Thursday, March 31, 2011

TONY BENNETT: THE LAST CROONER

Tony Bennett came up during the glory days of standards singing, when the radio was filled with distinction. Performers such as Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby and Dinah Washington joined Bennett in defining an art form throughout the 1940s and '50s.

They gleefully tackled the Great American Songbook, which was bursting with classics and still growing. “In Other Words,” “My Funny Valentine,” “All of Me,” “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” “Someone to Watch Over Me” — legendary songs by writers whose celebrity rivaled that of the singers.

Now Bennett is the last man standing from those vibrant days, and at 84 he is a walking master class in the art of the song. And the man known for his generous spirit doesn't mind sharing what he's learned.

Bennett, who performs Friday at The Kentucky Center's Whitney Hall, is in the middle of recording “Duets 2,” a follow-up to 2006's “Duets: An American Classic,” the highest-charting album of Bennett's 62-year career.
He'll be joined by the likes of Josh Groban, Carrie Underwood, k.d. lang, Amy Winehouse and Michael Buble, and while Bennett would certainly never say so, they've all been the second-best singers in the studio. Not only does he retain a powerhouse voice that's instantly recognizable, but his performances are imbued with a mind-blowing joy.

“A lot of the artists ask me how I have been able to keep recording for so long,” Bennett said, “and I tell them to stay healthy and always remember to entertain the audience, which sounds simple but it's easy to forget that sometimes.”
Bennett has rarely strayed from the path he chose in 1949, when he recorded his first sides under the name Joe Bari. Bob Hope gave the singer an early break, taking him on the road as an opening act, and also suggested shortening his given name, Anthony Benedetto, to Tony Bennett.
Within a year, Bennett had his first No. 1 hit with “Because of You” and quickly became a strong rival to fellow Italian-American singers Perry Como, Jerry Vale, Martin and Sinatra, who once declared Bennett to be the best of them all.

Bennett ruled the pop charts, and when Elvis Presley changed the landscape he further embraced jazz, working with pianist Ralph Sharon and releasing the classic “The Beat of My Heart” to begin the second phase of his career. He was the first male pop singer to record with Count Basie, and he still managed to appear on the pop charts, scoring an international hit with 1962's “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”
Even Bennett couldn't compete with changes wrought by the rise of The Beatles. By the latter part of the 1960s, he had become part of the establishment and had largely fallen out of favor. The sole attempt to update his song choices, “Tony Sings the Great Hits of Today!,” was such a bad idea that Bennett famously became ill at the recording sessions.

Bennett is today's most staunch proponent of the Great American Songbook, which began in the 1920s and includes work by Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter and Harold Arlen. Even when recording with younger singers from other genres, the GAS is Bennett's source code.

“The Great American Songbook is one of the finest contributions that our country has given to the world,” Bennett said. “It is a treasure trove of songs that were crafted by the masters … and it will eventually become our classical music.

Since Bennett's resurgence in the 1980s, following a string of bad investments and worse decisions, including a cocaine addiction, he has come to single-handedly represent one of the greatest eras of American popular music.

His concerts, most often performed with a small jazz combo, are marvels of warmth, technique and sweet-natured humor.

Bennett, who is also a celebrated painter and humanitarian with the nickname “Tony Benefit,” never fails to deliver at least a few astonishing moments during each show — which is remarkable when you consider that he's performed some songs for more than six decades.
“Each time I perform a song, I try to sing as if it's for the very first time, and I think working with a jazz quartet every night reinforces the spontaneity so that each performance is a little different,” he said. “With jazz musicians, they are always improvising so that as a singer you work with that approach as well, and I love it, as it keeps the shows very fresh, very immediate.”

And very Tony...

SOURCE

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

RIP: FARLEY GRANGER

Farley Granger - who played a tennis pro embroiled in murder in "Strangers on a Train" and later wrote a candid memoir about his bisexual love affairs, has died at age 85.

Granger died Sunday of natural causes at his home in New York according to a spokeswoman for the city medical examiner.

In his frank 2007 memoir, "Count Me Out," co-authored with his longtime partner Robert Calhoun, Granger named names of his famous lovers, who he said included actresses Ava Gardner and Shelley Winters as well as conductor Leonard Bernstein - for two nights - and writer Arthur Laurents.

"He was a very handsome and beloved film star who always did exactly what he wanted to do, which was a little bit of everything," Calhoun's sister Linda Pleven told the Daily News.

His most famous roles were in the Alfred Hitchcock films "Rope" and "Strangers on a Train."

In Rope, Granger and John Dall portrayed two highly intelligent friends who commit a thrill killing simply to prove they can get away with it. The two characters and their former professor, played by James Stewart, were supposed to be homosexual, and Granger and Dall discussed the subtext of their scenes, but because The Hays Office was keeping close tabs on the project, the final script was so discreet that Laurents remained uncertain of whether Stewart ever realised that his own character was gay. Hitchcock shot the film in continuous, uninterrupted ten-minute takes, the amount of time a reel of Technicolor film lasted, and as a result technical problems frequently brought the action to a frustrating halt throughout the twenty-one day shoot. The film ultimately received mixed reviews, although most critics were impressed by Granger, who in later years said he was happy to be part of the experience, but wondered "what the film would have been like had Hitchcock shot it normally" and "had he not had to worry about censorship.
Granger's biggest hit was Strangers on a Train, in which Granger was cast as amateur tennis player and aspiring politician Guy Haines. He is introduced to psychopathic Bruno Anthony, portrayed by Robert Walker, who suggests they swap murders, with Bruno killing Guy's wife and Guy disposing of Bruno's father. As with Rope, there was a homosexual subtext to the two men's relationship, although it was toned down from Patricia Highsmith's original novel. Granger and Walker, whose wife Jennifer Jones had recently left him for David O. Selznick, became close friends and confidantes during filming, and Granger was devastated when Walker died from an accidental combination of alcohol and barbiturates prior to the film's release. It proved to be a box office hit, the first major success of Granger's career, and his "happiest filmmaking experience".

He appeared in many Broadway and TV roles, guest-starring on "As the World Turns" and "The Love Boat." In 2003, Granger made his last film appearance in Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There. In it, he tells the story of leaving Hollywood at the peak of his fame, buying out his contract from Samuel Goldwyn, and moving to New York City to work on the Broadway stage...

Monday, March 28, 2011

KIRK DOUGLAS AT 94

LOS ANGELES – Kirk Douglas says his appearance at the Academy Awards last month brought him so much attention that he "felt like a bobby-soxer."

"I made 90 pictures, and now everybody in the restaurants and on the street are like, 'Oh Kirk!'" Douglas said with a laugh. "I think I got paid more attention for those three minutes on the Oscars than anything I have ever done."

That moment may have earned him accolades, but the 94-year-old actor says his greatest career achievement was more than 50 years ago, when, as producer and star of "Spartacus," he helped end the McCarthy-era in Hollywood by crediting blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo.

"Everybody advised me not to do it because you won't be able to work in this town again and all of that. But I was young enough to say to hell with it," Douglas recalled during a recent interview. "I think if I was much older, I would have been too conservative: Why should I stick my neck out? But I put his name on it, and that broke the blacklist."

Douglas will discuss "Spartacus" and other aspects of his life and career before presenting a screening of the 1960 Stanley Kubrick epic at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood on April 29 as part of the TCM Classic Film Festival.

The actor said it's important to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the film and its themes of freedom, both on and off screen.

"When I look back, it's a remarkable picture," he said. "And it's so fitting now because Spartacus was one of the first fighters for freedom, and fights for freedom are happening all over the Middle East."

The actor's own fight for freedom behind the scenes with "Spartacus" took place at a time when "our country was in a very divisive mood," he said. McCarthyism and fear of Communism was rampant in the United States, and the blacklist prevented screenwriters and other entertainers suspected of having ties to the Communist party from working in Hollywood.

The studios, I thought they were cowards," Douglas said. "They endorsed the blacklist and anyone on the blacklist could not set foot in the studio and they couldn't write a script, at least under their own name."

Two rival studios raced to make "Spartacus," Douglas said, and he hired Trumbo, who was blacklisted and jailed for refusing to testify about Communism in Hollywood, to write the script because he was good and worked quickly.

He wrote under the name Sam Jackson, but Douglas said he didn't feel right about putting the false name on screen.

"That night I had an epiphany. I said to hell with it. I'm going to use Dalton Trumbo's name," Douglas said. "When I reflect on my career, the thing I'm most proud of is that I broke the blacklist."

Douglas' introduction of "Spartacus" is among dozens of special events scheduled during the TCM Classic Film Festival from April 28 to May 1, which is set to include appearances by Peter O'Toole, Warren Beatty, Alec Baldwin, Roger Corman, Debbie Reynolds and Mickey Rooney. Related programming will air on the network.

SOURCE

STAN LAUREL'S HOUSE FOR SALE

The childhood home of Stan Laurel, the British funnyman of the Laurel and Hardy fame, is all set to go under the hammer this month. Bids start at 40,000 pounds for the two bedroom property in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, where the star comedian, famous for his double acts with Oliver Hardy, lived with his parents.

The empty house, home to Laurel and his actor parents when he was a baby, is up for sale through Keith Pattinson estate agents, reported the Daily Express.

Although Laurel was born in Cumbria, he spent much of his childhood in Bishop Auckland and was educated at the town's King James Grammar School. Above the front door of the mid-terraced house, a blue commemorative plaque reads, "Stan Laurel (Arthur Stanley Jefferson) of Laurel and Hardy lived in this house with his parents. He was baptised in St Peter's Church on 21st October 1891."

A spokeswoman for the estate agents said she hoped the property would attract Laurel and Hardy fans.

The auction will take place at the Newcastle Falcons Rugby Club ground on March 29.

Laurel, whose career stretched from the silent films of the early 20th century until after World War II, died at age 74 in the US in 1965.


SOURCE

Saturday, March 26, 2011

MOVIE SHOWCASE: BELLS ARE RINGING

Watching BELLS ARE RINGING some fifty years after it was made makes me wish that Dean Martin did not waste his time with Jerry Lewis in the 1950s. I would have loved to have seen Dino making more all-out musicals. BELLS ARE RINGING unfortunately was made at a time when the movie musical was starting to fade, but it was an excellent film. Based on the successful 1956 Broadway production of the same name by Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Jule Styne, the film focuses on Ella Peterson (Judy Holliday), who works in the basement office of Susanswerphone, a telephone answering service.

Ella Peterson works as a switchboard operator at the Susanswerphone answering service. She can't help breaking the rules by becoming overly involved in the lives of the subscribers. Some of the more peculiar ones include a dentist who composes songs on an air hose, an actor who emulates Marlon Brando, and a little boy for whom she pretends to be Santa Claus.
Ella has a secret crush on the voice of subscriber Jeffrey Moss (Dean Martin), a playwright for whom she plays a comforting "Mom" character. She finally meets him face to face, when she brings him a message under a false name (Melisande Scott) and romantic sparks and some confusion begin.

A humorous subplot involves the courtly Otto, who convinces Susanswerphone to take orders for his "mail-order classical record business". Unfortunately, Otto is actually a bookie whose orders are a system for betting on horses. Unwittingly, Ella changes some of the "orders" not realizing she is changing "bets".

Although the police begin to assume that Susanswerphone might be a front for an escort service, the plot ends happily, with Jeff proposing, and her wacky subscribers coming to thank her.
This movie was a pet project of Judy Holliday, since she originated the role on Broadway. During filming Holliday would already be suffering from cancer, and this would be her last movie. Dean Martin was great in the role of the playright, and he was never in better voice. Some of my favorite moments from the film is Dino crooning "Do It Yourself" or dueting with Holliday on the classic song "Just In Time".

Judy and Dean Martin interacted very little off the set. There wasn't a great deal animosity between them, it was just that they didn't have much in common. Judy would retire to her trailer between takes, passing the down time by playing Scrabble. Martin preferred to pass the time at a nearby golf course. The only possible source of contention between the two was that Martin, as he freely admitted, regarded his role as a waste of his time and talent. Martin had not appeared in the stage version and thus did not share Judy's level of commitment to the project. For him, this was just another film. Jeffrey Moss was the type of character Martin had played numerous times before. The lack of a challenge lead him to sleepwalk his way through the role. For Judy, it was a character and a property that she had devoted 3 years of her life to. Since Martin was just going through the motions, Judy feared that their on-screen relationship would suffer and as a result, the romance would across as more polite than passionate.
The lack of chemistry with Dean Martin, was nothing compared to her problems with director Vincente Minnelli. Four of Judy's seven previous films had been directed by George Cukor. Cukor's penchant for perfection meshed well with Judy's desire to do take after take, until both she and the director were satisfied. Minnelli's tendency was to yell "PRINT!" when he was satisfied. As the star of a vehicle that was written especially for her and as the owner of a role that she had put an indelible mark on, Judy correctly felt that her suggestions about what was funny or how something might be done better, should have had some merit. Minnelli's refusal to consider her opinions became a very sore subject with her. Surrounded by people that she felt were not giving her, or the project, the proper respect, she did something that was very unlike her, she attempted to quit the film. Feeling like just a cog trapped in the machinery, she decided it would be better to drop out, rather than see the character of Ella Peterson end on such an unsatisfactory note.
A few weeks into the filming, she asked Arthur Freed to replace her with another actress. She even offered to give back every penny she had been paid up to that point to help offset the cost of re-shooting her scenes. Freed, knowing that without Judy Holliday in the lead role, the picture would have no chance at the box-office, refused her request. For better or worse, they were all in it together. All parties involved soldiered on, making the best of a difficult situation. They were all, no doubt, counting down the days until the film wrapped production on December 24, 1959.

BELLS ARE RINGING premiered on June 20, 1960 at Radio City Music Hall and preceeded to break all of that venue's existing records, grossing more than $1 million during its 7-week run. Unfortunately, the "Bells" box-office phenomena was confined to the New York area whose residents adored the play and were interested to see how well it translated to film. The movie did not fare anywhere near as well across the rest of the country. Dino got the best reviews of the movie, and of course he would go on to star in many more films. This movie was a devastating blow for Judy Holliday, and she would never make another movie. Five years later Judy passed away...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

HOLLYWOOD REMEMBERS ELIZABETH TAYLOR


With the passing of screen legend Elizabeth Taylor at the age of 79, it closes a chapter on what true classic Hollywood was. Taylor was an example of a Hollywood legend for nearly 70 years.

Here is what other stars are saying about Elizabeth Taylor and her passing:

"I admired and respected her not only as an actress but for her amazing and inspiring work as an Aids activist. It's the end of an era. It wasn't just her beauty or her stardom. It was her humanitarianism." - BARBRA STREISAND

"I don't know what was more impressive - her magnitude as a star or her magnitude as a friend. Her talent for friendship was unmatched. I will miss her for the rest of my life and beyond." - SHIRLEY MACLAINE

"She was a lady who gave of herself to everyone." - MICKEY ROONEY


"Elizabeth was a true star and friend who was always, always there for me no matter what." - LIZA MINNELLI

"Liz was a dear friend. She was a great legendary lady of Hollywood and she will be mourned worldwide." - JULIE ANDREWS


"Elizabeth's legacy will live on in many people around the world whose lives will be longer and better because of her work and the ongoing efforts of those she inspired." - FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON

"I remembered her as a woman who was passionate - and compassionate - about everything in her life, including her family, her friends and especially the victims of Aids. She was truly a legend and I will miss her." - FORMER FIRST LADY NANCY REAGAN

"We have just lost a Hollywood giant. More importantly, we have lost an incredible human being." - ELTON JOHN

"I met Elizabeth Taylor several times. She was witty and self-deprecating, which I found surprising and delightful. She loved to laugh." - STEVE MARTIN

"Every year Elizabeth Taylor sent my dad a telegram (yes, telegram) for his birthday. It said: 'Remember, I'm younger than you!' (by 1 day). She was a great woman." - ROSEANNE CASH

"If my husband had to divorce me for any woman, I am glad he divorced me for Elizabeth. She was a wonderful woman, and she is in a much better place now." - DEBBIE REYNOLDS

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

RIP: ELIZABETH TAYLOR

Legendary actress Elizabeth Taylor has passed away at the age of 79. She had entered Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles two months ago for treatment of symptoms of congestive heart failure.

"She was surrounded by her children- Michael Wilding, Christopher Wilding, Liza Todd, and Maria Burton," Taylor's publicist, Sally Morrison, said in a statement.

In addition to her children, Taylor is survived by 10 grand children and four great grandchildren.

Taylor, a two-time Academy Award-winning actress who in later life became notorious for her seven marriages and sometimes eccentric behavior, had reported health problems in recent years and appeared frail in public appearances.

Taylor reported in October 2009 that she was having a heart procedure done. Via Twitter, she said it was "very new and involves repairing my leaky valve using a clip device, without open heart surgery so that my heart will function better."

Taylor's past health setbacks included a fall from a horse during one of her early film shoots, bouts with pneumonia and skin cancer, a tracheotomy, treatment for alcohol and painkiller addictions, and lung, hip, brain and heart surgeries. She has had anywhere from 30 to 40 surgeries, according to biographers.

In addition, she has seen her dramatic life frequently covered by gossip magazines, which have documented evident fluctuations in her weight over the years.
But she's iconic for being one of the most popular actresses of Hollywood's golden age. Born in London in 1932 to American parents who returned to the U.S. with WWII looming, Taylor bounded into the spotlight at age 12 after starring in the 1944 box office sensation "National Velvet." She won acclaim as an adult with 1951's "A Place In The Sun" and went on to score best actress Oscar nominations for "Raintree County," "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," and "Suddenly, Last Summer."

In 1963, she memorably starred in "Cleopatra." She later won Oscars for "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and "BUtterfield 8."
Beyond acting, Taylor is credited with bringing the world's attention to AIDS with her fund-raising and activism. In 1985, when Taylor's lifelong friend Rock Hudson died of AIDS, she brought national attention to the growing disease. It satisfying to her to use her celebrity for good - she raised and donated millions to the cause, founding the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) and The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.

"I don't think President Bush is doing anything at all about AIDS. In fact, I'm not sure he even knows how to spell AIDS," Taylor said once, frustrated with President Bush's slow-moving efforts to address the crisis.

She was also an entrepreneur, spearheading a successful line of perfume and multiple jewelry lines. In 1999, Taylor was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Taylor's last major interview appeared in the March issue of Harper's Bazaar. In it, she dished to reality TV star Kim Kardashian about her love life, her iconic roles and her jewels.

"I never planned to acquire a lot of jewels or a lot of husbands," Taylor said. "I have been supremely lucky in my life in that I have known great love, and of course, I am the temporary custodian of some incredible and beautiful things."

TCM AND THE CIVIL WAR

In recognition of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will embark on a month-long exploration of the brutal conflict as seen through the eyes of some of Hollywood’s greatest filmmakers. Mondays and Wednesdays in April, TCM will present a wide range of stories from both the battlefield and the home front. TCM’s commemoration of the Civil War begins Monday, April 4, with the beloved Gone with the Wind (1939).
Each night’s films will focus on a different theme. In addition to Gone with the Wind, the first night’s examination of Civil War epics will include Raintree County (1957), with an all-star cast led by Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Eva Marie Saint, Lee Marvin, Rod Taylor and Agnes Moorehead. Life on the home front takes center stage Wednesday, April 6, led off by the moving Quaker drama Friendly Persuasion(1956), starring Gary Cooper, Dorothy McGuire and Anthony Perkins.

TCM presents a night of silent films on Monday, April 11, with a lineup that includes D.W. Griffith’s controversial The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Buster Keaton’s delightful The General (1927). Wednesday, April 18, will feature a lineup of comedies and musicals, including A Southern Yankee (1948), starring Red Skelton; The Littlest Rebel (1935), starring Shirley Temple; and the TCM premiere of Golden Girl(1951), with Mitzi Gaynor.

Week three of TCM’s Civil War collection focuses on westerns. The Monday, April 18, lineup includes Clint Eastwood in The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) and Charlton Heston in Sam Peckinpah’s Major Dundee (1965). On Wednesday, April 20, the western offerings include Alvarez Kelly (1966), with William Holden in the title role, and the TCM premiere of The Siege at Red River (1954), an underrated drama starring Van Johnson.


TCM heads to the battlefield Monday, April 25, with Glory(1989), starring Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman and Oscar®-winner Denzel Washington; Gettysburg(1993), Turner Pictures’ monumental epic with Martin Sheen as General Lee; and John Huston’s adaptation of The Red Badge of Courage (1951), starring Audie Murphy. The Civil War showcase comes to an end Wednesday, April 27, with a night of movies about the war’s politics and the difficult post-war reconstruction. The lineup includes D.W. Griffith’s presidential biography Abraham Lincoln (1930), with Walter Huston, and Tennessee Johnson (1942), a look at the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson, played by Van Heflin.

SOURCE

Monday, March 21, 2011

SPOTLIGHT ON PAUL NEWMAN

Personally, I feel that Paul Newman was one of the best actors to come out of the later years of classic Hollywood. He might not have been moody like Marlon Brando or gritty like Steve McQueen, but Newman made any movie he was in his own, and for the better part of half a century he was a true Hollywood legend.

Newman was born in Shaker Heights, Ohio on January 26, 1925 (a suburb of Cleveland), the son of Theresa (née Fetzer or Fetsko; Slovak: Terézia Fecková and Arthur Samuel Newman, who ran a profitable sporting goods store. Newman's father was Jewish, the son of immigrants from Poland and Hungary; Newman's mother, who practiced Christian Science, was born to a Slovak Roman Catholic family at Ptičie (formerly Pticsie) in the former Austria–Hungary (now in Slovakia). Newman had no religion as an adult, but described himself as "a Jew", stating that "it's more of a challenge". Newman's mother worked in his father's store, while raising Paul and his brother, Arthur, who later became a producer and production manager.

Newman showed an early interest in the theater, which his mother encouraged. At the age of seven, he made his acting debut, playing the court jester in a school production of Robin Hood. Graduating from Shaker Heights High School in 1943, he briefly attended Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, where he was initiated into the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity.

Newman made his Broadway theater debut in the original production of William Inge's Picnic with Kim Stanley. He later appeared in the original Broadway productions of The Desperate Hours and Sweet Bird of Youth with Geraldine Page. He would later star in the film version of Sweet Bird of Youth, which also starred Page.

His first movie for Hollywood was The Silver Chalice (1954), followed by The Rack (1956) and acclaimed roles in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), as boxer Rocky Graziano; Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), opposite Elizabeth Taylor; and The Young Philadelphians (1959), with Barbara Rush and Robert Vaughn. However, predating all of these above was a small but notable part in an August 8, 1952 episode of the science fiction TV series Tales of Tomorrow entitled "Ice from Space", in which he played Sergeant Wilson, his first credited TV or film appearance. In the mid-1950s, he appeared twice on CBS's Appointment with Adventure anthology series.
In February 1954, Newman appeared in a screen test with James Dean, directed by Gjon Mili, for East of Eden (1955). Newman was testing for the role of Aron Trask, Dean for the role of Aron's fraternal twin brother Cal. Dean won his part, but Newman lost out to Richard Davalos. The same year, Newman co-starred with Eva Marie Saint and Frank Sinatra in a live —and color —television broadcast of Our Town, a musical adaptation of Thornton Wilder's stage play with the same name. Newman was a last-minute replacement for James Dean. In 2003, Newman acted in a remake of Our Town, taking on the role of the stage manager.

Newman was one of the few actors who successfully made the transition from 1950s cinema to that of the 1960s and 1970s. His rebellious persona translated well to a subsequent generation. Newman starred in Exodus (1960), The Hustler (1961), Hud (1963), Harper (1966), Hombre (1967), Cool Hand Luke (1967), The Towering Inferno (1974), Slap Shot (1977), and The Verdict (1982). He teamed with fellow actor Robert Redford and director George Roy Hill for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and The Sting (1973).

He appeared with his wife, Joanne Woodward, in the feature films The Long, Hot Summer (1958), Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys!, (1958), From the Terrace (1960), Paris Blues (1961), A New Kind of Love (1963), Winning (1969), WUSA (1970), The Drowning Pool (1975), Harry & Son (1984), and Mr. and Mrs. Bridge (1990). They both also starred in the HBO miniseries Empire Falls, but did not have any scenes together.

In addition to starring in and directing Harry & Son, Newman also directed four feature films (in which he did not act) starring Woodward. They were Rachel, Rachel (1968), based on Margaret Laurence's A Jest of God, the screen version of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (1972), the television screen version of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Shadow Box (1980), and a screen version of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie (1987).
Twenty-five years after The Hustler, Newman reprised his role of "Fast" Eddie Felson in the Martin Scorsese-directed The Color of Money (1986), for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. He told a television interviewer that winning an Oscar at the age of 62 deprived him of his fantasy of formally being presented with it in extreme old age.

In 2003, he appeared in a Broadway revival of Wilder's Our Town, receiving his first Tony Award nomination for his performance. PBS and the cable network Showtime aired a taping of the production, and Newman was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie.

His last screen appearance was as a conflicted mob boss in the 2002 film Road to Perdition opposite Tom Hanks, although he continued to provide voice work for films.

In 2005 at age 80, Newman was profiled alongside Robert Redford as part of the Sundance Channel's TV series Iconoclasts.
In keeping with his strong interest in car racing, he provided the voice of Doc Hudson, a retired race car in Disney/Pixar's Cars. Similarly, he served as narrator for the 2007 film Dale, about the life of the legendary NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, which turned out to be Newman's final film performance in any form. Newman also provided the narration for the film documentary The Meerkats, which was released in 2008.

In June 2008 it was widely reported that Newman, a former chain smoker, had been diagnosed with lung cancer and was receiving treatment at Sloan-Kettering hospital in New York City. Photographs taken of Newman in May and June showed him looking gaunt. Writer A.E. Hotchner, who partnered with Newman to start the Newman's Own company in the 1980s, told the Associated Press that Newman told him about the disease about eighteen months prior to the interview. Newman's spokesman told the press that the star was "doing nicely," but neither confirmed nor denied that he had cancer. In August, after reportedly finishing chemotherapy, Newman told his family he wished to die at home.

He died on September 26, 2008, aged 83, surrounded by his family and close friends. His remains were subsequently cremated after a private funeral service near his home in Westport...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

BORN ON THIS DAY: EDGAR BUCHANAN

Edgar Buchanan may not be a name that you know offhand, but if you are a fan of 1960s sitcoms, you have probably seen him somewhere. Born William Edgar Buchanan in Humansville, Missouri on March 20, 1903, Edgar moved with his family to Oregon when he was young.

Like his father before him, he was a successful dentist. He and his wife Mildred were married in 1928. In 1939, they moved from Eugene, Oregon, to Altadena, California. He joined the Pasadena Playhouse as an actor. He appeared in his first film in 1939, at the age of thirty-six, after which he turned his dentistry practice over to his wife. He was a member of Theta Chi Fraternity and a Freemason.

Buchanan appeared in more than 100 movies, including Penny Serenade (1941) with Cary Grant, Tombstone, the Town Too Tough to Die (1942), The Talk of the Town (1942) with Ronald Colman and Jean Arthur, The Man from Colorado (1948), Cheaper by the Dozen (1950), She Couldn't Say No (1954), Ride the High Country (1962) with Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea, McLintock! (1963) with John Wayne, Move Over, Darling (1963) with Doris Day and James Garner, and Benji (1974).

Television series in which he appeared included Hopalong Cassidy, Judge Roy Bean (in which he played the lead, Texas Justice of the Peace Judge Roy Bean), the "Duel at Sundown" episode of Maverick with James Garner and Clint Eastwood, Leave It To Beaver (as both "Uncle Billy" and "Captain Jack"), The Twilight Zone, Gunsmoke, Bringing Up Buddy, The Californians, Bus Stop, The Lloyd Bridges Show, Cade's County and The Rifleman. He appeared in all 222 episodes of Petticoat Junction, 17 episodes of Green Acres, and 3 episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies, always as the character Uncle Joe Carson. From 1960-1962, he appeared four times as Cletus McBain on the NBC western series Laramie, with John Smith and Robert Fuller.

Buchanan and another star from Petticoat Junction appeared together in the movie Benji -The other "star" being Higgins, the unnamed "dog" from the sitcom, who portrayed the title role in the film. Higgins had been found in an animal shelter and trained by Frank Inn, who also trained Arnold Ziffel (the pig) and all the other animals used on the Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres sitcoms.
Buchanan died from a stroke complicated by pneumonia in Palm Desert, California, and was interred in the Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.

Friday, March 18, 2011

FORGOTTEN FILMS: GIGOT

People who have seen the forgotten 1962 movie GIGOT seem to either love it or hate it. I am one of the fans of the movie. I saw the movie as a teenager, and it took me a long time to find a good copy of the film. The movie has not been released on DVD - which is a crime. The movie starred the great Jackie Gleason - who was one of the truly underappreciated actors of our times.

Gleason had conceived the story himself years earlier and had long dreamed of making the film. He wanted Orson Welles as director, and Paddy Chayefsky as screenwriter. Though Welles was an old friend, the board at Fox rejected him as being an overspender. Gene Kelly was selected as a compromise. Chayefsky was not interested and John Patrick, writer of Teahouse of the August Moon was signed instead.

The film was shot on location in Paris. Most of the production crew and cast were French, some spoke no English. Gleason bore with this in two ways: Kelly spoke French, and Gleason's character had no lines, being mute.

Gleason was extremely proud of the film, which earned one Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Score. Gleason received a story credit and a music credit. On the other hand, according to the book, The Films of Gene Kelly, by Tony Thomas, Kelly himself said that the movie "had been so drastically cut and reedited that it had little to do with my version"..
Gigot (Gleason) is a mute Frenchman living in the Montmartre district of Paris in the 1920s. He makes a hand-to-mouth living as a janitor at his landlady's apartment building. Though treated with condescension by most of his neighbors (and often the butt of practical jokes), he is much loved by the local children and by animals, whom he often feeds. He seems content with his life, though he has one strange passion: he attends every local funeral, whether or not he knew the departed, marching and crying along with the other mourners.

One rainy evening he returns home to find Collette (Katherine Kath) and her young daughter Nicole (Diane Gardner) sitting in a doorway trying to keep dry. He lets them stay at his apartment. Collette is suspicious of Gigot but young Nicole warms to him.
Gigot takes Nicole to church only to discover she is unbaptized and completely ignorant of what a church is and unaware of God. Nicole points to a crucifix and asks Gigot who that is. Gigot acts out the story of Christ beginning with Mary cradling the baby Jesus, His childhood through to the horror of the crucifixion. Nicole cries a single tear, then blows a kiss to Christ on the cross.

Gigot entertains the little girl by dancing to his old Victrola and by dressing as a waiter to feed a mouse. He is protective of Nicole, once running alongside her on a merry-go-round to make sure she doesn't fall off. It is this protectiveness that leads him to prevent Collette from soliciting a john on a park bench near the merry-go-round. Gigot is beaten by the frustrated man for his troubles.
With their ill-gotten gains, Gigot, Collette and Nicole go on a shopping spree, buying much-needed new clothes for Collette and Nicole and a meal at the local restaurant. Gigot is even persuaded to get a straw boater and a shave. But the good times are not to last -- Collette's ex-boyfriend decides he wants her back, and Collette agrees. She wants to take Nicole, but he persuades her to wait til morning. Gigot is heartbroken. The next morning, Collette finds Gigot and Nicole missing.

The baker discovers the theft, and soon Gigot is a suspect. Two bureaucrats called in by one of Gigot's neighbors have come to (apparently) have Gigot committed. But Gigot and Nicole are only at an abandoned basement, listening to the Victrola while Gigot dances -- with a little too much gusto, though, as the roof falls in. Gigot is unhurt, but Nicole is unconscious.

Frightened, he takes the girl to the church, where the parish priest calls a doctor. Thinking the Victrola may help, he goes back to retrieve it and runs straight into an angry mob. The mob chases Gigot to an old coal loader. Gigot falls into the river and does not resurface.

The locals think Gigot is dead, and organise a funeral for him. Gigot is merely hiding. He sees the funeral march and, as always, follows. When the time comes for the eulogy, he realizes it is he for whom they are holding the service. Suddenly, one of the mourners sees Gigot, and the chase starts again.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

THE TRUTH ABOUT GEORGE FORMBY

His funeral was the largest in British history for a figure from showbusiness. As the cortege slowly made its way to his final resting place at Warrington cemetery, the streets were lined with more than 150,000 mourners united in grief at the loss of one of the country’s best-loved entertainers. It is 50 years ago this month since the death of George Formby, the Lancashire-born star who once captivated the nation with his unique brand of comedy and music. Today the appeal of Formby is elusive. With his toothy grin, gormless clowning, corny jokes and repetitive strumming on his ukulele, he can almost seem like a parody of a dated music hall turn, an unfunny relic from a bygone age.

Yet in the late 1930s he was by far Britain’s biggest celebrity, his films and records adored by millions of fans, whose number included the Royal Family. In his heyday, he was making more than £100,000 a year, this at a time when upper-middle professionals such as doctors were on salaries of little more than £1,000.

George Formby was not a man blessed with outstanding musical or thespian talent. Indeed, he could not even read music, while one of his movie co-stars, the actress Pat Kirkwood, described him as ‘cretinous’, adding that if you tried ‘to converse with him, you’d find there was no one at home’.

The secret of his attraction lay in the warmth of the cheeky, endearing character he exuded on stage and screen. Like the comedian Norman Wisdom in the 1950s, he played on the British love of the underdog: romantic but awkward with women and endlessly in scrapes with authority. Songs such as When I’m Cleaning Windows, Leaning On A Lamppost and With My Little Ukulele In My Hand were the big hits of the day.

But this image of easy-going, innocent charm was not translated into Formby’s personal life. Behind the buck-toothed smile and bouncing rhythms of the ukulele lay profound misery.
The truth was that, for almost 40 years, Formby was locked in an unhappy marriage to Beryl, who ruled him with a rod of iron. A tyrannical, domineering woman, Beryl was not just his spouse but also his manager. Through her vicious tongue, icy glares and savage willpower, she terrified George and much of the entertainment world as she drove him to the top.

Utterly ruthless in negotiations, she thought nothing of haranguing directors or the head of the BBC. At theatres, she stood in the wings with a clipboard and a stopwatch monitoring every detail of George’s performance and ensuring he did not get too close to any chorus girls. She also insisted on being on the set of all his films.

Yet Beryl was not without her passionate side. Her striking looks meant that she had a coterie of male admirers and, according to Formby’s diligent biographer David Bret, she had affairs with at least two actors in the 1930s.

The last years were the worst for their marriage. Beryl contracted cancer, and the mixture of alcohol and morphine that she took to numb the lethal pain sent her into deeper paroxysms of fury.

On some occasions, her drunken behaviour was so embarrassing that she was asked to leave the studio or theatre. But her deepening illness gave George a sense of impending liberation from her clutches.

He was said to have embarked on a rather incongruous affair with a singer called Yana, who liked to give herself an air of exoticism by posing as a Russian bisexual, though in fact she was born Pamela Guard in Romford and was married three times.

More serious was George’s relationship with schoolteacher Pat Howson, 20 years his junior. Within two months of Beryl dying of cancer, he announced his engagement to Pat, declaring that with his new fiancée he had achieved a happiness that had never existed with Beryl.

But just two days before his wedding to Pat, on March 6, 1961, he died of heart failure. He was only 56. Fate had prevented him from enjoying a relationship that amounted to more than just career success.



SOURCE

Monday, March 14, 2011

WHERE ARE THEY NOW: THE CHILDREN OF WILLY WONKA


There is just something magical about the 1971 movie WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY that makes me want to watch it every time it is on television. From Gene Wilder's excellent portrayal of Willy Wonka to the five children that win the golden ticket, the movie is a true gem. Now 40 years after the movie was made, I had to do some research to find out what happened to the children in the movie:

PETER OSTRUM ("Charlie Bucket"):
Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie and was around 14 when Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was made, never appeared in another movie, although he was offered a three-film contract. He now works as a veterinarian in the rural areas of New York State. He is married to Loretta (nee Lepkowski) and they have two children, Helenka and Leif.

His most public experience these days is to visit schools in his community to talk about his experiences, what it’s like to be a veterinarian, and how your life changes with the decisions you make.

He’s been quoted as saying, “Do I regret turning down the movie offer? I don”t think so. I love the job I’m doing right now. Granted it is about as far away from Hollywood as you can get, but I have a feeling of self-satisfaction with it. I don’t believe that I made the right choice or the wrong choice. I made a choice that fit what I wanted, and it shaped how life unfolded for me. Would life been better if I took the movie offer? Maybe, but I’ll never know, and it’s something I’ll never question.’

JULIE DAWN COLE ("Veruca Salt"):
Julie Dawn Cole, who played the obnoxious Veruca Salt, also has two children now. She was the same age as Ostrum at the time the movie was made and, along with Denise Nickerson, is supposed to have had a crush on him. Unlike Ostrum she went on to have a career as an actress, mostly in television, where she has appeared in a variety of series, from Poldark and Emmerdale Farm to Eastenders and Casualty. She now operates Centrestage, a children’s drama school outside of London.

Being nasty was “totally against her nature” and she had to be coaxed into doing the aggressive song and dance routine in the film.


DENISE NICKERSON ("Violet Beauregarde"):
After starring in Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, Denise nickerson joined the cast of the electric company as “Allison”, a member of the short circus music group from 1972-1973. Producers saw the potential in nickerson and often had her singing lead on several songs, including “the sweet sweet sway.” she also guest starred as Pamela, a girlfriend of Peter Brady on one of the final the Brady Bunch episodes.

Nickerson starred in the 1975 satiric, beauty-pageant inspired motion picture “Smile”. In 1976 she appeared in the film "Zero To Sixty" and tv movie "Child of Glass". Nickerson turned 21 in 1978, and opted to quit acting at that time. She is currently an accountant at an engineering plant and resides in Denver, Colorado. She has one child.


PARIS THEMMAN ("Mike Teevee"):
Paris Themmen, an American, was only twelve when the movie was made, and he performed the role of Mike Teevee. It was his only major movie, though he’d already been performing since he was six. He appeared on stage, initially with his parents, and then went on to act in a number of radio and television commercials, and to do voice-overs. Later he reached Broadway, appearing as the young Patrick Dennis in Mame, with Ann Miller. After his appearance in Willy Wonka, he went onto play another child role in the musical, The Rothschilds, andlater went on tour nationally in the same role.

He left acting in his mid-adolescence, and has barely been seen performing since apart from a few mostly uncredited roles. However, he still has links with the television commercial world, where these days he is a casting director for commercials rather than performing in them.


MICHAEL BOLLNER ("Augustus Gloop"):
After the movie he never made another film and, like Ostrum, eventually went into a totally different career. He is now a tax accountant, a job he performs in Munich, Germany. He was interested in acting, but is father wanted him to continue his education.

At the time the movie was made, Bollner didn’t speak English, and one of the crew coached him in his lines.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

RIP: HUGH MARTIN

Hugh Martin, the songwriter who enlivened the Judy Garland movie musical "Meet Me in St. Louis" with an indelibly melodic trio of evergreen songs — "The Trolley Song," "The Boy Next Door" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" — died March 11 in California, according to family members. He was 96.

A talented lyricist as well as a composer, Mr. Martin wrote the scores for several Broadway musicals, including Best Foot Forward (1941) (which featured the rousing fight song "Buckle Down, Winsocki"); Look, Ma, I'm Dancin' (1948), which was conceived and co-directed (with George Abbott) by Jerome Robbins; Make a Wish (1951); and High Spirits (1964); and did musical and vocal arrangements for the likes of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and Richard Rodgers.

But it was for the lush M-G-M film "Meet Me in St. Louis," a collaboration with his frequent writing partner Ralph Blane, that he made his most lasting contribution on the American songbook. A sentimental tale of a close-knit St. Louis family at the turn of the 20th century, whose serenity is threatened by the father's plan to move to New York, the movie was made memorable through Judy Garland's ardent, warm delivery of the score. Her boisterous take on the bouncy, syncopated "The Trolley Song," sung while riding on a bustling trolley, became a piece of cinematic history. And the melancholy "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" evolved into a yuletide classic, recorded by hundreds of artists over the years

The wistful expression of guarded holiday hopefulness is typically credited to both Mr. Martin and Blane. However, during a Dec. 21, 2006 interview on NPR, Mr. Martin said he wrote the song with no assistance from Blane.

In 1989, "Meet Me in St. Louis" was converted into a Broadway stage musical, for which Mr. Martin did the vocal arrangements and wrote a few new lyrics.

Mr. Martin and Garland became close friends after the movie. He later acted as her accompanist at many of her concert performances in the 1950s, including her famous comeback at the Palace Theatre. However, during the filming of "A Star Is Born," the two broke when an argument over her performance of "The Man Who Got Away" led him to walk off the production.

Mr. Martin and Blane, who were on contract at M-G-M, were twice nominated for Academy Awards, for "The Trolley Song" and for "Pass the Peace Pipe," a rousing number used in the college-set movie musical "Good News" starring June Allyson and Peter Lawford. Mr. Martin also received four Tony Award nominations, three for High Spirits (Best Musical, Best Book Author of a Musical, Best Composer and Lyricist), a musical take on Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit (and directed by Coward), and one for the Meet Me in St. Louis (Best Original Score).
Hugh Martin was born in Birmingham, AL, on Aug. 11, 1914. He began studying music at the age of five at the Birmingham Conservatory of Music. His original intention to be a classical musician was altered when he became enamored of the music of George Gershwin.

He moved to New York City in the mid 1930s. He made his Broadway debut in 1937, both performing and doing the musical arrangements for Hooray for What!, a show which also featured future collaborator Ralph Blane. Soon after, the men and two women formed a vocal quartet called The Martins. The Martins appeared on Fred Allen's popular radio show and also appeared in Irving Berlin's 1940 musical Louisiana Purchase, for which Martin and Blane were the vocal arrangers, as well as The Lady Comes Across in 1942.

In 1938, Richard Rodgers gave Mr. Martin a chance, hiring him to do vocal arrangements for The Boys From Syracuse. Thereafter, Mr. Martin bounced from show to show, doing vocal arrangements, choral arrangement, providing vocal direction, simply acting or doing a combination of the above, for such shows as Too Many Girls, Louisiana Purchase, Cabin in the Sky, The Lady Comes Across, Heaven on Earth, As the Girls Go, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Top Banana, Hazel Flagg, Lorelei and Sugar Babies, the 1979 hit revue for which he was musical director.

His film work included "Athena" (1954), "The Girl Rush" (1955) and "The Girl Most Likely" (1957) as well as a movie version of "Best Foot Forward" starring Lucille Ball.
Mr. Martin was often candid in his assessment of his talents and achievements. In the liner notes for Look Ma, I'm Dancin', he told the story of his getting the job as composer. He auditioned "with three great numbers, 'Gotta Dance,' 'Tiny Room' and 'I'm the First Girl (in the Second Row).' They were received rapturously by everyone, even Robbins, and I reacted very stupidly. I got a false sense of security and instead of working hard, I relaxed a little. As a result, there are songs that are, well, OK, but not up to the standard of a George Abbott, Jerome Robbins, Nancy Walker musical. I wish I had tried harder."

Mr. Martin, a Seventh-day Adventist, spent much of the 1980s as an accompanist for gospel female vocalist Del Delker. In 2009, he published his memoir, "The Boy Next Door," in which he wrote frankly about his years battling speed and he conversion in the 1970s to a born again Christian.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

FORGOTTEN ONES: DIXIE LEE CROSBY

The forgotten life of Dixie Lee Crosby is often overshadowed by her famous husband Bing Crosby. It is hard to believe, but Dixie Lee Crosby would have been 100 years old this year. Dixie Lee, formerly Wilma Wyatt, was born in Harriman, Tennessee, to Evan and Nora Wyatt on October 4th, 1911. Wilma was undeniably gorgeous and talented. She won a singing contest in Chicago which included a part in a Broadway play. She was soon on her way to Hollywood and at the age of eighteen, she was signed to a contract with Fox. When Bing and Dixie met, she, indeed, was the bigger star.

The two first met in November 1928 and Bing was immediately smitten. Dixie was a bit more hesitant. They met again at a party in Hollywood in early 1929 and the Crosby charm was too much to resist. The two married September 29, 1930, at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Hollywood.

Even after the marriage, Dixie continued in movies. Despite her beauty, she was a pretty forgettable actress. The movies she starred in are largely as forgotten as her acting was like: HAPPY DAYS (1930), MANHATTAN LOVE SONG (1934) and her last movie REDHEADS ON PARADE (1935). However, Dixie did have a successful record in 1936 when she recorded a duet with Bing of the songs "A Fine Romance" and "The Way You Look Tonight". Hearing her sing with Bing makes you wish she made more recordings during her short Hollywood career.

As Bing's stardom rose to superstar status in the 1930s, four boys arrived in the Crosby household. Gary Crosby arrived first in October 1933, the twins, Phillip and Dennis came along in 1934, and Lindsay rounded out the bunch in 1938.


However, despite her husband's fame and the four boys, Dixie was very tortured with what modern doctors would diagnose as depression. In the 1940s, Bing Crosby was one of the most recognizable men in the world, and with this fame he spent more and more time away from his family. As a result, Dixie was turning more and more towards alcohol.

In 1947, a movie came out called Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman starring Susan Hayward. It was a thinly disguised story based on the life of Dixie. It was directed by Stuart Heisler, who had directed Bing in Blue Skies the year before. Bing and Dixie were outraged at the film, and it further brought tension to their lives together. The Crosbys reportedly separated in 1948, but they later reconciled. However, Dixie Lee died on November 1, 1952 of cancer, just days before her 41st birthday. She never got used to having such a famous husband, and it is sad that her short life is not remembered more...