Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Rex Reed Reviews and Sings

I have been watching film critic and raconteur Rex Reed on TV ever since I was in high school. A popular guest on talk shows, he was a young man who always had a juicy anecdote about a known star in the Hollywood firmament. I'd walk over to our local library in South Central and check out his books as I dreamed of reviewing movies on TV myself. I also dreamed of being in the movies. Well, my dreams came true -- for Rex Reed. He made his film acting debut with an important role in the notorious and much-publicized transgender satire, MYRA BRECKINRIDGE. That 1970 Hollywood film starred two movie divas.  Raquel Welch had the lead role and, making her screen comeback and changing the script to continue her iconic screen image, Mae West co-starred. Raquel and Mae -- two sex symbols of different generations. The reported behind-the-scenes bickering made for fabulous entertainment news reading in the morning papers. The controversial film was based on the hot Gore Vidal novel. Vidal did not work on the screenplay. John Huston also starred in the film.  Rex played Myron before the change to Myra.
Personally, I'm surprised I've not heard of any plans to remake this project today starring a real transgender actress as MYRA BRECKINRIDGE. Also, I'm surprised that TV's Ryan Murphy has not taken the Welch versus West feud and made them fodder for one of his made-for-FX TV movies the way he did with the Bette Davis versus Joan Crawford squabbles during the making of WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? Think about what an FX production that could be. You've got gorgeous Raquel Welch, an often bitchy film critic in the cast as the early version to Raquel's main character, and you've got 1930s sex symbol Mae West in her 1970 screen return.

Rex still reviews movies in New York City. I got to NYC in 1985.  Thanks to having my own talk show on VH1 and doing celebrity interviews on local news programs after my VH1 years, I became acquainted with Rex at many screenings through the years. We've chatted. Often, I was the only black person in the screening room when I saw Rex. He was profiled on CBS SUNDAY MORNING and chatted about his celebrity-packed Oscar parties at his New York City apartment. He briefly mentioned some, at the time, current films. He hated GET OUT. Apparently, Rex thought the black characters were robots like in THE STEPFORD WIVES. He just didn't get GET OUT. But he loves GREEN BOOK and he's quoted prominently in the GREEN BOOK commercials now on TV. Previously, Rex loved 12 YEARS A SLAVE. His review was quoted in print ads for that film too. One of the last times I chatted with Rex at a Manhattan screening, he'd just returned from vacation.  "Four weeks vacation in the South of France," he said.

And that was the guy telling me why I needed to see 12 YEARS A SLAVE.
On the last Tuesday of November, Rex Reed gave out with song and snappy patter. He got booked to do two shows in one night at Birdland Theater on West 44th Street in Manhattan's theater district.  He told celebrity stories and he sang a few songs from old movies. Not a bad booking. I wonder if he'll be tapped for a return engagement.

Here's my observation on inclusion in network TV news: Rex Reed reviewed three films focused on the Black Experience in America -- 12 YEARS A SLAVE, GET OUT and GREEN BOOK. I never saw a black person review those three films on a network show like CBS SUNDAY MORNING. Rex and I were both at a critics screening for a soon-to-be released comedy called JUNO. It was one of those screenings in which I was the only black person in the room. I loved 2007's JUNO. However, a couple of years later, I came away with this realization after screening another movie that went on to get Oscar nominations. It was a 2009 realization about the way Hollywood saw black people.

If you're 16, white and pregnant, you are a brainy student in high school, you pepper your conversations with whip-smart wisecracks, your supportive and loving parents in the suburbs hook you up with good pre-natal care and an upscale married couple will be happy to adopt your baby. And you have a car. You're called JUNO.
If you're 16, black and pregnant, you can barely read and write in high school, you live in the projects with your physically abusive monster of a single mother, you're extremely overweight, steal a bucket of fried chicken and there's no upscale married couple happy to adopt your baby.  And you don't have a car. You take the bus. You're called PRECIOUS.
That is something I would've loved to mention on TV in 2009.

I started my professional TV career in 1980 on the ABC affiliate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was the weekly film critic. On an independent station in Milwaukee, I was half of a film review team. This work on two channels got me tapped by the PBS station in Chicago. I auditioned to be one of the new film critics when Siskel & Ebert left PBS for Disney syndication.

The PBS execs were considering me to be the film review partner to -- Rex Reed. I didn't get the job but I am still proud to this day that I got the audition. Especially since the the sight of African-American film critics seen regularly on TV has been pathetically rare since the 1980s.

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