Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Hot Hero Sandwich — Scene-by-Scene: Episode 1

by G. Jack Urso

Hot Hero Sandwich Episode 1

Interviews: Erik Estrada, Bruce (Caitlin) Jenner, Olivia Newton-John, Donna Pescow McLean Stevenson and Hal Linden in conversation with Dr. Tom Cottle.

Musical Guests: Sister Sledge, The Hot Hero Band.

Themes: Dating, divorce, family, friends, and school.


1.2: Sketch: Nicknames — The Hot Hero gang wants to know what Jarett Smithwrick character’s nickname is, and it’s a long one!

1.4: Sketch: Nightmare High Excuse of the Week with L. Michael Craig.


1.8: Music Segment “I’m Only Sleeping.” Set to the Beatles song of the same name, Nan-Lynn goes about her morning routine to get ready for school only to find out its Saturday! [Note: Hot Hero Sandwich had a one-time only use of the Beatles original version of “I’m Only Sleeping” for the actual broadcast. Here it has been replaced by an instrumental version to avoid a copyright violation.]


1.13: Sketch: Hot Hero Café Segment — The gang tries to comfort Mark (Matt McCoy) whose parents are getting divorced.


1.15: Sketch: Embarrassing Parents — Vicky Dawson’s character is easily embarrassed by her parents (played by Andrew Duncan and Claudette Sutherland) only to find out they have a lot in common with her new boyfriend (played by Paul O'Keefe).

1.17: Sketch: T-Shirt Dating with Vicky Dawson and L. Michael Craig.

1.18: Sketch: Phone Friends Segment – The Party, Part I: Nan-Lynn Nelson, Vicky Dawson and Saundra McLean. Nan-Lynn’s character tries to impress her wealthier classmate played by Vicky Dawson and get invited to the big party.

1.19: Sketch: Phone Friends Segment – The Party, Part II:  Nan-Lynn Nelson, and Denny Dillon. Nan-Lynn has to break her planned Friday night movie with Denny’s character so Nan-Lynn can go to the party being thrown by Vicky Dawson’s character.

1.21: Phone Friends Segment – The Party, Part III: Phone Friends segment with Adam Ross, Nan-Lynn Nelson, and Denny Dillon. Nan-Lynn’s character wants Denny Dillon’s character to go with her to the big party.


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Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Early Experiments in Computer-Generated Imagery (1957 – 1975)

by G. Jack Urso
Left: John Whitney Sr.'s computer animation set-up during his artist residency at IBM Labs.
Right: Screenshots of some of Whitney’s work. (AWN.com)
Computer animation pioneer John Whitney Sr. may be little-known outside industry circles, but his work set the very foundation for Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI). Establishing his company Motion Graphics Incorporated in 1960, Whitney initially used mechanical analog computers for his work (and of his own design) before moving on to its digital cousins in the 1970s. Assisted in his work by his sons Mark, John, and Michael, and his brother, James, John Whitney Sr.’s work is one of the evolutionary starting points in CGI history. His son John Jr., worked on the effects in Westworld (1973) and Futureworld (1976), and, through his company Digital Productions, with Tron (1982) and The Last Starfighter (1984).

The Whitney Collection, comprising the Whitney’s early work, is part of The Academy Film Archive. Below are seven short films by John Whitney Sr., and his sons John Jr., and Michael, and brother Jame's, which provide examples of their work. These works include Catalog (1961), Binary Bit Patterns (1969), Permutations (1969), Matrix (1970), Matrix III (1971), and Arabesque (1975). Also included is a short film by his brother James Whitney, Yanta (1957).

Whitney Sr. referred to his work as “visual music” and long-time computer users will recognize similarities in the designs to screensavers and visualizations available with many computer-based music players, like Microsoft Windows Media Player.

Experiments in Motion Graphics (1968) discusses the computer programming, film techniques, and philosophy behind the process and is a good starting point. The other short films combine movement and music to create mesmerizing psychedelic patterns evocative of the countercultural light shows accompanying rock music performances of the era. In a short segment from the documentary Computers: Challenging Man's Supremacy (1976), John Whitney Sr. further discusses the techniques he uses in the animation he creates.

John Whitney Sr. also developed the slit-scan photography process, which was used in the opening credits of Alfred Hitchcock's film Vertigo (1958) and later modified by Douglas Trumball for use in the stargate sequence in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). 

The animated films by John Whitney Sr. and his sons and brother in this collection run from 1957 through 1975. These films, as well as the interviews, noted above, are provided below from the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel.

Yantra (1957)

By James Whitney. Yantra is the Sanskrit word for "holy machine." The film was created by creating dot patterns with a pin on thousands of 5x7 cards over a five-year period. With the control of early analog computer technology, the card’s images were assembled in a variety of positions and angles. 

Catalog (1961)

By John Whitney Sr. This is a demo reel for Whitney’s company Motion Graphics, formed in 1960.

Experiments in Motion Graphics (1968)

By John Whitney Sr.  Publisher, IBM Corporation. “John H. Whitney explains the graphic art potential of the computer and the methods and philosophy involved in his computer film making” (Internet Archive).
Binary Bit Patterns (1969)

By Michael Whitney, Pyramid Films, Inc. Publication date 1969.  Displays show a “Persian-like pattern optically printed from digital computer-generated images” (Internet Archive). Scanner: Lasergraphics Scanstation.

Permutations (1969)

By John Whitney Sr. Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y.). Computer programming by Dr. Jack Citron. Music by Balachander. Publisher, Motion Graphics Inc.

Matrix (1970)

Producer and director John Whitney Sr. Music, Antonio Soler (1729-1783), performed by Delores Stevens. California Institute of Technology; International Business Machines Corporation; Motion Graphics, Inc. Released by International Business Machines Corp. and John H. Whitney. Production funded by a research grant from IBM and Caltech Arts. Filmed at IBM Product Display Center NYC and California Institute of Technology. Scanner: Lasergraphics Scanstation.

Matrix III (1972)

By John Whitney Sr. This short film further develops the ideas from Matrix (1970). Music by Terry Riley and Antonio Soler. Matrix II is considered a lost film.

Arabesque (1975)

By John Whitney Sr. with assistance by John Whitney Jr. Music by Manoochehr Sadeghi on the santour, a struck string instrument belonging to the family zithers on table. This represents the pinnacle of Whitney's work at the dawn of the era of personal computers.

Computers: Challenging Man's Supremacy (1976)

This short segment from the documentary Computers: Challenging Man's Supremacy features John Whitney Sr. explaining the techniques he uses with computer animation.

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Monday, May 27, 2024

Hot Hero Sandwich — In Conversation with Music Coordinator Jimmy Biondolillo

by G. Jack Urso

In my research and interviews into Hot Hero Sandwich, Jimmy Biondolillo’s name kept coming up. As music coordinator, Biondolillo provided an important role in helping bring the various musical elements together, bridging the gap between in the show’s producers and musicians. Additionally, there seemed to be many fond memories of Jimmy among the Hot Hero alumni who worked with him. However, not everyone is on social media, so tracking down Hot Hero Sandwich alumni can be something of a mystery game.

After many months of trying to find Jimmy, including contacting a former colleague at Stereo Society who did an extensive interview with him in 2001 (see link), I was unable to find any information. So, based on conversations with some Hot Hero crewmates, I wrote up a short profile on Jimmy in Hot Hero Sandwich — Short Take on James Biondolillo, Music Coordinator. Since I had to become something of a detective for this project, I highlighted the unresolved, slightly film noirish ending. Jimmy was still out there somewhere and without knowing what happened we could only hope he found his way back home.

It was a nice little piece I was proud of, but I wasn’t satisfied. I continued to search until I found a small notice about Jimmy appearing at the Wickliffe (Ohio) Public Library, May 8, 2024. I reached out to the librarian and gave them my contact information and about a week later I got a phone call from Jimmy!  It was an absolute mind blower to suddenly be speaking to him and Jimmy was very patient as I fumbled for my words. We spent the better part of an hour discussing what led him to Hot Hero Sandwich, his amazing career, which includes two dozen gold and platinum albums, how he got hired for Hot Hero Sandwich, and his story since that summer of 1979.

And yes, Jimmy did, in fact, make it back home so let’s check in and speak to the man himself.

Starting Out

Ae13U: OK. First off, how old were you in 1979 when you got involved with Hot Hero Sandwich?

Jimmy Biondolillo: I was 24 years old. I had been in New York City since I was 19. Remember the National Recording Studio? That’s where I did my first session when I was 21. [Note: NRS is a legendary recording production company still in operation.] Charlie Calello was my Obi-Wan and he was a great arranger, and I remember that session, and Roger Rhoads, the engineer. Charlie did all sorts of great arrangements for Frankie Valli, Neil Diamond, Barbra Streisand, you name it. He did everybody and he was the one who gave me the shot. Steve Popovich was the one who introduced me to Charlie Calello, and that was how I got started.

[Editorial Note: Charlie Calello is credited with more than 100 Billboard chart records, including 38 in the top 20. Roger Rhoads has credits on over 60 major album releases. Steve Popovich is the legendary founder of Cleveland International Records, Ohio, where Biondolillo started out.]

Ae13U: How did that lead to Hot Hero Sandwich?

Jimmy Biondolillo: Charlie had produced a kid named Rex Smith, who starred in the movie with the producers of Hot Hero Sandwich — Bruce and Carole Hart, that's how they knew me.

Ae13U: That would be the film Sooner or Later, correct?

Jimmy Biondolillo: That's it, and “Take My Breath Away” was the hit song that we produced. That's how I knew the Harts. Do you remember the restaurant Gallagher’s?

Ae13U: Gallagher’s Steakhouse? Sure. [Note: On West 52nd Street since 1927.]

Jimmy Biondolillo: On Sunday night, if you tip the maître’ d’ an extra $20, he would sit you seat you in the television division or the record producer division or the movie division, and I wanted to be in the record producer section because a guy hired me to do three arrangements. As I was walking out that restaurant, I heard Carol Hart call my name. I turned around. There was Carol, there was Bruce, and there was a guy named Howard Malley.

Ae13U: Really? Howard was there too?

Jimmy Biondolillo: And so was Marlo Thomas.

Ae13U: That Girl? Oh, wow! [Note: Thomas and the Harts worked together on the Emmy and Peabody-Award winning Free to Be . . . You and Me (1974).]

Jimmy Biondolillo: And Carol Hart told me, “You know, I just fired our music director for this TV show we're doing.” His name was Gary Sherman, who did all the hits for Gene Pitney, like “It Hurts to Be in Love.” He was an older guy and she [Carole Hart] said, “Why don't you come tomorrow and become my music director?” That's how I got involved.

Ae13U: That is a Hollywood story, except that it was in New York! I know the Harts were specifically looking for younger people for the show. [Note: In 1979, Sherman was 46 and Biondolillo was 24.]

Jimmy Biondolillo: It was a talented group of people, and they came from all over.  It was a really talented city and there were a lot of talented writers, especially on that show. I had a one assistant named Tony Fiori . . .

Ae13U: I was going to ask about Tony Fiori, he got billing after you in the closing credits.

Jimmy Biondolillo: Yeah, he was my assistant. I brought him with me, and I also brought an engineer named Ed Stasium. He went on to produce Living Color’s first album [Vivid, featuring their smash hit “Cult of Personality.”]

[Editorial Note: Just prior to Hot Hero Sandwich in 1977, Ed Stasium had engineered the Ramones’ Leave Home and Talking Heads’ Talking Heads: 77. Stasium reports being invited to join the Hot Hero Sandwich music production team by Mediasound General Manager Susan Planer.]

Ae13U: We’re just a little bit into this interview and I have to admit being overwhelmed with all the names.

Jimmy Biondolillo: Yeah, there were. There were a lot of people.

Ae13U: Tell me a little bit about your job as a music coordinator on Hot Hero Sandwich. I know there was stuff that Felix Pappalardi was doing with the band, so where was your component in all of this? Did any of your duties overlap with him?

Jimmy Biondolillo: Here's what happened. I went up the next day to meet Carol, Bruce, Howard Malley, and Felix was there. Howard Malley said, “We want to higher Felix to be our music director.” And I said, right out loud, I said, “Well, you can't have two directors.”

So they laughed and I knew Felix was a brilliant guy, and he was really creative, so I looked and said right in front of him, “Well, Felix is a creative lunatic and I think you should hire me as a music coordinator.” And he [Pappalardi] stood up and he pointed at me, and he said, “Hire this guy!”

Ae13U: [laughter]

Jimmy Biondolillo: I remember that he said. “Hire him man. He knows me!” And I said, well, I'll have to bring along a few people. One was Eddie Stasium, one was Tony Fiore, and they gave me an office that day, right in Rockefeller Center.

Ae13U: What were your duties like for each episode?

Jimmy Biondolillo: As a as a music coordinator, I would provide Felix with musicians and engineers. I would read the scripts, or whatever they had, calling whatever the musical act was, and then I would use what I knew to hire musicians or bring in musicians that they needed, bring in engineers if they if they needed them, because we there was a lot of them on the on the set, which was in 8H, which was Saturday Night Live [SNL tapes in Studio 8H], and on that set was a lot of fluorescent [and neon] light bulbs and you couldn’t record [due to the interference the lights would generated]. So, we had to record everything in the recording studios.

That's what I did as a music coordinator. Felix would tell me, “I wrote this song and I wrote this piece,” and then I would say, we'll let the band do that, which is the Hot Hero house band. Then there were a few things that I brought in — some musicians that were specialized — that knew what the hell they were doing with that particular cue or set of cues, if I recall. As a music coordinator you were in theory like a music director without having that title, but I got to tell you I got a Daytime Emmy Award right from that show. I still have the certificate right here 

[Editorial Note: Emmy certificates are awarded to cast and certain crew members who participated in an Emmy-award winning show, though were not nominated themselves.]

Ae13U: It sounds like you have be a people person for this job and have a strong working knowledge of all these engineers and musicians available and what they could do.

Jimmy Biondolillo:  I was very lucky to completely bypass the Cleveland music scene and plug in with Charlie [Calello] at an early age and I became his contractor. Being his contractor, I learned the talent of all the musicians because there was a “radio registry.” Radio Registry was what all the freelance musicians would call in, you know, and I would say something like “Charlie Calello is producing such and such an album” or “Charlie is producing Frankie Valli, and we need this drummer and this,” and I used to give them a list of people that he needed, and that's how I got them. I got to know musicians. I had a very powerful job. Being a contractor for a guy that powerful, Charlie [Calello], at an early age, I was 21, 22 years old. I got to know those musicians and after a while I just was addicted. I was addicted to the recording studio. There was a studio called Mediasound that was on West 57th Street. That was our home. We went there all the time. [Note: Mediasound was founded in 1969 and lasted through the early 1990s.In addition to hosting some of the hottest recording acts and session musicians, much of the music for Sesame Street was also recorded there.]

Ae13U: According to my interview with Hot Hero series writer Marianne Meyer, at the time of Hot Hero Sandwich you lived across from the Ed Sullivan Theater, correct?

Jimmy Biondolillo:  Well, not directly, but a few blocks up from it. Right across the street from the Ed Sullivan was there was there was an office building.  I lived in an apartment building called the Carnegie Mews was a one block West of Carnegie Hall.

Carnegie Mews, Jimmy Biondolillo’s home at the time of Hot Hero Sandwich.

Ae13U: Marianne Meyer also noted that despite being a music coordinator working with some of the best audio equipment in the world, your own home stereo system was rather, shall we say, “cheap” by comparison.

Jimmy Biondolillo:  Yeah, that's true. I didn't have a great system. I don't know what the hell it was because I listened all day long on great equipment, and I figured, you know what? If the tracks sounds good on my little stereo then we made great tracks, and I that's how I felt.

The recording studios that I worked in had great equipment. You know, they had great cues, great everything. When I got to London — Oh, my God. It was a tech heaven in London.

Jimmy Biondolillo and the Godfather of Soul, Mr. James Brown (Stereo Society).

Moving On Up

Ae13U: That’s a good segue to my next question about your post-Hot Hero Sandwich. career in London. I know you were involved with bands like the Communards. Can you drop some names for us?

Jimmy Biondolillo:  I produced my first single in England. I had done two albums in 1983 that really changed my life. One was a solo album for Roger Daltrey. (Parting Should Be Painless) and on the back of his album, it didn't matter whether it was good or bad, it said “Strings and horns arranged and conducted by Jimmy Biondolillo.”

Man, now when I call these record companies, I got right through to the guy. I didn't have to fuck around anymore. I got right through to the A&R guy, and he said to me, “Hey, Jimmy, you know, we saw your name. We have this artist. We can you do these arrangements?” And I said bring them along. And Richard James Burgess [a producer in the New Romantic movement] was the other album. He hired me to do all the arrangements. He was from New Zealand. He was a great, great songwriter with John Walters. He produced Spandau Ballet. He produced Adam and the Ants, and Richard Burgess told me, “Jimmy, if you want to become a record producer, you're going to have to move to England because in New York you're just an arranger.”

Well, I know how to make a living as an arranger in New York, but Harvey Goldberg, who was my partner, ultimately, he came to me at his wedding and he said, “I'm gonna move to London. Why don't we partner up? You becoming an arranger-producer and I’ll become and engineer-producer. We'll team up and he said, “We'll go find the new Beatles.”

Ae13U: [laughter]

Jimmy Biondolillo:  He was speaking my language! So, we went over and we got an English manager named Katrina Barnes and she sent this up to Scotland, to Edinburgh and Glasgow, and there were these two brothers, Pat and Greg Kane and they had a group called Hue and Cry. And don't you know that that first single that Harvey Goldberg and I produced as a team became a top 10 record in England and it launched five years of solid production work for me. It was called “Labour of Love.” I gotta tell you, that sold like hotcakes. And I was on a bunch of albums.

Ae13U: That was in the early-mid 1980s?

Jimmy Biondolillo: That was 87, 88, 89, 90 and 91. I had an apartment in London, and I had an apartment in New York, and I never had any luggage. I had a wardrobe in London and one in New York.

Ae13U: It sounds like you were really living the life!

Jimmy Biondolillo: Right, Jack [laughter], I was living the life!



Ae13U: I found a picture of you with Nancy Sinatra on Getty Images, and you’re looking pretty happy in that picture. I know you worked with her father Frank. Can you give me some background?

Jimmy Biondolillo: Yeah. Well, her dad, Frank Sinatra, I had to introduce Frank to disco. He didn't know what disco was. Some guy named Joe Beck, he produced all the music publishers in New York, and he wanted their song catalogs to be “discofied.” I knew how to do that, right?  So, I had a meeting with Frank Sinatra. He had an apartment at the Waldorf Towers. I went up and his wife Barbara was there with a girlfriend, and then I went and she had a ring on her finger. Jack — I never saw a diamond that big in my life, and she's smiling. She pointed to the living room and Frank had a jacket on and it said, “USA Drinking Team.”

Ae13U: [laughter]

Jimmy Biondolillo: And on the back it said, “Coach.” And he said to me, he said, "Hey, do you follow baseball?" And I said, “Yeah, I'm an Indians fan.” And he laughed. He said, "That's Bob Hope’s team." He said, “I'm a Dodger fan and I'm a Yankee fan.”

Later that week, he sang “Night and Day,” but he said to me, I'll never forget this, he said, I've sung it so many times, but I can't remember the lyrics for Night and Day.” I said no problem, I'll call Broadway Music, which was in on the ground floor of the Brill Building, and I said to the guy, “Do you got the lyrics to “Night and Day?” And he said, “Yeah, I do.” I said, “Can you deliver?”

He said, “Hey, I'm not a deli.” I said, “Hey, Frank Sinatra.” He said, “I'll be right there.” And he came up about a few minutes later and he gave me the lyrics and that's when a photographer took a picture of me and Frank.

And Frank said to me, “What took you so long?” He was kidding me. You know, he was so happy. The next day in the newspaper, my face was completely cropped out. It was just a picture of Frank and the headline read, “Sinatra Forgets Lyrics.”

I thought my career was over at 22 years old.

Ae13U: [laughter]

Jimmy Biondolillo: I'm sorry, we digress . . .

Ae13U: Not at all, that’s exactly the kind of digression I’m looking for!

Jimmy Biondolillo: Frank called his daughter Nancy and he said, “If you come to New York, you gotta work with this little Italian kid,” and that's how I met Nancy.

Jimmy Biondolillo with Nancy Sinatra (Getty Images).

Going Home and an Awesome Frankie Valli Story

Ae13U: At what point did you decide to retire?

Jimmy Biondolillo: 9/11 was the end of it for me. That was the end of my career that day. Pop music [in NYC] to this day hasn’t returned to New York. I couldn't make a living anymore unless I went to California or London or Nashville, but I was, you know, 50 years old at that time and I retired.

Ae13U: So, what changed?

Jimmy Biondolillo: After 9/11, well, first of all, what changed was I had $58,000 (approximately $102,744 in 2024) of guaranteed arrangements in September, October and November, and then 9/11 happened and all those artists cancelled. Guys that I could never see for lunch or dinner now we were all available. So, suddenly, guys move to California . . . They moved to Nashville or they moved to London or they retired, you know? My accountant said, if you can go to a place with low overhead, when you're 55, things will kick in . . . but my mother was suffering from Parkinson's and dementia, which is a hideous combination. I took care of her for a year and then these nuns at Mount Saint Joseph's Hospice — they took care of her for a year and a half. I became a loving son again.

Ae13U: Well, I can relate having also served as the primary caretaker for my mother in her later years. It is a tremendous, and rewarding, task.

Jimmy Biondolillo: Well, then you know, and I tell you something, it ain't easy.

Ae13U: No, it most definitely is not, especially with Italian mothers like we had. You don't do for them. They do for you. They’re not used to it.

Jimmy Biondolillo: That's so true. I'll never forget my mother. She lived to 96. Just to digress again, one time, Charlie Calello, who had produced an album for Frankie Valli, said to me, “I'll let you do one arrangement if you want,” and so Frankie ended up loving this song. I just did the arrangement. Frankie said, “Do you live anywhere near the “Front Row Theater?”

Jimmy Biondolillo (second from right) at work in a recording session for Frankie Valli
(Getty Images).
And I said, well, my mother is just twenty minutes from the Front Row, so he said, “If you come home, I'll introduce you to the crowd and I'll also do your arrangement.”

I said, “Great!” Because, you know, I had an ego at that time. That was the young guy. I was 21-22 years old. And so, I came home and we were driving up to the theater and my mother says, “Why don't you invite Frankie and the boys [the Four Seasons] for lasagna lunch tomorrow?”

And I said, “Mom, are you nuts? I’m not gonna ask them to come to your house for lasagna!” And she looked at me like I had four heads, you know?  It was a theater in the round and dressing rooms were underground. So, I brought my mother down, and she was a little person, and Frankie’s a little guy, and she hugged him, and she said, “Frankie, you wanna come for lasagna tomorrow? And he said, “Oh, my God, that would be great!” So, lo and behold, Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons came to our house in rural suburban Wickliffe and had lasagna.

Ae13U: That is a fantastic story. Nothing like our moms, huh? So, it sounds like you made it back home to Ohio after all these years.

Jimmy Biondolillo: I bought this house from my mother's estate. My father built this house when he came back from World War II.  I never thought I'd grow old in this house.

Ae13U: I’m living in the home my aunt and uncle lived in for fifty years. Between our moms and our homes, it sounds like we’re just two nice Italian boys. Thanks so much for sharing Jimmy. This has been a great interview and you helped fill in the Hot Hero Sandwich picture a little more.

Jimmy Biondolillo: All my best to you and good luck.

Concluding Thoughts

Jimmy Biondolillo’s portfolio is vast and includes work with such artists as Roger Daltry, Bobby Day, Richard James Burgess, Blind Vision, Bronski Beat, The Communards, Hue and Cry, Kit Hain, Frankie Valli, Odyessy, Martee LeBous, Genya Raven, Tatsuro Yamashita, and, oh yeah, and I heard he worked with some guy named Sinatra too.

Jimmy fills in blanks in the Hot Hero Sandwich story with a classic tale of paying off a maître’ d’ for a prime spot in the section where the entertainment power brokers dine and JUST by coincidence there happens to be Marlo Thomas, Bruce and Carole Hart, and Hot Hero Sandwich producer Howard Malley.

Another thing we learn from this interview with Jimmy is confirmation about how young everyone was and the Harts' desire to staff their show with talented young people. Jimmy was all of 24 years old in 1979. The original Hot Hero Sandwich music director, Gary Sherman, who was about 20 years older than Biondolillo, was no doubt qualified and had far more experience, but Jimmy was closer in age to target demographic. He knew the musical language they spoke and understood.

There are some ingredients to success that the cast and crew exemplify — primarily taking risks and moving out of their comfort zone. Jimmy could have stayed in Cleveland and had a career in music. It would have been limited, he could have had work, but it wouldn’t have developed his potential. Time and time again in the various interviews with the cast and crew we find they took great chances in moving to the big city — sometimes living in not-so-great apartments — but they invested in themselves and took a chance.

One further factor in Jimmy’s success we can learn from is the importance of mentors. For Jimmy, it was Charlie Calello. That is something else moving to the big city provides — the opportunity to connect with people who forged a path along the same road we want to tread. Jimmy had talent and Charlie had connections. Being able to learn from a master can advance a young person’s knowledge of their field and jumpstart a career. I have had mentors in education, radio news, and TV production that taught me lessons beyond just the workplace. They are mentors in life as well.

In my initial article, Short Take on James Biondolillo, Music Coordinator, having been unable to learn more about Jimmy, I could only hope that after all these years he found his way back home.

And indeed, he did just that. Welcome home Jimmy. Welcome home.

A more recent photo of Jimmy Biondolillo with some of his instruments and a gold record!
(Wickliffe Public Library, 2024)
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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Hot Hero Sandwich Project Archives: Free To Be . . . You and Me (1974)

by G. Jack Urso
From the Hot Hero Sandwich Central YouTube channel.

Free To Be . . . You and Me, an Emmy and Peabody-award winning 1974 TV special created by Marlo Thomas, who also served as executive producer, has been referred to in various articles throughout the Hot Hero Sandwich Project. Series producers Carole Hart served as a producer and husband Bruce Hart and his frequent collaborator Stephen Lawrence served as music producers. The Free To Be . . . You and Me project, produced with the support of the Ms. Foundation for Women, actually began in 1972 with a children’s book and record album (which in 2021 was selected by the Library of Congress for the National Recording Registry as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”). The entire program, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is available above from the Hot Hero Sandwich Central YouTube channel.

Record album cover.
According to an Oct. 22, 2022, Slate article, after originating the idea, Marlo Thomas noted to her agent at William Morris that she needed a producer for the project and a junior agent in the music department, Scott Shukat, suggested Carole Hart (Shukat would later go on to become a personal manager and had a 35-year career before passing away in 2003). Hart was then only 28 years old at the time, yet it was her age that connected her with the zeitgeist of the time. After reviewing the materials Thoms had gathered to date, Carole Hart suggested 

According to an Oct. 22, 2012, Slate article, after originating the idea, Marlo Thomas noted to her agent at William Morris that she needed a producer for the project and a junior agent in the music department, Scott Shukat suggested Carole Hart (Shukat would later go on to become a personal manager and had a 35-year career before passing away in 2003). Hart was only 28 years old at the time, yet it was her age that connected her with the zeitgeist of the time. After reviewing the materials Thomas had gathered to date, Carole Hart suggested, “that children are really smart and that we shouldn’t ever underestimate their taste or their intelligence. I don’t think these materials are ambitious enough.” Hart’s belief that children are more intelligent than given credit for echoes a story Dr. Tom Cottle told about Bruce Hart confronting NBC executives who underestimated the audience.

According to Dr. Cottle:

“Don't you think that a lot of this stuff is over the heads of these children?” one of the suits said. And Bruce said, “Yeah, it may.” The suits said, “Well, how are you going to deal with this?”

And Bruce Hart said right to these NBC guys that are paying his salary and underwriting the show, “Well, we’ll just have the kids stand up and then it won't be over their heads.”

The cast is filled with some of the most popular performers of the day, including Alan Alda, Harry Belafonte, Mel Brooks, Jack Cassidy, Carol Channing, Rita Coolidge, Billy De Wolf, Roberta Flack, Rosey Grier, Dustin Hoffman, Michael Jackson, Kris Kristofferson, Shirley Jones, Robert Morse, The New Seekers, Cicely Tyson, Diana Ross, Tom Smothers, the Voices of East Harlem, and Dionne Warwick. Puppetry was provided by Wayland Flowers — an incredible cast of talent that perhaps only Marlo Thomas could pull together.
Thomas in a promo still.
The general messaging of the show deals with issues such as empathy and empowerment, gender expectations, aspirations, helping, and understanding others, including our parents. In Hot Hero Sandwich, we can see the Harts continue a similar message to the same, slightly older, demographic, just a few years later in 1978. The mix of elements such as animation, music, and sketches mature topically, but adopts a similar overall structure.

Marlo Thomas modeling jobs for young women in promotional stills from the show.
Also of interest is that this recording includes the original commercials, which gives us an idea of what the network thought the audience would most likely be interested in. I'm unsure if this particular recording was from the original network broadcast and not a later repeat, but the Bill Cosby Jello Pudding commercial at the 42:00 mark definitely dates back to 1974.

As source material, Free To Be . . . You and Me, is an important step in the development of the concepts that led the Harts to create Hot Hero Sandwich and without it the basic template the series followed might not have been developed as it did.
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Friday, May 24, 2024

National Geographic: The Violent Earth (1973)

by G. Jack Urso
From the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel.

The National Geographic specials were part and parcel of growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. The specials reflect the publication's mission to survey the people, culture, and natural wonders of the Earth. Beginning in 1964, the specials aired on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS before moving to its own cable channel in 2005.

The episode made available above on the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel, “The Violent Earth,” profiles French volcanologist Haroun Tazieff who journeys with his team to explore the active volcano on Mount Nyiragongo in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Tazieff also provides some of the cinematography, likely because he is the only one qualified to get as close to the action as he does. This version originally came in two reels, probably due to the limitations of school film projectors, but I joined them together in one complete file for this post. With a total runtime of about fifty minutes, the film was perfect for one full high school class period or an hour-long block on television (with commercials).

This episode was written and directed by Dennis Azzarella, who also co-wrote and co-directed the 1972 National Geographic Special “The Last Tribes of Mindanao” (1972) with Bud Wiser and Robert M. Young, respectively. Being given sole control of both roles for this second feature showed executive producer David Wolper’s growing confidence in Azzarella who, unfortunately, passed away the following year in 1974, cutting short a promising career at 34. The narrator is Leslie Neilsen, typifying the kind of voice work he did before Airplane! (1981) changed the course of his career.

While the National Geographic continue producing documentaries for its own cable channel, the classic episodes from the 1960s through the 1980s left an indelible mark on Baby Boomers and Gen X. When there were only four networks, any television show at any time only had three other competitors, and maybe one or two independent channels. While National Geographic has its own cable channel now, it is just one of many hundreds of cable channels and streaming services, and consequently consigned to background noise in a sea of sports channels, shopping channels, angry news commentators, and Bigfoot/UFO “researchers.” These important programs which help bring cultural gaps while exploring the planet have an increasingly smaller piece of the audience, and much to our collective loss. 

Still, despite all the competing programming, whenever I hear that soaring theme by Elmer Bernstein, I know I'm in for an hour of adventure that remains the gold standard for science documentaries and provides an amazing archive of human endeavor in the 20th century. 

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