Monday, May 20, 2019

Notes on STEEL MAGNOLIAS

Happy Anniversary, STEEL MAGNOLIAS. To celebrate its 30th anniversary, the full-of-female power box office hit will get special screenings in theaters May 21st and 22nd.  Wow. Has it been 30 years already? I remember vividly the first time I saw it. There was a screening for critics and it was held in the Brill Building. This was one of the most comfortable screening rooms in Manhattan, located in the theater district. I was working on VH1 at the time. I had my own prime time weeknight celebrity talk show. I needed to see the film because I'd be talking about it in my veejay segments and interviewing a couple of its stars.
As usual, when I attended a press screening, I enter and give a nod to every other Black person I see whenever I'd see them. I'd been to many screenings where I'd been the only one. When I strolled into the Brill Building screening room -- early enough to get a good seat -- my jaw went slack as I spotted and nodded to another Black person present. She was seated in the last row with friends. It was Oprah. I took an aisle seat in the middle. The screening room was packed by the time the movie started. Rex Reed sat in the row in front me. The late Joel Siegel of GOOD MORNING AMERICA sat right behind me and sobbed loudly throughout the funeral scenes. I am sure we all left that screening room knowing that moviegoers would love STEEL MAGNOLIAS.
Olympia Dukakis was a totally cool guest on my show. On the show, she told us that she was a hardcore fan of The Grateful Dead. When she was cast in STEEL MAGNOLIAS, she'd won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for playing to Italian mother in 1987's MOONSTRUCK starring Cher. Just like Beulah Bondi opposite Thomas Mitchell in MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW (1937) and Angela Lansbury opposite Laurence Harvey in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962), Olympia was one those actresses who played a movie mother to an actor who, in real life, was less than 7 years in the same age category as she. Olympia Dukakis played a mom to leading man Dustin Hoffman in JOHN AND MARY (1969). She was only 6 years older than Hoffman. Dukakis got the role in MOONSTRUCK after the film's director, Norman Jewison, saw her on Broadway in a play directed by Mike Nichols. The comedy play, SOCIAL SECURITY, starred Marlo Thomas, Ron Silver and Joanna Gleason. Yes, Olympia Dukakis played a mom in that too.

One of the things we love most about 1989's STEEL MAGNOLIAS is watching Olympia Dukakis as Clairee hurl hilarious wisecracks at the always-cranky Ouiser played by Shirley MacLaine. Olympia Dukakis worked with Shirley MacLaine's brother, Warren Beatty, way back when her film career was so new that she was basically a background actor. In the 1964 mental health drama called LILITH, starring Warren Beatty and Jean Seberg, look for Olympia in a few shots as one of the patients in the mental institution. She's one of the extras in the bridge scene with Beatty.

Sally Field has been a hero, inspiration and a role model to me since the 1970s. I feel like I grew up with her. I was a devoted fan of her sitcom work. I watched her as GIDGET, THE FLYING NUN and THE GIRL WITH SOMETHING EXTRA. It made me angry that critics seemed to overlook her impressive work in made-for-TV dramatic movies on ABC. She was not taken seriously.  I cheered when she slammed across that galvanizing performance as a schizophrenic named SYBIL. With her work as the young woman suffering from multiple personalities, SYBIL was a 1976 NBC mini-series that had everybody talking about Sally Field's stunning portayal. Then came her landmark film career.

Sally Field, a native of Southern California, proved to have the right stuff for playing Southern women. Playing Southern women earned her two Oscars for Best Actress -- NORMA RAE (1979) and PLACES IN THE HEART (1984).

Shirley MacLaine was a marvelous guest on my VH1 show. We started gabbing in the green room and continued on the set. She got her Best Actress Oscar for TERMS OF ENDEARMENT (1983), a classic written and directed by James L. Brooks. Here's a clip of Shirley and me talking about the James L. Brooks experience.
Shirley went on to tell me that the accent she had planed to use for Aurora Greenway in TERMS OF ENDEARMENT is the accent she later used for Ouiser in STEEL MAGNOLIAS.
Herbert Ross directed STEEL MAGNOLIAS. Previously, he'd directed MacLaine to a Best Actress Oscar nomination for 1977's THE TURNING POINT. Herbert Ross also directed Barbra Streisand in THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT (1970) and FUNNY LADY (1975), George Burns to an Oscar victory for THE SUNSHINE BOYS (1975) and plus Marsha Mason, Quinn Cummings and Richard Dreyfuss to Oscar nominations for THE GOODBYE GIRL (1977). Dreyfuss won Best Actor.

Reportedly, Herbert Ross initially was quite a bit rough on newcomer Julia Roberts. When it looked as though her self-confidence was shaken, the veterans formed a supportive sisterhood circle around her. Julia Roberts got a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for STEEL MAGNOLIAS. Her next release would be PRETTY WOMAN. That film brought her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress of 1990. PRETTY WOMAN's popularity and box office take were huge and made Julia Roberts one of the biggest, brightest new stars in Hollywood. Julia Roberts won the Best Actress Oscar for ERIN BROCKOVICH (2000). There's now a musical version of PRETTY WOMAN on Broadway.

I saw STEEL MAGNOLIAS in New York City before its film adaptation. I loved it. Robert Harling wrote the play. Onstage, it has an all-female cast. There's no man in it at all. Just like 1939's THE WOMEN which was also based on a hit play. Harling wrote the screenplay. For the film adaptation, he opened up the action of his story and he added men -- just like MGM's 1956 remake of THE WOMEN, called THE OPPOSITE SEX, added men. After the movie success of his STEEL MAGNOLIAS, Robert Harling went on to write screenplays for the comedy SOAPDISH (1991) and THE FIRST WIVES CLUB (1996). You can see him onscreen in STEEL MAGNOLIAS as a minister.

For ticket and showtime info on the special STEEL MAGNOLIAS screenings this week, go here:
www.fathomevents.com.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

See Tom Hardy LOCKE It

He's that terrifically talented British actor with the pillowy lips who has a remarkable skill for playing characters who are "mad, bad and dangerous to know," to quote what Lady Caroline Lamb once said about Lord Byron.  Tom Hardy beat down some personal demons to distinguish himself as an actor. He has impressed critics in the U.K. and America with his performances.          
I suppose that the largest American audience will know Hardy from his work as Bane in the 2012 Batman thriller, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES...
 ...and 2015's MAD MAX: FURY ROAD.
Hardy snagged a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for 2015's THE REVENANT starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
This is a heads-up blog post that one of Tom Hardy's best screen performances is now on Netflix. A young friend of mine who is passionate about film, knowledgeable about film and a mighty fine entertainment news contributor raved about this performance to me back in 2013. She was not the only entertainment journalist who this Hardy performance. Because of my friend's enthusiasm, I made a  point to see the movie. I whole-heartedly agreed with her.  Tom Hardy was amazing in it.  LOCKE is a British production, an independent feature, that runs only 85 minutes.

Are you familiar with THE HUMAN VOICE starring Ingrid Bergman? It was a 1966 ABC TV special in which Ingrid Bergman plays a woman talking on the phone to her lover. Her lover is on the brink of marrying another woman. THE HUMAN VOICE was a one hour special, with network commercial breaks, featuring Ingrid Bergman in an outstanding solo performance as a woman having a breakdown. Based on a play, it's a long and passionate monologue. Bergman is the only person seen in the production.  Sophia Loren did a version of it decades later.  Sophia Loren's 2014 production, HUMAN VOICE, was set in 1950s Italy and aired on cable's TCM (Turner Classic Movies). Loren played Angela, an older woman on the phone to her lover who is leaving her for another woman.

LOCKE is the male equivalent to THE HUMAN VOICE. Ivan Locke has a good construction business and a family life. He's soon to become a father again -- but the woman having his baby is not his loving wife. He is driving alone in his car and talking on the phone. He's trying the deal with this crisis in his personal life and serious calls about his business that need his attention. Tom Hardy is fascinating to watch and he holds your attention throughout the whole story.

It takes a strong, gifted actor to pull off something like that. Tom Hardy is such an actor.

If a weekend approaches and you'll have time for a Tom Hardy double feature, I recommend his riveting performance as one of those "mad, bad and dangerous to know" characters. He plays a real-life notorious British convict in 2008's BRONSON. He's a British criminal who robbed a post office and got a 7-year sentence. However, because he was such a violent guy, he made history when he wound up in solitary confinement for over 20 years, longer than any previous criminal. His name isn't Bronson. That's his "stage name," if you will.  Criminal Michael Peterson always wanted to be famous so he takes on the name Charles Bronson. It's the same name as the American star in the DEATH WISH movies of the 1970s.

BRONSON is raw and randy. In prison, his violent outbursts continue, he's naked a lot, he comes to embrace the arts and eventually we'll see him in clown make-up. This is a different kind of prison biopic. Usually, I'm not drawn to films like BRONSON but Tom Hardy is the bad and the beautiful as this convict.  You can't take your eyes off him.

There are crude but funny moments in this film. For instance, there's there one in which the hyper, loud convict sticks his bare butt out at a guard in his cell and orders him to apply Vaseline to it. At first, the guard is confused. As one would be.

The BRONSON soundtrack includes music by Verdi, Wagner, Puccini and a vocal by Doris Day.

LOCKE is currently on Netflix. BRONSON is not. Now go marvel at the talent of Tom Hardy.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Vincente Minnelli's CABIN IN THE SKY

If there was any director at MGM in the 1940s and 50s who could have been considered a Civil Rights activist in his way, that director was Vincente Minnelli. He included Black people into the filmmaking mix, he gave Black moviegoers sophisticated images to see when they were sorely needed and he put Black performers in the spotlight. Look at THE CLOCK, THE PIRATE, THE BAND WAGON, AN AMERICAN IN PARIS. This all started with the very first film he directed, the movie version of the Broadway musical fable hit, CABIN IN THE SKY. His 1943 fantasy release was a production of the prestigious Freed Unit.  Producer/songwriter Arthur Freed produced most of the biggest gems in MGM's crown of musicals. Some of the most famous Judy Garland, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire musicals came from the Freed Unit. Minnelli had an unmistakable, imaginative artistic style and that style makes its debut in CABIN IN THE SKY. For the film, Ethel Waters reprised her female lead role. She was the star of the Broadway musical. Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, extremely popular at the time thanks to being a regular on Jack Benny's national radio sitcom, and young singer Lena Horne were added. They were not in the Broadway cast. Horne was making the transition from fine vocalist with a band to film roles. For all the Black people in the film, this was an A-list booking.  The fantasy was Man's Struggle with Good vs. Evil. Will Joe give up gambling and be a regular church-goers like his faithful and spiritual wife? Or will that scrumptious vamp Georgia Brown lead him to temptation where he can be snatched up by Lucifer?
My mother guided to see CABIN IN THE SKY one night when it was on TV during my high school years. I grew up in South Central L.A. and this was during the racially turbulent, racially progressive 1960s. My passion for new movies and classic films was already in bloom by then. I knew of CABIN IN THE SKY. I knew that Ethel Waters, like Ethel Merman, had become a Broadway musical star in the 1930s. Jazz greats Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong were also in the cast. Mom and Dad had music by them in our record collection at home. The same applied to Lena Horne records. We had her albums. Watching her special guest appearances on network music variety shows was like a religious obligation in our household. Mom and Dad also had a hardcover copy of a Lena Horne biography that was popular at that time. An enjoyable read, it was nowhere near as revealing, surprising, fascinating and extensively research as the biography my friend James Gavin wrote. STORMY WEATHER: THE LIFE OF LENA HORNE came out in 2010.
Jim found out that that the oft-told tale of Lena's movie numbers in future MGM musicals being cut out when the films played down South was more legend than truth. One theater did it but the the practice was not widespread. However, both books did touch on Lena's artistic frustration while under contract to MGM.
I was aware of these famous and trailblazing Black artists before I saw the movie. When I saw the CABIN IN THE SKY for the first time, I was exhilarated and angry. I was surprised at how quietly angry I was. I was just a kid in high school. But I was aware of Hollywood segregation and actors like Lena Horne being told "You're so talented, we just don't know what to do with you." Here's Lena outfitted in CABIN IN THE SKY attire while chatting with director Vincente Minnelli (left) and actor Melvyn Douglas (right.)
When I heard Ethel Waters sing the title tune, her voice was like a symphony orchestra unto itself. Her voice was so heavenly, it put tears in my eyes. The first song in the movie, sung in a church service, gave us an example of the Minnelli style. Black folks are seated in the pews as "Little Black Sheep" is sung and some good news is whispered from person to person. The camera shows the folks and we watch as the news is passed winding up at Ethel Waters and Butterfly McQueen seated in back. These Black folks looked clean-cut and stylish. This was extremely refreshing for Black moviegoers after years of degrading blackface numbers from Busby Berkeley in numerous Hollywood musicals. The nightclub sequence starting outside Jim Henry's Paradise took my breath away. Black folks are outside, casually conversing. They start to walk into the club. But they don't just walk. Minnelli, establishing another one his elegant hallmarks, has choreographed each walk. Each person or couple that strolls into the joint has a different cadence to the Duke Ellington music riff. Minnelli is letting us Black folks be our fabulous selves as they strut in for some nightlife. When they get inside ... bam! It's rhythmic excitement in a scene packed with couples -- excitement like in the dance at the gym almost 20 years later in WEST SIDE STORY.
Inside, folks were dancing like they did at the historic Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. We viewers got one dazzling number right after another -- Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, John Bubbles (the original Sportin' Life in Gershwin's PORGY AND BESS) , Ethel Waters.  They, and the extras as dancers and other nightclub patrons, all look dapper and attractive. One of the things that hit me the most about this sequence was that the Black folks resembled the photos of smartly-dressed friends and relatives from the 1940s in my parents' family scrapbook. I could connect happily to those classic movie images. I did. Here's Ethel Waters on the CABIN IN THE SKY set with Duke Ellington and Vincente Minnelli.
Why was I elated and bothered? Because Ethel Waters would not have another film role for seven years. She'd play an illiterate backwoods maid in Elia Kazan's 1949 race drama, PINKY, and she'd get an Oscar nomination for her performance. It would be 1959 before musical genius composer Duke Ellington would be tapped to score a film. He did 1959's ANATOMY OF A MURDER and got an Oscar nomination for 1961's PARIS BLUES. Many of those talented Black background actors would appear in other films but their names would not be added to the credits. Despite being at the Tiffany of Hollywood studios for musicals and looking absolutely glamorous as she sang in them, Lena Horne would be frustrated and limited at MGM. Her singing was terrific. But Lena was never permitted to have dialogue scenes with white actors who were her fellow players in deluxe Freed Unit musicals. Lena Horne never got to do lines and/or sing with a Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra or Ann Miller. She had the support and respect of Freed Unit top shelf talent like Vincente Minnelli, music arranger Kay Thompson and influential hair stylist Sydney Guilaroff but Hollywood, on the whole, was still racially narrow-minded in executive offices. To give an example of how limited and under-utilized gorgeous Lena Horne was at MGM, think of Dooley Wilson as Sam in 1942's CASABLANCA from Warner Bros. Wilson had a key scene individual scenes with Humphrey Bogart and an important one Ingrid Bergman. Wilson had scenes with both stars together. Lena never got to do such integrated onscreen work with white MGM stars.

The fact that tremendously talented Black people were overlooked, limited and treated like second class citizens in Hollywood made me angry after I saw CABIN IN THE SKY. Mom approved of my anger. It fueled my career choices. As a film critic on national TV, as a celebrity talk show host on national TV and as an entertainment reporter, I was determined to land the kind of work denied Black people in my youth. In my work, I would seek to bring attention to others who didn't get equal opportunities. That's the impact CABIN IN THE SKY had on me.

In 1983, Lena Horne took her acclaimed, Tony-winning one-woman Broadway show on tour. I was working in Milwaukee on TV when she played there. I attended her press conference. I met the legendary Lena Horne and she offered my mother a job. She not only offered Mom a job, but when Ms. Horne was on the next leg of her tour, she flew Mom out first class and put her up in a hotel suite. I'll put the rest of that story in a book. Mom and I were both noticed by Lena Horne.

If you've never seem CABIN IN THE SKY, see it. This musical is rich with Black talent and the style of director Vincente Minnelli.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Noah Wyle on THE RED LINE

I was watching Sunday night TV a few weeks ago. A new limited series drama was making its premiere. Honestly, I had not intended to watch it but there was nothing else on that I wanted to see. I just left the channel where it was. I am very glad I did. There was a performance in the show of such emotional rawness and realness that I could not look away. My attention had been grabbed, my heart and soul were moved. I did not go to the kitchen for a snack. I got off social media. I paid full attention like we used to in the old days before Twitter, Facebook and remote controls. If you want to experience a powerful and poignant performance, you must see Noah Wyle in THE RED LINE. This series, co-produced by Ava DuVernay, airs on CBS. I believe the final chapters air this coming Sunday. You can also see it on Amazon Prime Video.  Noah Wyle was quite popular Dr. John Carter on NBC's hit hospital drama, ER, back in the day.  In THE RED LINE, he plays a Chicago high school teacher whose husband is a hospital doctor.
The couple has an adopted Black daughter. The happiness of their home is cruelly disrupted in the first twenty minutes of the premiere episode when the doctor is killed during crime activity. He had stopped into a convenience store to buy milk. Watch this short news piece.
Noah Wyle's portrayal of a middle-aged gay dad who is suddenly a widower has such nuance and depth and truth that I not only felt he was someone I knew personally, he made me heartsore with his accurate projection of sensitive, aching feelings I've had. He did this occasionally with just a weary, wounded look. He didn't even need dialogue. All the complex emotions were right there in his eyes. His husband's murder instantly becomes a top story in Chicago news. LGBTQ and Black Lives Matter advocates get involved. With the loss of her Black dad, the daughter now yearns to meet her birth mother. The daughter is a high school student.

There are racial conflicts, intersections, police and politicians, shocks and surprises. Aliyah Royale stands out as the loving and understandably troubled adopted daughter. This is another strong performance. Previously, Aliyah was a contestant on PROJECT RUNWAY.
THE RED LINE is well-written, very well-cast and handsomely photographed. A few episodes were directed by Kevin Hooks. Hooks is now a veteran TV director. You may remember him from his acting days. When he was a kid, he played the son opposite Cicely Tyson and Paul Sounder in the 1972 classic, SOUNDER.

THE RED LINE is a good production. Again, I highly praise and highly recommend the performance by Noah Wyle. His working class character is a more dimensional, more complicated gay man than we usually see now in episodic television. There's one sequence that takes place at a gala Chicago LGBTQ event. Teacher Daniel Calder (Noah Wyle) is asked to attend and speak. He's still absorbed by grief. He enters the ballroom and sees a Queer Eye-like group posing for photographers. Each member of the Queer Eye-like group is wearing a suit that's a bright color seen in the gay rights rainbow flag. There was a double look of loss in the teacher's eyes. There was his loss as a widower and the new feeling of loss within his community as a middle-aged widower. How does he now fit in with younger gay guys wearing festive rainbow suits and being fabulous? As a gay man who was a widower in my 40s, I knew exactly how he felt. The speech Daniel Calder gives later in the sequence left me limp. Noah Wyle had me in tears. He broke my heart with the naked pain of his character, a man who tries to hold it all together. This gay man is a "kitchen sink" character and that is refreshing to see. I could connect to him.

Bravo, Noah Wyle. Bravo. Your work on THE RED LINE is excellent.  It's one of the best performances I've seen on network television this year.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Doris Day and a Song I Love

I bet I'm not alone in this. Hearing that Doris Day died was like getting the news that a beloved relative had passed away. She made me smile for most of my life. I first discovered her movies on local Channel 9 in my Los Angeles youth. To come home from school and find CALAMITY JANE, LULLABY OF BROADWAY, TEA FOR TWO, APRIL IN PARIS, MY DREAM IS YOURS or THE PAJAMA GAME on TV was all I needed to be in a state of total happiness. Just Doris Day -- and an after school snack. Such was some of my 1960s boyhood.
In 2005 back in New York City, I was putting together some new demo reels. My editor was a young Eastern European dude who, in the 1980s, was a little boy with his family behind the Iron Curtain. One of my pieces for my local morning TV news show years had a clip of Doris Day singing in one of her Warner Bros musicals. As soon as my editor saw her face appear on the monitor, he broke out into a huge smile. Behind the Iron Curtain, they could get Doris Day movies on TV. He said that the sound of her singing and the sight of her face always made him so happy when he was a youngster. Doris Day gave the same rush of joy to a Czech kid behind the Iron Curtain that she gave to a Black kid in South Central Los Angeles.
Did you ever see the 1954 remake of A STAR IS BORN? The remake screenplay by Moss Hart was well-tailored for the talents of Judy Garland. For the 1954 version directed by George Cukor, Esther Blodgett was the singer with a big band before she's discovered by Hollywood forces and her named is changed to Vicki Lester. A big star had been slated to make a musical for a major studio but there was some sort of a contractual snag. The studio takes a chance on Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester. She makes her movie debut and … a star is born.

Doris Day was like a real-life version of that 1954 Vicki Lester. She was a singer with a well-known band. Warner Brothers took a chance on her when Betty Hutton reportedly was unavailable, enabling Doris to make her big screen debut in 1948. Within five years, Doris had shot up to being one of the top stars on the Warner Bros. lot. She'll make CALAMITY JANE. The original musical comedy, a western, will have her acting, dancing and singing new songs written for her. She'll introduce a new song, "Secret Love," that will be a hit record and win the Oscar for Best Song. Doris Day's name will appear on the big screen before the title in the opening credits.
After 1953's CALAMITY JANE, Doris Day took her All-American, sunny image and played its dark side. She should've been a Best Actress Oscar nominee for her dramatic work in the 1955 musical biopic, LOVE ME OR LEAVE. James Cagney, her leading man, was in awe of Day's natural dramatic acting ability and praised it highly in his autobiography. He made two films with her, one comedy and one drama. He urged her to never take acting lessons the studio. He told her to continue using her natural instincts. He felt that, if Warner Bros. put her through its acting classes, she'd become like a Pringles potato chip. She'd have the same look and style as the other actress put through the process. She never took any acting classes. Doris Day played singer Ruth Etting opposite Cagney.  In the movie, the ambitious singer gets hooked up with a known hood who can help get her to where she wants to go. She can be feminine. She can also be as tough as he is. She followed it with another dramatic part. The played the tourist wife and mother whose sunny disposition darkens with despair when something sinister happens to her little boy during the overseas vacation. Hitchcock's 1956 remake of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH was a thriller in which Doris introduced a new song -- "Que Sera, Sera" -- and played a wife who reclaims her voice in a husband-dominated marriage.  Doris' emotional breakdown scene in which the wife is told her son has been kidnapped was further proof of her impressive dramatic skills. "Que Sera, Sera" won the Oscar for Best Song.

There was such high regard, respect and affection for Doris Day's talent that she was cast as the leading lady opposite veteran male stars who were in classic films of 1939. James Stewart, James Cagney, Clark Gable, Cary Grant and David Niven were amongst her co-stars. LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME should've brought Doris Day an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.

During my VH1 years, in the late 80s into 1990, I gained a fresh awareness of what a special and often under-rated performer Doris Day was. At the same time was tops at the box office, she was also tops on the Billboard charts, adding hit records to her accomplishments. This is a feat that, in the 80s/90s, pop divas such as Madonna, Mariah Carey and Jennifer Lopez couldn't match. Doris was a wonderful singer, a good dancer and her acting ability got her an Oscar nomination (for PILLOW TALK). Oscar winners like Cher and Jennifer Hudson could not pull off being triple threats like that. Doris Day and Gene Nelson were a sharp dance team in her 1950s musicals.
In her acting, Doris Day seemed to know instinctively know the layers and dimensions of a good script and how to play it. YOUNG AT HEART is a remake of the hit Warner Bros. 1938 drama, FOUR DAUGHTERS. We see what seems to be the picture of the ideal 1950s suburban family, but there's darkness at the edges and some emotional dissonance in the marital lives of the three close sisters. Doris' character doesn't marry the lucky and privileged composer who falls for her. She marries his down and out singer/songwriter buddy (Frank Sinatra) who turns out to be the perfect man for her. If she can only convince him of that. Doris introduces another new song. It's called "There's a Rising Moon for Every Falling Star."

This is my favorite Doris Day vocal. It's not as popular as her hit songs as CALAMITY JANE and THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH but I love it. Through the years, as I grew up, got older, had my heart broken again and again, I would turn to this song to turn that light of hope back on in my heart. Here it is.

That Doris Day vocal will continue to turn on a light in my heart.



Sunday, May 12, 2019

Black History in SINCE YOU WENT AWAY (1944)

During World War 2, famed Hollywood producer David O. Selznick put together another A-list movie.  SINCE YOU WENT AWAY brought moviegoers into the lives of three women -- a mother and her two daughters. The wife and mother worries about her husband, the daughters worry about their dad and all three bond lovingly together to keep the home fires burning.  They'll take in a lodger, one daughter will fall in love with sweet young soldier on leave and they'll take an active part in helping the war effort by joining the labor force outside the home. It's a sentimental tale of love and struggles in a typical American home, a movie with punch and heartbreak. This moving take is beautifully produced, very well-acted and the black and white cinematography by Stanley Cortez is absolutely rich and evocative. SINCE YOU WENT AWAY was directed by John Cromwell. You've seen his tall, lean, talented actor son James Cromwell in the following films: BABE, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, THE GREEN MILE, THE QUEEN and THE ARTIST.  John Cromwell's SINCE YOU WENT AWAY got several Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Actress (Claudette Colbert, middle) and Best Supporting Actress (Jennifer Jones, right).
Right now, you may be saying "Where's the black history in all that?" One of the supporting players in the film is an Oscar-winning actress who worked previously for David O. Selznick in his most legendary Hollywood success. Hattie McDaniel of GONE WITH THE WIND. As you know, Hattie was the first Black performer ever nominated for an Oscar and she was the first to win. This versatile, under-utilized and groundbreaking talent won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 1939's GONE WITH THE WIND, a Civil War epic. She played "Mammy." True, in SINCE YOU WENT AWAY, another wartime drama from Selznick, she's a maid again but she's a modern-day domestic in the suburbs. Also, she has the most stylish wardrobe in this feature than she did in any other. Hattie McDaniel looks fabulous in SINCE YOU WENT AWAY. She's a domestic who's dressed like she's off to see a hit Broadway show after she has a cocktail at Sardi's.
However, this is still a Hollywood film in the old studio days. You see familiar actor faces in this movie but the main faces are the three females at home. Claudette Colbert stars as the loving wife and mother. Jennifer Jones and Shirley Temple play her teen daughters. Joseph Cotten, Robert Walker, Monty Woolley, Agnes Moorehead and Keenan Wynn are also featured.  Here's a publicity cast photo for 1944's SINCE YOU WENT AWAY. Three of its stars had won Oscars. Claudette Colbert won Best Actress for 1934's IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, Jennifer Jones won Best Actress for 1943's THE SONG OF BERNADETTE and Hattie McDaniel got her Oscar for 1939's GONE WITH THE WIND. Notice that one of the Oscar-winning ladies is not in the photo.
Hattie should be in the photo. She had a supporting role and she acts opposite the movie's three main stars. She was an Oscar-winner by then. But she was also Black in Old Hollywood.
There's a famous farewell scene in SINCE YOU WENT AWAY. Jennifer Jones, as the oldest daughter, falls in love with a shy young soldier played by Robert Walker. We follow the two young sweethearts to the train station for their poignant goodbye. The station is busy. As we are walked through the crowd, we see an African-American soldier in officer's attire. He's noticeable because most Hollywood movies of that era about WW2 didn't show Black GIs. And this man was an officer. The well-dressed lovely lady playing his wife has one line in that scene.
The actress who had one line as the Army officer's wife was Dorothy Dandridge. Dorothy Dandridge would go on to make Hollywood history herself.  She'd be the first Black woman to be an Oscar nominee for Best Actress thanks to her sizzling performance in the 1954 musical drama, CARMEN JONES.

Hattie McDaniel and Dorothy Dandridge in the same movie.  That is some Black History in 1944's SINCE YOU WENT AWAY.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

A Judy Garland Biopic

First, Judy Garland gives a stunning dramatic and musical performance in the classic 1954 remake of STAR IS BORN. It's an acclaimed big screen comeback that gets her a well-deserved Best Actress Oscar nomination.
 But she loses the Oscar to Grace Kelly for THE COUNTRY GIRL.
And now....this. There's a biopic coming starring …Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland.

What Caucasian heterosexual Gen Xer thought this production was necessary?  Renée looks more like Adam Lambert as Polly Bergen in CAPE FEAR: THE MUSICAL.

Oh, well. Who knows? It could turn out to be a hit with the critics.  In the meantime, here's the real show biz great, Judy Garland herself. She introduces the new blues song "The Man That Got Away" in George Cukor's 1954 remake of A STAR IS BORN co-starring James Mason.


Notes on STEEL MAGNOLIAS

Happy Anniversary, STEEL MAGNOLIAS. To celebrate its 30th anniversary, the full-of-female power box office hit will get special screenings i...