Actor John Dye passed away Monday. He starred in the TV show “Touched By An Angel” with Della Reese. First and foremost, RIP Mr. Dye.
I just realized we d0n’t have any Della Reese on this blog! Della got her start in 1944 at age 13 singing with Mahalia Jackson‘s gospel group. She signed with her first record label in 1953 and in 1960 she earned her first Grammy nomination for her album “Della.” She added acting to her impressive resume in 1956 and in 1969 she became the first African-American woman to host her own talk show. Here she is in a groovy Scopitone all about heaven and angels. It was made three decades before she starred in the series “Touched By An Angel.” Coincidence? Yes, of course it is but it’s still a pretty fun one. Plus, it’s a soundie!
I never watched “Touched By An Angel” because I am a heathen. To be more precise, even though I’m not a person of faith myself, I believe nearly all major religions and belief systems have something important to teach us. Yes, even astrology. Even with the new change in signs it’s still totally valid. I used to be a Cancer which meant I was domestic, nurturing, intuitive, and emotional. Which, omigawd, sounds just like me! Now I’m a Gemini which means I’m lively, charming, and a great conversationalist which, omigawd, sounds just like me! I checked and I’m a total Taurus, Aries, Pisces, Aquarius, and Capricorn too so if they ever have to move us again I’m probably safe. If they bump me to Sagittarius though I’ll know it’s all bogus. Optimistic, independent, and philosophical indeed… oh no wait, omigawd, that totally sounds just like me!
Nino Tempo and April Stevens are a brother and sister singing duo. They began their career in the 1960s and they had several hits including “Deep Purple” and “Whispering.” Their website brags that “few musical acts have covered such a wide spectrum of styles.” To be fair they are both talented and, I’m sure, lovely people but some of those musical styles they really, really should have left alone! Remember how I said I loved soundies? Yeah, well pass me the ketchup because I’m about to eat a giant plate of my own words! Here is a Scopitone video of the hilariously awful remake of Wilson Pickett’s “Land Of 1000 Dances.” Even Pat Boone said “Damn, that’s the Whitest thing I’ve ever heard!”
“Land Of 1000 Dances” was actually remade several times. Wilson Pickett’s version is the most famous but it was not the first. Chris Kenner did it first and Cannibal And The Headhunters added the famous “Na na na” hook. There have been lots of other remakes by everyone from Bill Haley And The Comets to Joan Baez. Even Scopitone tried it one more disastrous time; but after I got done laughing at the Nino and April video I declared it to be the WORST version I’d ever heard. But wait, don’t put that ketchup away yet because after I said that I found this little gem:
P.S. There are 16 dances in the original version of the song.
This strange and misguided attempt to connect with the youth of the day is hilarious! But here’s why it’s also fabulous: This video was made to be played on a Scopitone video jukebox. They were wildly popular in France and they were introduced to the US in the mid 60’s. When the distributor was looking for English language titles, he turned to a company called Harmony Productions which was headed by guess who? Debbie Reynolds! She may not have understood social upheaval but she sure knew how to turn a buck.
To balance silly Debbie Reynolds with awesome Debbie Reynolds, let’s watch “Good Mornin'” from “Singin’ In The Rain.”
I love learning new stuff about my favorite movies. For example, when 19 year old Debbie Reynolds took the role in “Singin’ In The Rain,” she was not a dancer. She learned to dance just weeks before she shot this number! Later she said it was one of the two hardest things she’d ever done in her life. The other was giving birth. Debbie Reynolds has so much concentrated girl power she is my new favorite super hero! To borrow a phrase from another of my favorite musicals, “Well done Sister Suffragette!”