Thursday, June 22, 2006

Walter Bobbie (1945- )

Do you remember that hilarious scene in the 1996 comedy The First Wives Club when Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn and Diane Keaton are rapidly descending outside an upscale Manhattan apartment building on a window washing platform? Do you also remember when it suddenly stopped and a couple making out in bed told Elise Elloitt (Goldie Hawn) "You look great!!!!!"? Well, not only was that actor born in Scranton, PA, but he has also had a prolific and Tony-winning career as a Broadway actor, writer and director--most notably for directing the long-running Broadway revival of Chicago. He is Walter Bobbie.

Walter Bobbie was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania on November 18, 1945.

His TV acting credits include episodes of Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, NYPD Blue, Law & Order, and the ABC soap operas Loving and One Life To Live, on which he plays the recurring role of William Davis Dawes. His film appearances include Stephen King's Thinner, Shakedown and, of course, his brief-but-memorable appearance in The First Wives Club.

Bobbie's major successes came on Broadway--first as an actor in the original Broadway production of Grease and the revivals of Guys and Dolls and Anything Goes. He conceived and directed the 1993 Broadway musical A Grand Night For Singing. In 1998, he adapted and directed the musical Footloose, based on the 1984 film.

Perhaps Bobbie's most famous achievement is directing the 1996 Broadway revivial of Chicago, for which he won the Tony Award for Best Director. Chicago is currently the longest-running revival of a musical in Broadway history, and it continues to play to sell-out crowds on The Great White Way.

He also directed the 2005 Broadway revivial of Sweet Charity, starring Christina Applegate (which features Scranton in the one the lyrics of the classic songbook).

Bobbie is currently preparing to direct the musical adaptation of the novel/movie High Fidelity, which is set to open on Broadway in November/December 2006.

The First Wives Club is available to borrow on VHS from Albright Memorial Library and other libraries throughout the Lackawanna County Library System.

For more information on Mr. Bobbie's Broadway career, visit The Internet Broadway Database.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

There's No Business Like Show Business (1954)

The razor-sharp-eared Don McKeon told me of a brief mention of Scranton in the 1954 musical comedy There's No Business Like Show Business.

Titled after the classic Irving Berlin song, There's No Business Like Show Business tells the story of travelling vaudevillians The Five Donahues, headed by parents Molly (Ethel Merman) and Terry Donahue (Dan Dailey) and featuring their three children. When their son Tim (Donald O'Connor) meets hat check girl Vicky (Marilyn Monroe), the family act begins to fall apart.

Early on in the film, Molly and Terry are at a train station with their young children discussing whether or not life on the road is good for a family. Suddenly, over the loudspeaker comes:


The Westerner on Track 2. All aboard for Scranton...


That's our train.

There's No Business Like Show Business is available to borrow on both DVD and VHS for the Lackawanna County Library System. Click here to place a hold on the DVD; if you'd rather the VHS, click here.

Thanks again to Don McKeon for another great reference.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Citizen Kane (1941)

While working on the entry for A Letter To Three Wives earlier this week, the Head of Reference Evelyn Gibbons asked me, "Did you know that Citizen Kane was inspired by a bike stolen from the front of Osterhout Library?" My first thought was, "How can this possibly be true?" So she told me to the call the Reference Department at Osterhout Free Library to confirm this and, sure enough, they faxed me an article that proved this, indeed, was a fact (not that I didn't believe Evelyn, of course, but this reference is truly remarkable). But can you believe that Citizen Kane, considered by many to be the greatest American film ever made, was inspired by a true incident in Wilkes-Barre, PA?

The Oscar-winning screenplay for Citizen Kane was written by Herman Mankiewicz, brother of Joseph L. Mankiewicz--Joseph often worked the city of Wilkes-Barre (his birthplace and hometown) into his scripts, two of which (All About Eve and A Letter To Three Wives) won back-to-back Oscars for Best Screenplay in 1949 and 1950. Although Joseph's brother Herman was born in New York City in 1897, he lived in Wilkes-Barre for nine years as a boy.

The article, "Listen Up, Cinema Sleuths: Rosebud Was Really A Bike" by Times Leader Staff Writer Joe Butkiewicz, was originally published on May 1, 1991. In the article, Butkiewicz referenced a biography of Herman Mankiewicz by Richard Merryman titled, Mank: The Wit, World and Life of Herman Mankiewicz.

According to the article and the biography, Herman received a bicycle for Christmas at the age of 10. One day, Herman went to the local public library (the name of the library is not mentioned, but the assumption is the library was the Osterhout in Wilkes-Barre) and parked his bicycle outside--when he left the library some time later, "Rosebud"was missing and presumed stolen. As punishment, Herman's parents never replaced his lost/stolen bicycle, instead telling him the incident was his own fault.

Co-written by, directed by, and starring Orson Welles, Citizen Kane tells the story of the death of publishing tycoon Charles Foster Kane and the ensuing search by news reporters to discover the meaning of his final utterance--"Rosebud."


In the film, "Rosebud" was the name of the sled Kane had as a young boy and represented the happiest time of his life--his childhood.

In real life, "Rosebud" was the nickname of the bike Herman Mankiewicz had as a young boy that his parents refused to replace when it was stolen from the front of a public library in Wilkes-Barre, PA. In turn, this incident of childhood loss inspired a masterpiece that will live on for generations.


A copy of the Times Leader article "Listen Up, Cinema Sleuths: Rosebud Was Really A Bike" by Joe Butkiewicz is available in the "Movies" Local History Vertical File in the Reference Department.

Citizen Kane is available to borrow from the Lackawanna County Library System on both DVD and VHS. Click on the corresponding format you'd like to place a hold.

My deepest thanks to both Evelyn Gibbons and the Reference Staff at the Osterhout Free Library for this reference.

A Letter To Three Wives (1949)

My wonderful brother J.R. told me some time ago of a reference to the city of Wilkes-Barre in the 1949 Academy Award-winning film A Letter To Three Wives, written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.

Mankiewicz, who was born in Wilkes-Barre, also wrote the screenplay to All About Eve, which also included a reference to Wilkes-Barre in the dialogue (All About Eve was also the inaugural entry in this blog). Coincidentally, both A Letter To Three Wives (1949) and All About Eve (1950) won back-to-back Oscars for Best Screenplay (as well as Best Director) for Mankiewicz, the only such occurrence in the history of the Academy Awards. This distinction gives Wilkes-Barre, PA an ultra-rare (though unnoted until now) historic footnote in the history of cinema—city references included in two screenplays by the same author that won two consecutive Oscars.

Joseph L. Mankiewicz was born in Wilkes-Barre, PA on February 11, 1909. He began his career in film as a translator of intertitles for Paramount in Berlin. Upon returning to Hollywood, he worked as both a screenwriter and producer throughout the thirties and forties; he also produced several films starring Joan Crawford (including 1942's Reunion in France, which features several references to Wilkes-Barre). After directing his first film Backfire in 1946, Mankiewicz went on to direct such classics as The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Now Way Out, Guys and Dolls, Cleopatra and, of course, All About Eve—which still holds the record of the most Academy Award nominations (14) in film history (tied with Titanic).

A Letter to Three Wives stars Jeanne Crain (State Fair, Cheaper By The Dozen), Linda Darnell (Mankiewicz’s No Way Out, Unfaithfully Yours) and Ann Sothern (Lady in the Lark, The Whales of August) as three friends in an affluent neighborhood. As they are boarding a ship to chaperone a school trip, a mailman delivers a letter addressed to the three of them from their friend (and town floozy) Addie Ross. Addie writes that she is leaving town for good and taking one of their husbands as a momento—neglecting to reveal exactly whose husband she stole. Though they display a brave front and a nonchalant attitude, each of the three women spends the day reminiscing about the ups and downs of her marriage -- wondering if hers is the husband who has flown the coop.

The Wilkes-Barre reference occurs during the flashback of “wife” Rita Phipps (played by Ann Sothern), a writer for radio shows. As she is having dinner with her possibly straying husband George (Kirk Douglas) and her radio show’s sponsors, a commercial for a breath mint begins playing during the radio show “Confessions of Brenda Brown.”


Euclid Street. Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. What a thrill it was to hear my little girl say, “Mother, it’s much fun to have you read to us, now that you use Baby’s Breath.”

On the audio commentary on the DVD of A Letter To Three Wives (at 48:00), Joseph Mankiewicz's son Christopher explains that his father "never missed a chance in any screenplay that he wrote to pay homage to his city of birth and get it in the script."

A Letter to Three Wives is available for loan on DVD from the Lackawanna County Library System. To place a hold on the DVD, click here; to reserve the VHS, click here.

Much thanks again to my fantastic brother J.R. for this reference. Posted by Picasa

Monday, June 05, 2006

New York, New York (1977)

The ever-sharp RY recently told me about a brief visual reference to the city of Scranton in the 1977 film New York, New York.

Directed by Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, The Aviator), New York, New York stars Liza Minnelli (Cabaret, Arthur) and Scorsese regular Robert de Niro (Goodfellas, The Deer Hunter, Meet The Parents).

The film has been described as Scorsese’s musical tribute to his hometown. The day WWII ends, selfish and smooth-talking saxophonist Jimmy (de Niro) meets lounge singer Francine (Minnelli). From that moment on, their relationship grows into love as they struggle with their careers and aim for the top in the era of Big Band.

An extended section of the film shows Jimmy and Francine touring with a big band by bus throughout the country, punctuated by signs of towns they played and musical performances. One of the signs the bus passes reads “SCRANTON, 741 FT.”

The DVD of New York, New York can be borrowed through the Lackawanna County Library System; to place a hold, click here.

Much thanks again to RY for this reference.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Michael Schoeffling (1960- )

Any child of the 80s (like me) is most likely endeared to the films of John Hughes, whose films (including The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful) have served as sort-of a coming-of-age rite of passage for teens in that decade. His directorial debut, Sixteen Candles, featured a native of Wilkes-Barre as the epitomical dream date, Jake Ryan.

Sixteen Candles tells the story of Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald) whose parents, caught up in preparations of the wedding of their other daughter, completely forget about her 16th birthday. Visting relatives, an exchange student by the name of Long Duck Dong, and an obsessive geek don't make Samantha's forgotten birthday any better. The sole hope she clings to is her crush on high school senior (and birthday dream date) Jake Ryan, played by Wilkes-Barre native Michael Schoeffling.

Born in Wilkes-Barre on December 10, 1960 and raised in New Jersey, Michael Schoeffling studied acting at Temple University and the Lee Strassberg Institute, and he also became a model whose photographs were featured in magazines such as GQ.

Schoeffling's first major film role was as the "dreamy" Jake Ryan in Sixteen Candles. His later film credits include Vision Quest (with Matthew Modine and Madonna), Sylvester (with Melissa Gilbert), Merchant Ivory's underrated comedy Slaves of New York (a look at the 1980s New York art scene, with Bernadette Peters), Longtime Companion (one of the first films to directly address the AIDS crisis) and Mermaids (with Cher and Winona Ryder). Schoeffling last appeared on screen in Walt Disney's Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken in 1991.

A Google! search for his name results in a list of several websites that pose the question, "Whatever happened to Michael Schoeffling or "Jake Ryan?".

After taking a permanent break from acting in the early 1990s, Michael Schoeffling opened (and still operates) a handcrafted furniture store in Northeastern Pennsylvania, where he presently lives quietly and out of the limelight with his family.

Sixteen Candles and Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken are all available to borrow on VHS from the Lackawanna County Library System.

You can watch the movie trailer for Sixteen Candles by clicking here.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Edmund “Buster” Piaski, Olympian (1915-1995)

Edmund “Buster” Piaski, who grew up in Moosic, competed in the Polish Olympics in Warsaw in 1934. Piaski placed third in the high jump and fourth in the 800-meter race.

In 2004, Moosic Borough officials dedicated Elm Street Park in Piaski's memory.

An article in the Scranton Times from July 4, 2004, titled "Moosic Honors Former Athlete," can be read online by clicking here.

The Reference Department has a "Sports-Olympics" Local History Vertical File containing newspaper clippings about Piaski; the file also contains an article about Dr. Walter Tewsbury of Tunkhannock, who won five medals (two gold, two silver, and a bronze) at the Paris Olympic Games of 1900.

Much thanks to Judi K. for the information included in this entry.