Sunday, October 31, 2021

Time for Some Astaire

 If someone asked me "If you could have a Sunday brunch with 10 famous entertainers past and/or present, who would they be?," Fred Astaire would definitely be at the top of my list. I'm serious. My sister can attest to this. My fascination with Astaire started when I was in elementary school. His classic RKO musicals with Ginger Rogers aired frequently on local Channel 9 in Los Angeles when I was a kid. Those musicals ignited my passion for classic films, a passion that still burns brightly today.

 This post has numbers from two Fred Astaire films for your -- and my -- entertainment. In Astaire's 1959 autobiography, STEPS IN TIME, he wrote that the 1950 Paramount musical he did with Betty Hutton was one of his personal favorites. 1950's LET'S DANCE is rarely aired on TV. I wish it was. It's a breezy little musical with the two stars in fine form. Astaire play' a nightclub entertainer. This rehearsal number he did -- when he was about 50 in real life -- knocked me out when I first saw it. This number also wowed a young dancer named Bob Fosse. Here's the "Piano Dance" from LET'S DANCE.

The 1950s was a decade in which Hollywood shot out color remakes of 1930s films such as MY MAN GODFREY, IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, THE WOMEN, 1939's LOVE AFFAIR, SHOW BOAT, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, A STAR IS BORN and IMITATION OF LIFE. One of the best remakes of that decade was 20th Century Fox's glossy, colorful, Cinemascope musical of 1955, DADDY LONG LEGS, starring Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron. This was a greatly improved remake. The previous adaptation, a 1931 Fox film of the same name, was extremely racially offensive in its first five minutes. 

Astaire did the new DADDY LONG LEGS because his beloved wife, Phyllis, urged him to do it. She'd read the script and loved it. He loved the new songs written by Johnny Mercer.  Leslie Caron starred as the French college student who's falling for her roommate's bachelor uncle. She has no idea that he, an absolute gentleman who dines with her when she visits New York City from her New England college campus, is really a multi-millionaire. Here, Astaire introduces "Something's Gotta Give." It brought Johnny Mercer one of his many Oscar nominations for Best Song.

I hope you enjoyed those Fred Astaire numbers as much as I do.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Colin Kaepernick on Netflix

 He's the tall, slim, graceful man in black. A Black man in black. The episode opens with him, in tight close-up and with his full moon-sized Afro, speaking directly to us. He talks about football and race. He knows what he's talking about. He's NFL veteran Colin Kaepernick and this is the first episode of the Netflix drama series, COLIN IN BLACK & WHITE. Not only does he introduce this personal look at race, class and culture, he narrates it and watches his young self portrayed terrifically by a charismatic and talented newcomer named Jaden Michael. Watching Jaden Michael, as teen Kaepernick, try to negotiate embracing his Blackness in the racial politics of hair care with his white adopted parents is memorable. The scene is strong and real and you cannot take your eyes off this impressive new talent. Kaepernick, whose birth father was Black, was placed up for adoption when he was baby. In the series, we seen teen Kaepernick interact with other Black kids in school and on the sports playing field. However, the inside of his home is devoid of any sense of Black culture when you look around it. 

There is a "power dynamic," as adult Kaepernick says, in professional sports. There's also one at play in his home with his parents, although he doesn't realize it at first. He's the gifted Black teen dealing with White parents and White coaches. "You have to play by the rules, Colin," he's told.

When young Kaepernick's mother finally gives in and takes her teen son to a Black-owned barber shop staffed with Black employees, it's like Colin leaves dry, colorless Kansas and steps into the Emerald City. He's with his people. Colin Kaepernick co-created this series with the innovative, influential director, Ava DuVernay. She directed the first episode.

The second episode looks at the disparity between the races in wealth, access and opportunities. Colin Kaepernick mentions that we Black often need the "White men stamp of approval." This I know all too well from my career. The dramatic series is true and compelling. In looking at the early years of the athlete/activist being portrayed, I thought back to my own early years dealing with race, class and culture while growing up in South Central Los Angeles during the racially turbulent 1960s.

Colin Kaepernick became controversial and criticized when he took a knee on the NFL playing field to bring attention to racial bigotry and inequality in America. I agreed with the position he took. I am positive that millions of people assumed the playing field was now level because the country put a Black man in the White House for two terms. They felt it was disrespectful and unnecessary for Kaepernick to take a knee before he entertained them on the football field. One of the things Kaepernick protested was the national rash of unarmed Black men being shot multiple times and killed by Caucasian cops who said that they fired because they feared for their lives.

Then a White police officer in Minneapolis took a knee on the neck of unarmed George Floyd and killed him as Floyd wailed "I can't breathe." There was a Black Lives Matter awakening that went global. Here's a trailer for Kaepernick's Netflix series. with Jaden Michael as young Kaepernick.

You need to see COLIN IN BLACK & WHITE. See it and talk about it. If you're White, have Black friends and never discussed race with them -- if you ever said "I don't think of you as Black because I don't see race" and you thought that was a compliment -- you need to see it. If you thought the playing field was level, you need to see it and have some conversations. Bravo Colin Kaepernick and Jaden Michael.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Tom Tryon of THE OTHER

 I remember hearing folks say "Have you read The Other?" It was a best-selling eerie novel adapted into a popular eerie 1970s film from 20th Century Fox. In the late 1960s, a film and TV actor decided to move on from Hollywood. Big, brawny and handsome Tom Tryon had worked a lot in the 1950s and 60s. On TV, he was a lead actor in Disney features. He's really cool in the 1958 sci-fi thriller, I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE. He had significant roles in a few quality films. Tryon co-starred in the World War II dramas, THE LONGEST DAY and IN HARM'S WAY, two 1960s films that both starred John Wayne and Henry Fonda. Tryon did some fine work opposite veteran Hollywood stars. He had the looks and he had the talent. And he had a secret. He was gay.

Tom Tryon landed the lead role of the ambitious priest in an epic 1963 drama from director Otto Preminger. The film is THE CARDINAL. The action goes from 1917 to the brink of World War II. Even though I was way too young to grasp some of the more adult elements of the story, Mom and Dad urged me to watch it with them when it got to TV. I understood why. We were a Black Catholic family. I had years of parochial school education with other Black Catholic kids as friends and classmates. I was an altar boy for Black Catholic priests in church. Ossie Davis had a supporting role in THE CARDINAL as a Black priest who's a friend to Tryon's character. That was representation. It was rare then -- and even now -- to see Black Catholics represented in a movie or TV show.

Usually cast in dramas, Tryon might have had a big break with Marilyn Monroe. She had started shooting a remake of the 1940 screwball comedy, MY FAVORITE WIFE. The original starred Cary Grant, Irene Dunne and Randolph Scott. A father of two has just married to a sophisticated, self-absorbed woman. His first wife was shipwrecked on a tropical island for seven years and declared legally dead. But she's not. She was rescued and returns home. She's jealous of the new wife and sabotages their wedding night plans. The first wife and her husband are still in love with each other. He gets jealous when it's discovered that his not-late wife was not alone on that tropical island. There was a handsome, muscular man who kept her company. He too was rescued and all this craziness has to be sorted out in court. Cary Grant played the husband. Randolph Scott played the island hunk.

 Monroe looked gorgeous and in great form when production began on Fox's SOMETHING'S GOT TO GIVE with George Cukor in the director's chair.

Dean Martin was cast as the husband and Cyd Charisse played the new wife that the first wife schemes to push out of the picture.

Tom Tryon had been cast in the Randolph Scott role as the macho island hunk.

Unfortunately, SOMETHING'S GOT TO GIVE was a troubled 1962 shoot. 

Monroe was fired and, soon after, died. The production was scrapped and repackaged later. It was repackaged, recast and reshot as 1963's MOVE OVER, DARLING with Doris Day and James Garner.

 So, at the end of the 1960s, Tom Tryon left movies, turned to writing, came out of the closet and became a best-selling author. He wrote THE OTHER and he wrote the screenplay for THE OTHER. To see a theatrical trailer for the 1972 film, click on this link:

His novel HARVEST HOME was adapted into a truly creepy and darkly erotic miniseries that provided Bette Davis with one of her best made-for-TV roles. The NBC adaptation was called THE DARK SECRET OF HARVEST HOME (1978). A story from a collection of stories written by Tryon became the 1978 Hollywood-on-Hollywood mystery film, FEDORA, directed by Billy Wilder and starring William Holden.

Tryon passed away in 1991. Because October is LGBTQ History Month, I just wanted to give you some history on an actor who reinvented himself as a writer, came out and had the biggest successes of his career when he could be his authentic self. 

Thursday, October 28, 2021

LOVING Ruth Negga

 Here's some American history for you: I learned how to read and write when interracial marriage was still illegal in some United States. When the classic 1967 film, GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER, was in production, interracial marriage was still illegal in some United States. Richard and Mildred Loving had spent time behind bars. Why? Because they got married in 1958. She was Black. He was White. Interracial marriage was forbidden in the state of Virginia. The couple took its case to the Supreme Court -- and won. The landmark 1967 Loving v. Virginia case led to interracial marriage becoming legal all across America. Ruth Negga played Mildred Loving in the 2016 film called LOVING and the performance earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Australian actor Joel Edgerton played Richard Loving. He should have been an Oscar nominee for Best Actor. In magazines Mom and Dad purchased in the 1960s, when I was a boy, I saw photos of the Lovings. He was a quiet, kind man who just wanted to build a home and live in it with the woman he loved. My mother would constantly smile and say, "You can tell how much he loves her by just looking at those photos."

 I understood what Mom said.

If you have not seen Ruth Negga in that very good film, you can do so now if you get Netflix. It's there and I highly recommend you see it. Negga and Edgerton get into the souls of those two characters. Their performances are moving and poetic in the depth of their simplicity. Watch this trailer for LOVING, a film directed and written by Jeff Nichols.

I bring this up because Ruth Negga is currently reading some good reviews for her new film. It's called PASSING. The 1959 movie, IMITATION OF LIFE starring Lana Turner, is a glossy and colorful melodrama that's quite popular with classic film fans. It's a tale of racial inequality and maternal love. The 1959 film is a remake. The original version was a hit film of 1934. Both films gave us the story of a young Black woman who is so light-skinned that the can pass for being White. Her mother is dark-skinned. The grown daughter starts to deny her race because of the privileges she enjoys passing for White. This causes conflict in the relationship with her long-suffering, long-single working mother. Claudette Colbert had the White mom role later done by Lana Turner. In the original version, the Black mother and daughter were played by Louise Beavers and Fredi Washington. Had the Best Supporting Actress category existed at that time in the Academy Awards, both women should have been nominated. Their performances are memorable and heartbreaking.

 Unlike the 1959 Lana Turner remake, the light-skinned Black daughter in the original 1934 version was played by a light-skinned Black actress. In my research, I read that Hollywood executives told Fredi Washington that, with her looks and talent, they could get her roles like Joan Crawford and Constance Bennett got in the 1930s -- if she pretended to be White. Fredi Washington refused to deny her race. She left Hollywood, did stage work in New York and became a Civil Rights activist.

PASSING, based on an acclaimed 1929 novel by Nella Larsen of the Harlem Renaissance, is about the practice of passing. The film was directed and written by Rebecca Hall. Also an actress, Hall was seen in Ron Howard's FROST/NIXON, THE TOWN starring Ben Affleck, and she was Vicky in Woody Allen's VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA. Here's a trailer for PASSING starring Ruth Negga as Clare. Clare is "passing" and has married a wealthy, prejudiced white man in the 1920s.

PASSING also stars Alexander Skarsgard, Andre Holland and Tessa Thompson. The film is Rebecca Hall's directorial debut and arrives on Netflix come November 10th.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021


 Just like 1964's MY FAIR LADY, Alfred Hitchcock's VERTIGO has a consistent visual floral motif coupled with a young working class woman who undergoes a beauty and fashion makeover provided by a middle-aged man. If you have not seen this 1958 classic mystery from Hitchcock, a classic starring James Stewart and Kim Novak, leave now. I am going to point out an element of the film's final scene. In other words, a spoiler. If you have seen VERTIGO, here's a clip to refresh your memory about the film's floral motif.

Now take a look at the original theatrical trailer.

VERTIGO aired on a Showtime cable channel today and it hooked me in again, I remember seeing it on network TV when it aired in prime time one weekend. I was a kid then and too young to grasp some of the more mature elements of the story. However, I watched because it had Alfred Hitchcock's name attached it. In those days, Hitchcock was also known as a hugely popular TV host, seen Friday nights as the host of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. On his show and THE TWILIGHT ZONE, kids knew that something freaky was going to happen -- and that's why you watched.

So I watched VERTIGO. The final scene of Hitchcock's "When good beauty makeovers go bad" tale freaked me out and made my pre-teen goosepimples rise. Remember when the nun in the black habit appears in the dark belltower and shocks poor Judy? That image scared the heck out me. I thought it was a ghost.  Apparently, so did Judy.

Nowadays, I gasp at the brilliance of that scene. When Scotty sees Madeleine fall from the belltower, he's in shock. He couldn't reach her in time to stop her presumed suicide because of his vertigo. We heard a scream as she fell. Hitchcock cuts to a shot from where Scotty is. The belltower is above a Catholic church. We see two nuns in black habits rushing to see what happened after hearing the scream. Later, there's an inquest. Scotty needs to be cleared of any wrongdoing in her death.

The two nuns were in the audience, if you will, during the inquest.

With the nun's appearance in the final moments ("I heard voices"), she is witness to Judy's self-induced accident. Scotty will be blameless -- and he'll be cured of his vertigo.


Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Sexual Healing with Gwyneth Paltrow

 "You have total permission to have an erection." Remember when Gwyneth Paltrow used to be an actress? In the 1990s, she delivered good film performances in EMMA, SLIDING DOORS, A PERFECT MURDER and THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY. She won the Best Actress Academy Award for her gender switcher role in 1998's SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE. I miss those days. 

Now Gwyneth Paltrow has a lifestyles business and she's currently focused on your genitalia. The opening quote of this article comes from her new Netflix series.

Her business is called Goop. Goop now has a Netflix presence and episodes to improve your sex life. I watched Episode 1 from Season 1 of Sex Love & Goop. It gave me that full "What the Hell?" feeling. Paltrow, in an upscale Southern California setting, has assembled average couples and smiling, welcoming women who each has a title of "sexologist" or "intimacy expert" or something similar. If you subscribed to HBO in the 90s and remember the docu-series, REAL SEX, the first episode of this Goop show will remind you of that HBO program. The main take-away from Paltrow's Episode 1 is that a woman, understandably, would like to be romanced before launching right into the sex act -- especially when she's married, has kids, and has spent most of the day being Chief Cook and Bottle Washer in the house. She can be bent over and basting a chicken that's in the oven for dinner and the sight of her hips can excite her husband, home from work, to the point of him wanting to take her right there on the kitchen table. He's ready to go. She's not ready to go. She'd like tenderness and communication to put her in the mood first. That's the gist of what we learn from a couple of the couples. The discovery of that basic fact is really nothing new even though Gwyneth is smiling as though she just created I Can't Believe It's Not Butter.

What really left me stunned was the segment with Damon, a Black man, and his wife. The very Pacific Coast therapist (Caucasian) has told us all her 5 Erotic Blueprints. They are 1. Energetic, 2. Sensual, 3. Sexual, 4. Kinky, and 5. Shape-Shifter.

I kid you not.  Shape-Shifter.

After Damon tells us that he's basically Mr. Erection but he and the Mrs. have hit a bit of a bedroom lull, their therapist lady puts a large bowl of accoutrements on the table. In other words -- sex toys. That Caucasian woman handed a Black handcuffs and some chains.

I thought, "White Lady, have you lost your damn mind? Have you never seen ROOTS, 12 YEARS A SLAVE or just about any episode of COPS on TV? You are handing time-worn bondage items to a Black man." Then she brought out and put on some sharp, pointed finger items that looked dangerous. They made her hands look like Hugh Jackman's hands when he played Wolverine in the X-Men movies. 

I said to myself, "Oh, no, no, no. Those should only be worn by someone slightly drunk and doing 69 with Edward Scissorhands." Here's a short video about some Paltrow product on Netflix. I think I need a drink before I watch the second episode of Sex Love & Goop. I just don't know if I want Gwyneth Paltrow paying attention to my privates.


Saturday, October 16, 2021

Before Astaire Danced on the Ceiling

 In the late 1980s, I was a veejay and talk show host seen daily on the VH1 music channel. Those were three of the happiest, most fulfilling years of my TV career. When I'd introduce Lionel Richie's popular "Dancing on the Ceiling" music video, a video in which Richie dance -- sort of -- on the ceiling, I loved telling viewers that Fred Astaire did it first in a 1951 musical from MGM called ROYAL WEDDING. Astaire, as a man so much in love that he defied gravity sang "You're All the World to Me" before he went into his dance. Stanley Donen, a dancer and film director, directed ROYAL WEDDING. He also directed the Lionel Richie music video.

The ROYAL WEDDING songs had music by Burton Lane and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. One song had music that folks had heard before in a movie. The lyrics were different, however. They were sung by a dancer who, like Fred Astaire, wore a classy tuxedo.

The singer/dancer was young Harold Nicholas of the Nicholas Brothers. With lyrics by Harold Adamson, the young Nicholas brother sang "I Want to Be a Minstrel Man" in the 1934 musical called KID MILLIONS. It starred Eddie Cantor, Ann Sothern and Ethel Merman. Take a look.

Now here's the number with Fred Astaire and a new set of lyrics.

There you have it -- a little classic movie musical trivia for you. By the way, Astaire was in his early 50s when he performed that number. I couldn't dance that well when I was in my early 20s.

Friday, October 15, 2021


Now considered a classic in the filmography of director Quentin Tarantino, PULP FICTION opened nationwide this week in 1994. The crime thriller got Tarantino an Oscar for his screenplay and it was a nominee for Best Picture. Oscar nominations in acting categories went to John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman.

I was invited to a preview screening before its national opening. The invitation came because I was scheduled to interview Travolta and Jackson for a local New York morning news show. Seeing the movie was part of my homework before the those interviews for that part-time TV job of mine. The screening room was a private one known to those who attended critics' screenings. It was located near Times Square. The early evening screening was delayed for about 10 minutes to allow for latecomers getting through rush hour midtown traffic.

 I was solo, sitting alone in a row that had available seats. PULP FICTION started. About 30 minutes into it, a network morning show news anchor walked in -- with an assistant -- and sat right next to me. We were acquainted. The anchor leaned over and whispered in my ear "What did I miss?"

The anchor let out several low moans of disapproval at some gritter scenes in the movie. Then network anchor -- with the assistant -- left about 30 minutes before PULP FICTION ended, saying into my ear "Too violent for me."

On the live network morning news program, with John Travolta as an in-studio guest, the anchor said "I loved the film." Travolta was very grateful.

I wished Samuel L. Jackson had been the live, in-studio guest. And I wished that I had told him what I just told you before he sat across from the multi-million dollar-making anchor for an interview.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

For Ella Fitzgerald Fans

It had been a bit of a bumpy day for me. That night, I wanted to see something soothing with substance. I turned on NBC. Would I watch LA BREA, the network's new show? Well, I tried it for about ten minutes and lost interest when characters were running away from an abnormally large grizzly bear. It was the size of an Army tank. I switched over to ABC. The network's relentless Disney promotion overcame that night's edition of DANCING WITH THE STARS. All the contestants had to dress up like Disney villains. I went to Netflix. At first, I was going to watch the controversial new David Chappelle comedy special. But, when I clicked onto Netflix, I noticed a new documentary about one of America's greatest singers -- Ella Fitzgerald. I watched that...and I'm glad I did. It was just the tonic I was seeking.

Directed by Leslie Woodhead, ELLA FITZGERALD: JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS is an enlightening and interesting 90 minutes full of amazing Fitzgerald performances. If you saw the painstakingly researched, richly informative 2000 documentary, JAZZ, A FILM BY KEN BURNS, this 2020 release seems like a chapter of the landmark project. That's a good thing. You will hear vocals by Ella Fitzgerald, hear her in interviews, and learn things about her that were not in the Ken Burns film. She was born with an extraordinary gift, a gift she shared with the world.

One thing about Burns' JAZZ mini-series on PBS that made me want to shout "Hallelujah!" was how he presented Louis Armstrong as a musical genius, a evolutionary master musician in the American art of jazz. In his 1930s and early 1940s Hollywood movie roles, he was not presented as such a great and important figure in American music. In the late 1980s, I hosted a weekend show on VH1 called "Sunday Brunch." On it, we played a music video with Armstrong singing "It's a Wonderful World." The visuals were clips from GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM starring Robin Williams. Armstrong's recording was in the movie's soundtrack. The record was popular. However, I often wondered if many of our viewer knew that Armstrong's musical history and brilliance dated back to recordings of the 1920s and 30s.

My parents loved Ella Fitzgerald and introduced me to her work. I loved Ella Fitzgerald. I had the joy and privilege to see her in concert. During my years at Marquette University in Milwaukee, she did a night in the city's elegant Performing Arts Center. This was the 1970s. She was in fine form. The audience loved her and she loved the audience right back. Having seen her in concert, on TV and having her records in my box of albums, I often wondered if she knew how great she was. Someone in the documentary wonders the same thing.

We're taken back to 1934 when Fitzgerald was a teen and performed in an amateur night at Harlem's famed Apollo Theater. We learn how the death of her mother devastated her and affected her life. We learn that she was a homeless teen for a time and abused. Her family had fled the racism of the South and migrated to Harlem which was also dealing with and punching back on racism. We also learn how, despite her stunning vocal artistry, the press stressed the fact that she was not slim and traditionally beautiful. She was fat-shamed.

ELLA FITZGERALD: JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS explains her significance and genius establishing herself as a top vocalist of the Swing Era, being the rare female leader of a popular big band, and transitioning into BeBop with jazz artists such as Dizzy Gillespie.

We hear a number from her historic 1960 concert in Berlin that will dazzle you. She scats a 5-minute number that, today, would get a standing ovation on THE VOICE and AMERICA'S GOT TALENT. There are excellent comments and soundbites, some archival, from singers Johnny Mathis, Patti Austin, Tony Bennett, Cleo Laine and Smokey Robinson. Fine arts reporters, such as Margo Jefferson (threaded throughout the Burns' JAZZ mini-series) and music historians give solid information. We also see and hear from Ella Fitzgerald's son. His stories are very good. And he sings.

There's also a section on some terrific female sisterhood and feminism that, I'm sure, bothered male executives at 20th Century Fox. The studio's new star and reigning sex symbol, Marilyn Monroe, was a big Fitzgerald fan. Fitzgerald was on a high from the artistic success of her "songbook" albums, individual LPs on which she performed songs performed by one or a couple of specific songwriters such as Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart, George & Ira Gershwin. However, there was racial discrimination when it came to booking talent in top Hollywood nightclubs. When Monroe heard that Ella Fitzgerald was pushed back by this discrimination, she went into her own Civil Rights action, utilizing her clout as a movie star. Fitzgerald was forever grateful.

If you loved "The First Lady of Jazz," take 90 minutes to see ELLA FITZGERALD: JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS. In the Netflix documentary, Smokey Robinson recalls the first time he heard Ella sing. I vividly recall my first time. I was a very little boy. Mom and Dad were watching a romantic comedy from Paramount Pictures called BUT NOT FOR ME. It's a 1959 movies that starred Clark Gable, Lilli Palmer and Carroll Baker. Over the opening credits, Ella Fitzgerald is heard singing the title tune. I never forgot the loveliness of that voice. I listened.

You can listen to it now. Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021


 I was checking film news reports on Twitter this morning and noticed that a few sites were acknowledging the 20th anniversary of David Lynch's film, MULHOLLAND DRIVE, being released. I smiled when I saw that anniversary news because it brought back the memory of a sweet experience in a New York City video store I frequented.

One outlet that tweets about films is Little White Lies. A current article by Adam Nayman caught my eye. The head of it read "Mulholland Drive: The Musical." "The opening sentence of the article asks "Is David Lynch the greatest contemporary director of musical sequences?"

He cites Isabella Rossellini singing the title tune in BLUE VELVET and Dean Stockwell lip-synching to Roy Orbinson's "In Dreams" as examples of Lynch's style with musical sequences. The columnist included Nicolas Cage's Elvis Presley imitations in WILD AT HEART. He then goes on to write how "MULHOLLAND DRIVE is not only adorned by a series of indelible musical numbers but also built solidly around them..."

The film stars Naomi Watts as a young woman new to Los Angeles with dreams of acting in Hollywood movies.

Why did I smile reading about the MULHOLLAND DRIVE release date anniversary? I always enjoyed my times in the New York City video store whether as a clerk, which I once was, or as a customer. I loved hearing people comment on the movies. I loved hearing folks who didn't know each other have energetic conversations about movies. I loved seeing the looks of wonder on faces when folks discovered movies that were old but new to them.

On about three different occasions, I'd heard 20somethings chat about MULHOLLAND DRIVE. A common element of those three chats was someone saying "I loved Coco the landlady."

One time, a young guy I knew from the neighborhood came into the store while I was there chatting with the clerk behind the counter. The young guy asked if we'd seen MULHOLLAND DRIVE. We hadn't. He had. He liked it. He didn't love it. But he loved Coco the landlady. I asked, "Who plays the landlady?"

He said, "An actress named Ann Miller."

Like a scene in a Preston Sturges comedy, the clerk and I replied in union, "Ann Miller!"

We asked him to describe what she looked like. The clerk and I realized it was thee Ann Miller and the young guy was totally unaware of her previous film history. The clerk pulled a VHS tape off the behind-the-counter racks, cued it up and played it on the in-store monitor.  He said "THIS is Ann Miller" and he hit the play button. The monitor came alive with the "Prehistoric Man" number from the MGM musical, ON THE TOWN (1949).

We three watched the screen. We two longtime Ann Miller fans glanced at the wide-eye young guy whose jaw had pretty much dropped down to his arches. "Wow!," he said. We informed him that Ann Miller was a top talent at MGM, the top Hollywood studio for movie musicals.

He rented that video of ON THE TOWN.

There is only one mention of Ann Miller in the Little White Lies article about the musical numbers in David Lynch's MULHOLLAND DRIVE.  Here it comes:

"Michael Montgomery as a menacing cowboy; Billy Ray Cyrus as a pool boy, and one-time screen siren Ann Miller as a kindly landlady"

One-time screen siren? I wish that columnist had been a customer in my video store. I also wish I'd been his editor. Here's some more Miller on tap. From SMALL TOWN GIRL (1953)


Monday, October 11, 2021

Fred MacMurray Sings

After he and Barbara Stanwyck went to the dark side and plotted murder by supermarket canned goods in Billy Wilder's 1944 film noir classic, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, and years before he played the insurance company executive cheating on his wife again in Billy Wilder's 1960 classic, THE APARTMENT, Fred MacMurray sang in an original musical comedy movie. Very original. 20th Century Fox's 1945 release, WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?, was a modern-day time travel fantasy musical comedy. MacMurray played a lovable dork during World War II who wants to join the Army. However, he doesn't meet the physical requirements to be a G.I. Bill Morgan (MacMurray) is disappointed when he's declared 4-F. Like Aladdin, the rejected Bill Morgan encounters a hip genie who can take him back in time to experience major historical events. Are you one of those folks who just said "Fred MacMurray could sing?" Yes. This very versatile and very underappreciated actor sang in a few of his 1930s Paramount movies such as THE PRINCESS COMES ACROSS (1936) with Carole Lombard and SING,YOU SINNERS (1938) co-starring Bing Crosby and little Donald O'Connor. Freddie Mac had a good singing voice.

Following WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?, his filmography is all drama and comedies until Disney's 1967 box office dud of a musical, THE HAPPIEST MILLIONAIRE.

His 1945 Fox fantasy featured original songs with music by Kurt Weill and lyrics by Ira Gershwin.

The genie zaps Bill back in time to be a sailor on the Christopher Columbus voyage. Since today is Indigenous Peoples' Day, formerly known as Columbus Day, I thought I'd show you Fred MacMurray's number while he was onboard ship. It's a long number but stay with it.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? also starred Joan Leslie, dancer June Haver (who became Mrs. Fred MacMurray), Gene Sheldon as the genie and Anthony Quinn as one of the indigenous people.

Sunday, October 10, 2021


On Netflix now is this filmed version of the biographical Broadway musical scheduled to open in November. The show is DIANA: THE MUSICAL. Yes, it is about the late Princess of Wales, the enormously beloved Lady Diana. The play was supposed to open on Broadway last year, but the COVID pandemic put us all in lockdown. This filmed version was shot without an audience. In the first 15 minutes, we see a number in which Buckingham Palace servants are choreographed like they're the Solid Gold Dancers. And the show really doesn't get much better after that. 

 When you hear the songs, you immediately notice the heavy influence of Andrew Lloyd Webber's EVITA score. But it's not as good as EVITA. It's more like CATS with the furry critters replaced by British royals. Add to that a touch of the community theater play performed in the mockumentary WAITING FOR GUFFMAN. There were performances that I liked and the William Ivey Long costumes are excellent but those song lyrics! "She could moan on the throne...," "How about for a start, Don't act like a tart...Diana!"..."Revenge is best in a feck you dress..."

Prince Charles comes off as an absolute tight-ass jerk who can't dance and knows nothing of current rock music, Camilla comes off like a two-faced dull woman having an affair with Charles. The Queen remarks that, in days of yore, the Palace would've dealt with non-conformist Diana by simply chopping off her head. And there's the constantly pink-clad romance novelist, Barbara Cartland, singing and dancing about a hunk British horseman who allegedly had a fling with Princess Diana. The paparazzi who hounded Diana in the 1980s and 90s are dressed like newspaper reporters in a 1930s Hollywood movie. Think of the group of reporters that took too many flash photos and enraged KING KONG (1933).

Watching it made me think of a dear friend and former co-worker who was thrilled to have tickets to the final preview of Broadway's CARRIE; THE MUSICAL, based on the horror film that starred Sissy Spacek. Kathryn came to work the next morning and looked shaken. I asked her how the show was. She seriously replied, "If you see it, don't make the same mistake I did." I had to know what the mistake was.

During the show's intermission, Kathryn went to the lobby. The publicist who gave her the tickets spotted her, went over and asked "How do you like the show?" She enthusiastically and innocently replied, "It's one of the funniest shows I've seen in months. Everyone in my section was laughing."

The publicist dramatically said, "It's not a comedy."

Keep telling yourself that if you watch DIANA: THE MUSICAL on Netflix. It's not a comedy.. Hard to believe -- but it's not a comedy. Here's a clip

You would think all the songs were written by the hosts of PROJECT RUNWAY because the show is driven by a "Dress for Success" theme. One palace observer sings "She is what the people want.."  More accurately, Diana is what the people were. That's why the underestimated working class millions loved her. Yes, she visited AIDS patients, shook their hands and walked through fields that needed to have land mines removed -- but she really made a mark and found her voice when she started wearing fabulous fashions by non-British designers. That's what the play implies

The song about "the F-You Dress" made my jaw drop as if I was a first-nighter in Mel Brooks' THE PRODUCERS watching the "Springtime for Hitler" number.

Nonetheless, I was impressed with the performance Jeanna de Waal gave as Diana. Her talent storms through the corn of this show like Oprah storming through the corn field in THE COLOR PURPLE. Broadway veteran Judy Kaye is mighty fine doing double duty as The Queen Mum and novelist Barbara Cartland.

DIANA; THE MUSICAL.  The late Lady Diana deserves something much better than this musical piece of cheese.

Friday, October 8, 2021

A Sigourney Weaver Lesson

Picture this. You're a young actress. You attended a prestigious Ivy League drama school. You've booked your first role in a film. A major film. A film that will win the Oscar for Best Picture of 1977. However, the audience won't see your face and won't hear your voice. The romantic comedy is Woody Allen's ANNIE HALL. You appear in the last 5 minutes of the movie during a voiceover flashback. You are the new girlfriend of Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) and the both of you run into Alvy's former girlfriend, Annie Hall, with her new fellow outside a movie theater in Manhattan, Camera-wise, it's a long shot so the audience sees that you're taller than Alvy. But it doesn't don't see your face or hear your voice. Your name appears near the end of the closing credits:  "Alvy's Date Outside Theatre -- Sigourney Weaver."

Your next appearance comes two years later in a 20th Century Fox film. You get close-ups. You get dialogue. You get action scenes. Although you are still an unknown actress, you've landed the lead role of Officer Ripley, the highly intelligent and brave space vehicle crew member battling a huge monster in a new sci-fi horror thriller called ALIEN. The film will be such a box office blockbuster that it spawns a franchise. Your performance as Ripley in its first sequel, 1986's ALIENS, will bring you an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.

 What a story! And what well-deserved fortune for Sigourney Weaver. I've had the privilege to interview her three times. She was, in a word, delightful. Our first encounter took place when she was promoting GHOSTBUSTERS (1984). Our second chat occurred on my VH1 prime time talk show when we was promoting her two 1988 releases, GORILLAS IN THE MIST, a drama, and the Mike Nichols' comedy, WORKING GIRL. 

Our third interview took place when I worked on WNBC's Weekend TODAY in New York morning show. Sigourney was promoting 1994's DEATH AND THE MAIDEN co-starring Ben Kingsley.

During our WNBC TV interview, I asked Sigourney Weaver to confirm something I'd read -- that, when she was a student at the Yale School of Drama, one of her male professors told her in class that she had no talent. Was that true? Her answer was "Yes." I asked her what her response to him was. Sigourney said she really had no quotable reply. She just sputtered something because she was so stunned, hurt and humiliated by what he said.

But she persevered with a belief in herself.

On the air, I reminded viewers that Sigourney Weaver is one of the few actors, male or female, to get two Oscar nominations in the same year. She was a Best Actress nominee for GORILLAS IN THE MIST and a Best Supporting Actress nominee for WORKING GIRL. And if some folks wanted to know what year she made that Oscar history, they could look it up in the library. At Yale.

I wonder how that male professor who humiliated Sigourney in class felt about her three Oscar nominations and her starring roles in some major Hollywood box office hits. That, in addition, to er being one of the best action movie heroes we ever saw on film.

Be like Sigourney Weaver. Believe in yourself and to hell with those who don't share your belief.

It's October 8th. Her birthday. I wish Sigourney Weaver a very Happy Birthday.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Daniel Craig Before Bond

 With charm, he said that he would keep what he had to say "short and sweet -- which is kind of what I am." Actor Daniel Craig received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame this week and humbly expressed his thanks to film companies, film crew members, cast members, the crowd in attendance and his fans who were not there. NO TIME TO DIE opens here in the U.S. this weekend. It was delayed for 18 months due to the pandemic. The film is Craig's farewell to the James Bond franchise. It's his final outing as Agent 007.  By the way, NO TIME TO DIE runs 2 hours and 43 minutes. So, before you sit through NO TIME TO DIE, make time to pee. For my money, Daniel Craig turned out to be a pretty good Bond. 

I became a Daniel Craig fan prior to his James Bond years and I want to give you a tip on one of those pre-Bond movies. Or maybe two. 

Daniel Craig first grabbed my attention when I saw him in a slick British crime caper called LAYER CAKE. In that 2004 feature, he's like Veronica Lake in SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS (1941) and Marilyn Monroe in THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH (1955). He played a blond with no name. We never find out his name in the movie. Craig played a mid-level cocaine dealer who really wants to get out of the business. But things just don't go his way. He had a Steve McQueen-like movie star charisma that popped off the screen. That's when I took notice of Daniel Craig.

A bearded Daniel Craig is sweet, sensitive and sexy in a bold and mature 2003 British film called THE MOTHER. He plays the young man attracted to an older woman. A woman who has grown children. The woman is a widow who's been boxed in by society's determination of how she should look and behave. If May (played by Anne Reid) settled into being a home-bound, ordinary, sexless grandmother, her adult children would probably be cool with that. But May revives her love of drawing and, while reinventing herself, she catches the eye of the hunky man renovating her son's house. Unexpected romance ensues. Attention from a hot man proves to be a great beauty makeover for May.

An older woman/younger man affair was treated by Hollywood as something a bit twisted. Think of THE GRADUATE and Billy Wilder's SUNSET BLVD. Rarely have we seen with an older woman and a younger man having a great time together without getting a side-eye from society in a movie. One such movie is an indie film that was directed by and starred Oscar winner Helen Hunt. The 2014 comedy/drama, RIDE, has Hunt as the single mother who follows her son from Manhattan to Santa Monica, California. Like him, she comes to enjoy surfing. While surfing, new things come into her life.

In THE MOTHER, the widow who finds young love is in her 60s. Dig it! Of course, her grown children will be rocked by her reinvention. They will cause drama. Check Craig out in THE MOTHER and LAYER CAKE. If you never saw KNIVES OUT, make that a must-see too. He is fabulous as the Southern detective in that 2019 murder mystery comedy. It was one of the best, wittiest movies of that year. The detective, investigating the murder of a noted novelist, has to deal with a family of eccentrics.

There will be a sequel.

In a way, I'm glad Daniel Craig has said bye-bye to Bond because I love how he does comedy. As much as I liked him in the Bond movies, I liked him in KNIVES OUT even more. He was also very funny as a guest host on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. I hope he adds more comedy to his film credits. It would be totally cool to see Daniel Craig do something Monty Python-esque.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Jake Gyllenhaal in THE GUILTY

Emily, the panicking female caller, says "They put me in the back of the van and I can't see anything...I don't want to die!" She's speaking to Los Angeles police officer Joe Baylor, played by Jake Gyllenhaal in THE GUILTY on Netflix. Again, Gyllenhaal shows us that he's one of the most interesting and talented actors we have around today. His performance as Jack Twist in Ang Lee's 2005 film, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, brought him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He won the BAFTA Award in that category. The BAFTAs are the British Oscars. Gyllenhaal gave good performances before and after that now-famous film. THE GUILTY displays one of those good post-Jack Twist performances.

The action opens in L.A. during a severe fire season. There are flat screen monitors in the 911 room and the Southland seems to be ablaze. Officer Baylor is an attentive, concerned yet no-nonsense operator. As he tells one slightly inebriated 911 caller who fell off his bicycle, "Call an Uber and don't bike drunk, asshole!"

As the fires rage, Officer Baylor seems to be in for a pretty routine night of 911 calls. That is, until he gets a call from distraught Emily. She's a mother of two. She's been abducted. Getting help to her becomes Officer Baylor's most urgent priority. He wants to get California Highway Patrol officers to her if he can get Emily to calm a bit and reveal details about the van and its whereabouts without tipping off the abductor. Officer Baylor tells her to pretend she's on the phone talking to her little girl as he asks her questions.

He will have to put Emily on hold and deal with other callers. He'll have to talk to co-workers in the office and on the phone. As he tries to get help to Emily, he grows more aggressive in his manner. It's as if ending her crisis has become his obsession. Is there something more to this? We've learned that he has a little girl and a fractured marriage. One co-worker mentions Joe's upcoming court date. Another mentions a psychologist. As the fires rages in Southern California, a fire rages in Officer Baylor's soul. He will be faced with having to go through that fire in order to do the right thing. THE GUILTY, based on a German film, was directed by Antoine Fuqua. Fuqua directed Denzel Washington to an Oscar win for TRAINING DAY (2001) and he also directed him in THE EQUALIZER (2014). We don't get action scene like in those two movies because we never go outside the 911 dispatch floor. We never see the callers. But that doesn't mean THE GUILTY lacks intensity. Here's a trailer.

Gyllenhaal is in every scene of this feature. The camera stays mostly on him and much of his acting is done in close-ups. We see maybe 3 or 4 other people -- all office co-workers. He has to carry the film alone in scenes, reacting to the emotions and situations of the other person on the phone. It's rather like Ingrid Bergman in THE HUMAN VOICE (1966) and Sophia Loren in HUMAN VOICE (2014). Jake Gyllenhaal delivers an impressive performance. Some callers are voiced by Ethan Hawke, Paul Dano, Peter Sarsgaard and Da'Vine Joy Randolph.

Before BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, I saw him in 1999's OCTOBER SKY. It's a moving, inspirational film that I recommend. 2005 showed his acting range in his two big releases. He played characters at opposite ends of the scale. He was the gentle, low-income, under-educated young ranch hand who just wants to live a quiet life with the man he loves in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. In JARHEAD, based on a memoir, he plays the suburban, college-educated guy who just wants to screw his girlfriend, becomes a U.S. Marine sniper and wants to shoot enemies in the Gulf War. He's chilling in NIGHTCRAWLER (2014) as the unbalanced man who comes to personify the dark side of sensationalism in local news coverage for the sake of ratings and income. He's was very good singing and doing comedy as a guest host on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.

I still feel that if this was the 1930s/1940s, decades in which Hollywood studios ruled, a top studio would've signed him and starred him in musicals with him introducing new tunes like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Dick Powell did. Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford (now the sitcom star of B POSITIVE on CBS) starred on Broadway in a revival of Stephen Sondheim's SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE. Last year, during the pandemic lockdown, they sang a duet online from the show to honor Sondheim's birthday.

THE GUILTY runs about 90 minutes and it's on Netflix.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Some Essential Sinatra.

 My parents loved Frank Sinatra. I loved Frank Sinatra. When I was still pretty fresh from having graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee, I was in my very humble apartment one Saturday morning and listening to Roy Leonard's radio show out of Chicago. He held a contest that hour, asking for the correct answer to a movie music trivia question. I quickly dialed the number, I got through and I won. The prize was two tickets to hear lots of music sung by a man who starred in movies and even won an Oscar for a performance. I won two tickets to see Frank Sinatra in concert at a theatre in Chicago. This was the mid-1970s.

Not only was Sinatra sensational on that stage with a full orchestra behind him and a packed audience before him, our seats were up close in the absolute first row. My friend, Anna, and I were a couple of the youngest people in that classy, enthusiastic audience. Definitely the youngest couple in that row. After his encores, as he finished his bows and was headed to the wings, Sinatra noticed me standing and applauding wildly. 

He motioned me over to shake his hand. 

I practically levitated with joy as Anna and I left the theatre.

Let's hear some essential Sinatra right now, shall we? One of my favorite recordings of his is "All My Tomorrows" which he sang in his 1959 comedy/drama directed by Frank Capra, A HOLE IN THE HEAD.

He gave one of his best performances in the 1957 biopic, THE JOKER IS WILD. Set in the 1920s, Sinatra played Joe E. Lewis, a troubled yet very popular nightclub entertainer at the time. Written for Sinatra was the song "All the Way." It won the Oscar for Best Song. It's a Sinatra classic.

In 1957, Frank Sinatra had the lead role in the movie version of an early 1940 Rodgers & Hart Broadway musical called PAL JOEY. Gene Kelly had the lead role on Broadway. Years later, Sinatra had the lead role in the movie based on the play. He was the nightclub singer the ladies found irresistible. And he knew it  He was a manipulative, love 'em and leave 'em guy who could thaw out the chilliest of dames. All his vocals are vintage Sinatra. My favorite in the film is his rendition of "The Lady Is a Tramp." Pal Joey sings it to warm up a classy dame played by Rita Hayworth.

I hope you enjoyed the music. I know I did.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

For Deborah Kerr Fans

She had six Oscar nominations to her credit. All were in the Best Actress category. Deborah Kerr never won a competitive Academy Award. However, the Academy bestowed upon her an honorary Oscar in 1994. When I was in junior high school and saw her in THE KING AND I on network television one night, she immediately became one of my favorite actresses.

 Kerr had a long film career that started in Great Britain. A few years ago, I found one of her early films on YouTube. I liked it. Well, I watched it again last night and I liked it even more. From the U.K. in 1942, the film is HATTER'S CASTLE co-starring Robert Newton and James Mason. To see Deborah Kerr and James do scenes together is a thrill. We go back to the Dickensian era of the U.K. to meet Steve Brodie. He's a shop owner and he makes men's hat. That's why he'd called a "hatter." Brodie is a rude, pompous, successful businessman whose moral compass was broken long ago. He's got two sweet children and an equally sweet wife, yet he's a tyrannical husband and father. His portrait should hang in a gallery of bad dads -- along with those of Noah Cross from CHINATOWN, Darth Vader from STAR WARS and Daniel Plainview from THERE WILL BE BLOOD. Brodie, played with unrelenting menace by Robert Newton, has more enemies than friends, he considers his unhappy home in Scotland a castle and he fancies himself a man who should be treated like nobility. Deborah Kerr plays his demure daughter, Mary. Brodie's wife is ailing. He allows her only limited visits and medical attention from the respected Dr. Renwick, played by James Mason. The compassionate, dedicated doctor stands up to the bully Brodie. We can see that the doctor has tender feelings for Mary. Those feelings are mutual.

Brodie is emotionally and physically abusive. He's such a louse that, as his frail wife is ailing, he's shagging a tart of a barmaid on the side and keeping her supplied with pretty things. She manipulates him into hiring the other guy she's secretly seeing on the side as a shop clerk. The financially ambitious new shop clerk seduces his boss' demure daughter. Will Brodie find out? Will Dr. Renwick find out? Will the tart find out? You have to see for yourself. The events will not be pretty. They definitely will not be dull.

The seducer shop clerk, Dennis, is played with cordial deviousness by Emlyn Williams. Williams was sort of the Tracy Letts of his day. Letts has delivered solid screen performances as the stern Henry Ford II in FORD v FERRARI, as Fritz Beebe in Spielberg's THE POST and as Larry McPherson in Greta Gerwig's LADY BIRD. Letts is also a playwright who won a Pulitzer Prize for his drama, AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY. Williams, as an actor, had an impressive list of screen credits from the early 1930s through the 1960s. He also wrote several plays. Two were adapted into popular films that were remade -- THE CORN IS GREEN (Bette Davis starred in the 1945 film, Katharine Hepburn did the TV remake) and NIGHT MUST FALL (Robert Montgomery starred in the original 1937 MGM film, Albert Finney did the remake).

HATTER'S CASTLE was Deborah Kerr's fourth film. The talent, the skill, the magic was already evident. She made demure interesting and intelligent. Eventually, the paternal abuse Mary received would form a steely independence that will serve her well. James Mason started doing films in 1935. By 1939, he was a leading man in British movies. As for Kerr, she did three roles so brilliantly in 1943's THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP that it should've earned her an Oscar nomination. She really captured the attention of Hollywood producers and U.S. moviegoers in 1947 when BLACK NARCISSUS opened here in the U.S. and audiences saw her as the troubled nun who winds up in a dangerous situation. Paramount Pictures released HATTER'S CASTLE to American audiences in 1948. I bet that move was predicated by the success of BLACK NARCISSUS. MGM had taken notice of Deborah Kerr in the mid-1940s. In 1947, audiences saw her with Clark Gable in THE HUCKSTERS and with Walter Pidgeon in IF WINTER COMES. She'd relocated to Southern California and was under contract to MGM. 1949's EDWARD, MY SON with Spencer Tracy brought Deborah Kerr her first -- and well-deserved -- Oscar nomination for Best Actress.

She broke out of MGM, where she was somewhat cocooned in a "ladylike" image, and landed the role of the Karen, the adulterous Army wife, in Columbia's 1953 production, FROM HERE TO ETERNITY. She got her second Oscar nomination, the film won for Best Picture, and her Hollywood career took off with a variety of roles that showed what a great actress she was. Her other nominations were for THE KING AND I (1956), HEAVEN KNOWS, MR. ALLISON (1957), SEPARATE TABLES (1958) and THE SUNDOWNERS (1960). It didn't bring her an Oscar nomination, but her performance as the new governess in THE INNOCENTS (1961), a psychological horror drama, is superb.

Go to YouTube and look for HATTER'S CASTLE.

By the way, the Academy should've honored James Mason with a lifetime achievement Oscar too.

Sondheim in REDS

 1981. I saw this epic historical drama/love story, written and directed by and starring Warren Beatty , at a preview in Milwaukee, Wisconsi...