Saturday, January 19, 2013

Overlooked by Emmys

Let's talk about three big oversights in Hollywood's history of awarding those on the small screen.  In my previous blog, I wrote that I would love help motivate the entertainment industry to start a "Women in Film" award and/or scholarship in the name of pioneer actress and film/TV director Ida Lupino.  Not only did she slam across some solid movie performances in films like High Sierra with Humphrey Bogart...
....she showed great range.  In 1941's High Sierra, she's touching as the loyal waitress who's had hard times.  She helps an ex-con try to go straight even though society seems determined to make him a criminal again.  They're two losers seeking something better in life.  Critics raved about her ruthlessness in 1943's The Hard Way.
In that, she's the frustrated mill town wife determined not to be poor anymore.  She becomes obsessed with turning her younger, pretty sister into a Broadway star.
In the 1950s, she kept acting and she directed movies.  While acting, she'd watched and learned what the boys did behind the cameras.  Then, one day, she did it too.
She directed tough black-and-white dramas with Oscar winning stars that took on taboo social issues.  One example, 1953's The Bigamist starring Joan Fontaine and Edmond O'Brien.  Ida directed and co-starred.  This was groundbreaking pioneer filmmaking -- and a major new chapter for women's Hollywood history.
The films she directed did good business at the box office.  As I wrote in my previous blog, she opened the door for women like Penny Marshall, Barbra Streisand, Jodie Foster and even Kathryn Bigelow, director of The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty.  In the 1950s, just like Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, the actress/director starred on a sitcom with her real-life husband. Ida Lupino and Howard Duff did the series Mr. Adams and Eve.
Ida got 1958 and 1959 Emmy nominations for Best Actresss in a Comedy Series.
Starting in 1956, she used her pumps to kick open the door to the Hollywood boys' club of television directors.  She became a respected director of episodic television.  Ida guided actors and called the shots behind the camera for the top westerns, dramas, thrillers, cop shows and sitcoms on network TV.  Have Gun-Will Travel, The Rifleman, The Fugitive, Dr. Kildare, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, 77 Sunset Strip, Honey West, The Donna Reed Show and Bewitched.  Her extensive list of TV director credits goes up to 1968.  Her acting credits go to 1978.  Ida Lupino never got a special Emmy for her trailblazing TV work behind the camera.  She deserved one.  So did another movie and TV veteran.

He was a Broadway, movie and TV veteran.  He was also a musician/recording star.  He went to Hollywood to recreate his role in the 1940 film version of a hit Broadway musical comedy.  That's where he met the RKO star who would become his wife and co-star.
Apparently it was love at first sight.
The Broadway musical and the movie were called Too Many Girls.  And, yes, the RKO movie star was Lucille Ball.  Zesty brunette tap dancer Ann Miller co-starred in the film.
By the time Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball made Vincente Minnelli's 1953 hit comedy movie The Long, Long Trailer, they were two of the biggest stars in the country.
I Love Lucy was the revolutionary TV sitcom that made them show biz superstars.
Desi Arnaz -- excellent sitcom actor, an innovative television producer and a broadcast visionary. Growing up in Southern California, I couldn't wait to get home from school and see those episodes in syndication on KTTV/Channel 11.  As a minority kid in South Central L.A., it made me feel so significant to see a Latino male -- the native Cuban Mr. Arnaz -- in a good upscale role as one of the best TV dads in sitcom history.  This was an ethnic character in a positive role.  Ricky Ricardo was a very professional working class entertainer, a devoted family man and a great friend.  For corporate network television, this was new turf -- a bi-lingual household and an interracial marriage.
Behind the scenes as executive producer, he started a 3-camera technique for shooting the show before a live studio audience.  That style is still utilized today.  One example of his being a visionary was his insistence on shooting the show on film.  Other sitcoms of the 1950s that weren't put on film didn't hold up as well.  Those I Love Lucy episodes look fresh.  Desi, with Lucille Ball, co-founded Desilu Productions.  In addition to I Love Lucy, he was executive producer of another hit series, The Untouchables.  Ida Lupino directed episodes.  Robert Stack had been making movies since 1939.  He was Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee for 1956's Written on the Wind.  But nothing made him a bigger star than 1959's debut of The Untouchables starring Stack as Eliot Ness.  He became such a big star that he's even mentioned by a character in Billy Wilder's The Apartment.  In later years, Desilu Productions gave us The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show and Star Trek.  Desilu Productions and I Love Lucy made television history all over the world.  Lucy and co-star Vivian Vance ("Ethel Mertz") won Emmys for their work.
William Frawley ("Fred Mertz") received Emmy nominations for the sitcom.  Lucy received one of the Kennedy Center Honors.  Desi Arnaz was never nominated for an Emmy nor did he ever receive a special Emmy for his groundbreaking, successful work as a TV actor and TV producer.  That totally stuns me.  That needs to be rectified.  There needs to be a post-humous honor accepted by his children, Lucie and Desi Arnaz, Jr.

Another actor who did movies and television also had legendary work to his credit.  He never received a lifetime achievement honor either.  Millions of us around the world didn't see him doing his brilliant work most of the time.  He shared screen time with Betty Garrett in the 1949 MGM musical comedy, Neptune's Daughter.
Maybe folks couldn't place the face but they knew the voice.  Or voices.  He did all the speaking for these two characters....
...and these two characters....
....and this little guy, Barney Rubble, on TV's The Flinstones....
...and this other little guy, Mr. Spacely, on TV's The Jetsons.
There were more voices inside of him.  Mel Blanc was like a cartoon feature cast unto himself.  Beginning with the Warner Brothers cartoon characters who went from the big screen to TV airings that delighted millions of us young babyboomers, on to the cartoon characters created for network TV, Blanc proved to be a brilliant vocal actor.  His talent was extraordinary.  Each of his characters had a distinct personality.  Each one sounded different. It was remarkable character acting with his voice.  Today, three actors would be needed to voice three roles in this one cartoon.  Back in the day, you just needed Mel Blanc to do Daffy Duck, Sylvester the Cat and Porky Pig in The Scarlet Pumpernickel.
It's a classic.  For 50 years, Mel Blanc had us laughing with his magnificent acting gifts.  He was a unique talent.  There simply was no one else like him.  When he died in 1989, some of the most famous cartoon characters of our lives were as this illustration says -- Speechless.
Blanc, the creator and performer of those iconic cartoon voices, never got a special Emmy or a special Academy Award.  He never received a Kennedy Center Honor.
Imagine all those classic Looney Tunes without his voices.  Can you?  I can't.
I say honor him with a special post-humous Emmy accepted by his son, Noel Blanc.
There you have it.  Three superior talents, three unique artists whose accomplishments contributed greatly to television.  Yet they didn't quite get the Hollywood recognition and appreciation they deserved, in my humble opinion.

1 comment:

  1. Ida Lupino and Howard Duff on Batman along with G. David Schine, Assistant to Senator Joseph McCarthy, Executive Producer of The French Connection, Part Owner of the Ambassador Hotel Where RFK Was Shot, Married to Miss Universe 1955, and Purveyor of Bubble Gum Music.


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