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Happy Birthday, Johnny Madero, Pier 23

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 24, 2013 05:30pm | Post a Comment
On this date (23 April) back in 1947, the radio drama Johnny Madero, Pier 23 made its debut. It
 was the second detective drama that resulted from the collaboration of Jack Webb and Richard L. Breen


St. Regis Hotel in 1904

Jack Webb was born 2 April, 1920, in
Santa Monica, California, the son of Margaret (née Smith) and Samuel Chester Webb. Samuel split before Jack’s birth and and thus the child was rasied by his mother and maternal grandfather, who lived together in Bunker Hills St. Regis Apartments.


As a child Webb attended school nearby in Filipinotown at Our Lady of Loretto Elementary School. He attended high school at Belmont High, in Westlake. He later studied art at St. John's University, Minnesota. During World War II Webb enlisted in the Army Air Forces. After receiving a hardship discharge, he moved to San Francisco where hefound work as a radio DJ. In February, 1946 at ABC’s local affiliate, KGO, Webb first hosted half-hour comedy, The Jack Webb Show, written by Jim Moser. In March writing changed hands to Richard L. Breen.


Richard "Dick" Breen was born in Chicago. After returning from World War II, during which he served in the Navy, he moved to San Francisco and became roommates with Webb. In August, Webb and Breen debuted their hard-boiled detective creation, Pat Novak… for Hire. Pat Novak… for Hire is one of the great hard boiled radio noirs, most immediately notable for Breen’s over-the-top Chandler-esque writing. The two left the program in over creative differences with KGO’s management. The show continued, less memorably, with Ben Morris in the lead role and Gil Doud -- formerly of The Adventures of Sam Spade -- taking over the writing. 


1947 - The San Francisco of Johnny Madero... and Pat Novak

Relocating to Hollywood, Webb and Breen pursued work with the latter scoring the first big success, penning the screenplay for A Foreign Affair. Webb’s first major gig was in January 1947 as an ensemble performer on Murder and Mr. Malone, starring a pre-Nightbeat Frank Lovejoy. A few months later Webb would again host his own show.



Johnny Madero, Pier 23 debuted in April at MBS, with Breen acting as a writing consultant. JohnnyMadero, like Pat Novak, was a San Francisco boat-renting detective for hire. Where Novak often turned to Jocko Madigan, an alcoholic ex-physician, Madero often consulted a similar character named Dipso. The antagonists of both programs were sadistic SFPD inspectors (Johnny Madero’s was played by the wonderful William Conrad, five years before he starred on Gunsmoke). Novak lived at Pier 19 and Madero at Pier 23. ABC were not happy with the two programs’ perceived similarities and subsequently sued their rival network.


MBS replaced Dipso with Father Leahy, changed the opening theme music, and satisfied, ABC dropped their suit. 26 episodes were ordered of the series and it was a hit -- almost immediately there was discussion of a Johnny Madero film. The series was also controversial. Complaints were made about the violent content and MBS abruptly cancelled the series after airing the twentieth, on 3 September, 1947. No Madero film materialized.

Webb next starred on a similar series, CBS’s Jeff Regan, Investigator. In 1949 he returned to Pat Novak… for Hire where he resumed role of the title character. After completing one season of Novak, he debuted the character with which we would forever after be associated, Sergeant Joe Friday on Dragnet


Breen and Webb again collaborated in 1951, on Pete Kelly’s Blues, about a jazz musician (Webb was a huge jazz aficionado) in Kansas City, Missouri. The snappy dialogue showed that Breen still had it but Dragnet remained Webb's main vehicle. They again collaborated on Appointment With Danger (1951), a film version of Pete Kelly's Blues (1955, dir. Webb), 24 Hour Alert, and both runs of the Dragnet TV series.


Johnny Madero, Pier 23 -- "Episode No. 9"

Today only two episodes of Johnny Madero, Pier 23 are known to survive. "Episode No. 9" features the great John Garfield. The other episode is "Episode No. 10." 

Credit to the folks at Digital Deli Too for their research, accuracy, and several of the images.

*****

(In which it's all about Eve.)

Posted by Job O Brother, March 11, 2013 04:04pm | Post a Comment

All the cool kids are doing it.

Proving once and for all that I have my finger on the pulse of what youth today really want, I’m continuing my list of favorites from the so-called Golden Age of Radio. You older, out-of-touch squares can stop reading now and go listen to punk rock or trip-hop or whatever it is seniors are into these days.

Now that the fogeys are out of the (metaphorical) room, read and listen on...

Let’s consider a comedy, namely, Our Miss Brooks.

Premiering in 1948, Our Miss Brooks was an immediate success, garnering awards and a loyal fan base for its lead actress, Eve Arden.

People don’t speak of Eve Arden as much as her talent warrants. She had fantastic comic timing, capable of evoking laugh-out-loud moments with a single, monosyllabic word.

Our Miss Brooks has flimsy, unimaginative plot-lines, and you’ll never listen to it because you “can’t wait to find out what happens next.” The show is great because the cast is great, and Eve Arden delivers punch-lines with such wry deftness, it’s as if Touchstone from As You Like It has been reincarnated as a public high school teacher.

 

Our Miss Brooks was such a success that it was turned into a TV show, starring most of the original cast. I myself have never seen it, not because I don’t want to, but because I promised my grandfather on his deathbed that I would never watch any televised sitcoms that featured a character with the first name “Osgood.”

Continue reading...

For Ozoners Only -- On this day, in 1933, the first drive-in theater opened

Posted by Eric Brightwell, June 6, 2012 11:22am | Post a Comment
THE FIRST DRIVE-IN


An advertisement for the first Drive-In 

The first drive-in theater opened on 6 June, 1933 at 2901 Admiral Wilson Boulevard in Camden, New Jersey. It was the invention of Richard M. Hollingshead Jr, who'd began screening films outdoors at his home with a 1928 Kodak projector sat on the roof of his car. He applied for a patent for his "invention" on 16 May, 1933. The feature film shown at his theater was the British comedy, Wives Beware.


The world's first Drive-In Theater

Before long, drive-ins, or automobile movie theaters, were opening in other states. California's first drive-in was the Pico Drive-In at 10850 W. Pico Boulevard, which opened  West Los Angeles in September, 1934. It was demolished in 1947 and was replaced by the Picwood Theatre in 1948. The Picwood closed in 1985, was demolished and replaced with the Westside Pavilion -- which includes the Landmark Theatre.


The Pico Drive-In

DRIVE-INS' PEAK


Although Hollingshead's pioneering theater closed in 1936 after only three years of operation -- a victim of a battle with Paramount Pictures -- the idea was popular although blasting sound outdoors necessitated the theaters being placed in less-developed areas.A major drive-in innovation occurred in 1941, when RCA introduced in-car speakers. Popularity exploded and by 1948 there were nearly 1,000 drive-ins. By the end of the 1950s, drive-ins accounted for 40% of theater grosses. In California, the number of drive-ins peaked in the 1960s, reaching 220.

THE RISE OF HOME VIDEO AND DRIVE-INS' DECLINE




Drive-ins popularity plummeted in the 1970s with the rise of home video's popularity. Family nights out could now be family nights in for the low price of a rental and some microwave popcorn. Betamax was released in 1975. VHS was introduced in Japan in 1976 and the US in 1977. DiscoVision, a precursor to LaserDisc, was introduced in 1978. Our family got our first VCR in 1978, coincidentally the last year the family went to the drive-in that I remember (Rocky at the Circle 25 Drive-In in Lexington, Kentucky -- demolished in 1982).

DRIVE-INS TODAY - CALIFORNIA LOVE


Thou shalt support drive-in theaters!

Nowadays there are about 500 drive-ins operating in the US and California – where cars double as family rooms -- is home to more than any other state. In the Southern California, drive-in lovers have some options.










SOCAL'S DRIVE-INS


The HiWay, SoCal's oldest functioning drive-in

Devil's Night Drive-In
is sort of an improvised drive-in/outdoor screening that takes place in a downtown parking garage at 240 W 4th St and screens mostly '80s movies to car-goers, bike-goers and people seated on a patch of astroturf. On 28 October, 2012 it is scheduled to relaunch as Electric Dusk Drive-In.

The HiWay Drive-In opened in Santa Maria in 1959. Today it’s the only remaining drive-in in Santa Barbara County.

The Mission Drive-In opened in Montclair in 1956 as a single screen. The original screen was demolished and replaced by four smaller screens in 1975. It was later re-named The Mission Tiki Drive-In.

The Paramount Drive-In opened as The Roadium Drive-In in Paramount in 1947. The screen went dark in 1991 and it re-opened in 2014 as The Paramount Drive-In.

The Rubidoux Drive-In opened in Riverside in 1948, with a single screen and amusement park rides thrown in. In 1983, two more screens were added.

The Santa Fe Springs Drive-In opened in 1950 in Santa Fe Springs as the La Mirada Drive-In. In 1965, they added a permanent swap meet – now a common feature at drive-ins. In 1990, in fact, the screen went dark except for rare, special occasions but the swap meet continues.

The Santee Drive-In Theatre opened in Santee in 1958 as a single screen drive-in. Around 1964, a second screen was added.

The Skyline Drive-In opened in 1966 in Barstow and went dark in 1987. In 1996, it re-opened as a single screen and has since added a second.

Smith’s Ranch Drive-In opened in 29 Palms in 1954 and has a pretty small (330 car) capacity.

The South Bay Drive-In opened in 1958 and is San Diego’s last operating drive-in.

The Sunset Drive-In opened in San Luis Obispo in 1950 as a single-screen theater and remains largely unchanged today.

The Van Buren Drive-In Theatre opened in 1964 in the historic Arlington neighborhood in Riverside.

The Vineland Drive-In opened in City of Industry in 1955 and has four screens.

*****

If you've never been to a drive-in show, you really need to do yourself a favor by visiting one in the near future. Especially in SoCal, where you've got great weather, serious car love and a fair number of these treasures still operate.
*****

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All-Female Bands of the Early 20th Century - Happy Women's History Month!

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 12, 2012 02:43pm | Post a Comment


Female singers have been popular since ancient times. Earlier this year a tomb was discovered in Egypt housing the earthly remains of Nehmes Bastet, a singer who lived and died some 2,900 years ago -- around the time of Carthage's founding and that the Iron Age was making big waves in Central Europe. To date, she's the only known woman buried in the Valley of Kings who wasn't related to the royal families.

Nearly 3,000 years after her death, female singers were still undeniably popular. Although female musicians have long been celebrated in the rest of the world, in the west most were limited to either the piano or harp -- and strictly in a non-professional role -- until the dawn of the 20th Century.

An important development in all-female bands was Lee De Forest's invention of Phonofilms in 1919. Before then, a few early attempts at marrying music to short films were made with Kinetoscopes but were hampered by their short length of 22 seconds. Phonofilms, which were essentially music videos, were longer and often featured female musicians.

Predictably, many of these pioneers were apparently valued more for their looks and/or novelty than their cultural contributions but that, of course, isn't a reflection on their technical or artistic merits. It's just that, as Sherry Tucker's book Swing Shift (one of the few books on the subject) put it, the public "looks first and listens later."

*****

Continue reading...

Western Music - Kind of a Latino Thing - Happy Hispanic Heritage Month

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 4, 2011 04:46pm | Post a Comment


I love Western music. Not "Western music" as in "music rooted in European traditions," but rather the "Western" of "Country & Western." Cowboy Music. In many ways, Country and Western is an odd pairing. The two genres seem to be at complete odds. Sure, the performers evince a similar sartorial sensibility, but the subject matter of Western music is about hard-working buckeroos following honor and dogies out under the wide open sky.


Country, which I love too, is quite the opposite. Country celebrates the sedentary life - working and dying in the same small town, farm, or trailer court in which you were born -- and to hell with ethical codes of conduct; get drunk, cheat on your wife, and show up for your crappy job hungover.


Musically speaking, they're only distant cousins - no more closely related than Bluegrass and Jazz, House and Rap, Rock 'n' Roll and the Blues  -- but of those examples, only Country & Western get so invariably lumped together as a single genre that people usually omit the "Western" altogether.


Country's - or Hillbilly's - roots are in EnglishIrishScottish, and Welsh ballads although Africans brought banjos, Germans brought dulcimers, Italians brought mandolins, and Spanish brought guitars into the volatile mix. Hillbilly music was traditionally often played by small string bands that thoroughly blended their influences into something recognizably American.



In Western music, on the other hand, the solo guitar is much more prominent. Cowboys weren't known for traveling with a whole orchestra to be whipped out around the campfire. In Western music, the same ballad traditions of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland are still easily discernible but the main influences are Hispanic, coming from Mexico and Spain.


Sure, there's some musical overlap between Country and Western -- especially in the Southern Plains, which produced artists like Marty Robbins and Tex Ritter -- but for the most part, Country and Western existed and developed independently, separated geographically by many miles until some citified marketing genius stupidly shoved them in the same slot.


To some historians, the first published Western song was "Blue Juaniata" in 1844. At the time, anything west of Appalachia was "The West" and "Blue Juanita" was about a young Native woman waiting on the banks of Pennsylvania's Juaniata River for her brave. Over a century later, it was recorded by one of the biggest acts in Western music, The Sons of the Pioneers. By then, manifest destiny had long ago necessitated European-Americans invading and displacing all indigenous people from sea to shining sea.
 

As various Europeans conquered what's now thought of as the West, Western music became intrinsically bound to that most indelible symbol of the West, the cowboy. The roots of the cowboy are in northern Mexico's vaquero traditions, not surprising when you consider the ankle deep Rio Grande as the imagined division between Americ'as "The West" and Mexico's "El Norte." 


Naturally, western bound Anglos and northern bound Mexicans' traditions combined to a large extent. "Vaquero" was Anglicized as "Buckaroo" in the West, but the vaquero tradition itself could be traced to medieval Spain's hacienda system. In Mexico there were several types of vaqueros, perhaps most recognizably the charro of the Michoacán and Jalisco (where Mariachi developed).


Ranchera is another old form of Mexican music (LA has only one Ranchera station, La Ranchera 930). If Western has a sibling, it's its Mexican half-brother, Ranchera, not Country. In Ranchera, a solo guitarist usually sings about love, nature, honor, work… the same subject matter of most Western music.


There are also ballads about heroic and villainous gunfighters, which developed (with pronounced influence of German and Czech immigrants in northern Mexico) into Corridos and Norteños (or Conjuntos) that are much more popular today. "Norteño," meaning, "Northern," merely reflects the different geographic orientation of Mexico, which lies to the south of what we call "The West." And where would cowboys be without their "yeehaws" and "yahoos," which are merely their take on the "grito Mexicano " that features so prominently in Ranchera and Norteños.

 

Western music's commercial heyday was in the 1930s and '40s, when something like 75% of films made in the US were Westerns. The hard-working cattlemen and gunslingers were both highly romanticized and almost completely whitewashed. Hollywood's version of the West included a few Mexicans, most often as opportunistic-but-not-especially-effective villains, rather than the Cowboys' equal. Not to mention on the Silver Screen there were far fewer Asians and blacks than populated and developed the actual West of the 19th century.


The biggest singing cowboys in film were Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, whose formulaic movies were primarily constructed around performances of Western songs. Popular female Western performers included Billie Maxwell, The Girls of the Golden West (Millie and Dolly Good), Patsy Montana, and Texas Ruby.


Western music incorporated sophisticated harmonies with The Sons of the Pioneers.


Western Swing, developed and popularized by Bob Wills, absorbed Jazz and (with greats like Harry Choates) Cajun music too.


TV and Radio shows continued to evince Americans' love of the old west through the 1950s. With the decline of Old Time Radio and film Westerns' popularity toward the end of that decade, Western music also faded and today you find very few Western groups out there (such as little-known Sons of San Joaquin and Riders in the Sky), where as commercialized Country had flourished financially (if not creatively). However, scan your FM and you'll likely hear some Norteños or Bandas that keep the Western flame alive more than some Cashville mannequin in a cowboy hat. Ayyyyaaah ha haaaaaa!


*****

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