CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Michael Landon’s Early Years

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

Michael Landon was born Eugene Maurice Orowitz on October 31, 1936 in Forest Hills, a neighborhood of Queens, New York.

He was placed under a tremendous amount of stress as a youth. His mother suffered from deep emotional problems and frequently attempted suicide, with Michael as the lone person there to try to save her. Because of the stress, Landon had issues with excessive vomiting and bedwetting. According to an unauthorized biography, Michael Landon: His Triumph and Tragedy, his mother would often hand the stained sheets outside on their front porch, and Michael would have to run home to try to remove them before his friends would see it.

Landon excelled at track and field, earning a college athletic scholarship before a torn shoulder ended his experience at the University of Southern California. He turned his attention towards acting and worked at a gas station to pay his bills. While working there, he came across a talent agent. He decided to change his name and found his nom de plume in the phone book.

1957 was a big year for Landon. After getting a job as an off-screen voice actor, he quickly received offers to be the lead on both a television show (Telephone Time: The Mystery of Casper Hauser), and a film, I Was A Teenage Werewolf. In the same year, he recorded singles that were issued because of Landon’s success in the movie. More of his songs were released a few years later as part of a Bonanza soundtrack.

Michael was kept busy the next two years appearing in various films and TV guest spots. In 1959 at the age of 22, he landed the role of Little Joe Cartwright as part of an ensemble cast on the long-running western Bonanza.

The show and Landon’s popularity gained momentum throughout the 1960s. The program finished several years rated as the number one television show in the Nielsen Ratings, and Landon wrote and directed a number of episodes during its run.

In 1972, he penned what was planned as a two-part episode that would see his longtime television brother, Hoss, played by the gregarious Dan Blocker. However, Blocker died unexpectedly just weeks before the new season was set to start filming.

Bonanza never recovered from the loss of its popular cast member, and the program’s ratings slowly declined throughout its final season. Upon its cancellation, Landon was asked to write and direct an ambitious new romantic anthology series, Love Story for NBC.

However, that show never found an audience. At 37, the one time heartthrob who hada near 20-year run of successes in films, television and in song, found himself out of work.

But a man by the name of Ed Friendly had an idea, and wanted Landon to play a major role in it.

We’ll examine the second half of Michael’s career–one filled with more triumphs…and tragedies…next week, here at The Showplace.

In the meantime, tune in for Michael Landon’s breakout role on Bonanza this Sunday at 9:00 a.m. on RCN TV.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN-TV check out the weekly listings here on our website.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE:  My Little Margie

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.  Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

My Little Margie was a quality sit-com that sometimes gets lost amongst the bigger “names” in 1950s television.  But it’s also a show that has seen new life over the decades in syndication.

The show centers around a widowed father and his adventures with his 21-year old daughter, Margie, in their New York City apartment.

The show starred Gale Storm in the title role.  Storm was featured in a number of successful film vehicles, including the holiday classic, It Happened On 5th Avenue, the western Stampede, the romantic-comedy G.I. Honeymoon and the film noir The Underworld StoryGale was also a hit on several radio programs during the 1940s.

Charles Ferrell starred as her father.  Ferrell appeared in various films from the 1920s through the 1940s, including 7th Heaven, The Man Who Came Back, Street Angel, The Plumber and the PrincessHe would also guest star in several popular episodes of The Jack Benny Show during “Margie’s” run.

The program began as a 1952 summer replacement for I Love Lucy and had similar characteristics.  

First, Storm copied Lucille Ball’s popular “Spider” expression and sound effect by making a strange noise when she got into trouble.  Also, Gertrude Hoffmann co-starred as Margie’s next door neighbor.  She possessed more than a striking resemblance to Vivian Vance’s “Ethel” character, and would frequently be Storm’s foil and sidekick on her various hijinks that often went awry.

My Little Margie was able to sustain its initial success by taking over the I Love Lucy timeslot and posted consistent ratings despite time slot changes.  The program also withstood not one, but TWO network changes…from CBS to NBC, and then back again to the Columbia Broadcasting System.

In fact, the show actually gained in popularity throughout its initial four-year run, reaching the 29th position in its second last year.  The final season saw its’ viewership climb all the way up to the sixth most-watched episodic program on TV, according to the 1956 final Nielsen Ratings.  

Strangely, CBS decided to cancel this show at its zenith, although the network quickly presented a new program, The Gale Storm Show, and used a different format. That new show would go on for another four years and produce 143 episodes until it changed networks and then was cancelled one year later by ABC.

Storm was one of the early television stars to participate in conventions featuring “old time TV” personalities and would frequently appear at events to sign autographs, do “Q & A-s” with fans and speak at convention centers about her days as “Margie.”

She was also a frequent guest star on television shows from 1960 through the later 1980s…her last major television appearance was on Murder, She Wrote.

Tune in or set your DVRs to see My Little Margie every Sunday at 2pm and Wednesday mornings at 10:30am on RCN-TV.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

 

 

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE:  The Mickey Rooney Show

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.   Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

A television show that probably should have been more successful than it turned out to be is not a rare occurrence in the entertainment industry.

A prime, early, example of this was The Mickey Rooney Show (also known as Hey Mulligan).

Mickey Rooney agreed to star in a mid-1950s NBC sitcom as a studio page for a fictional TV company who aspires to one day become a big movie star.

In addition to having a major film star like Rooney play the lead, the creator and executive producer of the program was future legend, Blake Edwards.  Edwards would go on to produce major film successes in the 1960s and 1970s with Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Victor/Victoria, The Days of Wine and Roses and the Pink Panther film series.

The show also had a surprisingly good (for a TV comedy) soundtrack that was produced by then unknown Van Alexander, who was an arranger for Capitol Records.  He was hand-picked for the assignment by Rooney’s co-producer Maurice Duke.  Alexander would go on to score major motion pictures, including future films for Rooney himself.

Mickey, in real life, had already been a huge star in movies for almost two decades and scored hits in the early 1940s with his iconic “Andy Hardy” movie roles.  He was also frequently in the news for his rumored, off-screen relationship with Judy Garland and other stars of the era.  The decision to cast him as an “early 20ies, up and coming” performer was a little hard to swallow for American audiences, who already had become very familiar with him as an established actor.

The chance to accept him in this role was further hampered by his age (he was 35 for the show’s first season). Rooney’s reputation had also taken a bit of a hit before the program started production because of his high profile, not-so-smooth divorce proceedings that had taken place with no less than three major actresses.  Rooney had moved on and was married to “wife #4” by the time this show premiered.

NBC also didn’t do the Rooney cast and crew any favorites with scheduling.  The network placed the show on the dreaded Saturday night lineup and pitted him opposite the popular CBS variety-comedy vehicle, The Jackie Gleason ShowRooney’s reputation took a further hit before his show even debuted when his agent went to the media to say some disparaging things about the iconic Gleason, in an effort to promote Mickey’s show.

Rooney tried to quickly correct the PR blunder.  According to David Tucker’s Lost Laughs of the 50s and 60s Television, Mickey was quoted as saying, “I don’t want to knock off anybody.  All I want to do is put on a nice, funny show that people will like.”

The publicity stunt backfired and Rooney soon fired his agent but the damage was done.  His television show was cancelled after just 34 episodes.

Still, it’s a program that is quite underrated and has some really funny moments.  Also, many members of its production staff went on to have lengthy and successful careers in Hollywood. 

Without all the negative publicity that surrounded the show when it first aired, it certainly deserves a second look and a new evaluation based on its own merits, including quality acting and solid production values.

Tune in or set your DVRs to see the 1950s-style comedy, The Mickey Rooney Show, Tuesday evenings at 8pm and Wednesday mornings at 10 am on RCN-TV.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

 

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: “Space Patrol”

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.  Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows, legendary cinematic performances, key names and intriguing storylines from the “Golden Age” of entertainment history.

One of the key attributes to have a long-lasting television series is demographics.  The more demographic groups a show “hits” (or appeals to), the larger the audience and, often, the longer running the success.

Such was the case in the early 1950s with the science-fiction drama, Space Patrol.

The show appealed to both kids and adults with its themes and its storylines became a popular morning staple on ABC television–one of the first successful shows on America’s “third network” (ABC’s overall ratings were well behind rivals CBS and NBC in the early years in television history).

Some other advantages “Patrol” had over other, similar shows during this era include…

The show’s creator, William Moser, was a World War II Naval Aviator and tried as much as possible to make the flying sequences look and feel as genuine as the technology of the day would allow.
The studio stage they were given was one of the largest ones in the world. While other shows had noticeably cramped space and many locations easily spotted as being reused within the same episode, “Patrol” had an abundance of room to perform both acting scenes and “special effects.” This became even more critical to the show’s success when the program transitioned to a live, 30-minute program.

While money in television production was extremely scarce in the early 1950s, the early success of the show allowed for greater earnings potential and the budget was allowed
to dramatically increase by “Patrol’s” second season, allowing for higher quality performers, sets, props and costuming.

Marketing was also a key element of the program. Corporate sponsor Chex Cereal would often include special Patrol motifs on its packaging boxes. Not only were there “Space Patrol Clubs” built in and around the television show, but they were elements that made it one of the first “interactive” TV programs. They frequently asked for mail-in suggestions for the show to make the audience feel like they were directly participating in the show’s production. Later, contests were created with special prize giveaways, further enhancing the connection viewers had with the show.

One of the narrators of Space Patrol might sound familiar to more modern day audiences. Jack Narz was the show’s first narrator and went on to be an announcer for many popular games shows in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s and also hosted shows himself, like Concentration, Now You See It, Beat the Clock and Video Village.

Another interesting aspect of the program: the actors themselves would “step out” of their roles during the show and pitch the main sponsor’s product during the half hour. These entertaining commercial spots are saved and presented in their entirety during our airings of these episodes on RCN TV.

Tune in or set your DVRs to see Space Patrol on Sundays at 12 noon and Friday mornings at 10am on RCN-TV.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Paulette Goddard

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.   Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows, key names in the “Golden Age” of entertainment history and legendary cinematic performances. 

Paulette Goddard is remembered by many as the third wife of cinematic legend Charlie Chaplin.

But it would be a mistake to dismiss her acting career and contributions to filmmaking throughout her life, both before and after Chaplin entered her “picture.”

Born in Queens, New York, the future actress was born Marion Levy. Or Marion Paula Levy. Or Pauline Marion Levy or Marion Goddard Levy — depending on what source you use.

Another of the many disputed claims of Paula’s life includes her birth year. According to biographer Julie Gilbert, she was born in 1910 while various legal documents and passports listed her birth year as either 1905, 1908, 1910 or 1914. In an interview in “Life” magazine years later, she clearly states she was born in 1915.

Contrary to some opinions, Goddard appeared in pictures well before she ever met Charlie Chaplin.

She appeared in two films in 1929 before MGM signed her to her first film contract, appearing in six movies within the first 18 months before a conflict with producers slowed her working opportunities.  While under contract she began dating Chaplin, who starred her in his 1936 classic, Modern Times.

The pair was married that same year and Chaplin reportedly had planned other films featuring his wife, but by this time in his career, the Little Tramp’s method of producing films had slowed to the point where several years went by between his pictures.  Fearing the lack of acting appearances would hurt her career, Goddard signed her next contract with David O. Selznick, who immediately cast her in three films in 1938 and early 1939, including an all-female cast in 1939’s The Women.

Another hotly debated topic about Paula’s life is her potential role as “Scarlett” in the 1939 Academy award-winning film, Gone with the Wind.

Some sources say producers preferred her to Vivien Leigh, the actress who eventually won the role.  Others said that she would have needed “acting training” in order to be seriously considered for that role.  Still another outlet said Goddard was a finalist for the role with Leigh listed as being a “dark horse.”

In the 1992 cinematic biopic, Chaplin, Paulette (as played by Diane Lane) says that she passed the first round of auditions but laughed it off as it was clear the producers wanted Katherine Hepburn for the role.  The film, Chaplin, was largely based on accurate accounts from both Chaplin’s primary biographer and from Chaplin himself. However, it is clear that, in some instances, dramatic license was used.

She appeared in various films throughout the 1940s and early 1950s, including Chaplin’s The Great DictatorShe also appeared with many elite Hollywood actors like Fred Astaire, Lawrence Oliver, Bob Hope, Fred MacMurray, John Wayne, James Stewart, Olivia de Havilland, Charles Boyer and Burgess Meredith, whom she later married following her divorce from Chaplin.  Goddard received an Oscar nomination as best supporting actress in 1943’s So Proudly We Hail.

She also formed her own production company with John Steinbeck, Monterey Pictures. After marrying her fourth husband, Erich Remarque, in 1957, she moved to Switzerland…the same country Chaplin had moved to following his exile from the United States four years before… and, in fact, lived within a few miles of her former husband’s estate.

She only appeared in a handful of films the rest of her life and passed away from heart failure on April 23, 1990.  Her obituary listed her age at 79 at the time of her death.

Tune in or set your DVRs to see one of Paulette Goddard’s best reviewed roles in Second Chorus, airing this Monday at 1:00 p.m. and next Thursday at 9:00 a.m. on RCN-TV.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

 

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: David Niven’s Later Years

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.   Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

Last week, we looked at early life and performances of the talented David Niven…today, a look at the second half of his career.

After having nearly a perfect run of film roles as a leading man for two years, David Niven left Hollywood to serve in the British Army fighting for the Allies in World War II .

Unlike many “A list” actors, Niven didn’t struggle to find quality leading roles in pictures immediately upon his return.

One of his first films was the traditional holiday classic, The Bishop’s Wife.  Initially he was cast as Dudley, the angel, but co-star Cary Grant decided he would be better suited to play that role…Niven obliged and was given the role of “The Bishop.”

He also found success by performing in radio productions throughout the decade, appearing in both dramatic and comedic roles on the nation’s top rated shows like the Lux Radio Theatre, Kraft Music Hall and the Screen Guild Players.

David closed out the 1940s by starring in other, more mediocre films like Magnificent Doll with Ginger Rogers, The Other Love, co-starring Barbara Stanwyck, and The Perfect Marriage with Loretta Young. Niven appeared in several other films that failed miserably at the box office and, in low spirits, left Hollywood to return to England.

It would be almost a decade before Niven had consistent success again in America, with hits like 55 Days at Peking (with Charlton Heston), Please Don’t Eat The Daisies (with Doris Day), The Pink Panther (starring Peter Sellers) and his Academy Award-winning performance in Separate Tables (he was hosting the Oscar’s ceremony that year and remains the only person ever to win a “Best Actor” award the same year he hosted the show).

James Bond novelist Ian Fleming had Niven in mind when he penned his novels and wanted him to star as the titular character when 007 was about to make his big screen debut, but Niven declined the role.  Ironically, Niven would play Bond in the 1967 parody of the Bond film series, entitled Casino Royale.

David would continue in starring and supporting roles through the 1970s and into the early 1980s–his last major part was in Better Late Than Never with Art Carney and Maggie Smith (Nevin’s role was offered to fellow movie icon William Holden, who refused the role due to a salary issue).

While contemplating retirement, Niven was persuaded to recreate his sinister character, Sir Charles Lytton, in the controversial Trail Of The Pink Panther and its sequel, Curse of the Pink Panther. Both films were shot concurrently under the watchful eye of original “Panther” director Blake Edwards.

The British actor came back to be part of these films that were supposedly made as a tribute to Peter Sellers, who had passed away in 1980. “Trail” used clips of Sellers from earlier movies and scenes that had previously ended up deleted from earlier films.  The Sellers’ estate would later take exception to the use of the late actor in the film and sued (and won its case against) United Artists for using Sellers’ likeness without permission.

Unbeknownst to Edwards, Niven was suffering from ALS.  It became evident early in the production that Niven was in poor health as they could barely hear the actor say his lines.  When the dailies revealed that all of Niven’s audio was completely unusable, legendary impressionist Rich Little was brought in to overdub all of David’s lines while they were still shooting the films.

Niven did not know this was taking place and only learned that his lines were overdubbed when he read a report in a newspaper after production had wrapped.  He vowed never to work with a movie production company again.

After refusing medical attention, Niven passed away on July 29, 1983. He was 73.

Be on the lookout for classic films featuring David Niven on RCN-TV.  To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

 

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Cary Grant’s Later Years

 For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.

Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

In celebration of the birthday anniversary of Cary Grant we continue last week’s examination of the legendary actor’s career.

Following his own personal dissatisfaction with The Philadelphia Story, Grant appeared in the first of four movies under the direction of Alfred Hitchcock in 1941’s Suspicion.  Like the former flick, Grant did not get along well with his co-star Joan Fontaine and would never work with her again.  Hitchcock was also critical of Grant, citing it was a mistake to cast him in the role.  Ironically enough, Hitchcock would later criticize James Stewart with the same offense 17 years later and referred to Stewart as “no Cary Grant.”

That same year, Grant received his first Oscar nomination for Penny Serenade.

According to Turner Classic Movies, Grant also benefited largely from the film industry’s production code for the 1944 dark comedy Arsenic And Old LaceThe movie was based largely on the stage play but the film code would not allow for certain scenes to be shown.  In its place, Director Frank Capra would substitute loosely scripted exchanges where Grant would just have to go “over the top” and playup a made-shift scene instead.  

The biggest example of this is at the film’s climax.  The film code (in the 1940s) would never allows for murderers to get away without punishment in a comedic film, so the scene in which the “old ladies” are given poisonous wine to the police was replaced with Grant kissing his finance, running around the house exuberantly and running out into the street yelling “Charge!” (a humorous reference to a recurring joke throughout the film).

According to the Graham McCann autobiography Cary Grant: A Class Apart, Grant would later say “Arsenic” was the worst performance of his career and he hated the dark subject matter (his character’s family was all insane).  This might be because his real life mother was also institutionalized early in Grant’s childhood.  His father also left him on his own as a teenager when he found a higher paying job in another city.

Two of Grant’s most memorable roles occurred in 1946’s Notorious (co-starring Ingrid Bergman and directed by Hitchcock) and 1947’s The Bishop’s Wife (with Loretta Young and David Niven).  The following year Grant was named the fourth highest box office draw in the world, but his failure in films like Monkey Business and Dream Wife led to the idea that his days as a leading man were over. Cary then left the film industry and didn’t work at all for several years.

His fortunes changed in 1955 when Alfred Hitchcock complained about Stewart’s performance (for the first of two times) in the rebooting of his own film, The Man Who Knew Too Much.  Grant would star in two Hitchcock-directed film classics, playing his usual suave, leading man persona, in To Catch A Thief and North by Northwest.

Ian Fleming then approached Cary Grant about playing James Bond in 007’s film debut, Dr. No, ironically after Grant’s former co-star, David Niven turned down the role. But Fleming had to withdraw his offer when Grant said he would only portray the super spy in one film and would not commit to a lengthy film series.

After starring in Charade and Father Goose, he had become increasingly disillusioned with cinema in the 1960s, rarely finding a script which he approved of. He remarked: “I could have gone on acting and playing a grandfather or a bum, but I discovered more important things in life” and dedicated his time to his daughter and grandchildren.  According to Gary Morecambe and Martin Sterling’s book, Cary Grant: In Name Only, they would go on to say that Grant knew after he had made Charade that the “Golden Age” of Hollywood was over.

Twenty-three years later, just hours before he was scheduled to appear on stage talking about his life, he suffered a stroke.  Despite medical personnel on the site, Grant refused any treatment and died a few hours later.  He was 82.

Grant is regarded as one of the greatest Hollywood actors ever. To this day, he frequently is positioned in the top two or three spots in various film critics and media outlets “all-time” greatest actors’ listings.

Be sure to check out some of Cary Grant’s legendary performances in Charade, His Girl Friday, and other classic films on RCN-TV.  To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: Cary Grant’s Early Years

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.   Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

As we approach the birthday anniversary of one of cinema’s classic actors, we salute the talented career of Cary Grant.

Cary Grant was born Archibald Alec Leach, on January 18, 1904 in Bristol, England.

Unlike other actors who sometimes toiled in other occupations or had other interests before pursuing roles in the entertainment industry, Grant knew at an early age that he was destined for acting.  In the Graham McCann autobiography, Cary Grant: A Class Apart, Grant’s mother would teach him song-and-dance numbers at the age of four and he would frequently go to the theatre to see many great performers, including a very young Charlie Chaplin.

Grant would be befriended by the Pender theatrical performers in England who trained him to be a stilt walker and later asked him to join their touring production.  He was seen on Broadway performing with them in America as early as nine years old.  Back in England he continued to work as a lighting technician behind the stage. He seemingly forced his school to expel him at the age of 14 by constantly breaking school rules (he’d frequently be found in the girls’ lavatory).  Three days after his expulsion, Grant rejoined the Pender touring group.  

According to Cary Grant: A Celebration by Richard Schickel, Grant boarded the same ship that Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford were taking for their honeymoon. Grant played shuffleboard with Fairbanks and used him as a role model going forward.  After arriving in New York City from that trip he performed (at the age of 16) at what was then the largest theater in the world, the New York Hippodrome.

He performed on the stage and in pictures throughout the 1920s and early 1930s.  In 1927 he signed a film contract with Paramount Pictures, which demanded Archibald begin using a stage name–both parties mutually agreed on “Cary Grant.”  One of his big early films, She Done Him Wrong, (starring Mae West), reportedly saved Paramount from bankruptcy and gave Grant a significant pay increase.

While 1935’s Sylvia Scarlett was a box office bomb, it was an important film for Grant in that it was his first leading role and a performance which earned him rave reviews.  It also formed a successful partnership with Katherine Hepburn–a pairing the two would repeat several times over the next decade.

When his next film, Wedding Present, turned out to be a major success, Grant did not renew his Paramount contract and became the first “freelance” movie actor in Hollywood.  It was unheard of in this time period for a major actor to not “belong” to a specific film production company.  Grant changed his mind over the next 18 months as several of his movies were not successful and he signed a contract with Columbia Pictures in 1937.

While his films for the next two years had largely mixed reviews, Grant’s performances seemed to be always praised by critics and movie goers alike.  Grant reunited with Heburn for what would be, by far, the pair’s most successful movie (critically and financially) — the Academy Award winning, The Philadelphia Story.

When up-and-coming actor Jimmy Stewart stole the spotlight from Hepburn and Grant in the film and won an Oscar for his performance, it formed a rift between the three actors.  Grant never wanted to work with either performer again.

Grant would not be disappointed for very long as one of his next job offers came from a then, still somewhat obscure (to American audiences anyway) British director by the name of Alfred Hitchcock…we’ll examine those and other experiences next week here at The Showplace.

In the meantime, you can see Grant in one of his early classics, His Girl Friday, this Sunday at 4:00 p.m. on RCN-TV.  To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: The “Funny Side” of Leslie Nielsen

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.  Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

This week, we continue our look at the life and career of Leslie Nielsen. Prior to 1980 and for the previous 30 years, Nielsen was largely typecast as a serious dramatic actor.  When Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker came up with their idea for the movie, Airplane!, they wanted to create a grand spoof of the Airport film serials and the other “tragedy films” that were popular in 1970s theaters. To do so, they wanted to find dramatic actors and non-traditional comedic personalities that you would never think of to star in a comedy film.

Their idea worked to perfection…but even the producers were surprised how well things worked.

By casting the “dramatic” acting of Nielsen in a role keying upon delivery of dead-pan comedic lines (some of the funniest in film history), the producers were astonished at how well the “serious” Nielsen dished out his comedic lines flawlessly.  The film — and Nielsen & #39’s delivery — was not a fluke.  Leslie would go on to have overwhelming success as a comedic actor for the next 30 years.

Due to the success of the movie, Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker were given the green light to create their own situation comedy and, no surprise, penned it with Leslie in mind as the main character.

Even though this series only lasted six episodes, the Police Squad series, which was reportedly cancelled by ABC because they “didn’t get the humor,” would go on to become one of the best comedy series of the early 1990s.

The man known in the industry for his dramatic performances was now one of the most sought-after comedy actors on the planet.

In addition to the Naked Gun/Files of Police Squad movies, Nielsen would star in successful spoofs like Spy Hard (picking apart films like the Die Hard, the James Bond film series and others) as well as ripping on classic horror films in Mel Brooks’ Dracula: Dead and Loving It.  He also became the logical choice when Walt Disney decided to make a live-action version of the popular cartoon character, Mr. Magoo.

Even as he began to slow down as an actor at the age of 81, Nielsen would frequently steal scenes in his appearances as The President in the Scary Movie film series, as “Uncle Ben” in Superhero Movie and even in his last role as a cross-dressing bar owner in the horror-film spoof, Stan Helsing, starring Diora Baird and Keenan Thompson.

Leslie’s career spanned 60 years, appearing in more than 100 films and 150 television programs and portraying more than 220 characters Nielsen died in his sleep after complications from pneumonia in 2010. He was 84.
You can see many of Nielsen’s acting performances in films like Project: Kill as well as guest starring appearances on Bonanza and other classic television programs on RCN TV.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: The “Serious” Side of Leslie Nielsen

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Over 40 years ago this month, arguably the greatest comedy in cinematic history, Airplane!, premiered in America.  To pay tribute, we take a look at one of the film’s most memorable characters. 

Ask someone to give you their favorite Leslie Nielsen acting role, and you’re likely to get at least a half dozen completely different answers, such as:

  • Commander John J. Adams in the ahead-of-its time sci-fi classic, Forbidden Planet 
  • The tragic captain overruled into sailing into a monsoon in the 1972 epic blockbuster, The Poseidon Adventure 
  • His career-changing role as the straight-laced but hilarious Dr. Rumack in the classic drama-films’ spoof, Airplane!

(“Surely you don’t mean that…Yes, I do — and don’t call me Shirley!”) 

  • The bumbling detective Lt. Frank Dreblin on TV’s Police Squad and the wildly successful Naked Gun film series
  • TV guest appearances ranging from his “good sheriff turned gun-wielding serial killer” performance on Bonanza to his unique, musical singing role on The Love Boat 

…and many, many more!

Born Leslie William Nielsen on February 11, 1926 in Saskatchewan, Canada, he was a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force before becoming a disc jockey and studying acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre in New York City.  Leslie was turned on to the acting bug by his famous half-uncle, Jean Hersholt, and his turn as the titular character, Dr. Christian, in the popular film, radio and television series in the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s.

In his Boston Globe obituary it claimed that Nielsen was very shy as a teenager and desperately wanted to talk to and learn from his famous relative but Hersholt died before the two could actually meet.

In his Chicago Sun-Tribune obituary it was reported that his father was an abusive man who beat his wife and sons, and Leslie longed to escape. When he graduated from high school at 17, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, though he was legally deaf and actually wore hearing aids for most of his life.

Despite a great amount of self-admitted insecurities, Neilsen’s acting career kicked into high gear in 1950, performing in 46 live-action television productions within the year.

In 1956 he appeared in the film, The Vagabond King, helmed by White Christmas director Michael Curtiz, whom Nielsen would later refer to as “a charming sadist.”  While that movie was not viewed as a success (Nielsen would later nickname this film, “The Vagabond Turkey”) he himself drew praise for his performance and was signed to a long-term contract with MGM.

Over the next 24 years, Leslie would thrive in Hollywood as a dramatic actor.

With the exception of a rather bizarre, mostly musical edition of The Love Boat, in which he had to hang on and belt out tunes alongside singing giants like Cab Calloway, Ethel Merman, Della Reese and others, Nielsen was known throughout the entertainment industry as someone who could only do serious roles.

But that was all about to change forever.

You can see one of Neilsen’s dramatic roles in the 1976 action film, Project: Kill on RCN-TV.  To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN-TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website. We’ll have more on Nielsen’s career-altering role and subsequent successes, next week here at the Showplace.