Thursday, November 30, 2017

My Mornings Next to Matt Lauer

Handsome. Funny. Charismatic.  And he kissed me on live local TV in New York City.  That's Matt Lauer.  We worked together on a WNBC TV news show in 1992.  I talk about that with my producer/friend Keith Price in our current podcast.  Matt and I were on the original team for WEEKEND TODAY IN NEW YORK, a local morning news program that premiered on WNBC in September 1992.  I was on camera with Matt back when we each had a full head o' hair.
I talk about how Matt tried to help me in a very frustrating and humiliating work environment.  I loved sitting next to him and doing local morning news segments.  His quick wit and breezy charm clicked with co-workers and viewers.  Especially female viewers. Network stardom for him seemed inevitable.  In our podcast, Keith and I go into the Matt Lauer scandal. We discuss the toxic masculinity infecting workplace systems like a virus that has humiliated women and robbed us of their talent. Yes, I was stunned to read this week's news about Matt and why he was fired.
Keith and I have voiced our position that there is a direct link from the disrespect of women we've heard about in the high profile sexual misconduct stories to the diversity and inclusion barriers we people of color meet in the entertainment industry.

As you'll hear in our podcast, during my time at WNBC, news came out that a white male network news producer used a racial slur in a staff meeting.  I had to deal with homophobia from my boss, the WNBC news director.  I tell that account in the podcast.  We also give our opinions on the NBC Trump factor.  You should hear us. Please give us a listen and *like* us at

Keith and I also have some entertainment recommendations -- an excellent foreign film and an upcoming TV special.

Oh!  About the kiss.  I was in the field in downtown Manhattan for WEEKEND TODAY IN NEW YORK, talking live on the air about a charity event.  I didn't know that Lauer had shown up and spotted our TV truck.  He was sneaking up behind me as I spoke and planted a playful smooch on my cheek.

His firing from NBC show us that the playing field in the workplace has not been level.  There's still gender ...and race...improvement to be addressed.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Biopic About Modigliani

One of my all-time favorite film performances delivered by an actor illuminates a foreign biopic that, I believe, is not widely known here in the USA.  The 1958 film is about Amodeo Modigliani, the painter.  We see that the gifted yet poor painter, an excessive drinker, is nearing an untimely death.  He'd die at the age of 35.  Ironically, the gifted French actor who played him was also nearing an untimely death.  He'd die at the age of 36.  The film, MONTPARNASSE 19, is coming out on Blu-ray.  This look at the sad life of Modigliani starred the late Gérard Philipe.
I discovered this film in September 2013 and blogged about it.  Modi, as the artist is called, has a pitiful life.  He makes very little money.  His artwork, for the most part, goes unappreciated.  It's treated like water from the faucet.  It's taken for granted until the day its service is turned off.  Even when his artwork does gain attention and his luck seems to change, the attention turns cold because of society's limited vision and conservative sexual mores. In death, Modigliani will be acclaimed.  His artwork will sell for millions of dollars.
If you have time, go into my blog pieces for 2013, September, and find my FRENCH STAR AS MODIGLIANI post.
I read the news that MONTPARNASSE 19 is getting a Blu-ray release on the website.  Look for the Blu-ray drama film release on  Or check

When I saw Gérard Philipe's performance back in September 2013, I knew I would have to see it again.  And I did.  About three times the following week.  Philipe's performance drew me into the soul of his character and stayed with me long after the film was over.  Philipe's brilliance and emotional nakedness lingered in my heart for days like a sweet ghost.  He's so moving in MONTPARNASSE 19.  From what I've read, he's a film icon in France because of his talent and untimely death. Like Marilyn Monroe and James Dean here in the U.S.  I bet that, had he lived and worked with Godard and Truffaut in French New Wave films of the 1960s, he'd be known to classic film fans here in America today.  Gérard Philipe died of liver cancer in 1959.

Jacques Becker directed MONTPARNASSE 19.  Also starring in his biopic are Anouk Aimée, Lilli Palmer and the rugged Lino Ventura.
Check out my September 2013 blog post, FRENCH STAR AS MODIGLIANI for more on this portrait of an artist dying young with an unforgettable performance by Gérard Philipe.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Memories of NETWORK (1976)

What a year that was.  We were dancing to disco music.  We were thrilled for the Summer of 1976.  It was America's Bicentennial Year.  The same year we celebrated our Declaration of Independence, out came an intense, incendiary, original satire called NETWORK.  This take-down of the TV industry showed us our freedom and individuality being gobbled up by greedy corporations.  NETWORK, starring the late Peter Finch as delusional network news anchor Howard Beale, opened nationwide on November 27, 1976.  Beale was like a crazed John the Baptist crying out "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!"
I was working in Milwaukee radio at the time.  NETWORK opened a couple of years before I started my TV career.  When it was released, there was still a noticeable division between news and entertainment on TV.  The first time I saw NETWORK, with its original screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky, it was like a punch to the gut.  It made you laugh while also making an impact.  It made such an impact on me that I paid to see it more than once.  Each time I went to see it again, the movie theater was packed.  NETWORK was a hit.  Audiences headed to see a smart, intelligent and prophetic satire.  Nowadays, audiences of that size are mostly sitting through another big screen superhero action sequel.  Directed by Sidney Lumet, this film brought Faye Dunaway the Oscar for Best Actress.
Have you seen NETWORK lately?  You should.  It still holds up.  Not only does it hold up, but the soulless network producer that Faye Dunaway played was victorious in terms of the kind of TV programming we see today.  When delusional Howard Beale gets on the air and spontaneously vents his angers, it hits a nerve with the public.  Ratings zoom up.  Diana (Dunaway's character) takes advantage of the situation to pitch other products.  When I saw the film, the movie audience laughed and gasped when she pitched a weekly reality that followed a SWAT team.  Years later, we had a popular TV show called COPS.  Think of other reality shows.  Diana offended our sense of good taste and good journalism but we had no idea that she represented our future.
One huge laugh NETWORK got each time I saw it in a theater was when Beale's network news program had been revamped to include a live studio audience.  Moviegoers thought that a news story segment getting applause like a variety show piece was the height of absurdity.
That was 1976.  It's now 2017.  Look at the second hour of ABC's GOOD MORNING AMERICA when it's time for pop news.

Another big laugh NETWORK got came when the revamped news program had a regular called "Sybil the Soothsayer."  She made predictions.  Again, that was 1976.  In the 1996, I was a regular on Fox 5's GOOD DAY NEW YORK, a local weekday morning news program.  Our executive producer booked a number of long live call-in segments with a woman who claimed to be a pet psychic.  Yes.  An 8-minute live segment with viewers calling in to ask how their dead pets were doing in the afterlife.  8 minutes.  I argued with the same producer when I wanted more time to interview actor/writer John Leguizamo.  He was coming in live to talk about his upcoming stage show.  I was booked to have 90 seconds live in-studio with him.  I argued that it was unfair to give a pet psychic 8 minutes but I could only have a minute and a half with a gifted, acclaimed and accomplished Puerto Rican film/stage actor and writer -- in New York City.  I got more time to interview John.  But not as much as the pet psychic got for her segments.

When I had my first professional fulltime job, it was that Milwaukee FM radio job.  It was a rock radio station and I was a news reporter.  I was also the only black on-air employee at the whole FM rock music radio station.  I watched the Oscars with an on-air co-worker the night the later Peter Finch won the Oscar for Best Actor.  He died of a heart attack a couple of months before the Oscars telecast in 1977.

My co-worker's jaw practically dropped down to the carpet when screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky called Peter Finch's widow to the stage.  My co-worker sputtered "She's...she's!"  He was at a loss for words because....well...see for yourself:
My white co-worker was shocked.  I was proud and joyful.  I loved that moment and her gracious speech.

NETWORK.  It's still relevant.  As I've said before...when Paddy Chayefsky gave us that screenplay, he wasn't just a writer.  He was also a prophet.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Henry Fonda Plays It For Laughs

Saturday night, November 25th.  I was watching TCM (Turner Classic Movies) to catch its Saturday edition of "The Essentials."  Saturday at 8p Eastern, host Alec Baldwin presents classic movies that must be watched by anyone who is a classic film enthusiast.  With Baldwin is a guest co-host.  On Saturday, TCM repeated THE LADY EVE.  Baldwin's presentation on "The Essentials" had guest co-host Tina Fey.  I didn't see the original broadcast.  I was on the road.  Tina mentioned that she was surprised to see Henry Fonda in a comedy.  She really mainly knew him from THE GRAPES OF WRATH.  She loved seeing him with Barbara Stanwyck in THE LADY EVE.  Who wouldn't?  This classic has made me laugh ever since I was a school kid who discovered it on local KTLA, Channel 5 during my summer vacations.  I love 1941's THE LADY EVE from director/screenwriter Preston Sturges.
Alec Baldwin didn't mention it, but the Preston Sturges classic was the second comedy that Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda had made together.  Their first was 1938's THE MAD MISS MANTON.  She played a madcap socialite informs the cops that she has discovered a dead body.  Then the body disappears.  The New York newspapers and the police think a prank was involved and she's personally taken to task in an editorial.  She and the writer get involved and, with the help of friends, Miss Manton is out to solve a murder mystery.
Hattie McDaniel is in the movie too for some extra laughs.
For 20th Century Fox, Henry Fonda starred in RINGS ON HER FINGERS with Gene Tierney.  This 1942 comedy has Tierney as a gum-chewing department store clerk who sounds like she just got off the uptown local from Brooklyn.
She wishes she could afford the kind of fine clothing and accessories she sells.  A couple of con artists make her dream come true by hooking the innocent shopgirl into a scam they run to connect dames to marry a millionaire.  Henry Fonda is the clueless guy they're after.  Of course, he falls for the gorgeous Gene and she falls for him.  RINGS ON HER FINGERS is sort a discount THE LADY EVE.  Fonda, Tierney, Spring Byington and Laird Cregar were directed by Rouben Mamoulian.
Fonda and Tierney are fun together.  My favorite scene is when the shopgirl and the rather stiff fellow take to a dance floor.  He's as straight as a stick, not responding to the hot rhythm.  All of a sudden, he breaks out into a wild jitterbug for almost half a minute.
Here's further proof that Henry Fonda definitely had comedy chops when they were needed.
THE MAGNIFICENT DOPE is another 1942 comedy Henry Fonda did for Fox.  It's a little-known film but my favorite Fonda comedy after THE LADY EVE.  He's such a lovable dork in THE MAGNIFICENT DOPE.  Don Ameche stars as a hotshot Manhattan motivational speaker.  But his company is doing so well.  He's a real high-energy, "glad to see ya" type.  And a huckster. He concocts a national contest to find the biggest failure.  He will bring that failure to New York City and motivate him to be a success.  He'll use the failure to increase his Manhattan business.  Well...Tad Page is the wide-eyed dope who wins the contest.  He comes to New York City and his low-key, small town approach to life's frustrations becomes so popular that he not only attracts more followers than the motivational speaker, he also attracts the speaker's girlfriend.
And there you have it.  Just a little movie info about comedies starring Henry Fonda.  Tell Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Be Like Octavia Spencer

If you possess that inner fire to pursue a form of creativity, a path to performance, you must follow your feelings with faith in getting help from the universe, even when some folks who are very close to you try to douse that fire.  Anyone who toiled years to become "an overnight success" may agree with me.  Never give up.  Be like Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer.  She won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her excellent work as Minny, the dissident maid in THE HELP.
Did you see SPIDER-MAN (2002) starring Tobey Maguire as the shy high school teen who suddenly has a sticky substance shooting out of him coupled with his power to zoom through the air?  Well, today I saw an article online that was highlighting actor Michael Manganiello, the hot and handsome muscleman who won TV stardom as a wolfman on HBO's TRUE BLOOD and then carbonated female hormones on the big screen as a male stripper in MAGIC MIKE movies starring Channing Tatum.  In the first 20 minutes of SPIDER-MAN, about seven years before he became a TV wolfman, Manganiello played high school cafeteria bully Flash Thompson.  Also in the cast is Kirsten Dunst, with red hair, as Mary Jane Watson.  Look at this clip to refresh your memory.
In the same first 20 minutes of SPIDER-MAN, we see a bit player who has no more than five lines.  Her character works the registration desk at a wrestling competition that Peter Parker (Maguire) enters.  That bit player in the role of "Check-In Girl" was Octavia Spencer.  Again, that was 2002.  THE HELP, which gave Octavia her breakthrough and Oscar-winning role, came out in 2011.
Octavia Spencer and Kirsten Dunst have scenes together in HIDDEN FIGURES, one of the Oscar nominees for Best Picture of 2016.  Just like SPIDER-MAN, HIDDEN FIGURES focuses on a male flying high through the air.  Octavia played one of the three brilliant black women working at NASA in the early 1960s.  John F. Kennedy is president, the Civil Rights Movement is underway and NASA aims to get launch astronaut John Glenn into space.  Kirsten plays an office supervisor.  She may not be racist but she certainly falls in line with the race, class and gender system at play within the corporation and the country at that time.  Watch this short feature about HIDDEN FIGURES, based on a true story about three black women whose names and extraordinary mathematical accomplishments helped NASA succeed but those women were not noted in American history books.
HIDDEN FIGURES is one of my favorite films that came out last year.  It thrilled and touched me when I paid to see it in a cineplex.  I've watched it several times on HBO.
For about 20 years, Whoopi Goldberg was in the Hollywood history books as the black actress with the most Oscar nominations in film history.  She has two Oscar nominations.  Early this year, Viola Davis changed that when she got her third Oscar nomination.  That now makes her the most Oscar-nominated black actress in film history.

Octavia Spencer got her second Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for HIDDEN FIGURES.  She has tied with Whoopi Goldberg as the second most Oscar-nominated black actresses in Hollywood film history.

Pursue.  Never give up.  Be like Octavia Spencer.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Billy Wilder DVD Double Feature

Fred MacMurray.  Man, there was an actor who deserves more attention than he gets from classic film enthusiasts.  We baby boomers loved him as a Disney dad in popular 1950s and 1960s films before his years on the hit sitcom, MY THREE SONS.  But he was a handsome leading man for Paramount Pictures in the 1930s and 40s.  A handsome leading man who could handle drama, action, history-based stories and he could sing.  Maybe he didn't become a huge, famous movie star like Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, James Cagney or Humphrey Bogart, but he racked up an impressive list of screen credits starring opposite some of Hollywood's top star actresses.  MacMurray was a fine leading man to Claudette Colbert, Carole Lombard, Barbara Stanwyck, Marlene Dietrich, Rosalind Russell, Madeleine Carroll, Irene Dunne and Jean Arthur.  He had a big, strong, good guy image in movies with them.  Then Billy Wilder came along on the Paramount lot and challenged Freddie Mac to change that image in a new movie.  He'd reunite with his co-star from REMEMBER THE NIGHT, a 1940 romantic drama set during the Christmas season.  That co-star was Barbara Stanwyck.  She'd be changing her image in Wilder's movie too.  Now considered a film noir classic, the Billy Wilder film was the brilliant DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944).  She played the cold-blooded blonde vamp in L.A. who wants her husband knocked off.  He's the horny insurance agent who gets suckered into carrying out her lethal ambitions so she can claim a big insurance pay-out.  He's Walter Neff.
When we first see him in the movie, he's speeding to his insurance office in the pre-dawn hours to record some notes.  He's not doing too well.  He's got a bullet in him.  It's a product of Phyllis Dietrichson's blonde ambition.
Walter Neff works for Pacific All Risk.  Click onto this link and watch this DOUBLE INDEMNITY clip:

My suggestion for a Billy Wilder DVD double feature is DOUBLE INDEMNITY and Wilder's now-appreciated classic, ACE IN THE HOLE.  That 1951 drama foresaw the "media circus" before it became a regular event and a journalism term in the 1990s.  Only in the last ten to fifteen years has ACE IN THE HOLE received the respect, the restoration and the revival due it.  When originally released, critics hated it and the public didn't go to see it.  Under a new title, THE BIG CARNIVAL, it was kicked to the public domain curb.  Tired, worn-out prints of it frequently turned up on late night local TV.

A hotshot New York City reporter whose moral compass is not where it should be winds up in New Mexico.  This arid town is not where he wants to be.  Then a local married guy gets trapped in a cave collapse while hunting for ancient Indian collectibles.  His wife is back at their local diner business.  The unscrupulous newspaper reporter senses a story -- a story he can work to get fame and fortune.  He manipulates a way of keeping the trapped guy from being saved quickly.  The story of the man trapped in the cave gets bigger and bigger.  Will he get out alive? Soon curious onlookers flock to the location -- and so do newspaper and TV news outlets.  The cave site becomes a media circus that shows what can happen when the art of journalism goes to the dark side.  Kirk Douglas played the fame and fortune-hungry reporter, Chuck Tatum.
So, why do I recommend this as half of a double feature.  Soon after Chuck Tatum gets wind of the story, a married couple on vacation drives up to visit the site.
This couple is so eager to see the cave site they heard it's the main attraction in that New Mexico town.  They're the first indicator that this story has legs.  When the TV news trucks arrive, the couple is still around.  The husband is not at all shy about being interviewed.
And he seizes upon the airtime opportunity to try to get a plug in for his business.  He works for....Pacific All Risk.  The same insurance company that Walter Neff worked for in DOUBLE INDEMNITY.

In his way, Mr. Federber (played by Frank Cady) seizes an opportunity using a man's 5-day crisis to increase his business -- just like reporter Chuck Tatum is doing.  Billy Wilder's ACE IN THE HOLE was 40 years ahead of its time.  It's one of Wilder's best and one of Kirk Douglas' best.

And there you have it.  My tip for a Billy Wilder DVD double feature.  Both films have the same insurance company.

A final bit of info about Fred MacMurray:  As I wrote earlier...maybe he wasn't a huge, famous Hollywood legend like a Gable, Bogart or Kirk Douglas, but his bank account probably made up for it.  Thanks to real smart real estate investments early in his film career, Fred MacMurray was one of Hollywood's richest actors.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Talented Della Reese

She was a trailblazer who really did make it all look easy -- when it really wasn't.  And she demanded to be paid well for hard work well done.  I loved that.  When I was a kid, Della Reese was an entertainer our family always watched on TV.  We had Della Reese albums.  She had a comfortable and colorful personality that made her a good TV show guest. She had that rich, full voice.  And she'd cook!  THE MIKE DOUGLAS SHOW was a daytime talk/variety show that watch when I got home from school.  Della was a frequent guest and, one time, made a dessert.  Viewers could send in a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a copy of "Della's Deep-Dish Apple Pie."  That was one of the first pieces of mail I received when I was a kid because I begged Mom to let me send in for it.  And Mom, bless her heart, made Della's dessert so I'd simmer down and move on with my little life.  (Della's pie was delicious.)  Two black woman who were pianists and vocalists had shows on TV in the 1950s.  The first was Hazel Scott.  Her 15-minute music show aired three times a week.  I believe it was national.  Then Hadda Brooks (seen playing piano and singing in 1950's IN A LONELY PLACE starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame and 1952's THE BAD AND THE BEAUTFUL starring Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner and Gloria Grahame) had a show that aired on local Los Angeles TV with repeats up in San Francisco.  But, come the 1960s, Della Reese made broadcast history when she was the first black woman to host her own weeknight syndicated talk/variety show. She sang and did interviews.  Della gave us solid entertainment.
Did you know that Della Reese was the first black woman to substitute for Johnny Carson as host of NBC's TONIGHT Show?
The first time I met her was in 1984.  I was the cohost of a live weekday afternoon show that aired on Milwaukee's ABC affiliate.  She was in town for an engagement and to pitch a food product.  I think it was Campbell's Soups and she was promoting quick recipes that would include the soups.  Della Reese was friendly and formidable.  You knew she was a no-nonsense dame who wanted to make sure her product was promoted and that she'd be treated respectfully.  We had a kitchen on the set and she'd brought some items, so the segments worked out perfectly.  Also, she liked me.  She made a casserole using cans of a certain soup.  When the segment and the show were over, the crew from the control room didn't get to taste the food as it usually did when we had cooking segments.  Why?  Because when Della Reese had completed her guest segments on our live show, she went back to the hotel -- and took the casserole with her.
The next time I interviewed her was in New York City.  I was on Fox5's GOOD DAY NEW YORK and, by that time, she'd gained millions of TV fans from her work on the hit CBS series, TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL.  Previously, Della had been a TV cast member on CHICO AND THE MAN and she starred on TV's THE ROYAL FAMILY with her dear friend, Redd Foxx.  He died during the 1991-1992 run of the show.  TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL became one of CBS' biggest hits.  However, when it was making the Top Ten, star Roma Downey reportedly got a 100% raise and Della got something like a 12% raise.  Remember, I said that Della was "formidable."  She went public with her pay inequality.  She said, "It's tough to be an angel in Hollywood when you're underpaid."
In my New York City interview of Della Reese, around 1999, she was promoting a book she'd written for youngsters.  A book to help them know God.
With her TV performances and her scene-stealing film work in HARLEM NIGHTS with Eddie Murphy, I was curious how she so effectively made the transition to acting.  I asked if she had acting classes or a coach and she immediately, proudly declared "Jeff Corey!"  She credited him with her acting success.
His was not a household name when it came to discussing movie stars but his was a face many classic film fans would quickly recognize.  He was one of those character actors who was always good.  His film credits included THE KILLERS (1946) and BRUTE FORCE (1947), both with Burt Lancaster, HOME OF THE BRAVE (1949) as the Army psychoanalyst trying to root out the cause of an African American GI's nervous breakdown....
....LADY IN A CAGE (1964), THE CINCINNATI KID (1965), TRUE GRIT (1969), BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969) and LITTLE BIG MAN (1970) as Wild Bill Hickok.

Corey was one of those 1950s actors who, unfortunately, was blacklisted.  He became a respected acting coach.  Eventually, he got a lot of future work in TV and went back to films.
I knew who Jeff Corey was from classic films that I'd seen.  But, until that late 1990s interview of Della Reese, I had not known that Mr. Corey was a top acting coach.

And there you have it.  A little something you didn't know about the very talented Della Reese.  The actress/singer died this week at age 86.  She was wonderful.

Friday, November 17, 2017

GMA Avoids the Gay

Friday, November 17th.  As usual, I was watching the network morning shows.  I wanted to catch the last half-hour of GOOD MORNING AMERICA because actor Armie Hammer was slated to be a guest and talk about his new movie.  OK, let me tell you about that movie first.  It's based on a celebrated novel.  The title of the film is CALL ME BY YOUR NAME.                                     
Over the summer, I noticed glowing reviews for it showing up on social media.  Many of these excellent notices came from female critics who wrote about how lyrical and emotionally satisfying this film is.  I am so eager to see it because, frankly, those were Oscar reviews that I read.  Those were the kind of reviews that make a movie an Oscar contender.  Across the board, all the reviews told you that the story takes place in the 1980s, in Italy, and that a talented 17-year-old male develops romantic feelings for a male doctoral student he meets through his academic father.  This tale of young love unfolds against a gorgeous Italian landscape.  Armie Hammer plays the doctoral student.
There sat Armie Hammer, totally charming with the GMA anchors as he talked about his family's holiday plans.  Then, one of the anchors finally brings up the movie.  We didn't get a clip with the audio up.  We saw him rockin' out -- his character dancing at a music concert.  The GMA crew talked over that clip and asked Armie about his lovably awkward dance moves.
Then Robin Roberts mentioned that she saw the movie, praised it and described it to the viewers and the studio audience as a story of "young love."  There was no mention of a same-sex romance angle at all.  So...with the dance clip that GMA showed, a clip that got laughs from the audience...and the description of the movie being about "young love," you might think this is a mainstream romantic comedy -- like something starring Emma Thompson and Ryan Gosling.
Was ABC/Disney afraid of something?  I have been a GMA fan for decades.  I have worked on morning news programs in New York City.  There is a way of writing a more accurate, non-generic description of a critically acclaimed dramatic film that will not "shock" a morning show audience.  I could have written that description.  Also, this is a morning show that brings on contestants from THE BACHELOR and THE BACHELORETTE, a prime time show in which young attractive contestants who claim to be looking for marriage get drunk, get naked and use such foul language that they have to be bleeped.

After he won his first Oscar, for PHILADELPHIA, Tom Hanks and I talked about Hollywood's resistance to hire openly gay actors.  Straight actors were warned about playing gay characters for fear they'd be stereotyped and would not get as many employment opportunities in the future.  William Hurt for KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN (1985) and Tom Hanks for PHILADELPHIA (1993) were trailblazers and broke ground winning Oscars for playing openly gay actors.

Now we have straight actors unafraid to play gay characters on network TV and on film.  Heck, look at the other actors who went on to get Oscar nominations for playing gay men -- Greg Kinnear in AS GOOD AS IT GETS, Javier Bardem in BEFORE NIGHT FALLS, Sean Penn in MILK, Philip Seymour Hoffman in CAPOTE, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and Colin Firth for A SINGLE MAN.

That could've been mentioned to Armie Hammer.  The rave reviews could've been mentioned during the interview.  (They weren't.)  The Oscar buzz could've been mentioned.  (It wasn't.)  The fact that the young gay romance is tastefully done could've been mentioned.

I was really surprised that a network morning news show, with an openly gay anchor, took such a timid approach in 2017 to a mature new film that's gotten great reviews here and in Great Britain.  This timidity came at the end of a week in which actor Terry Crews was live in the GMA studio to talk about his sexual misconduct allegations against a male Hollywood agent.  Crews said, "He touched my junk!"  But CALL ME BY YOUR NAME got a generic description.  That irked me.  Here's a trailer for the film:
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME opens November 24th.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Plugging Our Podcast

My comedian/actor friend, KEITH PRICE, and I have been doing a podcast that I beg you to hear once in a while.  If I say so myself, we are fun and pretty well informed as we bring you a different view on the arts -- new and old.  Just today, I watched GOOD MORNING AMERICA and, during its last half hour, I said "They need to hire me as a segment producer." Here I am on the set of cable TV film review show, about to go on as a guest critic.
Michael Strahan and Lara Spencer were interviewing Josh Hutcherson, young star of FUTURE MAN on Hulu.  They showed a clip.  Who was opposite him as the mother in the clip?  Glenne Headley -- the wonderful actress who starred as Tess Trueheart in DICK TRACY (1990) and starred with Michael Caine and Steve Martin in DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS.  She died in June of this year.  Michael Strahan and Lara Spencer didn't know that.  Then Amy Robach interviewed Joely Fisher, sister of the late Carrie Fisher, about her new memoir.  Amy mentioned Joely's mom -- but she didn't seem to know that Connie Stevens (once married to Eddie Fisher, Carrie's dad), was an ABC network TV star back in the day on the hit private eye TV series, HAWAIIAN EYE.  Joely was a regular on the landmark Ellen DeGeneres ABC sitcom, ELLEN.
In host notes, I would have written for Strahan and Spencer to mention the late Glenne Headley when they came out of the clip for FUTURE MAN.  I would've had Amy Robach intro Joely as being a one-time member of the ABC prime time family --- just like her mom.  Robach mentioned that Joely's mother once had an affair with Elvis Presley, but she didn't set up that Connie Stevens was also a TV and movie star.  I would've given her that info.
 But that's just me.

One stimulus that prompted Keith and me to do the podcast is that fact that you have rarely seen racial diversity in the field of film and theater reviewers on network news programs or other programming.  Did you ever see a weekly African American film critic on one of the network morning news programs?  How many times you have seen a black person on TV review a Broadway or off-Broadway play?  When cable's AMC was American Movie Classics, did you ever see a black person as one of the regular film hosts?  How many times have you seen an African American guest host or co-host on Turner Classic Movies?  Early this year when ABC's GOOD MORNING AMERICA was the only place where you saw the live announcement of the Oscar nominations, neither one of the white male national entertainment reporters on the GMA set (Chris Connelly and Jess Cagle) knew that Viola Davis had just become a groundbreaker with her third Oscar nomination -- thus making her the most Oscar-nominated black actress in all Hollywood history. Nor did they know that Denzel Washington had just become the most Oscar-nominated black actor in Hollywood history.  They mentioned Meryl Streep's 20th nomination.

Here's a short video I posted on YouTube two months before the Oscar nominations were announced on ABC:
Here's my friend/producer Keith Price when he was on Sirius Radio. Yes, he's with the legendary Carol Burnett plus Tim Conway and Vicki Lawrence from Carol's classic CBS variety series.
The arts thrive on diversity.  Just as they thrive on that, there must also be diversity in the discussion of the arts.  The podcast is called MOCHAA (like mocha the flavor) and it stands for Man Of A Certain Hue And Age.  Let's face it.  Being black and AARP-eligible has a big ol' impact on our views and reviews.  Hear us out!  Check out our podcast at:

Monday, November 13, 2017

Underrated Talent, Whoopi Goldberg

I saw that November 13th is Whoopi Goldberg's birthday.  She will celebrate.  I sat next to her just about every week for two consecutive years and I know that she digs a celebration and also digs getting gifts.  She still has such a youthful glee about that.  I continue to be extremely grateful to her.  I continue to hold that she is one of the most underrated acting talents who is a member of the Screen Actors Guild.  When's the last time you saw THE COLOR PURPLE?  That Steven Spielberg film made her one of the few black women in Hollywood history to be an Oscar nominee for Best Actress.  If you haven't seen it lately, you need to see it again.  Whoopi Goldberg's performance in it will lay you out.  It is one of the best performances delivered by an actor in a Hollywood studio film during the 1980s.  It holds up.  It is as raw, fresh, poignant and soul-stirring now as it was in 1985.
I met and interviewed Whoopi Goldberg when she was promoting her 1988 movie, CLARA'S HEART.  Her co-star in that movie was a teen actor named...Neil Patrick Harris.  I had my own prime time celebrity talk show on VH1.  A half-hour show that I absolutely loved.  I loved working on that show and I loved my crew.  Whoopi was one of our premiere guests.  I was lucky enough to get great guests -- most of whom I interviewed one-on-one for the whole show.  Kirk Douglas, Meryl Streep, Mel Gibson, Marlo Thomas, John Lithgow...and Whoopi Goldberg were some of those guests.  I had been in awe of Whoopi's versatility before THE COLOR PURPLE thanks to multiple VHS video rentals of her acclaimed stage show, WHOOPI GOLDBERG: DIRECT FROM BROADWAY.  This was the one-woman show in which she played several memorable and very funny, very touching characters.  The legendary Mike Nichols had spotted her, taken her to Broadway and become her mentor.

We didn't have a studio audience and a band for my talk show.  We did it live to tape and I wrote and performed it as if it was onstage.  That was my choice.  When Whoopi came on to be a guest, she was the first guest who noticed that I didn't have an earpiece, a TelePrompTer or cue cards.  I had a few notes on the desk and the rest was in my head.  I wanted to be in the moment.  That impressed her and, man, was I proud of that!
When she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for GHOST (1990), she made history as the first black actress to win the Oscar in that category since Hattie McDaniel's groundbreaking nomination and win for 1939's GONE WITH THE WIND.  For quite a long time, Whoopi Goldberg -- with her two nominations -- was the most Oscar-nominated black actress in Hollywood history until Viola Davis got her third nomination and won Best Supporting Actress early this year for FENCES (2016).

When Whoopi got her own weekday live morning radio show in New York City, a show that aired nationally on 16 stations across the country, she tapped me to be the weekly entertainment contributor and film reviewer.  I am still thankful to Whoopi for that opportunity.  And, I must admit, going to work and sitting next to a show biz icon as we both did live morning radio was a very surreal experience.  It was during our two years of her show that Whoopi became a full-time popular regular on ABC's THE VIEW.
Like Rita Moreno, Cicely Tyson, Angela Bassett, Alfre Woodard, Diahann Carroll, Taraji P. Henson, Gabourey Sidibe, Jennifer Hudson and even Viola Davis...Whoopi Goldberg turned to television after one or two Oscar nominations because Hollywood had no more good script opportunities for them, women of color.  And they wanted work.  Through the years, they did not get numbers of script offers like white actresses such as Meryl Streep, Michelle Pfeiffer, Demi Moore, Sharon Stone, Julia Roberts. Jennifer Aniston and Jennifer Lawrence.

If you can ever find a copy of WHOOPI GOLDERG, DIRECT FROM BROADWAY, I urge you to watch it.  Also, THE COLOR PURPLE and GHOST were not the only films in which she slammed across a solid performance.  I also recommend these films that often get overlooked when folks talk about their favorite Whoopi Goldberg films:
THE LONG WALK HOME (1990).  Whoopi and Sissy Spacek star in this fine, mature Civil Rights film.  Two women. One black and one white, both mothers in Montgomery, Alabama during the famous 1950s bus boycott lead by Martin Luther King, Jr.  One of Whoopi's finest film performances.

THE PLAYER (1992).  A Robert Altman film.  A Hollywood studio executive gets mysterious death threats from a screenwriter whose script he rejected.  Tim Robbins plays the executive.  Whoopi plays Detective Avery, the cop on the case.  The movie is packed with star cameos -- Jack Lemmon, Cher, Bruce Willis, Burt Reynolds and more.  Enjoy.

CORRINA, CORRINA (1994).  This is a feel-good comedy romance that I love to watch as weekend entertainment.  Whoopi plays the maid working for a widower dad with a sweet little girl.  Ray Liotta gets to exercise his comedy acting muscles as the lovable dad.  He tries to make money writing commercial jingles and, since the death of his wife, he needs help around the house while he's at work.  Corrina, the maid, helps the little girl out of her grief.  The main thing here is the delicious chemistry between Whoopi and Ray Liotta.  In the film, you see that romance quietly starts to bloom between Corrina and Manny (Ray Liotta).  But...the year is 1959.  When Whoopi and I worked together, I told her that CORRINA, CORRINA should be turned into a Broadway musical.

GHOSTS OF MISSISSIPPI (1996).  A true story and another dramatic film triumph for Whoopi Goldberg.  If you saw the movie, THE HELP, a major turning point is when the black characters watch the network news bulletin that Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers had been shot and killed in front of his home.  The year was 1963.  Years later, with the steely determination of his widow, the racist killer is brought to justice.  In GHOSTS OF MISSISSIPPI, Whoopi plays Myrlie Evers, widow of the slain activist.  James Woods is chilling as the cold-blooded racist killer. He got a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his performance.  GHOSTS OF MISSISSIPPI was directed by Rob Reiner.  Alec Baldwin co-stars.
I wish Whoopi Goldberg a most fabulous birthday.  By the way, she's now on the Motion Picture Academy's Board of Governors.

One more thing:  Whoopi Goldberg does a terrific lip sync of Judy Garland singing "Come Rain or Come Shine" on her famous Live at Carnegie Hall concert album.

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...