Wednesday, August 23, 2017

We Get Real About Movies & More

I've got a movie talk podcast for you.  It's time to bring some color into the classic film conversation.  Have you seen African Americans on TV as weekly movie critics or as movie hosts?  No.  Well, it's time for a change somewhere.  We're testing a possible new project. Since movies are my passion, they're a major part of this possible new project I host.  If I picked films on TCM (Turner Classic Movies) for the 4th of July, I would air 1776, the strong historical musical about our Founding Fathers.  I'd also air YANKEE DOODLE DANDY starring James Cagney and the 1950 Oscar winner, BORN YESTERDAY.  Judy Holliday repeated her Broadway triumph as Billie Dawn in this social comedy and won the Oscar for Best Actress.  William Holden (left) co-starred with Holliday and George Cukor (right) directed.
This is not just the story of a dumb blonde New Yorker with a funny voice who went from being a chorus girl to being the girlfriend of a thug tycoon.  Billie Dawn is living large with diamonds and furs, clueless that her tycoon boyfriend has taken them to Washington, DC so he can basically buy a Congressman to help him with some shady financial deals.  Her boyfriend's a bully.  Billie doesn't realize that he's slowly chipping away her freedoms bit by bit.  In the classic gin rummy scene, the lovable and ditzy Billie will give us musical cues to the quality of show biz establishment she worked in and we will see that she always plays fair.
He doesn't.  A journalist, played by William Holden, will become Billie's tutor and travel guide.  He'll show her the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.  She will come to an enlightenment and make her own personal Declaration of Independence when she's physically abused by her thug boyfriend and forced to do as he says.  She revolts against his tyrannical treatment and liberates herself.  This is a patriotic comedy telling Americans to not be "dumb blondes" when it comes to their liberties.

Mike Sargent, a filmmaker and film critic -- and a good buddy -- dropped in to the studio to chat with me about movies.  We delve more into the film art to show why we love them.  I tell Mike about the riveting Netflix documentary called FIVE CAME BACK.
Meryl Streep narrates.  Steven Spielberg, Guillermo Del Toro and Lawrence Kasdan appear and add meaningful, intelligent viewpoints.

Five top Hollywood directors -- Frank Capra, William Wyler, George Stevens, John Ford and John Huston -- enlisted in World War II and documented the war on film for the U.S.  When Hitler was devouring Europe, Americans didn't have TV news footage. These 5 filmmakers helped the government with the war effort.  They captured the true carnage and horrors of war and showed we needed to fight.  They showed the almost unimaginable evil of Nazi concentration camps that were really death mills to exterminate millions of Jews.  Capra and Wyler also fought U.S. racism towards our Black troops.  The war experience changed all five filmmakers.  It also changed the tone of Hollywood films they made after the war.

Here's Frank Capra on the right.
See FIVE CAME BACK on you will have a greater, deeper appreciation for his long unappreciated classic, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE.
On MOCHAA -- Man Of A Certain Hue And Age -- I talk about all this.  We did a couple of impromptu podcasts.  Please listen and leave comments, etc.  Here's the link:
http://mochaa.podomatic.com.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

On Jerry Lewis

As I've written previously, if you asked a few high-tone film critics to name their Top 5 comedy filmmakers, they probably would not mention Jerry Lewis.  However, he got praise from fellow filmmakers Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles.  For us baby boomers, there was a period when we were really into Jerry Lewis.  That was when we were kids.  Then we grew out of him.  We rediscovered him in our college years and tuned into his celebrated annual telethons.  We'd gather at a TV in a dorm room to watch him sing "You'll Never Walk Alone" after having stayed up for hours bringing in money to fight Muscular Dystrophy.
The first time I ever witnessed Christian censorship in action was during the opening credits of a Jerry Lewis movie.  There was some special community event being held one weekend evening in the large auditorium of the grade school I attended, George Washington Carver Elementary in South Central L.A.  The community event would end with a screening of a Jerry Lewis movie, 1958's ROCK A BYE BABY.  This was a lively, Crayola crayon-colored loose remake of the Preston Sturges 1940s classic, THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK.
One of the girls in our class had a mother who always picked her up from school and was a Church Lady.  No matter what the topic was, she could relate it to or include a mention of Jesus.  If she went to the supermarket and asked a clerk, "Do you have pickles?" and the clerk answered, "Yes, in aisle 6," she 'dreply, "Just as Jesus intended!" -- because, as you know, there was a big bowl of dill pickles on the table during the Last Supper.
ROCK A BYE BABY opens with Jerry in a tux, standing before a red curtain, and singing the jazzy original title tune.  The opening credits set up an element of the movie.  It's a colorful montage of Jerry singing in different areas of a Hollywood sound stage.  It's like a music video.  At one point, a couple of lovely and long-legged showgirls in gorgeous outfits designed by Edith Head wheel out a rack of costumes.  Keep in mind that the most revealing thing about their costumes is their legs. BUT...our classmate's mother -- who must have been the inspiration for the Aunt Esther character years later on SANFORD & SON -- took the girl by the girl, stood up and marched her out of the auditorium showing that "filth."

The rest of us stayed.  I felt so sorry for that little girl.

When I was a kid, the Jerry Lewis Paramount comedies that he made early in his career were still making money.  Movie theaters had matinees on the weekends.  Parents could send the kids to the movies for a few hours of quiet time.  Paramount would re-release its Jerry Lewis library for weekend matinee screenings and those walk-in movie theaters would be packed with youngsters waiting to laugh at the goofy, manic, often child-like Jerry Lewis.

My favorite Jerry Lewis film is THE LADIES MAN.  I was fascinated to see him play a complicated dramatic character in Scorcese's 1982 film, THE KING OF COMEDY.  That was one of his best screen performances.  But those Paramount comedies with Dean Martin and Lewis' solo work as THE BELLBOY, GEISHA BOY, THE LADIES MAN, CINDERFELLA and THE NUTTY PROFESSOR have moments that still break me up laughing like I did when I was a youth.
When I had my VH1 talk show back in the late 80s, Shirley MacLaine was one of my favorite guests.  We just hit it off as soon as we met in the greenroom and it covered over to interview on set.  In the greenroom, I asked her about a piece of business in 1955's ARTISTS AND MODELS.  That's another comic book-colored Martin & Lewis comedy, a loose remake of a 1930s Paramount film of the same name.  Dorothy Malone played Dean's love interest and Shirley was the lovable kook who had a crush on Jerry's character.  Shirley MacLaine told me that ARTISTS AND MODELS had a very unhappy set.  Dean and Jerry were breaking up.  Shirley said they did a lot of yelling at each other off-camera.

The August 21 front page of The New York Times had a report on the life and death of Jerry Lewis right next to a similar one about Dick Gregory.  Gregory was a "Sly Wit, Humanizing a Struggle for Justice."  Lewis was "A Transcendent Jester, Both Silly and Stormy."

I've heard that he was Carol Burnett's least favorite star guest on her CBS variety show because he, reportedly, started acting like a boss instead of a guest.  In montages of special guests on THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW, you never see a clip of Jerry Lewis.

Three days before the news of Lewis' death broke, I happened to watch one of his last films.  Like THE KING OF COMEDY, he's in dramatic mode.  The 2013 movie is called MAX ROSE.  He's a grieving widower.  He was a jazz musician married to the love of his life for about 60 years.  But was he the only love of her life?  Max is old and his grown children worry about him being alone.  He's not always kind to his son.  Max can be caustic. We learn why.  The film is solemn and short.  It's only about 85 minutes long but it occasionally feels longer because it's so solemn.  However, it's a reminder of how effective Jerry Lewis could be with dramatic material.  It's great to see Claire Bloom, Dean Stockwell and Mort Sahl also in the cast. See Jerry Lewis as MAX ROSE on Netflix.



Monday, August 21, 2017

Extraordinary Dick Gregory

He was born in October 1932.  He died in 2017, this month.  I grew up in a South Central L.A. household that loved Dick Gregory.  I picked up the love of him from Mom and Dad.  We had Dick Gregory books, Dick Gregory comedy albums and I loved watching Dad watch Dick Gregory on TV.  Dad wasn't a very outgoing man.  He kept to himself, not in a cold way.  Kind of like the type of character Gary Cooper became known for playing in old westerns.  When Dad watched Dick Gregory with Jack Paar, he'd be animated with laughter in his living room chair.  Dad especially loved Gregory's routine about going into a restaurant down South and ordering a chicken.  I love it too.  That bit is a classic.  When I was in high school, I read Dick Gregory's autobiography which was provocatively titled "nigger."  There was a purpose, an intelligent social activist purpose, to that title and when realize it at the touching end of book.  That was a celebrity autobiography that moved me to my very soul when I was a high school kid in Watts, a Watts still charred from the riots (rebellion) that made national headlines.  Through the decades, from my boyhood days to this very year when Dick Gregory was profiled and interviewed on CBS SUNDAY MORNING, his comedy coupled with his brave, steely social activism moved and inspired me.  A current generation mainly knows the image of the older Gregory.  But, man, when I was a teen, I wanted to look and dress like Dick Gregory when he did TV and comedy club dates.  That dude was clean!
 Dick Gregory was right there with other rebels.  Muhammad Ali...
...and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nobel Peace Prize recipient.
Think about the history Dick Gregory witness in his lifetime.  He was doing comedy and Civil Rights activism when Black Americans could not sit at a lunch counter down South without fear of being physically attacked.  He was around for Dr. King's historic March on Washington, when the Voting Rights Act of 1964 assured Black Americans the right to vote, he was grief-stricken at the assassination of Dr. King by a racist in 1968.  He lived to see Dr. King's birthday become a federal holiday and to see Barack Obama sworn in as American's first Black President of the United States.   He saw history.  He was a part of that history.  He was a major trailblazer who made us laugh.

Dick Gregory died at age 84, a couple of months shy of another birthday.  Here's an excerpt of a message from him on social media.  I saw it posted by SELMA film director, Ava DuVernay:
"As I approach my 85th revolution around the sun this year, I wonder why it has been so difficult for humankind to be kind.  So difficult to be loving and lovable.  For my militant brothers and sisters, please don't misconstrue loving and lovable to be weak or submissive.  Love will always be triumphant over hate.  I know I will not be here forever, nor do I desire to be.  I have seen progress like most cannot appreciate because they were not there to bear witness.  I dedicated my life to the movement.  By doing so, I never thought I'd still be here.  So many of my friends are not here.  They were cut down by a system of hatred and evil.  If they were here, they'd see the progress that I see.......To the young folks of all ethnicities, I say 'stay woke' not as a catchphrase but as a lifestyle.....From the top to bottom of my heart I say 'stay woke.'  Love you to life, Dick Gregory"
Brother Gregory, that wise elder, is young again now and reunited with friends.  I am so grateful that he was here.  He opened doors...and minds.  And he never, ever lost his righteous angers.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

His Mom Played Mrs. Robinson

THE GRADUATE.  One of the touchstone Hollywood films of 1967.  Mrs. Robinson, the suburban wife who fixes on a college graduate as her sexual prey, certainly had her dark side.  But the Oscar-winning actress who played her, Anne Bancroft, was a very dedicated mother who put her hot film career aside to give time and attention to her kid.
His mother laughed a lot.  That's because her loving husband gave us comedy movie gems like THE PRODUCERS, BLAZING SADDLES and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.  The parents of novelist Max Brooks acted, sang and danced together in the remake of TO BE OR NOT TO BE.
Max Brooks is the son of Oscar winners Mel Brooks and the late Anne Bancroft.
If you want to treat your ears to some heartwarming stories, you have to hear the interview of novelists Max Brooks on the NPR show, FRESH AIR hosted by Terry Gross.  I never knew that Mel's son was a best-selling novelist.
Max talks about his writing...
...and about his roots being the son of one of the funniest Jews Heaven ever put on this earth.
He also talks about his mom's role in THE GRADUATE....
....and how dedicated she was to him.  He was a dyslexic kid in school when teachers were unfamiliar with dyslexia and not exactly helping him.  They just thought he was unfocused.  If you loved Anne Bancroft before, you will love her even more after hearing Max's stories.  She won her Oscar for THE MIRACLE WORKER in which she played the teacher, Annie Sullivan, dedicated to helping young disabled Helen Keller.  Bancroft, in real life, seems to have possessed the same goodness as Annie Sullivan.

And Max Brooks tells us some Black History that I discovered for the first time thanks to that FRESH AIR chat.  It's a very interesting, very revealing and very heartwarming interview. On the NPR site, look up top for PROGRAMS & PODCASTS.  Click onto that, then look for FRESH AIR.  Click on to FRESH AIR and find the interview with novelist Max Brooks.  I think you'll dig it:  NPR.org.






Saturday, August 19, 2017

Katie Couric, Let's Talk Race

I still feel that she was one of the best and sharpest journalists NBC ever had in its history to cover politics.  That's why I was extremely flattered and surprised when Katie Couric was one of the first people to pay me a compliment on my work.  I was an on-air regular on a new WNBC local Saturday and Sunday morning live news program called WEEKEND TODAY IN NEW YORK.  It premiered in September 1992.  The following month, I had done a piece on what it was like to cover a Madonna press event in downtown Manhattan.  Madonna showed up, but didn't do interviews and some national TV show producers were irritated.  I was determined to get at least one word from Madonna in my WNBC microphone.  After the piece aired, I checked my voicemail and heard "Nice hustling on the Madonna piece there, Bobby Rivers."  It was a message from Katie Couric, then a morning star on TODAY.
I've written before that I was approached to be on the WNBC show.  This was two years after my three happy years at VH1 had come to a contractual end.  WEEKEND TODAY IN NEW YORK initially contacted me to do entertainment interviews and film reviews.  That appealed to me greatly.  Especially the film reviews opportunity.  In the history of TV, as I've mentioned, the field of film critics on newscasts and syndicated entertainment shows lacked racial diversity.  The day before our show premiered, I was told by a long-gone WNBC boss that I would do funny live segments in the field presenting things-to-do around town instead.  I'd be at street fairs and shopping malls instead of in the studio at the desk doing film reviews and entertainment interviews.  I was under contract and I stayed on the show, unhappy with this change in my duties.  Frankly, I felt racial inequality.  Even after the well-received Madonna piece, I was back at shopping malls and street fairs.  I did get to do occasional celeb interviews but only after I really had to challenge the WEEKEND TODAY IN NEW YORK producer, someone who said "I don't know if you have the skills to do them."

In October 1993, if I recall correctly, there was a big unflattering story in New York's The Daily News about NBC News management.  A network news staffer, it was reported in the article, raised a major complaint when a network news producer, a white man, referred to Somalian military leaders as "educated jungle bunnies" during a prep meeting for the evening's newscast.  The producer who made the racial slur was contacted by the newspaper columnists, admitted what he said and did not apologize for his statement.  He was neither fired nor suspended.  Can you imagine if that New York Daily News article had come out nowadays in this age of social media?

WEEKEND TODAY IN NEW YORK became a hit local show.  I quit the show in early 1995.  I was told that, although my work was good and I was popular with viewers, I would only be a part time employee on the weekend show. I'd be working, but no longer under contract.  I'd continue to be the funny guy in the field at family events.  I would not be moving up to full time work on WNBC and I most certainly would not be moving up to network NBC weekend news show exposure.  That's why I gave my 2-weeks notice.

I got other work in TV.  In 2002, I watched the 50th anniversary of TODAY.  It was a wonderful show.  But it really hit me at the end when all the on-air talent past and present was gathered, that there were only TWO African-American talents working on TODAY in its first 50 years -- Bryant Gumble and Al Roker.  Only two in 50 years.
Katie Couric wrote about race in this fine book she wrote in 2011:
On about page 100, she wrote about seeing the Broadway revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein's SOUTH PACIFIC, a classic musical that addresses racial prejudice in a World War 2 setting and love story.  Katie felt the impact of the song "Carefully Taught."  I wrote about that song in an earlier blog post this month called THE WISDOM OF RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN.  What impacted Katie about the song was that it wisely tells us that prejudice is a learned behavior.

The recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia -- with neo-Nazis and KKK members on the march -- were like a punch in the gut to Katie as she watched news footage.  Katie said:  "It's become the symbol of where we are as Americans in 2017, and it breaks my heart...Perhaps Charlottesville will serve as a wake-up call, that hate groups need to be taken seriously and that fair-minded people need to speak up..."

Am I surprised the events at Charlottesville happened?  No.  I grew in South Central L.A. during the Watts Riots.  I attended high school in Watts.  I saw how the rebellion was covered.  The damage was documented but not the racial disrespect and agitation that sparked it.  During my first professional broadcast job, in Milwaukee after I graduated from Marquette University, I would get anonymous hate mail with the N-word and swastikas in the letters.  I'm a Black American.  I know personally that the this country I love is still infected with a virus of racism.  And not just below the Mason-Dixon line.

When Katie was at NBC and the "educated jungle bunnies" story broke, did she realize how disgusted we employees of color were to read that?  Did she notice that TODAY hired only two Black talents in a 50-year period?  When Donald Trump, an NBC TV host, frequently and disrespectfully claimed that President Obama was not a real citizen, did she know how angry that made us Black Americans?  Does she know that when Teabaggers and Trump shouted "Time to Make America Great Again" that we minorities knew that was code for "Make America White Again"?
Before Charlottesville and in her network TV career, did she think the playing field was level?  She's a fair-minded person.  Did she speak up?  I would LOVE to talk race with Katie Couric for about 20 minutes on a podcast.  I've got a studio available that's a short walk from Radio City in the theater district.

Here's some of the work I did on VH1 before I was approached and hired by WNBC:
Here's the Madonna piece I did in the second month of WNBC's WEEKEND TODAY IN NEW YORK:




Friday, August 18, 2017

THE IMPOSTORS by Stanley Tucci

Are you a fan of classic Hollywood films from the 1930s and 40s?  Do you like those madcap movies by Preston Sturges?  Screwball comedies by directors such as Howard Hawks (BRINGING UP BABY, HIS GIRL FRIDAY, GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES) and William Wellman (NOTHING SACRED, ROXIE HART)?  Then you may dig this shipboard comedy written and directed by Stanley Tucci.  The public didn't flock to see it in 1998.  On network TV, I enthusiastically recommended its DVD release.  When I saw this comedy, I laughed a lot.  I was really in need of laughs and this delivered.  It's a handsome package, a screwball comedy that takes place mostly on a luxury liner in the 1930s.  It has the spirit of those old Hollywood favorites.  But this was a screwball comedy with sophistication that came out when frat boy comedies starring Adam Sandler like HAPPY GILMORE and BIG DADDY were popular at the box office.  I watched THE IMPOSTORS on Netflix this week and laughed even more.  Once again, I needed those laughs.  It won my heart from the very beginning with an opening sequence done like a silent film.  Stanley Tucci and Oliver Platt showed that they had the gift for physical comedy in THE IMPOSTORS.
Stanley Tucci and Oliver Platt play down-on-their luck New York City actors.  Tucci and Platt work so well together you'd think they were an established screen comedy team like Bing Crosby & Bob Hope or Laurel & Hardy.  The two unemployed actors are on the run from a mean, liquor-soaked ham of a Shakespearean Broadway star and the cops.  They hide out in a big basket totally clueless that the basket will be cargo on a luxury liner soon to set sail.
On board there's mistaken identity, a man with a bomb, international ladies of intrigue, lonely people, lovers, a champion athlete....and the big, physically abusive Broadway star they insulted in public.  The stowaway actors must think quickly and pretend to be ship stewards in order to keep from being arrested and to keep the man with the bomb from blowing up the ship.
One of the coolest things about this sweetly silly comedy is that it's packed with the familiar faces of actors you know from TV and indie dramas.  There's Dana Ivey.  There's Richard Jenkins who played the dead father on HBO's SIX FEET UNDER and went on to get a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his terrific work in the very relevant 2007 indie film, THE VISITOR, about a university professor who befriends an illegal immigrant.  There Allison Janney, Isabella Rossellini, Campbell Scott, Steve Buscemi, Alfred Molina and Michael Emerson.  A few years later, Emerson would hit big on the ABC TV series, LOST.
It is obvious that the whole cast had fun making this movie.  The scene in which Oliver Platt looks like a big blonde Rosie O'Donnell made me do a loud snort laugh.

If you appreciate the style of screwball comedies, try THE IMPOSTORS written and directed by Stanley Tucci.  It's fun, light weekend entertainment.  We've seen Stanley Tucci's dramatic and comedy talents in THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA and JULIE & JULIA (both with Meryl Streep),  THE LOVELY BONES (2009 Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination), EASY A and THE HUNGER GAMES. This was the second film Stanley Tucci directed after his critically acclaimed BIG NIGHT (1996).

Remember back in the 1980s, before we knew his name, when he was the sexy undershirt guy in the Levi 501s commercial?




Thursday, August 17, 2017

Overlooked by Oscars, Alfred Molina

He's currently an Emmy nominee.  Hallelujah!  He deserves that nomination for his excellent performance as an unappreciated film director in Hollywood.  In the TV mini-series, FEUD:  BETTE AND JOAN, versatile Alfred Molina played Robert Aldrich.  He was man who directed WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?  In this TV mini-series, we see that Aldrich really had his hands full on that movie project.  He was working with two Oscar-winning veteran movie queens who were no longer young and no longer getting good scripts.  If a juicy script did come along, they were on it like a junkyard dog that found some uneaten T-bone steak.  Joan Crawford and Bette Davis were two heavy pieces of furniture to deal with, but they realized that they needed this low-budget psychological horror tale of two rival sisters to resuscitate their careers.  Aldrich, serious about his craft, was treated badly.  Jack L. Warner, head of Warner Brothers, gave Aldrich the WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? duties but bluntly told him that he was not a director of note like John Huston, William Wyler or George Cukor.  He was more bargain basement than main floor.  A lot of us could relate to the humiliation and determination in Molina's portrayal of Aldrich.  The low-budget movie became a huge box office smash and brought Bette Davis an Oscar nomination.  Aldrich would go on to make other big hits such as HUSH...HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE also with Bette Davis, THE DIRTY DOZEN and 1974's THE LONGEST YARD starring Burt Reynolds.
I am so glad Molina got that Emmy nomination as the director who, like the two aging stars, was desperate for a success.  He was marvelous and so truthful in FEUD. He did a great job.
I've been an Alfred Molina for years and you probably have been too.  But when the heck will Hollywood wake up and give him an Oscar nomination?  He's never been nominated.  Let me give you a few of his film performances that I feel were Oscar nomination worthy:

PRICK UP YOUR EARS (1987).
Molina is flat-out fabulous as Kenneth Halliwell, the reserved and not-as-handsome half of a gay male couple.  Halliwell is treated as beige while his celebrated, handsome partner is the colorful and charismatic celebrity, Joe Orton.  PRICK UP YOUR EARS is a true tale.  This was a gay relationship in the 1960s when being gay was pretty much illegal.  Both lusty Joe Orton, very well played by Gary Oldman, and jealous Kenneth Halliwell dream of becoming writers.  Orton, we see, gets popular in public restrooms and as a playwright.  Orton's play, ENTERTAINING MR. SLOANE, was a sensation.  It was made into a 1970 British film.  Halliwell was not such a sensation.  He almost becomes like a servant to his successful boyfriend.  Orton's prolific career was brief -- due to the fact that he was bludgeoned to death.  Click here to see a trailer:  https://youtu.be/GpYSqJZosEU.

FRIDA (2002).
Salma Hayek got an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in this film directed by Julie Taymor.  It's a screen biopic on the life of artist Frida Kahlo.  A severe physical injury and a rocky marriage were the pressures that formed her original art and made it stand out like a diamond.  Alfred Molina stands out as Frida's husband, Diego Rivera, also a larger-than-life artist.
AN EDUCATION (2009).
Another film directed by a woman, Lone Scherfig, and another film in which a woman director guided her lead performer to a Oscar nomination for Best Actress.  Carey Mulligan is radiant in this coming-of-age story about a teen girl in suburban London.  Her home life is sweetly bland but she has bright plans for her life, plans that include Oxford University.  A charming but older man drives into her life.  We'll see how she handles this new arrival.
Alfred Molina was absolutely delightful as her loving dad who is serious about her education.  That performance just popped onscreen, as did Carey Mulligan's.

LOVE IS STRANGE (2014).
Alfred Molina and John Lithgow starred in one of my picks for the Top 10 Films of 2014.  First of all, the fact that this film received an R-rating is absurd and shows how outdated and conservative the ratings board is.  A gay senior citizen says a 4-letter word in a bar.  LOVE IS STRANGE, a touching drama, deserved nothing more severe than a PG-13 rating.  Molina is wonderful as George, the music teacher.  George and Ben, a New York City couple, have been together for decades.  Laws  have changed and now they can be married.  It's a most happy family occasion.

However, the Great Recession hits and affects them.  There's job loss and they lose their home.  They are forced to separate for individual lodging with friends or relatives.  Social attitudes, family attitudes, the economy and age affect their long commitment to each other and test their love.  Their love always passes the test.
This is definitely another performance that should have brought Alfred Molina an Oscar nomination.  He's remarkable.  If you know classic films, LOVE IS STRANGE has poignant echoes of the 1937 tearjerker, MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW directed by Leo McCarey.  You fully believe that Alfred Molina and John Lithgow are a very dear, old married couple in a changing New York City.
There you have it.  Watch just those four film performances and, I bet, you'll agree with me that Alfred Molina is long overdue an Oscar nomination.









Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Meeting Julie Newmar

Some years ago, a good buddy of mine from my Milwaukee years was coming to New York City for a short holiday.  He contacted me ahead of time and invited me to be his guest at the Saturday matinee of a Broadway show.  After the show, we wanted a quick cocktail and dropped into a nearby deluxe hotel.  I suggested the hotel because I'd been to its bar/restaurant.  We were laughing, chatting, sipping cocktails and having a bite to eat when I noticed a long and lovely pair of lady legs stretched out from under a nearby table.  The legs seemed to stretch from out theater district location in New York City all the way to Chicago.  I followed the legs up to the face of the owner.  Sitting alone, with a Playbill to a Broadway show, and having a beverage was....Julie Newmar.  Yes, Catwoman herself.  That feline and fabulous dancer/actress seen in a couple of MGM's crown jewel musicals.
Greg, my buddy, knew something was up because my eyes got the size of teacup saucers.  Our waitress had come to the our table with our food order.

"You see that lady seated alone at that table?"

"Yes," the waitress replied.  "She's very nice.  She just ordered some appetizers too."

"Great.  We know her.  Please put her order, drink included, on my tab.  Seriously."  I was treating Greg.  I was going to treat Julie Newmar too.  The waitress smiled broadly and took care of it.  I think she loved delivering the message.

"Greg," I leaned in and said in low voice, "it's Julie Newmar.  Catwoman.  Look over.  Don't stare.  Be subtle."

He gave a nonchalant glance over my shoulder and then did an Ethel Mertz-like gasp.  "Oh my god! It is her!" he said a hushed voice.  Catwoman from the 1960s BATMAN series on ABC starring Adam West.

The order was delivered.  We watched the waitress point over to us.  We waved and smiled at Julie Newmar.  She waved and smiled back at us. Mouthed a sincere "thank you" and then she ate.

After she finished eating....SHE CAME OVER TO OUR TABLE TO THANK US AGAIN!

We, of course, were giddy and invited her to sit down with us.  She did.  We could tell that she was honestly touched.  "How did you know it was me?"

Practically in unison, Greg and I gushed, "We loved you as Catwoman on BATMAN!"

She let out a sweet, throaty laugh.  I said, "And you did some great dancing at MGM.  I loved you in SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS and THE BAND WAGON in 'The Girl Hunt' number.  Did Sydney Guilaroff do your hair in those two movies?"


She went slack-jawed and answered, "Yes!  How did you know that Guilaroff did my hair?"

I replied, "I'm gay, middle-aged and I've got no life."

Julie Newmar laughed again.  She was a most charming guest at our table for a few wonderful minutes.  We chatted about her movies and her TV sitcom work.


I can't recall what Broadway show Greg and I had seen.  But I remember having laughs with him and we both remember the wonderful, unexpected company of Julie Newmar at our table late that Saturday afternoon.

And what a senior babe!  She looked sensational.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

History Lessons via Judy Garland

When I was a kid in South Central LA, one of the most eagerly-awaited days of the year was the annual Sunday when CBS had a special prime time broadcast of THE WIZARD OF OZ.  Keep in mind that this was years before cable TV, DVDs and such.  The evening of the annual network airing of THE WIZARD OF OZ was like Christmas to me.  It was a magical night of family viewing.
Our local station KTTV/Channel 11 had access to a lot of films in the MGM library.  KTTV aired a lot of the Judy Garland MGM musicals, except for THE WIZARD OF OZ.  So, when I was a kid, I'd come home from school or come in from playing outside on the weekends and I'd see Judy Garland when she was a kid who made movies with Mickey Rooney.
Another local station was KHJ/Channel 9.  The call letters are now KCAL.  On Friday nights, KHJ aired movies that were mostly indie films for mature viewers.  Movies like DAVID AND LISA, GONE ARE THE DAYS with Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, 1957's THE BACHELOR PARTY and ONE POTATO, TWO POTATO.  One feature had an all-star cast.  It was an Oscar winner and a longer film. The first half aired one night.  The second half aired the following Friday.  In the station's promos, I heard that Judy Garland was in the movie.  Of course, I wanted to stay up on Friday night to see it.
Mom and Dad told me that this was the older Judy Garland. Not like in her early MGM musicals with Mickey Rooney.  This was Judy Garland when she was a grown-up.  She wouldn't be singing and dancing.  This was a serious film.  A drama.  But they suggested that I see it and they would be watching it too.  They told me that some of what I would see would shock and scare me.  The scariest thing would be that it really happened.
My parents in South Central L.A. used the film JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG and my love for Judy Garland to teach me a history lesson.  They wanted me to be aware of a crime that should never, ever happen again. Never again.  This was before I started middle school.  In the 1961 drama, Nazi offers are held accountable for the Holocaust, for the mass exterminations of Jews during the WW2 years.  In the film, we see actual news reel footage shot inside the concentration camps when the Allies arrived.
Judy Garland played Irene Hoffman, woman who had been accused of being a traitor to Germany because she had befriended an old Jewish man.  She was accused of that alleged crime when she was 16 -- about the same age Garland was in real life when we saw her as Dorothy in THE WIZARD OF OZ.  Irene is now a married woman called upon to testify in the Nuremberg trials and recount that horrible time.  I attended a parochial high school in Watts.  There, teachers showed us a documentary that taught me more about the Holocaust and World War 2.

I am still grateful to my parents for using a classic film with a classic film star as a tool to make me aware of a very important history lesson.