Saturday, September 24, 2022

Revisiting Josh Groban

 The first time I heard Broadway actor Josh Groban sing, I became an immediate fan. I saw him as a guest co-host on the ABC morning show with Kelly Ripa. He was totally charming with a warm and breezy personality. Then I saw him act in a short-lived Netflix series. He's really got the right stuff. I added Josh Groban to my list of current actors who -- if they were in 1940s & 50s Hollywood when big studios were in operation -- would have never been out of work, especially in musicals. Chris Pine and Jake Gyllenhaal are on that list.

Josh Groban played a Brooklyn police detective in THE GOOD COP. He's a highly intelligent bookworm of a guy known for going by the book to such as extent that he often exasperates co-workers. His widower dad was also a cop. But he strayed and wound up a convicted felon who did time behind bars. He's now on parole and lives in Brooklyn with his son. Tony Danza plays the tainted papa. There's a little tension yet also love between father and son. The tension is mostly generated by the son. Dad tends to act like he's a member of Frank Sinatra's old Rat Pack. We see a touch of melancholy about Groban's character. We get laughs in the episodes, but comedy is not forced. Each episode run about 45 minutes. The murders committed are quite clever and we wait to see how the son -- with a little help from his dad -- is going to solve the complicated crimes. 

I watched episodes a couple of years ago I was hooked within the first ten minutes of Episode #1. I felt THE GOOD COP would have been ripe to air as a series on NBC or CBS. Since then, I've seen new shows on the big three senior networks -- shows that can and, blessedly, went within a season or two. I revisited the first three episodes of THE GOOD COP on Netflix last night. I still loved it. I had more of an appreciation for how the murders were set up and committed. In the first episode, Tony Caruso (Danza) and Tony Jr. (Groban) may be suspect in a murder. A cop Tony hated was shot and killed ... with Tony Jr.'s gun. But the strait-laced young police detective doesn't recall having killed anyone. There's a terrific bit of business with some black olives from a pizza. In the second episode, a man is shot and killed in a hotel room while he's watching Billy Wilder's DOUBLE INDEMNITY (a great touch). Meanwhile, Tony is dating a rich, blonde Victoria's Secret model who's young enough to be his daughter. In the third episode, Tony Jr. has no idea that the big German woman renting the basement room in his house is really a man in drag. A man who escaped from prison.

Here's a trailer for THE GOOD COP.


 If you get Netflix, and you're up for a little pastime, give this 2018 show a look. You might like it.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Eating at THE AUTOMAT

 One famous man tells of having paid as much as $35.00 for a cup of coffee in Europe, but the coffee couldn't compare to the 5 cent cup of coffee he had at the automat. The automat's coffee and pie inspired Irving Berling to write a song for a Broadway show. The automat was highlighted in movies and network TV shows. The automat inspired a painting by Edward Hopper. A dying gentleman ordered a beef pie from the automat to have as a last meal. The automat inspired Starbucks and some social attitudes of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The Horn & Hardart automat, once a truly iconic longtime eatery in New York City, is the subject of THE AUTOMAT. This documentary, directed and produced by Lisa Hurwitz, runs 1 hour and 20 minutes. It's not just about the celebrated coffee and food.

We recently saw the majestic funeral services for England's Queen Elizabeth II. On network news, contributors who covered the Royal Family and Brits who lined the streets for hours to see the royal coffin and mourn the Queen's, passing praised her for her extraordinary service, her consistency, her devotion to crown and country. She was loved.

You feel those qualities in the history of Horn & Hardart. The men who started the company were dedicated to service, quality and the people.

The documentary opens with Mel Brooks sharing his memories of the automat. They are great memories. He also gives a few tips to director Lisa Hurwitz. Mel's tagged as "comedian," onscreen. He should've been tagged as "comedian and filmmaker." Mel leads us into the history of the automat's origins with comments from historians and relatives of the owners. We see the art deco design of the place that was so popular and get a sense of the warmth given by its staff. Horn & Hardart locations were very welcoming and democratic. And the coffee was great. Not just that -- items cost only a nickel. In the Depression this was a blessing.

The descriptions of and the comments about the food will make your mouth water.

Then the documentary takes on some added juice when Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Colin Powell speak. We learn how significant the eatery was at a time when restaurants discriminated. Horn & Hardart didn't discriminate. It welcome racial inclusion. You see how Horn & Hardart was involved with TV shows that had very young, future Broadway talent such as Elliott Gould and Madeline Kahn. It's a fascinating history. Here's a trailer.

As society changed after World War 2 and the Vietnam War, H&H could not keep up its locations and its quality. Folks had moved to the suburbs. Fast food chains were looming large on the scene. Expensive coffees at places like Starbucks had replaced the famous 5 cent cups of coffee.

I loved seeing this New York history. It goes from the 1930s to the early 1990s. I knew of the automat and loved seeing images of its old art deco design plus the windows of foods, windows that opened when you put nickels in a slot. But I didn't know about its social significance and the company's longtime devotion to service and quality -- a devotion that made employees love working for the company.

You can see THE AUTOMAT on Amazon Prime Video. For more information on it, go here:  www.automatmovie.com.

The documentary ends with a song about the automat written by and performed by the Tony Award winning songwriter -- Mel Brooks.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Ryan Murphy's Dahmer Story

Ryan Murphy is a White, openly gay and very successful TV writer-director-producer. The shows in his list of credits include POSE, GLEE, AMERICAN HORROR STORY, FEUD starring Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis and Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford during the making of WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?, his HOLLYWOOD mini-series and HALSTON, the Netflix mini-series bio starring Ewan McGregor as the famous fashion designer.

Murphy's current creation for Netflix is MONSTER: THE JEFFREY DAHMER STORY. It's based on a true story of pure evil that darkened Milwaukee for years. A serial killer preyed upon mostly gay men of color in Milwaukee. When his crimes came to light, the news shocked Milwaukee. But, to me, it should not have been a total shock based on the city's long, noted history of racism and homophobia. I lived in Milwaukee for 10 years. My apartment was 5 blocks away from his. Jeffrey Dahmer left a White, middle class suburb and moved into a predominantly Black neighborhood where residents were under-served and treated like second class citizens. He could play his White Privilege card when dealing with police. 

I wrote about this a few days in my "Ryan Murphy and DAHMER" blogpost. I also added that Dahmer, when he hit the gay bars in search of victims, did not have a dorky bookworm appearance. He ditched the glasses, slicked his hair back and pulled his attire together. He was a handsome man who looked like an A-list male model for print ads or designer cologne TV commercials. He used that look as his personal spider web. There was no trailer for this new Murphy creation that I could put in my previous post about his Dahmer project. There is one now. Here it is.


 Maybe I'm being too sensitive. Maybe it's because I had my bouts with racism and homophobia in Milwaukee. Maybe it's because I'm still angry over the Black and Brown lives taken that would not have been taken had White police protected and served that under-served community. But I can't watch this production to review it at this time.

It's obvious that Ryan Murphy likes to give us shows with a gay sensibility and gay characters. It's obvious that he likes to put Black characters and actors in his shows. However, in this case, I wish he'd given us something else.

Why couldn't Murphy have given us a TV mini-series bio on the life and times of Bayard Rustin, the brilliant and openly gay activist/singer who was Dr. Martin Luther King's top advisor, the man who was called "The Architect of the March on Washington"? There is -- at last -- a biopic of Rustin now in production with Emmy winner Colman Domingo in the lead role. An openly gay Black actor will be playing an openly gay Black historical figure.

Why couldn't Murphy give us the story of the celebrated singer/songwriter who reigned during the disco era -- Sylvester?

Or a mini-series biopic about groundbreaking Black and openly gay playwright Lorraine Hansberry? Not only did she write the Broadway play A RAISIN IN THE SUN, the show that made Sidney Poitier a star, she also write the screenplay for the 1961 film adaptation. Hansberry was the first Black woman to get an onscreen credit as screenwriter for a film released by a major Hollywood studio. Louis Gossett Jr invited me into his L.A. home to tape an interview. I asked him who should play Lorraine Hansberry if a biopic was done on her. Gossett was in the original Broadway cast of A RAISIN IN THE SUN and in the 1961 film. His immediate answer was "Taraji P. Henson."

FEUD and HOLLYWOOD showed his fascination lore. Maybe he could create a production inspired by the life and career of the late Ashley Boone. When I was new in my TV career and flew to L.A. and New York to interview celebs during movie junkets for entertainment, I learned of Ashley Boone from TV cameramen. They all said his name with reverence and affection. 

When he was on contributor on the CBS weekday morning news show and wrote a column for The Hollywood Reporter, future TCM host Robert Osborne said that Boone should be included in books about Hollywood studio heads.

Ashley Boone was Black, openly gay and he pretty much ran 20th Century Fox for half a year and pulled the studio out of the shambles it was in at the time. He was a marketing whiz. When THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW flopped at the box office in its initial theatrical release, he came up with the idea of the weekend midnight showings of it in theaters. Those became hugely popular and made the movie a pop culture favorite. When Hollywood insiders predicted that the first adventure would go immediately to drive-ins, Ashley Boone was the marketing whiz behind the initial STARS WARS trilogy. Need I tell you how big a hit that was for 20th Century Fox? He also worked on YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN and ALIEN. Boone was a beloved Hollywood figure. His sister, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, is the first Black woman who was President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

I think you get my point. There may be critics who saw MONSTER: THE JEFFREY DAHMER STORY and gave it a good review. But, right now, I just cannot bring myself to see my people being ignored and victimized.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

SIDNEY the Documentary

 "I was not expected to I was born two months premature." Those are the words of screen great Sidney Poitier as the new documentary, entitled SIDNEY, opens. The Bahamian-American actor passed away early this year at age 94. I admit it. When I heard the news, I cried. He'd been significant in most of my life and, obviously, in the life of Oprah Winfrey. She's the producer of this documentary and she appears in it with stories to tell and comments about Mr. Poitier. There was no one like Sidney Poitier. He was unique, remarkable and, in his own distinguished way, a rebel. This new documentary reminds us of that. Oprah produced it in close collaboration with the Poitier family and she provided several hours of her own interviews of the groundbreaking Oscar winner. We see the older, elegant Poitier speak to the camera and we see the handsome young box office star Poitier in earlier interviews. With the expected reverence, it covers the legacy of the man who was constantly striving. It gives us some strong, revealing new information. For instance, his long friendship with singer/actor Harry Belafonte. Together, they experienced hellish situations down South during the Civil Rights era when the two stars were highly visible activists. There were times they had falling outs and didn't speak to each for quite a while. Harry would get jealous of Sidney. Poitier had an affair during his first marriage and he was in therapy at the time. We see the acclaim he achieved as a barrier-blasting Black actor and we see the crap he had to endure sprung from his stardom.. He was not a perfect man. This is nor a perfect documentary. But, like the actor, it has heart and substance.

He was born into poverty to parents to loved each other. His early formative years were spent in Florida where he came face to face with racism. One incident found him with a gun at his head. He headed to New York. That's where he embarked on an acting career while working as a dishwasher. That's where he met Harry Belafonte. Belafonte had a role in a play and Sidney was his understudy. One night, Sidney went on for Harry -- and a Broadway producer happened to be in the audience. Sidney got a career boost. Harry got jealous. Sidney got his first major movie break when he was cast as a hospital doctor in the 1950 race drama, NO WAY OUT, directed and co-written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Poitier tells us that he felt it was a first of its kind in its Hollywood depiction of a Black person. Hollywood had long cast Black actors as domestics and such. That's a point where the documentary is not so perfect. Here's a trailer for SIDNEY.


Before Sidney Poitier and before 1950's NO WAY OUT, there was James Edwards in 1949's HOME OF THE BRAVE, a movie my WW2 veteran dad introduced me to when I was a kid and it aired on local TV. Edwards was handsome, talented and should have gotten some of the lead role opportunities that Poitier did. In HOME OF THE BRAVE, he played an educated Black man whose best friend from school days is a white fellow (played by Lloyd Bridges). They served together in WWII.  Private Moss (Edwards) is an engineer topography specialist. He is hit with racism from fellow GIs that's so severe, it wounds him emotionally -- like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He's left with a paralysis and undergoes psychotherapy to recall what happened and overcome the paralysis. The role James Edwards had was far from the typical role given to Black actors.

I wondered if Sidney Poitier knew James Edwards and if they ever discussed the challenges of being Black actors trying to bring new images of Black people to the big screen. You can see 1949's HOME OF THE BRAVE on Amazon Prime Video.

Of his two Best Actor Oscar nominations, Poitier received his first one for 1958's THE DEFIANT ONES co-starring Tony Curtis. Poitier's daughters were also interviewed for the documentary. One daughter boasts that her father was the first Black performer since Hattie McDaniel of 1939's GONE WITH THE WIND to get an Oscar nomination.

Well ... Dorothy Dandridge made Black Hollywood history with her Best Actress Oscar nomination for 1954's CARMEN JONES.

Sidney Poitier made Hollywood history when he won the Best Actor Oscar for 1963's LILIES OF THE FIELD. The script had been originally sent to Harry Belafonte. He felt it was a "terrible movie." But he loved Sidney in it. I remember how my parents cheered in our South Central Los Angeles living room when Anne Bancroft announced Sidney's name as winner. I was happy too. I became aware of Sidney Poitier in the backseat of the family car when we went to the drive-in movies. We saw him in THE DEFIANT ONES, ALL THE YOUNG MEN (1960), A RAISIN IN THE SUJN (1961), PARIS BLUES (1961) and LILIES OF THE FIELD. Even if elements of the plots and patches of the dialogue were beyond my full grasp -- because I was a little boy -- I was riveted to him, He was vibrant, passionate, smart and he reflected people I knew, people like my dad and our neighbors.

I'm the same age at Oprah. In the documentary, she says that she was 10 years old and watching the Oscars in Milwaukee. I was the same age -- and in the 4th grade -- watching the Oscars in Los Angeles. She said that she was on the phone and calling friends with the news that "colored people" were on TV! That sort of thing happened in my house too. Only my parents made the phone calls. I didn't have the numbers of classmates to call -- and if I did call someone to say "colored people on TV," Dad would've shouted "Boy, have you lost your 10-year old mind? Put that phone down!"

Of course, this famous scene in 1967's IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT is discussed -- and rightfully so. Here's Poitier as Detective Virgil Tibbs. Oddly, he did not get an Oscar nomination for what became his most quoted film role. Rod Steiger took home the Oscar for Best Actor.


In closing, here's some trivia for you: The butler in that scene was played by Jester Hairston. Hairston was an actor, singer and composer. He wrote the song "Amen" that we hear in LILIES OF THE FIELD and he dubbed Sidney Poitier's singing voice in the film. In later years, Hairston was a cast member on the hit 1980s NBC sitcom, AMEN.

SIDNEY runs 1 hour 50 minutes. See it in theaters or on Apple TV+.  It's worth your time.







Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Family Night with Sophia Loren

 In 2016, my wonderful cousin and I went to a Los Angeles htoel to meet a couple of visiting friends and go out to dinner. At the hotel, we turned a corner and unexpectedly found ourselves up close to Oscar-winning screen great, Sophia Loren. Our jaws nearly dropped down to our shoes. When she smiled at us, we felt as though we'd entered the gates of Heaven, greeted with music from an angel choir. She was tall, regal, radiant and gorgeous

I write a lot about how we Black lovers of films, classic and new, domestic and foreign, were long excluded from the conversations of films on television. The way we were presented and approached by white entertainment journalists (and their producers), you would have thought that Black folks only went to see Blaxploitation movies.

My father was a postal clerk. My mother was a registered nurse. Our family lived in South Central Los Angeles, near Compton. I was blessed to have parents who loved movies. My favorite family pastime was when we went to the drive-in movies on a weekend. We went to the drive-in movies frequently. Those nights were like Christmas Day to me. Always a double feature with a cartoon and coming attractions. 

On one of those nights, I was a little boy. My sister and I, as usual, were in the backseat of the family car wearing our pajamas under our street clothes. We'd get home around or after midnight and that made it easier for Mom and Dad to get us ready for bed.

We were at the drive-in. I was totally delighted by the sound of Mom and Dad howling with laughter in the front seat at a scene in a foreign film -- YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW directed by Vittorio De Sica. The scene? Sophia's character was doing an afternoon striptease for a man giddy with glee and played by Marcello Mastroianni.  For a little taste of the foreign film, click onto the link below:

https://youtu.be/NujLsBe_jeU.

I loved that night, the parents' laughter and the sight of Sophia Loren. Wow! When I grew up, I rented the VHS of that De Sica film several times from my local video store. To me, De Sica films like that oe could have been shot with a Black cast in my hometown. His memorable characters -- their personalities, the wits, their passions, their perseverance and their environment -- always reminded me of my family and our neighbors in South Central L.A.


If you get Netflix, I've got a recommendation for you. This slightly quirky and totally warm-hearted feature runs only 30 minutes. An Italian-American grandmother in New Jersey give us an on-camera fan letter to La Loren. She tells us how much she loves the screen legend and how certain performances the actress gave have helped her get through some emotionally rough times. It's called WHAT WOULD SOPHIA LOREN DO? Here's a trailer.

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Sophia Loren. Molto Bella! I love her so very, very much.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Must-See TV from Ken Burns

 Forget FRANKENSTEIN. Forget PSYCHO. Forget ALIEN and ALIENS. This feature is one of the most frightening productions I have ever seen on a screen. What makes it most frightening is that it's true. It all really happened. And elements of it are happening again.

Endangered democracy. The rise of authoritarian rhetoric. The attitude that Black lives don't matter. Anti-Semitism. Anti-immigration sentiments. Book banning. These elements are seen in the newest documentary from Ken Burns. It's THE U.S. and the HOLOCAUST and it's airing on PBS stations. I cannot urge you enough to see it. I watched the first episode and, within the opening 45 minutes, it just about scared the color off me. Look at the U.S. from the torch-bearing white supremacists marching through Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 to today's investigation into the January 2021 insurrection and current anti-immigrant news being made by governors in Florida and Texas. Our current United States parallel to 1933 Berlin will chill you to the bone. This important documentary series is also a warning, an alarm that demands our attention.


Watch it, record it, stream it, tell your friends about it. History seems to be repeating itself and we should be very, very afraid. For more information on this PBS presentation, click onto this link:  www.pbs.org.




Sunday, September 18, 2022

Ryan Murphy and DAHMER

 Ryan Murphy, the successful and openly gay white writer, director and producer who has AMERICAN HORROR STORY, episodes of GLEE, the HOLLYWOOD mini-series, and FEUD with Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis and Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford during the making of WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? on his long list of credits, is now giving us MONSTER; THE JEFFREY DAHMER STORY as a limited series on Netflix. Dahmer was a gay serial killer who truly was a monster in Milwaukee. His reign of evil was able to continue for as long as it did because of racism and homophobia in the city -- especially when those two weapons of discrimination were aimed at people of color in under-served neighborhoods. I graduated from a university in Milwaukee and stayed in the city after graduation to start my professional broadcast career with the goal of getting to New York. I was in Milwaukee for 10 years total. I grew up in Los Angeles on a cul-de-sac block in South Central L.A. with neighbors who were Black, Mexican, Filipino and White. The Los Angeles I knew was racially and culturally diverse with warm weather all-year round. When I arrived in Milwaukee to start my college education, I was rattled by two things -- how racially polarized the city was and how cold snow was. I'd never been in snow.

About the racial polarization: After graduation, when I had landed my first professional broadcast job, I lived in an apartment near an entrance to the 27th Street viaduct. It went from the North Side to the South Side. In Milwaukee, folks called it "the bridge that connects Africa to Poland." My apartment building was five blocks away from where Jeffrey Dahmer had lived alone in an apartment.

He preyed upon gay men of color at gay bars in the city. Bars I knew. Bars where gay guys could go, hang out with friends, catch up with friends and dance. There was often a CHEERS-like atmosphere in the clubs. People knew your name and, often, you liked seeing regulars whose names you didn't know but it was always a hoot to see them. In my group of friends, such a person was a guy they called "The Martex Towel Boy" because often had his hair in a white Martez towel wrapped like a turban on his head. He didn't even need a dance partner. He was a gentle free spirit who'd hit the dance floor and spin happily on it by himself.

It was long known that, at that time, there was an antagonistic relationship between the Black community and the Milwaukee police force. Dahmer lived with a relative in a predominantly white suburb. I worked on-air at the city's ABC affiliate. One afternoon, I was shooting a station promo in that suburb. Our crew took a station van to the location, a van with the station logo painted in huge letters and numbers it/ For our commercial, I had to deliver dialogue while holding a portable TV. There I was, on a sidewalk, wearing a microphone, our producer was a few feet away, holding a clipboard and a stopwatch and right behind her was our cameraman with the camera pointed right at me.

A cop car pulled up and the cop, looking at me, said "Can I help you?" All three of us politely explained that we were taping a commercial for WISN TV/Channel 12. The officer apologized for ruining our take and drove on his way. I was the only Black person in our three-person crew.

Jeffrey Dahmer left that suburb, called West Allis, and moved to the North Side in a mostly-Black neighborhood. It would be easier for him to bring men of color back to his place frequently in a predominantly Black area than it would be in white suburban West Allis where neighbors would be watching suspiciously and calling the cops. And the cops would respond quickly.

For months, Black residents complained to authorities about the extreme foul orders and strange, loud nocturnal noises coming from Jeffrey Dahmer's apartment. Nothing was done. He was enabled by White Privilege when approached by police.

When he hit the gay bars, he did not have the dorky and twisted bookworm look he has in the Netflix promo. He was handsome and used that as his personal spider web. Cleaned up and pulled together to hit the clubs, Dahmer looked like a male model in a designer cologne commercial on national TV. That was his trap.

Here's a trailer for the upcoming Netflix series about the serial killer.



My career goal was to get a TV job offer from New York City -- which I did in 1985. One thing that also fueled my goal to leave Milwaukee was that I tired of being called "n****r" and "f****t." I had racist and homophobic things shouted at me in Milwaukee from drive-by cars and once even at a Bruce Springsteen concert. I worked on an FM rock radio station where one of the DJs said that I would be "swishing in" soon for my shift. I was the only Black person in the station's on-air team. There were racial slurs directed to me in anonymous snail mail and in voicemails left on my phone after work hours.

None of that happened to me in New York.

I'm interested to see how the racial element is handled and revealed in this upcoming Ryan Murphy creation. I hope he had a good number of Black people in his production crew.

One last thing -- the Martex Towel Boy was one of Dahmer's victims.


Revisiting Josh Groban

 The first time I heard Broadway actor Josh Groban sing, I became an immediate fan. I saw him as a guest co-host on the ABC morning show wit...