Sunday, 12 December 2010

How lucky can you get?

Here's a first! I'm blogging "live" from Circus Circus here in Las Vegas. Ever since I can remember I've always wanted to see the Circus Circus clown! Obsessive as I can be, the obsession took a back seat for a number of years. When I made plans to visit Las Vegas there was only one option where I wanted to stay. Actually there were a few. I really wanted to stay in one of the older hotels from the 60's and 70's. There's not a lot left. They implode them all and build new resorts. So...the choice was between the Sahara, the Flamingo, Circus Circus and the Riviera. As luck would have it, I couldn't go past my old friend, the clown.

Imagine my expression of seeing him for the first time. I probably stood there for about five minutes taking it in. I'll admit I was really excited and he is HUGE! I knew he was big but he's a monster. In reality he's 123 feet high, designed by Dan Edwards and now has a new LED screen. I took a gazillion photos of him, (his name is "Lucky"). Although the hotel was opened in 1968, Lucky didn't arrive until 1976! There's another great thing, he's from the 70's! I immediately went on a hunt through the gift shops. Alas, there appears to be no Lucky merchandise. I did find a number of Circus Circus items but nothing with Lucky emblazoned across them. Too me he's part of the Las Vegas strip. I hope the owners don't try to update or modernize Lucky. He'd be lucky no more.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

The Roustabout ferris wheel today

If your a fan of Elvis Presley you pretty much know his 1964 movie Roustabout. Probably more than me. I've only seen the film once, basically to see the Ferris Wheel. That makes me sound like I have some unnatural obsession with ferris wheels. Far from it. I'm not a huge fan of riding them but for the sake of a good story, I did. A few years ago I heard that the ferris wheel from the movie, Roustabout, was now living in Australia.

The original exteriors for Routabout were filmed in Thousand Oaks, California. In a cow pasture! Luckliy the ferris wheel now has ocean views. When I found myself in Semaphore, I made a beeline and I just had to check out this movie icon. As I walked up I noticed the sign claiming it to be the real thing! Yes, it's even called, The Roustabout! Poor Barbara Stanywck doesn't even rate mention on the sign.

As I'm easily impressed I asked the operator if he knew any history and how it ended up half way around the world. He didn't seem interested in talking about it. I'm guessing he'd recounted the story so many times he was probably bored repeating it. The sign claimed it was in the movie, so I kept up my questions. I learnt that it WAS from the film. The original chairs were replaced a few years ago. The originals were unsafe and he didn't know where they were now. The only other fact I could muster was it shipped to Australia a number of years ago. I thanked him for having to deal with my questions and I hopped on for my three minute ride.

When visiting Semaphore in South Australia make sure to visit and ride the ferris wheel that Elvis rode in the movie, Roustabout. Book that vacation now!

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Hitchcock's The Birds

I've touched on this before so think of this an extended version. I love the Alfred Hitchcock classic, The Birds. The basic premise of the movie is simple. The small coastal town of Bodega Bay is besieged by attacking birds. Birds do attack. I've been dive bombed by overly protective birds when walking past a tree where it's newborns are nesting. It is a scary feeling as you hear the clap of their wings and feel a peck on your head. I've even witnessed a bird fly into a window.

Universal backlot 1962

I've always dreamed of visiting the town of Bodega Bay in Northern California the second I saw the movie. One of my "must-do's" was to walk up the street where Melanie drives to find directions to the Brenner home at the general store and to have lunch at the Tides and make a phone call from the telephone box. All this was back in the early 1980's when I was much younger and stupidly naive. The dream of putting myself in The Birds died a sad death the day I purchased the DVD back in 2001. Watching The Making of The Birds (a great bonus feature I must add) there my dream died, much of Bodega Bay was the Universal Studios backlot.

Universal backlot 2005

In 2005 I was lucky enough to grab a capture of what I originally thought was Bodega Bay. The location looked remarkably the same all these years later. It was only after I returned home I discovered I'd captured the Birds location.

Universal Studios 2009

In 2008 Universal Studios suffered a fire losing much of their New York sets. The Birds location (one of Universal's original western sets) was spared. However, a decision was made and the black fish market facade was removed making way for a park. The facade of The Tides restaurant, phone box gas station no longer remain. The general store and saloon remain, a legacy of Hitchcock's, The Birds.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

I've always wondered what it must be like to live in a home that has been featured in a movie or TV series. Countless gawking tourists standing outside taking photos as a memento of their vacation to Hollywood USA. Yes, I am one of them and ironically I couldn't wait to do it. One of my first ever attempts at "property stalking" proved quite a buzz.

Thanks to the internet I was able to track down the address of the house used in the 1962 movie, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? starring Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. If you haven't seen the movie it can be best described as; a thriller about an aging ex-vaudeville star (Davis) waging a psychotic reign of terror over her crippled ex-movie star sister (Crawford).

You really have to give it to these two ageing broads, they play their characters to the hilt. Bette Davis proves herself as a marvelous character actress as does Joan. The fact they appeared so grotesquely certainly proves you don't need beauty to have star power. Anyway...

Randy and I set out to stalk this real home in the Hancock Park section of Los Angeles. It was surprisingly easy to find. Once we arrived at our location Randy opted to stay in the car but I had to get out and get as close as I could to the property. Considering the movie was filmed in 1962 the house looks virtually the same some 47 years later.

1962 Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? appearance


Actor, Victor Buono at the front door in 1962

The ornate gates in 2009

The neighbours house was seen briefly in a few establishing shots.


Mrs Bates (the neighbor) was played by Anna Lee who would go on to play a nun in The Sound of Music and her daughter was played by Bette Davis real life daughter BD Merrill.

Filming Baby Jane 1962

All the interiors for Baby Jane were filmed at Raleigh Studios on Melrose Ave. While the real house was used on McCadden Place for exterior shots, a facade of the exterior was partially built on a soundstage at Raleigh.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

or...finding my big W!

In July last year I found myself in Long Beach California visiting the Queen Mary. I had planned to visit the Aquarium of the Pacific but decided against it at the last minute. With time on my hands I decided to take a walk around and discover the sights of Long Beach. I found myself a Starbucks and sat down. I noticed just down the street a city building with those all too famous external fire escape stairs. My mind started racing, could I find myself the movie locations of It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World?

There was one enormous problem. I had no idea what scenes were filmed in Long Beach or even where any locations were. IAMMMMW filmed all over Southern California. Was I getting Long Beach and Santa Monica confused? It was frustrating to say the least. My first thought was the climatic scene on the fire escape. Walking around Long Beach EVERY building looked like it belonged in the movie.

They all have external fire escapes and lets face it...Long Beach has changed a lot since 1963. (I had totally forgotten all the climatic scenes were filmed at Universal Studios in what was called Kramer Square.)
Kramer Square at Universal Studios NOT Long Beach

At this point I recalled the scene where Spencer Tracey runs up a set of stairs. I knew the scene was filmed in an alley. The problem was Long Beach has lots of them. After walking down two of them I was ready to give up. I had no idea where I was. I had no map. It was hot and I was ready to throw in the towel. Just as I was about to ask directions where I could find the Metroline I looked up and saw what I now call my "Big W!". On the side of a building was a faded arrow pointing down. I remember thinking, if this was movie it would be pointing where I needed to be.

I have no idea why, but I headed towards it. Nestled between a high rise and a Mexican restaurant was an alley. I crossed the road and started walking. It was then I let out a large squeal, alerting a security guard to my presence. I turned around and I was right in the middle of IAMMMMW. I still can't believe I found it. I was in total shock.


I then walked to the set of stairs that Spencer Tracey and the cast climb and let out another squeal. I'm surprised the location still looks remarkably the same some 47 years later.

As I was preparing this I looked at the photo with the arrow on the wall and my jaw dropped. The very top of the building looked very familiar indeed. They filmed on the rooftop with Spencer Tracey before cutting to the scenes filmed at Universal. The shells on the top of the building! Another discovery!

I can say without a doubt, Long Beach was a great place to visit. What I did wasn't on any tourist brochure but it just goes to prove, it is indeed a mad, mad, mad, mad world!

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Fabulous Flintstones on Parade

The Fabulous Flintstones on Parade was an arena show that toured Australia during 1979. It came sandwiched between Disney on Parade and Disney On Ice. The soundtrack for the show was evidently recorded in Australia, and it was disco all the way. A show was also filmed for a US TV Special hosted by Michael Landon evidently.

The opening night was heralded by a local TV station with a 30 minute extravaganza, with the host doing a meet-n-greet with some of the characters. Most of the characters were from the cartoon world of Hanna-Barbera. Hanna-Barbera culled most of their famous cartoons into life form.  All said it was pretty cool to see Funky Phantom and The Banana Splits in front of you.  My memory of the show is vague. I recall Dino being scolded by Fred and Dino running away only to be found at a disco(!) which belonged to The Banana Splits. A large bowling ball that hit the pins and required a large band aid. Truly, the only memories I have.

The production standard was high from memory. There were high wire acts and special effects to ignite the audience. I'm sure there was merchandise available but all I have is a program. In 1979 it almost uncool to go see costume characters cavort around on a stage, but I'm glad I went. Would I want to see it again? a heartbeat! Here's some images from the program.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

The Lucy Show The Official Second Season

The second season of The Lucy Show is finally here

Above is one of my all time favorite shows, The Lucy Show. Lucille Ball, Vivian Vance, Mary Wickes and Mary Jane Croft all feature in Lucy's hilarious second season. It's a true comedy classic. I purchased the first season last year and even told the girl behind the counter at Amoeba, that the second season was the one I really wanted. The second season of The Lucy Show was top of my list of wanted DVDs. (The second is the Sherwood Schwartz comedy, It's About Time.) The second season was the first Lucille Ball TV series to film in color. Production for the first eight episodes started filming four weeks after season one, allowing a head start on production.

The opening episode, Lucy plays Cleopatra is hysterical and laugh out loud funny, her ensemble cast who have never been better (or funnier). It's followed by the brilliant, Kiddie Parties Inc. As a child, the site of Lucy being carried away by balloons was one of the funniest things I ever saw. This was long before Pixar made, Up!. The second season is notable for the first regular appearance of Gale Gordon who would work with Lucy in every series she made until her death. I was never a fan of Gale Gordon as a child, all he seemed to do was shout. Today, I can see he's a master at his craft.

Vivian Vance again steals the show with her dry wit and total exasperation at Lucy's antics. This was her last full season. She misses six episodes of season three before bowing out. The Lucy Show was never the same. Vivian looks terrific in this season, finally escaping her frumpy Ethel Mertz persona. The Lucy Show is proof that Lucy liked working with familiar people. Her stand-in from the original I Love Lucy, Hazel Pierce is often seen in background shots, as is Desi Arnaz's stand-in, Bennett Green. Mary Wickes, Carole Cook, Mary Jane Croft even Kathleen Freeman has a few episodes as one of Lucy's friends.

There are plenty of bonus features on this release too! Carole Cook shares her memories about portraying the character, Thelma Green and living in Lucy's home. Carole is always a delight to see on camera. Plenty of original cast commercials, vintage openings and closings and also features a 1964 special, Mr & Mrs, something I've never seen before. CBS certainly deliver the goods when it comes to Lucy, so lets hope the fans support season two allowing for more Lucy Show seasons to be released.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Happy 55th Birthday Disneyland

July 17th 1955 - July 17th 2010.

Photo © Disney

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Disney On Ice presents Disneyland Adventure

With Disney On Ice in town and a friends birthday it proved a timely excuse to go and check out the action. It was my first Disney On Ice since the 90's. The shows theme was a day in Disneyland. No one could argue with that. Our overworked hosts, Mickey, Minnie, Donald & Goofy decided to take the day off and check out the attractions in the park. Naturally, Donald got into mischief and ended up closing down a number of rides. The attractions included, a visit to The Enchanted Tiki Room, The Jungle Cruise, Space Mountain (including a very well-executed high wire appearance by Buzz Lightyear), Big Thunder Mountain, The Haunted Mansion, The Mad Tea Party, a Main Street Parade, It's A Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, and an Electrical Parade.

Disney characters and artwork © Disney/Pixar characters © Disney/Pixar

Naturally nothing runs smoothly, the evil Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty (who was mysteriously absent) made a timely appearance putting Donald & Minnie into a deep sleep.
Maleficent must have extraordinary powers as my friend had dozed off a few times during the first half. With no idea how to help, our friends call upon The Incredibles to help save the day.

On a technical standpoint the show was faultless. Great sound, lighting and choreography all helped keep the pace moving. Naturally, using the resort as it's setting gave the creators unlimited licence at incorporating a myriad of characters into the show. It was interesting seeing how the younger kids reacted to some of the older, less known, Disney characters. When Baloo (from The Jungle Book) appeared during The Jungle Cruise, a child behind us commented, "Who's the bear"? Our personal favorite was when Chip & Dale appeared and a child screamed, "Look! it's ALVIN!". Pluto and Donald received a good reaction, Goofy got a larger slice of the adoration pie, Mickey and Minnie's entrance was almost deafening. Daisy Duck, surprisingly, got deafening silence. Snow White & Cinderella received favourable applause and screams as did Buzz Lightyear & The Incredibles.

Disney characters and artwork © Disney/Pixar characters © Disney/Pixar

A personal highlight was seeing how the creators captured the fun of The Haunted Mansion on ice. The ballroom scene was captured perfectly, even Madame Leota made an appearance. Disneyland Adventure opened originally in 2005 and it's still running today proving that Disney along with Feld Entertainment know how to do it right.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Holy locations Batman!

Batman. From comics, to television to movies, we’ve seen it all. For me there is only one Batman. Adam West. The camp 1966 TV series was my first introduction to the Caped Crusader. Everyday after school I’d rush home to see who the new villain was. Would Batman & Robin ever escape the nefarious plans of (insert your favorite villain)? Of course, but never in the cliffhanger episode, but always in the second episode. Everyone remembers The Penguin, The Joker, Catwoman & The Riddler, but for me it was all about Ma Parker, Egghead, King Tut, Marsha, Queen of Diamonds, The Siren…the more outrageous, the better. Here's a screencap of one very memorable cliffhanger, Batman & Robin being turned into giant Frosty Freezies!

It was my introduction to the acting talents of many a famous guest star, Ethel Merman, Victor Buono, Vincent Price, Van Johnson, Eartha Kitt etc. My mother would recognize the villain and tell me of some movie she’d remembered seeing them in. It made them seem all the more interesting.

So…some thirty years later I was able to finally see the George Barris built Batmobile. It’s in immaculate condition after all these years. Evidently, there were a few Batmobiles built, some for the TV series and some would be shipped out for promotional duties. I managed to see Batmobile one and two when I was in Hollywood. Pretty awesome. At the time of writing an original Batmobile is up for auction in Palm Springs.

There were two other locations I can finally cross of my “things to see” list. The exterior of Commissioner Gordon’s office. It featured in every episode with Batman & Robin racing up the stairs. However, it wasn’t Adam West & Burt Ward but their stunt doubles. It was also seen as the courthouse for the 1980’s sitcom, Night Court.

The familiar view from every episode, and below the facade in 2009.

The actual exit from the Batcave was another location I had to visit. Although I’d planned to visit the location, plans changed, and luckliy for me plans changed again after a friend drove me up to the site. Thanks Randy!. The cave has been used in a variety of different productions and naturally nothing survives from it's days on Batman. However, when I was there, a kid asked his father "is this really the Batcave"? I laughed. It's legacy lives on!

The exterior of the cave in 1966 and below in 2009.

Just outside the cave was the Gotham City 14 miles sign.

Although not technically Batman footage, Batman also used some stock footage of the New York World’s Fair in it’s pilot episode, luckily I managed to snap a today photo when I was there some 44 years later.

Above in 1964 and below 2009.

Batman locations can be found all around Los Angeles. The exterior of Commissioner Gordon’s office can be found on the Warner Bros Studios backlot. The Batcave is up in Griffith Park, the original Batmobile can be currently seen in the George Barris Showroom in North Hollywood. Batman filmed at three different studios over it's three years on TV so there's more to uncover but that will come in part two.