Saturday, August 31, 2019

Marilyn Monroe Was Robbed

Although she was not a trained dancer like Cyd Charisse or Leslie Caron, Gene Kelly was very impressed with the way Marilyn Monroe moved in her dance numbers. Kelly had a cameo in Monroe's 1960 comedy with musical numbers, LET'S MAKE LOVE. Although I cannot remember any film critics praising her voice, I purchased record albums of Marilyn Monroe vocals when I was a teen-ager.  I felt the late star had good voice and could do some sweet justice to a tune with a jazz beat. As for acting, it is a damn shame that, during her lifetime, no critics ever noted that she was one of Hollywood's best funny ladies, a screen comedienne with awesome comedy timing. Then, in a drama, she could set the screen on fire as a sizzling siren. This is why I feel Marilyn Monroe was robbed by not being in the Academy Award list of nominees for Best Actress of 1953. Monroe should have been a Best Actress nominee for the musical comedy, GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES.
Here are the nominees for that year: Audrey Hepburn for ROMAN HOLIDAY (winner), Deborah Kerr for FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, Leslie Caron for LILI, Ava Gardner for MOGAMBO and Maggie McNamara for THE MOON IS BLUE. Here's a trailer for THE MOON IS BLUE.

Let's look at THE MOON IS BLUE, a very talky romantic comedy directed by Otto Preminger. The male leads are Hollywood veterans William Holden and David Niven. This was during the period when Holden pretty much owned Hollywood and, after having done commendable work since 1939, had finally popped as a top star. He starred in SUNSET BLVD and BORN YESTERDAY in 1950.  For 1953, he'd take home the Best Actor Oscar for STALAG 17.

THE MOON IS BLUE got a lot of publicity because of archaic Hollywood production codes at that time. The censors objected to the words "virgin" and "mistress" in this comedy. The plot makes us wonder if the marriage-hungry maiden will be seduced by the middle-aged bachelor after she passive aggressively winds up in his Manhattan apartment during a rainstorm. THE MOON IS BLUE was based on a play, its claustrophobic stage roots show, and it's in black and white. Maggie McNamara, the poor dear, got big Hollywood buzz at the time. She's rarely talked about today. In THE MOON IS BLUE, the pert brunette looks like the kind of female who would've inspired THE STEPFORD WIVES in the 1970s. I guess McNamara's character, Patty O'Neill, came off cute and lovable in the 1950s. I find her calculating, self-absorbed and selfish.  She's a single woman in New York City who tells the bachelor "I'm an actress" and "The kind of men I want don't grow on trees." Prim and proper Patty reveals that she wants "a middle-aged man with gobs of dough." At one point of chatter with Holden's truly charming bachelor, she comments "Men are usually so bored with virgins. I'm glad you're not." We get a chance to see her at work when she's in the bachelor's apartment after having fixed him dinner. The acting role? She's seated, dressed as a medieval character, and sings in a beer commercial that airs on NBC. When first she arrives at his apartment, Patty looks like she's taking inventory. She's scouts for items that would make her domestic life comfortable. She peers in his refrigerator and highly recommends he should be eating Finnan haddie, a high-tone fish dish.

Actress Patty O'Neill uses her virginity as a marketing tool as she establishes what kind of kitchen appliances she'd want, the kind of food she'd want in her refrigerator and what she'd expect of her financially secure middle-aged husband. At no time does Patty say what she would bring to the marriage other than her virginity and cooking skills. She never says that she will love her husband, but she does say she expects to hear him say "I love you."  I cannot stand Patty O'Neill. I hope she gets the runs from her Finnan haddie.

Patty O'Neill is a single woman, "an actress" in New York City, with a desire to land herself a financially secure husband.  Lorelei Lee is a single woman, an entertainer in New York City, with a desire to land herself a financially secure husband -- and love him. Lorelei is played by Marilyn Monroe in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES. She never says "I'm an actress" yet her work on stage kicks Patty's beer commercial into total obscurity. As soon as this glittery Technicolor movie starts, we see exactly why Gene Kelly was impressed with how Marilyn Monroe moved. Lorelei Lee is a showgirl with her best friend, Dorothy Shaw. She and Dorothy (Jane Russell) are nightclub headliners and they perform "I'm Just a Little Girl from Little Rock." The choreography is by Jack Cole, renowned as one of Broadway's most celebrated jazz/ethnic choreographers. He constructed numbers for Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera. He also did film work in the 1940s and 50s. His choreography was neither plain nor simple. It popped and trained dancers did hard work making it pop.  Marilyn Monroe performs Jack Cole's choreography like a pro.
GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES was based on a hit Broadway musical that made Carol Channing a new star. Channing was Lorelei. The story was changed and rewritten to fit the two 20th Century Fox movie stars. A couple of songs were kept from the Broadway score. Others were dropped and replaced with new ones. "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" was kept and given a hipper, jazzier arrangement. It fits Monroe like a velvet glove. Two of Marilyn's chorus boys in the number are Larry Kert who'd go on to be Tony in the original Broadway cast of WEST SIDE STORY and George Chakiris who'd go on to win an Oscar for playing Bernardo in the film version of WEST SIDE STORY.
Lorelei is a stylish, scrumptious blonde who's a bit of a scatterbrain -- except when calculating the worth of a diamond. Put a diamond in front of her and her brain becomes a NASA computer. Her sweetheart is a lovable, shy bookworm son a rich old man. Here's where we need to compare and contrast Marilyn Monroe's Lorelei Lee to Maggie McNamara's Patty O'Neill.
We never see Patty with a friend. She never even mentions a best friend. As much as Lorelei loves diamonds, there is no diamond on earth big enough to pull her away from the loyalty she has to her girlfriend Dorothy. As for Gus, the rich bookworm Danny, when Lorelei kisses him, she makes him feel like he's King of the World. When she croons "Bye-Bye, Baby" to Gus, she's telling him there'll be no other guy while she and Dorothy are on tour in Europe.
You have to be smart to play a "dumb blonde." You have to know where the laugh is in the script and how to deliver it with the perfect cluelessness and timing. Look at Judy Holliday in BORN YESTERDAY.  Monroe's blend of savvy showgirl and wide-eyed childlike innocence are great for this character. Lorelei exudes a warmth and vulnerability we never got from Patty in THE MOON IS BLUE. My late partner was 15 years younger than I and a hardcore Madonna fan. He didn't know her "Material Girl" video was imitating Monroe's "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" number from GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES. I had the movie on VHS and gave it to him. One day, I hear him in the other room howling with laughter. He had never seen a Marilyn Monroe movie. He was replaying Lorelei's first encounter with a diamond tiara.
The comedy bit Monroe does with the little froggy-voiced boy when Lorelei gets stuck in a luxury liner porthole is right up there with the best of Lucille Ball on 1950's I LOVE LUCY.
GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES was directed by Howard Hawks who also gave us ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS, HIS GIRL FRIDAY and BALL OF FIRE. It was released six months after moviegoers saw Marilyn Monroe as the cheating wife of an emotionally disturbed war veteran (played by Joseph Cotton). In NIAGARA, she's lusty Rose Loomis, the younger wife who delights in knowing she's got a hot, handsome lover on the side. The two meet secretly there in the Niagara Falls vacation spot. There's one scene in which Rose is in bed and seems to be naked with only a sheet over her. Her husband is in another room. Rose has a look of sexual desire and fulfillment on her face. You know she's thinking of her lover. The sheet covering her is like a big bow gift-wrapped around a Roman candle that's ready to be lit.                       
Marilyn Monroe is memorable in this noir/thriller. Her Rose is both seductive and doomed.

Around Thanksgiving time, moviegoers would see Marilyn Monroe in another comedy --  HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE. In that bright, colorful feature, we see that the new actress zooming up to be Hollywood's top sex symbol of the decade also had a gift for physical comedy. In it, she's a gorgeous dimwit model who's sorely in need of eyeglasses. Her vision is very bad. But she doesn't wear her glasses because she feels they'll make her look like "an old maid." Without them, she's practically so blind that she walks into a wall.  Just like in GENTLEMAN PREFER BLONDES, she falls for a bookworm. One who wears glasses -- and gives her the confidence to wear hers. He's not a millionaire, but he wins her heart.

Recently, I watched THE MOON IS BLUE again on Amazon Prime to see how I'd feel about it. I felt the same. I found Patty to be hollow and annoying whereas Lorelei is lively and lovable. She may be a bit ditzy but she's a loyal friend and a fabulous entertainer who connects with people of different cultures and colors. She loves a guy a lets him know it.  GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES gives us a funnier romantic comedy that has more and better numbers than the beer commercial on TV in THE MOON IS BLUE. But, at the time, critics considered the late Maggie McNamara the new "serious actress."
That was McNamara's one film release for 1953. Monroe had three -- NIAGARA, GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES and HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE. McNamara had played the role onstage. Monroe had done stand-out minor roles in excellent films such as THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950) and ALL ABOUT EVE (1950).

Do what I did. Watch 1953's romantic comedy THE MOON IS BLUE starring Oscar nominee Maggie McNamara. Then watch 1953's romantic musical comedy, GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, starring Marilyn Monroe.  Which actress would you have nominated for the Oscar?




Thursday, August 29, 2019

Constance Wu & Women in Film

Constance Wu stars with Jennifer Lopez in a new movie drama called HUSTLERS. It opens September 13th. This movie is more than just "pole roles" for the female cast that includes Cardi B. and GOOD MORNING AMERICA's newest addition, Keke Palmer. They play pole dancers in a strip club. The movie is based on a real-life story, a story that was written up as a feature in New York Magazine. A group of strip club workers banded together to turn the tables on their Wall Street clients. I hope these strippers excite the movie-going public and "make it rain" at the box office. This week, we read the USC Annenberg reports on Hollywood's under-representation of Latinos. Jennifer Lopez, who has delivered solid acting performances in SELENA (1997) and OUT OF SIGHT (1998) in addition to her hit record career, revealed that friends advised her not to take the job as a judge on AMERICAN IDOL. But, like other actresses of color who've done good work in films, she took TV work because Hollywood had no good script opportunities for her. This fall, Constance Wu returns for a 6th season on a hit ABC sitcom. She plays the mother on FRESH OFF THE BOAT.
Last year, she lit up the movie screen in the box office smash, CRAZY RICH ASIANS. The romantic comedy was a colorful eye-candy treat with a terrific cast. Back when I was a kid and the Rivers Family would pack into the Plymouth and go to the drive-in, CRAZY RICH ASIANS was the quality of film we'd have loved to see. It was totally fun, an entertaining film for the family or a great date night movie.
Neither FRESH OFF THE BOAT nor CRAZY RICH ASIANS was mentioned when GOOD MORNING AMERICA anchors tossed to Thursday's taped interview with the women of HUSTLERS. We knew Jennifer Lopez was in the group but there was no mention that the star of a hit ABC sitcom was also in the group interview for ABC's GOOD MORNING AMERICA this week. If I was a segment producer/writer for that show, I would have written the Constance Wu information into the anchors' scripted intro. By the way, FRESH OFF THE BOAT has rarely gotten promotion on GMA over the years. It's not received even half the GMA attention that the Roseanne Barr return to ABC sitcom duty got before Roseann got booted from her reboot.

FRESH OFF THE BOAT, based on the memoir of hip Asian-American chef/entrepreneur Eddie Huang, is the first sitcom in 20 years about Asian-American characters starring Asian-American actors. ABC gave comedian Margaret Cho a sitcom in 1994. ALL-AMERICAN GIRL was canceled within its first season. I don't blame Margaret Cho. I watched the show and it was obvious that white male TV executives drained the show of all Margaret Cho flavor and reduced the Asian-American actors to acting like standard Caucasian sitcom types.

Constance Wu is comedy gold on FRESH OFF THE BOAT as the over-achiever suburban mom who always must learn how to control herself when she tries to control the lives of her husband and kids.  Like Latinos, Asian-Americans experience under-representation in Hollywood. With that in mind, one of the GMA anchors should have mentioned Constance Wu's success in FRESH OFF THE BOAT and CRAZY RICH ASIANS. It was announced that HUSTLERS cast member Keke Palmer is the newest addition to the new 3rd hour of GMA. She joins Michael Strahan and Sara Haines.

Another noteworthy item about HUSTLERS is that it's a female-powered production. A woman journalist wrote the magazine feature that inspired the script.  Lorene Scafaria is the film's director and screenwriter. Click onto the website below to see a trailer for HUSTLERS. I hope Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez and the other women involved get lots of love from movie-goers when the film opens.

www.hustlers.movie.

Thanks for taking time to read my post.



Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Latino Representation in Hollywood

Monday morning, August 26th, I read articles in the Entertainment section of The Los Angeles Times the reported "For Latinos, underrepresentation and stereotypical portrayals remain firmly in place." This is according to information from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. I am not surprised at that news. To me, that news is -- as my late mother used to say -- "a sin and a shame." I am not surprised at the news. It hurts because, as a person of color, I feel the frustration in my bones. I have for decades. That same day, Variety quoted Jennifer Lopez when she revealed that friends urged her not to be a judge on AMERICAN IDOL They felt it would cripple her career. Said Lopez: "The truth is, I'm not getting offered a whole bunch  of movies..."
So she went to weekly TV. Just like Oscar winner Whoopi Goldberg did because she wasn't getting any movie offers. Just like Oscar nominee Viola Davis did because, after her second Oscar nomination, she wasn't getting any major film offers. When she was starring on ABC's hit series, HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER, Viola Davis landed the film version of FENCES. That performance brought her a third Oscar nomination. She won for Best Supporting Actress.

Back in 2017, I was listening to a film review hour on radio. The comedy HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER was opening. One of the critics politely said it was a sweet, goofy little movie that probably wouldn't do anything at the box office. I thought to myself, "Really?" The lead actor, Eugenio Derbez, may not have mainstream U.S recognition like Seth Rogen or Adam Sandler, but the Mexican actor is hugely popular with Mexican movie-goers. That film review hour is a Los Angeles broadcast and, Lord knows, there's no shortage of Mexican movie-goers in Southern California.
HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER was made for $12 million. It pulled in $60 million at the box office. By the way, the critic who felt the film would not do any business at the box office was a white critic. That reminds me, yet again, that the voices of more people of color are needed in arts criticism and appreciation.

KNX news radio in L.A. had a special 1-hour live show about Hollywood's color controversy in light of "Oscars So White." This show aired after folks were livid that STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (2015) and Ryan Coogler's FRUITVALE STATION (2013) failed to get top Oscar nominations after having been critically acclaimed. Underrepresentation and the need for more racial inclusion were topics on the show. A representative from a Hispanic Arts organization was on the panel. From 1990 to 2008, even when I was in shows airing Monday through Friday on national television, Broadcast/TV agents turned me down for representation. They usually said, "I wouldn't know what to do with you." One thing I noticed in all the meetings with Broadcast/TV agents I had at top agencies in New York City from 1990 t0 2008. I had seen only one African-American agent. I saw her in 1990. She was one month from departing William Morris.  All the agents I met with were white. Several knew zilch about my career because they'd never bothered to view my demo reel. However, all the Latino and Black folks who worked at the reception desks always knew my work and had watched me.  If THEY had been the agents, I would've had representation -- and job offers.

When I asked if having people of color as agents in the top entertainment agencies would help, the Hispanic Arts rep loved the question. His answer was an enthusiastic "Yes!"

The USC study found that in the top 100 Hollywood films from 2007 through 2018, only 4.5% of all speaking characters were Latino.

For your DVD entertainment, I've got recommendations that feature Latino talent. First up, one of my favorite actors. He can slam across a solid dramatic performance and then be the funny saving grace of a cheesy comedy like the 2017 film version of CHiPS based on the 1970s TV cop series that made a star of Erik Estrada. I happily spend money to see Michael Peña onscreen. When I see this Mexican-American interviewed on TV, no one ever mentions that he has acted in five Best Picture Oscar nominees: MILLION DOLLAR BABY, CRASH, BABEL, AMERICAN HUSTLE and THE MARTIAN. In addition to that, no one ever mentions his lead role performance in a 2014 biopic. Michael Peña starred in CESAR CHAVEZ, playing the famous labor organizer and civil rights activist. I grew up in L.A. during the 1960s. Chavez's name and activity were in daily newspaper and network TV news. Like Dr. King, he was important to our community. Like Dr. King, his non-violent protest got the attention and help of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. A white man telling Mexican-Americans to "go back where you came from!" is a moment from the 1960s in this biopic that makes it feel timely.  CESAR CHAVEZ was directed by Diego Luna.
America Ferrera, Rosario Dawson and John Malkovich costar. Dawson plays Dolores Huerta. Huerta, now 89, was arrested and released just last week for protesting for the rights of union workers in Fresno. Michael Peña recently starred in DORA AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD.

There's a young, talented Latino supporting cast in the 2008 comedy, HAMLET 2. Steve Coogan stars as a failed actor who became a high school drama teacher in Tucson, Arizon. The man is absolutely clueless. What I love about this comedy is that it flipped the script on those many "white savior" classroom drama in which a Caucasian teacher has a class full of tough Black and Latino students from the 'hood and turns then into scholastic achievers. In HAMLET 2, the Mexican-American students are the ones who realize their teacher's brain is as smooth as a rock and he needs their help. They all rile the conservative parents when the teacher writes a sequel to Shakespeare's HAMLET. Jesus is a character in the sequel.  In this comedy is mighty fine work from Joseph Julia Soria, who plays the teacher's biggest headache, and Melonie Diaz. She went on to give a beautiful dramatic performance opposite Michael B. Jordan in FRUITVALE STATION. Take a look at the funny and original HAMLET 2.

In 2017, Salma Hayek starred in a short and strong social drama. BEATRIZ AT DINNER runs only 1 hour and 25 minutes but it sure packs a punch. In Los Angeles, she's a working class holistic healer and massage therapist. Her car breaks down after she finishes an appointment with a high-tone white client who lives way outside of Beatriz's neighborhood. The politically correct client invites Beatriz to stay for dinner. The client has friends who are also coming over for dinner. Beatriz gets a big serving of white privilege. They get a big serving of minority realness.

There was a crime drama in 2006 called LONELY HEARTS. Salma Hayek stole the movie. You might not have heard of this one. It starred John Travolta and James Gandolfini as detectives on the real-life "Lonely Hearts Killers" case of the 1940s. The story of the two killers, Martha Beck and Ray Fernandez, was done previously in the gritty and gripping 1970 black and white indie film, THE HONEYMOON KILLERS. Tony Lo Bianco and Shirley Stoler starred.
The 2006 film, LONELY HEARTS, was pretty much shelved. It played for a couple of weeks at one arthouse theater in Greenwich Village when I was in New York City. People missed one sizzling performance from Salma Hayek as a sexy scorpion of a female. Here, we see a dark-haired Latina giving you the film noir femme fatale character. She plays Martha Beck, a psycho killer who draws a not-too-smart Ray Fernandez, played well by Jared Leto, into her web of crime, a crime that will lead to their execution. Click onto the link to see a clip from LONELY HEARTS:



Travolta and Gandolfini aren't bad. Scott Caan always comes off like he's doing an imitation of his dad, James Caan, from a 1970s movie. The real juice in this movie is the Jared Leto and Salma Hayek pairing. She will have your hormones spinning like they're in one of those giant teacups at Disneyland.

Happy viewing.





Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Remembering Martha Raye

I had a happy hangover one day thanks to Martha Raye. The revue show 4 GIRLS 4 had returned to Milwaukee in the 1970s. The four girls were Rosemary Clooney, Rose Marie, Margaret Whiting and Helen O'Connell. It played for a hit week the previous year at the city's lovely Performing Arts Center. I met Rose Marie that previous year after a press conference. After the question and answer business, there was a buffet for the press. I wound up casually chatting with Rose Marie. She liked my sense of humor, gave me some immediate career advice (I worked on local radio then) and became a mentor. By the way, her advice was spot on and we kept in touch via letters through the years. She wrote me that she had another gig and wouldn't be in the return engagement. Martha Raye would be. She added that I should get ahold of Clooney and Whiting and have dinner with them. I did -- and Martha Raye came along. A Milwaukee buddy who is now a well-known TV/Radio celeb in Milwaukee was present. Gino photographed Rosemary Clooney, Margaret Whiting and me. After the show and after dinner, those two ladies were pooped and headed back to the hotel. Martha Raye turned to Gino and me and said, "Let's go get a nightcap." Wheee!
In the 1970s, we knew Martha Raye as the funny lady who did lots of special guest appearances on network TV shows and also did commercials for Polident. In my childhood, before I moved to Milwaukee for college and a career start after graduation, Mom told me that Martha Raye was a really good jazz singer and not just a comic entertainer. Mom said that she wore out her record of Martha singing "That Old Black Magic" back in the day and had to buy another one.
I think my generation remembers Martha Raye mostly as the funny lady with the big mouth in her later years when she was on Broadway and TV.  Many TV viewers then weren't aware of the great regard she had in the jazz community. During our nightcap, Martha Raye talked about her years at Paramount Pictures (in the 1930s) and broke us up laughing with stories about stars on the lot. She loved Harlem and was very proud to have played the Apollo Theater.

If you see what Martha Raye did in 1937's DOUBLE OF NOTHING, you see why she was a hit in Harlem. With Bing Crosby and Frances Faye, Martha jammed in the "After You" number.

Don't forget that Martha Raye, with her talent for physical comedy, was one of Charlie Chaplin's leading ladies.  In his 1947 black comedy, MONSIEUR VERDOUX, she's the new bride who doesn't know that the dapper Parisian gent she married wants to knock her off for her money. Just as he did his other wives. Here's a clip.

Mom and Dad used to listen to a Sunday afternoon jazz show on FM radio in Los Angeles when I was almost a teen. It was hosted by jazz historian Leonard Feather.  He played wonderful jazz cuts and had wonderful guests in the studio to interview live.  One day, his in-studio guests were Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae. Leonard Feather asked them to name some of their favorite vocalists. Sarah said she was going to name someone listeners might be surprised to hear, but Carmen McRae would agree with her. Sarah Vaughan named Martha Raye and Carmen McRae did, indeed, agree immediately.

Mom was right. Treat yourself and listen to Martha Raye sing "Stairway to the Stars."

I'd include a couple of stories Martha Raye told me over cocktails, but they're delightfully R-rated. I'll tell you in person.



Sunday, August 25, 2019

They Star on POWER

Not that winning awards should be the goal of those who commit to doing hard work very well as actors or directors.  You do it for the love of the art. However, it is nice to be recognized with, at least, a nomination. POWER premieres its final season tonight on the Starz cable channel. This is an exciting, sophisticated, complicated urban crime thriller. I was hooked early in its first season. POWER, one of the most popular shows on the channel, starts its sixth season this week. For its previous five seasons, it has been missing from the list of Emmy nominees. This show, rich in racial inclusion, has had some tough, solid writing and a cast of actors who have delivered excellent performances. What is going on with the TV Academy?
Let's look at other Emmy oversights in the past.  Cuban immigrant Desi Arnaz wowed audiences with his conga-playing performance in the hit Broadway musical comedy TOO MANY GIRLS. He went to Hollywood to recreate his role in the film version. When he met RKO studio's leading lady for the 1940 film version, love and history would be made. Her name was Lucille Ball. They were both Hollywood actors in the 1940s. You know that Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball married and starred together on the legendary, groundbreaking 1950s sitcom, I LOVE LUCY. Desi was the show's executive producer. They became TV superstars and, in 1957, they purchased the RKO studios where they met and renamed it Desilu Productions. Desilu gave a greenlight to and produced MISSION: IMPOSSBILE and STAR TREK. Desi Arnaz was one of the most successful and trailblazing producers in American TV history in addition to starring on an internationally famous sitcom with his real-life wife. I LOVE LUCY stars Lucille Ball, Vivian Vance and William Frawley were all nominated for Emmys. Lucy won Emmys and other prestigious awards. Desi Arnaz never, ever received an Emmy nomination. Nor was he honored with a Lifetime Achievement Emmy for his contributions as actor and producer.

Remember the HBO prison series, OZ? Lord have mercy, there was some good acting on that series. From 1997 to 2003, every single episode was "Must-See TV" for me.
I still cannot believe that Rita Moreno never got an Emmy nomination for her remarkable, riveting work as Sister Peter Marie, the prison psychologist nun on duty. What a strong, original female character to play -- a nun yet -- and Rita Moreno made her memorable.  She and a cast of actors that included Chris Meloni, Lee Tergersen, JK Simmons, BD Wong, Eamonn Walker, Harold Perrineau and Dean Winters never got Emmy nominations for OZ excellence.
A few years ago, a dear friend was on assignment in Los Angeles. Because of weather, her return flight to New York was delayed. Worried that she would not be back in time to tape scheduled morning interviews with members of the POWER cast, she called and asked if I could take her place. She knew I'd seen the first season and the second season was being promoted.
Not only was it my pleasure to help her out, it was a great pleasure to meet the actors. They were warm, smart and truly grateful for the press interest in their show. Let's celebrate the start of POWER's finale season with flashback interviews from early in the show's run. Here are two terrific lead actors who have been overlooked for Emmys love -- Omari Hardwick and Lela Loren. He plays the celebrated Manhattan businessman and family man leading a double life as a ruthless drug dealer. She plays the federal prosecutor romantically involved with him.

Here is Courtney A. Kemp, the woman who created the series. She previously worked on THE BERNIE MAC SHOW and THE GOOD WIFE.


POWER, Season 6, starts August 25th at 8p Eastern on Starz.


Saturday, August 24, 2019

Lara Spencer's Ballet Blunder

Lara Spencer is one of the half dozen or so blonde anchors/contributors on ABC's weekday edition of GOOD MORNING AMERICA. Her daily segment airs live between 8:05 and 8:15. Lara reads a segment called "Pop News," usually three or four entertainment news or pop culture items. Updates on the lives of young members of Britain's Royal Family get constant mention. I was watching when Lara Spencer read us a light news item about little Prince George. He's six and the adorable son of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Lara reported that Prince George's back-to-school schedule would include...ballet classes. When she said those last two words, there was laughter from the anchor desk and, with a big smile on her face, she paused for the laughter. When she added that Prince William said his little boy absolutely loved the ballet class, her response was "Yeah, we'll see how long that lasts." More laughter. This irritated me. It came off as if Lara Spencer, with the laughter and the casual attitude, was implying that ballet is for girls, not for boys. It's for a princess, not a prince. It's not masculine and athletic. She may not have intended for it to come off that way, but it did. With her ad libbed comments about a little boy happily taking ballet class, Lara Spencer put her foot in her mouth.
I'm a veteran of live local morning news programs in New York and one live ABC network afternoon magazine show. We've all, at some time, said something on live TV that we later regretted. But, when Lara got that first laugh with "ballet classes," she should've stopped there and taken a different, supportive tone. During a month in which young adult white males thought it masculine to buy automatic guns and kill people in public venues, the news of a young white male finding joy in ballet classes gives one hope that civility and the fine arts can still live.
In 2000, I was the weekly movie reviewer and film historian on an ABC News/Lifetime TV joint production. It was called LIFETIME LIVE and aired weekdays on Lifetime TV.  In addition to the reviews of new movies and new DVD releases, I'd recommend a classic film with a strong female performance to highlight Women In Film. That was my idea. My live segments were longer than the Lara Spencer "Pop News" segments. I pushed hard to get an audition for that job because ABC News execs kept asking "Does he know anything about movies?" Even though I had five years of weekly film critic experience on TV and in print before I landed my first New York City job in 1985 and even though I had my own celebrity weeknight talk show on VH1 in the late 80s, news execs at one local New York City station, at ABC News and at a radio station in 2006 all asked "Does he know anything about movies?" before letting me do the segments. The undertone of that question from those producers, to me, always smacked of "Black folks don't do film reviews and give movie history. That's upscale work for white people."

ABC's LIFETIME LIVE lasted only one year. After it was cancelled, I tried to get a job as a contributor or segment producer on GOOD MORNING AMERICA. I tried for years. No luck.

Had I been at the desk with Lara Spencer, I would've cut in with "That is terrific news! He could be a future BILLY ELLIOTT or a Baryshnikov. I begged my parents to let me take ballet classes when I was a kid because I was so fascinated with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. But we didn't have access to ballet schools then in South Central L.A. We all loved DIRTY DANCING, right? Well, Patrick Swayze was in a ballet company before he started dancing in films."

Robin Roberts was not at the desk that morning but one of the other anchors should've interjected something positive about males in ballet classes instead of just giggling with Ms. Spencer.

In the same week, GOOD MORNING AMERICA would trot out former Trump White House mouthpiece, Sean Spicer, as a contestant for the new season of DANCING WITH THE STARS. It's reported that contestants for the show make $125,000 for the show's rehearsal period and the first two weeks on the air.  I will not be watching Sean Spicer dance.

I'd rather cheer for little Prince George in his ballet class.

If you've never seen BILLY ELLIOTT, it's a heartwarming winner. I gave it lots of love when I reviewed it in 2000 on LIFETIME LIVE. Billy was a working class British kid who loved Fred Astaire and wanted to take ballet classes. I shared those same feelings when I was a kid growing up near Compton. Here's a clip from BILLY ELLIOTT starring young Jamie Bell and Julie Walters.





Tuesday, August 20, 2019

A Celebration for Buster Keaton Fans

My mom introduced me to the exquisite silent screen artistry of Buster Keaton.  When I was boy, the networks had light early Saturday morning programming which would lead into the Saturday cartoon shows for kids. Channel 2, our Los Angeles CBS affiliate, often showed the optimistic Eddie Cantor musicals of the 1930s, Laurel & Hardy features and Buster Keaton comedies. Mom happily urged me to watch Buster. One thing that amazed me about him was that he did such wonderful work before movies learned how to talk and he was still in the game. I grew up seeing him in TV commercials, guest appearances on popular TV shows like CANDID CAMERA and in big screen colorful, hip comedies like the film version of Broadway's A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (1966). He went from the silent screen era in the 1920s...
… to getting big laughs in a 1966 musical comedy that gave us numbers with an MTV music video style of editing years before MTV was born.
In college, Buster Keaton's silent film work was included in my Film Journalism classes. It was in our textbooks and in the lectures from our professor. In SHERLOCK, JR. (1924), THE NAVIGATOR (1924), THE GENERAL (1926), COLLEGE (1927) and STEAMBOAT BILL, JR., he was a marvel. Buster Keaton's athleticism and agility made his body alone one of the most memorable special effects in Hollywood history. Although called "The Great Stone Face," there was a constant flow of emotion in his eyes. There was depth and heart in that stone face. What a remarkable actor.  As a director, his creativity was astounding.

Director Peter Bogdanovich never got to meet and express his affection for Buster Keaton, but he did put it in a very good documentary. It's THE GREAT BUSTER: A CELEBRATION. You can find it for a small fee on YouTube and Amazon Prime Video. I hope this doesn't ruin it for you, but one of the most wonderful things about the documentary is that it has a happy ending. Keaton was in a lovely marriage and he was employed. The documentary goes back to his beginnings in a stage act. The origin of his nickname comes up as does his introduction to the silent film scene. We see his artistic zeniths -- not all of them appreciated at the time -- and we see his artistic nadirs -- during his MGM years which is a case of corporation versus art, it seems. The prestigious studio took itself seriously and did not have the knack for giving us good wacky and slightly anarchistic comedies like we got from the Marx Brothers during their Paramount years. MGM took away Keaton's freedom as a filmmaker. He was better off as an independent. Keaton had some tough years artistically and personally. Then he bounced back in the TV age.

If you're a Buster Keaton fan, you should see this documentary. It's informative, revealing, surprising and entertaining. Bogdanovich is the narrator.

My one criticism is the same one I raised when I saw the HBO documentary, SPIELBERG.  That 2017 documentary from director Susan Lacy (of excellent PBS documentaries) is also informative, revealing, surprising and entertaining. However, in its 2 and 1/2 hours, we saw and heard from seven film critics/film historians -- and all of them were white. Not one African-American film journalist is seen even though one 10-minute section of the Steven Spielberg documentary is devoted to discussing his film adaptation of THE COLOR PURPLE.

In THE GREAT BUSTER: A CELEBRATION, we see beloved film critic & historian Leonard Maltin. We see top celebrities who praised Keaton's artistry. We see Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks and Dick Van Dyke. We also get a few soundbites from Johnny Knoxville, host of the MTV prank and gross-out show, JACKASS. The show's popularity later gave us JACKASS: THE MOVIE.

There's not one African-American Buster Keaton fan, not one person of color, giving comment in Bogdanovich's 2018 documentary. The Keaton fans seen in THE GREAT BUSTER: A CELEBRATION are all white.

Buster Keaton did not have only white fans.  I've been proof of that since I was in grade school.

I'm a veteran entertainment news reporter with radio, print and TV credits. Here's something I noticed. After its run in movie theaters, the 1999 comedy, THE BACHELOR, made its network TV debut on ABC. THE BACHELOR starred Chris O'Donnell and was a remake of a 1925 Buster Keaton silent screen comedy called SEVEN CHANCES. In that classic, Keaton plays a man who must marry by a certain time on his 27th birthday in order to inherit $7 million from a relative. When that news gets out, dozens of women are ready to say "I do" -- if they can catch him. The 1999 remake recreated this famous scene from the 1925 Buster Keaton original. He's being chased by women in wedding dresses.
In 2002, months after the ABC airing of 1999's THE BACHELOR, we saw the premiere of a new reality competition series called...THE BACHELOR. Several women compete for the same guy. The goal is matrimony. I think a bit o' Buster Keaton inspired that ABC franchise.

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Amazing Edward Norton

I am constantly in awe of his talent and his range as an actor. He's not one of those actors who's a regular fixture on red carpets. Not one who's frequently in the entertainment news headlines. Not one we see making several appearances on network morning news programs to promote a new film. Still, Edward Norton is one of the most remarkable, versatile and interesting working actors we have today. He fascinates me. We first saw him as the schizophrenic young man with multiple personalities accused of murder in 1996's PRIMAL FEAR. He followed that stunning dramatic performance with a Bobby Van-esque musical performance in Woody Allen's 1996 musical comedy, EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU. Then came another riveting performance, this time as the West Coast neo-Nazi in 1998's AMERICAN HISTORY X. After that came what seems to be the CITIZEN KANE for Gen X generation white males -- 1999's FIGHT CLUB.
Edward Norton's work thrills me even in films that didn't get a lot of attention from moviegoers such as the rival TV hosts revenge comedy DEATH TO SMOOCHY. He was Smoochy the Rhino, the new kiddie show sensation who replaced Rainbow Randolph, played by Robin Williams. Another favorite is 2005's DOWN IN THE VALLEY. Norton delivers a subtle, knock-out performance as a delusional modern-day cowboy in the San Fernando Valley. I live for his comedy turns as the boy scout master in MOONRISE KINGDOM and as the European inspector with the dominant mustache in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL.
He scored again as the vain, talented, irritating and randy Broadway cast member in 2014's BIRDMAN also starring Michael Keaton.
In an interview, I heard Norton say that he'd based his character slightly a real life actor. If the interviewer could guess who the actor inspiration was, Norton said he'd donate a generous check to a certain charity. The interviewer couldn't guess, darn it. Personally, I think Edward Norton based his character on 1980s William Hurt.

My jaw just about dropped down the floor when I sat through the closing credits of the raunchy, hilarious animated 2016 feature, SAUSAGE PARTY, to see who did the excellent Woody Allen-like voice of nebbishy Sammy the Bagel. It was Edward Norton.
Another one of my favorite Edward Norton performances is in a film I've seen several times. Audiences missed a quality film when they passed over THE PAINTED VEIL.

Take a couple of minutes to hear me recommend this must-see for serious Edward Norton fans:

www.podomatic.com/podcasts/bobbyrivers/episodes/2011-03-15T05_27_33-07_00.






Sunday, August 18, 2019

About Robert Redford

Am I a Robert Redford fan? Yes, indeed I am and have been since I was in high school. Today, August 18th, is his 83rd birthday. On Twitter, IMDb (Internet Movie Database) assembled a short montage of Redford clips highlighting his work as actor and director.  IMDb asked "What's your favorite Redford film?" Fabulous actress Yvette Nicole Brown (she made us laugh on the sitcom COMMUNITY) gave a quartet in her online answer: ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID and THE WAY WE WERE.
Yes, Yes, Yvette! I agree with those choices. I have two others to recommend. First of all, Robert Redford films represented fun Saturday afternoons at the movies during my South Central L. A. youth. My student discount card got me into the double features with a few cents off the usual ticket fare for teens. I sat with popcorn, a soda and Milk Duds to watch him in BAREFOOT IN THE PARK, THE CHASE and BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. One of his films didn't get a warm reception from critics, but it's special in my personal family history. I was -- and still am -- a hardcore Natalie Wood fan. Our parents were separating and I felt from the psychic energy in the house that Mom and Dad would definitely be getting a divorce. Before they separated, there were times Dad would get out of house to break from the non-verbal tension between him and Mom that added a thick emotional humidity to the indoor atmosphere. Most of the times, he'd go to his mother's place in Inglewood. One evening, he wanted to go to a movie. He invited me along and he let me pick the movie. I don't think the film was important to him. He just wanted to get out of the house for a white. I picked INSIDE DAISY CLOVER starring Natalie Wood with movie newcomer Robert Redford in a supporting role as Daisy's movie star husband. It was a glossy, deluxe production that was beautifully photographed. Natalie Wood gave it her all even though, as a rebellious but talented 16-year old tomboy whose singing talent gets her discovered by Hollywood, she was 10 years too old for the part. INSIDE DAISY CLOVER was the last movie Dad and I saw together, just the two of us, before he and Mom officially separated and he moved out of the house. I was teetering on the brink of teen-hood. Critics may have dismissed the movie, but I didn't. There's a scene in which Daisy, now an unhappy teen movie star, has a soundstage looping session for a scene in one of her musical numbers. She suffers an emotional breakdown in the booth. Her singing is suddenly, unexpectedly replaced with screams. If you've seen INSIDE DAISY CLOVER, you know the scene.

That scene reflected how I felt inside. But being the good student and Black Catholic dependable child, I could not let that rage out. Even today, seeing Natalie Wood and Redford in INSIDE DAISY CLOVER takes me right back to those emotionally bumpy middle school years.

Robert Redford won the Best Director Academy Award for ORDINARY PEOPLE. The film also won a Best Screenplay Oscar, Timothy Hutton won for Best Supporting Actor and ORDINARY PEOPLE took home the Oscar for Best Picture of 1980.  To me, 1994's QUIZ SHOW is even better and brought him another very well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Director. It's based on the true-life NBC game show scandal of the 1950s. Game show contestant Charles Van Doren, played by Ralph Fiennes, was in a fixed position to win because his good looks produced good ratings. He was handsome compared to his opponent, Herb Stempel. The real Charles Van Doren died this year, in April, at age 93. John Turturro is terrific as Herb Stempel, the plain but honest opponent. The real Stempel is now 92.

Take another look at Redford's QUIZ SHOW. It's a tale of truth vs. ratings, looks vs. substance. We see this played out within the medium of network TV. Charles Van Doren knew the game was rigged to capitalize on the increased ratings thanks to female viewers swooning over his charms.
I don't mean to be snarky but watch it now that NBC had survived another scandal. In the fall of 1992, I worked on a local WNBC news program with Matt Lauer. He and I were acquainted with each other's work on a 1980s weeknight entertainment magazine show called PM MAGAZINE. It was syndicated. Matt did not have a noteworthy, extensive hard news journalism background. He was a good host of entertainment programming. However, he was in a career slump and sorely in need of employment. A buddy helped him score a local news anchor job on WNBC. I asked Matt how he was navigating through this new job as he'd not been known previously as a news anchor. He casually, honestly replied, "I look good and I read well."

Local female viewers went gaga over his handsomeness. Just two months after the premiere of our local weekend news program, Matt was taken off co-anchor duty because he was being groomed for TODAY Show stardom. Female viewers boosted ratings when they saw Matt. Before the 1990s ended, he was occasionally anchoring the network evening newscast and, later, he replaced Bryant Gumble as Katie Couric's co-anchor on TODAY. He morphed into a serious journalist and made millions until a sex scandal got him fired in 2017. Here's a trailer for QUIZ SHOW directed by Robert Redford. I highly recommend this 1994 film.
Another film I highly recommend came out in 2013. If Redford had received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for ALL IS LOST, I would have cheered. He did this film in his 70s and performed most of his own stunts as the aging mariner on a solo voyage. An accident happens, his radio and navigation equipment are broken. He's lost in the Indian Ocean. There's a tiny bit of dialogue in this movie and one big outstanding performance from Robert Redford. Here's a trailer.

Those first times I saw Robert Redford on the big screen, he looked like he'd been kissed in his cradle by the Southern California gods. He was the walking essence of the SoCal Look. Redford was a new Hollywood Golden Boy. Even if the movie was not about him, he got top attention. In the newspaper ads and the trailer for 1969's TELL THEM WILLIE BOY IS HERE, he's seen foremost. But Willie Boy, the native American who returns to his reservation, is played by Robert Blake. OUT OF AFRICA, directed by Sydney Pollack, is about the Danish baroness who finds her independence in Africa. It's about the woman played by Meryl Streep. But who gets top billing in the credits? Robert Redford.

Redford proved to be more than just another "pretty face." He was a serious actor, director and producer who was also graced with movie star charisma. If you haven't seen them already, let me know what you think of QUIZ SHOW and ALL IS LOST after you watch. I'm going to watch ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN again and pray that the history in the final scene of that investigative journalism drama repeats itself. (Be prepared for adult language in this clip).





Thursday, August 15, 2019

On ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE

Do you need some laughs? Are you up for a new romantic comedy that gives you something fresh? If you get Netflix, I've got the comedy for you. It's ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE directed by Ms. Nahnatchka Khan. This feature is a Netflix original. If it was in movie theaters, I would have paid to see it more than once. Not only that, I would've taken a friend to see it too. That's how much I enjoyed ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE. The two main stars, two writers and two producers are Ali Wong as Sasha Tran and Randall Park as Marcus Kim, natives of San Francisco.
The movie starts with an appropriate hip-hop music beat and we're flashbacked to the Bay Area in the 1990s when Sasha and Marcus were kids. Kids who were next door neighbors. She's a girl fascinated with cooking. She spends a lot of time alone because her parents work. Sasha hangs out with lovably dorky Marcus next door. His sweet mom shows her how to make tasty Korean dishes. Sasha and Marcus are great buddies. As years go by, they become teen sweethearts. Their first sexual encounter, in a car, was so awkward it had me laughing out loud. More years go by and they're young adults in different cities. She's now a celebrity chef, popular with entertainment reporters at red carpet events. She has a hot, handsome celebrity boyfriend. Marcus helps his widower dad in his dad's air conditioner business. On the side, Marcus is in a band that does local gigs.

When Sasha and Marcus are reconnected in San Francisco, they're no longer sweethearts. But, as much as they try to ignore it, the spark reignites.
What's fresh about it? How often do we get a romantic comedy with two Asian-Americans in the lead roles? There were a couple of times when I hit the pause button, went back and played a scene again because it made me laugh so much. The double date at a posh restaurant scene is one example. I lived in San Francisco for a year. The whole Bay Area hipster vibe is nailed with a direct, accurate hit in that scene. Keanu Reeves shows up and does a bright, winning turns as a self-absorbed jerk of a movie star. Another scene that broke me up is the one in which Marcus goes to buy a designer suit. Randall Park and Ali Wong wrote some very funny comedy.

I saw comedian Michelle Buteau in a New York City comedy club about 10 years ago. She was terrific. She has since become a Class A supporting role friend or aide character in the great witty tradition of Eve Arden in classic 1940s films (COVER GIRL, MILDRED PIERCE, ONE TOUCH OF VENUS), Thelma Ritter in 1950s classics (ALL ABOUT EVE, REAR WINDOW, PILLOW TALK) down to Rosie O'Donnell in the 1990s (SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE). Comedian/actress Michelle Buteau is a total joy as the very pregnant best friend and co-worker. Here's a trailer.

Ms. Khan directs this with a lively pace and gives us human, vulnerable sides of the characters. They're dimensional. Like director Nora Ephron (SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, YOU'VE GOT MAIL), Khan knows to keep a romantic comedy trim. Don't dawdle or get excessive. Keep it under 2 hours. This is something Judd Apatow productions need to learn. His rom-coms such as KNOCKED UP, TRAINWRECK and THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT run a little over 2 hours but they'd be even better at 1 hour and 45 minutes. He lets guys ad lib scenes and the scenes go into the film even though they don't really move the action forward. I've seen the ad libbing in progress. I was a background actor in THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT.

The incredibly handsome Daniel Dae Kim stars as Brandon. Has his name been tossed into the mix as a possible new James Bond? It should be. As for Randall Park, I've been a fan of his ever since 2011 when I lived in San Francisco. I noticed him in TV commercials. He's really good. Then in the winter of 2014, the satire THE INTERVIEW starring James Franco and Seth Rogen made TV news headlines. It poked fun at Kim Jong Un and, reportedly, North Korea was mad at us for that. ABC news covered the story several times and regularly mentioned that THE INTERVIEW starred James Franco and Seth Rogen. There was never any mention that Randall Park co-starred as the Korean dictator -- and stole the film with his wickedly funny performance. That was a major ABC news oversight because, in a few months, Randall Park would be seen as TV's newest sitcom dad when FRESH OFF THE BOAT premiered on ABC. It would make history as the first network sitcom in 20 years about an Asian-American family.

ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE highlights Randall Park's impressive comedy acting skills and Ali Wong shines in a lead role. She's a supporting player on the ABC sitcom, AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE.

This romantic comedy reflects a San Francisco that I lived in, a multi-racial San Francisco I know. Did you see Woody Allen's 2013 drama, BLUE JASMINE? Critics loved it. They were white critics. None of them mentioned that Woody Allen shot a whole movie in San Francisco about characters in San Francisco and we didn't see one Asian-American actor with a speaking role. BLUE JASMINE was a well-acted but all-white look at San Francisco. The dentist or the character Louis C.K. played could've been played by Randall Park. The character played by Peter Sarsgaard could've been played by Daniel Dae Kim or John Cho. I noticed the lack of Asian-American actors in that Woody Allen movie shot in San Francisco. It bothered me.

ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE made me happy. It's bright, light entertainment with a heart. It runs 1 hour and 42 minutes.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

About LOST HORIZON (1973)

Movie critics poked, pierced and barbecued the musical remake of LOST HORIZON when it was soon to be released. Yes, the reviews were harsh but I can't say that they were wrong. I love musicals. I saw the 1973 musical remake of LOST HORIZON when it came out and let me just say -- that movie wasn't released. It escaped. LOST HORIZON, the musical, was Shangri-Lousy.
I was just a black kid in his teen from South Central L.A. when it hit big screens. However, if I had been in a movie producer's Hollywood office to hear this pitch:  "A musical remake of the Frank Capra classic, LOST HORIZON. We'll have new songs by Burt Bacharach. The dance numbers will be staged by Hermes Pan, the man who choreographed the classic Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals of 1930s. The cast will include George Kennedy, Sally Kellerman, John Gielgud, Peter Finch and. for the leading lady, we'll have that star of great psychological Ingmar Bergman dramas such as PERSONA, SHAME and HOUR OF THE WOLF...Liv Ullmann! Oh, and for the director, we've got the guy who directed ANNE OF A THOUSAND DAYS and MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS and a screenplay by Larry Kramer who wrote WOMEN IN LOVE"...
...if I had been in a movie producer's Hollywood office to hear that pitch, this would've been my expression:

Then, I would've said, "What are you, nuts? Am I the only one here who's heard of Stanley Donen? Screenplays by Comden & Green? Singer and dancer Julie Andrews? These are the actors, director and writer you have on board for a musical?"  And then the Hollywood executives would've had security escort me to the nearest exit.

There is one thing that I love about the musical LOST HORIZON. That one thing I love is the original score by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. I loved it before the movie opened because  I had the soundtrack.  I've been a huge Bacharach fan ever since I first heard his pop hits sung on radio by Dionne Warwick and The Carpenters. Dusty Springfield singing "The Look of Love" -- thank you, Jesus! I loved his unique Pacific Coast vibes and arrangements in his compositions. The Burt Bacharach & Hal David songwriting team had won a Best Song Oscar before LOST HORIZON. From 1969's BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, they won Hollywood gold for "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head."

I know critics hated LOST HORIZON. Yet, I still feel that Burt Bacharach should've had another Best Song Oscar nomination for his score. The songs are the best thing about the film but they were casualties in the reviews of that musical avalanche disaster. Bacharach gave his score a slight SoCal-Asian flavor.  The Oscar winner for Best Song of 1973 was "The Way We Were" from the popular film of the same name. Two of the other nominees were the love songs from A TOUCH OF CLASS, a romantic comedy starring Glenda Jackson and George Segal, and CINDERELLA LIBERTY starring Marsha Mason. I could not hum either one of those two tunes for you right now if you offered me $500 cash. But I can sing you more than two original Bacharach & David songs from 1973's LOST HORIZON.

The musical had a cast of competent but miscast actors. In Frank Capra's 1937 lovely original, Ronald Colman's heroic Robert Conway was a British man of 30-something or 40.
Peter Finch as Conway in LOST HORIZON 1973 is just three years shy of being seen as the aging and unhinged TV news anchor in Sidney Lumet's great film, NETWORK. I would've gone with a younger actor for LOST HORIZON, one who had done well as a leading man in a musical with his singing voice dubbed. I would've cast Stephen Boyd -- handsome, a very good actor and he'd been Doris Day's leading man in Billy Rose's JUMBO (1962).

Instead of Liv Ullman, I would've cast Tina Chen, the excellent and under-utilized actress seen in ALICE'S RESTAURANT (1969) and as one of Robert Redford's office mates in Sydney Pollack's THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975). I would've cast as Asian actress as the charming, innocent schoolteacher in Shangri-La, the mysterious and idyllic community of the Far East.
As for casting John Gielgud, what the heck were they thinking? Hollywood couldn't hire an Asian actor like James Hong (THE SAND PEBBLES and CHINATOWN) to play that Asian character? Couldn't they have borrowed Victor Sen Yung from the cast of the TV series, BONANZA where he played Hop Sing? Or hired Benson Fong?

Instead, we wound up seeing John Gielgud dressed up like one of the Teletubbies.

Oh, well. That's Hollywood for you. Nevertheless, I still dig the 1973 LOST HORIZON original score from Burt Bacharach.

I saw 1973's LOST HORIZON on cable TV recently. Just like back in 1973, it was the music that held my interest. I believe Burt Bacharach had a solid understanding of the story's message and wrote to complement it while also acknowledging our history at the time. We had survived the turbulent 1960s in which President John F. Kennedy, civil rights activist & Nobel Peace Prize recipient Dr. Martin Luther King and presidential candidate Senator Robert F. Kennedy had all been killed by assassins' bullets. America was paralyzed with grief. In the early 1970s, we were still fighting in the highly controversial Vietnam War.

Listen to the soothing, soulful voice of Shawn Phillips sing the title tune on the LOST HORIZON soundtrack. Hear him sing my favorite song from the score, "I Might Frighten Her Away." My second favorite song is "The World Is a Circle."

It's an original movie musical soundtrack that deserves appreciation. I didn't write "re-appreciation" because the Burt Bacharach & Hal David songs were not appreciated when they were new.

To hear the soundtrack, go to this link:  youtube.com/LostHorizonMov.










She Made A RAISIN IN THE SUN History

Let us praise the late, legendary Lorraine Hansberry. She made history in three areas -- three big areas -- that do not get the attention th...