What really stood out to me in my recent viewing of THE APARTMENT was the number of black people he incorporated into his look at corporate culture in New York City. I loved it. First of all, if you've read my previous posts and heard my podcasts, I do have a tendency to call up the sitcom FRIENDS as an example of a lack of racial diversity. Nothing against that cast of fine actors. But I lived in the downtown part of Manhattan where those friends lived. The neighborhood does not lack for black, Latino, Asian and Middle Eastern faces just about every minute of the day and night. When Carson Daly was the host of MTV's hugely popular TRL, you could walk through Times Square and see the loud crowds of black, brown and white teens eager to be selected to go into the building and be in the studio audience. But a network sitcom about young hip adults in New York City showed all white faces. In the 1990s. We had more TV diversity in the 1970s with the Norman Lear sitcoms. One of my dearest friends in life, the late Gail Joseph, was a top person in the NBC Publicity Department. Gail was Jewish. Gail took me out for a bite to eat and even she was perplexed at the uni-color of FRIENDS. She'd lived in New York City for years. I'd been to her apartment plenty of times. She did not see the everyday racial diversity of New York City reflected in FRIENDS.
The lack of color, if you will, in SEINFELD caused me to lose interest in the sitcom early on. I tried to give it a chance. But when I saw the episode in which they thought having the characters accidentally set the flag of Puerto Rico on fire would be a big laugh-getter, that turned me off. By the way, that particular episode got hundreds of calls from irate Latino viewers to the NBC switchboard.
Fast forward to the 21st Century and, for a year, I worked in the Screen Actors Guild Diversity Committee. Our mission was to get more actors of color considered for even background work as extras. There was a new ABC series getting a lot of advance promotion because it looked fabulous, festive and retro. The show, about four pretty stewardesses in the early 1960s, was called PAN AM. Because it was retro, we were interested to see if and how people of color would be worked into the show. The series was set during the JFK administration. There was no African American beauty among the four lovely stewardesses. That was pretty much as expected.
But...in one of the first three episodes, there was scene in a very busy terminal in a New York airport. We discussed this scene at SAG. In the wide shot, with the hustle and bustle of early 1960s travelers, there were only four black actors in background parts. There was a black couple with the woman in African garb, there was a black man in airport uniform carrying luggage for a white couple and another black man was shining shoes. For in-flight scenes, you didn't see any black people as passengers. The same applied for black actors on the sidewalks in the exterior scenes shot in Greenwich Village. We had a problem with PAN AM, a show that premiered in the fall of 2011 and was cancelled within its first season.
Near the end of the movie, Sheldrake gets a shoe shine in his private office from a black male. Sheldrake tips him a quarter or a half-dollar coin. Sheldrake is highly-paid executive boss. Did you ever see the 1953 musical, THE BAND WAGON, starring Fred Astaire? Astaire plays a Hollywood actor who hasn't worked in a few years and has a meeting for a possible Broadway show. In Times Square, he gets a shoe shine from a black man. They connect like old buddies. Notice the faded Hollywood star tips the dude some folding money.
Those touches of Wilder's, his direction and use of actors, his visual subtleties give more texture to a scene. They tells us more about how the characters relate to the world and how they relate within it.
From a heartbreaking, nearly tragic Christmas Eve, the spirit of Fran Kubelik will resurrect and light up at the end of New Year's Eve. She will start the New Year realizing that she is truly loved -- loved by the company co-worker who has Ella Fitzgerald albums in his record collection -- and who also walked out on Mr. Sheldrake.