Friday, August 29, 2014

What's My Line? (Again)

While I enjoy my holiday weekend, here's a post from 2008.WHAT'S MY LINE is the greatest panel game show on TV ever. Sure the two other Goodson-Todman classics were TO TELL THE TRUTH - which had an awesome theme song (and the great Kitty Carlisle) and I'VE GOT A SECRET, which had the future Mrs. Pamela Vorhees (Betsy Palmer) on its panel- but WML?, which ran on CBS in primetime from 1950 through 1967 and in syndication from 1968 to 1975 is the granddaddy of all guessing games. THE MATCH GAME, which I love, is in a different category altogether.
Oddly I only discovered WML? only about 7 years ago when it was airing as part of the Game Show Network's vintage Sunday night line-up. I do kinda recall seeing the syndicated version when I was a kid, but it didn't really leave a great impression on me. Reruns of the B&W classics still air weeknights at 3AM on GSN and have been a fixture on my dvr for the most of the Bush years. I have now seen each episode at least three or times each - and I still cannot stop watching. It's "comfort TV" in a sea of loud, abrasive game shows that populate today's TV landscape.
The original version, for most of its run, aired LIVE weekly on Sunday nights from New York City with filmed playbacks airing a week later on the west coast. Hosted by honored ABC newsman John Charles Daly, the show was low on glitz, but big on smarts.
The game itself was simple - contestants came on and the four panel members tried to determine what they did for a living through a series of "yes" and "no" questions. The big prize of $50 was awarded to players who could stump the panel. A special feature, usually the third round of the evening, was a "mystery guest" who the panel would try to identify while blindfolded. These individuals were usually showbiz folks who had a movie or show to promote, but sometimes were politicians, athletes or newsmakers of the day. Fun!
The panelists changed little over the years. The main players were:
Broadway gossip columnist Dorothy Kilgallen - an uptight old-school conservative with a vicious determination to win the game. Miss Kilgallen was dubbed "the chinless wonder" by her nemesis Frank Sinatra and also co-hosted a radio chat show with her husband Dick Kollmar while carrying on a torrid affair with bisexual crooner Johnny Ray. Dorothy died suddenly of a drug overdose in 1965 while investigating the JFK assassination. Hmmm... An account of her life and death was published in 1979. A fictional account of her affair with Johnny Ray followed in 2002 and A film based on her story has recently been optioned. The lovely Arlene Francis was a Broadway and film actress and a daytime talk-show hostess. Her honest sweetness and delightful humor were a direct contrast to Dorothy's seemingly constant discomfort and stern, guarded personality. Arlene was also quite a fashionista, often dressed to the nines, while at sixes and sevens was Dorothy. Miss Francis was sheer class - but not a prude. Some of the show's sassiest double entendres came from her lips. Arlene appeared on the syndicated version into the 1970s. Miss Francis' memoirs were published in 1978, she passed away in 2001 at the age of 93."Is it bigger than a bread box?" came from the tirelessly witty and then uber-liberal Steve Allen, who was an early panelist, though he left to pursue other endeavors (like creating THE TONIGHT SHOW). His replacement was sourpuss comedian Fred Allen (no relation) who sat on the panel from 1953 until his death in 1956.
Steve returned on occasion after Fred's death, and rotating celebs filling this spot included the ever-spiffy Tony Randall, smart-guy Robert Q. Lewis and the likable Martin Gabel (Mr. Arlene Francis). Other memorable guest panelists include the brilliantly insane Groucho Marx, the entertaining Ernie Kovas and the exasperating Victor Borge. The final regular panelist was Bennett Cerf, who's day job was running the Random House publishing empire. Bennett was always making corny jokes, awkward remarks and odd non-sequitors. He was like having a charming, but embarrassing "grandpa" on the panel. He died in 1971. His collection of reminiscences, AT RANDOM, was collected in 1977.Part of the fun of WHAT'S MY LINE? is watching these people interact. It's as if there was a weekly cocktail party where five friends played a parlor game and the viewer was invited to watch. While the occupations of contestants are sometimes un-PC ("lady lawyer" ,"lady chiropractor", etc.) or downright offensive ("bullfighter") it's very interesting from a historical perspective to see what REAL men and women were like during the 1950s and 60s. Producer Gil Fates wrote a wonderful account of his 25 years with WML? in 1978.
Some recurring popular "mystery guests" include Jack Lemmon (8 appearances),
Jerry Lewis (7), Lucille Ball (6), Joan Crawford (5) and Bette Davis (5). Other memorable guests include Carol Channing, Judy Garland, Jacqueline Susann, Ethel Merman, Sal Mineo, Doris Day, Phyllis Diller, Barbara Streisand and The Supremes.
The syndicated version was hosted by Wally Bruner and then by Larry Blyden. Just as this edition was coming to a close, a 25th Anniversary Special aired on ABC in 1975. Unfortunately most individuals involved with the show have now passed on, with panelist Martin Gabel passing in 1986. Host John Charles Daly and panelist Robert Q. Lewis both died in 1991. Steve Allen died in 2000, after sadly having become quite conservative in his old age and the ever-classy Tony Randall died in 2004. (Before he died, Tony forbid Bush and Cheney to attend his funeral - gotta love that!)

A live stage version of WML? hosted by J. Keith Van Straaten ran in LA for a few years, and later in NYC. It was tons of fun, and I was in the audience almost every week. Some cool panelists and mystery guests were featured. I suspect that it will be back one day.
Rumors of a new primetime revival on NBC surfaced earlier this year, with David Hasselhoff attached to host. I think I'd prefer to play a home game like this one:or even this one:That's all for now, but there's so much more to the WHAT'S MY LINE story to tell...maybe some day.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Who Killed Teddy Bear?

From 2009 - in honor of Elaine Stritch.WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR (1965, directed by Joseph Cates, THE FAT SPY) is a film which I've been dying to see for close to 15 years. After devouring H. Paul Jeffer's 2000 tome Sal Mineo: His Life, Murder and Mystery - I sought out and found a rare (aka bootleg) copy of the film on dvd.Editor's note - an even better biography by Michael Michaud came out in 2010 and is rumored to be in development as a feature film by James Franco!
While I was always familiar with Sal Mineo and his tragic story, I now have a slight obsession with the attractive, baby-faced, twice Oscar nominated actor.WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR is psychological thriller written by Arnold Drake (creator of DC Comics' DOOM PATROL and DEADMAN-who would have thunk?). The noir-ish film is notable for it's frank sexuality and it's rare objectification of the male body–but at it's heart it's mainly a sordid tale about the wacky staff of a popular midtown Manhattan danceclub. By the way, this post is chock full of SPOILERS.The film opens with a great theme song (sung by Dougsploitation favorite Leslie Uggams) a blurry shot of a two half-naked people in a compromising position groping at each other and the credits continue over this sexy scene until a little girl screams, drops her teddy bear and falls down a flight of stairs! Oopsie!We see a male in tighty whities (apparently the first time briefs, not boxers, were shown in a somewhat mainstream film).Suddenly a alarm clock rings, we see a tawdry book titled When She Was Bad among this guy's belongings. There is implied masturbation(!) It's 6AM - time for Norah's first obscene phone call of the day. She tells him to “go sober up.” Norah Dain is played by leggy dance diva Juliet Prowse. We soon learn that this naïve waif is new in the city, just having moved from Rochester, NY and working as a disc jockey at the club while she looks for showbiz jobs. Unfortunately it seems like she only has one record, a song called "Born to be Bad". The crowd seems to enjoy it, over and over again.
Sal plays a waiter named Laurence who works at the same club. Larry is a bit shy and a bit insecure around women, despite the fact that his sexy good looks could melt an iceberg.
The club is managed by tough-as-nails Marian (played by Broadway legend and recurring 30 ROCK guest star Elaine Stritch). Norah tells a concerned Marian about the obscene phone calls she's been getting. The hunky mute bouncer is played by future HILL STREET BLUES star, Daniel J. Travanti! Mute? But could he be faking it to make dirty phone calls?Vice detective Dave Madden (played by Catskills comedian Jan Murray) is soon on the case- and he tries to impress Norah by rattling off a list of different kinds of sex offenders that he's familiar with. He stops at necrophilia. Don't they always?Oh by the way, Norah seems to be quite the exhibitionist - undressing in front of any available open window. I'm just saying. It's okay, her apartment only faces a brick wall.

Norah goes on a few auditions and takes a walking tour of the NY Theater district, taking time to check out a poster for ANY WEDNESDAY starring Sandy Dennis (insert Sandra Bernhard joke here). Norah winds up at the Hudson Health Club were she goes for a swim. He phone caller is there - he's officially become her stalker now!
We see that Detective Madden is obsessed with perverts. He has a collection of books and magazines about fetishes, S&M and other kinky topics and he listens to tapes of victims' testimonies in his apartment while his precocious daughter Pam (played by Murray's real life daughter) sleeps in the next room. Maybe he's the 6AM dirty wake-up caller???

Back at the club, the same couples dance to the same song as Norah gets one of those annoying calls at work! He knows where she lives! He knows where she works! He knows her name! Marian tries to convince Norah to go home with her for the night, but Norah resists.
But when she arrives home she find a teddy bear with it's throat slashed and calls Madden.

After Madden helps himself to her booze, he reveals to her that he knows everything she's done that day. She then freaks out and calls him a "dirty, disgusting animal". Then he tells her about how his wife was raped and horribly mutilated after going to see a matinee–and the killer was never caught. So that's why he's obsessed with perverts! Then her phone rings - it's the stalker!!! Madden then invites her to spend the night at his place - with him and his daughter.

We then see that the stalker is watching her from across the way through binoculars from his apartment window. And when he lights a cigarette - it's revealed to be Larry! Duh - who else could it have been...Elaine Stritch?

Suddenly we see Larry with a female, who is revealed to be his mentally challenged sister Edie. It's her 19th birthday and he gave her a dress and not the new teddy bear he promised her. After an uncomfortbale hugging scene, we get a flashback–where we see Larry is coaxed into having sex with an unidentified woman (a hooker? his mother? Auntie Mame?) as young Edie (with her teddy bear) walks in on them. Frightened by what she saw, Edie slips and flies down a flight of stairs, leaving her brain damaged. This explains the opening montage.

The next day, Pam asks her father if Norah is a hooker - and then they all trip head to the zoo for an outting, where they awkwardly run into Larry and Edie! Small world, isn't it? Later, back at his room with a view Larry chastises his sister for dressing up like a whore. A mentally challenged whore, but a whore nonetheless. Meanwhile, Larry is wearing the tightest white pants. FYI - Sal Mineo's ass was awesome!Oh yeah, and the pants are so tight he is  also sporting "V.P.L." - Visible Penis Line.Here, look again. Very impressive.Larry's pants get him (and us) all very horny, so he heads to Time Square for some window shopping.  We follow. Then he flips though some nudist magazines and goes to see a porno double-feature. I wonder if CALL GIRL '77 was a real film? I need to see it!Meanwhile, Marian accompanies Norah home for the evening and the gals are having a sapphic slumber party. Marian tries on Norah's fur, literally, saying “I dig soft things.” Then the phone rings. Marian wants to answer it but Norah won't let her. Norah then freaks the fuck out and begins sobbing in Marian's arms. Marian tries her best to calm Norah down, and it seems to be working until Norah gets the feeling that Marian is beginning to feel her up. Norah lets lesbi-phobia get the best of her and demands that Marian leave at once!Marian, totally offended, tells Norah that she thinks there's something wrong with HER–that maybe the telephone voices are all in her head. She leaves wearing Norah's fur. Larry sees the coat and thinks that she's Norah, running after her - eventually catching Marian and... apparently kills her! Nice going, psycho. She's your boss!!! Don't you think you're gonna get fired for that?I guess in 1965 the lesbian had to die.

Meanwhile, Dave's obsession with sexual psychopaths is getting in the way of his job. He's becoming one of them! Maybe. “Dave, you’ve gone over the line. You’ve joined them.”

Back in Sal town, Larry is in his undies gyrating on his bed, rubbing himself. HOT. He's having a hard time sleeping (after killing his boss), so he decides to go to the gym - where the camera lingers on Mineo’s muscular body.


No complaints here.

Turns out Norah's at the gym too - so Larry changes into his snug black Speedo and chats her up. Only he doesn't listen to a word she says. Rather he fantasizes about swimming with her. Awww, what a sweet psycho killer. There is rumored to be a censored scene here where he pops a boner and makes a quick getaway.That evening at work, they brush off Marian's murder as if she was totally expendable. You'd think Norah would be freaked out that her boss was murdered outside her apartment wearing her fur coat!!! But no, she says "business as usual, better than usual". After the club closes, Norah decides to show Larry how to dance (to her favorite song).
This sweaty scene is a hoot and totally suggestive-with Larry wearing a sexy midrift-bearing jacket. 

When the dance ends Larry tells her that he loves her. Wrong move.

Instead of talking about it a bit, or telling him that she's flattered - she instantly rejects him and he then viciously attacks...and possibly rapes her (through their clothes - after all it was the mid-1960s).Gulp!
Meanwhile, Madden realizes, with help from his daughter, that the stalker was using a mirror to watch Norah. I don't know–it made sense when he said it.He goes to Larry's apartment and finds Edie hiding in a closet. Meanwhile back at the disco, Larry and Norah share an awkward moment.Madden immediately shows up at the club where he smacks the shit out of Larry. While Dave tends to traumatized Norah, Larry gets up and runs through the streets of NYC. Through a strobe effect he imagines a different life - one where he and Norah frolic in the snow. Then he his shot dead by the cops in front of the Hotel Astor. The End.

The movie was beyond awesome. I was not disappointed in the least. 10 out of 10 on the Dougsploitation scale. Sure it was sleazy and totally politically incorrect, but come on–for 1965 it was incredibly suggestive and progressive. Sal Mineo is my new hero, I think it took balls to appear in a film like this and expose himself the way he did. He was far ahead of his time. Imagine the body of work that lied ahead if he wasn't murdered in 1976. Very sad indeed.