Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac was born on March 12, 1922 in Lowell, Massachusetts. As the author of the infamous novel, On the Road, Kerouac became a leader and a spokesperson for the Beat Movement.

He was educated at Columbia University and the novel, On the Road - a semi-autobiographical tome of prose - exemplified the carefree, Beat lifestyle. The main character in this story hitchhikes across the country with his friend Dean Moriarty (inspired by fellow Beat adventurer, Neal Cassady) and enjoys casual friendships, love affairs and experiences. The non-materialistic lifestyles of the protagonists were embraced by many readers and helped propel Kerouac's status into an almost mythical realm.

He learned English as a second language: his parents were French-Canadian. He also spent some time in the Navy where he was then discharged due to possessing a schizoid personality. Soon after, he became a merchant seaman and then decided on the life of a vagabond, from which he obtained inspiration for his later novels.

His first book was published in 1950 and titled The Town and the City. It is said that Kerouac struggled with conformity and rejected the then contemporary fictional standards. On the Road was written in less than three weeks and demonstrated a fresh style. This new writing was spontaneous and seemed to be at times unedited. It possessed a strange energy that shocked more established writers but only brought Kerouac well-deserved recognition.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Friday, October 12, 2007

James Cagney

I've long admired his cocky attitude and herky-jerky movements, the epitome of rough and tumble manhood. Cagney's energetic acting style with staccato delivery and raspy voice became synonymous with the Hollywood "tough guy" role. Will Rogers once said of him, "Every time I see him work, it looks to me like a bunch of firecrackers going off all at once." He was a Warner Brothers mainstay for many years as the studio was setting the standard for crime drama (gangster flicks). He made 38 films for Warners between 1930 and 1941. However, Mr. Cagney was not content to play just one kind of part and proved his versatility by portraying George M. Cohan in the musical Yankee Doodle Dandy, for which he won a well deserved Oscar for his singing and dancing, as well as his acting. He also was a great light comedian in such films as The Strawberry Blonde and The Bride Came C.O.D..

James Francis Cagney, Jr., born on July 17, 1899, was the child of an Irish father and Norwegian mother and was raised on New York's Lower Eastside. He did many odd jobs to support his family. He worked as a waiter, poolroom racker, and even as a female impersonator. He joined the chorus of the Broadway show Pitter-Patter and did a vaudeville tour with Frances, his wife. In the mid 1920's Cagney had begun to play leads on Broadway. He was quite successful in the musical Penny Arcade and was cast in the renamed film version Sinner's Holiday. He was signed to a contract by Warner Brothers and his role as Tom Powers in The Public Enemy made him a star. He went on to star in such classics as Angels With Dirty Faces, The Roaring Twenties, White Heat, Love Me or Leave Me and Man of a Thousand Faces. He directed 1957's Short Cut to Hell. Cagney retired in 1961 after making the farce One, Two, Three. He received the AFI's Life Achievement Award in 1974, was honored by the Kennedy Center in 1980, and in 1984 received the United States government's highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom. His autobiography Cagney on Cagney was published in 1975. He made a big screen comeback in 1981's Ragtime and starred in the small screen movie "Terrible Joe Moran" in 1984. He died of a heart attack on his farm in upstate New York on March 30, 1986. President Ronald Reagan delivered the eulogy at his funeral and said, "America lost one of her finest artists".

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Peter Lorre as Mr. Moto

Mr. Moto was a mild-mannered, Japanese detective that was the basis for a series of eight films (1937-39) by Twentieth Century-Fox from the stories of novelist John P. Marquand. Peter Lorre portrays Kentaro Moto (I.A. Moto in Marquand's novels), who was very much unlike Charlie Chan in that he was the master of disguises and physically more active, often using ju-jistsu.

It is seldom clear for whom Moto really works. Perhaps it is the International Police. In the first two films, he refers to himself an importer. When asked if he is a detective in the film Think Fast, Mr. Moto, he replies that it done only as a hobby. On other occasions, Moto claims to be a confidential investigator for the International Association of Importers, a member of the International Police, a college lecturer in criminology, and a managing director of the Dai Nippon Trading Company, which probably serves as a front for his activities with the International Police. However, in The Return of Mr. Moto, it is clear that Moto works for Interpol. In the novels, he is a Japanese agent in the service of the Emperor.

Many of the actors and crew members who were associated with the Charlie Chan series at Twentieth Century-Fox were also involved with the Mr. Moto films. Most notable of the actors and actresses were Thomas Beck, Harold Huber, Erik Rhodes, Virginia Field, Murray Kinnell, and Lionel Atwill. Even Keye Luke, who had already appeared as Number One son Lee Chan in eight films with Warner Oland, reprised his role as Lee Chan in Mr. Moto's Gamble (1938), much of which was salvaged from Charlie Chan at the Ringside, a 1938 movie project that never was completed.

The following are the eight Mr. Moto films with Peter Lorre:

* Think Fast, Mr. Moto (1937)
* Thank You, Mr. Moto (1937)
* Mr. Moto's Gamble (1937)
* Mr. Moto Takes a Chance (1938)
* Mysterious Mr. Moto (1938)
* Mr. Moto's Last Warning (1939)
* Danger Island (1939)
* Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation (1939)