Friday, April 30, 2021

On Actor Johnny Crawford

 On ABC TV from 1958 to 1963, he was the son of THE RIFLEMAN played by Chuck Connors. Johnny Crawford started his job on that TV western when he was 12 years old. His actor skills made a great and longtime impression on me. He was one of the best kid actors in the TV business. Heck, he was one of the best actors in the TV business regardless of his age. I read this morning that Johnny Crawford passed away at age 75. In 2019, it was reported that he'd been stricken with Alzheimer's Disease. May he rest in peace. When I was a baby boomer kid, he fascinated me on THE RIFLEMAN. As far as age groups, I was seeing a reflection of my young self in him. On THE RIFLEMAN, as Mark McCain, son of widower rancher Lucas McCain, Johnny Crawford displayed a depth, truthfulness and clarity in his acting that eclipsed the talent of some adult actors we saw on other TV shows. He made me wish I could be an actor too.


 THE RIFLEMAN job came after he'd been one of the original Disney Mouseketeers on THE MICKEY MOUSE CLUB, a show that millions of us kids watched when it was in syndication. On that show, kids were triple threats. Mouseketeers had to sing, dance and act. I have two longtime friends who were child actors. On CBS, they were regulars on DENNIS THE MENACE. Yes, one of them is Jay North who was the young star of the sitcom. We've talked about those years. The national popularity enjoyed by being a child star was fun. However, it was still a job. You had to keep a specific work schedule and be good at your job. You were a youngster surrounded by and working for grown-ups who depended upon your work and talents to keep them receiving paychecks every two weeks. As I aged, I appreciated the work of many child actors like Johnny and Jay even more.


Johnny Crawford did a lot of TV acting in his adult years. He also had a music career. In the 1990s, he formed his own swing orchestra and sang with it. Here's a taste of Johnny's vocalese.

Thank you, Johnny Crawford. You were remarkable. Watching your work on THE RIFLEMAN provided me with many of the happiest times of my childhood.

Monday, April 26, 2021

The Rita Moreno Documentary

I adore Rita Moreno. I have since I was an adolescent growing up in Los Angeles. On TV, I watched her  film work in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, THE KING AND I and WEST SIDE STORY. I loved her TV work in THE ELECTRIC COMPANY and as a special guest star in terrific episodes of THE ROCKFORD FILES with James Garner. She is simply marvelous. 


Decades later. when I was grown up and living in New York, not only was I in awe of her performance as Sister Peter Marie, the prison psychiatrist nun on HBO's OZ television series, I was stunned that she never got an Emmy nomination for her memorable work as that original, earthy, no-nonsense yet compassionate TV character. How clueless was the TV academy? Just as clueless as Hollywood when you consider that, as Moreno revealed in an interview on TCM, she had no good Hollywood script offers for 7 years after she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for WEST SIDE STORY. That's why she went to TV.  


By the way, I would have given her a second Oscar nomination for her hysterically funny performance as the totally talent-free gay bathhouse lounge act singer in 1976's THE RITZ. She won a Tony for the role when THE RITZ was on Broadway. The film version was directed by Richard Lester, the man who directed The Beatles in A HARD DAY'S NIGHT and HELP! As for comedy, did I mention that she absolutely rocked her role as the colorful grandmother on Norman Lear's imaginative 2017 to 2020 reboot of his classic ONE DAY AT A TIME sitcom?

Seeing Rita Moreno look sensational as the presenter for the Best Picture Oscar on the recent Academy Awards was, for me, one of the highlights of the show. I've blogged before that meeting her in 2000 and getting an 8x10 autographed photo from her during our brief meeting was an extreme thrill. A memorable and inspirational experience with someone who'd been an inspiration to me for years. 

A documentary about this remarkable talent and social activist has been made. I have to share the trailer with you. Here it is. I cannot wait to see RITA MORENO: JUST A GIRL WHO DECIDED TO GO FOR IT.


While I'm at it, the trailer for the upcoming Steven Spielberg remake of WEST SIDE STORY premiered during the Oscars telecast. The film was slated to open in 2020 but was pushed to December of this year. Rita Moreno has a supporting role in the remake and she's one of the film's producers. Viva, Rita! Here's the trailer for Spielberg's WEST SIDE STORY.


One more thing. During my college years in Milwaukee at Marquette University, I auditioned for plays being put on by the Theater Arts department. Every time I auditioned for a role that had always been played by white actor and was told it was usually played by a white actor, I would say "Rita Moreno played Annie Sullivan in a New York production of THE MIRACLE WORKER." She did. In the late 60s. I told her that when I met her -- and her smile was quite broad as she took my hands in hers.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Julie London Music Break

Our late mother loved the smooth and sultry jazz vocal stylings of singer Julie London. In my early teen years, I picked up the love from mom. Julie London had a hit record singing "Cry Me A River."


She acted in several films. She was opposite Gary Cooper in 1958's MAN OF THE WEST and with Robert Mitchum in 1959's THE WONDERFUL COUNTRY. But singing was apparently her favorite thing -- and she did it extremely well. In the 1960s, rock and pop dwarfed the popularity of jazz. Jazz clubs and lounges closed. Those closings were a disappointment to her. So Julie found work on TV. In the 1970s, she was a big hit as registered nurse Dixie McCall on EMERGENCY!, a series that ran for 7 seasons. A very good run.


 I saw London's name mentioned recently on Twitter. There was no mention of her recording career. The folks were writing love of her TV work as Dixie McCall. I wondered if they knew that she sang. That inspired me to treat your ears to a couple of music performances by jazz singer Julie London. First up -- "I'm In The Mood For Love."


London did a show in Japan in 1964. From that show, here she is doing "Bye Bye Blackbird."


Julie London was fabulous. I hope you agree.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

White Critics on Viola Davis

This superb Black actress has already made Oscar history -- and she could make even more this weekend. That's why I winced at a casual comment about Viola Davis made by two Caucasian female film critics Friday on KPCC, a National Public Radio station in Pasadena, California. Its website is scpr.org. Do not overlook the Hollywood history the bold and brilliant Viola Davis has made. Do not overlook the lack of Hollywood equal opportunities she had to conquer.


Larry Mantle is radio gold. He's the warm, smart, unpretentious, native-born Southern California host of a weekday morning show called AIRTALK. I stream it on a regular basis. The 11:00 hour of his Friday editions is devoted to FILMWEEK, a wonderful film review show. To me, the top quality about FILMWEEK is Larry's commitment to race and gender diversity in the groups of informed and interesting film critics he brings onto the program. National TV was negligent in this area. TV gave us syndicated shows with pairs of movie critics. From the trailblazing Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert, to Jeffrey Lyons and Neal Gabler, to Rex Reed & Bill Harris, to Roger Ebert & Richard Roeper, to Ben Mankiewicz & Ben Lyons (son of Jeffrey Lyons), plus the TODAY show's Gene Shalit and GOOD MORNING AMERICA's Joel Siegel, the weekly field of film critics on national TV was predominantly White male. And TV columnists never called out the lack of race/gender diversity in all those years from the 1980s to 2009.

On Friday, Larry Mantle assembled a group of critics to make their Oscar predictions for Sunday night's awards telecast.  When it came to the Best Actress category, critic Amy Nicholson said that nominees Viola Davis and Carey Mulligan already have enough awards for their 2020 film performances in MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM and PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN. On that point, critic Christy Lemire agreed with Amy. I was sensitive to that remark in regards to Viola Davis because the two White female critics did not factor in Hollywood's Black history.


 In all Hollywood history, only one Black woman has won the Oscar for Best Actress. That was Halle Berry for the 2001 drama, MONSTER'S BALL. With just two Oscar nominations, Whoopi Goldberg reigned for 20 years as the most Oscar-nominated Black actress in Hollywood history. She was a Best Actress Oscar nominee for 1985's THE COLOR PURPLE. She won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 1990's GHOST. I performed with Whoopi from 2006 to 2008. She had me hired to do entertainment reports and film reviews on her national weekday morning radio show out of New York City. Whoopi had been one of my first guests on my VH1 prime time celebrity talk show in the late 80s. That radio show led to Whoopi being offered a regular spot on ABC's THE VIEW. I loved working with her.


 Whoopi's Oscar record was broken when Viola Davis got her third Oscar nomination. It came for 2016's FENCES. Viola had a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for 2008's DOUBT. She tied with Whoopi when she got a Best Actress Oscar nomination for 2011's THE HELP.

With her current Oscar nomination, her 4th, Viola Davis is now the most Oscar-nominated Black actress in all Hollywood history. However, after her nomination for 2011's THE HELP -- and before she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 2016's FENCES -- she became one of the several Black actresses who had to turn to TV for steady work after receiving an Oscar nomination because Hollywood had no other good script opportunities for them. This lack of Hollywood movie offers stunned the then 2-time Oscar nominee. Viola went to ABC and starred on the 2014 series, HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER

I've blogged before that the group of Black actresses who had to turn to TV for work offers after they'd received Oscar nominations includes one-time Oscar nominees Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll, Angela Bassett, Alfre Woodard, Taraji P. Henson and Gabourey Sidibe. And even Latina Rita Moreno who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 1961's WEST SIDE STORY. She had no Hollywood script offers for 7 years after her Oscar victory, so she did TV.

Did Marisa Tomei have to turn to TV for work after she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 1992's MY COUSIN VINNY? No. Did Julia Roberts, Michelle Williams, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Cate Blanchett or Emma Stone have to turn to television for employment after receiving their first Oscar nominations? No. All those White actresses got more Hollywood script opportunities that enabled them to get other Oscar nominations.

Tell critics Amy Nicholson and Christy Lemire to consider Black Hollywood history and wish the amazing Viola Davis good luck. If she wins, she'll be the second Black woman in Hollywood history to win the Best Actress Oscar and the only Black actress to have more than one Oscar.


 While we're on the topic, did they acknowledge the history fabulous Regina King has made? She won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her great work in 2018's IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK. Then she got behind the camera as the director of ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI and made cast member Leslie Odom Jr. a current Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee for his performance in it. Those two achievements as an actress/director are a first for a Black woman in Hollywood history. To have won an Oscar for acting and then to have directed an actor to an Oscar nomination -- the only other female I can think of who did that previously is Barbra Streisand.



 

Friday, April 23, 2021

Oscar Nominee FEELING THROUGH

Well, it happened again. My heart was touched and my soul was moved by a current short film -- a feature that runs only 30 minutes in length. The name of the short film is FEELING THROUGH, tenderly written and directed by Doug Roland. My previous blog post is about the short film called TWO DISTANT STRANGERS. FEELING THROUGH and TWO DISTANT STRANGERS are Oscar nominees in the same category for this coming Sunday's Oscars telecast. Director Doug Roland gave us a half-hour gem. I loved this New York story.

Recently, I watched one of my favorite classic film biopics on cable's TCM (Turner Classic Movies). It was the 1962 movie, THE MIRACLE WORKER. Anne Bancroft, as teacher Annie Sullivan, won the Oscar for Best Actress. Patty Duke, as young deaf and blind Helen Keller, won the Oscar\for Best Supporting Actress. If I held a special theater screening of THE MIRACLE WORKER today, I would show FEELING THROUGH on the program's bill before presenting THE MIRACLE WORKER. The two productions belong together.


 The FEELING THROUGH story is simple yet important. It's about human connection. A Black teen named Tereek is hanging out with buddies late one night in New York City. Eventually, they go home but he can't. He's homeless and he texts friends to ask if they can put him up for the night. No luck. It's about 1:00 in the morning and he spots a middle-aged man at a bus stop. The middle-aged man at the bus stop holds up a small sign to a homeless man who is politely asking him for money. The small sign reads: "I am deaf and blind."

Tereek, the teen, approaches and makes contact with the man at the bus stop. The deaf and blind man writes on a notepad that he's waiting for the M15 bus to take him uptown. His name is Artie. Instead of just walking away, Tereek stays and reaches out. "I got you," he says as he sits with and helps the man.


Artie's disability reveals Tereek's character. When Artie wants to buy something to drink, the homeless teen takes him to a nearby bodega. Artie hands Tereek his wallet. There's cash in it. Will Tereek be honorable with the blind man's cash? Can Artie get home?

A longtime, cherished friend of mine in New York introduced me to this short film. He works in the deaf/blind immersion department for the Helen Keller National Center in Sands Point, New York. Robert Tarango worked in the cafeteria there. Then, one day, he was discovered by writer/director Doug Roland to play the deaf and blind Artie in FEELING THROUGH.

 Actor Robert Tarango is actually deaf and blind.                                                                                             
He is excellent as Artie and Steven Prescod is equally excellent as Tereek. The two actors connect as their characters. They make this short film a moving and memorable feature. FEELING THROUGH shows us the power and beauty of reaching out to someone in need and saying "You'll be okay." One of the feature's executive producers is Marlee Matlin. She won the Best Actress Oscar for 1986's CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD.

FEELING THROUGH can be seen on YouTube. I highly recommend seeing this compact, compassionate half-hour film.

To read about the Helen Keller National Center, click onto this link:  HelenKeller.org.




Wednesday, April 21, 2021

About TWO DISTANT STRANGERS

Two of the most compelling, most memorable features that I have seen this year are short films -- A LOVE SONG FOR LATASHA and A CONCERTO IS A CONVERSATION. They told their stories in 30 minutes. TWO DISTANT STRANGERS, now showing on Netflix, joins those other two features. I heard about this short drama last weekend when a piece about it was done on the CBS THIS MORNING news show. TWO DISTANT STRANGERS, from filmmakers Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe, is a current Oscar nominee in the live action short film category. What a strong piece of work it is.

As was mentioned in the CBS THIS MORNING profile, there's an element of the Bill Murray comedy, GROUNDHOG DAY, in it. A young Black man has the same deadly experience with the same White cop day after day. TWO DISTANT STRANGERS is strong and timely in light of the George Floyd murder and other police killings of unarmed Black citizens.


 The story takes place in New York (but a couple of scenes  look like they were shot in the downtown Los Angeles Civic Center area.) It opens with a look at a dog alone in nice apartment. The pooch wants breakfast. His owner is in bed with a girlfriend at her apartment. He's sweet on her and they engage in some cute banter. He's a graphic artist and has a wad of cash on his person. He leaves her apartment building and, before he walks to the next block, he's confronted by a cop who accuses him of smoking weed, knocks him to the ground and handcuffs him. The young man calls out "I can't breathe!" A street vendor, shouting that the young man is innocent, pulls out her cellphone and video records the entire violent incident.

Like Bill Murray in GROUNDHOG DAY, the graphic artist wakes up to start a new day and has the same experience with the same characters and new action is added. The young Black man just wants to get home to feed his dog. However, he's living a recurring nightmare of being Black in America and being an innocent victim of police. Can the Black American and the cop get to know each other and stop the recurring nightmare?

There is excellent acting from Joey Bada$$ as the young victim, and Andrew Howard as the cop. You'd think Howard was a hardcore New York native. He's from Wales overseas in the United Kingdom. The actor has some impressive TV and film credits.

In the closing credits, we see a list of names. The names belong to innocent people of color who were killed by police. I've been living with my sister in the Minneapolis area for a couple of years. I was here when the verdict was read in the case of the cop who shot Philando Castile multiple times at close range as Castile sat on the passenger's side of a car's front seat. His girlfriend was driving. His 4-yeaar old child was in the back seat. The pair had been unjustly pulled over by the cop. Castile, as one can hear in the recorded video, was compliant and polite as he identified himself. He spoke as if he was in church. The cop, armed and wearing a body shield, is yelling at Castile as he points his gun and shoots at the orderly, unarmed man.  The cop claimed that he feared for his life. Local stations cut from regularly scheduled programming to present the verdict. I watched. When the verdict was read -- justice for Philando Castile had not been served -- the camera on the local ABC affiliate cut back to the Caucasian news anchor duo. What caught me was that the two anchors looked shell shocked. I had a hunch there was some element that had not been mentioned in the network news coverage.

In that days to come, when the network news camera had left town, my hunch was confirmed. Did you ever see Frank Capra's IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE? Well, apparently, Twin Cities residents and local news reporters were familiar with Philando Castile -- because he was like the George Bailey character in that classic film. He was constantly going out of his way to do good deeds and help less fortunate people in his community and workplace. He helped children. There were multi-cultural memorial local tributes to Castile that were covered on the local news. Philando Castile should be alive today.

Botham Jean is also on the list. He was the accountant in Dallas, alone in his apartment, when an off-duty cop entered and shot him to death. She claimed that she thought it was her apartment and he was a burglar. Her apartment reportedly had a red doormat at the front door. His did not.

The Oscars are this coming Sunday on ABC. The half-hour TWO DISTANT STRANGERS is on Netflix. Best of luck on Sunday to the directors and the cast.


 

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Oscar Nominee Carey Mulligan

 You can stay indoors Saturday or Sunday and have a Carey Mulligan double feature weekend. On Sunday, April 25th on ABC, she will hear her name read once again as as Best Actress Oscar nominee. This time, for her riveting performance as the smart, assertive coffee shop clerk in Southern California out to avenge the sexual assault of a dear friend. She dons different looks in her mission as an avenging angel. The movie is PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN. Last Saturday, Carey Mulligan was the guest host on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. She was so good that I felt it's time for her to be offered some good comedy scripts. She's a fascinating actress.

ABC appears to now have a lock on, not only the Oscars telecast, but also on the announcement of the Oscar nominations as their revealed live out of Los Angeles. The latter happens during GOOD MORNING AMERICA. I watched GMA co-anchor Michael Strahan recently interview Mulligan about her nomination. Bless his sweet heart. They way he structured his question led me to believe he thought this Sunday will be her first time as a special guest invited to Hollywood Prom Night. PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN earned Carey Mulligan her second Best Actress Oscar nomination.


Back in 2009, I got a critics' preview afternoon screening invite to a new movie called, AN EDUCATION. The screening was held in a posh screening room in midtown Manhattan. I sat next to a fabulous friend, film critic and novelist, Thelma Adams. Including Thelma, most of the other critics were the ones quoted in quality newspapers and magazines and occasionally seen on TV. I, as usual, looked around to see if I had, yet again, integrated a critics' screening. I had. It was a predominantly White group -- not that race had anything to do with the movie. I always look for fellow Black reviewers.


AN EDUCATION started. It won us over in the first five minutes. I looked around and was thrilled to see that several of those high-tone critics were leaning forward in their seats with that "Who's the girl?" expression on their faces. I heard someone near me whisper "...an Audrey Hepburn quality." At the end of it, I heard buzz that she should get an Oscar nomination. I agreed. She sparkled onscreen. The girl was Carey Mulligan as the lovable, whip-smart, disciplined student from a working class family in London. Mulligan is from London. The student is focused on fulfilling her dad's dream of her being accepted into Oxford. Someone who should've been an Oscar nominee in the Best Supporting Actor category was Alfred Molina as the loving dad. Molina and Mulligan are reteamed in PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN. The promising young student in 1960s suburban London feels a change in her life when she notices a playboy older than she. Here's a clip. Peter Sarsgaard stars as the playboy.

Carey Mulligan's movie career is an example of the kind of diversity and inclusion needs to embrace more. AN EDUCATION, which was also a Best Picture Oscar nominee, was directed by Lone Sherfig and based on a memoir by Lynn Barber. PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN, a current Best Picture Oscar nominee, was directed by Emerald Fennell. She shot the film in 23 days. Carey Mulligan has received both of her Best Actress Oscar nominations for performances in films directed by women. She's joined that exclusive club of females that began with a 1930 dramatic performance. Ruth Chatterton scored a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her work in SARAH AND SON directed by Dorothy Arzner. The group of females who got Oscar nominations for work in films directed by women includes Amy Irving (YENTL), Kate Nelligan (THE PRINCE OF TIDES), Lauren Bacall (THE MIRROR HAS TWO FACES), Charlize Theron (MONSTER), Marlee Matlin (CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD), Annette Bening (THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT), Jessica Chastain (ZERO DARK THIRTY) and Meryl Streep (JULIE & JULIA and THE IRON LADY).

Carey Mulligan has also done exceptional work in movies from Black filmmakers. Director Dee Rees (PARIAH) got an excellent performance from Carey in the 2017 drama, MUDBOUND, available on Netflix. Carey played a poor Mississippi farm wife during the Depression. (Why do Brits seem born to play Americans from the Deep South?) MUDBOUND, which I've watched more than once, is the production with the stunning film debut from singer Mary J. Blige. She's remarkable as another Depression era Mississippi farm wife who watches her son go off to fight for America in World War 2 while his family back home continues to endure racism. Mary J. Blige got a well-deserved Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for that memorable performance. Why isn't she getting other good film offers like Carey Mulligan has gotten? I highly recommend seeing Carey and Mary in MUDBOUND.

Mulligan is also a stand-out in 2011's SHAME from Black British filmmaker, Steve McQueen (12 YEARS A SLAVE). In SHAME, she's a New York City lounge singer who visits her sex addict brother in Manhattan for an unexpectedly long stay. They have a fractured relationship. Michael Fassbender stars as the brother. Mulligan made me gasp with her brilliant singing rendition of "New York, New York" -- quite different from the Liza Minnelli introduction of it in Martin Scorsese's NEW YORK, NEW YORK (1977) and the Frank Sinatra cover that's popular on jukeboxes.

Here's a trailer for PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN. You can now stream the movie on Amazon.


Have a safe and relaxing weekend.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Thank You, Actor Romany Malco

 He has made me laugh so hard at the movies that my sides ached. This blogpost was inspired by my previous one about the new Jamie Foxx sitcom on Netflix. Foxx plays a single dad whose sweet daughter comes to live with him after her mother's death. In the first episode, we see dad and daughter in therapy to smooth over some bumps in their wacky sitcom relationship. The show is called DAD STOP EMBARRASSING ME! The therapy scenes are played for laughs and the title of the episode is "Black People Don't Go To Therapy." In an ABC dramatic series, Romany Malco has flipped the script on that. Yes, the same actor who made me howl with laughter in 2005's THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN with Steve Carrell, 2007's BLADES OF GLORY with Will Ferrell and 2008's BABY MAMA with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.


Romany Malco is a regular on the ABC series, A MILLION LITTLE THINGS. He knocks his dramatic role out of the park. The basis of the show is our look at a group of friends who try to live more authentic, more open lives after one beloved friend -- seemingly having a fine life -- commits suicide. Romany plays Rome Howard, a loyal friend and married man. He was a sponsor to one friend who needed to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Rome has had his own emotional problems and sees a therapist about them and the complicated relationship with his parents. I don't know if the show's many viewers realize how groundbreaking the Romany Malco character is on network TV. I certainly never saw a Black character seriously seeking mental health help from a professional when I was growing up and watching TV. I can't remember a regular Black character doing such on a TV show in my adult years. Romany Malco, dramatically and effectively flipped the script on the "Black People Don't Go To Therapy" attitude, an attitude which really does exist in our Black community. I heard it in South Central L.A. when I was a kid, I heard it in our home. Therapy was for White People. Black folks with emotional problems just needed to go to church and talk to Jesus, go to the beauty parlor or go to the barber shop. But sometimes those problems can be overwhelming and you need to talk them with out with a professional more than you need to feel ashamed for seeking help. Malco's is an Emmy nomination-worthy performance and an important one. Here's a clip.

This is a TV image that's real and one that's been sorely needed for a long, long time. It's a respectable reflection of our Black lives. I deeply appreciate the trailblazing Romany Malco work on ABC's A MILLION LITTLE THINGS and I wish TV press members who write about the show would too.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

New Jamie Foxx Sitcom

 It's called DAD STOP EMBARRASSING ME! and it's on Netflix. Talented Jamie Foxx is one of those performers who starred in a sitcom and then went on to win an Oscar for performance in a dramatic film. Other actors in that group are Sally Field, Tom Hanks, Robin Williams, Mo'Nique -- and let's include sitcom veteran Ron Howard. He won his Oscar for directing the 2001 drama, A BEAUTIFUL MIND which also took home the Oscar for Best Picture. Cloris Leachman (THE LAST PICTURE SHOW) and Allison Janney (I, TONYA) won their Best Supporting Actress Oscars for dramatic work while each starred on a hit TV sitcom). After his Best Actor Oscar win for RAY, the 2004 biopic about singer/musician Ray Charles, Foxx went on to give other impressive dramatic performances. Most recently, there was 2019's JUST MERCY, based on a real-life court case. Well...Jamie Foxx still has his comedy chops -- even if the sitcom tries too hard to be funny.


 He's the single dad whose daughter comes to live with him after her mother dies. Dad is now a cosmetic brand owner and he's determined to be responsible despite the shapely younger women throwing themselves in his face like they're custard pies. Her grandfather is played by David Alan Grier, Jamie's former fellow castmate on the groundbreaking sketch comedy show in the 1990s, IN LIVING COLOR. As for DAD STOP EMBARRASSING ME!, it's a very 2008 sitcom with a laugh track. Jamie Foxx and his daughter, Corinne, are executive producers. The show is loosely based on their relationship. Corinne is not in the show.  She works behind the cameras. I watched the first episode and what really floats it is Jamie Foxx's warmth coupled with his comedy skills.

It was quite nice to see Jamie Foxx and David Alan Grier doing comedy work together again. The first episode has dad and daughter in a therapy session to smooth over some of the bumps in their relationship. Kyla-Drew is charming as the daughter. The premiere episode is called "Black People Don't Go To Therapy."

Monday, April 12, 2021

On Ann Miller

My love for dancer, singer, actress Ann Miller began when I was in elementary school in Southern California. I was watching EASTER PARADE on local Los Angeles television one day and saw her do the "Shakin' the Blues Away" number. I gasped and said to myself "I want to be her when I grow up."


 I loved seeing her as a guest on talk shows and hearing colorful stories about her from friend and former co-workers. Back in the 1980s, when I was just starting my TV career as an entertainment reporter and celebrity interviewer, I worked on the ABC affiliate in Milwaukee. I got invited to participate in movie press junkets. Movie companies would fly press people into New York City or Los Angeles to see a movie and then interview some of those involved in making the movie -- actors, the director, the screenwriters and such. On those trips, I got acquainted with a Florida entertainment news reporter named Don Stoddard. Don was married to a former Broadway chorus dancer. A cherished highlight of her dance career was being in the chorus of MAME when Ann Miller had followed Angela Lansbury in the role for that hit Broadway musical version of AUNTIE MAME.. She loved Miller and, according to what Don said, the dancers loved kooky, down-to-earth Ann right back. His wife said that Ann had little gifts for the dancers come the holiday season. Don's wife kept the card -- because Ann had signed the cards "Love, Maim."

Here's a tip on an enjoyable, juicy and revealing celebrity memoir. Recently, I finished reading RITA MORENO: A MEMOIR.


What a hoot it was to read about an experience she had in her MGM contract days with Ann Miller. Rita wrote: "No one was leggier than Ann Miller. Her legs were so long that they were the reason panty hose were invented.

Rita and Ann were assigned to do a 4-day publicity trip in Palm Beach, Florida. There in Palm Beach, both of them gussied up to represent MGM glamour, Rita wrote that they encountered "a number of rich old roosters..." Rita adored Ann and was surprised to learn that Annie could cuss like a construction worker. The pages about them bonding, dodging the "rich old roosters" on the make, and the mischief they got into  snooping around some wealthy homes reads like a cross between episodes of LAVERNE & SHIRLEY and THE GOLDEN GIRLS (when the girls were young.)

I still feel that Ann Miller's talents were under-utilized at MGM. It's rarely mentioned, but she was truly a triple threat star. She could dance, she could belt out a tune and she could act. She was a babe with a saucy personality. In the 1950s, when MGM was remaking some of it's earlier classics like THE WOMEN, THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET and WATERLOO BRIDGE, it should've remade the 1933 Jean Harlow comedy, BOMBSHELL, as a musical starring Ann Miller as the overwhelmed Hollywood star trying to take care of her career and her freeloading, goofy relatives.

If you're up for a good celebrity memoir, remember to check out the one by Rita Moreno. Till next time, I leave you to enjoy some Ann Miller -- on tap. This is from MGM's 1953 movie, SMALL TOWN GIRL.



Sunday, April 11, 2021

LASSO'd AGAIN

 In between the time I posted my first two reviews of TED LASSO and now, Jason Sudeikis won another award for outstanding actor in a sitcom. He won the Screen Actors Guild award. I watched two more episodes of the show today -- and they reaffirmed to me why he won the awards he did. He's excellent as the steely optimist and so is the rest of the cast. It's truly an ensemble situation. TED LASSO boasts one of the best ensemble casts in one of the best-written sitcoms I've seen in a long time. In addition to the acting, what I've come to love a lot is the fact that the episodes are never afraid to tap into complicated, often wounded, emotions. It doesn't sacrifice them in order to go for a laugh. The show is funny, touching, surprising and compassionate.


This sitcom gives depth to the "fish out of water" angle. Ted coached college football in Kansas. Now he's in the United Kingdom coaching a struggling football team. However, in Great Britain, what they called "football," we Americans call soccer.

The first episode I watched began with Ted, alone, unhappily removing his wedding ring. Then Jamie (Phil Dunster), the vain and popular handsome member of the team, decides he cannot participate in practice because he's hurt. Ted's heart is broken but he still coaches with full gusto and optimism. His glacially poised and manipulative team-owner boss, Rebecca, is also handling a personal jolt. It's the anniversary of her divorce. He ex has a new, young girlfriend as reported in the tabloids. Her name is Rebecca too. So the tabloids refer to the ex-wife as "Old Rebecca." On top of all that, the team clubhouse may be cursed. The team comes together to remove the curse.

The episode of about moving on past the pain. During it, Ted receives papers from his wife's lawyer that he has to sign. The episode it's funny. It's also a little sad. Ted dearly loves his wife and their little boy back in America.

The next episode I saw had the team taking a road trip to Liverpool for a match. Because of his personal heartbreak, Ted loses his temper with Nate, the locker room attendant (Nick Mohammed). Nate had submitted notes on the team to Ted. Ted apologizes sincerely and compliments Nate on the notes. They're good. He has Nate deliver them verbally to the team and we see Nate's coach potential. 

Rebecca's best friend, whom she's not seen in six years, appears for a visit. Flo calls Rebecca "Stinky." We see more of Rebecca's icy exterior begin to defrost. Flo remembers when blonde, business-like Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) was "strong...but not cold."


This episode, too, was very funny -- nevertheless, I had tears in my eyes at the end of it. I was that touched by bruised and tender feelings that came forth. TED LASSO -- what a good sitcom and what a good lead performance by Jason Sudeikis.


Monday, April 5, 2021

Early Bette Davis

 She was truly an international movie screen legend. During my first full-time professional broadcast job after I'd graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee, I was assigned to get a couple of radio soundbites from a star who was in Milwaukee to promote her new film. The star was Bette Davis and she was enthusiastically promoting 1978's DEATH ON THE NILE. In person, she was every inch a Hollywood legend, a little woman with a huge presence, and a person who obviously loved to work in her profession and loved to promote the work that she did. I did get a couple of soundbites from her and I was trembling as I did. I approached her like the quartet in THE WIZARD OF OZ approaching The Wizard for the first time. Despite how intimidating she was, she did give me what I needed for the radio newscast. All in all, Bette Davis was wonderful. What a privilege it was to sit up close to her with my tape recorder. How comically ironic that I grew up in Los Angeles, spent many an afternoon seeing movies in Hollywood, but only got up close to a star such as Bette Davis when I had a local FM rock radio job in Milwaukee. Now, enough about me. Here's a viewing tip on an early film that featured the future two-time Oscar winner for Best Actress.

Angela Lansbury, a DEATH ON THE NILE co-star, said this about Bette Davis: "Bette Davis is an original. There has never been anyone, before or since, who could touch her."


 Bette Davis said this: "Acting should be bigger than life. Scripts should be bigger than life. It should all be bigger than life."

Now go online, to someplace like YouTube, and see if you can find a 1931 feature film from Universal called THE BAD SISTER. The movie runs about 1 hour and 10 minutes. It marks the feature film acting debut of Bette Davis. You'll recognize her as soon as you see her. She's not the star of the movie. The lead role was played by an actress named Sidney Fox. She's not a  bad girl like Ann Blyth's Veda in MILDRED PIERCE or Barbara Stanwyck's Phyllis in DOUBLE INDEMNITY. Sidney Fox plays a small town girl who innocently flirts a lot and dreams of living like a big city debutante. Bette Davis plays her shy sister. 


 If you're a Bette Davis fan, you need to see this movie to realize how determined she was to succeed in her profession. You'll be surprised. In THE BAD SISTER, Bette Davis gives a stiff performance for her film debut. She's wooden -- like a totem pole on legs. You feel that she's getting acclimated to the movie camera. Compare her performance to the one delivered by a fellow cast member --screen newcomer Humphrey Bogart. He's so relaxed and natural, he seems like a veteran film actor already.


Davis and Bogart would both land at Warner Bros where they'd team up again in such films as MARKED WOMAN (1937) and DARK VICTORY (1939), the latter bringing her one of her many Best Actress Oscar nominations. 

Davis must have also noticed her stiffness in her film debut and proceeded to work hard to get rid of the wood. After 1931's THE BAD SISTER came a Warner Bros contract and a string of B-movies in which she improved herself. Then came RKO's 1934 drama, OF HUMAN BONDAGE.   


 As Mildred, the manipulate and slutty waitress, Bette Davis set the screen on fire, becoming a new star and a force of nature on film. Just three years after her lackluster work in THE BAD SISTER. Back at Warner Bros, she fought for better scripts. She'd win Best Actress Oscars for DANGEROUS (1935) and JEZEBEL (1938). Bette Davis would rack up a total of 10 Best Actress Oscar nominations in her career -- quite an achievement in the pre-Meryl Streep era.

My mother introduced me to the magnificence of Bette Davis when I was a kid who loved watching old movies on local TV. Mom pretty much ordered me to watch ALL ABOUT EVE with followed by NOW, VOYAGER weeks later.. Davis was an Oscar nominee for both films. There's not much talk about it today, but Bette Davis went on to slam across some strong performances in made-for-TV features when Hollywood was not sending her a lot of movie scripts. Because of Mom, a Bette Davis TV appearance was always a special event in our home. 

I loved Bette Davis in the creepy 1978 mini-series THE DARK SECRET OF HARVEST HOME based on a book by best-selling actor/novelist Tom Tryon. Tryon also wrote THE OTHER. No other feature ever made growing corn as twisted as THE DARK SECRET OF HARVEST HOME. Davis got rave reviews and won an Emmy for her performance in 1979's STRANGERS: THE STORY OF A MOTHER AND DAUGHTER co-starring Gena Rowlands. Davis was also very cool as an aging Texas flight instructor in the heartwarming 1980 TV movie, SKYWARD, directed by Ron Howard.

There was nobody like the bold and brilliant Bette Davis. She made herself bigger than life.



Sunday, April 4, 2021

The EASTER PARADE Maid

 EASTER PARADE. MGM's classic 1948 hit musical comedy starring Judy Garland, Fred Astaire and Ann Miller aired on two different TV channels, hours apart, on Easter Sunday. Yes, I watched it twice. Those great stars. The Irving Berlin score. What's not to love? Some of Garland's, Astaire's and Miller's best dance numbers of their film careers are in EASTER PARADE.

If you've seen the movie, you know that Ann Miller's glamorous Broadway star character has a very pretty Black maid named Essie. Essie has only a few lines in the movie and she's played by Jeni Le Gon. Her name does not appear in the credits -- an omission that happened to many Black performers in those Hollywood days who had minor roles as domestics and service employees. They went uncredited. Instead of MGM just giving Le Gon under 10 lines in the whole movie, she should've had a dance number with Ann Miller. Like Ann Miller, she could pick 'em up and lay 'em down in the dance department -- as she had shown in a few movies.


Jeni Le Gon had a specialty number in the Fox fantasy musical for Eddie Cantor, ALI BABA GOES TO TOWN. In that 1937 movie, Cantor played a guy who winds up on the location set of a studio shooting a movie about the Arabian nights. He falls asleep and dreams he's back in Baghdad. Jeni Le Gon has a dance solo in the "Swing Is Here To Stay" number. Now, I warn you, Eddie Cantor in the 1930s was a performer -- like Al Jolson -- who did blackface numbers in his movies -- a carryover from his days as a Ziegfeld star on Broadway. Also in the number are the Peters Sisters, a singing trio. Popular in New York City, they had booked a gig at a Hollywood nightclub. But they weren't getting paid for it. They figured the appearances could lead to something. It did. Eddie Cantor was in one night, saw their act and immediately had them signed to sing in ALI BABA GOES TO TOWN. Here's the number with them, Eddie Cantor and dancer Jeni Le Gon..

In 1939, Jeni Le Gon had a number in an independent feature for Black audiences called DOUBLE DEAL.

She grew frustrated with Hollywood discrimination. In the 1960s, she moved across the border to Vancouver,  British Columbia. There, she opened a dance studio and became a revered, celebrated local figure. She passed away in 2012 at age 96.


Saturday, April 3, 2021

About A LOVE SONG FOR LATASHA

 A feature need not be two hours to hold your interest, introduce you to new characters and possibly move you to tears. All that can happen in a feature that runs under thirty minutes. I know. I saw a short documentary that put tears in my eyes at the end -- and it's only 19 minutes long. A LOVE SONG FOR LATASHA is on Netflix.


 About Latasha Harlins, friends and relatives said ""Latasha was more responsible," "She wanted to be a lawyer" and "She was a loving person." In South Central Los Angeles in 1991, the 15 year old African American girl was wrongfully accused of stealing some orange juice that cost under $2.00. She was shot and killed by the storeowner.

I listen to a show on KPCC, an NPR station based in Pasadena, California. The show I listen to is AIRTALK hosted by Larry Mantle. On the Friday editions of the weekday show, there's one hour called "Film Week." As you probably guessed, it's one hour of film reviews and interviews. The show always boasts a race/gender diverse group of guest critics. Last Friday, during the discussion about Oscars and documentaries, two female critics -- one Asian American, the other Caucasian -- highly recommended A LOVE SONG FOR LATASHA. One mentioned that the death of Latasha Harlins was a catalyst in L.A.'s Rodney King verdict riots the following year.

I grew up in South Central Los Angeles. I left to attend a university in Milwaukee in the 1970s. After graduation, I worked in that city for 10 years and then accepted a job offer to work on TV in New York. I've visited, but I have not lived in Los Angeles for a long time. I was unfamiliar with the Latasha Harlins story, one that was major in L.A. news. 

I immediately recognized streets in the short documentary as I watched it. That was my community. That's where my story began. That's where I grew up. In the documentary, we never hear from Latasha. We do see her. All the dialogue is comments and recollections from those who loved her. They tell her moving story. As the documentary begins, we learn that the girl was someone who didn't think twice about charging in to help someone in trouble.


As the short documentary unfolds, one can understand how her untimely death still weighed heavy in the hearts of Black Los Angelenos when the verdict in the Rodney King trial was announced.

Hers was a senseless death. A true tragedy. This world needs people like Latasha Harlins. Just like the two critics on "Film Week," I also highly recommend A LOVE SONG FOR LATASHA.

Friday, April 2, 2021

I Remember Christopher Plummer

Like many of you, I was a Christopher Plummer fan. When I was a kid in Los Angeles, I went to see him at the movies for Saturday matinee entertainment. I continued to see him at the movies in my adult years. 


 When I, a single guy, accepted a job offer to work on TV in New York, I moved there and dreamed of meeting a good Black/Latino man -- a few years older -- who was also lonely and romantically unattached. One night we'd dance, look into each other's eyes and feel a spark...just like Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer in THE SOUND OF MUSIC.

I saw Christopher Plummer on Broadway as actor John Barrymore. I saw him as CBS reporter Mike Wallace in THE INSIDER (1999) and strongly felt he should've been a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee for that performance. I wondered when the Academy would finally give him an Oscar nomination. Well, the Academy got it together with his performance in 2009's THE LAST STATION. I was thrilled when Plummer won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for playing a gay dad with a grown son in 2010's BEGINNERS.

We who love films often put great stock in the reviews of noted film critics. We've based our movie-going choices on their praise or pans. But there are times when we go against the scholarly writings of a prestigious critic who didn't like a certain film. There are movies that are unloved by critics but hold a special place in our hearts. There was something about them that touched our soul, entertained us or gave voice to feelings we had that we didn't know how to or dared not express. For me, one such film is 1965's INSIDE DAISY CLOVER. It starred Natalie Wood and Christopher Plummer and was released a year after Fox's Oscar-winning box office blockbuster, THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Most critics disliked INSIDE DAISY CLOVER, a Hollywood-on-Hollywood story. However, Charles Champlin of The Los Angeles Times felt that Plummer's performance as the successful, glacially sophisticated and morally tainted head of a major Hollywood studio in the 1930s was worthy of Best Supporting Actor Oscar consideration. Natalie Wood played the hardscrabble Santa Monica teen girl who can sing. The studio head discovers her, manipulates her and signs her to a contract. She becomes a troublesome star. True, Wood was 10 years too old for the role. I didn't care. She was one of my favorite movie stars. 

I'm the oldest of three children. I was just starting middle school and the emotional temperature in our home had changed. Mom and Dad had separated twice. The air had a heaviness to it. Their divorce was inevitable. One evening, they weren't speaking to each other. Dad decided to go to a movie and asked me if I wanted to go with him. I was already a film geek by that time. He chose the nearest movie theater, not really caring what the movie was. We saw INSIDE DAISY CLOVER. 

It marked the last father and son bonding time I had with Dad before he moved out of the house. 

I loved Natalie Wood in the movie. I loved the cinematography of the movie, the musical numbers, the drama, the actors and their performances. In one scene, the overworked and emotionally frayed star has to dub one of her musical numbers for an upcoming release. Her teen life is following the demands and assignments from middle-aged people. On the soundstage, she has a breakdown. Click onto the link to see a clip:

https://youtu.be/oKCJrSNx4RE.

I was a good little Catholic boy, a polite bookworm and film geek who never complained and did what we was told. Daisy's breakdown reflected just how I felt inside dealing with my parents' crumbling marriage, being a new kid at a new school and my duties as a son. Critics may have been cold to INSIDE DAILY CLOVER but it gave voice to feelings I definitely had and didn't know how to express. 

That's what movies can do. This weekend, I'm going to watch Christopher Plummer in KNIVES OUT again.


Thursday, April 1, 2021

Did You See HILLBILLY ELEGY?

 I am a serious fan of and have a great respect for the work of Ron Howard as a film director. He's had box office hits such as SPLASH, COCOON, PARENTHOODAPOLLO 13 and THE DA VINCI CODE. He deservedly won the Best Director Oscar for A BEAUTIFUL MIND starring Russell Crowe. He's directed excellent films that were not box office hits but should have been. CINDERELLA MAN also starring Russell Crowe and the riveting RUSH are two examples. His latest film, HILLBILLY ELEGY, has put actress Glenn Close in the Oscar race again. She's a nominee for Best Supporting Actress. He previously directed her in the highly entertaining journalism comedy/drama from 1994, THE PAPER. Now...about HILLBILLY ELEGY.


 First of all, you couldn't ask for two more talented actresses in the lead roles. It's got Glenn Close and Amy Adams.  Fantastic performers. When the Netflix feature opened, I felt that the critics were mean to it. They slapped it down like it was Mrs. Mulwray in the final fifteen minutes of CHINATOWN. I said to myself, "How dare they?" I was busy with work and other projects. I hadn't had time to see HILLBILLY ELEGY. Until this week. 

Oh, Lord.

We're taken back to the 90s.  In a voiceover, an Ivy League college students drags us down memory lane to meet his extremely dysfunctional Appalachian family in 1997. I began to watch and couldn't make it past the first hour. I was angry at myself for agreeing with a few of the film critics. HILLBILLY ELEGY seemed like a spin-off from the "Mama's Family" sketches on THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW. Vicki Lawrence as "Mama" could've been in the Glenn Close role. If you didn't know Glenn Close was in the family, you would not have recognized her immediately. In what I saw, Glenn Close does give a solid character performance in make-up that almost makes her slightly resemble a retirement village Popeye who'd puff on a corncob pipe and sport two huge biceps after eating a can of spinach. If her boobs were any lower, she could've played hacky sack with them.

Did you see HILLBILLY ELEGY?


If you did see it, what's your review? I will watch the rest of it. I will continue to love the work of Glenn Close, Amy Adams and director Ron Howard.. But what I saw of HILLBILLY ELEGY was...oy.

The Oscars are awarded this month, April 25th, on ABC. We shall see if the terrific Glenn Close finally wins one. She's been nominated 8 times yet she's never taken the Golden Boy home.


 



J.J. Gittes on Netflix

 This 1974 neo-noir film classic still awes and amazes me. It amazes me just as much today as it did when I took the bus to Hollywood during...