Thursday, May 31, 2007

Gabby and The Gazelles, in that alley right in back of “The Green Parrot” -- October 27, 1966

Marty O’Connell, Gabby Dunne, Midge McGuire, Lou Lerario

Gabby and the Gazelles were probably the most notorious of the rock groups that sprang up in Olney in the post-British invasion era of 1964-66. Gabrielle “Gabby” Dunne, the girlfriend of Tom Dooley of the popular Rear Ends, had gotten increasingly annoyed at Tom getting all the attention, and so she decided to form her own all-girl band after she graduated from Cardinal Dougherty High School in June of 1966. Gabby recruited Martha “Marty” O’Connell for lead guitar, Margaret “Midge” McGuire on drums, and Louise “Lou” Lerario on the Fender bass. Gabby sang lead and played rhythm guitar. Although all of the girls had musical training (Gabby had sung lead contralto in the Dougherty Girls Choir and had studied classical violin since the age of ten), none of them had ever played electric instruments before, and indeed Lou, although an accomplished pianist, had never played any sort of percussion. No matter, they took their high school graduation money, bought their respective instruments and started practicing. Not wanting the group to be just another cover band (even though they were already the only “girl band” in Philly) Gabby simultaneously set to work writing a bunch of original songs. They played their first gig in August of that summer, opening for the Rear Ends (who were opening for the Fugs) downtown at the Trauma. Their distaff version of the rocking hard-guitar sound of groups like the Yardbirds, the Rolling Stones, and the Standells went over like a house afire. Soon the girls stepped out of the mighty shadow of the Rear Ends and were getting their own gigs around town.

Gabby and the gals released seven or eight completely blistering 45s on local labels, including the infamous “Born to be Hip”, which became one of the first ever “underground hits”. Initially this song (put out by the Lawn label, October 1966) got quite a lot of radio play in Philly and South Jersey, especially on Hy Lit’s show on WIBG. But then someone actually deciphered Gabby’s snarled lyrics and the song was quickly banned from the airwaves. This didn’t stop the local kids from buying it though. The Sound Odyssey on 5th Street sold over 5000 copies of this platter in the month of December 1966 alone. The song might not have been on the radio but it was played relentlessly at parties, on jukeboxes at bars like the Huddle and the Green Parrot, and over the sound system at clubs like the 2nd Fret and the Trauma (indeed this song is running through my own head nonstop right now). Radical then, the lyrics are fairly tame by today’s standards:

I was born to be hip don’t gimme no lip, boy
When I slide and slip I like to let it rip, boy
If ya don’t like the way I groove
Then maybe you better just move
on outa my way, boy
Yeah I think you’re gay, boy
So, look out, Pip, I was born to hip!

When I shake my hips my mind just flips, boy
And I like to get me more kicks than pricks, boy
So if ya can’t take my pace
Then get the hell outa my face
And outa my way, boy
Why are you so gay, boy
Ah, just face it, Pip, I was born to be hip!

“We had a lot of fun,” said Gabby recently. “But then all that psychedelic shit came along. I just wasn’t into that crap. I mean I hated “Sgt. Pepper”. And I liked Jimi Hendrix’s guitar sound but his songs were too slow and sludgy for me. I liked playing real rock and roll, and by the summer of ’67 the market for our kind of stuff dried up. Everybody just wanted to drop acid and listen to this spacey shit. So we broke up the band. I was going to Temple, anyway, and so I just concentrated on school. It wasn’t till about ten years later when the Ramones and the Sex Pistols came along that people started talking about Gabby and the Gazelles again, and by that time I had a kid, I was teaching, going for my doctorate in pharmacology. But it’s nice to be remembered. We kicked ass.”

Original pressings of “Born to Be Hip” b/w “Take a Hike” have sold on eBay for $150.

(Check out the lower right hand part of this page for a listing of links to many other fabulous "Tales from the O-Zone".

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

“Mi chiamo Curly Russell. Il suo nome è la merda!”

Franco Nero

Six Bullets for Curly Russell (Sèi Pallòttoli per Curly Russell; AKA Several Bullets of the Gunman, Hello My Name is Curly Russell, The First Revenge of Django (La Prima Vendetta di Django); 1963; Todd-Ao; Cinemascope; 119 min.; Franco Nero, Stuart Whitman, Mariangela Melato, Raf Vallone, Gian Maria Volonte; music by Ennio Morricone; written by Larry Winchester and Alberto Moravia; directed by Larry Winchester).

Most film buffs will tell you that the first “spaghetti western” was Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (Per un Pugno di Dollari -- 1964). However, as has so often the case in his long and fabled career, it was Larry Winchester who got there first, with Six Bullets for Curly Russell. Some purists attest that the film is not a true spaghetti western because Larry is American. True enough, but the film was made with an Italian crew in Spain (some interiors shot at Cinecittà in Rome), with a mostly Italian cast, co-written by an Italian (the notable novelist Alberto Moravia), and with a score by Ennio Morricone, and I think it legitimate to call this the first real example of the genre. In addition to the Italian production team and European location, the film also has all the hallmarks of the later spaghettis: a lone gunman (the young up-and-comer Franco Nero as the eponymous hero), an incredibly evil black-suited villain (Stuart Whitman), a raffishly evil Mexican general (Raf Vallone), a lovable but cold-blooded Mexican peasant (Gian Maria Volonte), a female star with incredibly bright golden hair (the lovely Mariangela Melato), and lots and lots of ketchup-spurting violence. Indeed it would be fair to say that all the subsequent great spaghetti westerns were in reality “Winchester Westerns”.

Here’s what Larry has to say about it all in his memoir I’ll Take the Low Road:

I was still in Rome, just finishing up post on The Return of the 300 Spartans, when I get a phone call from my producer Dino di Laurentiis. Alberto Moravia -- who was famous for writing these deep novels about the struggle in men’s souls between good and evil -- had written a screenplay, and Dino wanted me to take a look at it. Well, I read it, and Alberto and I met for drinks, and I told him, “Al, this is good, but it’s -- kinda dull, ya know?” “I know,” he says, “I know, this existential shit is so boring. Help me, Larry. You make good movies. Your western The Devil’s Country is my favorite ever movie.” “Is it?” I says. “Sì!” “All right,” I say, “so let’s turn this into a western. With a western you can put in all the deep depressing philosophy you want and still sell some popcorn.” Alberto loved the idea; we went right to work and a week later we had a finished script, ready to shoot.

We show the script to Dino and he loves it. ”But what’s it called?” Alberto and I had forgotten to give the thing a title. So Alberto goes, “I got it. How cool is this: A Bullet for Curly Russell?” And Dino goes “Magnifico, let’s start pre-production.” But I hold up a finger. “Wait, guys,” I say. “Why just one bullet? Let’s make this movie fucking big.” I spread out six fingers. “Let’s call it Six fucking Bullets for Curly Russell!”

So that’s what we did. Leaving out the "fucking" of course...

We had this composer named Ennio Morricone who’d never done a western before. He played me some cues he had roughed out and I took him aside and said, “Ennio. This stuff is great. But the orchestration -- we’ve heard it all before. What about -- I don’t know -- like some electric guitar?” He goes, “Sì! Electrical guitar! Bravissimo!” Then I’m like, “And this one part here, what about some weird singing, like a chorus --” And he’s all, “Sì! Singing! A chorus! Bellissimo!” “Great,” I says. “And while you’re at it stick in a lot of gunshots just for the hell of it.” So Ennio goes back to the drawing board, and when he played me some tapes of the new score he had something really original and good, and, well -- I guess that was where that real spaghetti western sound began...

So we made the movie, and it did okay. Some people say it was ahead of its time, too dark and bloody. Who knows? A couple of years later our star Franco Nero had a big hit with a movie called Django, so they re-titled Six Bullets as The First Revenge of Django, re-released it, and it had an even better second run. I had points in the project, so I had no complaints...

Five or six years later Bernardo Bertolucci adapted a Moravia novel called The Conformist into a movie, and it got a lot of attention and awards. But after it opened I got a call from Alberto and he said, “Larry, The Conformist is a pretty good movie, a little dull and arty, but not bad. But, Larry, my friend, I look on the work I did with you on Six Bullets for Curly Russell as my greatest work.” I was really touched, and I guess it wasn’t a bad flick. I’d say it’s probably in the top ten of my movies. Definitely the top twenty, anyway.

To my knowledge this classic film had only one brief run in the United States, on a double bill with another Winchester title, Bayonets of Blood, in 1964, and has not been seen here since. (There is a Japanese DVD on the market from Ha! Karate Media, a pretty decent transfer, but be advised the only soundtrack options are Japanese and the original Italian. English subtitles are available but they’re not very good. For instance, the headline quoted at the top of this piece reads: “I am called Curley Russel! And the name of you is caca!”)

(Turn to the right hand side of this page for listings of many other classic Larry Winchester titles. Be sure also to check out our Schaefer Award-winning serialization of Larry's epic novel A Town Called Disdain.)

Saturday, May 26, 2007

"In old Cape May"

Originally published in the special "Summer Fun" supplement to the June 1, 1963 issue of the Olney Times; it’s nice to see that Arnold Schnabel (still on leave of absence from the railroad) has gotten away with his mother for a vacation in Cape May, NJ. They stayed at the guest house of his three maiden aunts, the Misses Greta, Edith and Elizabetta Schneider. (With a grateful tip o’ the Leo lid to the Arnold Schnabel Society for permission to republish this fine sonnet. All rights reserved in perpetuity.)

“Frank’s Playland”

In old Cape May I walk with my mom
Through air thick with honeysuckle and suntan oil;
The sun explodes like an atom bomb,
And human beings lie beneath it to broil;
We walk along the shimmering promenade,
By the lunatic ocean and screaming sand,
And, somehow, although it might seem odd,
I long to enter the darkness of Frank’s Playland;
I loved this place back when I wasn’t a fogey:
Nickelodeon and ski ball and photograph machine;
And, overseeing it all, old Frank with his stogie,
His belt-hung coin-changer, and his jokes so obscene;
Now I, the boy, am quite as old as back then was he;
I peer within: Frank’s ancient face stares out at me.

(For links to other even more foreboding poems from Arnold Schnabel, and for access to his previously vaulted memoirs Railroad Train to Heaven, simply cast a wary eye to the right hand column of this page.)

Friday, May 25, 2007

Great Lost TV Shows, Vol. 6: The Worst Hurst

The "King" of Steel Pier: Ed Hurst

The Howard Johnson's Variety Hour Starring Ed Hurst
(1960; B&W; variety; 60 min.; a Desilu Production)

Ed Hurst, still in the early days of his long-running local show Summertime on the Pier (broadcast live on Saturday afternoons from the eponymous Steel Pier in Atlantic City), went national with this Phil Leotardo-produced extravaganza. Ed was looking for a non-summertime show, and Phil Leotardo as usual was looking for a hit; Phil had originally planned the show with Jerry Lewis in mind as the host, then Jerry Vale, and then Jerry Colonna, but all of them balked at the pay, so Phil finally settled for the able and talented (and non-Jerry) Hurst.

Phil’s idea for this show was to showcase only the top talent of the day, and to create a lively Sunday night alternative to the terminally square but immensely popular Ed Sullivan. For the first show Phil intended to land Frank Sinatra, Nat “King” Cole, Doris Day, Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson (the latter three to do a scene from King Lear), and the up-and-coming comic London Lee. Unfortunately, Howard Jonson's draconian budget constraints ruled out all of the above except for the talented Mr. Lee. Not to be fazed, Phil managed to book the big-voiced lounge singers Joe and Larry Schmidt, Irish chanteuse Missy McDonough, teen heart-throb “Rockin’” Harry Hirsch, and actor Edward Everett Horton, reciting a few verses from Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”.

The première live broadcast -- from Ed Hurst’s old stomping grounds Steel Pier in Atlantic City -- was scheduled for the second Sunday night in September, a day which unfortunately coincided with the onslaught of one of the worst hurricanes Atlantic City had ever seen -- Hurricane Donna. Because of this brutal storm the only booked performer who was able to make it to Steel Pier by show time was London Lee, despite the fact that he was suffering from a severe and painful attack of shingles. Desperately Phil Leotardo scoured the local bars for some replacements but all he could come up with were: a novelty act called Joe McBean and Squeaky the Talking Cat; an ancient club crooner with a head cold by the name of Freddy Fontanello; an obviously drunk juggler called Dr. Potsanpanz; a hula-hoop duo dubbed Mr. and Mrs. Hoola; and an Italian comedian named Giuseppe Giuseppini who knew only a handful of English words, most of them obscene. London Lee did the best he could considering his medical condition, but the show was an unmitigated disaster from beginning to end, with the handful of people who had shown up for the live audience walking out into the gale well before the end. This show had the distinction of being the lowest-rated prime-time broadcast in television history, a dubious honor it holds to this day.

Considering Phil Leotardo's proven drive and zeal, this show could have been a powerhouse. If Hurricane Donna hadn’t hit and the scheduled performers had shown up who knows how many people would have tuned in (and even stayed tuned in). As it was, the network mercilessly pulled the plug after that one and only show.

The unflappable Ed Hurst continued with his popular summer Saturday show from Steel Pier, and marched amiably along in his long and storied career; Phil Leotardo, never one to be set back by a piece of bad luck (or a run of bad luck for that matter, or even a long run of disastrously bad luck), merely shrugged hia massive shoulders and set to work on his next and slightly more successful project: The McGurks of 65th Avenue.

(An interesting side-note: tapes of the the one-and-only airing of The Howard Johnson’s Variety Hour Starring Ed Hurst, which many scholars consider the single most unbearable hour in TV history, have sold on eBay for up to $100! Go figure.)

(Turn to the right hand side of this page for a complete listing of other Great Lost TV Shows.)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Olney's famous homegrown “Avant-Gardistes”: Patty O’Donnel and Rachel Anne Greenberg

The year was 1965, and for some time the young Simon Gratz High grads Patty and Rachel, sales assistants and apprentice bakers at Fink’s Bakery on Spencer Street, had been experimenting with what they called “weed art”. They would wander through the abandoned lots and woods and construction sites of Olney with an Acme shopping cart and collect weeds and twigs and other odd bits of trash and detritus, and in the basement of the O’Donnel house on Sparks Street they began to create the masterpieces which would soon bring them fame and a certain amount of fortune.

After working in obscurity for a few months the girls decided to enter one of their favorite creations, “The Sticky Twig Man” (pictured above), at the annual Autumn Art Show at Sturgis Playground over at 65th and Second. Much to their delight they won third prize (a $50 gift certificate at the Mitzi Shoppe on 5th Street), and to their even greater surprise the very photo reproduced here was printed in the “Neighborhood Fun” section of the Evening Bulletin.

As it so happens the famed artist Andy Warhol and his entourage were in town that day for Andy’s first American museum exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania.

Andy saw the newspaper photo of the girls and the “Sticky Twig Man” and pronounced it “really neat”. The “Factory” stalwart and Warhol right-hand man Gerard Malanga got on the case and tracked Patty and Rachel down. The girls agreed to meet Warhol at their favorite local stopping place The Three Babes diner on Fifth. Yes, it was a wild night at the Three Babes when Andy arrived with superstars Baby Jane Holzer, Edie Sedgwick, Candy Darling and the ubiquitous Malanga, along with the writers Terry Southern and George Plimpton, the actor Dennis Hopper and, not least of all, the gallery owner Janet Fleisher. Andy loved Patty and Rachel and immediately offered them parts in his next movie, but the girls declined as they didn’t think they would be able to get their shifts covered at the bakery. They passed around snapshots of their work and everyone seemed to be impressed, not least of all Miss Fleisher, who made them an offer on the spot to show their work at her world-famous gallery downtown on 17th Street.

Well, we all know what happened next. Helped out immeasurably by the imprimatur of Mr. Warhol, the Misses O’Donnel and Greenberg sold out their entire maiden show that December at the Fleisher, fetching as much as $5,000 a piece. Not bad at all for a couple of Olney gals who were still living at home and working at the bakery!

But this famous first show proved also to be their last. Patty and Rachel, in an interview with the Saturday Evening Post, said that they felt they had gone as far as they could with weeds and twigs, and that they wanted to quit while they were ahead.

Rachel took her money and put it down on a semi-detached on Acker Street, and shortly afterwards moved in with her new husband Dave, a mechanic at the Atlantic station down at Fifth and Somerville. Patty for her part bought a brand-new Thunderbird. Rachel continued to work at Fink’s until she and Dave had their first baby. Patty went to nursing school and worked for many years at Einstein Hospital on Old York Road.

Their most famous work, “The Sticky Twig Man”, was recently auctioned at Christie’s for $750,000.

(Kindly refer to the far lower right-hand column of this page to find links to many other fantastic "Tales From the O-Zone".)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The friends of Arnold Schnabel: Gordon Scott and Steve Reeves in “Duel of the Titans”

From the "Olney Times", June 1, 1963. Arnold Schnabel's mental state as limned in this poem might reflect his decision to discontinue taking his prescribed "little capsules". Republished thanks to the generosity of the Arnold Schnabel Society.

(The last line of this masterful sonnet refers to a then-popular, now obscure, series of books by the Italian author Giovanni Guareschi about a hot-tempered priest and his nemesis Peppone, the Communist mayor of their village in the Po Valley.)

"Leave of Absence"

As I seem to have taken leave of my senses
I have been given a leave of absence;
Thus beneath this sky the color of absinthe
Clouded with drops of present perfect tenses,
Through tilting streets I wend invariably
To the Fern Rock Theatre (a Steve Reeves matinée),
Then the Three Babes diner, "Onion Soupe Gratinée",
And finally to the vaulted cool Olney Branch Library;
Here at last I lose my mind in the stacks,
And sway within myself like an innocent willow;
All these words and lives arrayed on racks,
I lay myself in them as if on bed and pillow:
I study the sleeves, their fronts and backs:
I shall sit at a table and read Don Camillo.

(Give yourself a break today and check the right hand column of this page, where you will find links to many other fine poems from Arnold Schnabel as well as to his vast and vastly amusing memoir,
Railroad Train to Heaven.)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Great Lost TV Shows, Vol. 5.5: The Two Sams

Sammy Davis Jr and the very talented Mr Samuel Beckett

Sammy Davis on the filming of the “Nothing to Be Done” episode -- written by Samuel Beckett -- of The Jolly Six Bums. (From an interview in Browbeat magazine, June, 1988.)

“Phil Leotardo asked me to come back and guest-star in another episode of the series, and when I saw the script I flipped. It was that good, man. By Samuel Beckett, one of the real heavyweights of the theatre and a very cool cat. Phil flew him over from Paris for the location shoot in Philly, and Sam was on set every day, working closely with the director, John Frankenheimer, and with me and the other folks in the cast. It was Sam who had the idea for me and Ted Bikel to do a duet of the Hebrew folk song, ‘Erets Zavat Chalav’, and I don’t mind tellin’ ya, me and Ted smoked on that number.

“I played a carny barker for a sideshow called ‘The Great Dark Secret Mystery of Life’. The catch is that once the paying rubes come back out of my tent they can’t remember what it was they saw inside, and they’re so curious they keep coming back again and again and again. Very heavy shit. Now, the jolly six bums, they’re running their own scam right across the way from my tent, with Bikel, Burl Ives and Zero Mostel doin’ a song-and-dance routine, while Roddy McDowell, Evelyn Ankers and Thomas Mitchell work the crowd boosting wallets and picking purses. Me, I get in a beef with the six bums ‘cause they’re robbin’ the local yokels so blind that they can’t afford to buy tickets to my sideshow!

"One day Frank came around the set -- he was doing an appearance at the Latin Casino in downtown Philly, and it turns out Sam Beckett was a major fan. Frank invited a bunch of us to his show that night, and afterwards we all sat around shootin’ the bull and singin’ songs. Me and the rest of the cast all fell out around three AM ‘cause we had a seven o’clock call that morning, But Sam stuck around with Frank, just drinkin’ Four Roses and smokin’ Pall Malls and rappin’ away like two long-lost brothers. Next morning Sam comes on the set lookin’ like the sad-ass grey ghost of warmed-over death, even for him. ‘What happened to you, motherfucker?’ I asked him. ‘Sinatra happened to me,' he replied. And I mean deadpan, man. This dude could've given Buster Keaton deadpan lessons.

"But it’s like the man said: ‘Nothing to be done.’ Nothing to be done, so, you know, just do it, man. Just do it. That was Sam Beckett's philosophy of showbiz and that was his philosophy of life."

(Turn to the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to other Great Lost TV Shows.)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Great Lost TV Shows, Vol. 5.4: Thomas Mitchell

Our intrepid correspondant Pierce Inverarity found this interview with the beloved actor Thomas Mitchell {above left} in the files of "Parade" magazine, from Dec. 12, 1961:
"The Jolly Six Bums was far and away one of the most artistically satisfying projects I’ve ever worked on. I signed on as soon as I read the script for the pilot epsiode, a Tennessee Williams piece called 'Old Miss Edna's Jewelry Box' in which the six bums wander into a little town in Mississippi and wind up moving into the secluded plantation house of an eccentric and rich blind old maid, the eponymous Miss Edna (played wonderfully by Dame Edith Evans). Being blind she has no idea that we’re obviously a pack of roving rapscallions, and we convince her and her slightly insane niece (the lovely Joan Greenwood) {above right} that we’re a travelling evangelist -- moi -- and his flock. She has a couple of ancient servants but they’re so senile that they also they have no idea that, far from being messengers of the good Lord’s word, we’re out to find the jewelry box full of Confederate gold rumored by the townspeople to be hidden somewhere on the premises.

"We shot on location down in Oxford Mississippi and after the day’s wrap we would all go over to William Faulkner’s house and drink mint juleps and play canasta. Bill loved the premise of the series and he promised to write an episode for us, but, alas, the show was cancelled before he could do so, and the world was deprived of a masterpiece."

(Check the right hand side of this page for listings of links to many other fine "Great Lost TV Shows".)

Saturday, May 19, 2007

"Give them the ooh la la!" Mais oui, ce sont Jean Simmons et Marlon Brando dans: “Desirée”!

Another ingenious sonnet from Arnold Schnabel, bravely or obliviously published in the May 25th 1963 issue of the “Olney Times”.

(A note for the young people:
The Schaefer Award Theatre came on at 11:30 on Saturday nights and showed movies with only one commercial interruption. This show introduced a generation to such classics as On the Waterfront, Viva Zapata, The Wild One, and, yes, some perhaps not so great ones like Desirée.)

(Grateful acknowledgement to the Arnold Schnabel Society.)

“The Schaefer Award Theatre”

The Schaefer Award Theatre, and this is my reward:
Brando on the screen, and in my hand a beer;
Mother upstairs, asleep, and nothing untoward
Shall disrupt this quiet night with madness or fear.
I have gradually stopped taking the little capsules;
They were a wall between me and life and, yes, this:
The keening and swooping of these razor-winged rascals
Who zoom past my sofa with a chilling hiss;
I do not mind them much; somehow they always miss,
And so I drink my beer and watch the movie Desirée;
Jean Simmons is so very lovely as Mademoiselle Clary;
When the devils flock in front of her I bat them away
With this poker; I refuse to let them scare me.
But I mustn’t relax my guard. Victory goes to the wary.

(If you transfer your stunned gaze to the right hand column of this page you will find links to many other brilliant Arnold Schnabel poems as well as to his addictive (and Schaefer Award-winning) memoir Railroad Train to Heaven.)

Great Lost TV Shows, Vol. 5.3: Evelyn Ankers

Here’s the lovely and talented Miss Ankers, interviewed by Patrick Stoner for the 1984 WUHY fund-raiser, with her own Vegas memories of The Jolly Six Bums.
"I had worked with Larry Winchester once before on a darling little film called The Banshee’s Daughter, and so I was thrilled to find him directing that Las Vegas episode; but, Patrick, I must tell you I was utterly destroyed by the end of that shoot. It was those devils: Larry, his friend Rags Larkin, and all those boys in the cast, off to the poker and craps tables the very second we wrapped each day! And dragging me along with them. Lord knows I didn’t gamble but the boys called me their lucky charm, always having me blow on their dice and what not. We were lucky if we had two hours of sleep before our morning call. I was ravished, simply destroyed, and after about the third night I begged Larry just to let me go home after my day's work and get some sleep; but he simply took me by the arm and said, 'Evelyn, if ya wanta play in the big leagues ya gotta learn how to take a high hard one to the bean sometimes.’ I had no idea what he meant, but not wanting to seem ignorant I simply said, 'Okay, Larry,' and off I went to the casino again with that band of lunatics!”

(Kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for listings of links to other "Great Lost TV Shows", and to appreciations of many of Larry Winchester's classic feature films. Be sure to check out also our serialization of the unexpurgated "director's cut' of Larry's long-out-of-print novel A Town Called Disdain.)

Friday, May 18, 2007

Great Lost TV Shows, Vol.5.2: Roddy McDowell

Roddy McDowell, interviewed by WUHY-TV’s Patrick Stoner for their 1984 fund-raising marathon broadcast of all five episodes of The Jolly Six Bums, shared these reminiscences:
“It was a laugh a minute with that madcap gang. I remember well the Vegas episode. My good friend Elizabeth Taylor was visiting me on the set, and she so wanted to take part in the festivities in some way, and so our director -- my old pal Larry Winchester -- gave her a walk-on as a cocktail waitress. Now in Arthur Miller’s wonderful script the cocktail waitress didn’t have a line, so Larry’s friend Rags Larkin, who was I believe the line producer and stunt co-ordinator on the show, he sits down at the bar while the make-up gal is working on Liz and five minutes later he hands Larry a cocktail napkin with this fabulous monologue written on it. Larry hands it over to Liz, she memorizes it on the spot, and then they filmed it word-for-word. Imagine Arthur Miller’s surprise when people started coming up to him at Toots Shor’s congratulating him on that wonderful speech he wrote for Liz! But it was all Rags. A much underrated writer in my opinion.”

Great Lost TV Shows, Vol. 5.1: Burl Ives

Larry Winchester, director of the great "Vegas" episode of The Jolly Six Bums sent us an e-mail recalling this one great line that Burl Ives ad-libbed:
"What these squares fail to realize is that bein' a bum's a full-time job!"

Great Lost TV Shows, Vol. 5: "The Jolly Six Bums"

The Great Zero Mostel

The Jolly Six Bums (1959; B&W; comedy/drama; 60 min.; a Desilu Production)

The title said it all. The Jolly Six Bums followed the picaresque adventures of a band of lazy idle wandering loafers: the jocular Big Mike (Zero Mostel), the wily Joe (Akim Tamiroff), the bibulous Zeke (Thomas Mitchell), the roisterous singing team of Hal (Burl Ives) & Jerry (Theodore Bikel), the slick young Alistair (Roddy McDowell), and the sultry Mary (Evelyn Ankers). They traveled around the country, very occasionally picking up the odd temporary job at carnies and circuses, but more often singing songs and dancing on streetcorners for nickels and dimes, rooking rubes with games of three-card monte and loaded-dice crap shoots, hustling pool, and generally just living off the fat of the land. Each episode would find our merry crew in some new town or city and bucking up against the local sheriff, tycoon or mafia boss and other assorted squares.

One of the most fondly remembered episodes was “The Jolly Six Bums Hit Vegas” (written by Arthur Miller, directed by Larry Winchester), where the merry sextet roll into town on a freight car; cheat a high roller out of a hundred thousand bucks in a poker game; parlay that into a cool million at the blackjack table; blackmail a US senator caught in a compromising situation with Mary; uncover a Russian spy; lose all their money on a flip of a coin to special guest star Orson Welles; and finally, with both the FBI and NKVD agents hot on their trail, skedaddle out of town on the same freight car they came in on.

Created by the great Phil Leotardo, the peripatetic format of this show paved the way for future travelogue dramas like Route 66, The Fugitive, Run For Your Life, and Then Came Bronson. With its powerhouse cast and original teleplays by Samuel Beckett, Edward Albee, Eugène Ionesco, and Tennessee Williams, this was a show that by all rights should have been huge. Instead it was cancelled after only five epsiodes, proving that then as now it’s the idiots who rule the world.

Ah, but how well we remember the theme song, sung by the entire cast:

Oh, the jolly six bums, the jolly six bums
The jolly six bums are we!
We ramble round this dirty old town
As happy as can be.

The other day we met a guy
We never met before
He asked us if we wanted a job
Shovelin' iron ore.
We asked him what the wages was:
"A buck-and-a-half a ton."
We told him he could keep his job
'Cause we was on the run!

Oh! Shootin' stumps and stogies,
Sleepin' in the boxcars,
Put me on the bum!

(Turn to the right hand side of this page for a complete listing of other Great Lost TV Shows.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Spring is here. Why doesn't my heart go dancing?

This Arnold Schnabel sonnet first saw light in the May 18, 1963 number of the “Olney Times”. By this point one wonders if the editors of that august and generally upbeat paper were even bothering to read Arnold’s increasingly disturbing poems before running them. But we can only be thankful that print them they did. (Poem republished by permission of the good people of the Arnold Schnabel Society.)

“The Day of the Worm”
When I was a lad, so many years before my fall,
I feared strange moist days like today,
Days of spring, after rain, a sky of steel grey,
When it seemed that no one was outside at all,
Or if they were, they were always several blocks away;
And on such days whilst walking aimlessly around,
I would notice a plethora of worms arising from the ground
And wriggling across the wet concrete pathway,
Millions of them, rising up, implacable and blind;
What did they want, and why were they here?
I wanted only to be home, and to leave behind
Their vileness, their inexorable legions, and my fear.
And, now, from the damp loam of my soul what new creatures
Arise, silent, smiling, and with my own features?

(Check the right hand side of this page for a listing of other classic poems by Arnold Schnabel. You might also enjoy our ongoing serialization of his unexpurgated memoirs, Railroad Train to Heaven.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

"The Green Parrot Mob": Myryka Patczko, Dolores “Dolly” Jones, and Margaret “Madge” O’Doule

These three lovely young ladies, all graduates of Simon Gratz High School and secretaries at the Heintz steel plant at B and Nedro, were the notorious principles of a “rolling ring” in the Olney and Logan sections of Philadelphia. For four lawless years in the late 1950s to the early 60s these cold-blooded lasses would stop into the Green Parrot, the Huddle, Pat’s Tavern, and various other lively watering holes on Friday nights and relieve hard-working stiffs of the contents of their weekly pay envelopes.

A typical case might have been that of one Richard “Dick” Ward, a tool grinder at the very same Heintz factory in which the Misses Patczko, Jones and O’Doule also worked. One cold November Friday evening, Dick (a forty-year-old bachelor who lived with his mother on Leithgow Street) stopped for a few, as was his wont, at the Green Parrot Tavern on 5th Street, just across from the forbidding great oaks and monstrous thorn bushes of Fisher Park. Dick Ward was, it must be said, a committed alcoholic, although he typically did all his week’s drinking on Friday and Saturday nights. Myryka, Dolly, and Madge, sitting at a booth nursing their pitcher of Schmidt's, calmly observed the thin somber machinist getting quietly and methodically plastered on mugs of Schaefer and shots of Schenley's. Now usually the nefarious distaff trio would steer clear of their co-workers in their nocturnal depredations, but Dick was a loner who kept to himself and never left the factory floor from nine-to-five, even preferring to eat his lunch from a paper sack at his lathe, and so the girls failed to recognize him even though they’d worked at the same plant with him for several years.

Eventually the bartender struck his gong, last call was called, and the barful of happy imbibers spilled out onto the pavement, none of them more drunk than Dick Ward. Imagine the happiness of this gaunt and taciturn celibate when the three attractive young ladies approached him and asked him to walk them home across the park. Dick gallantly agreed.

The next day some local children discovered his crumpled unconscious body in a pool of still water at the foot of Fisher Park’s Dead Man’s Hill. Something had obviously gone terribly wrong.

Normally what came to be known as “the Green Parrot Mob” would simply pick the pockets of their victims, often deftly replacing the poor sap’s wallet without his having the faintest notion that he had now put in a hard week’s work for the benefit of three immoral vixens. But Dick, besides being a loner and a drunk and a committed bachelor, was also a notorious tightwad who kept his money in a small zippered purse attached by a chain to his belt. This purse in turn was kept in the front right pocket of his workman’s dungarees, a pocket secured with high-quality steel snap-buttons which Dick had stamped himself at the factory.

To cut a long story short: as Myryka was holding her breath and letting Dick buss her cheek on that sloping concrete pathway in Fisher Park, Dolly lifted the flap of Dick’s coat while Madge went to work trying to unsnap Dick’s pocket buttons. Suddenly Dick caught on and thrashed down at Madge’s arm. I suppose we’ll never know exactly what happened next. Dick later claimed that the three girls descended on him “like a pack of banshees”. The Misses Patczko, Jones, and O’Doule for their part claimed to the end that Ward had drunkenly and indecently assaulted all three of them.

After two days in a coma, Dick Ward awoke, fresh as a daisy and no worse for wear, and promptly pressed charges against Myryka, Dolly, and Madge. They may not have recognized Dick from the faceless rabble on the factory floor, but these three pulchritudinous office girls had played a major role in his fantasy life for some time, and he was able not only to pick them out of a line-up but to give their names and addresses. Meanwhile, police commissioner Rizzo had put top detective Morris “Big Mo” Berg on the case, and the fearsomely persuasive Mo soon produced witnesses from the Parrot who identified Patczko, Jones and O’Doule as the three women seen descending into the darkness of Fisher Park with the hapless Mr. Ward.

The girls pled down to a charge of “reckless endangerment” (for leaving the unconscious Ward at the soggy foot of Dead Man’s Hill on that cold night), and received sentences of two-years-to-five. Dozens of men came out of the woodwork and claimed to have been rolled by these three larcenous lovelies, but none of these charges ever resulted in indictment. The gals did their time at the Muncy state women’s prison, all three of them getting out in eighteen months for good behavior.

No one knows how many poor drunken saps they rolled during their criminally active years but we do know that within a couple of months after their parole-period ended they somehow found the money to open a diner (“The Three Babes”) near 5th and Olney, which prospered for many years.

(Kindly refer to the right hand column of this page for a complete listing of many other strange but true "Tales From the O-Zone".)

Monday, May 14, 2007

Great Lost TV Shows, Vol. 4: "Dane Clark Presents"

Dane Clark

Dane Clark Presents “The Lux Showcase Theatre” (1959; B&W; anthology; 60 min.; a Quinn-Martin Production)

One of the best of the old-school anthology programs, this show was noted for its literate and often disturbing teleplays, its high calibre of acting, and its dark and moody photography.

Perhaps the best of its plays was “The Boring Man”, written by Tommy “Rags” Larkin and directed by Larry Winchester. Based on a “Cosmopolitan” story by the prolific Charles Bogle, “The Boring Man” starred Wally Cox (in what may well have been the role of his career) as a man who is so boring that people forget having met as soon as they meet him. He takes to wearing a name-tag at the large accounting firm where he works because no one can remember his name, but people still have to glance quizzically at the tag each time they meet him in the corridor. One day he catches the flu and calls in sick. When he comes to work a few days later he realizes that his absence at the office has gone completely unnoticed. He decides then and there that he doesn't really have to be there at all, since no one is aware of his presence anyway. From then on he goes to the office every morning, clocks in, and then leaves the building. He wanders about the city, goes to movies, visits the zoo, browses through bookstores, sits on a park bench and watches the passing parade of humanity (none of whom give him a second or even a first glance), goes home and takes a nap, and then returns to the office at five to clock out. On Fridays of course he stops by the paymaster on the way out to pick up his weekly paycheck.

I won’t give away the ending.

This series (produced by Phil Leotardo and hosted by that amiable and quintessentially noir thespian Dane Clark) lasted only six episodes. It was just too weird for its time, and perhaps too weird for any time.

(For links to many other "Great Lost TV Shows" please check the right hand column of this page.)

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Oddly Obscure: The Moyle Siblings

Gerald and Patricia (“Paddy”) Moyle, who recorded under the name “The Moyle Siblings” appeared regularly in the mid-60s at Philadelphia venues like the Commodore Barry Club and the Catholic War Vets’ on Chew Avenue, performing mostly old Irish favorites, but on the side they put out an incredible series of self-penned 45s that were among the best of that era’s folk-rock/psychedelic genre.

Their one undeniable masterpiece is “Electro-Go-Round”, released on the Lawn label in 1965, three-and-a-half minutes of dreamlike bliss that was also their only side to chart on the national Top 100, climbing as high as 79.

Electro-go-round, go round my mind
Electro-go-round, don’t leave me behind
I see your face, high up in a cloud
I hear your voice somewhere in a crowd

Electro-go-round, round and round my mind...

With this song the Moyles paved the way for future bands like the Cocteau Twins, Mazzy Star, and Air.

The Moyle Siblings never got a major label record deal. Paddy got married, raised four children, and for years worked at the Olney Branch of the Free Library; Gerald became a guitar teacher and session musician. They continue to perform their Irish repertoire at local clubs and parties.

Attention Rhino Records: it’s high time you collect the Moyle Siblings’ classic 60s singles and introduce a new generation to this legendary duo.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Boxing Milkmaid and the Beatle

The Boxing Milkmaid

(1965; B&W; Cinemascope; 94 min.; Helen Shapiro, Oliver Reed, Hugh Griffith, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, the Beatles; music by John Barry; written by Tommy “Rags” Larkin and L. Winchester; directed by Larry Winchester).

From Larry’s classic “tell-all” I’ll Take the Low Road:

My previous movie with Helen Shapiro (Maggie: a Girl of the Streets) had proven to be a succès d’estime ("Sight & Sound" called it “one of the year’s grittiest and strangest and best”), but Helen’s hardcore fans were perhaps understandably disappointed to see her play a good but unfortunate girl who falls into prostititution and dies an early death. So we decided to leaven it up a bit and give Helen a slightly more light-hearted vehicle in which she would triumph in the end. My old pal Tommy “Rags” Larkin and I had a script about a girl boxer in the drawer that for some reason had never gotten off the ground back in the States. we ran the concept by Helen and her manager, and Tony Hinds over at Hammer gave us the green light. It was a weekend’s work for Rags and I to transpose the story (originally written for Susan Hayward and set in Philly) to swingin’ “à-go-go” London, and a week later we were shooting in Helen’s old stomping grounds in the East End.

This delightful yarn, looked on by some film scholars as an inspiration for future hits like Rocky and Million Dollar Baby, tells the story of Mindy Goldblatt, daughter of milkman Sid Goldblatt (Hugh Griffith), who is diagnosed with a rare form of heart disease, curable only by a very expensive surgeon based at the Mayo Clinic. It just so happens that local boxing promoter Archie Wilde (Christopher Lee) has announced a girl boxer competition: prize money, £1,000 -- just enough to pay for old Dad’s operation. Young Mindy -- already in pretty good condition from helping her dad out on the milk wagon -- goes to the local gym and enlists the aid of local knockabout pugilist Wendell (Oliver Reed). Wendell falls head over heels for Mindy -- and seeing that she’s bound and determined anyway -- he agrees to train her. In an unusual twist, Mindy actually loses the big fight (against a truly fearsome Diane Cilento), but who should be in the audience but the coolest Beatle, John Lennon himself! John, hearing Mindy’s story, and vastly impressed by her gumption, offers to pay for Dad’s operation himself. Then he invites Mindy and Wendell to a Beatles concert and invites her up onstage where he dances a foxtrot with her. Invited to sing a number with the boys, Mindy belts out a rousing “Twist and Shout”. The fans go crazy and a new star is born.

The above summary might indeed sound like utter crap, but somehow this movie is vastly entertaining as well as oddly moving. Unfortunately, tedious legal problems with the Beatles’ record company have prevented this fabulous picture from ever being shown in the States. Sadly unavailable on DVD, but John Barry's jazzy score is available on CD from the Japanese Ha! Karate label.

(Turn to the right hand side of this page for a listing of links of appreciations to many other fine Larry Winchester films. Be sure also to check out our Schaefer Award-winning serialization of Larry's classic novel A Town Called Disdain.)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

St. Helena's Parish May Procession, 1963

Arnold Schnabel passes through another stage in his journey in this sonnet published in the May 11, 1963 issue of the "Olney Times". The grounds of St. Helena's church and school stood and still stand along Fifth Street, between Godfrey Avenue and Spencer Street. (Many thanks to the Arnold Schnabel Society.)

“May Procession”

It seems like forever just since Easter,
But it’s May Procession, and I stand as usher,
Hands folded, in my suit of blue polyester;
The Bishop says a prayer for the pagans of Russia,
And the line of children begins to glide
Slowly and full of bursting life up Godfrey,
The good sisters marching guard alongside;
And I march with them, scarcely worthy,
But I shuffle along anyway, as must be done;
I who once too was young and wore white;
I who once was pure and walked in the sun;
I who once did nearly everything right.
We march round Fourth, then turn down Spencer.
Soon I shall hand the Bishop the censer.

(For links to other inspiring poems from Arnold Schnabel, and to his mammoth memoir Railroad Train to Heaven, check the right hand column of this page.)

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

"But I'm not a tart; I'm a singer!"

Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1964; B&W; Cinemascope; 119 min; Helen Shapiro, Tom Courtenay, Rita Tushingham, Adam Faith; music by Johnnie Dankworth; DP: Klaus Voormann; written by Alan Sillitoe and L. Winchester; directed by Larry Winchester).

From Larry’s memoir I’ll Take the Low Road:

This picture came about through an odd confluence of factors, as so many of mine have done. Helen Shapiro, who’d been a top singing star at the age of 14, was now about 18 and already her pop career was waning. We’d had a ball working together on Long Tall Shorty, and Helen and her manager, as well as Tony Hinds at Hammer, were all interested in finding a starring vehicle for her. Somewhat surprisingly, Helen wanted to try something really dramatic, although she had nothing against doing a few numbers in a movie. As it happened I had just picked up and read a used copy of Stephen Crane’s naturalistic classic Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, and suddenly I had one of those eureka moments. What the hell, the book was in the public domain (always a good thing), so why not update the book to the story of a poor girl in contemporary London? I called in Alan Sillitoe, who already had some serious kitchen-sink credentials with Lonelieness of the Long Distance Runner and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and in a couple of weeks we had a shooting script.

Maggie, another item from Larry’s rich “European exile” period, is ironically one of the best examples the “Kitchen Sink” school of British cinema. The cockney charmer Miss Shapiro turns in a truly heart-rending performance as Maggie, the garment-worker’s daughter who tries to better herself as an East End pub singer but who falls prey to the nefarious “manager” (i.e. glorified pimp) Clive (Adam Faith) and meets an untimely and inglorious end. Tom Courtenay plays Reg, the young fishmonger who worships Maggie in vain, and Rita Tushingham plays Edna, his sister and Maggie’s best friend, who tries in vain to steer her clear of the venal Clive.

Shot entirely on location in Miss Shapiro’s home district of Upper Clapton, East London. Features Helen singing “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour on the Bedpost Overnight”, Lennon & McCartney’s “Misery” (written especially for Helen), and a pair of Hubert Gregg classics "I'm Going to Get Lit Up (When the Lights Go Up in London)" and “Maybe It’s Because I’m a Londoner” with those immortal lyrics:

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner
That I love London so
Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner
That I think of her wherever I go

I get a funny feeling inside of me
When walking up and down
Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner
That I love London Town

(Currently available only on a deleted British double-sided DVD (with another kitchen sink classic This is My Street on the flip side. Turn to the right hand side of this page for links to other classic movies from Larry Winchester, as well as to our serialization of the director's cut of his long-out-of-print epic novel, A Town Called Disdain.)

Sing it, Helen:

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

In a pensive mood: the late great Billy Fury

Long Tall Shorty (1964; B&W; Cinemascope; 92 min.; Billy Fury, Helen Shapiro, Oliver Reed, Wilfred Hyde-White; music by Shel Tamy; DP: David Bailey; written by Billy Fury and L. Winchester; directed by Larry Winchester).

Best summed up by Larry Winchester himself in his memoir I’ll Take the Low Road:

My blues movie Harvey Harmonica had sunk like a stone in the States but it did surprisingly well in Britain, so one day I got a call from my old friend Tony Hinds at Hammer Films Productions; Tony wanted to break into the rock ‘n’ roll audience, and he had the popular singer Billy Fury available for three weeks shooting, a modest budget, and a really crappy screenplay. Well, I wasn’t working that week so I agreed, providing I could write my own script. I met with Billy over a few pints at my favorite London pub “The Crown & Anchor”, and over two or eight pints of Guinness we managed to hash out a reasonable storyline based on Billy’s own rise from the rough streets of Livepool to the top of the charts. We tossed in a storyline with a crooked music promoter (Wilfred Hyde-White) and Billy’s rough but protective longshoreman pal (Oliver Reed), plus a romance with the promoter’s secretary and aspiring songstress (Helen Shapiro), who of course urged Billy to follow his muse and record his own songs instead of the treacle that Hyde-White and his goons want him to perform.

This amazing film (featuring guest musical performances from the lovely Miss Shapiro, Adam Faith, and the Pretty Things) had the misfortune to be released the same week as Richard Lester’s Beatles classic A Hard Day’s Night, and so got lost in the shuffle. To this day Long Tall Shorty has never been shown in the U.S.

Criterion Collection, it’s time to step up to the plate!

(See the right hand side of this page for a listing of links to appreciations of many other Larry Winchester films. Feel free also to check out our continuing serialization of Larry's long-out-of-print novel A Town Called Disdain, now presented for the first time ever in the complete and unexpurgated "director's cut".)

Monday, May 7, 2007

The 47 Trolley, heading "south" on 5th Street, between the Fern Rock Theatre and Fisher Park

Originally published in the May 4, 1963 edition of the "Olney Times", this Arnold Schnabel poem takes him on another tentative step toward some sort of acceptance of his post-breakdown life. (This sonnet brought to you thanks to the good people of the Arnold Schnabel Society.)

A few notes:

The "Heintz factory": this huge steel-works plant (now a shopping mall), which operated round-the-clock across Nedro Avenue from the Schnabel semi-detached, continued to play an important part in the poet's psychic life.

"Catholic War Vets": the Catholic veterans' club on Chew Avenue, which commonly kept its doors open on fair days. Arnold Schnabel was a member in good standing, but, as he was abstaining from alcohol on doctor's orders, he would no doubt have resisted its companionly charms.

"Krass": Krass Brothers on South Street, clothiers to generations of Philadelphia's working class.

The "47": Arnold would perhaps have taken this trolley to go downtown or to catch a ballgame at Connie Mack Stadium.

“It’s Not So Bad”

It’s not so bad, all this, this life, it’s really not:
The stertorous breathing of the Heintz factory,
The women hauling sacks of who knows what,
I nod to them and usually they nod back to me;
The boys outside the playground with cupped cigarettes;
The gaggles of girls whose giggling stops as I pass;
The pock of billiard balls in the Catholic War Vets’ --
I walk through it all in my blue suit from Krass.
My friend Jesus has not again appeared to me;
The doctor told me that was all inside my head.
I shall head home now, to Mother and TV,
Some cake, a soothing rosary, and then to bed:
But hark! The noble trolley that men call 47:
Would it could take me directly to heaven.

(For links to other inspiring poems from Arnold Schnabel, and to the serialization of his mammoth memoir Railroad Train to Heaven, check the right hand column of this page.)

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Great Lost TV Shows, Vol. 3: The Chesterfield Cigarettes Mystery Playhouse Showcase, featuring "Miss Meep and Mr. Weakes"

"Miss Meep and Mr. Weakes" (1959; B&W; mystery; 60 min.; a Quinn-Martin Production)

Thelma Ritter (above) and Sebastian Cabot (right) co-starred as the eponymous Miss Meep and Mr. Weakes, Head Librarian and Chief Curator, respectively, at the seemingly placid Oak Lane Library. We say “seemingly” because each episode found the eternally quarelling Miss Meep and Mr. Weakes somehow embroiled in solving murder most foul. Underlying each episode was a certain vague sexual tension between these two lifelong celibates, both of whom lived with an aged parent: the senior Mr. Meep (Barry Fitzgerald), and the equally senior Mrs. Weakes (Dame Edith Evans). Ditzy assistant librarian Debbie (Barbara Nichols) was often dragooned into the web of intrigue as were regular patrons of the library the henpecked Cornelius Doyle (Arnold Stang) and the precocious little bookworm Kevin Woczynski (Richard Dreyfuss).

Inexplicably cancelled after eight episodes. (If anyone has tapes of this fondly remembered Phil Leotardo production, please let me know. Am willing to trade an almost-complete set of Season One of “I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster”.)

(Turn to the right hand side of this page for a complete listing of other Great Lost TV Shows.)

Friday, May 4, 2007

Never again to open that door

This disquieting Arnold Schnabel sonnet appeared in the "Olney Times" of April 27, 1963, and gives us a hint of some of the factors that might have led to his breakdown earlier that year.

(For links to other inspiring poems from Arnold Schnabel, and to the serialization of his mammoth memoir Railroad Train to Heaven, check the right hand column of this page. Many thanks to the Arnold Schnabel Society.)


I don’t want to go downtown any more;
I want never again to open that door.
Chancellor Street, 13th Street, St. James Place:
Cocktails and chatter; despair and disgrace.
I wander through Leary’s, fumbling through books,
And then through the stamp store, happy as a child;
At Horn & Hardart’s I avoid those idle looks,
But somehow I still hear the call of the wild:
It’s always just one beer, or one Manhattan,
Or so I say, as I approach that certain pub;
But once I sit down all else is forgotten,
As though I’d been struck on the head with a club.
I don’t want ever again to open that door;
I don’t want to go downtown any more.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Kevin St. Jude Woczynski: The Draft-Dodging Phantom of Cardinal Dougherty High School

Olney’s massive and enormous Cardinal Dougherty High School has been the spawning ground of many strange and wonderful tales, many of them all too true, and one of the stangest is that of Kevin St. Jude Woczynski, the infamous “Phantom of CD High”.

When Kevin matriculated at Dougherty (hailing from St. Helena’s parish) in 1966, students were divided into twenty academic sections. The top three sections were known as “the Brains”, and had their own special egghead courses. The Brains divided the rest of the student populace into two other categories. Those in Sections 4-through-10 were called “the Animals”. Those unfortunates consigned to Sections 11-through-20 were given the unfortunate general appellation of “the Vegetables.”

Kevin St. J. Woczynski, based on official placement tests and his academic performance at St. Helena’s Parochial School (he'd been forced to repeat both the third and eighth grades), found himself placed in Section 20.

In truth, though, Kevin was not a stupid lad, he was merely gloriously uninterested in such things as classes and coursework. In fact by his freshman year at “CD” he was an avid reader, devouring not only an endless stream of science fiction but the heady books of Joseph Conrad, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and Henry de Montherlant. And indeed he seemed content to while away his four-year high school sentence in Section 20 among those barely sentient "Vegetables", barely passing each year, and spending most of his time reading novels or merely dreaming at his desk.

Come 1969, the year of Kevin’s supposed senior and final year, and the Vietnam war was in full throttle, as was the military draft. The Brains had no worries, they were off to college and an academic deferment, and even most of the Animals could hope to get into a state or community college, there to drag out their college years until the end of hostilities. But what of the poor Vegetables, those in Sections 11-through-20 who were not remotely college material?

On Dec. 1, 1969, the first draft lottery since 1942 was held for young men born between 1944 and 1950. Kevin, born Dec. 30, 1950, drew number 3 on the list. He knew that as soon as he left school he was well and truly screwed, and it would only be a matter of time before he was humping a pack and an M-16 through the unpleasantly hot and dangerous jungles of “the Nam”.

It was far too late for Kevin to try to “get his grades up” and possibly make it into Philadelphia Community College. He had coasted through three-and-a-half years at Dougherty on a “gentleman’s D” and even a straight-A record for the latter half of his senior year would not remotely suffice.

Kevin devised a brilliant plan. Far from “buckling down”, he deliberately flunked every subject, even woodshop and auto-repair. Sent to summer school, he flunked every subject again. His parents petitioned Principal Father Howard, and Kevin was permitted to repeat his senior year. He spunkily raised his average to a C-minus his first semester, but inexplicably backslid and flunked all his subjects again that spring. Once more he was sent to summer school and once again he pulled a straight F. And again Kevin’s parents petitioned father Howard to give Kevin another chance, and the good father agreed. And, again, Kevin flunked that year's spring semester and its attendant summer school. After much pleading and crying from Kevin's parents (and a generous donation to the Cardinal Dougherty Horticultural Club) an increasingly suspicious Father Howard gave Kevin “one last chance to straighten up and fly right”.

The year was 1972. By now, Kevin, with his mature features, horn-rimmed glasses and bookish demeanour, was often mistaken for a lay teacher, both by students and newer faculty members alike. Many of his fellow pupils deferentially referred to him as "Mr. Woczynski." Others called him “The Phantom”, as he tended to appear in the halls suddenly from nowhere, and was often sighted in the back of classes in which he was not enrolled, calmly reading a slim volume of Mallarmé in the original. That fall semester saw Kevin flirting precariously with a C average...

But then came that glorious spring of ’73: somehow just when it seemed we would always be at war the draft was finally abolished and the US military withdrew from Vietnam.

Kevin St. Jude Woczynski pulled a straight A that final semester, and, finally, at the age of 22, marched up to the Civic Center podium with his classmates and received his high school diploma.

After graduation Kevin took the civil service exam, and he went to work for the post office. He is now retired and lives with his lovely wife Mindy in Wildwood, NJ, where his hobbies are birdwatching and reading.

Kevin St. Jude Woczynski, one man who beat the system: The Phantom of Cardinal Dougherty High School.

(Turn to the right hand side of this page for a listing of links to other "Tales of the O-Zone" and to the "Legends of the Schwarzwald Inn". You might also find amusement in our ongoing serialization of Railroad Train to Heaven (nihil obstat, Bishop Graham), the memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, AKA "The Rhyming Brakeman of Nedro Avenue".)

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Colney Theatre, 5th & Olney, Philadelphia PA

One of our regular readers, the estimable Pierce Inverarity, has brought this Arnold Schnabel sonnet to our attention: notable not only for being one of Schnabel's absolute best but also as perhaps the only time Olney's poet laureate mentioned the work of that other Philadelphia native, the great film director Larry Winchester, the particular work being of course Larry's classic six-shooter opera
The Devil's Country.

Sadly, the 2000-seat Colney Theatre closed shortly after the double-bill mentioned in this poem and Arnold had to switch his allegiance to the Fern Rock Theatre, just four blocks north on 5th Street, and across the street from the leafy glades of Fisher Park and the precipitous slope of Dead Man's Hill. (Originally printed in the June 3, 1958 issue of the Olney Times; republished thanks to the kind "Imprimi Potest" of the Arnold Schnabel society.)

"Temple of Dreams"

O Colney Theatre! O Temple of dreams! O Palace of Joy!
I slide my body into yours each Wednesday evening
And march to the counter where I’m known well by the boy:
My large coke and large popcorn appear in a twinkling,
And off I scurry into that enormous dark chamber,
Finding my preferred seat, in the middle and center;
I slouch me down and await that first blessed flicker:
And then, “The March of Time!” Ah yes, whatever --
But then that rascally rogue, that scamp the Road Runner,
And Bugs and his nemesis Elmer, that bald intrepid gunner;
Then the Coming Attractions, ah! an old Lewis and Martin!
Then, something about the three-hundred-and-first Spartan.
I have come to see a film called Machine-Gun Kelly,
But the first feature bodes well too: yes, The Devil’s Country...

(For links to other happy poems from Arnold Schnabel, and to the serialization of his mammoth memoir Railroad Train to Heaven, check the right hand column of this page.)

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

"My son is in love with my wife. And, personally speaking, I can't blame the poor kid!"

The Devil’s Country (1958; B&W; Cinemascope; 98 min.; music by Giuseppe Verdi, adapted by Elmer Bernstein; DP: Floyd Crosby; written by L. Winchester and Tommy “Rags” Larkin {based on the opera Don Carlo, by Giuseppe Verdi}; directed by Larry Winchester).

While in London guest-directing a Hammer horrorfest titled Five Fingers of Fear (with Basil Rathbone, Tommy Steele, and Diana Dors), Larry Winchester caught the famous Giulini-Visconti production of Verdi’s Don Carlo at Covent Garden, featuring Jon Vickers, Tito Gobbi, Gré Brouwenstijn, and Fedora Barbieri. “I immediately saw the potential of this piece for a movie, and, best of all, the story was in the public domain,” wrote Larry in his memoir I’ll Take the Low Road. “The son who's got the hots for sexy his sexy stepmother? That, my friends, is drama.”

Larry envisioned this tale of old Spanish court intrigue as a lusty horse opera, and for help he called in his old pal Tommy “Rags” Larkin. “We holed up in Rags’s cottage in Venice Beach with a pound of good weed, and two weeks later we had a script.” Larry envisioned the picture as a sprawling Technicolor epic shot on location in Colorado, starring Kirk Douglas, Raymond Massey, Rock Hudson, Audrey Hepburn and Jean Simmons. What he had to settle for was another low-budget black-and-white quickie shot mostly on the Monogram lot on Gower Street, with a few exteriors stolen in the wilds of LA’s Griffith Park, and starring Dan Duryea (above left), Ray Danton, Mara Corday (above right), Dolores Fuller, and Edd “Kookie” Byrnes.

Despite its budgetary constraints this is one of Winchester’s most brutal and unsparing movies, one of the few truly noir westerns. Originally shown as the lesser half of a double bill with Machine-Gun Kelly, this great film is currently only available in a pirated Italian-dubbed DVD entitled Don Carlo del West.

The Train Kept A-Rollin'

An especially moving Arnold Schnabel sonnet, originally printed in the April 13, 1963 issue of "The Olney Times". (Through the very kind permission of the Arnold Schnabel Society. Nihil obstat, Cardinal Jack Dougherty.)

"Back on the Job"

My first day back on the job, and everyone was emotive:
“How are you Arnold, old boy?” “Welcome back, old Arnold.”
It felt good to mount again the mighty locomotive,
To feel the hurtling and jarring of every great carload.
And all went well, it all came back to me.
Now I walk home from the station, blessedly weary.
I pass the Green Parrot, and hear the cries 0f drinking men;
I would like a cold Schaefer, but the doctor said no,
That alcohol would interfere with my medicine.
And besides, Mother awaits with roast pork and potato.
Now I lie in bed, and the ceiling does not open.
But I fear to sleep, fear to dream, and fear to be awoken.
The factory hums. My heart beats. This night shall end.
Tomorrow will dawn. With lunch-pail in hand I will do it again.

For links to other workmanlike poems from Arnold Schnabel, and to the serialization of his previously unpublished and mammoth memoir Railroad Train to Heaven, check the right hand column of this page.)