DCS: jane weir

No promises as vague as Heaven

Jane Weir and her mother left Davenport, Iowa for Hollywood, California in 1926. Jane attended and graduated Hollywood High School and immediately signed a five-year contract with Paramount Pictures. The studio had big plans for the pretty blond. She was cast in both dramas and comedies and co-starred with such big names as George Raft, Gary Cooper and Jack Benny. She had aspirations to become a screenwriter and Paramount was developing a starring vehicle for her.

Jane went for a routine appendectomy just before her fame was poised to skyrocket. During recovery, she developed a blood clot. After an emergency blood transfusion, she lapsed into a coma and died.  Jane was just 21 years old.

A subsequent autopsy and a police investigation revealed nothing out of the ordinary.



inktober 2020: week two

inktober 2020 - week two

Creighton Chaney changed his name to the more familiar “Lon Jr.” to, no doubt, cash in on his father‘s popularity. Actually, Lon Jr. was discouraged by his father from entering the field of acting and didn’t do so until after his father’s death.

He was best remembered for his role in the 1941 Universal horror film The Wolf Man and its sequels. He portrayed troubled “Larry Talbot” in nearly every incarnation of the character, even after the character was seemingly killed in some films. Although he was closely associated with the Wolf Man character, he is the only actor the portray all of the top Universal monsters – Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Wolf Man and The Mummy.

Working decidedly outside of his genre, Lon Jr, received critical acclaim for his role of the gentle giant “Lennie Small” in the stage production of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. He reprised the role in the film version.

Lon Jr. worked into the early 1970s with a slew of low-budget films like the infamous Spider Baby and guest roles in TV series like The Rifleman, Route 66 and even The Monkees. He passed away in 1973 at the age of 67. As per his wishes, his body was donated to medical research.



DCS: helen reddy

If you grew up in the 70s, you couldn’t turn on a radio without hearing the beginning, middle or end of Helen Reddy’s feminist anthem “I Am Woman.” She performed it on variety shows, on talk shows and on late-night music shows. It was inescapable and undeniably infectious. At the time, it pretty much defined Helen Reddy’s career. Whether or not she liked it, she became the unofficial poster child for the burgeoning Women’s Rights movement that spilled over from its germination in the late 1960s. This was ironic, considering the Australian native released the fairly subservient single “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” just 15 months earlier.

However, Helen tried to rise above her “pigeonholed” stature. She released a series of songs which purposely (I assume) did not follow in the “message-carrying” path of her iconic hit. Over the next two years, she recorded and released ten singles in rapid fire. All were delivered in Helen’s familiar easy-listening radio-ready voice, but the subjects of each didn’t remotely tread in “I Am Woman” territory. Her immediate follow-up, Kenny Rankin’s “Peaceful,” was a tranquil tune that fittingly conjures images of shady trees and breeze-blown meadows. Next was “Delta Dawn,” previously recorded by Tanya Tucker and Bette Midler. It was a story song that teased at its country-western origin. Late in 1974, Helen released “Angie Baby,” a dark tale of an unusual young lady. It was written by “Undercover Angel vocalist Alan O’Day, and it caused quite a stir among radio listeners with its ambiguous narrative and creepy mood. It hit Number 1 on the Billboard chart and was one of Helen Reddy’s biggest hits… and my favorite from her catalog.

The 70s was a fantastic time to be Helen Reddy. She enjoyed success from singles and albums, as well as a popular television special and hosting duties on The Midnight Special, a late-night weekly showcase for current musical acts. She even dabbled in the acting business, with roles in Disney’s Pete’s Dragon and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and guest appearances in Love Boat Fantasy Island and The Jeffersons.

Soon, the 70s weren’t the 70s anymore. Popular musical tastes changed. While Helen continued to record and release music, interest in her musical output waned considerably. She popped up from time to time, doing voiceover work in segments that spoofed her career. She did, however, embark on a new endeavor — the stage, appearing in a several plays and musical through the 80s and 90s. She officially retired from show business in 2002, living modestly on song royalties, pension and social security.

Honestly, I hadn’t heard Helen Reddy’s name in years, save for the few times one of her forty-year old hits surfaced on the Sirius Radio ’70s playlist, evoking the question: “Hmm… whatever happened to her?” And just this week, after many more years, news sources reported that Helen had passed away at the age of 78. She had not been in the news, no surprise or long-term illness had been reported. Just a name from the past, another memory from my innocent youth — now gone.



inktober 2020: week one

inktober 2020 - week one

Here we are again! October! And Inktober is once again upon us. That means it’s time for hundreds of talented artists worldwide… and me…. to create special works daily just for October, based on a set of suggestions from the official Inktober website. And once again, I’ll be making up my own rules of participation. I will be posting a new, black & white drawing each week for the entire month – in addition to my participation in the regular Inktober 52 and a Dead Celebrity Spotlight plus a “retro movie poster that never was“…and, if I feel like it, another random drawing here and there. Every year, I choose a theme in keeping with the “spirit” of the Hallowe’en season. This year, my drawings will be a tribute to one of the immortal actors that made horror movies the chosen genre in which to ply their craft.

I’ll start things off with the great Boris Karloff. Born William Pratt in 1887, he adopted a more intriguing stage name and appeared as a bit player in dozens of silent films in Hollywood’s early days. Actually, Boris acted in nearly one hundred films before being cast in his iconic role as the monster in James Whale‘s 1931 classic Frankenstein and its subsequent sequel The Bride of Frankenstein. He took roles in other horror films until the genre fell out of favor with the movie-going public. He appeared in non-horror films including mysteries like the Charlie Chan series and suspense like Dick Tracy serials. He returned to horror when its popularity resurged. He starred in a number of horror films well into the 50s and 60s, working with directors like Val Lewton and Roger Corman. Boris moved into television as the host of the anthology program Thriller. He spoofed his malevolent persona as the narrator of the animated holiday classic How The Grinch Stole Christmas and in the film The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini in 1967, his last role.

Boris passed away in 1969 at the age of 81.



DCS: sergio franchi

Sergio Franchi. What a melodic, romantic sounding name! It was very fitting for the Italian tenor with the robust voice and charming demeanor. Sergio Franchi! Throughout the 70s, he sang on The Ed Sullivan Show, filled the big showrooms in Las Vegas and toured the country, enchanting audiences that were mostly comprised of suburban American housewives looking to inject a little Continental excitement into their routine lives.

My mom was one of them.

My mom loved Sergio Franchi. As a teenager in the early 1940s, she was fan of big-band swing and was quite the accomplished jitterbugger. She swooned along with her contemporaries to the likes of Frank Sinatra and Eddie Fisher. She could be spotted at the famed Steel Pier in Atlantic City doing the Lindy or on the dance floor at Grossinger’s in the Catskill Mountains “cuttin’ a rug” with some guy whose name she barely knew. As long as there was music, my mom was there.

She always kept up with musical trends. She fell for Tom Jones in the 60s with his tight, high-waisted pants doing their best to contain his gyrating hips. She listened with heavy-lidded eyes to Bobby Darin and Mel Torme and Vic Damone. And then she discovered Sergio Franchi.

Sergio Franchi! Rugged, chiseled, Romanesque features. Barrel-chested and impeccably groomed — always sporting a simple and elegant tuxedo, its bow tie usually undone by song number three of his repertoire. In later years, Sergio would display a trendy perm on his previously close-cropped ‘do. His easy, but charismatic, personality and his wide smile entranced his audiences. And that voice! Magnificent, velvety tones that could handle popular tunes as easily as soaring operatic arias.

My mom never missed seeing Sergio Franchi at the Latin Casino when he came to our area. “The Latin,” as it was colloquially known, was a very popular night club that moved from its original Philadelphia location to a larger venue just over the New Jersey state line. Despite its name, The Latin Casino was not actually a casino, although it attracted the same caliber acts that played the real casinos in Las Vegas. Frank, Dean, Sammy — they all performed there on nationwide tours that stopped in and around the City of Brotherly Love. Ironically, its downfall was the introduction of casino gambling in Atlantic City, putting a clause in performer’s contracts not allowing them to appear with a certain radius of the seashore resort — a radius that included the Latin Casino. However, in its heyday, my mom would go with a girlfriend or her sister to see Sergio Franchi — but never with my father. He wasn’t interested in going anywhere — especially to see some singer who wasn’t Al Jolson. Good thing, too, because my mom was very uninhibited and I’m sure she offered her share of screams and cat-calls along with the other female members of the audience. One morning, after my mom had seen Sergio Franchi the night before, I came into our kitchen to find a red cloth napkin folded neatly on the kitchen table. My mom, with stars in her eyes, explained that Sergio had wiped his face with the napkin and handed it down to her at her stage-side table. It was as though the Lady of the Lake had touched Arthur’s shoulders with Excalibur. In later years, Serigo Franchi moved his Philadelphia area stop to the Valley Forge Music Fair, a smaller, in-the-round venue just minutes from where George Washington led troops fighting for our country’s independence. As far as my mom was concerned, they fought for her right to sit in the front row to see Sergio Franchi sing. In between songs, Sergio Franchi would address the audience, often remarking about the name of the town where the venue was located. “King of Prussia!,” he would say, his diminished, though still present Italian accent rolling the “R”. He’d gesture with his outstretched arm in a mock-majestic flourish as he repeated it “King of Prussia! I love to perform in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania!” He’d smile and the audience would giggle and sigh in unison, as though they had rehearsed.

Surprisingly, my mom owned just one Sergio Franchi album… but she played it over and over and over again. It was a 1973 RCA Records compilation imaginatively titled This is Sergio Franchi. The cover showed two sketchy drawings of the singer — a close-up and a waist-up action pose — against a very generic 70s-style design and typeface. When she could gain control of the family stereo, she would blast This is Sergio Franchi the way my brother would crank the volume on Physical Graffiti. This is Sergio Franchi earned a place in our family’s all-inclusive record collection, even if it looked out of place among the many releases by Queen, Springsteen and Elton John. (Oh, my mom listen to those, too.)

Sergio Franchi appeared on the popular morning talk show Regis and Kathie Lee in 1989. It would prove to be his final TV appearance. Afterwards, during rehearsals for a show at South Shore Music Circus in Massachusetts, Sergio Franchi collapsed on stage. He was hospitalized and the remaining dates of his summer tour were canceled. Testing revealed a brain tumor and, despite treatments including radiation, Sergio passed away in May 1990 at the age of 64.

My mom, who was fighting her own battle with cancer, was crushed when she heard the news. When she returned home from her chemotherapy sessions, she played her copy of This is Sergio Franchi until the grooves in the vinyl wore flat.

My mom passed away in October 1991.