Saturday, January 11, 2014

The 1906 Lion-Peugeot Voiturette "VA"

In 1865 Armand Peugeot and his cousin Eugene took over the Peugeot family business - metal working. They gradually moved into cycle manufacturing in 1882 and later to the fledgling business of automobiles. Armand wished to devote the business entirely to the production of automobiles, but Eugene disagreed and the cousins split the enterprise into two separate businesses with Eugene calling his metal-working end "Lion-Peugeot". During the early 1900s he decided to venture into automobile making anyway and at a factory near Valentigney he began to build their first model...The Peugeot Voiturette "VA".

This small runabout automobile was built on a carriage for two. It was a simple and effecient design and was priced competitively with other voiturettes of the era. About 1,000 VA models were produced between 1906-1908 and these stellar sales - along with the fact that Armand had no "heir" to give his side of the business too - the cousins decided to merge together once again. In 1910 they shook hands and joined together and by the time Armand stepped down from the company in 1913 they had become the largest car manufacturer in France.

This jaunty little ride could reach a speed of 22 mph on its single cylinder four-stroke engine. It was rear-wheel driven and had a maximum of 6-7 horse-power. The VA model was first unveiled at the Paris Auto Show of 1905 but it was not available for purchase until 1906 and stayed in production only until 1908 when the desire for more powerful horsepower propelled the company to discontinue this model.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

A Shipwrecked English Family

How would an aristocratic English family survive on an island after a shipwreck? They couldn't. Not without the held of a butler and maid of course...and thankfully in the case of the Earl of Lom and his family they have the best butler to be had in all of England ( or the South Seas ) - Crichton. 

In this scene from the 1957 film adaptation of J.M. Barrie's classic play "The Admirable Crichton", the Earl's eldest daughter, Lady Catherine ( Sally Ann Howes ), balks at the thought of being stranded on an island with no change of clothing to be had. Kenneth More, Cecil Parker, Gerald Harper, and Diane Cilento round out a fine cast. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Stan Hywet Hall - An English Country Retreat

Tucked away on 70 acres in the midst of the hustling bustling metropolitan city of Akron stands an English Tudor, a country mansion built during the reign of industrial millionaires, that stands strong, stalwart, and unfettered by the expansive growth and change that most cities undergo.

This oasis of olden-day country charm is called Stan Hywet Hall.  It was built by Frank Augustus Seiberling, the humanitarian and inventor who built his fortune in the rubber industry by co-founding The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company which became, and still is, America's largest tire manufacturer. 

The Great Hall
Frank Seiberling came from a family of entrepreneurs. After attending college he joined his father's farm machinery manufacturing business and invented a twin binder for grain. During the panic of the 1890s however, many businesses failed, his father's no exception. Seiberling, nearly forty years of age and with a wife and three children to support, suddenly found himself jobless in 1898. He heard tell of an old strawboard factory in East Akron, and with his savings ( and a loan from his brother-in-law ) purchased the property. In a few days time he decided what business he wanted to pursue, picked out a name, and began selling stock. Rubber. This was the business he chose and he decided to name it after the inventor of vulcanization, Charles Goodyear. 

Seiberling had a determination to succeed and turned a small business in a glowing success, even in the down economy. He quickly earned the title of "the little Napoleon" for his small stature and steadfast will to succeed. Automobiles were a growing phenomenon and were soon becoming a necessity for upper-class families. Cleveland was one of the great auto-making cities in the nation and with every car built they needed more and more rubber. In less than ten years time he turned The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company into America's largest maker of rubber tires and Akron was transformed from a small town to the "rubber capital of the world". 

During the hey-dey of Cleveland's growth many industrial millionaires built "country retreats"...mansions of such grandeur that people gazed in wonder of their extravagant size. Most of these structures were built in the middle of Cleveland in such fashionable communities as Bratenahl and Euclid Avenue. Sieberling however, did not stem from Cleveland and so wished to have his country retreat built in the city he made his home, Akron. 

The Dining Room

In 1907 he began to purchase farmland and cornfields and lay the groundwork of planning for his great estate. Architect Charles S. Schneider was selected among many other architects in a competition. Along with the Seiberlings he traveled to England, where in the countryside of Devon they got inspiration for the grand tudor. 

Construction, c. 1913

After five years of planning of every kind  ( 3,000 separate blueprints were drawn up to detail all the architectural features ) the groundbreaking began. At a cost of $150,000 Seiberling's English Tudor Revival manor was being built. Sandstone from local quarries was brought in, furniture obtained from New York and all over England was being selected, the landscape of the property was undergoing a transformation and servants were being hired for the soon-to-be-built residence. Upon completion it became one of the finest examples of a Tudor Revival house in America and evoked the appearance of a manor having been standing for generations. Stan Hywet Hall derives its name from the old English for "stone hewn" and features 65 rooms in all: 18 bedrooms, 23 bathrooms, a billiard room, music room,gymnasium, bowling alley, indoor swimming pool, 23 fireplaces, and most special of all...a splendid country garden. 

The Music Room

Warren H. Manning, a Boston landscape architect designed the original grounds. Later, in 1929, famed designer Ellen Biddle Shipman created a special English garden, which remains today fully restored to her original design. It is the only one of Shipman's gardens open to the public. 

The Library
Stan Hywet Hall was intended for use. It was never meant to be a showplace but rather a gathering place. The motto of the manor "Non Nobis Solum" - Not For Us Alone - was carved above the entrance door so even visitors knew they were welcome and could make Stan Hywet their home. And visitors came! Helen Keller, Thomas Edison, Will Rogers, and presidents Calvin Coolidge, William Howard Taft, and Warren G. Harding were among some of the illustrious guests who stayed beneath the roof of Stan Hywet. 

The Seiberlings had a large extended family which visited often and since Frank was very much involved in humanitarian causes, they often hosted events of one kind or another. One of the most famous events that took place at Stan Hywet hall was the Shakespeare Ball. This was the grand opening gala after the construction of the manor and it featured hundreds of guests bedecked in Elizabethan dress to celebrate the 300th anniversary of noted bard's death. Today, an annual Shakespeare Festival still takes place at Stan Hywet in honor of this occasion. 

Although the original construction cost of Stan Hywet was estimated at $150,000 the total cost amounted to nearly $750,000 after all the "extras" that were added to the estate; these included several gardens, swimming pools, a tennis court, a basketball court, a golf course, a pond, and a gate lodge And a very quaint gate lodge at that. 

The Gate Lodge

The three-bedroom structure was originally built as a gatekeeper's house and was used for that purpose up until the mid-1930s when Frank Seiberling's eldest son Fred took it up as his residence along with his family, which included his wife Henrietta and their three children. 

F.A.Seiberling with his four grandchildren

This humble home soon after became the birthplace of a very powerful movement. Henrietta Seiberling was a very devout religious woman and strongly believed that a one person can do a power of good. On Mother's Day, 1935, Henrietta brought together Mr. Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, admitted alcoholics, and during an afternoon's discussion in the Gate Lodge they discussed and identified the points that came to be the cornerstone principles of Alcoholics Anonymous. 

" Welcome, as they need may be, find here Gladness, Happiness, Peace - Sanctuary "

John F.Seiberling Jr., one of Frank's grandsons, became a U.S State Representitive and a great conservationist in his adulthood. It was through his efforts that Ohio's first national park was established - Cuyahoga National Park. One does not wonder where he inheritated his great love of beauty and nature. 

The most beautiful aspect of Stan Hywet is actually not the manor itself, but rather it's splendid gardens. Looking out from the back of Stan Hywet one can see the Breakfast Room garden and London Plane Tree Alley where symmetrically lined plane trees border a wide pavilion of open lawn that leads to the Dell, a shady woodland garden scattered with daffodils and wildflowers. Connecting the house to the landscaped grounds is a flagged stone pathway, bordered with tall grass and lilies of the valley and beyond this, past a stone tool shed entrance, the English sunken walled garden, Mrs. Seiberling's favorite garden refuge. The Fountain of the Water Goddess presides over it, always making sure the flowers have plenty of water to drink from. 

Stan Hywet's 70 acres also include the Great Garden, a grape arbor, lagoon, meadow, Japanese garden with resplendent ornamental maples, and a greenhouse, where vegetables and fruits were grown for the supper table. 

Built as a country home, Stan Hywet has now become a landmark, not only in Akron but across America as one of many manors apart of the National Registry of Historic Homes. Walking beneath its portals you enter the world of the past...not only into the 20th century, but you obtain a glimpse of life in the middle ages as well. It is a sanctuary open to the public to enjoy and relish. 

Stan Hywet Hall is located at 714 North Portage Path, Akron, Ohio. 
Hours of Operation : April 2- December 30. Tuesday through Sunday, 10am-6pm. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dana Wynter - A Regal Lady

Dana Wynter was a beautiful and very elegant leading lady of Hollywood films of the 1950s and 60s. She starred in numerous television productions and a wide range of pictures such as comedies, dramas, sci-fi, action and war films. Most often she portrayed refined ladies for whom leading men would strive to win her love in the course of the picture, and it was in these roles that she really excelled for no other actress had the quiet sophistication that she possessed naturally. Class...that's what she had. No matter what role she was given that innate gracefulness of demeanor showed through. 

I remember the first movie I saw with her was "Sink the Bismarck". I watched it with my sister in parts as a history lesson during homeschool. The battle scenes and the historical aspects of the film I didn't pay attention to at all, but what I did notice was the subplot - a gentle blossoming of love between Kenneth More ( a widowed naval captain ) and Ms. Wynter, his secretary/officer in the midst of the tactical mayhem taking place within London's operational underground headquarters. She has little dialogue in the movie but it does not matter because, like Kenneth More's character, you feel reassured by her understanding presence. 

Probably her most famous movie of all is “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. Once again she’s a welcome presence. Here she plays Dr. Bennell’s beautiful high school sweetheart Becky. When the townspeople and his two best friends all become transformed into pod people, it is only he and Becky who are left and must flee from the dreadful alien invaders. Chillingly good film.

In 1961 she starred opposite Danny Kaye in the comedy “On the Double”. He played a hypochondriac G.I who, due to his resemblance to an important British general, gets chosen to be a decoy [target] in the event of an attempt on the general’s life. Hmmm….lucky Danny. Not the patriotic task he hoped to fulfill – but he did get one lucky break though…..the general’s wife was a real beauty…..Dana Wynter of course! And naturally he falls in love with her along the way. Darlin’ Meggie becomes her theme song in this song and by golly, every time I hear that melody I still associate it with her.

A few years later, in 1963, she starred along with George C. Scott in the superb whodunit “The List of Adrian Messenger”. And it was around this time that she began to really get a foothold in television too. One of her very best tv appearances was in The Unlocked Window, a spine-tingling “Alfred Hitchcock Hour” presentation. As Nurse Stella, caring for a bedridden invalid, she was trapped with another nurse in a secluded Victorian manor during a storm….while a serial killer ( with a fancy for nurses ) is on the prowl in their very area!  EEK! Not only was Dana Wynter a versatile actress but she was a talented journalist as well, writing articles for The Guardian and The Chronicle as well as penning a book entitled “ Other People, Other Places : Memories of Four Continents” about her life in various countries. 

Born Dagmar Spencer-Marcus Winter on June 8th, 1931 in Berlin, Germany to a noted British surgeon ( Peter Winter ) and a Hungarian mother, Dana was raised in England and later moved to South Rhodesia with her father and stepmother where at the age of 18 she entered Rhodes University as a pre-med student, intending on following in her father’s footsteps. Alas, she was sidetracked by amateur theatricals during school and so she moved back to England, changed her name and took to the stage. Not long after, she moved to New York and did small tv
appearances on such shows as Studio One, and Robert Montgomery Presents. An American agent soon took her to Hollywood though and she quickly went on to play leading roles in such films as “The View from Pompey’s Head”,” Invasion of the Body Snatchers”,” Shake Hands with the Devil” and “D-day Sixth of June” becoming a well-sought for actress. 

During the mid-60s her career as a motion picture began to decline and so she did more and more tv guest appearances. In 1966 she starred opposite Robert Lansing in the short-lived television series “The Man Who Never Was”, and occasionally returned to films, such as making a cameo  in “Airport”  in 1970 as Burt Lancaster’s socialite wife.

Ms. Dana Wynter suffered from heart disease these last few years and on May 5th, 2011 she passed away at the age of 79. She will be sorely missed by a certain fan of hers ( me ) and I’m sure by many others as well. What a truly beautiful person we have lost. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Film Music of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson is one of my favorite of all film composers and so I couldn't resist writing a blog about this magnificent man. Well, I really don't know how magnificent he is in real-life....but judging from his music he sure is magnificent.

Most people are familiar with one particular piece of music that Laurie Johnson wrote, even if they do not recognize his name - The Theme to The Avengers, the popular ultra-cool British spy show of the 1960s. It's unique bongo beating beginning leads us into the tinkling of champagne glasses before the real theme begins....a delectable mixture of big band and mod London swing which captures the spirit of the show to perfection. 

Although this is his most internationally recognized work of theme music, he wrote many other scores for popular films such as Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, First Men in the Moon, Tiger Bay and Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter. 

Laurie Johnson was born on February 7th, 1927...( Happy Birthday Mr. Johnson!! ) in Hampstead, England. After studying at the Royal College of Music he launched his music career at the young age of 19 by working as an arranger/composer for Ted Heath and his band. And later for bandleaders such as Jack Parnell and Ambrose. 

Before venturing to the film industry he dabbled in making dance arrangements of popular songs of the mid-50s at Pye Records ( later home to such artists as Tony Hatch, Petula Clark and the Kinks ). 

In 1955 he began work as an arranger and orchestrator at some smaller film studios in London such as the Associated British Picture Corporation until he worked his way up to getting assignments as a composer. His first full-fledged film production was a film called The Moonraker which starred legendary English actors Eric Portman and Celia Johnson. 

It wasn't until 1959 that he made his first big hit with the score for Tiger Bay, a suspense drama starring John Mills, Horst Bucholz and Hayley Mills. After a few more minor films such as I Aim at the Stars ( about the life of Werner Von Braun ), Operation Bullshine, and Spare the Rod, he hit his "prime" and began writing for film and television in such an astounding succession. 

One of his most beautiful songs is the Romance theme to Ray Harryhausen's First Men in the Moon ( 1964 ), a gentle "light classic" that captures the Victorian English country setting that the movie took place in and rather brings to mind the theme to another great H.G Wells film The Time Machine. Laurie Johnson had been working as an assistant to composer Bernard Herrmann on previous Charles Schneer fantasy productions such as Mysterious Island and Jason and the Argonauts so when Herrmann declined to accept the assignment for First Men in the Moon Johnson took the helm and did quite a magnificent job.

He entered the UK Singles Chart with "Sucu Sucu" the theme music to the television series Top Secret in 1961 and it was in television scoring that he was to be most prolific. Between 1965-1980 he worked on such wonderful series as The Avengers, The Professionals, The New Avengers, Shirley's World, and Thriller. 

In the 1960s and 1970s he continued to be busy composing for films, composing his own symphonies,as well as for theatre work. Hot Millions and Hedda have especially lovely melodies and in 1967 he composed the music for a stage version of The Four Musketeers. 

In the late 1980s to early 1990s he composed the music to several TV movie adaptions of historical romance writer Barbara Cartland's novels including A Hazard of Hearts ( what a beautiful score! ) and The Lady and the Highwayman. But alas, in the realm of film and television Laurie Johnson has since ceased to be active. Currently he is still very much involved in his band The London Big Band which specializes in performing big band swing and pop music. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Stanley Steamer

" Full steam ahead! "

It was during the turn-of-the-century that the Stanley Motor Carriage Company first revved its engines and revolutionized mass transport by providing a reliable and affordable means of sputtering about for the public. The internal-combustion engine had been laden with mechanical difficulties since its birth in 1860 and would not be a practical means of transport until the mid 1910s, mainly due the difficulty the average Joe ( and Jane ) had in crank-starting it. 

In 1897, twin brothers Freelan Oscar and Francis Edgar Stanley developed the steam automobile into a commercially feasible business venture where others had failed. ( Although in England steam automobiles were in..well, full early as the 1870s. )

In 1895 the twins had retired after making a fortune developing the airbrush and a dry photographic plate coating process but being true inventors at heart they had always loved tinkering with the new and unusual. Their latest invention was a light and yet powerful steam vehicle built solely for their own use, but within a year they had received over 200 orders for custom built steam cars and an unexpected business had blossomed. 

The 1904 Stanley Steamer 

In the short span of a few years the Stanley Steamer became the premier steam car to own and quickly gained popularity among the wealthy. They remained the most popular automobile in America up until the mid 1910s when the introduction of the electric starter made the internal combustion engines a snap to start and Henry Ford's assembly-line built Model T's priced them out of the only 1/4 the price of a Stanley.  

The 1910 Stanley Steamer

During 25 years of production over 11,000 automobiles were produced by the Stanley Motor Carriage Company in 86 different models...a 7 passenger Touring, a 4 passenger Brougham, a 2 passenger Roadster among many others. 

The Stanley steam cars were affectionately known as "The Flying Teapots" for they were an efficient, economical and extremely fast mode of transportation capably of many feats too. In 1906 a Stanley Steamer set the record for the fastest mile in an automobile at 28.2 seconds ( 127 mph ) and it was not until 2009 that the speed record for steam-powered automobiles was a jet engine.

A 1903 Stanley Steamer at Daytona Beach

In 1899 Freeland O. Stanley and his wife Flora drove their Stanley-designed Locomobile up the 7.6 mile 4,725 foot vertical rise Mount Washington carriage road in two hours and 10 of the time it would take with a traditional horse-drawn stage. 

A 1912 Stanley Steamer Touring Car

Today there are still hundreds of little Stanley steamers in existence around the world, some of them fetching prices of up to $285,000. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Letting Go to Keep All

"Ye shall serve the Lord your God, and He shall bless they bread and water."

Ex. xxiii 25

What I possess, or what I crave, 
  Brings no content, great God, to me, 
If what I would, or what i have, 
Be not possest, and blest, in Thee;
What I enjoy, O make it mine, 
In making me that have it, Thine. 

Offer up to God all pure affections, desires, regrets, and all the bonds which link us to home, kindred, and friends, together with all our works, purposes, and labors. These things, which are not only lawful, but sacred, become then the matter of thanksgiving and oblation. Memories, plans for the future, wishes, intentions; works just begun, half done, all but completed; emotions, sympathies, affections, - all these things throng tumultuously and dangerously in the heart and will. The only way to master them is to offer them up to Him, as once ours, under Him, always His by right. 

H. E. Manning

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Walt Disney's The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh

"On the southern coast of England, there's a legend people tell of days long ago when the great Scarecrow would ride from the jaws of hell...and laugh with a fiendish yell" 

In 1964, "Dr.Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh" debuted on The Wonderful World of Color and kiddies all across America and Britain were glued to their television sets to watch the burlap masked avenger of justice ride through Romney Marsh in the dark of night cackling like a banshee. 

The haunting Scarecrow was a folk-hero to the villagers of the sleepy hamlet. They were being grossly overtaxed by King George III and the menfolk were being shanghaied into naval service by press-gangs until whoosh! out of the night rode a savior - a smuggler in fact - named Scarecrow. Robbing from caravans and merchant ships laden with gold en route to the King, the Scarecrow and his henchmen mercilessly pillared their booty to distribute to the poor folk of the parish of Romney Marsh. 

Only his closet associates Hellspite and The Curlew knew that Scarecrow was in fact Dr. Christopher Syn ( Patrick McGoohan ), the vicar of the local parish. 

Unlike Walt Disney's other television series which spanned across twenty or more 1/2 hour episodes, The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh was structured more like a mini-series and aired in three 1 hour parts. On December 1963 "Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow" a 98 minute feature film version was released in theaters across the pond and here in the States in 1975 ( yes, there was a 12 year delay ). 

Doctor Syn was originally conceived by Russell Thorndike who wrote the novel on the renegade priest turned pirate in 1915 in a book titled "Dr. Syn: A Tale of Romney Marsh". His character is murdered at the end of this novel but he was resurrected from the dead in 1935 and made the dark hero of in another six books. It was the 1960 novel "Christopher Syn" written by American author William Buchanan that caught the eye of Walt Disney who instantly saw its story potential and cleaned it up a bit for his use on his Wonderful World of Color program.

Sparing no expense he sent director James Neilson, a camera crew and a top-notch English cast including George Cole, Tony Britton, Kay Walsh, Michael Hordern and Geoffrey Keen to film on location at Romney Marsh, located in the southeast of England in the county of Kent.

For years "The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh" has been a very difficult program to come by but recently Walt Disney Studios released a magnificently restored collector's edition to the public apart of the Walt Disney Treasures collection. Chock full of special extras such as a featurette about Dr.syn's origins, an introduction by Leonard Maltin, and the making of the television series, it is a wonderful addition to any collection but it's extortionate price it's a DVD not many can afford. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Age of Not Believing

When you rush around in hopeless circles, 
Searching ev'rywhere for someplace true, 
You're at the age of not believing, 
When all the "make believe" is through. 

When you set aside your childhood heroes, 
And your dreams are lost upon a shelf, 
You're at the age of not believing, 
And worst of all, you doubt yourself. 

You're a castaway where no one hears you, 
On a barren isle in a lonely sea, 
Where did all the happy endings go? 
Where can all the good times be? 

You must face the age of not believing, 
Doubting ev'rything you ever knew, 
Until at last you start believing, 
there's something wonderful...
Truly wonderful in you. 

These lyrics were written by the wonderful song-writing team of Robert and Richard Sherman for the 1971 Walt Disney production "Bedknobs and Broomsticks". It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song and although it did not win ( "Theme from Shaft" won ) it remains one of the highlights of the movie and just as noteworthy a song over 40 years later, for it puts into words feelings we all have had at one time or another in our life. 

When "Mary Poppins" was in production in 1963 there were doubts that author P.L. Travers would give the studio clearance to finish the project and so as a back-up plan Walt Disney had his staff working on an adaption of another well-known English children's book classic "The Magic Bedknob" by Mary Norton. This project got placed on the back-burner while Mary Poppins pushed ahead, but after Walt's death "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" was put back in the spotlight again in 1969. 

"The Age of Not Believing" was a somewhat self-introspective song for the Sherman Brothers for they were going through a period when they began to doubt their ability to continue their song-writing success without Walt's guidance. The lyrics of the song perfectly capture a feeling we have all experienced in life....doubting one's self and one's abilities. 

When Angela Lansbury is singing this lovely tune it is aimed at Charlie, the 14 year old cockney boy, who is very self-assured and doesn't believe in magical things like flying beds. At the same time though, this song can be applied to all of us at any age in life. We all go through rough periods where the sun is hiding behind the clouds and we can't see the light at the end of the tunnel. We wonder "where did all the happy endings go? where can all the good times be?" 

In "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" we even see Miss Eglantine Price ( Angela Lansbury ) pausing for a moment to reflect on her doubts and her ambitions when she felt she had failed England by not creating the Substitutiary Locomotion spell in time for the war effort. 

The Sherman Brothers went on to create many more beautiful songs after this era in their life, proving that they overcame their "age of not believing".....just as we all do sooner or later. All we need is a little bit of faith. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The World of Doctor Dolittle

" This is the world of Doctor Dolittle...the wonderful world of Doctor Dolittle. Where crocodiles talk, and elephants sing and animals do most any old thing. Where polar bears wear top hats, and leopards with spots wear spats. "  

In 1967, 20th Century Fox released Richard Fleischer's epic musical "Doctor Dolittle" starring Rex Harrison as the inimitable animal doctor who travels the world to find the Giant Pink Sea Snail. Samantha Eggar, Anthony Newley and William Dix join our animal-talking doctor on his voyage of discovery, while the renowned music composer Leslie Brucisse weaved melodic melodies throughout the film. 

Although Doctor Dolittle grossed over $9 million dollars at the box-office, it was technically a financial fiasco since it cost over $18 million to produce ( yikes! )... most of this cost was spent in bad location decisions and care for the animals. One of the most costliest mistakes was in trying to send a crew of animals to England in the first place....quarantine procedures made this impossible and so they had to scout for animals in England instead. 

The "world" of Doctor Dolittle consisted mainly of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, an idyllic stone front English village and Sea-star Island, the resting place for the elusive giant sea snail. Unlike most Walt Disney films of the time that utilized stunning painted matte bakdrops by Peter Ellenshaw, Doctor Dollittle was actually filmed on lcoation. 

The village of Castle Combe, located in southwestern England was transformed into the town of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, complete with fisherman skiffs and the picturesque church tower. They took so long filming in Castle Combe that even the residents were relived when they left. They wanted all the villager's aerials to be taken down from their roofs ( for authenticity's sake )....what a bore being without TV!


Sea-star island on the other hand is quite a difficult island to drifts along with the prevailing currents. In reality though it was Saint Lucia, the tropical paradise located in the heart of the Caribbean. Most of the island scenes were filmed at Marigot Bay, where today you can still find the Pink Snail Champagne Bar at the Marigot Bay Hotel in honor of the film's location shooting. 

At the time, many of the residents of the tiny oasis weren't all that proud of the snail....they were sick due to a G.I epidemic caused by the freshwater snails and were so mad that they even threw rocks at the giant sea-snail prop. Poor snail! Good thing he had his shell on snug and tight. 

One of my favorite "locations" in Doctor Dolittle was not really a location at was The Flounder, the doctor's striped-sailed full-rigged wooden sailing ship. Decked out in flamboyant fashion not unlike his Puddleby home, it was complete with a kitchen, dining room, library, window garden and all his scientific equipment. 

When we watch Doctor Dolittle we are transported to a world of "fantasy, a world we long to see" realm of Victorian whimsy. Even though I can not talk to animals, it would be nice to join the Doctor in his world. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Baron TV Series

This is John Mannering aka The Baron - a dashing American antiques dealer with shops in London, Paris and Boston. A debonair man-of-the-world with smoldering blue eyes, an impeccable wardrobe, and lots of money...always a drawing feature.

When a jewel-encrusted Fabr├Ęge carriage sculpture gets stolen from his London shop and smuggled across to Europe, he calls on the police for help, but the police are unable to help him. The thief happens to work for an embassy and acts as courier for a European nation, and as such is under protection of "diplomatic immunity". This hasn't been the first art theft though, and the police are anxious to put a stop to them and recover the stolen goods. Now where could the police find a man who'd be willing to track down these villains at his own risk, denying any relation to the government? Why, John Mannering of course!! The famous antiques dealer is probably just as anxious as the police to recover his stolen property and see that these criminals are behind bars.

Mr. Templeton-Green ( Colin Gordon ), a representative of the British Secret Service ( our Bond-type boss,"M" ) approaches him with this delicate subject and is pleased to find out that the Baron is tickled pink with the idea.

And so our hero begins his first mission - find out who is behind these thefts, put a stop to them, and recover the stolen merchandise. Equipped with a rather simple selection of SS spy tools, a ticket on the first plane out of London and the name of a contact to meet, the Baron sets forth.

This premier episode of The Baron is rather unusual in that he is "assigned" his mission. The subsequent adventures he tends to just stumble upon......

"Wait! Wait! Wait!, " says you, " Premier episode? I thought this was a movie you were describing. What are you talking about here? "

Good point! says I. A brief introduction shall be layed at your feet, but first let me finish the sentence...

.....stumble upon, rather like the Saint. 

The Baron was a television series that ran for one season ( 1966-1967 ) and featured Steve Forrest as the lead character, John Mannering, a wealthy Texas cattle baron turned international antiques dealer. ITC, one of Britain's leading television companies and developer of such hits series as Danger Man, The Thunderbirds, and The Saint, produced The Baron. This series was different from their prior ones, because it featured an American in the lead, and it was filmed in color! ( Making it the first British drama series to do so. )

Filmed in and around London, it featured action-packed tales of intrique, murder, and other notorious tv crimes....not always revolving around the art world though. Most of the villianous opponents spring from the high-society realm of the big city, but he occasionally ventures to more exotic locales like South America, Yugoslavia, Switzerland, and Paris ( only through film clips mind you. The show didn't have that big a budget ) to fight crime. Our man Mannering tends to "just happen" to be there when his help is needed, or as is often the case, acquaintances look him up and ask for his assistance in dealing with their troubles. In many of the episodes he is contacted by Mr.Templeton-Green to assist in a government matter - on the sly of course.

If you are unfamiliar with this series ( as I was ) then its a good idea to watch the first episode before you start on the others. It clears things up a bit. The Baron teams up with Cordelia Winfield ( Susan Lloyd, "The Impress File" ) on many of his adventures and sometimes with his assistant David Marlowe (Paul Feriss ), both of whom provide ample support for Mannering in solving his capers. The show also featured top talent like Bernard Lee, Edward Woodward, Lois Maxwell, Sylvia Syms, Yvonne Furneaux, and Jeremy Brett as well as the usual round of British tv character actors.

I wouldn't say the series was as entertaining as The Avengers or The Prisoner, but the episodes are easy to follow and include lots of action, and Steve Forrest's portrayal of The Baron is very engaging. He gives the character a certain American air - like preferring good ol' fisticuffs to automatic weapons when fighting the bad guys - while retaining that English elegance that makes other tv heros, such as John Steed and the Saint, so appealing. Driving around in his sporty silver Jensen CV8 Mark II ( equipped with a car phone ), and travelling to international locales for secret spy work, makes one think of him as a rather small-screen James Bond. But don't expect him to be as flirtatious with the women...the Baron is a tough guy. 

Unfortunately, the show only lasted one season, which was released on DVD a few years ago. I can't help thinking the show could of been a tiny bit better but I haven't figured out just how. The acting talent is there, the plots are good, the scenery nice ( if you like drabby fall weather in the U.K ), so what's missing? I don't know. It doesn't really matter though, its good enough ..... and compared to some of the stuff that's playing on tv these days, its very entertaining.