Thursday, December 14, 2017

Notes from Alice Faye and Don Ameche

If you're a fan of the late, great queen of Broadway...that legendary belter, Ethel Merman, then be sure to watch Turner Classic Movies tonight.  You will see "The Merm" early in her career when her Broadway success made Hollywood take notice and put her in front of the cameras in the 1930s.  She was a babe who could belt out a tune and just about drown out the orchestra.  She's a supporting player tonight in my favorite Don Ameche musical.  Yes, Don Ameche.  I loved Don Ameche.  If you only know him from COCOON, the 1985 that brought him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and TRADING PLACES with Eddie Murphy, catch tonight's TCM presentation of ALEXANDER'S RAGTIME BAND.  It airs at 10p Eastern.  Don Ameche had an excellent singing voice.  Don Ameche was an excellent all-around actor.  This 1938 Fox feature earned itself a Best Picture Oscar nomination along with five other nominations.  It's an Irving Berlin catalogue musical.  That means all the songs in it were written by Irving Berlin.  ALEXANDER'S RAGTIME BAND stars Alice Faye and Tyrone Power.
Berlin seems to have a pretty savvy businessman with Hollywood.  Whenever it made an Irving Berlin catalogue musical -- like 1942's HOLIDAY INN with Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby or 1948's EASTER PARADE with Fred Astaire and Judy Garland -- hits from the Irving Berlin songbook would be performed and Irving Berlin would write a couple of new songs for the production.  He did that with HOLIDAY INN.  He wrote Bing Crosby a new song called "White Christmas" and Berlin won the Oscar for Best Song of 1942.  He also gave Bing a hit song that made history in the record industry with its outstanding sales.  (Bing went on to sing it again in two other Irving Berlin catalogue musicals -- 1946's BLUES SKIES and 1954's WHITE CHRISTMAS.)  Here's the composer at the piano with Alice Faye, Tyrone Power and Don Ameche.
In ALEXANDER'S RAGTIME BAND, Don Ameche introduces a tasty new Irving Berlin love song called "Now It Can Be Told."  It gets a sweet reprise later done by the film's leading lady, Alice Faye. Maybe she didn't have the impressive acting chops of fellow singer Judy Garland, but her lush and lovely voice coupled with looks and personality to match made her a Fox star.
 This is one of the Fox films that paired Alice Faye with the equally gorgeous Tyrone Power.
He plays Alexander.  He has a band.  The action starts in about 1915.  Alice plays a singer who's got a great voice but she's not at all refined.  He brings out the best in her voice.  They bicker but, musically, they're great for each other.  He's too refined and she teaches him how to make his high-tone music more accessible.  Don Ameche and Jack Haley play two guys in Alexander's band.  Of course, the two bickering characters become sweethearts and then break up before the happy ending.  During the break up, the band needs a new girl singer.  Enter Ethel.  Before she speaks one word of dialogue, she hits a note.  A loud note.
In true Golden Age Hollywood fashion, the story covers about 20 years...years that include World War I.  But none of the characters appears to age.  They look as great and fresh at the end as they did at the beginning.
Ethel gets a medley that I absolutely love and she gets outfits that flatter her babe figure.  In the film's final number, she gets to belt out "Heat Wave," an Irving Berlin hit introduced on Broadway by another Ethel -- Ethel Waters.
Here's why I continually give thanks for the career opportunities I've had while I seek new ones.  When I was new to New York City in the mid 1980s, hired by WPIX/Channel 11, I interviewed Alice Faye.  She was doing a special appearance at the time.  Oscar nominations had been announced and a friend of hers was a nominee.  We were taping the interview, but there was technical problem with the camera that had to be fixed.  Alice Faye and I retreated to a nearby room for 20 minutes and chatted like we were old buddies.  What kicked it off was my singing one of her old hits to her.  She said, "Kid, how do you know that song?!?!"  She started singing along to "Slumming on Park Avenue," an Irving Berlin song she sang in 1937's ON THE AVENUE.  Then we sang a couple of others.  When she realized that I knew her career and what she'd done, she got even friendlier and let her hair down.

You know the reports of sexual misconduct in Hollywood that we've gotten recently?  That kind of male misconduct was happening back in her heyday too.  She told me that her studio head boss, Daryl F. Zanuck, was constantly hitting on her to do the "grand horizontal."  Her made some of her time at Fox a little difficult because of her rejections.

Alice Faye said this to me off-camera about working for Darryl F. Zanuck:  "I had one prayer back then: 'Dear Lord, Please let me live long enough to see him die first.'"  The Lord granted Alice Faye her wish.

When the camera was fixed, she made it a point of looking straight into the camera and saying to any Academy member who was watching, "You have got to give the Oscar to Don Ameche!"  She loved him so.
I left WPIX to accept a job offer from VH1.  During my great time as a talk show host, one of my guests was Don Ameche.  The entire floor crew dug Don Ameche.  A classy and grateful gent.  When I was a kid in L.A., his comedy albums would have me doubled over with laughter.  He and Frances Langford were "The Bickersons," a constantly arguing middle-aged couple.  Off-camera, I told him what Alice Faye had said about Zanuck and he broke out laughing.  "That's Alice," he replied.  Don Ameche was one of those performers who was so versatile and talented that it was almost subliminal.  He could do drama, thrillers, action movies, biographies, screwball comedies and musical comedies.  On Broadway, he starred in Cole Porter's SILK STOCKINGS.  In the film version, dance was added and his role went to Fred Astaire.

As for Don Ameche, he did get the Oscar for 1985's COCOON.  He was even better in the movie he was promoting on my talk show.  That film was 1988's THINGS CHANGE directed and co-written by David Mamet.  Wow, is Don Ameche excellent in that.  And what a wonderful guest he was.  I was so lucky.  I interviewed former Fox stars Alice Faye and Don Ameche in my TV career.  Color me grateful.

There you have it.  Crank up the volume for some early Ethel Merman.  Hear Don Ameche and Alice Faye sing "Now It Can Be Told," the number that brought Irving Berlin an Oscar nomination for Best Song.  The musical romance, ALEXANDER'S RAGTIME BAND, airs at 10p Eastern tonight -- December 14th -- on TCM.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Seeing Frank Sinatra

I may have written about this already.  I don't remember.  But, if I have and you read it, please pardon me while I write about the experience again.  Because... it was one of the most memorable, most thrilling, most awesome moments of my life.  And it happened because of my love for movies.  The experience involves the American legend who was born on this day in history -- Singer and Oscar-winning actor, Frank Sinatra.
One morning, after I'd graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee and was still living in an apartment on the campus area, I was doing what I usually did on a Saturday morning.  This was well into the 1970s.  I was having coffee and listening to The Roy Leonard Show on my radio.  That show came in from WGN in Chicago.  Chicago loved Roy Leonard.  I loved Roy Leonard.  He had a cool show with great guests.  That particular morning, his guest was one of the greatest -- Sophia Loren.  Roy asked a movie trivia question and the caller with the correct answer would get a prize.  I could not believe that I was fast enough to dial in Milwaukee, get through to his Chicago phone lines...and win!  I won two prizes.  The first was...I got to gush an extremely enthusiastic "Hello!" to Sophia Loren and blurt out that we have the same birthday.  September 20th.  The other prize was -- two tickets to see Frank Sinatra in concert at the Arie Crowne Theater! I grew up in a South Central L.A. home where I was taught by my Black Catholic parents that loving Frank Sinatra was a special obligation.  Like going to church on Easter and Christmas morning.

I had a friend and fellow graduate who lived in the same building.  Not only that, she had a car.  And she loved Frank Sinatra!  Anna was my date.
We were probably one of the youngest couples in the packed theater that night.  But not the youngest-acting.  Women as old as our mothers were walking up to the stage and tossing flowers onto it like they were teen-agers.

As for the tickets I'd won.  Are you ready?  We were in the absolute first row.  Any closer and we would've had to sit behind Sinatra and hold musical instruments.
He was in supreme form.  And this was Frank Sinatra I'm talking about.  His voice was magnificent, the orchestra was terrific and he was having such a good time that he launched into about ten minutes of stand-up comedy.  He was telling jokes and stories that not only broke up the audience, they had the orchestra members belly laughing too.

Of course, there were encores and standing ovations and cheers and whistles.  It was an extraordinary concert.
Here comes the moment that made me feel as if my soul had briefly left my body and went to Heaven:  As Frank Sinatra was making his joyful exit to the wings, he looked at me and motioned me to walk over to him.  He came to the edge of stage, leaned down...AND SHOOK MY HAND!

I went full Ralph Kramden on THE HONEYMOONERS:  "Humina, humina, humina."  There I was, shaking the hand of Frank Sinatra, a larger than life artist who was smiling at me.  There were goosepimples over every single inch of my body.

And all because I knew the name of the song from Sophia Loren's 1967 film, A COUNTESS FROM HONG KONG.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Year-End Notes on TCM Diversity

Sunday morning I watched Ed Muller, the excellent host/writer of the Noir Alley weekend show on TCM, present the 1950 film, THE BREAKING POINT.  It starred John Garfield, Patricia Neal and, in a supporting role, the gifted Black/Latino actor Juano Hernandez.
Let's face it. In film noir features from Hollywood, Black actors were never in the lead roles.  THE BREAKING POINT is a film I first saw when I was in grade school.  Dad watched it on local Channel 9 in Los Angeles and I watched it with him.  Even at that young age, I knew I loved movies and even wanted to be in them.  The final scene with the little Black son stayed in my mind.  I wished I was that kid actor.  According to Muller after the film, that youngster was Juano Hernandez's real life son.  Watching THE BREAKING POINT with Dad was my introduction to John Garfield and, later, to Ernest Hemingway.  It was based on Hemingway material.  When Muller mentioned the discomforting racial language in the story, I knew what he was talking about.  Hemingway was one of Dad's favorite writers.  The source material was on our bookshelves in the living room.  Life in South Central L.A.  Hemingway's story had a liberal use of the N-word coming out of one character's mouth.  I was thrilled that host Eddie Muller mentioned that final scene and the performance of Juano Hernandez.  Thanks, Eddie.
But we still have to consider this count:  The number of Black characters discussed in 1950's THE BREAKING POINT?  2.  The number of Black hosts I've seen solo presenting features on TCM this year? 0.  And we're quickly approaching the end of 2017.
Early this year, there was the TCM Film Festival in Hollywood.  A highlight was the 50th anniversary screening of Norman Jewison's IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, a murder mystery and race drama set in the Deep South.  Jewison was present for the screening.  So were stars Lee Grant and screen legend Sidney Poitier.  Host Ben Mankiewicz asked the film's producer, Walter Mirisch, about the racial relevance the Best Picture of 1967 Oscar winner still has today in this age of "Black Lives Matter" and "Oscars So White."  It was a great question.  Ben's a fine host.  Yet, I noticed that there was no African American contributor for TCM on that red carpet who could comment on or add to the discussion of the classic film's racial relevance.

In June, Dave Karger hosted a look at Gay Hollywood for Gay Pride Month.
No films benefitting from LGBT African American talents were in the line-up of films that I noticed.
I would've added the 1961 film adaptation of Broadway's A RAISIN IN THESUN.  The screenplay was by its groundbreaking African American playwright -- Lorraine Hansberry.  Hansberry was a trailblazing playwright, activist ... and a lesbian.
We'll learn more about that come January when a new documentary on Lorraine Hansberry premieres on PBS.
I would've also mentioned Ashley Boone -- a big and beloved power in Hollywood.  I first learned of this African American executive's brilliance from the remarkable Robert Osborne in one of his CBS segments before his TCM years.  I miss Robert Osborne. He felt that Ashley Boone deserved mention in books about Hollywood studio heads because Boone practically ran 20th Century Fox for half a year, taking a top executive spot when the studio was in turmoil and sad financial shape.  Boone was a marketing whiz who moved up within studio ranks.  He took a Fox film that many predicted would be released directly to drive-in movie theaters and he used his marketing genius on it.  His marketing genius worked.  Not only did STAR WARS get respectable theatrical release and become a box office blockbuster, it was an Oscar nominee for Best Picture.  Ashley Boone did the same for THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, SOUNDER, JULIA, THE TURNING POINT starring Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine, ALIEN, Mel Brooks' YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN and Mel Brooks' HIGH ANXIETY.  He and his sister, Cheryl, were the first-ever brother and sister to serve on the Academy's Board of Governors.  Cheryl Boone Isaacs went on to make Academy history as its first African American president.
Ashley Boone died of pancreatic cancer at age 55 in the 1990s.  He was a trailblazer and a visionary. He was survived by his sister and his significant other, Mark Bua.

In addition to Noir Alley, his TCM Sunday morning show, Eddie Muller is also the host in short promo segments for the TCM Wine Club.  We have yet to see an African American sip wine with Eddie Muller in one of those segments.  Have you seen the TCM Wine Club bottles?

 We don't even see a Black screen legend on any of the bottles!

No Lena Horne, no Ethel Waters, no Sidney Poitier.

Alec Baldwin is now the host of THE ESSENTIALS seen on Saturday nights.  He didn't bring on any African American talent to cohost with him this year.
And the African American presence as monthly Guest Programmers for 2017 was, shall we say, rare.  Thank Heaven for actress/director/film historian/TCM contributor Illeana Douglas!

The absolutely fabulous Illeana Douglas presented her final month-long salute to TRAILBLAZING WOMEN. She always brought on a racially diverse group of women to co-host with her.  In fact, in 2016, one of her co-hosts was groundbreaking African American filmmaker Julie Dash.  Dash, the DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST director, was dynamite going from co-hosting with Illeana to being a solo guest host for December 2016.
That's the last time I recall seeing an African American host on TCM.  Last December.  For this December's special TCM big screen showings of 1967's GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER, another classic starring Sidney Poitier, it would've been very nice to see an African American co-host the special introduction for the Oscar-winning interracial love story drama with knowledgeable weekend host, Tiffany Vazquez.  Tiffany was the solo host.
I've been a devoted TCM viewer since 1999.  I will continue to watch.  I wish TCM a very happy new year -- and I hope it gets the message that representation matters.  We Black viewers would love to see ourselves represented more.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Podcast Time with Bobby and Keith

Sex! Sex! Sex! Sex! Sex!  Will Keith Price make me address yet more male sexual misconduct allegations in this news?  Well, we can't ignore the stories anymore than we could ignore an elephant in the living room.  With all the money that goes into film and TV productions, the scandals are affecting budgets and salaries.  Shows are being cancelled and parts are being quickly recast and re-shot.  Christopher Plummer replaced Kevin Spacey in the upcoming film ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD.  Charlie Rose's prestigious nighttime talk show was yanked off all PBS stations.  Just last month, Jeremy Piven's new CBS drama series, WISDOM OF THE CROWD, is already history.  It seems like if a male performer is accused, he's replaced even before he can respond to the accusations.  These kind of scandals are costly in the film and TV industry.  With that in mind, I ask Keith if a certain classic play is ripe for another revival.  Before our sex talk, we discuss Magic Meryl.  Actress Meryl Streep.  She has 3 Oscars and a total of 20 Oscar nominations to her credit.  She is simply not of this earth.
Later this month, moviegoers can see La Diva Streep teamed with Tom Hanks in a new Steven Spielberg drama based in a real life story.
It's called THE POST.  The 1976 classic, ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, took us into The Washington Post newspaper for a terrific, taut look at the journalism that exposed the Watergate scandal and brought down President Nixon.  Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman played the real life reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.  (It's airing on HBO this month.  Look for it.)  THE POST focuses on another talk of investigative journalism versus shady White House politics.  This story happened at the same newspaper before the Watergate break-in.  Hanks plays the paper's legendary editor and journalism giant, Ben Bradlee.  Meryl Streep plays Katharine Graham, the first female publisher of major American newspaper.  Spielberg's THE POST is set in the early 1970s.
We also have a few special words about Hollywood screen legend, Kirk Douglas.  Can I remind you yet again that he was my first and only guest on the premiere edition of my VH1 talk show in 1988? Here's a short clip of when I asked him what he thought of his Oscar-winning son, Michael, playing a top Broadway choreographer/director in the film version of A CHORUS LINE.

Keith Price and I would absolutely love if you could give us a listen, *like* us, write some comments, tell your friends and agents about us.... stuff like that there.  Treat your ears this coming weekend at:

Oh!  One more thing.  Keith and I just want to give a very loving shout-out to P.J. Johnson.  She gave one of the most memorable movie performances of the 1970s as Imogene, the teen maid to Madeline Kahn's Trixie Delight character in the classic film comedy, PAPER MOON.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Billy on the Bus

Lord, have mercy! This news of Billy Bush vs. Trump and Matt Lauer's TV career experiencing G-force from its rapid descent is stuff even the late Jackie Collins could not have dreamed up for fictional broadcast characters in one of her racy novels.  Yes, I was shocked to read the graphic reports of Lauer's alleged sexual misconduct.  I was also stunned to read that he lives on a $33 million estate in the Hamptons and owns a $30 million estate in New Zealand.  One man.  I thought of all the 30 Rock NBC news workers in the past, the little people behind the scenes, who made way, way, way less money but were the first to be laid off when the company had to "tighten its belt."  As I've said on my podcast with Keith Price, I used to work on-air with Matt Lauer in 1992 on local WNBC News.  This was before his TODAY Show stardom. But you could tell that his star was definitely on the ascendant.  I worked part-time.  My salary was...well, nothing to brag about even though I was on one of the top stations in the city and I had years of national TV credits.  More about that later.  Billy Bush wrote (with help, I'm sure) an opinion piece that got printed in THE NEW YORK TIMES.  Trump, in a totally Trump-like move, has recently suggested that he really didn't say those sexually offensive things about women -- even though he apologized for them when the tape was leaked.  Billy Bush broke the news that, yes, Trump really did say those things.  Trump, in his THE APPRENTICE host days on NBC in 2005, was on an ACCESS HOLLYWOOD bus with ACCESS HOLLYWOOD host Billy Bush and engaged in lewd locker room talk while his mic was still hot.  Trump said the now infamous "...grab 'em by the pu$$y," but Billy got fired for it a year ago. Wah-Wah-Waaaaah.
When the tape surfaced, Billy Bush had graduated from ACCESS HOLLYWOOD (an NBC production) to the TODAY Show.  He was co-host of the third hour of the show with Al Roker.  You got the feeling Al welcomed Billy the way you'd welcome ants to a picnic.  Then came the Rio Olympics.  Billy "broke" the news story that swimmer Ryan Lochte had been "robbed at gunpoint," according to Ryan Lochte.  Billy really didn't ask probing journalistic questions and we all later discovered that Lochte lied.  The racial undercurrent was that he blamed the crime -- a crime that did not happen -- basically on local minorities.  Poor brown people who live in the low-income neighborhood.  When Billy said on TODAY that Ryan was misunderstood, Al Roker charged in declaring "He lied!"  This was a rare case of Al getting loud and serious about something racially controversial.
But Billy got canned for the ACCESS HOLLYWOOD tape leak.  I feel he was really canned for making NBC's favorite candidate look bad.  Just my opinion.  All of this seems to be playing out against a backdrop of white male privilege.  When Trump was an NBC show host, he repeatedly offended millions of us African Americans by tweeting and declaring that President Obama was not a real American.  He demanded to see his birth certificate.  Trump still kept his job.  Matt Lauer did extremely well financially working for NBC.  And so did former entertainment news host Billy Bush.

In his op-ed piece, Billy Bush wrote:  "The key to succeeding in my line of work was establishing a strong rapport with celebrities."

By the time I was approached to work on WNBC News, I had hosted my own weeknight celebrity talk show on VH1, I'd been invited by Lucille Ball to come over to her home for cocktails, I'd been taken out to dinner by Val Kilmer, I'd spoken to Mary Tyler Moore a few times on the phone, and I'd flown to London for an exclusive 1-hour VH1 interview with Paul McCartney.  Here's a short clip.
Now...about Billy Bush's success.  Maybe he wasn't hired solely because he's a member of the GOP Bush Family.  But I have a feeling it didn't hurt.  He was a DJ in Washington, DC on a rock morning radio show.  The show was called BILLY BUSH AND THE BUSH LEAGUE.  With no TV experience and no journalism background of any kind, he left that radio show and got hired by WNBC local news in New York.  I believe this was in the fall of 2001.  I watched his lifestyle features on the local morning news.  I'd worked for that same local TV news company.  In a Sunday section of THE NEW YORK TIMES, there was an article about the new dude on WNBC local news and a mention of the White House history in his family tree.  A few months after his local WNBC debut, Billy Bush was doing features on the TODAY Show.

By February 2003, Billy Bush was not only a regular on NBC's ACCESS HOLLYWOOD, he was hosting the Miss Universe pageant on national TV and he was promoting his primetime NBC revival of LET'S MAKE A DEAL.  He'd taped 5 episodes.
I started at WNBC in September 1992. A contract player.  My dream of the being one of the first Black people to do regular film reviews in the studio along with celebrity interviews was dashed when white producers -- my bosses -- kept commenting that they didn't think I had "the skills" to do that kind of thing.  I'd later learn that they'd never look at my resume or demo reels.  They ignored my history.  I was assigned to go out in the field and do funny live-shots at community events.  And I was told I should consider myself lucky to have that job.  I did get an occasional celebrity interview segment, but only after I fought for them.  I quit the show in January 1995 when I was told flat out by my boss that I would never be promoted to full-time and I would never advance to doing network features.

Billy Bush went network a year after he started on WNBC local and he went on to make millions.  He was advanced.  I don't think he had to fight for a promotion.  Not the way employees of color probably had to.  Still, his opinion piece brought up some good points.  And the writing was mature. I worked with Billy for one week.  New York City morning radio station, WPLJ, had its own version of AMERICAN IDOL for a week in 2003.  I was one of the guest judges.  Billy Bush was another one.  He struck me as an overaged, privileged frat boy who graduated without having studied much.

When Billy was fired from TODAY a year ago, leaving the show with only one contributor member of the Bush Family (Jenna Bush Hager), he was reportedly given a $9 million severance.  He's looking for work.  So am I.  I've been seeking steady work since 2011.

What a tale of three former NBC talents!  TODAY is erasing all memory of Matt Lauer and Billy Bush, related to two living former U.S. Republican presidents, is challenging Trump, our current Republican president.  If only NETWORK screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky had lived to see all this.

Here's some more of my VH1 history that WNBC local news bosses of mine ignored from 1992 to 1995.
 My podcast can be heard at

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Oscar Nominee Dorothy Dandridge

I grew up in South Central Los Angeles, a child during the turbulent and rewarding Civil Rights era.  My parents were in awe of Dorothy Dandridge.  They were in awe of her and they were angry at they way racial inequality crippled her film career after her groundbreaking leap over Hollywood color barriers.  Lena Horne often respectfully referred to Dorothy Dandridge as "our Marilyn Monroe."
She starting getting speaking roles in the films in the 1940s when most Black actresses were assigned credited and non-credited screen roles as maids.  In the early 1950s, she went after a role unlike any she'd ever played.  Not only that, it was a lead role.  This kind of opportunity was rare for a Black woman in Hollywood at that time.
For her dazzling performance in 1954's dramatic screen musical, CARMEN JONES, Dorothy Dandridge became the first African American woman to be an Oscar nominee for Best Actress.
A supporting player in the all-Black cast is Diahann Carroll.  Carroll would go on to become the first African American woman to win the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Broadway musical (1962's NO STRINGS).  She'd also follow Dorothy Dandridge as one of the few Black women to be an Oscar nominee for Best Actress (1974's CLAUDINE).
Pearl Bailey was also in the cast which included Harry Belafonte, Brock Peters and Roy Glenn (seen later as the father to Sidney Poitier's character in GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER).
Cable's TCM is showing CARMEN JONES on Sunday night, Dec. 3rd.  If you get a chance to see it or if you rent it at another time, I bet you'll also be amazed at how Dandridge makes the screen sizzle as the doomed vamp.  The story of a modern reworking of the Bizet opera, CARMEN, with modern lyrics added to Bizet's music.  Dandridge could sing -- and did in movies -- but she didn't have an operatic voice.  Her operatic singing was dubbed by Marilyn Horne.

Dandridge was serious about her craft.  She studied.  So did her sister.  And she was a screen veteran, if you will, by the time she got the plum role in Otto Preminger's 1954 Fox musical.  The Dandridge Sisters, Dorothy and Vivian, are seen singing in a 1937 MGM musical number.  The movie is A DAY AT THE RACES starring The Marx Brothers.  Dorothy and Vivian Dandridge are in the "All God's Chillun (Children) Got Rhythm" number, a swing dance number with the Marx Brothers characters with the residents in the Black section of town.  In the 1941 Fox musical, SUN VALLEY SERENADE, she sings and dances the "Chattanooga Choo Choo" number with the Nicholas Brothers.  She marry one of them.  In the 1941 desert war drama, SUNDOWN, pretty Dorothy Dandridge plays an African princess opposite screen beauty Gene Tierney.  Like most other black actress at that time, Dandridge played her share of maids in bit parts.  The 1950s were better for her, script-wise, and they should have been great for her after her Oscar nomination.  She was gorgeous and a good actress with musical skills. But she was Black.
The Oscar race for Best Actress of 1954 was one of the hottest in Hollywood history.  It's still legendary.  The favorite was Judy Garland for her spectacular screen comeback in the 1954 musical drama remake of A STAR IS BORN.  Her main competition was the popular new star, Grace Kelly for the drama, THE COUNTRY GIRL.  See for yourself that Dorothy Dandridge as CARMEN JONES was a serious Oscar contender.
Grace Kelly won.

When you watch CARMEN JONES, you will see Dorothy Dandridge's charisma and talent.  She commands the screen.  She's also a very strong actress.  In A STAR IS BORN, Garland introduces the torch sing, "The Man That Got Away."  Hers is a dynamic rendition of a number than runs about 4 and a half minutes in screen time.  Her number is shot in one continuous take.  No cuts, no edits.  Cukor said that it takes a very strong actress to pull that off -- and Judy pulled it off.

Notice how long the takes are in CARMEN JONES.  Not just in Dandridge's numbers but in leading man Harry Belafonte's numbers too.  Dorothy Dandridge can handle the long takes because she's a strong actress.  In the case of this production, limitations due to it having an all-Black cast probably also played a part in the long takes.  They may have been denied the budget and time for other takes and movie star close-ups there on the Fox lot.  There's where the movie was shot.  Let me explain using other musicals as examples:  When you see Mitzi Gaynor sing in SOUTH PACIFIC, Deborah Kerr sing in THE KING AND I and Shirley Jones sing in OKLAHOMA! and CAROUSEL -- all of those films being Fox musicals of the 1950s -- they get lovely close-ups in their numbers. A glamour shot, if you will.  Dorothy Dandridge, as lovely as she was, gets no glamorous close-ups.  The camera stays on a one-shot when she sings.  She was most deserving of glamorous close-ups.  Our loss that she didn't get them.  CARMEN JONES also led to another breakthrough for Dandridge.  The film role made her the first African American woman to grace the cover of prestigious LIFE Magazine.
Dandridge and Belafonte had worked together before and worked in a film after CARMEN JONES.  1957's ISLAND IN THE SUN was set in Carribean and had several British stars.  James Mason, Joan Collins, Michael Rennie, Stephen Boyd and Joan Fontaine headed the cast.  It was shot on location and there were interracial romances in the storylines.  Reportedly, Joan Fontaine received racial hate mail for playing the elegant woman who falls for a young doctor played by Harry Belafonte. Dandridge had a supporting role in the 1957 film.  It was her first role after her 1954 breakthrough success as a leading lady.

Dandridge did not get another major Hollywood studio opportunity until Goldwyn's 1959 adaptation of the famous Broadway musical drama PORGY AND BESS.  She was captivating as Bess -- as charismatic and glamorous as ever.  Sidney Poitier and Sammy Davis, Jr. were her co-stars.  Just imagine would could have been after CARMEN JONES if Hollywood had been open to diversity and equal opportunities. 1959's PORGY AND BESS was the late Dorothy Dandridge's last Hollywood screen opportunity due to racial discrimination.

This is a huge reason why the diversity and inclusion issues are still important and why we performers of color raise our voices about the issues today.  1954's CARMEN JONES is available on DVD.

Halle Berry won a Best Actress Emmy for playing the late trailblazer in the HBO biopic, INTRODUCING DOROTHY DANDRIDGE (1999).  Halle Berry made Hollywood history as the first and, as of now, only Black woman to win the Oscar for Best Actress.  She won for MONSTER'S BALL in 2002.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

My Mornings Next to Matt Lauer

Handsome. Funny. Charismatic.  And he kissed me on live local TV in New York City.  That's Matt Lauer.  We worked together on a WNBC TV news show in 1992.  I talk about that with my producer/friend Keith Price in our current podcast.  Matt and I were on the original team for WEEKEND TODAY IN NEW YORK, a local morning news program that premiered on WNBC in September 1992.  I was on camera with Matt back when we each had a full head o' hair.
I talk about how Matt tried to help me in a very frustrating and humiliating work environment.  I loved sitting next to him and doing local morning news segments.  His quick wit and breezy charm clicked with co-workers and viewers.  Especially female viewers. Network stardom for him seemed inevitable.  In our podcast, Keith and I go into the Matt Lauer scandal. We discuss the toxic masculinity infecting workplace systems like a virus that has humiliated women and robbed us of their talent. Yes, I was stunned to read this week's news about Matt and why he was fired.
Keith and I have voiced our position that there is a direct link from the disrespect of women we've heard about in the high profile sexual misconduct stories to the diversity and inclusion barriers we people of color meet in the entertainment industry.

As you'll hear in our podcast, during my time at WNBC, news came out that a white male network news producer used a racial slur in a staff meeting.  I had to deal with homophobia from my boss, the WNBC news director.  I tell that account in the podcast.  We also give our opinions on the NBC Trump factor.  You should hear us. Please give us a listen and *like* us at

Keith and I also have some entertainment recommendations -- an excellent foreign film and an upcoming TV special.

Oh!  About the kiss.  I was in the field in downtown Manhattan for WEEKEND TODAY IN NEW YORK, talking live on the air about a charity event.  I didn't know that Lauer had shown up and spotted our TV truck.  He was sneaking up behind me as I spoke and planted a playful smooch on my cheek.

His firing from NBC show us that the playing field in the workplace has not been level.  There's still gender ...and race...improvement to be addressed.

Notes from Alice Faye and Don Ameche

If you're a fan of the late, great queen of Broadway...that legendary belter, Ethel Merman, then be sure to watch Turner Classic Movies ...