Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Mister Roger's 90th Birthday

Earlier this year, on February 19, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood celebrated its 50th anniversary. Today would have been the 90th birthday of the man who both created and hosted the show, Fred Rogers. Mister Rogers' Neighborhood would prove to be the third longest running children's show in American television history (after Sesame Street and Captain Kangaroo). The show was founded on the premise that while children were different from adults, they were still human beings with their own thoughts and concerns. Furthermore, Mister Rogers believed that with a gentle, but firm approach children could be taught how to act properly.

Fred Rogers was born on March 20 1928 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. He earned a degree in Music Composition from Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. He later graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and was ordained a minister in the United Presbyterian Church. It was after his parents got their first television set that Mister Rogers decided to go into television. Later on in an interview with CNN, he explained, "I went into television because I hated it so, and I thought there's some way of using this fabulous instrument to nurture those who would watch and listen."

It was in 1951 that he got a job at NBC, working on such musical programmes as Your Hit Parade, The Kate Smith Hour, and The Voice of Firestone. He would later work on The Gabby Hayes Show.  He quit NBC in 1954 and went to work for Pittsburgh public station WQED as a puppeteer on The Children's Hour. It was there that many of the puppets who would later appear on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood first appeared.

It was in 1963 that he moved to Toronto, Ontario where the CBC hired him to develop and host a 15 minute children's show titled Misterogers. It not only marked the first time Fred Rogers was in front of the camera, but included many of the features that would later appear on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, including the castle and the trolley. After four years he returned to WQED in Pittsburgh and took the show with him, renaming it Misterogers Neighborhood. The show aired through much of the East and ran for 100 episodes. It was cancelled due to a lack of funding.

Fortunately, the Sears Roebuck Foundation decided to fund a revival of the show, giving it enough money to be aired nationally on National Educational Television (the predecessor to PBS). The new show, still titled Misterogers' Neighborhood, debuted on February 19 1968. It was in 1970 that it was renamed Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

Ultimately Mister Rogers' Neighborhood would run until August 31 2001, a total of 33 years. Through the years the show was nominated for several awards and won several as well. Its success was largely due to several factors, not the least of which was that Fred Rogers never talked down to his audience. In fact, the Fred Rogers on the show was pretty much Fred Rogers in real life. He once told Newsweek, "One of the greatest gifts you can give anybody is the gift of your honest self. I also believe that kids can spot a phony a mile away." Much of the show was devoted to educating children on how to handle their emotions, such as anger. He emphasised the importance of being nice to others. And while Mister Rogers was gentle in demeanour, he sometimes addressed serious issues of concern to children. Indeed, in November. 1983 he actually addressed an issue that most children's shows never addressed, that of nuclear war in a series of episodes entitled "Conflict". "Conflict" was not the only time Mister Rogers addressed a serious issue on the show. Early in the show's run, he discussed death when one of his goldfish died.

Of course, Mister Rogers did not simply discuss feelings and issues of concern to children. He also gave children an inside look at various professions. In the show's long run, Mister Rogers visited a dairy farm, the headquarters of the United States Postal Service, and various other workplaces. Over the years he featured such guests as Tony Bennet, Julia Child, David Copperfield, Marcel Marceau, Rita Moreno, and even fellow children's show host Bob Keeshan (forever remembered as Captain Kangaroo).

One important aspect of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, although it was not often discussed, is that it was both multi-ethnic and multi-racial. Early in the show's run an African American teacher named Mrs. Carol Saunders appeared regularly. It was a bit later that an African American police officer, Officer Clemmons, appeared as a regular. Over the years characters and children belonging to a number of ethnicities appeared on the show. In a decade of race riots, when racism still occurred all too often, Mister Rogers' neighbourhood was one where everyone, regardless of their ethnicity, got along.

Fred Rogers's activism went beyond his television show. In 1969, only around two years after the Corporation for Public Broadcasting had been launched and about a year before PBS would be founded, there was a real danger that funding to public television would be severely cut. Fred Rogers appeared before the United States Senate Subcommittee on Communications and eloquently spoke of the need for public television. Senator John O. Pastore, who had never been particularly friendly towards the television industry, told Mister Rogers, , "I think it's wonderful. Looks like you just earned the $20 million." For 1971, funding for public television was increased $9 million to $22 million.

Fred Rogers would also play a pivotal role in insuring the average person could record TV programmes on VCRs. With the introduction of the VCR in the Seventies there also arose controversy. The motion picture industry maintained that such technology constituted copyright infringement, and in 1976 Universal and Walt Disney sued Sony to halt the sale of their Betamax recorders. A U. S. District court ruled in Sony's favour, but in 1981 Universal filed an appeal. Fred Rogers came to Sony's defence in the case known as Universal Studios vs. Sony Corporation of America, which reached the Supreme Court in 1983. Mister Rogers stated, "Some public stations, as well as commercial stations, program the Neighborhood at hours when some children cannot use it ... I have always felt that with the advent of all of this new technology that allows people to tape the Neighborhood off-the-air, and I'm speaking for the Neighborhood because that's what I produce, that they then become much more active in the programming of their family's television life. Very frankly, I am opposed to people being programmed by others. My whole approach in broadcasting has always been "You are an important person just the way you are. You can make healthy decisions. Maybe I'm going on too long, but I just feel that anything that allows a person to be more active in the control of his or her life, in a healthy way, is important." The Supreme Court ruled in Sony's favour, and cited Fred Rogers's comments in their decision.

If Fred Rogers is still so very respected, it is perhaps because he emphasised on his show and even lived his life according to the simple philosophy that all human beings have worth and that everyone should be accepted for who they are without condition. In the book The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember, Fred Rogers is quoted as saying, "Mutual caring relationships require kindness and patience, tolerance, optimism, joy in the other's achievements, confidence in oneself, and the ability to give without undue thought of gain." Now more than ever, we have need of the kindness, patience, and tolerance that Mister Rogers taught on his show.

Monday, 19 March 2018

The Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon Begins This Friday

This is just a reminder that the 4th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon begins this Thursday! If you want to participate, it's not too late. Just visit the original post here.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

St. Patrick's Day 2018

As I am not Catholic, Irish, Montserratian, Nigerian, an engineer, or a paralegal, I do not celebrate St. Patrick's Day myself. That having been said, I love holidays and I appreciate that many people do celebrate it. With that in mind, here are some St. Patrick's Day themed pictures of actresses of Irish descent for those of you who do observe St. Patrick's Day!

First up is Angela Greene, who was born in Dublin.

Next is lovely actress and television producer Gail Patrick, who was born Margaret Fitzpatrick.

Next up is Maureen O'Sullivan, who was born in Boyle, County Roscommon, Ireland (I don't know where the puppies were born).

Finally is Maureen O'Hara and a friend. Miss O'Hara was born in Dublin!

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Friday, 16 March 2018

50 Years Ago Today "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" Hit no. 1

It was fifty years ago today that "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Mr. Redding had started writing the song while on tour with The Bar-Kays in August 1967. He was on a houseboat in at Waldo Point in Sausalito, California. He continued to work on the song while on tour and finally recorded the song between November 22 and December 7 1967.

Sadly, Otis Redding would not live to see the song's success. It was on December 9 1967 that Otis Redding appeared on the local television show Upbeat in Cleveland, Ohio, and had also played three concerts at the club Leo's Casino there. Their next date was in Madison, Wisconsin. Unfortunately that night saw fog and heavy rain. The plane's pilot radioed Truax Field in Madison for permission to land once they were four miles away. It never made it. The plane crashed into Lake Monona near Madison. Only one person survived, Ben Cauley of The Bar-Kays. As Mr. Cauley was unable to swim (he stayed afloat by holding onto a seat cushion), he could not save anyone else aboard the plane. Otis Redding and four of the other Bar-Kays died (bassist James Alexander was on another plane).

"(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" was released on January 8 1968, around a month after Otis Redding's death. It reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 on March 16 1968. It was the first single to top the charts after its singer's death.

Here is Otis Reding performing the classic "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay"

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Ventures Guitarist Nokie Edwards Passes On

Nokie Edwards, lead guitarist for The Ventures, died on March 12 2018 at the age of 82. The cause was an infection following hip surgery.

Nokie Edwards was born on May 9 1935 in Lahoma, Oklahoma. He came from a family of talented musicians and by the time he was five years old was already familiar with several stringed instruments. In his late teens he began playing for various country bands in his local area. He played for a time with Buck Owens. It was in 1959 that Bob Bogle and Don Wilson recruited Nokie Edwards as the bassist for their band The Ventures. It was in 1961 that Nokie Edwars took over playing lead guitar for the band, while Bob Bogle took over the bass.

The Ventures proved to be enormously successful, to the point that they may well be the most successful instrumental group of all time. Their 1960 single "Walk Don't Run" peaked at no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. They would have another huge in 1968 with "Hawaii Five-O", the theme to the TV show of the same name. The Ventures would see even more success with their albums. Their first album, Walk, Don't Run, went to no. 11 on the Billboard album chart.  Their 1963 album The Ventures Play Telstar and the Lonely Bull went to no. 8 on the Billboard album chart. Their 1969 album Hawaii Five-O went to no. 11. At one point The Ventures had five different albums in the top 100 of the Billboard album chart at the same time.

Nokie Edwards left The Ventures for a time in 1969 to pursue a solo career. He released two solo albums, Nokie! in 1970 and Again! in 1972. Nokie Edwards returned to The Ventures in 1973 and recorded several more albums with them before leaving again in 1984. He recorded several solo albums, as well as albums with Texas Western swing band The Light Crust Doughboys. He collaborated with Art Greenhaw on several albums. In 1999 he began playing with The Ventures again on occasion and continued to do so until 2012. He also appeared on the HBO Western Deadwood.

As mentioned earlier, The Ventures may well be the most successful instrumental band of all time. They would have a far reaching influence. While they did not consider their work to be surf music, they would have a lasting influence on surf musicians from Dick Dale to The Chantays. Such diverse artists as George Harrison and John Fogerty counted The Ventures of influence. Much of the reason The Ventures were so influential was Nokie Edwards's guitar playing. He was a virtuoso on the instrument, and it was in full display in The Ventures' many records.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Godspeed Sir Ken Dodd

Legendary Liverpudlian comedian Sir Ken Dodd died on March 11 at the age of 90. His career spanned over sixty years and he still performed up to last year.

Sir Ken Dodd was born in Knotty Ash, Liverpool on November 8 1927. He sang in the choir at St. John's Church in Knotty Ash and attended Knotty Ash School. Ultimately, he called Knotty Ash his home his entire life, dying in the same house in which he was born. Mr. Dodd attended Holt High School in Childwall, but left when he was 14 to go to work for his father, who was a coal merchant. It was as a teenager that he became interested in show business, sending off for a book on ventriloquism advertised in a comic. Not long afterwards his father bought him a ventriloquist's dummy. He then started performing at various community functions and the local orphanage. When he turned 18 he became a travelling salesman and performed in comedy clubs at night.

His big break came in 1954 when he performed at the Empire Theatre in Nottingham. He made his television debut in 1955 in an episode of The Good Old Days. That same year he appeared in a TV episode of  It's a Great Life (not to be confused with the American sitcom of the same name) and the television special Red Riding Hood. He guest starred on such shows as Northern Showground, Six-Five Special, and Stars at Blackpool. He was a regular on the show Points North. It was in 1959 that the long running Ken Dodd Show began. It aired until 1969.

In the Sixties Mr. Dodd appeared on the TV shows Juke Box Jury, Top of the Pops, Omnibus, and Thank Your Lucky Stars. He appeared frequently on The Good Old Days, while continuing to star on The Ken Dodd Show. For a time he starred on Doddy's Music Box. In 1969 when The Ken Dodd Show ended, he began starring in Ken Dodd and the Diddymen. His single "Happiness" charted in 1964 and his single "Tears" became one of the best selling singles of the Sixties in the United Kingdom. Beginning in 1965 he spent 42 weeks at the London Palladium.

Ken Dodd continued to be a presence on British television in the Seventies. He starred on the shows Ken Dodd in Funny You Should Say That, Ken Dodd's World of Laughter, and The Ken Dodd Show. He appeared on The Good Old Days, Top of the Pops, Seaside Special, Stars on Sunday, and The Golden Shot. At the Royal Court Liverpool 1974 he set the record for the longest joke-telling session. It lasted three hours, thirty minutes, and six seconds. The record is still listed in The Guinness Book of Records to this day.

In the Eighties Ken Dodd starred in Dodd on his Todd, Doddy!, Ken Dodd's Showbiz, A Question of Entertainment, and Ken Dodd at the London Palladium on television. He guest starred on the show Doctor Who, as well as The Good Old Days, The Saturday Show, Looks Familiar, Saturday Night Out, and Sunday, Sunday, among others. In the Nineties he starred on An Audience with Ken Dodd on television. He guest starred on The Stuart Hall Show, Dennis the Menace, and The Canterbury Tales, as well as Noel's House Party, GMTV, Face to Face, and Heroes of Comedy, among others. He appeared in the TV movie Alice in Wonderland and the feature film Hamlet (1996).

In the Naughts Mr. Dodd starred on Another Audience with Ken Dodd and Ken Dodd's Happiness on television. He appeared on the shows Behind the Laughter, The South Bank Show, The Best of the Royal Variety, Dawn French's Boys Who Do Comedy, Parkinson, Arena, This Morning, and Newsnight. In the Teens he starred in Talking Comedy and Ken Dodd: In His Own Words. He appeared on such programmes as My Favourite Joke, Timeshift, Fern Britton Meets..., Mastermind, and Granada Reports, among others.

Sir Ken Dodd was considered "the last great music hall entertainer" and it would be difficult to argue with that assessment. He had a gift for one-liners, which he could often issue rapid-fire. This was made all the more remarkable by the length of his performances, which could last hours. What is more, he was not only talented at telling jokes, but he was a skilled ventriloquist and could sing as well. While the Diddy Men were part of Merseyside lore before Mr. Dodd popularised them, he made them an integral part of his act. Sir Ken Dodd was such a success for so long simply because his humour appealed to nearly everyone. It was broad, could often be silly, and when he was cheeky it was in such a way that it would not offend anyone, not even parents with small children in the audience. While many of his contemporaries fell by the wayside, Sir Ken Dodd remained popular until the very end.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Godspeed Count Hubert de Givenchy

Well known fashion designer, Count Hubert de Givenchy died on March 10 at the age of 91.

Count de Givenchy was born on February 20 1927 in Beauvais, Oise, France. His parents were Marquis Lucien Taffin de Givenchy and the former Béatrice ("Sissi") Badin. He studied at the the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He went to work for Swiss designer Robert Piguet and later Lucien Lelong. From 1947 to 1952 he worked for designer Elsa Schiaparelli. It was in 1952 that he opened his own house. His first show, held in February 1952, turned out to be a rousing success.

It was after the filming of Roman Holiday (1953) that Audrey Hepburn sought him out to inspire the fashions of Sabrina Fairchild, the title character in the film Sabrina (1954).  Although Edith Head was credited for the costumes on the film, it was the Hubert de Givenchy who was responsible for many of the designs that Miss Hepburn wore in the movie. The film marked a long partnership between Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy, who would remain her favourite designer for the rest of her life. He designed her wardrobe in the films Funny Face (1957), Love in the Afternoon (1957), Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), Charade (1963),  and Paris - When It Sizzles (1964). He also designed Miss Hepburn's gowns in the TV movie Love Among Thieves (1973).  He also served as costume designer on Crack in the Mirror (1960) and designed Kay Kendall's wardrobe for Once More, with Feeling! (1960) and Brigitte Bardot's wardrobe in Don Juan ou Si Don Juan était une femme... (1973).

Count Hubert de Givenchy also designed clothing for many other famous women besides Audrey Hepburn, including Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Maria Callas, Grace Kelly, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Jeanne Moreau, and Babe Paley, among others.

Hubert de Givenchy was both one of the most successful and most iconic designers of the late 20th century. Indeed, it is very difficult to think of Audrey Hepburn without thinking of her as being dressed in Count de Givenchy's designs. Hubert de Givenchy's designs combined elegance with innovation. He was remarkable for finding inspiration from a variety of sources, not simply haute couture. It is little wonder Audrey Hepburn loved his work so.