Sunday, November 27, 2016

Remembering Marshall Thompson

Look in the Hollywood casting directory under "Nice Guy," and chances are you'd find our birthday boy Marshall Thompson (1925-1992), born November 27. Active in films from the 1940s through the 1960s, he achieved perhaps his biggest success as the star of CBS' adventure series Daktari (1966-69). (Pictured above: Thompson with simian supporting player Judy). Something about his look just suggested the clean-cut, all-American good guy, and that's what he most often played. One of those roles was as co-star of the CBS sitcom Angel (1960-61), which cast him as the newlywed husband of the title character, a fun-loving, exuberant young Frenchwoman. You can read more about that show in Lost Laughs of '50s and '60s Television.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

An Important New Biography

Leslie Bennetts' Last Girl Before Freeway: The Life, Loves, Losses and Liberation of Joan Rivers (Little, Brown and Co.) is an engrossing, well-researched, and smart biography of the comedian who had such an enduring impact on popular culture. It is also a testament to a woman who persevered against incredible odds to achieve stardom, and maintain it right up to her death (in 2014) at the age of 81.

A polarizing figure for much of her career, Joan Rivers was a mass of contradictions, all of which the author fully explores here. Her groundbreaking work influenced practically every female stand-up comic to follow. Rivers was a trailblazer who gave women a bold voice, yet often seemed stuck in a bygone era where they were judged largely on their face and figure. Often crass and vulgar onstage, in her private life she hungered for elegance and was drawn to men who were courtly and dignified. Bennetts shows us a woman who could be both amazingly generous, and surprisingly petty. The book draws on numerous revealing interviews, some of which -- Barry Diller, Barbara Walters -- cannot have been easy to get. Some consider Rivers a comic genius; others saw a performer who didn't know the meaning of good taste or subtlety. Both sides get a fair hearing here.

This is one of the most interesting biographies of the year.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Sale Alert!

As I've mentioned here before, I do love a good bargain. And just in time for the holidays, my publisher has come through with a deal.

Go to the McFarland website to see the incredible assortment of cool stuff on sale.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Kindness of Strangers

Over the course of researching and writing six books (so far!), I've frequently had occasion to be impressed by the courtesies and favors extended to me by people I hardly know. Another instance took place this week, when I received a bulky package of material pertaining to my current project. The gentleman who sent me this (and I use the word "gentleman" advisedly) has never met me. He'd probably never heard of me before last week, when I contacted him via Facebook. But because I'm preparing a book on one of his favorite performers, he took the time to send me video copies of two films for which I'd spent the last several months searching in vain. He also included a disc of supplementary material, plus several beautiful lobby cards that are more than 70 years old.

It's moments like this that keep me going on this quest to document the lives and careers of performers from so many decades ago. And, at a time when hard-fought, oftentimes ugly, political battles have so many of us on edge, it's nice to see that this type of thoughtfulness still exists in our world today.