Rock Music Producer- Hugh Mendl

I always had a great respect for the band the Moody Blues. I was not a big fan but I did love a lot of their hits including Ride My See Saw and The Story In Your Eyes. It was when I saw them on PBS performing live after all these years that I took notice again. Since then I have starting collection more of their music.

The Moody Blues formed in Birmingham England in 1964 as a rhythm and blues band that developed into progressive rock. Among their innovations was a fusion with classical music, most notably in their legendary 1967 LP Days of Future Passed. From that album came hits like Nights In White Satin and Tuesday Afternoon.

The producer of that ground breaking LP was Hugh Mendl. Mendl has taken his Final Taxi at 88.

Besides music producer Mendl was responsible for signing several well know musical acts to recording label Decca Records where he also was a A&R man and moved into the manager’s spot. His career for Decca was for over 40 years.

Born in London in 1919, Hugh Mendl was educated at Oxford and planned on working in the government. One night in 1939 his life changed after hearing a jazz band on a vinyl record. He made a decision that night to become part of the music recording industry.

Mendl’s grandfather was the chairman of Decca Records and he was able to get his foot in the door at a low level job. He worked his way up the ladder to become a lobbyist for the label. He would travel to radio station and plug the new products.

After serving in the British military in World War II, Mendl returned to Decca and became a talent scout. During this time he discovered an artist named Lonnie Donegan. While in the studio Mendl convinced Donegan to have to play ‘skiffle” music and to make a recording of Leadbelly’s Rock Island Line. The song generated a new excitement in “skiffle” music and a new phase of rock and roll was born.

One band that was born from the skiffle music was a new band from Liverpool called The Beatles. Mendl was very interested in them and presented their music to Decca. The top brass, executive Dick Rowe, turned the Fab Four down. Mendl knew he was right about the band, especially when his rival, George Martin over at the EMI label, took them on. The rest is music history.

Decca started listen to Mendl knowing how much money they had lost by not having The Beatles on their label. He then heard the Rolling Stones at a live concert and knew they could become as big as The Beatles. He brought them to Decca but Dick Rowe took the credit for the find and the signing.

Mendl also discovered other rock acts like, David Bowie, Genesis, Caravan and John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, a band that included Eric Clapton.

He started producing LPs for several jazz bands as well as Broadway musicals, including “Hello Dolly.” His most successful will be the Days of Future Passed by the Moody Blues. Rock critics cite this as the first symphonic rock album and it remains one of the classic rock albums. If you pick up this record you can read Mendl own words on the liner notes:

“In Days of Future Passed, the Moody Blues have at last done what many others have dreamed of and talked about: they have extended the range of pop music, and found the point where it becomes one with the world of the classics.”

In 1979, as manager of Decca Records, Mendl suffered a heart attack and retired from the industry to set up a small antiques shop.

I have had several friends who have stopped off at the little shop and talk to the nice old English gentleman who ran the store. They had no idea that this was a man who helped change the face of rock music.

Scarlett O’Hara’s Little Sister – Evelyn Keyes

Back in 1981 I was working at a theater in Rainbow City, Alabama when we showed a revival film that many people remembered. The title was Gone With The Wind and the crowds were huge. This was long before VHS tape came along and you could either rented or buy a copy. Whenever you wanted to see a classic you had to go to the theater to see it.

During that run I was projectionist and we had a rather poor copy of the film. It would break several times during the showing. It got to where I had to ‘babysit’ the print while another projectionist ran the other houses in the theater. I had to watch Gone With The Wind twice a day for over a month.

I got to know all the characters very well so when I found out that Evelyn Keyes had taken her Final Taxi at the age of 91 I was a little sad. Keyes will be remember for several well known Hollywood movies but more for her role as Scarlett OHara’s younger sister, Suellen. 

Even though she appeared in over 40 movies she will also be known as the wife or lover of some of Hollywood’s famous movers and shakers. In her autobiographies she spoke of her affairs with David Niven, Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn. She was also married to film director John Huston.
Born Port Arthur Texas in 1916, Evelyn Louise Keyes moved with her family to Atlanta Georgia. She was determined to make it to Hollywood and though dancing as “Goldie Keyes” arrived in 1936 where she was snatched up by film producer Cecil B. DeMille .
She had several roles from the films including The Jolson Story, The Seven Year Itch , A Thousand and One Nights, Dangerous Blondes, 99 River Street, Johnny O’Clock , Before I Hang and Around the World in Eighty Days. Keyes did several Westerns even though she was allergic to horses.
I also loved her as the love interest in Here Comes Mr. Jordan a movie that was remade several times, once with Warren Beatty and more recently with Chris Rock. The movie is about a man who is taken into Heaven too soon and has to be returned to another body.
Keyes also played on television on such shows as Amazing Stories, The Love Boat and several episodes of Murder She Wrote.

Elizabeth Spriggs- Actress In Harry Potter and BBC Films

It is not very often that a husband can buy his wife a favorite Christmas present but I did it a few years ago. It can be done. It was not perfume, jewelry or new clothes but a DVD box set. My wife is a big fan of the BBC films that are called “period movies.” Many of these are those that are seen on PBS on Masterpiece Theatre. These British movies take place in the 18th and 19th Century when life was simpler and the surroundings were the lush green countryside of the UK. Many of them are works of famous authors like Jane Austin or Charles Dickens. In fact Dickens’s Martin Chuzzlewit and Austin’s Sense and Sensibility are two of my wife’s favorite.

She was really upset when I told her that an actress who was in those two films and several of her other beloved BBC productions, Elizabeth Spriggs, had taken her Final Taxi. She was 78.

Spriggs appeared in close to 100 films and TV shows but most people will remember her as the first person to play the ‘Fat Lady’ in the painting that protects the entry way in Gryffindor House in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

I have been getting a kick out of watching her play alongside “House’s” Hugh Laurie in a early BBC TV comedy series “Jeeves and Wooster” playing Aunt Agatha.The British born Sprigg studied at the Royal School of Music as a child. She then taught theater and speech at Coventry Technical College after graduating. In 1962, she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company and stayed for 14 years. She won several awards for her on stage performances.

Briggs’ face started showing up on TV mini-series in the 70’s but was seen weekly on a Brit-com called “Shine on Harvey Moon”. She played the role of Nan from 1882 to 1985. She also appeared 1987’s Paradise Towers episode of “Doctor Who. ”

It was Emma Thompson’s 1995 adaptation of “Sense and Sensibility” that Spriggs would command a role that first won her worldwide recognition. Mrs Jennings, Sir John Middleton’s mother-in-law, was a colorful character that would warrant her a BAFTA Film Award nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role.

Other noted roles are that of the gin drinking nurse, Mrs. Gamp, in BBC’s “Martin Chuzzlewi”t and Mrs Cadwallader in another BBC adaptation of “Middlemarch”. My wife’s other favorite’s with Elizabeth Spriggs include “Victoria & Albert” and “Wives and Daughters.”

Her last role was with Michael Canine in a film to be release in 2008 called ” Is There Anybody There?”

Stargate and Twin Peaks Actor – Don S. Davis

One of the strangest and most original TV shows that I enjoyed watching was Twin Peaks. Beginning in April of 1990, Twin Peaks is a drama that follows the investigation of the brutal death of popular, respected teenager and homecoming queen, Laura Palmer, headed by Agent Dale Cooper. Created by one of my favorite cult film directors, David Lynch, its eccentric characters were unorthodox for a supposed crime drama. Among the regulars on the show was a Major Garland Briggs. He was a U. S. Air Force officer who gave information to Agent Cooper and was also the father to one of the main characters named Bobby Briggs. Major Briggs work is so highly classified that he does not tell even his family about it. The role was played by Don. S. Davis and can be seen as a precursor to Davis’s character Lt. Gen. George Hammond on the TV series Stargate SG-1, who is also an Air Force officer involved in secret projects.

Don S. Davis has taken his Final Taxi.

Davis guest-starred in dozens of well-known TV series, often appearing as a head military staff or a sheriff. He had a recurring part on The X Files as Captain William Scully, father of Gillian Anderson’s Agent Dana Scully.

He co-starred on Stargate SG-1 for the series’ first seven years, but left in 2003 due to a medical condition that restricted his workload. However, he returned for several guest appearances on SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis in the following years. He continued to work on- and off-screen until his death.

He was born Don Sinclair Davis on August 4, 1942 in Aurora, Missouri, a town located in the southwestern part of the state. He was raised there amid the Missouri Ozarks.

In 1965, Davis received a Bachelor of Science Degree with a double major in theater and art from Southwest Missouri State College.

He then served three years on active duty in the United States Army, entering as a second lieutenant. He achieved the rank of captain by the time he completed his required tour of active duty.

Upon leaving the army, Davis studied at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. He received a master’s degree in theater in 1970. Davis then taught for several years before returning to SIU to complete the coursework for a PhD in theater, which he received in 1982.

Davis began working in the film industry in the early 1980s while he was an assistant professor of theater, teaching courses in technical theater at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

He left teaching to pursue acting full-time in 1987.

He appeared in numerous feature films, including Miracle, Alaska, A League of their Own, Needful Things, Look Who’s Talking, Con Air and Best of Show.

Davis had featured roles in several dozen made-for-TV movies, including In Cold Blood; The Ranger, The Cook and the Hole in the Sky; and Columbo: A Bird in Hand; as well as the mini-series Atomic Train.

He guest-starred in such TV series as The West Wing, NCIS, The Dead Zone, Northern Exposure, The Outer Limits, L.A. Law, Knots Landing, Wiseguy and Macgyver. He also played on several episodes of 21 Jump Street.

In 2004, he was nominated for a Leo Award, honoring British Columbia films and television, for best supporting performance by a male in a dramatic series for his role in the Stargate SG-1 episode “Heroes, Part 2.” He won the Director’s Award for best supporting actor at Fright-Fest in 2003 for his part as Keith Young in the low-budget thriller Savage Island.

His final Stargate appearance is in Stargate: Continuum, the SG-1 DVD movie that will be released July 29. He will also appear in the forthcoming films Vipers, Woodshop and Far Cry.

I Think We Are All Bozos On This Bus- Larry Harmon

When I was growing up in Alabama we had several local shows that were made for children. Two that I can remember were the Cousin Cliff Show and Sergeant Jack . Both were adult men who played a character that interacted to the children in the studio audience and showed cartoons between the segments when they were talking to the kids. (Most of the cartoons were Popeye with a Three Stooges shorts thrown in as well.)

It was years later that I found out this format was being used all around the world. I love talking to people who lived outside the US and seeing what the names of their local children’s entertainer was.

One the first to establish this format was Larry Harmon, who portrayed frizzy-haired Bozo the Clown for years and licensed the character to dozens of TV stations around the United States.

Larry Harmon has taken his Final Taxi at 83.

Bozo the Clown was created in 1946 by Alan W. Livingston who produced a children’s storytelling record-album and illustrative read-along book set for Capitol Records. The albums were extremely popular and the character became a mascot for the record.

In 1956, Larry Harmon, one of several actors hired by Livingston and Capitol Records to portray Bozo at promotional appearances, formed a business partnership and bought the licensing. Harmon had the vision and drive to take advantage of the growing television industry and make a better future for Bozo. He renamed the character “Bozo, The World’s Most Famous Clown” and with his Larry Harmon Studios cranked out 156 five-minute Bozo, The World’s Most Famous Clown cartoons for syndication. He provided the voice of Bozo in the series.

“Bozo the Clown” was mostly a franchise as opposed to being syndicated, meaning that local TV stations could put on their own local productions of the show complete with their own Bozo. By the late 1960s, Harmon had licensed local Bozo TV shows in nearly every major U.S. market, and across the world in places as far away as Thailand, Greece and Brazil.

Born in Toledo, Ohio in 1925, Harmon grew up in Cleveland. A University of Southern California alumnus, he was its only freshman to win the title of drum major. He led the Trojan Marching Band in the first televised coverage of the Rose Bowl Parade in the mid-1940s.

“I started out to be a doctor,” he once said. “I love medicine. I always did.”

“I did radio, big band, and when I came out to California, motion pictures and TV. Deciding between medicine and theater was a tough decision.”

Harmon first assumed the Bozo character by answering a casting call to make appearances as a clown to promote Capitol’s Bozo records. Harmon helped solidify the Bozo look, which combined orange hair, a bulb nose, and a red, white and blue costume.

Bozo’s last appeared on TV when a version of the series ended its 40-year run on Superstation WGN 9 in Chicago in 2001. I remember watching that last episode. As an adult I still enjoyed seeing Bozo on Sunday morning with my kids before heading out to church. It was still special to me.

“I felt if I could plant my size 83AAA shoes on this planet, (people) would never be able to forget those footprints,” Harmon once reflected. I won’t forget them.

Character Actress – Lilyan Chauvin

A character actor can give a motion picture that bit of something extra that makes a scene in the movie.

In the 2002 film by Steven Spielberg, Catch Me If You Can, Leonardo DiCaprio started his career of pretending to be others people when his mother and father told him they were getting a divorce. That scene help to put a fright into him more with his maternal grandmother appearing speaking nothing but French. He knew his life was in for a change.
The character actress who played that role was Lilyan L. Chauvin who started in Hollywood as one of its glamor girls and ends up as one of the most familiar faces in TV, commercials and films, yet no one remembers her name.

Lilyan Chauvin has taken her Final Taxi at the age of 83.

Born Lilyan Lowans in Paris in 1925, Chauvin traveled via the Queen Elizabeth to New York in 1952 and begin teaching French at the Berlitz school off of 5th Ave.

In 1953 actress Judith Anderson met Chauvin, who says she looks like a Garbo, and helped to set her up on the TV show “Studio One Summer Theater” where she played in the presentation “Letter from Cairo.”

In 1956 she guest-starred in Crusader with Brian Keith and later the same year, she appeared in The Adventures of Jim Bowie and in the Adventures of Superman in 1957.

In 1958, she made her first credited motion picture appearance in Lost, Lonely and Vicious. In 1960 she starred in Walk Like a Dragon and North to Alaska. In the rest of the 1960s she appeared in Bloodlust!, Back Street, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Two Weeks in Another Town, Tickle Me and Yours, Mine and Ours.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s she appeared in a wide variety of motion pictures and television movies, nearly always playing French characters or nuns. In 1971 she was in The Mephisto Waltz with Alan Alda and Jacqueline Bisset and in 1975 she acted alongside Barbra Streisand and James Caan in Funny Lady. 1980 saw her with Goldie Hawn in Private Benjamin, but the role she will be most remembered for was from 1984 where Chauvin played the lead role in the horror film Silent Night, Deadly Night, playing the Mother Superior. The role was so popular that she return for the sequel Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2.

1990 movies included Bad Influence, Predator 2, Universal Soldier, True Identity,No Place to Hide (Where she played another Mother Superior) and Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings.

Her latest offerings have been Catch Me If You Can and the The Man Who Wasn’t There (by the Coen Brothers).

During all this time Chauvin was always on TV. In the 60’s there was Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Perry Mason, and Mission: Impossible to name a few.
The 70’s and 80’s saw McCloud, Baa Baa Black Sheep, Mannix, Fantasy Island, Magnum, P.I and she was a regular on the nighttime TV soap Falcon Crest, playing a nun.

Chauvin was also on the daytime soap The Young and the Restless where she played Marianne and also for a short time on Ryan’s Four playing Nurse Rose.

Her television roles of the 1990s include guest appearances in Baywatch, Murder, She Wrote, The X-Files, Star Trek Deep Space Nine and Frasier. One role many TV watchers will remember Lilyan Chauvin for is when she appeared on the sitcom Friends, where she play Joey’s grandmother.

Her last role was in a episode last year of the TV show “Ugly Betty.”

Twice nominated for the “Emmy Award”, (The Young and the Restless & Baa Baa Black Sheep) her dedication to the arts won her recognition to for Excellence in moral quality media. She won the 1991 “Angel Award” for the program “Hollywood Structured”, a cable TV show she co-produced, directed and hosted. On the show Chauvin explored new facets of the industry each week through interviews with top professionals. The 64 episodes covered acting, directing, make up, documentary filmmaking, producing, music, comedy, cinematography, stunt coordinating, modeling, publicity, writing, dancing, sports announcing, production design,
entertainment law, agency, casting, union, special effects and more.

The show’s star- studded guest list read like the Who’s Who in the entertainment world. Celebrity guests included Jacqueline Bisset, Henry Mancini, Danny Glover, Linda Gray, Anne Francis, Morey Amsterdam, Al Burton, Roy Christopher, Nina Blanchard, Billy Barty, Jeanne Cooper, Linda Purl, Betty Thomas, Joanna Lee, Barney Rosenzweig, Mel Torme, Alexander Godunov and many more. The show stood as the platform for this consummate actress and director in the launching of both her successful video tape package, “Discover Yourself Hollywood” and the book she penned, “Hollywood Scams & Survival Tactics” where she shared a lifetime of survival experiences.

Chauvin also taught for over 10 years at USC and at UCLA for two years.

Lilyan Chauvin was a long time member and active supporter of the Wilderness Society, Children’s Hospital and the LA Camp Fund. She established loving relationships with many types of animals and was an animal and nature advocate for many years.