The goodies just keep piling up—for gift-giving or adding to your own library. I was delighted to contribute an essay about Mel Brooks’ career to Shout! Factory’s multi-disc set The Incredible Mel Brooks, but there is so much material in this collection I still haven’t gotten through it all. That’s OK with me because I can’t get enough of Brooks, and he ties the myriad video clips, documentaries, and retrospectives together in his inimitable fashion. The lengthy piece about his early career with Sid Caesar is worth the price of admission alone, but there’s much, much more, from an unsold TV pilot to his Oscar-winning animated short The Critic. Mel also traces the backstory of each one of his movies. Add to that vintage clips with Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett, guest shots on Mad About You, an audio archive and essays by Gene Wilder, Robert Brustein, and Bruce Jay Friedman and you have a cornucopia of All Things Mel. I love it.
For Buster Keaton aficionados, Kino Lorber has assembled all of its Blu-ray reissues of the silent short subjects and feature films into a juicy boxed edition, with College exclusive to the set until next year. As you may know, Kino hasn’t simply reissued its fine DVD releases but returned to original 35mm materials for brand-new transfers and commissioned new bonus features and essays. Every time you think you have the definitive edition of a Keaton title they add something more—and it’s well worth owning.
Even if you aren’t a Stoogeaholic I think you’ll find The Three Stooges: Hollywood Filming Locations (Santa Monica Press) by Jim Pauley to be a fascinating book. Jim asked if I would write an introduction and when I saw the material he painstakingly gathered—in the tradition of location specialist John Bengtson, whose books on Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd are the gold standard—I said yes. I never knew how many filmmakers relied on the Columbia ranch for backdrops, for instance, or how often the Stooges wandered just a few steps from home base on Gower Street in Hollywood to film some of their slapstick scenes. I lost myself in this volume and I suspect anyone who loves Hollywood lore will respond the same way.
Columbia is the same studio that backed producer Sam Spiegel and director David Lean when they set out to make Lawrence of Arabia. Now Sony, the studio’s parent company, has released a handsome, oversized Blu-ray gift set of that unforgettable film. I contributed a foreword to the handsome hardcover book that’s included, with never-before-seen photos and an informative text by Jeremy Arnold. As for the new 4K digital scan of the movie, it’s simply spectacular.
At the opposite end of the video spectrum, my old friend Ron Hall of Festival Films in Minneapolis has two new compilations on DVD: Golf Mania!, featuring comedy shorts starring Larry Semon, W.C. Fields, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, plus odds and ends on the links with everyone from Felix the Cat to Ben Hogan. Ron also has a seasonal offering called Heavenly Christmas with rare television films including a half-hour Star of Bethlehem produced and directed by its star, James Mason. Click HERE for more info.
For cheerful listening over the holidays I can’t think of a better choice than Richard M. Sherman’s Keys of Love (SolidAir), his latest collection of original piano compositions. Richard and his brother Robert gave us words and music we’ll never forget in Mary Poppins and other Disney films and theme park attractions. Here you’ll encounter light, lively mood pieces inspired by his travels and his relationship with his loving wife Elizabeth. They’re certain to put a smile on your face. For more information, click HERE.
If you never tire of reading about Walt Disney and his extraordinary career, you’ll want to check out It’s Kind of a Cute Story by longtime Imagineer Rolly Crump, as told to Jeff Heimbuch. Here’s a man who can tell first-hand stories about the origins of such enduring Disneyland attractions as the Haunted Mansion and the Enchanted Tiki Room, while providing a personal view of the “boss” who inspired them. Rarely-seen artwork and photos fill out this nicely-produced hardcover volume.
Ian Whitcomb is one of the few musicians who writes about music as well as he plays it, and Ukulele Heroes: The Golden Age (Hal Leonard Books) is proof positive. If you’ve never seen Ian perform, you’re missing a real treat; you can feel his enthusiasm in every page of this paperbound book that looks back at such giants as Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards, Johnny Marvin, and George Formby, as well as filling us in on Ian’s own uke odyssey, which predates the current (and welcome) ukulele revival. He writes colorfully and knowledgeably, and the book is dotted with wonderful photos and sheet music covers. What fun!
Speaking of colorful writers, there is no one in the known universe more vibrant and intriguing than Harlan Ellison, so when he asked me to provide an introduction to his unproduced screenplay None of the Above, I couldn’t refuse. I don’t read scripts, as a rule, but this one has the feel of an Ellison novel, because he can’t help but add descriptive prose to his dialogue and scene settings. None of the Above is an adaptation of Norman Spinrad’s Hugo Award-nominated novel Bug Jack Barron, which Universal Pictures planned to produce with Costa-Gavras as director. It’s a tale set in the recognizable near-future (even more recognizable now than when it was written, some forty years ago), and with a Presidential election just completed, it couldn’t be more timely. My introduction incorporates the backstory of how Harlan was hired for the assignment, how he approached it, and why it never saw the light of day. It’s available exclusively from his website as part of a signed two-book package at cafepress.com.
Finally, I’m overdue in plugging the book called The Dangerous Animals Club (Simon & Schuster) by Stephen Tobolowsky. It’s been several years since I discovered that this versatile character actor was also a superb spinner of yarns, on his podcast The Tobolowsky Files. He draws on his own experiences—and a remarkable memory of his childhood years—to tell mesmerizing stories about his life and show business career. Each one is like a feat of magic that starts out in one spot, circles around to other places, and manages to return and wrap things up in a uniquely satisfying way. He reminds me at times of Jean Shepherd and Garrison Keillor, but his voice is his own. While I’d encourage you to download his podcast (from iTunes or thetobolowskyfiles.com) I’m happy to say that his impeccably crafted pieces read just as well in print. This is his first book but I’m sure it won’t be his last.