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Television through the Fifties – Chan Canasta

Chan Canasta appeared on our Television screens very regularly throughout the 1950 s. I can’t remember much about him but I do remember the name and how famous he was at the time.

Butchers Film Service called him The Amazing Mr Canasta when they filmed him in a half-hour supporting short for the cinemas in 1952.

The Film got a release in the UK and USA as part of a programme

The title seems perfect – ‘The Amazing Mr Canasta’

He referred to himself as a mentalist but never a conjuror or magician.

Chan Canasta was one of those few sensations of the Fifties whose fame was made by the BBC the only television channel of the time.

The specialised arm of mentalism, where everything is in the master’s mind, was rarer. The audience would gasp with amazement

Chan Canasta was born Chananel Mifelew in 1920 in Krakow. His father was a Russian emigre, proud of his boy, who went to Krakow University at the age of 17.

He was Polish and Jewish and all of hi family perished in the Holocaust.

After studying philosophy and the natural sciences for a year, he left Poland for Jerusalem, where he started to study psychology. The next year brought the Second World War, and he volunteered for service in the Royal Air Force. He saw action in the Western Desert, North Africa, Greece and Italy, finally becoming a British subject.

Demobilised, he began seriously to study the science of extra-sensory perception. On the side he read up parlour magic and taught himself to entertain a few friends.

He developed the rare power of immediate photographic recall, which enabled him to do amazing things.

For instance he could instantly state the number of vowels on a page selected at random from a book by a volunteer from the audience, or to forecast accurately the sequence of playing cards in a suddenly shuffled deck.

Not every trick worked. Indeed, the occasional failure was actually encouraged by Chan Canasta, who believed his audiences enjoyed the suspense and reacted to the odd error as if it proved his magic was no trick.

BBC Television discovered Canasta in 1951. John Freeman hosted the half hour show. He was the editor of the New Statesman so , in a way, he gave the show the seriousness that would be required for a scientific experiment.

Quite a few well known guests were included on the show including Sylvia Peters

Chan Canasta – from his Television Show

It seemed impossible that a man, even a professional mentalist, could transmit his thoughts through the television camera into the homes of a million or more viewers via their television screens – but this is what Canasta did – or seemed to do. With the use of what he called his “tube- destroying machine”, he said, he would use his power of thought to switch off every television set in the country which was tuned in to him. “Concentrate,” he told his audience, “concentrate.”

In homes across the country television screens went black with (the Fifties television trademark) the diminishing white spot that eventually popped off into nothing. Forty suspenseful seconds passed before the screen leaped back into life, showing a smiling but apologetic Canasta admitting that his stunt was “only a leg-pull!” He then showed how one of his cameras was trained on a screen in the studio, which was suddenly switched off, then on again. The audience applauded but not so the angry viewers, who rang the BBC under the impression that Canasta had ruined their sets.

Chan Canasta became something of an international celebrity. American television welcomed him, and he appeared on such programmes as those hosted by Ed Sullivan and Jack Paar. He shot to the top of the bill at the London Palladium, and echoed this triumph far away at the famous Desert Inn in Las Vegas.

In 1962 he returned to London to star for the new commercial television station Associated-Rediffusion. Dan Farson hosted these late-night half- hours, which again featured guest personalities and a small but fascinated audience. Humphrey Lyttelton, the jazz man, remarked: “The man is a phenomenon.” Farson said: “Canasta has a fantastic command of psychology.”

In his television career, Chan Canasta performed in some 350 programmes. He gave his last one in 1971 as a personal favour to Michael Parkinson. By this time he had taken up a new sideline as a painter, with successful selling shows in London and New York. He signed his pictures “Mifelew”, his real name. But it is as a perfectionist performer that millions will remember him.

“I want to prove that nothing I do is phoney ” he added

Chan Canasta was married twice – later in his life, he was with Maureen Endfield the widow of the film director Cy Endfield, possibly she was his second wife, I am not sure.

Of course we all remember Cy Endfield as the Director of ‘Zulu’ one of the biggest grossing British Films

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Signing Autographs –

I watched an old Carry On Film over the Bank Holiday and for some reason I started to look at the lives of various of the stars.

Charles Hawtrey for instance, was latterly very reluctant and often rude when approached to sign an autograph and on one occasion was so incensed that he tore up the paper one of the fans had given him to sign. Mind you, it is said that he was quite often the worse for drink in his later years.

So I then embarked on a quest to look out pictures we had of some film stars signing for the public and here are a few

It seems that, in the picture above, Charles Hawtrey is in more friendly and benevolent mood when he chats to some young ladies in the Theatre sales kiosk in Londonderry, Ireland, just before going on stage

Most of the actors approached would be only too pleased to meet the fans and chat to them and sign whatever they wanted. After all, it is part of the job really.

ABOVE – Richard Todd signs autographs in Bristol

ABOVE – Mario Fabrizi – from ‘The Army Game’ has his moustache curled by usherettes before making an appearance in Acton

The lovely June Thorburn ( above ) signs her autograph for some lucky lads in Leyton, London

Liz Fraser signs a poster at the ABC in Woolwich. I hadn’t realised that she was in ‘Fury at Smugglers Bay’ but she indeed, was.

Left to Right ABOVE – Norman Rossington, Shirley Anne Field, Albert Finney, Brian Pringle and an ABC Executive at a glittering occasion in Manchester for the film ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’

ABOVE – Jess Conrad signs Autographs in his Office
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Roger Moore in ‘The Alaskans’

Roger Moore was in Hollywood at this time having had some success before going there with ‘Ivanhoe’ for British Television and quite a few films to be fair

He had made a film with Lana Turner in Hollywood and then he was offered ‘The Alaskans’ by Warner Brothers which was to have been a big budget TV production, but it didn’t quite happen that way.

Although the series was made on one of Warner’s biggest sound stages, there was never any location work. Plenty of big and impressive sets and fake snow – and when they did venture outside filming was done on the Studio backlot. Dressed in furs to keep out the Alaskan cold, the actors were faced with 80 degrees temperatures – so conditions not so good.

Roger ensuring his hair was in place

ABOVE: Roger Moore with his actor friend Gustavo Rojo

Roger has to keep fit at the gym

Roger Moore with his actor friend Gustavo Rojo

One of his co-stars in The Alaskans was Dorothy Provine and her and Roger became very close friends – she was. he says, not like a lot of the actresses in that she was quite and retiring – somethning that appealed to him.

At that time he was married to Dorothy Squires and she certainly didn’t approve but she had a concert schedule in Britain, so Roger was left to his own devices.

Warner Bros were looking for a big name alongside him but settled for Jeff York who had featured in the Davy Crockett films for Walt Disney and had been under contract to him. Roger said that Jeff was good and the two got on well, but if things got boring on set and he hadn’t anything to do, he would sidle off to the Pub close by and partake of the liquid refreshment which he liked.

The Alaskans

Roger Moore, Dorothy Provine and Jeff York – The Alaskans ABOVE

ABOVE – Roger with the lovely Dorothy Provine

On the set of ‘The Alaskans’

I am not sure whether or not ‘The Alaskans’ was ever shown on Television here in England – I would have thought it likely that it had though

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The Veils of Bagdad 1953 – with Victor Mature and Mari Blanchard

I have just come across this one as someone is trying to sell a 16 mm print of the film which to be honest tempted me to put in a bid. It is not a film I know but with Victor Mature starring it has to be good.

Apparently this was filmed just before ‘The Robe’ – a huge success at the Box Office World Wide which doesn’t surprise me – it was a superb film

‘The Veils of Bagdad’ had its release held back until after ‘The Robe’ itself was released – maybe they figured that Victor Mature would be an even bigger attraction after that – I am pretty sure that they would be right. As I have said before, Producers liked Victor Mature because every picture he was in made money

Filmed in Technicolor

ABOVE and BELOW The Press Book for the Film

I have read that Maureen O Hara was lined up for the film, but for whatever reason she withdrew and so Mari Blanchard was drafted in.

This has prompted me to look a little deeper into the life of this actress who as a child suffered with polio which led her into regular daily swimming sessions for several years. After this she ran off and joined a local circus – she was born in Long Beach – where she helped with the elephants and then to the trapeze. That didn’t last too long before she went back to the Santa Barbara College and between studies she joined a model agency. Her picture in a Kodak advertisement in ‘The Hollywood Reporter’ brought her to the attention of Paramount Pictures who signed her to a contract in 1949.

However this did not work out and she was dropped by the studio – but following the success of ‘Veils of Bagdad’ she got a new contract with Universal-International which put her into the same salary class as Tony Curtis and Shelley Winters.

Mari Blanchard in ‘Son of Sinbad’

She then makes ‘Son of Sinbad’ with Dale Robertson in 1953 but later that year misses out on the lead role in ‘Saskatchewan’ to Shelley Winters.

It is reported that in ‘Son of Sinbad’ she refused to dance because she considered her outfit too revealing. She appeared then in ‘Destry’ with Audie Murphy in which she sings.

In 1954 Mari Blanchard starred in ‘Rails into Laramie’ with John Payne – avery good looking film in Terchnicolor which I featured on here quite recently

In an around the middle of 1955, she was frequently in the company of Lance Fuller – about the time that he would be making one of my own favourites ‘The Secret of Treasure Mountain’ but later that year she was often seen with George Raft – my first thought is that he would be way too old for her.

The in early 1956 she dates the singer Mel Torme.

In 1957 she co-starred with Lex Barker in ‘Jungle Heat’ but the reviews I have read were not so good – however one commented that ‘Mari Blanchard really looks good’ I am sure that she did !

Later in November 1956 she is filming ‘She Devil’ and is rushed to hospital for an appendix operation.

In September 1958 she and her travelling companion Gwen Davis, were shown around Madrid by Victor Mature and Bruce Cabot. and later that year in November she is scheduled to appear in the TV Series ‘Belle Starr’

A few years later in 1963 she develops cancer – very sad for such a young woman.

She continued to appear in films and Television throughout the Sixties – in fact she appeared with John Wayne in ‘McLintock’ in 1963 but in May of 1970 she died aged 43 at the Motion Picture Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California

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Jean Simmons Car for Sale

Just prior to their marriage Stewart Granger had bought his future wife this now iconic car – a Bristol 402. This was back in 1949

In 1949, Stewart Granger and Jean Simmons were two major film stars

The British couple – who married just 12 months later – acted alongside each other in films including Adam and EvelyneYoung Bess and Footsteps in the Fog but also bought a pair of matching cars.

One of those two vehicle is going to be sold and is being offered to the highest bidder next month, with Jean Simmons’ Bristol 402 – one of just 24 built and 12 known to have survived – and it is going under the hammer at a UK auction, with experts predicting a sale figure of £200,000.

The two cars were bought from Surrey car dealer Tony Crook, who later went on the spearhead the Bristol Cars marque. Each one cost £3,500, which was around the same price as a decent-size family home at the time.

The couple used the matching cars extensively to promote 1949 romantic hit, Adam and Evelyne, in which they starred together.

Jean Simmons drove the car regularly while living in Surrey but eventually left as her fame rose and moved to Hollywood. 

While filming Caesar and Cleopatra, Jean Simmons had developed a crush on Stewart Granger, and they later became sweethearts, though Granger was 16 years older and married. In 1949 he suggested they star together in

Adam and Evelyne, in which a penniless orphan is raised with the support of a mysterious benefactor. It proved a perfect showcase for the couple, and demonstrated Simmons’ expert handling of romantic comedy.

Stewart Granger departed for Hollywood later in 1949 after being signed by MGM, and in 1950 Simmons joined him when cast by Gabriel Pascal in a screen version of Shaw’s Androcles and the Lion with Victor Mature – he was later with her again in ‘The Robe’ where he gave a superb performance.

Stewart Granger and the actress Elspeth March had divorced in 1948, and in December 1950 he and Jean Simmons eloped to Tucson. That same year she had been in four British films, all successful. In So Long at the Fair, Trio, Cage of Gold and The Clouded Yellow.

In 1952 Jean Simmons signed a non-exclusive contract with 20th Century-Fox. She immediately starred in three prestigious movies. In MGM’s Young Bess (1953) she was a radiant Queen Elizabeth I; in The Actress (1953), based on the autobiography of actress-writer Ruth Gordon, she was a stage-struck teenager, buoyed by the fine performances of Spencer Tracy and Teresa Wright as her parents. Jean adored Spencer Tracy as both actor and friend, and The Actress was to remain her personal favourite of her films, partly because working with him was “sheer heaven”. She and Stewart Granger were to name their daughter Tracy after him.

I always felt that it was this that sparked the number of girls being called ‘Tracy’ at the time

Jean Simmons was one of the great beauties of British cinema, and she had a talent to match. She played Ophelia to Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet (1948) when only 18, and won her first Oscar nomination.

Early roles included her memorable cold young heart-breaker Estella in David Lean’s Great Expectations (1946), disdainfully advising young Pip, “You may kiss me now if you wish”.

She was slave girl in Black Narcissus (1947) but it was not the major part be any means

In 1950 she topped a poll as the most popular British actress. Shortly afterwards, she went to Hollywood, where she and Deborah Kerr were the only two British actresses of the time to achieve truly international stardom – a few years later they were joined by the Anglo-Dutch Audrey Hepburn. Her first marriage, to the actor Stewart Granger, ended in 1960 when she divorced him to marry director Richard Brooks, who later recalled, “Every man I would meet would say to me, ‘I have always loved your wife.'”

When I remember the films of Jean Simmons – the one that comes to mind immediately is ‘The Blue Lagoon’ filmed in Technicolor in Fiji where she played one of two youngsters who grow up shipwrecked on a desert island

In ‘The Robe’ (1953) she was a Christian in love with a centurion (Richard Burton) who presided over Christ’s crucifixion. Burton confessed to being one of several leading men who fell in love with Simmons but found their advances rejected.

Jean Simmons was one of the great beauties of British cinema, and she was also a talented actress.

Audiences were captivated by Jean Simmons from the moment she first appeared on the screen, climbing on to a dance band stand to sing a spirited “Let Him Go, Let Him Tarry” in the popular movie about the RAF in wartime, The Way to the Stars (1945), and she was to swiftly become one of the UK’s biggest box-office draws.

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Kathleen Byron

A film star remembered for one role – as Sister Ruth in ‘Black Narcissus’ – that’s a bit unfair really because she was in lots of others and active on the stage and Television over a long career in acting.

These pictures are from a 1949 magazine and shows her in her Knightsbridge flat and were taken just before she made the film ‘ The Small Back Room’

She is here in her three b edroom apartment in Knightsbridge – and the caption even says the she ‘does her own housework’

She also designed the attractive furnishings herself

ABOVE – A service lift connects to the kitchen below to her dining room above.

She is a music lover and has a collection of French Cabaret songs

In 1943 she had married USAF pilot Daniel Bowen, and gone to live in the USA but there her film work never made any headway, so she came back to England. She was divorced from Daniel Bowen in 1950 so maybe when these pictures were taken the marriage was effectively over and she was living alone in London.

She must have returned in 1945 because she was in ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ and then ‘Black Narcissus’ – both made here at Denham Film Studios

However it is the role of Sister Ruth that cements her well and truly in the British Film Hall of Fame for this wonderful portrayal which leaves the cinema audience at first frightened and then disturbed.

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Phyllis Calvert

I have just watched an episode of Midsomer Murders with John Nettles from the year 2000, and this looks to have been Phyllis Calvert’s last ever role – she died in 2002, ending a career in films and Television that spanned more than 60 years.

An early role was the love interest of George Formby in ‘Let George Do It’ from 1940, a story where George who is travelling with a Theatre Troupe somehow somehow gets on a boat to Norway where he is mistaken as from British Intellegence. Thus begins a quite exciting film – suitably intersperced with gaps to allow the famous George Formby songs which he delivers with his Ukelele

To star in a George Formby film at that was very much the icing on the cake for a young actress because these were extremely successful.

I recall a former Usherette saying that at that time, if there was a George Formby film on at the cinema, then it was a sell-out

Later, she again hit the jackpot with a series of British made films ‘Fanny By Gaslight’, ‘The Man in Grey’ and ‘Madonna of the Seven Moons’ alongside such actors as James Mason and Stewart Granger.

Madonna of the Seven Moons‘ is maybe the  best of these. Set in 1930s Italy, it tells the story of a young rape victim (played by Phyllis Calvert) who marries and has a daughter but, driven to madness by her early experiences, leads a double life. When gripped by madness, she loses all memory of her respectable life as the wife of a wealthy wine merchant and instead rushes into the arms of her gangster-lover, played by Stewart Granger.

Years later

Phyllis Calvert This Is Your Life

THIS IS YOUR LIFE – Phyllis Calvert, actress, was surprised by Eamonn Andrews  on the doorstep of her West London house.

Phyllis trained at the Margaret Morris School of Dancing and performed from the age of ten, gaining her first film role at 12. She acted in repertory theatre and in several films, before making her London stage debut in A Woman’s Privilege in 1939.

Her role in the Gainsborough Studios production of the melodrama The Man in Grey in 1943 confirmed her status as a leading actress, and during the following decade she starred in many romances, including Fanny by Gaslight and My Own True Love, becoming one of Britain’s highest paid film stars.

Phyllis also appeared on television, playing Mrs March in the 1958 serials Little Women and Good Wives, and in 1970, she landed the leading part of an agony aunt with problems of her own in the drama series Kate. I couldn’t remember this at all.

This programme went out on December 20th 1972

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Dad’s Army 2016

I watched this film again last evening and have to say I seem to enjoy it more each time – the casting of Toby Jones as Captain Mainwaring and Bill Naghy as Sergeant Wilson was an inspired choice because they slipped into the parts perfectly.

Bridlington old town stood in as Walmington on Sea and it just looked so much in the era of Wartime and conveyed an array of varied shops and of course the Bank

The thrilling climax to the film was shot at North Landing Flamborough just a few miles north and to see that U Boat rise out of the sea was brilliantly done.

I have read one review on imdb that said that we, as the audience, didnt have enough time to take on board everyone of the other members of the platoon who were all good though – and the comment was made that maybe they should have made TWO Dads Army films back to back by which time we would all have been on board. I think this is probably true.

I wish that they had done two films

What a scene this is – a German UBoat surfaces near Warmington On Sea

I mentioned the climax to the film earlier, and remember when we first saw it at the cinema on the big screen, almost jumping on the seat and cheering when that march past through Walmington On Sea took place to the famous Dad’s Army theme song as two Spitfires swooped overhead and away. Wonderful

ABOVE – One of my own pictures – and I love it – so dramatic

Captain Mainwaring and Private Pike

At the World Premiere on 26 January 2016 at The Odeon, Leicester Square in London

In the film one particular element had been used before – when Catherine Zeta Jones asks Mainwaring to remove his glasses which he does, she pretends to be very taken with his appearance – like Churchill

In an episode from 1970 of the original series, Mainwaring ( Arthur Lowe) becomes besotted with a woman called Mrs Gray, who comes to Walmington On Sea played by Carmen Silvera and she again asks for Mainwaring to take his spectacles off with a similar reaction – and in both cases they meet up in the town Tea Shop

In 1970 Carmen Silvera appeared in the Dad’s Army episode Mum’s Army as Fiona Gray, the love-interest for Captain Mainwaring, a role especially written for her by David Croft
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Radio Times from 1955

I remember that we had our first television set from early in 1952, when at that time we only had one channel BBC and even at the time that these Two Radio Times magazines were issued in March 1955 nothing had changed.

Then in September of 1955 ITV was introduced – so we had then two channels. Early sets had to be converted with an ‘add-on’ box that at the flick of a switch gave us the new channel.

ABOVE – Peter Scott was often on Television at that time from his home at Slimbridge

Looking back at the scheduling for Friday 1st April 1955, The Grove Family was on at 7-45 pm but it only ran for 15 minutes.

Transmission started at 3 pm and closed down at 4 pm then re-opened at 5 pm for one that I remember so well ‘The Cisco Kid’ followed by ‘The Range Rider’ and then we closed down again for an hour.

Then from 7 o clock we had the News, The Grove Family, a visit to Wells Cathedral with John Betjeman and after that Arthur Askey ‘Before Your Very Eyes’ – with very special guest Sabrina.

It does sound rather good – I would just love to sit down for an evening and watch that very programme

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The Heart of the Matter 1953

Yet another one with Maria Schell in it – hadn’t realised that until I came to look through the actors.

Also it is a film set in Sierra Leone. A dear friend and near neighbour of ours, who sadly passed away in 2012, had spent two years in the country during the War. He spoke very well of it, in that it was quite safe from German Bombers as they didn’t have the range, but the main dis-advantage was Malaria.

The weather is very hot and tropical so in many ways a paradise

Trevor Howard gives a capable performance as a British colonial policeman who is stationed in Sierra Leone caught up in a mid life crisis. He’s fallen out of love with wife Elizabeth Allan whom he sends away on money borrowed from a man who the authorities suspect of smuggling, an offence during wartime.

He also falls in love with Maria Schell, an Austrian refugee who with others had been on a life raft for 40 days at sea after Elizabeth Allan has been sent away. That and the fact that he now has the appearance of impropriety has his superiors questioning him after accusations were brought by another civilian Denholm Elliott.

Howard’s troubles are big, but he is his own harshest judge

Peter Finch played the priest, Father Rank in the film – he had just finished ‘The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men’ for Walt Disney, then Gilbert and Sullivan and also a stage play in the West End with Laurence Olivier and shortly after this he was heading to Ceylon for ‘Elephant Walk’ with Vivien Leigh. As we all know by now, Vivien Leigh became ill in Ceylon and had to be flown back to Britain – her place was taken by Elizabeth Taylor.

Peter Finch

So we can see that Peter Finch was then a very busy actor

Trevor Howard looking quite stern

ABOVE – the actors and crew gather together on the set of the film

Arriving in Sierra Leone

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