Tuesday, August 20, 2019

A Celebration for Buster Keaton Fans

My mom introduced me to the exquisite silent screen artistry of Buster Keaton.  When I was boy, the networks had light early Saturday morning programming which would lead into the Saturday cartoon shows for kids. Channel 2, our Los Angeles CBS affiliate, often showed the optimistic Eddie Cantor musicals of the 1930s, Laurel & Hardy features and Buster Keaton comedies. Mom happily urged me to watch Buster. One thing that amazed me about him was that he did such wonderful work before movies learned how to talk and he was still in the game. I grew up seeing him in TV commercials, guest appearances on popular TV shows like CANDID CAMERA and in big screen colorful, hip comedies like the film version of Broadway's A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (1966). He went from the silent screen era in the 1920s...
… to getting big laughs in a 1966 musical comedy that gave us numbers with an MTV music video style of editing years before MTV was born.
In college, Buster Keaton's silent film work was included in my Film Journalism classes. It was in our textbooks and in the lectures from our professor. In SHERLOCK, JR. (1924), THE NAVIGATOR (1924), THE GENERAL (1926), COLLEGE (1927) and STEAMBOAT BILL, JR., he was a marvel. Buster Keaton's athleticism and agility made his body alone one of the most memorable special effects in Hollywood history. Although called "The Great Stone Face," there was a constant flow of emotion in his eyes. There was depth and heart in that stone face. What a remarkable actor.  As a director, his creativity was astounding.

Director Peter Bogdanovich never got to meet and express his affection for Buster Keaton, but he did put it in a very good documentary. It's THE GREAT BUSTER: A CELEBRATION. You can find it for a small fee on YouTube and Amazon Prime Video. I hope this doesn't ruin it for you, but one of the most wonderful things about the documentary is that it has a happy ending. Keaton was in a lovely marriage and he was employed. The documentary goes back to his beginnings in a stage act. The origin of his nickname comes up as does his introduction to the silent film scene. We see his artistic zeniths -- not all of them appreciated at the time -- and we see his artistic nadirs -- during his MGM years which is a case of corporation versus art, it seems. The prestigious studio took itself seriously and did not have the knack for giving us good wacky and slightly anarchistic comedies like we got from the Marx Brothers during their Paramount years. MGM took away Keaton's freedom as a filmmaker. He was better off as an independent. Keaton had some tough years artistically and personally. Then he bounced back in the TV age.

If you're a Buster Keaton fan, you should see this documentary. It's informative, revealing, surprising and entertaining. Bogdanovich is the narrator.

My one criticism is the same one I raised when I saw the HBO documentary, SPIELBERG.  That 2017 documentary from director Susan Lacy (of excellent PBS documentaries) is also informative, revealing, surprising and entertaining. However, in its 2 and 1/2 hours, we saw and heard from seven film critics/film historians -- and all of them were white. Not one African-American film journalist is seen even though one 10-minute section of the Steven Spielberg documentary is devoted to discussing his film adaptation of THE COLOR PURPLE.

In THE GREAT BUSTER: A CELEBRATION, we see beloved film critic & historian Leonard Maltin. We see top celebrities who praised Keaton's artistry. We see Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks and Dick Van Dyke. We also get a few soundbites from Johnny Knoxville, host of the MTV prank and gross-out show, JACKASS. The show's popularity later gave us JACKASS: THE MOVIE.

There's not one African-American Buster Keaton fan, not one person of color, giving comment in Bogdanovich's 2018 documentary. The Keaton fans seen in THE GREAT BUSTER: A CELEBRATION are all white.

Buster Keaton did not have only white fans.  I've been proof of that since I was in grade school.

I'm a veteran entertainment news reporter with radio, print and TV credits. Here's something I noticed. After its run in movie theaters, the 1999 comedy, THE BACHELOR, made its network TV debut on ABC. THE BACHELOR starred Chris O'Donnell and was a remake of a 1925 Buster Keaton silent screen comedy called SEVEN CHANCES. In that classic, Keaton plays a man who must marry by a certain time on his 27th birthday in order to inherit $7 million from a relative. When that news gets out, dozens of women are ready to say "I do" -- if they can catch him. The 1999 remake recreated this famous scene from the 1925 Buster Keaton original. He's being chased by women in wedding dresses.
In 2002, months after the ABC airing of 1999's THE BACHELOR, we saw the premiere of a new reality competition series called...THE BACHELOR. Several women compete for the same guy. The goal is matrimony. I think a bit o' Buster Keaton inspired that ABC franchise.

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Amazing Edward Norton

I am constantly in awe of his talent and his range as an actor. He's not one of those actors who's a regular fixture on red carpets. Not one who's frequently in the entertainment news headlines. Not one we see making several appearances on network morning news programs to promote a new film. Still, Edward Norton is one of the most remarkable, versatile and interesting working actors we have today. He fascinates me. We first saw him as the schizophrenic young man with multiple personalities accused of murder in 1996's PRIMAL FEAR. He followed that stunning dramatic performance with a Bobby Van-esque musical performance in Woody Allen's 1996 musical comedy, EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU. Then came another riveting performance, this time as the West Coast neo-Nazi in 1998's AMERICAN HISTORY X. After that came what seems to be the CITIZEN KANE for Gen X generation white males -- 1999's FIGHT CLUB.
Edward Norton's work thrills me even in films that didn't get a lot of attention from moviegoers such as the rival TV hosts revenge comedy DEATH TO SMOOCHY. He was Smoochy the Rhino, the new kiddie show sensation who replaced Rainbow Randolph, played by Robin Williams. Another favorite is 2005's DOWN IN THE VALLEY. Norton delivers a subtle, knock-out performance as a delusional modern-day cowboy in the San Fernando Valley. I live for his comedy turns as the boy scout master in MOONRISE KINGDOM and as the European inspector with the dominant mustache in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL.
He scored again as the vain, talented, irritating and randy Broadway cast member in 2014's BIRDMAN also starring Michael Keaton.
In an interview, I heard Norton say that he'd based his character slightly a real life actor. If the interviewer could guess who the actor inspiration was, Norton said he'd donate a generous check to a certain charity. The interviewer couldn't guess, darn it. Personally, I think Edward Norton based his character on 1980s William Hurt.

My jaw just about dropped down the floor when I sat through the closing credits of the raunchy, hilarious animated 2016 feature, SAUSAGE PARTY, to see who did the excellent Woody Allen-like voice of nebbishy Sammy the Bagel. It was Edward Norton.
Another one of my favorite Edward Norton performances is in a film I've seen several times. Audiences missed a quality film when they passed over THE PAINTED VEIL.

Take a couple of minutes to hear me recommend this must-see for serious Edward Norton fans:


Sunday, August 18, 2019

About Robert Redford

Am I a Robert Redford fan? Yes, indeed I am and have been since I was in high school. Today, August 18th, is his 83rd birthday. On Twitter, IMDb (Internet Movie Database) assembled a short montage of Redford clips highlighting his work as actor and director.  IMDb asked "What's your favorite Redford film?" Fabulous actress Yvette Nicole Brown (she made us laugh on the sitcom COMMUNITY) gave a quartet in her online answer: ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID and THE WAY WE WERE.
Yes, Yes, Yvette! I agree with those choices. I have two others to recommend. First of all, Robert Redford films represented fun Saturday afternoons at the movies during my South Central L. A. youth. My student discount card got me into the double features with a few cents off the usual ticket fare for teens. I sat with popcorn, a soda and Milk Duds to watch him in BAREFOOT IN THE PARK, THE CHASE and BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. One of his films didn't get a warm reception from critics, but it's special in my personal family history. I was -- and still am -- a hardcore Natalie Wood fan. Our parents were separating and I felt from the psychic energy in the house that Mom and Dad would definitely be getting a divorce. Before they separated, there were times Dad would get out of house to break from the non-verbal tension between him and Mom that added a thick emotional humidity to the indoor atmosphere. Most of the times, he'd go to his mother's place in Inglewood. One evening, he wanted to go to a movie. He invited me along and he let me pick the movie. I don't think the film was important to him. He just wanted to get out of the house for a white. I picked INSIDE DAISY CLOVER starring Natalie Wood with movie newcomer Robert Redford in a supporting role as Daisy's movie star husband. It was a glossy, deluxe production that was beautifully photographed. Natalie Wood gave it her all even though, as a rebellious but talented 16-year old tomboy whose singing talent gets her discovered by Hollywood, she was 10 years too old for the part. INSIDE DAISY CLOVER was the last movie Dad and I saw together, just the two of us, before he and Mom officially separated and he moved out of the house. I was teetering on the brink of teen-hood. Critics may have dismissed the movie, but I didn't. There's a scene in which Daisy, now an unhappy teen movie star, has a soundstage looping session for a scene in one of her musical numbers. She suffers an emotional breakdown in the booth. Her singing is suddenly, unexpectedly replaced with screams. If you've seen INSIDE DAISY CLOVER, you know the scene.

That scene reflected how I felt inside. But being the good student and Black Catholic dependable child, I could not let that rage out. Even today, seeing Natalie Wood and Redford in INSIDE DAISY CLOVER takes me right back to those emotionally bumpy middle school years.

Robert Redford won the Best Director Academy Award for ORDINARY PEOPLE. The film also won a Best Screenplay Oscar, Timothy Hutton won for Best Supporting Actor and ORDINARY PEOPLE took home the Oscar for Best Picture of 1980.  To me, 1994's QUIZ SHOW is even better and brought him another very well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Director. It's based on the true-life NBC game show scandal of the 1950s. Game show contestant Charles Van Doren, played by Ralph Fiennes, was in a fixed position to win because his good looks produced good ratings. He was handsome compared to his opponent, Herb Stempel. The real Charles Van Doren died this year, in April, at age 93. John Turturro is terrific as Herb Stempel, the plain but honest opponent. The real Stempel is now 92.

Take another look at Redford's QUIZ SHOW. It's a tale of truth vs. ratings, looks vs. substance. We see this played out within the medium of network TV. Charles Van Doren knew the game was rigged to capitalize on the increased ratings thanks to female viewers swooning over his charms.
I don't mean to be snarky but watch it now that NBC had survived another scandal. In the fall of 1992, I worked on a local WNBC news program with Matt Lauer. He and I were acquainted with each other's work on a 1980s weeknight entertainment magazine show called PM MAGAZINE. It was syndicated. Matt did not have a noteworthy, extensive hard news journalism background. He was a good host of entertainment programming. However, he was in a career slump and sorely in need of employment. A buddy helped him score a local news anchor job on WNBC. I asked Matt how he was navigating through this new job as he'd not been known previously as a news anchor. He casually, honestly replied, "I look good and I read well."

Local female viewers went gaga over his handsomeness. Just two months after the premiere of our local weekend news program, Matt was taken off co-anchor duty because he was being groomed for TODAY Show stardom. Female viewers boosted ratings when they saw Matt. Before the 1990s ended, he was occasionally anchoring the network evening newscast and, later, he replaced Bryant Gumble as Katie Couric's co-anchor on TODAY. He morphed into a serious journalist and made millions until a sex scandal got him fired in 2017. Here's a trailer for QUIZ SHOW directed by Robert Redford. I highly recommend this 1994 film.
Another film I highly recommend came out in 2013. If Redford had received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for ALL IS LOST, I would have cheered. He did this film in his 70s and performed most of his own stunts as the aging mariner on a solo voyage. An accident happens, his radio and navigation equipment are broken. He's lost in the Indian Ocean. There's a tiny bit of dialogue in this movie and one big outstanding performance from Robert Redford. Here's a trailer.

Those first times I saw Robert Redford on the big screen, he looked like he'd been kissed in his cradle by the Southern California gods. He was the walking essence of the SoCal Look. Redford was a new Hollywood Golden Boy. Even if the movie was not about him, he got top attention. In the newspaper ads and the trailer for 1969's TELL THEM WILLIE BOY IS HERE, he's seen foremost. But Willie Boy, the native American who returns to his reservation, is played by Robert Blake. OUT OF AFRICA, directed by Sydney Pollack, is about the Danish baroness who finds her independence in Africa. It's about the woman played by Meryl Streep. But who gets top billing in the credits? Robert Redford.

Redford proved to be more than just another "pretty face." He was a serious actor, director and producer who was also graced with movie star charisma. If you haven't seen them already, let me know what you think of QUIZ SHOW and ALL IS LOST after you watch. I'm going to watch ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN again and pray that the history in the final scene of that investigative journalism drama repeats itself. (Be prepared for adult language in this clip).

Thursday, August 15, 2019


Do you need some laughs? Are you up for a new romantic comedy that gives you something fresh? If you get Netflix, I've got the comedy for you. It's ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE directed by Ms. Nahnatchka Khan. This feature is a Netflix original. If it was in movie theaters, I would have paid to see it more than once. Not only that, I would've taken a friend to see it too. That's how much I enjoyed ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE. The two main stars, two writers and two producers are Ali Wong as Sasha Tran and Randall Park as Marcus Kim, natives of San Francisco.
The movie starts with an appropriate hip-hop music beat and we're flashbacked to the Bay Area in the 1990s when Sasha and Marcus were kids. Kids who were next door neighbors. She's a girl fascinated with cooking. She spends a lot of time alone because her parents work. Sasha hangs out with lovably dorky Marcus next door. His sweet mom shows her how to make tasty Korean dishes. Sasha and Marcus are great buddies. As years go by, they become teen sweethearts. Their first sexual encounter, in a car, was so awkward it had me laughing out loud. More years go by and they're young adults in different cities. She's now a celebrity chef, popular with entertainment reporters at red carpet events. She has a hot, handsome celebrity boyfriend. Marcus helps his widower dad in his dad's air conditioner business. On the side, Marcus is in a band that does local gigs.

When Sasha and Marcus are reconnected in San Francisco, they're no longer sweethearts. But, as much as they try to ignore it, the spark reignites.
What's fresh about it? How often do we get a romantic comedy with two Asian-Americans in the lead roles? There were a couple of times when I hit the pause button, went back and played a scene again because it made me laugh so much. The double date at a posh restaurant scene is one example. I lived in San Francisco for a year. The whole Bay Area hipster vibe is nailed with a direct, accurate hit in that scene. Keanu Reeves shows up and does a bright, winning turns as a self-absorbed jerk of a movie star. Another scene that broke me up is the one in which Marcus goes to buy a designer suit. Randall Park and Ali Wong wrote some very funny comedy.

I saw comedian Michelle Buteau in a New York City comedy club about 10 years ago. She was terrific. She has since become a Class A supporting role friend or aide character in the great witty tradition of Eve Arden in classic 1940s films (COVER GIRL, MILDRED PIERCE, ONE TOUCH OF VENUS), Thelma Ritter in 1950s classics (ALL ABOUT EVE, REAR WINDOW, PILLOW TALK) down to Rosie O'Donnell in the 1990s (SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE). Comedian/actress Michelle Buteau is a total joy as the very pregnant best friend and co-worker. Here's a trailer.

Ms. Khan directs this with a lively pace and gives us human, vulnerable sides of the characters. They're dimensional. Like director Nora Ephron (SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, YOU'VE GOT MAIL), Khan knows to keep a romantic comedy trim. Don't dawdle or get excessive. Keep it under 2 hours. This is something Judd Apatow productions need to learn. His rom-coms such as KNOCKED UP, TRAINWRECK and THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT run a little over 2 hours but they'd be even better at 1 hour and 45 minutes. He lets guys ad lib scenes and the scenes go into the film even though they don't really move the action forward. I've seen the ad libbing in progress. I was a background actor in THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT.

The incredibly handsome Daniel Dae Kim stars as Brandon. Has his name been tossed into the mix as a possible new James Bond? It should be. As for Randall Park, I've been a fan of his ever since 2011 when I lived in San Francisco. I noticed him in TV commercials. He's really good. Then in the winter of 2014, the satire THE INTERVIEW starring James Franco and Seth Rogen made TV news headlines. It poked fun at Kim Jong Un and, reportedly, North Korea was mad at us for that. ABC news covered the story several times and regularly mentioned that THE INTERVIEW starred James Franco and Seth Rogen. There was never any mention that Randall Park co-starred as the Korean dictator -- and stole the film with his wickedly funny performance. That was a major ABC news oversight because, in a few months, Randall Park would be seen as TV's newest sitcom dad when FRESH OFF THE BOAT premiered on ABC. It would make history as the first network sitcom in 20 years about an Asian-American family.

ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE highlights Randall Park's impressive comedy acting skills and Ali Wong shines in a lead role. She's a supporting player on the ABC sitcom, AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE.

This romantic comedy reflects a San Francisco that I lived in, a multi-racial San Francisco I know. Did you see Woody Allen's 2013 drama, BLUE JASMINE? Critics loved it. They were white critics. None of them mentioned that Woody Allen shot a whole movie in San Francisco about characters in San Francisco and we didn't see one Asian-American actor with a speaking role. BLUE JASMINE was a well-acted but all-white look at San Francisco. The dentist or the character Louis C.K. played could've been played by Randall Park. The character played by Peter Sarsgaard could've been played by Daniel Dae Kim or John Cho. I noticed the lack of Asian-American actors in that Woody Allen movie shot in San Francisco. It bothered me.

ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE made me happy. It's bright, light entertainment with a heart. It runs 1 hour and 42 minutes.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

About LOST HORIZON (1973)

Movie critics poked, pierced and barbecued the musical remake of LOST HORIZON when it was soon to be released. Yes, the reviews were harsh but I can't say that they were wrong. I love musicals. I saw the 1973 musical remake of LOST HORIZON when it came out and let me just say -- that movie wasn't released. It escaped. LOST HORIZON, the musical, was Shangri-Lousy.
I was just a black kid in his teen from South Central L.A. when it hit big screens. However, if I had been in a movie producer's Hollywood office to hear this pitch:  "A musical remake of the Frank Capra classic, LOST HORIZON. We'll have new songs by Burt Bacharach. The dance numbers will be staged by Hermes Pan, the man who choreographed the classic Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals of 1930s. The cast will include George Kennedy, Sally Kellerman, John Gielgud, Peter Finch and. for the leading lady, we'll have that star of great psychological Ingmar Bergman dramas such as PERSONA, SHAME and HOUR OF THE WOLF...Liv Ullmann! Oh, and for the director, we've got the guy who directed ANNE OF A THOUSAND DAYS and MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS and a screenplay by Larry Kramer who wrote WOMEN IN LOVE"...
...if I had been in a movie producer's Hollywood office to hear that pitch, this would've been my expression:

Then, I would've said, "What are you, nuts? Am I the only one here who's heard of Stanley Donen? Screenplays by Comden & Green? Singer and dancer Julie Andrews? These are the actors, director and writer you have on board for a musical?"  And then the Hollywood executives would've had security escort me to the nearest exit.

There is one thing that I love about the musical LOST HORIZON. That one thing I love is the original score by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. I loved it before the movie opened because  I had the soundtrack.  I've been a huge Bacharach fan ever since I first heard his pop hits sung on radio by Dionne Warwick and The Carpenters. Dusty Springfield singing "The Look of Love" -- thank you, Jesus! I loved his unique Pacific Coast vibes and arrangements in his compositions. The Burt Bacharach & Hal David songwriting team had won a Best Song Oscar before LOST HORIZON. From 1969's BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, they won Hollywood gold for "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head."

I know critics hated LOST HORIZON. Yet, I still feel that Burt Bacharach should've had another Best Song Oscar nomination for his score. The songs are the best thing about the film but they were casualties in the reviews of that musical avalanche disaster. Bacharach gave his score a slight SoCal-Asian flavor.  The Oscar winner for Best Song of 1973 was "The Way We Were" from the popular film of the same name. Two of the other nominees were the love songs from A TOUCH OF CLASS, a romantic comedy starring Glenda Jackson and George Segal, and CINDERELLA LIBERTY starring Marsha Mason. I could not hum either one of those two tunes for you right now if you offered me $500 cash. But I can sing you more than two original Bacharach & David songs from 1973's LOST HORIZON.

The musical had a cast of competent but miscast actors. In Frank Capra's 1937 lovely original, Ronald Colman's heroic Robert Conway was a British man of 30-something or 40.
Peter Finch as Conway in LOST HORIZON 1973 is just three years shy of being seen as the aging and unhinged TV news anchor in Sidney Lumet's great film, NETWORK. I would've gone with a younger actor for LOST HORIZON, one who had done well as a leading man in a musical with his singing voice dubbed. I would've cast Stephen Boyd -- handsome, a very good actor and he'd been Doris Day's leading man in Billy Rose's JUMBO (1962).

Instead of Liv Ullman, I would've cast Tina Chen, the excellent and under-utilized actress seen in ALICE'S RESTAURANT (1969) and as one of Robert Redford's office mates in Sydney Pollack's THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975). I would've cast as Asian actress as the charming, innocent schoolteacher in Shangri-La, the mysterious and idyllic community of the Far East.
As for casting John Gielgud, what the heck were they thinking? Hollywood couldn't hire an Asian actor like James Hong (THE SAND PEBBLES and CHINATOWN) to play that Asian character? Couldn't they have borrowed Victor Sen Yung from the cast of the TV series, BONANZA where he played Hop Sing? Or hired Benson Fong?

Instead, we wound up seeing John Gielgud dressed up like one of the Teletubbies.

Oh, well. That's Hollywood for you. Nevertheless, I still dig the 1973 LOST HORIZON original score from Burt Bacharach.

I saw 1973's LOST HORIZON on cable TV recently. Just like back in 1973, it was the music that held my interest. I believe Burt Bacharach had a solid understanding of the story's message and wrote to complement it while also acknowledging our history at the time. We had survived the turbulent 1960s in which President John F. Kennedy, civil rights activist & Nobel Peace Prize recipient Dr. Martin Luther King and presidential candidate Senator Robert F. Kennedy had all been killed by assassins' bullets. America was paralyzed with grief. In the early 1970s, we were still fighting in the highly controversial Vietnam War.

Listen to the soothing, soulful voice of Shawn Phillips sing the title tune on the LOST HORIZON soundtrack. Hear him sing my favorite song from the score, "I Might Frighten Her Away." My second favorite song is "The World Is a Circle."

It's an original movie musical soundtrack that deserves appreciation. I didn't write "re-appreciation" because the Burt Bacharach & Hal David songs were not appreciated when they were new.

To hear the soundtrack, go to this link:  youtube.com/LostHorizonMov.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Starring a Regal Helen Mirren

Marvelous Helen Mirren won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in 2006's THE QUEEN. That was not the first royal role to bring Mirren an Oscar nomination. She was a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for playing Queen Charlotte in 1994's THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE. The late Nigel Hawthorne was a Best Actor Oscar nominee for taking on the lead role in the film. The play and screenplay were written by Alan Bennett.
I tell you this because of what I heard on live news talk radio out of Los Angeles this afternoon. Although I am not currently in Southern California, I still listen to KNX1070 radio to keep up with the latest in my SoCal hometown. KNX has a one hour weekday show that airs at 1p Pacific with an 8p Pacific repeat. It's called IN DEPTH WITH MIKE SIMPSON AND CHARLES FELDMAN. It's August 13th and today's first guest, calling in from New York, was Anthony Scaramucci, former White House communications chief for Donald Trump.

Scaramucci was blunt and direct. So blunt that it seemed to catch the hosts by such a surprise that he was asked to repeat what he'd said for their confirmation. He did. Scaramucci feels that Trump is experiencing "mental decline" and that members of his inner circle are basically turning a blind eye to it. Scaramucci added that -- on a scale of 1 to 10 -- Trump's level of "mental decline" is about a 3. He further stated that we could have a THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE situation in progress.
That is why I brought up this movie that starred Helen Mirren. Here's a trailer for it.
If any local theatre repertory companies or college theatre departments are seeking plays to put on for the fall season, maybe they could consider Alan Bennett's play. And perform it in modern day attire.  Here's a clip.
For the radio station's website, here you go: knx1070.com.

Monday, August 12, 2019

About Jean Arthur

In the Golden Age of Hollywood, there was absolutely nobody like Jean Arthur. Such an original. Such a good actress. In my late high school and early college years, I began to realize the love and reverence people had for her. Merv Griffin had her on his talk show around the time Nixon's Watergate scandal was in the news. She said, considering news headlines, MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON had a message that was still relevant. I read William Peter Blatty's best-seller, THE EXORCIST. Her performance in that film is referenced in the novel. I know you may think it's weird Jean Arthur was mentioned in a book about a little girl possessed by the devil but, remember, the girl's mother was a movie actress. As for the book's author, Blatty had comedy screenplays to his credit before he wrote that best seller. His film credits included A SHOT IN THE DARK starring Peter Sellers, PROMISE HER ANYTHING with Leslie Caron and Warren Beatty and DARLING LILI starring Julie Andrews. In the Carrie Fisher novel, POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE, 1980s actress Suzanne Vale is in awe of Jean Arthur.
When he was promoting BROADCAST NEWS, director/screenwriter James L. Brooks was on my VH1 talk show. He was a marvelous guest and told me that Jean Arthur was an inspiration when he wrote the character Holly Hunter plays in BROADCAST NEWS and when he was shaping the Mary Richards character for THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW.
Jean Arthur got her Best Actress Oscar nomination for the 1943 movie, THE MORE THE MERRIER, directed by George Stevens. She was in her early 40s and snagged a well-deserved Oscar nomination for the lead role in a romantic comedy. Think about it. Today, how many romantic comedy lead roles does Hollywood offer to actresses 35 or older? Arthur retired from film after her work in the George Stevens classic western SHANE. The 1953 film was so good and such a hit that Paramount Pictures offered her a 3-picture deal. But, Jean declined and retired.
If you're a serious Jean Arthur fan, you've seen her in the 1939 film from director Howard Hawks, ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS. She played the American entertainer at a South American port who meets the pilots in an air freight company. During her stopover, she falls for the gruff but caring head pilot (played Cary Grant). She's fascinated with the planes and the pilots.  Bonnie Lee (Arthur) wants to know why the guys love flying. It's thrilling to see, yet it's risky there in jungle terrain. Kid Dabb (played by Thomas Mitchell) and Sparks respond:

Kid Dabb:  I've been in it 22 years, Miss Lee. I couldn't give you an answer that would make any sense.  What's so funny about that?

Bonnie Lee: That's what my dad used to say.

Kid Dabb:  Flier?

Bonnie Lee:  No, trapeze. High stuff. He wouldn't use a net.

Sparks:  Not much future in that, either.

Bonnie Lee:  Yeah. We found that out.

Bonnie Lee's father was the daring young man on the flying trapeze.

Did you know that Jean Arthur had a film role as a trapeze artist?  I'm always interested to see her in her pre-1930s work. I saw two of those works a few days ago. Jean Arthur goes up in the air as a trapeze artist in a 1929 talkie called HALFWAY TO HEAVEN. She's an independent woman, serious about her career. She'll go out with a guy on a date if they can go Dutch. She doesn't like a man to treat her like a possession. You recognize Jean Arthur as soon as appears onscreen. You don't recognize co-star and future WATCH ON THE RHINE Oscar winner, Paul Lukas. In this film, he's without a mustache and he's got dark hair. You don't know it's Paul Lukas until he speaks and you hear that WATCH ON THE RHINE accent.  Lukas plays the jealous, possessive bully who's part of the act. He wants Greta (Arthur) but she doesn't want him. Charles "Buddy" Rogers (of WINGS) stars as the sweet new fellow in the act who gives Lukas' character a reason to be jealous. Buddy Rogers and Jean Arthur have nice chemistry together. We wait to see if the bully will get his comeuppance. It was cool to see Jean Arthur on a trapeze.

Before 1939's ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS, Jean Arthur played a young lady who fell for a pilot in the 1927 comedy, FLYING LUCK. It's a silent film co-starring Monty Banks. Banks as The Boy is the sweet but clueless guy who's so dazzled by Charles Lindbergh that he enlists in the Army in San Diego to take aviation classes. He meets The Girl (Jean Arthur) on a bus to San Diego and he's romantically smitten. Of course, there are mishaps on the bus and misunderstandings when they meet. He'll have no idea that she's the daughter of the Army colonel. The Boy winds up a pilot in the Army vs. Navy aviation competition.

Jean has dark hair in this one. She doesn't have as much to do as she did in HALFWAY TO HEAVEN but she is charming with Monty Banks. Facially, he had a Charlie Chaplin resemblance. Like they could've been cousins. He's warm, likable, funny and good at physical comedy. In the sound era, he didn't get Hollywood gigs like Jean did. Come the 1930s, he was working in England. I think he could've worked in Hollywood, maybe not in leading man roles like he had in this silent film. But he would've been perfect to be a supporting actor in comedies from Ernst Lubitsch, Preston Sturges, Michell Leisen and Howard Hawks.

There you have it -- a couple of pre-1930 movies starring the wonderful Jean Arthur.

A Celebration for Buster Keaton Fans

My mom introduced me to the exquisite silent screen artistry of Buster Keaton.   When I was boy, the networks had light early Saturday morn...