Monday, May 31, 2021

Memorial Day 2021.

 Heaven bless them all. Today we remember and honor all those who died in the service of our country. We are grateful to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for democracy...so we could be free.

Ironically, today we also remember those who were killed and those who lost all their belongings simply because they were Black Americans here in the Land of the Free. The Tulsa race massacre that occurred in a prosperous African American community of Tulsa, Oklahoma took place 100 years ago today. An estimated 300 citizens were killed in the racist attack. I never, ever heard or read about this American tragedy when I was in school. I first heard about it in 1999 when I was working on a local cable TV show in New York City.

Tonight at 10p Eastern time, Gayle King will host TULSA 1921: AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY on CBS.

For a movie to rent on Memorial Day, I have a recommendation for you. Ben Foster doesn't get the publicity that actors like Joaquin Phoenix, Leonardo DiCaprio and Channing Tatum get. Nonetheless, Foster is an exceptional actor whose work is always worth watching. He delivered one of his best performances in 2009 indie film, THE MESSENGER.


Ben Foster movingly played a heartsore, troubled veteran back from combat. He's now assigned the task of notifying people of the death of their loved ones in battle. One war widow, played by Samantha Morton, touches his troubled heart. Woody Harrelson co-stars. Click on the link to see a trailer: 👇

https://youtu.be/qnm885kLggY.




Friday, May 28, 2021

The One With The Future TV Star at Starbucks

In July 1994, I booked a couple of days of TV commercial work in Los Angeles. I flew out from New York and the commercial company put me up in a hotel near the Beverly Center. I love early morning walks, especially in California. I took a walk and found a nearby Starbucks. That's where I'd sit for awhile, have coffee and read The L.A. Times. I remember looking at my watch (yes, we still wore watches then) and saw that it was exactly 7:45 as I took my place in the short line of customers. The tall, slim dude in front of me turned around to look out the window and I did a double-take. A month earlier, I'd seen him in a movie. A sorta kinda modern werewolf movie, it was WOLF (1994) starring Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer. This guy had a bit part -- one scene and no more than 5 short lines. But that unknown actor playing a New York cop on night duty at the zoo made an impression on me with his look and his line delivery. Before I could tap him on the shoulder and say, "Good work in WOLF," he was motioned over by the barista to step up and place his order.

Come September 1994, I was watching NBC one night and said, "Hey! There's the guy I saw at Starbucks in L.A."

He was David Schwimmer, now one of the lead actors on a new sitcom called FRIENDS. Within 6 months, he went from bit part unknown actor in a sci-fi horror movie to TV star on a new sitcom that ran for 10 seasons. Schwimmer. There's a guy who surely understands what Stanislavski meant when he said "There are no small parts, only small actors."


Have you seen the FRIENDS reunion special that's gotten an abundance of publicity? 


Sunday, May 23, 2021

Rosemary Clooney Music Break

 My affection for Rosemary Clooney began when I was a little boy in Los Angeles. She'd sing on TV shows and I'd hear her records on the radio. The silvery lilt in her voice and the way she caressed lyrics made me swoon.

I started my broadcast career in Milwaukee after I graduated from Marquette University there. I met Rosemary Clooney in the 70s when she was in town for a week during a tour of a popular revue show called 4 GIRLS 4. I was a cub reporter for a local FM radio station and attended an opening night press function. We met and, later in the week, went out for some BBQ ribs. In the 80s, when I was working in New York, I interviewed her on live TV. She invited me to her show at the Rainbow Room and she told me to drop by her dressing room after the show. In 1997, when I was introduced to George Clooney, he smiled and said, "Aunt Rose told me about you."

Rosemary Clooney was a lovely, warm, witty, down to earth person. 


 When I was in college, I discovered her recording of "We'll Be Together Again." It was like discovering gold. Take a listen.

One of the highlights of 1954's WHITE CHRISTMAS is her torch number, "Love You Didn't Do Right By Me." Future WEST SIDE STORY Oscar winner, George Chakiris, is one of her chorus dancers.


I love the album Rosemary Clooney cut with Duke Ellington, She did his songs justice. Here's "Me and You."


Thanks for listening.

Friday, May 21, 2021

My FLOWER DRUM SONG Friend

 1961. Universal releases the musical comedy, FLOWER DRUM SONG, adapted from the hit Rodgers & Hammerstein Broadway show of the same name. The movie, with its predominantly Asian-American cast, starred Miyoshi Umeki. She was the leading lady in the Broadway show, directed by Gene Kelly, and reprised her role for the Hollywood production. Umeki had won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the 1957 drama, SAYONARA, starring Marlon Brando. For three seasons that started in 1969, Miyoshi Umeki would gain even more popularity as "Mrs. Livingston" on the ABC sitcom, THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE'S FATHER. Onscreen with Miyoshi Umeki in FLOWER DRUM SONG were Nancy Kwan, James Shigeta and Jack Soo.


 There's someone else in the cast. Although her name is not listed in the credits, she's featured in two dance numbers. Her name is Cherylene Lee. I know that because Cherylene and I were buddies in our high school years. We met at a 1969 summer camp experience called "Camp Brotherhood Anytown." The National Conference of Christians and Jews sponsored the camp to bring Southern California teens of different races and economic backgrounds together to interact, dialogue and find common ground. A few of us guys from the same high school in Watts attended. One of the fellow campers was Cherylene Lee, a show biz kid. We met and chatted a lot. I was in awe when she told me that she was in FLOWER DRUM SONG and had performed choreography by Hermes Pan, Fred Astaire's best friend and top choreographer. Pan choreographed the classic Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers RKO musicals of the 1930s. I was fascinated with Cherylene. Cherylene was thrilled I knew who Hermes Pan was.

We kept in touch after camp. I saw her dance in a Los Angeles fine arts special that aired on local TV. She made me laugh telling me about her experiences being in the chorus of a new Meredith Willson musical in try-outs at the L.A. Music Center. The show was called 1491 and focused on Christopher Columbus a year before he sailed off to discover a new world. Chita Rivera starred as Columbus' mistress.

Cherylene and I were two high school kids who. long before graduation, knew that we wanted to pursue careers in the entertainment industry. We also realized that we were people of color and, because of that, the playing field of film, theatre and TV might not be level for us. We talked a lot about diversity and inclusion. We hoped that we would get equal opportunities when we got older.

Young people of color have the same hopes today. The conversation about the need for diversity and inclusion continues. 

Here's a number Cherylene Lee did in FLOWER DRUM SONG. She's the cute little one -- the youngest of the three kids.


She was a talented actress, dancer, writer and an Asian-American activist. She was also a proud Screen Actors Guild-AFTRA member. We lost her to breast cancer in 2016.




Thursday, May 20, 2021

Abbey Lincoln Music Break

 In the 1960s, actor Ivan Dixon was the sole soul brother on the hit CBS sitcom, HOGAN'S HEROES. That was a major achievement for a Black actor in those days. When millions of TV viewers started watching that sitcom in 1965, were they aware of Dixon's major international achievement that started in 1964? An achievement that included singer Abbey Lincoln? Dixon starred in the acclaimed independent film, NOTHING BUT MAN. Abbey Lincoln was his leading lady in this film about a Black railroad worker in 1960s Alabama. The movie won a top prize at the Venice Film Festival. Abbey Lincoln won the award for Best Actress.

Many HOGAN'S HEROES fans were probably unaware of the prize-winning NOTHING BUT A MAN because, due to the fact that it had a predominantly African-American cast, the indie film could not get a distributor for a wide national release. Here's a trailer.


Now I want you to treat your ears for a few minutes to something beautiful. Here is NOTHING BUT A MAN star and jazz vocalist, Abbey Lincoln, singing the George & Ira Gershwin classic, "Love Walked In." Just click onto the link:

https://youtu.be/mAx7befSmrg.

Thanks for listening.


Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Ryan O'Connell is SPECIAL on Netflix

 He's one of the most original and huggable gay characters I've ever seen in a sitcom. He's back on Netflix for a second season. It will be the final season. The series, called SPECIAL, stars young Ryan O'Connell and it's based on his memoir. He's a 20-something from Southern California seeking a life as an independent and employed young adult. He's also seeking a love life. Ryan is a gay man with cerebral palsy who was hit by a car. Some folks think his limp is related to that accident with the car. No. It's because of the cerebral palsy. Smart, sweet and spunky, he has to move out and away from his lonely and overly protective single mother. She seems to use his disability as an excuse to not move on with her life and embrace new love that comes her way. As for Ryan...well, let's face it. In gay male culture, hot looks and physical ability are top currency -- often prized above a guy's spiritual substance and emotional maturity. If there's anyone who deserves a fine romance and workplace success, it's Ryan. A fellow who wears glasses and has cerebral palsy.


 Ryan's journey will not be easy. It will not be boring. But it will be funny.

Season 2 deals with love, people who fetishize disability, clumsy sex and finding friends who see and accept the real you and make you feel significant.  Feeling significant. Wow. Couldn't we all use some of that? I know I could. Ryan really comes into his own in this final season.

I love Ryan O'Connell's sitcom character. His is a fresh voice in the gay community that needs to be heard by people gay, straight, bi or whatever. He's a welcomed character in a society that constantly implies "true love is the birthright of the gorgeous." I wish Ryan and his series got attention on network morning news shows and syndicated entertainment news shows. And how come gay media darlings like Andy Cohen and Anderson Cooper haven't given some supportive shout-outs and airtime to Ryan O'Connell? 

To me, SPECIAL is a most overlooked and groundbreaking series. SPECIAL, from and starring writer/actor and disability advocate Ryan O'Connell, is extremely special.

Its second season starts May 20th on Netflix.


Tuesday, May 18, 2021

She's PRECIOUS Tonight

The first time I experienced the heartbreaking, unforgettable performance Gabourey Sidibe gave in 2009's PRECIOUS, I had to walk around bit after the New York City preview screening and let my soul absorb what I'd just seen. Sidibe was stunning as the abused, illiterate, overweight and pregnant high school teen in 1980s Harlem. For her work, she got an extremely well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Her performance was so real that, at times, I thought I was watching documentary footage when she was onscreen as the character. PRECIOUS marked the acting debut of Gabourey Sidibe.
It's Tuesday, May 18th. PRECIOUS airs tonight at 11:45p ET on TCM. This month the network -- which has five attractive and trim hosts -- focuses on body images in films. PRECIOUS is an intense movie with revolting abuse and a Best Supporting Actress Oscar winning performance from comedian/actress Mo'Nique as the teen girl's monster of a mother. However, if you can, I whole-heartedly recommend that you see it. Mariah Carey also stars in it and, de-glamourized, she too is quite good.
Gabourey Sidibe has since written a very well-received memoir and she joined that club of Black actresses who distinguished herself with an Oscar nomination and then had to turn to TV for script opportunities and steady employment. She was a regular on a cable series, THE BIG C, starring Laura Linney and on the hit music industry-related Fox series, EMPIRE. In a print interview this year, Sidibe frankly admitted that Hollywood doors didn't open for her the way they did for Caucasian fellow Oscar nominee, Anna Kendrick. Kendrick was in the Best Supporting Actress Oscar category for 2009's UP IN THE AIR. To witness Gabourey Sidibe's impressive range and versatility as an actress, rent the 2014 mystery WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD. a suburban drama. Like PRECIOUS, it's also set in the 1980s. A high school girl's unconventional mother has disappeared. Shailene Woodley and brawny Chris Meloni (as a bland but sweet dork of a family man) star. Sidibe plays a hip, smart, popular classmate. She's much like an 80s Valley Girl -- the complete opposite of PRECIOUS.
Gabourey Sidibe should be getting good movie sctipts. The Brooklyn native is terrifically talented.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Fassbinder Was An ENFANT TERRIBLE

From what I read about the acclaimed independent German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder, a famous description of Lord Byron could also be attached to him. He was "mad, bad and dangerous to know." 


Before 1982, when cocaine and barbiturates ended his life at age 37 in Munich, Fassbinder was amazingly prolific as a feature filmmaker and actor, a playwright, a theatre director and an essayist. Themes of class, race and politics were a thread in his films. A gay man, he boldly addressed gay and lesbian themes in his movies. I first became aware of his foreign films when I lived and worked in Milwaukee. This was the late 70s and early 80s. I lived on the East Side, known as the "artistic" and avant garde part of town. When Fassbinder films played at a local revival theater, they drew good crowds and were popular with us gay men. We were fascinated with his frank depictions of gay life and, frankly, with his occasional shots of full frontal male nudity. I was also fascinated with the wide relatability of his movies. His 1975 drama, FOX AND HIS FRIENDS, showed the caste system that exists in gay male life. Fassbinder played the working class Fox. That story could've easily been set in Milwaukee or San Francisco. Fassbinder had a respect and fondness for the working class, the under-privileged, the outsiders.


Now playing in theaters, thanks to Dark Star Pictures, is a biopic on the late director entitled ENFANT TERRIBLE. This subtitled feature has actor Oliver Masucci as the complicated, debauched, talented artist. Masucci delivers a performance full of fury, pain and manipulation. His transformation into the unkempt, beer-bellied, often belligerent Fassbinder is impressive. The German actor is quite well-cast in the role. This biopic is shot like a 1970s Fassbinder film.

ENFANT TERRIBLE opens with Fassbinder as a stage director in the 1960s. As he says, "I like to provoke." He's interested in telling stories about class, dreamers and dreams being shattered. His goal is film work. He idolizes classic film directors Orson Welles, Douglas Sirk and Jean-Luc Godard. We're with Fassbinder through his film career as he casts and directs 1974's ALI: FEARS EATS THE SOUL to 1979's THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN, 1982's VERONIKA VOSS and the making of his last film, 1982's QUERELLE, starring Brad Davis (of MIDNIGHT EXPRESS), French great Jeanne Moreau and Franco Nero.


 Fassbinder didn't just work outside the margins, he burned the margins down. As he also says in the movie, "Nobody owns me." Oliver Masucci definitely plays that aspect of the artist. However, the Klaus Richter screenplay spends so much time following Fassbinder on his frequent visits to gay bars for sex and possible actors to cast in his films, so much time showing him as a verbally and physically abusive lover, so much time showing him drinking and and snorting coke that you find yourself saying "This guy was a prolific filmmaker and essayist? This guy became one of Germany's most important directors? He's a hot mess!" To see a trailer for ENFANT TERRIBLE, click onto this link: 👇

https://youtu.be/ppYiW8oXdLs.

I wanted to know more about what inspired him to attach to the themes he did in his movies, how being gay affected those post-World War 2 Germany images and how his manipulations as a director affected the lives and careers of his actors. I wanted to see his stretches of focus and discipline in which he was sober, prolific and earned the high critical praise that he got in his film career. I wanted to see what dreams of his were shattered.

Fassbinder loved Orson Welles. Think of CITIZEN KANE. We saw Charles Foster Kane focus and do the work that made him a famous and wealthy figure. We saw his bad behavior during his career. We also saw what dreams of his were shattered and how that made him become the Citizen Kane we knew. ENFANT TERRIBLE needed that kind of balance.





Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Meeting Olivia Newton-John

Last weekend, I was searching YouTube for one thing and unexpectedly found some old VH1 work of mine. It's something I have not seen since the week we taped it in 1988. Yes, once again, I'm going to drag you kicking and screaming down my memory lane. From my weeknight celebrity talk show on VH1, it's my interview of the totally charming and dear Olivia Newton-John after she'd scored a huge success in the movie musical, GREASE, with John Travolta.


There's a little story behind this segment. Back home in Los Angeles, when I was in high school, some fellow high school friends from a different school and I went to a Senior Week night at Disneyland for graduating students. This was the early 70s. We were in one area, seated and having sodas and snacks, near a performance stage. Not everyone was giving attention to the unknown singer with the three names and what I thought was a British accent. She got my attention because she had a good voice, a sunny personality that was perfect for Disneyland and she gave her all on stage. You would've thought she was in concert at Carnegie Hall playing to a packed house.


Later, our group was walking around and enjoying the night when I spotted the singer. I darted over to tell her how much I loved her show. She was gracious and grateful.

At VH1, in the green room before we went onto the set, I was introduced to her and I told her about that night. Her eyes got wide and she smiled. She happily remembered that booking and that Disneyland night when she was new to the States from Australia. Here's our interview at VH1 in New York City. By the way, this was taped quite some time before Madonna landed the lead role in the movie version of EVITA.



Monday, May 10, 2021

I Love Fred Astaire

May 10th. The extraordinary dancer, choreographer, actor, singer Fred Astaire was born on this day in history. As any member of my immediate family can tell you, my fascination with him began early in my grade school years. I was dazzled by and often healed by Astaire's work. There has never been a hurt, a heartbreak or sorrow in my life that could not be relieved to some degree by watching a Fred Astaire musical. When I was a kid, I went to our nearest library branch in South Central L.A. and checked out books about musicals -- books with chapters about him -- and I felt as if I'd struck gold in California when I found his autobiography, STEPS IN TIME. The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers RKO musicals that aired frequently in those days on local Channel 9 (which was KHJ TV then and connected to the RKO film library) moved me to beg my parents to let me take dance classes. They said "no." They felt I was too obsessed with old movie musicals and needed to go to summer camp or join the Boy Scouts. Well into my adult years, Astaire was still special to me. And an inspiration. He kept working and stayed relevant. He did multi-Emmy winning music specials on NBC with Barrie Chase in the 1960s, he acted in episodic TV, starred in made-for-TV movies, joined the cast of ABC's IT TAKES A THIEF series starring Robert Wagner in the late 1960s, did voiceover work in animated Christmas specials, did a lot of network TV host work, was a guest on talk shows and continued to accept an occasional feature film offer. Astaire still dazzles me.


 There's a popular pop culture quote that "Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did -- only backwards and in heels." The quote has been attributed to the late Ann Richards, former governor of Texas. I believe I heard Linda Ellerbee of NBC late night news say it on one of her news shows months before Ann Richards did.

Musicals are hard work. They're like a triathlon with a downbeat. You have to dance, sing and act. Astaire and Rogers truly were an iconic dance team and they did some of their best screen acting in those dance numbers. They acted the emotions of the lyrics in the songs written for them, they reacted to the lyrics and they were in the moment when it came to the scene. 


 With all that in mind, it's long stunned me that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers each was nominated for just one Oscar in their long, illustrious careers -- and the nominations were for dramatic films. Ginger Rogers deservedly won the Best Actress Oscar for 1940's KITTY FOYLE. I would've also given her Oscar nominations for SWING TIME (1936) STAGE DOOR (1937) and Billy Wilder's THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR (1942).

Astaire, who did receive an honorary Oscar, got a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for the all-star box office blockbuster of a disaster movie, THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974). I would've given Astaire a Best Actor Oscar nomination for 1953's THE BAND WAGON, a marvelous Vincente Minnelli musical Astaire made in his early 50s, and a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his first dramatic role -- as the anti-nuclear war scientist in 1959's ON THE BEACH.

SWING TIME (1936) directed by George Stevens. Original songs by Dorothy  Fields and Jerome Kern. Astaire plays a dancer who likes to gamble -- and he's a very lucky gambler. In New York City, he flirts with and falls for a disciplined, no-nonsense, working class career girl. She's a dance instructor determined to make good in Manhattan as a dancer. Astaire's character pretends to need dance classes just so he can talk to her again after she initially brushed him off. He will help make her dreams of career upward mobility come true. The "Pick Yourself Up" number is terrific in this, one of their best musicals.


CAREFREE (1938), directed by Mark Sandrich. Original songs by Irving Berlin. Astaire plays a psychiatrist. Rogers plays a radio star, a new patient, who's engaged to a real dork but falls for the psychiatrist. Eventually, he falls for her but tries to hide his real feelings. When she's on the brink of marrying the dork, he hypnotizes her so they can both express their true mutual affection. This is the dance to Irving Berlin's "Change Partners."


Ginger Rogers unequivocally deserved equal billing, equal pay and equal benefits. Nonetheless, the "Change Partners" dance shows that Ginger didn't do "everything" Fred did -- only backwards and in heels.

Ginger never lifted and twirled Fred.

 


Saturday, May 8, 2021

On THE MITCHELLS vs THE MACHINES

 I've got a recommendation for you. Do you need some good-natured laughs? Do you like animation? Do you have a knowledge of films made before 1990? Do you get Netflix? If you answered "Yes" to each of those questions, make it a point to block out a couple of hours to sit with Netflix and watch THE MITCHELLS vs THE MACHINES. I had a busy and emotionally bumpy week. Watching that new animated feature on a Friday evening was just the tonic I needed.


 Did you see THE INCREDIBLES? Remember how that family of misfits, each one having a superpower that was kept a secret in the suburbs, came together and worked like finely-tuned unit when their superpowers were needed to save society from villains? Well, the Mitchells are also a group of sweet misfits. But, unlike THE INCREDIBLES, the Mitchells are absolutely clueless. Loving but clueless. Shy, awkward, imaginative, smart Katie makes comedy mini-movies that she posts on YouTube. She's an aspiring filmmaker, a tech geek and a great kid. Her over-protective dad tries to dissuade her from that aspiration because he doesn't want her to be heartbroken if her dreams don't come true. He hates that technology has robbed people of being in the moment and paying attention to each other. At the dinner table, each family member is on a social media device.

Katie gets accepted to college, a college where she can be with others her own age who appreciate her individuality, her talents and give her confidence in pursuing her dreams. Instead of her taking a flight to the college, dad gets the idea of the family taking Katie to the school. It would be a cross-country family bonding trip in their 1993 station wagon. During the trip, there's a robot apocalypse that happens when the presentation of a tech corporation hipster head goes horribly wrong. The robots want to create a new world without humans.


 It's up to the Mitchells to save the human race. In a 1993 station wagon.

This funny and heartwarming animated family feature has touches of JURASSIC PARK, TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, STAR WARS, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, ALIENS and THE WIZARD OF OZ.

I loved the Mitchells' family dog. I especially loved how the delightful, wise mom is LGBTQ friendly and accepting. I hope you enjoy THE MITCHELLS vs THE MACHINES as much as I do. It says some very true and touching things about family...about being seen, being yourself and being appreciated for the things that make you benevolently different. All of us who have ever been a Katie will appreciate this original feature.


Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Thank You, Jacques d'Amboise

He fascinated me. He made me want to move to New York and enroll in his National Dance Institute. By the time I was in middle school, I could tell you what Jacques d'Amboise did for a living. I thank ABC for that. When I was kid back in Los Angeles, ABC had special prime time presentations of the big Rodgers & Hammerstein movie musicals -- THE KING AND I, OKLAHOMA!, SOUTH PACIFIC and CAROUSEL. Young classic film geek that I was, I watched every single one and I read the credits. I learned that Jacques d'Amboise, in CAROUSEL (1956), was the athletic man who seemed to defy gravity as he danced the part of the carnival barker in the "Louise's Ballet" number. A few years later, I was watching a PBS presentation about him. I was awed and thrilled seeing him connect with and choreograph inner city kids and grown-ups who were not classically trained dancers. However, they danced for him, gave themselves over to the music and delivered the goods thanks to his National Dance Institute. 


 Jacques d'Amboise was a magnificent dancer, a down-to-earth guy, who brought working class, ordinary people into the art of dance. With a name like his, I expected him to sound like a French diplomat at the United Nations when he spoke. Instead, he sounded like a cabdriver in an episode of BARNEY MILLER. That won my heart immediately. I paid attention to everything he had to say.  


He was a New Yorker who became a legendary principal dancer with the New York City Ballet and, later, an enthusiastic educator. For Hollywood, he danced in CAROUSEL and in SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS as one of the backwoods brothers. He was a decorated humanitarian with an infectious smile and a magnetic warmth. 


His artistry expanded my knowledge of the fine arts in my youth. He also danced in a lesser-known big 20th Century Fox musical biopic called THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE. It starred Gordon MacRae, Dan Dailey, Ernest Borgnine and Sheree North. I've seen it a few times.

You know me. I never could resist an Ernest Borgnine musical.

To celebrate the Jacques d'Amboise magnificence, here he is dancing to "The Birth of the Blues" with Sheree North in THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE (1956).





Monday, May 3, 2021

Why TCM's Robert Osborne Mattered To Me

Before TCM (Turner Classic Movies) existed on cable television, I was a Robert Osborne fan. We worked across the street from each other. He was a contributor on the CBS weekday morning news show. I was across the street from the CBS West 57th Street location in New York City at a VH1 studio, taping my daily veejay segments and celebrity talk shows for that cable network. I watched Robert Osborne's segments and read his column in The Hollywood Reporter.


I grew up in South Central Los Angeles, a classic film fan since I was in the 1st grade. By the time I was in the 3rd grade, I could name three RKO musicals that starred Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Not long after I graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee, I started my professional broadcast career. My first job was at a local FM station. I got newscast soundbites in-person from Bette Davis when she was in town to promote DEATH ON THE NILE. A year after trembling as I held a tape recorder and talked to Bette Davis, I was doing weekly film reviews and celebrity interviews for Milwaukee's ABC affiliate. Most of those interviews occurred during movie junkets held in New York City or Los Angeles. This was the early 80s. I was younger and slimmer then. Occasionally, junket cameraman would comment that I had a slight resemblance to Ashley Boone. There was always a definite air of reverence when they mentioned his name. From them, I learned that Ashley Boone was one of the most influential, creative, successful and beloved movie executives in Hollywood. He was the 20th Century Fox marketing whiz behind THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, the original STAR WARS trilogy, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN and ALIEN to name a few projects. His wonderful sister, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, became the first Black person elected president of the Motion Picture Academy. That was in 2015.


Robert Osborne was the first and only White entertainment news reporter and film historian I ever heard acknowledge the late Ashley Boone and highlight the Black History he'd made in Hollywood. He mentioned that Boone practically ran 20th Century Fox for six months and helped bring the studio out of business turmoil. That Robert Osborne TV segment on CBS made me feel so significant. He'd shone a light on overlooked Black History.

I've been a TCM viewer since 1999. One of the several things that lit up my heart about his TCM host work was his continued acknowledgement of Black History. Not only that, he broke through a discriminatory color barrier that millions of TV viewers probably never realized existed.


 I've written numerous times about how segregated the TV field of weekly film critics seemed after the trailblazing Siskel & Ebert premiered on PBS and clicked with the public. Starting in the 1980s, the film review/movie historian TV duos that followed from Siskel & Ebert down to Ben Mankiewicz and Ben Lyons doing AT THE MOVIES in 2008 were all White male pairings. There was no voice of color. The same goes for the Friday film critics we used to see on the ABC, CBS and NBC network morning shows. The same thing applied to hosts on movie channels. Those had no regular voice of color. We were excluded from the new movie and classic film conversations.

I can tell you personally that this exclusion did not happen because producers didn't know that Black film critics, historians and potential movie hosts existed. Many of us who sought that kind of weekly work were only contacted to be on-air and speak about recommended viewings for Black History Month or talk about Black images in film. To me, those marginalized opportunities were not so much an embrace of diversity but a move by TV executives to appear "politically correct" and "liberal."

To me, diversity and inclusion in the field of film talk on TV is not having a Black film contributor on just during Black History Month to talk about THE LEARNING TREE from director Gordon Parks. It's giving that Black contributor the same opportunities you give the White contributors -- the chance to talk about Parks' THE LEARNING TREE, Elia Kazan's A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, Terrence Malick's THE TREE OF LIFE and Jack Lemmon's performance in UNDER THE YUM YUM TREE.

Robert Osborne had Black talents on TCM to join him as guests in the classic film conversation. Spike Lee talked about the influence of Billy Wilder, Diahann Carroll discussed ALL ABOUT EVE. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a guest. So was Chita Rivera. Robert Osborne made a place for people of color. He acknowledged our awareness of classic films. I saw a reflection of myself on TCM thanks to Robert Osborne. I heard about our Black History in Hollywood. I heard us talk about classic films from the whole cinema menu -- not just side dishes of Black films and Black images. That's why TCM host Robert Osborne mattered to me.

Here's a career disappointment of mine I rarely mention. From 1990 to 2002, I had a terrific TV commercial and hosting agent. She was with a respected NYC agency called SEM&M. If I had cast Linda in a classic film, she would've been played by Thelma Ritter. Linda got me a lot of TV commercial and TV host work. What helped was that she was an Old School agent. She made people see me and give me a chance to audition. Linda McIntosh was not just my agent. She was also my hysterically funny friend -- and a fellow classic film fan.

She loved my celebrity talk show on VH1. After my VH1 contract expired in 1990 and I was seeking a new gig, I heard that AMC was soon to have auditions for a new host. Remember when AMC was American Movie Classics and showed classic films presented by hosts? AMC had good hosts. No one of color, but the channel did an annual salute to Black History Month. 

I told Linda about the possible auditions and she got on it right away. AMC was indeed looking to add a new host for its last cycle as a solely classic film channel. A few days later, while talking to Linda's assistant about another project, she mentioned that Linda was livid about something AMC related.

Apparently, AMC execs would not even book me for an audition. This angered Linda because they booked one of her other clients for an audition. A handsome, blue-eyed Caucasian guy.

Linda confirmed that exclusion to me on the phone and said this about her other client: "He's a good guy but he didn't have his own national TV show and interview some of the people in movies airing on AMC." She had the uneasy feeling my being denied an audition was race-related. In 2000 and 2006, I booked national broadcast jobs reviewing new movies and recommending classic films. I had to push for those auditions because, I was told, executives in charge of hiring asked "Does he know anything about movies?" I had to validate myself again and again.

Robert Osborne definitely broke through a color barrier in TV. I am still grateful to him for that.

Here's some of my VH1 talk show work:

Shirley MacLaine talks about TERMS OF ENDEARMENT and STEEL MAGNOLIAS.


Kirk Douglas talks about his son, Oscar winner Michael Douglas and FATAL ATTRACTION.

Here's a montage of other guests I interviewed on my show.


It's May 3rd. Robert Osborne was born this day in history in 1932. He was a great talent.

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