Search This Blog

Monday, October 31, 2011

Monday Matinee - Halloween

Greetings, everybody, and a very happy Halloween to all of you!

Okay, okay. I couldn't resist posting one of the most talked about YouTube videos of October 2011. It's a great way to kick off Halloween, wouldn't you say?  And, I don't know whose house this belongs to, but kudos to them for doing such a creative and wicked Halloween display!

So, I'm sure that most of you will be celebrating the holiday in a variety of ways.  Perhaps you'll go out trick-or-treating for Snickers bars and snack size bags of Doritos. Perhaps you'll be attending a spooky Halloween party where you can sip on witches brew and dance the Monster Mash. Or, if you're one of those unlucky goblins such as myself who happens to be working all Halloween night, at the very least, you'll be making some money out of the deal.

So, did any of you wonder where the origins of Halloween came from?

While some folklorists believe that the origins of Halloween came from the Roman feast of Pomona (the goddess of fruits and seeds), or in the festival of the dead known as Parentalia, it is widely believed by many historians that the origin of Halloween came from the Celtic festival of Samhain. The festival name is derived from Old Irish and loosely translated means 'summer's end'.

The festival of Samhain was one that according to the Oxford Dictionary of English folk lore was a time for festive gatherings. Medieval Irish texts, and various folklore from Scotland, Ireland, and Wales state that the people who celebrate the festival use it as a setting for supernatural encounters. There is however no evidence that it was connected with the dead in pre-Christian times, nor is there evidence that pagan religious ceremonies were even held.

The Irish myths that mention the festival of Samhain were written around the tenth and eleventh centuries by Christian monks approximately 200 years after the Catholic church inaugurated All Saints Day.

As far as the origin for why the 31st of October is called Halloween goes, well, that first came about in the 16th century, and represents a Scottish variant of All-Hallows-Even. The night before All Hallows Day, a day in honour of all the saints known and unknown, which is celebrated on the first day of November.

Now that you know a little bit about how Halloween came to be founded, we can go ahead with today's discussion. You know that because Halloween falls on a Monday this year that the theme will have something to do with a scary movie. This is a movie that I first watched in my teenage years, and was the very first film for actress Jamie Lee Curtis. And, considering that Jamie Lee Curtis' mother was Psycho actress Janet Leigh, it seems only fitting that her debut would also take place in a horror film.

A horror film that bears the same name as today.

Although released six days before Halloween, 1978, Halloween was really no different than other horror films released before it. Yet over the next thirty years, Halloween would spawn seven sequels, as well as a remake in 2007, courtesy of Rob Zombie. We're going to talk about the film that started this franchise off.

Directed by John Carpenter, Halloween tells the story of a murderer who lives in the town of Haddonfield, Illinois. Back in 1963, a young boy named Michael Myers (who, I should note is not the same Michael Myers who starred in movies such as Shrek and Wayne's World) murdered his sister, Judith, with a kitchen knife on Halloween night. Myers was only six years old at the time. His sister, fifteen. As a result of his age, and the seriousness of the crime, prison simply was not an option for him. Instead, Michael is sent to Smith's Grove Sanitarium where he is placed in the care of Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance). As a result of the trauma associated with the crime, Myers lapses into a catatonic state for the next fifteen years. In 1978, at the age of 21, Michael comes out of catatonia and on the 30th of October, he escapes the sanitarium to make his way back to Haddonfield. Loomis, still concerned about what Myers might end up doing, follows him to town, hoping to subdue him before he hurts anyone else.

The following day, Halloween morning, 1978, a young girl named Laurie Strode (Curtis) constantly sees Michael Myers in a blue jumpsuit that he stole from a man he killed on the way, and a mask that he stole from a local store along with a knife. He keeps staring at her in various locations. Outside her house or on the street, it seemed as though everywhere she went, there he was.

No wonder Laurie Strode was always so creeped out.

Laurie tries to convince her friends from school, Annie and Linda (Nancy Kyes and P.J. Soles) about her visions of Michael, but they don't believe her, and eventually convince her that she must be imagining the whole thing.

By that night, Laurie and Annie both have babysitting jobs. Laurie is looking after Tommy Doyle, while Annie babysits a girl named Lindsay at the Wallace house across the street from the Doyle residence. It is here that things start to go from slightly creepy to full-on fright fest.

It all begins when Lindsay's dog is killed under mysterious circumstances. After that, Annie receives a call from her boyfriend, asking her to give him a ride. So, after taking Lindsay across the street to have her stay with Laurie and Tommy, Annie hurriedly hops inside her car to meet up with her boyfriend. She never makes it, as this clip will show, and fair warning to those of you reading, this clip may not be suitable for younger viewers. You have been warned.

Poor Annie. Never saw it coming, did she?

Of course, we all know that Michael Myers is the one responsible for Annie's death. But Laurie and the others have no clue. That is until Tommy happens to be watching outside the window and reports to Laurie and Lindsay that he had seen someone carrying Annie's body outside, claiming that the person is the boogeyman. Laurie and Lindsay are not very impressed by Tommy's claims, and insist that all he is trying to do is frighten them with some lame, unbelievable story.

If only they really knew.

Some time passes, and eventually, Linda and her boyfriend Bob arrive at the Wallace house where Annie is supposed to be babysitting. Apparently, they haven't heard from her in a while, and they have decided to check and see how she's doing, not realizing that Annie's killer is still skulking around inside. Of course, this is of no concern to Bob and Linda, and they casually stroll inside the house to find Annie.

I'm sure they'll be just fine...

...oops, my bad. I guess they weren't.

By this time, Laurie's thinking 'gee, maybe that little Doyle brat really was telling the truth about some boogeyman being out think maybe I should abandon my babysitting responsibilities to check and see if they're all okay?'

And, so she goes to the Wallace house, wondering whatever happened to her friend Linda, and why the phone suddenly went dead. Did the Wallace family not keep up with the phone bill? Was Linda playing a practical joke? Was Annie in on it all?

Sadly, the grim realization that all of her friends are dead strikes Laurie as she wanders through the Wallace house. She finds Annie's body in a bedroom with a gravestone belonging to Judith Myers lying on top. Shortly after, the bodies of Bob and Linda are found in a closet, hanging like a couple of slabs of beef inside a meat cooler. Laurie is so shocked and frightened by the gruesome discovery that she doesn't realize that the killer is STILL INSIDE THE HOUSE!

Suddenly, Michael attacks Laurie, and tries to stab her with the kitchen knife he pilfered just hours earlier. Laurie manages to avoid the blade and manages to make a daring escape by flinging herself over a stairway railing and runs out of the house, her heart beating a million times a minute as Michael gives chase.

Of course by then, Laurie's realizing, 'The children! I must think of the children! My god, won't someone think of the children?'

And, how does she protect the children? She runs back to the Doyle house where the two children are staying and charges inside, knowing full well that Michael is on her like a heat-seeking missile aimed towards a moving target.

Yeah, nobody ever said that Laurie Strode had street smarts.

At any rate, I'm sure you already know how the movie ends...I mean, with six sequels, of which Jamie Lee Curtis appears in a couple of them, you already know that both the attempted victim and attempted murderer of said attempted victim survive. But, how they survive...well...that's up for you to watch for yourself. A couple of hints involves Loomis, a knitting needle, the removal of the mask, and an ending with a twist.

What you may not know is some of the behind the scenes action that took place on the set of Halloween. The budget for the movie was a modest $325,000, and ended up earning sixty million dollars. A very nice profit for the movie, but because of the strict budget, the props department had to do their best to make the dollars stretch far. Tommy Lee Wallace had four different job titles to his credit. He was the production designer, art director, location scout, and co-editor. He was the one who ended up designing the signature mask that Michael Myers wore during the film. The secret behind the mask? It was a Captain Kirk mask purchased for $1.98, painted white and had modified eye holes so that it looked less like William Shatner and more like...well...Michael Myers.

Many of the actors wore their own clothing for the shoot, cutting the wardrobe budget down significantly. The exception was the wardrobe of Jamie Lee Curtis.  Her clothing was purchased at a JC Penney department store at a cost of just over one hundred dollars.

The filming schedule was also affected by the low-budget. It was filmed over a period of three weeks in the spring of 1978, so as a result, fake leaves had to be used to simulate an autumn theme. Pumpkins were also used sparingly, as they were out of season at the time the film was made. The Myers house set was an abandoned home owned by a church, and the Wallace and Doyle homes were two houses on a Hollywood street. Parents who lived on the street dressed up their children in costumes for the trick-or-treating scenes.

The pay scale for the actors involved in the filming of the movie was hardly anything to write home about, as the low-budget meant low pay. Donald Pleasance managed to earn a $20,000 payout for his role. Jamie Lee Curtis barely made half that amount, at $8,000. As for Nick Castle, the man who portrayed Michael Myers in the scenes where he is masked, the poor guy was only paid $25 a day. That's only about $525 for the entire production.

Hopefully the royalties were more decent. Hopefully.

Believe it or not, Jamie Lee Curtis was not Carpenter's first choice for the role of Laurie Strode. He initially wanted Anne Lockhart for the role, but at the time, Anne was heavily committed to other projects. But when Carpenter had heard of Jamie Lee's famous ties, he knew that it would be great publicity to cast the daughter of Janet Leigh, and that gamble seemed to pay off. And of course, Curtis wasn't the only cast member who had ties to horror film production, as P.J. Soles had a role in the 1976 movie, Carrie.

Donald Pleasance was the third actor to be offered the role of Dr. Loomis. Both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee turned the part down, citing the low pay as the reason why, although Lee would later admit that his turning down the part was an error in judgment.

It's also interesting to note that promotion for the film was on the light side, with many people finding out about the film through word of mouth from people who had viewed the movie before. Nevertheless, despite a lack of advertising, and some rather scathing reviews from critics, Halloween performed extremely well at the box office, and as a result, is probably considered to be one of the best movies filmed during the year 1978.

One common misconception for the film is the idea that the movie is a morality play, and a social commentary piece. The reason being that those who ended up dying in the film were those who partook in various social taboos. Underage drinking, sex, etc. Somehow, Laurie Strode ended up living through her ordeal, and people suspected it was because she was depicted as being 'pure' and 'virginal'. A theory that Carpenter deemed ridiculous. It was simply a horror movie as far as he was concerned. Nothing more. Nothing less.

And unlike a lot of horror movies that were released, Halloween was different in that the death scenes weren't overly gory or bloody. The death scenes were frightening enough, but the fact that the deaths weren't instant, and that we saw the struggles that the victims went through made it even more chilling than having them get decapitated or discombobulated or worse. In that sense, I think the movie set out what it had intended to do...scaring people without the need for excessive gore. It became a real psychological thriller, which are more my speed for scary movies.

Ultimately, Halloween remains one of the more interesting Halloween-themed movies of all time, and it brought star power to both John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis. Which is why Jamie Lee Curtis' current fate is made even more tragic and scary.

Oh well. That's the way the digestive system flows, isn't it?

I hope you all enjoyed these Halloween themed entries. I had a lot of fun writing each one. We're going back to a more general group of topics starting tomorrow, but for now, I wish all of you a very happy and safe Halloween, and don't eat too much candy. We wouldn't want you to have a nightmare...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sunday Jukebox - Thriller by Michael Jackson

At last count, there have been tens of thousands of musical artists that have graced the Billboard Charts, the radio airwaves, MTV, and even the background music at Walmart. Some of the artists are one or two hit wonders, while others have had five or more albums reach double platinum. But with thousands of songs and artists out there in this world, you would think that I would have no shortage of topics to talk about in the Sunday Jukebox portion of this blog.

Yet here I am, featuring an artist that I already featured back in July of 2011.

But there's a reason for my madness here. It's Halloween tomorrow, and my theory is, what better way to celebrate the day before Halloween than by having the subject be one of Michael Jackson's most known songs, as well as one of the most quintessential songs to have for a haunting soundtrack to any spooky party.

The song in question happens to come from one of Michael Jackson's highest-selling, and most critically acclaimed albums of all time. The album was Michael Jackson's sixth full-length studio album as a solo artist, and when it was released on November 30, 1982, most expected it to do very well, but few knew just exactly how much staying power it would have, nor did they understand just how important the album ended up being to the music industry as well as tearing down racial boundaries that previously existed.

Let's just take a look at Michael Jackson's 1982 album Thriller for a little bit. Here are some of the statistics.

Of the nine songs that appeared on the album, seven of those singles managed to hit the Billboard Top 10 between 1982 and 1984. The album also netted Michael Jackson a record-breaking eight Grammy Awards in 1984. As of 2011, Thriller remains the best-selling album of all time with over 110 million copies sold worldwide since 1982. The album became so popular that it was credited with breaking the colour barrier on MTV. Prior to 1983, the channel played videos by mostly white artists, but when Thriller was released, Michael Jackson's videos started to be played in heavy rotation, and paved the way for other artists of African-American descent, such as Whitney Houston, Bobby Brown, Paula Abdul, and even Michael's younger sister, Janet.

Thriller made the list of Rolling Stone Magazine's 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time, placing an incredibly respectful #20, and the album was eventually preserved by the Library of Congress to the National Recording Registry, deeming it culturally significant.

And certainly Thriller still gets radio airplay today. Songs like 'Billie Jean', 'Beat It', and 'Human Nature' were all huge songs. But perhaps the crown jewel of the Thriller album happens to be its title track, and the seventh and final single to be released from the album, in the first few weeks of 1984.

The video is known for its extreme length. At thirteen minutes and forty-two seconds long, it was more than three times the length of the average music video that played on MTV at that time. The video, which combined music and horror films cost over half a million dollars to film, and until Madonna released 'Express Yourself' in 1989, was the most expensive music video ever filmed.

But the amount of work that went into the filming of the video was well worth it.  Just watch the video below to see what I mean.

ARTIST: Michael Jackson
SONG: Thriller
ALBUM: Thriller
DATE RELEASED: January 23, 1984

Here's a confession. I didn't get a chance to see the entire Thriller music video in its entirety until I was 12 or 13. Reason being was that I was only two at the time it was released, and was way too young to watch something that could have given me nightmares for years. And, by the time I had grown old enough to watch it, by then Michael Jackson had newer stuff out, so the Thriller videos were rarely played. But I happened to catch the video one day on MuchMusic's Spotlight series, and immediately loved it. It remains one of the most loved music videos of all time.

But did you know that when the song was first conceived, Thriller wasn't even supposed to have been the original title choice?

Both Quincy Jones and songwriter Rod Temperton (who both worked on the Thriller album) confirmed that the original name for Thriller was 'Starlight'. And instead of the song hook lyrics being 'Thriller, in the night', they were originally supposed to be Starlight! Starlight sun!'.

Yeah, not exactly the lyrics that make you think of something scary and spooky...well, unless you're watching an apocalyptic thriller about the sun exploding and scorching the earth into a giant ball of ash.

According to Thriller's songwriter, Rod Temperton, he described the way Starlight changed to Thriller in this snippet from an interview he did.

Originally when I did my Thriller demo, I called it Starlight. Quincy said to me, 'you managed to come up with a title for the last album, see what you can do for this album.' I said, 'oh great,' so I went back to the hotel, wrote about two or three hundred titles, and came up with the title 'Midnight Man'. The next morning, I woke up, and I just said this word...something in my head just said, this is the title. You could visualize it on the top of the Billboard charts. You could see the merchandising for this one word, how it jumped off the page as 'Thriller'.”

So, that's how the song (and ultimately the album) came to be named. The production of the song was another story in itself. When Temperton was writing the lyrics for 'Thriller', he had wanted the song to have a spoken word verse located towards the end of the song, but wasn't exactly sure how he was going to pull it off. It then dawned on him to use a famous actor who had a history of performing in horror films do the voiceover. This worked out very well, as Peggy Lipton (who was married to Quincy Jones at the time) knew of such an actor who had an extensive resume of horror work to his credit and that he would have been perfect for the job.

The actor? Vincent Price. And Price wasted no time. He immediately agreed to doing the work on the track, and it only took him two takes to get the extensive monologue down pat.

The track was recorded in 1982, along with several other tracks for the Thriller album over a period of eight weeks at the Westlake Recording Studios in Santa Monica, California. Song engineer Bruce Swedien talked about the recording process of the song in this interview snippet.

When we started Thriller, the first day at Westlake, we were all there, and Quincy walked in followed by Michael and Rod Temperton and some of the other people. Quincy turned to us and said, 'OK guys, we're here to save the recording industry.' Now that's a pretty big responsibility – but he meant it. And that's why those albums, and especially Thriller, sound so incredible. The basic thing is, everybody who was involved gave 150 per cent. Quincy's like a director of a movie and I'm like a director of photography, and it's Quincy's job to cast it. Quincy can find the people and he gives us the inspiration to do what we do.”

I think that much is true, and blink if you miss it, there's your life lesson for today. Let it be known that having a team that can work together to create a brilliant project is great, but having a good leader to join all the pieces together and inspires people to do their best work for the sake of the project is ultimately the goal for that project to become great. I think that's the kind of leader Quincy Jones was, and I think that's why he became so well-respected in the music industry because he inspired everyone he worked with to give their best.

I only wish I could have that much leadership!

As a result of the team coming together, Thriller became a masterpiece of a performance, and that masterpiece deserved one kick-ass video. So in late 1983, production for the Thriller video began. Directed by John Landis, the video  was a celebration of 1950s B-horror films, and starred Jackson and his love interest (as portrayed by actress Ola Ray). The video has consistently been on several lists, proclaiming the music video to be amongst the cream of the crop, and in 1999, was declared the greatest video ever made by MTV. In that 1999 airing, Michael Jackson described the act of filming the music video for Thriller.

My idea was to make this short film with conversation. I like having a beginning and a middle and an ending, which would follow a story. I'm very much involved in complete making and creating of the piece. It has to be, you know, my soul. Usually, you know, it's an interpretation of the music. It was a delicate thing to work on because I remember my original approach was 'How do you make zombies and monsters dance without it being comical?' So I said, 'We have to just do the right kind of movement so it doesn't become something you laugh at.' But it just has to take it to another level. So I got in a room with (choreographer) Michael Peters, and he and I together kind of imagined how these zombies move by making faces in the mirror. I used to come to rehearsal sometimes with monster makeup on, and I loved doing that. So he and I collaborated and we both choreographed the piece, and I thought it should start like that kind of thing and go into this jazzy kind of step, you know? Gruesome things like that, not too much ballet, or whatever.”

In this case, I think Michael's vision came to life through...well...death. The dancers who played the zombie backup dancers were very convincing and really got into their parts, as did Michael, and in the end, it made for one very entertaining and successful video. A 45-minute documentary was also filmed alongside the video shoot entitled “Making Michael Jackson's Thriller”, which was played quite often on MTV during the mid 1980s. MTV paid a quarter of a million dollars for the exclusive rights to show the documentary on television, while Showtime paid $300,000 for the rights to show the documentary on Pay-TV. Now, how's that for a hot video?

It's been almost 28 years since Thriller debuted on MTV, and yet the video is still wildly popular. Flash mobs have recreated the video's dance steps, and the video has been spoofed a number of times. And after Michael Jackson's sudden death in 2009, the song topped the Billboard Digital charts the week he passed away.

Looking back on it all, what other song COULD I profile today?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Saturday Morning: Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?

For today's blog entry, I want to talk about a cartoon show that I grew up watching as a young boy. This cartoon debuted in 1969, years before I was born, and by the time I was born, the cartoon had undergone several changes, formats, and added a bunch of new characters. Some were brilliant, others were major duds. Despite all the twists and turns that the cartoon endured over its four decades of history, this cartoon could be easily considered to be one of Hanna-Barbera's finest creations, right up there with The Flintstones, The Jetsons, and Yogi Bear.

And while there are many different versions of Scooby-Doo that have been made throughout the last few years, this blog topic is going back to how it all began.

My first experience with 'Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?' came when I was about three or four years old. My memories of that time period are very fragmented. Some things I can barely remember, and others, I can't remember at all. But one memory remains very clear in my mind.

Back around 1985, which is when my first experience with Scooby-Doo took place, my family never had cable television. At the most, I think we only had what people called the 'basic twelve'. All we could get back in those days were channels 2-13, and of those twelve channels, one was the cable public access channel, and one was a French-language channel. So that took the possible choices we had to choose from down even further.

I can remember my sister always going to friends houses because they had cable and we didn't, but for some reason, I never did complain all that much when I was younger. Because as long as we still had channel 7, I was content as a child.

Particularly during the four o'clock in the afternoon time slot.

In my hometown, Channel 7 was our CBS affiliate. WWNY-TV, which was based in Watertown, New York. Even though I grew up in Canada, we lived close enough to the American border to pick up American channels clearly. Our NBC and ABC affiliates were both based in Detroit, Michigan, but CBS was a lot closer to home, as Watertown was on the other side of the St. Lawrence River.

At four in the afternoon, the time slots would be turned over to local television programming (well, local Watertown programming, anyways). When Guiding Light dimmed for the day, a children's program would begin airing called 'The Danny Burgess Show'. The show starred then WWNY-TV weather personality Danny Burgess, who already had a long-standing career in entertaining children for a number of years. If my memory is correct, I remember he would always have a group of children sitting on the soundstage where the show was filmed and produced, and he would interact with the children in a way similar to Art Linkletter on House Party.

One thing that I can also remember about the show was that the show was sponsored by McDonald's, and that all of the kids would be drinking some form of McDonald's beverage. I think in most cases it was either milkshakes or that bright orange non-carbonated beverage that they don't seem to make anymore. Remember that orange stuff?

Anyway, one other thing I remember about that show was that Burgess would show the viewers at home a number of classic cartoons from years before I was born. A couple stand out, such as Woody Woodpecker, and the 1975 Ghostbusters cartoon.

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You was a part of that playlist. And I think that's why I really grew to enjoy that local block of programming that the late Danny Burgess hosted after the soap operas ended for the day. It was because he showed a new generation of kids classic cartoons that they may not have seen otherwise.

Sadly, those days didn't last very much longer. Because when a young woman named Oprah Winfrey landed her very own talk show in the fall of 1986, guess what took over the 4pm time slot on CBS? And, yes, I was quite unhappy about this too when I was younger, for it meant that Scooby-Doo, at least back then, would only be a childhood memory.

(Let this also be a lesson to everyone to support local programming as much as possible, for you never know what it may be replaced by!)

Thankfully, through the goodness of YouTube and specialty channels, Scooby-Doo lives on through the classic cartoons, the live-action movies, and countless Scooby-Doo merchandise that is still being marketed today.

So, let's take a look at how it all began.

Back in 1969, Hanna-Barbera and CBS teamed up to create a non-violent Saturday morning program that would appease the various parents groups that were protesting the superhero based programs that had become popular during the mid-1960s. Original programs for the show were 'Mysteries Five', and 'Who's S-S-Scared?', and initially, the program was supposed to have musical performances, similar in format to The Archie Show, which was wildly popular at the time. Despite these early concept changes, the show's main cast never changed. It was always meant to incorporate four teenagers and a large Great Dane, named Scooby-Doo, on a quest to solve various mysteries involving ghosts, monsters, aliens, and supernatural forces.

The series was created by Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, and together they worked as the story supervisors for the series, in addition to having a hand in co-writing each episode during Scooby-Doo, Where Are You's two-season run.

The only problem was that all of the episodes of the series were essentially churned from the same formula. The kids would all be attending some function, or on their way back from another, and they would have car trouble, find themselves at a crowded resort or hotel, etc. By many, many twists of fate, everywhere that the team end up at usually ends up being a haunting ground for a ghost or monster. The kids decide 'hey, we have nothing else better to do, let's go and find out what's going on'. So, the gang usually splits up into two or three groups, where something happens to ALL of them, and it's usually almost always the same exact thing that happens on each episode.

During their investigations, the team soon discover that the ghost, monster, vampire, etc, is a fake. Together, they come up with a trap to catch the person responsible for the hauntings. In almost all cases, the trap they set usually doesn't work, but somehow end up catching the monster in a totally unrelated way from the initial trap. The monster is unmasked, the kids explain how s/he pulled it off, the criminal confesses why s/he did what they did, and curses those 'meddling kids' for foiling their plans.

The formula was repetitive, and after a while, all of the episodes kind of blended together, since they all had the same storyline just with different monsters and settings. Nevertheless, kids seemed to love it when the show officially debuted on CBS the weekend of September 13, 1969. The series ran for only twenty-five episodes, and the series aired its final original episode appropriately enough on Halloween 1970. But Scooby-Doo would have several spinoffs over the years, with the newest version of the cartoon, 'Scooby-Doo Mystery Incorporated' debuting on the Cartoon Network in July 2010.

Still, as far as my opinion goes, the original version was the best version. The mysteries were the main focus of the show, the original voice actors were top notch, and the Scrappy-Doo shark the series would eventually jump over was still deep in the dark sea of cancellation.

The characterizations of each of the main players were well done as well, although during the course of the series run, each one of them fell under a specific label.

Certainly, Scooby-Doo (Don Messick) was the main character, as all eleven of the Scooby-Doo series were named after him. And Scooby-Doo was a dog who could understand, and even speak basic English like 'Rut-Roh, Shaggy!'. Yet, as far as the dog's bravery goes, a chipmunk would have more courage. As long as there's a steady supply of Scooby Snacks though, he'd be okay. THOSE Scooby Snacks. More like THESE Scooby Snacks.

(And, would you believe that Scooby Snacks can be bought at retail stores now? Goes to show just how popular the show really was, huh?)

At any rate, Scooby-Doo wasn't the only fraidy-dog out there on the show. Shaggy Rogers, Scooby's owner (voiced by Casey Kasem), was just as frightened by investigating the mysteries, if not more so. I can remember some instances in which Shaggy even had to be bribed with Scooby Snacks in order to get enough courage to face his fears. More often than not, the bumbling duo of Shaggy and Scooby would be the cause of most of the traps failing in the series, and Shaggy and Scooby would often have the most encounters with the ghost or monster that the team was investigating. In almost every episode, whenever the team split up, Shaggy and Scooby would ALWAYS be off on their own away from everyone else in the group, although sometimes Velma would be included with him.

Velma 'Jinkies!' Dinkley (Nicole Jaffe) is the brains of the operation, and is usually the first one on the scene when it comes to finding clues. Every time she manages to locate one, she utters her signature exclamation of 'Jinkies!' She seems to be closest to Shaggy and Scooby in the series, and more often than not figures out the solution to the mystery before anyone else does. She does have one weakness though. Her eyesight is no better than that of Mister Magoo. So whenever Velma loses her glasses (which she did quite often during the show), she is rendered useless as she cannot see. Though, it did make for some funny moments when a blinded Velma happened to come across the monster they were looking for.

Another person who was helpful in finding clues was Fred Jones (Frank Welker in one of his very first voice acting roles). Though not nearly as intelligent as Velma, Fred is the one that is responsible for the traps designed to catch the monsters (which end up failing thanks to Shaggy and Scooby), and he manages to find various clues to solving the case as well. Fred takes on the role as leader of the group, and ultimately makes a lot of the decisions within the group, such as how the groups should be split up. In almost all cases, he and Daphne usually end up as a group, though Velma would occasionally join them on their search for the truth. Fred's biggest problem though, especially in later years, was that he would have the clues, but interpret them incorrectly, sometimes even accusing the wrong person (a running gag that was present in the 1980s version of the show called 'A Pup Named Scooby-Doo' made this apparent).

And then there's Daphne Blake (Stefanianna Christopherson/Heather North), the beautiful red-headed young woman always clad in purple. Our eternal damsel in distress. Although she almost always ends up in a group with Fred, Fred somehow seems unable to protect her from always getting either kidnapped, trapped, abducted, or taken by the very monster they are always searching for. Daphne could also act, in the series, and in some cases, her fate was mostly controlled by her rather impulsive decisions. As a result, I can't really say that Daphne was one of my favourite characters in the series, but of course, you couldn't have the show without her. What can I say, she added a plot twist to some episodes? And in some cases, the way Daphne disappeared ended up being the very clue that Velma needed to wrap up the mystery in a nice violet-coloured bow.

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You was the best incarnation of the Scooby-Doo empire, and I grew up watching those episodes for years.

And to think, none of that would have been possible had it not been for our CBS affiliate, who took the time to promote their local programming almost as aggressively as CBS did with theirs. And that made for one very special childhood memory.

Friday, October 28, 2011

TGIF: 21 Facts About The Munsters Behind The Scenes

Two Fridays ago, I talked about the classic television program, The Addams Family. The program ran on television from 1964-1966 and managed to earn an audience during its two season run. For those of you who have not yet read the entry, you can click on this link to revisit it, but for those of you who have, you may have been entertained by some of the background information behind the show's creation, as well as some trivia bits about the actors playing the characters, as well as the characters themselves.

Now, what if I told you that The Addams Family wasn't the only family sitcom that dealt with an eccentric family that lived in a house that looked as if it were Halloween every day? What if I told you that the sitcom aired in black-and-white just like The Addams Family? What if I told you that this sitcom debuted the same year as The Addams Family, and actually had the same two season run that The Addams Family enjoyed?

Really, the similarities between the two sitcoms are more than I initially thought when I began the research for today's blog subject. But, there are main differences as well.

So, why don't we just get into the nitty-gritty?

Today's blog topic is all about The Munsters, a television sitcom that aired on CBS from September 24, 1964 to May 12, 1966. Seventy episodes were produced. The show starred the late actors Fred Gwynne and Yvonne DeCarlo as Herman and Lily Munster, and the program dealt with the day-to-day hassles that the Munsters had to endure while raising their only child, Eddie (Butch Patrick) at their home on 1313 Mockingbird Lane.

Oh, did I mention that the Munsters were a family of monsters, and that some of their house pets included a bat, a dragon, and a cat that roared like a lion?

In many aspects, there are quite a few similarities between The Addams Family, and The Munsters. As explained earlier, both were in black-and-white, both families were designed with a spooky edge, and both series ran from 1964-1966.

But here's the kicker. Although The Addams Family debuted six days before The Munsters did, and although the concept for The Addams Family was developed long before The Munsters ever came along, The Munsters always seemed to rank higher on the Nielsen ratings scale than The Addams Family, and ran about one month longer than The Addams Family had. Had it not been for the success of the full-color Batman television series which debuted in 1966, it's entirely possible that The Munsters could have been greenlighted for a third season.

And there were major differences between the two families. While the Addams Family were more gothic, and enjoyed a wealthy lifestyle, the Munsters seemed to live a more working-class lifestyle, with Herman being the sole wage-earner of the family. Also, unlike the Addams Family, who mostly stayed at their home to entertain guests, the Munsters were more outgoing, and had just as many adventures outside the family home as they did within. Now, this is only speculation, of course, but my theory as to why the Munsters seemed to do better in the ratings is because their family structure was one that more people could relate to. The family dynamic in the Munsters family was one that was not uncommon with the average family of the 1960s where the dad was the main breadwinner, and the woman stayed home to take care of the children and the house.

Keep in mind that I said 1960s, and not 2010s.

Where The Addams Family began as a cartoon featured in The New Yorker, the idea for the creation of the Munsters began as an idea by animator Bob Clampett. In the late 1940s, Clampett pitched the idea to Universal Studios initially as a cartoon series, but it wasn't until the 1960s that these plans started to be developed. By then, a format for a similar idea that Clampett presented was submitted to Universal Studios by Allan Burns and Chris Hayward (who worked as writers for the classic cartoon Rocky & Bullwinkle). The format was then handed to writers Norm Liebman and Ed Haas, who immediately penned a pilot script, entitled Love Thy Monster.

Many network executives believed that the show would work best as a cartoon series, while several others argued that the show would be better presented in the live-action format. Eventually though, a live-action presentation was made to CBS, courtesy of MCA Television. This presentation only lasted about fifteen minutes, and unlike the television series, this pitch episode was filmed entirely in colour. The executives seemed to like the idea of the series through the episode, but several changes were soon made (which you'll read about further down in the trivia portion), and while the necessary parts were recast, CBS officially greenlighted the production for The Munsters on February 18, 1964. The pitch episode would eventually be expanded and used as the basis for the Munsters episode 'My Fair Munster'.

So, what sorts of trivia, behind-the-scenes action, and miscellaneous tidbits can I share with all of you for this television series? Oh, lots of things! Let's start off with the patriarch of the series, Herman Munster, and go from there.

#1 – Herman Munster was played by Fred Gwynne (1926-1993). Although Gwynne would go on to say that he loved playing Herman Munster, he grew frustrated after the show was cancelled because he kept on getting typecast as a result of his role.

#2 – Part of the reason Gwynne was cast as Herman Munster was because of his size. At 6'5”, he easily could step into the role of what was designed as a 'goofy parody of Frankenstein's monster'. Although, you may not know that he actually wore elevator shoes that made him an additional four inches taller.

#3 – Since the show was filmed with black-and-white film, the crew had to improvise with make-up to capture the light of the character faces on the film. They managed to find a way to do this with Herman Munster by covering Fred Gwynne's face with bright violet face paint. So, the next time you watch an episode of The Munsters, know that in each episode, Herman Munster had a purple coloured face! Kind of ironic, given that in the television show, Herman Munster is actually supposed to be green!

#4 – Fred Gwynne's costume was incredibly heavy to wear. The entire costume forced Gwynne to wear 40-50 pounds of padding. The costume, combined with the heat from the studio lights caused Gwynne to perspire heavily to the point where he actually lost weight! Gwynne attempted to cool down by downing glasses of lemonade, ingesting salt tablets, and having an air hose inside his costume.

#5 – In the pitch episode, the characters of Lily Munster and Eddie Munster were played by different actors. Lily was initially named Phoebe Munster, and was originally played by actress Joan Marshall. Eddie was initially played by Nate “Happy” Derman. Unfortunately, Happy' came to an end, when he was recast because he had made Eddie's character bratty and nasty, and just plain unlikeable. As for Joan Marshall being replaced by Yvonne DeCarlo, it was because producers believed that Marshall looked too much like Morticia Addams, and that they needed an actress that had her own individual look.

#6 – Yvonne DeCarlo's casting as Lily Munster initially wasn't well-received by Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis (who played Grandpa). Both actors had said that because of DeCarlo's lengthy film career, they felt that she may not fit in on the set of a television sitcom. Fortunately, after filming a few episodes, both Gwynne and Lewis admitted that they were wrong in their opinions, and all three actors got along throughout the duration of the series.

#7 - For Yvonne DeCarlo, the role could not have come at a better time. 1964 was a rather difficult year for her, as her work in Hollywood had dried up, she was deep in debt and was showing signs of depression. By getting the role in the series (she was producers first choice to fill in after Joan Marshall was let go), her career continued on.

#8 – Yvonne DeCarlo loved playing the role of Lily Munster. She said about the role that “it meant security. It gave me a new, young audience I wouldn't have had otherwise. It made me 'hot' again, which I wasn't for a while.” As well, when asked by people how a glamourous actress such as herself could play such a ghoulish matriarch of a haunted house, she simply replied that “I follow the directions I received on the first day of her just like Donna Reed.”

#9 – The car that Grandpa drove on The Munsters was built from an actual coffin that was purchased from a real Hollywood funeral home, and was dubbed the DRAG-U-LA. This car inspired a Rob Zombie single, released in 1998.

#10 – Take a close look at the headstone on the front of Grandpa's DRAG-U-LA. It reads (Born 1367, Died ?). 1367 is the birth year given for Grandpa.

#11 – Grandpa is designed to look like Dracula. In fact, his name is later given in the series as Sam Dracula. He is Lily Munster's father.

#12 – The role of Marilyn Munster was recast during the filming of the series. For the first thirteen episodes of the series, the role was played by Beverley Owen. From episode 14 to 70, Pat Priest took over the role of Marilyn.

#13 – The role was recast a third time for the feature film Munster, Go Home. In that movie, the role was played by Debbie Watson. Reportedly, Pat Priest was devastated at not being included in the film.

#14 – The reason why Beverley Owen was replaced as Marilyn Munster was so she could get married to her boyfriend Jon Stone (who directed and wrote many episodes of the children's television program Sesame Street). But the lead-up to her leaving the show was quite emotional. Because the television show filmed in California, Owen was forced to leave New York City to commit to the role, which meant that she and Stone had to endure a long-distance relationship. This caused Owen to become very unhappy, and it was reported that she broke down in tears quite often on the studio. It was later revealled that the only reason why she took on the role was because she didn't think the show would last.

#15 – When Pat Priest was brought on board to replace the departing Owen, the costume department didn't need to take in or create new outfits, as Owen and Priest had almost exactly the same build. With Priest even resembling Owen physically, when the switch was made in episode 14, many viewers didn't even know that the switch had even happened!

#16 – Somehow, despite the fact that his father looked like Frankenstein's monster, and his mother was a vampire, Eddie Munster ended up becoming a were-boy. Though on the series, Eddie Munster did display signs of being part vampire.

#17 - Butch Patrick was the second actor to play Eddie Munster, after Happy Derman was recast after the pitch episode. He would later spoof his role on a 1999 episode of The Simpsons.

#18 – In real life, actress Yvonne DeCarlo drove a Jaguar sedan that was custom-fitted with spooky ornaments, but had to give it up after repeated vandalism by fans who were seeking souvenirs from the actress.

#19 – A couple in Waxahachie, Texas, built a fully liveable recreation of 1313 Mockingbird Lane, the home that the Munsters lived in on the series.

#20 – The exterior shots of 1313 Mockingbird Lane have also been reused for other television and film productions. It was initially built in 1946 for the movie “So Goes My Love”, and put into storage until the 1950s where it could be seen as a backdrop for other sitcoms such as Leave It To Beaver. The house was remodeled in the mid-2000s and has been featured in the ABC dramatic series, Desperate Housewives.

#21 – Contrary to popular belief, Lily and Herman Munster were NOT the first television couple to be seen sharing the same bed.

And, there you have it. Twenty-one things you may or may not have known about The Munsters. I hope you enjoyed this look back on this classic sitcom. I know I had a blast remembering it.