Happy anniversary to the Wizard of Oz

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the premiere of one of the world’s most beloved films – The Wizard of Oz - which took place at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on August 15, 1939. Since its debut,this timeless MGM film has become a treasure to young and old alike. David J. Hogan’s new book, the Wizard of Oz FAQ, celebrates this classic by providing a wealth of information about the film’s conception, creation, and reception. David includes a special section commemorating the Hollywood premiere. Read below! 00120812

The Hollywood premiere for industry insiders was mounted at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, August 15, 1939, at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, prominently located on Hollywood Boulevard. The theater’s forecourt was dominated by a faux cornfield.

Although Judy Garland was already in New York City for the August 17 Loew’s Capitol opening and her live show there, the Grauman’s event was attended by other cast members, Victor Fleming, and Mervyn LeRoy. Maud Gage Baum, widow of L. Frank Baum, attended, along with L. Frank Baum’s granddaughter, Frances Ozma Baum. Fred Stone, who had played the Scarecrow in the 1903 Broadway Wizard of Oz, also was an honored guest.

Typical of any high-profile Hollywood premiere of the time, the Oz gala was attended by a gaggle of stars. Eddie Cantor, a great fan of the Oz stories, was on hand. Others were Wallace Beery, Ann Rutherford, Bonita Granville, Harold Lloyd, and Orson Welles (less than a year after his Mercury Theatre “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast scared the pants off America). Most of the Munchkin players had left Hollywood months before, but a few who remained were recruited to appear in costume at Grauman’s: Nona Cooper, Tommy Cottonaro, Billy Curtis, Jerry Maren (as the mayor, filling in for Charley Becker), and Victor Wetter. Most of the opening-night Munchkins remained for the duration of the Grauman run.

The cost of reserved-seat admission to this gala event at one of the finest movie theaters in Los Angeles was two dollars, plus twenty cents for tax. (An admission ticket from the premiere—center left section, row 28, seat 1—sold at auction for $6,083 in the spring of 2013.) Those at the Grauman premiere received the requisite souvenir program. Fans could do star spotting from the relative comfort of five thousand specially erected sidewalk bleacher seats. The bleachers filled quickly, and the surrounding area was clogged by another three thousand fans that stood.

An after-screening party was held at the Trocadero nightclub, on Sunset Boulevard. Days after the Grauman’s event, Maud Gage Baum wrote to Mervyn LeRoy to express her pleasure with the faithful translation of her husband’s “kindly philosophy.”

Listen: David J. Hogan on Pop Culture Tonight

David J. Hogan, author of the Wizard of Oz FAQ visits “Pop Culture Tonight with Patrick Phillips” to discuss “all that’s left to know about life, according to Oz!”

>>LISTEN HERE<<

00120812The Wizard of Oz FAQ is a fact-filled celebration of the beloved 1939 fantasy masterpiece starring Judy Garland. It’s all here – from L. Frank Baum and his Oz novels to the complete background story of the movie’s conception, development, and shoot, with special attention given to the little-known parade of uncredited directors, casting difficulties, and on-set accidents and gaffes, as well as more than 75 sidebars devoted to key cast members, directors, and other behind-the-scenes personnel.

You’ll find a wealth of fun facts: How MGM overworked Judy Garland before, during, and after Oz; why director Victor Fleming had his hands full with the Cowardly Lion and Dorothy’s other friends; what it was about Toto that really bothered Judy; the physical horrors of filming in Technicolor; the racial Oz gag that was scripted but never shot; when the Wicked Witch was going to be beautiful; why The Wizard of Oz owes a lot to silent-screen star Mary Pickford; the story of deleted scenes, and a full two weeks of shooting that had to be scrapped; why MGM star Mickey Rooney was part of the movie’s traveling publicity blitz; how the Wicked Witch was literally blown off her broomstick one day; the place where lions, tigers, and bears really do live together; singers you hear but never see; the day MGM fired Judy Garland; and much more. Just follow the yellow brick road!

Listen: Stephen Tropiano on Pop Culture Tonight

Stephen Tropiano, author of Saturday Night Live FAQ visits “Pop Culture Tonight with Patrick Phillips” to discuss longest running comedy show on television!

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>>LISTEN HERE<<

 

Television history was made on Saturday, October 11, 1975, at 11:30pm (ET), when Chevy Chase welcomed America to the first episode of a new late-night comedy series. With its cutting edge satire and cast of young, talented performers, Saturday Night Live set a new standard for television comedy while launching the careers of such comedy greats as John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, and Tina Fey.

Saturday Night Live FAQ is the first book to offer the show’s generations of fans everything they ever wanted to know (and may have forgotten) about SNL. Beginning with the show’s creation in the mid-1970s by Lorne Michaels and the Not Ready for Prime Time Players, SNL FAQ takes you through the show’s history with an in-depth look at all thirty-eight seasons.

It’s all here – the comedic highlights and low points, memorable hosts and musical guests, controversial moments, and, of course, the recurring characters and sketches, catch phrases, and film shorts that have made SNL the epicenter of American comedy for nearly four decades. SNL FAQ also examines the show’s influence on American culture and includes profiles of over 100 SNL cast members, along with a comprehensive guide detailing every episode.

Happy Birthday, Arthur Conan Doyle!

Arthur Conan Doyle is widely regarded as one of the world’s best storytellers. Although the author dabbled in various vocations during his life, such as medicine and sailing, Conan Doyle showed an inclination towards storytelling since his early childhood that was passed down from his mother. “In my early childhood,” Conan Doyle once remarked, “as far as I can remember anything at all, the vivid stories she would tell me stand out so clearly that they obscure the real facts of my life.” This passionate response to fiction grew with Conan Doyle into his teenage years, although the style he developed wasn’t exactly the sophisticated and eloquent one we are most familiar with! This excerpt from Sherlock Holmes FAQ gives some insight into Conan Doyle’s affinity for “Penny Dreadfuls”:

 

00117258It was during his final year at Stoneyhurst [his Catholic school] that Conan Doyle first became aware that his youthful love of storytelling had grown into a teenaged ability to captivate audiences. While editing the school magazine, he also threw himself into the composition of serial stories, lengthy epics of adventure and derring do more appropriate, perhaps, to the pages of a penny dreadful than the august halls of a Jesuit college.

Penny dreadful were the bane of the faculty’s existence, cheap (as their name implies), lurid (ditto) magazines into which the most sensational, shocking, and horrifying fiction imaginable was shoehorned, in bite sized quantities, and every installment ending upon a new note of cliff-hanging calamity, to ensure the reader had no alternative but to return for more in the very next issue.

Fifty years on, radio and movie serials would seize upon a similar notion to keep their audience coming back; today, television offers the same diversion. Different crimes for different climes. In 1870s England, with radio and television still far off in science fiction-land, penny dreadfuls were the public enemy number one. And Conan Doyle discovered that he had a rare talent for writing them.

He read his tales aloud to his audience, seated on a desk while they crouched on a floor around him, spinning out sagas so suspenseful that he would occasionally threaten to end a tale early because he knew his anxious audience would not hesitate to bribe him with apples and cakes, if only he’d read another page.

Still in his teens, Conan Doyle had discovered for himself the secret of great storytelling (if not necessarily great stories). “When I had got as far as… ‘slowly, slowly, the door turned upon its hinges, and with eyes which were dilated with horror the wicked Marquis saw…’ I knew that I had my audience in my power.”

Watch: Inside Look at Modern Sci-Fi Films FAQ

 

Modern Sci-Fi Films FAQ by Tom DeMichael  (coming this Fall from Applause Books) focuses on films that give audiences two hours where they can forget about their troubles, sit back, crunch some popcorn, and visit worlds never before seen… worlds of robots, time travel, aliens, space exploration, and other far-out ideas. This book takes a look at the genre’s movies from the last 40 years, where the dreams of yesterday and today may become tomorrow’s realities. Modern Sci-Fi Films FAQ travels to a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… visits a theme park where DNA-created dinosaurs roam… watches as aliens come to Earth, hunting humans for sport… and much, much more. 

 

Happy Birthday, Pierce Brosnan!

A very Happy Birthday to one of our favorite Bonds! To celebrate, check out this excerpt from James Bond FAQ that describes how Brosnan rose to Bond-dom:

 

00314951Pierce Brosnan was well known as the title character of private investigator Remington Steele, from the NBC-TV show of the same name. But that notoriety nearly cost him the role of James Bond.

Pierce Brendan Brosnan was born in County Meath, Ireland, on May 16, 1953. He was an only child to mother May and dad Thomas, a carpenter who walked out on the family after only a few years. May moved to London to seek work as a nurse, leaving Pierce to move among relatives, friends, and even a Christian Brothers mission. In a 1997 interview in Cigar Aficionado magazine, Brosnan admitted, “It wasn’t all bleak . . . you learn how to create your own happiness.” When May remarried, eleven-year-old Pierce joined the couple in London. One day, stepdad William took the boy to the cinema to see a film called Goldfinger. Young Pierce was very impressed, realizing “James Bond was very cool.”

Brosnan attended school to be a commercial artist and landed an apprentice job in a small South London studio at the age of eighteen. But he had become enamored with movies and, at the urging of a coworker, joined up with a local theater workshop. Soon, they had formed the Oval House Theater Company, and Pierce quit his art job. He waited tables, cleaned houses, anything that allowed him to be free to act in the evenings. Brosnan attended drama school, acting in repertory theater and London West End productions like The Red Devil Battery Sign by Tennessee Williams. The playwright had personally selected Brosnan for the lead role.

British theater led to appearances on British TV by 1980. His wife, actress Cassandra Harris, landed a supporting role in the 1981 Bond flick For Your Eyes Only. Brosnan would amuse Harris by offering his impression of 007 when he would drive her home from the studio. (Perhaps a view of things to come for Brosnan. Tragically, Harris would succumb to ovarian cancer in 1991.) A successful 1981 ABC-TV miniseries, The Manions of America, led to Brosnan’s casting in NBC-TVs Remington Steele in 1982. The detective show ended up being in the top twenty-five TV ratings, but was canceled after four seasons as those numbers waned. Broccoli recalled Brosnan from the For Your Eyes Only days, and he tested for the role of Bond for the upcoming The Living Daylights. Pleased with the results, producers named Pierce Brosnan as the new James Bond.

Apparently, NBC read the trade papers that day, and, realizing the ratings boost having the “next James Bond” would give the network, they immediately renewed Brosnan’s contract as Remington Steele—effectively blocking his chances to play Bond. Ironically, the series would only air six episodes before getting the ax once more, but the damage was done. The Living Daylights would shoot with Timothy Dalton as 007.

Brosnan was understandably upset, but continued to work on TV and in films, including hits like Lawnmower Man in 1992 and Mrs. Doubtfire in 1993. When the 007 legal snafus were cleared up in 1994, it became apparent that Pierce Brosnan would be Bond in GoldenEye (over suggestions that included Mel Gibson and Ralph Fiennes), and it wouldn’t be enough to rescue the world—this time, he was expected to rescue the character from oblivion.

So, with that small task at hand, it was Pierce Brosnan who brought Bond into the twenty-first century. It was Pierce Brosnan who had to come to terms with a new boss—still M, but this time, a female (gasp!). It was Pierce Brosnan who, with his four Bond films, brought nearly $1.5 billion to box offices worldwide. In his four turns as James Bond, Pierce Brosnan brought the suave and calm demeanor to the character that one would expect from an experienced performer. In 1995, he told Big Screen magazine, “The way I see James Bond is as a man with a passion to get the job done . . . This film is . . . not a cure for cancer, it’s supposed to be fantasy.” Film critics like Roger Ebert praised his portrayal of 007, offering that Brosnan was “somehow more sensitive, more vulnerable, more psychologically complete, than the [other] Bonds.” High praise indeed.

No matter, producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson decided to (get ready, here it comes . . .) “reboot” the role of Bond once more in 2005, just as Brosnan was in negotiations for a fifth whirl as 007. In a 2005 interview for Premiere magazine, he said, “It would have been sweet to go back for a fifth . . . It would have been wonderful to go out there for one last game and pass the baton.” Less poetically, he added, “it f . . . ing sucks.”

Indeed. But bad luck for Brosnan meant good fortune for the next actor to don the shoulder holster and cock the Walther PPK (or Walther P99, as the case may have been). Once again, Broccoli and Wilson considered hundreds of actors to play 007 (the list this time around included Hugh Jackman, Jude Law, Ewan McGregor, Jason Statham, Gerard Butler, Colin Firth, Colin Farrell, Clive Owen, Colin Clive . . . no, wait—he played Dr. Frankenstein years ago). After a search that took most of the remaining months in 2005, the winner was: Blond, James Blond.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Armageddon Films FAQ

After watching the trailer, we are more excited than ever for the July premier of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes! Here is what Armageddon Films FAQ author Dal Sherman had to say about the 1968 original film (as well as its many sequels): 

 

Planet of the Apes (1968)

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The Planet of the Apes series of five films (1968–1973), not to mention its various sequels, certainly have a place in any bookabout apocalyptic futures. It’s also a very downbeat run of films, seeing the rise of a new order with the apes that is in every way just as prejudiced and mad as the humans before them—plus, the world gets blown up at least twice. Even the fifth and final movie, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, which spends much of the film trying to suggest an alternate “happy” ending for the world in the future, can’t quite escape from the prede- termined insanity of hate and war in its final scene.

While terrible things do happen, and there are certainly ramifications for the characters once they ”arrive” after these events, the first film opens with the biggest “you’ve slept through it” moment in cinema history, namely because it’s supposed to be a mystery until the final moments of the movie. That mystery I already spoiled for you at the beginning of this book, but the reason behind it has not been discussed. At the beginning of Planet of the Apes, we have Charlton Heston as Taylor, an astronaut on a spaceship traveling away from Earth in 1972. Upon wondering what the future will be like and foreshadowing the daylights out of the whole “will the world be a better place?” thing, Taylor goes into hibernation with the other three astronauts. He awakens in 3978 with the ship having crash-landed in a lake and rapidly taking on water. Taylor and two of the others (the lone female astronaut died previously in the journey due to a malfunction with her hibernation chamber) escape the sinking ship and head to land. There they ponder where they are and what they will find on the planet that they assume to be in the correct trajectory for their ship, somewhere in the constellation of Orion.

They eventually meet up with mute and rather mindless human scavengers just as they are attacked by humanlike apes on horseback. One of the astronauts dies at the scene, another is eventually seen to have been lobotomized, and Taylor is shot in the throat and thrown in with the other humans in Ape City. (This brings to mind—are there other cities full of apes? Is this it? If not, how did they get away with calling their city Ape City? Do the other ape communities wince a bit at that? “Oh, why can’t we have a nice name like Ape City instead of being Monkeytown?” And, really, isn’t this a bit pretentious? We don’t see a lot of Human Village or Mankind Junction locations on the map, after all. Maybe a few Peckerwoods. But this is a huge digression. Sorry.)

After various adventures in the city, with Taylor trying to communicate with the apes and attempting to plead his case to those in charge, he finally breaks out and travels into the “forbidden zone.” What he finds is the Statue of Liberty and the realization that somehow the spaceship had returned the crew to Earth in 3978. Taylor makes the (as we later discover) correct assumption that mankind destroyed itself, resulting in the mute, simple-minded humans still left on the planet.

The reveal of the Statue of Liberty is the big shocker of the movie—the one discussed in the introduction that left the audience stunned in disbelief. Up to this point, the audience could center their reactions on the idea that the movie is essentially a metaphor of man’s inhumanity to those not like themselves (only with juxtaposition of apes being man and man being animals). Yet throughout the plot are sprinkled moments where there’s an underlying mystery to resolve: how did this world come into being? Taylor’s jump into the future allows for the surprise ending and could only be done if—up to that point—we have no awareness that this is Earth in the future instead of some unnamed planet in the constellation of Orion.

As it stands, the original novel by Pierre Boulle, La planète des singes (1963) isn’t even set on Earth—the protagonist lands on an ape-dominated, Earthlike planet, although in a final twist the protagonist returns to Earth to find it now run by apes as well (an element Tim Burton would return to in his 2001 adapta- tion). For this reason, and others in the novel, there is no mystery as to why apes are the dominant species; it is merely there for purposes of satire dressed in elements of science-fantasy. Thus, although the novel deals with the elements of the protagonist being hurled into the future and finding a strange new world waiting for him, there is no sense of some type of world-ending menace having hit Earth (or the Earth equivalent). It is only with the Heston movie that the point is driven home that Taylor missed the death of his world and has returned to see the results.

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A postapocalyptic Earth that we are not to recognize as such wasn’t new to cinema by 1968. Roger Corman’s Teenage Cave Man with Robert Vaughn (looking anything but a teenager or a caveman, even in his loincloth) had covered the same “shock ending” ten years before Heston and crew. The film also draws itself from the age-old science fiction plot of the battle-scarred lone male and female survivors of a nuclear war finding each other and becoming Adam and Eve (commonly referred to as a “Shaggy God” story, as per writer Brian W. Aldiss). Elements of this can be seen in episodes of The Twilight Zone as well, such as the episodes “Two” (featuring Charles Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery as two enemies who must come together after the end of the world), “Probe 7, Over and Out” (which ends with nuclear war survivors becoming Adam and Eve), and even Richard Matheson’s “Third from the Sun” (featuring a group of people leaving a doomed planet to find Earth), just to name one program. Perhaps it is no wonder that Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling would cowrite the script to Planet of the Apes—its final twist makes the movie one long Twilight Zone episode.