Sunday, May 10, 2015

Rock On, Meryl Streep

RICKI AND THE FLASH has Meryl Streep as a rock mama who focused more on her music career than on her family.  The time has come to change that.                                                                                                                                    
To me, this 60-something actress is an inspiration and a role model.  Love me some Meryl Streep.  I pray I can interview her if she grants interviews for this new movie.  She's a role model because of her perseverance and her dedication to her work.  She takes risks. She takes on challenges.  She's played women and a man.  In her early film career, she dazzled critics with her dramatic talents and her gift for accurate foreign accents in productions such as The French Lieutenant's Woman, Sophie's Choice, Out of Africa and A Cry in the Dark.  Then, like Irene Dunne in the 1930s, she switched from the heavy drama and showed us her sublime knack for comedy.  I loved Postcards from the Edge and Defending Your Life, two films in which Shirley MacLaine also appeared.  Her cheesey opening musical number as the vain Broadway star in Death Becomes Her breaks me the heck up.

When we baby boomers were kids, we saw the famous and fiercely independent Katharine Hepburn on   The Dick Cavett Show. The long-unwed 4-time Best Actress Oscar winner said that it would be extremely difficult to raise a family and focus on an acting career.  That's why she had no children.  I'm sure that statement made a great impact on many of us who were considering some kind of career as performers.  Well, Meryl came along and proved that you could not only have a family and a film acting career, you could become the actor-mom with the most nominations of any performer in Oscar history.  Meryl Streep has 19 Oscar nominations to her credit. I'm pretty sure that our Supreme Court will soon make it a law that she gets an Oscar nomination every year for the rest of her life whether she makes a film or not.
When I was new to television, Meryl Streep gave my career its first big boost.  She's won her first Oscar, a Best Supporting Actress Award, for 1979's Kramer vs. Kramer.  She graced the cover of Time.  It's still one of my all-time favorite Time magazine covers.
I was a weekly contributor on Milwaukee's edition of the syndicated weekday show, PM Magazine.  I did movie reviews and family entertainment features once a week.  Celebrity interviews were what  I wanted to do and I was given the opportunity.  I was one of ten TV people selected to interview her one afternoon in New York City.  She was promoting her new film, Sophie's Choice.  Why only ten?  She was pregnant with first child and got hit with occasional nausea.  Understandably, she requested to keep her schedule short.  I was nervous and excited on that flight to New York City to do the interview.  Her performance as the Polish survivor of a Nazi concentration camp was extraordinary.  I was in awe of her.

Here's a trailer for Sophie's Choice co-starring Kevin Kline.
She gave me a wonderful interview.  Streep was smart, witty, down-to-earth.  One question the New Jersey native liked a lot regarded her upcoming parenthood.  Actresses who have children are constantly asked how they can balance motherhood and a career.  I asked Meryl Streep why actors who become fathers aren't asked the same thing.  Our interview aired nationally.  Not only that one.  I'd interviewed Jessica Lange who made history with two Oscar nominations in the same year.  She was in the Best Actress race for Frances.  She was in the Best Supporting Actress Oscar race --and won -- for Tootsie.  I'd also interviewed screen newcomer Ben Kingsley, who won Best Actor for Gandhi, and Sir Richard Attenborough.  Attenborough won Best Director for Gandhi and the biopic was voted Best Picture of 1982.

All those interviews of mine aired in a special PM Magazine Countdown to the Oscars week.  I still say that Meryl brought me luck.  I was the only African-American male seen nationally doing celebrity interviews on PM Magazine in those days.

This summer, we'll see Meryl Streep rock out in Ricki and the Flash.  Kevin Kline, her Sophie's Choice co-star, plays her husband.  The first time I interviewed Meryl, she was pregnant with her first child.  She was still pregnant when she won the Oscar for Sophie's Choice.  That child is now her co-star in Ricki and the Flash.  Meryl Streep and Mamie Gummer, real-life mother and daughter, play mother and  daughter in this new movie.  Here's a trailer.
The second time I interviewed Meryl Streep, I was in New York City and had my own talk show on VH1.  I got to do half-hour with her during her promotional junket for A Cry in the Dark -- the drama many folks think is called A Dingo Ate My Baby.  In one publication, I'd read an item saying that Streep had been greatly influenced by Liza Minnelli's acting technique when she saw Minnelli on Broadway in a Kander & Ebb musical called The Act.
Liza's 1977 musical production was directed by Martin Scorcese.  She won a Best Actress Tony award for her performance as the fading Hollywood star who attempts a comeback with a Vegas nightclub act.

In my 1988 VH1 talk show interview, I asked Meryl Streep about the Minnelli influence.
I've been nominated for one award in my long broadcast career.  I got a CableACE Award nomination for Best TV Interviewer.  That Meryl Streep interview on my old VH1 show is one that got me the nomination.  She brought me luck again.  I lost the award to Larry King but, yes, it was an honor just to be nominated.

The next time I saw La Streep was quite memorable.  I was the host of a celebrity awards luncheon in midtown Manhattan.  Not only she was one of the special guests, present to receive an award, I got to sit right next to her and have lunch before we started the ceremony.  Wow!  She had me belly laughing with comments and she treated me like we were old college chums.  Look at the expression at my face seconds after I was seated.  I could not believe I was placed next to film greatness.
Her 1998 drama, Dancing at Lughnasa, was soon to open.  In it, she played a working class Irish woman in 1930s Ireland.  At that 1998 luncheon, she was a funny New Jersey native who not only remembered my previous interviews of her, she complimented me on my TV performance.

This was at a time in which I felt a lull in my career.  Network executives of morning TV news programs, CBS Sunday Morning being one, would not consider me for entertainment contributor work.  Broadcast agents would not take me on as a client.  I'd been a good worker for four years on a local morning TV news show, however my contract had been renewed for less money that year.  Quite a bit less.  I stayed because I needed the job.  But, one sweet afternoon, I was validated by Meryl Streep.  She made me laugh.  And she inspired me to make a career change.

I will never forget that.  And I will be eternally grateful.  Rock on, Meryl Streep!  I hope we can meet again.

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