Monday, June 1, 2020

Jack Benny and Eddie Anderson: A Solid Friendship

With all the racial strife going on right now, I thought I'd re-post a feel good story about friendship across racial lines.

I guess I'm showing my age if I say I remember Jack Benny. I don't remember his show; I'm a little too young for that. But I do remember him being a guest on various talk shows or variety shows and he always made me laugh. 

Since I know a few things about the early days of television, I knew that African-American actor Eddie Anderson played his valet Rochester on Benny's comedy series The Jack Benny Show. What I didn't know was that the two men maintained a solid friendship.

Here's a portion of an article from Americacomesalive.com that I hope you'll enjoy!

The humor and energy between Jack Benny and Eddie Anderson led to the development of a 20-year collaboration that delighted radio, television, and film audiences.

The men’s relationship was solid on air and off. Jack Benny refused to tolerate poor treatment of Anderson. In 1943 the company arrived in St. Joseph, Missouri, where they planned to do one of their radio shows. Anderson and his wife were denied a hotel room, and only at Benny’s urging did the hotel management find the Andersons a room.

Another time in New York, a Southern couple complained about a black man staying in the hotel so the manager approached Anderson suggesting he find a room elsewhere. The show’s producer told the manager Anderson would leave the hotel the next day. The next morning all 44 members of the cast and crew checked out with Anderson and moved to another hotel.

During World War II, Benny often remarked on-air about African American contributions to the war effort. In 1948 after the show re-used a script from the early 1940s that contained issues that were racial stereotypes, Benny was displeased and ordered his writers to refrain from any sort of racial stereotype or slur. Rochester was to be considered an integral part of the show, and as his role evolved it became typical for Rochester to cut through Benny’s pomposity with comments like, “What’s that, Boss?”). African Americans warmed to the character and appreciated that Anderson had broken a barrier—he was a black man playing the role of a black man; not a white man playing the role in black face.

Here is a classic scene with Rochester carrying the humor of the scene.

Do you remember Jack Benny and Eddie Anderson? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Originally published June 18, 2018

Monday, May 25, 2020

The Best Years of Our Lives

It's Memorial Day and I'd like to send a huge thank you to all of the brave men and women who have served and are currently serving our country in the military.

Reflecting on this day last night, an old movie came to mind that I haven't seen in years. The Best Years of Our Lives is one of my favorite movies, perfect for Memorial Day or any day. I've posted the original November 22, 1946 New York Times movie review by Bosley Crowther below:

It is seldom that there comes a motion picture which can be wholly and enthusiastically endorsed not only as superlative entertainment but as food for quiet and humanizing thought. Yet such a one opened at the Astor last evening. It is "The Best Years of Our Lives." Having to do with a subject of large moment—the veteran home from war—and cut, as it were, from the heart-wood of contemporary American life, this film from the Samuel Goldwyn studio does a great deal more, even, than the above. It gives off a warm glow of affection for everyday, down-to-earth folks.

Virginia Mayo's character is such a tart!

These are some fancy recommendations to be tossing boldly forth about a film which runs close to three hours and covers a lot of humanity in that time. Films of such bulky proportions usually turn out the other way. But this one is plainly a labor not only of understanding but of love from three men who put their hearts into it—and from several others who gave it their best work. William Wyler, who directed, was surely drawing upon the wells of his richest talent and experience with men of the Air Forces during the war. And Robert E. Sherwood, who wrote the screen play from a story by MacKinlay Kantor, called "Glory for Me," was certainly giving genuine reflection to his observations as a public pulse-feeler these past six years. Likewise, Mr. Goldwyn, who produced, must have seen this film to be the fulfillment of a high responsibility. All their efforts are rewarded eminently.

For "The Best Years of Our Lives" catches the drama of veterans returning home from war as no film—or play or novel that we've yet heard of—has managed to do. In telling the stories of three veterans who come back to the same home town—one a midde-aged sergeant, one an air officer and one a sailor who has lost both hands—it fully reflects the delicate tensions, the deep anxieties and the gnawing despairs that surely have been experienced by most such fellows who have been through the same routine. It visions the overflowing humors and the curious pathos of such returns, and it honestly and sensitively images the terrible loneliness of the man who has been hurt—hurt not only physically but in the recesses of his self-esteem.
This scene always makes me teary.

Not alone in such accurate little touches as the first words of the sergeant's joyful wife when he arrives home unexpectedly, "I look terrible!" or the uncontrollable sob of the sailor's mother when she first sees her son's mechanical "hands" is this picture irresistibly affecting and eloquent of truth. It is in its broader and deeper understanding of the mutual embarrassment between the veteran and his well-intentioned loved ones that the film throws its real dramatic power.Especially in the readjustments of the sailor who uses prosthetic "hooks" and of the airman who faces deflation from bombardier to soda-jerker is the drama intense. The middle-aged sergeant finds adjustment fairly simple, with a wife, two grown-up kids and a good job, but the younger and more disrupted fellows are the ones who really get it in the teeth. In working out their solutions Mr. Sherwood and Mr. Wyler have achieved some of the most beautiful and inspiring demonstrations of human fortitude that we have had in films.
Myrna Loy and Frederic March are great together!

And by demonstrating frankly and openly the psychological blocks and the physical realities that go with prosthetic devices they have done a noble public service of great need. It is wholly impossible—and unnecessary—to single out any one of the performers for special mention. Fredric March is magnificent as the sergeant who breaks the ice with his family by taking his wife and daughter on a titanic binge. His humor is sweeping yet subtle, his irony is as keen as a knife and he is altogether genuine. This is the best acting job he has ever done. Dana Andrews is likewise incisive as the Air Forces captain who goes through a gruelling mill, and a newcomer, Harold Russell, is incredibly fine as the sailor who has lost his hands. Mr. Russell, who actually did lose his hands in the service and does use "hooks," has responded to the tactful and restrained direction of Mr. Wyler in a most sensitive style.

As the wife of the sergeant, Myrna Loy is charmingly reticent and Teresa Wright gives a lovely, quiet performance as their daughter who falls in love with the airman. Virginia Mayo is brassy and brutal as the latter's two-timing wife and Cathy O'Donnell, a new, young actress, plays the sailor's fiancée tenderly. Hoagy Carmichael, Roman Bohnen and Ray Collins will have to do with a warm nod. For everyone gives a "best" performance in this best film this year from Hollywood.

One great movie! Have you ever seen it? 

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!  

Monday, May 18, 2020

The Real Inspiration for Betty Boop

What you can find while doing research on the internet is always fascinating. Today I'll share something I stumbled upon. 

So you've heard of Betty Boop, but do you know where the idea for her, or at least her singing, was originally conceived? I didn't, so here's some interesting information about her from Wikipedia!

Betty Boop made her first appearance on August 9, 1930, in the cartoon Dizzy Dishes, the sixth installment in Fleischer's Talkartoon series. Although Clara Bow is often given as being the model for Boop,she actually began as a caricature of singer Helen Kane. The character was originally created as an anthropomorphic French poodle.
Max Fleischer finalized Betty Boop as a human character in 1932, in the cartoon Any Rags. Her floppy poodle ears became hoop earrings, and her black poodle nose became a girl's button-like nose. Betty Boop appeared as a supporting character in 10 cartoons as a flapper girl with more heart than brains. In individual cartoons, she was called "Nancy Lee" or "Nan McGrew" – derived from the 1930 Helen Kane film Dangerous Nan McGrew – usually serving as a girlfriend to studio star, Bimbo.
Helen Kane
In May 1932, Helen Kane filed a $250,000 infringement lawsuit against Max Fleischer and Paramount Publix Corporation for the "deliberate caricature" that produced "unfair competition", exploiting her personality and image. While Kane had risen to fame in the late 1920s as "The Boop-Oop-A-Doop Girl", a star of stage, recordings, and films for Paramount, her career was nearing its end by 1931. Paramount promoted the development of Betty Boop following Kane's decline. 
The case was brought in New York in 1934. Although Kane's claims seemed to be valid on the surface, it was proven that her appearance was not unique. Both Kane and the Betty Boop character bore resemblance to Paramount top-star Clara Bow. On April 19, Fleischer testified that Betty Boop purely was a product of the imaginations of himself and detailed by members of his staff.
The most significant evidence against Kane's case was her claim as to the uniqueness of her singing style. Testimony revealed that Kane had witnessed an African American performer, Baby Esther (Esther Jones), using a similar vocal style in an act at the Cotton Club nightclub in Harlem, some years earlier. An early test sound film was also discovered, which featured Baby Esther performing in this style, disproving Kane's claims. 
Baby Esther Jones
Theatrical manager Lou Walton testified during the Fleischer v. Kane trial that Helen Kane saw Baby Esther's cabaret act in 1928 with him and appropriated Jones' style of singing, changing the interpolated words "boo-boo-boo" and "doo-doo-doo" to "boop-boop-a-doop" in a recording of "I Wanna Be Loved By You". Kane never publicly admitted this. Jones' style, as imitated by Kane, went on to become the inspiration for the voice of the cartoon character Betty Boop.
New York Supreme Court Justice Edward J. McGoldrick ruled, "The plaintiff has failed to sustain either cause of action by proof of sufficient probative force". The ruling concluded that the "baby" technique of singing did not originate with Kane.
So there you have it, the "Betty Boop" style of singing originated with African American nightclub singer Baby Esther Jones! Here's an end-note to the story: Esther Jones had no say in the matter. In court, it was presumed that she had since died. 
Had you ever heard this story? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, May 11, 2020

African Chicken Stew

"He who pursues a chicken often falls, but the chicken has to run." African proverb, Amaka

This recipe is a delicious chicken stew that can be served alone, over couscous, or over rice.  It's hot and hearty and features one of my favorite veggies, the sweet potato! 

Growing up, I always ate sweet potatoes as a pudding or souffle. But as an adult, I've discovered lots of recipes that use them in savory dishes, which my husband prefers over the sweet ones.

This stew is easy to prepare, but unfortunately involves a little cutting and chopping (so just pretend it's therapeutic).  I've adapted my version from one I originally found in Woman's Day Magazine. Hope you enjoy it!

African Chicken Stew

3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
2 t onion powder
3 sweet potatoes
3 t garlic powder
1 1/2 t chili powder
20 ounces canned diced tomatoes
12 ounces frozen peas
1 1/2 T lemon juice
1/2 cup peanut butter

Season chicken with salt pepper and onion powder. Coat a large pot with cooking spray. place over medium high heat. Add chicken and cook about three minutes until browned.

Peel potatoes and cut in bite sized pieces; set aside. Sprinkle chicken with garlic powder and chili powder. Cook about 30 seconds or until fragrant.

Add potatoes and tomatoes. Bring chicken to the top. Bring pot to a boil, reduce heat. Cover and simmer about thirty minutes, or until potatoes are soft and chicken is cooked through. Sprinkle with peas, cover and cook 10 minutes longer. Add peanut butter and lemon juice. Stir until blended and hot. Makes 4 servings.

How do you like your sweet potatoes, sweet or savory?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, April 27, 2020

Titanic: An Untold Story

The Laroche Family
April 15 marked the 108th anniversary of the sinking of  the Titanic Ocean Liner. The history of Titanic has always been of interest to me, and back in 2003, I had the opportunity to tour an exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center.

Viewing the mementos salvaged from the wreckage was sad, yet reading about the passengers was fascinating. From that exhibition, I learned about Joseph and Juliette Laroche, an interracial couple on board the ship.

Joseph Laroche was a Haitian-born, French educated engineer from a prosperous family.  His wife, Juliette, was white, and from a privileged French family. Joseph Laroche had not intended to travel on Titanic when he left France with his family in 1912.

Because he was black, Laroche had been unable to find work in France. So upon learning of his wife's third pregnancy, he decided to return to his native Haiti.  He'd bought first class tickets for the French liner France. But once he found out that children could not eat with their parents, he transferred to Titanic.

His first-class France tickets were equivalent to second-class tickets aboard the British Titanic.  He and his family boarded the ship at Cherbourg, outside of Paris.  They enjoyed the ship's luxury for three days, and on April 14, dined together for the last time. Afterwards, Joseph retired to the smoking parlor with other men in second class, while Juliette returned to their suite with daughters Simonne, three, and Louise, one.

Joseph Laroche felt the collision later that evening, and ran back to his room for his wife and daughters. As Juliette and the girls were placed in a lifeboat, Joseph draped his coat, stuffed with money and family valuables, across his wife's shoulders. "You will need it," he told Juliette, who was 22 at the time. "I will see you in New York. I must take another raft. God be with you."

Those were the last words Joseph Laroche spoke to his wife, and although his coat was stolen, Juliette Laroche and her daughters survived. Joseph Laroche was 26, and the only black man aboard the ship.  He was one of 166 second-class passengers who died.

I found the above information here in a story that described an exhibit featuring them. The Laroche's story is a fascinating, yet little known Titanic fact. Had you ever heard of them?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!