Classic Celebrity Commercials

Hi-yo, Pizza Roll!

DATELINE: Olde TV Bad Habit 

Back in 2013 there was another compilation of “hucksters,” from advertisements and commercials on TV in the mid to late 1950s. It seems a bit unfair to call these old stars “hucksters,” as appearing at the end of their series or show (often in character) to sell a product was just a means of enhancing their income.

This delightful collection is a bit tiresome. Who wants to sit through one hour of commercials, even in fun?

A couple of points are particularly distressing. Most of the commercials were done in black and white, and most of them actually run for a full sixty seconds, which is maddening in our attention deficit age.

In particular, Steve Allen takes a Polaroid photo of Lou Costello and we actually wait while Steve talks for sixty seconds for him to show us the newly developed photo.

Yet, the compilation also features some fun moments and images we’ve never seen:  John Wayne sells Christmas Seals on set, and his director really is Wild Bill Wellman!

We were thrilled to hear the William Tell Overture selling some Jeno pizza rolls—and at the end of the commercial, in color no less, Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels show up in costume as the Lone Ranger and Tonto.

One funny bit features a color King Kong climbing off the Empire State building and driving off down the avenue in his king-size car. He puts his little blonde companion in the passenger seat.

Almost as stunning is to see Marilyn Monroe in full throttle, selling gasoline.

A montage of TV western stars of the era each smokes a different cigarette. We almost want to cry out to stop, please!

Leo G. Carroll as Topper smokes too, as do his ghosts, Anne Jeffreys and Robert Sterling as Marian and George Kirby.

We also see James Arness smoking away with Today Show host Jack Lescoulie! We had not seen him in fifty years.

Quite a collection.

 

 

 

 

Fun on the Way to the Forum

DATELINE: Musical Farce

 Mythic Comic Competition: Zero & Phil Silvers

 Notable composer and writer Stephen Sondheim has always been of two worlds: his high-falutin’ musicals, and his low-brow musicals.  He started out writingTopperfor TV about ghosts in a sit-com—and he wound up as one of the most celebrated of American Broadway composers of A Little Night Music and Sunday in the Park with George.

We prefer low-brow this time.

We took a look again, years later, of his 1966 low-brow story: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Those who saw it on Broadway are a dying breed, thank heavens, because they always complained the stage version was longer, contained better songs, and was a work of genius.

 

The movie was directed by Richard Lester in a style that won converts after A Hard Day’s Night.His frenetic pace and visual burlesque moments are right out of slapstick in ancient Rome.

However, the film is monumental because Zero Mostel recreated his stage performance. Well, it is not exactly a performance. Mostel chews up scenery and  mugs in such a way that defies anything resembling acting. This is a happening. It is beyond, way beyond, perhaps the Twilight Zone goes to the Forum. He is matched by Sgt. Bilko, Phil Silvers in an equally stunning screen travesty.

They are marvelous and will certainly dismiss anyone thinking this could have occurred on Broadway. Throw in Jack Gilford and Patricia Jessel as the shrew harridan of all-time, and Michael Herndon’s seminal browbeat husband grows all the more impressive.

The four stars dance along the aqueduct. Buster Keaton only shows up for cameos and the surprise ending.

 

The leering sexuality is of another age, but that is burlesque, friends.

If ever Broadway musicals were to be staged with perfect segues between action and music, this film accomplishes it.

We recalled it was a show and a half, but it has lost nothing and gained mythic proportions. If you have never seen it, you must stream it now. A comedy tonight indeed.

My Topper Time Fun!

DATELINE: Ghostly Trifecta?

Topper & His Ghosts Leo G. Carroll as Topper with Ghosts

Who said dead people don’t have fun?

If I have learned anything by my experiences at Mill Circle, I now know that my haunting spirits have a strange sense of timing and a stranger sense of humor.

One morning at 5:30 a.m., I had a trifecta of paranormal incidents. It seems they were going to drag me into the library at dawn, no matter how much I resisted.

I had on the previous afternoon replaced the batteries in the smoke detector on the ceiling in the library. One might think nothing more of that for months—however, that was not the case.

At 3am the security camera came on, alerting me on the phone. I looked in a semi-groggy state to see nothing much in the grainy black and white video, but I did hear the smoke alarm beeping. Yes, the battery was drained within 12 hours.

It continued to beep every thirty seconds or so, but I could not hear it on my other side of the house.

But, at 5:30 a.m., I decided it was light enough in there for me to venture—and take down the smoke detector and its irritating beeper.

When I reached up to remove the ceiling unit, the Titanic shelf next to me had a reaction. Two items came flying off:  first fell a four DVD documentary series about Titanic, and then came the postcard in 3D of the Munch painting, “The Silent Scream”.

My blow-up Scream doll is across the room, hanging from another model ship where a spirit set it—and I had placed a postcard of the image of the Screamer on the deck of the 3-D puzzle model of the benighted ship.

Eventually, I expected the little postcard would come down, jumping off the ship like its counterpart doll.

As I reached up to remove the smoke detector, the postcard had its moment in conjunction with the DVD. Both jumped off the bookcase.

I bent down to pick them up and replace them on their perches. As I did so, from high up came a shooting orb, past my backside and under the table with the chessboard.

I did not see it until later when I viewed the security camera footage.

Yes, it was the trifecta all right:  batteries drained, objects falling off the shelf, and then an orb shooting past.

If you want a sense of humor from my ghostly residents, this example likely comes closest. It certainly made me feel like Cosmo Topper and his household of ghosts, George and Marian Kirby.

Indeed, the complete DVD set of Topper TV series was on the bookcase where the orb flew by.  Yes, it’s all caught on tape.

Don’t ever let it be said that ghosts don’t want to have fun.

 

 

 

Tip-Toppie Topper

 DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP

Topper

We jumped into our Hot Tub Time Machine and transported ourselves back to 1937 to put on a mindset to watch the classic ghost movie, Topper.

Thorne Smith’s novel has actually been compared to The Great Gatsby because the 1920s glamour couple (Cary Grant, Constance Bennett) seems to have stepped out of a Long Island party as the notorious George and Marian Kerby. They also seem ill-fated drivers. The original plan was to have W.C. Fields and Jean Harlow play the fun-loving Kerbys. What a movie that would have been!!!

Alas, the young couple is overplayed as self-indulgent, willful and spoiled rich folk by Grant and Bennett. They are neither witty, nor particularly likeable. If you expected this to be a set-up to how they act after they are turned into car crash dead people, you will not see Dead People.

Actor Roland Young is a surprisingly nimble and youthful old banker, adept at physical comedy, playing benighted Cosmo Topper. The Kerbys have their money at his bank and seem to bedevil him in life and want to be guardian angels in death.

Their amazing white Buick roadster (we presume it is white in a black and white world) actually crashes three times into the same spot during the movie, qualifying as a death car. Were the ghosts trying to transport old Toppie to the next plane?

Compared to the fancy special effects you’d encounter today in a residual haunt, the Kerbys are saving “ectoplasm,” as Marian reveals. However, they appear alive and kicking in many scenes.

Billie Burke is perfect as Topper’s wife with her confidante butler, Alan Mowbry.

The movie spawned a sequel, but neither Constance Bennett, nor Cary Grant, were around for that one. They said their goodbyes and went on to better scripts.

This film too often feels like dead weight to be a light-hearted comedy. Yet, by today’s standards, it is worth 90 minutes of your time.