Monday, March 31, 2008

Annette Funicello - From 'Mouseketeer' to 'Bikini Beach'

In my early teens, I had a crush on Annette Funicello. I thought she was one hot young lady! No, no, no - not when she was a Mouseketeer on tv's "The Mickey Mouse Club" in the 1950s, though she was cute then.

But in the early 1960s, she developed very nicely into a young lady, and appeared in several "beach party-bikini" movies, co-starring with Frankie Avalon. The first was "Beach Party" in 1963, followed by "Muscle Beach Party" and "Bikini Beach", both in 1964, and "Beach Blanket Bingo" (1965). In 1987, they made "Back to the Beach", a final sequel.

In 1980, I sent her a portrait photo, and she signed it with only her name, no inscription to me, but I'm very happy to have it.

Sadly, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis soon after the last "Beach" movie. She made the diagnosis public in 1992, stating "I think you only have two choices in this kind of situation. Either you give in to it or you fight it. I intend to fight." She established the Annette Funicello Fund for Neurological Disorders at the California Community Foundation in 1993.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Price of Gas - 1976 vs. 2008

While looking through some cartons I've had in a closet, I came across some papers pertaining to my cross-country trip in May, 1976, when I moved back to New York from California.

I was driving a 1974 Gremlin, manufactured by the long-gone American Motors Corporation, with a friend who flew to California to accompany me on the trip. The car was loaded with luggage and items I didn't want to send back to NY by post office.

Here's a breakdown of the cities we stopped in, for gas.

Left Sherman Oaks, Calif., 5/4/1976, at about 42,425 mileage.

Gas Fill-ups

Solvang, Ca., 5/4
San Jose, Ca., 5/5
Verdi, Nevada, 5/5
Valmy, Nevada, 5/6
Wendover, Utah, 5/6
Santequin, Utah, 5/7
Grand Junction, Colorado, 5/7
Denver, Colorado, 5/8
Lamar, Colorado, 5/8
Greensburg, Kansas, 5/9
Guthrie, Oklahoma, 5/9
Arrived Norman, Oklahoma, after Guthrie, and stayed 2 nights
Big Cabin, Oklahoma, 5/11
Leasburg, Missouri, 5/11
Springfield, Illinois, 5/12
Franksville, Wisconsin, 5/12
Howe, Indiana, 5/13
Parma Heights, Ohio, 5/14
Drums, Pennsylvania, 5/14

Arrived Mount Vernon, NY, 5/15/1976, at about 46,970 miles.

Total Miles: About 4545

Total Gas Gallons: 272.5

Total Gas Expense: $164.01

Average Price Gas per Gallon: 60 cents!!!!!!

This past month, my gas expense was $164, for 46 gallons. Average price per gallon: $3.56!!!

That same trip today would cost about $970 in gas.

My, how the cost of living has changed in 32 years!

Olsen and Johnson - The "Hellzapoppin'" Boys

Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson were vaudeville comedians who eventually went on to Broadway, movies, radio and television. Their act originally consisted of playing musical instruments while interjecting jokes. They eventually developed their show into a revue of zany gags, known as blackouts, and their advertising would state "anything can happen, and it probably will".

Below is a photo, Olsen on the left and Johnson on the right.

Their most famous revue is "Hellzapoppin'", which featured all kinds of gags, mayhem, audience participation, etc. This revue was on Broadway and eventually made into a movie in 1941, starring Olsen and Johnson, but featuring dozens of others in various roles, including many cameos.

I'd seen "Hellzapoppin'" on tv during the 1960s and it became one of my all-time favorite comedies, along with Olsen and Johnson as one of my all-time favorite comedy teams. They didn't make too many movies, and some years had passed before others were shown on tv or became available on video. Two other zany comedies of theirs are "Crazy House" (1943) and "Ghost Catchers" (1944). Below are a couple of scenes from the latter.

Both men died shortly before I became initially active in collecting autographed photos (Johnson in 1962 and Olsen in 1963). When I became very active in the hobby, in the 1970s and 1980s, their autographs were on my "wanted" list, if ever they would be offered at a reasonable price.

Well, in the early 1990s, a person in NYC acquired a collection of signed photos and autograph albums from a friend who died. He had little interest in keeping most of them, so decided to sell, as he knew there would be collectors who'd be interested. His prices were very reasonable, quite cheap actually. I bought several from him, at least a few each time he sent me a list.

I bought these signed album pages for $5 each, truly a bargain.

You can read a well-researched informative article about Olsen and Johnson, by Charles Stumpf, here.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Lorne Greene

Lorne Greene had been an actor since the 1950s, working primarily in tv. His most well-known role will always be as 'Ben Cartwright' on the tv western series, "Bonanza" in the 1960s.

When I moved to Los Angeles in 1974, I took advantage of some of the tourist attractions that I didn't see while on my vacation the previous summer. On Sunday, November 3, I took the tour of Universal Studios. At the very end of the tour was a podium setup, on which sat Lorne Greene, promoting the soon-to-be-released feature "Earthquake". He was quietly sitting there, autographing 5x7 photos that were stacked in front of him. I walked up to him, introduced myself and shook his hand, and then he promptly signed a photo and handed it to me. Then I hung out for a few minutes and took a few photos.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Ernest Borgnine - A Nice Photo, Ruined

Ernest Borgnine has been one of my favorite actors, since first seeing him on the 1960s tv comedy "McHale's Navy". It was some time later that I found out he was a seasoned actor and appeared in many movies before his tv series.

In 1980, I sent him a nice portrait photo to sign, and what did he do? He, or perhaps a secretary, used a rubber-stamped signature! And whoever did this, didn't even do it neatly. The photo, of course, is ruined now. I was disappointed by this, and never sent him another photo, thinking this would happen again.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Judy Malcolm - From "King Kong" to The Three Stooges

Judy Malcolm was a supporting actress in many short comedies in the 1930s through the late 1940s. I was familiar with her through her appearances in some of The Three Stooges comedies.

Her real name was Marguerite Westergren, born in Buffalo, New York in 1910. Her cousin was a secretary to stage and screen actor Richard Dix, and suggested that Judy go to Hollywood and look into acting. She became very active as an extra and stand-in in features. According to her sister, Audrey Klinshaw, Judy was a stand-in for Fay Wray in 1933's "King Kong". In the scene where Wray and Bruce Cabot jump off a cliff into the river below, Judy did the actual jumping. Judy was also seen in some long-shots, in the hands of the giant ape Kong.

She eventually landed a contract at Columbia Pictures, where she was placed in their stable of supporting players, appearing in two-reel comedies with stars such as Vera Vague, Schilling and Lane, Hugh Herbert, Sterling Holloway, as well as The Three Stooges.

In 1990, I located her with the assistance of the Screen Extras Guild in Los Angeles. The clerk I talked to, looked up their records on Judy, and found that she took a withdrawal in 1948. They had an address for her, in Buffalo, New York.

Now, I had something to go on, and was hoping that it would not lead me to a dead end, as happens so many times when trying to locate people from many years earlier. I called phone directory assistance in Buffalo, and there was a listing for a Judy Malcolm! I called, and the voice that answered was hesitant when I inquired if she was the actress. For some reason, she thought I was a crank caller. (Her reaction was similar to Dorothy Appleby's when I first called her, too). When I mentioned some of her movie credits, she then relaxed and realized I was legitimate. I invited her to be a guest at The Three Stooges Fan Club Convention in Pennsylvania, in July. She appreciated the interest, but said she was unable to travel because she had arthritis in her spine, and she would not be able to tolerate a long plane, rail or car trip. She was given an award in absentia, and I mailed it to her.

Below is a note I received from her shortly after my initial call. It's from January 16, 1990:
"Dear Mr. Cappello - Thank you so very much for your phone calls and lovely letter - They brought back some wonderful times and memories- Most sincerely, Judy Malcolm".

And here's a scene still from a Three Stooges comedy, with Judy on the left, with Curly.

For whatever reason, I never sent her a photo to autograph, something I regret.

During our first conversation, Judy told me she created her own professional name. She always liked the name 'Judy', and her mother's maiden name was 'Malcolm', so she combined them to make her screen name.

Judy died in 1998. I wrote this brief obituary which was published in the Fall 1999 issue of The Three Stooges Journal.

I sent a copy to her sister, Audrey, who wrote this note to me:
"Dear Mr. Cappello - Today I received your note and the article you wrote about Judy. Thank you so much for your kindness - I really appreciate it.
The article was right on the money. Really enjoyed reading it. And - it was good to see her with 'the Stooges' again!
I will make copies and send to her 2 nieces and 1 nephew - they all adored her.
Thank you again, Mr. Cappello, for remembering - I will treasure it.
Best Wishes,
Audrey Klinshaw".

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Robert Benchley

Robert Benchley was a well-known humorist from the early 1920s into the 1940s. He wrote articles and essays for several magazines, including Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, covering topical events, with a humorous and satirical theme, and many of those have been collected in various anthologies over the years.

Mr. Benchley was a member of the famous 'Algonquin Round Table', which was a group of writers and actors who would meet weekly at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City during the 1920s and 1930s. Among the members were Dorothy Parker, Alexander Woollcott, George S. Kaufman, Harpo Marx, and Marc Connelly (in 1980, I wrote to Mr. Connelly, and he kindly sent me two photos, which you can see here and here).

Mr. Benchley appeared in many movies, as an actor or sometimes a narrator. He also appeared in a series of comedy shorts, in which he'd discuss a variety of subjects. Some titles include "The Treasurer's Report", "The Sex Life of a Polyp", "Waiting for Baby", and "How to Eat".

Here's a portrait and a scene still:

For many years, up to his death in 1945, Mr. Benchley lived in the New York City suburb of Scarsdale, which is about 10 minutes from where I live.

He was still listed in the telephone directory as of 1971. Actually, the listing was for his widow Gertrude, listed as 'Mrs. Robert Benchley'. I called her and told her of my appreciation of Mr. Benchley's writings, several of which I'd read in books borrowed from my public library. I told her of my collection of autographs and my desire to add one of Mr. Benchley. While she did not have any signed photos, she did have some canceled checks which he had signed. She wrote down my address, and a few days later, I received this letter from her, along with Robert Benchley's signature cut from a canceled check. I suppose she didn't feel secure in sending me the entire check, but anyway, I was happy to receive the signature as is.

Mrs. Benchley wrote the incorrect year (1961) on the letter, so just to remind myself of when I actually received it, I wrote the correct year (1971) on the upper left.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Ruth Wallis - 'The Saucy Chanteuse'

Ruth Wallis began her career in the 1940s as a cabaret singer, but later introduced self-written songs which were risqué and loaded with double entendres (words and phrases with double meanings). She was very classy in her presentation of the songs, and while the songs were "for adults only", they were not vulgar in any sense.

I had acquired a small collection of her recordings, which were on her own label. Even though her songs were not vulgar, the topics were not for general open discussion in the 1940s and 1950s. Some of the subjects of the songs included adultery, breasts, transgender, male genitals - well, you get the idea. And if not, here are some titles of a few of her most popular songs which will give you more of an idea - "Boobs", "Drill 'Em All", "Ubangi", "The Pistol Song", "He'd Rather Be a Girl", "The Dinghy Song", and "The Hawaiian Lei Song". And if you STILL don't get the idea, just think of double-meanings for each of those titles!

I tried locating her for several years, but it seemed she was no where to be found. I was beginning to think that she may have been long dead, until I read a brief item in the mid-1990s about her being in London preparing a musical revue of her songs (she was not going to appear in it, but she was involved in the production, as the songs were all her own). Then shortly after, the May 1997 issue of Goldmine magazine published a career article by Chuck Miller (this article is a pdf) which mentioned her married name and that she had a "ranch house in eastern Connecticut".

I located her address and phone number and called, but her son answered, explaining she was still in London but would be home in a few months. I wrote her a letter, shown below, and waited for a reply.

About a month later, I received a vintage signed photo from Ms. Wallis, along with this handwritten letter: "Dear Bill, Thank you for your lovely letter - We are working on releasing CDs in the very near future - like next week - ha! Regards, Ruth Wallis".

More than one year later, in November 1998, I received a surprise in the mail - Ms. Wallis sent me a copy of her CD, "Boobs - Ruth Wallis' Greatest Hits".

After listening to it, I called her and thanked her. She was very cordial and appreciated my interest and enjoyment of her songs recorded many years earlier.

Ruth Wallis died in December 2007, age 87.

Here is a recording of her song "Johnny Had a Yo-Yo".

Monday, March 24, 2008

Al Capp - "Father" of 'Li'l Abner'

Al Capp was a cartoonist who created the 'Li'l Abner' comic strip in the mid-1930s. Among the other characters in the strip were 'Mammy and Pappy Yokum' (Abner's parents) and his girl friend 'Daisy Mae'. I read the daily comic strip in the New York Daily News newspaper and looked forward to seeing the characters in full color in the Sunday edition.

Some of the humor may have been lost on me, as I was not even into my teens yet, but I did like the odd assortment of other characters who'd appear in the strip (such as 'Marryin' Sam' and the 'Shmoo'), as well as the silly names of places like 'Lower Slobbovia'.

In 1964, my local church had a "celebrity auction", which was a popular event during the 1960s. Charitable organizations would write to celebrities and ask them to donate a personal item to be auctioned off, to raise money for the group. Many celebrities would donate signed photos, but some others would actually send something personal, such as a handkerchief (clean I hope!) or an old wallet (void of money, of course!).

Al Capp's secretary replied to the head of the church's Guild with this letter:

The "attached picture" was not actually a picture, but rather a printed drawing of Al Capp sitting on Li'l Abner's lap, and signed by Capp. I did not attend this auction, but my Mom did, and she bought this for me, paying something like $1 for it.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Col. Sanders - Fried chicken, anyone?

In 1978, I wrote to Col. Harland Sanders, the founder of the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants. Col. Sanders started selling his fried chicken in his own restaurant in the 1930s, and later developed a "secret recipe" fried chicken which he sold to franchisees of his restaurant, making him wealthy. In the mid-1960s, he sold the entire corporation to a group of investors for a couple of million dollars, but remained as the company's spokesman, appearing in print ads, tv commercials, personal appearances at restaurants, etc. He became a very popular and easily-recognized personality, and even made some cameo appearances in several movies.

In my letter, of which I don't have a copy, I told the Colonel how much I enjoyed his fried chicken and thought it the best available (at the time, I didn't know about Popeye's Fried Chicken, which I actually like better). I asked him for an autographed photo, and this is what I received.

While the signature on the photo is "real", I don't know if it's actually his, as he was usually traveling around the U.S. and probably never read any letters sent to him in care of the company. I suspect the KFC Corporation's publicity department may have had a stack of such photos to send to people requesting them. This is the reason I haven't included it in my general collection of signed photos.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Dick Miller

Dick Miller is a character actor who's appeared in many movies from the mid-1950s right up to the present. Additionally, he's appeared in several tv shows. He was part of Roger Corman's stock company, and has been in most, if not all, of Corman's movies, usually playing supporting roles, but occasionally leads, too.

In 1980, I had some telephone directories for the Los Angeles area, and he was listed in the North Hollywood book, as Richard 'Dick' Miller. Rather than call, I wrote him a letter of appreciation of his acting, and requested a photo. He sent a neatly autographed photo, on which he wrote: "Dear Bill, I appreciate your appreciation. My very best. Dick Miller". He also enclosed this handwritten note: "Dear Bill, Thanks for them nice words. The real thrill and fun of being in this business, is the attitude & loyalty of fans like yourself. I really appreciate it. Most sincerely, Dick Miller".

A year later, I wrote him again, just to ask for some biographical information, as nothing much was available about him. Remember, this was in 1981, before the age of readily available information via the internet. He replied with this typewritten letter. I felt somewhat 'honored' to receive this letter, because as he wrote in one of the closing paragraphs: "I can not always answer all the mail and usually don't, beyond sending the requested photo. However, you caught me at a slow period and I felt I could squeeze it in". Very appreciative of his fans, indeed.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Florence Desmond

Florence Desmond was an English actress and comedienne whose prime years were in the 1930s. She was also known for impersonating famous personalities of the day.

In 1932 she made a recording, "A Hollywood Party", in which she impersonated several actresses and actors of the time, including Janet Gaynor, Greta Garbo, Marie Dressler, Jimmy Durante, and Tallulah Bankhead. As a collector of 78rpm records, mostly comic songs and sketches, I acquired this and enjoyed it very much. I was impressed with Ms. Desmond's ability to closely mimic the voices of the well-known performers.

I wrote to her in 1992, requesting an autographed photo. It was several months before I received a reply. She sent this letter explaining the delay; she'd been in hospital.

She enclosed this photo, but did not sign it. I didn't return it to her and request she sign it, because I'd read that she was in ill health.

Ms. Desmond died less than two months later, on January 16, 1993. Some years later, I was able to purchase a signed photo, shown below. It's signed "To Madeline, All Good Wishes, Florence Desmond".

Thursday, March 20, 2008

William Powell and Myrna Loy - Forever 'Nick and Nora Charles'

I'm a big fan of comedy movies, especially those of the 1930s and 1940s. Among my favorites are the "Thin Man" series of comedy-mysteries.

The "Thin Man" movies starred William Powell and Myrna Loy as 'Nick and Nora Charles'. 'Nick' was a detective who retired after marrying wealthy 'Nora'. He just couldn't stay away from trying to solve murders and other crimes, thanks to being pushed by his wife who also became his "associate detective". Their characters were heavy drinkers and some of the humor was focused on alcohol-fueled antics. They also had a little dog, Asta, a wire-haired terrier who accompanied them almost everywhere.

When I wrote to Mr. Powell in 1980, he was already long retired, living in Palm Springs. I sent him a couple of photos which he signed with only his name, and there is a slight 'shakiness' in the signature. You can see the photos here and here.

I wrote to Myrna Loy about the same time, and sent her this photo, which she signed and promptly returned. She was living in New York City.

About a year later, a friend sent me some glossy photos as a gift, and one was a very nice portrait of Powell and Loy, with Asta. I first sent the photo to Mr. Powell, who signed it, once again with only his name (and he abbreviated 'William' as 'Wm.'), and then to Ms. Loy, who not only signed it from herself, but also from 'Asta'. In my letter to her, I'd asked about the dog's real name, and she wrote this note on the back of the photo: "The dog's name was Skippy. I don't know when they changed if they did." By "changed", she was referring to if more than one dog was used over the course of the series.

The photos signed by Mr. Powell were apparently among the last ones he actually signed, as shortly after, some friends sent him photos and they were returned with a rubber-stamped signature.

For a series of clips highlighting some of the humor in the movies, look at this YouTube video. And here's another one highlighting the alcohol-related humor.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Some 'Silent' Ladies

In my collection are signed photos from several actresses whose prime acting years were in silent movies. A few continued to act into the sound era, and some even appeared on tv shows as late as the 1960s, but they are remembered primarily as 'silent screen' actresses.

I never talked to any, except for Esther Ralston, while researching for a never-completed biography of silent screen actor Lon Chaney. I obtained photos of all of them (except for one, Madeline Hurlock - only a photocopy of one pose was available to me). All signed the photos and returned them to me promptly.

Here you can see Blanche Sweet, Colleen Moore, Esther Ralston (she also sent this textured-paper photo), Gloria Swanson, Pola Negri, and Madeline Hurlock (who was the widow of playwright Robert E. Sherwood). Lillian Gish signed two photos for me: this vintage portrait and this 'contemporary' pose.

Ms. Hurlock also wrote this note to me: "I am returning the photograph you sent me recently. I've no recollection of having posed for the silly thing, and I'd never have recognized it as being me. I'm sorry I've no better one. My collection of scrapbooks, photos, etc. disappeared years ago. Good luck to you."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Soupy Sales

Another of my favorite tv show hosts, when I was a kid in the '60s, was Soupy Sales. I remember when he had a night show from Hollywood, I think on ABC, Channel 7, around 1960, and then when he moved to New York, it was a daytime (afternoon) show on WNEW, Channel 5. The latter was about 1964-65.

I wrote him (actually it was probably my Mom who did the writing) for an autographed picture when he was on ABC, and he sent me this postcard photo with a "stamped" signature:

I missed him when his show went off ABC, but was happy when he moved to NY. I always enjoyed his antics and jokes. Even my parents would watch as their time allowed.

I wrote him and told him how much I liked his show, and he replied with this letter on his cool photographic stationary. This is the autographed photo he enclosed. The yellow markings are tape stains, from when I had the photo on the wall in my room.

A few years ago, I met Soupy at a Collectors Show in New Jersey. I bought his joke book, and my friend Peter took this picture of Soupy and me.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Sterling Holloway - Voice of "Winnie the Pooh"

Sterling Holloway was a popular character actor who appeared in many movies from the 1930s right through the 1980s. He also was a guest on many tv shows. Mr. Holloway's "trademark" was his high-pitched voice, as well as playing nervous-type comical characters.

His voice was heard in several animated features, for Walt Disney Productions. His most popular cartoon voice is 'Winnie the Pooh'.

In 1980, I sent him a photo for autographing. A couple of weeks later, he returned the photo, unsigned. I didn't know if this was his way of telling me that he didn't want to be bothered by such requests, so, upon a friend's advice, I sent the photo to him again. Perhaps he was signing several photos at one time, and just forgot to sign mine before putting it back into the return envelope.

Anyway, a few weeks later, he returned the photo with a nice inscription, and also enclosed one of himself standing next to 'Winnie the Pooh' in Disneyland.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Shari Lewis and 'Lamb Chop'

Shari Lewis was one of my favorite puppeteer ventriloquists. She had her own tv show in the 1960s and I watched it with enthusiasm for two reasons: she was very pretty, and her puppets were very cute.

Of her three puppets, my favorite was 'Lamb Chop', who 'spoke' with a 'sassy' voice. The other two puppets were 'Charley Horse' and 'Hush Puppy' and while they each had their own 'personality', I loved little 'Lamb Chop' the most.

I wrote her this letter in 1983, in care of her agent, and she returned it to me, on which she noted the "new Lamb Chop puppet coming soon". Ms. Lewis also sent this signed photo.

I was very sad when I read of her death in 1998, at the too-young age of 65.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Louis Feinberg ----- WHO???

You don't know Louis Feinberg? Sure you do! He's Larry Fine, the frizzy-haired member of The Three Stooges comedy team, my all-time favorites.

I was introduced to The Three Stooges comedies in the late 1950s, when the short movies were packaged for tv broadcast. In New York, they were shown on WPIX Channel 11, and hosted by 'Officer' Joe Bolton. I became a fan very quickly, and eventually saw the entire output of the Stooges, as their movies were shown many times over the next several years, with various hosts ('Captain' Jack McCarthy and 'Fireman' Todd Russell being two others).

During the third week of August of 1973, I took my first solo long-distance vacation (previous vacations were always with family, and never actually more than a hundred or so miles from home base). I went to Los Angeles for a week, staying at the famous Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard.

Among the many things I crammed into that week, was a visit to Larry Fine, who was residing in the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills, in a private room in the Lodge section. He'd been there for a few years, since suffering a stroke which left him with paralysis of his left side and somewhat slurred speech. Larry was very open to visits from fans, and when I called him and asked when I could visit, he said "Any afternoon is ok." He then proceeded to give me driving directions from downtown Los Angeles to Woodland Hills!

My visit with Larry was very pleasant. I was expecting to see him as he appeared in the movies, with his "frizzy hair", and was taken aback when I saw him with his hair combed back smoothly, sitting in a wheelchair, slightly slumped to his left. But he stood up upon my entering the room, shook my hand and welcomed me, and then sat down again, and I felt better, that I wasn't being an intrusion. We had a very nice talk, about many things - the history of the Stooges, vaudeville, other movie comedians, some of the supporting players in the Stooges movies, personal appearances, etc.

I told Larry I'd seen the Stooges in person twice, when they toured nationwide with a couple of their features in the 1960s. I mentioned the name of the cinema, Proctor's, in my hometown of Mount Vernon, and he said "We played there in vaudeville with Ted Healy in the 1920s and '30s. We also played the Proctor's in New Rochelle, Yonkers, and White Plains." Those are nearby cities, and I was amazed at his memory of the geography. The stroke affected him physically, but apparently it did not impair his mental faculties, not during my visit.

I'd brought with me a 35mm Nikkormat camera, loaned by my good friend Jack. I took a couple of pictures of Larry, and asked a passing nurse to take a picture of Larry and me. When I returned home, I sent him copies of the snapshots, but it wasn't until I moved to Los Angeles in 1974, that I visited him again, and he signed the 8x10s I printed in the photo lab at my workplace. Here's a close-up, a shot showing the wall of pictures in his room, and Larry and me.

I told Larry I had some of their movies in 16mm format, and one title that interested him was "Three Little Pigskins". He asked me if I'd make a copy for him, as he occasionally would go to local high schools and colleges and show a couple of movies, after which he'd talk to the audience.

I gladly had a duplicate made and sent it to Larry as a gift, my way of thanking him for his cordiality when I visited him. He sent me this letter, which is not dated, but was written in October of 1973, shortly after his birthday:
Here's a transcription, since it may be a bit difficult to read as shown:

"Dear Bill,
Received the film 'Three Little Pigskins' today and was surprised and very pleased. I never realized you meant to give me the film as a gift, and I am very very grateful. Believe me I didn't act gracious to you for any ulterior motive, but because you seemed genuinely interested in the 3 Stooges, and therefore deserved my attention and respect as a loyal fan. Am looking forward to the pictures you took, and sincerely hope you get out to California again.
Nice of you to remember my birthday.
How do you like the stationery. That was drawn by and made for me, by a fan in Seattle, Washington. I guess I'm just lucky.
Again thank you for the film, and if there is anything I can do for you, please let me know.
Gratefully yours, Larry Fine"

Below are Christmas cards I received from Larry, in 1973 and 1974, respectively.

The latter was mailed to me when I was living in North Hollywood. Larry's handwritten note inside the card reads:

"Dear Bill, Not writing any fan mail lately. Wrote this to you so you would know why you don't hear from me. Don't feel so good. Wishing you a Happy New Year. Sincerely, Larry".

Larry's health was declining, and he died little more than a month later, January 24, 1975, from a massive stroke.

In 1994, at a Three Stooges Fan Club Convention, I had the pleasure of meeting Larry's sister Lyla, and her husband Nate Budnick.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A Couple of 'Gangsters' - Marc Lawrence and Sheldon Leonard

Marc Lawrence specialized in playing sinister characters, usually 'gangster-type' roles. His distinguishing feature was a 'pockmarked' face. He was very active in the 1930s through the 1950s, and then was seen in many tv shows into the 1990s.

He was living in Palm Springs, California, when I called him in 1980. He was very cordial, and we had a brief chat. I told him I was sending him a photo to sign, and he welcomed it, being appreciative that I thought him worthy of adding to my collection.

He returned the photo, signed, "with special appreciation to a devoted fan", with this added comment: "I never thought I looked so good". He also enclosed this 'recent' photo, with the comment "thank you for putting me in your collection". I still don't know why he dated the first photo '1980' and the second '1981'.

Sheldon Leonard was another character actor who specialized in playing 'heavies', usually gangsters. While he was very versatile in other roles, it's for his 'tough guy' portrayals I'll remember him. He acted during the same period as Marc Lawrence, except that in the 1950s, Mr. Leonard went on to become a writer, director and producer in television too.

Some of the popular tv shows he produced were "The Danny Thomas Show", "The Dick Van Dyke Show", "The Andy Griffith Show", and "I Spy" (how's that for a jump? - from comedy to espionage!).

I wrote him, requesting a photo, and he sent me this very nice portrait.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Lorenzo Tucker - "America's Black Valentino"

Lorenzo Tucker was a pioneer black actor, who started his career in the 1920s and ended in the late 1930s. He was one of the most popular leading actors in Black Cinema, and was known as "The Black Valentino" because of his handsome charming appearance, being compared to Rudolph Valentino.

Mr. Tucker appeared in several of legendary black filmmaker Oscar Micheaux's movies. While I had never seen a complete feature in which he appeared, I did see some clips in documentaries and thought him to be a very effective good actor.

Mr. Tucker was accessible, as he was listed in the phone directory. I called him and we had a brief chat about his movie work. He appreciated that I thought his cinema contributions to be of historical importance.

I was not able to find any photos of him, so he very kindly provided me with this recent (at the time - 1981) composite. He also enclosed a brochure showcasing his contributions to Black Cinema, both sides of which can be seen here and here.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Muriel Landers

The first time I saw Muriel Landers, was in a Three Stooges comedy, "Sweet and Hot" (1958). Her character was 'Tiny' Landers, and the plot had her not joining a nightclub act because she was afraid to perform in front of people. She was cured of her stage fright with hypnosis and gave a rousing singing and dancing performance.

While living in North Hollywood in the mid-1970s, one thing I did during my spare time was locating people who'd worked with The Three Stooges. The first source I'd check was the local telephone directory (actually, the Greater Los Angeles Area had several directories, so I'd start with my local one, and then look into others).

Muriel Landers was listed, with two phone numbers but no street address. I called the first number and her recognizable voice answered. I told her of my interest in her appearance with the Stooges, and she was quick to invite me over to visit. She gave me her address, on Hazeltine Avenue in Van Nuys, and soon I was there, enjoying an entertaining conversation with her over a cup of coffee and piece of home-made cake. (I later learned from Muriel's sister, actress Janice Davies, the cake was "Muriel's Strawberry Wine Cake", the only cake Muriel ever made. According to Janice, Muriel was "famous for it among her friends". Janice provided me with the recipe, shown here):

I was familiar with some of Muriel's acting other than with the Stooges, including a touching dramatic role in the "Twilight Zone" episode 'A Piano in the House' (1962). I also remembered seeing her on the sketch comedy show "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" (1968) and some other assorted tv shows.

At the time I met her, she was not in the best of health, plagued by high blood pressure and diabetes. Yet, she was very lively and fun to be with. I visited her several times, a couple of times even grocery shopping for her (she'd ask if I could do the favor, and she gave me a list and the cash). Her mother Sylvia lived with her, as well as her three Pug dogs.

Muriel had an assortment of glossy photos lying around her living room, and when I asked for an autographed picture, she chose this one. She used a ballpoint pen to inscribe the photo, and it "skipped" a bit, as such pens will do on a glossy surface. The inscription reads: "To Bill, All Best Wishes to My Number 1 Fan!!"

One sunny day, when she was showing me the garden and little chapel behind the house, I took two pictures of us together. (This was done by setting the timer after propping the camera on an outdoor wall). Muriel loved to 'mug' for the camera, as seen here and here.

I moved back to New York in May of 1976, but kept in touch with Muriel by phone and mail. Her health continued to deteriorate until she suffered a stroke in February of 1977 and died. Her mother called me with the sad news. She sent me a funeral program, shown below.

On a side note: Several months later, when talking to Janice, she told me that she called several of Muriel's friends to invite them to the funeral service. Besides Ray Bolger and Iris Adrian, both of whom spoke at the service, she called Jack Haley (the 'Tin Man' in "The Wizard of Oz"). Haley's wife Flo answered the phone, and when told of the date of the funeral, asked Janice if she could re-schedule it for the following day because she had a beauty parlor appointment that day! Janice was momentarily stunned at Flo's insensitivity, then had a few words with her. I won't repeat what she told me, but the Haleys did not attend Muriel's service.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Clayton Moore - "The Lone Ranger"

A favorite tv show as a kid was "The Lone Ranger". The title character was played by veteran actor Clayton Moore, who played in many 'B' western movies in various roles. The tv show was first-run in the 1950s, but I watched it in syndication in the 1960s.

In 1981 I sent Mr. Moore this photo, which he inscribed and signed, and quickly returned. He also enclosed this one, showing him in a few character roles as well as 'The Lone Ranger'.

(Jay Silverheels played the role of 'Tonto', Indian friend of the 'Ranger', but I'd just missed getting his autograph, as he'd died the year before, and was incapacitated by a stroke for some time.)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Avery Schreiber - A Familiar Face But No Photo

There were times when I didn't want to buy a photo, or couldn't find one suitable for autographing.

That's when I'd write my usual letter and request one, which most times resulted in receiving a very nice signed portrait, something "approved" by the actor/actress themselves because it's what they chose to send to fans.

Avery Schreiber was a comedy actor who I first saw in the 1960s, when he was teamed with another comedy actor, Jack Burns. Burns and Schreiber had an act in which Schreiber was a taxi driver and Burns was his annoyingly talkative back-seat passenger. They were a team for many years and appeared on several tv variety shows, and for some time even had their own show. The team eventually split when Burns decided to spend more time writing and producing. Schreiber continued acting, becoming a well-known and highly recognized character actor.

For some years, Mr. Schreiber was the tv commercial spokesperson for Doritos chips, in which he'd play a variety of characters.

When I wrote to him in 1981, he replied with a brief note on his personal stationary, which had a caricature image of himself. I was disappointed that he didn't send a photo, but I was satisfied with this, at the time. Now I wish I'd searched a bit more diligently for an appropriate photo.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Bess Flowers - "Queen of the Hollywood Extras"

Bess Flowers is a familiar face to everybody who has seen many movies from the 1930s right into the 1960s. Ms. Flowers was always cast as an "extra", a movie term for any actor/actress who appears in a non-speaking role, usually in a crowd scene, or as a party guest, or nightclub patron, etc. If she ever spoke in any movie, I can't remember, though she may have done so in a few.

Ms. Flowers began her career in the 1920s, and appeared in several hundred movies over the next five decades. She also appeared in a handful of tv shows.

When I wrote her in the early 1980s, she was a resident of the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills, California. I was able to find a nice portrait of her, which was actually quite rare, considering she was only an "extra". She inscribed and returned it to me quickly, but in her haste, she misspelled the word "remembering", as you can see here.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Better late than never...

Here are two examples of actors who misplaced my request for an autographed photo, but eventually they came through.

Alan Hewitt was a well-known supporting player from the 1950s through the 1980s. Richard Deacon was a highly recognizable character actor during the same period.

In September of 1981, I wrote to Mr. Hewitt, requesting a photo. Apparently, he misplaced my letter, and found it while cleaning house. He apologized with this handwritten note on the bottom of my letter - "Found this tonight during a long overdue 'house cleaning'. So sorry for the delay", and enclosed this photo. But waiting two months for the photo wasn't so long, when compared with Richard Deacon.

Mr. Deacon's humorous inscription on the photo he sent me, showed his slight embarrassment in the delay - "See you should always have faith! Seven months later."

Collecting autographed photos by mail is fun, but sometimes lots of patience is needed.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Mae West

Another of my earliest autographed photos was Mae West. I'd seen her in a couple of movies on tv. I remember one had W.C. Fields as her co-star, in "My Little Chickadee" (1940), and the other was "She Done Him Wrong" (1933).

Even at the young age of 12, I could appreciate Mae West's double entendres (phrases with double meanings). Maybe I was "reading" more into what she was saying, being on the verge of adolescence, but whatever, I enjoyed seeing her.

I don't remember for certain how I obtained her address, but I think it was in a reference book I found at my public library, "The Celebrity Register". It gave her home address, 570 N. Rossmore Avenue, in Los Angeles, which was actually an apartment building, The Ravenswood, she owned. I wrote her a letter, requesting a photo, and she sent me this post-card size picture. Note her writing of the word "sincerely", as "Sin-cerely", keeping true to form.

Many years later, I read a news item which mentioned she had a listed phone number. I had a paper phone directory for Los Angeles, looked up her name, and sure enough, she was listed! I worked up the nerve to call her, but the number was actually for the management office. I asked if I could speak for a minute with Miss West, and was politely told she did not take calls from fans, but sometimes she'd make an exception if they called on her birthday. As her birthday was several months away, I forgot all about it, and never did call again.

I missed my chance to hear her say to me (quoting a line from one of her movies): "Why don't you come sometime and see me?"

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Jesse White - "The Loneliest Man in Town"

Jesse White was a character actor who appeared in many tv shows and movies. But his most well-known role was as the "Maytag Repairman" in a long-running advertising campaign for the appliance maker. His character symbolized the reliability of Maytag products to the extent that their repairman never got any repair calls, and thus became "the loneliest man in town". The campaign with Mr. White ran for over 20 years.

In 1981, I wrote him the usual letter, requesting a photo because I could not find a portrait to send him. I preferred portrait photos, but some times, especially for character actors, only scene stills were available from the photo dealers. Mr. White responded with a very nice composite 8x10, showing him as four characters, plus a tiny shot of him in the center as the Maytag Repairman.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

"Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Darth Vader"

I'm not a "Star Wars" cult fan, but I do like the movies, particularly the first.

I wanted autographed photos of the four stars, and wrote to Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford first, to addresses that were given me by other collectors. Ms. Fisher and Mr. Ford must have been deluged with requests, and I never did receive anything from either.

With Mark Hamill, I tried a different approach. Some time in the early 1980s, Mr. Hamill was in a Broadway play. I sent my request, along with two photos, to him at the theater. Within a few days, he returned both, signed to me, this portrait from "The Empire Strikes Back" and a scene still from "Star Wars", with a cool inscription.

As for Alec Guinness, I had his home address in England, and sent him a portrait photo. He, too, replied quickly. He signed the photo and wrote this note on the back: "It's a pretty ancient photograph! ?1950?".

A few years earlier, before "Star Wars", I'd written to James Earl Jones, requesting a photo. Mr. Jones was the voice of 'Darth Vader' (the on-screen actor was played by David Prowse). I wrote to him at his NYC residence. He sent me this portrait.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Lucy and Desi

On weekday mornings, in the early 1960s, while waiting to leave for school, among the tv shows my sister and I would watch, was "I Love Lucy". The show was in syndication by then, and the episodes were repeated time after time, and it got to the point where we'd eventually know much of the dialog.

In 1982, I wrote to both Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Both had been long-divorced, and remarried to others.

Ms. Ball signed this photo I sent her with a very simple inscription. I'd like to believe she really signed it and that it's not a secretarial. I'd heard she was responsive to fans' requests for autographs, and I believe it to be true, because it took about three months for this to be returned.

Mr. Arnaz sent me a letter, advertising the newly-released record album of music from the "I Love Lucy" tv show. He also signed the photo I sent to him.

I did see Lucille Ball in person, in 1963. It was in the days when movie stars made personal appearances in cinemas around the country, in conjunction with their current feature movie. Bob Hope was with Ms. Ball when they appeared on-stage at my local RKO Proctor's cinema, interrupting the showing of their movie "Critic's Choice". Gary Morton, Ms. Ball's husband, also came onto the stage and was introduced, then quickly left. Their total time on stage was less than 10 minutes. They did some comedy banter, then answered a few questions from the audience. Finally, they asked everybody to look under their seats, and if a large white card was found, that person received a copy of the book the movie was based on. I recall six people walked up to the stage and were handed their prize by the stars. I did take a few pictures, but they didn't come out because the flash was not bright enough for photography from about 100 feet away.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Bela Lugosi --- My Very First Autograph Request

My very first request for an autographed photo was from Bela Lugosi, star of "Dracula" (1931) and several other Universal Pictures 'horror' and 'suspense' movies. In early 1963, when I was a few months away from 11 years of age, I'd seen "Dracula" on television, and was enthralled by it. I especially liked Lugosi's portrayal, with his sinister facial expressions and heavily accented tone of voice.

I'd heard about movie stars sending autographed pictures to their fans, and after asking a few adults how to get such pictures, I wrote a letter to Mr. Lugosi, told him how much I liked "Dracula", and asked for an autographed photo. I addressed the envelope to "Bela Lugosi, Hollywood, California" (ZIP Codes were not required at that time, and as for sending the letter to Hollywood, I'd been told "that's where all the movie stars live").

A week or so later, the envelope was returned to me, with the rubber-stamped postal markings "Unknown at Hollywood Station" and "Insufficient Address". I was confused about this, and showed it to my Mother. She told me Bela Lugosi had been dead for many years. I remember being shocked upon hearing it! If only I'd told her a few weeks earlier that I was writing a letter to him, she could have told me the "bad news" and stopped me from wasting a 5-cents postage stamp! She felt sorry for me, though, and bought the photo below, from a magazine ad.

I was a regular reader of the 'Famous Monsters of Filmland' magazine, and Movie Star News, a NYC photo dealer, advertised monthly. Here is one of their ads, from the April 1963 issue. Note the price for a glossy 8x10 photo - 50 cents! Plus only 25 cents for postage! (Movie Star News is still in business, and they have an internet site too, but their prices are somewhat higher).

Many years later, in 1995, I had the opportunity to meet Lugosi's son, Bela Jr., at a Three Stooges Fan Club Convention in Pennsylvania. He was attending to scope out the event, as he was an attorney/associate of Comedy III Productions, which maintained licensing rights to The Three Stooges.

I brought along a couple of movie stills of his father, and after explaining to him the aforementioned disappointment of my youth, asked him to sign the photos. Here's one of his dad in a standard pose as "Dracula" , and here's a scene from "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein".

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Roy Thinnes - Fighting "The Invaders"

One of the best science-fiction tv shows of the 1960s was "The Invaders". It was on for only two seasons, premiering in early 1967. The show starred Roy Thinnes as an architect, David Vincent.

Each show opened with a few minutes prologue scenes of that week's episode, and then this dialog was heard over the opening titles:

“The Invaders. Alien beings from a dying planet. Their destination: the earth. Their purpose: to make it THEIR world.

“David Vincent has seen them. For him, it began one lost night on a lonely country road, looking for a shortcut. It began with a closed, deserted diner, and a man too long without sleep to continue his journey. It began with the landing of a craft from another galaxy.

“Now, David Vincent knows that the Invaders are here, that they have taken human form. Somehow he must convince a disbelieving world that the nightmare has already begun . . . .”

The show had plenty of suspense, and many very good story lines which I was eager to see every week. I haven't seen it since it went off the air in 1968, but recently acquired a set of dvds of the entire run. Upon watching the show again, I am very pleased with how well it's held up over all these years.

One of the features of the show was the special effects. Besides the occasional flying saucers, one effect was used at least once each episode, sometimes several times. Whenever an alien was killed, he or she would begin to glow bright red, flare up, and disappear, leaving no trace. Here is a photo showing a dying alien:

I was curious about how this effect was achieved, so I wrote a letter to the production company, Quinn Martin Productions. I received this reply from Howard Alston, the production manager.

I then wrote to Mr. Thinnes in care of his agent, and requested a signed photo. He obliged with this.

I've recently read that the first season of "The Invaders" will be officially released on dvd in May, and I'm looking forward to it.

For an excellent history of the show, with photos, and a complete episode guide, go here.

Side note: David Vincent is still pursuing the alien invaders, wherever they may be. He's been seen most recently traveling through Asia, dispatching aliens one at a time.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Mae Questel - Voice of Betty Boop, Olive Oyl, and Popeye too!

Mae Questel began her career in the 1920s as a stage actress. But it was her voice artistry for which she is much better known.

Ms. Questel was the voice of the 'Betty Boop' cartoon character, created by animator Max Fleischer. 'Betty Boop' was modeled after Helen Kane, a popular vaudeville singer, who'd coyly sing a little "boop-boop-a-doop" in some of her songs.

Ms. Questel did so well with that voice, Fleischer also used her talents in voicing the 'Olive Oyl' character in the 'Popeye' cartoons. She claimed to have based that voice on character actress ZaSu Pitts. As for doing the voice of 'Popeye', when the voice actor, Jack Mercer, was called into military service, she was able to do that voice, too!

I also remember her for the 'Winky Dink' cartoons she did in the 1950s. I vaguely recall watching the shows, but as I was a child then, I had no interest in who did any voices. It was years later that I became familiar with Ms. Questel's voice talent.

She also was a popular character, 'Aunt Bluebell', in a series of tv commercials for Scott Paper Towels.

Some time in the late 1960s, Ms. Questel was a guest on a local NYC tv morning show. I don't know what emboldened me at the time, but I called the tv station right after the show ended, and asked if I could speak to her. In a few minutes, she came to the phone. I think she was disappointed to hear a teen boy's voice; she was probably hoping it was a producer with a job offer. Anyway, I told her I'd always liked her voice characters, and would like to have a photo. She took down my name and address, and in a few days, I received this postcard-size photo, which she signed on the back,
"Best Boops!".