Tag Archives: leonard maltin

Missing Mr. Mitchell

We’re rushing up on the 4th of July again, which means more to me than just a day off. On a high note, the fourth is my birthday, but at the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, it also marks the second anniversary of the passing of our buddy, the legendary organist and choir director Bob Mitchell, who died at the age of 96 in 2009.

The term "legendary" is kicked around carelessly in Hollywood, but that’s the only way to describe Bob. He first tickled the ivories at the age of four way back in 1916, and by the time he was 12(!) he was proficient enough at the organ to accompany silent films in theaters. This gig lasted until the talkies hit the scene four years later. He then became a choir director – a position he held in one fashion or another for the next 80 years!

Along the way he founded the "Robert Mitchell Choir Boys" troupe, which appeared in 100 films, and was the subject of an Academy Award-nominated short.

After a stint in World War II, he returned to Los Angeles and worked for many years as a staff organist for classic radio shows.  In his later years, he returned to his roots to accompany silent films all around the Los Angeles area. This is how Bob came into our lives.

I had been a fan of Bob’s for years, but I had never met him until he agreed to accompany Buster Keaton’s The General for us at our film series in Newhall in 2007. Bob’s star power brought the folks out in droves, and for the rest of his life he played for us in front of packed houses. He would be driven to Newhall by his good friends Dr. Gene Toon and Dee Perkins. Sometimes it would take several minutes for him to go from the car to the organ, but once there, he would transform into a young man.

He would play for the next hour or more, with no sheet music, composing as he watched the screen. Occasionally, he would even sing along to the music, or comment about one of the stars on screen that he had worked with personally over the years. Everyone ate it up.

We got to spend some time together away from the shows. I had a special experience at the end of one year when I drove Bob back to his assisted living home in Hollywood. He was a very caring and religious man, and asked me to stay while he lead Hanukkah prayers for the two of us. Now, neither of us were Jewish, but there we were wearing yarmulkes and lighting candles because Bob wanted to honor all of his friends of the Jewish faith.

Bob had a special love for Kimi and would light up whenever she entered the room (just like me). Kimi gave him a birthday cake at one of our shows while he set at the organ, and Bob hugged her like she was a favorite granddaughter.

It’s ironic to say that the death of a 96-year-old was unexpected, but for me it was. Bob, despite a few health problems, was never in a hurry to leave this life. I asked him if he was interested in playing a show for us on his 100th birthday in 2012, and he said, "Let’s book it!"

But it was not to be. We were on our way to visit him at the hospital last year when we got word that he had passed away.

A year ago at this time, the Los Angeles Conservancy presented the 1924 silent film Peter Pan as part of their "Last Remaining Seats" series at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown L.A. The show was hosted by Leonard Maltin and the near-capacity crowd was treated to a wonderful evening of entertainment. The night was dedicated to Bob who had played for the conservancy for over 20 years.

Before the show, a documentary that we made was played in a continuous loop in a side room. It was of the night in 2008 when we took Bob to Dodger Stadium to play the organ for the 7th inning stretch. See, another item on Bob’s resume was being the very first organist at Dodger Stadium when it opened in 1962.

Do you see why the term legendary fits?

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It Came From Eddie Brandt’s

I got some sad news today at lunch when a friend of mine handed me a copy of the L.A. Times obituary section, which listed the passing of 90-year-old Eddie Brandt. Brandt was the owner and founder of Eddie Brandt’s Saturday Matinee, a movie rental store that has become a second home to legions of film geeks like me.

As a tribute to Eddie, today I am reposting an article I wrote about his store in July, 2010.

THE WORLD’s GREATEST VIDEO STORE

It may not look like much from the outside, but the first time I stepped through the doors of Eddie Brandt’s Saturday Matinee in North Hollywood, I knew I had discovered the movie rental mother lode. 

Lots of film buffs feel the same way, including Hollywood insiders like Leonard Maltin and Quentin Tarantino, who I’ve personally seen browsing among the 87,000 VHS tapes, 18,000 DVDs, and 22 tons of pictures and movie posters that can be found at 5006 Vineland Avenue. 

Since 1969, Eddie Brandt’s has been renting films and television shows on beta, VHS, laserdisc, DVD, and now Blu-ray. There are thousands of larger, flashier places to rent films, but there is only one Eddie Brandt’s. Some say it’s the world’s first video store, and hosts of Eddie Brandt’s fans, like me, also believe it’s the world’s best

Eddie Brandt was a comedian and song writer for Spike Jones and Spade Cooley for many years before becoming a writer for animated shows at Hanna-Barbera. It was there that he met his wife Claire, who was an inker. They married in the late 60s, and after cartoon work became scarce, they started a new business selling film stills they acquired from garage sales and swap meets. The fledgling enterprise got a major boost when Eddie bought a truckload of images from Columbia Pictures for a song, that would otherwise have ended up in the city dump.  

Home video was introduced at the time, and the Brandts began their film rental business with a half-dozen B-Westerns. This was at a time when films cost $50 each on betamax, and a decent player would set you back about $2500.

Eddie Brandt’s is still a family operation. Eddie, who is nearing 90, has retired, but Claire still manages photo sales. Their son Donovan–a walking film encyclopedia–heads up movie rentals. 

I stop in from time to time to locate rare silent comedies and B-Westerns that I know I won’t find at Blockbuster. I like listening in on conversations about discoveries other customers have made in the store, like the guy who once rented an ancient documentary about Coney Island and saw his parents on the film as youngsters! 

Over the past couple of decades, I’ve only heard “we don’t have it” a handful of times. At Eddie Brandt’s they like to say, “If we don’t have it, you probably can’t get it.” 

(One last thing … Back when Claire worked at Hanna-Barbera, she would often bring her baby daughter in to work with her. Her daughter wore a pony tail on the top of her head. At the same time, the artists were creating a new child character for a hit show. When Pebbles Flintstone debuted, she had a similar pony tail and bore a striking resemblance to Claire’s daughter …  Coincidence? We don’t think so.) 

To view Eddie’s L.A. Times obituary, click here.


Accomplishment #8,536

Charles and Maria Sotelo of High Desert Monuments in Hesperia, the creators of the "Modern Times" memorial plaque, with film historian Leonard Maltin, at the 2011 SCV ChaplinFest in Newhall, California, on Saturday, February 5, 2011.

When I was 18 years old, I attended a lecture given by John Goddard, the “world’s greatest goal achiever.” I remember being enthralled that day by a film he made about navigating the entire length of the Congo River in Africa. Afterwards, he exhorted all of us in attendance to go home and write down the ten things we most wanted to accomplish in our lives.

I took him up on it, and soon found that ten things weren’t enough. Ten items became twenty, which became fifty, which eventually grew to encompass thousands of things.

Since that day over thirty years ago, I have maintained the list, adding and checking things off almost daily. Thanks to power of writing my goals down, as of today, I have listed 8,536 items on my accomplishment list.

The entry for accomplishment number 8,536 is only three words: Help create ChaplinFest.

That’s it. But I think of these three words as the title of a book, with the thousands of sights, sounds, and memories of the event representing the words inside.

Michael McNevin, Tippi Hedren, Kimi, E.J., and Patrick McClellan at ChaplinFest on Saturday, February 5.

As a way of thanking all of the people who attended our inaugural 2011 Santa Clarita Valley ChaplinFest last Friday and Saturday, I would like to list some of these moments as they appear in my head:

Leonard Maltin and Tippi Hedren mimicking Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard in the final scene from Modern Times by walking arm-in-arm down the center of Sierra Highway near Agua Dulce … Seeing Chaplin’s overalls from Modern Times as well as his prop wrenches and oil can … Kimi and I hearing our names on Jack FM during our friend Tami Heidi’s “Jack-tivities,” in which she announced ChaplinFest … the beautiful monument created by the equally wonderful Maria and Charles Sotelo of High Desert Monuments of Hesperia … riding to the actual Modern Times site with Leonard and Alice Maltin … finally meeting author John Bengtson, who I have admired for years … spending time with David Totheroh, who is the grandson of Chaplin’s longtime cameraman, Rollie Totheroh … hanging out with our buddies Chris and Charlie Epting … all the great vendors … the hundreds of hours of hard work put in by volunteers like Ed, Ralph, Brenda, Paul and all the others too numerous to name … the graciousness of Tippi Hedren, and the love she has for her staff at the Shambala Preserve … the bus that serves as a mobile film studio Hugh Munro Neely brought from the Mary Pickford Institute … seeing the very first copies of Steve Bingen’s new book about the MGM backlots … watching Tippi clown for the cameras with our cardboard Charlie Chaplin cutout … the humor of Alice Maltin and the generosity of her husband Leonard … the beautiful proclamations presented to us by the state, county, and city … the amazing Q&A session between Leonard and Tippi on what it was like for her to work with Charlie Chaplin on A Countess From Hong Kong … the dynamic duo of Jim and Pam Elyea talking with David Totheroh about what it was like to work on Chaplin … Tippi’s story about how an elephant at Shambala once ate Sophia Loren’s address book … the donations we received to help pay for the monument … the performances of the great Michael McNevin and Tracy Newman … the laughter coming from members of all generations during our screenings of Modern Times and The Pilgrim … the crowd cracking up when Tippi asked Leonard during the Q&A if he would like to know what it was like for her to work with Chaplin, and Leonard jokingly responding, “No!” … and especially, the camaraderie shared between all of our organizers: Ayesha Saletore, Beth Werling, Rachel Barnes, and my beautiful wife Kimi …

I could go on and on.

If you were unable to attend this weekend, don’t sweat it. Because of the HUGE success of our first event, there WILL be a 2012 ChaplinFest that you can attend!

Put it on your list of things you want to accomplish.

The "Modern Times" monument which we plan to place at the site of the final scene.

To see more ChaplinFest images, click HERE

To make a contribution to help pay for the monument, click HERE


Charlie Chaplin’s Days

Last night in Santa Clarita’s city council chambers, a motion was approved proclaiming Saturday, February 5, 2011 “Charlie Chaplin Day” in the city.

This was done to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the release of Charlie’s final silent film Modern Times, which was partially shot near Santa Clarita.

The early part of February often proved significant during Chaplin’s long and storied career.

Charlie was a young English music hall performer on tour with the Fred Karno Troupe when he was discovered by producer Mack Sennett and given a contract to work in the flickers. He had not yet turned twenty-five when he first stepped through the gates at Sennett’s Keystone Studios near Glendale in January, 1914.

He was immediately thrust in front of the cameras, and on February 2, 1914 made his film debut in a 15-minute comedy called Making A Living where he plays a swindler who gets apprehended by the Keystone Cops.

Less than a week later, on February 7, Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” character debuted in a one-reeler called Kid Auto Races at Venice. Sennett loved to use whatever was happening in Southern California as a backdrop for his hastily constructed plots, and Kid Auto Races was no exception. A soapbox derby race was taking place down by the beach and Sennett hustled his cast and crew to Venice to capture the action. A plot was derived on the site requiring Chaplin to play a camera-crazy spectator at the races who sees the filming and does whatever he can to insert himself in the action.  

Chaplin hurriedly assembled a contrasting mélange of oversized and undersized clothing, dabbed on some greasepaint to create a moustache, doffed a derby, grabbed a cane, and just like that, one of the most enduring characters in cinematic history was born fully-grown.

Chaplin appeared in two more films over the next few days, including one that until recently was thought to have never existed.

On February 19, Charlie played a Keystone Cop in a film called A Thief Catcher. It was soon forgotten and all copies were thought to be lost. Chaplin, possibly because he was unsatisfied with the finished product, later claimed that the film had never been made.

A couple of years ago, a film historian was browsing in an antique shop in Michigan when he discovered the long-lost film. (We will be presenting A Thief Catcher, along with Modern Times on February 5 in Newhall as part of ChaplinFest. Leonard Maltin will be hosting a Q&A session with Tippi Hedren before the film. Ms. Hedren, who is most famous for starring in The Birds for Alfred Hitchcock, also starred in Chaplin’s final film, A Countess From Hong Kong in 1967.)

February 5 also proved significant to Chaplin in 1919. That was the day that he, along with film pals Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and D.W. Griffith, created United Artists.

It’s interesting that the February 5th “Charlie Chaplin Day” proclamation will be presented in a special ceremony down the hill from the William S. Hart mansion in Santa Clarita since Bill Hart would have been the 5th member of the United Artists team had he not pulled out of the deal at the last moment.