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Playlist: Listen, my friends ~ January 2014

January 1, 2014

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In the words of Moby Grape… listen, my friends! Yes, it’s the (hopefully) monthly playlist presented by George’s Journal just for you good people.

There may be one or two classics to be found here dotted in among different tunes you’re unfamiliar with or have never heard before – or, of course, you may’ve heard them all before. All the same, why not sit back, listen away and enjoy…

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CLICK on the song titles to hear them

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Julie Andrews ~ Auld Lang Syne (1973)1

Medley: Astrud Gilberto ~ The Girl From Ipanema/ The Standells ~ Bony Maronie/ The Dave Clark Five ~ Whenever You’re Around (1964)2

Pete Moore ~ Asteroid (Pearl & Dean cinema advertisements theme/ 1968)3 

Iron Butterfly ~ In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (1968)

Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 ~ Norwegian Wood (1969)

Family ~ The Weaver’s Song (1969)

Ron Goodwin ~ Main Theme from Where Eagles Dare (1969)

Stevie Wonder ~ He’s Misstra Know It All (1973)

Aerosmith ~ Sweet Emotion (1975)4

Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five ~ The Message (1982)

Salif Keita ~ Sina (1987)

Belinda Carlisle ~ Live Your Life Be Free (1991)

Slade ~ Auld Lang Syne (1985)5 

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1 Most likely performed on the US TV-broadcast Julie’s Christmas Special

2 From Get Yourself A College Girl (1964), a member of the now curious rock-‘n’-roll-bands-featuring-teen-movie genre, which also boasts performances by The Animals and a non-singing Nancy Sinatra

3 This is a bit of a cheat as composer Pete Moore’s original Asteroid theme was only 18 seconds long; this version was created recently by re-recording and significantly extending the original. However, it does impressively feature the same three male voices (‘ba-bah, ba-bah, ba-bah, ba-b-b-bah!’) as its 1968 predecessor

4 As featured over the opening credits of the awesome 1976-set school’s-out-for-the-summer classic flick Dazed And Confused (1993)

5 The bagpipes on this Hogmanay-cum-Celtic-centric take on the classic New Year tune (featuring the words of Robert Burns’ poem, of course) were played by one Victor Herman, discovered by Slade guitarist Dave Hill busking in Oxford Street, London. Hill immediately invited him to play on this track, which he did and, at the end of the recording session, the band gave him an envelope containing a sizaeable sum of money as thanks for his efforts. Days later, however, Herman returned the money, claiming performing on the record was enough for him. As a compromise, Slade invited him along to play at their ‘Christmas Party’ (the launch of the album from which this track comes, Crackers: The Christmas Party Album), an invite which Herman happily took up.

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50 years ago this year ~ that was when…

December 31, 2013

Christine Keeler

Bad times for a good-time girl: Christine Keeler poses for Lewis Morley’s iconic photo snapped at the height of 1963’s Profumo Affair in Peter Cook’s Establishment Club in London’s Soho

Too often, many dismiss the early ’60s as a continuation of the ’50s before the colourful, exuberant and blink-and-you’ll-miss it Swinging Sixties got underway in ’64, but that view does a great disservice to one of the most dynamic, surprising and eventful years of that – or frankly any – decade, yes, 1963.

So, in this third and final post of George’s Journal‘s trilogy of ‘retro reviews of the years’ to close 2013, join me in taking a look back at 1963 – the year when fascinatingly the ’60s began curling up the corners…

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CLICK on the entry titles for video clips

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December 26 1962-March 6 1963 ~ that was when…
Britain endured the worst winter in living memory

1963_winter_in_britain

Believe it or not, there’s one, single word that perfectly describes the start of Britain’s 1963: snow. Those who remember it recall it in much the same way as the seemingly unending summer of ’76, but for entirely the opposite reason, of course. It all started late on Boxing Day the previous year when – it must have seemed whimsically and cosily right on Christmas – the snow started to fall and heavily at that. By the turn of the year, the country was covered in snow drifts and, into January, the air temperature failed to rise above freezing (its average was -2.1°C), ensuring it was the coldest month of the entire 20th Century. Many waterways froze over, leading to a man driving a car across the Thames in Oxford and the Beeb speculating whether the Straits of Dover might freeze. In February, more snow piled up on that already frozen solid, ensuring in some parts the drifts were extraordinarily more than six metres deep. The biggest cultural effect of the astonishing winter (apart from more remote villages in the country stuggling against being totally cut off) was on the sporting calendar – some FA Cup football ties were rescheduled at least 10 times. But then come March, it was over as soon as it had started. On the sixth day of the month, Blighty experienced its first morning of the year without frost and the thaw verily began, ensuring the temperature rapidly rose to as high as 17°C. To say it was all snow joke is an enormous understatement – not to mention an exceedingly bad pun.

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February 11 1963 ~ that was when…
… The Beatles recorded their debut album in a day

1963_the_beatles_please_please_me

It’s rather hard to imagine in some ways, but once upon a time – and, relatively speaking, not that long ago – nobody outside of Liverpool (or Hamburg) had ever heard of The Beatles. Admittedly, you’ve got to go back 50 years now for when that was last the case because on this date in February ’63, John, Paul, George and Ringo recorded their very first album under the guidance of producer supremo George Martin at London’s Abbey Road Studios. It’s a mark of just how big they’d become that those studios would become synonymous with them (not least thanks to 1969’s Abbey Road album and its cover art), but back on that wintry day they were so definitely nobodies they were only allowed a single day-long sitting in which to record Please Please Me – between 10am and 11pm. After which the record was quickly mixed by engineers and released a couple of months later. The album then scaled the dizzy heights of the UK charts faster than you can say Mean Mr Mustard, eventually hitting the top spot like so many of its successors and The Fabs were on their fabulous way.

Read – and see and hear – more on The Beatles’ recording Please Please Me here

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June 12 1963 ~ that was when…
the world finally got to see Dick and Liz in Cleopatra

1963_cleopatra

It took three years to film; was the most expensive movie ever made for 25 years (inflation unadjusted; more than one seventh of its eventual budget of $44m was paid to star Taylor); was relocated for shooting twice (form Hollywood to London and then to Rome; the Carry On team didn’t mind its London sets had deteriorated – they filmed 1964’s Carry On Cleo on them); had several major casting changes (Burton and Rex Harrison replaced Stephen Boyd and Peter Finch) and saw its long-suffering, nay obsessed writer/ director Joseph L Mankiewicz fired and then re-hired to finish it (the studio 20th Century Fox realised nobody else could), all before it went on to become the only Number 1 box-office grosser of a year not to make an actual profit. Yet, although all these facts have rightly gone down in cinema lore and fascinate movie buffs, what really kept the punters of the day interested in the whole damn thing was its serving as the backdrop to the beginning of the stormy, extraordinary love affair of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The glamorous Hollywood insider since childhood, Taylor (whom, before the production had shifted to Rome, had become life-threateningly ill, delaying filming further but aiding her a somewhat sympathetic Oscar win for 1960’s Butterfield 8) was arguably the world’s biggest star; the Welsh valley-boy-done-good, Burton was easily one of the greatest stage and screen actors – and boozers – of his generation. They weren’t exactly chalk and cheese, but to the outsider they may not have been far off, yet even before anyone got to see Cleopatra or the pair became a sort of life-imitates-art Scarlett and Rhett over the years to come, for a gripped public their controversial affair (Burton was still married) was extravagant and electric. In the end, their scenes together in the film (like much in the, from the beginning, artistically doomed  project) hardly set the world alight – but isn’t so often the thrill of the chase more fun than the eventual clinch?

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August 8 1963 ~ that was when…
the Great Train Robbery was committed

1963_the_great_train_robbery

A generation born in the ’70s and ’80s has grown up looking upon Ronnie Biggs as a cheeky-chappy ex-pat living the high life in South America, while believing Buster Edwards was a groovy kind of lover who looked and sounded a lot like Phil Collins. Yet, contrary to perceptions formed from whimsy, Biggs and – especially – Edwards were players in a smartly planned if far from perfectly orchestrated, occasionally violent and breathtakingly audacious armed robbery of a Royal Mail train bulging with banknotes. As detailed so finely in the BBC’s recent double-header dramatisation of the event (made to mark its 50th anniversary), the amount of loot the job’s architect Bruce Reynolds and his gang got away with was staggering – £2.6m (the equivalent of £46m today). Nobody had ever got close to pinching that amount of moolah before – let alone of effectively Her Maj’s stash – yet the British public, gawd bless ’em, in a sign that things were a-changin’ (look out Harold Macmillan’s patriarchal government), viewed the robbers more as rascally scamps, even rather illogically as Robin Hood-like figures, than the violent villains who’d ripped off the entire country that The Establishment tried to paint them as. For this reason (in addition to the first of them caught being handed unprecedentedly large stretches in the clink), the robbery and its perpetrators have become the stuff of folklore; a link to an old-fashioned Blighty in which Cockney ne’er-do-wells sometimes came up against the powers that be and won. Sort of. The truth, of course, is that the robbery was actually the sort of hard-nosed crime (albeit without guns) very familiar to us today from an era less bygone, more on the verge of becoming the near recognisable UK of the more socially liberated, wealthier 1960s.

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August 28 1963 ~ that was when…
… Martin Luther King declared he ‘had a dream’

martin_luther_king_i_have_a_dream_speech

Already looked upon as the de facto leader of the US civil rights movement, Atlanta-born baptist preacher Dr Martin Luther King journeyed that sunny summer’s day to Washington DC with the thousands of other like-minded Americans hoping for a fairer, better future and topped an already near extraordinary march to the Lincoln Memorial by delivering there his extraordinary ‘I have a dream’ speech. A piece of statesmanship that still to this day can’t fail to raise the hairs on the back of your neck, it proved to be not just one of the defining moments of its year, but also of its entire decade – and may just have been the game-changer in the long road to the passing of unprecedented civil rights legislation in the Land of the Free.

Read – and see – more on Martin Luther King’s momentous speech here

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September 5 1963 ~ that was when…
… the Profumo Affair reached it zenith

Mono Negative

Surely the most significant – certainly the most sensational – thing to happen over here in ’63 was the Profumo Affair. In many ways (as the ‘Affair’ highlighted) Britian was a very different place to today’s UK, in others it wasn’t – for instance, the press was just as voraciously eager to unearth and bleed dry any political scandal it could lay its hands on, especially if it also involved illegality and sex. The Profumo Affair had it all. In 1962, the press caught wind that John Profumo, Minister for War in Harold Macmillan’s sitting Tory Government, had had an extra-marital affair with a beautiful and incredibly sexy would-be actress, model and showgirl named Christine Keeler. As the story progressed into ’63, the dots were joined and it became suspected Keeler and Profumo had been introduced by a London osteopath to the stars and party planner for them, Stephen Ward. At one such – and maybe more than one – party held by Ward, it was also established that a senior naval attaché at London’s Soviet Embassy, Yevgeny ‘Eugene’ Ivanov, was in attendance, and Keeler may have enjoyed a dalliance with him too. This being the height of the Cold War, the alarm bells rang for both the press and MI5 (whom questioned Keeler as to whether she may have been corralled into furnishing Ivanov with delicate information from Profumo, maybe even via Ward). In March, Profumo declared in Parliament that he was guilty of ‘no impropriety’, but just three months later he admitted he’d lied and resigned. Ward, who’d had a testimony filmed to defend the parties involved, was found guilty of apparently making earnings from prostitution (presumably involving Keeler, whom for a time had lived with him), but committed suicide before being sentenced. Then, on the date recorded above Keeler herself, to the unadulterated delight of the press, was questioned in court. The political fall-out was tremendous, in that it discredited Macmillan’s government (which was simultaneously being lampooned and ridiculed by the satiric likes of 1961-63’s That Was The Week That Was and the Beyond the Fringe performers), so much so that in October Macmillan resigned as PM and his party lost the following year’s General Election, which ushered in Harold Wilson’s more modern, progressive and unequivocally non-upper-class Labour government. Like with the Train Robbery, The Establishment had been rocked, but unlike with the latter, this time it had been – to some extent at least – knocked over.

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October 22 1963 ~ that was when…
Peter O’Toole played Hamlet in the National Theatre’s first ever performance

1963_peter_o'toole_hamlet_national_theatre

In 1948, the powers that be finally made good on British theatre’s ambitions to found an official National Theatre by giving the go-ahead for the, well, Royal National Theatre. Long before building actually started on the now universally acclaimed and adored bastion of UK arts on the South Bank, though, the thing finally got going in ’63 down the road at The Old Vic Theatre under the management of Laurence Olivier (who else?). And on this date the curtain rose on the Theatre’s opening production – a headline-grabbing version of Hamlet featuring in the lead Peter O’Toole (whom, straight after 1962’s Lawrence Of Arabia was the hottest thing since sliced bread). Yet, although great for publicity, O’Toole was generally considered far from a natural fit for the role, his blonde beauty and – especially – exuberant thesping a possible clash with the melancholia of the Bard’s greatest character. And that wasn’t to mention his boozing. Had Larry dropped a clanger? Well, following opening night, many critics were sniffy (Olivier himself had expected it), yet one was more than won over, for The Sunday Times‘ Harold Hobson wrote: ‘Great Britain may not yet have joined the Common Market, nor even adopted a system of decimal coinage, but at least in one respect … we are full and free in the main European tradition. The opening of our National Theatre … puts us side-by-side with at any rate France, Germany, Greece, Finland and Spain … If it is an equivocal thought that it has taken us well over a century to get level with Helsinki, it is comforting to reflect that we have in Hamlet a better play than any which these countries have written in the last thousand years’. Yes, the National Theatre was off-and-running, but surely nobody, least of all Olivier, could have envisaged the reverence in which it would be held half-a-century later.

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November 22 1963 ~ that was when…
… the world mourned the loss of JFK

1963_jfk

Tragically, of course, the already very memorable year that was 1963 had a sting in its tail – an event that would make it a momentous year; an event that would simply become infamous, the assassination of US President John F Kennedy. As practically anybody who’s switched on recalls or just knows, it occurred when he and First Lady Jackie were visiting Dallas, Texas, him dying within little more than minutes from gunshoot wounds sustained from a marksman’s rifle as they travelled in a motorcade through Dealey Plaza. To this day, it’s still far from clear, of course, whom the killer was – the smart money may still be on the man arrested for the crime (and murdered in full glare of the public and media just two days later), outcast Lee Harvey Oswald – thus conspiracy theories, including the likes of Soviet agents, the mafia and even the CIA and (ludicrously) Kennedy’s successor Lyndon B Johnson, rage to this day. What’s undeniable, though, is that just as it did when the civil rights legislation following Martin Luther King’s speech was eventually passed, America changed this sad, dark day. What’s also undeniable is that, astonishingly and far less well remembered, both towering British authors Aldous Huxley and CS Lewis died (from natural causes) on the same day.

Read – and see – more on the assassination of John F Kennedy here

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And finally…

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November 23 1963 ~ that was when…
… a sci-fi drama named Doctor Who was broadcast for the first time

1963_doctor_who_william_hartnell

The year didn’t entirely finish on a downer, though, for (remarkably when one looks back) just one day after JFK’s assassaination, surely the best loved of that select band of Blighty’s longest running TV shows began. Yes, it was at teatime (5.15pm) on this autumnal Saturday that the most legendary of the Time Lords made his bow in the guise of William Hartnell. It wasn’t an immediate success, believe it or not. In fact, it wasn’t until the debut in mid-December of those dastardly pepper pots from Skaro, the Daleks, that Doctor Who (1963-present) truly took off and became essential viewing for children up and down the land – and their parents. Indeed, had that second serial of the show not been an unadulterated hit, The Doc may’ve had to return his TARDIS to Gallifrey before he’d really got going. So, yes, that’s right, this was the very first – and so far definitely only – time The Doctor was saved by his most deadly enemy. Who’da thunk it?

Read – and see – more on the very first Doctor Who serial (An Unearthly Childhere, on the show’s 50th anniversary special (The Day Of The Doctor) and the drama based on its beginnings (An Adventure In Space In Time) here, and read this blog’s countdown of the show’s 10 greatest moments from its entire 50 years here

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US top 10 box-office

1. Cleopatra $57,777,778
2. How The West Was Won  $46,500,000
3. It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World  $46,332,858
4. Tom Jones $37,600,000
5. Irma La Douce $25,246,588
6. The Sword In The Stone $22,182,353
7. Son Of Flubber $22,129,412
8. The Birds $18,500,900
9. Dr No $16,067,035
10. The V.I.P.s $15,000,000

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UK top 10 best-selling singles

1. She Loves You The Beatles
2. From Me To You The Beatles
3. How Do You It? Gerry and the Pacemakers
4. I Like It Gerry and the Pacemakers
5. Confessin’ Frank Ifield
6. You’ll Never Walk Alone Gerry and the Pacemakers
7. Summer Holiday Cliff Richard
8. From A Jack To A King Ned Miller
9. The Next Time/ Bachelor Boy Cliff Richard
10. Do You Love Me? Brian Poole and The Tremeloes

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In memoriam…

Robert Frost (March 26 1874–January 29 1963)
Sylvia Plath (October 27 1932–February 11 1963)
Patsy Cline (September 8 1932–March 5 1963)
Max Miller (November 21 1894–May 7 1963)
Pope John XIII (November 25 1881–June 2 1963)
Pedro Armendáriz (May 9 1912–June 18 1963)
Guy Burgess (April 16 1911–August 30 1963)
Édith Piaf (December 19 1915–October 10 1963
Jean Cocteau (July 5 1889 –October 11 1963)
John F Kennedy (May 29 1917–November 22 1963)
Aldous Huxley (July 26 1894–November 22 1963)
CS Lewis (November 29 1898–November 22 1963)
Lee Harvey Oswald (October 18 1939–November 24 1963)
Dinah Washington (August 29 1924–December 14 1963)

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40 years ago this year ~ that was when…

December 30, 2013

awesome_album_covers_pink_floyd_the_dark_side_of_the_moon_animated

Us and them: prog rockers extraordinaire Pink Floyd united themselves with seemingly the entirety of the world’s record-buying public thanks to the release of their moody masterpiece – yes, the one with the above iconic light spectrum cover art – The Dark Side Of The Moon

You know, you can’t blame ’em. Peeps often look back on 1973 as one of the, well, crappier years of the Twentieth Century – constant union strikes across Britain, the Watergate scandal rocking the United States, the Arab-Israeli War igniting the Middle East and the oil crisis tipping the entire world towards recession. Yet, in spite of these unforgettable low-lights, the fourth annus of the ’70s offered significant cultural highlights too – many of which (even if we don’t remember them exactly occurring in this year) are recalled by folks with more than a smile.

So here we are then, in this, the second of George’s Journal‘s three retro ‘reviews of the year’ to conclude 2013, I give you, yes, 1973…

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CLICK on the ‘entry titles’ for video clips

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January 14 1973 ~ that was when…
Elvis said aloha from Hawaii (via satellite)

1973_elvis_aloha_from_hawaii_via_satellite

Ironically for a year remembered for a depressing recession, it actually kicked-off with a sunny and breezily nostalgic, global event thanks to the campy deliciousness that was Elvis Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite. Although actually not the first TV broadcast beamed live by the, at the time, highly space-aged seeming medium of Earth-orbiting electronic hardware (that was the one with The Beatles singing All You Need Is Love back in ’67), Elvis‘s shindig was still the first performance broadcast live via satellite by a solo performer. And, in spite of its ambitious aims (to reach 40 countries across Europe and Asia and turn around the faltering star’s fortunes) it turned out to be a roaring success. Impressively, there were no hiccups (just in case, a rehearsal had been taped two days earlier and The King had lost 25 pounds in its build-up) and the album it spawned Aloha From Hawaii: Via Satellite (1973) topped the US charts later in the year, thus giving Presley’s career the boost he and manager Colonel Parker had hoped for. Although it clearly must have achieved ginormous viewing figures, the estimation often trotted out that as many as 1 billion peeps tuned in has always been poppycock, as the combined population of the countries it was broadcast to only amounted to 1.4 billion. And surprisingly none of those was Elvis’s homeland of the US – Americans had to wait, thanks to a move to maximise viewers, until April 4, the day of the Superbowl, to catch it.

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March 1 1973 ~ that was when…
Pink Floyd took us to The Dark Side Of The Moon

1973_pink_floyd

Nowadays, to listen to the ultimate album for navel-gazing students from the ultimate navel-gazing rock band, it seems inevitable it became the inescapable icon we know it as. But back when it was released on this day, nobody really could have envisaged Pink Floyd’s eighth studio album Dark Side Of The Moon becoming the unstoppable runaway phenomenon that launched those nice middle-class boys from the Home Counties into the stratosphere. Don’t get me wrong, by ’73 they’d already made the heady transition from psychedelic oddity to arguable prog rock gods, but they were really on no higher a plain than the likes of Emerson, Lake and Palmer – Moon changed all that forever. The ’70s enjoyed its fair share of monster albums, all right – Carole King’s Tapestry (1971), Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973), Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors (1977) and, of course, The Bee Gee’s Saturday Night Fever (1978) among them – but none of them quite scaled the dizzy heights of the existentially angsty but utterly beautiful and brilliant Moon. Despite only topping the US charts for a solitary week, it managed to spend an incredible 741 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 album chart between ’73 and, yes, 1988. This clearly then makes it one of the best-selling albums of all-time in the US – but it holds that distinction practically everywhere else in the world too; in the UK it’s currently the eighth biggest unit-shifter. Overall, it’s sold around 50 million copies – ironic for a record one of whose most memorable tracks (Money) sarcastically berates man’s predilection for the old green bill.

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March 27 1973 ~ that was when…
… The Godfather picked up the Best Picture Oscar (but Marlon Brando rejected his)

1973_sacheen_littlefeather_at_the_oscars

It’s the Oscar ceremony – the 45th – that nobody has ever forgotten. Yes, the one at which a rightly rewarded Marlon Brando didn’t turn up to accept his Best Actor Oscar for playing Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather (1972), but instead sent a Native American woman Sacheen Littlefeather to read out a speech ‘on his behalf’ detailing his rejection of the gold little man. It was also the Oscar ceremony, however, at which director Francis Ford Coppola’s American mafia opus picked up a further two awards (Best Picture as mentioned and Best Adapted Screenplay), but not Best Director for Coppola himself. Somewhat oddly that went to master choreographer Bob Fosse for Nazi-themed musical Cabaret (1972) as well as a perhaps surprising seven further nods. Never mind, Franny, The Godfather Part II was just around the corner.

Read – and see – the full-story of Marlon Brando’s Oscar rejection here

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May 25 1973 ~ that was when…
Virgin Records was launched with Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells

1973_tubular_bells_mike_oldfield

For many, Tubular Bells will forever conjure up the image of Max von Sydow desperately attempting to pull Linda Blair out of her possessed state in William Friedkin’s visceral monster hit The Exorcist (1973), but maybe (in terms of its biggest legacy) it ought to conjure up the image of a rather self-satisfied smiley billionaire with a beard and a floppy mullet – namely one Richard Branson. For had he not chosen the prog rock-meets-bell-chiming opus from then utterly unknown multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield to open his fledgling record company, Britain’s most recognisable tycoon maybe would never have, well, become a tycoon. Having raised enough dosh from the Virgin discount record store he’d opened on London’s Oxford Street in 1971, Branson was in a position a year later to buy up an Oxfordshire pile and set it up as a recording studio, simultaneously allowing artists to record material there to be released on the Virgin record label he’d just set up. Oldfield came into contact with Branson via engineers working at the studio (known as ‘The Manor’) and Branson – liking what he heard of the work that’d be released as Tubular Bells, or maybe being slightly nuts as its commerciality had been dismissed by and all sundry already – thus picked it as Virgin Records’ very first release. The rest, of course (thanks in no small part to its opening theme being chosen by Friedkin as the theme for The Exorcist the same year giving it enormous publicity and aiding it to become the other enormously profitable music album phenomenon of ’73) is history.

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June 27 1973 ~ that was when…
Roger Moore debuted as 007 in Live And Let Die

1973_roger_moore_live_and_let_die

It was the role that had doomed poor George Lazenby to a lifetime of ‘nearly man’ status (despite his effort in the now 51-year-long film series being one of the very best), thus the conventional wisdom was nobody – absolutely nobody – could follow in Sean Connery‘s tartaned footsteps. Yet, in summer ’73, one man proved that notion very wrong indeed; he was smooth, he was suave, he loved a good (or more often) bad innuendo and could raise his eyebrow faster than Connery could say Jacksh Robinshon… he was Moore, Roger Moore. And his debut effort as 007 was a stonker of a Bond film, the Blaxpoitation-tastic, speedboat chase-fuelled, voodoo-themed spectacular Live And Let Die (1973). Indeed, to this day it remains – inflation adjusted – the sixth most successful 007 blockbuster at the box-office; you’ve surely got to raise a glass to that, giant explosion behind you or not.

Read – and see – more on Roger Moore’s casting as Bond here, a review of Live And Let Die here and a celebration of the film’s 40th anniversary here

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July 3 1973 ~ that was when…
David Bowie ‘retired’ Ziggy Stardust

David Bowie performing as Ziggy Stardust at the Hammersmith Odeon, 1973.

Ever since its launch at the Toby Jug pub in London’s Tolworth on February 10 1972, David Bowie‘s alter ego Ziggy Stardust had been an extraordinary pop culture creation – generating greater cult-like adulation from besotted teen fans than the multi-talented Bowie could have gained in his own guise perhaps, as well as serving as a shockingly red-mulletted and androgynously, outrageously attired persona into which Bowie could disappear as his fame became increasingly dizzying. Yet, following many a shocking and absurd on-stage antic (such as simulating fellatio on band member Mick Ronson’s guitar) and Bowie retreating into the character so much that he’d got into the habit of giving press conferences as him, he realised maybe for his own sanity enough was enough; it was time to ditch Ziggy. The trouble was that when he did so at a concert at The Smoke’s Hammersmith Apollo on the date above, right before fitting final tune Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide, he did so in a manner that suggested he and his band were retiring for good rather than them just retiring the Ziggy Stardust and Spiders from Mars band (“Of all the shows on this tour, this particular show will last with us the longest because not only is it the last show of the tour, but it’s the last show we’ll ever do, thank you” – click on ‘entry title’ above). Thus, along with hundreds of fans in the venue, the music and wider press got the wrong end of the stick. In hindsight, though, it may’ve been canny on Bowie’s part, as the announcement was clearly deliberately ambiguous, ensuring it’d grant him further headlines and even greater publicity. Still, with the death of Ziggy out went too in the blink of an eye one of the most organically electric and exciting periods in rock history. Ziggy was dead and that was that.

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October 17 1973 ~ that was when…
Poland’s ‘clown’ prevented England reaching the World Cup

1973_england_v_poland

If the hangover the England national football team suffered at the 1970 World Cup, after the champagne supernova of winning the ’66 World Cup, wasn’t bad enough, it got a hell of a lot worse three-and-a-bit-years later. For, on this autumnal night in ’73 (seemingly reflecting the union-strike-afflicted gloom into which the nation was fast sinking), the Three Lions sank to a new – and before then utterly unthinkable – low… they conspired somehow not to beat Poland at Wembley and thus failed to reach the following year’s World Cup. It’s a well-worn tale, of course, Bobby Moore’s replacement as centre-back Norman Hunter misplaced a pass and Poland took the lead… a lead they’d hang on to until the hour-mark when England finally managed to equalise through a penalty. But a 1-1 draw wasn’t enough; despite England’s 30 shots on goal – nearly every one of them batted away by the inspired goalkeeper who became a legend that night, Jan Tomaszewski – a winning goal wouldn’t come. The repercussions were tremendous; it spelled the end for England’s World Cup-winning manager and captain, Sir Alf Ramsey and Bobby Moore respectively. And with their departure was ushered in a new era of mediocrity and disappointment, as England failed to qualify for another World Cup for eight long years. And yet, it wasn’t all bad news, for the match proved a turning point for Poland, its result ensuring they qualified for West Germany ’74 instead, where, buoyed by the enormous confidence they’d gained that night, they only went on to finish third. Brian Clough had never been more wrong – Jan Tomaszewki and this teammates turned out to be human cannonballs rather than clowns.

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November 17 1973 ~ that was when…
Richard Nixon told the world he was ‘not a crook’

1973_richard_nixon_watergate

Ah, Watergate… the innocuous-seeming break-in at the eponymous Washington DC hotel that, through the tireless investigative journalism of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward (as terrifically detailed in 1976’s All The President’s Men), grew into the near unbelievable sh*tstorm that eventually engulfed then US President Richard Milhouse Nixon’s Cabinet – and in 1974 claimed his head too. Even by the end of ’73, however, its conclusion was some time off, for it was then – the clouds darkening rather than the wagons circling – that Nixon went before the TV cameras for a Q&A and decisively declared loud and clear to the people of America and the world that he’d done no wrong. “The people”, he said, “deserve to know whether their President is a crook – well, I’m not a crook”. Fair enough, that should put a lid on it. Only it didn’t. It was a big, fat whopper. He knew only too well what those under his employ had been getting up to in trying, through illegal means, to scupper the Democrats displacing him from the White House in the previous year’s General Election, so much so he’d been trying, also through illegal means, to cover it up. In that instant, thanks to (actually fairly swift) hindsight, Nixon had sealed his fate and his reputation for the rest of his life; following this and his resignation months later to avoid impeachment, he would forever be monikered ‘Tricky Dicky’, recalled as the crooked Prez. Nowadays (more so than ever surely), Americans expect their politicians to lie, let them down and more often than not be corrupt and – excusing the controversy and unpopularity Lyndon B Johnson courted in the ’60s thanks to the disparate combo of civil rights legislation and Vietnam – much of that started here. Nixon’s claim he wasn’t ‘a crook’ is the touchstone for politicians patently telling porkies to save their skin – and getting found out.

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And finally…

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December 15 1973 ~ that was when…
… 
Britain’s Christmas went glam

1973_slade_merry_xmas_everybody

By the end of ’73, held to ransom by the coal miners’ unions, the then UK Government of Ted Heath had no alternative than to introduce limits on non-essential energy use throughout the land from midnight on December 31 – yes, exactly when Big Ben would chime in 1974. A happy New Year was certainly not in prospect. Yet, as if in defiance of the candle-lit crappiness to come, Blighty seemed to prepare for the inevitable through that age-old method – it ignored it. To be exact, it indulged in a good old-fashioned Crimbo knees-up by embracing all the tinsel-tinged, bell-bottomed barmy brilliance of glam rock that dominated the music charts that December. Most memorably, of course, was the battle for the esteemed Christmas #1 between two of the last year or two’s biggest – and most colourfully, ridiculously clothed – bands, Slade and Wizzard, both hailing from the usually deeply unfashionable West Midlands. As is known by practically every bod in the country thereafter, the legendary Noddy Holder’s Slade triumphed, taking top spot with the inescapable Merry Xmas Everybody (click on ‘entry title’ above), while former The Move leader Roy Wood’s Wizzard claimed the #4 spot with the equally inescapable I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday. Not to be outdone, though, the (glam-related) rock star – and possibly the biggest music act in the world at the time – Elton John also released a Crimbo tune this year, yet bizarrely given it’s one of the season’s very best, Step Into Christmas managed to scale no higher than #26. Still, thanks to its glam credentials, Christmas ’73 is rightly recalled as a rather marvellous merry time, poignantly so too given the predicament the UK – and the wider world – found itself  in outside its blithely innocent bubble.

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US top 10 box-office

1. The Sting $156,000,000
2. The Exorcist $128,000,000
3. American Graffiti $115,000,000
4. Papillon $53,267,000
5. The Way We Were $49,919,870
6. Magnum Force $39,768,000
7. Last Tango In Paris  $36,144,000
8. Live And Let Die $35,377,836
9. Robin Hood $32,056,467
10. Paper Moon $30,933,743

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UK top 10 best-selling singles

1. Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree  Dawn
2. Eye Level (Theme from Van der Valk) The Simon Park Orchestra
3. Welcome Home Peters And Lee
4. Block Buster! Sweet
5. Cum On Feel The Noize Slade
6. See My Baby Jive Wizzard
7. I’m The Leader Of The Gang (I Am) Gary Glitter
8. I Love You Love Me Love Gary Glitter
9. The Twelfth Of Never Donny Osmond
10. Spanish Eyes Al Martino

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In memoriam…

Lyndon B Johnson (August 27 1908–January 22 1973)
Edward G Robinson (December 12 1893–January 26 1973)
Noël Coward (December 16 1899–March 26 1973)
Pablo Picasso (October 25 1881–April 8 1973)
Roger Delgado (March 1 1918–June 18 1973)
Nancy Mitford (November 28 1904–June 30 1973)
Betty Grable (December 18 1916–July 2 1973)
Veronica Lake (November 14 1922–July 7 1973)
Lon Chaney Jr. (February 10 1906–July 12 1973)
Jack Hawkins (September 14 1910–July 18 1973)
Bruce Lee (November 27 1940–July 20 1973)
John Ford (February 1 1894–August 31 1973)
JRR Tolkein (January 3 1892–September 2 1973)
Gram Parsons (November 5 1946–September 19 1973)
WH Auden (February 21 1907–September 27 1973)
Laurence Harvey (October 1 1926–November 25 1973)
David Ben-Gurion (October 16 1886–December 1 1973)
Bobby Darin (May 14 1936–December 20 1973)

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30 years ago this year ~ that was when…

December 29, 2013

1983_flashdance

What a feeling: the pop culture sensation of the year belonged to up-and-coming Hollywood producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, cute-as-a-button popster Irene Cara and the body of Jennifer Beals – it could only be the ultimate movie sleeper hit that was Flashdance

So you know how the media (TV, newspapers, magazines, radio and, yes, the Internets) are full right now of all sorts of different reviews of the year about to conclude? Well, I’m all for them (reflection on what’s been is often useful and interesting so we can chart where we are) and this year, yup, George’s Journal will be verily getting in on the act, but with a twist – for over the next three posts to be posted over consecutive days it’ll be reflecting on the highlights of specific years 10 years apart from each other from the ’80s, the ’70s and the ’60s. Effectively then, the twelve months that occurred 30, 40 and 50 years ago. Oh yes.

So, up first, mes amis, it’s 1983, which, when you immediately cast your mind back, may seem like not the most eventful year, but oh you’d be very wrong…

 

CLICK on each ‘event title’ for a video clip…

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January 17/ February 1 1983 ~ that was when…
… the Beeb and ITV gave us breakfast television

1983_breakfast_time_and_tvam

So 1983 kicked-off with a move by the UK media that, for me as an impressionable young ‘un, felt like it had dragged Blighty into the modern age – yes, breakfast television. The US had had it for years, of course, and as ever back in the ’80s, it’s introduction (like the glitz of ’80s Hollywood blockbusters) seemed to highlight just how much Blighty had been/ was lagging behind. But on that fateful morning in January, the Beeb finally put on something not just worth watching, but also fresh, bold and stylish with which dynamically to start each day. Well, sort of, given BBC’s Breakfast Time hosts included Frank Bough and David Icke. Still, at least on board too was the fashionable and coolly sexy Selina Scott – whom nowadays lives in Yorkshire and sells socks. And just a couple of weeks later, ITV got in on the act with TVam and its eggs-in-cups end-titles-icon. TVam lasted 10 years until it was replaced by GMTV, having survived near oblivion just two years after its launch when it was saved by the unleashing on to the world of Roland Rat, while nowadays BBC Breakfast’s a cosy, Middle-England affair with mumsily sexy Susanna Reid on the presenters’ couch. Ah, how things evolve – or revert to comfy type.

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February 28 1983 ~ that was when..
half of all Americans watched the M*A*S*H finale

1983_mash_final_episode

On US TV screens, this was easily the biggest deal of 1983. In fact, it could be argued it was US television’s biggest deal of the entire decade, given it managed to secure the highest viewing figures of any broadcast in the country’s history until the 2010 Superbowl. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story. For Goodbye, Farewell And Amen (the two-and-a-half-hour-long finale to CBS’s comedy drama adapted from Robert Altman’s 1970 Korean War satire, which ran for 11 seasons) managed not just an enormous 77% audience share of all viewers at the time, but was also watched by an utterly staggering 60.2% of all American households. By these more exacting statistics, it’s easily still the most watched broadcast in all American TV history. But what of the episode itself? Well, it was written – along with many other contributors – by its star Alan Alda (Hawkeye the prankster surgeon), whom also directed it. And, like many US sitcom finales down through the decades, it has a suitably moving conclusion, as the characters at last leave their Korean mobile field hospital for home, but – like all episodes of M*A*S*H – has its sledgehammer-like, darker moments too (one of which sees Hawkeye almost go insane). Indeed, its an encapsulation of just what an outstanding effort the show it concluded was – explanation maybe then of why so many Americans dropped everything to catch it.

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March 16 1983 ~ that was when…
… Michael Jackson moonwalked for the first time

1983_michael_jackson_moonwalk

One of the absolutely iconic moments of the 1980s this one, as in a few brief seconds of his performance of latest (and still brilliant) hit Billie Jean on the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today Forever TV special broadcast from the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, Jacko chicly shuffled across the stage as if he was being pulled backwards while wanting to move forwards. Dressed as he was in the dazzling black jacket and one white glove outfit that would become his defining look for always, he (surely unwittingly) managed to execute for some the coolest thing they’d ever seen – and maybe have ever seen. Looking back it seems like it was the thunderclap that triggered the tsunami of essentialness that Jackson became thereafter throughout the ’80s and maybe the watershed for the new MTV-driven hyper-commercialised American zeitgeist – although the first broadcast of that other Jackson-derived moment, the Thiller video, on MTV on December 2 the same year certainly rivals in those stakes.

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April 15 1983 ~ that was when…
Jennifer Beals (Flash)danced up a storm

1983_flashdance

Critics absolutely loathed it (and still do), would-be star Jennifer Beals didn’t actually do much of the impressive dancing her character does and the best of its publicity was far from orthodox, yet upon release Flashdance quickly became an utter phenomenon and trendsetter for the decade to come. A highly unlikely Cinderella story of how a female-steel-mill-welder-by-day and strip-club-dancer-by-night succeeds in becoming a dance conservatory student (although it may actually have been based on a real-life story – no really), the film gained notoriety thanks to film-clip-featuring videos of its songs being played on hip new youth channel MTV (Irene Cara’s Oscar-winning Flashdance… What A Feeling – see bottom video clip – as well Michael Sembello’s Maniac and Laura Branigan’s Gloria). Moreover, it was the first flick to be produced by the prodigiously successful pairing of Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer and kicked-off the (often Simpson and Bruckheimer-backed) ’80s craze for music video-like flashy visuals in movies. If all that weren’t enough, Beals apparently won the lead thanks to a Paramount Pictures big-wig asking 200 blokes working on the lot which of the three potential actresses (also including Demi Moore) they’d prefer to shag. Ironically then, not exactly a bastion of female empowerment it turns out.

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May 25 1983 ~ that was when…
… Return Of The Jedi concluded The ‘Wars

return_of_the_jedi_mark_hamill_as_luke_skywalker

Remember the days when George Lucas wasn’t a villain for ruining Star Wars, but a hero for bringing us the most satisfyingly complete three films of our young lives? When Yoda didn’t reappear as a younger self looking more like a Muppet cast-off, but instead tear-inducingly passed on before Luke’s and our eyes? When we hadn’t become head-scratchingly embroiled in the intergalactic politics of Coruscant, but instead Endor, the forest party moon of the Ewoks, was where it all ended? And not when Hayden Christensen lined up in a Ready Brek kid-like blue glow alongside Obi-Wan and Yoda, but when middle-aged Annakin simply and nicely did so? Yes that was back in ’83, when the original, innocent and fabulous Star Wars trilogy come to a close with the charmingly silly but still utterly awesome Return Of The Jedi. Prequels (and a whole other trilogy to come too)? Pah, who needs ’em.

Read – and see – more on Return Of The Jedi‘s 30th anniversary here

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June 9 1983 ~ that was when…
Thatcher got back in with a landslide

1983_thatcher_re-election_landslide

Quite frankly, were this not to have happened, the ’80s would not have been the ’80s in Britain. Mind you, there was little chance of it not happening, given the dubious bounce Thatch received from Blighty apparently whupping the Argies’ collective arse in the Falklands the year before and Labour deigning to drop into free-fall by turning to ultimate old-school socialist Michael Foot to lead them into near oblivion in the run up to this election. As noted, the consequences of Election ’83’s result were enormous – Thatcherism and its drive for fiscal rejuvenation through an increasing free market economy yet also an increasing social imbalance; the rise of The City’s significance and thus the emergence of the yuppie; privatisation and coal mine union take-down; Maggie and Ronnie snuggling up (ironically with Gorby) to tip the scales of the Cold War in The West’s favour; the adoption of iconic moderniser and/ or ‘The Welsh Windbag’ Neil Kinnock as Labour leader and, slightly less importantly, Spitting Image (1984-94) invading middle-England’s TV screens of a Sunday night. Hello to the ’80s, indeed.

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July 14 1983 ~ that was when…
Mario and Luigi came to arcades

1983_mario_bros_arcade_game

Along with Donkey Kong (1981), the first video game to feature Nintendo’s ubiquitous character Mario, the Mario Bros. arcade game was one of the very first ‘platform games’ – and the very first in which the dumpy, blue-and-red-dungarees-wearing Mario and his brother, the taller, thinner and green-dungarees-wearing Luigi, appeared as sole protagonists. Although only a modest success in Japanese arcades and crossing the Pacific to North America during the early to mid-’80s video game recession, it undoubtedly made its mark, spawning as it did one of the most enduring pair of pop culture icons of the last 30 years in the shape of its two Italian-American plumbers (whom here have to fight creatures emerging from New York City’s sewers). Two years later, Mario and Luigi switched to the home video game Super Mario Bros. and have since moved from mere ‘platform games’ to go-kart-racing, tennis, golf, role-playing and recently Wii games – in fact, Mario himself (the Mickey Mouse to Nintendo’s Disney) has to date astonishingly appeared in more than 200 video games. Just don’t mention the turkey that was the Super Mario Bros. movie (1993) – especially not to Bob Hoskins.

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July 27 1983 ~ that was when…
Madonna brought back dance music

1983_madonna

Amazingly, for the album that perhaps more than any other heralded the sound of Western chart music in the ’80s, Madonna’s eponymous debut long-player only hit a high of #8 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in October ’84 – well over a year after its release in the summer of ’83. However, thanks to her driving ambition and musical intuition, the 23-year-old – and a number of key collaborators (some of whom were former and current lovers, such as the marvellously monikered John ‘Jellybean’ Benitez) honed an upbeat synth disco sound for the album, while through its tunes – especially the not insignificant singles Borderline (US #10), Lucky Star (US #4) and, of course, the runaway success that was Holiday (US #16/ UK #2 – click on entry title above) – effectively came up with the sunny, perfect pop sound that practically every US and UK pop act wanted to emulate for the rest of the decade. There was more to it than that, naturally – the charisma of Madonna’s heartfelt, often soaring vocals, her New Wave-esque tomboyish sex kitten appearance and the sheer danceability of the tracks (thanks in no small part to her association over the last few years with some of New York’s hottest clubs) made Madonna‘s sound simply irresistible – it was hopelessly hip chart pop that teens and twentysomethings could dance to once more after the recent demise of Disco, as well as the kick-starter to the sound of the ’80s.

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And finally…

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December 11 1983 ~ that was when…
women took centre-stage as the Greenham Common protest turned ugly

Greenham Common

Although in sheer numbers, the 70,000 women whom formed a 14-mile-long human chain from Greenham Common to the Aldermaston nuclear weapons base on April 1 ’83 was the bigger event, the total encircling of Greenham Common on this day in December ’83 by 50,000 women has maybe gone down in history as the more memorable event. Why? Because this was the one that resulted in – unique for the time – the multiple arrests of female-only protestors. The whole shebang had begun two years before when a mere 36-strong Welsh group of women peace protestors decided to walk to the Common, following the decision in 1979 by NATO to ground cruise missiles at the RAF site. By ’83, an all-women peace camp had been established, with the intention it would remain there in defiance of NATO’s stance for the next two decades. On December 11, the thousands of women not only encircled the Common then, but also started to cut through its fence in a move deliberately orchestrated to get maximum media – and especially TV – coverage. It worked; by the end of the year there was nary a woman or man whom hadn’t heard of what was going on there. Sure, protest against The West’s drive to build nuclear weapons had been constant throughout the Cold War, but these protestors (and the fact they were all women) highlighted both the controversy of the Reagan/ Thatcher doctrine to heat up the delicate détente with the Soviet Union and the slow evolution of feminism (this major all-female protest being tied in philosophically with the role of the mother as chief child-carer facing down a potentially world-ending threat). Believe it or not, the peace camp only officially broke up in the year 2000, meaning it actually did endure at the site for almost two decades.

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US top 10 box-office 

1. Return Of The Jedi $252,583,617
2. Terms Of Endearment  $108,423,489
3. Flashdance $92,921,203
4. Trading Places $90,404,800
5. WarGames $79,567,667
6. Octopussy $67,893,619
7. Sudden Impact $67,642,693
8. Staying Alive $64,892,670
9. Mr Mom $64,783,827
10. Risky Business $63,541,777

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UK top 10 best-selling singles

1. Karma Chameleon  Culture Club
2. Uptown Girl Billy Joel
3. Red Red Wine UB40
4. Let’s Dance David Bowie
5. Total Eclipse Of The Heart  Bonnie Tyler
6. True Spandau Ballet
7. Down Under Men At Work
8. Billie Jean Michael Jackson
9. Only You The Flying Pickets
10. All Night Long (All Night) Lionel Ritchie

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In memoriam…

Dick Emery (February19 1915–January 2 1983)
George Cukor (July 7 1899–January 24 1983)
Billy Fury (April 17 1940–January 28 1983)
Karen Carpenter (March 2 1950–February 4 1983)
Sir Adrian Boult (April 8 1889–February 22 1983)
Tennessee Williams (March 26 1911–February 25 1983)
Hergé (May 22 1907–March 3 1983)
Donald Maclean (May 25 1913–March 6 1983)
Umberto II of Italy (September 15 1904–March 18 1983)
Anthony Blunt (September 26 1907–March 26 1983)
Gloria Swanson (March 27 1899–April 4 1983)
Buster Crabbe (February 7 1907–April 23 1983)
Muddy Waters (April 4 1913–April 30 1983)
Norma Shearer (August 10 1903–June 12 1983)
Chris Wood (June 24 1944–July 12 1983)
Luis Buñel (February 22 1900–July 29 1983)
David Niven (March 1 1910–July 29 1983)
Ira Gershwin (December 6 1896–August 17 1983)
Ralph Richardson (December 19 1902–October 10 1983)
John Le Mesurier (April 5 1912–November 15 1983)
Slim Pickens (June 29 1919–December 8 1983)
Dennis Wilson (Decemner 4 1944–December 28 1983)

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Retro Crimbo 2013: Humbug! 24 things you always wanted to know about A Christmas Carol, but were afraid to ask Scrooge

December 22, 2013

Ebeneezer geezers: four unforgettable faces of the on-screen Scrooge – clockwise from top right, Michael Caine’s Muppets-meeting über-miser, Alastair Sim’s classic incarnation, Jim Carrey’s post-millennial stop-motion effort and George C Scott’s marvellous made-for-TV version

Any regular visitor to this very blog will no doubt confirm that yours truly is rather fond of Christmas (hence its annual ‘Retro Crimbo’ seasons to be enjoyed/ endured every December). Thus, it’ll come as probably no surprise to any of you that my all-time favourite story is Charles DickensA Christmas Carol – I’m an utter sucker for not just its marvellous merriness, classic characters such as Scrooge himself, Jacob Marley, Bob Cratchit, The Ghost of Christmas Present and, of course, Tiny Tim, but also its stupendous structure and utterly infectious tone.

Yup, good news for me then that Carol is also rather a must with much of the wider world – actually, ever since its original publication. And what better reasons than its unbridled brilliance, huge popularity and the fact that this year it celebrates its 170th anniversary – yes, really – than to present you good, good people of Internet Land with my final pre-Crimbo blog post, a tribute to Dickens’ best loved tale; a post that offers 24 (yup, for the 24 days of December up to and including the day of Carol‘s setting, Christmas Eve) little known and essential facts about the timeless tale? What better way, indeed?

So, without further ado, let’s get underway, shall we? For as Tiny Tim (sort of) observed, Dickens bless us, every one…!

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1. A Christmas Carol was first published by Chapman & Hall of London’s The Strand on December 17 1843. It was released as an exquisitely produced, expensive book two days later, featuring four hand-coloured etchings and four black-and-white engravings by Punch artist John Leech.

2. Dickens began writing the tale in September the same year – and completed it in just six weeks.

3. The first print run of the book ran to 6,000 and sold out by Christmas Eve. By May 1844, the book was already on to its seventh edition – in total, 24 editions ran of the book in its original version.

4. Owing to a dispute Dickens had with his publishers over payment for his directly preceding work, the novel Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-44), he rejected a lump-sum payment when Carol was published, opting instead for a percentage of the profits. Bizarrely, the first run wasn’t hugely profitable and a year later Dickens had received from it only £744 (in the money of the day).

5. Along with the of Carol‘s first appearance, the Holiday season of 1843 saw the introduction of another soon-to-be perennial festive tradition – the first posting of the Christmas card.

6. Following the publication of four further Christmas books at the close of four of the next five years (all of which shared the secular-moral-conversion-at-Christmas-time template of Carol, but were slated by the critics), Dickens decided not to write any more and instead spread his, if you will, ‘Carol philosophy’ through public readings of his works, the first of which in 1853 was of an abridged version of Carol. These readings became a roaring success – in all, Dickens publicly read this version of Carol 127 times.

7. The four other Christmas books were The Chimes (1844), The Cricket On The Hearth (1845), The Battle Of Life (1846) and The Haunted Man And The Ghost’s Bargain (1848). Despite the critical indifference they generated, predictably the public lapped them up.

8. Obviously, Carol introduced to the world the name ‘Scrooge’ (quickly to become simply a synonym for the word ‘miser’) and ‘Bah, humbug!’ (an exclamation putting down a positive affirmation), but it’s also said the book significantly popularised the phrase ‘Merry Christmas’.

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a_christmas_carol_scrooge_and_marley_john_leech_1843 a_christmas_carol_first_edition_frontispiece_john_leech_1843 a_christmas_carol_scrooge's_third_visitor_john_leech_1843

Leech’s teachings: the socially conscious lessons offered by A Christmas Carol’s original publication are attributable almost as much to John Leech’s illustrations as to Dickens’ words

9. The inspiration behind Carol has been much speculated on. Some scholars suggest Dickens’ own upbringing – which involved giving up his schooling and selling his beloved books for a spell of working in a blacking factory, owing to his father being sent to prison for a stretch – as informing its strong socially-conscious, anti-workhouse/ anti-Poor Law stance, as well as inspiring much of his other work, such as Oliver Twist (1837-39), Nicholas Nickleby (1838-39), Bleak House (1852-53), Hard Times (1854) and Little Dorrit (1855-57).

10. It’s also said that because of his traumatising childhood, he both adored and demonised his father, which could have influenced both sides of Scrooge’s character – his post-haunting benevolent saintly side and his pre-haunting greedy, miserly side.

11. What’s unquestionable is a strong desire to tackle the causes of social injustice had gripped Dickens in the lead up to writing Carol. In early 1843, he visited tin mines in Cornwall, where he observed children working and suffering in appalling conditions, and then went to London’s Field Lane Ragged School, located near Tower Bridge and dedicated to teaching underprivileged, often illiterate children.

12. What convinced him of the need to write Carol it seems, though, was a talk he gave on October 5 at the Manchester Athenæum (a club founded for ‘the advancement and diffusion of knowledge’) in which he informed his audience the best possible way to improve the lot of the impoverished was for employers and workers to combine together and combat ignorance through educational reform – Dickens had grown to deplore the patiarchial conservative idiom ‘a little education is a dangerous thing’. Following the talk then, he realised the only way to reach the broadest possible audience was to write on the subject in an otherwise appealing story.

13. There’s also a couple of forerunners of Carol in Dickens’ back-catalogue. In 1833 he published in his semi-journalistic Sketches by Boz series an article called A Christmas Dinner, which bears strong resemblance to Carol‘s delight in detailing delicious, opulent seasonal meals, while an episode from the novel The Pickwick Papers (1837) contains the tale of how mean-spirited sexton Gabriel Grub is taught one Christmas to reform his ways by goblins showing him his past and potential future (clearly the resemblance to Scrooge’s experience here is uncanny).

14. Although it wasn’t as profitable as it might have been, on its release Carol was utterly acclaimed to the skies. In a February 1844 edition of Fraser’s Magazine, Vanity Fair (1848) author William Makepeace Thackeray wrote that Carol was: “a national benefit and, to every man or woman who reads it, a personal kindness. The last two people I heard speak of it were women; neither knew the other, or the author, and both said, by way of criticism, ‘God bless him!'”.

15. Moreover, author of Treasure Island (1883) and Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde (1886), the legendary Robert Louis Stevenson observed in a letter to a correspondent: “I wonder if you have ever read Dickens’ Christmas Books? … they are too much perhaps. I have only read two yet [one of which surely would have been Carol] and had a terrible fight not to sob. But oh, dear God, they are good – and I feel so good after them – I shall do good and lose no time – I want to go out and comfort someone – I shall give money. Oh, what a jolly thing it is for a man to have written books like these and just filled people’s hearts with pity”.

16. Most pertinent of all perhaps is this passage by John Forster in his 1928 book The Life Of Charles Dickens: “they [the public] poured upon [him] daily all through that Christmas time [December 1843] letters from complete strangers … not literary at all, but of the simplest domestic kind; of which the general burden was to tell him, amid many confidences, about their homes, how the Carol had come to be read aloud there and was to be kept upon a little shelf by itself, and was to do them no end of good”.

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Memorable misers: Albert Finney in 1970’s Scrooge musical, Scrooge McDuck in 1983’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol and Rowan Atkinson in 1988’s Blackadder’s Christmas Carol

17. Carol has, of course, been adapted for stage, film and TV innumerable times – it’s surely one of the most staged and filmed stories of all-time. The earliest were three stage versions that bizarrely all opened on February 5 1844, one of which was sanctioned by Dickens himself. By the following Christmas, eight versions were running concurrently in London and at least two in New York City.

18. According to one source, there have so far been 28 filmed versions of Carol. The first, a silent short made in Britain called Scrooge, Or, Marley’s Ghost, came as early as 1901, with a running length of just 6 minutes and 20 seconds. In 1910, inventor of the long-lasting lightbulb and the film camera, Thomas Edison made one too.

19. A very popular US radio play version starring Lionel Barrymore (Drew’s grandfather) was produced in 1934, while the first commerically-made sound recording of the text was read by Ronald Colman and released in 1949 (an excerpt from such a reading featuring Ralph Richardson and Paul Schofield can be heard by playing the video clip at the bottom of the post).

20. The most heralded film version came in 1951. Scrooge (or A Christmas Carol as it was simply titled in the States) was a UK version starring as Scrooge himself Alastair Sim – along with his St. Trinian’s film series co-star George Cole (of Minder fame) as the younger Scrooge. Apparently the movie was supposed to be first shown in the US at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, but surprisingly was passed over for being too depressing as Christmas entertainment.

21. Other famous adaptations, of course, include the Leslie Bricusse musical version (1970) for which star Albert Finney won a Golden Globe and which later was very successfully adapted for the stage; a CBS-produced TV movie version (1984) starring George C Scott; the Bill Murray-headlined modernisation that’s Scrooged (1988); a Blackadder Christmas special (1988) starring Rowan Atkinson and Tony Robinson; the Michael Caine-featuring The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), which rightly seems to become more popular every Crimbo; Robert Zemeckis’s Jim Carrey-mugging and motion-capture-showcasing hit film (2009) and even the 2010 Doctor Who Christmas special, in which Michael Gambon guest-starred as the Scrooge-like Kazran Sardak.

22. Dickens’ eternal tale has also played a significant role in inspiring other tales, two of the most prominent being Frank Capra’s glorious Hollywood classic It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) – which in turn inspired the plot of time-travel adventure Back To The Future Part II (1989) – and Dr Seuss’s storybook How The Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957). In addition, a 1979 book featured images of puppets produced by Fluck and Law (creators of the characters in 1984-94’s TV satire Spitting Image), which rather wonderfully if grotesquely recreated Dickens’ seasonal world.

23. Inevitably, Disney also took major influence from Carol in its character ‘Uncle’ Scrooge McDuck (uncle to Donald, no less), a character – although sporting a Scottish burr – undoubtedly based on Dickens’ Scrooge and originally featuring in Disney’s comic books from 1952 onwards. Uncle Scrooge even appeared in the full guise of his namesake in the charming short Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983), before going on to play a prominent role in popular TV show DuckTales (1987-90).

And finally…

24. And just to show the impact of Carol has spread as far and wide as humanly possible, if you’re anywhere near New York this Holiday season you may be delighted (or rather disappointed, given you’ve missed it) to learn that last Wednesday at a Big Apple venue the totally titular 5th Annual Naked Girls Reading A Christmas Carol took place. The girls were led in their narration by Nasty Canasta (“perhaps the loveliest and certainly the nudest Scrooge in history” according to the New York Times), whom herself claimed: “Dickens himself invented so many of our most cherished Christmas traditions and I’m sure he’d want to be part of this newest one. I’m certain he’ll be standing in spirit right at our… elbows.” Merry Christmas, indeed!

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The ruling class act: Peter O’Toole (1932-2013)

December 17, 2013

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The leading man: his looks and Hollywood heavyweight status may have faded in contrast to his alcoholic indulgences, but Peter O’Toole’s talent remained gloriously undimmed to the end

He was an instant icon for all-time, a hellraiser-and-a-half and an enigma who often displayed thesping talent admired as genius but who was also accused of  throwing away said talent at the bottom of too many bottles of booze. Overall, though, he was surely one of the greatest – if not the greatest – living British actor. He was Peter O’Toole. And he’s gone, having died two days ago at the age of 81 after an illness of several months.

In reality (in wonderful not-all-is-as-it-seems O’Toole style), he was Anglo-Irish rather than English, for apparently he owned two birth certificates each of which suggested he was born in either country. What’s undeniable, however, is he grew up in a suburb of the Yorkshire city of Leeds to an Irish bookie father and a Scottish nurse mother, ensuring whatever his official homeland the Celtic genes – and thus emotional connection – would always be extremely strong.

Indeed, he’ll rightly be forever associated with those fellow Celtic acting tigers, the Richards Burton and Harris; all three of them giant contemporaries of stage and screen, rugby lovers and drinking buddies. And all three of them were in one way or another victims of the dreaded drink.

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O’Toole’s health crisis came in his ’40s, when in 1976 he underwent surgery to remove his pancreas and part of his stomach – although the stomach cancer that precipitated it wasn’t actually a result of his boozing. Although this surgery led to diabetes and just two years later a blood disorder left him close to death, the great roles or – maybe more specifically – great performances far from dried up. For, in spite of his singularly unique, often theatrically-flourished, sometimes manic and always beautifully enunicated brand of thesping, he’ll always be recalled for extraordinarily being nominated eight times for the Best Actor Oscar across four decades and never winning.

The first nom came for his superstardom-launching turn as maverick British army officer TE Lawrence in David Lean’s epic masterpiece Lawrence Of Arabia (1962) – see above video clip. The next two came – again, rather extraordinarily – for the same character but in two different movies, England’s legendary King Henry II in Becket (1964) – opposite Burton – and The Lion In Winter (1968) – opposite Katharine Hepburn, apparently his favourite co-star, and in this humble blogger’s opinion the role for which he was most robbed by Oscar (see video clip below).

The nominations continued apace in the ’70s and ’80s. There was a sentimental take on the eternally appealing, eponymous WWI-era teacher of Goodbye, Mr Chips (1969), a hilariously mentally unhinged aristo in The Ruling Class (1972), the hugely egocentric nay insane film director of The Stuntman (1980) – see third-from-bottom video clip – and an Errol Flynn-esque (ahem) acting hellraiser in My Favourite Year (1982).

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More than 20 years later, the Academy seemingly realised their folly and offered him a ‘lifetime achievement’ award in 2003. At first he declined it, saying if he were 80 he’d probably accept it, but as he was 70 he reckoned he still had a chance of landing the ‘lovely bugger’ (he reversed his decision and did accept it). However, with marvellous irony he was somewhat proved right, as just three years later he was nominated again for his pseudo-autobiographical, randy and alcoholic autumnal thesp in Venus (2006).

Yet, O’Toole’s film career wasn’t just about nominations and awards (he won a string of them too – four Golden Globes, a BAFTA and an Emmy among them), as he was an undoubted movie star, playing a plethora of diverse roles. Over the years, he appeared opposite Peter Sellers and Woody Allen in What’s New Pussycat? (1965), Audrey Hepburn in How To Steal A Million (1966), Richard Rountree in Man Friday (1975), Burt Lancaster and John Mills in Zulu Dawn (1979), Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren and John Gielgud in Caligula (1979) and Helen Slater and Faye Dunaway in Supergirl (1984), as well as in the multi-Oscar-winning The Last Emperor (1987) and Pixar’s brilliant Ratatouille, to which he unmistakably lent his voice (2007).

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Away from cinema, he was just as big and significant a star of the stage. In fact, that’s where it all began for him – and that unquestionably being the reason why he was so accomplished. Winning a scholarship, he trained between 1952 and ’54 at the world renowned Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA), where he found himself in the same class as Albert Finney and Alan Bates – after rather oddly being turned down by Dublin’s Abbey Theatre drama school because he couldn’t speak Irish. Then he went on to make a name for himself in multiple classical roles at the Bristol Old Vic and the English Stage Company, before reaching the zenith of his stage career by playing Hamlet (1963) in the Laurence Olivier-directed first ever production of the latter’s National Theatre.

He fulfilled his ambition of eventually treading the boards at the Abbey Theatre in Waiting For Godot (1970) and, despite reputedly receiving the worst ever reviews in West End history for his performance as Macbeth (1980), later appeared as the Soho-bar-propper-upper in Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell (1989) to universal acclaim, going on to win an Olivier award for his efforts (see video clip below). The play was written by the noted Keith Waterhouse, with whom O’Toole had actually originally crossed paths in his first job as a trainee journo at the Yorkshire Evening Post, before he’d spent time in the Royal Navy for his National Service.

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Despite his predilection for a drink dismantling neither his health or career, it certainly played havoc with his private life. In 1959 he married sterling Welsh thesp Siân Phillips (scene-stealer of 1976’s classic BBC series I, Claudius) and, although the union lasted 20 years and produced two daughters (one of whom, Kate, became an accomplished actress herself), it proved stormy and came to an end owing to O’Toole’s (near-)alcoholism. Four years later he sired a son, Lorcan, with then model girlfriend Karen Brown, but this relationship too ended acrimoniously, the child being the subject of a protracted legal battle. Moreover, he reputedly turned down a knighthood in 1987, perhaps not surprising given his Irish identification and, as the Thatcher government was very much in power at the time, his generally Left-leaning politics.

In the end, though, it’s perhaps as the impossibly blue-eyed, brushstroke-like blond-fringed and utterly beautiful but brilliantly complex Lawrence that so many will immediately – and most like – to remember him. A young, terribly handsome, and terrifically electric actor in a tour de force performance whose iconoclasm has ultimately put everything else he did in the shade. But, as hopefully pointed out here, that’s far from the whole O’Toole story, which is far more complicated, contradictory and interesting.

Apparently, he tended to see himself as something of a romantic; a lover of the nobility and grandeur of acting, the purity of rugby and cricket (for which he successfully gained training badges) and a chap whose daily reading of Shakespeare ensured he was able to recite every one of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. So to quote the most notorious of those very sonnets (number 18, no less), sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines – and never more so than now, for as of two days ago this is where the late, great Peter O’Toole resides.

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Retro Crimbo: Julie Andrews/ Phoebe Cates ~ Festive Fancies

December 13, 2013

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Talent…

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… These are the lovely ladies and gorgeous girls of eras gone by whose beauty, ability, electricity and all-round x-appeal deserve celebration and – ahem – salivation here at George’s Journal

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Yes, like it or not, we’re all sliding into the inescapable seasonal snowdrift that’s Christmastime (is it me or has everyone willingly started earlier this year?), in which case here’s a real bobby dazzler of a prezzie from me to all you good, good people… a double pictorial tribute to the stars of a trio of (more or less) timeless yuletide big screen faves, namely the delightful Julie Andrews and the delicious Phoebe Cates. Welcome please then, peeps, the latest, yup, practically perfect pair to enter this blog’s Talent corner
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Profiles

Names: Dame Julie Elizabeth Andrews (real surname: Wells)/ Phoebe Cates Cline (née Phoebe Belle Cates)

Nationalities: English/ American

Professions: Actress, singer, theatre director, dancer and author/ Actress, entrepreneur and model

Born: October 1 1935, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey / July 16 1963, New York City

Known for: Julie  – playing the leads in the perennially-popular-at-this-time-of-year family musical classics The Sound Of Music (1965) and Mary Poppins (1964), the latter for which she won a Best Actress Oscar. Starting out as a West End child-star performing with her parents, she eventually moved Stateside to fill out the female leads in the Broadway productions of My Fair Lady (1956) and Camelot (1961), the latter opposite Richard Burton. Later, she consolidated her Hollywood success in flicks such as Torn Curtain (1966) and Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), before – following a career decline, during which she married ace comedy director Blake Edwards – she appeared in her spouse’s movies 10 (1979), as a transvestite stage performer in Victor Victoria (1982) and, seemingly in an effort to defy her cuddly persona, bared her breasts in S.O.B. (1981). In recent years, she’s played supporting roles in The Princess Diaries (2001) and The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004), lent her voice to the three Shrek sequels (2004, ’07 and ’10) and Despicable Me (2010), and directed an off-Broadway production of musical The Boy Friend (2003). She was made a Dame in the Queen’s 2000 New Year’s Honours List/

Phoebe – starring as hero Zach Galligan’s lovely love interest in the ‘anti-‘ Christmas flick Gremlins (1984) and its sequel Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1981), after gaining exposure (in more ways than one) in nudity-fest Paradise (1982), sex comedy Private School (1983) and teencom classic Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982). Initially starting out as a model, she appeared on the covers of magazines Seventeen and Teen Beat and later headlined the movies Drop Dead Fred (1991) and Princess Caraboo (1994), the latter opposite husband Kevin Kline, whom she married in 1989. After retiring to raise her children, she returned to the screen in The Anniversary Party (2001) as a favour to its actor-director and Fast Times co-star Jennifer Jason Leigh. Nowadays she runs a boutique she opened on New York’s Madison Avenue.

Strange but true: Despite her successes on Broadway, what really introduced Julie to America was her eponymous role in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical version of Cinderella, broadcast by CBS in 1957 – it bagged more than 100 million viewers; Phoebe’s father co-created the game show The $64,000 Question (1955-58) and her uncle produced several Academy Award ceremonies.

Peak of fitness: Julie – flirting with Dick Van Dyke‘s Bert as they enjoy their jolly animated holiday in Mary Poppins/ Phoebe – equally as cute as Gizmo in Gremlins she may be, but it has to be emerging from the swimming pool in that red bikini as the fantasy object of Judge Reinhold’s desire in Fast Times At Ridgemont High.

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