Thursday, April 8, 2010

Happy Birthday John Fante, L.A. Writer

John Fante (April 8, 1909 – May 8, 1983) was an American novelist, short story writer and screenwriter of Italian descent.


After many unsuccessful attempts at publishing stories in the highly regarded literary magazine, The American Mercury, his short story "Altar Boy" was accepted conditionally by the magazine's editor, H.L. Mencken. The acceptance of "Altar Boy" by The American Mercury was accompanied by a reply from Mencken that read: "Dear Mr. Fante, What do you have against a typewriter? If you transcribe this manuscript in type I'll be glad to buy it. Sincerely yours, H.L. Mencken."

By far, his most popular novel is the semi-autobiographical Ask the Dust, the second book in what is now referred to as "The Saga of Arturo Bandini" or "The Bandini Quartet." Bandini served as his alter ego in a total of four novels: Wait Until Spring, Bandini (1938), The Road to Los Angeles (chronologically, this is the first novel Fante wrote but it was unpublished until 1985), Ask the Dust (1939), and finally Dreams from Bunker Hill (1982), which was dictated to his wife, Joyce, towards the end of his life. Fante's use of Bandini as his alter ego can be compared to Charles Bukowski's character, Henry Chinaski. Bukowski was heavily influenced by John Fante.

Other novels include Full of Life (1952), The Brotherhood of the Grape (1977), and 1933 Was a Bad Year (1985; incomplete). Two novellas, 'My Dog Stupid' and 'The Orgy' were published in 1986 under the title West of Rome. His short story collection, Dago Red, was originally published in 1940, and then republished with a few additional stories in 1985 under the title The Wine of Youth.

Recurring themes in Fante's work are poverty, Catholicism, family life, Italian-American identity, sports, and the writing life. Ask the Dust has been referred to over the years as a monumental Southern California/Los Angeles novel by a host of reputable sources (e.g.: Carey McWilliams, Charles Bukowski, and The Los Angeles Times Book Review). More than sixty years after it was published, Ask the Dust appeared for several weeks on the New York Times' Bestseller's List. Fante's clear voice, vivid characters, shoot-from-the-hip style, and painful, emotional honesty blended with humor and scrupulous self-criticism lends his books to wide appreciation. Most of his novels and stories take place either in Colorado or California. Many of his novels and short stories also feature or focus on fictional incarnations of Fante's father, Nick Fante, as a cantankerous wine tippling, cigar stub-smoking bricklayer.

Fante's screenwriting credits include the comedy-drama Full of Life (1957), based on his novel of the same name, which starred Judy Holliday and Richard Conte, and was nominated for Best Written American Comedy at the 1957 WGA Awards[1]. He also co-wrote Walk on the Wild Side (1962), which stars Jane Fonda in her first credited film role, based on the novel by Nelson Algren. His other screenplay credits include Dinky, Jeanne Eagels, My Man and I, The Reluctant Saint, Something for a Lonely Man and Six Loves. As Fante himself often admitted, most of what he wrote for the screen was simply hackwork intended to bring in a paycheck.

In the late 1970s, at the suggestion of novelist and poet Charles Bukowski,[2] Black Sparrow Press began to republish the (then out-of-print) works of Fante, creating a resurgence in his popularity. When Black Sparrow was reconfigured on its founder's retirement in 2002, publication of John Fante's works was taken over by HarperCollins under the Ecco imprint, but not before Black Sparrow Press could publish the last of Fante's uncollected stories in The Big Hunger (2000). Full of Life: The Biography of John Fante was published by Stephen Cooper also in 2000, followed by The Fante Reader in 2003. Also available are two collections of letters, Fante/Mencken: A Personal Correspondence (1989) and Selected Letters (1991).

Legacy and Recognition

He is known to be one of the first writers to portray the tough times faced by many writers in L.A. Robert Towne has called Ask The Dust the greatest novel ever written about Los Angeles.

His work and style has influenced similar authors such as Charles Bukowski, who stated in his introduction to Ask The Dust "Fante was my god."[3] He was proclaimed by Time Out magazine as one of America's “criminally neglected writers."

In 1987, Fante was posthumously awarded the PEN USA President's Award.[4]

On October 13, 2009, Los Angeles City Council member Jan Perry put forward a motion, seconded by Jose Huizar, that the intersection of Fifth Street and Grand Avenue be designated John Fante Square. The site is outside the Los Angeles Central Library frequented by the young Fante, and where Charles Bukowski discovered Ask The Dust. On April 8, 2010, the author's 101st birthday, the Fante Square sign will be unveiled in a noon ceremony attended by Fante's family, fans and city officials.

Film and Theater adaptations

Dominique Deruddere directed the movie version of Wait Until Spring, Bandini, which was released in 1989. In March 2006, Paramount Pictures released Ask the Dust, directed by Robert Towne and starring Colin Farrell, Salma Hayek, and Donald Sutherland. In December 2006, a 2001 documentary film about Fante, entitled A Sad Flower in the Sand (directed by Jan Louter) aired on the PBS series Independent Lens. On January 18, 2001 the play, "1933" by Randal Myler and Brockman Seawell, based on the novel 1933 was a Bad Year, premiered at the Denver Center for the Performing arts.


The Road to Los Angeles (1933)
Wait Until Spring, Bandini (1938)
Ask the Dust (1939)
Dago Red (1940), short story collection
Full of Life (1952)
The Brotherhood of the Grape (1977)
Dreams from Bunker Hill (1982)
The Wine of Youth: Selected Stories (posthumously, 1985), Dago Red and short story collection
1933 Was a Bad Year (post., 1985; incomplete)
Road to Los Angeles (post., 1985)
West of Rome (post., 1986), two novellas
Fante/Mencken: John Fante & H.L. Mencken: A Personal Correspondence, 1932-1950 (post., 1989), letters
John Fante: Selected Letters, 1932-1981 (post., 1991), letters
The Big Hunger: Stories, 1932-1959 (post., 2000), short story collection


1.^ WGA Awards (Screen), 1957 at the Internet Movie Database
2.^ Gardaphe, Fred L. (2001), "John Fante (1909-1983)", in Gelfant, Blanche H., The Columbia Companion to the Twentieth-Century American Short Story, New York: Columbia University Press
3.^ Fante, J 1980, Ask The Dust, Black Sparrow Press, Santa Barbara. Introduction by Charles Bukowski.
4.^ PEN USA Awardees and Honorary Award Winners 1978-2005


Monday, April 5, 2010

Happy Birthday Lana Clarkson, Murdered Actress

Lana Jean Clarkson (April 5, 1962 – February 3, 2003) was an American actress and fashion model. Clarkson was a native of Los Angeles County. On April 13, 2009, songwriter and producer Phil Spector was convicted of second degree murder in relation to her death.

Early life

Born in Long Beach, California to Donna and James M. Clarkson, Lana Clarkson was raised in the hills of Napa Valley, California. She had a brother, Jesse J. Clarkson, and a sister Fawn. While living in Northern California, she attended Cloverdale High School and also Pacific Union College Preparatory School. During the Christmas season of 1978 and after her father's death, Clarkson's family moved back to Southern California and settled down in the Los Angeles region of San Fernando Valley. Right after Clarksons's family moved back to Los Angeles County, Lana pursued a career in entertainment industry as a performer and fashion model.

In the early 1980s, Clarkson landed bit parts in film and television. In 1982, she made her screen debut as a striking cameo character in director Amy Heckerlings coming-of-age comedy based on the Cameron Crowe book, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, as the wife of science teacher Mr. Vargas (Vincent Schiavelli). The film was her first speaking role. In 1983, she also peeks into the frame in "Scarface" behind Michelle Pfeiffer dancing the floor of the Babylon Club.


Clarkson's best known films may be her work with Roger Corman, appearing first in his fantasy film Deathstalker, as a female warrior/love interest to the title character played by Richard Hill. Corman oriented his films towards young male viewers, using a mix of action and female nudity. Clarkson's work in Deathstalker led to her being offered the title role in Corman's next film, Barbarian Queen, a role Corman referred to as "the original Xena" because of the parallel in featuring a strong female leading character in an action-oriented sword-swinging role. The film gained cult status, in part due to an infamous scene where Clarkson is bound topless to a torture rack, interrogated, and raped by an evil king.

In 1987, Clarkson appeared in the John Landis spoof Amazon Women on the Moon. Following that, Clarkson starred in Roger Corman's Barbarian Queen sequel, Barbarian Queen II: The Empress Strikes Back, though the plots and characters bore no resemblance to the other film. Filmed in Mexico, the movie featured mud-wrestling Amazon women, magic sceptres, and (like its predecessor) a lengthy scene where Clarkson is tortured topless on a stretching rack by an evil king. Clarkson received star billing in the film which went directly to video. Although sales of the video were low, Corman did manage to turn a profit.

In 1990, she starred as a supporting character in the period horror film Haunting of Morella as the evil attendant to a young woman played by model/actress Nicole Eggert. In the film, Clarkson played a dominating lesbian character who tries to resurrect the spirit of a witch burned at the stake during the Salem witch trials.

Clarkson's work in the B movie sci-fi genre inspired a cult following, making her a favorite at comic book conventions, where she made some promotional appearances signing autographs for her fans.

She appeared in numerous other B movies as well as a range of television spots and appearing in commercials for Mercedes-Benz, Kmart, Nike, Mattel, and Anheuser-Busch. Her television appearances include parts on Night Court, Silk Stalkings, Riptide, Three's Company, Knight Rider and Wings, and a guest appearance as a villain on the television adaptation of Roger Corman's film Black Scorpion in what would be her final role.

During her career, Clarkson traveled around the United States and Europe while working on high fashion photo shoots. Other projects took her to Japan, Greece, Argentina, Italy, Switzerland, France, Jamaica and Mexico.

In 1980's she volunteered weekly at the AIDS charity Project Angel Food which delivers food for those in Los Angeles disabled by HIV or AIDS, at a time when the disease was greatly feared by the general public.

As she approached her thirties, Clarkson's career began to stall. No longer able to earn a living as an actress, Clarkson sought alternate routes of income, including operating her own website on which she sold autographed DVDs of her films and communicated directly with her fans on her own message board. Although she made a living by playing busty, lusty women, Lana's fondest desire was to be cast as a comic actress.

Lana Clarkson's apartment building on the Venice Grand Canal
Lana Clarkson's Apartment on the Venice Canals

In 2001, while living on the canals in Venice, California for the last several years, Clarkson developed, wrote, produced, and directed a showcase reel entitled Lana Unleashed. To make ends meet, she took a side part-time job in early January 2003 at the House of Blues, in West Hollywood, California.

House of Blues West Hollywood
The House of Blues on Sunset Blvd.

Phil Spector's Castle of Blood
Phil Spector's Castle of Blood


On April 13, 2009, after two trials, Phil Spector was convicted of second degree murder, in relation to Clarkson's death, at Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in Los Angeles, California. Spector was sentenced to 19 years to life (15 years for second degree murder plus 4 years for the use of a firearm in the commission of a crime) on May 29, 2009 making him eligible for parole in 2028.

Lana Clarkson Interred at Hollywood Forever CemeteryClarkson's private funeral service was held on February 19, 2003 in Los Angeles, California. Her remains had been cremated and interred at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, in the Columbarium Rotunda attached to the Chapel in Hollywood. On February 23, 2003, her family and friends attended a memorial in her honor which was held at Henry Fonda Music Box Theatre in Hollywood, California.

Lana Clarkson Interred at Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Friday, April 2, 2010

Happy Birthday Jack Webb, Actor & LAPD TV Icon

John Randolph "Jack" Webb (April 2, 1920 – December 23, 1982) was an American actor, television producer, director and screenwriter, who is most famous for his role as Sergeant Joe Friday in the radio and television series Dragnet. He was also the founder of his own production company, Mark VII Limited.

Early life

Born in Santa Monica, California, Webb grew up in the Bunker Hill section of Los Angeles. His Jewish father left home before Webb was born, and Webb never knew him. He was raised a Roman Catholic by his Irish-Indian mother. One of the tenants in his mother's rooming house was an ex-jazzman who began Webb's lifelong interest in jazz by giving him a recording of Bix Beiderbecke's "At the Jazz Band Ball." Webb graduated from Belmont High School in Los Angeles. He then studied art. During World War II, Webb enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces. He served as a crewman on a B-24 bomber, then later a drill instructor.



Following his discharge at the end of the war, he moved to San Francisco to star in his own radio show on ABC's KGO Radio. The Jack Webb Show was a half-hour comedy that had a limited run on ABC radio in 1946. By 1949 he had abandoned comedy for drama, and starred in Pat Novak for Hire, a radio show about a man who worked as an unlicensed private detective. The program co-starred Raymond Burr. 'Pat Novak' was notable for writing that imitated, almost to parody, the hard-boiled style of such writers as Raymond Chandler, with lines such as: "She drifted into the room like 98 pounds of warm smoke. Her voice was hot and sticky--like a furnace full of marshmallows."

Webb's radio shows included Johnny Modero, Pier 23; Jeff Regan, Investigator; Murder and Mr. Malone and One Out of Seven. Webb did all of the voices on One Out of Seven, often vigorously attacking racial prejudice.

His most famous motion picture role was as the combat-hardened Marine Corps drill instructor at Parris Island in the 1957 film The D.I, with Don Dubbins as a callow Marine private. Webb's characterization in this role (Sgt. Jim Moore) would be reflected in much of his later acting.

Dragnet and stardom

Webb had a featured role as a crime lab technician in the 1948 film He Walked by Night, based on the real-life murder of a California Highway Patrolman. The film was done in semidocumentary style with technical assistance provided by Detective Sergeant Marty Wynn of the Los Angeles Police Department. The film gave Webb the idea for Dragnet.

With much assistance from Sgt. Wynn and legendary LAPD chief William H. Parker, Dragnet hit the airwaves in 1949 (running until 1954). It appeared on television from 1951 to 1959 on the NBC network. Webb played Sgt. Joe Friday, and Barton Yarborough co-starred as Sgt. Ben Romero. Yarborough's death early in the show led to his eventual replacement by Ben Alexander as Officer Frank Smith.

Webb was a stickler for attention to detail. He believed viewers wanted "realism" and tried to give it to them. Webb had tremendous respect for those in law enforcement. He often said in interviews that he was angry about the "ridiculous amount" of abuse police were subjected to by the press and the public. He said he intended to perform a service for the police by showing them as low-key working class heroes. Dragnet moved away from earlier portrayals of the police in shows such as Jeff Regan and Pat Novak, which often showed them as brutal and even corrupt.

Despite his reputation for accuracy, Webb wasn't above bending the rules. According to one Dragnet technical advisor, when the advisor pointed out that several circumstances in an episode were extremely unlikely in real life, Webb responded, "You know that, and now I know that. But that little old lady in Kansas will never know the difference." Dragnet become a successful television show in 1952. Barton Yarborough died of a heart attack, and Barney Phillips (Sgt. Ed Jacobs) and Herbert Ellis (Officer Frank Smith) temporarily stepped in as partners. Veteran radio and film actor Ben Alexander soon took over the role of jovial, burly Officer Frank Smith. Alexander was popular and remained a cast member until the show's cancellation in 1959.

Dragnet began with the narration "The story you are about to see is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent." At the end of each show, the trial verdict of the suspect was announced by Hal Gibney. Webb frequently re-created entire floors of buildings on sound stages, such as the police headquarters at Los Angeles City Hall and a floor of the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner.

In Dragnet's early days, Webb continued to appear in movies, notably as the best friend of William Holden's character in the 1950 Billy Wilder film Sunset Boulevard. In 1950, Webb appeared alongside future 1960's Dragnet partner Harry Morgan in the film noir Dark City. In contrast to the pair's straight-arrow image in 'Dragnet', they play a vicious pair of card-shark punks in Dark City.

In 1951, Webb introduced a short-lived radio series, Pete Kelly's Blues, in an attempt to bring the music he loved to a broader audience. That show became the basis for a 1955 movie of the same name. However, neither the radio series nor the movie was very successful.

In 1963, Webb took over from William T. Orr as executive producer of the ABC detective series 77 Sunset Strip. He brought about wholesale changes in the program and retained only Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., in the role of Stuart Bailey. The outcome was a disaster. Ratings fell and the series was cancelled in its sixth season.

Beginning in early 1967, Webb produced and starred in a new color version of Dragnet for NBC, this time for Universal Television, which packaged all his subsequent shows. Harry Morgan co-starred as Officer Bill Gannon. (Ben Alexander was unavailable, as he was co-starring in Felony Squad on ABC.) The show's pilot, originally produced as a made-for-TV movie in 1966, did not air until 1969. The TV movie was based on the Harvey Glatman serial killings. The TV series ran through 1970. To distinguish it from the original series, the year of production was added to the title (Dragnet 1967, Dragnet 1968, etc.). The revival emphasized crime prevention and outreach to the public. Its attempts to address the contemporary youth-drug culture (such as the Blue Boy episode voted 85th-best TV episode of all time by TV Guide and TV Land) have led certain episodes on the topic to achieve cult status due to their strained attempts to be "with-it", such as Friday grilling Blue Boy by asking him "You're pretty high and far out, aren't you? What kind of kick are you on, son?"

In 1968, in concert with Robert A. Cinader, Webb produced NBC's popular Adam-12, which focused on uniformed LAPD officers Pete Malloy (Martin Milner) and Jim Reed (Kent McCord), which ran until 1975. Webb also performed the classic "Copper Clappers" sketch during an appearance on The Tonight Show where a pokerfaced Joe Friday echoed Johnny Carson's equally-deadpan robbery report in which all the details started with "Cl" or least the letter C.

In the 1970s Webb began to expand his Mark VII Limited into other shows. The most successful of his 1970s efforts was Emergency!, which portrayed the fledgling paramedic program of the L.A. County Fire Department, The show become a huge success, running from 1972-79, with ratings occasionally even topping its time slot competitor, All in the Family. Webb cast his ex-wife, Julie London, as well as her second husband and Dragnet ensemble player Bobby Troup, as nurse Dixie McCall and Dr. Joe Early. There was even a cartoon spin-off, Emergency+4. However, none of his other shows launched in the 1970s lasted more than a year, and Webb placed Mark VII on hiatus, following the last of the Emergency! TV movies on NBC in 1979.

Personal life

Webb's personal life was better defined by his love of jazz than his interest in police work. His life-long interest in the cornet and racially tolerant attitude allowed him to move easily in the jazz culture, where he met singer and actress Julie London. They married in 1947 and had two children. They later divorced, and Webb would marry three more times.

Webb had married four times: to actress and singer Julie London (1947-54); to Dorothy Towne (1955-57), former Miss USA; Jackie Loughery (1958-64); and Opal Wright (1980- his death). He had two daughters with Julie London: Stacy (1950-1996) and Alisa (born 1952). Stacy Webb authorized a book, Just the Facts, Ma'am; The Authorized Biography of Jack Webb, Creator of Dragnet, Adam-12, and Emergency, by Daniel Moyer and Eugene Alvarez. It was published in 1999. Stacy did not live to see the publication of the book as she was killed in a car accident three years earlier.


Jack Webb began working on scripts for a revival of Dragnet with Kent McCord as his partner. However, he died of a heart attack in 1982 at the age of 62.

Jack Webb at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills
He was interred in the Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles, and was given a funeral with full police honors. On Webb's death Chief Daryl Gates announced that badge number 714 which was used by Joe Friday in Dragnet would be retired. Mayor Tom Bradley of Los Angeles ordered all flags lowered to half-staff in Webb's honor for a day, and Webb was buried with a replica LAPD badge bearing the rank of Sergeant, and the number 714.

Webb has two Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: for radio at 7040 Hollywood Boulevard, and for television at 6728 Hollywood Boulevard.


In homage to Webb, a photo of him can be seen in the Tom Hanks-Dan Aykroyd film Dragnet (1987), co-starring Harry Morgan.

His rendition of the song "Try a Little Tenderness" was included in the first of Rhino Records' Golden Throats albums.

Sgt. Dan Cooke was closely associated with Jack Webb. He originated some of the script concepts and was the technical director for a number of the Dragnet episodes. When Cooke was promoted to lieutenant, he arranged to be allowed to carry the "714" lieutenant's badge Webb carried during the 1958-59 season of the series.

Episodes of the original series were syndicated under the title Badge 714 to distinguish them from first-run network episodes still being broadcast when the show began being syndicated.

Jack Webb was originally sought after by director John Landis to be cast in the role of Dean Wormer in the movie National Lampoon's Animal House. According to an interview with Landis in 2005, he pitched the idea to Webb in person, frenetically describing and acting-out some of the various scenes and gags he had in mind. Webb merely looked back at Landis, drinking Scotch and smoking cigarettes. Ultimately Webb refused the role due to concerns about the movie's lack of respect toward authority.



Three on a Match (1932)
Hollow Triumph (1948)
He Walked by Night (1948)
Sword in the Desert (1949)
The Men (1950)
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Dark City (1950)
Halls of Montezuma (1950)
You're in the Navy Now (1951)
Appointment with Danger (1951)
Dragnet (1954)
Pete Kelly's Blues (1955)
The D.I. (1957)
-30- (1959)
The Last Time I Saw Archie (1961)
MCRD, San Diego (1973) (documentary) (narrator)

Short subjects:

Army Information Film No. 7: Code of Conduct - To Resist (1950)
The Challenge of Ideas (1961) (narrator)
A Force in Readiness (1961)
The Commies are Coming, the Commies are Coming (1962)
Patrol Dogs of the United States Air Force (1968) (narrator)
Star Spangled Salesman (1968)
"Is it worth it " 1970's US Postal Service training film (narrator)

Television work

Dragnet (1951-1959)
Dragnet 1967 (1967-1970)
O'Hara, U.S. Treasury (1971) (narrator) (pilot for series)
Escape (1973) (canceled after 4 episodes)
Project UFO (1978-1979) (narrator)


The Badge, Prentice-Hall (hardback, 1958)