Posts Tagged ‘Mommy’s Day’

Robert Rydell/Siodmak/Odenkirk

Tuesday, April 12th, 2022

Last week I talked about Bobby Darin. Since then, my second favorite pop-music artist of the pre-Beatles era has passed – another Bobby.

Rydell.

Robert Ridarelli has received less acclaim than Darin, and he would have been the first to say he was fine with that. He was a humble man whose great accomplishments came early in life, as was the case with almost all the teen idols of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. But he deserves better than just having a mythical high school named after him in Grease.

When Barb and I saw him perform with the other two Golden Boys of Bandstand, Frankie Avalon and Fabian – and while Avalon and Fabe were very entertaining – Rydell was the show stopper. For one thing, he was the only Golden Boy whose set was almost entirely his own hits; although the other two are somehow more emblematic of teen idols of the period, only Rydell was a consistent hitmaker. The only song he sang at the performance we saw that was not a chart hit of his was “Mack the Knife” – part of an excellent, obviously heart-felt tribute to Bobby Darin.

Darin was clearly Rydell’s model for moving into material that straddled teen and adult tastes – his “Old Black Magic” was patterned on Darin’s “Bill Bailey,” and Rydell’s biggest, arguably most memorable hit, “Volare,” was his “Mack the Knife.” “Sway” was another Dean Martin hit reimagined (Dino’s version of “Volare” informed Rydell’s) but his more rock-oriented numbers indicate the great “Wild One” and such fun numbers as “Wildwood Days” (which didn’t even make the Golden Boys set we saw) and “Swingin’ School.” His post-Beatles hit, “Forget Him,” is a fine ballad.

I met him twice and had an e-mail exchange with him once.

At the Iowa State Fair in 1981, Barb and I were strolling through the grounds one afternoon when I heard someone singing, “New York, New York.” I told her it sounded like Bobby Rydell and we made our way quickly to a bandshell stage in front of which fairgoers were on benches listening. It was indeed Rydell, and we heard most of a set that mingled standards with hits, including “Swingin’ School,” which I had always loved, though it’s a fairly idiotic song. But it had been in the Dick Clark-starring “Because They’re Young,” a major film event for the junior high kids of my era.

After the show, I tracked the performer to a small trailer – one of those two-wheel jobs, which would have provided him with just enough room to freshen up a little, maybe catch a nap and avoid pests. Well, not this one. I knocked and he came out and was very gracious to both Barb and me, giving me five minutes to gush about how I owned all of his albums. Which I did. Which I do.

We spoke a little bit about Darin and he seemed genuinely moved by my enthusiasm for that other teen idol of his era.

Very softly he said, “Ah, Bobby…Bobby….No one like him.”

Ten years or so later, Barb and I took in that Golden Boys of Bandstand show in Cedar Rapids. It really was a wonderful concert, but Rydell stole it. His “Mack the Knife” brought down the house, and he had more hits of his own to share than Frankie and Fabe put together.

Barb and I hung around the stage door like the wide-eyed fans we were, and all three came out and greeted a small group of fans, and took their time chatting and signing autographs. Rydell claimed to remember meeting us before. Avalon and Fabian were clearly impressed by how beautiful a woman I’d somehow convinced to go around with me.

In 2010 Rydell released a terrific CD, “Then and Now,” which was two albums – a re-visitation of his greatest hits, very nicely done, and a swing album in the Darin/Sinatra vein. I thought it was an outstanding job and wrote Rydell saying so, and got a warm personal reply – clearly not canned, as it responded specifically to my remarks. I dropped him a few notes after that, when he was suffering from health problems – he underwent several transplants (kidney and liver).

I tried, perhaps twenty years ago, to get a contract to do a book on the Bobby’s – Darin, Rydell and Vee. Bobby Vee I also met and he was a wonderful rock entertainer and a warm, lovely guy. My late musical collaborator Paul Thomas got to know him really well.

As for the other famous Bobby of that era, I’m not a big Bobby Vinton fan (don’t dislike him) and have one small connection. At a Vegas show, Vinton asked for a volunteer to duet with him and my father was enlisted. I wasn’t there, but I’m told Vinton was startled by my dad’s trained, commanding voice, and smilingly accused him of being a ringer sent to embarrass him.

The absence of Rydell and Vee from the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame is criminal. I feel the same about Pat Boone, for his importance (his cover records opened doors for the original artists, plus for several key years he out-sold Elvis), and for the Association and Vanilla Fudge for obvious reasons.

When Rydell passed away at 79, the Hall of Fame oversight came jarringly to the fore.

John Lennon, by the way, confirmed that the “Yeah, yeah, yeah’s” of “She Loves You” were inspired by Rydell’s use of them in several songs (“We Got Love,” which “She Loves You” started out as an “answer” song to the Rydell hit).

Anyway, here’s a taste of two of Bobby Rydell’s hits performed years later.

And from the same show, here’s a look at his Darin/”Mack the Knife” Tribute.

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I’d like to call your attention to two excellent films noir that had somehow slipped under my radar.

Shakedown Blu-Ray cover

Shakedown (1950) stars Howard Duff, whose big success on radio as Sam Spade led many in Hollywood to think he was a natural for big league stardom. That never quite happened, though he had success as a B-movie star and wound up on TV starring on Felony Squad (earlier, he and his then-wife Ida Lupino had a somewhat successful sitcom, Mr. Adams and Eve). His career was likely compromised by McCarthy-era accusations, but Shakedown reveals him as an interesting screen presence whose rather putty-like features (while handsome) suggest an unspoken moral laxity that really power this particular noir.

Directed by Joe Pevney – whose other noirs are pretty middling and whose claim to fame is helming episodes of the original Star TrekShakedown charts the rise and abrupt fall of a newspaper photographer who climbs to the top over anybody in his way and who blithely blackmails dangerous gangsters until (of course) it all catches up with him. The pace is fairly breakneck and the cast is amazing – Brian Donlevy and (yikes) Lawrence Tierney are among those Duff betrays or blackmails. Noir veteran Peggy Dow and former screen Tarzan Bruce Bennett are cheerfully trampled along the way. With a script co-written by Martin Goldsmith, who wrote both the novel and the film Detour, you know what you’re in for.

The Devil Strikes at Night Blu-Ray cover

The Devil Strikes at Night is a 1957 German film directed and written by noir master Robert Siodmak, after his long stay in Hollywood (Criss Cross, The Killers). It’s an anti-Nazi film made in Germany, a little more than ten years after war’s end. If that weren’t enough, it has a remarkably rule-breaking structure, cutting between a wounded war veteran who returns to his job on the homicide squad and the crimes of a serial killer who is presented with startling sympathy. On top of that, the film seems to wrap up at the one hour mark with a half hour remaining. That it continues on in its bleak, uncompromising way – including a “happy” ending that has the protagonist heading off to the front to likely die – is pleasingly head shaking. By the way, it turns out the SS were a bunch of crumbs.

Both Shakedown and The Devil Strikes at Night are available from Kino for you other dinosaurs who still like physical media.

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Comedy! Comedy! Comedy! Drama! cover

People are always asking me what I’m reading.

Well, I just finished the excellent Comedy! Comedy! Comedy! Drama!, the autobiography of Bob Odenkirk. The triple comedies of the title should indicate to potential readers (perhaps even warn them) that there’s more here about Odenkirk’s many years as one of our best comedy performers and writers than on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. Both of the latter get paid attention, each about a chapter’s worth. But Mr. Show gets more space, probably because Odenkirk was a writer/creator (with David Cross of course) on it, whereas he’s “just” an actor on the great Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul.

To put this in perspective, I said to Barb, “I love this book! You wouldn’t like it.” Keep in mind we’ve been married over fifty years, so I have reason to know her fairly well.

But Odenkirk conveys his own voice in the book – you hear him speak, you crawl around in his brain, you understand how he thinks and how he makes career choices, about which he frequently, frankly criticizes himself.

The book also has some strange resonances for me. Odenkirk lived next door to Dick Locher, my second Dick Tracy artist, who had been his Scoutmaster. Odenkirk’s best friend was John Locher, he was his father Dick’s artistic assistant who I worked with and liked very much (he tragically died very young, while he was preparing to take over the strip from his dad).

Also, Odenkirk knew Del Close – even met him in a bookstore in Chicago (as did I, when Del came to a Nathan Heller signing). Some here may recall that I directed Del in Mommy’s Day. Odenkirk invokes Del many times in his book.

My son Nate (then living in Chicago) met Odenkirk at a Second City event; Bob signed a Mr. Show DVD to me. We have never met, but I feel we have.

* * *

Here’s an article on the making of The Expert, the movie I wrote back in 1994. I make some comments clarifying issues made in the piece.

Remember, The Menace by Spillane and Collins will be available later this month, and The Shrinking Island by Spillane (introduced by Collins) is available now.

M.A.C.

In This Exciting Issue!

Tuesday, February 16th, 2021

One of the small pleasures denied me during this pandemic, where Barb and I have been largely sheltering in place for almost a year now, is going to Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million to check out the new magazines.

But magazines have been a stubbornly dying breed for some time, and my favorites – most dealing with B-movies – have been hit hard. A particularly tough loss to take comes as a double hit – the writer/editor/publisher behind VideoScope, Joe Kane, has died.

And with him has gone his wonderful magazine.

Cover of VideoScope magazine

VideoScope was among the last of a handful of magazines combining reviews of what a prior dead magazine called psychotronic movies with news, articles and interviews. I never met Joe, but we exchanged many e-mails and I was an occasional contributor to the magazine. He was a consistent booster of my films and, when he was writing for the New York Daily News, reviewed both Mommy movies generously.

I looked forward to receiving VideoScope in the mail the way I used to (in my high school years) look forward to snagging my father’s gift subscription copy to Playboy before he got home from work. Of course Playboy – like my father – is gone now, but perhaps that magazine’s demise has to do not just with changing times, but the reality that certain magazines – yes, like the otherwise dissimilar VideoScope – were so much extensions of their creators/editors that they could not survive their absence. The fate awaiting Hustler, now that Larry Flynt is gone, is likely the same.

I dealt with a Flynt-like editor of the Hustler-like Climax magazine in Quarry’s Climax, the sexual content of which offended some readers – usually the same readers who weren’t offended by the violence. And I revisit aspects of that story in the forthcoming Quarry’s Blood. I liked Flynt’s Hustler, which had an outrageous sense of humor and a unique combination of blue-collar sensibility and left-wing politics (only “Asshole of the Month” could do a Tucker Carlson justice). The interviews and articles were often of interest as well (I will stop short of defending myself by saying, “I read Hustler for the articles,” even if it is sort of true – but I doubt I’ll be picking it up again).

Among the more respectable magazines I have looked forward to are two devoted to Old West history/pop culture, True West and Wild West. Both remain excellent and the former is the work of Stuart Rosebrook, a friend of mine who I’ve watched in recent years rise to the position of editor (the magazine’s publisher and creative guiding hand is the great artist/writer, Bob Boze Bell). Stuart Rosebrook’s screenwriter father Jeb wrote the classic “modern” western, Junior Bonner and much else (including The Waltons and The Yellow Rose on TV, The Black Hole feature film and The Gambler TV movies); when Stuart was living in Iowa City, he arranged for me to meet his visiting dad, which was an honor and a thrill.

Shock Cinema cover

With VideoScope gone, only a few stalwart defenders of the psychotronic side of cinema remain. A standout is Steven Puchalski’s Shock Cinema, which combines in-depth interviews with actors and filmmakers with reviews of obscure movies, Blu-rays/DVDs, and books. It has the same kind of fannish yet professional touch as Joe Kane’s VideoScope but with its own distinctive spin. The current issue is typical, featuring incredible interviews with actors Candy Clark (American Graffitti), Veronica Cartwright (Alien), Robert Wuhl (Arli$$), and director Jack Hill (Switchblade Sisters). A similar survivor is Darryl Mazeski’s Screem, another newsstand survivor. Like Shock Cinema and the now-lamented VideoScope, Screem has a personal touch and its own look and feel.

A slicker classic cinema magazine that somehow endures is the UK’s Cinema Retro, with incredible in-depth articles, wonderful reviews, and contributions by my pal Raymond Benson. Every issue is a feast, and occasionally they do a special issue devoted to a single classic film, with the emphasis on the ‘60s and ‘70s.

But these baby-boomer delights are a dying breed, as are magazines themselves, I fear.

Among the first things I did when it became clear we’d be sheltering in place until a vaccine arrived (and we still are waiting, Barb and I, for our shots) was to subscribe to all of the above and a few other magazines. But the joy of going to the magazine section of a book store, to see if a new issue of a favorite periodical is on the stands, is among the small yet keenly felt losses of this pandemic.

Joe Kane, who called himself the Phantom of the Movies, is a loss particularly keenly felt. So are the many magazines we have all loved…and taken for granted.

* * *

Here’s my introduction to the just-published IAMTW tie-in anthology, Turning the Tied. (Kindle link)

I also discussed tie-in writing in the forthcoming MWA, Lee Child-edited mystery writing handbook.

M.A.C.

“Real” Books Now Available from Wolfpack!

Tuesday, September 8th, 2020

This will be a brief update because my office is shutting down for my son Nate to install a new computer with various new programs.

But I will take the time to announce the following: print versions of both Mommy and Mommy’s Day are available for $9.99. Be sure to click on PAPERBACK at the listing to get the right price (and cover). [Note from Nate: The links in this update go directly to Amazon.]

Also available as “real” books from Wolfpack are Murderlized – the collected short stories of Matt Clemens and me (10.99); all four Eliot Ness books, The Dark City, Butcher’s Dozen, Bullet Proof, and Murder by the Numbers ($10.99 each); and Murder His and Hers, stories by Barb and me ($9.99).

Your support of these titles will be much appreciated. Their success paves the way for new original books (and further reprints) by me, me and Matt, and me and Barb.

Yeah, I know – that’s an obnoxious amount of “me” – and “I” know it.

* * *

Here’s a great Kiss Her Goodbye review, reprinted from a long-ago post.

This is a rather tepid endorsement of Eliot Ness & the Mad Butcher.

Finally, here’s a list putting a story by Mickey Spillane and me on the “must-read” list.

M.A.C.

Mommy Times Two!

Tuesday, August 11th, 2020
Mommy and Mommy’s Day: A Suspense Duo

Mommy & Mommy’s Day: A Suspense Duo is available on Kindle right now for $2.99.

This is the first time the two Mommy novels have been collected, though it was always my hope to have them combined into one volume. I did not revise Mommy’s Day to exclude any redundant material, preferring to keep the books in their original form. But I believe they will work well as one long narrative.

As I mentioned here a few weeks ago, the novel version of Mommy begins earlier than the film and is a more complete rendition of the narrative, including a good deal more back story. When the late lamented Leisure Books approached me, back in the day, about doing a few horror titles for them, I immediately pitched Mommy (the second film hadn’t happened yet) and they were good enough to bite.

I haven’t hidden the fact that Mommy is an homage to The Bad Seed. The film’s casting of Patty McCormack, the original Rhoda Penmark, as the otherwise unnamed “Mrs. Sterling” (aka Mommy) tied that film to the famous original. But The Bad Seed was also a play by Maxwell Anderson (my favorite playwright) and a (in the beginning) novel by one of my favorite writers, William March. (The police detectives in the Mommy movies are named after Maxwell and March.) So the idea of writing Mommy’s story in novel form was something I had always hoped to do. (There was a “Mommy” short story that predated the film and the novel of the same name, written essentially as a story treatment to sell Patty McCormack on returning to a variation on her signature childhood character.)

Mommy is sometimes called an “unofficial sequel to The Bad Seed. There’s no question it’s a switch on the original, and in some ways an homage to it. And I was vague enough that if you want it to be a Bad Seed sequel, you can imagine it as such…but nothing I write in either the screenplay or novel confirms that.

And of course Mommy’s Day really has nothing to do with the novel, play or film versions of The Bad Seed. I made a point of the sequel not being a rehash of the first film/novel.

Right now you can’t order a print version of Mommy & Mommy’s Day: A Suspense Duo. But that will come from Wolfpack, and when it does, you’ll hear about it here.

Wolfpack is moving quickly on getting some of the titles I licensed to them onto Kindle, coming up with some great covers (I think this Mommy & Mommy’s Day cover is incredible). I am excited about getting a number of new short story collections out there, and Matt Clemens and I have already delivered the first in a new novel series that Wolfpack will be bringing out in October.

Much more about that here in the weeks and months ahead.

* * *

The HBO reboot of Perry Mason is something I’ve been tough on here and elsewhere. But, because its success or failure may impact various projects of mine (TV interest in Heller and Hammer specifically), I have kept an eye on it. If nothing else, they’re working my side of the street.

It has improved. The last three episodes have dropped much of the inappropriate back story and we are finally in the courtroom, where Matthew Rhys has abandoned his Sad Sack characterization for a Mason with spine and courtroom talent. Mostly getting the story into the courtroom has made the difference – these sequences fairly sing – and there’s a fun moment when Hamilton Burger stands up in the gallery and reminds Mason (who is drilling down on someone we know to be a murderer) that nobody ever confesses on the witness stand.

That kind of playing with the source material is legit, as opposed to the nonsense of checking off the contemporary boxes by having Della Street be a lesbian, Hamilton Burger be gay, and Paul Drake black. But the art direction and cinematography are superb – it looks like (literally) millions and millions have been poured into each episode.

My biggest gripe remains the constant f-wording. Now regular readers of Quarry and other series of mine may find that complaint amusing, but it’s strictly a matter of not being anachronistic. Ef words weren’t thrown around to that degree in 1931. And terms and phrases like “throw shade on,” “enablers,” “in a hot minute,” and (this from a farmer) “shell companies” are at odds with the beautifully recreated 1930s Los Angeles.

I still think the score is lousy, but I will give the producers credit for having the sense to finally acknowledge just what sandbox they’re playing in by doing a very moody version of the original Perry Mason theme over the end credits.

It’s been renewed.

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My readers have been great to me over the years, often going above and beyond the call of duty. Posted for some time has been a Nate Heller chronology by the late Michael Kelley.

Bill Slankard created a Nate Heller chronology a while back, and he has been kind enough to update it so that Do No Harm is included.

I am going to share it with you here, but my son Nate will eventually post it here for easy referral.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ikBw0kJS1_YJVYm7kavBviStxyA0bL_M/view

I am very grateful to Bill. I think this will help Nate Heller’s readers…and I know it will help me! I am talking to a publisher right now about the next home for Nate Heller. Neither he nor I are finished just yet.

* * *

The Strand’s blog features an article I did to promote Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher (by A. Brad Schwartz and me) on “10 Additional Surprising Facts About Eliot Ness.

Finally, here’s an excellent review of Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher from the New York Journal of Books.

M.A.C.