Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Thursday, June 30, 2011


Herb Jeffries is one man who should not be forgotten.  His contributions to cinema as the first Black cowboy helped pave the way for many African-Americans performers and his contributions to music cover almost 80 years.  In film he is best known as "The Bronze Buckaroo", the first singing cowboy of color.  In music he is probably best known for his time with Duke Ellington and his recording of "Flamingo", which sold over 50 million copies.

     Jeffries always considered himself a man of color although his mother was Irish and his father was Sicilian.  (His grandmother was part Ethiopian, however, so there was a strain of Negro heritage.)  With his light skin he could easily have passed for Mexican.  He had to apply makeup to darken himself for his movie roles.  (He also did not remove his white hat because it would reveal his smooth brown hair.) 

     He (at various times) claimed he was born Herbert Jeffrey, Umberto Alejandro Ballentino, or Balintino, or Valentino.  He was born in Detroit in 1913, although he also at times claimed 1911 or 1914.  Legend has it that Louis Armstrong noticed his singing talent and urged Jeffries to move from Detroit to Chicago in pursuit of a singing career.  Once in Chicago, he claimed the 1911 birthdate in order to be old enough to join Erskine Tate and His Vendome Orchesta in Chicago; he also claimed to be a Creole so he coulod be eligible to join an all-Black band.
     In 1933 Jeffries joined the Earl Hines orchestra and from 1940 to 1940 he sang with the Duke Ellington orchestra.  He spent the Fifties in Europe, owning a Parisian nightclub for a while.  He was still performing occasionally a year ago at age 96.

     In the late 1930s Jeffries began starring in a string of "sepia" movies, all-Black films made to be shown in the 500 or so theaters catering to an African American audience.  The first of these, Harlem on the Prairie (1937) featured Jeffries in the lead as a singing cowboy.  The movie was inspired by the success of Gene Autrey's films before a white audience.  Jeffries became the first "Black" western hero.

     He then appeared in the western musical movie revue Rhythm Rodeo, his role billed only as "Singing Cowboy", followed by the lead role in Two-Gun Man from Harlem.  In 1939 Jeffries appeared in Harlem Rides the Range and in The Bronze Buckaroo, movies that forever cemented his reputation as a cowboy star.  Herb Jeffries left the movies then to concentrate on his singing career, returning as the title character in Calypso Joe, a 1957 romance with 14 musical munbers.  He made two theatrical releases after that:  Chrome and Hot Leather, a 1971 action film in which he had a small role (along with Ann Marie, Cheryl Ladd, Marvin Gaye, Bobby Pickett, and Peter Brown, among others), and Potrait of a Hitman, a 1979 actioner in which he also had a small part. 

     Television beckoned in the 1960s, with roles on I Dream of Genie, The Name of the Game, The Virginian, Where's Huddles?, Hawaii Five-0, and an appearance on The American Experience.  He also appeared in the television movies Jarrett, Twice in a Lifetime, and The Cherokee Kid.  Along the way he also produced and directed a "nudie mystery movie" starring stripper Tempest Storm, his then-wife --the third (or fourth) of his four (or five) wives.  In 2008, Jeffries married his current wife, 45 years his junior.  The man likes his women.

     From Harlem Rides the Range, here's Jeffries with The Four Tones singing "Prairie Flower":

     Here he joins up with The Cats and the Fiddle to sing "I'm a Happy Cowboy" from Two Gun Man From Harlem:

     From The Bronze Buckaroo, Jeffries has "Got the Pay Day Blues" with The Four Tones:

     This next song appears to be untitled.  I'd probably title it "Call Him Home" or "The Cowboy's Life (Is the Only Life for Me)".  Again, from The Bronze Buckaroo:

     Moving away from the movies, here's Herb Jeffries with Joe Liggins & His Honey Drippers doing "Left a Good Deal in Mobile":

     From 1940, Side A of a recording with Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra, "The Girl in My Dreams":

     And Side B, "Flamingo":

     Moving forward to May,1989 from the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, "Poinciana":

      And a cover of an old standard:

     And just a year ago, Herb Jeffries appeared with his son Robert to sing "Summertime":

     And finally, here's a tribute to Jeffries, his horse Stardusk, and the Black western, written and performed by Damon Leigh:

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


I recently and metaphorically took a jaunt in Mr. Peabody's Wayback Machine and wound up in Memory Lane in 1960 where I encountered an old friend who has stayed in my memory for over 50 years, The Dow Hourt of Great Mysteries.  As I remembered it, this was a series of three television shows of classic mysteries slotted as "specials", meaning that they were not locked into a specific day's time slot.  My memory, as it usually does, betrayed me.  There were seven shows appearing scattershot on NBC from March to November of that year, all hosted by Joseph N. Welch (the judge from Anatomy of a Murder.)  Ah, but what shows!

     The first offering appeared at the end of March and was Mary Roberts Rinehart's The Bat, the classic creaky thriller (written with Avery Hopwood) from the 1920s that was a hit on Broadway and was turned into a best-selling novel published in 1926 under Rinehart's name, although actually ghost-written by Stephen Vincent Benet.  The Bat is a mysterious murderer set loose in an old mansion; he was evil enough to send chills down the spines of audiences over the decades.   (So dark, in fact, that Bob Kane used him as the inspiration for Batman.)  This episode was directed by Paul Nickell from a script by Walter Kerr and featured Helen Hayes, Jason Robarts, Jr., and Margaret Hamilton.

     The second episode in the series, again directed by Paul Nickell, appeared near the end of April and was John Dickson Carr's The Burning Court, from one of my favorite novels by the master of the locked room mystery.  Witchcraft, murder, and all-around eeriness envelop this classic story of a woman who appears to be identical to a notorious 17th century murderess.  The teleplay was by Audrey and William Roos, talented mystery authors in their own right.  George C. Scott, Barbara Bel Geddes, and Robert Lansing headed the cast.

     The first episode of the series was shown on a Thursday night and the second episode on a Tuesday so why not show the third episode on the fourth Monday of May?  This was The Woman in White, from the classic 19th century mystery novel by Wilkie Collins.  Here a young girl falls into the evil clutches of Count Fosco, played by Walter Slezak.  (Was there ever a villain more villainous than Count Fosco?  I remember the sinister, oily way he was portrayed by Sidney Greenstreet in the movie.  Alas, I can't remember whether Slezak's performance equalled that of Greenstreet.)  Siobhan McKenna played the title role, and Robert Flemyng, Arthur Hill, Lois Nettleton, and Rita Vale helped fill out the cast.  The script was by Frank Ford this time.  Again, the director was Nickell.

     After that, the series took the summer off -- which may be why I remembered the series to have only three episodes.  It returned on September 20, a Tuesday evening this time, with The Dachet Diamonds, from a story by Richard Marsh.  (I'm not sure of the exact source of this story.  To my knowledge, Marsh never wrote a story under that title; the nearest title to it in his novels is 1893's The Devil's Diamond, but there is no mention of "Dachet" in the book and none of the characters are in the television episode.  The same goes for his story "The Diamonds" which appeared in his 1900 collection The Seen and the Unseen.  Does anyone out there know the source of this episode?)  Marsh is probably best known for his horror novel The Beetle, which was published the same year as Bram Stoker's Dracula and far outsold the other book.

     The Dachet Diamonds was directed by Gower Champion from a script by Walter Kerr.  It starred Rex Harrison, Tammy Grimes, Reginald Denny, Melville Cooper, and Alice Ghostley; Robert Flemyng also shows up in this one, making him (I believe) the only actor to appear in more than one episode.  According to the CTVA website, the episode is a "tale of an Englishman who accidently comes into possession of stolen diamonds."  This is certainly the least-known "great mystery" presented in the series.

     Only a week later, the fifth episode appeared:  The Cat and the Canary, based on the 1922 play by John Willard.  Possible heirs at the reading of will (that has been delayed for twenty years) begin to fight each other in this chesnut.  This tale of possible madness was directed by William A. Graham from a script by Audrey and William Roos.  The cast included Andrew Duggan, Collin Wilcox, Sarah Marshall, and Telly Savalas.

     Episode six (aired on Tuesday, October 18) goes back to the 19th century for J. Sheridan Le Fanu's The Inn of the Flying Dragon, which was first published as The Room at the Dragon Volant and comprised all of Volume II and part of Volume III of In a Glass Darkly (1886).  Here is a tale of a young man falling in love with with the young wife of a miserly (and possibly evil) old count.  They all end up at the Dragon Volant, where our hero is given a "cursed" room.  Political intrigue and double dealing abound.  [Unabashed plug:  I plan to cover this book for this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.]  Farley Granger, Barry Morse, and Hugh Griffith starred in this episode written and directed by Sheldon Reynolds.

     The final episode was based on the 1920 spy-guy novel The Great Impersonation by E. Phillips Oppenheim.  Nasty German spy wants to kill a member of Parliament and take his place.  Once again, we have a teleplay by Roos and Roos.  The Great Impersonation starred Keith Mitchell and Eva Gabor and was directed by David Greene.  This one aired on Tuesday, November 16.

     The Dow Hour of Great Mysteries provided a platform for well-written, well-directed, and well-acted mysteries.  I wish this series had continued.  Audiences would have to wait over a decade for the consistently excellent mysteries produced on Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery!

     As far as I can tell, none of the episodes have been released on DVD and I haven't been able to find them anywhere on the web.  Dammit.


     For more Overlooked Films, hop over to Sweet Freedom, where Todd Mason will keep us updated throughout the day.

UPDATE:  According to St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers, Richard Marsh did publish a novel titled THE DATCHETT DIAMONDS in 1898.  I really should have checked that reference before posting.  Mea culpa.

Monday, June 27, 2011


  • Jeff Abbott, Panic.  Thiller.
  • K. J. Anderson, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  Movie tie-in.  Yes, that's Kevin J. Anderson hiding behind those obvious initials.
  • William Arden, The Secret of Shark Reef.  Juvenile mystery, #30 in The Three Investigators series originally created by Robert Arthur.  This is a revised edition of Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators in The Secret of Shark Reef; Alfred Hitchcock seems to be missing in this revision.  "William Arden", of course, is Dennis Lynds.
  • Harry Castleman & Walter J. Podrazik,  Harry and Wally's Favorite TV Shows:  A Fact-Filled Opinionated Guide to the Best and Worst on TV.  Reference, I guess.
  • Clive Cussler with Paul Kemprecos,  Polar Shift.  Thriller/adventure, the sixth novel in The NUMA Files series.
  • Peter David, The Incredible Hulk.  Movie tie-in.  This is from the Louis Leterrier Hulk movie, not Ang Lee's.
  • Alan Dean Foster, Splinter of the Mind's Eye.  Media tie-in, an original Star Wars novel from 1978.
  • Esther M. Friesner, Men in Black II.  Movie tie-in.
  • James Grippando, Born to Run.  Political thriller, the eighth in the Jack Swyteck series.
  • Joe Haldeman, Guardian.  SF novel.
  • K. W. Jeter, Alien Nation:  Dark Horizon,  TV tie-in.  This one novelizes the cliffhanger final episode of the cancelled series and the script for the never-produced two-hour resolution to the cliffhanger.
  • Carol Kendall, The Gammage Cup.  Juvenile fantasy, a Newbery Honor Book.
  • Edward Lee, The Golem.  Horror novel.
  • Patricia Moyes, Black Girl, White Girl.  Mystery novel, #18 in the Henry Tibbett series.
  • Andre Norton & P. M. Griffin, Redline the Stars.  Number five in the Solar Queen series.
  • Jeff Rovin, Fatalis.  Horror novel, with saber-tooth cats.
  • Steven H. Silver & Martin H. Greenberg, editors, Horrible Beginnings.  Horror anthology of seventeen stories, each the debut horror story of a well-known author.
  • Scott Smith, The Ruins.  Horror novel.
  • Joseph Staten, Halo:  Contact Harvest.  Gaming tie-in novel.

     Kitty also scored some interesting books this week: 
  • Elizabeth George, With No One As Witness.  Mystery novel, #14 in the Thomas Lynley/Barbara Havers series.
  • Nigel Hamilton, JFK:  Reckless Youth.  Biography.
  • Mark Kurlansky, Cod:  A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World.  Non-fiction.
  • Eric Van Lustbader, Robert Ludlam's The Bourne Betrayal.  Spy novel, Lustbader's sophomore continuation of the Jason Bourne series.
  • William Martin, Annapolis.  Novel.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


...when I came across this song on Youtube while looking for the song in the last post.

There's a few minutes of patter before the song, but Mark and Erin think it's worth the wait.

I won't tell you my wife's reaction.


My Uncle Walter is 88 today.  Huzzah!

So this one is for Uncle Walter.  Long may he waltz!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Lou Sayre Schwartz (1926-2011) died Sunday after a fall.  From 1946 to 1953, he worked as a ghost artist for Bob Kane on Batman.  May he rest easy in that Batcave in the Sky.


There's this guy -- Andy Cable -- who says he's not "perverted" or "weird".  That's his story anyway.  But let's consider his "hobby" -- collecting panties worn by women who have acted on (or have been associated with) Doctor Who.  He now has 94 pair in his collection.

     "We all collect things we like," he said, "and I find knickers more personal than an autograph on the back of a plastic cup."  I have to agree that they are "more personal".

     On his collecting bucket list are panties from Delia Derbyshiore and Jasmine Breaks "to complete what he calls his 'pantheon of pants.'"

    File under ewww.

Hat tip to Blastr, which got the story from Topless Robot.


Michael Shayne, everybody's favorite tough guy redhead, began his literary life in 1939 in the novel Dividend on Death by Davis Dresser writing as "Brett Halliday."  My memory is fuzzy, but I recall reading somewhere that Dresser based the character on a man he chanced upon in a bar in (maybe) Mexico.  Anyway, Michael Shayne blazed his way through novels, short stories, movies (first played by Lloyd Nolan pre-Fixodent commercials, then by the Beaver's dad, Hugh Beaumont), radio (with a number of actors taking the title role, including Jeff Chandler), a mystery magazine, and -- of course -- a television show.  Although Dresser retired in the late 1950s, "Brett Halliday" and Michael Shayne continued on in books and stories via a number of ghost writers, including Robert Tyrell, Ryerson Johnson, Dennis Lynds, and James Reasoner.

     Michael Shayne, the television series, ran for 32 episodes from 1960 to 1961 and starred Richard Denning, who had previously played Jerry North in the series Mr. and Mrs. North.  Shayne's secretary, Lucy Hamilton, was first played by Patricia Donahue, then by Margie Regan.  The show created a younger brother for Lucy, Dick Hamilton, played by heart-throb Gary Clarke (later seen in The Virginian.)  Rounding out the regular cast were Herbert Rudley as Police Lt. Will Gentry and a young Jerry Paris (The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Bob Newhart Show, and a zillion other things) as reporter Tim Rourke.

     The episode below, Murder in Wonderland, was one of several written for the show by William Link and Richard Levinson (Mannix, Ellery Queen, Columbo, Murder, She Wrote), and has Patricia Donahue as Lucy.  This video, from 1960, is a little jerky but will give you the flavor of the series:

     For more Overlooked Films, drop by Sweet Freedom, where Todd Mason will have the latest low-down.

UPDATE:  In his comment, Randy mentions that this series slipped by him.  It probably slipped by a lot of us (myself included) because it ran against The Twilight Zone.  The slot was the kiss of death.

Monday, June 20, 2011


Some great reading crossed my doorway this week.

  • Ken Bruen & Reed Farrel Coleman, Tower.  Crime novel by two of the best.
  • Mikhail Bulgakov, The Heat of a Dog and Other Stories.  The title short novel with three additional stories from the Russian fantasist.  I had had a separate edition of The Heart of a Dog, but it went walkabout.  I'm happy to get the novel again and the extra stories are an extra bonus.
  • Declan Burke, The Big O.  Mystery novel by our man in Ireland, perhaps best known as the father of Princess Lilliput..
  • Fred Chappell, Brighten the Corner Where You Are.  Novel.
  • Jessica Fletcher & Donald Bain, Manhattans & Murder.  This is the second in the series, published in 1994; the series has now hit #34.  The "Jessica Fletcher" credit is still on the series because there is still three persons left in the world who actually think she's real -- that's my theory and I'm sticking with it.
  • Charlie Huston, Caught Stealing and The Shotgun Rule.  Mystery novels.
  • Lee Goldberg, Mr. Monk in Outer Space.  Number 5 in the series.  Goldberg is a treasure.
  • Stephen King, editor, The Best American Short Stories 2007.  Twenty short stories selected from American and Canadian magazines.  Heidi Pitlor, series editor.
  • David Markson, Epitaph for a Tramp & Epitaph for a Dead Beat:  The Harry Fannin Detective Novels.  Mystery omnibus of books from 1959 and 1961.
  • John Steinbeck,  The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights.  Seven Arthurian tales reimagined by the Nobel Laureate.  Another book that had gone walkabout sometime over the years.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Georges Melies was a pioneer in cinematography, experimenting with camera tricks and techniques that were considered sensational in his day.  Alas, his special effects are hopelessly outdated now.  His films, however, are still fun to view.  Here are five short examples, most of them only a minute or two long:

     From 1904, The Mermaid (La Sirene):

     And from 1896, here's a poor man who found a bug in his bed.  Paging Gregor Samsa, anyone?

     Also from 1896, the hapless traveller shoud take care lest he find himself in the Devil's mansion.  This one has bad some narrration (in French, excuse moi) added.

      The longest of the five offerings today, at about 16 minutes, takes us back to the days of The Arabian Nights:

      And finally, we end with a bit of Egyptian magic beneath the eyes of the Sphinx:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Beyond the Vanishing Point by Ray Cummings

Ray Cummings was a name to be reckoned with during the early years of science fiction.  He popularized the concept of  "worlds within worlds" and his story "The Girl in the Golden Atom" remains a classic of that type even today.  Although Cummings went to that well a number times -- including the book discussed here -- he produced a large body of work (over 750 stories) for the pulps in the science fiction, mystery, and weird fields, in addition to writing scripts for the forerunner of Marvel comics.  In his early life he worked oil wells and mines in the Western U. S. and Canada before becoming an editor for some of Thomas Edison's publications.

     Beyond the Vanishing Point was first published as a short novel in the March, 1931 issue of Astounding Stories, a dozen years after he wrote The Girl in the Golden Atom. Ace Books brought it out as a paperback double in 1958 (backed with Kenneth Bulmer's The Secret of Zi).  It is now available online and in 2007 was released as a hardcover and as a trade paperback in 2008.

     Reading this books requires you to abandon all hope of plausibility and scientific accuracy; you must also realize that logic and common sense fly out the window -- indeed, abandon all preconceptions and just enjoy the wild, thrilling pulpish ride.  If nothing else, this book is an enjoyable, fast-paced tale.

     George Randolph is a 21-year old assistant chemist who gets a strange telephone call from his best friend, 18-year old Alan Kent, urging George to meet him and his twin sister Babs in Canada, explanations to come.
Arriving in Canada, George finds a distraught Alan.  His sister has vanished and Alan suspects Franz Polter (whom we know is a villain because he is a Balkan who speaks with a German accent and is a hunchback to boot -- in pulps, all Balkan hunchbacks are villainish.)  Four years earlier, Polter had been an assistant to the Kents' father until he tried to force himself on (then 14-year old) Babs.  He was fired that day and that evening Dr. Kent disappeared.  The Kents had called George because they had seen Polter; the villain, who would have nearly 30 years old today, had the appearance of a man near fifty.   Within the past four years Polter (under another name) had made himself extremely rich through a remote gold mine in an area where gold had never before been found.

     Convinced that Polter holds the key to his sisters disappearance, Alan goes to Polter's isolated lair with George.  Before gaining entrance however, they are knocked out by some type of gas.  They waken, bound, in an enormous room.  In the center of the room is a large microscope fixed on a tiny shard of quartz.  Looking around, they see Polter; hanging from his neck is a tiny cage and in the cage is a shrunken Babs, apparently unhurt.   A tiny voice next to the bound men caught their attention and they saw another teen-aged girl who was only an inch tall.  The girl is Glora, from the microscopic world, who promises to release the pair.  Polter, meanwhile begins to shrink, and with him the cage holding Babs.  Glora suddenly grows somewhat bigger and is able to cut the prisoners bonds.  She gives them a pill and suddenly they begin to grow, towering above the dozens of henchmen Polter had employed, who quickly scatter.  With the aid of Glora and a supply of the miraculous pills, George and Alan soon enter microscopic world of an atom within the quartz shard.

     Adventure follows adventure until Alan and Glora discover Alan's father, now almost eighty year's old and forced by Polter to manufacture the growth and shrinking pills.  George, meanwhile, has managed to find Babs and is trapped in the tiny cage with her.  Polter has conquered the atom world and plans to make Babs his queen after one final trip to Earth.  His plans go awry when the growth drug is accidently released, creating monster-sized disease bacteria that begin to ravage the area.  An urgent race to free Babs and a mighty battle ensue.  Things end well while setting the scene for a possible sequel which never appeared.

      I really enjoyed this one even though hints of possible pedaphelia with the 14-year old Babs disturbed me, even when coming from a Balkan hunchback pulp villain.  The pace is frenetic and the writing of a much higher quality than much of the pulp science fiction from that era.  Recommended for those willing to check their brains at the door.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Today -- Flag Day -- is my father-in-law's birthday.  He loved ice cream, so every year for the past eleven years the family has gone out to have ice cream for dinner in honor of Harold's birthday.

     Harold was an amazing man.  When World War II broke out, he and his cousin Eddie dropped out of high school and joined the Navy.  Each, however, had a physical problem that would have kept them out of the service, so they switched papers during those parts of the physical in order to pass.  Harold ended up in a ship in the Pacific which was bombed by the Japanese, leaving a huge hole in the middle of the ship.  Harold ended up waist-deep in water reconnecting live wires to get electricity back to what was left of the ship, allowing the ship to limp back into port rather than sinking.  His actions helped save the lives of the crew and he and several others received medals for their service.

     He married right out of the service.  They moved to a trailer in Atlanta while he enrolled in Georgia Tech on the GI Bill.  He made a little extra money while in school by selling newspapers.  (He was offered a chance to make some real money running moonshine but his wife nixed that idea immediately.)  Along the way, they had the first two of four children; the second grew up to marry me, something I'll be eternally gr ateful for.  Also along the way, officials at Georgia Tech discovered that Harold had never graduated from high school.  They were about to kick him out for falsifying his appllication when he pointed out that he had never lied about having a high school diploma -- he had left the "YEAR GRADUATED" line on his application blank and was accepted on that basis.  And that's how he got his engineering degree from Georgia Tech.

     He spent most of his career working for contractors for the military and not being able to tell his family exactly what he was doing.  The family moved up and down the East Coast, depending where his contracts were.  My wife remembers one time at Cocoa Beach when he woke all four kids on night and said it was a nice night for a walk on the beach; it happened that along that walk they witness the l;aunch of the first Gemini rocket.  When I first met Kitty, he was working two thousand miles away running underground missile tests, something neither of knew until many years later.

    Days before we were about to be married, he was laid off as the bottom fell out of the engineering market.  Harold bounced back, getting a job in audiology, designing devices for the hearing-impaired.  It took several long years before he was able to get back into his own field.

     He was in his late seventies when he developed pancreatic cancer, while dividing his time between Cape Cod and Fort Lauderdale.  He appeared to defeat the cancer twice, but it kept coming back, finally taking him when he was eighty. 

     Several weeks later my grandson Mark was born.  That's what I regret most.  He would have been delighted by and proud of Mark, his first great-grandson.  Harold loved to laugh and Mark would have made him roar.  But there are many times when I see Harold in Mark.  One life leaves and another comer comes.  The circle is unbroken.


My grandson Mark finally graduated after five long years.  This Fall he will entering middle school and the sixth grade.

     I don't know when or where the concept of graduation ceremonies for elementary school started, but it appears to be a big thing in Southern Maryland and the teachers and staff of Dowell Elementary School arranged an impressive ceremony that delighted the kids and parents.

     There was music, dancing, and a lot of awards.  Every child was handed a diploma and had their time on stage as they were congratulated by their teacher, the principal, and a line of dignitaries.  And Mark -- poor, shy Mark -- had the misfortune of being the 58th student out of 115 to receive his diploma.  He was handed his diploma and he shook hands with his teacher and the principal and was about to continue down the line when all the teachers and staff suddenly (an unexpectedly) began dancing and singing Big Time Rush's "We're Halfway There."

      Mark looked both startled and confused.  He gripped his diploma tightly as if he was afraid they might take it back before he realized exactly what was going on.  He stayed where he was, uncomfortably at the front of the stage, until the singing and dancing stopped and then continued down the line, shaking hands.  The kid had poise.

     Not only poise, but he also had a perfect report card for the final quarter.  Nice going, Mark.

     And what could cap off such a perfect evening?  According to Mark, pizza and wings.  So that's what we had.


Holidays, holidays, holidays...can we ever get enough of them?  Today is Flag Day, next Sunday is Father's Day, last month we celebrated Mother's Day, and this September 11 (on the tenth anniversary of the World Trade Center and Pentagon bombings) we will be celebrating Grandparents Day.  Thanks to a push from the greeting card companies. we even have a Mother-In-Law Day (the fourth Sunday in October, conveniently placed near Halloween).  [Minor aside:  I did not know about Mother-In-Law Day beforehand, but on the morning of the very first one I answered the door and there was the Barracuda demanding, "Where's my card?"]

     One holiday that's missing -- especially for those who groove on cheesy movies -- is Mummy's Day.  To correct that oversight, I declare the second Tuesday in June to be Mummy's Day.  Let's celebrate!

     So grab some popcorn (or Cheesy Poofs) and a beer (or your beverage of choice), sit back and relax and enjoy this Mummy's Day tribute.

     First off, from 1954, Sherlock Holmes confronts the "Laughing Mummy":

     Next, who can we call on when the mummy strikes?  Why, Superman, of course:

     Now for your viewing pleasure, we present a film that would seem to be tailored-made for Mystery Science Theater 3000,  The Robot Vs. The Aztec Mummy!

     I hope you enjoyed that one; otherwise you may face The Curse of the Aztec Mummy:

     And...that's a wrap!  (hehehe)


For a far more sophisticated taste in Overlooked Films and/or Other A/V, go to Sweet Freedom.

Monday, June 13, 2011


A little bit of everything this week.  Heaney's translation of Beowulf is supposed to be very good and goes near the top of Mount TBR.
  • Piers Anthony, Letters to Jenny.  Correspondence.  A mitzvah.
  • Lee Child, Echo Burning, a Jack Reacher mystery.
  • John Connelly, Black Angel, The Unquiet, and The White Road.  Charlie Parker mysteries.
  • Michael Connelly, The Closers ( a Harry Bosch mystery) and Three Great Novels (an omnibus volume containing A Darkness More Than Light, City of Bones, and Chasing the Dime)
  • Tom Franklin, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter.  Mystery novel.
  • Laurell K. Hamilton, Danse Macabre.  An Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter novel.  I have never read any of her books.  I understand that I might blush.
  • Seamus Heaney, translator, Beowulf.  A new translation of the classic poem in a bilingual edition.
  • Charlie Huston, Already Dead.  Mystery novel -- with vampires/
  • Elmer Kelton, Hard Road to Follow, and Many a River.  Both westerns.
  • Stephen King, Everything's Eventual.  Collection of 14 horror stories.
  • Carolyn Parkhurst, The Dogs of Babel.  Novel with fantasy overtones.
  • Don Pendleton, Copp for Hire.  Mystery by the man who created The Executioner.
  • Isaac Bashevis Singer, Satan in Goray (fantasy novel), Shosha (novel), and The Spinoza of Market Street (collection of eleven stories, many fantasy).

Sunday, June 12, 2011


A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley

Eleven-year old Flavia de Luce is the sort of detective Nancy Drew should have been.*  Flavia lives a large and run-down estate in a small village with her preoccupied father and her two torturous older sisters.  Flavia has three main interests: chemistry, poison, and revenge -- the revenge part to be taken out on her sisters.  To further all three of her interests, she has a rather elaborate chemistry lab in the East (unused) Wing of the mansion.  Murder is not a major interest but sometimes she is drawn to it like a fly to honey.

      A Red Herring Without Mustard is the third in this award-winning series set in 1949 England.  It starts when Flavia accidently burns down a fortune-teller's tent at the church fete.  Because the fortune-teller, an old gypsy woman, inhaled a lot of smoke, Flavia volunteers to drive her wagon to a secluded part of the estate where she could camp.  Gypsies had camped there in the past until Flavia's father had kicked them off the property.  On the way, Flavia learns that the old woman had been accused of stealing a local baby some years earlier.

     Later that night, Flavia sneaks out to visit the old woman and discovers her lying a pool of blood, barely alive.  Flavia takes the gypsy's horse and rides to fetch a doctor, likely saving the woman's life.  The next day she meets the woman's granddaughter, Porcelain Lee -- a girl just a few years older than Flavia.  Porcelain is dirty and hungry, so Flavia invites her to the manor house, knowing that her father would object and hoping to sneak her in.   On the way they come across the body of a local poacher, tied high on a large statue of Poseidon that an ancient relative of Flavia's had placed on the estate.  The poacher had a long lobster fork, part of the de Luce family silver, impaled up his nostril.

     Soon the whole mess is embroiled with an old religeous cult, a ring of antique counterfeiters, and the discovery of the missing baby's body.  Flavia attempts to use her wiles and her almost-encyclopediac knowledge of chemistry to solve the mystery while avoiding her father, her sisters, and Inspector Hewitt, the policeman who had led the two previous investigations in which Flavia was involved.

     Flavia has the brains of a genius, the heart of a con artist, and the emotional judgment of an eleven-year old.  This combination has made her one of the most-beloved characters in recent mystery fiction.  This book, as well as the earlier The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag, are recommended.

     *  No knocks against Nancy, whom my younger daughter used to call "a turnip-brained fathead" after trying to read one of her books, but Flavia is brave where Nancy is plucky.  Flavia is outspoken where Nancy is wimpy.  And independent-Flavia is a far better role model for young girls than establishment-Nancy.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Kiss Her Goodbye by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

Max Allan Collins continues to honor Mickey Spillane's memory with the latest Mike Hammer saga, forged from two incomplete novels and notes that Spillane had left after his death.  Collins seamlessly welds the two storylines into one hard driving narrative and does it in such a way that it is almost impossible to distinquish his writing from Spillane's.

     The story takes place during the Disco era of the Seventies, where Hammer's trenchcoat and pork pie hat are out of date.  So, perhaps, is Hammer.  He's recuperating from wounds he received the year before in a shootout with the mob, in which he killed the twisted son of mob boss Angelo Bonetti.  Hammer, hearing Death knocking at his door, breaks it off with Velma and somehow makes it down to Florida to die.  But Mike is tough and he lives, under an assumed name, wondering if Bonetti will send assassins after him.

     Mike Hammer is easier to find than he had thought.  A telphone call from his best friend, Pat Chambers, informs him that his old mentor, Bill Doolan, is dead.  Doolan, a much-revered cop who had become a community leader since his retirement twenty years before, had committed suicide when faced with a rapidly approaching and painful death from cancer.  Or did he?  Hammer suspects murder but all the facts point to suicide.

     Back in New York for Doolan's funeral, Hammer discovers the body of a young dancer just a few blocks from the funeral home.  Things begin to percolate when a hooker is killed during an attempt on Mike's life.  Then the dancer's former boyfriend is murdered.  Mike finds himself pitted once again against the mob while trying to discover the secret of Doolan's death.  Nazi treasure, a drug ring, a sexy assistant DA, a popular disco club, a sexy Latin headliner, an up-and-coming politico, and Doolan's mysterious blonde girlfriend complicate the mystery as the bodies keep piling up.  In one noteworthy scene, Mike takes on two dozen mobsters and comes out on top.

     Mickey Spillane was a visceral writer who knew what his audience wanted.  Although scorned by the elite, he became one of the country's mid-century best-selling authors, and deservedly so.  Over the years -- and in part because of Max Allan Collins's unflagging support -- Spillane has been accepted, not only as a major influnce in the modern mystery novel, but as a talented author in his own right.  We are fortunate that  another talented writer was hand-picked by Spillane to continue his legacy and to bring his unpublished and incomplete books to the public.

     Kiss Her Goodbye is Spillane and Collins at the top of their game, an evocative look at an iconic American hero.

Friday, June 10, 2011


All Judgment Fled by James White (1968)

This week's contribution to Patti Abbott's Friday's Forgotten Books is a "first contact" science fiction novel by Irish writer James White, who began writing science fiction in the 1950s.  White's most popular contribution to science fiction was his "Sector General" stories and novels, about a large hospital in space which is staffed by many races, including humans.  White's non-series stories are also worth-while, displaying an inventiveness ground by realistic characters.

     In All Judgment Fled, a large spaceship has taken up orbit just beyond Mars, but making no effort to communicate.  Russia has spent her capitol on a Venus expedition, leaving the United States the only country to send rockets to investigate.  Two small modules are sent -- Prometheus 1 and Prometheus 2 -- each with a three-man crew.  Among the P-2 crew is McCullough, a psychiatrist and the only medical man among the six astronauts.   McCullough must temper his own feelings and fears as he works to reduce tensions among the men in both modules, including one case of full-blown psychosis.

     The problems do not stop when they reach the spaceship, a large half-mile torpedo-shaped object, with turrets two rings of transparent domes circling it.  The domes, it is decided, must be means of entrance to the ship.  With no response from the ship to their signals, the P-2 crew enter the ship where they are attacked by a large starfish-shaped creature which manages to slice open one of the crew's space suit.  With no spare space suits, McCullough must "jump" to the P-1 module to borrow one their suits in order to take the injured man back to his module.

     On the next trip to the mystery ship, they encounter three distinct life forms, are attacked again by the starfich creatures and kill one of them in self-defense.  McCullough takes the alien body back to his module for dissection, not knowing that Earth authorities were broadcasting every word said aboard the alien ship to the whole planet.  The broadcasts, meant as a public relations ploy to garner support and funding for the space program, ignites a torrent of opposition when it is discovered that Earthlings have killed a supposedly sentient alien.  The political firestorm grows when it is discovered that McCullough autopsied the body.

     Efforts to communicate with the various aliens continue, but how does one communicate with something truly alien, especially when one of the alien races seems hell-bent on killing you?   The crew's orders from Earth become contradictory, changing with the rapidly moving political winds.  Two members of the crew are killed; while three more suits are destroyed, forcing two of the crew to remain on the alien ship.  The limited supplies of food and water on the two modules are waning, making a return trip to earth possible.  The question now becomes a matter of survival, as well as a matter of communication.

     All Judgment Fled presents a vivid and inventive story with engaging characters stretched to their physical and mental limits.  Recommended.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Devil Red by Joe R. Lansdale

Hap Collins and Leonard Pine return for their eighth-and-a-half book-length adventure.  The two best friends are getting older and perhaps slower.  Hap has settled down with a woman and Leonard is hoping that problems with his boyfriend do not mean a break-up.  Both are now working for private investigator Marvin Hanson, not as detectives but more like operatives.  Marvin send them out to gather information about a double homicide:  the son of a rich woman and a woman who belonged to a vampire cult.  Was it a murder of opportunity, or were one or the other of the victims targeted?  An image of a devil's head, painted in red on a nearby tree, seems to point to the cultist as the intended victim.

     The devil's head appears to be the signature work of a contract killer.  Hap and Leonard discover that the devil's head had appeared near murder victims in several parts of the country.  With that, Lansdale takes the reader on another wild East Texas ride where bones break, blood gushes, and the bad guys do not take a liking to Hap and Leonard.  In between the beatings and the shootings, Hap suffers a nervous breakdown that could be the end of him, while Leonard clings to life after being shot.  Through it all, the situation is aggravated by Leonard's insistence on wearing a deerstalker cap.

     Oh, and if dealing with Devil Red is not enough, the other contract assassin in their lives, Vanilla Ride, shows up.

     There is no one writing today who writes like Lansdale.  Lansdale is not an author.  He is a storyteller, and has a storyteller's love of the phrase and of the outrageous.  The stories Lansdale tells are grand.  I am firmly convinced that anyone who has not read a Lansdale book will die all the poorer.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Frankenstein:  The Dead Town by Dean Koontz

Dean Koontz caps off his Frankenstein series with this fifth and final volume.  The conceit of this series is that the Frankenstein myth is -- in essence -- true.  The monster, when first animated by lightning, had been granted knowledge of the "quantum structure of reality" -- an innate knowledge of the fabric of the universe.  This allows the monster, now known as Deucalion, to travel instanly anywhere in the world.  Over the years the monster has (figuratively, if not literally) gained a soul and a conscience.

     Victor Frankenstein, however, has descended into madness.  A true genius, Frankenstein has been able to prolong his life and to create many other replicants -- all preternatually strong and programmed to obey only Frankenstein's will.  In earlier books, Deucalion and two New Orleans policemen, Carson O'Connor and Michael Maddison, where able to destroy Frankenstein and his large factory.  Victor Frankenstein, however, had been able to clone himself, imprinting his new version with a hatred of life and a determination to rid the earth of all life, including, eventually, himself.  To that end the clone, now known as Victor Leben, has created two types of replicants -- Communitarians, designed to be perfect replicas of individual persons, and Builders, which absorb and break people down into component atoms to create further replicants.

     The dead town of the title is Rainbow Falls, Montana, where Victor Leben has begun his war on humanity.  Every person in the town is slated to be destroyed and replaced by Victor's creations, which will then travel to other places, creating a snowball effect of annilhilation.  In typical Koontz fashion, the major players represent a cross-section of humanity, where the good guys shine brightly and some of the least among us shine the brightest.  Presented in short spurts -- 65 chapters in 402 pages -- Koontz jumps from protagonist to protagonist, keeping the suspense going full-steam, adding seemingly insurmountable difficulties, while hitting us over the head with the redeeming qualities of the various heroes. 

     Koontz finds a sort of godhood in his protagonists.  For Koontz, the universe is a place of miracles and grace for those who are attuned to it -- which is kinda cool if you think about it for a minute and is kinda not so much if you think about it for more than a minute.  The author's stock players (Red-Shirts to those who follow Star Trek) die horrible and agonizing deaths which they do not deserve.  But all works out well for the heroes and (usually) their dog.  Koontz is a good author who uses all his tricks to carry the reader along for a 402-page thrill ride.  The ride is exciting, but after the ride, the reader is left wonder, is that all there is?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Trixie & Jinx by Dean Koontz

Speaking of Representative Weiner, Jinx is a wiener dog.  The spelling may differ but the pronouciation is the same.  (I had to strain for a segue to this post.  Could you tell?)

    Jinx is Trixie's best dog friend; in fact, he's the only other dog in the neighborhood.  When Jinx's family takes him on a vacation, Trixie is saddened.  What can one dog do alone that's fun besides eat eclairs?  Snakes, spiders, mice and bees just don't cut it as best friends.  Trixie learns the value of friendship the hard way.

     Trixie and Jinx is another slight book in the saga of Dean Koontz's (now deceased) golden retriever.  The effect of Trixie on Koontz and his wife was recorded in A Big Little Life:  A Memoir of a Joyful Dog.  On blurbs in Koontz's later books, we learn that he lives with his wife and the "enduring spirit" of Trixie.  Other Trixie books are I, Trixie Who Is Dog, Bliss to You:  Trixie's Guide to a Happy Life, Life Is Good!  Lessons in Joyful Living, and Christmas Is Good!  Trixie Treats and Holiday Wisdom.  No wonder dogs are often a force for good in Dean Koontz's novels.

     It should be noted that all author proceeds from the Trixie books are donated to Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), an assistance dog organization -- certainly a worthwhile cause


In honor of Representative Weiner's admission of sending questionable tweets, let us take a brief (but often tangental) look at the humble weiner.

     First, a very grainy clip of the Swedish chef making hot dogs:

     The closest thing to a hot dog in the following Betty Boop cartoon is Bimbo, Betty's dog-like companion, but since Betty does a topless hula dance in this clip, all should be forgiven -- even the 1932 non-PC depiction of the natives of Bamboo Isle:

     The humble hot dog gets a bad rap in this 1966 short film about the National School Lunch Program.  The producers actually seem to believe that hot dogs were not served with school lunches.  As one who was there, I beg to differ.  (Also, as one who was there, some of us looked pretty geeky.)

     Time to visit our concession stand for hot dogs and soda.  It's INTERMISSION!

     Our roving food critic turns thumbs down at the hotdogs at Home Depot:

     For a gourmet slant on the hot dog, let's let Kevin show us how to do it properly.  (One hint:  hge uses mustard, not ketchup  -- O, Kevin, you know your dogs!)

      Hot dogs are the perfect food for a date.  Before you go, brush up your dating do's and don't's.  The characters in this 1949 film appear to spell doom for America's future.  There's Woody, a whiner who will probably become a serial killer, and his brother Eddie, who's a jive cat who will probably grow up to become a minor criminal, and their mother, who looks like a Grandma version of a Stepford Wife, and the two girls Woody thinks about asking to go with him to the Hi-Teen Carnival -- Janet (a looker, but a total bitch) and Sue (who would be fun but comes across as a total drip).  Ah, high school!

     Now let's travel back in time to 1940 for a look at Coney Island Hot Dogs:

     What goes into a hot dog?  Who knows?  Perhaps the USDA inspectors do:

      OK, I've lost my appetite.  Time to switch from hot dogs to turkeys.  Here's Vincent Price as The Last Man on Earth, the 1964 version of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, costarring a whole bunch of Italians.  The is arguably the best of the films based on Matheson's book, perhaps because Matheson co-wrote the screenplay under his "Logan Swanson" by-line.

      For tastier Overlooked Films, video and/or A/V, check out Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom.

Monday, June 6, 2011


A very light week.

  • "John Cleve", Manlib!  Erotic SF novel.  "John Cleve" was usually Andrew Offut, so I figured it would be worth the buck it cost.  This one is is from Beeline Books' Orpheus series and has a disquieting cover depicting a nude girl on a dog leash.  The cover blurb is just as classy.  There is an advertisement for over thirty other adult novels on the back pages, all with lurid descriptions and unpenetratable pseudonyms, but one caught my eye:  The Coming of Cormac by Caer Ged, "The first dirty 'sword and sorcery' book to ever hit the stands.  A MUST for collectors of way-out erotica!  $1.95"  Take that, Jason Momoa!
  • Iceberg Slim, Trick Baby.  Ghetto crime novel, written by a cult favorite who lived the thug life.
  • Franz Kafka, The Complete Stories.  Edited by Nahum N. Glatzer, this book covers stories, fragments, and parables published both during Kafka's lifetime and after.
  • Archer Mayor, The Second Mouse.  Mystery novel in the Joe Gunther series.  Archer Mayor always provides a good read.
  • John Saul, The Manhattan Hunt Club.  Thriller.  I haven't read any Saul in about ten years, so it's time I started up again.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


I haven't posted much this week for a number of reasons.  There's the driveway saga (don't ask), the tale of the broken tooth (again, don't ask), the incredible morphing television story (really, don't ask), the legend of the compliant taxi service (do I have to say it?  Don't ask), and the amazing invisible in-law (pretty please, don't ask).  All of these reasons (and more) are poor excuses for not posting.  I'll try to do better next week.