Monday, June 28, 2010

Worth 1,000 Words: JOLSON sings 'SWANEE' in 'RHAPSODY IN BLUE'

Perhaps THE iconic moment from Warner Brothers 1945 musical biography of George Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue, is Al Jolson singing Swanee. Written by Gershwin and Irving Caesar in 1919, the song was on the road to failure until Jolson stepped up, singing it in his Broadway hit, Sinbad. It was then associated with Jolie for the rest of his life.

Rhapsody in Blue stars Robert Alda (yes, Alan's dad) as George, and features many Gershwin contemporaries playing themselves, including Paul Whiteman, whose orchestra premiered the symphonic Rhapsody in Blue; Oscar Levant, Gershwin's friend who also did the piano solos for the film; George White, the producer of Broadway's Scandals; Anne Brown, the original Bess of Gershwin's folk opera, Porgy and Bess; and, of course, Jolson.

This is posted in honor of The International Al Jolson Society's salute this week to Jolson's memorable singing of Swanee in Rhapsody in Blue. That entire clip can be viewed now by visiting the Society's impressive site at
The 11 x 14 lobby card shown is pretty rare, and unfortunately has its share of imperfections. (No Photoshop has been applied.) Still, it is a treasured part of my collection. Note that that the piece is colorized, that is, hand tinted. Jolie's blackface and hands remain, per se, black and white--as is the movie. [from Steve Crum's showbiz memorabilia collection]
Jolson sang Swanee again in The Jolson Story (1946), and can be seen here:

Friday, June 25, 2010

Douglas is terrific as self destructive 'SOLITARY MAN'

By Steve Crum
It is so easy, so right in fact, to be repelled by Michael Douglas’ central character, Ben Kalmen, in Solitary Man. Here is a guy who treats people, including his own daughter, like the most sleazy, stereotypical used car salesman imaginable (and lo, he is a car salesman). Thanks particularly to smart dialogue and an Oscar worthy performance by Douglas, Solitary Man is a charismatic 90 minutes of drama as we observe a man determined to self destruct.

Co-directors Brian Koppelman and David Levien, along with Koppelman’s screenplay, effectively tell the rather uncomfortable tale beginning with a flashback to over six years back, when Kalmen receives a diagnosis of a possibly serious heart problem. At that time, he is a highly successful car dealer with several mid-town locations. Long married to soulmate Nancy (Susan Sarandon), he has a loving married daughter, Susan (Jenna Fischer of TV’s The Office), son-in-law, and grandchild. Kalmen is also a local media personality, having appeared on TV ads (“New York’s Honest Car Dealer”) for his upscale car dealerships, and he is a philanthropist of sorts. The library at his alma mater university is named after him due to his generous donations. That was then.

Since his medical scare, which he never follows up with treatment, Kalmen is hell bent on living, really re-living, his life. He pursues and beds virtually every young lady he sees, prompts his wife to divorce him, and gets involved in illegalities leading to the destruction of his auto dealerships. He serves jail time. He is a man figuratively off center, reeling and spiraling. Call it classic mid-life crisis or just trying to race death. Either way, 60 year-old Ben Kalmen’s life style has segued into smooth talking his way into board rooms and bedrooms. He is constantly broke, yet still appears to be on top of his game. He exudes confidence via a winning smile and sharp clothes, yet his demeanor is more plastic than ever. Michael Douglas played a similar, but more controlling weasel Gordon Gekko in Wall Street (1986).

Just when we are seduced into thinking Kalmen is back on track, he dupes us again. A telling sequence involves Kalmen going out of his way to escort his girlfriend Jordan’s daughter to interview with the dean of his old university and tour the campus. Jordan is played by Mary-Louise Parker, while Imogen Poots plays her daughter Allyson. Always looking for an angle, Kalmen befriends a sophomore, Daniel Cheston (Jesse Eisenberg), giving him tips on how to please women. Without divulging any more, just realize one thing leads to a more outrageous event, all triggered by Kalmen, which affect the remainder of the plot.

Look for Danny DeVito as an old college buddy Jimmy, now running his late dad’s off-campus malt shop, who factors into Kalmen’s return to his old campus life. No, Kalmen has not re-enrolled, he just partakes in every bar and frat party he can find. The non-partying, non-boozing Jimmy lends stability to Ben’s life, even letting him stay with him. Like Kalmen’s wife and daughter, Jimmy still cares enough to offer help.

Speaking of Ben’s daughter, there are a couple of dynamite scenes featuring Fischer’s Susan, whose love for him bottoms out as he repeatedly forsakes her and her son. There are terrific performances throughout Solitary Man, but Fischer and Douglas are particularly Oscar illuminated.

It is ironic that Grown Ups is also opening today. Whereas Grown Ups humorously explores a group of adult men pursuing their shared pasts in raucous, slapstick ways, Solitary Man travels the dark side. Ben Kalmen’s pursuit is self destructive, yet with a grim, pitiful humor that makes for one compelling movie.
GRADE on an A to F Scale: B+
Please watch the trailer to Solitary Man:

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Worth 1,000 Words: AL JOLSON, fishing for love in AVALON

By Steve Crum

While he may not have been the world's greatest angler, AL JOLSON was always The World's Greatest Entertainer. Here he mugs it, as usual, oddly hatted as a sailor while fishing in Avalon Bay at Catalina Island. The photo was probably taken during the mid-1930's. Jolie frequented Catalina often, and (the story goes) discovered future songwriter and friend BUDDY DeSYLVA there as DeSylva dived for coins tourists would throw from visiting ships. Fact or fiction, the legend persists. But it is true that Buddy DeSylva eventually became a successful composer of popular songs, a movie producer, and co-founder of Capitol Records. [from Steve Crum's showbiz memorabilia collection]
AVALON, written by DeSylva, Vincent Rose and Al Jolson, was published in 1920, and became a huge hit for Jolson. (Jolson's actual input into the song's composition is questionable. His name was often added--on dozens of songs--in exchange for his plugging the tune in one of his shows.) Jolson sang it in two of his Broadway extravaganzas, Sinbad and Bombo, as well as in The Jolson Story (1946). Avalon became a popular standard for many, particularly Benny Goodman. Interestingly, the publishers of Avalon were successfully sued in 1921 for plagiarism, charged that the melody was lifted from Puccini's aria E lucevan le stelle from the opera Tosca. The Puccini folks were awarded $25,000 along with all subsequent royalties. This did not deter Jolson, Goodman, and many others from continuing to perform the memorable song.
The lyrics to AVALON:



Listen to Jolson singing the melodic AVALON:

Friday, June 18, 2010

Worth 1,000 Words: NATALIE WOOD & JAMES DEAN, rebellious youth

By Steve Crum

Hiding in the bushes, NATALIE WOOD and JAMES DEAN wait until it is safe during an intense scene in this still from 1955's REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, directed by Nicholas Ray. Both Wood and Dean symbolize teenage angst throughout the film, yet it is James Dean who became THE teen icon of that era. Undoubtedly, Dean's tragic 1955 death in a car accident established his legend forever. Both Dean and Wood died far too early in their lives. [from Steve Crum's showbiz memorabilia collection]
NATALIE WOOD (July 20, 1938-Nov. 29, 1981), born Natasha Zacherenko of Russian immigrant parents, acted in many films throughout her relatively brief career. From Miracle on 34th Street (1947) to Rebel Without a Cause to Gypsy (1962), Natalie Wood's charisma and talent made her a star. She was Oscar nominated for her work in Rebel Without a Cause, Splendor in the Grass (1961), and Love With the Proper Stranger (1963). One of my favorite Wood films is Inside Daisy Clover (1965). Natalie Wood drowned before her last film, Brainstorm, was completed. However, a stand-in was used for her, and the movie was eventually released. Natalie Wood was 43 years-old at her death.
JAMES DEAN (Feb. 8, 1931-Sept. 30, 1955) made only three feature films during his short life, but he is idolized by many to this day. In the course of two years, he starred in East of Eden (garnering a Best Actor Oscar nomination), Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant (released posthumously in 1956). Dean was 24 when he was killed.
REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE features James Dean as Jim Stark, a new high school boy in town who has to prove himself against switchblade slashing, hotrod driving bullies. Supporting him in the cast are Sal Mineo, Nick Adams, Dennis Hopper, Jim Backus, Ann Doran, William Hopper and Ed Platt.
Here is the trailer to Rebel Without a Cause:

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Worth 1,000 Words: 3 thinkers, BUSTER KEATON & his boys

By Steve Crum

Emulating Rodin's famous "The Thinker" bronze and marble sculpture, BUSTER KEATON (center), a stone face in his own right, strikes the pose while flanked by equally pensive sons Robert (left) and James. Probably taken in 1931 or '32, Buster was nearing the end of his marriage to actress Natalie Talmadge. They were married from 1921-32. [from Steve Crum's showbiz memorabilia collection]
BUSTER KEATON (Oct. 4, 1895-Feb. 1, 1966) is considered one of the greatest film comedians and directors of all time, based largely on his body of silent film work from 1920-29. During that period, Keaton's brilliant output included cinema gems The Navigator, Sherlock Jr., Our Hospitality, Steamboat Bill Jr., and The General. In fact, The General registers on most all-time film lists as one of the top comedies ever made. Orson Welles, whose Citizen Kane consistently makes the top of the top movie lists, hailed Keaton's skills as a comedian, actor and director. Citing The General, Welles said it is "the greatest comedy ever made, the greatest Civil War film ever made, and perhaps the greatest film ever made."

Buster Keaton, called The Great Stoneface because of his deadpan expression while acting, was born Joseph Frank Keaton in Piqua, Kansas, a stone's throw from Iola, Kansas, where each year for the past 17 years, a Buster Keaton Celebration has been held to celebrate Keaton's film genius. Special guests have included Keaton's widow, Eleanor (now deceased), Kevin Brownlow, James Karen, Steve Allen, Edie Adams, Leonard Maltin, and Keaton's granddaughter.

This year's 18th Annual Celebration, Sept. 24-25, Keaton & The Tragic Clowns Harry Langdon, Raymond Griffith, Charley Chase, will honor Buster and three of his contemporaries. Admission is free for the two-day event. Be sure to book your motel early. Iola is about a two hour drive from Kansas City. Check out more specifics:
Then there is the International Buster Keaton Society's annual celebration in Muskegon, Michigan, Oct. 1-2. Sponsored by The Damfinos, the official name of the fan club, this year's theme is The Year of the Chase. Registration fees vary from $80-$125. More information is here:
Interested in joining The Damfinos? Link here:
Please enjoy Buster Keaton and excerpts from his classic, The General:

Friday, June 11, 2010


THE MYSTERY TO THE POST BELOW [please scroll down] IS SOLVED! Prolific author RICHARD GRUDENS (When Jolson Was King, Bing Crosby: Crooner of the Century, The Music Men, and many more) identifies the two mystery men as (far left) MATT DENNIS and (far right) JOE BUSHKIN.

MATT DENNIS (Feb. 11, 1914-June 21, 2002) was a singer, pianist, bandleader and composer. One of his compositions was Angel Eyes. Dick Haymes sang with his band.

JOE BUSHKIN (Nov. 7, 1916-Nov. 3, 2004), a jazz pianist, accompanied many singers, and toured with Bing Crosby during the 1960's. He co-wrote Oh! Look at Me Now, an early Frank Sinatra hit. He arranged and played for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.


I am leaving the posting below as it was to portray the identity crisis that occurred in the search for truth. Truth now prevails. Thanks, Richard, and all who contributed their thoughts.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Worth 1,000 Words: BING CROSBY, RANDOLPH SCOTT & ??

ENJOYING A DAY on the links, these four show business pals seem to be in pretty good spirits. (Well, ONE of them looks happy.) Taken in the mid to late 1930's (estimated), the photo should be labeled "worth 500 words," because only two of the foursome are identifiable to yours truly. For sure it is RANDOLPH SCOTT (Jan. 23-1898-March 2, 1987), second from left, with BING CROSBY (May 3, 1903-Oct. 14, 1977) to his left.

But WHO are the two guys flanking Crosby and Scott? The back of this rare photo says, "Bing and Randolph + 2 songwriters." I am pretty sure that is not Irving Berlin to the far right, but then again.... Anyone who knows the two composers' names, please let me know either by e-mail or the comment tab below. If you know the location and date, please pass along that info too. I have had this picture for about 15 years, and still don't know all the names involved. Let's all play...NAME THOSE TUNESMITHS! [from Steve Crum's show biz memorabilia collection]
UPDATE: Since posting, several names have been suggested as to the identities, including Jimmy Van Heusen (far left) and Johnny Burke (far right). It would be a logical assumption since the two collaborated on many songs introduced by Crosby. If so, that would date the photo 1940 or beyond, since the two composers teamed in '40. However, available photos of Burke and Van Heusen are from much later, making a physical match nearly impossible. Irving Berlin and Harry Warren have also been named as the unknowns. Yet again, could the two mystery men be professional golfers instead of songwriters? This spot is still open for endorsements or differing opinions.
Enjoy this terrific clip of Bing in duet with Bette Midler, 1977:

Friday, June 4, 2010


By Steve Crum
STEVE MARTIN (WILLIAM DEMAREST) toasts Cantor (Ludwig Donath) and Mrs. Yoelson (Tamara Shayne) at their anniversary party in this scene from THE JOLSON STORY (1946). Raising their glasses are, from left, Tom Baron (Bill Goodwin), Julie Benson aka Mrs. Al Jolson (Evelyn Keyes), and, to Demarest’s left, Al Jolson aka Asa Yoelson (Larry Parks). Moments later, Jolson would sing The Anniversary Song, specifically written for The Jolson Story. This original Columbia Pictures still is particularly revered by yours truly since it is signed by Demarest. [from Steve Crum’s showbiz memorabilia collection]
WILLIAM DEMAREST (Feb. 27, 1892-Dec. 28, 1983) was Oscar nominated as Best Supporting Actor for his Steve Martin portrayal in The Jolson Story, an important film among his 140+ movie roles beginning in 1926. Early scenes in The Jolson Story hearken back to Demarest’s pre-movie, vaudeville and Broadway days. He even gets to play a cello, which was part of his original act. It is ironic that one of Demarest’s early films, The Jazz Singer, starred Al Jolson. Nearly 20 years later, he played Jolson’s manager in The Jolson Story and its sequel, Jolson Sings Again (1949).
Demarest is also associated with his fine work in 10 Preston Sturges films (The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek and Hail the Conquering Hero among them), and his most popular role as Uncle Charley in TV’s My Three Sons, 1965-72. The gruff and lovable actor is also memorable in a couple of my favorite movies, Along Came Jones and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
Jolson (synched by Parks) sings The Anniversary Song:

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

GENE AUTRY, the cowboy trail begins


Liquid highway winds blue
Through Mojave sand.
Red mountains inch closer,
Digging a horizontal pattern on land
Of memories.
Thinking I will stand
To meet the mountains.
~By Steve Crum
Crooning to actress EVALYN KNAPP, GENE AUTRY strums his guitar amidst the cacti, rocks, sagebrush, mountains, and moody sky. This original Mascot Studio production still is from 1934's IN OLD SANTA FE, which starred KEN MAYNARD. Even Maynard's horse TARZAN received top billing over Autry. In fact, Autry is unbilled in the credits, portraying an unnamed singer. SMILEY BURNETTE, who would soon become Autry's sidekick, is also uncredited as an accordionist-singer. The following year, after smoothy stealing In Old Santa Fe from star Maynard, Gene Autry would replace him in the surrealistic western serial, The Phantom Empire. Ninety-three Autry cowboy movies would follow. [from Steve Crum's showbiz memorabilia collection]