Sunday, March 29, 2020

THE GRADUATE...if made today

If you asked a dozen reputable film critics to list the top five film directed by Mike Nichols, 1967's THE GRADUATE would take the number one spot on several of those lists. I'm sure of that. THE GRADUATE -- starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft. Mike Nichols deftly guided Hoffman's impressive acting skills in this film, made early in Hoffman's film career. To me, the most interesting character is the financially privileged and morally bankrupt Mrs. Robinson.
Mrs. Robinson has made her Southern California home her suburban jungle. She's like a clever, dangerous jungle cat toying with a clueless, little stray animal before she pounces. Look at the detail in the set design coupled with her outfits and attitude.
 She's a jungle cat on the prowl.

 There are lines of dialogue in THE GRADUATE that went on to become famous in our pop culture.

We are all in a time right now that makes us feel as if we're characters in an original episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. On Valentine's Day, we could go to the movies with a date, hug, kiss, grab a bite to eat at a restaurant and go home. That's not the case today. We must keep six feet away from each other in public. If we go out. We must practice self-isolation because of strange, dangerous virus. A virus that has closed movie theaters, Broadway shows, restaurants and gyms. This prompted many Americans to rush out and buy large packages of toilet paper as if toilet paper as if would not be manufactured again for another month. Network news reporters asked us not to horde toilet paper.

Watch this well-known scene from THE GRADUATE.

If I was making THE GRADUATE today, I would replace with word "plastics" with ---- "bidets."

But that's just me.  I wonder if those fixtures will surge in popularity when this virus crisis fades. Maybe I could open a shop and sell them in a side business. Call the shop something cute like "Bidets of Our Lives" or "Bidets of Wine and Roses"

In the meantime, you take good care of yourself and your loved ones.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

To THE LIGHTHOUSE

If you're a guy and you are in coronavirus isolation with a male buddy roommate, THE LIGHTHOUSE may not be the film for you to rent and watch right now. It's bleak and it's in black and white. However, it has some blistering and brilliant acting from Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. The 2019 film was directed by Robert Eggers. In addition to directing, he co-wrote the original screenplay. Eggers has a great interest in mythology -- especially Greek mythology. THE LIGHTHOUSE is the quality of film one would be assigned to watch and study in a university film class -- like I had to do Ingmar Bergman classics of the 1960s when I took film classes at Marquette University in Milwaukee. The main object in the film is a huge phallic symbol with a light atop it. I assume the phallic symbol is uncircumcised because there's never a shade or cover over the light. At one moment inside this giant phallic symbol, we find two bearded men embracing in a slow dance. But this is not BROKEBACK LIGHTHOUSE. Willem Dafoe is the senior lighthouse keeper. He has one leg, a growl of a voice and he's flatulent. He's like a farting Captain Ahab.
Robert Pattison plays the new guy, a replacement who has to endure this dreary job, the older guy's stories and his constant gas-passing which never, ever ends with "Ooops" or "Excuse me." They are together, isolated, surrounded by sea and under grey skies for weeks. The younger guy is so isolated, so deprived of a romantic release, that he masturbates to the image of a mermaid. And this is no comic scene of self-gratification like you might see in a Seth Rogen movie. It's serious. The young worker beats his johnson like it owed him money. And then there's the seagull. Thomas (Willem Dafoe) warns Ephraim to never harm seagulls because he believes the birds carry the souls of dead sailors.
The light itself is symbolic. Ephraim burns with a desire to look into the light of the lighthouse. He does. What does he see? That's not important. We don't see what he sees. It's like looking in the box in KISS ME DEADLY (1955) or the briefcase in PULP FICTION. Or, for those of us who grew up with Bible mythology in Catholic school, it's like what Lot's wife saw. We don't know exactly what she saw, but we know the sight of it -- after she was warned not to look -- turned her into a pillar of salt. Ephraim's reaction shows us he should not have dared look into the light. To use another piece of Bible mythology, he's like Eve biting the apple when she was told not to in the Garden of Eden.

Tensions rise like the sea water between the two isolated men. They rise before and after they dance. I'm no film scholar but what hit me is that Eggers may also be commenting on the personal mythology we men create to protect ourselves, to make ourselves feel special and to co-exist with other. That masculine mythology can protect us. It can lead to despair and violence. I love the boldness of black and white cinematography. THE LIGHTHOUSE fascinated me visually. It did remind me of those symbolic 1960s theo-philosophical Ingmar Bergman classics such as THE SEVENTH SEAL and THE VIRGIN SPRING. It also echoes the Stanley Cortez cinematography for THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955). The way Jarin Blaschke shoots the spiral staircase in the lighthouse will make you think of the bell tower scenes in Hitchcock's VERTIGO and Robert Siodmak's THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1946). You may not totally understand THE LIGHTHOUSE at first viewing, but you'll be gripped by the powerful acting and the filmmaker's originality.

I started my professional broadcast career in radio in Milwaukee after I graduated from Marquette University. During my Milwaukee years, I saw a Wisconsin actor onstage in productions at an avant-garde Milwaukee theatre company. We frequently mentioned the company's productions on our FM rock radio station. This was the mid 1970s and that tall, lanky Wisconsin actor always stood out onstage. He had the gift. It was Willem Dafoe. I have followed his career ardently since then. I've seen his movies. I've seen him onstage in New York City. Dafoe delivers a peak performance in THE LIGHTHOUSE.
By the way, if I was the owner/manager of an independent movie theater, I would put THE LIGHTHOUSE on a double bill with Hitchcock's THE BIRDS. Thanks for your time.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Fun Nuns from Ida Lupino

"Her vagina is probably stuffed with diplomas." That's a line of dialogue delivered by a snarky high school hipster in 2019's BOOKSMART. First time film director, Olivia Wilde, deserved an A for giving us a funny new addition to the high school teen comedy genre. Yes, I know a lot of the language is naughty but it had me laughing out loud so much that I had watch the movie twice. I could relate to it because I was a high school senior who was graduating with a high average and an acceptance to a good university. However, I was also voted Most Courteous for three consecutive years, I won the English Lit. Award, the Typing Class Award and I was president of the library staff. If there had been a certificate given to the one voted Most Likely to Die Alone and a Virgin, I'd have won that too. I longed to be a cool dude. I prayed I'd be invited to a hot high school party before graduation. I picked up on the humanity director Olivia Wilde injected into the tale of occasionally foul-mouthed teens, two of whom desperately say "We have to go to a party tonight" and "Nobody knows that we are fun."  Those two are star students, academic overachievers more popular with teachers than with their fellow graduating students. They are Molly, the full-figured brainiac destined to leave Southern California for Harvard, and her awkward lesbianette best friend, Amy.
Beanie Feldstein plays Molly. Kaitlyn Dever plays Amy. Their friendship makes for some fresh and original onscreen female bonding. If you'd think this would probably be another formula teen comedy, you'd be pleasantly surprised in the first 20 minutes. One has a photo of Eleanor Roosevelt in her room. There are mentions of Picasso, Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony and Ruth Bader Ginsburg in addition to the chat about masturbation techniques. Molly and Amy go to a party. They'll have experiences that are both disappointing and memorable. Their graduation ceremony will be even more memorable.
The second time I watched BOOKSMART, I said to myself, "Ida Lupino would've sent roses and champagne to Olivia Wilde."

Olivia Wilde is an actress. Ron Howard's unjustly overlooked RUSH, HER starring Joaquin Phoenix and Clint Eastwood's RICHARD JEWELL are among her film acting credits. Ida Lupino was a celebrated Hollywood actress of the 1930s and 40s who turned to film directing in the late 1940s and continued to act. Lupino distinguished herself as the director of several gritty black and white movie dramas. Lupino then turned her trailblazing directorial talents to television. Her extensive list of credits as a TV director is just as impressive as her extensive list of credits as an actress.
Ida Lupino directed only one movie in color -- and that movie was a comedy. It rarely gets mentioned when high-tone film historians and film critics discuss Lupino's movie, but it should be. The entertaining Catholic school comedy, THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS, directed by Ida Lupino, is a 1966 feature film that, just like BOOKSMART directed by Olivia Wilde, is a valentine to female friendships.

I loved watching THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS on TV because it was energetic, funny, it starred Hayley Mills and nuns in the movie reminded me of cool nuns I had as teachers when I was a Catholic school student back home in Los Angeles. In the 1990s, I had a side job I loved in the Chelsea section of New York. I was a clerk at an independent video store. Back then, we all rented VHS tapes. Our store, called Video Blitz, had two monitors. One in the store and the other was positioned in the large window facing 8th Avenue at 17th Street. Every single time we played THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS, a customer would come in and gush, "I love that movie!" The customer was usually someone who'd done time in Catholic schools and also had nuns as teachers. The movie was a popular rental and the movie itself, in its original run, was so popular with mainstream movie audiences that it led to a sequel.
Hayley Mills played the iron-willed, mischievous, lively and smart Mary Clancy. June Harding played the awkward and shy Rachel. The two quickly bond to become best friends through three years at St. Francis Academy, an all-girls boarding school with an all-nun staff headed by the no-nonsense Mother Superior played by Rosalind Russell. It was obvious that the 1992 hit comedy, SISTER ACT, had a little influence from this Ida Lupino comedy. In fact, Mary Wickes who plays the Physical Education nun in THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS got back into the habit for SISTER ACT.
Those of us who love THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS can quote Hayley Mills' line that always preceded a prank that got Mary and Rachel in trouble with Mother Superior:  "I have got the most scathingly brilliant idea!"

The movie is wisely modestly-budgeted. We're in a Catholic boarding school with nuns. No need for frills, fancy costumes and special effects. Lupino made the movie with wise simplicity and warmth.

THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS gets categorized as a sweet, sometimes goofy, teen comedy about two best friends in school. But Lupino's comedy, the only comedy film she directed, has more going for it than just the several funny scenes. I watched it last month. There's poignancy and depth to it. Now that I'm older, I caught that Ida Lupino directed a dear love letter to female bonding in three stages of a female's life -- youth, middle age and old age. The same number of years that Mary and Rachel have at St. Francis Academy for Girls.

We have the youth of the girls in the academy. As for middle age, we see that there's a sisterhood among the sisters. Mother Superior's best friend is school favorite, Sister Ligouri. She's a wonderfully down-to-earth nun who loved horses and thoroughbred horse racing. She infuses a spirit of that love into the way she teaches class which excites, delights and inspires the students.  Sister Ligouri knows that Mother Superior can often be too iron-willed. She knows Mother Superior's soft side and reminds her to not be too strict with the girls. One of the nuns is elderly and dozes off a lot. The sisters treat her with great affection and ask the girls to do the same. Mother Superior will reveal to Mary Clancy the great heartbreak of her life when she was a teenager.

The major scene of female bonding in old age comes in a Christmas sequence. Mother Superior tells the girls that the academy annually visits senior citizen women at a holiday function. We see and hear that just about all the old women have not been visited by relatives. They got cards or calls saying that the family wouldn't be able to visit or they were not contacted at all. This is why Mother Superior wants the young girls to devote time being kind and attentive to these old ladies at Christmas.

Ida Lupino showed us female bonding at three stage of a female's life -- youth, middle age and old age -- and she has females from all those stages interact and connect during the story. Lupino gave us something more than just a teen comedy starring successful Disney film graduate, Hayley Mills, and veteran Hollywood star Rosalind Russell. At its joyful heart, THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS is a salute to the sisterhood of females.

For some laughs focusing on female friendships in high school years, comedies we see through the gaze of female directors, check out BOOKSMART directed by Olivia Wilde and 1966's THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS directed by Ida Lupino.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Health Tips from Mel Brooks & Son

The late, great Anne Bancroft would be so proud of her son.  Anne Bancroft, that first-class Broadway and film actress who won the Best Actress Oscar for recreating her acclaimed Broadway performance as Helen Keller's teacher in THE MIRACLE WORKER and became the most interesting character with her performance as the amoral Mrs. Robinson in THE GRADUATE, was the Catholic Italian who married a funny Jewish guy named Mel Brooks.
Their son, Max Brooks, is a successful novelist. Max is in his 40's. His dad is in his 90's. Max recently posted this public service announcement on Twitter to stress the importance of following orders from health officials in this weird time of the coronavirus pandemic.


I heard Max interviewed on National Public Radio once. Wow. What an impressive, knowledgeable guy -- and, if you loved his mother, your love increased if you heard him talk about her in that interview. He's dyslexic. When he was a kid in school, teachers were not really aware of dyslexia. Some thought he was just goofing off or trying to avoid doing his schoolwork. His mother sensed that something else was at play. She took a year or more off from her very successful career to school herself on dyslexia and then become his educational advocate and teacher. Remember her role as Annie Sullivan in THE MIRACLE WORKER? In a way, life imitated art. She turned herself into a real-life Annie Sullivan for her own child.
It's Thursday. Today, I watched the CBS THIS MORNING news program. One segment focused on our eating habits during this virus crisis. Registered dietitian Samantha Heller had tips on what to eat while stuck indoors with family members. She was asked what foods we should buy to keep in our pantries. The first item she mentioned was beans. Buy a variety of beans. Plenty of beans -- because they're healthy and can be used in several dishes. With that in mind, I leave you with a moment from BLAZING SADDLES, a classic western from filmmaker Mel Brooks. Thanks for your time.


Sunday, March 8, 2020

A Taste of BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S

Those little neighborhood diners and cafes where you go and really relax. You could sit back as if you had just lowered yourself into a warm, soothing bath. I loved places like that in New York City. I loved chatting with the waiters and waitresses -- those ordinary working class people who would often say things that made you realize these ordinary working class people had outlooks and observations that moved you with their extraordinary wit and wisdom. For me, one such place in the late 80s was The Penguin Café in the West Village on Hudson Street. Unpretentious, great burgers, a great staff. One late afternoon, I was having a cheeseburger deluxe and talking old movies with Mike the waiter. The café wasn't busy at that hour. The manager favored movie soundtracks on the CD player. In the background, the theme to BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S was playing on the movie's soundtrack. Mike mentioned how much he loved watching Audrey Hepburn on TV as Holly Golightly when he was a kid. He said, "It was a fun movie to me. And I loved that she named her cat 'Cat.' That was so kooky. She was so lovely."
I agreed. I knew what he meant. I responded to it in the same way when I was a kid and it aired on TV. Holly's stylish hair and outfits, her cigarette holder, her crazy party guests and the bouncy Henry Mancini score made it groovy entertainment. Mike added, "Then you grow up and realize all the darkness in that Technicolor. When she got 50 dollars for the ladies' room, it wasn't 50 dollars for the ladies' room. She was getting money for sexual favors so she could get by."

Underneath that hip Manhattan elegance was desperation, fear and loneliness. Holly Golightly went to New York City to transform herself, be new, beat back some shadows of pain and lack from her past. Millions of others migrated to Manhattan to do the same thing. I certainly did. I was a new 7th grader at Mother of Sorrows Catholic school in Los Angeles. I still recall the names of the three kids at recess who made up their own little game on the schoolyard. Alphonso came up with the game and said that "the loser has to touch Robert Rivers." I was standing alone and away from them, but still within earshot. Linda was the loser. She walked over to me and, as soon as her finger touched my shoulder, Alphonso and Philip broke up laughing because she touched Robert Rivers.

Is it any wonder I was driven to transform myself from shy Catholic school bookworm, a new kid that no one wanted to touch, to a guy who was rubbing elbows with major movie stars on his own national talk show in New York City? I had compassion for Holly. So did BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S director Blake Edwards, screenwriter George Axelrod and star Audrey Hepburn. The opening credits scene alone of the 1961 movie is more memorable than a few feature length films I've paid to see in the last five years. It's daybreak, probably on a Sunday morning, in New York City. Fifth Avenue is free of traffic. It's quiet. A gorgeously gowned Holly Golightly emerges from a taxicab with a take-out order coffee and a pastry. That's her breakfast as she stands looking at diamonds in a window at Tiffany's. "Moon River," a wistful tune later to be sung by Holly, is the background music. With such an ultra-chic Manhattan visual, the harmonica solo in the music calls us the rural reality of Holly's past. Visually, she seems to have made a dream come true. Fabulous clothes. A swell cosmopolitan life. But there's a sense of longing in the composition.

Hepburn physically and movie image-wise was not the Holly Golightly of Truman Capote's novella. His muse was Marilyn Monroe. Had the film adaptation adhered closely to Capote's work, Tuesday Weld would've been a great choice to play Holly. In the under-appreciated 2006 drama, INFAMOUS, Toby Jones plays Truman Capote and Daniel Craig plays one of the convicted Kansas killers Capote interviews for his masterpiece, IN COLD BLOOD. In a letter from prison, the convict remarked that he read BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S. However, he didn't feel that Capote had true compassion for Holly. He was, to a degree, laughing at her. He wasn't totally kind. I read the novella and I agreed with Daniel Craig's character. Blake Edwards, George Axelrod and Audrey Hepburn were kind in their interpretation of the story. Hepburn was kind -- and brave. She took a risk with her successful and Oscar-winning image. She was perfectly cast as the runaway princess who delightfully learns about the joys of ordinary life. Outside of the castle, she finds romance and finds her true, independent voice as a royal who now has a personal connection to the people. This was in William Wyler's ROMAN HOLIDAY co-starring Gregory Peck. The 1953 film brought the new star an Oscar for Best Actress. In films to follow, Audrey Hepburn would again play the intelligent young woman attracted to the older, mature man. As the Greenwich Village bookstore clerk who majored in philosophy, she's Jo Stockton in the musical comedy, FUNNY FACE. Fred Astaire stars as a Richard Avedon-ish fashion photographer who sees what Jo doesn't see -- that she's got the right stuff to be a new model. He feels she'd be a breath of fresh air with her "character, spirit and intelligence." Those three qualities were hallmarks of a Hepburn character. The men her age come off as unimaginative, juvenile and responding to her looks more than her "character, spirit and intelligence." We saw Audrey Hepburn opposite Fred Astaire (FUNNY FACE), Humphrey Bogart (SABRINA), Gary Cooper (LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON), Cary Grant (CHARADE) and Rex Harrison (MY FAIR LADY). In each one, she's attracted to the older man even while a younger one pursues her.

Blake Edwards' BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S presented the chance to depart from the Audrey Hepburn film template. In this production, the older man could lead her to a life of heartbreak. There's Doc, played by Buddy Ebsen. Doc knew Holly before she fled to New York and reinvented herself. He wants her to return to her rural origins. There's José, the handsome and mature South American visitor. He has money and position. He'd want Holly solely for amusement. She gives off the hipster attitude that she'd be cool with that because she's a free spirit who just wants money and fun. She plans to fly overseas to hook up with José. The young man who is Holly's neighbor is just like Holly. Paul Varjak, played by George Peppard, is a struggling new writer who's being kept by a well-to-do middle-aged married woman. Paul Varjak gets money for sexual favors so he can get by. He puts an end to that when he falls in love with Holly. This time, the qualities of the Audrey Hepburn character would be noticed and fully appreciated by a man her age. The actress flipped the script on her screen image.
At the end, the happy end, Holly Golightly comes to a self-realization. She finds true love and fulfillment, an end to the emptiness of her life. When this happens, she's not dressed in designer clothing and accessories in the morning light at a classy midtown Manhattan location like in the film's opening scene. She's rain-soaked in an alley near trashcans. But in that setting, in that moment, she's found something beautiful. She's been transformed on the inside.
 

Audrey Hepburn received another Best Actress Oscar nomination thanks to this performance. I love BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S. I came to love it even more thanks to a waiter in the West Village who served me a cheeseburger deluxe.

Friday, March 6, 2020

I Almost Met Robert Osborne

If you've followed these blog posts of mine for a couple of years, you know that I've been a devoted fan of TCM (cable's Turner Classic Movies) since 1999. That same year, I had a terrific time interviewing screen legend Tony Curtis live on the popular local morning show, GOOD DAY NEW YORK. Staff members in their 20s dropped over to the set to see the star of SOME LIKE IT HOT, THE DEFIANT ONES, SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS and other classics promote his TCM appearance. Host Robert Osborne would be interviewing Tony Curtis in a PRIVATE SCREENINGS special. A TCM representative was in the studio accompanying Tony Curtis and enjoying our interview. As for Robert Osborne, I miss him. He was an exceptional TV host, knowledgeable and charismatic. He had voice and manner that were soothing. Comforting. Like Steve Allen (star of 1956's THE BENNY GOODMAN STORY) and Jack Paar (who acted opposite Marilyn Monroe in 1951's LOVE NEST), he was a guy who had acted but being himself on TV as a host made him a much bigger star than any acting role had.
One of the things that made Osborne so great to watch was that he was totally cool without trying to be cool. Did Sandy Koufax, Dave Brubeck and Cary Grant try to be cool and classy? No. They just were and made their work as good as it could be. That was Robert Osborne. On TV, my career as a film critic and entertainment contributor started in 1979. My national exposure started in 1982. I read Robert Osborne's column in The Hollywood Reporter as part of my homework. I watched him on the weekday CBS broadcast, THE MORNING PROGRAM. One report he did made me want to shout with joy. Osborne was discussing books about the men who were heads of studios. He felt that the late, great Ashley Boone deserved to be included in such books, but was not. Boone, an African American, was a beloved and smart Hollywood executive who pretty much ran 20th Century Fox for half a year in the 70s when the studio was in a state of disarray. He was the marketing whiz behind STAR WARS and other Oscar nominated features. The achievements of African Americans are often overlooked or ignored or minimalized -- as are their talents -- in Hollywood history. The playing field has not been level for black people in the field of entertainment. Look at the 1980s: When each network morning news show had a weekly film critic and pairs of film critics on syndicated film review shows were popular, not one critic was black. On film channels like AMC when it was American Movie Classics, not one regular host was black. Norman Jewison met with repeated rejection as he tried to raise money to shoot A SOLDIER'S STORY because it had a predominantly black cast. He was told "Black stories don't sell." Jewison got it made -- and it was an Oscar nominee for Best Picture of 1984. Osborne's attention made me proud. I knew of Ashley Boone. This was years before TCM existed.
I wrote a blog post about Ashley Boone in 2012. Weeks ago, Scott Feinberg wrote an article about Boone in The Hollywood Reporter. Osborne's mention of Ashley Boone in the 1980s made me an ardent Robert Osborne fan.

From 2006 to 2008, I worked with Whoopi Goldberg on her national weekday morning radio show. Our studio was in Manhattan near the Broadway theatre district. Whoopi hired me to do movie reviews and give classic film recommendations for DVD rentals. TCM executive Darcy Hettrich had received a few of my demo reels. She contacted me to ask if I could put her in touch with Whoopi's agent or manager so TCM could ask if Whoopi would consider being a Guest Programmer for one show with Robert Osborne. Darcy figured the whole process of sending a request and getting a yes or no response would take two weeks or more. I got Darcy's email at 4:00am when I logged onto my home computer to check messages before heading to the studio to do our radio show which started at 6:00am. I wrote back to Darcy that I'd have an answer to her before lunchtime that day. It wouldn't take two weeks or more.

I sat right next to Whoopi, shoulder to shoulder, when we performed together on the radio show. I got to the studio, asked her if she'd like to be a Guest Programmer with Robert Osborne for one TCM taping. She immediately answered, "Yes!" I told her to think of four movies she'd like to present. Her first pick was FUNNY GIRL. I gave Darcy Hettrich at TCM the good news before lunchtime that day. Whoopi did the show.

Around that time, I was a contributor on a national cable TV magazine program aimed at baby boomers. It was called MY GENERATION. A longtime friend and former co-worker was on the production team. I pitched doing an interview of Robert Osborne. I pitched his baby boomer appeal in these areas:

* His TV career really started to take off when he was in his 50s.
* His mentor was Lucille Ball, a TV legend to us baby boomers who loved her in I LOVE LUCY.
* He was bringing a younger generation into the appreciation of classic films because 20 & 30-somethings loved watching him on TCM.
* He promoted diversity in his work --like making people aware of Ashley Boone.

My friend on the production staff called to let me know that our boss, the executive producer, loved the idea. I contacted TCM publicity to see if Robert Osborne would be available for a taped interview that would take place in a suite at a major hotel in the theatre district. I'd contacted the hotel. The representative said, "Of course, we can give you a room. All we ask is that you mention the hotel -- and allow a few of us on the hotel staff to ask Mr. Osborne for his autograph." TCM P.R. could not have been more helpful. Mr. Osborne would be available. The location was convenient. And he'd be willing to give autographs.

Then my friend called to say, "After I tell you this, you will know why I'm leaving the show." The executive producer, who described himself as an aging hippie, loved my previous pieces for the show. However, he felt the Osborne interview would need "shtick."

"What kind of 'shtick'?" I asked.

She sighed and answered, "He thinks you need to dress up like an old movie character seen on TCM to do the interview. He thinks it would be funny. He thinks you should dress up like...like Norma Desmond in SUNSET BLVD."

She hated the idea -- and so did I. Bill Boggs, once a very popular talk show host on New York City TV, was also a contributor on MY GENERATION. He'd recently interviewed pianist/singer Michael Feinstein. But did he have to dress up like Liberace to conduct the interview? No. I said that to the executive producer when I got him on the phone and asked why a middle-aged black man with national TV and radio credits would have to put on a dress to do an interview. First of all, it would be insulting to TCM and Mr. Osborne to treat his work and the channel as a joke. Second, it was not a Carol Burnett sketch. I wanted to do a serious and informative interview. Third, I found it racially insulting to be asked to do that.

He replied that I either did some shtick or I could not do the interview for air. With extreme reluctance, I canceled the interview out of respect for Robert Osborne. And myself.

Robert Osborne was a class act -- and deserved to be treated as such.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

From My VH1 Talk Show Days

Please bear with me as I drag you kicking and screaming once again down my memory lane. I found a generous clip from my old VH1 talk show. I found it online and my heart got a sweet tingle. I don't have a personal copy of this edition of my show and the interview was a favorite of mine. Phil Collins was my guest. If you have time to watch the segment, you'll see what a charmer he was. I loved that VH1 job, I loved doing that show and I loved my crew. The floor crew was my audience. I didn't use an earpiece or a Teleprompter or cue cards. I did a lot of my own research. Phil Collins was promoting his 1988 film, BUSTER. We chatted about his film and, of course, we chatted about his music and other stuff. I had recently been in London. While watching TV there, I heard some of his music used in a British commercial for condoms.
In 1985, Collins got his first Oscar nomination. It came in the Best Song category. He wrote "Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)" for the movie of the same name. For you classic film fans, Jeff Bridges and Rachel Warrd starred in AGAINST ALL ODDS which is a remake of the 1947 film noir classic, OUT OF THE PAST starring Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas and Jane Greer. Jane Greer booked a special supporting role in AGAINST ALL ODDS.


Phil Collins, for some odd reason, was not asked to perform his hit song on the Oscars telecast. Instead, dancer Ann Reinking sang it and danced it -- and she didn't quite get his lyrics correct. The camera cut to Oscar nominee Collins in the audience and he looked a bit pained during Reinking's vocal. Can you blame him?
I am still grateful to VH1 for giving me the opportunity to do the kind of work I love doing. After my VH1 years, I met with representatives of Disney and Merv Griffin Productions in the 1990s to discuss hosting another talk show. I didn't get the show but at least I got the meetings. Now, from WATCH BOBBY RIVERS (the name of my prime time weeknight VH1 talk show), here's a segment of my Phil Collins interview.


I worked for MTV Networks on the VH1 side from 1987 to 1990. MTV, VH1 and CBS were under the Viacom corporate umbrella. In 1989, Lucille Ball invited me to her home when I was in L.A. to do some taping. Pat Sajak had a CBS Late Night show at that time. He liked my VH1 work and made me a once-a-month semi-regular guest on his 1989-1990 CBS show.

With all that, I focused on becoming an entertainment contributor on CBS SUNDAY MORNING. I  pitched myself to that program for several years, sending demo reels and resumés. I never got a response. I never got a meeting. Oh, well. I believe I could've done some fine work for that weekend news program.

Again -- thank you, VH1. And thank you for watching.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

After 1917, try WINGS

Film director William A. Wellman. Nicknamed "Wild Bill" Wellman, he seemed like the kind of guy you wanted to hang out with and have a few beers on a Saturday night. He was a handsome and likeable sport who apparently lived a life full of adventure and love.
He put adventures and love into his films. When I was a kid and discovered classic films on local TV, one of the first dramatic films that made a deep impression in my mind and gave me chills with its final image of "crime does not pay," was 1931's THE PUBLIC ENEMY. It starred James Cagney as a killer gangster. The actor shot to fame with his performance in Wellman's film. The director was one of Hollywood's best.
Wellman's films could be tough, tender, far-fetched and funny. Some of his other films are the original A STAR IS BORN (1937), the screwball comedy NOTHING SACRED (1937), ROXIE HART (1942 and with a story redone years later in the movie musical CHICAGO starring Renee Zellweger as Roxie Hart), THE OX-BOW INCIDENT (1943), BATTLEGROUND (1949) and the far-fetched sky drama THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY (1954). THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY is colorful, star-studded and action-packed. It's one of the top influences on the 1980 comedy, AIRPLANE! An engine dies during a commercial airline flight from Hawaii to San Francisco. One young pilot (Robert Stack) has a fear of responsibility. The senior pilot (John Wayne) is considered too old to be in the cockpit and he has a permanent limp. During the sky-high crisis, we see flashbacks in the lives of the passengers. The passengers range from a happy vacationer to a bickering married couple to a former beauty queen-turned-floozie. At one point, in order to make the flight lighter and conserve fuel, a crewmember opens a door in flight and the passengers line up to help throw their luggage out of the plane thus making the plane weigh less. See what I mean about far-fetched? THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY was a box office blockbuster. It brought William A. Wellman an Oscar nomination for Best Director. Wellman directed a silent film about American buddies who become fighter pilots in World War I. The 1927 adventure, WINGS, won the first Oscar ever given for Best Picture. I thought about 1927's WINGS when I watched 1917, an Oscar nominee this year for Best Picture that also had a story set in World War I. Technically marvelous and well-acted, 1917 still felt hollow to me. Director Sam Mendes gave us great tracking shots in 1917 but there wasn't much of a soul to his story -- especially in comparison to Wellman's World War I story.
Wellman combined style and substance.  And his work still feels fresh. In his silent film from the 1920s, we see male nudity -- the bare butts of men in showers. We see male soldier friends embrace. We see a man-to-man kiss. We see two openly affectionate lesbians at a table in a Paris nightclub. Wellman's WINGS was bold, thrilling and influential. Look at this clip of a tracking shot in a Paris nightclub where one American G.I. is relaxing. Notice the lesbian couple at the third table.

For proof of William Wellman's influence, look at the clip from 2017's STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI paired with the tracking shot from 1927's WINGS.


In Wellman's classic, Charles "Buddy" Rogers and Richard Arlen starred as the two American friends who become fighter pilots. Arlen played the seriously wounded comrade. Here's the now-famous scene of physical male affection, the likes of which would disappear when the Hollywood production codes and censorship took hold in the 1930s.


Now here's a trailer for the 1927 Oscar winner that also starred Clara Bow and, in a short role, featured a screen newcomer named Gary Cooper.
 

If you saw 1917, give WINGS a try. I think you'll dig it.

We Love Chris Meloni

When I lived in New York City while I worked on local and network TV, I saw actor Chris Meloni frequently at the gym. I won't divulge th...