What if Peter Lorre played just another crazed character?
What if Peter Lorre played just another crazed character?
I loved listening to the radio when I was a kid. As far as I was concerned, there were only two radio stations to listen to in the Philadelphia area — WFIL and WIBG, the AM home of Top 40. Yeah, I knew there were others, but they didn’t play “the hits.” My mom listened to WPEN, the self-proclaimed “Station of the Stars.” Their playlist consisted of songs and performers whose careers were at their highest during World War II. While I have since come to love this music, the sounds of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman might as well have been the soundtrack to the American Revolution — or at least that’s how my 11 year-old ears interpreted it. My dad listened to KYW for news and WCAU for Phillies games in the summer, Eagles games in the winter and talk in-between. He hung onto callers’ every word, as they discussed how America has gone to pot and how the “good old days” are sorely missed.
For me, WFIL was my preference. They boasted the “boss jocks” who spun my “favorite tracks from the stacks o’ wax” from the moment I got home from school and all day on weekends. In 1972, I heard songs from The Fifth Dimension, Neil Diamond, Cat Stevens and The Carpenters, along with one-hit wonders like Gallery, Mouth & MacNeal and The Jimmy Castor Bunch. Even singers that my dad liked were part of the mix, specifically Sammy Davis Jr.’s hip take on “The Candy Man” from the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and Wayne Newton with his unlikely hit “Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast.” I stuck with WFIL, hearing the same songs over and over and over — until I knew all the words or at least all the words I thought I heard. (I was right! Paul Simon was saying “mama pajama” in “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard.” However, I wondered what exactly prompted Jackson Browne to sing a tribute to his family physician in “Doctor Myeyes.”) And when WFIL went to a commercial, I adjusted the little red indicator on my transistor radio up the dial to WIBG, where they were playing the same songs in a slightly different order.
During the first week of July 1972, WFIL started playing a song that debuted on the charts twenty spots below the Billboard Top 40. But, the singer was a local guy, so they made an exception. The song “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim,” was a rollicking tale of tough-guy pool hustler “Big Jim a-Walker” getting his comeuppance at the hands of a southern tougher-guy Willie McCoy who, as is soon revealed, is called “Slim” down at home. The story unfolds verse by descriptive verse — separated by warnings about the dangers of tugging on Superman’s cape, spitting in the wind and attempting to pull the mask off the Lone Ranger. It was a suitable sing-along and I did indeed join in when I heard it on the radio.
The song was jumping ten chart spaces on a weekly basis for the entire summer, eventually topping out at Number 8 just after Labor Day. All in all, the song spent eleven weeks on the Billboard chart. The singer, hometown boy Jim Croce, performed the song on American Bandstand. He released a follow-up single “Operator,” that did not fare as well.
Jim Croce was a friendly-looking “everyman” with a headful of thick curls and a bushy mustache in the style of Groucho Marx. He wore faded jeans and denim shirts and cowboy boots and he smiled knowingly as he sang. He wasn’t showy. He was just an earnest storyteller who enjoyed the stories he told.
He toured extensively. The tours kept away from the family that he loved — his wife, and one-time performing partner, Ingrid and his infant son, Adrian James.
In the summer of 1973, Jim released “Bad Bad Leroy Brown,” another upbeat story-song, very reminiscent of “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim.” However, this time, his song hit Number One. Jim’s fan base increased. He made more television appearances and continued to tour. But, Jim grew weary of the touring life, expressing in a letter to his wife his plans to abandon the “rock and roll life, in favor of writing short stories and screenplays.” He never achieved his wish.
On September 20, 1973, Jim and his accompanist Maury Muehleisen were wrapping up a show in Natchitoches, Louisiana. As they headed to Natchitoches Regional Airport, 57 year-old pilot Robert Elliot ran three miles from his hotel to meet them. Although he had more than the required flight hours in the chartered Beechcraft E18S, Elliot suffered from coronary artery disease and the run was probably not the best idea. Just after take-off, the plane clipped a tree at the end of the runway and crashed. Everyone aboard — Jim, Maury, comedian George Stevens (who was part of the tour), Jim’s booking agent Kenneth Cortese, road manager Dennis Rast and the pilot — were killed. Jim was 30 years old.
Noting its timely and somewhat prophetic lyrics, ABC Records released “Time in a Bottle” as a single in November 1973. The song, written in 1970, was inspired by the news of Ingrid’s pregnancy and Jim reflecting on his own mortality. It became Jim’s second Number One song.
I remember hearing it on my radio.
What if Steve Reeves went to war?
Just a few years after her father’s death, Mary Koenig took a job as a housekeeper to help support her family. Taking advantage of her connection to employer, the wealthy and influential Harry Payne Whitney, Mary pursued Broadway. Taking the stage name “Mae Murray,” she landed a place in the chorus line of the famed Ziegfeld Follies. By 1915, the ambitious Mae was headlining on tours of the United States and Europe, dancing with esteemed partners like Clifton Webb and Rudolph Valentino.
It was an easy tradition into movies for Mae. In 1916, she made her screen debut in To Have and to Hold. In 1919, she sealed her star status when she received rave reviews for her performances in The Delicious Little Devil and Big Little Person, again with Valentino. Although popular with audiences, Mae’s exaggerated acting style and flamboyant costumes didn’t sit well with her directors and producers. She developed an elitist ego and gained a reputation of being difficult and demanding. Nevertheless, she continued her ascent to superstardom, working with the top names in silent era Hollywood. Her alluring looks earned her the nickname “The Girl with the Bee-Stung Lips” and she loved to introduce herself as such. Capitalizing on her fame, she wrote a column for William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers and posed for a scandalous nude portrait for noted Hollywood artist Theodore Lukits.
In 1926, Mae married her fourth husband, David Mdivani — a shady, lower-level member of the royal Georgian family. Mdivani made himself Mae’s manager. He suggested that she leave MGM Studios for greener pastures and higher salary. Foolishly taking his advice, Mae walked off the set of a film and broke her contract, infuriating powerful studio head Louis B. Mayer. After a bitter divorce from Mdivani, wherein he drained all of Mae’s bank accounts, Mae swallowed her pride and returned to Mayer, pleading for a second change. However, the spurned and angry Mayer refused and, through his connections, had blacklisted Mae at all of Hollywood’s major studios.
When talking pictures came on the scene, Mae was hesitant and uncomfortable. She remade an earlier picture for perfectionist director Erich Von Stroheim. The film, Peacock Alley, was a failure. The fickle public lost interest in Mae Murray seemingly overnight. She made one final film in 1931.
In the 1940s, struggling for work, Mae performed at impresario Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe in the Paramount Hotel in Manhattan. Critics were brutal to Mae, citing her out-of-place, youthful costumes and her heavy make-up, obviously used to conceal her age. On the side, she taught ballroom dancing in New York, but she had difficulty maintaining a steady income and lived at the poverty level.
In early 1964, 79-year-old Mae was found wandering the streets of downtown St, Louis. A representative of the Salvation Army, questioned the disoriented Mae. She explained that she thought she was in New York and had lost her way looking for her hotel, the name of which she had forgotten. With some assistance, Mae was sent back to Los Angeles and admitted to the Motion Picture House in Woodland Hills, a retirement community for Hollywood professionals. Upon her arrival, she told attending medical staff: “I’m Mae Murray, the young Ziegfeld beauty with the bee-stung lips – and Hollywood is calling me.”
Mae passed away in March 1965.
What if Popeye showed his true Navy roots?
Willard Scott, the avuncular weatherman on NBC’s The Today Show passed away this week at the age of 87. He enjoyed a long and productive career in broadcasting, beginning in the 1950s with a live, improvised radio show originating in Washington, DC. At the same time, he worked with local TV station WRC in children’s programming. He portrayed “Bozo the Clown” and “Commander Retro” to the delight of young viewers. He also served as the station’s weatherman during news broadcasts.
In 1980, he was tapped by NBC to replace departing meteorologist Bob Ryan on The Today Show. He brought his homey sense of humor and off-the-wall antics to the position, becoming an iconic and welcome figure to viewers coast-to-coast. In 1983, under the sponsorship of the J.M Smucker Company, Willard began announcing and acknowledging the 100th birthday of viewers on the air. Willard’s daily segments became very popular… that is until a memo, written by then-cohost Bryant Gumbel, blasted Willard Scott, opining “he holds the show hostage to his assortment of whims, wishes, birthdays and bad taste…This guy is killing us and no one’s even trying to rein him in.” Willard was hurt, but — being the consummate professional — offered his forgiveness in the form of a kiss on Gumbel’s cheek.
In the late 1990s, Willard went into semi-retirement, turning his daily duties over to Al Roker. He continued to announce milestone birthdays (and perform his wacky shtick) on a weekly basis until his full retirement in 2015.
According to Willard, he created the universally recognized advertising icon of “Ronald McDonald” in 1963, as requested by a Washington DC McDonald’s restaurant. Dressed in a similar fashion as his “Bozo” persona, Willard added several paper McDonald cups and trays as enhancements to the costume. He called himself “Ronald McDonald, the Hamburger-Happy Clown” and filmed three separate TV commercials that ran as local spots in Washington. However, while they do acknowledge that Willard Scott portrayed an early version of the beloved mascot — one of the first in a long line of actors over the years, they make no mention of Willard Scott being the creator of Ronald McDonald.
What if the Rat Pack acted like…. well…. the Rat Pack?