The above image is how Austin's Palmer Auditorium used to look. The domed building (which looked like a grounded flying saucer), sat on the shores of Town Lake for many years and hosted hundreds of events. When I was in elementary school, school kids from all over town were bused to the auditorium to enjoy performances by the Austin Symphony Orchestra. I saw my first rock n' roll concert (Steppenwolf) there in the early '70s. My high school graduation ceremony (Austin High School, class of 1974) was held there. In college, I saw one-hit wonder flash-in-the pan pop star Gino Vanelli there. You get the idea.
A few years ago the property underwent a radical transformation and was reborn as the Long Center for the Performing Arts. It's a fabulous facility and I've enjoyed several events there including screenings of silent film classics METROPOLIS and THE MARK OF ZORRO (with Douglas Fairbanks). The Long Center is also home to my beloved wife Judy's Pollyanna Theatre Company and all of Pollyanna's productions are staged in the Rollins Studio Theatre, a smaller, more intimate venue located on the lower level of the building. The Rollins Studio Theatre occupies the space that was once the basement of Palmer Auditorium and whenever I attend a Pollyanna show, I can't help but think of the many hours I spent in that exact same space over the years.
The basement (or as I liked to call it, the "bowels") of Palmer Auditorium was home for many years for the Austin Collector's Exposition, a two-day affair held three times a year which featured dealers and collectors of all sorts of pop culture memorabilia: comic books, sports cards, movie posters, toys, books, etc. Bill and Sally Wallace were the local entrepreneurs who ran the event and it thrived for many years during the '80s and '90s.
I was a regular participant in the ACE shows. I paid my money for a table and carted several long boxes full of comic books down there for two-days of selling and deal making. I usually did well enough to cover the cost of my table and make a small profit. Of course, whatever money I made was usually spent on the spot for some other desirable collectible. I often traded with other dealers, many of whom I got to know quite well.
I was accompanied on many of these forays into comic book dealing by my longtime friend Bob Parker. He would usually bring enough stuff from his collection to cover about a quarter of the table (for which he paid me). Bob was good company and we had a good time but over the years he sold less and less of his somewhat obscure material. I remember one year, he didn't make a sale until Sunday morning!
Over the years I saw the same dealers selling the same stuff to the same group of hardcore collectors. It seemed like all of this stuff was just being endlessly recycled from one guy's basement to someone else's attic. And over the years, I saw less people come through the door and I realized less of a return on my investment.
It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Internet (specifically eBay) was rapidly and radically changing the way commerce in collectibles was conducted. At an ACE show, I could only get the price I was asking for any given book, a discounted price or a straight up trade. On eBay in an auction format selling platform, I could get my asking price or higher, depending upon how many bids my item received. Plus, I had to devote three entire days to the event. Set-up was on Fridays and we were open all day on Saturday and Sunday. It made for a long, exhausting weekend. Fun? Yes, to some extent, but not exactly profitable over time.
I threw in the towel in 1996 which oddly enough, was several years before I started selling stuff on eBay. I just couldn't justify the expense and investment of time and energy any longer. ACE hung in there for several more years. It eventually moved upstairs to the larger Palmer Auditorium space but was forced to find a new home when Palmer was closed and the renovation process began. ACE was at the Virginia College building on Hwy 290 for a few years and the last one I went to was at an empty Sam's Club building on North Lamar. I don't know when ACE officially pulled the plug but there hasn't been one in years. Even though I didn't participate in the shows as a dealer, I still attended as many ACE shows as I could. It was a lot more fun to go as a customer. I could pay my money, spend as much or as little time as I wanted, buy some comics and leave. I wasn't trapped in the bowels of Palmer Auditorium for a long, long weekend.
Nonetheless, every time I see a Pollyanna Theatre performance in that space, I can't help but think of how it used to look and those long gone days of comic book buying, selling and trading. The people watching was always first rate, I made some good friends and there was always a ton of cool stuff to look at. Those were the days.
Saturday, January 26, 2013
Friday, January 25, 2013
|"I used to be a sheriff until I passed the literacy test."|
I watched HARPER (1966) this afternoon. It's one of the "H" films that Paul Newman made in the 1960s, a string of hits that include THE HUSTLER, HUD, HOMBRE and COOL HAND LUKE. The film is based on the novel, "The Moving Target" by American hard-boiled mystery maestro Ross MacDonald. MacDonalds' detective hero was named Lew Archer but when Newman was signed to the lead (a part that Frank Sinatra turned down), he asked that the character's name be changed to "Lew Harper" and that the title of the film be changed to simply HARPER to keep the string of "H" films going.
Harper is hired by a rich woman (Lauren Bacall) to find her missing husband. He's both a very wealthy man and a absolute bastard who keeps company with some very unsavory characters. Harper has been recommended for the job by the missing man's attorney (Arthur Hill) who is an old friend of Harper's. Accompanying Harper in his investigation is the missing man's private pilot (Robert Wagner) and the millionaire's hot-to-trot daughter (played by the gorgeous Pamela Tiffin). The trail leads to a washed up former film star (Shelley Winters), her shady husband (Robert Webber), a drug-addict blues singer (Julie Harris) and a whacked out modern-day "monk" (Strother Martin, who made a career out of playing toady characters who fully deserve the pistol whipping they eventually receive). Janet Leigh co-stars as Harper's estranged wife.
The screenplay by William Goldman has plenty of smart-ass bon mots (like the one quoted above) for Newman to toss off as only he could. I've not read the original novel (although I do have a copy of it) so I can't vouch for how faithful an adaptation it is. Maybe I'll read the book this year and report back. I do recall seeing this film on first release but I don't remember any of the particulars and I'm sure that the rather complex plot sailed right over my ten-year-old head.
Newman resurrected the Harper character in the '70s for a sequel, THE DROWNING POOL in which he co-starred with his wife Joanne Woodward. There was a short-lived television series entitled ARCHER, with Brian Keith in the title role, that ran on NBC-TV for three months in 1975. But for my money, the best interpretation of the Archer character was in the TV series THE OUTSIDER in which Darren McGavin starred as private detective David Ross. The series ran for one season on NBC-TV from September 1968 to September 1969. Although the series was not based on Archer or any of MacDonald's works, the character and the milieu he operated in had a definite Ross MacDonald vibe.
HARPER is not a great film but it's an entertaining one. Newman, one of my favorite actors, is always fun to watch, the supporting cast is solid and everything is capably directed by Jack Smight. Recommended.
The image above is a look-behind-the-scenes of THE FAMILY OF REE, the new production by the Pollyanna Theatre Company. The play, based on the children's books by author & illustrator Scott Sutton, is being staged at the Rollins Theater at the Long Center in Austin with three performances tomorrow and the grand finale on Sunday. I had the pleasure of seeing this delightful show this morning and I loved it. It's a great adaptation of Sutton's work with the usual Pollyanna touches of humor. The strange, magical and wondrous planet of Ree comes alive before your eyes in a play that you absolutely must see. For more information go to www.pollyannatheatrecompany.org. Oh, and those strange critters pictured above? They're long-legged ploots of course.
Thursday, January 24, 2013
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
I've got to admit that of all of the characters who made their debut in this legendary comic, my favorite is the Golden Age Hawkman. Of course, at the time, he was simply "Hawkman". The Golden Age appellation didn't come until after the fact.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
When titans clash! The first, epic battle between two of Timely's greatest super-heroes, the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner is the stuff of golden age legend. I vividly recall reading this saga when it was reprinted in the pages of MARVEL SUPER-HEROES #1 in the mid-'60s. That giant-sized comic book also reprinted AVENGERS #2 and DAREDEVIL #1. I spent a long afternoon with that comic, relishing every page of it. I have a copy of it in my collection.
Monday, January 21, 2013
I'm not going to try to identify every artist represented here but I think they're all good ones. Can you name them all? Which one is your favorite? I've got to go with Alex Ross (far right) but I grew up reading Superman stories illustrated by Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson (third from left) and Wayne Boring (second from left) and have a tremendous amount of affection for the work of both men.
Friday, January 18, 2013
Last night, I watched a movie that had Gert Frobe, gold bars, a bank vault and an ingenious robbery plan in it. And no, I didn't watch GOLDFINGER for the eleventy-seventh time.
The film was $ (DOLLARS), a 1971 caper flick starring Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn. I remember seeing this film on first release at the Fox Theatre on Airport Blvd. I recall going to see the movie with my sister and her husband and their married couple friends. That's right, I was the tag-along little brother. While I remember seeing the film, I recalled practically nothing about it except for the climax which takes place on a frozen lake with Beatty being pursued by a car. So, when this film, unseen by me for forty-two years, showed up on TMC recently, I recorded it and gave it another look.
Filmed entirely on location in Hamburg, Germany, $ was written and directed by Richard Brooks, who gave us such great films as THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, IN COLD BLOOD and THE PROFESSIONALS (one of my all-time favorite "guys-on-a-mission" movie). Beatty stars as the head of security for an international bank in Hamburg. The bank, managed by Gert Frobe, is fully equipped with state-of-the-art security systems and is considered to be 100% robbery proof. Beatty, of course, has figured out an ingenious way to rob the bank.
Using help and information from his prostitute girlfriend (Hawn, in full ditz mode), Beatty plans to steal money from three specific safe deposit boxes, all of which contain "dirty" money deposited there by three different criminal factions: an American mob money man (Robert Webber), a crooked U.S. Army black-marketer (Scott Brady) and a German drug/money courier. Beatty figures if he steals from crooks, they can't go to the police for help.
The plan involves staging a fake bomb threat at the bank during which Beatty winds up locked in the safe deposit vault in order to safeguard one of the bank's signature gold bars. While in the vault, he robs the three boxes and puts all of his ill-gotten gains in another box belonging to Hawn. The next morning, Beatty and Hawn put the contents of the box into a shopping bag and walk out of the bank while the three crooks all open their now empty boxes and discover the thefts. They are not happy.
Brady and the German courier team-up to get Beatty and the final act of the film is comprised of one long running chase across Hamburg and most of Germany. Beatty runs. And runs. And runs. And runs. And....this just in from Reuters: Warren Beatty is still running somewhere in Germany. Of course there's a twist at the end (we all saw that one coming didn't we?).
$ is light-hearted, escapist fare, played as a mix of romantic comedy and crime thriller. Beatty and Hawn are fun to watch and the on-location photography adds to the atmosphere. Director Brooks keeps things moving briskly and handles the intricate robbery scheme and subsequent get-away well. A great film? No. An entertaining one? You bet.
Saturday, January 12, 2013
I finished reading SPACE ODYSSEYS yesterday. It's an anthology of science fiction short stories edited by British sf author Brian W. Aldiss. The paperback edition which I read (pictured above) was published in April 1978. The sub-heading tells it all: A New Look at Yesterday's Futures. Aldiss selected fifteen classic stories, almost all of which were originally published during the Golden Age of magazine science fiction, that is, the 1940s and 1950s with one entry from the '30s and a couple from the '60s. All the heavy hitters are represented here: Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Alfred Bester, Leigh Brackett, Arthur C. Clark, Walter M. Miller Jr., E.E. Smith and James Tiptree Jr., to name a few. Like almost every anthology ever published, the stories here are a mixed bag. Some are good, some aren't. Here's my scorecard.
The best: THE LAKE OF THE GONE FOREVER by Leigh Brackett, TIME IS THE TRAITOR by Alfred Bester and STRANGE EXODUS by Robert Abernathy.
The good: THE SENTINEL by Arthur C. Clarke (basis for 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and a story I've read before), REASON by Isaac Asimov, THE IMPOSSIBLE PLANET by Philip K. Dick, and THE UNFINISHED by Frank Belknap Long.
The okay: TO EACH HIS STAR by Bryce Walton.
The incomplete: GALACTIC PATROL by E.E.Smith (this "story" is comprised of excerpts from two longer Lensman novels by Smith and shouldn't be judged against shorter, complete works).
The tie-goes-to-the-runner: THE EMPRESS OF MARS by Ross Rocklynne and STAR SHIP by Poul Anderson are both interplanetary swords-and-blasters adventures that are good but very, very similar in style and execution.
The bad: AND I AWOKE AND FOUND ME HERE ON THE COLD HILL'S SIDE by James Tiptree Jr., I'M GOING TO GET YOU by F.M. Busby, THE BIG HUNGER by Walter M. Miller, Jr., and NIGHT WATCH by James Inglis. All of these stories are experimental in nature and don't really feature a protagonist or any real linear narrative in which something happens. They're the kind of stories I don't care for, in any genre.
Still I liked more stories (eleven) than I disliked (four) in this collection and that's a pretty good batting average.
Thursday, January 10, 2013
Obituaries for THE COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE (CBG) are to be found all over the Internet. Every comic book fan who ever had a subscription to this long running publication has a memory or two and some thoughts to share about the announcement yesterday that the next issue of CBG, #1699, will also be the last. Here are some of my thoughts on the matter.
I can't honestly say I'm surprised by this news. I doubt seriously that anyone who has been paying attention to what's been going on in the world of publishing, was caught unawares by this either. Over the last few years, the page count of the monthly CBG magazine had shrunk dramatically. The classified ads, once the very heart, soul and lifeblood of the publication back in the '70s and '80s, were for all intents and purposes no more. It took me less time to read an issue of CBG each month that it did any of the other magazines I subscribe to on a regular basis. There was less content in each issue that I cared about, less news, reviews and information that I couldn't get from any of hundreds of comic book related websites. In short, CBG as a monthly, printed publication, had become almost entirely irrelevant in the digital age.
Oh, to be sure, I still enjoyed reading the regular contributors, guys like Craig "Mister Silver Age" Shutt, Tony Isabella, Peter David and Andrew "Captain Comics" Smith. But long gone were the days of pages and pages of news, reviews, articles, columns and ads that once made CBG the essential comics related publication that it was.
I cannot recall with any degree of accuracy when I first subscribed to CBG. I do know that it was sometime in the early 1980s and the publication was still known at the time as THE BUYER'S GUIDE, or TBG when I ponied up my money for a subscription. In those days, TBG came out every other week and it was a huge affair, printed on newsprint and loaded with stuff you simply couldn't get anywhere else. There was no Internet in those days and other comics related publications all offered something different from what TBG had to offer. AMAZING HEROES and THE COMIC READER did a good job of keeping us up-to-date on new comics while Gary Groth and his writers at THE COMICS JOURNAL made sure to regularly piss on super-hero and other commercial comics of the day, leading several fans to dub the 'zine "The Comics Urinal".
TBG had news. It had reviews. It had columns. It had original artwork. It had articles on comics history. And most importantly, it had ads. Ads from established dealers and guys in their basement with a couple of long boxes. I know I bought comics from ads in TBG and likewise, I bought some small ads from time to time in an effort to sell some comics. Those ads met with limited success but it was in the classified ads that I scored big.
I regularly posted a listing in the classifieds (for years you got several free ads with your subscription). I advertised my list of comics for sale/trade and I got lots of responses. It was here that over the years, I established relationships with a multitude of trading partners across the country. I would regularly swap comics with guys like Craig "Mister Silver Age" Shutt, Marty Forbes, Juan Hernandez, Vance Toth, Frank Frleta and Dave Shrensky. If any of you guys are reading this, drop me a line and let's start trading again.
I still trade comics on a regular basis with Nelson Jimenez and Blake Long (hi guys!) and I always get good stuff from them. But the best trading partner I ever got from the classified ads in CBG is a guy named Gary Banks. Over the years, we've gotten to know each other pretty well and I'm proud to call him a friend. We don't trade as much as we used to but we still keep in touch via email. Several years ago, on a trip from Texas to West Virginia, Judy and I were able to meet Gary and his wife Arleen for lunch when our route took us through his home town in Alabama. It was great to finally meet this fellow comic book, horror movie and college football fan face to face. We had a blast.
Ultimately, it's those personal connections that I'll take away from my years of subscribing to and reading CBG on a regular basis. Comic books are great but friends are even better. I'd love to find some more connections like those I made through the CBG classified ads but since they no longer exist, I'll have to try a different approach.
If any of my regular readers are interested in trading comics with me, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll be happy to send you my list of comics for sale/trade and maybe we can get some trades going on a regular basis. I'd love to make some new comic book friends. How about you?
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
1952's Best Picture of the Year Oscar winner was Cecil B. DeMille's circus epic, THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH. The film was the basis for a television series of the same name that ran on ABC-TV from September, 1963 to May, 1964. The show starred the great Jack Palance as the ringmaster. I remember seeing a few episodes of the TV series in syndication many years after the show was canceled. Seems like they ran on Saturday mornings. I don't remember anything else about the series but I liked Jack Palance back then and still do. He's one of my favorite actors.
The 1952 film was theatrically re-released in the late '60s and I vividly recall seeing it then for the first time on the big screen at the Southwood Theatre on Ben White Blvd. The train crash sequence that occurs at about mid-point of the film was one of the most spectacular set-pieces I'd ever seen and it stayed with me for days. Over the years I've seen the film at least once on home video and a few years ago, we screened it at the Paramount. Judy and I went to see it and we both enjoyed it immensely. Charlton Heston and James Stewart are two of my favorite actors and it was a treat to see the film again on the big screen.
Did THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH really deserve to be awarded Best Picture of the Year that year? Probably not, but what's done is done. It's a fun movie, full of color, spectacle and the magic of the circus. It's the perfect film for the ten-year-old kid that, if you're lucky, is still alive somewhere within your soul.
IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, the Best Picture of the Year of 1967, was the first Best Picture winner to spawn a sequel. In fact, there were two films produced following HEAT, both of which starred Sidney Poitier reprising his role as detective Virgil Tibbs. The films were THEY CALL ME MISTER TIBBS! (1970) and THE ORGANIZATION (1971). And of course, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT was yet another Best Picture winner to become a television series.
Monday, January 7, 2013
Two trivia questions for you this time, both of which concern Best Picture of the Year Oscar winners.
1. Which Best Picture of the Year later became a weekly television series?
2. Which Best Picture of the Year was the first to have a sequel? Hint: there were actually two sequels to this film and neither one of them featured the Corleone family.
Legendary Russian playwright Anton Chekov once famously remarked that if you show a loaded gun in act one of a drama, it had better damn well go off in act three. Or words to that effect.
By the same token, when you begin a routine actioner such as NIGHTHAWKS by showing Sylvester Stallone in a dress (relax, he's an undercover cop), you just know that when the climax of the film rolls around and bad guy Rutger Hauer is after Stallone's ex-wife (Lindsay Wagner), that it's going to be Stallone (who is only shown from behind) in that blond wig and long bath robe. Yep, got that one right.
NIGHTHAWKS is a 1981 action film co-starring Sylvester Stallone and Billie Dee Williams as two New York City street cops who are recruited to a special counter-terrorism task force in order to combat the menace of Wulfgar (Hauer), a free-lance European terrorist who has moved his base of operations to the Big Apple. It's a semi-interesting look at urban terrorism decades before 9/11.
Along for the ride are Lindsay Wagner (who only appears in about three scenes and must have worked all of two days on the film) and Persis Khambatta (who apparently did have a film career after the disaster of STAR TREK: THE MOTIONLESS PICTURE, albeit not a very lengthy nor successful one).
Everything in this utterly routine film is predictable and by-the-numbers. Absent the violence and profanity, it could have been a made-for-television movie-of-the-week or an episode of any '70s-'80s TV cop show.
NIGHTHAWKS, which I watched yesterday afternoon is totally average, stunningly mediocre and imminently forgettable.
|I didn't see THE HANGOVER when it was originally released in the theaters a few years back. My nephew Ryan turned me on to it on a visit to my sister's house not long ago. I thought the first film was fresh, original and funny as hell. I laughed my ass off.|
When THE HANGOVER PART II came out in the summer of 2011, I debated about going to see it in the theaters and for whatever reasons, chose not to. This past Christmas, my nephew Ryan once again came through by loaning me his copy of the film. I watched it the other day and while I laughed uproariously several times, I didn't laugh as loudly or as often as I did while watching the first film. Why?
Well, for one thing, THE HANGOVER PART II is THE. EXACT. SAME. MOVIE. Different locale this time with the so-called "wolf pack" in Bangkok and Thailand but the film has the exact same narrative set up and story beats. The guys wake up in a strange place with no memory whatsoever of what happened the night before? Check. One of their group is missing? Check. Body alterations to one of the guys? Check. A live animal in the room? Check, this time a chain-smoking monkey wearing a sleeveless blue jean vest and chewing on a human finger. An attempt to re-trace their steps through the streets of Bangkok and figure out what happened the night before? Check. Mr. Wong jumping out of an enclosed space to attack the guys? Check. Mike Tyson? Check. Photos of the events of the night before running under the end credits? Check.
THE HANGOVER PART II isn't a bad movie but if you've seen and enjoyed the first film you're likely to be somewhat disappointed by the total lack of originality in this effort. The locale is different and it is funny but boy, it's awfully damn familiar. I kept hoping for something, anything, different to happen to shake up the rigid and formulaic story-telling on display here but it never did. Skip this one and watch the first one. If you've never seen THE HANGOVER, you're in for a treat. If you've seen it before, it won't hurt to check it out again.
Come to think of it, that's kinda what I did by watching PART II.
Friday, January 4, 2013
I finished reading RUNNING BLIND by Lee Child the other night. I read the entire book aloud to my beautiful wife Judy over the course of several weeks. This is a tradition at Casa Campbell and I've read dozens of books to her over the years.
RUNNING BLIND is the fourth Jack Reacher novel in the immensely popular series by Lee Child. I've now read the following Reacher books: KILLING FLOOR, DIE TRYING, TRIPWIRE, RUNNING BLIND, WITHOUT FAIL, ONE SHOT, THE HARD WAY, BAD LUCK AND TROUBLE, NOTHING TO LOSE and GONE FOREVER. There are now 17 books in this series so I still have a ways to go before I've read them all. I've enjoyed each and every one of these books immensely and each one gets my highest recommendation.
In RUNNING BLIND, Reacher is recruited by the F.B.I. to help catch a serial killer with a bizarre M.O. All of the victims are women, all are ex-military, all were victims of sexual harassment while in the service. They are all found nude in their own bathtubs, which are filled with camouflage green paint. There are no signs of violence, no physical evidence, no clues. The feds are stumped but Reacher puts it all together using his powers of deductive reasoning that rival those of Sherlock Holmes. Oh, and he also busts a few heads along the way.
RUNNING BLIND is a "spell-binder" of a who-dunnit which I highly recommend. If you're even mildly curious about seeing the JACK REACHER film starring Tom Cruise, please spend your movie ticket money on this book instead. If you've already read it, buy another Reacher book and read it. If you've already read all of them, buy one anyway and give it to someone who hasn't encountered this marvelous crime fighter yet. You'll make a lot of people happy: your friend, yourself, me, Lee Child and Jack Reacher.
I finished reading this one a couple of weeks ago but just haven't had the time to post about it.
SWAMP SISTER by Robert Edmond Alter was originally published by Fawcett Gold Medal books in the early '60s. The edition I read (pictured above) was reprinted by Black Lizard books in the late '80s.
SWAMP SISTER is a hard, fast and tight little crime thriller set in the swamps and backwoods of Florida. A small plane carrying two men and a suitcase full of cash crashes into the swamp at the beginning of the novel and the planes' final resting place remains unknown for several years. All the natives know is that somewhere out there in that green hell lies the "money plane" and several players are determined to find it.
The protagonist, a young man named Shad, discovers the plane and plans to get the money and leave the swamp for good. Of course, he'll take his slightly slutty, tramp of a girl friend with him (picture Yvette Vickers in ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES). Trouble is, Shad has to outfox a seductive older woman, a crooked insurance adjuster, two murderous rednecks and a monster gator in order to get the money and get away.
SWAMP SISTER has plenty of twists and turns, colorful dialect and a strong sense of place. The settings and characters make this an offbeat, but nonetheless enjoyable bit of pulp fiction. Recommended.
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
One half of a two-page spread depicting the wonderful, wacky and way-out Whiz Wagon, the conveyance of choice of the revived Newsboy Legion. This page is from Jack's first issue of SUPERMAN'S PAL JIMMY OLSEN. I'd love to have scale model replica of the Whiz Wagon!