Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Mel Gibson as TIM

I blogged about this movie way back when Mel Gibson was burning up the tabloids and entertainment news headlines with his verbally abusive, abrasive and just plain bone-headed behavior.  He got so out of control that he was even lampooned on TV's South Park.  Full disclosure:  Mel Gibson was one of my favorite guests on my old VH1 talk show.  He was polite, playful and honest.  He graciously posed for photos and gave autographs in the studio.  He was promoting his new 1988 movie, Tequila Sunrise, at the time.  The second time I interviewed him, he was an established movie superstar thanks to the Lethal Weapon franchise plus his Best Director and Best Picture Oscar victories for 1995's Braveheart, which he starred in and produced.  He'd changed.  He was rude.  And not just to me.  He was promoting 1997's Conspiracy Theory then and appeared to be visibly bored with interviews that were not for network news programs or syndicated shows like Entertainment Tonight.  I was with the local Fox station, WNYW, in New York city.  When I agreed to fly out from New York City to L.A. to be a part of the Lethal Weapon 4 junket, I was secretly hoping he would not be available for interviews.  I'd began to feel about Mel Gibson the way some press people and Hollywood insiders felt about Norman Maine in A Star Is Born -- specifically the 1954 version with James Mason and Judy Garland.

Mel Gibson was available for Lethal Weapon 4 interviews.  I just did my work for Fox 5's Good Day New York.  But I was not thrilled about giving up my weekend to fly 3000 miles and talk to him about that dog of a 1998 sequel.  Dean Richards of Chicago's WGN and Steve Kmetko, formerly of E!, are two entertainment reporters and class acts in the field of entertainment journalists on TV.  They know how I felt.  They've also had their rude moments with Mel.

I was a major Mel Gibson fan.  I paid to see his new summertime action movie releases just like millions of others did back in the late 80s and early 90s.  Then...maybe he got too intoxicated on stardom and power.  But you cannot deny that he was born with movie star charisma.  Just look at his early work like Mad Max and Gallipoli.  When Hollywood cast him in Lethal Weapon, his movie star quality was able to blaze with excellent box office results.

One of the 1990s Mel Gibson comments that irked people -- mostly gay people -- was a statement to foreign press that no one would ever mistake a guy with his looks for being a gay man.  Apparently, Gibson felt he looked way too butch.

Before Mad Max was released, Australian TV viewers saw young Mel Gibson as Tim.  This, from what I was told, was a big hit 1979 TV movie "down under" that's now considered somewhat of a classic.  It was written by Colleen McCullough.  Her novel, The Thorn Birds, would be wildly successful and become a ratings champion ABC TV mini-series in 1983 starring Richard Chamberlain, Rachel Ward and the amazing Barbara Stanwyck.

Mel Gibson played Tim, a sweet young man with below-average intellectual abilities.  He does manual labor but, unfortunately, some of his co-workers take advantage of him because he's simple-minded and good-hearted.
The camera falls in love with wide-eyed Mel Gibson in this Australian feature.

Kindness and concern come in the form of a middle-aged single woman played wonderfully by  Piper Laurie.  She wants to help Tim and establish a proper friendship.

Of course, local tongues start wagging about the new friendship of the unmarried older man and the young man who helps her with gardening chores.

The two become very good friends and we, the viewers, wonder if the friendship will advance to some serious lip action one night.  Tim is a babe.

Here's the thing about that ignorant Mel Gibson comment to the foreign press.  You absolutely must see  him in the first 15 minutes of Tim.  If The Village People had adopted a baby boy and that child grew into young manhood, their son would look just like Mel Gibson as Tim.

The soulful Bambi eyes, the sleeveless work shirts, the swimwear....

Tim may be described as "simple-minded," but there's something very sophisticated and smart about his entire wardrobe which he obviously purchased on a handyman's budget.  Did Mel Gibson just forget about this movie?  In the first 15 minutes of the feature, there's a scene of Tim mowing Mary's grass in the backyard.  That's not a euphemism.  Piper Laurie's character hires Tim to do some yard work.  Watch him as he cuts the grass.  He's wearing a tank top, blue jean cut-offs -- cut very short -- and work boots that complement the tank top.

For an actor who'd later say that no one would ever mistake him for being a gay man, he's pushing a lawn mower while dressed like a bartender in a West Hollywood gay club during happy hour.

Australia's beloved Tim is not widely known to American audiences.  You can see it this coming Friday night, May 2nd, on cable's TCM (Turner Classic Movies).  Tim, starring Mel Gibson and Piper Laurie, airs at midnight Eastern time -- 9p Pacific time.

Let me know what you think of Mel's fashion statements in the movie.  Would you call them haute hetero?

To go back to Mel's friendly days in the late 1980s, here's a clip of him on my VH1 talk show telling me what famous movie character he could have played.

On Friday night, May 2nd, Tim will be seen in between TCM airings of Gallipoli and Mad Max, also starring early Mel Gibson.

He's a talented actor and director.  Sadly, his off-camera lack of discipline and his bad manners blemished his movie star image and box office appeal to such an extent that his 2012 big action movie, Get the Gringo, did not open wide.  It pretty much went straight to DirecTV.  What a humiliating change from his Lethal Weapon days.  It was exactly the same kind of thing that would've happened to Norman Maine.

What movie did open worldwide in 2012 to huge box office business and rave reviews?  Skyfall -- starring Daniel Craig...as James Bond.

Next year, we'll see a new version of Mad Max.  The ballsy and brilliant British actor Tom Hardy, seen here on the current cover of Esquire magazine, takes on the title role.

Let's see if Gibson eventually can change and repair his film career.  You never know.  I could be offered an opportunity to interview him again.

Sunday, April 27, 2014


This is for fellow classic film devotees.  The big entertainment news making headlines is that Gorgeous George got engaged.
Yes.  That Oscar-winning Hollywood actor/writer/director/producer and philanthropist (good deed doer) is romantically off the market.  For now.  I totally dig George Clooney.
He brought Old Hollywood class, charisma and charm into modern times.  His longtime bachelorhood has been great material for entertainment reporters and gossip columnists.  His love life seems to be in a constant state of sweet change.  Perhaps he's been more willing to say "I'll think about it" instead of being eager to say "I do."  But now, after several girlfriends through the years, he's reportedly engaged.  I send them best wishes and big blessings.
You know who George Clooney has long reminded me of in the celebrity romance and popularity department?  Charles Boyer as the renowned playboy bachelor in 1939's Love Affair.  He's played the field and has finally gotten engaged.  His engagement made headlines.  While at Lake Como in Italy, he visited an old flame and...well, her embers had not died out.  We learn this from the witty, wonderful, wise lady he meets onboard the luxury liner during his voyage.  She's played by Irene Dunne.
In her, he meets his deliciously wisecracking match.  She's a singer.  A good one.  She's serious about her career and being an independent woman.  She's got a kind heart and a good spirit.  She's also engaged.  But things will change during their ocean voyage.
They will fall in love with each other.  Before they depart the ship in New York City, they agree to meet in six months at the top of the Empire State Building if what they feel for each other is real.

It's real.  But there will be changes in their love affair.  Starting with a spiritual change in a chapel after their initial mutual romantic and sexual attraction, there will be physical, financial and even residential changes that test their relationship before the happy ending.  And there will be two excellent songs.
As you know, this was famously remade in the 1950s as AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. The original and the 1957 remake were both co-written and directed by Leo McCarey.  In 1994, it was remade again as LOVE AFFAIR starring former playboy Warren Beatty and the woman he married, Annette Bening.

My favorite version is the 1939 original.  For one thing, the songs were better.  The first remake, the one with the good performances by Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr plus two sappy new songs, is the old movie the females cherish in the 1993 Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan romantic comedy, SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE.  In 1982, Kate Jackson and Michael Ontkean starred as the young married L.A. couple in MAKING LOVE happily watching and quoting lines from An Affair to Remember.

Clooney reminds me of the sophisticated yet down-to-earth, devoted Boyer character in Love Affair.  Not that it needs to be or even cries out to be remade yet again, but, if it was, the male lead role could be a perfect fit for George Clooney.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Anne Baxter's Bible Stories

When I was young, we children nationwide waited eagerly every year for the annual network special broadcast presentation of 1939's The Wizard of Oz.  It usually aired on a weekend close to Easter Sunday on CBS.

We don't see The Wizard of Oz as a special network presentation anymore.  But Cecil DeMille's beautifully overdone color remake of The Ten Commandments has now become the Hollywood classic to see and quote on primetime ABC come the Passover/Easter season.  DeMille had done a silent version in the 1923.  His lavish remake has gorgeous color, stunning art direction, fabulous costumes by Edith Head, overbaked dialogue and just about every Jew in Hollywood with a SAG card who worked as a background actor.

The star assets are Charlton Heston, first as young hunky Moses in chains when it's discovered he's not Egyptian but Hebrew...
....and then later as middle-aged holy daddy bear conservative Moses with a touch of grey in the beard when he's tight with Yahweh and ready to part the Red Sea.
Co-starring with stoic Heston, there's bald beefcake Yul Brynner as the bad guy.  He's basically giving you hot, nasty male model realness the way he struts around causing high drama.  He works every single Edith Head costume he wears.  Who else but Yul Brynner could've had the swagger and confidence to make a totally butch fashion statement in those exotic costumes requiring all those accessories?

If there was a Biblical version of Magic Mike, Yul Brynner would've been the Matthew McConaughey character.

The Ten Commandments was Yul Brynner's Project Runway.

But our favorite star asset, the tastiest and ripest cherry on the overly-iced DeMille Technicolor cake, is Anne Baxter as Nefretiri.

She's determined to get her mouth on "the Kosher meal" in this drama -- and that's Moses.  She puts her bad girl vamp powers on ramming speed.
Remember Anne Baxter as "the little witch," Eve Harrington, in All About Eve?  She wants the stardom and the man that one certain Broadway legend has.  She schemed to snatch occupational and romantic territory away from kind-hearted Margo Channing (Bette Davis) the way Pharoah wanted to snatch land and freedom away from Jews in The Ten Commandments.                         
Eve manages to win the Sarah Siddons Award for Broadway acting.  In her genteel, humble acceptance speech -- a greater performance than the one she probably gave on stage -- she says "...although I am going to Hollywood to make a film..." Remember that?
DeMille's 1956 The Ten Commandments, to me, is exactly the kind of movie that Eve Harrington would've high-tailed it to Hollywood to make.  She would've worked with a famous director, had a starring role, and she would've been a vamp onscreen and off.  Eve Harrington would've been both Nefretiri and "the burning bush" in her dressing room with the married leading man.
Think about that the next time you see The Ten Commandments and hear Nefretiri coo "Moses" with that low-register, smoky voice with those wet, ready lips.

The Ten Commandments is campy religious fun.  From what I've heard about Noah starring Russell Crowe as the water prophet, DeMille did Biblical stories better at Paramount in the 1950s compared to today's Noah.  And DeMille hired black actors for Tne Ten Commandments -- unlike the director of Russell Crowe's epic.

1956's The Ten Commandments.  It's all about Anne Baxter as Eve Harrington playing Nefretiri.

She gave Bible stories a juicy pulp fiction vibe.  And I'm totally cool with that.  How about you?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Eric Deggans on NPR

I really dig the commentary of TV critic Eric Deggans.  They are sharp, accurate and provocative.  Now he's a contributor on National Public Radio.  He weighed in on the network late night host situation.  I agree with him.  That field of hosts is whiter than a Scandinavian bobsled team.  I've written pieces on that myself here on the blogsite.  Go to the NPR website and look for his "Dominated By 1 Point of View, Late-Night TV Needs New Voices" piece.  Deggans did a good 4-minute Morning Edition segment.
Here's the thing:  His suggestions for changing that color/TV situation are excellent.  Aisha Tyler and Samantha Bee would be fabulous as hosts.  So far, late night has been a predominantly white boys club.  But we know that.  We know women and talented minority men who could rock a late night host gig -- if given the chance.
Instead of telling us who would be good in the spot, I believe we need start asking network executives if those people were ever considered -- and if not...why not.

I've written recently about network weeknight news.  The late Max Robinson integrated that field in the late 1970s and early 80s when he became the first black journalist to anchor an evening network newscast during the week.  He anchored the ABC World News Tonight.  Robinson died in 1988 at age 49.  Since then, no black journalist on ABC, NBC or CBS has yet to become the second black anchor of the network evening news.  Why?  It's 2014.

Ellen Cleghorne was one of the first black women added to the cast  of Saturday Night Live.  The first was the late Danitra Vance.  I spent time with both women.  We talked a lot about race in our broadcast workplaces.  Ellen and I worked in the same building.  During her SNL years, I was asked to  be in place for the premiere of a new weekend morning news program called Weekend Today in New York for WNBC.  One evening, after grabbing a quick bite, Ellen took me up to the SNL offices with her.  When she said, "Those are the writers," it looked like chow time in an all-white frat house.  They were all eating.  They were all white.  Then Ellen took me down a long hallway and, in a room, there was one black man.  She said that it there was a good idea for a sketch featuring her, it usually came from him.  So...the comedy was filtered through a predominantly white male perspective.

Mr. Deggans is a TV critic.  When the network morning shows had weekly movie critics (before the networks had film studios as parent companies), the field of film critics on news and syndicated shows was also a predominantly white boys clubs.  From Gene Shalit, Joel Siegel, Siskel & Ebert, Leonard Maltin, Jeffrey Lyons, Ben Mankiewicz and Ben Lyons to even Cody Gifford (son of Kathie Lee & Frank) for one summer in his mother's hour of Today -- we got a mostly white male perspective of movies.  That continues today.  I can't recall seeing one black film critic on TV or reading a quote from a black film critic in a national ad telling me to see 12 Years a Slave.  I read quotes from Peter Travers of Rolling Stone magazine and from Rex Reed.  I didn't see one national review from any critic who, like myself, was actually descended from a black slave.

There are plenty of black and Latino critics in New York City.  I know.  I've seen them.  I've talked to them.  I've had some on my TV shows.  African-American Wesley Morris won a Pultizer Prize for film criticism in The Boston Globe.  Did we ever see him review a movie on Today?  No.  We saw Cody Gifford instead.  Why?
It's not just the exclusion that continues to make steam come out of my ears, it's the disregard for our history that also irritates me.  The groundbreaking achievements of ABC's Max Robinson seem to be forgotten today.  That is a damn shame.  Eric Deggans, a black journalist, did that smart NPR segment on the lack of racial diversity in the area of late-night hosts.  Eric Deggans should have been part of the NPR Fresh Air look at late nights hosts that aired last August.  Look in my blog post archive.  Go into 2013 and click on August.  Read my article, "LATE NIGHT WEEK on NPR."

Why should Deggans have been in that series along with host Terry Gross and contributing TV historian David Bianculli?  Because ... in that 5-day salute to the history of late night TV talk show hosts...a salute that took us from the classic nights of Steve Allen, Jack Paar and Johnny Carson to the modern nights of Leno, Letterman, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and Seth Myers...not a one of those hour-long shows ever mentioned Arsenio Hall.  It was as if he didn't exist.  Chevy Chase, Joan Rivers and Pat Sajak got mentioned.  Arsenio Hall did not.  Five hour-long shows in a week devoted to Late-Night Hosts.  On NPR.  There wasn't even a mention that Arsenio was returning with a new nighttime talk show.  How did NPR manage to overlook his history?  How did that happen?
When Jeffrey Lyons did his NBC network news Johnny Carson obituary segment, he credited Carson with interviewing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Lyons was wrong.  I contacted NBC to let them know Carson was on vacation that week.  His celebrated guest host booked and conducted the interview in 1968.  The guest host on the Tonight Show that week was Harry Belafonte.
Harry Belafonte sat in Carson's chair and interviewed Dr. King.  That may have been the first time a black talent hosted the Tonight Show for a week.  When was the last time?  I never got a response from NBC. I wonder if NBC even knows this historic Tonight Show edition is in its archives.

Ellen Cleghorne and I became buddies because she was a fan of my VH1 work.  I was the first African-American talent to get his own prime time weeknight celebrity talk show on the cable network.   I was thrilled.  I'd worked long and hard for that kind of opportunity.  When Harry Belafonte hosted the Tonight Show, I was a kid in South Central Los Angeles.  I went to school in Watts.  Our family lived in the curfew area during the Watts Riots of the 1960s, riots that made national headlines for days.

The late 1980s work I did on VH1 that Ellen Cleghorne like a lot was my talk show host work.  Here's a sample.

Here's a clip from my exclusive Paul McCartney interview, taped in London for VH1.
I got good reviews from Sunday's New York Times, TV Guide and People magazine.  My mother was calling all her friends to read them my reviews.

Henry Alford wrote a book of humorous essays called Big Kiss.  It was about his young Caucasian trials and tribulations as a struggling actor.  He worked on VH1 in the 1990s.  If you looked at my two VH1 videos posted, how do you think I felt reading Alford's book when he incorrectly wrote that all VH1 hosts in the 1980s were comics of "the Gallagher variety"?  Did you see me whack a watermelon with a hammer in either of those videos?  No.  I'm not putting myself into major talent category with Mr. Belafonte or Mr. Hall, but I was irked at a young white dude ignoring my history in a hardcover book.  Alford became a contributor for NPR.

Ellen Cleghorne understood my frustration at WNBC.  I could not land a steady assignment at the desk doing film reviews and other entertainment pieces.  I was constantly assigned to "wacky" live segments in the field -- like Jim Carrey's local news character in the first 20 minutes of Bruce Almighty.  It was while meeting executive resistance at two different local news shows during the 1990s to my doing regular film reviews in the studio that I really began to notice the lack of racial diversity in the field of film critics on TV.  I had not seen any black talent on TV regularly reviewing films or covering the theatre scene.  In New York City, of all places.  Full disclosure:  I did weekly film reviews on ABC's Milwaukee affiliate, WISN, for four years before moving to New York.  In fact, PBS Chicago contacted me to audition for Sneak Previews when Siskel & Ebert left PBS for Buena Vista syndication.

After VH1, I was never offered another national talk show host opportunity.  And I tried to get one. I wanted to do a show like Inside the Actors Studio or Later with Bob Costas.  Also, as you know, I could not land a broadcast agent -- even with my national credits.  The agents turned me down.  The usual response was "I wouldn't know what to do with you."  One said that if I did weather, he could get me a TV news job in a heartbeat.  And don't get me started on the "You're not black enough" opinion  Every single TV executive who had that comment about me looked like he fell out of an Ingmar Bergman movie.  They were all so white.  That was another way of saying "You're too articulate." So... predominantly white executives had a fixed notion in their heads of how all black men should move, sound and behave.  And what their level of knowledge should be.  But, somehow, Dennis Miller had a season of work doing jokes about the Byzantine Empire as a color commentator on ABC's Monday Night Football in 2000.  It took years before we could get a black actor -- Aisha Tyler -- on Friends, a sitcom about hip young adults living in downtown Manhattan.  But also in 2000, NBC gave us a sitcom starring Emeril Lagasse.  Yes, that Emeril.  The chef who shouts "Bam!" when he makes a chuck roast.  He had a sitcom.  Emeril lasted from 2000 to early 2001.  But a skilled black entertainer trying to get a late night host gig on NBC seemed to be about as easy as getting a permit to build a Hooters in Vatican City.  Why?

Agents.  There's another issue.  From my VH1 days to 2008 when I was seen on Food Network, heard on national radio with Whoopi Goldberg and played a recurring satirical news character for The Onion, I met with agents in top shops in NYC.  Never did I ever see a black agent.  All the top broadcast agents were white.  Did a black actor/actress ever play a high-powered A-list entertainment agent on HBO's Entourage?  Think about it.  In 2008 it hit me that if you're black, gay, have celebrity interviews to your credit, host a show on Food Network and do political comedy acting, you will be making holiday fondue with leftover government cheese.  That's how broke you'll be from the lack of work.  But if you're white, gay, have done celebrity interviews, host a national cooking channel show and have done some political comedy, you're Mo Rocca and will get your own office for work on the CBS Sunday Morning show.  If you don't believe me, just ask Nancy Giles.

Eric Deggans did a fine segment.  However, as one of the many black performers who knows that the playing field is not level and as one who knows that we're lucky if we can even get an audition let alone the job, I think sharper questions need to be shot at the people in charge.  The people who do the hiring.  We know that talents like Aisha Tyler, Samantha Bee, Kim Coles and D.L. Hughley would make fabulous talk show or game show hosts.  We need to know if they're getting meetings for such opportunities.  We need to know who is doing the hiring and have they seen or considered minority  talents.  If they haven't, ask them why.  If they're unaware of our history, inform them.

Go in .... and go in deeper.

To follow Eric Deggans at NPR on Twitter, his handle is @Deggans.

If you want to see another of my retro VH1 talk show clips, go to my "Michael Caine & Me" post from a few days ago this month.  It's quite festive.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bare Talk with "Cubby"

Please hear me out with Paul "Cubby" Bryant, national morning radio star, on my podcast.  You get entertainment, laughs and some serious revelations.  We bring it.  I had a terrific time catching up with him again in New York City after his show.
To convey fully how Cubby's kindness impacted me when we worked together for Premiere Radio, I told him about a difficult period in my life.  I worked on WNBC at the time.  I was part of the original morning team on the September 1992 debut of Weekend Today in New York.  During my years as a regular on that new early morning news program, doing mostly light-hearted live segments in the field, I lost a partner to AIDS.

Cubby and I met when we worked on Whoopi Goldberg's national weekday morning radio show.  (Yes, Whoopi Goldberg had a radio show.)  Cubby was pretty much the leading man to Whoopi, as I wrote in an earlier blog piece.  He was the co-host to an international film star who has made Oscar history with a Best Supporting Actress victory.
She's a daytime Emmy winner as a member of the team on ABC's The View.  That TV opportunity came to her while she had her Premiere Radio show, Wake Up with Whoopi.  Here's Cubby with Whoopi and the fabulous singer/songwriter Cyndi Lauper.  Her songs delight lots of folks in the big Broadway musical comedy hit, Kinky Boots.
Because this interview is so honest, I really hope people listen to it.  Seriously, my reason for starting a podcast was to keep fresh material out there and help me kick a way-too-long stretch of unemployment to the curb.  Cubby reveals his highs and lows of working with a show biz icon like Whoopi.  I got pretty bare telling Cubby how difficult it was trying to make folks laugh on live TV while caring for a terminally ill partner and not feeling diversity acceptance in my workplace.  Few at WNBC knew what I was going through.  As I tell Cubby, I kept quiet at work about having a loved one with AIDS because I was afraid of losing my job.  I needed the money to take care of us both and I was not under contract.  In the dark days of the AIDS crisis, the 1980s and early 90s, people with AIDS often were treated like social lepers.  Richard had been laid off from work just a few weeks before he was hospitalized for the first time.  He'd been job hunting.  When he was diagnosed, his roommate wanted him out of the apartment.  Richard and I both learned about housing and financial assistance for the disabled, which we technically was when diagnosed.  Eventually, he moved in with me into my studio apartment.

Richard asked me out first.  We'd met through a mutual friend.  I didn't even want to go out but he was so charming and such a sweet guy that I felt "What can it hurt?  It's just Sunday brunch at a nice diner."  That autumn Sunday in 1992, we had brunch...and stayed together until the day he died.  No one ever made me laugh as much as he did.
No one could work my last good nerve the way he could.  No one ever made me cry as much as he did when he was gone.

We were still in the early months of dating when he was hospitalized and diagnosed with full-blown AIDS.  He was from a small town in Tennessee and had never been tested.  Not even when he moved to the big city to start a new life and seek a career.  WNBC's early weekend morning news show had just started to click.  I could've cut off from Richard to focus on my TV career.  But I didn't.  Taking care of him brought me a closer connection to a Divine Force than any sacrament I've received so far as a Catholic.  My spirit was changed, renewed.  Our relationship wasn't easy.  The horrors of his illness would come up suddenly, unexpectedly.  Dealing with his illness was like riding a roller coaster at night with a blindfold on.  You couldn't tell when the next turn or drop was coming.  There was the pneumonia.  And the lymphoma.  And the medications.  The reactions to the medications.  I learned how to deal with hospital personnel to make sure he was being administered the correct medications.  And there was the irony that the steroids he was given to battle his pneumonia bulked him up.  He didn't undergo the severe weight loss associated with the sickness.  To many, he didn't look like an AIDS patient.  But he was most definitely ill.  Many times, I went to work at WNBC in the pre-dawn hours straight from having slept sitting up in a chair by his hospital bedside.

I'm not a perfect guy but I believe I was perfect for him.  We weren't married.  But, in my heart, I had committed to doing my best to keep him comfortable, to keep him as free from fear as I could and to make sure he'd never feel alone and lonely.  I kept that commitment.  Richard passed away in June 1994.  He was a great light in my life.
In an on-air work situation, I'd never really talked about that until I was working with Cubby in 2007.  That was the year our show staff, including Whoopi, participated in AIDS Walk New York.

I didn't plan to get that real about myself.  However, I hope it inspires people to realize what a positive force the embrace of diversity is.  Cubby embraced it.  That's one reason why it was so totally cool to work with him.

Please give us a listen when you have time:  BobbyRiversShow.com.  Leave me some comments.

AIDS Walk New York comes up next month.  It benefits GMHC, the organization that was a major help to me when I was taking care of Richard.  The crisis is not over.  For info on the New York, San Francisco, L.A. or other walks...please go here: aidswalk.net.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Hot Movie Hunk/Brave Actor

If you've read my previous blogs or have listened to my podcasts, you know that writer/actor Billy Hayes is a longtime buddy of mine.  We attended the same college -- Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  I interviewed him for the first time in the 1970s when I worked on a Milwaukee FM rock radio station after I'd graduated from school.  He was promoting the publication of his dramatic, extraordinary story.  He's the young American who was caught smuggling hashish out of Istanbul and was sentenced to a brutal Turkish prison.  So brutal that he wanted to kill one of his oppressors.  Billy managed to escape that prison and return to freedom.  Hollywood wanted to put that thrilling escape story on the screen  -- and did.  Initially Richard Gere was close to playing Billy even though young Richard Gere looked nothing like the very blond Billy Hayes.
Gere didn't get the part.  Billy was played by another dark-haired actor, one who was seen in two highly acclaimed and highly rated TV mini-series -- Roots, the celebrated tale of African-American history, and Sybil, the psychological drama of a young woman with multiple personalities starring Sally Field.  The film adaptation of Midnight Express, Billy's memoir, made handsome actor Brad Davis a movie star.

Midnight Express was a box office hit and it did very well at Oscar nomination time.  Oliver Stone won an Oscar for his screenplay adaptation of Billy's book.  Alan Parker was up for Best Director.  The movie was nominated for Best Picture of 1978.

The movie's success and his Oscar win gave Oliver Stone the clout to make Platoon.  Billy became a celebrity and his book continued to sell.  He and Brad became good friends.
Brad went on to act in Chariots of Fire, an inspirational sports-related film also based on a true story.  That won the Best Picture of 1981 Academy Award.  On TV, he starred as the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy in a mini-series biopic.  On CBS, he played the paranoid Cmdr. Queeg on trial in The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial.  The character was famously played onscreen by Humphrey Bogart in 1954.  On stage in New York City, he originated the role of gay activist Ned Weeks in Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart.  The play opened in the mid-1980s during the AIDS epidemic.  For years, there was talk of Barbra Streisand directing a film version.  That never happened.  Ryan Murphy, the man who gave us Glee, has directed The Normal Heart for HBO.  It premieres next month.  Mark Ruffalo takes on the role originated onstage by Brad Davis.  Here's the HBO trailer.

Actor Brad Davis died of AIDS in 1991.  He was only 41.  He was survived by a wife and daughter.  The HBO production stars actors who are openly gay and are getting work.  Back in the 1980s and 90s, actors were in fear of coming out because the revelation could halt their careers and their income.  That's what the attitude was like then.  I know. I remember.  I was there.  Brad Davis was a brave and openly bisexual actor.  He was intimate with men.  He was intimate with women.  He was a serious actor.  Like today's Bradley Cooper, he could've just coasted on his good looks.  But he didn't.  He was committed to doing the work and challenging himself.

Billy Hayes and I did a second part to our previous chat.  In the podcast that's still up this weekend, Billy shares great memories about Brad Davis -- a good actor who should not be forgotten.  He talks about how they met and and he has funny stories about the making of Midnight Express.  Could not using deodorant for a week help one get an Oscar nomination?  Apparently it worked for one crew member.

Did Brad's willingness to play gay characters on screen and on stage limit his job opportunities in Hollywood?  Billy talks about that.  And he talks about his new stage project.  He's gotten excellent reviews for his one-man show telling the rest of the story after his escape and on the rocky road of being a news/show biz celebrity.  Since we recorded the interview, Billy took his New York City stage production on tour to London.
Hear his warm memories of Brad Davis, the late star of Midnight Express and The Normal Heart on my podcast: BobbyRiversShow.com.

Billy, thank you for your generous and gracious time, your good humor and your good advice.  I wish you continued success and happiness with Riding the Midnight Express.
Funny about life.  One of the worst things that could've ever happened to young Billy Hayes when he was vacationing overseas became the best thing that could've happened to the movie career of Brad Davis.

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