Rocky & Bullwinkle Creator, Alex Anderson, Takes Final Taxi

One year we almost forgot Halloween. I was not even in first grade yet so the peer pressure of what costume to wear had not even crossed my mind. My mother was too busy trying to sell a house and having a sick mother to think about instead of getting us kids a costume. Suddenly it was October 31st and we remembered that it was Halloween. We rushed to the local Big B Drugs or Eckerds Pharmacy only to be disappointed with what was left.

The choices came in those plastic masks that just covered your face and were formed into a Saturday morning cartoon character or the cheap latex masks that were so over the top in the horror department that no one wanted them. My mother opted for the plastic mask that year with the matching garbage bag you wore over your clothes. This always had the cartoon character’s body on it.

My brother was Rocky the Flying Squirrel and I was Bullwinkle J Moose. The mask was a little over sized, I remember the elastic band that secured to the mask by metal staples inside the mask,that would always pull my hair and scratch the side of my face. What torture a child endured for a Bit-o-Honey or a vanilla Toostie Roll. By the end of the night my antlers were mangled by having them slammed into the car door every time I closed it.

I do remember I got quite a lot of candy that year. I was fonder of Rocky and Bullwinkle after that Halloween. I watched them more often after that and once they started reruns when I was older I got the adult comedy that was in the show as well.
Rocky and Bullwinkle ran as a new show from 1959 to 1964 on ABC them moved to NBC. It has been running in syndication ever since. At one time it was the highest rated daytime network program.

The characters of Rocky & Bullwinkle were, created by Alex Anderson Jr., Anderson has died at the age of 90.

In an interview in 1991 with the San Francisco Chronicle, Anderson said that he had worked with his uncle Paul Terry of Terrytoons, on the cartoon Mighty Mouse. He didn’t understand the mechanics of how a mouse flew or, for that matter, how Superman flew. Since flying squirrels do fly that gave him the mantle of superness without having to stretch the truth. Thus Rocky the Flying Squirrel evolved. With Bullwinkle, Anderson saw something majestic about moose: “They’re macho, but they have a comic aspect, with that schnozzola of theirs. There are a few creatures just begging to be caricatured.”

Anderson is credited with developing the first cartoon series created for TV, Crusader Rabbit.

He also create another well know cartoon about a dim-witted Canadian Mountie called Dudley Do-Right. In 1999 this was turned into a live-action film starring Brendan Fraser as Do-Right .

It was Alex Anderson’s Bullwinkle creation that helped save my Halloween many years ago, but by the end of the night my costume had taken it own ” final taxi.”

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Graham Crowden No Longer Waiting For God

Some of my favorite things to watch on TV are the British comedy TV shows. Shows like, “Are You Being Served? “ “Vicar of Dibley,” “Red Dwarf”, “One Foot In The Grave”, have always been among my favorites. I would rather watch an episode of “Keeping Up Appearances” than an hour of “Law and Order.” If there is one thing I love about our local PBS station it is the Saturday night Brit-coms.

I believe one of the main reasons why I love British comedies is the fact that there is no age bracket. Many of the best shows have older actors unlike the US where they have to be young, pretty and sexy. One of the best shows to put older actors to work was a show called “Waiting For God.”

It is the story of two highly strung residents of a retirement home who cause madness and mayhem for the management and their families. The series ran from 1990 to 1994 on the BBC but has achieved cult status in the US in reruns. The show starred Stephanie Cole and Graham Crowden as Diana and Tom.

It is Graham Crowden that has died at the age of 87.

I have followed Crowden’s career as he was one of these quirky character actors that would pop up in many of my favorite films. He played as the Master of Lunacy in “The Ruling Class” (1972) with Peter O’Toole and as the Leader of Fanatics in “Jabberwocky” (1977) directed by Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam. Other films include the James Bond film “For Your Eyes Only” (1981), “Out of Africa” (1985), and 2003’s Calendar Girls.

He stared with actor Malcolm McDowell in three movies: “If” (1968) , “O Lucky Man!“ (1973) and “Britannia Hospital” (1982).He has been in several other TV series including the British period pieces “The Way We Live Now” ( 2001) and “Vanity Fair” (1998). It was also rumored that Crowden was offered the job of the 4th Doctor Who for the TV series but he turned it down.

Most recently I have enjoyed Graham Crowden’s voice in the BBC’s sci-fi comedy “Nebulous”. He played Sir Ronald Rolands, the main character, Professor Nebulous’ boss and leader of K.E.N.T. – the Key Environmental Non-Judgemental Taskforce.

He will be missed.

Singer Solomon Burke Takes Final Taxi

I have been going to the new Railroad Park here in Birmingham. It is a beautiful place and has a lot going for it. They are showing movies in the park every Thursday, so a few weeks ago I caught a film I had not seen in years. It was “The Blues Brothers” (1980) which stared John Belushi & Dan Aykroyd. It was great to see it on the park’s 40 foot screen. The music in the film echoed throughout the park bringing blues music back to that section of Birmingham.

One song from the movie that stands out in my mind is when The Blues Brothers perform at the Palace Hotel Ballroom and sing “Everybody Needs Somebody (To Love) ” during that song the crowd goes wild.

That song was written and first recorded by Solomon Burke in 1964. The song peaked at #58 on the US charts that year. On the Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time it ranked at#429.

Solomon Burke took his Final Taxi this week at the age of 70.

If you were a fan of the 1987 movie “Dirty Dancing” you may also know Burke’s ballad “Cry to Me” from 1962. It is used during the memorable scene where a bare-chested Patrick Swayze slow dances with Jennifer Grey.

In 2001 Burke was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in2002, he won a best contemporary blues album Grammy for his CD “Don’tGive Up on Me.”

Ari Up, Founder of The Slits, Dies at 48

If you are ever in the Avondale area of Birmingham check out a place called Bottletree. It is a great place to grab a meal but it is also well know for bringing many different musical acts to the Magic City. Back in 2006, as the club/ restaurant was just getting started, they brought a legendary punk/ reggae band to the city. The group was called The Slits.

The Slits were formed in 1976 and were a support group for bands like The Clash and the Buzzcocks. The founder of the band was Arianna Forster who went by the name Ari Up. She had been performing with the band off and on through the years and was there, dreadlocks and all, at the Bottletree on that cold winter night back in 2006.

Ari Up has died at the age of 48.

I had been a fan of the Slits for years. Being known as one of the first all female British punk bands was in itself something to be proud of. Most people will remember the cover of their LP called Cut. On this debut album, the artwork features Ari and her band mates topless in loincloths yet smeared with mud from head to toe. The front cover became a well known punk image. I remember seeing the album in local record stores like Camelot or Turtles with the price tags in areas to block your view of certain female anatomy.

Arianna Forster was born in Munich Germany in 1962. Her mother, Nora, was well known in the music industry and was a close friend of Jimi Hendrix. Her mother would marry the Sex Pistols’ lead singer, John Lydon ( aka Johnny Rotton) who would be her stepfather. Her godfather was Jon Anderson, the singer from the group Yes.

Forster experimented with music and would learn guitar skills from The Clash’s Joe Strummer. With these skills she formed the band The Slits at the age of 14. The Slits became known for tracks such as “Typical Girls,” “Shoplifting” and their cover of “Heard It Through The Grapevine.”

Ari can be see in The Clash’s movie “Rude Boy” and in “The Punk Rock Movie.”

The Puppet Master – Van Snowden

Last night my daughter wanted to watch an older horror movie. Lucky we have streaming video from Netflix and they recently added several in that genre. We ended up watching “Child’s Play”, the movie where the spirit of a murderer takes over a kid’s toy doll and goes on a killing spree. The movie worked because the little doll, Chucky, looked real and alive. This was all done by puppetry of Van Snowden.

One of Hollywood’s most sought after puppeteers, Van Snowden has taken his Final Taxi at age 71.

If you grew up watching any of the Sid and Marty Krofft Saturday morning TV shows then you have seen his work. Staring out as a puppeteer on H.R. Pufnstuf, Snowden played the mayoral dragon for several year.Later he also worked in “Sigmund & the Sea Monsters,” “Lidsville,””The Bugaloos,”” The Krofft Supershow,” and my favorite “Land of the Lost.”

Snowden was asked by Paul Rueben ( aka Pee Wee Herman) to be lead puppeteer on his show “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.”

He worked a great deal in horror movies in places where you would not know puppets were used. Many times it was rats, lizards, bats or squid tentacles. In fact Snowden was the one responsible for the movements of the Crypt Keeper in the TV horror anthology “Tales From the Crypt.”

Some of Snowden’s film work includes “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey” (1991), “BeetleJuice” (1988), “Bram Stroker’s Dracula” (1992), “Alien:Resurrection” (1997), “Starship Troopers” (1997) and “The XFiles” (1998).