inktober 2021: week 1

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 (and a little bit of red) 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 a few of Hollywood’s unsung character actors that made notable supporting appearances in horror movies.

The first for the 2021 series is J. Carroll Naish. The son of Irish immigrants, Carroll was a nominated twice for “Best Supporting Actor” Oscars. He was often cast as slimy, menacing villains of undetermined ethnic decent — usually Italian, Hispanic or Eastern European — even Native American… but never Irish. He is remembered for his role in 1944’s House of Frankenstein as Boris Karloff‘s assistant Daniel. He is rebuffed by the lovely Elena Verdugo and is eventually tossed out a window by the Frankenstein monster. Carroll was a versatile actor, appearing different genres as needed. He starred in musicals, gangster pictures, serials, mysteries, anywhere his talents were required. He eventually retired in 1971 and passed away two years later, just three days after his 77th birthday.

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DCS: the barry sisters

Minnie and Clara Bagelman began their singing career on a New York radio show called “Uncle Norman,” which was geared towards children. This led to the sisters making some recordings for RCA Records in the early 1930s. Their records, which were recorded in Yiddish, had limited appeal and sold mostly to the fans of New York’s Yiddish Theater. However, in 1937, the renowned Andrews Sisters had a hit with the Yiddish song “Bei Mir Bistu Shein.” Musician and impresario Dick Manning (born Sam Medoff) latched on to the song’s popularity and featured The Bagelman Sisters on his “Yiddish Melodies in Swing” radio program — except he changed their names to “Merna and Claire” and altered their last name to “Barry.”

For over a decade, the Barry Sisters performed on Manning’s show. They also toured the country, singing Yiddish interpretations of jazz standards and popular songs. Their style was a noted departure from other acts cultivated in the Yiddish theater. The Barry Sisters were glamourous and showy, wearing evening gowns and sporting current hair-dos. The Barry Sisters appeared on The Jack Paar Show, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and The Ed Sullivan Show. They were regular performers at resorts in the Catskill Mountains, usually accompanying bandleader Mickey Katz. They entertained American troops and were one of the few American acts allowed to tour the Soviet Union in the late 1950s. Their popularity even brought them to entertain Israeli troops during the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

Merna and Claire released their final album in 1973 and soon after, Merna developed a brain tumor. The pair ceased performing. Merna passed away in 1976 at the age of 53. Claire cut back on her singing after her sister’s death. She made rare appearances over the years, including taking the stage at Carnegie Hall with singer Neil Sedaka. Despite suffering from declining health, specifically macular degeneration, she sang with the power and grace of her earlier performances. Claire passed away in 2014 and the age of 94. She survived her younger sister by 38 years.

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DCS: jim croce

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.

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DCS: mae murray

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.

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