Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!!

Bring on the champagne and get ready to celebrate a happy New Year....or as Tom Corbert would say, "Here's to a better New Year". Happy 2014 dear readers! 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

It's a dark scene, but one that we know some fans will recognize in a snap. We're big fans of this film and we wouldn't recognize it all that quickly, but then we know we're not as clever as most of our audience. 

If you are not familiar with the rules to the Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie game or the prize, click here. ( That's our way of saying we're too lazy to re-type the information! ) 

Good luck guessing! 


Congratulations to The Tactful Typist for correctly guessing "The Scarlet Claw" ( 1946 ), one of the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes films. In this particular scene, the minister was approaching the church tower where the sound of mysterious bell tolls was emitting from. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Nugget Reviews - 7

The capers are here! 

How to Steal a Million ( 1966 ) 18k

An intrepid insurance investigator discovers a master painting forger in Paris but falls in love with his daughter and helps aid her in stealing back one of her papa's forgeries - a statuette valued at one million dollars - from the Paris LaFayette Museum. Audrey Hepburn, Peter O'Toole, Hugh Griffith, Charles Boyer. 20th Century Fox. Directed by William Wyler. 

This is undoubtedly one of Oma's favorite movies. We had watched it countless times growing up ( these kind of films were shown for our education! ) and Oma adored it because it brought back memories of the time she spent in Paris and the people she knew. She especially enjoyed Monsieur Bonat's secret entrance to his art studio and wished that we had one. I did too! Anyway, it's a wonderful romantic comedy and has great atmosphere. Paris. That alone earns it an 18k rating!


The Ladykillers ( 1955 ) 14k

A sweet little old lady is known at the local police station for telling rather imaginative tales of activities she thinks her neighbors are taking part in, but when a group of real bank robbers take lodging in her house with their stash of the lolly she finds the police do not believe her story.  Alec Guinness, Katie Johnson, Herbert Lom, Peter Sellars, Cecil Parker, Danny Green. Ealing Studios. Directed by Alexander MacKendrick. 

This is always a delight to watch, in no small part due to Katie Johnson's marvelous performance as the little old lady who unwittingly bumps off all of the bank robbers. My grandmother always enjoyed Peter Sellers performance best and wished that she had lived in a little house by the railroad tracks. Bless her heart, in real life I'd doubt she would have put up with the rumbling.Screenwriter William Rose claims that he dreamed the entire plot one night and only had to write down the details when he awoke. That dream earned him the BAFTA award for Best British Screenplay.


The Pink Panther ( 1963 ) 18k

A jewel-thief, known as the Phantom is prancing across Europe stealing the most priceless jewels. Inspector Clouseau attempts to capture the Phantom when it is rumored that Princess Dala has the Pink Panther, the largest diamond in the world, in her possession during a ski trip in northern Italy. Little does the Inspector know that the Phantom's accomplice is none other than his own wife! David Niven, Claudia Cardinale, Peter Sellars, Capucine, Robert Wagner, Brenda de Banzie. Mirisch Corporation. Directed by Blake Edwards. 

Now this is one delightful film! It is no wonder that it spawned 10 sequels. But alas, like most films the first remains the best. Inspector Clouseau appears as one of the most original detectives to ever hit the big screen, being both terribly cunning and clumsy at the same time. The Pink Panther boasts a superb cast of comedic talent, features beautiful location scenery at Cortina d'Ampezzo, and has a wonderful soundtrack from music maestro Henry Mancini. And who can forget the lovable Pink Panther himself? It was this film which introduced the spunky cartoon character. 


Gambit ( 1966 ) 14k

Two criminals take part in the theft of priceless antiquity residing in the private collection of millionaire recluse Mr. Shabandar, with the help of an American dancer disguised as his late-wife. Michael Caine, Shirley MacLaine, Herbert Lom. Universal Pictures. Directed by Ronald Neame.

One can never go wrong with a Ronald Neame film and this movie is no exception. While it does not earn an 18k gold rating from Pete ( due to its slower pace ) it is nonetheless a very entertaining caper. Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine make a marvelous team and it is a shame that they did not make more films together. 


L'Homme de Rio aka That Man From Rio ( 1964 ) 14k

An airman embarks on an 8 day leave in Paris to visit with his fiancee but within one hour sees her kidnapped in order to gain information about a South American statuette her father, a professor, discovered. His pursuit of the villains takes him to Rio De Janeiro and the Amazon jungle. Jean-Paul Belmondo, Francoise Dorleac, Adolfo Celi, Jean Servais. United Artists. Directed by Phillipe de Broca. 

That Man from Rio capitalized on the popularity of the James Bond spy features and when it was released it became the 5th highest-earning film of the year ( in France ). In the States, hardly anyone knew of the film. But what a great movie they missed! That Man from Rio packs a wholloping good punch in its 110 minute run-time and there is a hardly a minute's pause in the action. Jean-Paul Belmondo is a ravishing good lead as our James Bond/Indiana Jones adventurer hero. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Zsa Zsa Gabor's Vonderful Marriage Advice

When you want to build a house, do you consider choosing an architect who has built one home or twenty? When you wish to engage a babysitter do you pick the girl who cared for one baby or ten? When you want marriage advice do you ask the woman who has been married once or seven times? Ah yes dahling, we knew you'd see the wisdom in this! 

Below we have gathered together some of the choice bits of sage advice given by Zsa Zsa Gabor - the-Budapest-born-beauty-queen-turned-actress-turned-socialite-turned-tabloid-fixture. Zsa Zsa is the most famous member of the Gabor sisters which included Magda, the eldest, and Eva, who became popular on the classic television sitcom Green Acres. Those delectably stylish Hungarian dumplings shared a grand total of twenty marriages between the three of them. Now that's alot of rice! 

As Eva once declared, " Marriage is too interesting an experiment to be tried only once "

Zsa Zsa was the reigning queen of marriages, racking up a total of nine herself. Currently she is married to Prince Frederick von Anhalt. Some of her husbands included Herbert Hunter, Jack Ryan ( creator of the Barbie doll ), and Felipe de Alba. Her third husband was the suave actor George Sanders. Even though the marriage ended in divorce Zsa Zsa remained lifelong friends with Sanders. Her reasons for divorcing him were quite simple : " Ven I vas married to George Sanders, we were both in love with him. I fell out of love with him, but he didn't ". George must have missed the excitement of being apart of the Gabor family because he later married older sister Magda, although that union only lasted six weeks. 

Sister Magda's happiest marriage was to her fourth husband Tony Gallucci, whom she married in 1956. Gallucci died in 1967 of cancer and Magda was heartbroken...she only married twice after that and then chucked the whole institution. 

Interestingly enough, of all the marriages the sisters had ( not counting the affairs they had! ) only one child was born among them - Zsa Zsa's daughter Constance Francesca Hilton, whose father was the famed hotelier Conrad Hilton.

In 1970, Zsa Zsa penned a book based on all the lessons she learned from her marriages...." How to Catch a Man, How to Keep a Man, and How to Get Rid of a Man ". She knew how to do all three. This book contained some vonderful advice that we thought we'd share....believe me you, if you can't follow Zsa Zsa's dating advice whose can you follow? 

On Dating :

“The best way to attract a man immediately is to have a magnificent bosom and a half-size brain and let both of them show. If you already have these two things, though, you probably aren’t reading this because you don’t need to. You are too busy beating men off with a baseball bat. Also I hope for you that you don’t spend too much of your time reading.”
“Emphasize your good points, your face or your legs or your derriere or something else that men normally find attractive, rather than your elbows or your feet. Although Goethe, the famous German poet, said, ‘A pretty foot is a great gift of nature,’ you don’t run into men like Goethe every day.”
“One of the best places to definitely not find a man is Hollywood.”
“You are much better off staying home and being the prettiest girl in Paris, New York, Chicago and Budapest rather than the 27,304th prettiest girl in Hollywood.”
“If you even can just barely stand a man in, say, Pittsburgh, you’ll adore him in Paris. I guarantee it. On the other hand, if you should find a man in Paris, by all means leave him in Paris, because if you take him somewhere else, you’ll find that it wasn’t the man, but, as the song goes, it was Paris that you loved.”
“A successful romance is like a game of tug-of-war. But remember, playing hard-to-get comes after he thinks he’s got you. If you play hard-to-get while he’s playing hard-to-get then nobody gets anybody.”

On Love :

“If you catch that wonderful man, what does age matter? After all, love is blind, and it is also not good at arithmetic.”
“Unfortunately, it’s true that most of the men I choose are the type most women would be attracted to, because I’m such a careful shopper.”
“If you are insanely mad about your husband, then you are mainly lovers, not married people. It’s the biggest luck in the world to have a love affair which is legal. But, La Rochefoucauld was so right when he said ‘True love is like seeing ghosts, we all talk about it, but few of us have ever seen one.’”
“I couldn’t endure living in a harem, not even if I were the favorite (which, of course, I would be, if only because I would have poisoned all the others). Also, in a harem the only men you would be allowed to talk to, besides your husband, would be eunuchs, and I’ve had enough of them since I have lived in Hollywood.”

On Marriage :

“It is unfortunately true that the only man who will always ask you to marry him immediately is the one you would never marry.”
“A man in love is incomplete until he is married, then he is finished.”
“If you like a man and he likes you, you should get married as fast as you can. Otherwise, you both are going to change your minds. There’s plenty of time for that after marriage.”

“I would not advise any girl to marry a man just because he is rich. I absolutely believe in that Scottish proverb that says, ‘Don’t marry for money; you can borrow it cheaper.’”
“I would take an American man for a husband three times out of five. In fact I did take an American man for a husband three times out of five. No other men can fix your dishwasher and your electric gate as well as American men. European men absolutely refuse to fix anything. It’s beyond their dignity.”

“When the young girl who is married to the older man gets mature herself, the man she has been married with has probably dropped dead. This, of course, is an ideal marriage.”
“Men are like fires : they go out if left unattended.”
“Any woman who slops around the house all the time with grease on her face and curlers in her hair in front of her husband is a dumb woman. If he stands for it, he’s not genius himself.”
“Remember, if you wear the pants in your family, your husband’s mistress is going to wear the sables.”

“Don’t ever let your husband take a vacation without you, unless it’s somewhere like on a mountain climbing expedition up Everest with only other men and sherpas, or maybe down a river fastened into a kayak so he can’t get out when he passes through a town. But even then to be on the safe side, you should send along with him your mother, as long as she isn’t your stepmother who looks just your age or younger...”
“I have noticed that often the more romantic a man is before marriage, the less he is after. At least with his wife.”

“The minute I understand a man, he is no longer exciting and a challenge to me. And the last thing in the world I want is for a man to understand me and know what’s always going on inside my head. It takes away from all my mystery, which, as I’ve told you before, is the most important thing between a man and a woman.”

On Divorce 
“If it’s okay to have your nose fixed if it’s messing up your face, it certainly ought to be all right to get a divorce, if it’s your whole life that’s being messed up by your marriage.”
“The truth is, you never really know a man until after you have divorced him.”
" I believe in large families : every women should have at least three husbands "
Vell dahlings, there you have it...everything you'd want to know about dating and marriage from the Queen of Matrimony.....whether you want to take it seriously or not is up to you.  As Zsa Zsa so aptly put it, 
" I tell you, in this world being a little crazy helps to keep you sane ". 

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Tribute to Oma Rozalia

Oma in Serbia in 1942
The Christmas season is a mixture of happiness and bittersweet moments for many, because it is a season filled with nostalgia. The happy moments we create anew each Christmas are intertwined with the traditions and memories of years gone past. Familiar melodies, cherished moments, and childhood experiences with dear loved ones are all woven together to create a unique tapestry of memories that warm us all through the winter. 

Some of my fondest winter memories took place on the days leading up to Christmas, those cold December days when my family and I were home bound due to the snowy weather. This was the season that our grandmother - "Oma" as we called her ( we're German ) - loved the best. I rather fancy it was because her own fondest memories were from the winter months she spent as a child in Serbia. 

We were very close to our Oma, and even though she passed on two years ago, she still remains with us in our hearts. Since we feel her presence the most during the Christmas season we decided to make our December issue a tribute to all of the films our Oma loved the best, because - yes indeedee - she was a film fanatic. 

Before we highlight the upcoming features please let us indulge in a little bragging about our beloved Oma....

Rozalia Amstadt was born in Serbia in 1925 and as a teenager worked as an usherette at a movie theatre near the Hungarian border. This is where her love of film was born. She often claimed that she saw more movies than anyone in the world and quite frankly, we don't doubt that. How many Serbian and Polish films do you think Robert Osborne saw?

She use to bring the old movie posters home from work and paste them on her bedroom wall and in the bathrooms of her childhood home. Not only were they interesting bathroom reading material but they kept the room warm too....heat was costly and paper not easy to come by you know. 

Oma with her beloved Rolls Royce, once owned by a general

Oma met my grandfather in the "Lager" ( a refugee camp ) in Innsbruck during WWII when she lived and worked there as a chef. Shortly after they moved to France while they waited for the Catholic church to approve and pay for their passage to America. In France, Oma was not able to watch many movies since the town my grandparents lived in had no movie theatre, but once they arrived in Cleveland in 1956 the first piece of furniture my grandfather ( Opa ) purchased was a black and white television. They couldn't speak a word of English but they - and their three boys - sat enthralled watching Arsenic and Old Lace on television that night. If a good movie was playing on tv their neighbor would reach across the yard with a broomstick and thump on their window holding up a sign with the channel number and airing time on it. How sweet! 

Oma quickly learned the language ( she already spoke four languages so what was one more? ) and despite the fact that she told us everyday " Never forget that you are European " and often criticized "dis kontry", she fell in love with America and its history. Her favorite period of time was the Roaring 20s and always wished she was a saxophone player for a swing band during that era. She would have loved the 1920s...bootleggers and all.

As Oma got older her knowledge of movies grew larger and larger. Aside from cooking and crocheting, her favorite hobby was watching classics. If a classic film wasn't to be found on cable tv then she would enjoy any good thriller. Action flicks were not her cup of tea but suspense films and mysteries she adored....just so long as they didn't have "too much talk". She must have seen every Hitchcock film twenty times over.

We often referred to Oma as "Countess Rozalia" because she loved the good life - fancy cars, sparkling jewelry, mink coats, dapper men in suits, world travel and loads and loads of money. Since she didn't have this herself she enjoyed reading and hearing stories about the wealthy - aristocrats, royalty, and.....movie stars! We always wished we could have seen Beverly Hills with Oma. 

If she had to pick a favorite film to take on a desert isle I'm sure she would have grabbed Some Like It Hot. That film captured all the wonderful things that Oma loved - the millionaire life, hot jazz music, train travel, jewelry, and gangsters. Our grandma loved everything about gangsters. I believe she rather wished that the Roaring Twenties would return and then she would be a "Ma Barker" herself. The last film she watched before she died was Some Like It Hot. 

Rest in peace Oma, I know you are enjoying "the good life"!

Here is a overview of what you can expect to read about this month :

Scrooge ( 1970 ) : our grandmother's favorite Christmas film. We watch it every December a week before Christmas, usually on a Friday morning. While our father and uncle snuck off to the auto auction in the freezing cold weather we stayed at home and watched this lovely film. Oma simply adored the first hour, especially the December the 25th dance number, but once it got to the grim reaper scene she usually headed to the kitchen to get a head start on making soup. 

How To Steal a Million ( 1966 ) : of all the genres of films that were made, "heist" films and musicals were the themes Oma preferred, and so we're going to feature a behind-the-scenes look at one of her all-time favorite films - How to Steal a Million - and our Nugget Reviews will be a look at some other classic heist flicks of the 1960s. Anyone ever hear of That Man From Rio? 

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous ( 1984 ) : this show was Oma's bread and butter for many years. When it finally went off the air in 1995 she consoled herself by watching the three episodes we had taped off of television. Eventually The Price is Right became her favorite television show. It was a toss-up for us whether to right about that classic game show or Lifestyles but ultimately we choose the rich one because there isn't much written about it. 

Zsa Zsa Gabor : Dahling, dis was Oma's alter ego, what more could we say?

The Ghost of Jayne Mansfield : Jayne Mansfield was one of those iconic buxom babes that seem to crop up every other generation. Jean Harlow was the Mansfield of the 1930s, Loni Anderson of the 1980s, Anna Nicole Smith the Mansfield of the 1990s. We spent our childhood hearing every tale of gossip from Hollywood that Oma could remember. Most of the time she mixed all the tales together and gave them a good shuffle ( which only made them more juicy ) but there was one she liked to repeat over and over which never changed - the ghostly image Engelbert Humperdinck saw in Jayne Mansfield's home. 

And last but not least....an Impossibly Difficult Movie Scene from an impossibly good film. 


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Hot Like Sugar

Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in a scene from the classic Billy Wilder comedy "Some Like it Hot" ( 1959 ). Sugar Kane and Jerry are having a ball while Joe poses as the millionaire heir to Shell Oil. When Some Like it Hot was released it was issued a "C" rating from the National Legion of Decency and this film, along with Hitchcock's Psycho, contributed to the end of the Production Code. Well, some like it hot and some do not. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Ellery Queen ( 1975-1976 )

The tinkling of piano keys and the brassy boozy sound of muted trumpets in an opening intro beckoned us into the world of New York City in the 1940s...a city abound with clever criminals and puzzling murder cases. It's no wonder the city police had such a great detective like Richard Queen as their chief inspector. They needed him. What they did not suspect however, was that he relied upon his son, mystery author Ellery Queen, to solve these puzzles for him! 

In the mid-1970s middle-aged viewers got to sit back, relax and enjoy a sprightly-paced hour watching Ellery Queen and his pop solve murder cases in an entertaining series brought to NBC by the creators of Columbo and Murder She Wrote.  

History of a Mystery Duo

Ellery Queen has long been considered one of America's greatest fictional detectives. In fact, he has been regarded by many as the successor to Sherlock Holmes. Queen first appeared in 1927 in the mystery novel, The Roman Hat Mystery. Two American cousins, Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee, had always been fans of mystery fiction and decided to team up and write a story for a writing contest for McClures Magazine. Every author had to enter the contest using a pseudonym so that professional writers would not have an advantage over the other entrants. They decided to write collectively under the name "Ellery Queen" and dubbed their sleuth the same name. 

The characters and the cleverly written stories, which always featured a "gathering of suspects" at the end of the tale as well as a Challenge to the Reader, quickly became a sensation. "Ellery Queen" went on to become one of the most successful mystery novelists of the 20th century, having penned dozens of novels and short stories in a period of 42 years. The duo also created Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in 1941, considered to be one of the most influential English-language crime fiction magazines of the last sixty-five years. 

Dannay and Lee liked to remain anonymous and during the 1940s often made public appearances donning masks. Some critics thought that the great wit S. S Van Dine was one of the team. They did, however, make appearances on radio, where they could be heard but not seen. 

In 1939 The Adventures of Ellery Queen was brought to radio and aired on three different networks over the course of nine years. Hugh Marlowe provided the voice of Ellery Queen during the first three years and then, when the program moved to NBC radio, Carleton Young took over. 

In the early 1940s Ralph Bellamy starred as the absent-minded sleuth in a series of - ahem, lackluster - films for Columbia studios. Charley Grapewin portrayed Inspector Queen and Margaret Lindsay was second-billed as a tagged on love-interest, Nikki Porter ( actually, this character first appeared in the radio show...but not in the books until after 1943 ). William Gargan replaced Bellamy in two of these films when Bellamy walked out. These series were entertaining in themselves, but really had nothing to do with the Ellery Queen books and were capitalizing solely on the character's popularity. 

One of the first Ellery Queen series to be brought to the tiny tube was The Adventures of Ellery Queen by Dumont in 1950. This series ran for two years, with ABC taking the helm during the second season when it won the TV Guide Award for Best Television Mystery. Debonair actor Richard Hart, sporting a Flynn 'stash portrayed Ellery Queen with Florenz Ames co-starring as his grumpy papa, the Inspector. Four months into the series, Hart died of a heart attack and within two days was replaced by Lee Bowman...a bit older and slimmer but since television was scarce in homes and rather fuzzy at that, many viewers probably didn't notice the change. In a sprightly 25 minutes Ellery would find a case to be solved, organize the clues, and gather together the suspects for his unveiling of the culprit's identity. Some of these cases included a murder at an art gallery, an opera, a ballet and one at a Shakespeare festival..."We were just getting round to a murder at a rare book shop when they took the show off the air" recalled scriptwriter Helene Hanff. 

Two years later TPA, Television Programs of America, brought back the series, this time with Hugh Marlowe as our beloved sleuth. Both Marlowe and Florenz Ames were old hands at Ellery Queen and tried their best at giving the show some power juice, but the production values were poor and the scripts bad...as bad as the critic reviews for the series. 

NBC decided to give ol' Ellery another chance in 1959, this time in a series called The Further Adventures of Ellery Queen. George Nader was given the role of Ellery while the series was telecast live but then Lee Phillips took over once they switched to videotape. Actual Queen stories were used as basis' for the first six episodes but once again the stories were lost in translation. 

In 1971, the writing and producing team of William Link and Richard Levinson - both avid Ellery Queen fans - approached NBC with a proposal for ( oh no! ) yet another Ellery Queen series. They too had been disappointed with the previous television adaptions and wanted to see a show created that contained the same unique twists and intellilectual clues as the book series. Link and Levinson, having made a success of their popular Columbo series, decided to see Ellery Queen brought faithfully to the screen. 

Alas, by the time production began, their script, based on the novel "Cat of Many Tails", had been given a complete face-lift while they were sent away on a vacation to Europe and it was scarred beyond recognition. Levinson and Link were ashamed of the final result and requested to be credited as "Ted Leighton". This made-for-tv movie pilot, entitled Don't Look Behind You, featured an Ellery Queen that bore no resemblance to the book character. Instead, Queen - played by Peter Lawford - became an overaged swinging bachelor, who is helping his inspector uncle ( Harry Morgan ), solve a mystery in London. Coleen Gray and Stefanie Powers also starred. 

The King of Queens

In 1975 Levinson and Link persuaded NBC to do another Queen pilot episode, this time in keeping with their original vision for the series. Frank Price, head of Universal television at that time, suggested that Jim Hutton be cast as Ellery Queen. Link thought the suggestion good but had his doubts to whether Hutton could play a dramatic role as well as he handled comedy. Well, he needn't have doubted. Hutton's charm and good-natured manner played beautifully against David Wayne's crusty Old Man. This series became the best adaption of Ellery Queen to be brought to television ( or film ). Frederic Dannay himself considered Hutton to be excellent in the role of Queen and the entire series "right on target". 

On March 23, 1975, the pilot movie "Too Many Suspects" premiered. This film featured the Inspector and Ellery solving the murder of a famous fashion designer who left a baffling dying clue. The film garnered positive reviews and launched a fantastic series that sadly, was canceled after only one season.

What made Ellery Queen so entertaining was the audience participation involved. Every episode would begin with a teaser wherein we see the victim and the suspects, usually amounting to 6-7 people, while the following would be announced by veteran voice-over actor Bill Woodson:

" This famous composer stole his last song. Who killed him? Was it the bereaved widow? His loyal business partner? His shiftless son? The floozy nightclub singer? The enraged conductor? Or was it somebody else? Match wits with Ellery Queen and see it you can guess WHODUNNIT "

A stellar opening credit sequence of typewriters and chess men ( and an unforgettable theme song by Elmer Bernstein ) drew us into a nostalgic world of mystery. Before we, the audience, have time to figure out the character's names, Ellery has the mystery solved, and then - in the most unique technique found in any mystery program - he would break "the fourth wall" and face the television camera to ask us if we have solved the mystery too. Queen's methods of solving the crime were always by deductive reasoning, and he would continually astound this father by arriving at a correct solution with a minimum amount of clues to work with. The clues are all there for us - somewhat scattered sometimes - and getting the chance to help solve the crime was the key element that made this series the winner that it was. 

Unfortunately, critics didn't agree with this. Some thought the 1940s setting of the series distracting, while others put down Hutton's portrayal of Ellery as "lackluster", and ultimately viewers neglected to tune in every week. Levinson and Link believed the mysteries may have been too difficult to solve, hence in subsequent series, such as Murder She Wrote, they threw in a few simple mysteries to boost up viewers pride in their own deductive abilities. 

"Why does everything in this house end up in the fridge?"

Queen and His Pawns 

Ellery Queen - Jim Hutton

Hutton portrayed Ellery Queen as a gangling - and a bit bumbling - young man that was quite different from the book character. But, like Columbo, his clumsiness never distracted us from the case at hand and only added to Queen's charm. Sporting a tweed coat and his favorite eske hat, Ellery approached every suspect without suspicion but would not rest until he gathered all the pieces of the latest puzzle and could lock them into place. 

Jim Hutton made a name for himself in the early 1960s when he shot to stardom as the leading man in a series of romantic comedies ( The Horizontal Lieutenant, Where the Boys Are, Bachelor in Paradise, The Honeymoon Machine ) where he was often paired with Paula Prentiss. At 6'5 he was one of the tallest contract players in Hollywood and his lanky appearance reminded many of James Stewart. He was considered by some to be his successor, and right so...Hutton had a marvelous flair for comedy and like Stewart, often read his lines with a touch of absent-mindedness. A consummate professional, Hutton diligently applied himself to the role of Ellery Queen and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunities the part provided. Today he is remembered most for this role. Hutton died in 1979, at the age of 45, from liver cancer. His son is actor Timothy Hutton. 

Inspector Richard Queen - David Wayne

The Ellery Queen mysteries just wouldn't be as beloved as they are today without the irascible Inspector Queen. Despite his frustration with his son's forgetfulness he clearly enjoyed having him along on his cases and would often take great strides to lure Ellery away from his writing assignments to do so.

David Wayne had a long career on stage and screen before taking on the assignment of Inspector Queen. He got his start in Cleveland when he joined a Shakespearian repertory company in 1937. After a brief stint as an ambulance driver in North Africa during WWII he went on to become a reliable supporting player in numerous Hollywood films of the 1940s and 50s, films such as How to Marry a Millionaire, The Tender Trap and The Three Faces of Eve. It was on Broadway that he gained his fame however. Wayne won the very first Tony award for Best Actor in 1948 for his performance in "Finian's Rainbow" and earned another in 1954 for "The Teahouse of the August Moon". During the 1960s and 70s he appeared in many television shows, notably in Batman as The Mad Hatter. 

Sgt,Velie - Tom Reese

Velie was your typical loyal gumshoe sidekick, big burly and always ready to lend a helping hand to the Inspector and "maestro", his nickname for Ellery. 

Tom Reese was a familiar face on television, having guest-starred in numerous westerns throughout the 1960s. After a stint with the Marines during the 1950s, he entered the world of acting, studying under Lee Strasberg.  He got his start in television and then had some small supporting roles in films such as Flaming Star, 40 Pounds of Trouble and The Money Trap. One of his most memorable TV appearances was in The Twilight Zone episode "The Midnight Sun" where he played The Intruder. 

Simon Brimmer - John Hillerman

Simon Bremmer, host of a popular mystery radio program, was a character created solely for the Ellery Queen television series to act as a rival sleuth for Ellery. Brimmer would often be found lazily conversing with the suspects before the Inspector would arrive on the scene. But in spite of his high opinion of his own fame and deductive skills he often fingered the wrong criminal during his "unveiling". 

( Interestingly enough, in later years Willliam Link bore a remarkable resemblance to John Hillerman ). 

Hillerman is often confused to be a British actor, due to his clipped accent and his most memorable role, Higgins,  in Magnum P.I, but in fact he born a proud Texan. He gained fame in films such as Blazing Saddles and Chinatown ( 1974 ) and on television in the 1970s on the series The Betty White Show, The Love Boat and One Day at a Time. Today he spends his retirement in Texas. 

"Brimmer. Simon Brimmer. THE Simon Brimmer....perhaps you have heard of me?"

A Line-Up of Suspects

In the 1970s television shows geared towards the older generation were a dime a dozen. Columbo was one of the first series to feature Hollywood has-beens in leading guest roles every other week, but it was Ellery Queen that combined a cast of former film stars together all in one episode. Each mystery would have a cast list that read like a A picture of the 1950s, with guest stars such as Don Ameche, Roddy McDowall, Eva Gabor, Vincent Price, Donald O'Connor, Dana Andrews, Troy Donahue, Rhonda Fleming, Sal Mineo, Vera Miles, Cesar Romero, Anne Francis, Kim Hunter, Signe Hasso and Jimmy Lydon.

This appealing format of luring in audiences eager to see their favorite film stars - now aging - gained popularity in later shows of the 1970s and 80s such as The Love BoatFantasy Island and Murder She Wrote, but none compared to the amount of talent that gathered together as suspects on Ellery Queen. 

"Dad, you think you could take care of that for me?"
"Ellery! You want me to fix a parking ticket? Pay the two dollars"

Best Episodes

Now this is one show that is really hard to choose "bests" on....mainly because every episode is entertaining and can be watched again and again. After some deliberation however, we narrowed it down to these Top 5, not only because of their clever mystery, but for the cast choices and the wittiness of the script. 

1. The Adventure of Auld Lang Syne ( Ep. 1 )

Joan Collins, Ray Walston, Farley Granger, Barbara Rush, David Doyle, Barbara Rush. 

Everybody who is anybody is having a ball at the New Year's Eve party at the Astor Hotel. Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians are providing the peppy music while Inspector Queen is dodging Mrs.Velie's dancing shoes and millionaire Marcus Halliday is chewing out his relatives at his private table. He announces that he is going to cut them all out of his new will...but within an hour is found stabbed in the telephone booth. He died just before he was able to make a call to a man he doesn't know. The police commissioner wants the case solved before the midnight bells chime, and Ellery can't be found to help!

2. The Adventure of the Blunt Instrument ( Ep. 11 )

Eva Gabor, John Dehner, Dean Stockwell, Joanna Barnes. 

Mystery author Edgar Manning just won the coveted Blunt Instrument Award, a heavy statuette given to the author who has written the best mystery novel of the year. While talking on the phone to Ellery he is bashed on the head with this award. The guests who attended his cocktail celebration party are all under suspicion.....each one hated him enough to kill him....but all deny doing so. Ellery hunts down the killer..and a cure for his head cold. 

3. The Adventure of the Mad Tea Party ( Ep. 8 )

Rhonda Fleming, Jim Backus, Larry Hagman, Edward Andrews, Julie Sommars.

Ellery boards a train to Greenhaven Estate, the stately home of Spencer Lockridge, a theatrical producer, to spend the night as a guest and discuss the possibility of having one of his novels turned into a play. He arrives to find Lockridge, his family, and guests all donning costumes for his son's birthday celebration, each being a character from Alice in Wonderland. The next morning Lockridge is missing...still donning the costume of The White Rabbit..and one by one clues from articles within the house are arriving by an anonymous visitor. This episode is considered to be one of the most faithful adaptions of any Ellery Queen story and we consider it one of the best of the series. 

4. The Adventure of the Eccentric Engineer ( Ep. 14 )

Dorothy Malone, Ed MacMahon, David Hedison, Bobby Sherman, Arthur Godfrey. 

Lamont Franklin, a famous inventor, was shot at point blank while playing with his model train set in his private workshop. For the last few months his family and friends thought he was going insane, but was his insanity a cover to give him an opportunity to work on a top-secret project in solitude? This was one of the easy episodes for viewers to solve but still managed to contain some surprise elements. It is the "atmosphere" of this episode that is most appealing.

5. The Adventure of the Disappearing Dagger ( Ep. 22 )

Walter Pidgeon, Mel Ferrer, Dana Wynter, Ronny Cox.

Ellery Queen managed to wrap-up two murder cases in this episode. One, the death - by stabbing - of former private investigator ( Pidgeon ) and the other of a five-year old case of a similar stabbing on board a private flight. A stellar cast makes this episode highly entertaining. 

To read more about Ellery Queen and the film and television shows the stories inspired check out the Ellery Queen website. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

This installment of The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game features a pretty English Tudor building. There is a gardener outside and a cute little old car....we thought we'd make it an easy scene this time around. Well, as easy as an "impossibly difficult" game can allow, of course....

As usual, if you are not familiar with the rules to the Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie game or the prize, click here!

Good luck guessing! 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Whatever Became of the Portrait of Captain Gregg?

In the 20th Century Fox classic The Ghost and Mrs. Muir ( 1947 ), the portrait of Captain Daniel Gregg ( Rex Harrison ) plays a prominent part in the movie. When Lucy Muir ( Gene Tierney ) first arrives at Gull Cottage as a prospective buyer she opens the door to the living room and finds two eyes glaring at her....it turns out to be the light reflecting off of an oil portrait of the former owner, Captain Gregg. "I thought for a moment....." 

After she decides to rent the cottage and meets Captain Gregg in person - spirit though he be - he agrees to let her stay in his house but makes one special request as part of the bargain, "I want me painting hung in the bedroom". Mrs. Muir is reluctant to do so and doesn't think the portrait does him justice..."Must I? It's a very poor painting"...but nevertheless she does as he bids and comes to love the painting as much as we, the audience, do. 

Later, when Captain Gregg steps out of her life, she tells Martha one day, "I think we might put that portrait of Captain Gregg up in the attic..it was a silly idea to hang it in here. I don't know what possessed me. Atmosphere, I suppose."

And so he got chucked in the attic. 

But now we ask....Whatever became of the portrait of Captain Gregg? I was pondering this a few days ago and this led me to wondering what happened to many of the other famous "oil portraits" seen on films...the enormous Mary Meredith portrait in The Uninvited, the Alice Alquist Empress Theodora portrait in Gaslight, the famous "blue velvet" Scarlett O'Hara full-figured portrait in Gone With the Wind and of course, the unforgettable portrait of Laura Hunt, in Laura.

Most of these oil portraits were painted from a photograph of the actor/actress posing in costume, while some - such as the Laura portrait - were in fact, acrylic brushings over an enlargement of the photo itself. We'll look into all of these portraits in another post, right now we want to focus on Captain Gregg. 

A newspaper from 1947 stated the following about the portrait : "Being a perfectionist, Rex Harrison, who made his American film debut in Anna and the King of Siam, felt that his role as the ghost in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir required a beard. The studio objected to hiding the face that all the ladies love. Nevertheless, together with Ben Nye, makeup director, and artist John George Vogel, Harrison had his portrait painted wearing a beard. When this was shown to Darryl F. Zanuck, he was immediately sold on Mr. Harrison's beard and rescinded his orders that the Harrison face remain clean-shaven."

Just who is John George Vogel? He was an English portrait painter. In 1946 he had a showing apart of the Francis Taylor gallery held at the Beverly Hills Hotel ( Elizabeth Taylor's father ran this popular gallery in Hollywood ) and the attention this event garnered may have contributed to his fame in the tinsel town at this time. Vogel was an instructor at an art school in Hollywood during the late 1940s and Linda Darnell, Van Johnson, Diana Lewis, Anita Colby and Paul Hesse were among his students at one point.

Whether it was Vogel who painted the portrait seen in the film we do not know, and even if it was he, that still doesn't answer our question....whatever became of the portrait? During the early 1960s the painting popped up in several classic comedies... All Hands on Deck ( 1961 ) where it is hanging in the office of the Navy admiral; and Mr.Hobbs Takes A Vacation, where it is hiding in the back hallway behind the stairs ( shame on them for not putting it in the living room! ). 

In 1968, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was brought to the small screen in a television series starring Hope Lange as Mrs. Muir and Edward Mulhare as Captain Gregg but lo! the familiar portrait was replaced by a new one bearing the great Mulhare's likeness. This beautiful portrait was painted by Eddie Martinez who shared with us the actual whereabouts of the original Captain Gregg portrait. 

Martinez had an amazing career in the Los Angeles area, working on portraits, murals, and production design in film, television, and in the theme park industry. He was a versatile imagineer like Marc Davis and Herbert Ryman and today spends his time in retirement doing his favorite work, researching and illustrating historical figures. In addition to The Ghost and Mrs. Muir he also created portrait paintings for Peyton Place, The Dean Martin Show, The Tonight Show and Batman. More info about his work can be found here

As Martinez explained, "I was asked to paint Edward Mulhare's face over the original Captain Gregg portrait of Rex Harrison. As you can see in the photographs, I also removed the ship's wheel on the bottom left of the painting". 

After the series ended, Martinez's wife attended an auction at 20th Century Fox in an attempt to bid on the portrait, but it was sold to a businessman...Leland Ayers, who later became the mayor of Burbank and was instrumental in acquiring the Bob Hope Airport from Lockheed Corp. Mr. Ayers passed away on Sept. 2, 2013 and it is presumed that the painting is still kept in his family.

A mystery we - and many other fans - have pondered over for years has now been solved...and we would like to give a special thanks to Eddie Martinez for sharing with us the real story behind the whereabouts of this beautiful portrait of Captain Gregg, a character larger than life. 

Update: A print of a newly painted oil portrait of Captain Gregg is now available on Etsy. Click here to check it out.