Thursday, February 15, 2018

MOVIES IN MY MIND (Behind The Scenes): The Fictional Players In JUKEBOX EXPRESS

Movies In My Mind is a celebration of films that don't exist, never existed, and were never planned. This is fiction. 

My idea for Jukebox Express began as a random thought when I was watching the terrific Amazon Prime series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which is set in 1958. After I saw actress Jane Lynch's portrayal of a fictional comic named Sophie Lennon, my mind wandered somehow to the idea of Lennon meeting Troy Chesterfield, a fictional actor played by Peter Scolari in That Thing You Do! From there, my imagination started to cobble together the idea of bringing together various fictional thespians and show people for a fictional project. It had to take place in 1958 to include Sophie Lennon (because I don't know what, if anything, the creators of Mrs. Maisel have in store for her), so I had to think what other figures I could place into that specific timeline. The rest just snapped into place, and this make-believe rock 'n' roll movie Jukebox Express was duly fabricated.

I hope this is something that reads well, and is entertaining even if you don't know all of the references. Nonetheless, here is a guide to all of those references.

REAL PEOPLE AND THINGS: I tried to populate Jukebox Express with an almost entirely fictional cast of characters, but circumstances prompted the use of a few real-life figures. Orson Welles, The Beatles, Gus GrissomGina Lollobrigida, and Lenny Bruce are/were real people. The Ku Klux Klan is an actual group of Nazi assholes. The Batman and Kid Colt, Outlaw are genuine properties about fictional characters (as opposed to fictional properties about fictional characters, like The Gray Ghost), though neither of the film incarnations referenced here ever existed. I made up the titles for all of Mallory's books, usually trying to come up with something that linked each book to some previously-established bit involving each of his subjects (like the Howard Stark bio that lifts its title, A Cool Exec With A Heart Of Steel, from the theme song to the 1960s cartoon series about Howard's son, Iron Man.)

Everything else in Jukebox Express is a pre-existing property. Let's meet 'em all, in order of their appearance within the text.

SOPHIE LENNON: Beloved late '50s blue-collar comedienne played by Jane Lynch in the TV series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

ORSON WELLES' THE BATMANA fan film trailer, available on YouTube last time I checked, imagining what would have happened if film auteur (and former voice of The Shadow on radio) Orson Welles had made a noir Batman movie in the '40s. I originally had a reference to Jerry Lewis' unseen film The Day The Clown Cried in this spot, then decided I didn't want to use a real film, just an imaginary one.

THE BEATLES in Up Against It!This one is a bit more real than the other references. According to Wikipedia: In 1967, Joe Orton was hired by A Hard Day's Night/Help! producer Walter Shenson to write a script for a new Beatles film. The script, Up Against It!, drew upon an earlier script by Owen Holder. The film, of course, was never made.

Max Allan Collins
MALLORY: Max Allan Collins is one of my favorite novelists, and mystery writer Mallory was the star of a short series of Collins' books (including A Shroud For Aquarius, the first Collins novel I ever read). I don't remember whether or not Collins ever specified Mallory's first name; everyone usually called him Mal or Mallory.

ROCKET MEDIA: All me. I couldn't think of a fictional publisher to use for Mallory's book about Jukebox Express, so I figured I'd just use the (presumably?) evil media conglomerate from my own unfinished novel Eternity Man! 

ROSCOE KANE: Mallory's idol, a hard-boiled mystery writer in the tradition of Mickey Spillane, featured in Collins' novel Kill Your Darlings.

CLAY WASHBURN: Pulp magazine writer whose career was chronicled in the comic book series Wordsmith by Dave Darrigo and R. G. Taylor.

BOBBY FLEET AND HIS BAND WITH A BEAT: Hard-travelin' jivesters who passed through Mayberry, North Carolina on three episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. That third appearance was billed as Freddy Fleet instead of Bobby, a continuity error that occurred because nobody cared about frivolous things like continuity; retcons presume that Freddy Fleet was Bobby's brother.

THE GRAY GHOST: Superhero TV show with elements of The Shadow and The Green Hornet. Flashbacks on Batman: The Animated Series revealed that young Bruce Wayne was a big fan of the character.

JENNY BLAKE: Actress girlfriend (played by Jennifer Connelly) of Cliff Secord in Disney's version of Dave Stevens' great comic book The Rocketeer. In the comics, the character's name was Betty, inspired by iconic pinup model Bettie Page.

HOWARD STARK: Tony Stark's dad in Iron Man comics and films. The Stark of Jukebox Express is the version seen in the Marvel cinematic universe, particularly in Marvel's Agent Carter. That series showed Stark as a movie producer, adapting the cowboy comic book Kid Colt, Outlaw as a theatrical release.

GINGER GRANT: The movie star stranded on Gilligan's Island, played with irresistibly sultry appeal by Tina Louise. "Kirby Lee," Grant's character in Jukebox Express, is named (for no real reason) after legendary comics creators Jack Kirby and Stan Lee; the other names used by characters in the film--Archibald Toby, Rocco "Death" Manzetti, Rose "Mama" MammamiaCupcake O'Hara, Danny Mammamia, and Whizzy Matthews--are just names I made up and used because I thought they sounded good.

GEORGE McFLY: Marty McFly's sci-fi author father, played by Crispin Glover in Back To The Future.

ALAN BRADY, BUDDY SORRELL, AND SALLY ROGERS: The star and 2/3 of the writing staff from The Alan Brady Show, as seen on The Dick Van Dyke Show. If Rob Petrie was on Brady's payroll at the time of Jukebox Express, it's presumed that he was not available to help with this script.

TONY MILLER: Music publicist played by Tom Ewell opposite Jayne Mansfield in the first great rock 'n' roll movie, 1956's The Girl Can't Help It.

CARL DENHAM: The film director and showman who brings a giant ape from Skull Island to New York City in King Kong.

LEATHER TUSCADERO: Anachronistic female rock 'n' roller played by my girl Suzi Quatro on the anachronistic '50s-set TV series Happy Days.

DASH RIPROCK, MAMMOTH STUDIOS: Dash (played by Larry Pennell) was the Mammoth Studios movie star infatuated with Ellie Mae Clampett on several episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies. The "Dash Riprock" name was also used on The Flintstones.

TROY CHESTERFIELD: Actor Troy Chesterfield (Peter Scolari) introduces teen sensations The Wonders for their appearance on the variety show The Hollywood Television Showcase in the greatest movie ever made, That Thing You Do! On the show, real-life astronaut Gus Grissom (played by Bryan Cranston) makes joking reference to Chesterfield's recent film work with Italian sex symbol Gina Lollobrigida as "out of this world!" The film's title wasn't mentioned, so I figured we'd call it Out Of This World! Terry Legend, the character Chesterfield played on the TV show The Vindicators, is just a fake name I've used for occasional detective/adventure parodies since I was in high school. I will inevitably use it again.

THE PURPLE AVENGER: TV superhero (played by Dom DeLuise) favored by the kids on the sitcom Please Don't Eat The Daisies.

MR. DOWNTOWN: TV drama starring Play-Tone recording artist Freddy Frederickson in That Thing You Do!

PLEASANTVILLE: '50 sitcom that was the subject of the same-titled film starring Tobey Maguire.

INVITATION TO LOVE: Long-running soap opera mentioned on Twin Peaks.

CAPTAIN SPACEMAN: The most obscure reference here (other than Rocket Media). Captain Spaceman was a '50s space opera TV show created for the short comic book story "Captain Spaceman Will Be Waiting!," written by Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn. A tribute to the late actor Al Hodge, who played the lead on the real-life popular TV show Captain Video And His Video Rangers, the story appeared in DC Comics' Weird War Tales # 123 in 1983.

THE $99,000 ANSWER: Ralph Kramden appeared as a guest on this game show in an episode of The Honeymooners.

THE VINDICATORS: A silly technicality like, y'know, never actually existing didn't stop this made-up TV show from having its own theme song. "Theme From 'The Vindicators'" appeared on The Fleshtones' 1980 EP Up-Front.

JOANIE JANZ, THE WOLFGIRL MEETS THE VAMPIRE IN THE OLD WEST: Actress Joanie Janz was working on this movie when she encountered songwriting hopeful Mike Nesmith in the "I've Got A Little Song Here" episode of The Monkees.

JESSICA FLETCHER'S THE MESSENGERS OF MIDNIGHT: Mystery writer Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) was the lead character on TV's Murder, She Wrote. The Messengers Of Midnight was listed on Wikipedia among Fletcher's novels.

BLOOD ON THE BADGE: Book written by Detective Ron Harris (Ron Glass) on TV's Barney Miller.

STAN "KING" KAISER: Wonderful caricature of Sid Caesar on Your Show Of Shows, portrayed by Joseph Bologna in My Favorite Year.

SIMON BRIMMER: Oozingly obnoxious radio detective played by John Hillerman in the '70s TV series Ellery Queen.

TERRY EMBROSE: Dancer played by Claire Bloom in the Charles Chaplin film Limelight.

KATHY SELDEN: Debbie Reynolds was adorable as actress Selden in Singin' In The Rain.

CHRISTINE MARLOWE: Actress played by Lucille Ball in the Marx Brothers movie Room Service.

LARRY DAVIS: Famous radio comic who is secretly the superhero Funnyman. Conceived by Superman's creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the Daffy Daredevil starred in six issues of his own comic book in the '40s.

LUCKY DAY: Silent film cowboy star played by Steve Martin in Three Amigos!

SIMON TRENT: The luckless actor whose career dies after he's typecast from his role as the TV superhero The Gray Ghost. Voiced by former TV Batman Adam West on Batman: The Animated Series, one presumes the role of Trent had particular resonance for West.

ASHLEY ST. IVES: Sexpot porn star played by Edy Williams in the Roger Ebert-written Russ Meyer film Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls.

JOHNNY FEVER: DJ played by Howard Hesseman on WKRP In Cincinnati. Fever might have been a tiny bit too young to have already been a working DJ in 1958--Hesseman himself would have been about 18 at the time--but let's presume he was a real go-getter. After posting Jukebox Express, it occurred to me that I could have also linked Fever to the original Captain Marvel by identifying our Johnny as a DJ for WHIZ, the radio station that employed Captain Marvel's alter ego, boy broadcaster Billy Batson.

SVEN HELSTROM & THE SWEDISH RHYTHM KINGS: Lawrence Welk clones featured in the pilot episode of The Monkees.

RICKY RICARDO: Cuban bandleader played by Desi Arnaz on I Love Lucy. Of course his wife Lucy tried to be included in Jukebox Express.

CONRAD BIRDIE: Elvis Presley parody in the play and film Bye Bye Birdie.

DANNY FISHER: Rocker played by the real Elvis in King Creole.

THE CRY-BABY COMBO: Johnny Depp's band from the John Waters film Cry-Baby.

OTIS DAY & THE KNIGHTS: A fictional band that sort of became a real band, playing live dates after being created for the landmark slob comedy Animal House.

I had a few other references pencilled in, but decided to exclude them. My original thought was to discuss a bit of what happened to these people after Jukebox Express, including Ginger Grant's unplanned exile on an uncharted Pacific island and eventual rescue and return to show business. Troy Chesterfield would have later been linked romantically with country singer Althea Anderson, a dissipated diva played by porn star Lisa De Leeuw in the Marilyn Chambers movie Up 'n' Coming. One of the young rock 'n' roll fans who managed to see Jukebox Express in its short theatrical run would have been Reggie Mantle, later to become bassist for The Archies. Mantle would go on to be a vocal fan of the film, and owner of one of the very few known prints of the film. As a record producer, Mantle would browbeat the hard rock group Spinal Tap into covering Leather Tuscadero's title song from Jukebox Express on their own Mantle-produced Shark Sandwich LP. Ultimately, it seemed best to halt the narrative at the film's box office failure, so the rest of those stories will remain untold.

So once again, as Kirby Lee says when she and Leather Tuscadero pause in kissing Archibald Toby at the conclusion of Jukebox Express: "And that's the end!"


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Our new compilation CD This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 4 is now available from Kool Kat Musik! 29 tracks of irresistible rockin' pop, starring Pop Co-OpRay PaulCirce Link & Christian NesmithVegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie FlowersThe SlapbacksP. HuxIrene PeñaMichael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave MerrittThe RubinoosStepford KnivesThe Grip WeedsPopdudesRonnie DarkThe Flashcubes,Chris von SneidernThe Bottle Kids1.4.5.The SmithereensPaul Collins' BeatThe Hit SquadThe RulersThe Legal MattersMaura & the Bright LightsLisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here. 

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