Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

As we celebrate this day with our families and friends, we also take time to reflect on the people and things for which we are most thankful. And there are a lot.

We hope that this Thanksgiving Day finds you filled to the brim, not just with turkey and stuffing, but with happiness, fun, warm memories, and a peacefulness that remains with you throughout the holiday season and into the new year.

Best wishes for a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving 1971: Bob Crane and Beverly Garland (left)
hosted the Thanksgiving Day Parade in Philadelphia, while
Bob Barker and Gail Fisher covered the parade in New York City.

In 1972, AT&T produced a series of television music shows, Top of the Month. The full story by Jai Sharbutt of the Associated Press, originally published on October 12, 1972, is presented here, below the accompanying photograph. According to Sharbutt, Bob Crane's performance was one of the few bright spots in this noble but failed attempt by AT&T.

Bob Crane and Tony Randall celebrate Thanksgiving the old-fashioned
way - as Pilgrims and Indians - in AT&T's 1972 variety series, Top of the Month.

AT&T Offers 9 Special TV Music Shows as New Series
Top of the Month is a new television series of nine half-hour musical comedy shows. The first three have a lot of snappy patter, singing, dancing, and "sweetened" laugh tracks.

Producers sweeten a laugh track by dubbing in recorded chuckles when the audience response isn't exactly buffo. And Top of the Month may need that kind of sugar. It sure doesn't have the spice yet. Not even with a fine regular cast headed by Tony Randall.

A pity, too, because the shows, bankrolled by the Long Distance Division of American Telephone and Telegraph Co., are a valiant effort to brighten local television programming.

AT&T's aim was to offer the once-a-month minispecials to local stations for use in the 30 minutes of prime evening time the Federal Communications Commission has taken from the networks and returned to local broadcasters.

Acting in association with the Bell System's 23 regional companies, AT&T' offered the shows free to local stations on two conditions:
-That the stations would show them during prime viewing time at night, with the choice of time and date left to the stations.
-That only four paid commercials-two from AT&T, two from the local Bell system-would be permitted while the show was on.

The theme of each show is a given month - October through June - and events we associate with that month. The theory was that history would be presented with song, dance, and comedy skits.

In practice, the presentation burped, fell down, and died in the opening show, which checked out October with the help of Bonanza's Lorne Greene. The show appears on an estimated 110 stations this month. 

Too bad. The writing was feeble, the comedy skits weak, and the singing of costar E.J. Peaker flat. She's an excellent performer, and the vocal wasn't her fault. The problem was that it was her third "Month" segment in as many days. She was lucky she could talk.

An AT&T spokesman said the shows, about October, November, and December, all were taped from a busy Friday through a weary Sunday. October was the last in the series, and Miss Peaker was pooped.

The spokesman for the show said the tight schedule was tailored to accommodate the free hours of the guest starts. Greene, for example, couldn't do his bit until Sunday, the spokesman said.

Resting on the seventh day would have been the wiser course.

The November show was much better, only because of the comic timing of guest star Bob Crane in a funny Thanksgiving skit about Indians, Pilgrims, Plymouth Rock, and all that.

December's offering was memorable in that one rarely sees John Forsythe trapped in a spangled heliotrope jacket, leading a 1957 rock 'n roll group in an assault on "Earth Angel."

For the past five springs, AT&T has presented such memorable programs as Tomorrow, with George C. Scott, and The Record-Makers, with Flip Wilson.

The new shows are a radical innovative departure from the one-hour, once-a-years concerpt. But after the first three shows, all we can do is pray for a swift return of them good old days.

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Sharbutt, J. (1972, October 12). AT&T offers 9 special TV music shows as new series.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Over the Wall: 'Hogan's Heroes' in the Cold War - 'The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz'

In early 1967, producers at Samuel Goldwyn Studios (also known as United Artists Studio) hatched an idea: "Let's put the stars of Hogan's Heroes in a film together. It'll do great at the box office." It seemed feasible. After the terrific success of Hogan's Heroes, due in part to the talented actors and the natural chemistry that existed between them, a movie with the leading Hogan's Heroes cast and with Bob Crane in the starring role would be a draw for audiences.

John Banner, Elke Sommer, and Bob Crane in
a scene from The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz.
The script they had chosen was one that would undoubtedly fit the Hogan's Heroes actors' television personas well. Set in what was then present-day Europe and during one of the most heated eras of the Cold War, Bob Crane's character (Bill Mason, an American Black Market scam artist smuggling goods in and out of East Germany) would once again be pitted against the Germans - only this time, Communist East Germans instead of Nazis. Into their usual bumbling German slots landed Werner Klemperer (who is credited simply as Klaus), John Banner (as Weber), and Leon Askin (as Oscar).

Elke Sommer, the beautiful German actress, was cast opposite Bob Crane in the female lead as Paula Schultz. An East German Olympian athlete, Paula Schultz wishes to defect to the West. She enlists the help of Bill Mason, and the pair spend the movie dodging deception, falling in love, and on the run as they try to make their way over the Berlin Wall into West Berlin. Paula eventually makes the leap, literally, with her unparalleled pole vaulting capabilities. Rounding out the cast were Joey Forman and Maureen Arthur as Herbert and Barbara Sweeney, a married couple who act as the voice of reason to Herbert's friend Bill Mason, who Barbara neither likes nor trusts. 

In a January 13, 1968, article published shortly after the film's release, Werner Klemperer said, "If there are anti-heroes, there have to be anti-villains. According to my last two roles, who's a sweeter villain than I?...It's such a zany farce that our director, George Marshall, allowed me to play the role of an East German bureaucrat as broad as I liked. The character fancies himself to be a great lover - a veritable devil with the women. They gave me all the props - a silken dressing gown, long cigarette holder, and even a mirrored ceiling in my bachelor quarters. I go on the make for Elke Sommer and don't even consider it a rebuff when she pole vaults over the Berlin Wall to avoid me."

Bob Crane on the set of
The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz.
At the time he received the offer to star in the film, Bob Crane had been itching for the chance to make a different kind of jump - from the small television screen to the big theater screen. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of one of his screen idols, Jack Lemmon, and he was taking his acting very seriously. He had already completed a course presented by Stella Adler (read the article by Bob's son, Scott Crane) and turned down a mecca of offers, including the job that had gone to Johnny Carson as host of The Tonight Show. Bob wanted to learn the components of acting, and he also wanted success. The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz provided a rich and unique opportunity to star in a feature film and work along side fellow actors who he liked and respected in the field.

However, the film, which was released in the United States on January 3, 1968, was not the goldmine its producers and cast had hoped it would be. Instead, it was the first taste of typecasting the stars of Hogan's Heroes experienced, an unfortunate phenomenon that would plague Bob Crane for the rest of his life. Movie goers lined up to see Hogan, Klink, and Schultz, not this Bill Mason fellow, and his East German pursuers Klaus and Weber. Later on, some of the Hogan's Heroes cast who appeared in The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz would groan and grumble when anyone mentioned the film. Werner Klemperer flatly implored people, "Don't see it."

Yet, Bob Crane was optimistic, and while later on in his career he turned down film offers of a similar nature to avoid becoming a "Cold War comedian" (as he put it), Bob viewed his part in The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz as a credible acting opportunity and another chance to learn. In a February 1, 1968, article, Bob stated, "Being quite honest, I don't think it [The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz] will defeat TV snobbery. It will help as far as credit goes. I got my feet wet in the movie business, and I'm itching for more."

"The Love Theme from The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz"
with Bob Crane on drums.

Today, regardless of the film's silly premise, The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz has become a cult classic. Seeing our beloved Hogan's Heroes stars acting together in a different universe outside of World War II Germany and Stalag 13 is a rare treat, even if film critics and audiences in 1968 believed otherwise. It is not for sale on DVD through any distributor, but like any hidden treasure, copies can be found if one looks hard enough. By all means, find it and (don't listen to Werner Klemperer!) - watch it!

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Alpert, D. (1968, February 1). Movie snobs hurt television actors.
Associated Press. (1968, January 13). Klemperer sees himself as a sweet kind of villain. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hurricane Sandy and Its Impact on Southwestern Connecticut - Bob Crane's Childhood and Early Adulthood Home

by Carol Ford

We know we've been unusually quiet lately, and October ended with a bang when Hurricane Sandy slammed into the Eastern U.S. seaboard. I reside in Southern New Jersey, and my family and I were smack in the middle of it. Although we were in the line of fire, however, our little corner of the world was miraculously spared any damage.

Others were not so fortunate, and in addition to the Jersey Shore and Lower Manhattan, the shoreline areas of Connecticut situated on Long Island Sound were ravaged by Sandy. Stamford and Bridgeport, where Bob Crane grew up, lived, and worked, suffered great damage, and even as of this writing nearly one week later, some are still struggling without power, gasoline, shelter, and other basic survival needs. During the height of the storm, WICC 600-AM Radio even succumbed to Sandy's anger when the station lost power and went off the air. Although online Internet streaming was available, WICC could not broadcast via the airwaves, and they remained quiet for more than two days.

In the video below from the Connecticut National Guard, one can see the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. At about the 7:10 mark is Stratford, a neighboring town of Bridgeport. Also shown is Sikorsky Airport, which was completely under water.

Hurricane Sandy is not the first, nor will it be the last, major event to devastate a populated region of the world. In the same vein as Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami and earthquake in Japan, and Hurricane Irene, there is a terrific need for yet again another round of donations during a time when the economic burden is already high. We encourage your support, however, and we suggest either the American Red Cross or AmeriCares, which is based in Stamford, as two reputable organizations that will ensure donations are put to good use. 

For now, we'll leave you not with more photos of destruction, but rather, with optimistic views of Connecticut. Although a bit wounded at the moment, these and other areas of the East Coast will rebuild and shine once again!

Captain's Cove, Bridgeport, CT - July 2012.

Plane owned by Morgan Kaolian, friend of Bob Crane.
Sikorsky Airport, Stratford, CT - July 2012.

114 State Street, Bridgeport, CT - October 20, 2012.
Former location of WLIZ/WICC from 1951-1953.
Bob Crane worked at WLIZ/WICC from April 1951-September 1956.

Carol Ford at 114 State Street, Bridgeport, CT - October 20, 2012.
Former location of WLIZ/WICC from 1951-1953.
Bob Crane worked at WLIZ/WICC from April 1951-September 1956

Bedford Park, Stamford, CT - April 2009.
Bob Crane met his first wife, Anne, here in the early 1940s.

Boats on Long Island Sound off the coast of Connecticut.
September 2009.

Flight over Southwestern Connecticut - October 20, 2012.
With Morgan Kaolian and Dee Young.

Our thoughts and prayers are with all who have experienced personal loss due to the effects of Hurricane Sandy.