Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ, Happy Anniversary! Premiered in New York City, December 30th, 1925

As we can see from the posters, lobby cards, programs and ads for Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ, every means and all tools were used to promote this film, yet, because of its budget (most expensive of the silent era at 3.9 million) it lost money on its initial run, finally making a little profit in the re-release in 1931 when a score and sound-effects were added. (See our post about another Easter favorite, from 1935: Golgotha)

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Stills from Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ:

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Forty-eight cameras were used to film the sea battle, a record for a single scene.

ben hur 066-ben-hur-theredlist

The Guinness Book of World Records (2002 edition), relates that Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ, contains the most edited scene in cinema history. Editor Lloyd Nosler compressed 200,000 feet (60,960 meters) of film into a mere 750 feet (228.6 meters) for the chariot race scene – a ratio of 267:1 (film shot to film shown).


The religious scenes were all shot in Technicolor along with Ben Hur’s entrance into Rome and some of the interiors.

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Behind the scenes stills:

ben hur 060-ben-hur-theredlistben hur 069-ben-hur-theredlistben hur 061-ben-hur-theredlistben hur 059-ben-hur-theredlistben hur 057-ben-hur-theredlistBen Hur 1925ben hur 075-ben-hur-theredlistben hur ac-1926-ben-hur-2-copy

F. W. Murnau, Happy Birthday! Born December 28th; 1888-1931

murnau sjff_02_img0783

F. W. Murnau

Storyteller supreme is an apt title for Friedrich Wilhelm Plumpe, better known as F. W. Murnau; 21 movies in 12 years, his career stopped short by an automobile accident, just prior to the premier of his last film, Tabu: A Story of the South Seas, in 1931.

What a genius for moving-pictures he had and we are all the more blessed to have what little record we do have.  The space (and time) needed to explain the gifts of Murnau, well, time and space fail me and maybe my words as well; for I seem so awed by his talent that the terminology that comes to me seems weak, feeble before his brilliance that is so clearly seen in his work.

Drama, legends, horror, romance and complicated comedies were part and parcel with Murnau. Nosferatu, still what I consider to be the creepiest of all vampire films; Sunrise a poignant gut wrenching, tear-jerker filled with lust, deception, love and as the subtitle implies full of the music of life. I will cease my chatter here and let you be reminded of his work by looking over some of the posters that I have provided from his films. I implore you to buy, rent, stream, whatever you have to do, watch and pay especially close attention to the movies, the art and the language of F. W. Murnau.

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F. W. Murnau film list:

1931 Tabu: A Story of the South Seas

1930 City Girl

1928 4 Devils

1927 Sunrise

1926 Faust

1925 Tartuffe

1924 The Last Laugh

1924 Finances of the Grand Duke

1923 Die Austreibung (Short)

1922 Phantom

1922 Der brennende Acker

1922 Nosferatu

1922 Marizza, genannt die Schmuggler-Madonna

1921 The Haunted Castle

1921 Desire

1921 The Dark Road

1920 Abend – Nacht – Morgen

1920 Der Januskopf

1920 Der Bucklige und die Tänzerin

1920 Satanas

1919 Emerald of Death


By C. S. Williams

The Ultimate New Years Eve Movie! Repeat Performance, 1947

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I guess it is never too early to prepare for the end of the year, yet, oddly enough, this film which finds its plot entangled with and dare I say integral with New Years Eve was released on May 22nd, 1947. Repeat Performance was directed by Alfred Werker, Cinematography by Lew William O’Connell; starring: Joan Leslie, Louis Hayward, Richard Basehart and Tom Conway.  This is Fantasy-Film-Noir and maybe the strangest of the Noir-genre, with the exception of “Christmas Eve”, 1947. Repeat Performance has solid characterizations by Conway, Leslie, Basehart and Hayward and director Werker shows a steady hand in his pacing and story development. If you like your mysteries with an abnormal bent then as you organize your December 31st evening festivities, include Repeat Performance in your inventory of must-dos; no Bucket-List would be complete without this little sparkling concoction. Enjoy, be safe and Happy New Year!

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Elisha Cook Jr., Happy Birthday! Born December 26th; 1903-1995



Elisha Cook Jr.



Leo DiCaprio from The Great Gatsby

An initial observation: it is remarkable how much DiCaprio looks like Elisha Cook Jr.! But those smooth good looks for Cook Jr. would soon fade into the wrinkled, gnarled features which we now associate with his particularly suited voice for evil and mania.

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Today, I am afforded the opportunity to write about one of the finest of the quirky supporting actors to ever grace the silver-screens of Hollywoodland, Elisha Cook Jr. In 1941 Cook gave us his portrayal of Wilmer Cook, the gunsel with the squirmy facial expressions, in the Maltese Falcon. This role by itself was enough to brand Elisha Cook Jr. forever in the memory of film, but he continued compiling to his list, unique, possessed, obsessive characters as in the following movies: Ball of Fire, 1941, The Big Sleep, 1946, The Great Gatsby, 1949 and Don’t Bother to Knock, 1952. Some have went as far as to say that Cook is the king of character actors, I will say that Cook Jr. is in the “Sweet Sixteen” of character actors.

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Humphrey Bogart, Happy Birthday! Born Christmas Day; 1899-1957

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Born Christmas Day of 1899, Humphrey DeForest Bogart made 8 appearances on Broadway before his first role in film came in 1928 in short film called “The Dancing Town”; it would be two years more before Bogart would make his first feature film.  His was a stalwart career, full of envious roles, with many Oscar worthy performances. His one Academy Award for Best Actor, of course, was in the African Queen, 1951, a brilliant interpretation as the drunkard, Charlie Allnut. But, he was just as dynamic as café owner Rick Blaine, in Casablanca, 1942 or one could choose, his turn as Lt. Cmdr. Philip Francis Queeg, in The Caine Mutiny, 1954. These few films I have mentioned but scratch the surface of his weighty, admirable resume, and what should have been an award-strewn path to film glory.

Bogart’s lack of multiple Oscars does not detract from his appearance in so many of what we the modern film-watchers consider to be true classics: The Maltese Falcon, 1941, To Have and Have Not, 1944, The Big Sleep, 1946, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Key Largo, 1948 and Sabrina, 1954. Other movies which Humphrey Bogart made might not come to mind immediately as a classic, but on further review we see that in their own way they rank at least as a minor classic as well; I am thinking of The Harder They Fall, 1956 (Bogart’s last film), The Barefoot Contessa, 1954 and High Sierra 1941. I could go on listing his plaudit laudable works but shall end by saying that since I was a boy I have been fascinated by Bogart, his tough-guy persona, he being my first anti-hero-hero and found so much more in his acting arsenal as I watched amazed at what this little guy with a slight lisp and too much saliva could do with a choice part.

Whether the lead or in support Humphrey Bogart seemed always to grab the camera’s attention, thereby our attention, and make the movie his own. What a great Christmas present we the movie-loving public received on Christmas Day, 1899. I don’t know about you but any and all of my differing Best-Film-Lists contain Bogart films galore, which if we take the second syllable of galore we find that the work of Bogart has taken on Hollywood lore status. Relax, if you can while taking in a Bogie movie of your choice.

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By C. S. Williams

John Brascia, Dancing Dynamo, The Expanded Experience


John Brascia


John Brascia burst upon the cinematic scene, with good looks, a tremendous smile and most of all his natural born athleticism which imbued his dance steps with vigor and excitement. His talent for dancing was immediately recognized as special and great things were heralded for his career; his name mentioned in the same rarified air of, Astaire and Kelly.[1] His turns in White Christmas, 1954 and Meet Me in Las Vegas in 1956 brought to Brascia, adulations and plaudits in perpetuity, without reserve; that is the magnificence of his performances in these two film-musicals.

Over the course of 2015 this biography proved wildly popular, particularly as Christmas approached. It is with this in mind that I have returned to the Brascia “well,” to apprehend what crisp elixir I might draw forth to quench my curiosity and hopefully to refresh the reader as well. This John Brascia expanded biography is an increase of 20%, and media has been added to enhance the reader’s experience. If you have not read this, the longest article regarding the special talents of John Brascia,[2] then the entirety of the biography is new territory, yet, if you have already perused this bio, it is my intention to make the rereading of it easier. All new materials within the body of this commentary are in italics, making a friendlier excursion for those coming back for a second cup of Brascia…

A bit of thanks is needed to be passed along to my wife, Margaret and my son, Stephen, who afford me the time to research for these works; for their love and kindly support I am eternally grateful. C. S. Williams

Brascia’s Back-story: The Family

Jovani “John” Frank Brascia was born on May 11, 1932, in Fresno, California, to Italian immigrants Gaetano (Galtano, Tommy) Brascia and Caterina “Katie” Napolitano. The Brascia clan including grandparents Mike and Consetta Brascia moved from Brooklyn, New York, before John Frank was born.

In California:

Tommy Brascia co-owned (with his father Mike[3]) and operated a liquor store, which was located at 126 West I Street (at the time a popular small business area) in Colton, California. It seems that Tommy was making some of his profits by bookmaking and pool-selling. He was arrested and charged with those and other sundry violations of the California state penal codes in the summer of 1949;[4] he was sentenced to ninety-days and a $250.00 fine; suspension of his sentence was dependent upon no further violations.[5] In addition, to the spirits store Tommy Brascia had an amusement games business in Van Nuys, California.[6] While an apartment above the liquor store on West I Street, began as the Brascia’s home,[7]  by the late 1940s their residence was at 715 West E Street in Colton.[8]

John’s Sibs

John (Jovani, Johnny, Johnnie, Johnie) Brascia had an older brother, the middle child, Vincent; he played second-singles on the Colton High-School tennis squad.[9] The oldest of the Brascia children was their sister, Cecilia (named after her aunt) who graduated from Colton High School in 1945.[10] The Brascia family attended the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church of Colton where in the late spring of 1944 John received his first Holy Communion.[11]

Johnny Himself:

Johnny Brascia (Deadeye Johnny) was a high-school basketball player beginning in his sophomore year at Colton High, acting as a co-captain; Colton is a suburb of San Bernardino, California.[12] At 5’11” he took the position of guard in his junior year; he was a starter for the Colton Yellowjackets.[13] It is certain that Brascia became a two-sport athlete, possibly three, if we accept a one line report about him suiting up for baseball at Colton High, yet there is no further evidence of this.[14] He played for Colton on the football squad as the starting quarterback in his junior and senior years.[15] In 1950 (just three years and six months before he would go before the cameras on White Christmas and the very same year when he appeared as a dancer in, Summer Stock (although uncredited), Brascia was voted to Second-Team of the All-Citrus Belt Basketball League.[16] In his years in basketball, Brascia was coached by Tom Morrow a Southern California coaching legend, who piloted the school’s program for twenty-four years, 1947-1971.[17] Some writers have made mention that Brascia attended Hollywood High as though his entire scholastic-sports career was played out there. It is true that he went to the Tinseltown high school, just not a significant amount, spending April and May of his senior year there.[18]

Colton, California, Colton Union High School Yearbook 1949

Colton, California, Colton Union High School Yearbook 1949

Colton, California, Colton Union High School Yearbook 1949

Colton, California, Colton Union High School Yearbook 1949

Colton, California, Colton Union High School Yearbook 1949

Colton, California, Colton Union High School Yearbook 1949


At what juncture Brascia became interested with dancing is not easily discernible and one friend said that Johnny “never showed any indication… of going into the performing arts.”[19] It does not appear that he was involved in any high-school stage productions; the closest he came to stage work while in school was when he took part in a program of tumbling and acrobatics as part of the Public Schools week at Colton High School in April of 1949.[20] But, he obviously loved the movies and maybe infatuation with them and their stars is a better term, because he was ejected from Paramount Studios in 1950, when caught climbing a wall to watch the actors and actresses go by.[21] Some of those who have written bio-briefs have speculated as to what Brascia was up to after he graduated high school and before he hit the Great White Way in early 1953. The answer to the question of that twenty-four-month work-gap, may be that he was a telephone lineman. We know that he had two uncredited appearances before the camera in Summer Stock in 1950 and Call Me Madam (filming in 1952), which was finished before his Broadway stint.



Excepting those two film dance-ons, that is a full two years unaccounted for. Others have suggested military service,[22] to fill in the dark-fissure of his early career, which does not seem plausible considering Brascia was living in North Hollywood, in the late summer of 1951. His brother Vincent did join the Army, shipping off to Japan in 1951 and was a Master Sargent on the front lines in Korea in ’52, still, there is no evidence of John serving in any of the military branches.[23] On the other hand this work as a lineman with a telephone company appears all the more probable, since by the very fact that he was still residing in Southern California in 1951. This in-between job as a lineman was posited by columnist Marilyn Beck in a 1968 article, with what appears to be information from a short interview.[24] It was during these early years that Brascia commenced dance lessons with Louis “Luigi” Faccuito, jazz-dance impresario; the exact period of time when these lessons were given, neither Faccuito or Brascia, nor any reporter has stated.[25]

Louis “Luigi” Faccuito

Louis “Luigi” Faccuito


Brascia on Broadway:

At some point prior to Broadway, Brascia appeared in a production of Madame Butterfly; at what theater and with who was not reported. However, in 1952 the Metropolitan Opera staged Butterfly in February and the New York City Opera produced this well-known piece by Puccini, staging it at the City Center in late March.[26] Whichever company he appeared with I am sure by Mr. Brascia’s work ethic, that he presented the audience with a treat; Madame Butterfly was his first official appearance in New York.[27] Brascia’s only production on Broadway was in Hazel Flagg, which premiered at the, Mark Hellinger Theatre, on February 11, 1953 and ended its run on September 19, 1953. He and Sheree North (her Broadway debut as well) were added to the cast in the middle of December, 1952, with rehearsals starting at the end of the year.[28]  

Brascia as Willie in Hazel Flagg along with Helen Gallagher in the title role. From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York.

Brascia as Willie in Hazel Flagg along with Helen Gallagher in the title role. From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York.

Brascia as Willie in Hazel Flagg along with Helen Gallagher in the title role. From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York.

Brascia as Willie in Hazel Flagg along with Helen Gallagher in the title role. From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York.

Brascia as Willie in Hazel Flagg along with Helen Gallagher in the title role. From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York.

Brascia as Willie in Hazel Flagg along with Helen Gallagher in the title role. From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York.


It is then from the middle of September of ’51 through mid-December of ‘52 that nothing is known of the actions nor what occupied his time as no personal accounts (addresses, tryouts or jobs) were relayed by Johnny, nor have any Brascia journals surfaced to give insight into his early days in the Big Apple. We do know that Brascia lived in the vicinity of West 57th Street and 6th Avenue, near Carnegie Hall. Times were tough for the struggling dancer, who often visited a Horn & Hardart Automat, preparing what he referred to as the “starving actor’s tomato soup;” a cup of hot water, ketchup, mustard and spices, along with what bread and butter he could afford.[29]

Horn & Hardart Automat


During the first few months of his new found fame, Brascia was romantically connected to cast member Estelle Aza; Aza had already been in two Broadway productions, each role non-speaking.[30]  Johnny would win the Outer Circle Award for Best Supporting Performance for his portrayal of Willie in Hazel Flagg;[31] he also won the Best Dancer from the Donaldson Awards poll of Billboard, for his work in Flagg.[32] He was a favorite of Rosalind Russell who threw a small party for the dancer at Bruno’s Pen & Pencil; as a gift she presented Brascia with a stack of letters-of-introduction to her friends in Hollywood.[33]

Billboard June 20, 1953

Billboard June 20, 1953


After the Saturday night, 4th of July performance, Flagg, went on break and during this summer hiatus Brascia went to Hollywood and spent time with actress-dancer Ann Miller. Flagg returned from recess on September 1, 1953, and Brascia made his way back for the reopening; the play lasted only another nineteen days after the summer vacation.[34] Robert Alton staged the dances and musical numbers for, Call Me Madam, which work he finished prior to heading for Broadway and the Hazel Flagg production.[35] Brascia, aforesaid, appeared uncredited in Madam clearly, his relationship with Alton led to Hazel Flagg which led to White Christmas. Most modern retellings of Alton and Brascia’s association are accounted beginning with Flagg. But, this Call Me Madam dancing by Brascia in the ‘Ocarina’ scene introduced him to choreographer Robert Alton, and when Alton took the duties as stager of the dances and musical numbers on White Christmas, he cast Brascia in the role of John.[36] At the last of August of 1953, Los Angeles Times columnist, Edwin Schallert wrote that Irving Berlin was writing-on a special role for John Brascia, to introduce the young dancer to film-audiences. Further Schallert confirmed the professional relationship of Alton and Brascia, and that Alton had discovered Johnny in the chorus of, Call Me Madame; in addition, this article by Edwin Schallert revealed that Brascia, although especially written-in, still had to compete with Danny Kaye for on-screen dancing-time.[37]

In early September it was reported that Brascia would leave Flagg to dance with Vera Ellen in White Christmas,[38] and the rest as they say is history; no sooner did Brascia get hired for White Christmas, in 1953, than he began courting Vera Ellen, he, her junior by eleven years.[39] Much of Robert Alton’s White Christmas choreography intended for Danny Kaye and Vera Ellen proved too complicated for Kaye, Brascia stepped in[40] and with his performance hoofed his way into Hollywood history; thrilling audiences for the last six decades. Brascia’s aforementioned dance teacher, Luigi Faccuito, although unlisted and uncredited appeared in White Christmas as well.  There are a few Call Me Madam alums in that 1954 Irving Berlin ode to the White Christmas, Gorge Chakiris, Barrie Chase and Vera Ellen. Donald O’Connor who was to play the Phil Davis role (eventually filled by Danny Kaye), in, White Christmas, also co-starred in Madam. Brascia and Vera Ellen, were afforded the opportunity to show off their exceptional dancing skills in the Abraham, Choreography and Mandy sequences of White Christmas.


Abraham Scene with Brascia & Vera Ellen

Abraham Scene with Brascia & Vera Ellen

More from the Abraham Scene Brascia & Vera Ellen

More from the Abraham Scene Brascia & Vera Ellen


Brascia Ballroom:

Brascia during the 1950’s and 60’s lived not by checks from his film work or in ballet or musicals, but with dancing in clubs and on television. 1954 must have been an uncomfortable year of for Brascia, after the flurry of the bustle of 1953. Yet, 1954 was cushioned by the impending release of White Christmas in the autumn and his behind the scenes duties on, There’s No Business Like Show Business. Johnny took dance-in Joan Weamer (standing in for Marilyn Monroe) through the steps in the “Heat Wave” number. Brascia’s job along with Ms. Weamer and four male dancers, including White Christmas alumni George Chakiris was to demonstrate the scene for Monroe;[41] still this resulted in no screen time for John but it did as an uncredited appearance for Chakiris. For There’s No Business, Robert Alton again was the dance maestro and seeming to fill the role of mentor or benefactor to Brascia and Chakiris.[42]



Then in May of 1955 Vera Ellen began a production at the newly constructed hotel-casino, The Dunes, in Las Vegas; this extravaganza (Magic Carpet Revue) played in the Arabian Room. The cast of the show was sixty strong and featured Brascia.[43] When Johnny was filming his sequences with Cyd Charisse for Meet Me in Las Vegas (opened in February, 1956), Ellen waited patiently for her twenty-four-year-old dancing partner to return.[44] The work with friend Vera Ellen in Vegas and the Vegas musical starring Charisse and Dan Daily, provided a significant bridge of publicity for Brascia, much needed for the coming year of 1956.

Shows At The Dunes


Johnny Brascia in the Frankie and Johnny ballet scene with the marvelous Cyd Charisse and the beautiful Liliane Montevecchi

Johnny Brascia in the Frankie and Johnny ballet scene with the marvelous Cyd Charisse and the beautiful Liliane Montevecchi


Professionally, 1956 was a repeat of 1954 for Brascia, the year went as dark as a Monday at a Broadway Theatre. From here on out though, Brascia would without a doubt face no employment drought. But his stability in regards to being employed began not with work but with romance in 1955, setting the stage for the name of Brascia to be read everywhere for the next four years, whether working or not. Women of all ages seemed to be attracted to Johnny and for a brief period Dallas heiress, Peggy Kane was romantically involved with Brascia; this bit appeared in Walter Winchell’s, Man About Town, On Broadway, and Broadway and Elsewhere columns in February of 1955.[45] The other noteworthy event for Brascia in 1955 began in the summer, which was his involvement with actress, Movita (Maria Castaneda), almost fifteen years older than he, which stirred more than a few notices in newspapers across the land, because of her romantic ties to Marlon Brando (future husband of Movita). Brascia and Movita nearly married in 1957, they had set the wedding-date for March 27, but their on-again-off-again romance soon went off and the nuptials were delayed.[46]

Maria "Movita" Castaneda

Maria “Movita” Castaneda


1957, brought Johnny and ballerina Mia Slavenska to rehearsals for a rock-n-roll act for TV and clubs; the twosome did make appearances at two hotels with the show. The act was tried out at the famous Borscht Belt resort, the Concord Hotel (located in Kiamesha Lake, in the Catskills), in March of ‘57, and at the, Royal York Hotel in, Toronto. This venture seems not have panned out, for nothing further was written regarding the act.[47]

Mia Slavenska

Mia Slavenska


Most of Johnny’s success was with (Brascia & Tybee), Ms. Tybee Afra, playing the best clubs and the best television shows (a cursory glance of TV listings of the late 1950s through the 1960s reveals they appeared often on the boob-tube).[48]

Tybe Afra, Spencer Times, Spencer, Iowa, March 30, 1958

Tybe Afra, Spencer Times, Spencer, Iowa, March 30, 1958


To list each performer Brascia and Tybee danced for and categorize all of their performances would take an entire article itself. What follows is a small sampling of those “stars” which Brascia & Tybee, especially in the late 1950’s through the mid-60’s, was most often seen with: Jack Benny,[49] Tony Martin, Maurice Chevalier, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Woody Allen, Petula Clark,[50] George Burns, Danny Thomas, Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack. Las Vegas, Miami, Reno, and Tahoe; all of the major metropolitan cities saw the choreographed moves of this dynamic couple. Brascia & Tybee were one of the highest paid dance teams in entertainment; quickly moving up the show business ladder of success, nearing number-one (I include some adverts to visually demonstrate their popularity).[51]

Miami Herald, Miami, Florida, March 11, 1959

Miami Herald, Miami, Florida, March 11, 1959

Miami Herald, Miami, Florida, March 12, 1959

Miami Herald, Miami, Florida, March 12, 1959

Pasadena Independent, Pasadena, California, March 27, 1959

Pasadena Independent, Pasadena, California, March 27, 1959

Appeal Democrat, Marysville, California, May 4, 1959

Appeal Democrat, Marysville, California, May 4, 1959

Pasadena Independent, Pasadena, California, October 11, 1966

Pasadena Independent, Pasadena, California, October 11, 1966

Pasadena Independent, Pasadena, California, June 26, 1968

Pasadena Independent, Pasadena, California, June 26, 1968

Nevada State Journal, Reno, Nevada, June 18, 1966

Nevada State Journal, Reno, Nevada, June 18, 1966

Nevada State Journal, Reno, Nevada, August 1, 1969

Nevada State Journal, Reno, Nevada, August 1, 1969


According to author Josephine Powell, Afra and Brascia met at Lindy’s Deli in New York after Tybee finished shooting her scenes for Silk Stockings (appearing as Fifi, uncredited) in the spring of 1957; Brascia’s account stated that Afra suggested them teaming up. The couple’s first routine featured Roger ‘King’ Mosian (Mozian)[52] on drums and Dominic Frontiere[53] on piano with Brascia’s former dance teacher, Eugene Louis “Luigi” Faccuito staging the act.


Rober King Mozian

Roger King Mozian

Dominic Frontiere

Dominic Frontiere


Since Brascia felt Afra needed ballet lessons to further prepare the duet he set a schedule of instruction up for her. An MCA agent saw one of their rehearsals at Grossinger’s and Brascia and Tybee were signed to appear at the Latin Casino in Philadelphia. The weekend shows at Grossinger’s were a success and fortuitously enough a representative of the Fontainebleau Hotel, in Miami Beach attended; the duo was offered $1,000 per week to open for Lena Horne, and $1,200 a week when later opening for Tony Martin. It was at the Fontainebleau that a talent scout for the Ed Sullivan Show saw the dancing couple, and scheduled them for the May 26, 1957 broadcast, which program Frank Sinatra saw and promptly contacted Brascia and Tybee’s agent and they got a booking at the Sands in Las Vegas, opening for the Rat Pack, featuring Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. The dancing-duo was being paid $1,750 each week[54] for their turns on the floor to captivate and energize the audience, preparing them for the Rat Pack experience.

Although Tybee Afra and John F. Brascia were now partnered, Johnny received an opportunity to appear in one piece in the 1958 (opened February 4) Broadway production of, Oh Captain. Unfortunately, His number was cut after the Philadelphia premier in January of 1958;[55] he had the role of, The Couturier. This loss in turn led to a tryout with Jerome Robbins, founder of the Ballets, U. S. A… Brascia was promptly hired. The U.S. State Department sponsored the twenty-week tour of Europe, that included stops at the Brussels Fair and the Festival of Two Worlds, in Spoleto, Italy; American artists that participated were Thomas Schippers who directed the musical branch, Jose Quintero, the drama and Jerome Robbins, choreographed a program of ballets.[56] The tour began in the late spring of 1958 and performed throughout the summer and the company of dancers that Robbins’ assembled was sixteen, inclusive of our Mr. Brascia.[57] The ballet portion of the tour staged, Games, by Todd Bolender, and three by Robbins: N. Y. Export: op. Jazz; Afternoon of a Faun, and, The Concert, filled the dancing program.[58]

The romantic entanglement twixt Movita and Johnny appeared at the first not to be hampered by the sixth-month separation, while John was on the State Department European tour, he declaring his desire of marriage to the actress soon after his return home. This relationship endured almost three-and-a-half years, from August of ‘55 to early 1959.[59] Finally, the Movita wedding was cancelled altogether and by March of 1959, Brascia’s interests had moved from Ms. Castaneda, to dance partner, Tybee Afra.[60] The couple’s partnership turned to friendship and then to marriage; Afra and Brascia were wed in early September, 1959, in a ceremony in the Catskills.[61]

Brascia and Tybee made an appearance on, Talent Scouts, in February of 1960, hosted by Dave Garroway and the dancing duo was introduced by Maureen O’Hara.[62] Johnny Brascia had the lead role in the Robert Herridge Theater production of, Frankie and Johnny (perfect choice since he had danced the Johnny role in the Meet Me in Las Vegas, ballet sequence), a thirty-minute jazz-ballet broadcast in October of 1960, with music by Charlie Mingus and choreography by Lee Sherman. Tybee Brascia had the part of Nelly Bly and Melissa Hayden played opposite Johnny.[63]  The famous Copa Room at the Sands Hotel, in Las Vegas showcased Brascia & Tybee in 1960-1961.[64] The 1960-61 Ed Sullivan Show, on CBS, featured Brascia & Tybee, twice over; in December, 1960 and in April of 1961.[65] At the 26th annual Poinsettia Ball, held at the Hotel Americana, on December 1, 1962, Brascia & Tybee entertained guests with their dancing prowess; the emcee for the event was George DeWitt.[66]

On June 25, 1964,[67] Xavier Cugat brought a million-dollar law-suit against Brascia and Tybee. The grievance claimed that the husband and wife team persuaded Cugat’s ex-wife Abbe Lane to break her contract with him. Brascia and Tybee, who denied wooing Lane,[68] were a part of the Cugat-Lane show. Cugat filed for $200,000 plus $800,000 in punitive damages just three weeks after Lane divorced Cugat in Mexico.[69] In most modern mentions, Brascia is listed as being accused of either stealing Cugat’s wife or that he was sued for alienation of affection, when in fact the charges, according to the New York Times read that John and Tybee Brascia “did carry on a constant campaign in various countries of the world undermining the relationship between the plaintiff and Abbe Lane and did so all of this while professing great friendship for plaintiff.”[70] In July of 1964 John and Tybee Brascia countered Cugat with a law-suit of their own, claiming that the band leader had influenced booking agents from hiring them; they filed in the New York State Supreme Court for $6,100,000 on Monday, July 27.[71] Unfortunately, I have found (my searches have been from the comfort of my office, Nero Wolfe style) no further information on the resolution to these cases.

Xavier Cugat

Xavier Cugat

Abbe Lane

Abbe Lane


In the spring of 1966 and Brascia & Tybee were featured in the Dean Martin Show at Harrah’s, in Lake Tahoe, as well the pair performed on Dean Martin’s television program on October 6, 1966.[72]  1966 also found Brascia and Afra in Rome, for a TV special for Studio Uno, staring Marcello Mastroianni and produced by Hermes Pan; the couple was joined by Jerry Jackson and White Christmas cast-mate, Barrie Chase.[73] It was during the early 1960’s through 1966 that John Brascia and Tybee Afra-Brascia made nine films in Italy; I am unable to find any references to titles or possible stars.[74] The dynamic-duo had the privilege of dancing at the 8ooth birthday celebration of Copenhagen in August of 1967;[75] I doubt they ever danced for any birthday-wish recipient any older than this one.

Brascia Before the Cameras Again:

Dean Martin made, The Ambushers (a “Matt Helm” film) in 1967 and brought along friend John Brascia for the project, for his first non-dance related film or television appearance. This was in a way was a second career, for this nouveau-dramatique actor, not quite leaving dance behind but taking new bold steps; he received positive reviews for his performance. 1967 offered Brascia & Tybee the opportunity to be the first U. S. dancers to appear in East Berlin, East Germany;[76] the couple must have been truly excited to be taking their steps beyond the wall and letting their talents speak freedom from the dance floor.


Johnny did work on Bullitt in 1968 as a gangster, but evidently his scenes ended up on the cutting room floor;[77] this tidbit was reported in the Voice of Broadway syndicated column written by Jack O’Brian and by Hollywood reporter Earl Wilson. It is a shame that this part of Brascia’s résumé is lost, because according to O’Brian, Brascia was great![78] What many refer to as the premiere showing of Bullitt on October 17, 1968 was actually VIP preview.[79] The official premiere was in San Francisco on November 15, with the majority of the country seeing the film near Christmas. The footage involving Brascia must have been edited before the general release in November. However, 1968 was not bereft of Brascia for he had a role in another Dean Martin “Matt Helm” movie, The Wrecking Crew, with a Christmas opening.



With the Ed Sullivan again, Brascia and Tybee headlined for the “Really Big Show” during the May Sweeps, in 1969;[80] they were regulars the TV icon Sullivan. 1970 also saw Brascia form a company (K. O. B. Productions) with friends, Lawrence Kubik and Robert Vincent O’Neil (in 1980 O’Neil would again collaborate with Brascia). The trio had written a comedy-adventure, Giovanni Jones, with Kubik set to produce, Mr. O’Neil directing and Brascia acting in the title role. The film was scheduled to roll cameras in October of ’70, on location in Italy; “without a trace” is any further information regarding this film or the K. O. B. film company.[81]

Yet, with all of their professional success, things were not perfect for the couple and John and Tybee Brascia filed for divorce in May of 1970. Brascia and Susan Harper Pierson (actress Sondra “Sandra” Scott) planned on marrying in November when the dissolution was final.[82] At last, on December 19 of 1970 the couple was married in Los Angeles proper with Tony Bennett in attendance as Best Man.[83]


Susan Harper Pierson, actress, Sandra "Sondra" Scott

Susan Harper Pierson, actress, Sandra “Sondra” Scott

Bennett and Brascia were friends and in fact, the latter introduced Bennett to Fred Astaire.[84] The newly formed Brascia & Brascia got to work straight away and their daughter Christina C. was born in the middle of September of 1971; Christina would act as well, appearing on the NBC soap-opera, Santa Barbara in 1992-1993, as, Aurora DeAngelis for thirty-episodes. Although domestic bliss was over, still the dance team of Brascia and Tybee continued,[85] making appearances through the summer of 1972; then Johnny Brascia hung up his dancing shoes;[86] or did he?

Christina Brascia

Christina Brascia

Christina Brascia as Aurora DeAngelis

Christina Brascia as Aurora DeAngelis


John Brascia was on the short-list, well actually a long-list, for the role of Sonny Corleone, in the Godfather. This information comes to us by Francis Ford Coppola’s own hand, written on a sheet of paper from a yellow pad. This can be seen at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, California, which is located off of highway 101, north of San Francisco.

Francis Ford Coppola Winery Movie Gallery

Francis Ford Coppola Winery Movie Gallery

The Godfather casting list located at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery

The Godfather casting list located at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery


Tybee Afra-Brascia married stuntman-actor Daniel C. Vafiadis (AKA Dan Vadis, Dan Vardis), in June of 1973 in Los Angeles. Vadis was best known for his cinematic work in Italy; Tybee retried for a while soon after marrying Vardis.[87] She followed with a short revival professionally[88] and then died in Los Angeles, at the age of fifty, in 1982.

Dan Vadis (Vardis)

Dan Vadis (Vardis)


1973 saw Johnny in two films, Walking Tall and Executive Action; these two films represented Brascia’s first non-musical film-roles that were not attached to friend Dean Martin. Executive Action, afforded Brascia the opportunity to work with two of Hollywood’s most memorable tough-persona actors, Burt Lancaster and Robert Ryan. While his appearance with Joe Don Baker in Walking Tall, will forever have Johnny Brascia in a rough-and-tumble cult-classic; quite the departure for a Broadway-Hollywood-musical and nightclub dancer.

Walking Tall


A made for television movie followed in 1974, Pray for the Wildcats; Brascia had a two-episode stint on ABC’s, S.W.A.T., in 1975. He had a single appearance in Joe and Sons, a short lived series on CBS, 1976. Nevertheless, nothing could help personally, for John and Sondra Brascia were unable to make a go of it and their marriage lasted but a few years; Sondra married again in November of 1976 to California real estate investor and apartment landlord, Kurt Bromet.[89]

In 1977 Brascia did make a special appearance on the Donny and Marie Show, dancing once again with Cyd Charisse; Charisse proffered the idea of partnering with Johnny in dance when she and husband Tony Martin made future musical appearances.[90] In October of 1978, Brascia began his own company, Jovani Productions, Inc., with Norman G. Rudman as agent of service of process for the company. Offices for Jovani Productions were housed at 9200 Sunset Blvd, Room 825, in Los Angeles, in the rather large commercial office building, which was formerly known as, Luckman Plaza.[91]

With his new film concern, Jovani, in working order, Johnny Brascia actively pursued acting, writing and producing, The Baltimore Bullet, in 1980; Rudman acted as executive producer for the project.


Notwithstanding, a movie to the company’s credit and the trio of responsibilities of producer, writer and actor for Brascia, this would be his last work; he would spend the remainder of his life with family and friends.



In 1986 Brascia married actress-model Jordan Michaels (Michaels had a bit role in The Baltimore Bullet), who was nearly sixteen-years younger and they had a daughter, Giavonna in June of 1987.[92] The latter years could not have been easy for John Brascia or his family for he began a twenty-year battle with Parkinson’s disease in the early 1990s.[93] Brascia died on February 19, 2013, in a nursing home in Santa Monica, California. He is survived by his two daughters and his grandchildren.

Jordan Michaels

Jordan Michaels


John Frank Brascia was a wonderfully energetic dancer and a rare talent; although never becoming a screen or television star, nevertheless, he captivated audiences for more than thirty years with his unique style and smile. I am sure his filmed performances, few though they be, will continue to capture the hearts and minds of dance-lovers for decades to come.


By C. S. Williams


[1] The Two of Us, Tony Martin & Cyd Charisse, as told to Dick Kleiner, published by Mason/Charter, 1976, page 210

[2] Actually, this is the only genuine biography of Brascia of which I am aware. Beyond a few paragraphs dedicated to him every few years, this is the only treatment of his professional and personal life.

[3] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) September 18, 1944

[4] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) June 25, 1949

[5] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) July 6, 1949

[6] Van Nuys News (Van Nuys, California) April 13, 1950

[7] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) October 6, 1943

[8] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) July 13, 1949

[9] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) April 26, 1946

[10] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) June 17, 1945

[11] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) June 10, 1944

[12] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) February 18; March 5, 1948

[13] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) January 7; February 11;  1949

[14] Inland Empire Community Newspapers (Colton, California)  May 3, 2014

[15] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) October 21, 1948

San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) October 20, 1949

[16] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) March 3, 1950

[17] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) November 5, 1954

Inland Empire Community Newspapers (Colton, California)   April 24, 2014

[18] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) March 30, 1950

[19] Inland Empire Community Newspapers (Colton, California) May 3, 2014

[20] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) April 29, 1949

[21]Buffalo Courier-Express (Buffalo, New York) October 3, 1954

Lubbock evening Journal (Lubbock, Texas) October 21, 1954

[22] Inland Empire Community Newspapers (Colton, California) May 1, 2014

[23] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) May 13; September 18, 1951

Chino Champion (Chino, California) February 29, 1952

[24] Daily Reporter (Dover, Ohio) January 29, 1968

[25] Luigi’s Jazz Warm Up: an Introduction to Jazz Style and Technique, by Luigi, Lorraine Person Kriegel and Francis

Roach, published by Princeton Book Company, 1997, page 17

[26] Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) February 2, 1952

New York Age (New York, New York) March 22, 1952

[27] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) September 29, 1953

[28] Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) December 13, 1952

Billboard, December 27, 1952

[29] Heartship Celebrity Cookbook by Krystiahn, 2003

[30] Elmira Star Gazette (Elmira, New York) June 18, 1953

[31] Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) May 16, 1953

[32] Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) June 16, 1953

[33] Screenland Plus TV-Land, December, 1953

[34] Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) July 1, 1953

Winona Republican-Herald (Winona, Minnesota) September 2, 1953

[35] Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona) June 17, 1952

[36] Hollywood Reporter, February 21, 2013

[37] Los Angeles Time (Los Angeles, California) August 31, 1953

[38] Morning Herald (Uniontown, Pennsylvania) September 9, 1953

[39] Times recorder (Zanesville, Ohio) September 23, 1953

[40] Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) November 23, 2007

The Independent (London, United Kingdom) September 29, 2003

[41] Marilyn Monroe: Her Films, Her Life, by Michelle Vogel, published by McFarland & Company, Inc., 2014, page


[42] Also appeared in: On the Town, 1949; Annie Get Your Gun, 1950; An American in Paris, 1951,

Singin’ in the Rain, 1952 and many more which list  may be seen on Wikipedia

Cumberland News (Cumberland, Maryland) February 22, 1973

Sedalia Democrat (Sedalia, Missouri) February 7, 1973

New York Times (New York, New York) April 15, 2001

[43] Las Vegas Strip History

[44] Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, Texas) May 26, 1955

[45] Terre Haute Tribune (Terre Haute, Indiana) February 8, 1955

Times Recorder (Zanesville, Ohio) February 15, 1955

[46]Monroe Morning World (Monroe, Louisiana) August 7, 1955                                                                                 Shamokin News-Dispatch (Shamokin, Pennsylvania) February 21, 1957                                                                           Niagara Falls Gazette (Niagara Falls, New York) February 21, 1957                                                                        News-Herald (Franklin, Pennsylvania) March 16, 1957                                                                                                         Pittsburgh Post Gazette (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) April 10, 1957

[47] Niagara Falls Gazette (Niagara Falls, New York) February 21, 1957                                                                            News-Herald (Franklin, Pennsylvania) March 16, 1957                                                                                                   Daily Reporter (Dover, Ohio) March 16, 1957                                                                                                                      Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) April 10, 1957

[48] Eureka Humboldt Standard (Eureka, California) July 3, 1965

[49] Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona) August 27, 1959

[50] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) December 2, 1966

Arizona Republic (Phoenix, Arizona) October 18, 1967

[51] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) June 30, 1966

Tonawanda News (Tonawanda, New York) August 29, 1968

[52] Mozian was a drummer, specializing in Latin rhythms, composing, arranging, conducting; besides playing the trumpet and bongos, he danced and sometimes choreographed.

[53] Frontiere, in 1960, would begin a forty-year career in Hollywood both composing and musically performing for film and television.

[54] Tito Puente: When the Drums Are Dreaming, by Josephine Powell, Author House, 2007

[55] Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) January 13, 1958

[56] Anderson Daily Bulletin (Anderson, Indiana) February 24, 1958

Emporia Gazette (Emporia, Kansas) March 4, 1958

[57] Lubbock Evening Journal (Lubbock, Texas) June 11, 1958

[58] News-Herald (Franklin, Pennsylvania) June 28, 1958

Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Missouri) July 13, 1958

[59] Oneonta Star (Oneonta, New York) December 26, 1958

[60] News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio) March 9, 1959

[61] Daily Record (Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania) September 15, 1959

[62] Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Missouri) February 21, 1960

[63] Knickerbocker News (Albany, New York) February 24, 1961

[64] Johnny’s Joint

[65] Classic TV Archive

[66] New York Times (New York, New York) October 21, 1962

Delaware County Daily Times (Chester, Pennsylvania) December 5, 1962

Cedar Rapids Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) December 7, 1962

[67] Lincoln Star (Lincoln, Nebraska) June 26, 1964

[68] Des Moines Register (Des Moines, Iowa) July 28, 1964

[69] Standard Speaker (Hazleton, Pennsylvania) June 26, 1964

[70] New York Times (New York, New York) June 26, 1964

[71] Ottawa Journal (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) July 28, 1964

[72] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) June 30, 1966

[73] Knickerbocker News (Albany, New York) December 17, 1965

Hermes Pan: The Man Who Danced with Fred Astaire, by John Franceschina, Oxford University Press, 2012

[74] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) June 30, 1966

[75] Progress-Index (Petersburg, Virginia) May 29, 1967

[76] Morning Herald (Uniontown, Pennsylvania) August 5, 19676

[77] Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) March 13, 1968

Tonawanda News (Tonawanda, New York) August 29, 1968

Monroe News Star (Monroe, Louisiana) August 30, 1968

Logansport Pharos Tribune (Logansport, Indiana) August 30, 1968

[78] Pottstown Mercury (Pottstown, Pennsylvania) August 30, 1968

[79] David ‘Tex’ Allen

[80] La Crosse Tribune (La Crosse, Wisconsin) May 4, 1969

[81] Motion Picture Herald, 1970

[82] Des Moines Register (Des Moines, Iowa) July 29, 1970

[83] Hollywood Reporter, February 21, 2013

[84] The Good Life: The Autobiography of Tony Bennett, by Tony Bennett, publisher Pocket Books, 1998

[85] Lubbock Avalanche Journal (Lubbock, Texas) May 21, 1971

[86] Valley News (Van Nuys, California) February 2, 1977

[87] Valley News (Van Nuys, California) February 2, 1977

[88] Southern Illinoisan (Carbondale, Illinois) December 26, 1979

[89] Independent (Long Beach, California) November 17, 1976

[90] Valley News (Van Nuys, California) February 2, 1977

[91] California Corporation Commission


[92] Hollywood Reporter, February 21, 2013

[93] Hollywood Reporter, February 21, 2013

Old Yeller, Happy Anniversary! Opened Christmas Day, 1957?

old_yeller oldyeller4c0869-001


Old Yeller, did not actually have its world premiere on Christmas Day, 1957, it was seen instead on Tuesday night, December 17, in two different cities. The first venue was the Metropolitan Theater, which was on Main St. (1018) between Lamar St. and McKinney St., in downtown Houston, Texas. This was a particularly unusual opening, for to see the film you had to bring a dog;[1] the Associated Press blurb proclaimed, “The Metropolitan theater went to the dogs at a premier last night.”[2] On the same evening, Yeller was viewed for a March of Dimes benefit showing, at the Trans-Lux Theater at 52nd St. in New York City; then the film went on hiatus until Christmas Day.[3]

The Christmas Day release was limited by Walt Disney Pictures, with just a dozen locations nationwide.[4] The Fox Wilshire Theatre in Beverly Hills was a key screen for the launch of this live action Disney drama based on the novel of the same name by Fred Gipson. Fess Parker took seventy-five underprivileged boys from the Lark Ellen elementary school in Covina, to the premier at the Fox Wilshire; he chartered a bus for the thirty-plus-mile trek and paid the kids’ admission from his own wallet.[5] In Boston, at the Beacon Hill Theater, Old Yeller broke the all-time house record;[6] the Stanton Theater in Philadelphia, located at the corner of 16th St. and Market Street, hosted a Christmas Day opening, an ole Yeller feller extravaganza.[7] Buffalo was another of the chosen-dozen to show Old Yeller beginning on Christmas of 1957; Basil’s Lafayette Theater was the Beantown host for the Yeller story.[8]

Philadelphia Inquirer Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, December 27, 1957

Philadelphia Inquirer Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, December 27, 1957

Buffalo NY Courier Express, Buffalo, New York, December 30, 1957

Buffalo NY Courier Express, Buffalo, New York, December 30, 1957


With the aforesaid behind us, Old Yeller’s first bark was heard not on December 17, but in November, the week prior to Thanksgiving at the New York Coliseum, which was host to the Festival of the Pets, from November 21-24.[9] Disney did not miss a beat with the canine-cross-promotion in offering this unique screening directed at both owners and their best friends.

Film Bulletin November 25, 1957

Film Bulletin November 25, 1957


Yet, most of the country did not see this now classic Disney tear-jerker until the middle of January and later, 1958.

The_Sedalia_Democrat_ Sedalia, Missouri,Thu__Jan_16__1958_

Sedalia Democrat, Sedalia, Missouri, January 16, 1958

The_Gazette_and_Daily_ York, Pennsylvania Fri__Jan_17__1958_

Gazette and Daily, York, Pennsylvania, January 17, 1958

The_Post_Crescent_ Appleton, Wisconsin, Wed__Jan_22__1958_

Post Crescent, Appleton, Wisconsin, January 22, 1958


Ho, Ho, Ho and a Very Merry Christmas to You!

By C. S. Williams



old-yeller-003old-yellerold Dorothy-in-Old-Yeller-dorothy-mcguire-10011259-853-480old-yeller-002 Old-Yeller-classic-disney-9911124-853-480



[1] Freeport Journal-Standard (Freeport, Illinois) December 18, 1957

Bridgeport Post (Bridgeport, Connecticut) December 18, 1957

[2] Courier News (Blytheville, Arkansas) December 18, 1957

[3] Motion Picture Daily, November 21, 1957

[4] Motion Picture Daily, December 2, 1957

Film Bulletin, December 9, 1957

[5] Film Bulletin, December 9, 1957

St. Petersburg Times (St. Petersburg, Florida) December 25, 1957

[6] Motion Picture Daily, December 27, 1957

[7] Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) December 22, 1957

[8] Buffalo Courier-Express (Buffalo, New York) December 22, 1957

[9] Billboard, November 4, 1957

Film Bulletin, November 25, 1957