Monday, September 3, 2012

Happy Labor Day: Work it, baby!

Happy Labor Day, you all.  I am so glad, grateful and thrilled to have spent recent weekends working in front of a camera for a TV pilot.  If this project gets picked up, I could make a joyous return to America's workforce.  How I long to kick unemployment to the curb!  In my broadcast career, I've encountered two kinds of folks.  One kind ignores the obvious but wants me to think it cares and is here to help me.  The other kind sees what I can do and recruits me to do it.  That kind truly helps me.  There's a TV producer who has known me since I was the first African-American to host his own prime time weeknight celebrity talk show on VH1 back in the late '80s.  My talk show work earned me a rave review one Sunday in the Arts and Leisure section of The New York Times.  When he was still likable and a big movie star, Mel Gibson was an entertaining half-hour guest on my show.  He told me why he rejected several offers to be the next James Bond.
This network TV producer, as late as 2008, continued to say "Gee...I wish I knew what to do with you."  He always compliments me but I've never been contacted to audition for any of his TV host projects.  If I was Jesus resurrected from the dead and had turned a glass of his tap water into a fine Chardonnay, he'd still say that he didn't know what to do with me.  Why?  Because he really doesn't want to do anything with me.  This year, I met another TV producer.  Soon after we worked together for the first time, she told folks that I'm a skilled TV host and celebrity interviewer.  A great help, she was with me when I interviewed Oscar winning actor Louis Gossett, Jr. last month in his Malibu home.  The 2-part interview will be in the pilot episodes of a film-related show I have the privilege of co-hosting.  We started shooting the episodes the weekend before last in New York City.  There's more to be shot later this month.  This opportunity has been an unexpected blessing.  I was so hungry to get the auditions and meetings that, when she asked if I could get to New York and find my own place to stay, I said enthusiastically..."Yes!"  With the help of the best cousin since the one Bette Davis' character has in Now, Voyager, I got there and had a place to stay.  I think this is all what folks call "perseverance" and "faith in action."  Thanks to all of you who've sent best wishes during my time with this project.  What a great feeling it is -- on a Labor Day -- to have the possibility of a new job on the horizon.  It's a job that would allow me to do the kind of work that I love.

Besides my cousin, I have been humbled and healed by the help received from other relatives and by friends since I was cut from the workforce and severely wounded by the Recession in 2009.  I feel like I'm starting to recover.  In the meantime, I'll continue my Labor Day ritual of watching William Holden carbonate the hormones of a Kansas house full of frustrated women in the film version of the hit Broadway play, Picnic.  He's the sexy, butch buddy of a local well-to-do college grad.  He drifts into town on Labor Day in hopes of getting hooked up with a job.  He doesn't get a job, but he does get  the town babe played by Kim Novak.  But she's been seeing the well-do-to college grad buddy.  This works the last good nerve of her disillusioned mother (Betty Field), and the old maid high school schoolteacher who lives with them (Rosalind Russell).  His presence, however, fascinates Madge (Novak) and her sad bookworm sister (Susan Strasberg).
Holden felt he was ten years too old for the part.  Honestly, he was too old.  Both he and Rosalind Russell were in films that became classics of 1939.  He was a new actor who starred as Golden Boy and she was one of The Women.  Both films were also based on Broadway hits.  But he'd won an Oscar by then, for Billy Wilder's Stalag 17, and was a big 1950s box office draw.  Holden had talent and movie star magnetism.  Picnic was a box office hit and an Oscar nominee for Best Picture.  So was his other release that year, Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing with Jennifer Jones.  To make himself look a bit younger for the Picnic part, he was asked to shave his chest.  Against his wishes, he did.
For Josh Logan, director of 1955's Picnic, Holden shed the fur he had when, as out-of-work Hollywood screenwriter Joe Gillis, he took the vicuña coat in the upscale men's shop and became Norma Desmond's paid boytoy in Billy Wilder's 1950 classic, Sunset Blvd.
Drifter Hal's former college buddy, Alan Benson, is played by future fellow Best Actor Oscar winner, Cliff Robertson.  One of my classic movie guilty pleasures is the Kansas community pool locker room scene with Hal and Alan.  It's early in the picture.  Thank Heaven for TCM showing widescreen films in letterbox format.  I giggle every time I see this scene.  The movie screen can make small objects look massive.  In this scene, Cliff Robertson's nipples poke out and look like the tips of nuclear missiles.
Picnic is based on a William Inge play.  I like his work because most of it contains some kind of Midwest sexual frustration pushed to the point of hysteria in, at least, one character.  Like in Splendor in the Grass.  This movie is no exception.  That house is steaming with female sexual frustration.  Roz's middle-aged schoolteacher character criticizes the mother for letting bookworm Millie read "The Ballad of the Sad Cafe."
Meanwhile, she's cruising Hal's package at the Labor Day picnic and she'll drunkenly humiliate herself later because she doesn't have a man.  Rosemary is jealous of Madge's youth and desirability.  The only woman who sees and respects Hal for what he is from the get-go, the only woman who seems like she could be his match and no-drama partner, is fabulous Verna Felton as the next door neighbor.  Hell, she's the first person to coax Hal out of his shirt!  This sweet senior dame is hip versus hip replacement.
You just know she wishes she could hop a train like Hal did, head for a big city, and get her senior groove on.  But she lives with her loud and needy invalid mother.  She's being a good daughter.  Hal's time in town breaks up the monotony of her being mother's caretaker.  Momma's got to be close to 110.  Damn.  Just look at Verna.
The dish I wait for in Picnic is the dance.  We've heard all this Kansas corn type of big band music.  Then, all of a sudden, the music goes from Lawrence Welk quality to a Chet Baker vibe with a cool Pacific Coast jazz beat.  Hal has mentioned to Millie that he learned a dance step in L.A.  That line validates the music switch.  The Picnic theme became a hit record.  We hear why.  It's blended into that jazz band rendition of "Moonglow" and draws Madge out like a moth to a porch light.  Novak,  fully utilizing both of her facial expressions, is pretty in pink.  She wears a typical 1950s movie star bra that makes her boobs look like they've just located Magnetic North.  Madge is not such a Kansas hick.  She totally digs that tasty West Coast jazz beat.  She can keep up with hard luck Hal.
So many of my teen dreams of romance were colored by watching this scene on "The Late Show" when I was a kid.  This is one of the sexiest movie dances performed by two non-dancers -- Kim Novak and William Holden.  Man, I still love this scene!
Watch how Holden feels and caresses her hand during that dance.  Ooh, baby!  Great screen techique.  OK, I'll admit it:  This scene colors my current dreams of romance too.  Steady work and a fine romance.  They're both on my wish list.  I'm off to have a hot dog and a cold beer.  Happy Labor Day.

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