May 26, 2011

Recalling Richard Denning

I know, I haven't done a very good job keeping up lately. But I do have some goodies in the hopper, namely an interview with one of the best JFK video historians around, and what I hope will be a provocative piece bout the relationship between Route 66 and the philosophy of Rousseau. (Boy, doesn't that sound like a mouthful?)

In the meantime, here's a piece I did for Our Word last year, which I think is an appropos follow-up to my previous article on the Sammy Davis Jr. Show.

* * *

During the course of my research for my series last year on those dreadful Sammy Davis Jr. TV theme covers, I dipped into the archives on the original version of Hawaii Five-O and pulled out the name of Richard Denning.

Now, when people think of Hawaii Five-O, they probably think first of the theme, and then of Jack Lord. True enough, since in my opinion, Jack Lord is Steve McGarrett, and his catchphrases are part of TV lore: "Book 'em, Danno," and "Be here - aloha," when doing the promo for the next week's show. Some people might remember James MacArthur, who played Danno for eleven years, and booked all those suspects. Others might recall one of the other officers, primarily from the opening credits (e.g. "Cam Fong as Chin Ho").

But Richard Denning? Well, for all those years he played Paul Jameson, the governor of Hawaii,* and he was one of only a handful of actors who appeared in all twelve seasons of the original series. It must have been an ideal role for Denning, who had already retired to Hawaii and was coaxed out of retirement by the offer of five-hour days and a four-hour work week.

* Surely one of the most successful politicians in all of television.

Richard Denning had a long and successful acting career. His most well-known roll was probably that of Jerry North, the mystery writer-turned detective in the whimsical crime series Mr. and Mrs. North, in which co-starred for three seasons with Barbara Britton as his wife Pam. I first ran across this series in one of those boxed set compliations of public-domain crime dramas, and to be honest I didn't think much of it. Oh, Denning's pretty good, given what he has to work with, and Barbara Britton's certainly lovely to look at. But her character is one of those screwball wives we see so often in sitcoms of that era, the kind that induces you to shout at the screen while you're watching, or just as often to mutter something like, "I'd slap her if I was him."* Added to that, even though Jerry was the supposed crime expert, it's Pam who generally winds up solving most of the cases, with little help from her bumbling, somewhat patronizing husband. It's a low-budget version of The Thin Man without the charm, and I was only able to make it through two episodes before I gave up.

* Not an advertisement for spousal abuse.

Here's a clip from the opening of a typical Mr. and Mrs. North episode:

May 11, 2011

The Sammy Davis Jr. Show, 1966

Over at Our Word a while back, I had occasion to do a piece on Sammy Davis Jr. and an album he’d done in the 70s which apparently involved, for reasons known only to God, Sammy doing covers of hit TV show themes. There were several of them, enough to give me a week’s worth of material, including some that to the best of my knowledge hadn’t even had lyrics.

For instance, there’s the theme to Hawaii Five-O. This was a big hit when it first appeared in the late 60s. I hadn’t ever thought, though, that it had – you know, words.

If you want to see the week’s worth of videos, including the Baretta theme (the only one that was actually the real deal and not a cover), you can look here, here and here.

But, and here’s the great thing about blogging, how you can change your mind halfway through a piece, I’d originally intended to simply repost the five videos, which I thought would themselves make for an interesting, if somewhat disconcerting, story. This isn’t the Vintage Sammy here – the man who could sing, dance, do impressions, act in comedy and drama, and take brilliant photographs, the man who was perhaps pound-for-pound the greatest entertainer of his time, which is why listening can be a bit painful.

And that got me thinking about vintage Sammy, and whether or not we’d ever actually seen that Sam on TV (aside from guest shots on other people’s specials). It seems as if you had to see him live, on stage or in clubs, appearing solo or hamming it up with the Rat Pack, to truly experience him, to appreciate everything he could do. Even the big screen wasn’t really big enough to hold him.