Showing posts with label Breaking into Showbiz. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Breaking into Showbiz. Show all posts

05 August 2020

Breaking Into Showbiz 3



This is the third time we've played this game.  Rules are simple.  Below is a list of well-known characters from popular culture.  The question is: Where did they start?  For example, the Cisco Kid began life in a short story written by O. Henry, of all people.

On the side in a white box you will see a list of possible origins.  Don't assume there is one-for-one match (one character from radio, one from opera, etc.)

Answers at the bottom of the page.  Good luck!

Paul Bunyan

Charlie Chan

Jiminy Cricket

Robinson Crusoe

Green Hornet

Detective John Munch

Horace Rumpole

Karen Sisco

Staggerlee

Honey West


Ready? Okay, here are the answers:


Paul Bunyan. Folklore. Sure, the giant logger started in oral legends, but as is usually the case with folklore, it's complicated.  The earliest known written appearance is a one-line reference in a newspaper in 1893, a joke that would make no sense to anyone unfamiliar with "Paul Bunion."

He was apparently only about eight feet tall until 1916 when William B. Laughead used him in an advertising pamphlet.  That's when he grew into a man who could lift mountains and make lakes with his footprints.

Because so many of the familiar stories show up late some scholars call it "fakelore," but James Stevens, who wrote a book about our big boy in 1925 argued that making up new tales based on the basic framework is exactly how the stories worked in the lumber camps.

Charlie Chan.  Real Life.  Sort of.  Yes, Charlie Chan made his first appearance in Earl Derr Biggers' mystery novel The House Without A Key (1925), but he acknowledged that the character was inspired by Chang Apana, a famous member of the Honolulu police force.  Unlike his fictional counterpart, Apana was not permitted to work on cases involving White people.  Biggers and Apana met in 1928, by the way.

Chan is considered an offensive stereotype today - less for the novels than for the countless movies starring White men in the part - so it is easy to forget that Biggers was trying to combat the "sinister Oriental" cliche represented by Fu Manchu, by creating a decent and brilliant Chinese policeman.


Jiminy Cricket. Movie. The living puppet began in The Adventures of Pinocchio, an Italian children's book by Carlo Collodi, published in 1883.  In that book the Fairy with Turquoise Hair gave him a talking cricket as a conscience, which the little wooden brat promptly murdered.  So the animal appeared as a ghost throughout the rest of the book.

As part of the Disneyfication of the book, in the cartoon the insect turned into Jiminy Cricket, complete with top hat and umbrella.  (The name, of course,  already existed as a modified swear word.)  Jiminy was voiced by Clifford Edwards, who got to sing "When You Wish Upon A Star," which became the Disney corporation's unofficial anthem.  Until then Edwards was better known as Ukulele Ike, a very popular crooner in the early days of the phonograph.  Among other things, he did the first recording of "Singing in the Rain," and had a hit with "California, Here I Come." 

In a most un-Disneylike twist, Ukulele Ike had also recorded some hokum - which is to say double entendre songs that were only sold to adults "under the counter." 


Robinson Crusoe.  Novel.  Daniel Defoe's immortal novel about a desert island castaway is often linked to the ordeal of Alexander Selkirk, who spent four years on an island off the coast of Chile after being dumped there by his captain.

But Andrew Lambert, in his book Crusoe's Island, argues that the book is a mash-up of the adventures of several maroonees, if that's a word.  Defoe never confirmed or denied Selkirk's influence.


Green Hornet.  Radio.  The masked hero in the green fedora (secret identity of newspaper publisher Britt Reid) came to life on Detroit radio station WXYZ in 1938, as did his assistant and chauffeur, Kato.

I included him here largely because many years ago the NPR quiz show Says You did a round of questions about comic strips, and somehow included one about the olive wasp: "What was the name of the Green Hornet's grand-uncle's horse?" 

I knew the answer.  But I was irritated because GH didn't start in a strip or even a comic book, and you think a radio show would know he came from radio show.  (And by the way, that is a clue to the answer to that question.)


Detective John Munch.
Real Life.  Detective (later Sergeant) John Munch entered the world through the wonderful TV series Homicide: Life on the Street, played by Richard Belzer.  When that show ended Munch left Baltimore Homicide and moved to NYPD for Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.  Believe it or not the cynical conspiracy-minded cop  also made guest appearnces on The X Files, Arrested Development, The Wire, 30 Rock, and a handful of other TV series.

So why do I say he started in real life?  The TV series Homicide was based on David Simon' award-winning nonfiction book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets.  Munch is clearly (and admittedly) inspired by Detective Sergeant Jay Landsman.

Here is how that book begins:
    Pulling one hand from the warmth of a pocket, Jay Landsman squats down to grab the dead man's chin, pushing the head to one side until the wound becomes visible as a small, ovate hole, oozing red and white.
    "Here's your problem," he said.  "He's got a slow leak."
    "A leak?" says Pellegrini, picking up on it.
    "A slow one."
    "You can fix those."
    "Sure you can," Landsman agrees.  "They got these home repair kits now..."

Inevitably Jay Landsman did some acting, in The Corner and The Wire.


Horace Rumpole.
Television. The defender of the British criminal classes  began in TV, although he was later seen in novels, short stories, and radio.  John Mortimer, himself a barrister, claimed he created Rumpole specifically to fund his retirement. 

In 1968 Mortimer wrote a TV movie called "Infidelity Took Place," about a barrister who is a sort of ur-Rumpole.  A few years later he wrote a play about Horace Rumbold, but the name was changed because there really was a lawyer by that name.  (Of course, the name is a pun.  Think of a Cockney saying Rump 'Ole.)
 
While Rumpole was conceived as a small-timer who lost most of his cases, as the show went through seven seasons he became more and more successful.  And as Mortimer looked farther afield for interesting plots, Rumpole found himself working in a military court, an African court (with the death penalty on the table), an ecclesiastical court (bizarre for an atheist), and, hardest to believe, conducting a prosecution (inevitably he proved the defendant innocent).


Karen Sisco.  Short Story.  Elmore Leonard would sometimes try out a character in a story before trusting her with a whole novel.  Deputy Marshal Sisco began life in a 1996 tale, "Karen Makes Out."

She then starred in the novel Out of Sight, made into a movie in which she was played by Jennifer Lopez.  That led to the short lived TV series Karen Sisco, starring Carla Gugino. And that was the end of the character. Or was it?

In the second season of the TV show Justified, a much more successful adaptation of Leonard's work, Carla Gugino reappears  as the Assistant Director of the Marshal Service, Karen Goodall.  It is mentioned that she had married and divorced.  Was Sisco her maiden name? 


Staggerlee.  Real life.   Alias Stackolee, Stagger Lee, Stagolee, etc.  The song (and its infinite variants) is based on the murder of Billy Lyons, which took place in St. Louis, Missouri in 1895.  Curiously, I have never heard a version that mentioned that the killing happened on Christmas, making this one of the least likely holiday carols since "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer."  The murderer was Lee Shelton and there are many explanations for his nickname.

Lyons and Shelton were both criminals, possibly business rivals.  Billy Lyons stole Shelton's stetson hat, Shelton got his gun, and the rest was musical history. Most versions of the song I am familiar with show our hero being executed and end with him telling the Devil "I'll rule Hell by myself."  He was a bad man, that Staggerlee.  But in reality, Shelton spent twelve years in prison, got paroled, and returned to stir one year later, and died there.

Honey West.  Novel. One of the first female private eyes, she appeared in 11 novels written by G.G. Fickling (actually Forrest E. Fickling and his wife Gloria.  She debuted in This Girl For Hire in 1957.

In 1965 Anne Francis guest-starred as Ms. West in an episode of Burke's Law, and that led to a TV series of her own, which lasted for 30 episodes.

18 December 2019

Breaking into Showbiz II


We did this back in 2017.  Here we are, back again, with all new entries.

Below is a list of characters from popular culture.  But how did they become popular? See the box on the right?  All the characters began life in one of those media.  See if you can match 'em up.  Be warned: there isn't a one-to-one match up, meaning exactly one character started in a TV show, etc.

Answers  below.

Bambi

The Lone Ranger
Radar O'Reilly

Jimmy Olsen

Raylan Givens

The Mighty Casey

Stuart (Stu) Bailey

Lamont Cranston

Mack the Knife

Alexander Waverly



Bambi.  Novel. Austrian novelist Felix Salten (an enthusiastic hunter, by the way) wrote Bambi: A Life in the Woods.  It was more or less what we would today call a Young Adult novel.   Published in 1922 and became an immediate success.  British novelist John Galsworthy called it  a "little masterpiece."  The Disney film version came out in 1942.  By the way, Thumper the Rabbit broke into show biz through the movies.  He is part of the Disneyfication  process, not appearing in the book.

The Lone Ranger. Radio. The mysterious masked man started life on the radio in 1933.  I bring him up because of a story that has spread in recent years that the character was inspired by Bass Reeves, a legendary (though very real)  hero, the first African-American U.S. Marshal in the west.  A biography of Reeves suggested that he inspired the Lone Ranger, but there is zero evidence that the creators of the show had ever heard of Reeves.

Radar O'Reilly.  Novel. The very first character to appear in the novel MASH by Richard Hooker (real name Hiester Richard Hornberger Jr.) is Radar O'Reilly of Ottumwa, Iowa.  In the movie he was played by Gary Burghoff, who went on to repeat the role in the TV series.  The only other actor I could think of who brought a character from the flicks to the small screen was Richard Widmark with Madigan, but it turns out there have been others.

Jimmy Olsen.  Radio. The eternal cub reporter, Superman's Pal, first appeared on The Adventures of Superman radio show in 1940.  He was created basically so the hero would have someone to talk to. We all need that from time to time, don't we?  Jimmy made it into the comics a year later.  Since then he has been in TV and movies as well as having his own comic book.

Raylan Givens.  Novel.  The Deputy U.S. Marshal first appeared as a supporting character in Elmore Leonard's Pronto.  He also showed up in Riding the Rap, before getting a starring role in the short story "Fire in the Hole."  This story, in which Givens is punished for an iffy killing by being assigned to his home state of Kentucky, inspired the TV series Justified.  The producers were so dedicated to making a work in the Elmore Leonard mold that they gave out bracelets to the crew that read What Would Elmore Do?  Most critics agreed that they succeeded and Leonard was inspired to write Raylan, supposedly a novel, but essentially designed to be broken up into three episodes of the series. In fact, two parts were used that way.

The Mighty Casey.  Newspaper.  Ernest L. Thayer's poem "Casey at the Bat," first appeared in a San Francisco newspaper on June 8, 1888.  It happened to be read by Arch Gunter, a visiting novelist nd playwright.  He was so taken with the work that he clipped it out.  When he arrived in New York he shared it with a theatrical producer who asked his star comedian, DeWolf Hopper, to memorize it and recite it during that evening's performance.  Thus Hopper began a new career as the prime interpreter of the poem for forty years, on stage, radio, records, and movies.  It does make you wonder what minor masterpieces are buried in a century of newspapers....

Stuart (Stu) Bailey.  Novel.  Roy Huggins created private eye Stu Bailey in The Double Take.  He felt the character was so clearly a ripoff of Philip Marlowe that he sent a copy to Raymond Chandler with an apology.  Chandler apparently replied that he'd seen worse.  When Huggins moved to television Bailey became one of the P.I.'s who worked at 77 Sunset Strip.  Of course, Huggins also created Maverick, and The Rockford Files.

Lamont Cranston.  Magazine.  I just know I'm going to get an argument over this one.  Bear with me.  In 1930 the Street and Smith company decided to create a radio show to promote their Detective Story Magazine. The narrator was a mysterious character called The Shadow.

Pretty soon listeners were going to the newsstand and asking for "the Shadow magazine," which didn't exist.  There is a modern MBA rule that says: Let your customer tell you what business you are in.  Street and Smith tookthe hint.  They founded The Shadow Magazine and magician Walter B. Gibson filled it with a new novel twice a month (he had to be a magician, don't you think?), writing under the name Maxwell Grant.  He wrote 282 of the tales over 20 years.

In the pulp magazine the Shadow's real identity was Kent Allard but he sometimes pretended to be other people, including man-about-town Lamont Cranston, who was frequently out of the country.  In the radio version, the Allard name was dropped and the S-man was simply Cranston.  Simple, right?

Mack the Knife.  Opera. Yes, but which opera?  The popular song is a bowdlerized version of the song from Kurt Weill and Bertold Brecht's Three Penny Opera.  But the song tells the story of Macheath, who first appeared in John Gay's Beggar's Opera, written two hundred years earlier (and inspired by an idea of Jonathan Swift's!).

Alexander Waverly.  Television. The regional head of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement was created for The Man From UNCLE, although some see a strong resemblance to the Professor, a spymaster who appears in North by Northwest.  Of course, both characters were played by the wonderful Leo G. Carroll.

Waverly and Carroll almost missed their big chance.  In the pilot for the series  the boss was Mr. Allison, played by Will Kuluva.  However, the network executives told the producers to get rid of the guy whose name began with K, so Kuluva was replaced by Carroll.  Turns out the network had really wanted to dump Russian spy Ilya Kuryakin, played by David McCallum. Fortunately for the show (and thousands of adoring young women) Ilya dodged death, not for the last time.

Carroll, in his seventies. had health problems  during production.  When you see papers scattered across Waverly's desk, some of them are Carroll's script, available for easy reference.  At one point he told the producers that his grandchildren complained that Mr. Waverly never did anything but talk, so they created a scene in which he karate-chopped a bad guy.  When he nailed it the whole crew cheered.

Oh!  Here's a bonus question for you.  The star of The man From UNCLE was, of course, Robert Vaughn.  But do you know what he did in his spare time during production?  The astonishing answer is here.