Connery, his long suffering what a male audience will likeliest identify with, and be discomfited by. It's as though 007 were trying to make a proper wife of villainesses he had to cope with in Bond vehicles wrapped around release of Marnie (the film came between From Russia With Love and Goldfinger). Connery's Mark Rutland plays the fool for a woman he cannot sleep with, and because it's Hedrin rather than a more appealing actress as Marnie, we lose patience with him. What pleasure comes of seeing James Bond made impotent? I'd guess at least Hitchcock felt for Rutland's plight, intensely so, if we are to embrace backstage accounts of his obsession with Tippi Hedren.

Marnie was difficult to market, a biggest problem since Vertigo for Hitchcock. The previous three had been naturals: North By Northwest with Cary Grant and built to crowd-please, Psycho and outrage of its shower killing, The Birds with spectacle, if less suspense (those around in 1963 will remember talk this one aroused). Hitchcock admits in his Marnie trailer that it is "hard to classify." I can hear Lew Wasserman whispering the same off-camera. The preview asks, "Is Marnie "A Sex Story?, a Mystery?, a Detective Story?, a Story Of A Thief?, a Love Story?" Answer: Yes, and More! Hitchcock had to worry of critics and viewers saying Marnie was actually none of these, at least to effective degree. And critic approval did matter to Hitchcock, in fact too much so by 1964 and worship of him by the Cashiers du Cinema crowd. Central problem: Ads couldn't convey what Marnie was about, and that was deadly for any film, even a Hitchcock. Print promotion, like the trailer, would ask more questions than answer. Disappointment with boxoffice was probably seen coming by sales staff, if not the director. Wasserman as result felt justified slipping tighter leash on his auteur trophy. Their next, Torn Curtain, would be more his picture than Hitchcock's.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Paramount's First "Road" Trip

Road To Singapore (1940) Introduces Crosby-Hope

Whose idea was it to combine Bing Crosby with Bob Hope? Several took credit, books have differed on the genius that plugged them in together, and we wonder if this was something just bound to happen. To that, I say not necessarily. Crosby was a romantic singing lead, comedy not a first priority so far for him, while Hope seemed all clowning, a song or three thus far where he was part of Paramount ensemble, but C/H as a team took time to jell, even after they were combined. The duo had joshed on stage in the early 30's, an apparently spontaneous event not repeated other than for industry function to which a public was not privy. "Buddy" teaming meanwhile thrived elsewhere: James Cagney and Pat O'Brien at Warners, Clark Gable with Spencer Tracy for MGM. From such mix could come a series, popularity of such format a guarantee of gross. Look how Metro upped terms for Gable/Tracy Boom Town in 1940, admission all round that lead-man combos could be absolute surefire. This was soon enough case for the Crosby-Hopes, showmen panting anew whenever a fresh one landed.

To that credit question, publicity at the time gave nod to director/songsmith Victor Shertzinger, who allegedly did golf foursomes with Bing/Bob and observed their by-play between putts. According to scribes, Road To Singapore was in production "a few weeks later," which was then-way of letting us know how serendipitous Hollywood pic-making could be. Later, and likely more accurate, account (in Richard Zoglin's excellent Hope bio) says Para production chief William LeBaron had the brainstorm, and that Road To Singapore took a year to happen after that. All this might come under heading of success having many fathers. Would, or did, Crosby/Hope themselves claim idea of pairing? And who'd argue with either if they did? Outside of DeMille, these were Paramount's supreme power players, and for simply years, Crosby over twenty, Hope just under that. Both were a smash together or separate. It's easy to watch them now and forget radio as even bigger snowball rolling in the team's favor. With weekly audience of millions they could pitch movies to, how could any fail? Road To Singapore fascinates for insight into the juggernaut at birthing, hardly like Roads we'd travel later and enjoy more, but insight to stars/staff throwing ideas at the wall to see what might stick.

Among what audiences had then from Crosby/Hope that we lost since: newness (as a team), surprise (irreverence even toward movies they were in), and grip of media so firm as to make both impossible to avoid so long as you could read or have electricity in the house. What gave them reach beyond reckoning of biggest stars was broadcast following larger than what tracked films, reason for that simple fact listening was free. All either asked was weekly submit to cheese (Crosby) or toothpaste (Hope) as side dish to fun, sponsor ribbing a means to keep mirth uninterrupted and let us know nothing was sacred to these birds. Crosby and Hope let their audience inside entertainment’s process. Hope in particular stripped masks off biz baloney. It would define him for at least as many years as he hosted radio, TV, and most prominently, the Academy Awards. Success of their features, as a team or singly, was guaranteed by reminder each week to go see whatever of features was newest. The “Road” series got twice a hypo thanks to drums beat on both broadcasts, plus guesting Crosby/Hope did on other network programs. I’d say patronage for Roads had advance message pounded harder than for anything put before them save a Gone With The Wind or other such cultural phenomena.

It’s known that comedians edited their films to conform with audience reaction, breaks built in to allow for laughter. The device worked for hundreds, if not thousands, needing to catch breath between howls, but what of dead air this left for television viewers down the line? No one considered that at first-run point --- why would they? Movies weren’t constructed to serve posterity. The Road comedies, in fact all of Classic Era comedy, must be understood in this context. Many, in fact most, would say we owe no film such allowance. If they can’t please by modern standard, then why watch, let alone spend toward preserving such antiquity? The Road-shows do drag between gags … sometimes they drag within gags. What needs to be remembered is fact this was intent, not consequence of lazy edits or faulty tempo. Before a crowded enough house, these comedies rise brilliantly to occasion, each foot cut to measure of jokes, a seeming magic act for too few occasions these shows are revived theatrically.

Such was Crosby's association with Hope that he often cameo'ed in the latter's solo comedies. Unbilled at first, Bing dropping in became less a surprise as Hope continued to use him through the 40's, but early on at least, response could be tumultuous. Writer and film history instructor Conrad Lane describes an audience he sat with at the Ritz Theatre in Alexandria, Indiana "exploding" when Crosby showed up at the end of The Princess and The Pirate, 1944 early enough for this to still be a novelty. The Ritz was a small house, seating 340, but Conrad recalls laughter intense as to drown out of dialogue left before the end title. Mere sight of Crosby set cacophony.  Again, Crosby and Hope were inviting us to laugh with them at the very process of fun-making. Tight fusion between radio and movies made Bing/Bob household members as much as entertainers. Few film stars achieved this so completely, though many tried. Finish to The Princess and The Pirate is still pleasing for its cheek plus collapse of the fourth wall (Hope declares "this is the last picture I'll make for Goldwyn"). Occurs to me that Hope did not turn up in any of the solo Crosbys ... or do I err?

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