Posts Tagged ‘Ian Tracey’

My Year End Wrap Up 2011

Another year comes to a close, so now it’s time to reflect back over what entertained me in 2011.  I just looked at the wrap up from last year, to get an idea of how far I’ve come in twelve months.  It’s clear that my focus has shifted in two directions.   I spent a large part of this year with my head in London, after watching the 25th anniversary concert of Les Misérables in March.  I also headed back to the past in a big way, once I started watching RetroTV and MeTV during a summer of unbearable television on the big networks.   These two obsessions have a major influence on my best and worst list of 2011.

Best Books:  Most of the novels I liked this year were written for children and teens.  I particularly enjoyed Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool (the 2011 Newbery Award winner) and Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John.  Guitar Boy by MJ Auch and Countdown by Deborah Wiles weren’t perfect, but they each stayed with me long after reading.  My favorite non-fiction book was The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean, which managed to make the periodic table interesting to someone who barely paid attention to science in high school.  The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan was a little book filled with some gems, and it goes into the “hard to categorize” category.  The funniest books were Demitri Martin’s This is A Book, and Heads You Lose by Lisa Lutz & David Hayward.  The biggest disappointments were The Sherlockian by Graham Moore and The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz.  The lesson here is to give up on Sherlock Holmes in books and stick to the BBC.

Best Television:  The Big Bang Theory remains my favorite sitcom, just for being consistently funny.  The best line: “Let’s hurry up and watch this Star Wars blu-ray before George Lucas changes it again!” (Sorry for the paraphrase.)  NCIS consistently underwhelmed me, and I’m can’t help wondering if I’ll give up on it soon.  In spite of my declaration to boycott Masterpiece on PBS, I still watched and enjoyed Downton Abbey, Rufus Sewell as Aurelio Zen, Jason Isaac as Jackson Brodie, and the Inspector Lewis mysteries.  I spent my summer wrapped up in the old series Da Vinci’s Inquest, and my winter has been dominated by reruns of The Rifleman.  Overall, the television program with the biggest impact this year was the Les Mis concert on PBS.

Best Twitter:  Last year, Matthew Gray Gubler was my favorite tweeter.  He’s still whimsical and original, but now most of his tweets are links to his tumblr page.  I hate tumbr, so this is a big strike against him.  Sorry, Gube.  West End performer Hadley Fraser can be great on twitter, but he goes quiet for long stretches.  Ramin Karimloo tweets with sincerity, but all those tattoo photos freak me out!  Matt Lucas, Josh Groban and Yigit Pura have been consistently entertaining, and Shah Rukh Khan’s twitter feed has a good balance of the personal and professional.

Best Movies:  I did slightly better than last year getting out to see new films on the big screen.  I really enjoyed X-Men: First Class, The Descendants, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.   I’m not sure The Phantom of The Opera 25th Anniversary simulcast even counts in this category!  At the Frameline Film Festival, I enjoyed Kawa and Spork.  I have many more late 2011 films to see on DVD when they’re released in 2012.

Best DVDs:  I watched a lot of bad DVDs this year, just because they featured actors that I liked.  I really need to get over this habit!  While not necessarily bad, I endured a lot of fighting and CGI in movies like Thor, Captain America, and Centurion, just so I could see actors Tom Hiddleston, Chris Hemsworth, JJ Feild, and Michael Fassbender.  I tried to watch all ten Best Picture Oscar nominees on DVD, but I faltered at 7½.  I did love The King’s Speech.  I hate to admit it, but I think my most entertaining DVD experience this year was re-watching JJ Abrams’ Star Trek with a friend.

Best StreamingDa Vinci’s Inquest and The Rifleman on hulu were great, even though I was also watching these series on broadcast television.  The worst: when Netflix split their charges for DVDs by mail versus streaming.  I tried a month of streaming only.  It was a disaster.  Nothing I wanted to watch would play without long pauses to reload.  Now that I’m getting DVDs only, the Netflix site doesn’t tell me what is available streaming only.  Netflix, you’ve got a long way to go before you win back my trust.  One free DVD rental for Christmas isn’t enough.

Best TheatreLes Mis and The Phantom of the Opera, obviously, even though I didn’t see either show live in an actual theatre.  I had some fun at San Francisco’s BATS Improv, especially seeing their Spontaneous Broadway.

Best Music:  I’ve spent most of my time listening to Josh Groban, Hadley Fraser, Sheytoons (Hadley Fraser and Ramin Karimloo), and Johnny Crawford.   Another favorite is the song Electricity from Billy Elliot (the stage musical).  Still, nothing beats Hadley Fraser singing Again.  The worst music this year?  Whatever was playing in the trailer for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  Gack.

Best Music Video:  It really doesn’t count, but I can’t help it.  I love Josh Groban Sings Kanye West Tweets.

Best Entertainment News:  Following the news from London about West End performers from the Les Mis concert has entertained me at least as much as the concert itself.  It brought me new friendships with fellow fans from all over, and it kicked off the practice of having guest bloggers here at The Ugly Bug Ball.  If I’m blogging less about the West End, it’s only because things are pretty quiet right now.  2012 promises some guest reviews of Ramin Karimloo as Valjean.

Entertainer of The Year:  Last year was easy.  This year, it’s difficult to choose.  Johnny Crawford is great, but he came along late, at the end of November.  I blogged the most often about Hadley Fraser.  He provided me with a rich variety of entertainment, between the Les Mis and Phantom of the Opera performances, the online news and tweets, the music recordings and the YouTube videos.  Still, Ian Tracey beats Fraser out for sheer volume.  Tracey has been working steadily since he was a teenager, and even without an online presence (no tweets, fansites, or facebook page) he provided me with the most hours of entertainment.  I’m going to have to declare a tie between Hadley Fraser and Ian Tracey.  Congratulations, guys.  There’s no prize, but you get my sincere thanks.  I’m sorry I can’t promise you my exclusive loyalty, because there’s always going to be a Johnny-Come-Lately waiting in the wings!

Hadley Fraser and Ian Tracey

Hadley Fraser as Grantaire in the Les Mis concert; Ian Tracey as Adam Worth in Sanctuary

Next: What I’m excited about in 2012.  Happy New Year, everyone!

More Actors, More Lists

My last post listed my 100 favorite British actors.  It was fun but exhausting to compile, since I had to rack my brain to remember them all.  Here are more lists of favorites, sorted by country of birth.  After the British actresses, I combined the men and women into one list.  All the lists but the Canadians are in alphabetical order by first name.  Next to the actor’s name is the movie or show that first had me sit up and take notice of them.  You’ll see German-born Michael Fassbender with the Irish, and Iranian-born Ramin Karimloo with the Canadians, so I cheated a little bit.  (It’s been known to happen.)

So many Canadian actors have become very well known after working in US productions, like Michael Cera, Ryan Gosling and Taylor Kitsch.  I like these actors, but I left them off my list.  I’m concentrating here on actors who I know primarily from Canadian productions.  Mostly.  Not always.   It may not be fair, but it keeps my list from getting out of control!

A couple of these actors are no longer with us.  They are missed.

British Actresses:

  1. Brenda Blethyn  (Saving Grace)
  2. Carey Mulligan  (Dr Who: Blink)
  3. Celia Imrie   (Kingdom)
  4. Charlotte Coleman   (Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit)
  5. Dawn French   (French & Saunders)
  6. Emma Handy  (London play: Vincent in Brixton)
  7. Emma Thompson  (Fortunes of War)
  8. Felicity Kendall   (The Good Life)
  9. Francesca Annis   (Reckless)
  10. Gemma Jones   (Bridget Jones’ Diary)
  11. Geraldine McEwan   (Henry V)
  12. Gina McKee  (The Forsyte Saga)
  13. Helen Mirren  (Prime Suspect)
  14. Helena Bonham-Carter  (Lady Jane)
  15. Honeysuckle Weeks   (Lorna Doone)
  16. Jane Horrocks   (Absolutely Fabulous)
  17. Janet McTeer   (Precious Bane)
  18. Jennifer Ehle   (Pride & Prejudice)
  19. Jennifer Saunders  (Absolutely Fabulous)
  20. Joanna Lumley  (Absolutely Fabulous)
  21. Judi Dench   (Henry V)
  22. Julia Sawalha   (Absolutely Fabulous)
  23. Julie Walters   (Educating Rita)
  24. Juliet Stevenson   (Truly Madly Deeply)
  25. Kate Winslet   (Sense & Sensibility)
  26. Katherine Parkinson   (Doc Martin)
  27. Keeley Hawes   (Spooks/MI-5)
  28. Minnie Driver   (Circle of Friends)
  29. Pauline Collins   (Shirley Valentine)
  30. Prunella Scales   (Fawlty Towers)
  31. Sophia Myles   (The Abduction Club)
  32. Stephanie Cole   (Waiting for God)

Least favorite British actresses:  Keira Knightley and Saffron Burrows

Irish actors:

  1. Aidan Turner   (Being Human)
  2. Chris O’Dowd   (The IT Crowd)
  3. Cillian Murphy   (The Wind That Shakes the Barley)
  4. Colin Farrell   (Tigerland)
  5. Daniel Day-Lewis   (My Left Foot)
  6. Dylan Moran   (Black Books)
  7. Gabriel Byrne   (Into the West)
  8. John Lynch   (The Secret of Roan Inish)
  9. Kenneth Branagh   (Henry V)
  10. Liam Neeson   (Rob Roy)
  11. Michael Fassbender   (X-Men: First Class)
  12. Saoirse Ronan  (Atonement)

Least favorite Irish actor:  Jonathan Rhys Meyers

Australians and New Zealander actors:

  1. Alex O’Loughlin   (Moonlight)
  2. Barry Humphries   (Dame Edna)
  3. Ben Mendelsohn   (Vertical Limit)
  4. Cate Blanchett   (Elizabeth I)
  5. Chris Hemsworth   (Star Trek)
  6. Heath Ledger   (Roar)
  7. Hugh Jackman   (Kate & Leopold)
  8. Karl Urban   (Star Trek)
  9. Melanie Lynskey   (Ever After)
  10. Noah Taylor   (Almost Famous)
  11. Simon Baker   (The Mentalist)

Canadian actors:

  1. Adam Beach   (Smoke Signals)
  2. Nicholas Campbell   (Da Vinci’s Inquest)
  3. Wendy Crewson   (The Good Son)
  4. Matthew Ferguson   (La Femme Nikita)
  5. Matt Frewer   (Max Headroom)
  6. Paul Gross   (due South)
  7. Dave Foley   (The Kids In The Hall)
  8. Ramin Karimloo   (Les Misérables concert)
  9. Bruce McCulloch   (The Kids In The Hall)
  10. Callum Keith Rennie   (due South)
  11. Sebastian Spence   (First Wave)
  12. Scott Thompson   (The Kids In The Hall)
  13. Ian Tracey   (X-Files: The Walk)

Tracking Tracey

Ian Tracey as Jimmy Reardon in IntelligenceI’ve been busy this summer watching Canadian character actor Ian Tracey in his many television and movie roles, a daunting task when you consider that he’s been acting for 35 years. You may not be familiar with the name, but you might recognize the face. He’s very distinctive looking, with a wide weathered face, a furrowed brow, and a large gap in his front teeth. He’s not very tall. He reminds me of a pit bull, and I mean that in best possible way. Tracey has a gruff voice and he’s not a classically trained actor, so he’s perfectly suited to play blue collar, regular-guy types. He’s played cops, criminals, bar owners, fishermen, sociopaths, soldiers, homeless guys, and henchmen. He is able to convey a dangerous menace, so it’s not ridiculous when he shoves around a guy who’s much bigger.

Tracey first came to my attention on The X-Files, when he guest starred in the episode The Walk. He played a bitter vet in a VA hospital with no arms or legs. If I hadn’t been so focused on Johnny Depp, I would have noticed him a decade earlier in his four appearances on 21 Jump Street. Tracey is based in Vancouver, and both of these American television shows were filmed there.

Ian Tracey as Huck Finn

Huck Finn

Ian Tracey began his career as a child actor. I’ve already discussed Tracey’s first television series, Huckleberry Finn and His Friends.  I found this series on YouTube, where I also discovered his 1976 film Dreamspeaker, which is one of the most depressing movies I’ve ever watched. I even found stills from Tracey’s first film, The Keeper with Christopher Lee. Watching the YouTube trailer to the cheesy series Tropical Heat (a.k.a Sweating Bullets) led me to buy the third season on DVD at a bargain price, but I can’t bear to write about it. I’ll just say that Tracey played bar owner Spider Garvin in seasons 2 and 3, and maybe he just needed the money. Or, maybe he wanted to soak up some sun in South Africa, since this is one of his few shows that wasn’t filmed in Vancouver.

The Outer Limits: Judgment Day

The Outer Limits: Judgment Day

Hulu.com is a good place to find more of Tracey’s work. All the episodes of 21 Jump Street are here, as well as The X-Files (season 3, episode 7: The Walk), Highlander (season 5, episode 4: Glory Days), and The Dead Zone (season 2, episode 17: The Mountain). Two episodes of The Outer Limits (season 2, episode 9: Trial by Fire; season 6, episode 1: Judgment Day) and one of Poltergeist: The Legacy (season 2, episode 13: The Devil’s Lighthouse) are also on hulu. There’s the more recent series Rookie Blue (season 1, episode 10: Big Nickel) which is available with a paid hulu plus subscription. [Sadly, it seems like every time I go back to hulu, something that was free before has now become part of the paid subscription.]  His six episodes of Sanctuary rotate in and out, so you just have to watch for those to stream. The first two seasons of the Canadian series Da Vinci’s Inquest are also on hulu, and this is the show that kicked off my interest in Tracey.

Da Vinci’s Inquest ran for 7 seasons from 1998 through 2005, followed by one season of Da Vinci’s City Hall. Dominic Da Vinci is a Vancouver coroner, played by the brilliant Nicholas Campbell, and he works with pathologists, forensic scientists, and Vancouver homicide detectives on cases of suspicious death. What makes this show unique is the realistic depiction of police work. More often than not, the bad guys aren’t caught, let alone identified. Even when they are identified, many times a case can’t be made to convict. There are even times when it can’t be determined if the cause of a death was accident or homicide. The good guys don’t always win, if ever. It often leaves me at the end of an episode feeling seriously blue. What really depresses me, though, is that only the first three seasons are available on DVD or streaming. Petitions, emails, and messages in fan forums have so far failed to get the rest of this excellent series released. As the show reaches the end the third season on my local Retro TV station, I’m holding my breath to see if we go into season 4, or if they just start airing season 1 again. My email inquiry to the station has received no answer.

Ian Tracey as Mick Leary in Da Vinci's Inquest

Ian Tracey as Mick Leary in Da Vinci’s Inquest

Ian Tracey plays detective Mick Leary, a younger cop who is usually paired up with old school veteran Leo Shannon, the wonderful actor Donnelly Rhodes. Leary has a problem ex-wife, a problem brother, and a sweet romance with one of the pathologists. One of Tracey’s best episodes in the season 1 finale, The Capture. A traumatized victim leaves him in tears, and later he gets pissed off at a suspect and threatens to shoot her through a car trunk. I love his range of emotion and his intensity.

Da Vinci’s Inquest was created and written by Chris Haddock. Once it ended, Haddock cast Tracey as crime boss Jimmy Reardon in his CBC series Intelligence. This show only lasted for two seasons, and I knew when I started watching that it ended abruptly with a cliffhanger that was never resolved. I’ve read online debates over whether the story was veering too close to the truth about water rights and Canadian/US politics, leading to its cancellation. Even knowing I wouldn’t get any resolution, I am still surprised about how emotionally invested I got in this show. I’d love to know what was going to happen next.

Klea Scott and Ian Tracey in Intelligence

Klea Scott and Ian Tracey in Intelligence

Intelligence is a complex drama about Mary Spalding, head of the Vancouver Organized Crime Unit, who’s fighting for a promotion to CSIS, a Canadian version of the CIA. When a stolen briefcase containing informant files lands in Jimmy Reardon’s hands, she is forced to swap information with him. Reardon is a third generation weed smuggler, who heads up the family business which includes legitimate operations like shipping. He’s fighting his volatile ex-wife for custody of their 12-year-old daughter, and he’s also struggling to keep his loyal but undisciplined brother in line. Reardon should be the bad guy, but he turns out to be the most moral, level-headed character in the show, and the most sympathetic. Sure, he’s in the drug trade, but he won’t touch anything besides marijuana. He’s fair to his business associates. He obviously hates resorting to violence, and he just want to go about his business. His long term goal is to become legitimate and move away from criminal activities. The real bad guys here are the agents in the intelligence network, who are busy backstabbing their associates, when they’re not covertly recording them or lying to their faces. They never arrest any bad guys, they just turn them into informants and let them continue their activities. Matt Frewer plays one of the worst offenders, and he’s also a fascinating actor. In the first season, his character Ted Altman is secretly working with the DEA to bring down Jimmy Reardon, threatening Mary Spalding’s career in the process. This show has a bunch of other interesting characters, too many to describe here, and it helps to watch these episodes back to back to keep them all straight. Chris Haddock uses many of the same actors who appear in Da Vinci’s Inquest, and it’s fun to see them playing different roles.

I’ve got many more films and television shows to watch before I’m finished with Ian Tracey’s body of work. I won’t be able to watch everything, since so many series and seasons and TV movies are not available. At least I can look forward to new roles in the future. He’s appearing in the pilot of Alcatraz, a midseason drama series airing on Fox. It’s set here in San Francisco. Was he filming in my own backyard? Possibly. According to IMDb, filming locations included both San Francisco and Vancouver. [Update: I couldn’t find him in the pilot when it aired.]

One of the things that surprises me about Ian Tracey is that he has almost no internet presence. There is no facebook fan page, no twitter, no major fan site, not even an actor profile on the official Da Vinci’s Inquest website, at least not on the international version. Here’s his profile from the US site. He’s obviously a very private person. Perhaps his brush with teen idol status during the Huckleberry Finn days makes him avoid the limelight, or perhaps he just wants to work as an actor without all the fuss of stardom. I will respect his privacy and not make a fuss, but I will recommend that you watch some of his brilliant work.

Update:  Here’s an article about Tracey from 2006. It gives more information about the missing Da Vinci’s Inquest seasons than I’ve found elsewhere, at least about Tracey’s character. [see updated link in comments below]

Happily, my Retro TV channel is showing season 4. Tracey is brilliant, especially in the fifth episode, “Ugly Quick,” where his character is reeling over the shooting death of a fellow officer.

If you’re a fellow fan of Tracey’s work, be sure to leave a comment! Also, let me know if you have seasons 5-7 of Da Vinci’s Inquest, or Da Vinci’s City Hall.

My Huckleberry Friend

I love Huckleberry Finn.  Having just watched the 1979-80 Canadian/German television series on YouTube, I’ve been thinking back on all the different versions of Huckleberry Finn I’ve seen.

Huckleberry Finn video and DVD covers

Video and DVD covers of Huckleberry Finn

My first exposure to Twain’s characters was the 1969 television series The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which aired on Sunday evenings alongside The Wonderful World of Disney.  Huck, Tom and Becky got chased through animated scenery by Injun Joe.  This series didn’t last very long, but it made a real impression on me.  Because I heard the name Injun Joe before I ever encountered it as a reader, I spent many years thinking he was “Engine Joe.”  I always thought he was a railroad engineer.  More confusion ensued when I tried to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn at the age of seven.  I just didn’t have a big enough vocabulary yet.  When Huck finds a canoe and floats downriver to get away from Pap, I read the word as “cannon” and just couldn’t imagine a floating cannon.  I gave up, but fortunately I tried again later, and I’ve re-read it many times over the years, always preferring it to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Huck Fin smoking

Huckleberry Finn

The use of the ‘N’ word in Huckleberry Finn causes all sorts of problems for educators and book censors.  A bigger problem is the weak ending, when Tom Sawyer re-enters the story.  Most adaptations of the story try to “fix” the ending by swapping it for something more satisfying.  I love these alternate endings, since there aren’t many classic stories you can watch without knowing exactly how it will conclude.  (Great Expectations is another one, since Dickens wrote more than one ending to his book.)  If you don’t like plot spoilers, be warned.  In this next part, I’m discussing the endings of several movie versions.

Jeff East as Huckleberry Finn

Jeff East as Huckleberry Finn

One of my favorite versions of Huckleberry Finn is also one of the oddest.  It’s the Reader’s Digest musical version from 1974, starring Jeff East (Huck) and Paul Winfield (Jim).  It followed the more successful Tom Sawyer, with Johnny Whitaker as Tom and Jodie Foster as Becky.  In both movies, the production values are high, with beautiful locations and believable period sets.  Winfield as Jim probably sounds too educated, but he’s a wonderful actor, and the King and the Duke are well portrayed by Harvey Korman and David Wayne.   Having all these characters break out into song is what makes this movie strange, and even though I had a big crush on Jeff East, his singing isn’t that great.  He’s a good size and age (about 16) for Huck, who’s been played by actors ranging from age 10 to 30.  Well, maybe 30 is an exaggeration, but there have been some actors who were too old for the role.  I also like how this Huck is suitably dirty, since I’ve seen so many who’ve had too many baths and haircuts.  This movie ditches the Tom Sawyer ending altogether.  Huck rescues Jim from slavers, sends him ahead on the raft to Cairo with a promise to buy his wife and children, then stands on the bank of the Mississippi while a song called “Freedom” plays.

Elijah Wood as Huck Finn

Elijah Wood as Huck Finn

Another favorite version is The Adventures of Huck Finn (1993) with Elijah Wood as Huck.  He’s the smallest Huck I’ve seen, and he’s spirited and feisty, if somewhat too clean.  Robbie Coltrane and Jason Robards are great as the Duke and the King.  It’s really fun to see Renee O’Connor as Susan Wilks, a few years before she played Gabrielle on Xena: Warrior Princess.   Ron Perlman is genuinely scary as Pap, and his scenes, along with the death of the youngest Grangerford, make this Huck Finn pretty frightening for younger children.  This one also ends without Tom Sawyer.  After saving the Wilks family from the Duke and the King, Huck frees Jim from a jail cell, and they run for a riverboat.   Huck gets shot in the back, and Jim stops to help him.  Jim is almost lynched, but Mary Jane Wilks arrives in time, and Huck passes out.  He wakes up to find Jim a happy man, since Miss Watson set him free in her will.  Widow Douglas tries to take Huck back to be further civilized.  He slips off, and the movie ends with him tossing his fancy clothes away as he runs back to the river.

Big River Broadway musical

The Broadway musical Big River (1985)

The Broadway musical Big River, based on Huckleberry Finn, won a number of major Tony Awards in 1985.  I got to see a touring production many years later, but I wasn’t that impressed.  A stage musical about a river journey is going to have its limitations, even with imaginative staging and special effects.

This brings me to the 1979 series Huckleberry Finn and His Friends, starring Ian Tracey as Huck and Sammy Snyders as Tom.  I didn’t see this television version when it was originally shown, but it may not have aired in Southern California.   Maybe it wasn’t shown in the US at all, being a joint Canadian/German production.  The complete DVD set came out in UK a few years ago, and all 26 episodes are on YouTube in 78 parts.  The resolution varies but the quality isn’t too bad.  This is a very faithful version of both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, using much of the original dialogue and sticking close to the two books.  Parts 1 through 11 cover Tom Sawyer, and parts 12-26 cover Huckleberry Finn.  The ending is done as Mark Twain wrote it, although the entire storyline with the Wilks family swindle has been eliminated.  Aunt Polly is played by Brigitte Horney, a German actress, and her voice is dubbed because of her accent.  This is strange, but it’s even stranger that the German actress who plays Aunt Sally gets to keep her accent.  Aunt Sally wears an awful wig, and so does Injun Joe.  In one scene, Injun Joe’s braids are sticking out from under another tangled wig, so maybe he is wearing the second wig as a disguise?  Sammy Snyders shouts his lines playing Tom, and he’s a lot shorter than his Becky (Holly Findlay).  I watched this show because I’m fascinated by Ian Tracey.   He demonstrates a lot of the talent he later developed more fully, although he is one of those well-scrubbed Hucks.  When you watch all these episodes back-to-back, it’s pretty funny to see both Tom and Huck go from blonde to light brown to blonde again. There’s some funny business happening with the hair color here.  Ian Tracey is pretty pale for a character who spends most of his time outdoors.  Maybe there wasn’t that much sun where this series was filmed, which must have been unpleasant for the actors, considering all the time they spend in the water.  One more minor issue: I really wish that Tom Sawyer had a scene where we see him reading one of the books he’s always talking about.  I may sound too critical of this version, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching it, and the theme song is now stuck in my head after hearing it 26 times.

Ian Tracey as Huck Finn

Ian Tracey as Huck Finn

There are still more film versions of Huckleberry Finn in pre-production, according to IMDb.  Maybe it keeps getting re-made because nobody has done a definitive version yet.  Some folks swear by the 1981 version made in the Soviet Union.  Researching it, I found that the only available DVD is drastically butchered, and the voices of Tom and Huck are dubbed by women.  I can’t bring myself to watch it. The first time Huck appeared on film was in 1917, and even Mickey Rooney played Huck, back in 1939. Other actors who played the role include Brad Renfro, Anthony Michael Hall, Ron Howard, Donald O’Connor, Mitchell Anderson, and Michael Dudikoff. These last three played grown versions of Huck, in sequels like Tom Sawyer, Detective and Return to Hannibal.

Speaking of sequels, these have been written as well as filmed, by Twain himself and other writers.  The Further Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Greg Matthews takes Huck and Jim out west, but the plot device used to set things in motion is the slaughter of several beloved characters in Hannibal.   The rest of the story is suspiciously similar to Robert Lewis Taylor’s The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters.  It would be better just to read this book  and leave Hannibal in peace.

So, what is your favorite version?  What do you think of Mark Twain’s original ending?

[Note: My title here is from the song Moon River.]

Footnote: When watching Huckleberry Finn and His Friends, I kept thinking that the actor playing Sid Sawyer (Bernie Coulson) looked more like Ian Tracey than his “brother” Sammy Snyders.  Now I’m watching the Canadian television series Intelligence, made 27 years later, and guess who plays Ian Tracey’s brother??  Yep, Bernie Coulson.  And, I’ve spotted three different Huckleberry Finn actors appearing with Ian Tracey in Da Vinci’s Inquest.

Related post:  Tracking Tracey

Retro TV

Last month, I stumbled across KCNS channel 38, a local San Francisco TV station that broadcasts Retro TV.  The timing couldn’t be better.  Just as summer re-runs begin, I get to enjoy TV shows from the 60s, 70s and 80s.  Some of these series I watched growing up, like Daniel Boone and Starsky & Hutch.  Others are old enough to be completely new to me, like Naked City and Route 66.  I love watching these programs, then going online to look up the actors.

I guess Retro TV rotates their programming every now and again.  I wish I knew exactly when.  Just as I was settling into a groove with one set of shows, getting the schedule memorized, everything changed.  I don’t know if this will happen every month or every six months.  The Retro TV website doesn’t say.  Since the latest set includes Daniel Boone, I can’t complain too much.  I can’t even begin describe how much I love this show.  I’ve seen every episode on DVD, because a few years ago Fess Parker started releasing them season by season.  As much as I adore Fess as Daniel, I think Ed Ames (Mingo) is my favorite.  Growing up, naturally I liked Darby Hinton (Israel Boone) the best.   Fess Parker passed away recently, as did Jimmy Dean, who went from a frequent guest star to a series regular when Ed Ames left to pursue his singing career.  Ed Ames just turned 84 last Saturday (July 9th), so happy belated birthday, Mr Ames.  I have his greatest hits on mp3 player, and I listen to them all the time.  He’s just the best.

A couple of years ago I had a marathon viewing of Starsky & Hutch on DVD.  I know Starsky was the funny guy, but I always liked the blonde.  This series was about guns and hot cars, but what made it special was the caring relationship between the two leads.  There are certain episodes that stand out.  There’s the one where Starsky is shot in an Italian restaurant by hit men waiting for a mob boss, and Hutch takes care of him.  There’s also the one where Hutch is abducted and turned into a heroin addict.  Starsky helps him through his withdrawal.  The physical contact shared by these two straight characters is remarkable when you consider the show was made in the late 1970s.  Actually, straight male characters don’t really touch now.   Not that much has changed.  Anyway, both Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul went through very difficult times after Starsky & Hutch ended.  I’m still fascinated by these two actors.  Yeah, I have The Best of David Soul on CD, and I just put the songs on my mp3 player.  (Don’t Give Up on Us, Baby!)

One of the few shows on Retro TV that’s not that old is Da Vinci’s Inquest.  This Canadian show really sneaks up on you, sucking you in.  I have to confess, I turn on my TV’s captions when watching, because the actors talk fast and mumble a bit. I really like Ian Tracey, so I guess he’s the reason I keep tuning in.  I remember the first time I noticed him, he was a guest star on The X-Files (season 3: The Walk).  Of course, he was hard to miss, playing a soldier with no arms or legs, a brilliant display of special effects wizardry coupled with a standout performance.  According to IMDb, Tracey appeared on 21 Jump Street years before.  I loved that show because of Johnny Depp.   Now there’s a series that should be on Retro TV!  You can watch all of it on hulu, at least.  Of course, 21 Jump Street was not an original concept, with young-looking cops going undercover in high schools.  There was David Cassidy: Man Undercover, which was a spin-off of an episode of Police Story (also shown on Retro TV).  Before Man Undercover, there was The Mod Squad, another series that I adore.

Some of the shows from the last schedule provided me with lots of happy googling.  I was surprised to learn that Harry Morgan (M*A*S*H and Dragnet) is 96 and still with us, while Pete Duel (Alias Smith and Jones) committed suicide at the age of 31.  Watching Dragnet last month, I spotted a very young John Rubinstein (Family and Crazy Like a Fox).  The episode was called The Grenade, and it was his first TV role.   I worked with Mr. Rubinstein at the La Jolla Playhouse in 1985, and I have such good memories from that experience.  John Rubinstein is still really busy working in theatre and television.  He’s looking great, too.

The strangest thing about Retro TV’s programming?  The predominance of all male casts.  Women are almost as rare as hen’s teeth.  Sure, there are female guest stars, but very few women in regular recurring roles on these shows.  I don’t know why.  It’s a mystery!

Update:  I wrote an email to the Retro TV website, but they haven’t answered, and now the website has been down for a couple of weeks.  Very strange.

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Speaking of old TV shows and female performers, a couple of nights ago I went to I Dream of Barbara Eden as the Castro Theatre.  It was a rather odd show consisting of belly dancers, film clips, a Jeannie look-alike contest, and an onstage chat with Barbara Eden.  She looks great, and she seems  like a very nice lady.  Most of the memories and anecdotes she shared were positive; Elvis Presley was a gentleman, Lucille Ball was lovely and down to earth, Marilyn Monroe just glowed.  She did say that Ann Southern was mean.  She also told us that Larry Hagman could act childishly when he felt threatened by the male guest stars on I Dream of Jeannie.  I think I will have to read more in Barbara Eden’s new book.

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Last week I read the book Brady, Brady, Brady by creator Sherwood Schwartz and his son Lloyd Schwartz, who went from dialogue coach to producer and director of the show.  It was an entertaining behind-the-scenes book about The Brady Bunch.  I was shocked to find out that Sherwood Schwartz died today.   He was 94.  He had a good long life, and he certainly made us laugh.  Thank you, Mr. Schwartz.

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