Brian's Things That Are Cool!

Hey! I'm Brian. I like retro kinda stuff, and figured I'd start a blog where I could talk about everything from music and films, to American tall-tales and legends, and nostalgia in general. Also as a musician myself, it also gives me a chance to share my own music. So check it out!

July 5th, 2014 marks the 60th  anniversary of the recording of Elvis Presley’s “That’s All Right, Mama”. Many consider this to be the first rock & roll record.  In this episode, I take a look at Elvis’ famed “Sun Sessions”, and discuss his influences.  This video is for educational purposes. I do not own the rights to the clips used in this episode.  This episode is protected under the fair use law.

My new sounds:

My new sounds:

My new sounds:

Dwain Esper: King of the Celluloid Gypsies

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In the golden age of Hollywood there were A pictures, B pictures, and in the dark seedy underbelly of Hollywood there were schlockmeisters like Dwain Esper.   From the early ‘30s through the 1950s, Esper was the lowest of the low in the exploitation film genre, quickie films made to cash in by exploiting everything from music, nudity and drug use.  Esper’s background and reputation was that of a huckster.  His own his colleagues in the exploitation genre were embarrassed by his lack of shame.  He was known to swindle his colleagues out of money, and then invite them over to dinner to convince them not to sue him. His charm always worked, though one colleague described him as “the crookedest son of a bitch that ever walked the earth”.  Well, Esper was a carny, after all.   At one point Esper even exhibited the mummified body of Oklahoma Outlaw Elmer McCurdy, who died in 1911, and his corpse was shown around the country.  McCurdy even had a “star making role” on The Six Million Dollar Man in 1977, in which while filming a 1977 episode his body (thought to have been a wax dummy) was discovered by a crew member.  Esper’s entrance into cinematic history was less macabre then McCurdy’s story, but odd nonetheless.  Esper received a film lab in settlement of a debt in the early ’30s.  He soon discovered that if he could deliver a product that was not only risqué but dripping with sensationalism, that even in the midst of the Great Depression, people would line up to buy tickets. 

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So away he went, going on to make such classic films as The Seventh Commandment, Narcotic, Maniac, Marihuana, and, of course, Reefer Madness.   Some of these films were written by Esper’s wife, Hildegarde Stadie.  In fact, Hildegarde has a cameo in 1936’s Marihuana as one of the drug addicts at the roadhouse at the beginning of the film.  The most famous film Dwain Esper is associated with is Reefer Madness.  Reefer Madness was not actually made by Esper, but by a church group under the title Tell Your Children.  The film was made to be shown to parents as a morality tale attempting to teach them about the dangers of smoking Marihuana.  Shortly after the film was shot, Esper purchased the film and re-cut it for distribution (adding a touch of sex to the film) on the exploitation film circuit.  Esper’s films are entertaining today for their weak attempts to educate.  The message that most of the movies made by Esper and his contemporaries had was that the people who made them didn’t just want your money (most certainly that was the case) but meant to educate.  So what if there was nudity and depictions of petting parties, it’s EDUCATIONAL! 

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In reality, Esper took full advantage of Hollywood’s Production Code (or the Hayes’s Code), which restricted movies made by Hollywood from depicting anything deemed overly sexual, decadent, or controversial, by avoiding it altogether!  Esper did this by not distributing his movies to theaters.  He instead drew on his experience as a con man, praying on small towns or modest-sized cities. He’d spread the word about whatever film he was pushing, usually in an educational context, to be shown either in a tent outside of town or in a theater conveniently rented for one or two days.  His films were usually shown after a strip tease act by any woman who was willing.  Just as quickly as he came he would be gone again before local authorities could close him down for violating state censorship laws.  Then it was on to the next town to start all over again.  This method was called “four walling”, and he wasn’t always lucky enough to avoid being caught.   He was run out of more than a few towns in his day after just one showing of his films.   At one point, Esper even owned the rights to Tod Browning’s big-budget MGM picture Freaks, and displayed it in the same way. 

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After the Second World War, exploitation pictures were shown in theaters, but it didn’t hurt Esper whose business survived well into the 1950’s.   In the 1960’s a film distributor got a copy of Reefer Madness and started releasing it on college campuses.  The film became a camp classic when students started making 16mm dupe copies, and it started being shown all over the country.  Some colleges even started showing it as a midnight double feature with the Beatles ’film Yellow Submarine.  Unfortunately, Esper never made any money off of this “revival”.  He never bothered to protect the films copyright, and it remains in the public domain to this day.  His last film as a director was a “documentary” called Hitler’s Strange Love Life, to promote the film he took a ’37 Mercedes on the rode claiming it to be Der Fuhrer’s car.  Dwain Esper died on October 18, 1982. 

Today in history: R.I.P. George Reeves January 5, 1914 – June 16, 1959

Today in history: R.I.P. George Reeves January 5, 1914 – June 16, 1959

Here’s my cover of the Ivory Joe Hunter classic…

Regret” is my first attempt at a 50’s style ballad. Some day, I’d like to hear this with a vocal group behind it…

My new sounds:

Here’s one of my favorites by the late great Eddie Cochran…

Business School Mid-term Essay #1

**I know! I write about Walt a lot, but I just took my mid-term in business school and was happy with the way my essay came out…

Name a leader that you admire, and give examples of how he or she used the 5 practices of leadership:

When I think of people who have influenced me, and I think about leadership skills the one man that comes to mind as a great leader is Walt Disney.  Walt Disney World opened an attraction at its park that is a walk through museum on the life of Walt Disney. From that moment on I was inspired by not only his leadership skills, but his vision and creativity.  He is a personal hero to me. 

                Walt worked hard to promote his product.  He had a weekly television program in which he not only showcased his company’s work, but at times his “imagineers” were brought on to discuss what they were working on (as well as advances in technology).  It would be easy to just slap his name on the product and let that be it, but he was willing to showcase his hired talent in a national medium.  They worked hard because he worked hard. 

Most studio heads of the period sat behind desks, and let everyone else do their thing.  Not Walt.  Walt took a hands on approach to turning out the best product he could.  He invented animation storyboarding, and would often gather his animators together and act out how he saw the movie they were working on.  Pictures exist of Walt acting out the witch’s part from Snow White, for instance.  His vision inspired his animators and imagineers so much that he didn’t even have to go into much detail at times.  One of Walt’s favorite ways to describe a project was the use of the word “things”.  While laying out the plan for Disneyland he would say “we’re going to have a castle, a carousel and things!” It took a shared vision to know what he meant by “things”. 

        Walt was always ready to change the status quo.  Not because he was looking to do so, but because he had a vision of what he wanted to see. In doing so his company became the benchmark in family entertainment.  An example of a major change to the status quo was the 1937 release of Snow White.  Walt was inspired to make a feature length animated feature.  People told him he was crazy. In fact, the press dubbed the project “Walt’s Folly” and told him that no one would ever want to sit through a feature length cartoon because it would hurt their eyes.  Walt didn’t listen.  He was willing to take the risk because he had a vision.  His brother handled the task of getting the money together, which was a hard task in itself.  It paid off! When he allowed a distributor to see the finished film, he came out of the theater and said “Walt, that’ll make a hat full of money”.  He was right!  Snow White proved to be a great success. 

         Walt was always able to build solid teams to have his productions stand out from other companies.  He had the song writing talent of the Sherman Brothers, a great stable of actors, and then he had his animators.  Walt’s most famous team were his “nine old men”. Disney’s Nine Old Men, although they were only in their 30s and 40s, were Walt’s core animators.  Some would later become directors themselves.  These were the men Walt trusted, and they trusted Walt.

        Walt never gave compliments.  He would instead say “that’ll work” if he liked something or “what about this…” if he didn’t.  While a pat on the back may not have been given, this type of leadership did provide the men with a leader who was more hands on then other studio heads of the period.  As I stated in the beginning there are various clips of Walt showcasing the talents of his imagineers, some who are given time to talk at length about their projects.

Brian McTamaney

4/24/14