Last week ‘the father of surf films,’ Bud "Barracuda" Browne, the onetime lifeguard who began showing his 16-millimeter movies commercially in the early 1950’s, died in his sleep at his home in San Luis Obispo. He was 96.
Born July 12th, 1912, in Newtonville, Massachusetts, Browne began swimming competitively at age seven. He attended USC, was captain of the swim team and in 1933 ranked second in the nation as a collegiate swimmer. While working as a lifeguard at Venice Beach in late thirties, Browne was introduced to surfing. In 1938 he went to Hawaii to ride the big waves in Waikiki, taking along an 8-millimeter movie camera to film the local surfers. One his first and most prized reels of film recorded the legendary king of the surfers Duke Kahanamoku.
During World War II, Browne served as a navy chief specialist in athletics (earning the nickname "Barracuda" for his long lean look). Following the war he became a teacher in Los Angeles, working as a middle-school physical education instructor and also attended USC Film School. He upgraded his camera to a 16-millimeter Bell & Howell. In 1953, after spending several years filming surfers in Hawaii, Browne pieced together enough footage to compile a 45-minute film. Hawaiian Surfing Movie debuted at John Adams Middle School in Santa Monica.
Browne eventually gave up his teaching gig and took to chronicling the 1950’s surf scene full time, releasing at least one movie a year between 1953 and 1964. With films such as Trek to Makaha, The Big Surf, Surf Down Under, Cavalcade of Surf, Locked In and Gun Ho!, Browne documented all the surfing greats of the longboard era, like Phil Edwards, Buzzy Trent, Greg Noll, Miki Dora, Linda Benson and Dewey Weber, plus the first-generation of shortboard riders, like David Nuuhiwa, Nat Young and Gerry Lopez. In addition to completing nearly 20 of his own films, he also contributed footage to other projects such as Big Wednesday, directed by John Milius, Greg McGillivray/Jim Freeman’s Waves of Change (also known as The Sunshine Sea) and their 1972 classic Five Summer Stories. In the early 1990’s Browne began re-editing some of his earlier efforts. The first project, Surfing the 50's, honed his best color footage from the eight films he produced during the fifties. That success led to re-releasing some of his other movies such as the 1963 classic, Gun Ho!.
There was one thing my Dad and I always agreed on, even when I was a teenager and we were unlikely to find any common ground: we were both awe-struck by Cyd Charisse, the greatest and sexiest of all of the Hollywood Musical dancers. She was gorgeous, strong, and always brought a little extra sizzle and nuance to her work.
Charisse died Tuesday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after suffering an apparent heart attack. She was 86.
Cyd Charisse danced in some of the greatest Movie Musicals during the hey-day of Movie Musicals. She first gained attention in 1943 in The Harvey Girls, and went on to appear in The Zeigfield Follies, Till the Clouds Roll In, and Words and Music. But she really hit her stride in the early 1950’s with Singin' in the Rain, where she danced with Gene Kelly in what can only be described as one of the steamiest of all Hollywood ballets. She went onto star in other classic films such as The Band Wagon, Brigadoon, Deep in My Heart, It's Always Fair Weather, and Silk Stockings.
In 1952, at the height of her career, her legs were reportedly insured by Lloyds of London for $5 million dollars. She was even featured in the 2001 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records as the "Most Valuable Legs" in Hollywood history.
Born Tula Ellice Finklea on March 8, 1922, in Amarillo, Texas, her older brother nicknamed her Sid as a variation on Sis. She eventually changed the spelling of her name while at MGM, to “give her an air of mystery.”
Earlier this week legendary, Emmy Award-winning television composer Earle Hagen died in Rancho Mirage, Calif., of natural causes at the age of 88. A prolific composer, he wrote many of the classic television themes that endlessly stick in our heads. Shows like Make Room for Daddy, The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Spy, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C, That Girl, The Mod Squad, and Mary Hartman Mary Hartman, many of which featured his sense of humor and droll musical wit. Hagen also wrote the jazz standard "Harlem Nocturne” when he was only 20 years of age.
Born in Chicago on July 9, 1919, his family moved to Los Angeles when he was a child. After graduating from Hollywood High School, he left home at age 16 to tour with many of the Big Band giants of the day -- Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Ben Pollack and Ray Noble. While on the road with Noble in 1939 he wrote the classic instrumental "Harlem Nocturne." Inspired by the work and sound of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, this sexy/sultry tune has since then been recorded hundreds of times by artists such as Charlie Barnet, Glenn Miller, Sam "The Man" Taylor, Stan Kenton, Earl Bostic (a major hit in 1956), Johnny Otis, The Viscounts (whose version is perhaps the raunchiest!), Edgar Winter, King Curtis and The Lounge Lizards. "Harlem Nocturne" was also used, years later as the theme to the television show Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer.
But Hagen’s greatest fame probably stems from The Andy Griffith Show and its whistling happy-go-lucky theme written in 1960. This folksy-down home melody perfectly captures the opening credits, scene and feel of Andy Griffith and a young Ron Howard in character as the Sheriff and son Opie, walking down a country path towards the old fishing hole, poles on shoulder, in what must be the-life-idyllic. The whistling was done by Earle Hagen himself.
Alexander "Sandy" Courage, composer of the original 1960’s Star Trek television theme has died in Pacific Palisades. He was 88.
Born Dec. 10, 1919, in Philadelphia, Courage graduated from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., before enlisting in the Army Air Force in 1942, a month after Pearl Harbor, serving as a band leader on California military bases during the Second World War.
His career as a composer started at CBS Radio in the mid 1940’s; eventually Courage moved over to MGM as an orchestrator/arranger in 1948.
Over the next decade or so, he worked as an orchestrator on a string of classic movie musicals, including Annie Get Your Gun, Singing in The Rain, Show Boat, The Band Wagon, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Kismet, Oklahoma, and Gigi. But by the late 1950s, Courage was scoring soundtracks, including two classic westerns-- The Left Handed Gun and Day of the Outlaw, as well as some early rock and roll exploitation films-- Shake, Rattle and Rock!, Hot Rod Girl and Hot Rod Rumble.
He began composing for television in 1959, writing themes and incidental music for hundreds of television shows including The Untouchables, Laramie, Daniel Boone, M Squad, Lost in Space, Land of the Giants, The Waltons, Falcon Crest, and Flamingo Road.
But his greatest claim to fame came with the theme and eight-note brass fanfare opening to Star Trek, the legendary sci-fi series which ran from 1966 to 1969. Originally using electronic/orchestral sounds for the arrangement, Courage later used a wordless melody line for the second and third seasons, sung by soprano Loulie Jean Norman. The Star Trek theme has since then become one of the most recognizable melodies ever in film and television history. One interesting note -- in those halcyon disco days in the early 1970’s, Nichelle Nichols, who played the role of Uhura in the original series, recorded a dance version -- a must have for record and sci-fi geeks everywhere!
I seem to be writing animal obits on a regular basis, I have no idea why, but here is the latest news from the wild kingdom: Japan's oldest Giant Panda, Ling Ling, a favorite at Tokyo's Ueno Zoo, died last week. Ling Ling was 22 years and seven months old, the equivalent to about 70 in human years. According to the autopsy, he died of heart failure. He began losing his appetite and strength last August, but recent heart and kidney problems began to take their toll. Ling Ling died just one day after the zoo withdrew him from public view for veterinary treatment. He was the fifth-oldest known male panda in the world.
Born at China's Beijing Zoo in September, 1985, Ling Ling came to Tokyo in 1992 initially for breeding purposes. Since then he had become one of the most popular attractions at the Ueno Zoo. He was also the only Giant Panda at Tokyo’s largest zoo. In recent years Ling Ling traveled to Mexico three times in an effort to mate, but each attempt, like the attempts in Japan, were unsuccessful.
Over the last week Ling Ling's portrait has been displayed in his cage as visitors come to mourn, leaving bouquets, condolences and offerings of bamboo shoots. Giant pandas are one of the rarest and most endangered species on the planet. Only about 1,600 live in the wild in China, mostly on nature reserves in their native mountains and bamboo forests of the Sichuan and Shaanxi provinces.