Above is another one of those priceless documentary looks at New York life in the late 20s/early 30s courtesy of the Fox Movietone News camera, an early sound-on-film system that enabled recordings of everyday life and events without having to set up cumbersome equipment which in turn would usually freeze the on-camera participants--these glimpses feature entirely natural behavior of people who are only dimly aware at best that they're being filmed. Here we see a group of children, ages 5-7 roughly, playing in a park on West End Avenue and 106th Street in January of 1930. A teacher leads them in a couple of songs while their mothers sit by on the benches, wearing those funny 1920s Cloche women's hats that so symbolize 20s fashion that to wear one now would be a clear indication that you were on your way to a 1920s themed party.

What has this to do with Veterans Day you may ask? As I estimated the children's ages as I did, that would mean they were born somewhere between the early to mid 20s. Which means those boys you see surely saw action in the war that was a decade away. How many of them lived to tell about it? We'll never know. But they were members of the 'greatest generation' and it's heartbreaking to see them at that age, happily singing nursery rhymes on a winter's day in the park.

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My dear departed father Frank De Felitta (1921-2016) spent much of the 1960s as a writer/producer/director of documentaries at NBC news. I've posted them all on Youtube and I highly recommend (natch) taking a look at them. One of the best is 'The Battle Of The Bulge', shot in 1963 and aired on the twentieth anniversary of the eponymous battle. In it, he interviewed veterans of the battle along with General Omar Bradley, General Anthony McAuliffe (the guy who said 'Nuts' to the Germans when told of their insistence that he surrender--click here for his wonderful Wikipedia entry)  and (a bit astonishingly) Nazi General Hasso Von Manteuffel. The film runs just under an hour and is far from a drab, academic 'talking head' documentary. My father's cinematic instincts were strong and artful and its a hell of a good watch.

And by the way, he was a veteran. He served in the Army Air Corps as a pilot in the 94th Troop Carrier Squadron. I was always so proud of this part of his life but he really didn't discuss it much unless he could find some way to make an amusing anecdote out of an experience. It was only toward the end of his long life that he began to grapple with the experience in a quiet, somewhat haunted way. So many veterans of that war seem to have had the same reaction. They were released back into a world that welcomed them as heroes and then quickly moved on, urging them to assimilate and get back to 'life as usual' without much contemplation about the extraordinarily awful experience they'd survived. About five years before he died I asked him to write a memoir about his war experiences. I told him he needn't worry about publishing it. It's mere existence would be an extraordinary gift to my son on the 100th anniversary of D-Day (in which he participated) which will be in 2044. In that year my son will be forty years old and he would have in his possession a first hand account of the mission. Imagine a one-hundred year old first hand soldier's account Civil War diary being given to a descendant in1965 for instance. My father seemed to like the idea and said he'd give it 'serious thought'. But he never sat down behind his Royal manual typewriter (on which he wrote numerous screenplays and all of his novels) and wrote it. The fact that he didn't told me the whole story; it was simply not an experience to be relived, even seventy plus years later.

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If you were sitting around your house in Los Angeles on the night of April 1st 1974 and had the TV tuned (as it once was said) to KTLA Channel 5, you would have seen the above two minutes of ads. It's the night before the 46th Academy Awards which is pro-moed (I believe the first 20 or so seconds provide a glimpse of it--an accidental tape-over I assume) which is how we know the date. Channel 5 had recently acquired the syndicated rights to Groucho Marx's 'You Bet Your Life' and was to begin airing them that summer. (I remember this because, as a 9 year old Marx Brothers fanatic, I made it a point to pretend to go to sleep at my usual bedtime only to sneak out to the den to watch the show on our black and white Zenith). A promo for this upcoming programming event is part of the clip, along with a a very sexy dance buy a woman advertising skin cream. There's also a promo for the Oscars (did they air on 5? Strange--thought it would be an exclusive network event...) as well as a trailer for 'Papillion' which was to open a week later. As I recall, the 'You Bet Your Life' nightly 11PM airing was followed by 'The Honeymooners' which I also stayed up to watch. I love these little time machine glimpses into the TV past--the uncut, unexplained nature of the clip and why it exists at all is part of the ghostly charm. But what were people taping off of in '74? One-inch? Standard home VCR units were still a couple of years away, weren't they?

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If anyone ever doubted that Stan Laurel was the real director of L&Hs films, one need only 'read' this photo (below) taken on the set of 'Men O' War', their third sound short (complete movie posted above).  On a sunny May morning in 1929, a small crowd of people sit on a knoll watching the slapstick movie-in-progress being shot in Hollenbeck Park, Los Angeles.  At the bottom sits Oliver Hardy on a bench in costume. His look is one of benign impatience--he's used to the delays and wishes he could be heading off to the racetrack. And perhaps they would have finished early had his partner Stan--known for being a perfectionist--not decided to get into an intent conversation with the two actresses playing the girls they pick up in the park. Stan's authoritative stance and the intent look on his face suggest a possible actor-director tussle over the motivation of the girls behavior in the scene. The other men on the set--in suits and hats of course--stand at a respectful distance, allowing the auteur-comic the space necessary for him to achieve the high standard he insists upon. There is only room for one director on a set and clearly Stan was it--as opposed to Lewis R. Foster who was the credited one. Is that Foster in the straw hat to the left of Ollie? Is he looking on in annoyance as his star usurps his role? And might that be a young George Stevens peering over Ollie's shoulder?

Crowds watch Laurel and Hardy filming



Here's one of those before/after looks at LA in the 30s (and earlier) as seen in Hal Roach comedies and the same exact locations now. In this case it's not movie locations themselves that we're seeing but the site of the Hal Roach studio. The main building is a handsome colonial number which was demolished in 1963. The view of what's there now has sort of spoiled my afternoon but no matter. It's just progress and I'm thankful that the steps that Laurel and Hardy haul the piano up in 'The Music Box' still exist. See the before/after video of the steps below. Better yet, watch 'The Music Box' (posted below the below, in color yet). It will make you forget the events of the day that are unfolding as I write this.

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