Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wake Up with Paul "Cubby" Bryant

What does Paul "Cubby" Bryant have in common with Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, Maggie Smith, Sally Field, Neil Patrick Harris, Tom Bergeron and Barbara Walters?  He's worked opposite Whoopi Goldberg.

We talked about that.  And I tell him how his embrace of diversity and contributions to AIDS Walk New York inspired me to be more authentic on the air.  I told radio listeners about the AIDS loss in my personal life.  I never felt the freedom to be open like that on local TV news programs that employed me.  With Cubby, I felt free.  Working with him was one of the coolest times of my long broadcast career.  It was worth getting up before the crack o' dawn to go be in a studio with him.

Millions of listeners across the country hear him in the morning now with co-host, Cindy Vero.  While you have your morning coffee or tea, they go on the air in New York City and bring you the hottest new music, entertainment news and interview with top celebrities.

Here's Cubby (far left) at work interviewing Cuban rap star Pitbull, in shades.
I shared on-air time with Cubby during two of the most memorable and, often, two of the most surreal years of my broadcast career.  He was the co-host on Premiere Radio's syndicated weekday morning radio show, Wake Up with Whoopi.  The star was show biz icon, Whoopi Goldberg.  Here she is with Cyndi Lauper and Cubby.
I was the weekly movie critic and entertainment correspondent on the show from its early days in 2006 until its cancelation in 2008.  I really wanted the job.  Honestly, I was nervous about working with Whoopi and Cubby.

I'd listened to him frequently on the radio when I lived in New York.  I loved his work.  But I'd never met him.  He was a definite radio celebrity.  As for Whoopi, I don't know if she ever realized during all that time we worked together -- with me sitting right next to her -- how deeply significant her work and accomplishments are to me.  Especially as a black man in the entertainment industry.  I was a boy when my parents and I gasped and cheered when Sidney Poitier broke the Academy Awards color barrier and was voted Best Actor for Lilies of the Field.  He was the first black man to win the Oscar in that category, the first to win in any competitive Oscar category.  Decades later, as a grown man in an apartment with black and Latino friends, I gasped and cheered again when Whoopi made history and won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.  We all cheered.  That TV moment was as memorable and important to me as Sidney Poitier accepting his Oscar and a kiss from Anne Bancroft.  We understood her struggles.
Whoopi was the second black woman in Oscar history to win that award.  The first was Hattie McDaniel for 1939's Gone With The Wind.  McDaniel was also the first black performer nominated for an Oscar.  Whoopi won for the 1990 comedy mystery, Ghost.
Whoopi, like Sidney Poitier, had made black history within the Academy Awards and not just with her Oscar victory.  Until just a few years ago, she was the only black actress -- past or present -- to have more than one Oscar nomination to her credit.  I mentioned this on the radio show in her presence.  Not only was she the only black actress at that time with more than one Oscar nomination to her credit, she was the first and only black woman to host the Oscars by herself.  Her first nomination was a Best Actress Oscar nod for her stunning dramatic work under Steven Spielberg's direction in The Color Purple.

What a magnificent performance.  It's one of the best Hollywood performances by an actor or actress in the 1980s.  This film work came after terrific reviews for her one-woman Broadway show directed by Mike Nichols.  With a Best Actress Oscar nod for 2011's The Help, Viola Davis became the second black actress with more than one Oscar nomination to her credit.  Her first was a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Doubt.

Whoopi was one of my first guests on my VH1 talk show, Watch Bobby Rivers, in the late 1980s.  Just the two of us for the half-hour.  She was promoting her new film, Clara's Heart.  It co-starred a new teen actor named Neil Patrick Harris.  Lord knows my acting talent is not on the same top shelf as Whoopi's.  However, as black performers in the entertainment industry, we have both had to fight for work and for the chance to get work -- fight for equal opportunities -- simply because of being black and not fitting some executive's notion of physical attractiveness.

Whoopi is a survivor and a star of stage, screen and TV.  Every single week, I could not believe that I was on the air and sitting right next to...Whoopi Goldberg.   For years, she has been an inspiration to me with her still under-utilized acting versatility.  I will always be grateful that she gave Premiere the OK to hire me for the show.

What was it like for Cubby to be co-host/leading man to a star who was not as experienced at doing morning radio as he was?  Doing live morning drive with a Top 40 vibe is not the same as shooting Sister Act.  It's a different area and a different tempo.  He left the show before its cancelation.  Did he ever feel eclipsed by her stardom?

Cubby and I talk about that on my podcast.  We also talk about his early career and radio influences.  He mentions wisdom he got from fellow morning radio show host, Elvis Duran.  Elvis gave Cubby treasured advice on how to approach his radio shows following the September 11th attacks. To Cubby, I open up more about the AIDS loss in my life as we countdown to May 18th's AIDS Walk New York for 2014.

Cubby is quite a guy.  You'll hear some colorful behind-the-scenes stories of when we worked with Whoopi Goldberg.  I learned a lot working with her.  That was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  We'll talk about big star encounters and even celebrity flatulence.  Hear me out with Paul "Cubby" Bryant.  The interview goes up Monday, April 21st on BobbyRiversShow.com.

This coming Saturday, April 19th, see Whoopi Goldberg star in A Day Late and a Dollar Short.  It's a Lifetime TV adaptation of the best seller by Terry McMillan.  That's at 8p on Lifetime TV.  In 1998, Whoopi did fine work in the movie version of McMillan's previous best seller, How Stella Got Her Groove Back starring Angela Bassett and Taye Diggs.


Great Dames on DEVIOUS MAIDS

Let me get right to it.  Give Rebecca Wisocky an Emmy now.  NOW.  And a Golden Globe.  The new season of Lifetime TV's Devious Maids premieres this coming Sunday night, April 20th.  She's delicious in the episode -- just as she was in all her episodes of the previous season.  If you unfamiliar with her versatility and have not seen her on this series, I'll describe her skills this way:  If Meryl Streep had not been available to do the role she did in The Devil Wears Prada, it should've gone to Rebecca Wisocky.
Had she'd been around in Hollywood's Golden Era of movie studios, top directors would've ordered "Get Rebecca!" when casting their sophisticated or screwball comedies.  She'd have been on the A-list for directors like George Cukor, Howard Hawks, Preston Sturges, Ernst Lubitsch, Billy Wilder and Joseph L. Mankiewicz.  Just watch her with the young, shirtless bodyguard this coming Sunday night and see for yourself.  Fabulous.

Rebecca Wisocky plays "Evelyn Powell" on Devious Maids.  She's one of those wealthy, privileged wives who'd rather have her uterus removed than live in a mansion without the services of a Latina maid.

While we on the subject of Emmys, can it really be true that Judy Reyes never got an Emmy nomination for any of her years of extremely funny work on the hospital sitcom, Scrubs?  She was one of the main reasons why I watched that show.  I did the DTST with a beverage several times when she delivered a look or a line.  That stands for "Danny Thomas Spit Take."  Reyes plays one of the Devious Maids and that look of hers still kills me.  She reminds me so much of friends, neighbors and classmates from when I was a kid in Los Angeles.  Judy Reyes needs some Emmy and Golden Globe love too.
I'll use another classic film era reference.  Judy Reyes has got the Thelma Ritter gift.  Think of Thelma in Miracle on 34th Street, A Letter to Three Wives, All About Eve and Hitchcock's Rear Window.  Reyes could take those roles today and knock 'em out of the ballpark.  The scenes that pair Judy Reyes with Susan Lucci are some of my favorites.
Then there's Susan Lucci.  OK, we know that she was nominated for a daytime Emmy every year since she hit puberty, but she won only once.  Shortly before she started menopause.  She was famous for and nominated for playing vixen Erica Kane on the daytime drama, All My Children.

She's now doing comedy as a lovably clueless well-to-do lady on Devious Maids.  I love Lucci on this series.  I never knew she had such good comedy chops.  I only knew her from the soap opera.  Susan Lucci is lots of fun here as the ditzy widow.
From Marc Cherry, the man who gave us Desperate Housewives, this is an entertaining, nicely subversive and wickedly funny show about four Latina maids.  We get to know their lives, their ambitions and their brains as they work for pampered and privileged people in Beverly Hills.  I, for one, am very thankful for Mr. Cherry's attention to minority stories and actors on this show and Desperate Housewives.

If you want to see some great dames doing some groovy work, watch Devious Maids Sunday night on Lifetime TV.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Bette Davis as Baby Jane Hudson

Oscar Val Verde is a friend who gives me brain-gasms.  He stimulates my mind.  He's very cool.  We were talking about movies and he gave me a deeper insight into a Bette Davis classic.

One of my favorite Bette Davis performances is the one that brought her the last of her 10 Oscar nominations for Best Actress.  She was the twisted sister, Jane Hudson, in 1962's What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?  

A forgotten former child star and failed film actress in her adult years, she longs for a comeback while unhappily being caretaker to her invalid, popular sister.  Blanche Hudson was a big movie star and a  screen beauty.  An accident put her in a wheelchair and ended her film career.  Like Dr. Frankenstein and The Monster, the sisters share the same residence.  The faded stars live in Hollywood.  The disabled sister wants to sell the decaying mansion and get her mentally unhinged sister under a doctor's care.
Jane, once a vaudeville child act called "Baby Jane Hudson," is seen as the anti-social and boozy cook making meals for her genteel, bed-ridden sister.  Blanche rings for her food trays as if Jane is a servant.

Bette Davis' performance as Jane is so vivid and deep that you can practically smell the cigarette smoke, funk and Scotch in her housedress.  This is some bold, blistering character acting.  Baby Jane is trapped in a time warp of emotions, social image, cosmetics and age-appropriate public appearance.  She's a hot mess in heels.
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? rates re-appreciation and a serious second look.  I'm sure Oscar agrees with me.  He's the one who made me come to that conclusion.  Like millions of men, I have watched and laughed my way through this movie countless times through the years.  I can quotes lines of dialogue right along with the two legendary stars.

When I was a kid and saw this movie for the first time on television one night, it just about scared the saliva out of me.  Baby Jane not only looked crazy, she was being a monster to her sister -- turning Blanche's food tray into a horror show and later kicking her when she fell out of her wheelchair.  In my childhood, I saw it as modern-day horror story.

Starting in my young adult years as a classic film fan, I learned that Bette Davis couldn't stand Joan Crawford since the 1930s.  Those two actresses cordially loathed each other according to Hollywood folklore.  Oscar-winning movie queens who reigned in the 1930s and 40s, they were now in the September of their years and really needed a box office hit.  This was a fairly low-budget, intelligently made thriller that became a Warner Brothers box office champ.  Not just that, it birthed a new genre in Hollywood movies.  The new formula was to get female movie stars well into middle age and cast the veterans in a bizarre, modestly-budgeted thriller with a twist.  The success of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? had Davis and Crawford slated to re-team for Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte.  Another good thriller, it starred Bette Davis and her former Warner Bros. co-star, Olivia de Havilland, who replaced the "ailing" Joan Crawford.  Olivia played a disabled wealthy woman alone who uses her brains to fight off young home invaders in Lady in a Cage (1964) co-starring Ann Sothern and screen newcomer, James Caan.  Former Broadway superstar Tallulah Bankhead was in Die! Die! My Darling! (1965).  1969's What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? starred Geraldine Page and Ruth Gordon.  What's The Matter With Helen? starred a very good Debbie Reynolds and Shelley Winters (1971).  Shelley Winters followed that one with Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1972).  The trend started with Davis and Crawford, seen here with studio head, Jack L. Warner.
For decades now, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? has been tops amongst Bette Davis fans in the "camp classic" category.  Drag queens have spoofed this movie in cabaret acts.  Well...as I wrote here...I went from being scared the first times I saw it as a boy, to watching it for "camp classic" laughs with my grown-up friends.  This year I watched it and did something I'd never done before.  I shed a tear at the end of it.  I was moved by the emotionally wounded and psychologically violated Baby Jane Hudson.  All because my buddy, Oscar, told me to listen to the opening dialogue of the movie.  Director Robert Aldrich gave us an opening that is symbolic, subliminal and disturbing.

I'm positive that Baby Jane Hudson was a victim of sexual abuse while forfeiting her childhood to be a vaudeville star and a source of income for her dad.  Cute little blonde Jane is the star.  Her sister, brunette Blanche, is quiet.  And not popular.  And jealous.  Their mother seems to be passive and angry.  Daddy is a dork.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? opens with the year 1917 on the dark screen.  We hear a child crying.  Then, off-camera, an adult male voice says, "Want to see it again, little girl?  It shouldn't frighten you."  Then something pops up right at the camera, as if into your face.  It's a Jack-in-the-box.  A little girl sees it and she's crying.  The camera cuts back to the Jack-in-the-box.  It's smiling and Jack has tears running down its face.  Toys don't cry.  This creepy object got erect and a fluid came out.

Then we see headliner Baby Jane Hudson in performance.  Afterwards, he father is onstage hawking Baby Jane merchandise.  Fans can buy Baby Jane dolls in the lobby.
The real-life Jane doesn't have any friends her own age.  She's too busy being the family breadwinner.  She has temper tantrums in public when she doesn't get what she wants.  And she reminds Daddy that she makes the money and she can have what she wants.  The show is over and the audience files out.  We see mostly female fans and their little girls.  The lobby doors open and there's a row of Baby Jane Hudson dolls on a shelf for sale.  Then we cut to a backstage shot.  Dad is leaving the stage behind Jane.  She's in a snit.  Mother and Blanche are standing near a stagehand.  Notice the big, burly stagehand to the right of the frame.  He's holding a life-sized Baby Jane doll.  If that was actually Baby Jane, he'd be holding her in a rather questionable way.  It's a quick but very telling shot.  (In a photo above, the stagehand stands in the wings in between Jane's father and mother.)

I went online to a few sites, one was ViolenceAgainstWomen net.org, to find the effects that sexual abuse in childhood can have on female adult behavior.  The top effects were alcohol, low self-esteem, changes in memory/consciousness and the inability to trust even close family members and friends.  Lying, depression and suspicious behavior are other effects.  So are mood swings.

The older Jane is a mixture of arrested development, alcohol and anger.
Look at how much booze Baby Jane puts away on a daily basis.  Think of her lies on the phone, pretending to be Blanche when she calls Johnson's Liquor Store for a delivery.  She drinks and thinks about her past and about the audience that abandoned her.  She's depressed and says "They just didn't love you enough."  Then there's the violent, sudden mood swing when Blanche rings that damn call button again.  Jane is suspicious of her sister and "that nosy Mrs. Bates," the friendly next door neighbor.  Jane has no friends.  She has no fans.  Blanche still gets fan mail thanks to her old movies being shown on local TV.  Mrs. Bates drops by with flowers for Blanche.  In the mansion, the part-time housekeeper likes Blanche.  She doesn't like Jane.

We get so caught up in Bette Davis' ferocious, gritty performance that perhaps we don't realize how detailed it is and how beaten down by life Jane was.  Adult Jane still loves Daddy but her father really robbed her of a normal childhood.  Perhaps there was sexual abuse backstage.  As a young woman, men abused her.  Blanche became the Hollywood Golden Girl and glamorous movie star in the 1930s.  Jane's stardom ended when she was no longer a little girl.  She was not desired as a young woman.  Not like movie queen Blanche.  She had no male fans in the studio's executive branch.  She was seen as a no-talent and was just kept on the payroll to please the powerful Blanche.  Jane's drinking had already begun.  The one good movie Jane made was shelved and only released overseas.  When gracious movie star Blanche is crippled in a car accident, Jane got frightened and fled the scene.  She'd been drinking.  Reportedly, she was driving them both home.  When the cops found Jane, they slapped her around.  Again, she was abused by males.

Older Jane has problems with her memory of that night's incident -- and her mental problems are real.  Like some survivors of sexual abuse in childhood, Jane is about to connect to an abusive partner.  But she doesn't realize it.  Portly Edwin (played by Victor Buono) is a conniving mama's boy.  He leads Jane to believe he can manage her show business comeback.  She's fond of Edwin and begins to trust him.  But he's simply scheming to get cash from her.  Childhood repeats itself in her living room.  She's performing for a man who will use her for money.

Life wasn't fair to Jane.  Like Frankenstein, this movie showed that monsters are not born, they're made.  Oscar messaged me that Bette Davis' performance "...took it past Kabuki to some sort of hell."  I agree.  Listen to her cry out "Blaaaanche!" like a helpless child as her mind starts to unravel faster and faster.  She's got Blanche tied up in the bedroom like a hostage.  Frightened and feeling trapped, Baby Jane commits murder.

Bette Davis showed you what was physically and psychologically ugly about Jane.  She also showed you what was human about her.  It's a masterful performance.

As Blanche, I feel that Joan Crawford delivered one of finest screen performances -- right up there with Mildred Pierce.  Blanche and her devoted fans love the same thing -- the sight of Blanche's beautiful face in her old movies on television.  She serves up a fine slice of passive aggressive behavior.


This year, when I saw Jane Hudson sit on the beach and tenderly say to her frail sister "...all this time, we could have been friends," it touched my heart.  I saw What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? in a different way.  Yes, there's plenty to laugh at due to the behind-the-scenes history of the two dueling divas.  But, when you take the film seriously, there's plenty there to break the heart.  It's quite deep when you consider what may have happened to Baby Jane.  When she was a little girl and the very pretty, very popular show biz meal ticket of the family, those turned out to be the happiest days of her life compared to her adult years.  That's sad.

Bette Davis.  Brilliant.  Thanks for the movie brain-gasm, Oscar.











Monday, April 14, 2014

Counter Culture: NYC

It was a part time job that I loved.  I was surrounded by movies and a great crew.  The kind of work crew you'd see on classic sitcom like Cheers or The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

I was a video rental store clerk at a neighborhood place called Video Blitz in the Chelsea section of New York City.  We were on the corner of 17th and 8th Avenue, right under the Chelsea Gym.  This was in the early 1990s.  Chelsea was really Chelsea then.

This is actual dialogue between a regular customer and me.  It was the kind of dialogue that our customers expected, the kind that kept them coming back.

Him:  "Do you have Spartacus?"

Me:    "Yes, we do."

Him:   "Is Spartacus uncut?"

Me:     "Personally, I doubt it.  After all, he was a slave played by Kirk Douglas."


He took Spartacus.  And gave me a big smile.

I absolutely loved that job.  I miss those days in New York City.

Happy Pesach.  Have a sweet Passover.  Save your Catholic buddy here some brisket.




Sunday, April 13, 2014

Michael Caine & Me

Some of you, I'm sure, have already seen this retro clip from my VH1 talk show in the late 1980s.  If you haven't, this is one of my favorite moments with one of my favorite talk show guests.  I had the fabulous opportunity to ask -- in person -- "What's it all about, Alfie?"  Oscar winner Michael Caine was my guest and what delightful storyteller he was.  This clip should give inspiration and hope to struggling new actors who ask themselves "What's it all about?" and wonder if all their study, auditioning and hard work is futile as they attempt to have a career with a steady income.

The 4-day Turner Classic Movies Film Festival concludes tonight.  One of the films shown for the the TCMFF was the box office hit historical war drama, Zulu.  Michael Caine made his film debut in this epic as an effete British officer fighting Zulu attackers.

The action/war story was mounted by popular 1960s producer, Joseph E. Levine.



Caine really clicked with moviegoers thanks to his Zulu debut.  He scored an even bigger success as the sexy bookworm secret agent in The Ipcress File (1965).


After that, he played the love 'em and leave 'em ladies man called Alfie (1966).  Alfie brought Caine the first of his six Oscar nominations.  He was a nominee for Best Actor.

He's had quite a stellar film career ranging from historical dramas to thrillers to comedies to duds like 1987's Jaws 4: The Revenge to comic book-based action movies that were box office champs.  We've seen him as the loyal Alfred, Bruce Wayne's butler in Batman movies starring Christian Bale.  We saw him kiss Superman.  He and Christopher Reeve had a very special moment in the 1982 murder mystery, Deathtrap.

On my VH1 talk show, Watch Bobby Rivers, Michael Caine told me that he was afraid he'd never work again after Zulu because he wasn't butch enough for his producer.

If I'd been tapped to host the TCM Film Festival screening of Zulu, I would've shared that terrific story.

Michael Caine won two Oscars, both for Best Supporting Actor.  One was for Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) and the other for The Cider House Rules (1999).

He really had nothing to worry about after Zulu.  His film career turned out to be quite lovely indeed.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

On the TCM Film Festival

I wish I could be in Hollywood right now for the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival.  Classic films have been my passion since I was in grade school.  You can see my love for films in the kind of TV and radio film work I've done over the years.  What never ceases to amaze me is the power of films.  Films are a mass market art than can connect us to new people, to other cultures and provide total strangers with a common bond that leads to substantial communication.  They can enlighten, educate and -- most of all -- entertain.  When I was a kid, going to the drive-in movies in Los Angeles was like Christmas Day.  Sitting in the back seat of the car with my little sister (both of us had our pajamas on underneath our street clothes) and seeing movies in Technicolor, Deluxe color, Cinemascope, Cinerama or in gorgeous black and white was always a thrilling experience for me.  Those were some of my favorite family moments, those nights at the drive-in.  Seeing movie stars bigger than life on a big screen outdoors against the backdrop of a California nighttime sky that looked like deep purple velvet was magical.



Being in the car with Mom and Dad and watching a new movie starring Sidney Poitier was always a special night.  I grew up watching his movies.  His films made me feel significant.  They made me dream bigger dreams.


Sidney Poitier in movies with Ruby Dee, Diana Sands, Lou Gossett, Paul Newman and Diahann Carroll filled my heart, mind and soul with possibilities.  Thank you for the inspiration, Mr. Poitier.

Walk-in theaters were wonderful too.  Another cool part of my youth was that classics would be re-released before they eventually made their network TV premieres. Hits like Gone With The Wind, animated Disney classics and Wyler's Ben-Hur.  My sister and I got to see Anne Baxter vamp Charlton Heston as Moses in The Ten Commandments.  Milk Duds and Cecil B. DeMille.  What a fun Saturday at the movies that was.
I grew up watching classic Hollywood films on local TV as The Million Dollar Movie, The Early Show, The Late Show and The Late, Late Show when I was a kid.  They entertained me.  They helped me in school.  I could quote a few lines of Shakespeare when I was a 5th grader because I loved watching Mickey Rooney as Puck with Joe E. Brown and James Cagney in the 1935 A Midsummer Night's Dream, shown frequently on local Channel 9.  I could quote just a few lines, but my teacher was impressed and proud.

The work of a 1930s MGM movie star saved my life.  Literally.  Imitating him saved me from a near-death experience when I was in elementary school and away from home.  If not for his movies which I watched on local TV, I would not be alive today.  But that's another story.

I'm so grateful to classic films and I cherish them so much, I can often come off like "the cranky older dude" when I hear or read someone constantly wisecracking about them or commenting on how much they hate a certain star.  To me, if you're going to watch a classic like Citizen Kane, Lawrence of Arabia, A Place in the Sun or the post-WWII drama, The Best Years of Our Lives, and make snarky wisecracks during it, that's like drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa in order to get a laugh.  Just my opinion.
                                                
Some movies like Bride of Frankenstein, Them! or I Married a Monster from Outer Space are fun for funny tweets and comments.  But constant snark or wisecracks during the serious, legendary classics irritates me.

If I was attending the TCMFF, I'd love to meet and talk to people seeing classics on the big screen for the first time.  I still vividly recall being a high schooler, sitting in the mezzanine of Hollywood's Egyptian Theater with a reserved seat ticket and seeing Funny Girl.  The "My Man" closing number took your breath away on the huge screen.
Seeing a classic on a big screen, as it was originally seen, is a totally different emotional experience than watching it on TV at home or watching it and tweeting as it plays.  The theater experience demands your full attention and involvement.  I saw The Wizard of Oz on a big screen.  I sat with a co-worker buddy of mine.  He brought his little girl along and we all had a terrific time.  Her dad and I had grown up seeing The Wizard of Oz as an annual special network TV presentation around Easter time.  It aired on CBS.
Seeing The Wizard of Oz uncut and without commercial interruptions on a big screen with a packed movie theater audience touched our emotions in ways we didn't expect.  We were older.  We'd experienced adult love and loss and disappointments and....like Dorothy...wanted to be "somewhere over the rainbow."

When Dorothy first sees Scarecrow, there's a shot of the yellow brick road behind her.  My buddy, Bob, and I looked at each other in awe.  We thought the same exact thing:  "Look at how far she's come!"  Dorothy traveled a long, long way before she found even her first friend on her journey to The Emerald City.  The length of that road travelled on her journey to find happiness really hit our hearts.  We were deeply moved.
Film.  What an art.  What a great thing to experience classic movies with others who appreciate them.  My sister can tell you that, when I was a youngster, watching a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers RKO musical on Channel 9 could always heal my broken heart and make me smile again.  As I've struggled to "pick myself up, dust myself, start all over again" after losing my job and home because of the Great Recession, watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Swing Time on TCM once again healed my broken heart.
Movies can entertain and, believe me, movies can save your life.  If you're at the TCM Film Festival, have a most fabulous time.  With luck, I'll see you there next year.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Black Folks & Your Woody

Yes, this will be another update on diversity in the entertainment industry.  This week, Stephen Colbert was picked to replace David Letterman on the network's late night show.  Personally, I think he'll be good.  If you've heard Colbert in interviews on National Public Radio, you know that he's a warm, witty man and a good actor.  He's wonderful in interviews because he doesn't feel the need to be "on."  He shares the spotlight.  He's not his Comedy Central character.  That warmth and realness coupled with his excellent comic acting skills will work well in late night.  That's my opinion.

Still, I was hoping a new era would've dawned in late night with the selection of a female or a minority male host.  After all, it's 2014 -- in the 21st Century.

My friend Keith Price, a national morning radio show co-host on SiriusXM's OutQ channel, was a fabulous recent guest on my podcast.  We talked about the importance of the minority voice in arts coverage.  One of Keith's weekly shows focuses on theatre.  How often have you seen black folks on TV news in New York City with a regular Broadway/Off-Broadway beat as reporters?  You never do.  Why is that?  Keith Price is a trailblazer on national radio.  An overlooked trailblazer in New York City.
Today, Keith forwarded to me an article in New York's Daily News.  Columnist Don Kaplan wrote the article, "CBS missed a chance at history by picking a white guy to replace David Letterman."

Kaplan included Chris Rock as a talent who would've been a good choice.  Larry Mantle, fine host of the AirTalk weekday show on KPCC news talk radio out of Southern California also mentioned Chris Rock in his discussion with TV critics the day the Colbert news story broke.  Mantle also would've loved to see Chris Rock be handed CBS late night duties.

A British newspaper had an article taking Woody Allen to task for not casting any African-Americans in the Broadway musical version of his comedy movie, Bullets over Broadway.  Some of the story involves Harlem's famed Cotton Club nightspot in the 1920s.  Today, CBS' women on The Talk will discuss Woody.

You know what?  That's Woody.  We black folks with SAG cards have known for decades that minorities are rarely part of his New York City view.  I loved Annie Hall, Manhattan and Hannah and Her Sisters.  But can you remember a lead or supporting character played by a black person in those 1970s/80s classics set in New York City?  Even his 2000 comedy, Small Time Crooks, was devoid of black folks as Woody's work entered a new century.  Also set in Manhattan, this one starred Woody Allen and Tracey Ullman.

The movie made me laugh.  It did.  However, I lived in New York for over 20 years.  2 Days in New York, the 2012 romantic comedy written and directed by Julie Delpy, reflected more of the Manhattan I know than Woody Allen movies do.


2 Days in New York starred Julie Delpy and Chris Rock.

I'm not surprised a Woody Allen scene set in Harlem has no speaking roles for black actors.  Woody Allen would have an all-white cast if he shot a movie remake of A Raisin in the Sun.  In 2011, I lived in San Francisco.  I was surrounded by Asian-Americans every single day.  Did you see Blue Jasmine, the Woody Allen drama set in San Francisco?  Not one Asian-American actor/character in the movie.  Not even in a bit part.  The story was set in and shot in San Francisco.  Was I the only one who noticed no Asian actors?

Here's the thing:  If a show like The Talk is going to have at Woody Allen for his uni-color view of world, will it check its own network history?  Look at this old ABC News promo.
Max Robinson, whom I interviewed when I was new at my first TV job, was the first black person to anchor a network evening newscast.  Robinson was a skilled, serious journalist who broke the network color barrier anchoring ABC's World News Tonight during the week.  The fact that his history is totally ignored and overlooked today is a shame.
                                                                                         
Max Robinson anchored in the 1970s and 80s.  ABC should pull his work out of its archives and proudly show it.  Mr. Robinson died of AIDS in 1988 at age 49.  No black journalist has been named anchor of the weekday evening newscast on ABC, CBS or NBC since Max Robinson broke that color barrier over 20 years ago.  The Talk could question why CBS has never had a black anchor of the evening news.  Or why, as Don Kaplan wrote in the Daily News, "late night television will remain all all-white boys club."

Woody Allen's casting is just like some of your longtime network talent choices.  Remember Friends?  That was a sitcom about of group of hip young adults living in downtown Manhattan.  How racially diverse was that cast?  Even the hipster world of Girls was questioned early on for its uni-color casting for a show set in Brooklyn.

I like to keep a check on our history.  I mean minorities when I say "our."  David Bianculli is a mighty fine TV historian and excellent contributor/guest host on NPR's Fresh Air hosted by Terry Gross.  I have loved Bianculli's work for well over a decade.  But I was extremely stunned and disappointed in a week-long series last year.  In a 5-day salute to late night TV hosts, neither he nor Terry Gross ever mentioned Arsenio Hall.  I listened to each hour-long show that week last August.  Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson...Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Seth Myers...even Chevy Chase and Pat Sajak got mentions.  Nothing was said about Arsenio Hall's nighttime show in the late 1980s, a show with ratings that challenged Carson and put Hall on the cover of Time magazine.  It wasn't even mentioned that he was returning to TV with a new late night show.  He changed the racial make-up of late night hosts in the 1980s.  To me, not mentioning Arsenio Hall was a major oversight for a TV historian.  Especially one on NPR.  It was like a salute to groundbreaking baseball talent and excluding Jackie Robinson.  On today's Fresh Air, Bianculli came on at the end of the show to talk about Stephen Colbert's new late night appointment.

It took half a century for the Today show to really get with the diversity program.  In the first 50 years of that network morning news show, there were only two black on-air contributors -- Bryant Gumble and Al Roker.  That's from 1952 to 2002.  Trust me, they were not the only two black people who wanted to be on Today.  In the early 1990s, when I worked on WNBC in New York City, I wanted to do entertainment features for that morning show.  I was told it wouldn't happen -- even though I went to WNBC after having hosted my prime time celebrity talk show on VH1, a show that got me praised as "a master interviewer with a gift for banter" in The New York Times.  So, America could get a man on the moon -- but we couldn't get a third black person on the Today show until after 2002.

In my podcast this weekend, you can hear TV host/film critic Mike Sargent and I discuss the difficulty that minority critics have had in getting equal opportunities to do film reviews on national television: BobbyRiversShow.com.

I agree with Dan Kaplan that CBS did miss a chance at history.  Maybe columnists and other reporters need to start asking top TV executives point blank if any female or minority male talents were considered...and, if so, who was considered.  If none was considered, ask why.  Just a thought.  There have been some good changes in TV.  There's room for more.

In closing, here's some movie trivia for you.  In Small Time Crooks, Tracey Ullman stole the movie as "Frenchy."  Woody Allen gave her the role after Barbra Streisand turned it down.  Tracey told me that in an interview I did for ABC News/Lifetime's Lifetime Live.

To see my work as a VH1 talk show host and a film reviewer for ABC News, go to YouTube.com/BobbyRiversTV.