Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Goodnight, John-Boy

Earl Hammer and Ralph Griffin. Goodnight John-Boy. A Celebration of an American Family and the Values That Have Sustained Us Through Good Times and Bad. Nashville, Tn.: Cumberland House, 2002.

The television show “The Waltons” demonstrated how a family that stuck together survived the Depression. It was shown during the cynical era of the 1970s when the public faced disillusionment from Watergate and the Vietnam War. The show tackled sensitive subjects such as prejudice, poverty, abuse, censorship, and education.

Earl Hammer grew up in Schuyler, Virginia, where hw was born in 1923. His writings about his “familyism”, where family is the most important social group, inspired the movie “Spencer’s Mountain” followed by the TV series “The Waltons”.

Hammer knew from childhood he wanted to write. He was a writer on the “Today Show” and for NBC documentaries. He published a novel “Spencer’s Mountain” in 1951. The movie was based on the novel. Hammer was upset over the addition of some sexually suggestive dialogue.

Hammer wrote TV scripts for shows such as “Wagon Train” and “Nanny and the Professor”. He also wrote a sequel novel “The Homecoming”.

“The Waltons” premiered in 1972 to critical acclaim yet was 57th in the Nielsen ratings. The network believed the series would fail and didn’t spend much effort on publicizing the show. “The Waltons” rose to the top of the ratings and won the 1975 Emmy for Best Series along with five other Emmys.

Hammer advised on “The Waltons” storyline. As he notes in working with the show’s writers, “most of television is written from the groin. We wrote stories from the heart.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

It Only Hurts When I Laugh by Stan Freberg

Stan Freberg. It Only Hurts When I Laugh. New York: Times Books, Random House, Inc., 1988.

Freberg first worked in show business as a child in his uncle’s magic act. He would be picked from the audience to go on stage to state there was no rabbit in his uncle’s hat, when there was a rabbit that would then be pulled out by his uncle.

Freberg went to work in Hollywood, despite recalling Fred Allen’s warning that “you could fit all the sincerity of Hollywood into a flea’s navel and still have room left over for two caraway seeds and an agent’s heart.”

Freberg graduated high school, took a bus to Hollywood, walked into a randomly selected agency in front of him, and was interviewed and offering an audition doing cartoon voices at Warner Brothers. Friz Freleng hired him on the spot. He would do cartoon voices for many years.

In 1945, one needed permission to imitate the voice of the President of the United States. Freberg did an impression of Franklin Roosevelt on CBS Radio two days before Roosevelt died, making him the last person to imitate Roosevelt on the air while FDR was still alive.

Freberg was drafted into the Army even though World War II was over. He worked on the “Fort McArthur Alert” base newspaper under editor Forest J. Ackerman. Freberg kept requesting to be placed, and eventually was, into the Special Services, the theater entertainment branch. He worked with Harpo Marx. The soldiers roared with laughter as Harpo shook a General’s hand, refused to let go, and then performed his classic routine with silverware falls from his sleeve. Freberg got a job playing guitar, which he didn’t play, so he quickly learned and faked it and often pretended to be playing.

Freberg landed a job on the children’s show “Time for Beans” in 1949. It was the top rate children’s show that often had a 70 share. For awhile the show’s officers and writers worked in a condemned building. The building was finally torn down with the TV people inside given 15 minutes warning.

Freberg wrote some music for the Fox studio. The TV show refused to let him leave to write music for a Marilyn Monroe movies. Freberg would alter be allowed to do movie roles when not working on the TV show. He would do the show live at 6:30 am and then race to MGM.

Freberg began writing satires of popular songs. He even spoofed Senator Joe McCarthy, with a song “Little Blue Riding Hood”, while McCarthy was still popular.

Freberg was recruited to work in advertising. He focused on comedic ads. He wrote a marketing campaign on Contadina that “Advertising Age” declared one of the two best ads of the year.

Freberg got a radio series. CBS censored his show. They didn’t like a skit about Las Vegas being destroyed by a hydrogen bomb. Instead, they allowed it to be destroyed in the skit by an earthquake. Freberg also had his contract state his show could refuse sponsors he felt were undesirable. Two potential sponsors were turned away. CBS canceled the show after 15 weeks.

Freberg continued writing commercials. One commercial ran six and a half minutes and was releaseds as a record. He also commercials promoting the movie “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Did You Grow Up With Me, Too? by June Foray

June Foray with Mark Evanier and Earl Kress. Did You Grow Up With Me, Too?: The Autobiography of June Foray. Albany, Ga.: BearManor Media, 2009.

Foray knew as a child she wanted to act. Her parents were opposed to the idea. They decided to allow her to take elocution classes. She then joined the extra’s guilde by paying a $25 initiation fee. Her first job paid $25. She auditioned for Bud Edwards who advised her to give up acting. She though later would work as a radio scriptwriter for Bud Edwards. Working on this radio show allowed her to obtain membership in the American Federation of Radio Artists. She then received a job on the radio show “Smile Time” with Steve Allen, which lasted for two and a half years.

Foray did voice work on Stan Freeberg’s comedy records. This led to her recording “Fractured Fairy Tales for Rocky and His Friends:. In 1957, “The Stan Freeberg” radio show took over for Jack Benny’s time slot when Benny moved his show to TV. Freeberg disliked cigarettes and asked CBS to not have American Tobacco be a show sponsor. This helped to the show lasing just 15 weeks.

Foray then worked as the voice of Witch Hazel for Chuck Jones cartoons. Her character would speak with characters voiced by Mel Blanc even though they were recorded separately.

Foray was cast as several characters on “Rocky and His Friends”, including Rocky, Natasha, and Nell. The cast would read their lines and then record them. A typical show took two hours to record. She then did the voice of Ursula on “George of the Jungle” television cartoon series.

Foray provided the voice of the Chatty Cathy talking doll. When “Twilight Zone” did an episode with a threatening Talking Tina doll, Foray was hired to provide that voice.

Foray gave up on-camera appearances after doing an episode of “Green Acres” in 1967. She liked the pace of providing voices rather than the longer pace of filming.

Foray urges people to work towards their dream. As she puts it, “whatever I’ve achieved, I made happen.”

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Reel Tears by Beverly Washburn

Beverly Washburn with David Vaughan. Reel Tears: The Beverly Washburn Story. Albany, Ga.: BearManor Media, 2009.

Beverly Washburn did not come from an acting family, although she had an uncle in vaudeville. She, though, became a child actor with non-entertainment industry parents. She could cry on cue, which was a skill in demand for child actors. Her earnings enabled her to grow up in a larger house. Her pay often was $250 a week. Yet, when she grew up, she discovered her parents had lost most of her earnings through unwise investments.

Washburn’s first performance, at age 6 in 1950, was in the movie “The Killer That Stalked New York”. She recalls the audition and her mother explaining to her beforehand that she probably wouldn’t get the part but that she still do her best. She got the part.

After that, she received a role in “Superman and the Mole Men”, portraying a girl in bed who screams when the mole men enter her room. She found her co-stars playing the mole men were cute and did not realize they would scare movie goers.

Several more TV and film jobs followed. By 1952, she would be cast in “The Greatest Show on Earth” without having to audition. Her co-star Bing Crosby asked her to appear with him on a telethon where her character had to cry. She impressed people with being able to spontaneously cry real tears.

Washburn recalls working with Alan Ladd, who had a fear of heights. His fright was so bad that he refused to return on a chairlift that had brought him up a mountain. A helicopter had to rescue him.

Washburn worked with Jack Benny. He liked her and kept In touch with her and her family. He put him on his radio shows and traveling live shows.

Washburn met Sammy Davis, Jr. , who commented upon meeting this young girl, “I’ve got cufflinks bigger than you.”

Once while traveling with the Jack Benny show, Ida Mae McKenzie was brought on suddenly to join the cast. Sensing her nervousness, Jack Benny successfully calmed her by declaring “well, Ida Mae, go out there and give it your best. Show and if it doesn’t work…fuck it!”

Washburn was cast, in 1955, in the CBS series “Professional Father”. It ran for 26 weeks. The show was broadcast live. Washburn had to ad lib once while a costar’s entrance was delayed by a stuck zipper. The director thanked her for her quick thinking.

At age 19, Washburn was on the TV series “The New Loretta Young Show”. The shaw bas been released on DVD as “Christine’s Children”.

Washburn appeared on “Leave it to Beaver”. She fake dated Tony Dow for the publicity.

As an adult, has castings dwindled. Washburn worked as an extra for income. She was thrilled to receive a two line speaking part on “Murder She Wrote”. Her career was revitalized when a movie she had filmed, but was never released, “Spider Baby”, finally was released and developed a cult following.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

High on Arrival by Mackenzie Phillips

Mackenzie Phillips with Hilary Liftin. High on Arrival: A Memoir. New York: Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2009.

Laura Mackenzie Phillips’s father John Phillips was a member of the rock band Mams & the Poppas. He left Mackenzie and her mother when she was two years old for a 16 year old Michelle. Mackenzie’s mother did not have much money and worked at the Pentagon as an assistant to Secretary Robert McNamara.

Mackenzie attended Summerhill School, where teachers taught about dumpster diving and smoking was allowed. When she was ten, while visiting her father in his rock and roll lifestyle, her father taught her how to roll and smoke marijuana joints. She began drinking alcohol and using acid.

Mackenzie went to her first audition at the age of 12 for a role in the movie “American Graffiti”. Out of 250 girls who auditioned for the part, she was chosen. While filming, she had to sit for hours with costar Paul LeMat as cameras blocked both exits of the car scene that was being filmed. She recalls Paul LeMat as being wild and once climbed to the top of a hotel sign and refused to be coaxed down. Six years later, while filming “More American Graffiti”, she had a romantic liaison with LeMat.

Phillips suffered the trauma of being raped at knifepoint by a hitchhiker she picked up. Her father came to her side in one of the two times she saw him in a supportive role and he helped her through the past-ordeal.

Phillips auditioned for more movie roles but wasn’t chosen. She finally won a role on a new TV series, “One Day at a Time”. Initially, the show was going to revolve around her character. CBS viewed the pilot and asked that a sibling be added. Valerie Bertinelli was chosen to play her sister. They were schooled at the Hollywood Professional School from 8:45 am to 12:45 am. Her civics teacher was arrested for prostitution just outside the school.

Phillips began appearing on the game show “Hollywood Squares” as well.

Life with a drug addicted father left Phillips with few roles when she was with her father. Her mother was more traditionally functional. Among the oddities Mackenzie faced was entering her father’s apartment and finding him naked, rolled entirely in saran wrap which he explained as “killing the bugs. They can’t breathe.”

Phillips was arrested for drug possession. Being a TV star, this made the news. The negative press caused Michelle Phillips, John Phillip’s second wife, to read a t-shirt that read “No, I’m not Mackenzie’s mother”. Mackenzie’s drug use escalated.

Having a father on drugs when she was on drugs led to her coming out of a blackout and discovering she was being raped by her father. She later confronted her father who didn’t deny it happened but insisted it was not rape since she hadn’t protested. She kept in touch with her father, explaining “my father abused me, but he wasn’t a monster.” Shortly afterwards, she spontaneously married her boyfriend. Meanwhile, her drug use grew worse still.

Phillips was suspended from “One Day at a Time” due to her inability to act at times due to drug use. When she returned to the show, the ratings improved. She was then shocked when she was fired from the show. She writes she did not realize how much the drugs were affecting her. This ruined her reputation and she found no one else would hire her. She started fighting with her husband, as they had gone through $700,000 in seven months, much of it for drugs. She once overdosed, nearly died, and was in intensive care.

Phillip’s father recreated the Mommas & the Poppas. Mackenzie took over the role Michelle Phillips, who by then had divorced John, used to have. The New Mommas & the Poppas were born. There was a lot of alcohol drinking and stage appearances where they were stoned.

Once while doing drugs, she was kidnapped for four days. A friend of her father’s entered her kidnapper’s apartment and successfully demanded she be returned.

In 1994, Phillips left her home near Stroudsburg, Pa. and asked the William Morris Agency to find her work. She made appearances on several TV shows.

In September, 2008, Phillips was arrested at LAX for possessing heroin. She went into rehab. As she puts it. “I don’t feel like an addict. I don’t fight an urge to use drugs. But I don’t ever forget who I am.”