THOSE MILLION-DOLLAR MEMORIES

Garry and I both grew up in New York in the 1950s. That was before cable. It even preceded UHF. Television was black and white. We had seven channels: 2 (CBS), 4 (NBC), and 7 (ABC), the network flagship stations. Then, there was channel 9 (WOR RKO), the premium rerun and old monster movie channel along with channel 11 (WPIX). Channel 9 won my heart because it ran Million Dollar Movie.

Ah, the memories. You could say the Million Dollar Movie was an educational channel, if you consider movies educational. Which I do. Old movies, all in black and white because television was all black and white. I was, later in life, surprised to discover how many of these movies were made in color. Who knew?

My mother did not let my brother and I watch TV on school nights. Nor were we allowed to watch television during the day, even on weekends. She believed in fresh air, sports, and reading. What it really meant was I had to go to a friend’s house to catch the Saturday morning cartoons and great shows like “My Friend Flicka.”

Eventually, TV won and we all watched whenever and whatever we liked, but that was years in the future. Even early on, there were exceptions to the rules. The main exception was if we were home sick from school, we got to watch television all day. Upstairs in my parent’s bedroom and out of my mother’s hair.

72-Antique-Marilyn-Matthew-1952

That was when Million Dollar Movie came into its own. They showed one movie a week, but they showed it all day until midnight. For seven days in a row. The music theme for Million Dollar Movie was the Tara’s Theme from Gone With the Wind. The first time I really saw Gone With the Wind, I leapt from my seat shouting “Hey, that’s the Million Dollar Movie theme!”

I got tonsillitis with boring regularity. With it, came with a full week at home. Antibiotics and whatever was showing on (you guessed it) Million Dollar Movie. Which is how come I saw Yankee Doodle Dandy several hundred times. My bouts of tonsillitis coincided with their showings of Jimmy Cagney’s finest performance.

I didn’t know he made any other movies until I was an adult. That was when I discovered he had played gangsters. I was surprised. I thought all he did was dance and sing.

Why am I writing about this? Because we are watching Yankee Doodle Dandy. Again. Even though both of us can still sing all the songs and know every piece of dialogue. I think they made a “fake color” version of Yankee Doodle maybe 20 years ago. It was AWFUL. If you see it on one of your movie channels, do not watch it!

Does anyone know why this movie was made in black and white? It screams for color. It’s was not an el cheapo movie, either. They put a lot of money into the production. Someone really wanted it in black and white. I’d like to know why. Just saying.



Categories: Black & White, Entertainment, film, Movie Review, Movies, Television

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

21 replies

  1. I grew up in the Fifties with 3 channels, one snowy.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When I was a kid, we got only one channel well and another quite poorly. Each weekend, channel 5 from Saginaw Michigan presented “Saturday Night at the Movies,” with an old movie. I remember watching together as a family, and each time a commercial came on (which was often!), we’d see who could say, “Saturday Night at the Movies” first:)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have also watched Yankee Doodle Dandy countless times. It’s a grand old flick, isn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fandango, Cagney’s dance down the White House steps is worth the price of admission. He told me he rehearsed the sucker a long time with George M often looking over his shoulder — and, according to Cagney, he nailed it on the first take but director Michael Curtiz wanted backup takes. Cagney, the consummate pro, never complained.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I love it. We have it on DVD and whenever we need a “lift,” out it pops.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I have always loved all kinds of movies from a very young age, and remember local channels who did daily movie shows

    Liked by 1 person

    • Me too. It was on those old, bad prints with awful sound that I learned to love movies. But Million Dollar Movie was great because you could memorize the entire movie before your week was finished. Of course later, I discovered that had chopped out whole sections of the movie to make room for all the commercials. Not until DVDs came along did I discover what I’d been missing.

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      • so funny with time and perspective

        Liked by 2 people

      • OMG — I LOVE this post! So many wonderful memories.

        Like you, I grew up watching “Million Dollar Movie” on New York’s Ch 9 owned by RKO-General. They ran nothing but movies from the RKO film library. I think the most watched films were the original “King Kong”, “Gunga Din” and “Bringing Up Baby”. Little did I know that years later I would spend decades working for RKO owned TV stations.

        At one of those stations, Ch-18 in Hartford, Ct, I was a jack of trades. News co-anchor, photographer, writer, Public Affairs show moderator and HOST of “When Stars Were Stars”, my nightly version of “Million Dollar Movie”. I sat in the studio, surrounded by life-sized mannequins of Cagney, Raft, Bogie, Garfield (the actor-not the cat), Muni, Eddie G, Claire Trevor, Pat O’Brien and company. I would hold conversations with the celeb dummies as I talked about the featured movie. Cagney and Raft mannequins would square off in heated debate about who was the toughest mobster. I rattled off my motley impressions of these legends in what surely looked like “The three faces of Garry” to any outsider watching the proceedings. I sometimes became so embroiled with these tough guys that I’d work up a sweat just as I introduced the film. I could see the studio crew doubled over in laughter at my antics. Guess what? Ch 18’s miniscule audience absolutely loved my wacko antics with the celeb dummies. Some thought it was all REAL — that the legendary actors actually were in the studio with me. Yep!

        Word of my film hosting with dummies filtered back to Ch 9, The RKO Mother Station and home of “Million Dollar Movie”. I was invited to guest on Ch 9’s “The Joe Franklin Show”. If you are a native New Yorker, you’ll understand this was a big deal. Joe Franklin was a Ch 9, local TV icon who would have more than a 50 year run with that show before he passed and went to the Big TV network in he sky.

        The night I guested on Joe Franklin’s show, he had actor Joe Silver (Phil Silver’s brother) sitting on the guest couch. Franklin gave me an Ed McMahon type intro, emphasizing he was my mentor and guiding me to stardom. Joe Franklin was something of a Damon Runyon character. He had orange hair and spoke in machine gun Runyonese style with a broad New York accent. As I nodded to the invisible audience and sat next to Joe Silver, Joe Franklin kept talking me up as maybe the next Irving Thalberg. When I tried to reply to quirky questions, he’d interrupt with “Sher, sher, kid. Ya know that reminds me I also made Barbra Streisand a star. BEFORE ‘Funny Girl’. Streisand? Geez, kid, she never used deodorant. But I took care of her, kid. Sher, sher kid…you’re gonna be big, really big, ya can bet the house on it, kid.” I repressed giggles. We were “hot”, taping and I didn’t want to mess up my “big chance”. As I sat there, it became very surreal. I was on a very popular show, getting attention and I was desperately trying NOT to laugh at my revered host. My mind had segued to “Million Dollar Movie”, a Joe Franklin pet vehicle — and all my memories of watching classic movies as I grew up. I was lost in a memory of “King Kong” — watched a zillion times — when I realized Joe Franklin had asked me another question. I glanced at Franklin and Joe Silver and blurted out, “Fay Wray had a consensual affair with Kong”. Awkward laughter and Joe Franklin went to a commercial.

        “Million Dollar Movie” would never be the same again.

        I met Fay Wray when they released the mid 70’s remake of “King Kong” with Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange in the Wray role. Wray had a cameo appearance, I believe, in the remake. During the press gathering, I repeated the Joe Franklin/”Kong comment” I made. Ms. Wray, still quite lovely, burst into laughter, almost spilling her champagne. Truly, A “Million Dollar Movie” moment.

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      • Marilyn, I remember Ch 38’s “Movie Loft” show with host Dana Hersey. They ran “The Magnificent Seven” one night. The opening scene: The farmers riding into town looking for men. Men with guns. Why? The station’s movie manager had deleted the real opening scene which sets up the villagers plight with Calvera. I think he used the vega-matic to edit the film.

        Calvera? Who he? Why do they need men? Men with guns?

        The old man was right.

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    • Ditto, here, Beth.

      I remember actress Gloria DeHaven, a bit past her prime, doing “The Count And The Amount” on one of NY’s local stations. They used a phone book to randomly select contestants for their game which was wrapped around the movie of the day. DeHaven, as I recall, stuck to the script but sometimes offered a few Hollywood tidbits. I enjoyed it.

      I’m sure there are other examples.

      When I came to Boston for work in ’70, I realized there was no “The Late Show” – an institution on NY’s Ch-2 — before the era of late night talk/comedy shows. “The Late Show”, “The Late Late Show” and “The Late Late Late Show” offered quality classic movies every night. Sometimes I stayed up all night until Mom or Dad “beckoned” me to go to bed. Sometimes — way before VCR’s — I’d set my alarm clock for 3 or 4am to catch a favorite film, airing at an inconvenient hour. Ah, “The Late Show”. From here to fantasy.

      No such thing in Boston BUT — Ch 5/Boston did offer “The Great Entertainment” — Saturday Nights, beginning after their late local news. The host, a kindly, classy and urbane gent named Frank Avruch — decked out in a Tux for his duties — made my Saturday evenings so mellow and enjoyable. Frank Avruch knew his movies and I made it a point to compliment him and eventually became a friend. Think of him as a forerunner to the late Robert Osborne – who put his brand on Turner Classic Movies.

      TCM is my favorite Channel and I love listening to the various hosts with their “insider” slants on the featured movies. I think Eddie Muller – who is the film noir specialist — is the most interesting host on TCM. He really knows arcane goodies about noir movies. He has a very nice TV presence and you LISTEN to what he is saying about obscure writers and actors who contributed a lot to old Hollywood.

      Yes, Beth, I’d love to be a TCM host but – so far – no luck. Maybe I’m not trying hard enough.

      Top of the world, Ma!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Colourising old movies was quite a thing for a while. We have a DVD with both black & white and colourised versions of “Miracle on 34th Street”. Sometimes we watch one version and sometimes the other.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That particular colorized version isn’t bad. It actually looked almost like real color. The version of YDD was NOT one of the better ones. They colored the people, but the backgrounds were all black & white. It just looks strange — and the colors are all wrong, too.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Tas, I think Ted Turner was the honcho on colorizing films when he launched his cable stations.
      I recall having colorized versions of “The Santa Fe Trail” – an Errol Flynn western, the original “Miracle on 34th Street”. The Flynn western was okay colorized because of all the outdoor scenes. But “Miracle” suffered, the color was off in the VHS copy I had. I sure wish “Yankee Doodle Dandy” had been shot in color. No reason why it wasn’t. WB already had successfully turned out color films like Flynn’s “The Adventures of Robin Hood”, Flynn’s “Dodge City” and Flynn’s “Dive Bomber”. Maybe Flynn was in with Natalie Kalmus, the technicolor lady. Also, in 1942– “Yankee Doodle Dandy” was a big budget, big ticket film with public support from FDR as prestige entertainment for our nation in the throes of WW2.

      James Cagney, in the afternoon we shared, never seemed sure about why “Dandy” wasn’t shot in color.

      Ted Turner’s “Tiffany” station – TCM – does NOT run colorized films. They’re dedicated to giving us the classics in their original form BUT digitally remastered. They have saved many of the old talkies and silent films. Martin Scorsese and the UCLA film people have bonded to save many films that were turning to dust. Their efforts are to be applauded.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. AFTER SEEING CAGNEY DO GANGSTERS FOR SO LONG, A SINGING, DANCING CAGNEY WAS A HUGE GIFT. I LOVED THIS MOVIE. WHO KNOWS WHY THE DECISION WAS TO MAKE IT IN BLACK AND WHITE? SOME EXECUTIVE WANTED TO SAVE MONEY PROBABLY.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Normally, I’d assume it was to save money, but considering how much they’d already invested — this was an “A” movie if ever they made one — it seems kind of silly, especially since by the time they made this one, color was standard. I think doing it in B&W cost them MORE than doing it in color. It was just a very peculiar decision.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Marilyn, I vaguely remember Hal Wallis, in his bio, saying something about the on-going feud between Jack Warner and his brothers. It may have been that the Warner Brothers refused to put out money for “Dandy” color — just to spite Jack who many regarded as a loud-mouth boor. There was little love among the Brothers Warner.

        I met Julius Epstein, one of the key production people on “Casablanca”. Epstein was in Boston, plugging “Travels With My Aunt”. I jumped at the opportunity to spend an afternoon with Epstein to get lots of back stories about his old WB days. Epstein wasn’t a big Jack Warner fan. He credited Hal Wallis with getting lots of those WB classics done DESPITE interference from “Smilin'” Jack Warner.
        So, it could be that Jack Warner’s abrasive personality nixed his chances of getting the money needed to shoot “Yankee Doodle Dandy” in color. It remains a mystery.

        Like

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