Monday, January 22, 2018

IN DEFENSE OF HERB ABRAMS

                I think the majority of people who knock Herb Abrams UWF, are grouchy so called "wrestling' fans who expect all promotions to be like the megafed WWF. Not every promotion can be WWF, and not every promoter can be Vince McMahon. People forget, McMahon had knowledge of the business due to his dad, promoter Vince McMahon, Sr., teaching him at a young age and McMahon inherited the WWWF from him too. McMahon, in a sense, was born in to royalty.
                Herb Abrams was more or less an outsider to the world of professional wrestling and as such didn't have the resources that many of the more seasoned veteran promoters had. I admire Herb as he had a dream and he went after it. He signed a lucrative deal with the now-defunct Sportschannel America and signed some top talent from the glory days of the AWA, WCW and WWF. Most online reviewers say these guys were past their prime and couldn't go anymore, in my eyes guys like Paul Orndorff and B. Brian Blair showed that they still had it when the cameras started rolling on the UWF weekly series Fury Hour in the summer months of 1990.
             You can't say that Herb was a bad businessman, he knew how to market his product and promote it well. People say he wasn't good at pulling in large crowds, well there is a reason for that, if you had to choose between attending a live taping of WWF television over UWF television, it is rather obvious you would choose the more established product due to a lack of certainty with the new upstart organization. It needed a chance to grow, and it wasn't going to happen overnight. I feel the reason that people hate Herb Abrams so much is because he took the UWF name from under Bill Watts when Watts failed to trademark his version of the Universal Wrestling Federation, if the fans should be angry with anyone it should be with Watts for not filing the proper paperwork. Something I've learned a long the way is that people are huge marks for Bill Watts.                                                              Another complaint that Herb Abrams gets is that the quality of the wrestling isn't very good and he was a terrible booker, well of course he was, he had never done this before and because of respected and opinionated dirt sheet writers like Dave Meltzer,its likely that Herb never would have gotten the full backing from the wrestling community that was needed to hire more experienced writers and bookers. Herb had to do it all on his own, with no help from the outside world and for all intents and purposes, the product is actually rather good for a man who never had experience at all in professional wrestling.                                                                                                                                           Herb's greatest achievement though was the hiring of young up-and-comer Steven Ray, a former football player and former bodyguard of Hulk Hogan, to wrestle for the UWF. Ray was billed under the name "The Wild Thing" and had a gimmick that was a cross between Motley Crue's Vince Neil and Ric Flair. This young man had charisma, charm and great in-ring ability, whose career was cut short due to his wife becoming pregnant with their son. Abrams partnered him with the memorable Sunny Beach (Rick Allen) and one of the most charismatic and greatest unsung tag teams in the history of professional wrestling was born.                                                                                                        The following statement will be controversial but so be it, Vince McMahon stole from Herb Abrams. Truth be told, Abrams was in fact the first ever authority figure to be at the center of a storyline on any wrestling program, predating the "Mr. McMahon" character by a good five or so years. Abrams created a personality as the upstanding promoter who rooted for the faces and called out the bad guys for cheating and even suspending wrestlers on television for breaking the rules. If you are getting vibes of "Mr. McMahon" screaming at Shawn Michaels, "You're Fired", you should. People are marks for McMahon so I guess when he does it its OK, but when Abrams did it, it was a strokefest, don't understand that logic at all, Wrestling fans are fickle.
            On hand to assist Herb were the legendary Bruno Sammartino, one of wrestling's all time greatest grapplers and the always enjoyable Captain Lou Albano, one of wrestling's greatest managers and characters. Sammartino served as color commentator, first with Herb Abrams and then with Craig DeGeorge who had previously worked for the WWF in the 1980s. Albano had his own segment on the Fury Hour called "Captain Lou's Corner" where he interviewed the UWF's roster of talent and even Andre The Giant on a couple of episodes.                                                                                    People say Herb used to cheat the boys or "stiff" them out of cash money. Well, which promoter hasn't done that? You cannot tell me that Vince McMahon never stiffed anybody or Verne Gagne never flew the coupe prior to payday. This was an all too common occurrence in the wrestling business in the 70s, 80s and 90s. I am not excusing Herb Abrams for doing that, but he isn't the only guilty party is he? People also take issue with Herb's cocaine addiction, there is a reason Herb had that addiction. Herb was a notorious party animal and also a notorious sex addict and due to his small stature, he needed something to fuel him during those times of passionate intimacy. I don't know why I should even discuss that though, a man's personal life isn't the issue we should have, it is the quality of product that matters here, which I will reiterate was not that bad all things considered.                               Fans like to sadistically laugh at the events of Herb Abrams' death, in which he died in police custody, after suffering a cocaine-induced heart attack, nude, covered in Vaseline, chasing prostitutes with a baseball bat in his New York Office. The author wishes to dismiss those cackles as I see his death as more of a cry for help, than just the rampage of a psychopath. We can't take things in face value, we must look within ourselves and wonder, what if that were my family member, would you still want to laugh if that were your brother or cousin, or would you want to get them some help. I'd choose the latter. Another thing to consider is the possibility that Abrams had Autism. As an autisitc individual myself, I can detect it more than others can. Herb's mannerisms, his ticks, his attention to detail, all speak to Autism, a disorder that was never diagnosed until after Herb died.                                                        At the end of the day, was Herb Abrams a saint, of course not, and it isn't my intention to lead you in that way, however he wasn't necessarily the arrogant, idiotic jerk that people in the wrestling community make him out to be either. After many long, intimate chats with Steve "The Wild Thing" Ray, I have a whole new outlook and appreciation for Herb Abrams. Herb taught Steve everything he knew as a businessman which led Steve to owning and operating his own wellness organization for many years. Herb helped out a lot of people and by all accounts that I've heard personally, was an all around good guy. Don't believe everything you hear from so-called "wrestling" fans who piggyback off of loudmouths like Dave Meltzer and Jim Cornette. Do your own digging, watch the product objectively from the perspective I've given you here, and you will discover that Herb Abrams wasn't a lunatic, but an underappreciated genius.                                                                                            

RIP
HERBERT CHARLES ABRAMS
(1954-1996)
An unsung hero of professional wrestling.

P.S. My wonderful friend Jonathon Plombon is working on a new book about Herb Abrams and the UWF, which will do a much better job than I have of illustrating one of wrestling's most eccentric and mysterious figures as well as the empire he built. You may check out the progress of the book at his Facebook page: UWF and Herb Abrams: The Book Project

Also check out his YouTube channel for rare UWF videos: John's UWF Channel


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Memory Machine - Episode One - So Weird

Hello All,
    I have been working on a lot since my last post, including several podcasts and shows. I am proud to present The Memory Machine,  a podcast that talks about movies and TV shows from the 90's and early 2000's.
   Today's topic is the late 90's Disney Channel series So Weird, which explored paranormal activity and scary situations. The show was about a young girl, with a rock star mom, who ran her own paranormal website and often had to combat demons, aliens and monsters.


Saturday, April 8, 2017

UNSUNG HEROES: W. GARY WETSTEIN

   For those who know me, know that I am a massive fan of vintage television. Be it a drama like Dragnet or a sitcom like The Andy Griffith Show, you can pretty much find me glued to my old tube TV reveling in entertainment of olden time. I am also a fan of classic game shows, ranging from the 1950s, all the way up to the late 1970s. Some of my favorites of the genre include, What's My Line, You Bet Your Life and To Tell the Truth.
   Sadly for a lot of fans of this vintage material, there is no definitive spot to go to fill your cravings for the classics. Many television stations object to showing black & white material, and the ones that do, pepper the airings with numerous, and gratuitous, modern day commercials that take away from the wholesome experience of watching these classics of yore.
   Enter W. Gary Wetstein, of Arizona, a man who has dedicated his life to finding and preserving this material. Mr. Wetstein has scoured the ends of the Earth to provide classic programs, many of which were lost for decades. One such, recent, example was the discovery of a previously missing episode of the long-running panel game show, What's My Line, that hadn't been seen since its original airing on October 1st, 1950!
   Gary, as he prefers to be known, hosts numerous YouTube channels featuring full episodes of What's My Line, To Tell The Truth, and You Bet Your Life with Groucho Marx. Nearly every episode of each series has been uploaded to their respective YouTube channels (links to which can be found below).
   Not only does Gary upload the full episodes, most with their original commercials, but he also writes intricate descriptions for each, along with the original airdates. These notes give the viewer a greater understanding as to the program they are about to view, and can sometimes be far more interesting than the actual programs themselves.
   Gary also hosts accompanying Facebook groups for each program, each of which contain captivating production information, cast and crew biographies and more. There are also the weekly "Chat-a-Longs", in which Gary links to a particular episode and invites members to watch along and discuss the episodes live every Sunday or Saturday night.
   As a fan of these programs, I have learned things from Gary that I would have never known about these shows otherwise. Gary is a kind and intelligent man, who, in addition to his YouTube and Facebook work, has contributed to numerous print and online publications regarding classic comedy, classic television, and his personal obsession, George Burns and Gracie Allen. Most recently, Gary wrote a fantastic article for Matthew Coniam's brilliant biography of Groucho Marx entitled, "That's Me, Groucho", available now from McFarland Books. Gary is currently working on the definitive text on What's My Line, a project nearly three years in the making.
   I am honoured to be friends with this talented and unique individual, he has taught me a lot about classic television, and has opened my eyes to the preservation and archiving of vintage and forgotten television. He has influenced me to start my own YouTube channel, Geno's House of Rare Sitcoms, where I upload unseen television episodes and movies dating from 1933 all the way until 1990. Gary is to be commended for his many years of hard work, and this article surely does not do him justice. Thank you for the many years of friendship, Gary, here is to many more. Cheers.

YOUTUBE LINKS:
Gary's "You Bet Your Life" Channel
Gary's "What's My Line" Channel
Gary's "To Tell The Truth" Channel

FACEBOOK LINKS:
"To Tell The Truth" Facebook Group
"What's My Line" Facebook Group.
"You Bet Your Life" Facebook Group

MY CHANNEL:
Geno's House of Rare Sitcoms








Sunday, March 19, 2017

Gulliver's Travels - A Marketing & Release History

Hello friends, I just had to post here after reading my friend Kyle J. Ostrum's wonderful new blog entry on Disney feature logos through the years, (http://bit.ly/2nTZ28J). I figured, I would follow suit and analyze the various ways that 1939's Gulliver's Travels has been marketed to consumers, be it on the big screen or home video. Now since this film is in the public domain, it would be impossible to document every release, so only the most important ones are covered. Lets begin.....

 Here is the original title card, I have always loved this font and, if I knew how to create fonts, I would try to construct a free font based on it and upload it to dafont. What I like about it is, it looks like a typical Fleischer font, which were usually very poppy, and charismatic. It has a nautical quality to it, while simultaneously conveying the old tyme period in which the film takes place. Many DVD's of the film have tried to redux this logo, but none are better than they are here.


The original 1939 poster is lavish and perfectly emulates the fairy tale look of the film, With that said, the font chosen leaves much to be desired, while it is nice, it simply does not show the epicness of the film it is trying to advertise. The curves of the letters are a nice touch though. The main attraction for you is Gulliver himself, who looks awesome, albeit a tad off model. His figure blends in nicely with the cartoonish and otherworldly background. I love the trail of Lilliputians behind Guliver, he is clearly the leader of the pack, though Gabby doesn't look too pleased. Though the font is not as striking as I would like, the brilliant and colorful art makes up for that, and I would love to have a reproduction poster hanging up in my room.



                                               
By comparison, NTA's 1957 reissue poster is rather bland, no trace of color save for the orange background. The artwork is lifted from an old piece of publicity art created for the original '39 release. Newly painted artwork would have been most welcome. The hyperbole is in full force, that tagline, while epic, is not film specific. I could place it on a poster for Heavy Metal and it wouldn't be out of place. The font chosen for the title is boring as nails, and no effort was made to fully sell this to the masses. It is almost as if NTA bought the film, and didn't know how to market it. NTA, by the way, being the main distributor of Fleischer product, mostly for the television market. I will give them some slack, given they were a very low end film distributor, and perhaps didn't have the funds or experience to distribute a film theatrically. Also note the scroll, listing everything found within the film, making it almost an exploitation film, and the rather hilarious misspelling of King Bombo's name (NTA called him "Bongo").

The 1999 WinStar Home Video release, for the film's 60th anniversary, was the first in a long list of restoration attempts. It is, in fact, the first version of the film I ever viewed. I owe a lot to this release, and still hold it in high regard, given the fact the Thunderbean release has surpassed it in clarity. The sound was enhanced in 5.1 Dolby surround, with minor effects alterations. The sound created a marvelous experience for yours truly, so much so that it led me to establishing a now, five year friendship with the man responsible for the restoration, the multifaceted Dr. Thomas R. Reich. The picture quality was also head and shoulders above any other release of this title at the time. The cover is striking, and the font is possibly my favorite of all of the home video releases. The calligraphy is beautiful and the gold shimmer is used to nice effect. I love the shading on the characters, giving them depth that the posters lacked. An interesting side note, this release was Roger Ebert's video pick of the month in 1999, and I am glad to still have this edition to this day and look back on it with fond nostalgia.

In 2009, Dr. Reich attempted a second restoration effort to much less success. the 2009 DVD and Blu-Ray release, from Koch/E1 Entertainment, is still considered by many collectors and picture-purists as one of the biggest travesties to ever hit high definition.I must stress, from talking with Dr. Reich, that it was not (I repeat NOT) his choice to convert the film to widescreen from its original full frame ratio. That was the choice of the distributor, and Tom was contractually obligated to carry out the mastering per Koch's specifications. Tom even tried to compromise by having both the full frame and widescreen editions on the disc, but Koch stood their ground. On a positive note, the cover is very pretty, and I wouldn't mind having a poster of it hanging in my bedroom. The font is kind of meh, in my eyes, and I wish they used Max Fleischer's signature. Otherwise a nice looking cover, for sadly, one of the worst Blu-Ray releases in history.

The 2014 Thunderbean DVD/Blu-Ray release is widely considered to be the definitive edition of the film. The picture achieved a clarity unseen since 1939, and looks splendid when projected on a HD-TV. I take problem with the overall look of this cover. I think it would have been served better by just simply calling it "Gulliver's Travels - The Hap-Hap-Happy Special Edition", or something of that nature. The "Fleischer Classics" banner outsizes the title of the film itself (the font of which mimics the on screen logo). In a perfect world, the Koch cover would be used for this release. The actual artwork was very well done, but Popeye, Koko and Betty Boop seem out of place. Not my favorite cover, but the contents within more than make up for that.



So there you have it, every major release of Fleischer's underrated masterpiece, documented in one article, Aside from the anecdotes of Dr. Thomas R. Reich, most of what has been written here, has been the author's personal opinion, and is not meant to be taken as fact. I hope you have enjoyed this all too brief look at one of animation's forgotten gems. Be sure to follow my Facebook page for the film (https://www.facebook.com/MaxFleischersGulliversTravels/). Happy trails.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

FORGOTTEN FUNNYMEN: WHEELER AND WOOLSEY

When people think of the top comedy teams of the 1930's, they tend to think of the usual suspects like, Laurel and Hardy, The Three Stooges and The Marx Brothers, however the most popular team of that era gets little in the way of recognition from fans today.

   Bert Wheeler (1895-1968) and Robert Woolsey (1888-1938) were the most recognized comedy team in the pre-code era, spawning several films and countless imitators.

Bert and Bob
Before I go in to the careers of Bert and Bob, I must give a personal history. Back in my childhood days, I used to frequent a local library's book sale. I would go, primarily looking for a Disney movie on VHS and a cheap DVD of a Hollywood classic, I had discovered the Marx Brothers about four years earlier and took a liking to classic films. While browsing the shelves, I found a very nice coffee table book entitled, "The RKO Story". I squealed with delight and could not wait to rush home and read it. While flipping through the pages, I discovered a comedy team that I had never heard of: Wheeler and Woolsey. They caught my eye, but sadly, at that time, their films were not widely available on DVD...yet.

   When I got to high school, I figured that it would be a great time to finally see a Wheeler and Woolsey film. I was on a rewards system, and if I did very well, I would purchase a DVD of my choosing. I still remember the DVDs that I ordered, they were "Hook, Line and Sinker" from Digiview (Horrible Print), "Half Shot at Sunrise" on a very good Alpha DVD and "Caught Plastered" which came from the now-defunct Nostalgia Family Video. Suffice to say, I enjoyed all three films immensely. Now on to the history of our boys.
   In 1927, prolific Broadway producer Florenz Ziegfield produced "Rio Rita", one of the most lavish and expensive Broadway productions of its time. In the cast of this epic were Bebe Daniels, a popular silent film actress, John Boles, a well known stage actor and Wheeler and Woolsey, Wheeler being the curly-haired babyface and Woolsey being the cigar chomping idea-man.


Dorothy Lee
The play was such a smash hit that, the newly-formed RKO Radio Pictures produced a film version. The film adaptation was just as lavish as the stage version, and all of the main players returned to their original stage roles. Outshining the leads were the antics of Wheeler and Woolsey, also returning from the stage version, and many critics thought they were the highlight of the evening. On an interesting side note, "Rio Rita" was one of the earliest sound films to have a sequence shot in Technicolor.
    Bert and Bob were such a success, that RKO landed them a contract. Their first outing was "The Cuckoos", an adaptation of "The Ramblers" which starred another forgotten comedy team, Bobby Clark and Paul McCullough (More on them in another article). The film was a smash and solidified Wheeler and Woolsey as screen favorites.
   Over the course of the next three years, Wheeler and Woolsey made an astounding ten pictures for RKO, including "Hook, Line and Sinker", "Cracked Nuts" (Which features an early performance by Boris Karloff), an adaptation of the George and Ira Gershwin play "Girl Crazy" and two solo features, "Too Many Cooks" with Bert and "Everything's Rosie" with Bob. Interestingly, "Rosie" is an adaptation of the W.C. Fields vehicle "Poppy", of which Robert Woolsey had a supporting role in the stage version.

Hips, Hips, Hooray! (1934)
In 1933, due to dispute in contract and with production head David O. Selznick, the boys went over to Columbia to shoot "So This is Africa", a parody of thirties jungle pictures. This was to be the only film the boys produced for Columbia, and the only film they made outside of RKO.
     When Wheeler and Woolsey returned to RKO, they starred in two fantastic comedies, one of them, one of the best political satires of all time and the other, one of the sexiest comedies ever made."Diplomaniacs" concerns two barbers on an Indian reservation who are called upon to go to the Geneva Peace Conference and stop an impending war. The film is regarded as a classic today, and deserves to be on the same shelf as other satirical films like "Duck Soup" and "Million Dollar Legs". In "Hips, Hips, Hooray", the boys are flavored lipstick salesmen who have no luck. Luck beckons in the form of Dorothy Lee, one of Bert and Bob's most frequent co-stars, and Thelma Todd, a ravishing beauty who also had a great sense of humor and whose life ended tragically due to poisoning by Carbon Monoxide, a mystery that still plagues Hollywood today. One of the most inventive comedy sequences ever filmed, was the taste testing scene where Wheeler and Woolsey try to guess the flavor of lipstick by kissing a scantily clad store model.
Thelma Todd
While the boys were a hit with audiences, their raunchy humor and their risque antics spelt trouble for the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America,who felt pressure from several religious organizations to put a stop to scandalous imagery from being projected on movie screens. The Motion Picture Production Code put an end to films featuring risque content,including but not limited to, sexual acts or talk insinuating sex, scantily clad persons (especially women) and extreme displays of violence.
   Many fans consider the code to be the death knell for the team. After 1934, Bert and Bob's films continued to get worse and worse, and started to losemoney for the studio. The one highlight of this era was 1934's "Kentucky Kernels", which featured such stars as Margaret Dumont, a Marx Brothers favorite, and little "Spanky" McFarland, from Hal Roach's famous "Our Gang" shorts.

In 1936, Robert Woolsey, a longtime cigar smoker, developed a kidney ailment, this illness contributed to the downfall of the team. Bob struggled to finish 1937's "On Again-Off Again" and "High Flyers". After production wrapped on "Flyers", Woolsey was confined to a bed for one year, and at this time developed a bad drinking habit. Robert Woolsey died on October 31, 1938. He was only 49 years old.
  After the death of Woolsey, Bert struggled to make a name for himself as a solo performer, teaming up regularly with friend and co-star Dottie Lee. Bert continued to make minor film and television appearences, but never again achieved the level of success of his earlier screen career. His last
major role was as Smokey Joe on the popular western television program "Brave Eagle". Bert Wheeler died penniless of emphysema on January 18, 1968.
  Since Wheeler and Woolsey's popular films were deemed tasteless by the 1950's and due to the fact that they rarely made any two-reel shorts, their pictures were forgotten and remained so for nearly four decades. In the 1980's with the rise of home video, Wheeler and Woolsey's films were made available again to enjoy in VHS, Betamax and Laserdisc formats, and in 2013 Warner Archive, the made-on-demand DVD arm of Warner Bros. released 15 of the team's features and now future generations can enjoy the antics of one of the greatest comedy teams of all time.