Abe Vigoda as Detective Phil Fish on “Barney Miller.”
The writer of “Silver Screen Reflections” and “At The Matinee” remembers actor Abe Vigoda, who died at the age of 94 on Tuesday.
Born Abraham Charles Vigoda in Brooklyn, New York on Feb. 24, 1921, he was interested in acting at an early age according to The New York Times. In 1949, Vigoda got his start by appearing on the CBS television series “Suspense,” which was adapted from the CBS radio network thriller series of the same name.
After appearing in various roles on Broadway, film and television, Vigoda got his big break in 1972, by playing the role of underworld figure Salvatore “Sal” Tessio in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather,” adapted from Mario Puzo’s novel. Coppola’s film would be a smash success, and Vigoda would become a household name.
He would go onto greater success in 1975, when he was cast as veteran detective Phil Fish on the police sitcom, “Barney Miller,” alongside Hal Linden (who played the title role).
At the peak of his career, Vigoda left the hit series in 1977. That same year, he would soon return in the role that he played on “Barney Miller” in a short-lived spin-off series, “Fish.” Vigoda returned to “Barney Miller” in a 1981 cameo appearance (in the episode “Lady and the Bomb”). After Vigoda’s cameo, the series ended its network run the following year.
After an article was published in People Magazine on the end of “Barney Miller” in 1982, he was declared “the late” Abe Vigoda (after not attending a wrap party for the end of the series). The true story was that Vigoda was unavailable to attend, due to performing in a play in Alberta, Canada. He would take this misconception lightly throughout the rest of his life.
Throughout the latter part of his career, he would make various guest appearances on shows, including David Letterman and Conan O’Brien’s late night shows.
In honor of Abe Vigoda, Tribune’s Antenna TV Network will showcase 12 episodes of “Barney Miller” (centered on his “Fish” character), beginning this Saturday at 4 p.m. Eastern. In the Frederick, Maryland/Washington, D.C. area, Antenna TV can be seen on WDCW-TV 50.2/Comcast 201.
Now that the big snowstorm has arrived in the area for the weekend, nothing beats watching a good movie or TV show during this time.
There are some entertaining films that will shown on TV (and online) during the weekend. From the home office of “Silver Screen Reflections” and “At The Matinee,” here are a couple of top movie picks to watch during the weekend.
Svengoolie presents “Dead Man’s Eyes” (1944) on Me-TV
“Svengoolie” (portrayed by Rich Koz).
It wouldn’t be Saturday night without “Svengoolie” and his showcase of vintage Universal Studios horror films on Me-TV.
Sven will present the 1944 thriller, “Dead Man’s Eyes,” featuring Lon Chaney, Jr., Jean Parker, Paul Kelly and “Acquanetta.” Reginald LeBorg’s film was based on an episode of NBC’s “Inner Sanctum” radio mystery series (based on the same series of mystery/suspense novels), which aired for nine years.
“Dead Man’s Eyes” (1944) will air this Saturday at 10 p.m. Eastern on Me-TV (available on WJLA-TV 7.2/Comcast 204 in the Frederick, Maryland/Washington, D.C. area).
It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963, presented on TubiTV for free in stunning High-Definition!)
1963 United Artists Records advertisement for the soundtrack album of “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” as featured in Billboard Magazine (artwork by Jack Davis).
As part of an arrangement with MGM, TubiTV has made several post-1952 United Artists feature films available for streaming on the free, ad-supported service. One of the crown jewels in the offering is Stanley Kramer’s 1963 comedy masterpiece, “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.”
With an all-star cast (featuring Spencer Tracy, Jimmy Durante, Milton Berle, Ethel Merman, Sid Caesar, Edie Adams, Terry-Thomas, Jonathan Winters, Buddy Hackett, Mickey Rooney, Phil Silvers, Dorothy Provine and others), this comedy is still fresh and funny after it was released 53 years ago.
Now you can see “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” for free on TubiTV in its original Ultra Panavision widescreen format, mastered in High-Definition with Ernest Gold’s stereophonic score (along with the original entr’acte, intermission and exit music cues). You will not be disappointed by Stanley Kramer’s comedic farce.
TubiTV can be also accessed on any Roku streaming device.
Howard Hawks’ legendary 1938 film, “Bringing up Baby” is one of my many favorite classic movies, and has been cherished by fans of classic comedy.
When the Cary Grant-Katherine Hepburn comedy was released in 1938, the film was not successful with theatergoers.
Originally panned by audiences during its general release
After Hawks’ film was released by RKO Radio Pictures on Feb. 16, 1938, it turned out to be one of the biggest box-office flops at the time, grossing $715,000. According to Frank Miller of Turner Classic Movies, this was due to the production of “Bringing up Baby” going over budget.
Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn in Howard Hawks’ 1938 comic farce, “Bringing Up Baby.”
1955: “Bringing Up Baby” rediscovered (via television)
17 years after its release, “Bringing up Baby” would have a second life, thanks to television broadcasts. After the studio was sold to the General Tire & Rubber Company in 1955, the company planned to showcase vintage RKO films on the company’s TV stations (in a separate transaction, General Tire sold the syndication rights of the vintage RKO features to the C&C Television Corporation in 1955, for syndication on TV stations not owned by the tire company).
Since then, audiences rediscovered Howard Hawks’ comedy. Through countless television showings over the years (along with revival screenings), the film has become one of the essential cinema classics.
My first exposure to Howard Hawks’ “Bringing up Baby” was at an early age, by watching it with my family on AMC, when the channel was known as “American Movie Classics.”
Why you should watch “Bringing Up Baby” (if you haven’t seen it):
“Bringing up Baby” is one of the greatest screwball comedies of all-time. Featuring an all-star cast (Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, Barry Fitzgerald, May Robson and Charlie Ruggles), you will not be disappointed by Howard Hawks’ zany comedy masterpiece. Highly recommended!
Innovations shown in the series were the introduction of contact lenses (known as “invisible glasses” then), the first answering machine, early experiments on solar energy, bandleader Fred Waring and his electric blender, Philo Farnsworth’s early television demonstrations, a tour of Max Fleischer’s animation studio, the Northrop “Flying Wing” jet aircraft, the introduction of frozen “TV dinners” and much more.
Opening Title to Jerry Fairbanks & Robert Carlisle’s “Unusual Occupations” from 1948.
The second series, “Unusual Occupations,” showcased persons that had unique and unusual career prospects. The series premiered in 1937, originally under the titles “That’s Their Business”and “It’s a Living.” Radio announcer Ken Carpenter (1900-1984) narrated the “Unusual Occupations” shorts.
The series included a “Scribble Fortune Teller,” a “Toothpick Bridge Builder,” a “Cellophane Straw Artist,” a “Chewing Gum Artist,”, and a Hollywood “scream” artist for motion pictures. Various hobbyists, collectors, pacesetters, and trailblazers were also featured, including a collector of vintage Edison Cylinder Phonographs, a “wild west museum” proprietor, and Adeline Gray– who achieved fame as the first person to make a test jump with a parachute made entirely out of nylon.
Several personalities were featured in “Unusual Occupations,” including Gene Autry and his horse “Champion,” John Barrymore and his collection of “oddities” and the appearance of a young Theodore Geisel- better known to the world as iconic children’s author “Dr. Seuss”.
“Speaking of Animals”
A third Fairbanks-Carlisle series (for Paramount) came out in 1941, called “Speaking of Animals.” It was produced in collaboration with noted cartoon animator Tex Avery. This short film series combined live-action footage of animals with animation, giving the featured animals the chance to talk or sing popular tunes of the day. While “Popular Science“ and “Unusual Occupations“ were filmed in color (first in two-strip Cinecolor, then in Magnacolor), this series was filmed in black and white.
“Popular Science” and the Second World War
As the United States entered the Second World War, Douglas MacArthur, five-star general and a good friend of Fairbanks, communicated with the producer over the phone. MacArthur suggested that the theater-going audience at home should know that when the nation’s brave men and women go into battle, that they should be well prepared. This would give the “Popular Science” series unlimited access to behind-the scenes preparation for battle, along with advancements in United States military technology.
Throughout the combined series’ theatrical run, Fairbanks won numerous Academy Awards along with a special commendation for “Popular Science“ from the U.S. War Department for covering developments on military technology.
The demise of the Fairbanks-Carlisle Paramount shorts
After the end of World War II in 1945, Fairbanks decided to expand into television production, in addition to producing industrial films. Co-producer Robert Carlisle had left at the time, leaving Fairbanks to produce solo. Seeing that television would threaten motion picture exhibition and distribution, Paramount gave him an option- to abandon the idea of television production, or that his short subjects would no longer receive Paramount release. Fairbanks chose to go with television and industrial production in 1949, bringing an end to the three series he produced for Paramount. Only one would be reformulated into a television series in 1950, as Fairbanks filmed a pilot episode of “Popular Science.”
The resurgence of the Fairbanks-Carlisle Paramount shorts
Jerry Fairbanks would re-acquire the rights to his old Paramount film series later on, and the rights to the three series would pass on to the hands of Shields Pictures, Inc. – operated by film preservationists Mark Punswick and Mary Riley.
The films appeared (with original opening/closing Paramount titles from the original 35mm nitrate materials) on American Movie Classics in the mid-1990s. That’s how I was exposed to these classic short subjects. After AMC’s demise in late 2002, these shorts have never been seen on television. The company still offers the short subjects to major producers for stock footage elements.
In 2007, the company released a “best of” compilation of the Popular Science series on DVD (which is now out of print). In 2010, The Epoch Times wrote an article on the company’s film preservation efforts.
During that same year, the company launched an app for the Apple iPhone/iPad- containing the 1938 Popular Science Fleischer Cartoon Studios tour short subject (sourced from a high-definition transfer of the original 35mm nitrate print). Animation historian Jerry Beck wrote a piece about the company’s app, featured on the Cartoon Brew website in June 2010.
Since they have been working on HD transfers of the classic Fairbanks-Carlisle Paramount short subject series, let’s hope that these classic shorts will return to television- and hopefully will be released on Blu-Ray/DVD (or on some streaming platform) in the near future.
Update: Framepool now represents stock footage sales for the Shields Pictures library of Paramount/Fairbanks/Carlisle short subjects.