Saturday, May 9, 2015


I'm one of the millions who is most grateful to James L. Brooks for giving us some of the best, wittiest, most substantial and most memorable TV and film entertainment of our lives.

I grew up in South Central L.A. watching (and loving) Room 222, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda and Taxi on TV.  As a grown up in Milwaukee and New York City, I loved The Tracey Ullman Show and The Simpsons.  At the movie box office, I paid more than once to sit through Broadcast News,  As Good As It Gets and Terms of Endearment, the 1983 hit starring Shirley MacLaine as a comically uptight and outspoken single mother.
Director/writer/producer James L. Brooks and, later, Shirley MacLaine were two of my favorite guests on my VH1 talk show in the late 1980s.  With Brooks, I had a fascinating conversation about his new film at the time, Broadcast News.  After my VH1 days, I worked for nine consecutive years on local TV morning news programs in New York City.  His Broadcast News was -- and is -- so accurate.  Watch it today and try not to think of NBC's deflated anchor, Brian Williams, as you watch the newsman William Hurt plays.  Brooks wrote one prescient original screenplay focused on network TV journalism.

Shirley MacLaine made her film debut playing a young widowed mother in Alfred Hitchcock's colorful  The Trouble With Harry (1955).  After Best Actress Oscar nominations for Some Came Running, The Apartment, Irma La Douce and The Turning Point, she won for playing another widowed mother.  James L. Brooks wrote and directed her to a Best Actress Oscar victory for her golden performance as the difficult but devoted middle-aged mother, Aurora Greenway, in Terms of Endearment.

This was a different kind of role for Shirley MacLaine.  This was character with a different kind of temperament, style and look from MacLaine's previous roles.

Aurora may criticize her daughter, but make no mistake.  She loves Emma more than anything in life.  Aurora just can't cut the umbilical cord, no matter how old Emma is.  There is a strong, unconventional mother-daughter bond in this funny, poignant film.  Debra Winger co-starred as Emma.

Here's a clip from Terms of Endearment.
On my VH1 show in 1989, I asked Shirley MacLaine about her Texas character's accent in the film.  She told me that James L. Brooks had plenty to do with that.
MacLaine won the Oscar for Best Actress, co-star Jack Nicholson won for Best Supporting Actor and James L. Brooks won Oscars for Best Screenplay Adaptation (based on a novel by Larry McMurtry), Best Director and for producing the Best Picture of 1983.  Mr. Brooks had a sensational night.
By the way, the accent that Shirley MacLaine had intended to use in Terms of Endearment was used when she played the cranky Southerner named "Ouiser" in Steel Magnolias.

James L. Brooks was born on May 9th.  I wish him a most groovy and happy birthday.  His work holds a very special place in my heart.  And has for quite some time.

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