Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Feminist Flight: A Dunne Deal

James Cagney once praised Doris Day, his Love Me or Leave Me co-star, by saying she was such a good natural actress that it was almost subliminal.  I think the same applies to Irene Dunne.  Look at her performance as the grief-stricken World War II pilot in Victor Fleming's A Guy Named Joe.  In MGM's 1943 WWII fantasy romance, Spencer Tracy starred as an ill-fated, often grumpy bomber pilot who makes her heart take wing.
I've heard famous actors say that learning how to listen is a top skill to master in the craft of acting.  I've heard acting coaches say that in classes I've taken.  With that in mind, the last five minutes of Irene Dunne's performance in A Guy Named Joe are a master class in beautiful screen acting.  She listens to the spirit of the man she loved.  Her silence is golden.  It's a very difficult scene to play.  Just ask two-time Oscar winner Sally Field.  When she was a Guest Programmer one night with Robert Osborne on TCM, she mentioned Dunne's brilliance in this role.  You'd never know how difficult that final scene is when you see Dunne do it in Fleming's film.  She made it all look so easy.  Like Sally Field, I first discovered this film on KTTV/Ch. 11 in Los Angeles when I was a kid.  Local TV host Ben Hunter aired it as his afternoon movie.  I grew up hearing A Guy Named Joe described as a sentimental propaganda film, light fare from MGM to boost American morale during World War II.  It didn't get the same respect and reverence as, say, William Wyler's Mrs. Miniver, Best Picture of 1942 Oscar winner.  Greer Garson won Best Actress for playing the middle-class British housewife struggling to keep her home and garden together while the Nazis bombed England.  I still feel critics overlooked a heart of A Guy Named Joe and didn't fully appreciate the complicated feminist character Irene Dunne played.  Plus Dunne was again making great strides for Women in Film -- strides that would be impressive today.  And she usually wore fabulous hats while she strode.

Reportedly born in December 1898, Irene Dunne was still landing lead roles in good, hit dramatic love stories and romantic comedies in her late 30s to her mid-40s.  There was Invitation to Happiness (1939) with Fred MacMurray.  She did three with Charles Boyer:  Love Affair and When Tomorrow Comes (1939) plus Together Again (1944).  After The Awful Truth, she did two more with Cary Grant:  My Favorite Wife (1940) and Penny Serenade (1941).  Today, Oscar winning actresses like Julia Roberts, Gwyneth Paltrow, Halle Berry and even Sally Field could be so jealous of that.  Dunne defied Hollywood's notion of age for actresses.  In A Guy Named Joe, her character is romantically pursued by a new pilot played by Van Johnson.

The actor was well into his 20s.  Dunne was in her 40s.  She looked great opposite a big, young Johnson.  Both characters are serving overseas and in uniform.  Dorinda Durston obviously shattered a glass ceiling and was a welcomed addition to the G.I. Boys' Club.  Rarely did Hollywood show us women pilots in uniform.  in 1943's Flight for Freedom, there's Rosalind Russell as a lady flyer, an Amelia Earhart type, who flies a secret mission for the U.S.  But not in uniform.  Fred MacMurray played the pilot she loves.
Irene Dunne's character reminds us that women did serve during the war.  This MGM movie pilot is closer to a real-life WASP than any other lead film character of the 1940s.

The WASPs -- Women Airforce Service Pilots -- took the wheel of military aircraft.  They flew non-combat missions to free the men for combat mission duty.
In Dunne's first scene and in her final one, she's coming in for a landing.  True, like Victor Fleming's The Wizard of Oz, this is a sentimental fantasy.  But there's female power to this story that's too often ignored.  Just like in Oz.  You can view that iconic 1939 MGM musical as a feminist action/adventure.  Who really has all the power in that story?  The females:  There's Glinda the Good Witch, there's the Wicked Witch of the West and there's Dorothy as she wears the Ruby Slippers.  Back in Kansas, Auntie Em really runs the farm more than Uncle Henry does.  Mean old Miss Gulch, the woman who wants Toto destroyed, is the town's crankiest and most influential resident.   In The Wizard of Oz and A Guy Named Joe, we have a female who is airborne -- a female who is in danger of not returning safely home.

"You realize that you and I have never been up in a plane together?  Alone, I mean?"  That's what Dorinda says to the big lug she loves, Pete.
She is Pete Sandidge's match and his equal.  She proves that on a regular basis.  Dorinda can work Pete's last good male chauvinist nerve.  The squadron commander doesn't think women belong in the air.  He'll see that a woman can do a man's mission.  She's feminist and feminine.  Out of uniform and in "girl clothes," she whimsically bets that the kids they'd have would be cute.  "Not a brain in their heads, of course, but they'd have fun."  Their best friend Al Yackey (Ward Bond) describes the bickering love they have for each other as "slow poison."  What's that?  It's something you don't get over quickly and easily.  Al tells Pete it's "like a fever that aches in your bones for a thousand years."  We see the truth in Al's comment.  The strength of Pete and Dorinda's love lifts the veil between mortal life and the afterlife.

In foggy Scotland, Dorinda manages to catch a ride and flies in to surprise Pete.  While giving him a big hello hug, she sees an aircraft on the ground.  Through the fog, it's a somewhat ghostly image.  We see that the image upsets Dorinda.  "Pete, is that your plane?" she asks.  Dorinda puts on a happy face but she's had a premonition.  She confides to Al that Pete can't fly the mission even though he wants to because "his number's up."  For all the wisecracks and squabbles, Pete is the love of her life.  Her vulnerability pours out when they spend a night together and she can't convince him to take an assignment back in the States.  She worries about him so much it makes her sick inside.  She hates "...being afraid when a telephone rings.  Being afraid when it doesn't."  She calls him out on his "hero hunger" and being "a lone wolf in a service where men fly together."  When Pete realizes how worried Dorinda is, he decides to give in.
But there's something bigger than Pete, Al and Dorinda.  And she knows that.  They're in uniform.  They're over there to do a duty.  There's a war going on.  Evil forces are loose and devouring democracy.  They're fighting for freedom.  Al arrives with orders for Pete.  He's got to fly the mission. Nazi movement has been spotted.  With her arms around the pilot, Dorinda says "Oh, Pete.  We never seem to get a break, do we?"
The mission is accomplished, but Pete dies.  Dorinda's premonition was accurate.  In the Afterlife as written by Dalton Trumbo, there's still work to be done.  Heaven is devoid of harps and angels wings.  You don't automatically get a clean slate when you arrive.  There's a system of checks and balances.  You have to balance your karma.  Pete learns this from the no-nonsense, heavenly figure in charge.  Lionel Barrymore plays The General.  If Pete was a a lone wolf and a bit of a show off in life, his spirit must return to Earth as a helpful team player.  Sort of a guardian angel to new recruits.   Van Johnson is Ted, the new recruit whose skills as a pilot remind some of the late Pete Sandidge.  Dorinda is still actively in the service but her heart's in a fog of grief.  Months after Pete's crash, Al coaxes Dorinda to go out and be a part of life again.  Have fun.  The two friends hit a club.  There's music.  There's laughter.  And single men.  Who's in the same club?  Young Ted Randall -- with his guardian angel, Pete.  Dorinda and Pete are together again.  But she's unaware.  Jealous Pete watches as the young mortal falls for his girl.
This is where the Dorinda character gets complicated and Dunne raises the stakes on the performance.  She makes Dorinda a servicewoman at war with herself as she helps fight the war around her.  Ted loves her.  Yes, there's an age difference but it's irrelevant.  They're in a war, fighting on the same battlefield with similar skills.  They've been under attack. Those desperate times of life and death make his love for her more mature.  But Pete is still much more substantial to her than just a memory.  She loves Ted. He's proposed to her.  But he's ordered to fly a mission that's just as dangerous as Pete's final mission was.  Can she survive a possible new heartbreak?  Can Dorinda ever move on from the pain of losing Pete?  Or will she manipulate a combat mission for her own selfish, cowardly motives?  Will a deed many would call heroic and highly patriotic really be camouflage for a suicide?  Dorinda and Pete were never up a plane alone together when he was alive.  They are now.  This part soars with expert direction and fine acting.
Pete's spirit tries to get through to her mind as he calls her out on her internal war: "You're afraid of living.  Afraid of life!"  He's now her guardian angel.  This is an intense mission and ultimate test for them both.  This action-packed final combat scene is very Hollywood, yet these two solid actors keep the fantasy rooted in a working class reality.  Watch all the different emotions wash across Irene Dunne's face during Tracy's long dramatic and touching monologue.  She is actively listening with her soul.  She is listening to her soul.  Pete's spirit is with her.  You know Dorinda hears that little voice way in the back of her head -- only that little voice isn't hers.  It's a spiritual inspiration.  "Inspire" means to breath in, which is exactly what Dunne does in her last shot.  She breaths in deeply.  Even the tips of her collar flap as she does.  You feel Dorinda's spiritual change. Lovely work, Ms. Dunne.  How many moviegoers also had to learn how to move on from grief caused by World War II?  Have you ever lost a loved one?  When friends tried to comfort you by saying that he or she "is in a better place," didn't you feel like saying "Yes, but I'm not"?  I know I did.  I think that's why I connect with Irene Dunne's performance as Dorinda.  Moving on from a state of grief is not easy.  She played Dorinda's heartbreak and emotional conflict so well.  Her final scene always makes my eyes a bit misty.

Several Irene Dunne movies were remade.  Deborah Kerr starred in popular remakes of two Irene Dunne classics -- Love Affair and Anna and the King of Siam which became An Affair to Remember and the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, The King and I.  Cimarron, Back Street, Roberta, Showboat, Magnificent Obsession and The Awful Truth were also redone.  Marilyn Monroe was doing Dunne's role in a remake of My Favorite Wife when her untimely death halted production.  The project was later repackaged and became 1963's Move Over, Darling with Doris Day and James Garner.  Day playfully mentions Dunne in the movie.  A Guy Named Joe was no exception.  It's makeover was Steven Spielberg's Always with Holly Hunter and Richard Dreyfuss as Dorinda and Pete in 1989.  Forest fires replaced Nazis in the Spielberg version.

The patriotic A Guy Named Joe was written by Dalton Trumbo, later one of the Hollywood Ten and a victim of blacklisting.  In that dark political period of the late 1940s/1950s, he was investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).  Go figure.  What a shame.  His A Guy Named Joe was one of the top ten box office hits of the year.
See Irene Dunne in feminist flight action Friday night, August 24th, on TCM.  That whole day is a Dunne deal on Turner Classic Movies.  On that same day, you can read more about her in the 2012 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon.  Here's a link:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Thank You, Phyllis Diller

As far as I'm concerned, this world is a better place because Phyllis Diller was in it.  There was simply no one like Diller.  Her look was unique.  Her voice was unique.  Not only her physical voice but her voice, material-wise, in her stand-up comedy act.  Years before Roseanne Barr hit the ABC sitcom arena with her "domestic goddess" character, Diller was making me laugh so hard I cried with her stories about her husband, Fang, and her bad housekeeping skills.  ("Fang's so stupid, he thinks a royal flush is the john at Buckingham Palace."  "You know how some women say 'My kitchen floor's so clean, you could eat off it'?  You could eat off mine too.  Lord knows there's enough food on it.")  In the male-dominated field of stand-up comedy, she was a breakthrough.
Phyllis Diller helped me win a Kimball spinet piano.  This was on my first television appearance way back when I was kid attending a parochial high school in the Watts section of South Central Los Angeles.  The exact year?  Can't recall right now.  But I do know it was definitely after I'd recovered from the death of Judy Garland and it was before I got accepted to Marquette University.  I was determined to prove to my mother that I was serious in my passion for classic films.  In The Los Angeles Times, one Sunday, I read an ad seeking "Movie Buffs."  They were wanted for a new TV game show about classic film trivia.  I badgered my now-divorced working mother to let me go to Hollywood, take the written test and see what happens.  She drove me.  I aced the classic film trivia written test.  I aced the next one.  And the one after that.  I became the youngest and first black contestant to be on the syndicated night time program, The Movie Game.  This was a weeknight show that had celebrity guests as teammates for the contestants.  My teammates were Phyllis Diller and former beefcake movie actor, Hugh O'Brian.
The brawny actor found bigger success on the small screen on the hit TV series, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp.  That western made him a star.
Look at the size of Wyatt Earp's gun.  That lawman was packin'!  O'Brian was a big friendly bear of a man. Phyllis was just as effervescent off-camera as she was on-camera.  I got to hear that fabulous laugh of hers in person.  Backstage, she chatted with Mom and really connected to her being a single working mother with three kids.  And the oldest child just changed the image of black urban youth by pressing a buzzer on a TV game show and saying "The answer is Ann Miller in Kiss Me Kate!"  My celebrity teammates were terrific.  My opponent, another high schooler who was found for that special Teen Edition of The Movie Game, had Dyan Cannon and star of TV's The Fugitive, David Janssen.  They were on the losing team.  Yes -- I was the first black contestant, the youngest one at that time...and the first black champion on The Movie Game.  We shot the show on the old Goldwyn Studios lot in Hollywood.  My grandparents got to see the show when it aired in New Jersey.  My classmates and teachers got to see it when it aired on KHJ/Channel 9 in Los Angeles.  This was decades before VCR, DVR, DVD, VHS, the internet and taking photos with your phone.  I wish I had a copy of the show but, apparently, no copies of the shows exist.  I got that info in an email from the surviving host.  The Movie Game was co-hosted by popular New York City TV talent, Sonny Fox.  On the East Coast, he'd hosted a kiddie show called Wonderama.
Sonny Fox is still with us.  In fact, Whoopi Goldberg will be interviewing him for a special Paley Center evening event in New York City on September 24th.
Whoopi, a Wonderama fan, will chat with Sonny Fox about his 40 years in television.  His co-host on The Movie Game was veteran Hollywood reporter, the late Army Archerd.
Archerd, the renowned and respected longtime columnist for Variety, interviewed just about every star  who ever worked in front of movie camera.
Apparently, Sonny Fox and Army Archerd got along like Joan Crawford and Bette Davis.  I heard the friction carried over into who owned the show's rights.  That's a reason why The Movie Game had a short run and it's also a reason why copies of the show don't exist.  You know what's ironic?  Today, it's exactly the kind of game show I'd dig hosting on national TV.  What a fun, exciting experience that was.  One day, you're in the curfew area of the Watts Riots of the 1960s.  The next, you're backstage standing next to Stephen Boyd and Jeanne Crain during a break in shooting.  Check my blog archive.  I wrote more about this in my April blog entry, "TV's Wyatt Earp and Me."  I'm pretty sure I was the first kid from South Central L.A. to win a spinet piano, a stereo, art supplies and a rug by answering "Sonja Henie!" on syndicated television.  And Phyllis Diller helped me to victory.  That was my high school summer vacation one year.  How cool is that?

Monday, August 20, 2012

We Had THE HUNGER (1983)

Last night, film lovers were shocked to read the news that Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop II director, Tony Scott, committed suicide.  Heaven hold him and heaven comfort loved ones now heartbroken because of losing him.  This will be a lead story in entertainment news because he directed movies that did big box office business.  He directed Denzel Washington in five films -- Crimson Tide, Man on Fire, Deja Vu, the remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 and another train-out-of-control thriller, 2010's Unstoppable.  A friend told me that the Associated Press referred to his 1983 film, The Hunger, as "a bomb."  I love that film.  You take those teen bloodsuckers in Twilight.  I'll take the sophisticated, mature, high fashion adult vampires in The Hunger.  Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie as old vampires who look fabulous and now live well in modern-day Manhattan, feeding at night on clueless hipsters hitting the club scene for sexy thrills.
Miriam became a vampire in ancient Egypt.  Being a vampire means the look of eternal youth.  Blood is better than Botox.
Miriam's lover starts to show his age, decay and die.  She's sweetly tired of him anyway.
Before he dies, he visits a Manhattan doctor who specializes in pre-mature aging diseases.  I was fascinated with those diseases.  Especially that rare disorder some little kids had making them look old and wrinkled.  I can't remember what it's called but youngsters usually got to go to DisneyLand for free if they had it.  I remember that from local TV news feel-good features when I was a kid in L.A.  The disease had its perks.
The doctor is played by Susan Sarandon.  The patient's story she heard is hard to believe but she's curious.  She meets Miriam.  Miriam desires her.  Miriam has the hunger.  This elegant, creepy vampire thriller becomes Sappho-licious.
The divine Carrie Rickey, nationally renowned movie critic and film historian, wrote about the scene in which Deneuve seduces Sarandon while playing the classical piece, "Lakmé," on the piano.  Ms. Rickey accurately described director Tony Scott's sequence as "all diffused light and concentrated lust."
Amen, Ms. Rickey!  She's right.  Tony Scott was a master at that.  The art design of The Hunger seemed to reflect artwork from a very popular 1980s illustrator -- the late Patrick Nagel.  Remember seeing this style of artwork framed in friend's apartments and in New York publications like Interview? Or in advertising? Or on a Duran Duran album cover?
Nagel's work blended art deco with a disco era youth eroticism.
Tony Scott's eye candy visuals of The Hunger had a bit of the then-popular Patrick Nagel look.  It's a seductive and hypnotic film.  Scott's movie introduced me to the beauty of Delibes' opera, "Lakmé."  The Hunger has a different pace than the MTV rock/macho shirtless boys' club vibe of Top Gun.  I recommend renting it.  I hate that it was a called "a bomb" by the AP.  I hate the mentality that a film's worth is solely based on how it did in the weekend box office.  Adam Sandler's The Waterboy was a big box office hit.  It entertained millions.  Does that mean it's got more artistic merit than The Hunger?  Or It's A Wonderful Life?  Or The Night of the Hunter?  Or The Wizard of Oz in its initial 1939 release?  Or last year's The Artist?  They didn't do big box office like The Waterboy either.  Film is art.  Not just commerce or a fast food item like a new-fangled cheeseburger.  As a ticket buyer back in 1983, I was very satisfied with The Hunger, Scott's debut as a film director.  You could see that he had the gift.  Youth, beauty, wealth, long life, same-sex desire...and something about blood that transforms you.  This played on the big screen as we dealt with a new health crisis called AIDS.  What a movie.
It was sexy, stylish, smart -- and scary.  Before Twilight and HBO's True Blood, there was The Hunger.
I saw this movie in Milwaukee with my fabulous, funny lesbian friend, Janet.  I think the only way to experience this film is to see it for the first time with a fabulous, funny lesbian friend who really appreciates David Bowie, good lighting and great art design in movies.  I loved going to the movies with Janet.  In the seduction scene, the doctor notices a beautiful art object in Miriam's living room.  Miriam says, "It's over two thousand years old."  Janet leaned over to me in the theater and whispered, "I bet she bought it when it was new."  After all these years, I still giggle at that line because of what Janet said.

In my Milwaukee FM rock radio days of the late '70s, I once interviewed members of our city's avant-garde downtown local stage company, Theatre X.  One of its members moved to Manhattan to pursue acting work there.  He got a bit part in The Hunger as a guy in a phone booth.  Willem Dafoe, like the film's female stars -- Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon -- would go on to future work that would make him an Oscar nominee.  One of his two nominations was for Shadow of the Vampire (2000).  It's about the stressful behind-the-scenes making of the classic 1922 vampire film, Nosferatu.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Michael Caine Lifts Batman

Last weekend, I got to see Christopher Nolan's closing chapter in his Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight  Rises.  I won't go into the plot here, in case you haven't seen it.  But terrorists occupy Wall Street.  Catwoman represents the anger of millions of working class Americans who can't make a living today  because the rich keep getting richer.  Sir Michael Caine returns as Bruce Wayne's confidant and steely butler, Alfred.  If you're a young person interested in the craft of acting, you must go see this movie.  Not for the sake of action entertainment -- and you will be entertained in the action department -- but to see Michael Caine in action.  If you can't learn a thing or two about acting from watching him at work, you need to pursue a different profession.  He's one of the best.
I've been watching his work for over half my life so far.  He gets a couple of choice scenes in this film as Alfred reveals innermost dreams that didn't seem to come true.  The world-weariness fills Alfred's eyes as if against his will.  It's awkward, embarrassing, real.  I sat in my cineplex seat and said to myself, "Wow."  As Alfred the butler, Michael Caine is a master class of film acting technique.  Yes, young actors.  Watch this movie...and learn.
To bring that quality of complicated human emotions to what is basically a comic book character is truly brilliant.  Alfred is not just merely a manservant who can keep a secret.  He is a man who cares deeply.  An imperfect man, which gives him depth.  A young British actor, new to American filmgoers and someone whose work Caine highly praises, plays the villain.  Tom Hardy clashes with Batman as Bane.  Like Batman, he needs to keep his face partially obscured.  Like Batman, he knows two women in Gotham City.
If you want to see one helluva riveting performance, rent the British film Bronson.  Based on a true story, Hardy burns up the screen as the real-life violent criminal.  So violent that the British prison system slapped the brute into solitary confinement.  A buddy recommended this film to me.  Honestly, I avoided it for a couple of weeks thinking it was another movie that made violence amusing -- like a video game.  Just the opposite.
Bronson looks at a rabid-like aggression that's somehow allowed to run free for a time in society.  It also looks at the consequences of violence.  Hardy is astounding in it.  They've been done but if I remade the classics Alfie and Sleuth today, I'd cast Tom Hardy in the roles Michael Caine had.  No disrespect to Jude Law who did star in the remakes.
To this vile character -- who can be oddly tolerant of alternative lifestyles -- prison is like a college dorm.  He's scary even when he's totally naked and behind bars.  Bronson is not made out to be a misunderstood hero in this 2008 film, one that has echoes of Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange.  The convict tells his tale onstage.  In stage make-up.  Bronson touches on the oddity of celebrity worship too.  Tom Hardy got lucky with Bane.
Hardy's acting hero is trilogy star Gary Oldman.  He claims to have "stolen" a lot from Oldman's style when he played the lead in Bronson.  Oldman reprises his Commissioner Gordon character in The Dark Knight Rises.  Gordon's body and soul are in danger here.
Tom Hardy did not hold back on showing his respect and affection for Gary Oldman.
The Dark Knight Rises -- neither a shortage of exciting action nor excellent acting.  Oldman, Hardy and  Sir Michael Caine -- The Master -- rise to the occasion.

Friday, August 17, 2012

At Home with Louis Gossett, Jr.

Here's a still from the hit 1982 movie that earned Louis Gossett, Jr. an Oscar® nomination for Best Supporting Actor.  As the drill instructor, he barked orders to the Navy brat Richard Gere played in An Officer and a Gentleman.
Hollywood expected the drill sergeant role to go to actor Scott Glenn (John Travolta's rival in Urban Cowboy, astronaut Alan Shepard in The Right Stuff).  Lou Gossett won the Oscar over James Mason for The Verdict and Robert Preston for Victor/Victoria.
Over the weekend, I had a great privilege to tape an interview with the Academy Award winner in his Malibu home.  I saw his Oscar.  It was right next to the Emmy he won acting in the groundbreaking 1977 ABC miniseries based on Alex Haley's Roots.  How did I wind up being invited to Mr. Gossett's Malibu home?  I got the co-host spot in a TV pilot!  That interview will be in the film review/interview show pilot.  I can't put in mere words how grateful and jubilant I am to have this opportunity.  I got laid off from my median income job in 2009.  As hard as I tried to inch and climb up, I still fell below the poverty line -- just like millions of other working class Americans did.  This TV pilot is a major ray of hope for me.  It's the biggest possibility for employment I've had since my lay-off.  Mr. Gossett and I talked about the current U.S. financial crisis and the spiritual lessons such unexpected, humiliating turns can teach us.  We also talked sex symbol and Hollywood legend Marilyn Monroe.  Did you know that he was in Actors Studio classes with her?
I asked him how the scenes Marilyn Monroe did in class differed from what we saw her do on the big screen.  Lou Gossett enthusiastically answered that, had she lived, he would not be surprised if she'd won an Oscar for acting.  He said that her class work in scenes from two top plays written by Tennessee Williams was extraordinary.  In fact, she wanted him to act opposite her in a scene from Williams' lusty The Rose Tattoo.  He politely declined.  The reason?  There's only so much a healthy, red-blooded man can stand.
Lou had a hard difficult time being next to Marilyn Monroe without sporting an obvious masculine physical reaction to her charms and sex appeal.  Gossett also gleefully talked about Maggie Smith, currently a big hit on PBS' Downton Abbey.  In the 1972 comedy/drama Travels With My Aunt, he played "Wordsworth," a trusted companion to madcap con artist, Augusta Bertram. We meet her when she's a senior citizen.  In flashbacks, we'll see her young and beginning her eccentric ways of life.
Directed by veteran filmmaker George Cukor, this performance brought Maggie another Oscar nomination for Best Actress.  When I mentioned that Cukor was often called "a women's director,"  Gossett said that it was because Cukor was tough on women.  He didn't let them get away with anything.  I asked if Cukor was tough on Maggie Smith.  He told me that, indeed, Cukor was.  Gossett adored Maggie Smith.  Obviously, he still does.
I blogged recently about the late, great Diana Sands. He worked opposite her on Broadway and in the 1961 film version of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun.  He and Sands worked together in The Landlord, the first film directed by Hal Ashby.  Sands, a remarkable actress, broke colors barriers on Broadway when she starred in George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan.  She was the first black actress to do so.
Gossett told me she "was heartbroken" that she did not get the opportunity to recreate her Broadway comedy performance in The Owl and the Pussycat for Hollywood.  Opposite Alan Alda, she originated the role of the annoying, opinionated hooker/actress that went to Oscar winner Barbra Streisand for the 1970 film adaptation.
Lou Gossett whole-heartedly agreed with me that Diana Sands, who succumbed to cancer at age 39 in 1973, should have been a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for 1970's The Landlord.  As I blogged previously, her performance in it was luminous.
The original Broadway castmembers of A Raisin in the Sun reprised their roles in the movie version.  Diana Sands (far left of below photo) was the intellectual sister to Sidney Poitier's character.  Lou Gossett (far right) was the realist who wants to marry her.
Poiter and Gossett would go on to make Oscar history.  Sidney would be the first black man to win for Best Actor.  Lou would be the first black man to win for Best Supporting Actor.  Poitier, Ruby Dee, Gossett and Diana Sands performed the words of playwright Lorraine Hansberry.  Like Sands, she died young after being stricken with cancer.  Hansberry dropped out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  She found college too limiting and uncreative.  She went to New York City to pursue a writing career.  She made African-American and Women's history.  Based on experiences her Chicago family had with racial segregation, A Raisin in the Sun was the first play by an African-American woman to be produced on Broadway.  It was a hit.  Hansberry was not yet 30.
Lorraine Hansberry used her talent to speak out against racism and homophobia.  She was vocal for civil rights and gay rights.  She died in 1965.  I asked Gossett what Ms. Hansberry was like.  He described her as a strong, focused, passionately political personality in those early days of the Civil Rights movement.  In the interview,  I said that Lorraine Hansberry's story sounds like it would make a good big screen biopic.  I asked who he'd cast in the lead.  Lou Gossett quickly said "Taraji P. Henson."  TV viewers watched on the CBS series, Person of Interest and saw her in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  She got an Oscar nomination for playing Button's mother. 

Mr. Gossett and I discussed Hollywood disappointments after his Oscar win and TV disappointments early in his career.  Did you know he was originally cast as Gale Sayers in the big hit made-for-ABC TV movie, Brian's Song?  The true tale of two NFL teammates' unlikely friendship starred Billy Dee Williams after Gossett injured his foot.
James Caan played Brian Piccolo.  The 1971 tearjerker story of the Sayers and Piccolo friendship off the field during Piccolo's terminal illness was a network touchdown.
But ABC execs did remember Gossett's talent years later when casting for Roots, the legendary miniseries that brought him an Emmy.  He did say that Billy Dee was excellent as the famed football star.  Speaking of athletes, actor/producer Lou Gossett, Jr. has a script.  Olympic champs have transitioned from athletic glory to movie stardom.  Most notably, Johnny Weissmuller starred as Tarzan the Ape Man for a successful MGM franchise in Old Hollywood studio days.  He took Olympics gold for swimming.  His Tarzan adventures included swimming sequences.  Sonja Henie was an Olympics champ for ice skating.  Henie was a box office champ starring in 1930s musical comedies for 20th Century Fox that showcased her skills.   Gossett has a movie project he believes is right for Gabby Douglas -- the lady who took gold for her amazing skill in gymnastics.
I saw the script.  Gossett's ready to get it to Gabby if he can.  There's a small role in it for him too.  I hope Gabby meets with him.  I had such a wonderful and meaningful time with the actor.  I've paid to see him on the big screen.  I've watched him on the small screen.
I never, ever dreamed that one day I'd be interviewing him in his Malibu home.  His autobiography came out last year.  The title describes him succinctly.  We shoot the rest of our TV pilot episodes the last weekend of this month.  My interview will be in them, in two parts.  Say one for me.  I like this project a lot.  I'm praying it gets picked up.  Oh!  I did have one "movie geek" moment with Lou Gossett.  He was in the original cast of Golden Boy, the 1960s Broadway musical version of the Clifford Odets drama.  The musical drama starred Sammy Davis, Jr.  Off-camera, Gossett commented that he loved the 1939 movie with newcomer John Garfield.  I smiled and said, "William Holden."  He smiled back and said, "John Garfield."  I kept a polite smile plastered on my face as I replied in a slightly lower register, "William...Holden.  And Barbara Stanwyck."
Nevertheless I still had a lovely, lovely time at Lou Gossett's home in Malibu.  Our two-part interview may be posted online after we finish taping the show's pilot episodes for PBS.  And it was William Holden as Golden Boy in 1939.  Not John Garfield.  See?

Oscar Buzz for TILL

 I'm on Twitter and, in the last three weeks, there's been Oscar buzz from a few established movie critics. The buzz was that Cate B...