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Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Mysteries Of "Let's Rock"

Julius La Rosa died this week.
I was a big fan.
I thought he was a wonderful singer, who brought great musicianship and empathy to everything he did.
Never mind all that mishegoss that went on with Arthur Godfrey.
(And I'm giving you credit for remembering him).
Julie made only one actual feature film.
It was called "Let's Rock".
I had never heard of it until it showed up on TCM about two years ago.
La Rosa got top billing, just as rock 'n roll was starting to rear its ugly head.
This was 1958. La Rosa had long survived the Godfrey firing, and was thriving.
He was cast as a ballad singer whose manager was trying to show him that ballads are dead, and the only way to stay "with it" is to switch to rock and roll.
Second billed was Phyllis Newman as his girlfriend, which I could believe, and as an aspiring rock and roll songwriter, which I couldn't.
You know the way Phyllis Newman has a way with rock and roll lyrics. They're right up her alley.
I mean, who the hell is she, Carole King?
This premise was a very tough sell.
Interestingly, Julie and Phyllis sang roughly half a dozen traditional style "pop" songs, without a hint of rock and roll.
They were all written by Hal Hackady, whose name pretty much described his abilities.
But they were all rather harmless and pleasant.
The closest Julie came to doing rock and roll was doing about a chorus of "Rock Around The Clock".
He hated doing it, and I hated hearing it.
But the movie really served as a showcase for real rock and roll singers.
This was essentially an Alan Freed movie, without the smarm and the payola.
For the Alan Freed part, they got Wink Martindale, not at all smarmy.
Each getting a song, not interacting at all with the story, were Paul Anka, Danny and The Juniors, Roy Hamilton, Della Reese, and The Royal Teens (Who Wears Short Shorts? They wear Short Shorts!)
The story is resolved by Julie realizing he should stick to ballads.
All of this begs several questions:

Was there any other way this story could play out?
Why was this movie made?
Who did they think their audience was?
Julius La Rosa as first billed, this turns off the Alan Freed crowd.
They don't know what they're getting.
Why would they show up?
How did they get La Rosa to do this movie?
The story cuts a little too close to the bone.
La Rosa survived this situation in real life, but a lot of his contemporaries didn't.
Why would he want to call attention to himself in that manner?
Maybe because he played a character with a different name, his handlers, thinking he was a schmuck, managed to convince him that he wasn't playing himself.
The scenarios are almost endless.
Maybe it was simply a matter of money, or the lack of it.
"Let's Rock" must have been made on a budget of nickels.
Yet, it was all rather entertaining, fifty years later.
Back then, it was undoubtedly designed to be the lower half of a double bill.
A second feature. That's what they had back then.
It was probably a matter of nobody giving a fuck.
And Julie was probably delighted to star in a movie.
That's my best guess.
All I've got are guesses.
No answers.
Now that Julie's gone, we'll never really know.
I prefer it when life makes sense.


My books, "Show Runner" and it's sequel, "Show Runner Two", can be found at the Amazon Kindle Store.
Along with the newer ones, "The Man Is Dead", and "Report Cards".
They are all compilations of blog entries that have since been removed from the blog.
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  1. I seem to recall that you and I are about the same age (in my case, born in 1950; your mileage may differ).

    1958 was a transitional period in movies.
    Really big epics, "Ten Commandments" and the like, were rarities.
    Second features, or programmers, were gradually disappearing; TV was absorbing the market.
    The Poverty Row studios were being taken over by TV companies, but the majors were still cranking out quickies to fill the bottom half of double bills in neighborhood houses.
    "Let's Rock", a Columbia release, an hour and a quarter long, filmed in New York City for a fraction of what they paid to make "Bridge On The River Kwai" - this is clearly a second feature, to tag along with a cop movie or Western, one week's play at the Southtown or the Tivoli.

    Why did Julius LaRosa do it?
    Back in '58, the pecking order was still in force; any theatrically released movie was automatically a step above TV. I mean, you had to pay to see it, right?
    I'll have to look it up (as I did almost every other thing in this post), but I believe that at this point, Arthur Godfrey had never appeared in a theatrical movie.
    So that would be one reason.
    Besides, Columbia most likely told LaRosa that "Let's Rock" could be The Start Of Something - maybe a ticket to Hollywood, a dramatic role with some star or other, who knows?
    OK, that didn't happen, but a theatrical movie - even a 75-minute B, out of which a third would be the musical numbers by the guest stars - was still considered a step up from TV.
    Or so the conventional wisdumb of the time held.

    Anyway, Julius LaRosa did all right, doing exactly what he wanted to do.
    When he passed, he'd just marked his 60th wedding anniversary.
    Happily retired in Wisconsin, where his wife came from.
    Superstardom ain't everything.

    I cribbed most of this from IMDb.
    Some outside commenter wrote in claiming that Charles Nelson Reilly made his film debut in "Let's Rock!"
    The story goes that CNR kept blowing the one line he had, ultimately having to be cut out as a result.
    Or something like that.
    Quite a few imaginative people comment on IMDb ...

  2. Everything you say is possible. Nothing you say is likely.
    Remember, we're still just guessing here.
    I wouldn't want to make book on any of it.

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About Me

Hi. I am, according to my Wikipedia entry,(which I did not create) a noted television writer, playwright, screenwriter, and occasional actor. You can Google me or go to the IMDB to get my credits, and you can come here to get my opinions on things, which I'll try to express eloquently. Hopefully I'll succeed. You can also e-mail me at Perhaps my biggest claim to fame is being responsible, for about six months in 1975, while Head Writer for the "Happy Days" TV series, for Americans saying to each other "Sit on it."