Tuesday, April 17, 2018

She Directed TALK TO ME

You know may not know her name but I'm sure millions of moviegoers remember her face.  Did you see 1991's THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS?  In that classic, Jodie Foster played the outstanding FBI cadet, Clarice Starling.  In the academy and in the field as she's on the case to capture a serial killer, she is constantly surrounded by men. She's often the only woman in the room, under the male gaze, and she works to prove her extraordinary smarts.  In the academy while she's training, there's one fellow female cadet who is Clarice's good buddy.  Her buddy was played by African American actress, Kasi Lemmons.  (Her first name is pronounced "Casey.")
Well...just like Jodie Foster...Kasi went on to become a film director after THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.  I thought of her work recently.  This month marked the 50th year since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  He was shot and killed on April 4th, 1968, in Memphis.  Kasi Lemmons directed a very good, very funny biopic that accurately incorporates turbulence of that tragic day into the story.  I have seen her 2007 movie, TALK TO ME, a few times.  Each time I watch it, I say to myself, "Seriously?  Don Cheadle has only one Oscar nomination to his credit?  Oh, that is a major oversight."  Cheadle is one gifted and versatile actor.  He should've been a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee for playing a cold-blooded hood in 1995's DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS, a crime thriller starring Denzel Washington.  I know that Denzel is the most Oscar-nominated Black actor in Oscar history with 8 nominations and 2 wins to his credit.  But, unlike Denzel, Don Cheadle shows a fabulous flexibility when it comes to doing comedy and even musical scenes.  Look at Don Cheadle as the part-time porn star in BOOGIE NIGHTS. He makes you laugh with his vulnerability in that role.  He was terrific dancing as Sammy Davis, Jr. in the HBO biopic, THE RAT PACK.  He was amazing as Mile Davis in MILES AHEAD, touching in the Best Picture Oscar winner CRASH and he deserved his Best Actor Oscar nomination for playing the African hotel manager during military atrocities and genocide horrors in HOTEL RWANDA.

Director Kasi Lemmons has him pull out his comic acting skills for TALK TO ME.  In the film, he plays the real-life Washington, DC radio personality Ralph "Petey" Greene.  Before there was a Howard Stern getting national attention, there was outrageous, outspoken and hilarious Petey Greene on radio in DC.  Petey was so popular with his call-in program that he was booked to be a guest on the TONIGHT Show with Johnny Carson.  Petey was a hot mess of an ex-con who took that radio station from the basement to the top floor in ratings.
TALK TO ME co-stars Martin Sheen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Taraji P. Henson and Cedric the Entertainer.  Yes, it is very funny. And then comes the horrible news of April 4th.  Radio host Petey Greene helped curbed some of the destructive uprisings that broke out in anger in the Black community.  From then on, social activism became a part of his life.  This movie is a must-see for Don Cheadle fans.  He's on his A-game in it.
TALK TO ME was not the first film directed by Kasi Lemmons.  Her first film was the impressive and fascinating EVE'S BAYOU.  This 1997 drama focuses on a Black middle class Louisiana family in the 1950s or early 60s.  We can tell that this Black family is comfortable. The father, played by Samuel L. Jackson, is a doctor and their house has more than one bathroom.  They weren't rich, but for Black folks, they were doing pretty well.  One of the two daughters witnesses something in their youth that fractures family feelings. We wait to see if the truth will be revealed.  One of the things that strikes you about EVE'S BAYOU is the gorgeous production design of it and the fluidity of Kasi Lemmons' direction.  Joining Samuel L. Jackson are Lynn Whitfield and Diahann Carroll.
If EVE'S BAYOU had been the directorial debut of a white male like a Ron Howard or Quentin Tarantino. he would have been booked for a bunch of Hollywood meetings to discuss future feature opportunities.  This indie film is that good.  I saw it last week on cable's Encore channel.  Check for it or rent it.

Actress/director Kasi Lemmons.  Add her to the list of women filmmakers.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Rita Moreno, Ricardo Montalban, MYSTERY STREET

She is Queen of All That Is Good in Show Business.  That's how I feel about WEST SIDE STORY Oscar winner, Rita Moreno.  She has triumphed in film, on Broadway and on TV.  (Don't get me started on the fact that she was NEVER an Emmy nominee for her extraordinary work as Sister Pete, the nun psychiatrist on the HBO prison series, OZ.)  On March 29th, I watched the live feed on Facebook of Rita Moreno being interviewed by a contributor for THE LOS ANGELES TIMES.  This was for the paper's "Ask LA Times" regular online feature.  Something Rita Moreno said in that interview reminded me of something Ricardo Montalban and I discussed when he was a great guest on my VH1 talk show in 1988.  Ms. Moreno mentioned Mr. Montalban in her comments, by the way.  The topic was diversity and inclusion in the entertainment industry.  Rita Moreno can be seen currently on the excellent reboot of Norman Lear's sitcom, ONE DAY AT A TIME.  The family is now Latino, modern-day social issues are dealt with and Moreno steals every scene she has.
Early in her film career, she talked to Mexican actor Ricardo Montalban about equal opportunities for Latinos.  He said that the door is "ajar."  It needed to be opened wider.
In 1988, Ricardo Montalban visited my show to promote his work in a new follow-up to THE NAKED GUN, the nutty detective movies starring Leslie Nielsen.  I was extremely lucky to have that show.  For me, a classic film advocate, the opportunity to interviews stars from Hollywood's golden age was a dream come true.  Also, when those stars realized that I knew their work, studied it and had a serious interest in it, they were very giving in their interviews.  My floor crew, mostly young, loved Montalban from FANTASY ISLAND and the movie STAR TREK: THE WRATH OF KHAN.  I had seen Montalban's movies from his MGM years and beyond.  On TV, I'd watched his movies in which he danced with Cyd Charisse and Esther Williams in musical comedies. I also watched his impressive acting in war movies, action features, crime thrillers, love stories, westerns, historical epics -- Montalban did it all before having a TV hit with FANTASY ISLAND.

In the interview on-air and in between our on-camera segments, what was the main thing that we two men of color from different generations talked about?  Diversity and inclusion in the entertainment industry.  Mr. Montalban was one of those veteran performers who gave me a huge compliment.  He said that he was proud of me for having that show...because he knew what the odds were against me having a show like that.  Montalban said his community needed to take tips from our black community and get more vocal about the lack of equal show biz opportunities.  This was in 1988.

Rita Moreno expressed that same exact sentiment in her L.A. TIMES interview last month.

Mexicans and Mexican-Americans were, I'm grateful to say, were part of my everyday life growing up in L.A.  My hometown was rich and ripe Mexican-American talent and stories.  But the only TV show about a lead character who was Mexican was CHICO AND THE MAN (1974).  The next that I can recall was the George Lopez sitcom in 2002.  I noticed and was bothered by that lack of representation on network television.

So, what does this all have to do with a 1950 crime story called MYSTERY STREET?  Before forensics became popular to solve crimes on TV like in the CSI franchise on CBS and, years earlier, on QUINCY, M.E., the hit NBC series starring Jack Klugman from 1976 to 1983, there was the movie MYSTERY STREET starring Ricardo Montalban.  Montalban played the cop who uses forensics to solve a murder mystery in Boston.  It's not a famous MGM movie but a movie that's been one of my Ricardo Montalban favorites for years.  He plays a Hispanic detective in it.  He's Lt. Pete Morales.
I once read a newspaper article than had an item about popular veteran actor Gilbert Roland.  Like Montalban, he was also Mexican and also worked not to be boxed into Hollywood's "Latin Lover" image.  Roland was awesome.  He went from starring in 1920s silent films to later Hollywood movies such as SHE DONE HIM WRONG with Mae West, THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL with Kirk Douglas, THE FURIES with Barbara Stanwyck and the widescreen 1956 Best Picture Oscar winner, AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS.

In the 1950s or early 60s, film actor Gilbert Roland was frustrated by Hollywood when he pitched a detective series for TV in which he'd have a lead role as a Mexican-American detective.  The diversity and inclusion door was not even "ajar" then. Only white guys like Robert Taylor were the stars on a TV detective series.

MGM's TOPPER, THE THIN MAN and DR. KILDARE lead characters were adapted into TV series form.  I still feel that MYSTERY STREET could've been spun off into a solid TV series in the 1950s,  60s or 70s.  Det. Peter Morales could've used forensics to help him solve crimes every week on TV.  What great representation that would've been for Hispanic/Latino viewers.  Here's a clip featuring Ricardo Montalban in MYSTERY STREET.

MYSTERY STREET airs occasionally on TCM.  I bet you can find it on Amazon.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Muller, Mankiewicz and Minorities

MYSTERY STREET, a 1950 MGM crime thriller starring Ricardo Montalban as a Mexican-American police detective aired on TCM Sunday morning, April 15th.  It aired on TCM's Sunday morning Noir Alley hosted by Eddie Muller.  He's the writer/host who presents film noir classics and other crime thrillers.  Muller's hipster intro was extremely well-meant but it came off slightly like something that could be lampooned in a Christopher Guest mockumentary about a movie channel network that shows old Hollywood classics and strives to make them relevant to today's audiences while coming off like a production made within old Hollywood attitudes.
This relates to something I've noted previously as a veteran network TV/print entertainment news contributor and film reviewer and talk show host who has had to kick open some diversity doors for employment consideration.  As we saw less of Robert Osborne in host segments before he passed away, we also saw less African American presence.  Mr. Osborne presented African American talents as guest co-hosts and Guest Programmers on a regular basis.
Ben Mankiewicz is now the senior host.  We have Ben Mankiewicz, Eddie Muller, David Karger, Alicia Malone and occasional Leonard Maltin as hosts.  Ben brings up the importance of racial equality and acceptance.  He mentioned it last April in red carpet questions for the 50th anniversary screening of IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT. Before BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S aired one day, Ben addressed the offensive Asian racial stereotype in Mickey Rooney's performance.  On Easter Sunday, while introducing HOLIDAY INN, Ben cautioned us that Bing Crosby was in blackface for one big number.  In January on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Day, Ben was the solo host for the prime time salute to African American filmmakers. No black guest co-host was with him.

Although TCM doesn't promote it the way it does its Sunday morning's Noir Alley, Saturday mornings now feature Tarzan adventures at 10a ET. I've watched for four consecutive Saturdays.  You know what Hollywood was like in the 1930s when it was making those jungle adventures starring Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan. Black actors weren't given upscale roles. Each one of those four Tarzan movies I saw had a greedy white dude the Africans called "Bwana" who treated them like Congo slaves and killed several of them because they didn't want to carry his European luggage on their heads through the jungle. The other African natives were seen as deadly "savages."  No TCM host gives a disclaimer on those films before they air like Ben did with HOLIDAY INN.

Eddie Muller introduced MYSTERY STREET and highlighted that forensics play a big part in  the 1950 film.  This was made years before forensics, he said with an air of hipster snark, became prevalent on CSI franchises on network TV such as "...CSI: PEORIA."

I listed the group of hosts now seen on TCM.  What do the CSI casts have that the TCM host quartet doesn't?  People of color.  Eddie Muller has never had any people of color in any of his several TCM WINE CLUB spots.  In fact, if you really observe TCM -- a network I still love -- its segments for TCM product and its intros with talk about classic films are predominantly white and driven by a white narrative.  Look at the spots for the TCM Wine Club, the TCM Back Lot and the TCM tour buses.  Black guest co-hosts, guest solo hosts and monthly Guest Programmers have been rare since 2016.

Eddie Muller also highlighted the praiseworthy racial diversity of MYSTERY NIGHT.  Montalban's character, he accurately told us, could have easily been a white guy played by someone like Van Johnson.  But Ricardo Montalban played him and the detective was Mexican-American.

This was ironic because, for one year, TCM had its first Latinx host.  Tiffany Vazquez was the knowledgeable and lovely weekend host.  Last year, she was in a TCM promotional "Let's Movie" commercial with Muller and Mankiewicz. Her contract was not renewed.  New Yorker Tiffany Vazquez was replaced with....a white woman.  Australian Alicia Malone.
So...when diversity and inclusion in the film/TV industry are hot topics and Frances McDormand's mention of "inclusion riders" in her Oscar acceptance speech this year gave more muscle to the inclusion campaign, TCM dropped its only minority host.  Meanwhile, the current Caucasian hosts mention the importance of diversity in their host segments.

It's like if Christopher Guest made a mockumentary about a classic movie channel and had someone playing a TV news reporter interviewing its on-air talent.  All five hosts are assembled on a studio host set for a group interview.  All five are white and they sincerely discuss the need for racial diversity and equal opportunities.  They comment on how Hollywood has grown in its presentation of racial images.

And in the background, as they're saying all that, we see a black janitor mopping the floor.

The 2018 TCM Film Festival takes place in Hollywood later this month.  Let's see if, beginning with this year's festival, there's some inclusion in the "Let's Movie" narrative.  Cicely Tyson will be honored by TCM during the festival.  If she's interviewed by Ben Mankiewicz and if she happened to say, "I'm a big TCM fan.  I've watched it for years. But how come you don't have a black host?,"  what would be his answer?  Would nearby TCM Public Relations reps break out into a nervous flop sweat like the Albert Brooks reporter anchoring the evening newscast in BROADCAST NEWS?

Ben loves sports. If he went to a baseball or a basketball game or watched NFL action on TV and noticed that Black players were no longer playing, no longer on the field, wouldn't he say something? Would he express that something was wrong on the playing field?  Well, look at the field of film critics on network morning news shows and in syndicated shows with film critic teams.  Look the movie hosts on national TV from the old days when cable's AMC was still American Movie Classics and aired old movies.  That field of film critics and movie hosts from 1980 to 2018...did you notice there were no people of color?  Did you notice that the playing field wasn't level?

Representation matters.

Thursday, April 12, 2018


I'm watching THE VIEW, it's Thursday, and I just saw a promo for tomorrow's big announcement.  The announcement will be -- the list of contestants for this year's upcoming season of DANCING WITH THE STARS.  To me, it feels like that show featuring stars we've never heard of has been on for decades.  This season will have a special hook.  All the contestants will be athletes.  I've heard that Tonya Harding will be in the line-up for DANCING WITH THE STARS 2018.
Other than Tonya, I bet that the rest of the contestants will be a few athletes who can represent what have become the producers' favorite -- or make that, usual -- categories in DWTS contestants:
Someone openly gay or transgender, a hunky black athlete from the NFL, a black woman with a big personality, an AARP senior, someone disabled and someone with a Disney film or TV connection.
As May is a very important month in TV ratings, it would be a ratings knockout if DANCING WITH THE STARS had Tonya Harding up against a returning Nancy Kerrigan. But that won't happen, I'm sure.  But wouldn't we tune in to see that visual guilty pleasure?
GOOD MORNING AMERICA will have folks in place for the announcement tomorrow morning, Friday the 13th.  Let's see how many of those categories are filled by athletes who want to grab life by the mirrored disco balls.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

On the Oscars Telecast, 1968

Sidney Poitier was one of the top box office stars at that time -- and the first Black actor in Hollywood history who ever was a top box office star.  I was new in high school but I already had a few years of serious new and classic film love under my belt.  By the time April started, the Oscar nominations were out and Sidney Poitier starred in two of the top films nominated.
No Black person who saw IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT at a drive-in or walk-in movie theater will forget the collective "Whoa!" from the audience when Mr. Poitier, as Detective Virgil Tibbs, slapped the taste out that racist white man's mouth after he, in a sense of white superiority, had slapped Det. Tibbs.  That slap represented our national slap in the face of racism.  Sidney Poitier represented us and that slap, during the Civil Rights decade, represented how we African Americans felt.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was still a living voice, a controversial and vital living voice, the first day of April.  He got a mention in the other hit film starring Sidney Poitier.  GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER starred Mr. Poitier, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.

On April 5th, folks our South Central L.A. community went to work and school with a solemn quietness not usually associated with a Friday morning.  At school, students and teachers didn't talk much.  We were grief-stricken. I attended a Catholic all-boys high school in Watts.  Our student body was led in early morning prayer for Dr. King.  The Father Robinson, our principal, announced that classes would end for the day at 10am in case the assassination of Dr. King sparked turbulence in the community.  We were dismissed early for the weekend and told to go directly home.

Dr. Martin Luther King's life -- and death -- had an impact on people in the Hollywood industry.  Many entertainers loved his work and attended his historic 1963 March on Washington.  The corporate branch of Hollywood itself needed to embrace his message of  equality.  Here are my memories of how Dr. King's untimely death affected the 1968 Academy Awards telecast.

Monday, April 2, 2018

A Great Month for William Holden Fans

When I was just starting elementary school back in Los Angeles, I learned one thing about show business -- if William Holden was starring in a new film, we'd be going to the drive-in movies.  I'd sit happily in the back seat of the Plymouth with my little sister.  Both of us would have our pajamas on underneath our street clothes.  Our film fan parents would be in the front seat. Mom and Dad loved William Holden.  They really didn't care what the critics said.  If Holden was onscreen, that was a good enough reason for them to go the movies and do their own review.  That's what you call star power -- and William Holden's star power really beamed at full capacity starting about 1950.  I'm proud to report that I picked up the love for William Holden from Mom and Dad.  The talented, handsome, intelligent and gracious film actor is in the TCM (Turner Classic Movies) prime time spotlight every Monday this month.  This year marks the centennial of the late star's birth.  Very late in tonight's line-up are two of my favorite William Holden movies.  They're films I always loved seeing on TV if they aired when I got home from school or during my summer vacations.  The first one I write about is a comedy with musical numbers.  It's the movie that gave us the beautiful Johnny Mercer classic song, "I Remember You."  It's a movie I'd put on a double bill with Billy Wilder's SUNSET BLVD.  The movie with the Johnny Mercer songs is 1942's THE FLEET'S IN.
This was obviously a movie made to entertain wartime audiences and probably also entertain the troops.  The plot is paper thin.  A bunch of sailors on leave make a bet that their shy, handsome bookworm sailor buddy can't kiss the ice princess singer who headlines at a swanky San Francisco nightclub.  She's called "The Countess" and she's well-played by Dorothy Lamour.
Lamour looks luscious.  For that matter, so does young and fresh-faced William Holden.  This movie was one of the first ten he made in which he had a speaking part.  The Countess has a roommate who's also a performer at the club.  As the comic sidekick roommate -- and making a big, brassy impression with her first film role -- we see Betty Hutton.  This was her first movie...and the first time we saw her teamed with Eddie Bracken.  They'd go on to make the 1944 Preston Sturges classic, THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK.  For THE FLEET'S IN, Betty belts out "Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing in a Hurry."  Dorothy Lamour does a silky rendition of "I Remember You."  Helen O'Connell, vocalist for Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra, does their hit song, "Tangerine."
Did you ever see that brilliantly bad movie, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS?  If you did, you remember the friction between Broadway diva Helen Lawson and newcomer Neely O'Hara.  That friction was based on the real-life situation between Ethel Merman and Betty Hutton.  Merman was in rehearsals for the new 1940 Cole Porter show, PANAMA HATTIE.  A newcomer named Betty Hutton had a couple of number in the show was getting great buzz in the out-of-town tryouts.  Reportedly, Merman had Hutton's numbers cut on opening night.  Heartbroken Hutton went to Hollywood where, in time, she'd star in the film version of one of Merman's biggest Broadway hits, ANNIE GET YOUR GUN (1950).  Betty really wanted the part originated by Merman in the Irving Berlin musical. THE FLEET'S IN launched Hutton's rise to Hollywood stardom.
"I Remember You" is one of my favorite songs of all time.  I have two good friends who are jazz singers and they both have a book of songs co-written by Johnny Mercer.  Even though that song is now a standard and one of his most popular, it wasn't in the book.  Why?  Well...here's the story:  When Johnny wrote "I Remember You," he wrote it with someone in mind and heart.  He'd fallen deeply in love with Judy Garland, but she was engaged to and married David Rose.  Mercer was also married.  Mrs. Mercer knew about the affair and, reportedly, was a bit sensitive about that song.  Mercer and Judy would work together on the MGM musical, THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946).  He'd win a Best Song Oscar for it. ("On the Atchison, Topeka and the Sante Fe")
So...why would I put THE FLEET'S IN on a double bill with Billy Wilder's SUNSET BLVD.?  In the first 15 minutes of the movie, we see Holden as the broke screenwriter in a pitch meeting with a bald Paramount producer named Sheldrake.  Joe Gillis (Holden) is desperately pitching ideas for scripts because he's desperate for income.  His car is about to be repossessed.  Sheldrake asks, "Do you have anything for Betty Hutton?  We're always interested in a Betty Hutton."  The brassy blonde babe who made her 1942 big screen bow with Holden in THE FLEET'S IN was one of the top stars on the Paramount lot come 1950.

A good buddy and mine who also digs classic films and tales of old Hollywood once said, "William Holden owned the 1950s."  I agree. Think about the Best Actress Oscar race for that year alone.  Gloria Swanson was up for SUNSET BLVD. and so was Judy Holliday for BORN YESTERDAY.   Holden was the leading man in both films.  Both were nominees for Best Picture.  Holden would take home a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Billy Wilder's STALAG 17.

Also in the 1950s, he'd make a cameo appearance in one of the funniest I LOVE LUCY episodes.  The Ricardos and the Mertzes were in Hollywood.  Lucy Ricardo has a very close encounter with movie star William Holden at the famed celebrity-heavy Brown Derby restaurant. The Lucille Ball and Bill Holden association goes back to a 1949 comedy that always tickles me.  It's called MISS GRANT TAKES RICHMOND.
This is a low budget, big fun comedy with Lucy as the worst student in a secretarial school.  She's Miss Grant.  He's Mr. Richmond, the guy who hires her to work for his realty company.  But the realty company turns out to really be a front for a bookmaking operation.  Folks place bets on horse races.  Hijinks ensue.  For me, this movie was fun to watch because it sailed on the energy of Lucille Ball and William Holden.  It's cool to see it now because, in 1949, Lucille Ball's film career was warm but not hot.  The same applied to Holden.  But, when they reteamed a few years later for I LOVE LUCY, they'd both become two of the hottest stars in Hollywood.

The TCM salute to William Holden starts tonight at 8p ET with GOLDEN BOY co-starring Barbara Stanwyck followed by EXECUTIVE SUITE, also co-starring Barbara Stanwyck, at 10p ET.  A couple of other Holden movie play after that.  Then...THE FLEET'S IN at 3:30am ET followed by MISS GRANT TAKES RICHMOND at 5:15am ET.  That's all tonight, April 2nd, on TCM.  Enjoy.

From THE FLEET'S IN, here is "I Remember You" sung by George Michael.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Easter Alert for Fellow Black TCM Fans

Happy Easter! May your spirit feel reborn and refreshed.  May a big basket of tasty goodness be waiting for you to enjoy.  As you know, I am passionate about diversity and inclusion in the entertainment business -- films and television.  I've been a devoted TCM fan since 1999.  However, there have been times in the last couple of years when TCM has been like that good buddy to whom you occasionally must say, "Duh! Seriously?"  I felt that way early Saturday when I watched the network.  Saturdays are now TARZAN day at 10a ET.
Today was the third consecutive Saturday I saw Congo natives carrying some white British guy's luggage on their heads while they called him "Bwana."  Some were shot and killed because they didn't want to carry his luggage on their heads.  Others were tossed off a high mountain cliff like ragdolls by wild gorillas.  The other Congo natives were bad.  Basically, African images came in two categories -- slaves or savages.  And some of those greedy white hunters worked Tarzan's last good nerve too.

Are there any black execs in the TCM programming room?  They've got 4 TCM hosts -- senior host Ben Mankiewicz, Eddie Muller, Dave Karger and Alicia Malone.  There are 5 hosts if you count the occasionally seen Disney expert, Leonard Maltin.  All Caucasian.      

Ben Mankiewicz is a lovely, lovely man whose work I have enjoyed for years. You can always count on Ben Mankiewicz to bring up the importance of racial equality.  He did that in April of last year on the TCM Film Festival red carpet in Hollywood when the race drama/murder mystery IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT received a 50th anniversary screening with star Sidney Poitier and Lee, director Norman Jewison, and producer Walter Mirisch in attendance.  Ben posed a question on the red carpet about the relevance of IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT today in this age of "Black Lives Matter."  Ben warned folks that BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S contained Mickey Rooney's ethnic stereotype performance as an Asian upstairs neighbor.  I wish pianist/singer Michael Feinstein had taken a tip from Ben Mankiewicz late last December when he was guest host.  Feinstein introduced THE DOLLY SISTERS starring Betty Grable and June Haver.  He told the audience to look for the lavish, surreal costumes in the "Lipstick, Powder and Rouge" number.

I sat on my couch and thought, "You should prepare them for "The Darktown Strutters' Ball." That production number had shapely showgirls and poor Betty Grable all in blackface.  And Betty was not only in blackface, she was dressed as a pickaninny. So was June Haver.  You need to warn folks about stuff like that.  There have been other blackface numbers seen in other classic movies that have aired since THE DOLLY SISTERS.

In a way, the TCM host group is like a 1930s Hollywood movie that has lead characters talking about the importance of racial equality -- but the movie has an all-white cast.  There's no black representation in segments in between the movies.  We didn't even see a black guest co-host in prime time on Dr. Martin Luther King Day a few months ago when TCM salute African American filmmakers.

I love Bing Crosby musical comedies and his powerful dramatic skills, as in 1954's THE COUNTRY GIRL, just knock me out.  However, as much as Bing loved and respected Black music and artists, Bing was late getting the memo to "Nix the blackface numbers."
On Easter Sunday night, TCM follows the 8p ET airing of Irving Berlin's EASTER PARADE starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland with Irving Berlin's HOLIDAY INN starring Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby.  Bing sings "Easter Parade" in this movie and introduced a new song called "White Christmas." It would win the Oscar for Best Song and become one of Bing's signature tunes.  This was made back when George Washington's birthday and Abraham Lincoln's birthday was separate federal holidays and not rolled into one Presidents' Day the way they are now.  For Abe's birthday, Bing slaps on the blackface to sing "Abraham."  In it, Louise Beavers, as the Holiday Inn maid, sings a line about the man "...who helped to set the darkies free."

So be prepared.  While Bing sings, poor Marjorie Reynolds is also in blackface -- and dressed as a pickaninny.

Here's a note about the classic MGM musical:
There is a terrific Black female dancer in EASTER PARADE.  Unfortunately, she didn't get to dance. She played the maid to Ann Miller's character.  Jeni LeGon was her name.  As did many Black female actresses in Hollywood during that time, she played a lot of maids. Her color limited the amount and quality of work she got in Hollywood.  She did get to dance in a few films.  In 1935's HOORAY FOR LOVE, she danced with the famous Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.
Jeni LeGon had a knockout of a tap number in 1937's fantasy musical ALI BABA GOES TO TOWN starring Eddie Cantor.  She had sweet little number with Betty Hutton in 1952's SOMEBODY LOVES ME.

Hollywood frustrated Jeni LeGon.  She relocated to Canada in 1969 and, there, she became a highly respected and popular dance teacher/coach.  She died in 2012 at age 96.

Happy Easter. And remember...."Representation Matters."

She Directed TALK TO ME

You know may not know her name but I'm sure millions of moviegoers remember her face.  Did you see 1991's THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS? ...