Monday, September 09, 2013

Tales From the Crypt: The Entertainment Weekly Years

I had a very nice run contributing to Entertainment Weekly (a little over a decade beginning with either issue #1 or #2, if memory serves); the money was great, my editors were unfailingly helpful, and I could say pretty much whatever I wanted (space permitting). Of course, given the magazine's format -- which, as you may know, reduces every aspect of human experience to letter grades -- I can't say I'm particularly proud of anything I wrote for them, but I don't think I ever phoned anything in, and every now and then I chance across something I did for EW that makes me laugh a little.

Here's one of those things which seems relevant to our mission statement.

Actually, it's not from the magazine itself, but rather from the 1994 anthology pictured above, which was the work of all the usual EW suspects, myself included. In any case, enjoy if possible.

Elvis Imitators on Film

Cliff Richard in Expresso Bongo (1959)

The most successful of several British Elvis clones (among them Billy Fury and Dave Berry), Richard had his first starring role in this generally amusing satire in which he becomes an overnight sensation after being spotted by a small-time talent agent (Laurence Harvey). Pleasant surprise: Richard is genuinely charismatic and can almost act. B-

John Ashley in How to Make a Monster (1957)

Teen near-star Ashley (Frankenstein's Daughter) was low-budget studio American International Pictures in-house Elvis for several years, even though he had no discernible music or acting ability. Here he croaks his way through "You've Got to Have Ee-ooo" -- though whatever ee-ooo was, Ashley didn't have it. C-

Dick Contino in Daddy-O (1959)

Contino. an aging crooner trying to cash in on the rock & roll boom, sported a bad rug and affected a sort of Jack La Lanne-on-a-bender look for this teen-flick nonsense about drag racing and drug smuggling. Fortunately, Contino sings several ersatz rock numbers -- music by none other than John (Star Wars) Williams -- that are memorably awful, and costar Sandra Giles looks swell in a succession of pointy bras. C+

Jimmy Clanton in Go, Johnny, Go! (1959)

Despite his status as a footnote to rock history (actually, he had two nice hit singles -- "Just a Dream" and "Venus in Blue Jeans"), Clanton was one of the few faux Presleys with any talent. He was also goofy looking, which may explain why this fictionalized account of his discovery by legendary deejay Alan Freed devotes more time to great musical numbers by Chuck Berry, Ritchie Valens, Eddie Cochran and Jackie Wilson than to its nominal star. B+

Arch Hall Jr. in Wild Guitar (1962)

A hick rock hopeful comes to Hollywood with a guitar on his back and secures a record deal in about four hours, which sums up the realism quotient of this no-budget exposé of the music business. Adding insult to injury, star Hall (imagine Glen Campbell run through a trash compactor) sings several self-penned ditties that make "You've Got to Have Ee-ooo" sound like "A Day in the Life." D -- Steve Simels

Noted without comment: At least one friend and reader of this here blog is a huge Arch Hall fan and the proud owner of a CD of his complete recorded oeuvre.


Billy B said...

I actually like Richard's late 70s hit "Devil Woman".

Anonymous said...

Actually, if you want to read about a lot more movies with rock-and-rollers (and other musicians) in them, you should consult the 1994 book "Hollywood Rock", which spotlights about 300 of them. It features the work of about a dozen writers and was edited by Power Pop God Marshall Crenshaw, who also contributes the foreword and several entertaining reviews (my favourite is his bemused take on late 70s splatter flick "the Driller Killer".) It's a very informative, and trashily amusing, read.

J. Lag

Gummo said...

At least one friend and reader of this here blog is a huge Arch Hall fan and the proud owner of a CD of his complete recorded oeuvre.

Ahem. That would be me.

And you did Wild Guitar a disservice by running a photo from The Sadist, where Arch plays a (scarily convincing) murderous psychopath.

Wild Guitar is also notable for being the meeting ground for three of the great talents of early 60s Z movies: Arch Hall, Sr. on the one hand (writer, producer, director), his son as star and none other than Ray Dennis Steckler -- yes, Cash Flagg himself -- as director and co-star!

C'mon, it doesn't get much better than that!

One last note -- Junior, now in his late 60s, in on Facebook -- and is a raving right-wing conspiracy-loving Anti-Obama gun nut.

Mrs. Gummo had him friended for a while for his musical and family reminiscences (Senior was a fascinating guy) but had to back off when the wingnutty stuff got out of control.

steve simels said...

I am the proud owner of an autographed by Crenshaw copy of Hollywood Rock. Great book.

Anonymous said...

Crenshaw actually told me a few years ago that he'd like to do an updated version of that book, if an enterprising publishing company out there were willing to put up the money.

Anonymous said...

Last post by J. Lag

Anonymous said...

used to read Entertainment Weekly almost, well, weekly.

Haven't seen it in ages and picked up a copy of their "100 Best" issue, you know the hundred best movies, books, albums etc.

Number one album? Revolver. No problem. Number two? Purple Rain. No, seriously,it was f-in Purple Rain.