Thursday, August 31, 2017

Diverse Guest Programmer Ideas for TCM

With September comes a new season on TV.  Recently, on Twitter, there was item in THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER about the unique, charismatic, intelligent and influential fashion figure, AndrĂ© Leon Talley.  He's spotlighted in the documentary THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ANDRE which premieres at the Toronto Film Festival on September 8th.  Mr. Talley has famously worked with the late, great and legendary Diana Vreeland (inspiration for the Kay Thompson fashion magazine editor in the 1957 musical FUNNY FACE starring Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn) and Anna Wintour (inspiration for the Meryl Streep character in THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA).  On Twitter on August 30th, I wrote that we don't see many African American Guest Programmers on TCM.  I wish we did.  Mr. Talley should be one.
In the late 90s in New York City, I hosted a live weeknight show in a prime time block of programming on local cable's Metro Channel.  AndrĂ© Leon Talley was an in-studio guest on another show in our block.  He was guest a few times on the live show and always referenced classic films and stars in his fashion talk.
One a month, Turner Classic Movies has a guest programmer select four films and co-introduce them one night, now with TCM host Ben Mankiewicz. Past guest programmers include:

The fabulous Farran Nehme responded to my tweet with "Great idea! Has Al Roker ever done one?"  I don't believe he has.  So I replied to Farran with names I'd toss out to TCM executives as African American talents to consider for the monthly Guest Programmer spot.  Here are the names I tossed out:

Al Roker, Leslie Uggams, Broadway playwright and the 1993 director of Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize winning play ANGELS IN AMERICA George C. Wolfe, the trailblazing DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST film director Julie Dash, Alfre Woodard, Angela Bassett, longtime CBS SUNDAY contributor & CHINA BEACH television series actress Nancy Giles, and Pulitzer Prize winning film critic Wesley Morris (now of The New York Times).
I added that Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who made history as the first Black person to serve as President of the Motion Picture Academy in Hollywood, would make an excellent Guest Programmer.
People I've talked to several times about classic films are Loni Love, comedian/actress and co-host on the CBS daytime talk show, THE REAL.
Loni Love just loves Vincente Minnelli's CABIN IN THE SKY and TCM.                                            

I've talked about classic films with popular TV sitcom star, Jackee Harry.
Jackee loves 1945's THE ENCHANTED COTTAGE starring Robert Young and Dorothy McGuire.

David Alan Grier is a veteran TV sitcom star and film actor.  He had a supporting role in the 1984 Best Picture Oscar-nominee, A SOLDIER'S STORY, directed by Norman Jewison.
David and I have chatted about PORGY AND BESS starring Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge and we've admitted to each that the scene of Wilma helping Homer get ready for bed in William Wyler's THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES always makes us cry.

So, there you have it.  A few names of African American talents I feel would make fabulous Guest Programmers on TCM as it starts a new season in September 2017.  It would be terrific to see more frequent African American representation in the TCM segments. We watch classic movies too.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

George Sanders, Actor/Singer

Of the 14 Oscar nominations it got, one of the Oscars that it won went to George Sanders for Best Supporting Actor in the Best Picture of 1950.  The film is the famous ALL ABOUT EVE starring Bette Davis as Margo Channing, the aging and kind-hearted Broadway legend, Anne Baxter as Eve Harrington, the duplicitous and conniving young upstart out to replace Margo Channing as the new queen of Broadway and George Sanders as acerbic Addison DeWitt, the most influential and feared theatre critic in the New York City.
Eve Harrington can fool everyone else in the Broadway circle who befriended her, but she can't fool Addison DeWitt.
Addison will be present to see karma boomerang on that bitch the same night she receives a prestigious Broadway award.
 Here's a sample of Addison in action at a Margo Channing party.
George Sanders, like Vincent Price, was one of those actors who did a lot of good work in dramatic films during the 1940s but never got the chance to display his admirable singing chops.  Well, Sanders got the chance in the 1950s.  Opposite, of all people, Ethel Merman.

Merman had another Broadway hit with Irving Berlin's CALL ME MADAM.  20th Century Fox gave her the rare opportunity to repeat her successful Broadway role in the film version.  Ethel Merman was an overnight Broadway sensation when she made her debut in George Gershwin's 1930 show, GIRL CRAZY.  MGM turned it into a 1943 vehicle for Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland with Garland doing Merman's big number, "I Got Rhythm." For Paramount, Merman got to repeat her Reno Sweeney character from Cole Porter's 1934 Broadway hit, ANYTHING GOES, in the 1936 film version starring Bing Crosby and Ida Lupino.  Broadway's 1939 Cole Porter musical comedy DuBARRY WAS A LADY had Ethel Merman playing two parts.  In the MGM movie version, both parts went to Lucille Ball. Broadway's 1940 Cole Porter musical comedy, PANAMA HATTIE, starred "The Merm."  The movie role at MGM went to Ann Sothern.  Irving Berlin's ANNIE GET YOUR GUN was a huge hit for Merman.  That too was picked up by MGM for its queen of musicals, Judy Garland.  But the physically and emotionally drained 20-something MGM singer/actress was replaced during production with top Paramount musical star Betty Hutton in the 1950 release.

The Merm got to belt out the songs she introduced on Broadway in the 1953 Fox movie version.  George Sanders was her leading man in the musical comedy and did his own singing.  Here's George Sanders singing "Marrying for Love" on the CALL ME MADAM soundtrack:
In CALL ME MADAM, Ethel Merman played a very popular and charismatic Washington hostess who's appointed to be a U.S. Ambassador.  Sanders played the foreign minister of Lichtenburg.  Romance ensues.
CALL ME MADAM co-starred Donald O'Connor and Vera-Ellen.

About Vincent Price:  You can hear his excellent singing voice in the 1940 drama, THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES.  He sings "The Color of Your Eyes."  But he never got to star in a movie musical and sing out like George Sanders did.  Darn it.  Here's Sanders doing another Broadway showtune -- "Some Enchanted Evening" from Rodgers & Hammerstein's SOUTH PACIFIC.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017


I watched it on TV.  Glorious Gershwin music with orchestrations and Technicolor to match.  I gave AN AMERICAN IN PARIS my full attention.  I didn't multi-task on social media.  No tweeting. Nothing.  As many times as I've seen it,  I fell in love with Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron again as their characters fell in love with each other onscreen.
It was the first musical directed by Vincente Minnelli to win the Oscar for Best Picture.  The second was GIGI.  If there was ever a director during the Glory Days of MGM whose films hallmarked diversity and inclusion, it was Vincente Minnelli.  His first film for MGM was an adaptation of the hit Broadway musical fable, CABIN IN THE SKY, a show with an all-Black cast.  The movie also had an all-Black cast with recording and Broadway star Ethel Waters repeating her stage role and Lena Horne making her feature film acting debut as the town's gorgeous vamp.  The Minnelli Touch, which was definitely a touch of class, was evident from the beginning of his directorial career.  In the World War 2 dramatic love story, THE CLOCK, starring  Judy Garland (Mrs. Vincente Minnelli by then), African Americans could see representations of themselves onscreen and smile with relief and pride.  At a time when the U.S. troops were segregated and -- let's face it -- so was Hollywood, Vincente Minnelli realistically Black American servicemen in uniform saying good-bye to loved ones as the characters played by Judy Garland and Robert Walker were saying good-bye to each other in a New York City train & subway station.  In THE PIRATE, a Minnelli musical starring Judy Garland and Gene Kelly, one of the film's highlights is the dance number Kelly does with The Nicholas Brothers.  Yep.  Vincente Minnelli got an integrated dance number into an MGM musical.  There's a brief but bold bit of diversity and inclusion in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951).  I watched this MGM gem recently on TCM during a day and night salute to Leslie Caron.  The French ballet dancer/actress made her film debut in this movie.  She had to learn dance numbers.  And she had to learn English.
The brief but bold Minnelli moment of diversity and inclusion in this musical is seen during the extravagant Beaux Arts Ball sequence that leads into the classic "An American in Paris" ballet sequence.  The costuming in this sequence was done smartly all in black and white so it wouldn't compete with the lush color in the film's long ballet number that brings the movie to a conclusion.  Before the Beaux Arts Ball, the two lead characters in love have parted.  The unknown American artist, Kelly, is on the brink of becoming the boy-toy of the single heiress who is sponsoring him.  The young French lady he loves has a complication in her life.  But this is an MGM musical, so there will be a happy ending.  The heartbroken artist takes his sexually available sponsor to the ball.
You have to look fast after this scene with Milo the sponsor (Nina Foch) and the best friend/roommate of Jerry the artist, Adam (Oscar Levant).
After the Milo/Adam exchange we see the revelers who've packed the ball.  In the quick crowd shot of dancing couples, we see a same-sex couple.  Two brawny guys in black and white costumes are dancing together.  One is shirtless and wearing a tutu.  In another quick shot, we see them holding hands.  I bet Minnelli blended them into the crowd so well that the censors didn't notice and have him cut the scene.  That's how Hollywood rolled in those days of production codes.
A few minutes later, the camera moves in onto Gene Kelly's face for a tight close-up.  We're into the dazzling "An American in Paris" ballet sequence with Jerry (Kelly) and Lise (Caron).  This ballet to the majority of George Gershwin's composition was created for the film.
 AN AMERICAN IN PARIS.  Vincente Minnelli's musical truly is a work of film art.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Remarkable Ruby Dee Did Comedy

This actress and activist made Broadway history co-starring with Sidney Poitier in 1959.  That's when they played a young married couple in a segregated Chicago area hoping for a better life.  The groundbreaking play was Lorraine Hansberry's modern drama, A RAISIN IN THE SUN.  Hansberry was the first Black woman to write a play that was performed on Broadway.
Ruby Dee and Sidney Poitier repeated their Broadway roles in the 1961 film version.  Ruby Dee and Sidney Poitier had played relatives in the 20th Century Fox 1950 film, NO WAY OUT.  This was a modern-day race drama in which Poitier played a hospital doctor whose patient is a wounded racist criminal played by Richard Widmark.  Dee followed that with a solid, stand-out performance as the well-dressed, smart slave maid in THE TALL TARGET.  This 1951 release was a tight historical thriller in which a New York City detective on a train works to thwart a plot to assassinate President-elect Abraham Lincoln.  Dee had scenes with the film's star, Dick Powell.
Ruby Dee and Sidney Poitier starred as husband and wife in the post-Civil War western, BUCK AND THE PREACHER.  Poitier also directed this film that co-starred Harry Belafonte.  To me, Ruby Dee should have been a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for Poitier's 1972 film.  She has a strong role as the wife who realizes that, although the Civil War has ended, America has not instantly become post-racial.  She wants to move to Canada.

When Ruby Dee finally did get an Oscar nomination, it was for her blazing work as Mama Lucas in the 2007 drama, AMERICAN GANGSTER.  She was an Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actress.  In this man's opinion, that should not have been her first -- and only -- Oscar nomination.

We saw Ruby Dee excel in dramatic parts onscreen from 1950's NO WAY OUT (in which she didn't even receive a screen credit), THE TALL TARGET and A RAISIN IN THE SUN to Spike Lee's DO THE RIGHT THING and JUNGLE FEVER to 2007's AMERICAN GANGSTER starring Denzel Washington.

You could also throw a fast ball of comedy material to Ruby Dee and she would hit it out of the park for a home run.  She lights up the screen and makes you laugh as Lutiebelle Jenkins in the 1963 release, GONE ARE THE DAYS!  This is the indie movie adaptation of a Broadway play written by and starring Ruby's husband, Ossie Davis.  The modern-day Civil Rights era satire set in the Deep South opened on Broadway in late September 1961.
The play was called PURLIE VICTORIOUS, named for the handsome, flamboyant and subversive young preacher who returns to the plantation where he was once a servant. He plans to upset the white folks by preaching at a community church and inspiring the Black folks to be free.  He tries to pass Lutiebelle off as his cousin in a plan to work the plantation master's last good nerve.  This play later served as the basis for the hit Broadway musical comedy, PURLIE!
Beah Richards, Godfrey Cambridge and Alan Alda co-starred in the Broadway cast with Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis.  Alda is the tall dude on the far right of this photo.  Alda played the liberal son of the plantation master:
 That's the cast posing for a photo opportunity with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Ossie was screenwriter on the film version and the title was changed to GONE ARE THE DAYS!  Ruby Dee is absolutely delightful in this comedy:

On August 28, 1963, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis would be on the podium in attendance at Dr. King's historic March on Washington.  They'd be present for the "I Have a Dream" speech.  Before Dr. King's speech, the actress gave a reading.
Ruby Dee.  She was remarkable indeed.

Friday, August 25, 2017

I Totally Dig Tom Skerritt

I admit it.  I have had a major man fan-crush on actor Tom Skerritt ever since I saw him in Robert Altman's 1970 film, MASH.  I still have a man fan-crush on him.  I don't care if he's older than the Declaration of Independence.  I totally dig Tom Skerritt.  He's not just very good-lookin'.  He's a very good actor.  And has been for quite a while.
So, when I was new to New York City and the new guy doing celebrity interviews for a local weekday news program on WPIX TV/Channel 11, I pretty much had to suppress a squeal of sheer delight when I was asked if I'd be interested in interviewing Tom Skerritt on the show.  He was in town promoting his new film, 1986's SPACECAMP.

I really have been a Tom Skerritt fan for a long time.  To me, he was the perfect choice to play a motorcycle cop in 1971's HAROLD AND MAUDE.  I grew up in Los Angeles.  That was a California story and he looked just like California cops I'd seen on the streets.  He did lots of TV work.  Skerritt had two big box office champs on his resume after HAROLD AND MAUDE.  He played Dallas in 1979's sci-fi horror blockbuster ALIEN.
The lives of working class dancers were hot stuff in 1977.  A CHORUS LINE was a Pulitzer Prize winning musical hit on Broadway.  The disco drama SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER established former TV sitcom star, John Travolta, as a major new movie star  THE TURNING POINT, starring Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft as ballet dancer best friends whose lives went in different directions, did lively business at the box office.  It went on to earn 11 Oscar nominations.  MacLaine and Bancroft were in the Best Actress Oscar category.  Ballet's dazzling new star and national heartthrob, Mikhail Baryshnikov, was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.  THE TURNING POINT was nominated for Best Picture.  Tom Skerritt played a former ballet dancer.
He fell in love and chose the life of a suburban family man over continuing life at the barre in tights.  He married the Shirley MacLaine character.
They have a daughter who studies dance and she's good enough to be accepted into advanced classes in New York City -- where the Anne Bancroft character is an unmarried but celebrated prima ballerina.  There will be friction between the two best friends.

In person, Tom Skerritt was everything I hoped he would be.  Gracious, down-to-earth, warm and witty.  Ours was a fun interview.  Before he left, he hugged me better than my dad ever had.  In my mind, I felt like Madeline Kahn in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN operatically singing "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life as last I've found you...."

In my research, I had read that Tom Skerritt was offered points in two movies.  Points are when actors gamble and negotiate to get a piece of the box office gross in addition to their payment for making the film.

I'd read that Tom Skerritt turned down the opportunity to get points in ALIEN and THE TURNING POINT.  I asked him if that was true and he let out a hearty laugh as he admitted that the story was indeed true.  He shrugged it off with a very cool "Hey, who knew?" attitude.

I concluded the interview by asking if he was offered points in the other movie he had coming out that year.  He chuckled and playfully said, "I'm not gonna tell ya."

"OK.  What's the name of the movie?" I asked.

He replied, "TOP GUN."

Man...I hope Tom Skerritt was offered points -- and took 'em!  Tom Skerritt, a class act and a mighty fine actor.
You've also seen him in A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT, STEEL MAGNOLIAS, Cameron Crowe's SINGLES and the TV series PICKET FENCES (1992-1996) and BROTHERS AND SISTERS (2006).

Thursday, August 24, 2017

A Lorraine Hansberry Documentary

A RAISIN IN THE SUN, showing us the life of a modern Black American family in the segregated Chicago area, premiered on Broadway on March 11, 1959.  The Younger Family lives in a cramped apartment and longs for a better life.  A life in a house with a backyard.  With the help of some expected insurance money, that dream could come true.  The stage production was named the Best Play of 1959 by the New York Drama Critics Circle.  A RAISIN IN THE SUN got four Tony nominations.  Sidney Poitier was nominated for Best Actor.  Claudia McNeil was nominated for Best Actress.  Lloyd Richards was nominated for Best Director.  The production, the work of playwright Lorraine Hansberry, was nominated for Best Play.  She was the first African American woman to write a play that was performed on Broadway.
At 29, Ms. Hansberry became the youngest playwright to receive the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play.  Lorraine Hansberry wrote the screenplay adaptation of her play and the original cast members recreated their roles in the 1961 movie.
A few years ago, I had the great privilege to tape an interview of Louis Gossett, Jr., winner of a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, in his home for a film review & interview show TV pilot.  Mr. Gossett was in the original Broadway cast of A RAISIN IN THE SUN with Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee.  He's also with them in the 1961 film.
The first African American male to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, Gossett got the award for 1982's AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN starring Richard Gere.
I feel that the life of Lorraine Hansberry has the right stuff for a good biopic.  I asked him who should play Lorraine Hansberry.  His answer came quicker than our next heartbeats.

"Taraji P. Henson," he declared.  "Taraji P. Henson."
In June, TCM (Turner Classic Movies) celebrated Pride Month with a spotlight on Gay Hollywood History.  Entertainment journalist Dave Karger hosted.  There were movies starring Rock Hudson, Montgomery Clift, Clifton Webb and openly lesbian actress Linda Hunt.  There were films based on plays written by Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee and Harvey Fierstein.

I would have included 1961's A RAISIN IN THE SUN.

The 2017 Toronto International Film Festival starts on September 7th and will screen a documentary about the late Lorraine Hansberry.  The festival release includes this info about the feature:
"...a documentary about black writer, feminist, lesbian and outspoken trailblazer at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, Lorraine Hansberry...This is the first feature documentary on Hansberry."
Hansberry protested the McCarthy Era execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.  (The ghost of Ethel Rosenberg is a character in Tony Kushner's acclaimed play, ANGELS IN AMERICA.)  She was an activist for gay rights before the Stonewall Rebellion of 1969 in New York City.  One of her dearest friends was fellow writer and activist, James Baldwin.
Playwright, screenwriter, activist Lorraine Hansberry died of cancer in 1965.  She was 34.
For  more information on the film festival, go to

The name of the documentary is SIGHTED EYES/FEELING HEART.  Tracey Heather Strain is the director.  Chiz Schultz is Executive Producer.  I've interviewed Chiz on national TV.  He's a lovely man with quite a history.  He was on the TONIGHT Show production team in the 1960s when the show was originally broadcast from New York City.  He was present to help Harry Belafonte in early 1968 the week that Johnny Carson was on vacation and Belafonte was substitute host.  Belafonte battled NBC network brass and booked Dr. Martin Luther King as a TONIGHT Show guest that week. Chiz was a producer on the 1970 film, THE ANGEL LEVINE, starring Harry Belafonte and Zero Mostel.  He was also a producer on Norman Jewison's A SOLDIER'S STORY, Oscar nominee for the Best Picture of 1984.

I hope Tracey Heather Strain's documentary gets a terrific reception at TIFF.

If A RAISIN IN THE SUN original Broadway cast member Lou Gossett feels that Taraji P. Henson should be playwright Lorraine Hansberry in a biopic, that's good enough for me.  And hopefully it would be good enough for Hollywood.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

We Get Real About Movies & More

I've got a movie talk podcast for you.  It's time to bring some color into the classic film conversation.  Have you seen African Americans on TV as weekly movie critics or as movie hosts?  No.  Well, it's time for a change somewhere.  We're testing a possible new project. Since movies are my passion, they're a major part of this possible new project I host.  If I picked films on TCM (Turner Classic Movies) for the 4th of July, I would air 1776, the strong historical musical about our Founding Fathers.  I'd also air YANKEE DOODLE DANDY starring James Cagney and the 1950 Oscar winner, BORN YESTERDAY.  Judy Holliday repeated her Broadway triumph as Billie Dawn in this social comedy and won the Oscar for Best Actress.  William Holden (left) co-starred with Holliday and George Cukor (right) directed.
This is not just the story of a dumb blonde New Yorker with a funny voice who went from being a chorus girl to being the girlfriend of a thug tycoon.  Billie Dawn is living large with diamonds and furs, clueless that her tycoon boyfriend has taken them to Washington, DC so he can basically buy a Congressman to help him with some shady financial deals.  Her boyfriend's a bully.  Billie doesn't realize that he's slowly chipping away her freedoms bit by bit.  In the classic gin rummy scene, the lovable and ditzy Billie will give us musical cues to the quality of show biz establishment she worked in and we will see that she always plays fair.
He doesn't.  A journalist, played by William Holden, will become Billie's tutor and travel guide.  He'll show her the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.  She will come to an enlightenment and make her own personal Declaration of Independence when she's physically abused by her thug boyfriend and forced to do as he says.  She revolts against his tyrannical treatment and liberates herself.  This is a patriotic comedy telling Americans to not be "dumb blondes" when it comes to their liberties.

Mike Sargent, a filmmaker and film critic -- and a good buddy -- dropped in to the studio to chat with me about movies.  We delve more into the film art to show why we love them.  I tell Mike about the riveting Netflix documentary called FIVE CAME BACK.
Meryl Streep narrates.  Steven Spielberg, Guillermo Del Toro and Lawrence Kasdan appear and add meaningful, intelligent viewpoints.

Five top Hollywood directors -- Frank Capra, William Wyler, George Stevens, John Ford and John Huston -- enlisted in World War II and documented the war on film for the U.S.  When Hitler was devouring Europe, Americans didn't have TV news footage. These 5 filmmakers helped the government with the war effort.  They captured the true carnage and horrors of war and showed we needed to fight.  They showed the almost unimaginable evil of Nazi concentration camps that were really death mills to exterminate millions of Jews.  Capra and Wyler also fought U.S. racism towards our Black troops.  The war experience changed all five filmmakers.  It also changed the tone of Hollywood films they made after the war.

Here's Frank Capra on the right.
See FIVE CAME BACK on you will have a greater, deeper appreciation for his long unappreciated classic, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE.
On MOCHAA -- Man Of A Certain Hue And Age -- I talk about all this.  We did a couple of impromptu podcasts.  Please listen and leave comments, etc.  Here's the link:

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

On Jerry Lewis

As I've written previously, if you asked a few high-tone film critics to name their Top 5 comedy filmmakers, they probably would not mention Jerry Lewis.  However, he got praise from fellow filmmakers Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles.  For us baby boomers, there was a period when we were really into Jerry Lewis.  That was when we were kids.  Then we grew out of him.  We rediscovered him in our college years and tuned into his celebrated annual telethons.  We'd gather at a TV in a dorm room to watch him sing "You'll Never Walk Alone" after having stayed up for hours bringing in money to fight Muscular Dystrophy.
The first time I ever witnessed Christian censorship in action was during the opening credits of a Jerry Lewis movie.  There was some special community event being held one weekend evening in the large auditorium of the grade school I attended, George Washington Carver Elementary in South Central L.A.  The community event would end with a screening of a Jerry Lewis movie, 1958's ROCK A BYE BABY.  This was a lively, Crayola crayon-colored loose remake of the Preston Sturges 1940s classic, THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK.
One of the girls in our class had a mother who always picked her up from school and was a Church Lady.  No matter what the topic was, she could relate it to or include a mention of Jesus.  If she went to the supermarket and asked a clerk, "Do you have pickles?" and the clerk answered, "Yes, in aisle 6," she 'dreply, "Just as Jesus intended!" -- because, as you know, there was a big bowl of dill pickles on the table during the Last Supper.
ROCK A BYE BABY opens with Jerry in a tux, standing before a red curtain, and singing the jazzy original title tune.  The opening credits set up an element of the movie.  It's a colorful montage of Jerry singing in different areas of a Hollywood sound stage.  It's like a music video.  At one point, a couple of lovely and long-legged showgirls in gorgeous outfits designed by Edith Head wheel out a rack of costumes.  Keep in mind that the most revealing thing about their costumes is their legs. BUT...our classmate's mother -- who must have been the inspiration for the Aunt Esther character years later on SANFORD & SON -- took the girl by the girl, stood up and marched her out of the auditorium showing that "filth."

The rest of us stayed.  I felt so sorry for that little girl.

When I was a kid, the Jerry Lewis Paramount comedies that he made early in his career were still making money.  Movie theaters had matinees on the weekends.  Parents could send the kids to the movies for a few hours of quiet time.  Paramount would re-release its Jerry Lewis library for weekend matinee screenings and those walk-in movie theaters would be packed with youngsters waiting to laugh at the goofy, manic, often child-like Jerry Lewis.

My favorite Jerry Lewis film is THE LADIES MAN.  I was fascinated to see him play a complicated dramatic character in Scorcese's 1982 film, THE KING OF COMEDY.  That was one of his best screen performances.  But those Paramount comedies with Dean Martin and Lewis' solo work as THE BELLBOY, GEISHA BOY, THE LADIES MAN, CINDERFELLA and THE NUTTY PROFESSOR have moments that still break me up laughing like I did when I was a youth.
When I had my VH1 talk show back in the late 80s, Shirley MacLaine was one of my favorite guests.  We just hit it off as soon as we met in the greenroom and it covered over to interview on set.  In the greenroom, I asked her about a piece of business in 1955's ARTISTS AND MODELS.  That's another comic book-colored Martin & Lewis comedy, a loose remake of a 1930s Paramount film of the same name.  Dorothy Malone played Dean's love interest and Shirley was the lovable kook who had a crush on Jerry's character.  Shirley MacLaine told me that ARTISTS AND MODELS had a very unhappy set.  Dean and Jerry were breaking up.  Shirley said they did a lot of yelling at each other off-camera.

The August 21 front page of The New York Times had a report on the life and death of Jerry Lewis right next to a similar one about Dick Gregory.  Gregory was a "Sly Wit, Humanizing a Struggle for Justice."  Lewis was "A Transcendent Jester, Both Silly and Stormy."

I've heard that he was Carol Burnett's least favorite star guest on her CBS variety show because he, reportedly, started acting like a boss instead of a guest.  In montages of special guests on THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW, you never see a clip of Jerry Lewis.

Three days before the news of Lewis' death broke, I happened to watch one of his last films.  Like THE KING OF COMEDY, he's in dramatic mode.  The 2013 movie is called MAX ROSE.  He's a grieving widower.  He was a jazz musician married to the love of his life for about 60 years.  But was he the only love of her life?  Max is old and his grown children worry about him being alone.  He's not always kind to his son.  Max can be caustic. We learn why.  The film is solemn and short.  It's only about 85 minutes long but it occasionally feels longer because it's so solemn.  However, it's a reminder of how effective Jerry Lewis could be with dramatic material.  It's great to see Claire Bloom, Dean Stockwell and Mort Sahl also in the cast. See Jerry Lewis as MAX ROSE on Netflix.

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...