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Blog, TV
Posted on Nov 20 2009 by Greg

I grew up knowing Walt Disney's Zorro TV show more from the famous theme song than the show itself. There were reruns in syndication and a revival on The Disney Channel (with special emphasis on the Zorro episodes featuring Annette) but I don't think I saw more than a handful, I must admit. I missed the show at the peak of its initial success in the late '50s.

That's why I wanted to experience every episode from both seasons on the new Walt Disney Treasures releases. I must say, after 78 shows and four extra Walt Disney Presents hours, it is an extremely rich and entertaining television, far and above most similar programs of its era. And while there are the issues of political incorrectness (ethnicity, roles of women, drink and smoking), there's an amazing relevance to the overall series and perhaps a social influence beyond that.

Zorro rarely opposes standard robbers and bandits. His main adversaries are authority figures who have exploited their positions for wealth and power. They use people like playthings and often have mental problems (after all, The Caine Mutiny was popular around this time).

Because the episodes, while somewhat self contained, are almost always multi-part "arcs," much like today's episodic TV shows, these villains are permitted to oppress and pillage until they sink under their own weight. Zorro sees to it that their plans fail and eventually that they are put either in jail or outside any real influence.

Among the most interesting of these antagonists are, of course, Monastario (Britt Lomond), who sets the standard for the "executive" villain, but perhaps it is Jose Sebastian Varga, who has a secret identity as Zorro does -- 'The Eagle" -- that is among the most memorable. Played by Charles Korvin (whom fans of The Honeymooners will recognize as Carlos Sanchez, who taught Ralph, Alice and Mrs. Manicotti how to mambo), Varga is a complicated man, with sharp mood swings (punctuated by a voice that becomes shrill) and a paranoid fear of being alone. Don Diego (Guy Williams in his Clark Kent identity when he's not Zorro) and his servant, Bernardo (Gene Sheldon) actually subject Varga to a "Gaslight" type scare fest.

Speaking of Bernardo, his role as "servant" is so much more, of course. As played brilliantly by Gene Sheldon, he is a mute who also feigns hearing impairment in order to listen in to conversations. By today's standards, Bernardo would perform the same role but perhaps be called a "personal assistant."

Sgt. Garcia, a role defined by the versatile Henry Calvin (who co-starred in Broadway's Kismet and did a brilliant Oliver Hardy to Rob Petrie's Stan Laurel on a great Dick Van Dyke Show episode) is classic middle management. He's always eager to please his boss du jour, hoping that each successive replacement might not be as corrupt as the last, and also yearning for a promotion that never comes. Don Diamond joins the cast a few episodes into the show as Garcia's sidekick, a role he repeated in a manner of speaking on The Flying Nun, when he partnered with Vito Scotti as the Clouseau-like Captain Fomento.

Scotti is among the legion of guest stars that appear on the series and the four hour shows. In The Complete Season One set, look for Vinton Hayworth (General Shaefer on I Dream of Jeannie); Joan Shawlee (Buddy's wife Pickles on The Dick Van Dyke Show); Anthony George (Burke Devlin on Dark Shadows), and the beloved Mary Wickes (of countless shows from I Love Lucy and Dennis the Menace to Sigmund and the Sea Monsters and the Mickey Mouse Club's Annette serial).

Annette plays two roles in The Complete Season Two package: a young daughter in search of her father (the role Walt famously gave to her as a sweet 16 gift since Guy Williams was her teen idol), singing Jimmie Dodd's "Lonely Guitar,"  and as a feisty young woman with bad taste in boyfriends, singing Richard & Robert Sherman's "Amo Que Paso" and "Como Esta Usted."

Music features prominently in many Zorro episodes, from original songs created primarily for the operatic Calvin or Bill Lee (who sings offscreen for Williams and also guest star Cesar Romero) to William Lava's score, which weaves themes for Zorro, Bernardo and Garcia (the last of which reminds me a bit of the Nutcracker March).

Season two features more guests stars then season one, since the series was a huge hit by then. They include spaghetti western stalwart Lee Van Cleef, as well as Michael Forest and Barbara Luna (both seen on the classic Star Trek series); Richard Anderson (Six Million Dollar Man & Bionic Woman); Whit Bissell (The Time Tunnel); Tige Andrews (The Mod Squad), Neil Hamilton (Batman), Robert Vaughn (The Man from UNCLE); George Neise (Leo Fassbinder on The Dick Van Dyke Show) and none other than Lost in Space's Dr. Smith himself, Jonathan Harris!

The hour long shows all feature celebrity guests. In addition to Annette, there's Rita Moreno (the same year as West Side Story), Ross Martin (The Wild, Wild West) and Ricardo Montalban (Fantasy Island). Walt Disney introduces each of the hours.

It's interesting to speculate that Zorro, which was a huge hit in 1957, depicting a renegade romantic hero who flew in the face of errant authority, might have inspired the youth of the day to revolt ten years later when it seemed to happen in real life with Vietnam and Watergate. And today, those baddies can be compared with maniacal corporate cads like Bernie Madoff and Leona Helmsley.

It's a mistake to consider Walt Disney's Zorro as a footnote in television history or in Disney history. As the bonus features prove, the series was produced at a budget unheard of at the time and has a movie quality. The character never seems to go out of style -- just ask Antonio Banderas, who portrayed the hero in two recent films. But surely even he would acknowledge that Guy Williams in many ways made Zorro his own and may always be fondly remembered for the role.

Posted on Nov 04 2009 by Greg

This week, New Line Records released the 1965 children's record, Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Singing Songs of Christmas, one of several dozen albums and singles produced by the animation studio.

These records are highly prized by collectors, not only for the recordings themselves but for the extraordinary artwork and graphics by HB's great artists, like Ron Dias, Willie Ito, Warren Tufts and many others.

This particular album is one of the few in the "cartoon series" that is totally musical. When the record label was launched, an episode of The Flinstones featured a singing Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm with the song, "Open Up Your Heart." The song was played on the end credits of several episodes to promote the single. This song is not included on this album, but was included on a Rhino CD called Modern Stone Age Melodies.

The singing voices are the same as they were on the TV show, a mother/daughter singing duo named Rickie and Rebecca Page (in the 1966 movie The Man Called Flintstone, child singers sang Pebbles & Bamm-Bamm's songs).

The new CD features a representation of the original back cover graphics, too (remember the Scully lathe and the finest Westrex cutting heads used to create the masters?) and the disc itself has the wonderful blue HBR label design.

The album is available on amazon, and apparently also in stock at Borders and Barnes & Noble.

Blog, Music
Posted on Jul 04 2009 by Greg

This Tuesday, Shout! Factory releases some real treasures from the long-out-of-print Golden Records catalog, some never heard in the last 60 years...

Remember Little Golden Records? Yellow 78's with a distinctive sound. Also on 45's and LPs but rarely on CD and totally out of print for years.

Be on the lookout for Volume One and Volume Two "best of" albums called YOUR GOLDEN CHILDHOOD featuring Shari Lewis, Mighty Mouse (Andy Kaufman's version), Popeye, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Jimmy Durante, baseball's Mel Allen, Cliff "Jiminy Cricket" Edwards & more. 28 songs in all, many for the 1st time in 50 years.

Just a few of the precious gems aglow on the two volumes:
The fantastic Jimmy Carroll version of "Carousel Waltz" never before on CD and a version unlike any other.
A totally different version of "Give a Little Whistle" recorded for Golden by Cliff Edwards.
Roy Rogers and Dale Evans singing the song later made famous by Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm on The Flintstones.
A moving rendition of "Hi Lili, Hi-Lo" by Shari Lewis.
The definitive "Popeye the Sailor Man" that Robin Williams duplicated note-for-note in the movie.
Rosemary Clooney's sister Betty singing "Fuzzy Wuzzy."
Mel Allen "calling the game" when Casey went to the bat.
Art Carney, at the height of "Honeymooners" success, singing Frank Loesser's "The Ugly Duckling."
The Rita Williams Singers' London stereo version of "On Top of Spaghetti" conducted by Vic Flick -- who was the guitarist on the immortal James Bond Theme. (Rita, for you Brits, sang on a lot of those Woolworth's pop knock-offs of the 50s and 60s.)

I have to add a mea culpa caveat to those of you who are more expert than me in some of the facts in the notes; that may by Roy Halee and not Tom Morrison singing for Mighty Mouse as listed, I'm not sure if those are the ball players in the chorus of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame, and yes, that IS Paul Tripp singing the "Tubby The Tuba" song. Because of time constraints, some little nits are present, but please if you will focus on the magnificent big picture of so many mini-masterpieces.

Audio riches to be sure.

** Please check out these links:
Blog, Links
Posted on Jun 01 2006 by Greg and Tim

Disney Music Emporium
The official site for the everyone who loves the very best of Disney music and recordings in the classic mold, with behind-the-scenes news, regular features by Disney historian, a monthly "Record Roundup" and exclusive offers on musical collectibles.

Disneyland Records Website
This unofficial Disney music resource site comes as close to being an official site as it possible can. They do not sell or offer pirate downloads, but instead link to every classic Disney album available for purchase on iTunes, including albums that may surprise and delight Disney record lovers. There are exhaustive release listings, history and even updates on records being offered on eBay.

Cartoon Research
Animation historians offer regular features, articles, videos and rare images. Every Tuesday, please look for my "Animation Spin" feature exploring animation-related records from Disney, Hanna-Barbera, Rankin/Bass, Filmation, Warner Bros, Lantz and many others.

Animation Scoop
Indiewire's official animation site, offering reviews, industry news, preview, film critiques and DVD reviews.

Disney Parks Blog
The official site for Walt Disney World, Disneyland and all other Disney destinations. I provide regular articles with interesting facts, interviews and commentary

TV Confidential
One of syndicated radio's most informative and insightful syndicated weekly programs. Host Ed Robertson presents celebrity interviews of today and yesterday, "This week in TV History", rare audio of TV moments lost on video forever. I do  regular DVD reviews about the latest releases plus some DVDs folks might have overlooked when they were released. Each show appears a week after its broadcast on iTunes as a podcast.

Stu's Show / Baby Boomer Favorites
The ultimate talk show for lovers of classic TV and animation, with one-of-a-kind interviews from TV's greatest classics. Stu Shostak hosts these lively shows every week for live streaming at 7 pm Eastern / 4 pm Pacific, so listeners can email questions. Every show is archive for download at only 99 cents. Baby Boomer Favorites is a bi-weekly hour of music and talk from rock and pop's heyday, with celebrity guests sharing their personal favorites. (You can only download this show within the two-week window.)

Walt Disney Records
The official site for the latest Walt Disney Records releases plus interactive activities and special features.

University Press of Mississippi
Find award winning books, authors, and artists at the University Press of Mississippi.

Mark Evanier's News from Me
An indispensable blog all about movies, TV, animation, theater, news and politics. Also raccoons.

A. Film LA
Acclaimed animator Hans Perk presents fascinating images, insights and information about Disney art and history.

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