Sunday, October 28, 2018

Detroit's Movie Maven--Bill Kennedy


Bill Kennedy at the Movies with Sir Graves Ghastly. Sir Graves would riff on his monster movies and Bill would dish on Hollywood and the movie business.

Every Baby-Boomer from Detroit and Windsor remembers who gave us our extensive Hollywood movie education--Bill Kennedy. Bill started announcing on the radio professionally in the 1930s at WWJ - The Detroit News station. His deep voice resonated over the air waves.

In 1940, he embarked on a movie career and signed a contract with Warner Brothers Studios where he worked from 1941 until 1955. Bill had the voice but not the face. He didn't emote well on screen, so he was relegated to a series of flat supporting roles. He played mainly cops, bad guys, radio announcers (no stretch for Bill), newspaper men, and swindlers. In all, Bill Kennedy has 103 film credits.

In the post World War Two era, Kennedy appeared on numerous B-Western television shows including The Lone Ranger, The Cisco Kid, and The Gene Autry Show. Kennedy always spoke kindly of Gene Autry. Bill was over six feet tall and many of Hollywood's leading men were short and didn't like doing fight scenes with him. Gene Autry was short, but always had a job for Bill when he needed it. Autry told him once, "I like beating up bad guys on screen who are bigger than me."

Bill Kennedy playing a newscaster in a Superman episode.

What many of us in Detroit know that most people don't is Bill's was the voice behind the opening credits of  The Adventures of Superman--one of the most iconic introductions in television history. Bill received a one-time check for $350. He regretted not asking for screen credit which might have benefited his career. The show has been continuously running in syndication since 1952. A link to the Superman program opening is below.

In 1956, Bill Kennedy returned to the Detroit area to host an afternoon movie program called Bill Kennedy's Showtime, for CKLW-TV across the Detroit River in Windsor, Ontario. The show became a big hit. Bill talked about his jaded experiences in Hollywood's heyday and how he worked with many of the top stars. His deadpan delivery and sarcastic wit won the loyalty of viewers. He had an avuncular, self-deprecating manner--especially if talking about a film he was in. If the movie was bad, he would tell his audience.

The show opened with a tight shot on a picture of a woman smoking a cigarette with Bill's theme song Just in Time playing in the background. The photograph was from a magazine. I can see the model in my mind's eye with her elbows on a table and a smoldering cigarette in her right hand. Bill chose Just In Time for his theme song because his professional life was at a low point when he got the job with CKLW.


Bill wearing a hat to cover up his hair transplant surgery.
In 1969, Bill took his show to WKBD which broadcast out of Southfield, Michigan. The show remained essentially the same with a title change to Bill Kennedy at the Movies. Bill would interview celebrities when they were in Detroit and he took on-air phone calls which were sometimes more interesting than the movies. I enjoyed the live TV commercial pitches of Abe Schroe for his furniture upholstery business.

Abe and Bill always had lively repartee like they knew each other well outside of work. These two got along so well on air that it strikes me Bill was probably part-owner or an investor in Artistic Upholstery. Bill would take a break and Abe would go into his pitch. Nobody else made live commercials on Bill's show--not Ollie Fretter--not even Mr. Belvedere (Detroit inside joke).

In 1983, Bill retired to Palm Beach, Florida. He died of emphysema on January 27, 1997, at the age of eighty-eight. Rest in peace "young, old-timer."

The Adventures of Superman introduction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2l4bz1FT8U

Bill Kennedy's theme song Just In Time by Frank Sinatra. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RIcQ26arWAs

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Fornology.com Marching Toward a Million Hits

When I started my Fornology.com blog in May 2011, my goal was to promote and build readership for my debut book, Zug Island: A Detroit Riot Novel. After a year, if I got 100 hits a day or 1,000 hits for the month, I was pleased. Once I developed a core audience, I started experiencing the instant gratification of posting. In seven years, I've written over 400 blog posts and amassed over three-quarters of a million hits globally. 

I've blogged about topics related to my books Zug Island, Terror In Ypsilanti: John Norman Collins Unmasked and The Richard Streicher Jr. Murder: Ypsilanti's Depot Town Mystery. My current project is about the battle for the Detroit River during Prohibition. Not wanting to blog my book while writing it, I do blog about topics related to the general research I'm doing--for instance, my post on the Thompson Machine Gun. It plays a part in my treatment of the era but only as a tool for murder and mayhem.

My latest project is about the Purple Gang, the Mafia, and the federal government's attempts to control the flood of bootleg liquor crossing the Detroit River. The United States Treasury Department estimates that 75-80% of the booze smuggled into the country crossed the river between 1920 and 1933--the Prohibition years.

As an independent author starting late in the game at sixty-one-years old, my original goal was to write a memoir and see it through to publication. The positive response and initial success of Zug Island prompted me to write a second book, and then a third. Those books have won six writing awards and two of them are Amazon best-sellers.

My current goal is to finish my fourth book within the next two years. Once that book is published, I plan to promote it for a year and then wind down my writing career. When that happens, I hope to have reached over one-million Fornology.com hits--less than 240,000 to go.


A special thank you to all of my readers, especially those who wrote reviews and posted them on Amazon. Reviews provide valuable word-of-mouth exposure and promote sales. If you like any of my books and have yet to write a review, it's not too late. That said, I'm pleased with the level of success I've achieved as an independent author and hope readers will embrace my next project.

To write a review, click on my Amazon author site, then click on the book icon, and scroll down: https://www.amazon.com/Gregory-A.-Fournier/e/B00BDNEG1C  You can also click on the book icons in the right sidebar of this page.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Motown Memories

The Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, The Temptations, and The Miracles in 1965 beginning their twenty-one city tour of the United Kingdom tuning the British ear to the Motown sound.

One of the must-see attractions in Detroit is Hitsville USA--the Motown Museum on West Grand Boulevard--also named Berry Gordy, Jr. Boulevard. The museum was opened in 1985 by Berry's sister Esther Edwards and has been going strong ever since.

Everyone knows the Motown music and the legendary performers, but the thing that fascinated me most about the guided tour was Berry Gordy's story and his original business model.

When I went to Hitsville USA, I heard the story of how Berry got started in the music business. From a modest $800 Gordy family business loan and a two-story frame house, he built a music empire that shaped the history and direction of pop music and helped integrate American culture.

Musical magic was born in a converted garage called Studio A, while the Gordy family lived in the second floor flat. I went upstairs and saw the small apartment where Motown records was born. The kitchen table where the family ate, often found Berry Gordy with his friend Smokey Robinson stuffing newly pressed warm vinyl into record jackets and rushing them off to local Detroit DJs and record stores. Gordy's first big hit was "Money." Motown's business was literally built from the ground up. Not bad for what started as a
cottage industry that developed into a corporate colossus.

One of Gordy's early jobs was on the assembly-line at Ford's Lincoln-Mercury plant, wrestling with automobile upholstery. He would get ahead on his production quota to create small pockets of time to compose songs and develop melodies in his head. If Berry liked what popped into his mind, he wrote it down in a spiral notebook he kept in his back pocket. Once the mind-numbing repetition of the assembly-line became second-nature, his mind was free to create and dream about creating a music factory that brings in raw talent at one end and produces a seasoned performer at the other end. Motown was not so much an assembly-line as a hit factory of skilled craftsmen and women turning out a consistently high-quality product known the world over as the Motown Sound.


Berry Gordy outside Hitsville USA--2648 W. Grand Boulevard.


For anyone who is a Motown fan, the documentary "Standing in the Shadows of Motown" tells the behind the scenes story of the Funk Brothers from their first-hand accounts like nothing else can. This small band of studio musicians played on all of the Motown hits. The documentary won four film awards and two Emmys in 2002.


Here is a recent link to Motown song writer Lamont Dozier reminiscing about writing some of the greatest Motown hits ever recorded: https://youtu.be/AUx86C-xOuI

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Thompson Submachine Gun--World War I era "Trench Broom" Becomes Prohibition-era "Street Sweeper"


Thompson Submachine Gun and black jack on display at Detroit Historical Museum.

In the early years of Prohibition in America, the weapons of choice for the underworld were fists, black jacks, brass knuckles, tire thumpers, stilettos, hand guns, sawed-off shotguns, and rifles. With the first attempt on Al Capone's life on January 12, 1925, members of the late Dion O'Banion's North Side Gang--Bugs Moran, "Schemer" Drucci, and Hymie Weiss--had sworn a blood vendetta against Capone and his organization for assassinating their boss.

The trio raked .45-caliber bullets along the side of Capone's car with a weapon new to the streets--the Thompson submachine gun. Capone survived the attack. When he looked at the perforated driver's side of his Cadillac touring car and the damage done to the buildings in the line of fire, Capone remarked, "I need to get some of those." Big Al hastened to equip his arsenal with machine guns.


The press dubbed the weapon the "tommy gun," and it changed the rules of gangster warfare. The automatic weapon was co-invented by Brigadier General John T. Thompson in 1918. The first commercial models were made by the Colt Manufacturing Company in 1921, too late for World War I. The United States Army declined to adopt the weapon and law enforcement showed little interest in the weapon because the police were afraid of innocent civilian casualties.
Police were slow to recognize the impact these guns would make on their streets.

With the military and law enforcement markets closed to Thompson, he and several investors started the Auto-Ordinance Corporation in New York. They manufactured 15,000 of the guns in 1923 selling each for $175 with a 20-round clip or a canister drum that could hold up to 50 .45 cal rounds for an extra $50. Later on, 100-round drums became available.

Auto-Ordinance wholesaled the submachine guns to firearm retailers across the country and directly to the public through mail order. All the seller required was a purchaser's name and address. Because this hybrid weapon was entirely new and in a class of its own, it didn't fall under existing gun laws. Anyone could legally purchase as many submachine guns as he could afford.

Nobody planned for this military weapon to be available to civilians--much less fall into the hands of outlaws--but business is business and a sale is a sale. The weapon soon became a status symbol for gangsters. Once the government instituted strict controls in the late 1920s, black market guns sold for as much as $2,000 each. The only people who could afford them were gangsters. Attempts were made to etch out serial numbers or stamp small Xs over the serial numbers, but crime science developed an acid wash that could bring out the obscured numbers.

The Thompson machine gun--also known as the chopper, the Chicago Typewriter, the Trench Broom, and the Street Sweeper--changed the rules of gang warfare. The original assault weapon was light weight (under ten pounds) and portable; it came with a 20-round stock box clip or with an available canister drum holding 50 .45-cal cartridges; the gun had a 500 yard range with a rate of fire between 600 to 750 rounds per minute; and the muzzle velocity was 935 feet per second.

The original models were hard to control and next to impossible to aim accurately, but as weapons of mass murder and mayhem, the tommy gun had no rivals. The underworld was fascinated with its new plaything. The weapon's compact size allowed it to break down small enough to be carried in a violin case. The chopper became the signature weapon of several major crime syndicates and was involved in some of the most infamous murders of the Prohibition era.

Link to Detroit's Purple Gang post: https://fornology.blogspot.com/2018/02/kosher-nostra-detroits-purple-gang.html