Friday, October 24, 2014

Boris Karloff on This Is Your Life

Boris Karloff in a studio publicity photo.
Ralph Edwards not only hosted This Is Your Life on television, but on radio as well. Before the series made the transition to the video screen, This Is Your Life was a short-run radio program, premiering on the evening of November 9, 1948. The format of the radio program was similar to the television counterpart, but with minor differences. Most of the television broadcasts centered on the life of a notable sports champion, musician, author or other notable celebrity. On radio, the "honor guest" was of a living American, man or woman, a non-celebrity who received 30 minutes of fame. They were selected in advance and were completely unaware until they were told on the broadcast that they were the "honoree" chosen for the show. Sometimes they were sent tickets to attend the broadcast (or the transcribing of the broadcast); occasionally, they were sent to the program by their boss on a "business trip," etc. Relatives and friends who  crossed the pathway of the "honor guest" would be contacted in advance by Ralph Edwards and his staff, and the friends and family were flown from all parts of the nation -- and foreign countries -- to take part in a dramatization of the honor guest's life story.

At times, Ralph Edwards took the show right into the place of business or even the home of the "honor guest," delivering the broadcast from the point of origin instead of from the studios, thus helping to build the surprise element. For the 1948 to 1949 season, broadcasts were transcribed from a San Francisco cable car with the conductor as honor guest, from an elevator going up and down a building with the honor guest being the elevator operator, and from a department store with a salesgirl as honor guest, etc. 

Ralph Edwards on This Is Your Life.
Honor guests were chosen for outstanding service because they gave simply by living and facing life cheerfully and courageously. The program reunited separated families and friends, making possible trips and entertainment for people who might not otherwise receive such opportunities. The person's life was previewed usually by starting with the story of their birth, moving chronologically forward to the present, highlighting outstanding experiences through the years such as marriage, even the recalling of some tragedy such as accident or death, showing that life is made of "smiles and tears," jobs and promotions, etc. When the "review" of the honor guest's life concluded, a preview of the "Philip Morris Future" bestowed the honor guest with special gifts that would help to make their dreams come true -- such gifts were "personalized" because they were planned in advance, after consulting with relatives and friends of the honor guest, to make them especially applicable to the person who would receive them. Sometimes cash, merchandise, a vacation, a car, or anything else the honor guest needed or long-desired was included in the "Philip Morris Future." (Yes, the program was sponsored by Philip Morris.) 

Amusing factoid: During the first season, 1948 to 1949, listeners were encouraged to submit suggestions for people they felt worthy of being chosen as "honor guest." For the second season, 1949 to 1950, the staff of the radio program had enough candidates from whom to choose, as a result of an overwhelming response from the first season, that listeners during the second season were no longer asked to submit suggestions. 

Undocumented in any printed reference guide is Boris Karloff's appearance on the radio program of November 2, 1949... until now. (This is not in reference to his 1957 television appearance on This Is Your Life.)

Boris Karloff publicity photo
During the past month, and continuing through November, archeological diggings through corporation records and production files related to Ralph Edwards' radio productions are bringing to light some surprising results. Among the recent discoveries is the April 27, 1946, broadcast of radio's Truth or Consequences, which deviated considerably from the usual quiz show format to offer a tribute to a wheel-chair bound veteran... and this deviation can easily be considered the "genesis" of This Is Your Life.

The Consequences program, which usually consisted of a modernized-style of the popular party game, provided contestants with "surprise consequences" that could best be considered "dares" in exchange for large prizes. On the evening of April 27, special guest Lawrence Tranter, of Murray, Utah, a young wheelchair veteran chosen to represent all of his fellow WWII buddies on the show, offered a tribute to Lawrence and his buddies in the nature of a “flashback,” with leading events and personalities who played a part in the life of Lawrence Tranter... from his high school days through his induction into the Army, plus one flashback to the very day when Lawrence was born. The novel aspect of the program was that these flashbacks are not mere dramatizations with “actors playing parts” – the real people who knew and loved Lawrence were on the stage in person to play the roles and to say “welcome back” to Lawrence. 

As Ralph Edwards narrated the story of the 21-year-old boy, the following people appeared on the program; their appearances are a complete surprise to Tranter. Mrs. Resmussen of the Murray, Utah, draft board at the time when he was inducted in 1943, spoke to him in behalf of the late Mrs. Glen Howe, who was chairman of the board when Tranter was called, but who since died. Mr. Varion Morteson, Principal of the High School who landed Lawrence his high school diploma from Murray High. Irving Olsen, Junior Madsen and Orlan Parker, boy friends who used to “gang up” at Hammond’s Ice Cream Parlor in Murray, Utah, where Lawrence was a soda jerk back in 1940. Lawrence’s sister, Mildred, who is now married and has a young daughter. Lawrence’s brother, Leonard. Dr. Warren Shepherd, the physician who brought Lawrence into the world, back in 1925. Frank and Lorene Tranter, father and mother of Lawrence. 

NBC publicity photo
After the reunion on the stage, Lawrence was given a glimpse of his future… While Lawrence was in the hospital recovering from wounds, which he received while fighting in the Pacific, he studied watch repair and often said that he would like to make a life business of repairing watches. During the broadcast, Lawrence learned that he would receive complete free training... plus a regular weekly salary while attending the Bulova Watch School for Servicemen in New York. A place to live was provided for Lawrence during his attendance at the school. He would be asked to choose the city in which he would like to open his own business for a jewelry store and watch repair shop… and that store would be set up for Lawrence Tranter, completely stocked with the merchandise he needed to open business, all the tools of the watch-repairing trade, and rent paid for one year in advance for the new store. 

Meanwhile, until arrangements for Tranter’s trip to New York’s Bulova School were completed, he had a few days to spend in Hollywood with his family and friends who came to visit him on the radio program. The good times began immediately following the radio program, when the “gang from Murray, Utah” were guests at a private supper at the expense of Truth or Consequences – and, so that Lawrence would not be late for any of his “future appointments,” he received a Bulova wrist watch -- the company that sponsored the gifts. 

On a side note, Charles Tranter would return to Truth or Consequences two years later for the broadcast of April 24, 1948. Over the air, Tranter acknowledged the dream gifts which consisted of a diploma and $1,000 from the Bulova Watch School of New York, in recognition of Tranter’s completion of a two-year training course as a watch repair expert in the Bulvoa School for Veterans. He would soon be opening his own watch shop with rent paid for one year. The shop was set up in Tranter’s home town of Murray, Utah, where the governor of Utah promised to be the first customer.

Boris Karloff
Truth or Consequences later restaged the future This Is Your Life format again, months later, on the same quiz program. The September 7, 1946, broadcast featured a consequence imposed upon an ex-G.I. contestant named Lester Hanson, who was still hospitalized and who was asked to “act” in a little dramatization in which he was assisted by radio actors Jack Moyles and Ivan Green. The dramatization portrayed the actual heroism and experiences of the veteran, Lester Hanson, but the contestant did not know until he read along in the “script” that he was acting out his own story. For his efforts as an actor, and in recognition of his exploits during the war, Lester received a $1,000-diamond engagement ring (and wedding band to match) to give the girl he was soon to marry; a complete wardrobe for civilian life including two Hart Schaffner Marx suits and top coats; and all-expense-paid for equipping his new car (he already had a car) so that he would be able to drive it without using his disabled limbs. Truth or Consequences arranged this special equipment for the car through consultation with the vet’s hospital. On October 6, 1947, Hanson participated in a 37 minute re-creation of the Truth or Consequences segment, expanded for an audition broadcast for This Is Your Life. Regardless of the stories circulating about the origin of This Is Your Life, the 1946 broadcast appears to be the genesis for the popular series that honored civilians who devoted time and money for just causes. Restaged again for the season premiere of 1947, with a different war veteran, followed by a new rendition for an audition, forms what we now know as the origin of This Is Your Life

Every episode of the This Is Your Life radio program were transcribed and copies exist in two private archives. About 20 episodes are known to exist in collector hands, many undated, including the October 6, 1947, audition recording, and another audition dated May 14, 1948, which has yet to be reviewed for verification of yet another audition.

The November 2, 1949, broadcast with Boris Karloff, is not known to circulate among collectors... but thankfully, producer notes this week unveiled a complete summary behind the broadcast. Such notes were summarized following each week's broadcast. Similar to a "review," and considered more substantial and definitive than a newspaper log which only cited what was "planned" for broadcast, we have a picture of what aired on that evening... and Karloff's participation.

THIS IS YOUR LIFE
Broadcast of November 2, 1949
Mrs. Erna Rex, real estate agent of Los Angeles, was honored at an abandoned house, located at 7060 Franklin Avenue, Hollywood, California. The house was referred to as "Boris Karloff's house." In keeping with the Halloween theme, Mrs. Rex was ushered into a house, "haunted" by her relatives and friends. Ralph Edwards was disguised as a "doctor" and Mrs. Rex was taken to the house by her daughter, who led her mother to believe that the "doctor" wants to sell his house. Mrs. Rex was chosen as "honor guest" because she represented a profession that rendered service to many, especially in the post-war days with housing situations as tight as they were. To make her work easier, Mrs. Rex received a Buick coupe for use in her contact work as a real estate agent (plus a radio-phonograph-television set to comprise Mrs. Rex's "Philip Morris Future"). Special guest during the last couple minutes of the broadcast to tell everybody to get out of his house was Boris Karloff.

Dozens of people across the country keep tabs on radio appearances of Hollywood celebrities -- many of them scholars, historians and authors. Some could be considered the "Keeper of the Flame" for preserving all things related to specific celebrities, including radio appearances. Such lists continue to grow over the years as new discoveries are made... Boris Karloff's radio credits among them. Originally such lists were comprised from existing sound recordings and mail order catalogs where vendors created lists of their personal holdings. Circa early 1980s, broadcast logs created by the late Ray Stanich became another source of reference. Of recent, newspaper listings have become a new and valuable source for information -- but such information remains "questionable." When a collector in Canada compiled a listing of titles, broadcast dates and guest appearances of radio's Suspense, originating from radio logs in The New York Times, he quickly discovered that one out of every four entries contained the wrong title and/or guest celebrity. It has been noted by the most knowledgable of historians that newspapers listed what was "planned" to be broadcast -- not what was definitely broadcast. This means any broadcast logs and celebrity guest appearances on radio programs, compiled from newspapers, "can" be statistically 25 percent inaccurate. Providing trivia such as the name of an actress originally slated for a role they did not perform is pretty cool... but regrettably, some historians have been quick on the gun: Without mentioning that many of the entries on their listings are still in "question" or "unverified," they mislead their readers into believing their lists are "definite." If newspapers listed the celeb as the scheduled guest, they assume the guest was definitely on the show... and this is not the case. Verification of a radio review, an extant recording or producer notes are needed to truly confirm. (One such list cites Karloff on radio in 1934 on a radio program known as The Show -- which was a tip-off that the scholar used newspaper listings to compile his list. Newspaper editors rarely provided the exact title of the program when the sponsor's product was part of the program title -- newspapers did not want to provide free advertising. One such example: The Lux Radio Theater was often listed in newspapers as "Radio Theater.")

Newspaper editors were not psychic. They could only tally a broadcast schedule from material furnished by their local radio stations. Station managers supplied information courtesy of press releases issued by the networks. Since some newspapers featured a week's worth of radio listings in advance, and dates on press releases confirm this, most of the information supplied to newspapers was planned more than a week in advance. Radio, being a live medium, was not certain to guarantee the accuracy of advance publicity. It is a known fact that one out of every five celebrity guests on Rudy Vallee's radio program in the 1930s was unable to appear -- and that was among the most prestigious and highest rated programs!

The reason why Boris Karloff's newly-discovered This Is Your Life radio appearance just came to light is because his appearance on the series was un-billed. Karloff was a "surprise guest." Yes, the series was transcribed, but with no recordings circulating among collectors (yet) and the radio program virtually being undocumented until now, you can understand how this one flew under the radar. Even newspaper logs would not have listed Karloff's appearance.

Next week on my blog I will post another Karloff radio discovery that, in similar vein, went undiscovered and undocumented until now.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The "lost" Mysterious Traveler Episodes

Mysterious Traveler comic book
In recognition of Halloween, here are a few goodies related to The Mysterious Traveler. Romantically, fans of old-time radio (and fans of old horror radio programs) rave about The Mysterious Traveler. Chilling tales of murder -- and on occasion -- science fiction and horror. One can easily compare the stories to those of E.C. Comics (Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, etc.) and while the series today ranks among the most popular of radio chillers (as opposed to the often overlooked and underrated Quiet, Please series), in reality it was not as popular at the time it was first broadcast. The best example I can come up with at the moment is the motion-picture, It's a Wonderful Life. Never reaching box office success at the time of release, it's become a pop classic today. In reality, The Mysterious Traveler was a sustaining filler for time slots on the Mutual Broadcasting System's irregular schedule. A sustaining program was simply as it suggests: the network forked up the production costs in the hopes that a sponsor would buy what network executives believed was a promising program. Ford was a temporary sponsor in 1950, but only for a few broadcasts. (Ford did the same for a large number of radio programs in the same manner in late 1950.)

The radio program spawned a short-lived series of comic books and four mystery magazines. These collectibles vary in price depending on the quality of the comics and magazines. The front and back cover, and the tightness of the spine, are inspected for grading quality so if the magazine is in superb condition but half the front cover is torn, the value is so cheap you can pay $5 bucks for it. The usual going price for a good condition copy of the magazine is $20 per issue.


Mysterious Traveler mystery magazine
The series was created and scripted by Robert Arthur and David Kogan. I suspect (and am presently working on digging for proof) that they rarely co-wrote a script together. Instead, they wrote the scripts solo and shared joint authorship for every radio script broadcast. (In the same manner as Lennon and McCartney as The Beatles.) Many of the episodes were reused for The Sealed Book, The Strange Doctor Weird and a couple recycled for the later episodes of Suspense. Robert Arthur later adapted a number of his Mysterious Traveler scripts for short stories in magazines. During the late fifties and early sixties, Arthur ghost wrote the introductions for Alfred Hitchcock in the paperback and hardcover anthologies. You can always tell if Arthur was the editor because there was always one story among the selection penned by Arthur -- many of which were adaptations of Mysterious Traveler scripts.

Regardless of what is reported on a number of internet websites, The Mysterious Traveler did not inspire other mystery radio programs such as Dark Venture, Murder by Experts and The Teller of Tales. Anthology programs were a dime a dozen and rarely was one radio program the inspiration for another. In fact, producers insisted on their own variation-on-a-theme so they could avoid potential lawsuits. One website goes as far as to suggest that The Mysterious Traveler competed against Inner Sanctum Mystery and Lights Out! and that "the same big three networks were forced to continually shuffle their offerings back and forth on the radio dial to continue to fend off the upstart Mysterious Traveler." This, naturally, is incorrect and merely an assumption. The same site claims: "While simply a road-bump to MBS, the blacklisting of one of radio's greatest writing teams effectively ended their radio writing careers with the cancellation of The Mysterious Traveler." This is not true. Executives at Mutual made a financial decision to cancel the program after it was determined that selling the series to potential sponsors in an era where it was acknowledged that television was going to dominate the field was not feasible.

Maurice Tarplin as The Mysterious Traveler
Transcription discs for "lost" episodes are expensive because they rarely turn up on eBay. Just a hair over 70 episodes are known to exist and while unscrupulous mp3 vendors have been altering episodes of The Sealed Book and retitling them to fool gullible consumers into believing they are buying over 100 episodes, discs do seem to turn up from time to time. I recently paid $225 for three transcription discs and they are presently being transferred to audio CDs. The dates on the disc labels do not cohere with the radio scripts so whether they are "lost" recordings or simply ones that exist already has yet to be determined until the discs and CDs arrive and I can listen to them. So in the meantime, here are a few plot summaries for five "lost" episodes for you to enjoy. I'll try to post additional plots in future posts.

 Episode #126  "INVITATION TO DEATH"
Broadcast October 28, 1947
Plot: A Halloween party is being given by Jerry Mason, who has picked out a very appropriate spot for it -- a deserted old mansion in the woods, reputed to be haunted. An hour and a half before midnight, Jerry plots with Sally to murder her husband, due to arrive in a few minutes. With everyone masked in costume, it would be easy for Sally to lure her often-drunk husband, Carl, out to the old rock quarry where Jerry can throw his rival over the edge. They would then return to the party and act as if nothing has happened. What Jerry ad Sally are not aware of is the recent auto accident at Dead Man's Curve, a notoriously dangerous spot a short ways out of town. A motorcycle officer saw the accident and is shocked when the dead body, dressed in a skeleton costume, vanishes from the scene. When Carl arrives at the party, Sally and Jerry commit the crime and return to the party only to discover Carl alive and well. A second attempt seems successful but when Carl returns from the dead again, the lovebirds strike the dead man with a rock and toss his body into a car. Their third attempt involves propping Carl up behind the wheel and pushing it over the edge of a blind curve down the road. Carl wakes from the dead once again and takes the wheel, causing the car to crash with the murderers restrained inside. When the motorcycle officer arrives at the scene, he is surprised to find the second car right smack on top of the green roadster that crashed there earlier that night. "Chances are a thousand to one against a thing like that," the officer remarks. "Death must like that spot." And the dead body of Carl, still in the skeleton costume, is found lying beside the rocks where he first vanished.

Episode #127  "MURDER AT THE DAWN OF TIME"
a.k.a. "THE MURDER THAT COULDN'T HAPPEN"
Broadcast November 4, 1947
Plot: In the courthouse auditorium, Walter Thayer, the county prosecutor in a little town in New Mexico called Sandy Island, questions a number of suspects in an attempt to settle the unsolved disappearance and potential murder of Professor Leonidas Jordan. Mr. and Mrs. Frisbee took in the 300 pound professor as a boarder and soon after discovered he had a lot of money. After convincing the professor to allow him to invest the funds in the stock market, Mr. Frisbee suffers a total loss as a result of a recent drop in the market. When the Professor finally perfects his latest invention, the couple are invited to participate in an experiment. The Professor explains that when certain radioactive isotypes are concentrated, they produce a curious effect on the energy stream of time itself. After tearing a hole into the fabric of time, the Professor uses his camera to capture photographs of what it was like 50,000 years ago. Tearing the hole even wider, the Professor wheels himself straight into the circle of light. Mr. and Mrs. Frisbee follow and it doesn't take long for them to realize they are the world's first time travelers. Taking advantage of the situation, Mr. Frisbee murders the Professor by smashing his skull in with a rock and then returns to the present. The police are called in to investigate the case of a missing person, but forensics prove murder. The skeletal remains of the Professor were recently discovered and dental records match the gold fillings found in the skull. A special-delivery package from the FBI in Washington verify the fingerprints on the rock match that of Mr. Frisbee. The fingerprints, made in clay that later hardened to become part of the rock itself, cinch the truth. In desperation, Mr. Frisbee turns on the time machine set up in the corner of the courthouse -- among the may exhibits in the trial. Mr. and Mrs. Frisbee escape into the past and shoots out the tubes to ensure their passage be closed forever. When everyone in the courtroom calms down from the excitement, Thayer questions whether the murderers, having escaped into the past, have become the ancestors of the human race. After all, homo sapiens appeared on earth just about that same time according to one scientist...

The above episode features two different script titles as revealed in the scan of the script cover and the first page of the script. (See photo scans of the script below.)



Episode #128  "MY DATE IS WITH DEATH"
Broadcast November 11, 1947
Plot: John Hart, a partner in the Sharon Fabrics Company, meets a stranger with a glowing face who represents himself as Mr. Death. While waiting for his train at Rosedale, John Hart attempts to evade the stranger only to wake and find his entire experience a nightmare. At home, he discovers the stranger handed him a newspaper predicting his death in two days. "John Hart was found scalded to death early this morning in the steam testing room of the plant, where new fabrics are subjected to intense heat," the newspaper reports. Suspecting one of his partners, George Hutchinson, of eliminating his business partner in the same manner as depicted in the newspaper, John cleverly finds a way of killing George on a lonely, deserted road. The next day, John meets his other business partner, Tom Fearing, only to discover Tom was the puppet master. Tom was the stranger in the waiting room, wearing powder that glowed in the dark. The newspaper was fake, planted by John's wife, Diana. Framed for murder, John is ordered to leave town -- or else. John, however, removes an ace up his sleeve when he pulls a gun on Tom and orders him into the steam testing room. Locking themselves in the room, John turns up the steam and throws the key down the ventilator. Tom screams out of desperation to avoid being scalded to death. John wakes to find himself still sitting in the train depot, having fallen asleep next to the stove. Was his dream a premonition?

Maurice Tarplin's artwork of The Mysterious Traveler
Episode #130  "DEATH CANCELS ALL DEBTS"
Broadcast December 2, 1947
Plot: Paul Edgar, a quaint little man who runs a bookstore, is a modern-day miser who saves every dollar he can, regardless of the precautions he put into effect -- including installing a burglar-proof safe in his home. Late one evening his brother Joe arrives, bleeding and begging for $2,000 cash. It seems Joe was playing cards and got into a fight. He snatched up a knife and stabbed a card player. With a police dragnet searching for him, Joe begs his brother for money. Offering to sign off on a $20,000 endowment policy carefully arranged by their father, Joe forfeits the policy to his brother in return for $2,000. Paul agrees and months later cashes in on the policy because his brother's dead body was found by police. Hours after receiving the claim, Paul receives another visit from his brother. Joe confesses how he switched his wallet and watch o the dead body of a tramp and tricked both the police and his brother into thinking he was dead. Joe wants half of the money, $10,000, or he will turn himself over to the police. It seems the man he stabbed never died and Joe is no longer wanted by the police. Paul attempts to stall for time while romancing Gladys, the secretary at the insurance firm. Gladys knows Joe is alive and well and agrees to marry Paul in return for the money -- the firm she works for has other options, including legally forcing for the return of the money. Paul reluctantly agrees. But when Gladys and her boss, Andrews, arrives at Paul's residence, they find Joe reluctant to surrender the money. "I couldn't bring myself to give back the money," Paul explains, "But it's all right -- it's perfectly all right." Opening a door, Paul reveals the horror -- Joe Edgar is dead, hanging from the chandelier.

Episode #151  "THE LITTLE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE"
Broadcast April 27, 1948
Plot: Lying on a hospital bed in an Eastern metropolis, Johnny Becker recounts to Lieutenant Morris, of the Homicide Squad, the events of the past week that led him to his present situation, while trying to prevent crying out in pain. Johnny was a habitual gambler who discovered that Maxie, an employee at Barney Sloan's pool parlor, has a rare gift. Maxie is not smart enough to do anything but sweep floors and cannot remember anything two minutes after someone tells him... but he swears he can communicate with his dead brother, Siggy. Maxie shrugs it off until Siggy (through Maxie) is correctly able to predict the winners of the races. Maxie soon strikes a bargain with Siggy (who communicates only with Maxie). Siggy provide a list of winners for upcoming races and Maxie will pay for a bigger tombstone for Siggy's grave. The partnership works out to perfection -- until Big Ed wants a private meeting with the habitual winner. Big Ed suspects Johnny has an inside source and proposes a percentage of the winnings if Maxie provides a list of his intel. The healthy share of dividends turns foul, however, when Big Ed wagers most of the Syndicate's money on a prize fight that Johnny swears: "Mike Sanders will win by a decision." When Killer Lewis wins the fight, the Syndicate puts the heat on Johnny, who is promptly shot in the streets. Back in the hospital bed, Johnny finishes his story moments before he dies and Lieutenant Morris is shocked to learn from the doctor that the newspapers are reporting that Killer Lewis did not win the fight last night. "That last punch he hit Mike Sanders was low," the doctor explains. "Sanders claimed a foul. The motion pictures proved he was right. The boxing commission reversed the decision, and awarded the championship to Sanders."

Friday, October 10, 2014

Claude Rains in "MIDNIGHT BLUE"

A friend of mine said he is a fan of Claude Rains and was complaining that some of the actor's radio appearances are not known to exist in recorded form. He wishes recordings would be found so he can listen to them. Well, knowing Bill reads my blog, I am presenting a surprise for him.

On the evening of Sunday, January 6, 1952, from 6:45 to 6:57 p.m., Claude Rains played the lead in an adaptation of creepy little story by John Collier titled, "Midnight Blue." His performance was the highlight of the weekly NBC radio program, The Big Show. Most of the second season broadcasts of The Big Show are not known to exist in collector hands -- but thankfully, they do exist. But seeing that it might take another decade before the recording surfaces, I am offering the next best thing: a scan from the original radio script featuring that very performance. If you can envision the voice of Claude Rains, you'll enjoy this little treat.




Friday, October 3, 2014

Cinefest 2015: The End of an Era

Since a number of people over the years complimented me on using my weekly blog to keep folks abreast of the latest developments in the hobby, this posting will maintain that status quo. Cinefest, an annual film festival held in Syracuse, New York, announced this year's dates: March 19 to 22, 2015. But it appears that Father Time is playing a serious toll against the very society that puts the film festival on and as it was announced earlier this week... the 2015 Cinefest will be their last... closing doors to 35 grand years.

The Syracuse Cinephile Society was founded by Phil Serling in 1967, with the intention of gathering every month to watch old movies and talk about the stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood. In 1978, they hosted the first Cinecon Film Festival and out of that success grew Cinefest, first held in 1981. There have been three major themes motivating the annual migration of cinephiles to Syracuse. Bringing film historians, educators and archivists together with private collectors for their mutual benefit, screening "lost" and obscure vintage films, and involving students of film history, restoration and preservation. The Board of Directors, who handled the monumental task annually, succeeded on all counts. Last year I recall chatting with film students from the George Eastman House who were eager to learn more about classic movies, offering a promising future for film preservation. Those students were not afraid to ask questions and learn something new.

Pee break in between movies in the massive movie room at the hotel.

When Phil Serling passed away in 2002, a number of people speculated an immediate end of the organization. When founding fathers pass away from an untimely death, or convention promoters pass the torch to someone younger and able, there always seems to be a few contentious and argumentative who believe "change" is for the worse. But Cinefest held on and the dedication and hard work of the Syracuse Cinephile staff kept the show going for an additional 13 years following his death.

It seems in an era when Comic Cons are the new rave, drawing in a younger crowd eager to dress in costume and pose for cameras, conventions with a nostalgic theme seem to be suffering from dwindling attendance. The reasons are many... ranging from an aging fan base, lack of enthusiasm from the younger generation, and a temporary declined economy. Take your pick. Everyone has a theory (stubbornly insisting they themselves know the exact answer) but the general consensus is what can be obvious from repeat attendance: an aging fan base. If the attendance was growing every year instead of shrinking, the continued success of any convention is strength in numbers. I remember at an old-time radio convention a celebrated film historian pounding his fist on the table and exclaiming, "the hobby needs younger people and more preservation." The room clapped and cheered in agreement. One year later, I saw no new young people and no movements to preserve OTR beyond what was already a collector market. Everyone agrees, everyone complains about what is wrong, but very few make an effort to patch the cracks in the walls. (I am proud to say that I do my part in attracting a few people to the conventions I attend, every year, and have succeeded in helping to build the attendance, no matter how large or small.)

A friend of mine recently agreed with me, adding: "I have also noticed that many collector clubs, beyond the film related ones, are suffering the same preponderance of white-haired members. We are turning into a society where out younger member's focus is firmly on mobile phones and tablets -- and our sociability is measured solely on the number of Facebook friends. Many tweet or text, rather than talk or engage. Earbuds have replaced speakers. Free illegal downloads and file swapping is killing pop culture media which needs fiscal dollars to survive. To quote Miss Garbo, we want to be alone and now have the tools to facilitate it."

Lots of vendors selling books, magazines, film prints and more!

I agree with Bob when it comes to "circulation" and "exposure." Young people will get into classic movies if they are exposed to them. The dwindling attendance at classic film festivals mirrors what happened to old-time radio conventions. For years, conventions recognizing and celebrating vintage radio broadcasts (The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet, Jack Benny, etc.) boomed large with attendance. But when radio programs became "free downloads" as a result of a compressed (and on a technical side, inferior) format, the conventions began hurting. Consensus was divided in two. Half the room insisted the dwindling attendance was an aging fan base and lack of younger enthusiasm. The other half insisted the internet was the culprit. Vendors who paid for table space to sell old-time radio shows (usually un-circulated and newly-discovered "lost" shows) ceased coming to the shows because sales were down and former customers admitted that free downloads were economical -- and you cannot beat free. Vendors responsible for buying transcription discs of "lost" radio programs stopped investing the money. Three days after Ted Davenport spent $1,000 on dozens of 1939 Shadow of Fu Manchu radio programs and released them to his customers, they were available for free downloads on the internet. They were the last of the "lost" shows Ted invested in. When vendors began dropping, so did the attendance. Others debate that the internet exposed old-time radio to a crowd that might otherwise not have jumped into the hobby, and I would agree that the new technology has both pro and con. In relation to classic film festivals, the pro is only at the advantage of the collector. The con is that film festivals are suffering from this problem.

The costs to have film prints transported to Syracuse every year from the Brigham Young, Library of Congress, George Eastman House and private collectors continues to rise. These increased costs need to be counter-balanced by paid attendance. The hotel where the event is put on will not donate the facilities out of charity. People who used to attend the show for years and have since stopped attending have been asked why... and they continue to provide a common answer: "Why should I pay to attend a film festival when I can watch old movies on TCM in the comfort of my own living room?"

Film festivals like Cinefest offer a few advantages you cannot find within reaching distance of your remote control. Meeting people who share a common interest in the same films you like to watch, sharing your passion for old movies, and building friendships with folks you wouldn't otherwise meet outweigh the admission cost. Friends at the festivals recommend titles you never knew existed. You learn about what goes on behind-the-scenes in the hobby (ranging from recently film discoveries, up-coming DVD releases and new restoration techniques). For folks who live in upstate New York, the opportunity to attend an annual gathering and join the excitement was convenient because of location. There are other film festivals along the East Coast but travel distance is sometimes taken into consideration.

The Cinefest organizers site a number of reasons for the finale. Changing technology is one. Every Saturday at the convention, for the last few years, a local movie theater opened the flood gates for the screening of 35mm archival films. Attendees hopped on board a bus and went down the road a few miles to watch classic black and white gems not available anywhere else. Last year, the transportation was cancelled. The local movie theater converted to digital projectors and 35mm format was obsolete. So the Saturday afternoon screenings remained in the hotel with 16mm reels... as it was throughout the rest of the weekend. Once again, the contentious and argumentative took a pessimistic view.

Finding "lost" films has also become a challenge. One of the highlights of the film festival was to watch movies you could not see anywhere else -- literally. But with the movie studios opening their vaults to MOD (Made-On-Demand) custom DVD releases on DVD-Recordable format, rare gems are becoming difficult to find. Years ago, no one in the hobby would have dreamed that the 1930 Billie Dove classic, One Night at Susie's, would have been released to DVD. Now, Warner Archive has made that available. (If I am not mistaken, it airs in a few days on TCM.) Thankfully, I had the pleasure to watch a color commercial made for movie theaters starring The Three Stooges, which has yet to be released to DVD even on the grey market. Mickey Rooney's early screen appearance in a delightful film, Orchids and Ermine (1927), was a pleasure to view. Boris Karloff in an RKO Information, Please film short was a Friday morning treat that has yet to be repeated anywhere else. None of which are easy to acquire even on the "grey" market. As recently explained by the Syracuse Cinephile Board of Directors, "this has also made the Cinefest programming of rare titles that cannot be seen anywhere else increasingly difficult."

Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Billie Dove in One Night at Susie's (1930).

The well-deserved retirement from the organization of several key staff members can also be added to the numerous reasons why the March 2015 will be the final convention. The group will continue their monthly gatherings of old movies, but the big event held annually will cease after 2015.

Running a convention is no easy task. As a convention promoter myself, I understand how the "little things" can weigh heavily on one's shoulders and, over the years, continue to build until the promoters either pass the torch to someone more energetic or close the doors indefinitely. For that reason, I would like to publicly thank all of the individuals responsible for Cinefest over the years for all the hard work and hours of entertainment.

Reporting sad news is never a highlight of this blog and with luck, I won't have to report sad news for quite a while. But if you are reading this and always had an itch to attend Cinefest, make plans to attend the film festival in March. They are going to close with a very special and exciting finale, and it would be better to say you were there to experience the fun than the oft-quoted phrase, "I always wished I could go." My motto has always been to do -- or not do -- to prevent regrets tomorrow. Don't create reasons why you should stay home this March. Instead, pick up the phone and book your hotel room and ask the boss to take a few days off work. All the necessary information including hotel contact can be found on the convention website: http://www.syracusecinephile.com