Thursday, April 7, 2016

Happy Birthday, Jim Garner!

"Aw, c'mon Dennis!"
"Sorry, Jimbo, but I can't help you out this time".

This scene played itself out many times over on the hit NBC series, The Rockford Files, whenever private investigator Jim Rockford would pop into LAPD headquarters hoping his buddy, Sgt. Dennis Becker would run a licence plate for him or agree to provide any other professional favour that only the police can.

So on what would have been the 88th birthday of my favourite actor, James Garner, I'd also like to pay tribute to Jim's dear friend and colleague, Joe Santos, who played Sgt. Becker and whom we sadly lost just a few weeks ago on March 18, 2016, after he suffered a heart attack at the age of 84.

Joe Santos was completely believable as the constantly beleaguered, overworked and under-appreciated Sgt. Dennis Becker, with his Brooklyn accent and moon face always sporting a hangdog expression. Though he was Rockford's best friend off-duty, on the job Dennis had to be careful not to be seen doing Jim any favours that might go against official police protocol, lest he be caught by one of his superiors, either Lt. Diehl or Lt. Chapman, both of whom detested poor Rockford and still viewed him as a bad news ex-con (despite his being innocent of his charge and given a full pardon after being released from prison). Fortunately, friendship and loyalty always won out in the end, with Dennis following up on Rockford's tips and often showing up with his fellow cops just in the nick of time to get Jim out of a tight spot in the climax of many episodes.

The Rockford Files had one of the best ensemble casts of any TV detective show back in the 1970s, and due to Jim Garner's legendary generosity to his fellow actors, all his co-stars remained loyal friends to Jim off-screen as well. Though Joe Santos played many other roles in his long career (including the role of Frank Sinatra's father, Marty, in the 1992 TV miniseries, Sinatra), he will always be best remembered as harried but loveable Dennis Becker, who happily, eventually got promoted to Lieutenant for all his hard work and dedication!

So here's to both Jim Garner and Joe Santos - two wonderful actors and good friends, both on and off screen!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Happy Birthday, David Frankham!

This dashing young fellow is British actor, David Frankham, as he appeared in the 1961 adventure film, Master of the World. It was the second of three films in which he co-starred alongside Vincent Price, the other two being Return of the Fly (1958) and Tales of Terror (1962). In fact, David credits Price with getting him cast in this role when the original actor had to bow out. 

But today is a very special day, as today Mr. Frankham hits the age of 90 years old, and is still quite the spry fellow living down in warm and sunny New Mexico!

Science fiction TV fans may recall David Frankham from his guest roles in The Outer Limits (“Nightmare”) and Star Trek (“Is There in Truth No Beauty?”) However, to many longtime Disney fans like myself, David Frankham will always be beloved as the voice of Sgt. Tibbs, the heroic little tabby cat who helped rescue the puppies in Disney’s animated classic, One Hundred and One Dalmatians.

I’ve written before of how the Disney artists would often try to incorporate some of the physical features and mannerisms from the actors who provided their voices. And I believe that they were able to translate some of Mr. Frankham’s facial features into the feline features of Tibbs. The little cat shares his big soulful eyes, small pointed nose that juts out sharply, and especially the pouting lower lip on a small mouth. 

As it happens, Sgt. Tibbs is my favourite character from the film, as I love the irony of a skinny little cat risking his nine lives trying to protect 101 puppies, knowing full well that as grown-up dogs they’d likely give him a lot of grief! Tibbs moves in quick zigzag patterns, in contrast to the slow plodding movements of The Colonel, his sheepdog commander, and so that also makes him the natural choice to embark on a stealth mission, as he can easily dart through small confined spaces undetected by the two Cockney villains, Horace and Jasper. David Frankham created a quick, attentive vocal mannerism to match his physical movements, and the little cat is so respectful of his superiors, eager to carry out his mission to the best of his abilities. In short, Mr. Frankham and the Disney animators have combined their talents to create a heroic and memorable little personality that will live on in the hearts of all Disney fans forever!

So in closing, I want to wish David Frankham a very Happy 90th Birthday and sincere thanks for playing a part in my childhood movie memories!

Here he is in the trailer for Roger Corman's Master of the World (1961):

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

"Nudge, Nudge, Say No More!"

Back in the beginning of May 2015, I'd received a freelance assignment that intrigued me and turned out to be a lot of fun to do. The request came from the Just For Laughs company, who are based in Montreal and put together various comedy specials for TV, as well as the Just For Laughs live comedy festivals featuring many well-known and up and coming stand-up comedians.

It turns out they were putting together a comedy tour featuring Monty Python alumni, John Cleese and Eric Idle, where the two of them would sit and chat on stage, reminiscing about their work on Monty Python's Flying Circus and the movies that the TV show begat. It was my caricature of John Cleese in his role as the Minister of Silly Walks from a few years back that the folks from Just For Laughs had seen on Google images, leading to their hiring me for this assignment, and they wanted Cleese still depicted in that role. For Eric, I suggested his "Nudge, Nudge" character, as that seemed to me his most iconic role and very representative of Eric's style of humour. They agreed, and I forged ahead on the caricature of this funny duo!

The show itself was only scheduled through October, and was limited to Florida and a few other southern state playdates. Cleese himself joked about how it was really just a good excuse for an all-expenses paid Florida vacation for he and Eric! Though I unfortunately did not see the show myself, friends of mine who did were good enough to send me a photo of my caricature projected large on a screen above the stage before the show got underway. 

Then, just a week before Christmas I received an early present. The folks from Just For Laughs had not only honoured my request for a poster as a souvenir, but they'd had John and Eric autograph it for me as well! It was certainly a big thrill, and a great addition to my collection of autographed caricatures I've amassed over many years. Here is that signed poster:

Just today, I was alerted to this Daily Mail article on John Cleese and his outspoken criticism of how today's political correctness is attempting to restrict what a comedian is allowed to say, particularly in venues on the college and university circuit. Cleese is in good company, as other comedians such as Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, and Bill Maher have made similar observations. And having taught at a college for eleven years myself, I share these views also. Students are not as easygoing as they used to be, and these comedians are quite right to be concerned about the future of comedy when subjected to arbitrary restrictions out of fear of it being considered "offensive".

Here's a video of John Cleese speaking his mind on this unfortunate phenomenon:

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Happy Birthday, Pamela Sosnowski!

Though this blog has been somewhat dormant for awhile, I’ve recently started to revive it with a flurry of new posts, celebrating entertainers that I like. Today the Cartoon Cave would like to try something a little different, in that I’d like to salute one of my fellow bloggers, Pamela Sosnowski, on her birthday. Pam is the creator of the Go Retro blogsite, which is devoted to pop culture of the Mid-20th Century, a subject also close to my heart. In fact, over the last couple years I’ve been gradually adding more and more links to the Cartoon Cave's sidebar, listing numerous blogs devoted to Mid-Century Modern art and entertainment, as this is what I’ve always loved best.

I’ve been reading Pam’s Go Retro site for quite a while now, and I really enjoy the subjects she chooses to write about. Go Retro is of a likeminded nostalgic bent to my own Cartoon Cave, and I find Pam’s posts quite informative and delightfully written. More recently, Pam and I have become friends through Facebook, and I'm very happy to have met her through that online venue. We seem to share a lot of common interests, and it turns out that Pam’s all-time favourite male vocalist is none other than Bobby Darin, who is also a favourite of mine, second only to Frank Sinatra on my list!

So in honour of her birthday, I’ve created this caricature of the lovely Pam Sosnowski, and I would like to encourage my readers who share an interest in Mid-20th Century pop culture to please go check out Go Retro for more warm nostalgic memories of the glorious past!

Happy Birthday, Pam!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

RIP Alan Rickman...

Only one day after we lost Disney's Robin Hood, Brian Bedford, comes the tragic news this morning that the Sheriff of Nottingham (from Kevin Costner's version), Alan Rickman, has died at the age of 69 following a bout with cancer. Admittedly I have only seen a handful of Rickman's films, so I do not feel I could do him justice in trying to sum up his career. Like many moviegoers, I am most familiar with him in the role of Professor Snape from the Harry Potter films, and was introduced to his work in the aforementioned, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. However, I based this caricature of him drawn several years ago from his role in the romantic comedy, Love Actually.

Alan Rickman was probably one of the most distinctive actors we've known in the last couple of decades, with his unique facial features, highly nasal voice, and slow, articulate delivery of his dialogue. He always played the part of a villain to the hilt, with an underlying dark humour not unlike that of Vincent Price or George Sanders. In the contemporary film world of actors who are mostly blandly attractive pretty boy types, Alan Rickman was one of a disappearing breed of truly distinctive character actors, and he certainly made his mark on the films of his generation.

With the deaths of David Bowie, Brian Bedford, and now Alan Rickman, this has truly been a devastating week for the Brits. So sad...

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Farewell, Brian Bedford...

It always saddens me to hear about the death of a performer I like, and especially so when it happens to be one that I’ve had the great fortune to have met. Such is the case with Brian Bedford, an actor primarily known for his work on stage, yet also having performed in a number of feature films and TV show guest appearances.

I first became aware of Brian Bedford in 1973, when I saw Disney’s animated feature, Robin Hood up on the big screen when I was just 13. Brian was perhaps the only actor in the film’s voice credits that I had never heard of, and ironically he was the voice of the title character, Robin Hood the fox! I just loved that film, as I was quite taken by the concept of the Robin Hood legend being re-enacted with a cast of anthropomorphic animals. (And that was long before I’d ever heard the word, “anthropomorphic”!) Despite it not being particularly well thought of by animation film critics, it still remains a personal favourite Disney feature of mine, as I still believe it has some of the most enjoyable characterizations, even if the plot is merely serviceable.

My photo of Brian Bedford from 1980.
I wish we'd had digital cameras back then!
Several years later, Brian Bedford started to appear at Canada’s Stratford Festival, in Stratford, Ontario. In 1978, my parents agreed to take me to see him at Stratford, in a production of Private Lives, opposite Maggie Smith. We drove there from Ottawa, and I was able to arrange before the show for permission to visit with Brian backstage after his performance, as I had drawn a caricature that I wished to present to him. Brian had given the word that we’d be welcome, and so we headed backstage after the show (and passed Maggie Smith in the hallway, who smiled at us as she was just heading home). Brian Bedford was absolutely charming, and graciously spent about a half hour with us, chatting with me about both his voice work in Robin Hood, as well as his role in Grand Prix, the only live-action feature I’d seen him in, and on which I had based my caricature of him. Coincidentally, Brian's co-star in Grand Prix was James Garner, my alltime favourite actor, whom I have featured numerous times on The Cartoon Cave!

As the tragic race car driver, Scott Stoddard, in Grand Prix 1966
We saw him again at Stratford a couple more times over the years, and also were able to visit with him when he appeared on the Toronto stage in a production of Whose Life Is It Anyway? The caricature pictured in the photo above is a second one I’d done of him, presented to him at Stratford in 1980. Every time I saw him, he greeted me by name, even remembering the fact that I’d hoped to one day work for Disney. That would actually happen for me in 1984, but I don’t believe I saw him again after then, and I think he’d have been happy to hear that news if I’d gotten in touch again. I really wish now that I had. Brian Bedford was a true gentleman and a very kind fellow. I will miss him very much.

Monday, January 11, 2016

RIP David Bowie

I've never been a rock fan per se, so my knowledge of David Bowie's career and music legacy is very limited. However, it certainly did come as a shock to read of his passing this morning at the relatively early age of 69.

Because I was not a rock enthusiast, I really don't know his work in his "Ziggy Stardust" persona of the 70s at all. In fact, it wasn't until he recorded the title theme from the 1982 remake of Cat People that I took notice of what was actually a very good voice, deep and resonant and very theatrical. I still like that song, Putting Out The Fire to this day.

The caricature above I created originally for one of the online weekly caricature contests a few years ago. Here's another sketch I did at the time which I never did develop further, based on his iconic appearance singing the Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth duet with Bing Crosby on Bing's final Christmas special that aired in 1977 posthumously after Bing's death the previous summer.

I think the way I'd like to remember David Bowie best, though, is not alongside Bing, but rather, in this music video duet he performed with his fellow English rocker and contemporary, Mick Jagger. In their cover version of Dancing In The Street, Mick and Bowie are just having so much fun that it's impossible to resist their energetic charm! Enjoy! 

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Very Merry Disney Christmas!

This set of Disney character Christmas cards goes back nearly 20 years ago, I believe. They were commissioned by a Disney licensee by the name of G.G. Genal, as I had made the acquaintance of the founder of the company, the charming Gloria Aleff, at a Disneyana convention several years prior, and she was hoping we could work together on a project one day.

If I'm not mistaken, I illustrated these cards about 1995 or 1996, within a couple years after I'd left my job at Walt Disney World in Florida to return to Canada and continue illustrating for Disney in a freelance capacity. They were being created exclusively for sale through the Disney Stores at that time.

My stylistic approach to illustrating Mickey and the other standard Disney characters was primarily based on how they looked in the early 1940s, specifically in the handful of cartoons produced in 1941 and 1942 that were directed by Riley Thomson. The animators in his unit who worked on these included Ward Kimball, Fred Moore, and Walt Kelly, who would soon thereafter leave Disney to go create his famous comic strip character, Pogo Possum. These guys also had a reputation for getting sloshed on their lunch breaks, leading to highly spirited and very funny animation (with incredibly dynamic poses and expressions), with the resulting shorts being nicknamed the "Drunk Mickey" cartoons! It was also in two of these cartoons, Mickey's Birthday Party and Symphony Hour, that Clarabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar enjoyed a brief revival, but would pretty much disappear again from the shorts after this.

The other goal in illustrating these Christmas cards was to capture the warm, cozy feel of the Disney publicity art that had been created by the brilliant Hank Porter, such as his artwork for  the Disney pages in Good Housekeeping Magazine in the early 1940s. I always felt that Porter's art had every bit as much visual appeal as that of the legendary animator, Fred Moore, yet he is largely unknown to the general public. 

All of these were painted using gouache on illustration board, by the way, as this is still my preferred medium even in this age of digitally created art. Frankly, I wouldn't even know how to achieve the same results using Photoshop and, unless one uses a Cintiq, I wouldn't even have the type of control necessary to do it digitally. Besides, I just happen to prefer the look of real paint on board, aesthetically!

Finally, here is the logo featuring Mickey and Minnie that appeared on the back of each of the three illustrated cards. I've enlarged it considerably from its printed dimensions of approximately 1 1/2" in diameter, so it's a bit blurry as a result.

This will likely be my last post before the 25th, so a Merry Christmas to all of my blog readers!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Happy 100th Birthday, Frank Sinatra!

I've written of my admiration for Frank Sinatra many times on The Cartoon Cave. In fact, my very first post when I launched this blog back in June 2007 made reference to his influence on my tastes in entertainment. For me, no other American entertainer better represents the 20th Century. He will always be the ultimate interpreter of The Great American Songbook - that vast catalogue of song standards composed by the likes of George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer, and many others. And then there was the songwriting team of Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, who wrote many of Frank's biggest hits, such as Come Fly With Me, Call Me Irresponsible, and the heartbreakingly beautiful All The Way, one of my favourites. It's incredible to believe that Dec. 12 2015 is the centenary of his birth!

My favourite era of entertainment runs from approximately the early 50s through to the end of the 70s, and so it stands to reason that that's also my favourite period of Frank Sinatra's career. Although I can appreciate his early years as the skinny, big-eared, romantic crooner with the Tommy Dorsey band, that era is not nearly as appealing to me as his swinging bachelor image when he reinvented himself in the 1950s, thanks in no small part to his longtime collaboration with conductor/arrangers, Billy May and Nelson Riddle. With their jazzy musical arrangements and Sinatra's tailored suit, tilted fedora (or Trilby, as pictured), Frank had adopted a devil-may-care persona that epitomized the life of the 1950's young urban male. In the early 90s, that image was revived with the newfound interest among Baby Boomers in what was now called "Lounge Music". Though I was a Sinatra fan long before then, I must admit it felt good to see others starting to rediscover the greatness of that mid-20th Century entertainment.

Frank Sinatra's music career is what fascinates me the most, as I never tire of listening to his voice and styling of a song, making it his own. But I also enjoy Sinatra greatly as an actor, albeit with some reservation on some of his film choices. Whereas in the recording studio Frank was a perfectionist in his craft, the same could not always be said for his film roles. In his first dramatic acting role (that also boosted his flagging career) as the tragic Maggio in From Here To Eternity (1953), Frank showed he had the acting chops that few would have believed he had previously. There was no longer any doubt of that when he followed up in 1955 with his powerful performance as a drug addicted drummer in The Man With The Golden Arm. My favourites, however, would include the wartime escape drama, Von Ryan's Express, the cold war thriller, The Manchurian Candidate, and I must confess, two of his notoriously lightweight Rat Pack escapades, Ocean's 11 and Robin And The 7 Hoods!

It is in that latter film that Frank has his only onscreen musical collaboration with his Rat Pack pallie, Dean Martin. And if that weren't enough fun, they're joined by Bing Crosby, the legendary crooner who set the standard for all who came after, including Frank and Dean. Here's the three of these great entertainers singing "Style" from the aforementioned Robin And The 7 Hoods, a Chicago gangster spin on the Robin Hood legend. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Happy Birthday, Jody Miller!

Today I want to pay tribute to Jody Miller, an incredibly talented singer with an impressive voice, yet who in my opinion is terribly underrated. Although most longtime country fans will know Jody, I suspect that her name may not be that recognized by the general public today. 

Jody Miller arrived on the scene in the early 1960s as a singer of folk and pop songs. She hit it big early in her career when she recorded Queen Of The House, which was called an “answer song” to Roger Miller’s recently released mega-hit, King Of The Road. With Roger’s blessing, the 1965 song featured the same melody but with new lyrics written that gave the female point of view, with the premise of a weary modern housewife who still was thankful for the high points in her otherwise humdrum week. The song really put her on the map, winning Jody a Grammy in the process.

As a result of that hit song, Jody was pegged as a country singer, though she was still keen to explore more diverse types of song, whether country, folk or pop. That probably didn’t sit well with the music industry at the time, as record label execs preferred artists that fit a clearly defined music genre, and Jody wasn’t easy to categorize. She actually was one of the earlier female crossover artists, straddling both pop and country charts, and opening up the door for other similar singers who came along a few years later, such as Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Olivia Newton-John.

Though she put out her share of record albums and did regular concert tours, Jody never really was able to repeat the success of Queen Of The House. I believe the problem was due to the material she chose to record, in that many of her notable songs were those that had already been made famous earlier by other vocalists and groups, such as He’s So Fine, Baby I’m Yours, and Will You Love Me Tomorrow, the last of which had already been recently revived by Linda Ronstadt. Here's the TV appearance of Jody singing He's So Fine, which was used as the basis for my caricature of her:

Though fine songs all, what Jody really needed was a brand new original song she could lay sole claim to and establish as a “Jody Miller” hit. Alas, such a song never really came to be, and so despite her remarkable vocal chops and warm, winning smile, Jody Miller never became the household name that so many of her colleagues had achieved when country music was gaining greater mass popularity throughout the 60s and 70s.

Still, one distinction that Jody can lay claim to is being one of the pioneers in what would later become “music videos”, in that she performed a number of her songs for Scopitones on film, usually featuring a troupe of pretty back-up dancers. Here’s a sample of that, with Jody acting out her big hit, Queen Of The House. I think Jody is incredibly cute, with her all-American good looks, and holds her own among the obvious charms of the girl dancers! Enjoy!