Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Not enough people are talking about Judy Canova

It's possible that not enough people are still talking about actress / singer Judy Canova, and maybe that situation can change...

While lying awake late the other night, unable to sleep again, as often happens in that situation I pulled my laptop close to me and dialed up the Old Time Radio library at Internet Archive. Wanting a break from my customary late-night streaming of old Jack Benny shows or Fibber McGee & Molly, this time I stumbled onto their stash of 1940s episodes of The Judy Canova Show.

The realization soon came to me that perhaps there hasn't been enough Judy Canova in my life.

Sure, I knew of her - - I could recognize the comedienne from old photos, remembered a bit about her country cornball schtick and its context - - But in hearing her vintage radio comedy, it dawned on me that I'd not actually witnessed much of her in performance over the years, and certainly not in a long while.

You are encouraged to investigate the
The Judy Canova Show for yourself. (follow link)

As of this writing, The Internet Archive has almost three dozen episodes available for listening, dating from 1943 to 1948.

The half-hour radio sitcom revolves around Judy, playing 'herself' as an uncultured bumpkin uprooted to Hollywood life as a popular actress and singer.
Broad but gentle humor that still engages, despite its dated or non-PC moments.

The supporting cast includes Ruby Dandridge (mother of Dorothy Dandridge) as Geranium, the maid, and Mel Blanc as Pedro, the Mexican gardener / chauffeur, speaking with the same comic accent he'd use occasionally on The Jack Benny Program that would eventually evolve into the cartoon voice of Speedy Gonzales. (Not surprisingly, Blanc also doubles for other character voices and sound effects)

In the episodes I've heard so far, I recognized voices of radio veteran Verna Felton, as well as
Sheldon Leonard. Great voices!

The program ran for twelve years, first airing on CBS in 1943 on Tuesday nights, before moving to Sunday nights on NBC in 1945. Other cast members during the show's run included Hans Conried, Joseph Kearns and Gale Gordon (the latter two who, among other roles, would both go on in later years to play Mr. Wilson opposite Jay North's 'Dennis The Menace' on television).

Prior to her own show on radio,
Judy Canova (1913 - 1983) had made regular appearances on many radio programs during the 1930's, most notably The Chase & Sanborn Hour with
Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.

She'd also had several supporting roles in films during that time, while working as a contract player for Warner Bros. and Paramount.

Her show business career had begun while still a teenager in Florida, performing in a singing trio with her sister, Anne, and older brother, Zeke.
The vaudeville circuit led them from Florida to New York, where 'The Three Georgia Crackers' were 'discovered' by singer Rudy Valee.

Radio, stage and film appearances soon followed, eventually paring the act down to a solo.

Though Judy had originally intended to pursue a more serious singing career, her talent and personality mixed with her unconventional looks to type-cast her into a good-natured yokel persona that she honed during the vaudeville years and played to perfection for decades following.

Below, ▼ appearing in a scene with her siblings in the 1937 film 'Artists & Models',
it's easy to see why she stood out...

- Follow this link to the Turner Classic Movies website to view Judy singing in a bathtub scene from the same film, before sharing dialogue with a young Ida Lupino.

- Follow link to other Judy Canova film clips at TCM.

Though 'Hillbilly Humor' was nothing new, there's a quality to
Judy Canova (including and beyond the 'hick' factor) that can be seen in the performances of comediennes who followed after her in the 1940s, '50s and beyond, from Minnie Pearl and Dorothy Shay, to Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett.

In 1940, Judy Canova was offered a movie contract by
Republic Pictures.

'Scatterbrain' provided her first leading role, and she would star in 17 films in fifteen years while working for Republic.

- Follow this link to Judy Canova's IMDb listing.

It was the popularity of those 'B-movies' that helped to land her the radio series, which led her to greater popularity than her films.

(click on images to enlarge in a new window)

Below, ▼ a 1941 publicity shot (via Flickr) shows Canova posing with fellow Republic Pictures star, actor Tom Tyler, decked out for the adventure film serial Adventures of Captain Marvel, the very first film adaptation of a comic book super-hero.

Speaking of comic books, Judy starred in just a few issues of her own, published by Fox Comics in 1950.

Below left, ▼ issue #3 features cover art by
(then soon-to-be) comics legends Wally Wood and
Joe Orlando, just prior to their heyday producing artwork for EC Comics.

- Learn more at Hooray For Wally Wood! and at Oddball Comics.

Radio, film and numerous records made for
RCA-Victor and other labels made Canova a star throughout the 1940s and early '50s, as did a business sense that belied her standard performance persona.

Her contract with Republic Pictures ceased in 1955, the same year that her radio show ended.

Judy did transition to TV in the '50s, but through numerous guest appearances rather than starring vehicles. In addition, nightclub appearances and theatrical stage roles filled out the rest of her performance career, throughout the 1960s and into the '70s.

Below, ▼ In Hollywood with Liberace on
'The Colgate Comedy Hour', November 11, 1952.
(via LIFE Magazine)

- See also:
Articles at Brian's Drive-In Theater and at St. James Encyclopedia of Pop Culture.

◀ At left, Judy Canova at age 65, attending the National Film Society convention, May 1979, accompanied by her daughter, actress Diana Canova, Diana's partner, actor Steve Landesberg, and (on the right) Landesberg's mother.
(Photo by Alan Light,
click on image to enlarge in a new window)

UPDATE, 6.25.09: Big, big thanks to Matt for sending along a nice note that included 4 of his favorite tracks from an old 10-inch LP, 'Favorite Songs of Judy Canova'.

Sad but not terribly surprising, none of Judy's music is currently in print, at least here in the U.S. - -

- - And these great western-swingy tracks that Matt has provided weren't included on the last readily available CD collections of her work, so that makes them an extra-special treat for all of us!

Thanks for sharing, Matt!
It's kinda like Xmas or something...

Listen to:
Never Trust A Man
Bananas Ain't Got No Bonies
I Ain't Got Nobody
Twenty-five Chickens Thirty-five Cows

(click for audio)

UPDATE, 7.6.09: Thanks also to normadesmond for sending along a YouTube link to a video clip of
Judy Canova appearing on TV's 'What's My Line?' in 1954.
Norm uploaded it after seeing this post. Thanks for sharing!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Squirt in your eye (1945 print ad)

(click on image to enlarge)

Squirt, the grapefruit soft drink, was introduced in 1938.

Their mascot,
'Little Squirt' began appearing in their advertisements and promotions in 1941.

Though the company changed hands many times over the decades, and the formula has changed a bit, Squirt soda is still around today.

- - But when was the last time you saw
'Little Squirt'?

Looks like there was a version of him still kicking around as late as the mid-1970s at least,
but since then?

Where do the old advertising mascots go to die?

Monday, June 8, 2009

David Essex in 'That'll Be The Day' & 'Stardust' (magazine photo spreads, 1973/74)

The magazine articles below spotlighted a pair of British films that have largely remained underappreciated in the many years since their release.

The two-part gritty Rock & Roll fable helped to propel actor / singer David Essex to super-stardom in the U.K.

Released in 1973 and set in the late 1950s and early '60s (and featuring plenty of great period music), 'That'll Be The Day' tells the story of young
Jim McClain, who yearns for a glamorous life beyond the dead-end existence in which he lives.

The movie co-starred Ringo Starr (looking just right in Teddy Boy finery) as Jim's friend, Mike.
Also featured in the cast were 'genuine' musicians, singer Billy Fury and The Who's Keith Moon.

David Essex had his breakout success as a stage performer in 1971, when he starred in the London cast production of 'Godspell'.

During production of 'That'll Be The Day', Essex wrote his song 'Rock On', envisioning it for use in the film's soundtrack. After the song was rejected for the movie, he recorded and released a version that became a huge chart hit.
'Rock On' subsequently was added to the end credits of the American release of 'That'll Be The Day'.

The magazine piece below ▼ appeared in the May, 1973 issue of Films and Filming.
(click on images to enlarge in a new window)

In the 1974 sequel, 'Stardust', McClain's
Rock & Roll dreams are realized in the late 1960s and early '70s, but the accompanying hazards of fame and excess cause his life to implode.

Ringo Starr opted out of the second film, the role of Mike (now McClain's manager) taken over by British pop star Adam Faith.

Keith Moon returned to reprise his role, and performed on the soundtrack as a member of
The Stray Cats, McClain's band in the film.
Also appearing and performing in the band was Dave Edmunds, who'd had his earliest solo hits a couple of years prior, following his departure from Love Sculpture.
Edmunds' efforts in the film and on the soundtrack helped lead him further into his career as a record producer.
In a curious coincidence, Edmunds would go on to produce the first singles and albums by the 'other' Stray Cats, Brian Setzer's rockabilly revival group, in the early '80s.

Edmunds also spins some good stories about the perils of 'being taken under Keith Moon's wing' during production.

Read an interview;
'Dave Edmunds on Keith Moon' at Tony Fletcher's iJamming!

The magazine piece below ▼ appeared in the October, 1974 issue of Films and Filming.

(click on images to enlarge in a new window)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

'Powder-Twist' automatic eye shadow (1973 print ad)

"... The eye shadow of the future.
Make it yours today."

Times change, styles change, and change again.

(click on image to enlarge)

"Exactly enough" pre-measured color, you say - - ??

A relative term, surely.
Results may vary.

'Way too much' for some.

'Almost there' for others.

(Drag divas, glam rockers and circus clowns spring to mind.)

Freshly-stirred links