Thursday, May 28, 2009
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Q: I know that Albert Salmi was a familiar face on the small and large screens for four decades, but what made you decide to write his biography?
A: I'd admired Albert's work since I was a teen. Once I learned that he'd died in a murder-suicide, I yearned to find out more about him. Sure, he was usually the bad guy or the gruff sheriff in westerns and could be really intimidating, but what was he really like? If he killed his wife and himself, he must've been similar to those characters, right? No, something deep inside told me he wasn't. I searched for a biography about him, but none existed. Things said about him in books, magazines, and websites contradicted each other. What was true? What wasn't? Something just came over me - I didn't know what, but I had the burning desire to go right to
his family, friends, and co-stars myself and find out the truth, then report to the world my findings in a biography. The results were amazing, and it soon became pretty obvious to me where this push to write his biography came from. It's a complicated story, but you can find it on my website at www.sandragrabman.com, by clicking the "A Book That's Meant to Be" link under the Articles heading on the left.
Q: What's the most surprising thing that your research turned up about Albert?
A: Can you imagine that big, burly "television bad guy" lovingly reading bedtime stories to his little girls? When his daughter Lizanne told me about that, it made me smile. It was so opposite of his tough screen image.
Q: He had a different kind of accent and I can't quite place what kind it is. Can you?
A: Even though Albert was born and raised in Brooklyn, his parents were natives of Finland and lived in the Finnish section of town, so Finnish was the only language he knew until he had to learn English at age six in order to begin school. Where'd he learn English? On the streets. So I guess what you heard when he spoke was the Brooklyn version of "Finglish." By the way, I was coached on how to pronounce the Finnish words in Albert's biography before recording its audiobook version and I've got to tell you - Finnish is one difficult language to learn!
Q: Where did Albert learn to act?
A: Fresh out of the Army after WWII, he took advantage of the GI Bill and got dramatic training at the American Theatre Wing, then later the Actors' Studio in New York. He said it was a form of goldbricking because there were no tests and he received a stipend from the government. He also said that the reason he wanted dramatic training was to meet girls. I guess it was just coincidental that he had acting talent.
Q: I understand he was married to former child star Peggy Ann Garner and, had he stayed married to her, he might still be alive today. Is that right?
A: That's very possible. After Albert had wow-ed the 1955 Broadway critics in "Bus Stop," he took the play on the road. Peggy Ann was his co-star, and they fell in love. Once the tour was over, they married. After seven years, though, they couldn't agree on where to live. He dearly loved New York and the live stage, but her heart was on the sound-stages of Hollywood. The
arguments that ensued resulted in her divorcing him. Sadly, though, she never stopped loving him and came to regret the divorce. By then, though, it was too late. He had already entered his second marriage, one which would last the rest of his life. His new wife was a very abusive woman, though. Even though he loved her, she caused him tremendous anguish that resulted in
his tragic end.
Here's an excerpt from "Spotlights & Shadows: The Albert Salmi Story" that deals with his two years as a regular on the TV series "Petrocelli":
The series was filmed in Tucson, Arizona, and for once, Salmi played
none of the stereotypes that he had so often played in the past. He dressed
as a modern-day cowboy would in Stetson hat, jeans and boots, but that's
where the similarity to his earlier characters ended. In "Petrocelli," he
was the savvy investigator who dug up the facts his attorney-boss [played by
Barry Newman] needed to win his cases.
Life in Arizona agreed with Albert, Jenny says. "He was born in the
wrong era. He should have been a cowboy in the old west." Salmi loved the
wide-open spaces in this part of the country, and used this opportunity to
do some fishing for bass or catfish. In photographs of him during this
period, he appears much happier and more relaxed than he had been earlier.
The show filmed for six months each year, six days a week, so Albert was
unable to go home on weekends. His role wasn't as demanding as Newman's
however, so he brought his car and spent much of his off-time exploring the
area. "If I didn't get out and roam around and explore," he said to
columnist Dick Kleiner, "what would I do? I'd just stay in the hotel, going
from my room to the coffee shop and back again. I couldn't do that."
This series not only provided a regular paycheck, but it promoted a
happier family life as well. Live-in help would take care of the girls at
home while Roberta visited Albert for four or five days at a time during the
school year; then the whole family would come to Arizona for the summer.
Lizanne recalls that time in their lives fondly: "When he was filming
'Petrocelli,' my mom, sister and I were able to spend two whole summers
there with him at the Hilton Hotel. It was really great. My sister and I got
our own hotel room, and we each got to invite a friend for a week or so. My
dad got a bit upset when he saw the room service and food bill Jen and I ran
up at the coffee shop. We ate a lot of watermelon, hamburgers, and Fresh
fries. He called us 'the watermelon kids' or 'the French fry kids.' I think
that that time was a really great time for my parents, although my mom
really hated the really hot weather in Arizona."
Roberta didn't visit the set during this series, Newman says, but,
instead, would spend her time playing tennis or at the hotel with the kids
and some of her friends who would come visit. Salmi joined his family in the
He was happy when his old friend Mark Richman was cast in a
guest-starring role once. Their careers had kept them so busy, they had lost
touch with each other until now. Of Salmi, Richman says, "He was not a
run-of-the-mill guy. He was just an unusual man with a particular kind of
speech pattern, and he was a good-natured, warm, open fellow. We drifted
apart as life goes on and as our careers varied, then we were reunited again
and his new wife came to see us . . . . He invited us to go up to visit him
[at their vacation spot in Idaho]." Richman looks back on these times with
fondness. "We all adored Albert," he said. "He was like a big teddy bear."
Newman and Salmi would often play tennis or go places together in the
evenings after work. "We had a terrific time," Newman says. Salmi never
drank on the job, but they would sometimes have a drink when they went out
at night. Newman, who was single at the time, said that when they were in
town after work, there were plenty of opportunities for Salmi to have been
unfaithful to his wife, but he remained loyal.
Monday, May 25, 2009
On June 2, Tuesday night, at 7 pm Pacific time, I will be a guest on Ed Robertson's TV Confidential radio show on KSAV.
Click the Listen button in the left column of the website and tune in to hear us talk about my biography on Guy Williams who played Zorro in the late 1950s and John Robinson on Lost in Space in the mid 1960s plus several other roles on TV and movies.
Antoinette G. Lane
author, Guy Williams: The Man Behind the Mask
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Monday, May 18, 2009
Sunday, May 17, 2009
1) This is the first of our film series books. Why did you choose "The Thin Man" over some of the other film series?
Many of the film series of the ‘30s and ‘40s were wonderful and a lot of fun - THE SAINT, BLONDIE, CHARLIE CHAN, SHERLOCK HOLMES, the list goes on and on - but in my mind the classiest of them all were the THIN MAN films with William Powell and Myrna Loy. Many of the film series were produced by the studios’ "B" units. THE THIN MAN films were given "A" budgets by MGM and had two big stars in them and the best of the character actors. Unlike some of the other film series (like BLONDIE), which would produce four or five entries per year, THE THIN MAN films came out every 2-3 years.
There was anticipation for these films by their fans. If Myrna Loy had her way, though, it would have been longer. She didn't want to work in films at all during the war because she wanted to devote herself to Red Cross work. But MGM was under public pressure for a THIN MAN film and in the end, between the studio and probably Bill Powell, they persuaded her to come back in 1944 to do THE THIN MAN GOES HOME. My guess is that they persuaded her by telling her what a great gift it would be for the country at a time of war to have a break from all the war news for an hour and a half to enjoy Nick and Nora. As a side note, MGM seriously considered replacing Myrna during that time as Nora and went as far as to consider such actresses as Irene Dunne, Marsha Hunt and even Lucille Ball. But they were wise enough to eventually understand that the public would never accept anybody except Myrna as Nora.
2) Powell and Loy had perfect chemistry. How did they come to be cast in THE THIN MAN?
We can thank a wonderful and woefully neglected director named Woodridge Strong Van Dyke, better known as Woody, for teaming them. Van Dyke was really an early booster of Myrna Loy. He put her in a picture called PENTHOUSE, where she was able to be something other than a villain or femme fatale which many of her earlier films cast her as. He saw her, really, as the all-American girl. Following PENTHOUSE, he told MGM to stop misusing her and give her roles which emphasized her humor and down-to-earth presence.
Well, Van Dyke was assigned to direct a Gable picture called MANHATTAN MELODRAMA. Gable played a criminal and Bill Powell was loaned out from Warner Brothers to play the district attorney and they were boyhood friends. That story has been filmed numerous times. Myrna was cast as the girl who comes between them. The picture is fine, but it really crackles when Bill and Myrna share the screen. Their first scene together, sharing a taxi, is worth the price of admission and Van Dyke saw the immediate chemistry between them and felt that they would be perfect as Nick and Nora Charles in the THIN MAN film he would be directing next.
By the way, Van Dyke was known as "One-take Woody" because he liked to print the first take. He felt that the actors were more relaxed on the first couple of takes and if you kept redoing a scene, it would lose its spontaneity. It worked for him because he directed some wonderful pictures. In addition to the first four THIN MAN films, he directed TRADER HORN, TARZAN, THE APE MAN, ROSE MARIE,
3) You mentioned some of the great character actors to appear in THE THIN MAN films, but didn't some future stars appear in them as well early in their careers?
Yes, and the most famous, of course, is Jimmy Stewart, who appeared in the second film, AFTER THE THIN MAN. And he is really quite good in that film. He already had a natural appeal in front of the camera. The other two stars to emerge were Donna Reed, who appears in SHADOW OF THE THIN MAN, and Gloria Grahame, who is in the final film, SONG OF THE THIN MAN.
But those great character actors truly add a lot of color to the films. One of the things I'm happy I did with this book was to include career profiles of the great character actors who appeared in the films. I do complete chapters on William Powell and Myrna Loy and then each of the films gets a separate chapter and within those chapters I profile many of the character actors in that particular film. It isn't just a small profile, either. I don't think anybody gets less than a page devoted to them and several of them, like Maureen O'Sullivan, Cesar Romero, Keenan Wynn, Dean Stockwell, Porter Hall, Marjorie Main, Edward Brophy, Sam Levene, get 2 or 3 or more pages devoted to their careers.
4) What else does your book include?
I also profile the creative people behind the pictures, such as the directors, writers, the creator of the THIN MAN, Dash Hammett, and even cinematographers Jimmy Howe Wong and Karl Freund. I think they are just as responsible for the quality of the films as the actors and deserve their due. I also provide a back story on each film, which includes trivia and how the film got put together, and fun little anecdotes on each film. I also give contemporary reviews of the films as they appeared not only in the New York Times or Variety, but in smaller papers from around the country as well. I do give synopses of the films, along with some of the witty dialog, but I do not give away the endings; I don't tell the reader "whodunit," as I want them to watch the films and experience that for themselves if they have never seen the films before or if it has been a while and they can't quite recall who the murderer was.
5) Do you have a favorite THIN MAN film?
They are all wonderful. The last one holds up well, in my opinion, and it was made 12 years after the first. But, all in all, I think the wittiest is the first film, the funniest is the second film, AFTER THE THIN MAN. The first twenty minutes of that picture are pure comedy -- wonderfully played by two of the best, Bill Powell and Myrna Loy. In some ways, the best mystery is in the third picture, ANOTHER THIN MAN. I think the four directed by Woody Van Dyke are probably the best, especially the first three, which were written by married screenwriters Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, who put a lot of their own relationship into the pictures, I think. Woody Van Dyke, when he discussed the script of the first THIN MAN film with the Hacketts, said to them, "Just give me five good scenes between Nick and Nora" - and they did! And it is that chemistry between the stars which makes the films so memorable, even today.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
What first got me into old movies was watching Abbott and Costello on WGN. I loved their early ones best, with all the routines and songs. So it's a delight, years later to be able to publish the autobiography of the man who wrote "A Tisket A Tasket" from Ride 'Em Cowboy! Van Alexander's book is a delight.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Saturday, May 9, 2009
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Q&A with James Best
1. The Dukes of Hazzard is one of the TV icons of the 1980s. Is it hard
to overcome its shadow?
Doing the Dukes series was a two-edged sword. Although I had acted in over 85 feature pictures and 600 television shows before we shot the show, it seems like all the young people who grew up watching the series identified me as Rosco. It was very hard to convince them that I was an actor doing one particular character. But for some reason these same young people who now run the motion picture industry want to carry on their childhood fantasy. I think they unknowingly think that I am limited to that character, and now they hesitate in casting me in harder characters, which I had done hundreds of times in my past career.
2. What's your single favorite memory of Dukes?
My favorite memory probably was the time I happened to pass Daisy Duke’s dressing room when she had inadvertently left the door open. I nearly had a cardiac arrest. LOL.
My favorite acting job for a TV episode was The Rebel in 1960. I played a Civil War soldier who had gotten hooked on pain medicine. I had to act like I was trying to kick the habit cold turkey. It was a difficult role, for I knew nothing about someone trying to recover from that sickness. The episode was called “Night on the Rainbow.”
4. Probably my favorite film of yours is Hooper. Was it really as fun as
Hooper was a film that I had mixed emotions about participating in. Burt Reynolds asked me to help the director Hal Needham with the rewrites. I was also asked to give some of my part to Brian Keith as Burt felt that he owed Brian a favor. I was not paid for the rewrites, and Brian ended up with most of my scenes. But other than that it was always fun and exciting working with my friends Hal Needham and Burt Reynolds.
5. What's the hardest part of keeping a 50-year career in acting?
Keeping a sense of humor with all the heartaches that come with trying to sustain a personal life and yet maintain a successful career—both creatively and financially. My life and my career have been like a long string with knots in it. The knots are the fun parts, but looking back on my life I find that there was a lot more string than knots.
But all and all, the Good Lord has worked overtime for this old country boy. And I thank him every day for letting me live a long life working at a profession that I was so fortunate to have participated in. And I'm very proud to say as the song goes...I did it my way.
Unedited excerpt Best in Hollywood
My favorite picture with Jimmy Stewart was Shenandoah. It was a very good Civil War picture that was released in 1965. I played a rebel soldier named Carter. As the star of the movie, Mr. Stewart naturally had a lot more work to do in the film than I did. I love to fish, and there happened to be a beautiful stream flowing under a bridge where Mr. Stewart was doing a very dramatic scene with a young man who had inadvertently shot his son. Mr. Stewart was acting his heart out up there in one of the most pivotal scenes of the entire picture. Nobody dares to make a stray sound on a set when anybody is doing a dramatic scene, much less if it’s Jimmy Stewart.
Well, there I am fishing under the bridge, when—Wham! —I hook a trout. The trout is doing what a hooked trout naturally does and is jumping and thrashing around and making all kinds of racket. I quickly stick the pole under the water and hope that the trout will stay under the water and not make any noise and interrupt Mr. Stewart’s scene. Fortunately for me, the trout stayed quiet until Mr. Stewart finished his scene. Mr. Stewart walked down the bank to where I was. He said, “Jim.”
I said, “Yes sir.”
He said, “Come over here.”
I walked over and said, “Yes sir?”
He said, “What the heck are you doing?”
I said, “I’m fishing.” I thought that was the appropriate thing to say since I had a trout still jumping on the end of my line.
He said, “Yeah, well, I can see that. Uh, tell me why it is that I’m up there working my tail off and, uh, you’re down here fishing?”
I said, “Well, Mr. Stewart, if I ever get as rich and famous as you are, I’ll go up there and act and you can come down here and fish.”
He said, “You know, you’ve got a point there.”
By the way, I don’t know what it says about my career, but I’ve gotten in a lot more fishing since that day almost forty-five years ago.
Jimmy Stewart was simply a lovely, lovely man. He was a very generous man. I asked him one time, “You know, you have an awful lot to say about who is in your movies, don’t you?”
He said, “Why do you ask that?”
I said, ‘Well, I’ve been in several of your movies and I’ve noticed other people that you regularly have in your films.”
He said, “Uh, uh, well, I do have a certain amount of influence.”
And so it is, too, that he will continue to have profound influence among generations of actors, moviegoers, and people everywhere who admire modesty, talent, and all-around exemplary behavior.
Monday, May 4, 2009
Saturday, May 2, 2009
When he was a (sort of) reluctant kid-actor in Chicago, his Mom took him for a reading of a radio part. Already well-known for his work on "Vic and Sade", the script that he was handed had a list of character descriptions. The one that he was to read for had the indication: "For a Billy Idelson-type character". He did not get that role.
Friday, May 1, 2009
Because I don't want BearManor Media books scanned without our say so, I have opted all BM titles out of the controversial settlement that Google is making with the human race. It seems the legal system doesn't mind that they are scanning copyrighted works, including out of print books. I think this is worse than appalling and will only lead to revolution or less books being written. And even though I opted out last week, I still got this email, for some reason, making me wonder if Google paid attention to the form I filled in at all.
Of course we can't boycott Google. They are too big. But hopefully we can figure out ways of complaining and fighting that will have impact. One person can't do it. It takes many. Please join the fight to literary liberty.
Dear Google Book Search Partner,
We're excited about the proposed settlement agreement regarding the Google Book Search Library Project. We want to make sure rightsholders everywhere have enough time to think about it and make sure the settlement is right for them. We wanted to let you know that the court has extended the opt-out deadline until September 4, 2009.
We also wanted to share with you some of the most frequently asked questions we've heard from partners about the proposed settlement and the Google Book Search Partner Program. If you have specific questions about the settlement, we ask that you contact Publisher Sub-Class Counsel, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Authors can contact Author Sub-Class Counsel, at email@example.com.
The Google Book Search Partnerships Team
What does the settlement mean for the Partner Program?
The Partner Program will continue to be available to publishers in parallel to the settlement.
What is the difference between the settlement and the
This settlement covers books that are being copied by Google (primarily in libraries) without the permission of any rightsholder. Books in the Partner Program are displayed by Google only with the permission of one or more rightsholders of the book. A book that is covered by the settlement can be in the Partner Program. Some books (such as those published after January 5, 2009), however, can be in the Partner Program but not the settlement.
Can I participate in both the Partner Program and the settlement?
Yes. Google intends to make available to Partner Program participants revenue models similar to those that are in the settlement. For books that are in both the settlement and the Partner Program, you will have the option to participate in the revenue models available through the settlement or the Partner Program.
What is opting out?
As with any class action settlement, you have the option to opt out of the class. If you opt out of the class, you will not receive any of the settlement's benefits, you will not be bound by any of its terms and you will retain the right to file your own lawsuit against Google relating to the Google Book Search Library Project. When you opt out you are not removing your books from the index. Under the settlement you will have the right to remove books. The court has extended the opt-out deadline until September 4.
My books were scanned in both the Library Project and the Partner Program. Should I still claim them?
Yes. Books covered by the settlement may also be in the Partner Program and you may wish to claim your books under the settlement to obtain its benefits. Any books scanned by Google under the Library Project could be eligible for a cash payment if they are covered by the settlement, even if you separately provided copies of them to us through the Partner Program. If the settlement is approved, you would be paid for each book that Google scanned on or before May 5, 2009 without your permission. In addition, if you claim your books under the settlement, you could also choose to manage these books through the settlement. Or, you could manage them through the Partner Program. You can claim books at any time, but in order to be eligible for the one-time cash payment for books scanned on or before May 5, 2009, you must claim them by January 5, 2010.
How can I find out which books were scanned under the Library Project?
Click on "claim books and inserts" at http://www.googlebooksettlement.com/. See the question "How can I find out if my books and Inserts have already been digitized?" in the Google Book Settlement Help Center at http://www.googlebooksettlement.com/help/bin/answer.py?answer=134644. If you have ONIX files, also see the information on "How to Identify and Claim Books Using an ONIX File" at http://www.googlebooksettlement.com/help/bin/answer.py?answer=128054#onix.
My in-print books were scanned under the Library Project and I do not want people to see them online. What do I do?
The settlement is not yet approved, so Google is not displaying any book content under the settlement. Once the settlement is approved, in-print books scanned at US libraries, which are currently viewable in Snippet View, will no longer be viewable online in the United States at all. You can claim your in-print and out-of-print books to receive the one-time payment for them, if they were scanned on or before May 5, 2009, but even if you do not claim in-print books, the books will no longer be viewable.
My out-of-print books were scanned under the Library Project. What are my options?
Once the settlement is approved, the default view for out-of-print books will be similar to the Partner Program view today with many of the same display options available as are available in the settlement. If you claim these books under the settlement, you will receive the one-time cash payment (if the books were scanned on or before May 5, 2009) and any additional revenue from the monetization options you choose. You will also have the option to remove or exclude your out-of-print books from the display uses authorized to Google under the settlement.
Does the settlement apply to publishers outside the United States?
Yes. Holders of U.S. copyrights worldwide can register their works with the Book Rights Registry and receive compensation from institutional subscriptions, book sales, ad revenues and other possible sources, as well as a cash payment if their works have already been digitized.