Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Billy Wilder DVD Double Feature

Fred MacMurray.  Man, there was an actor who deserves more attention than he gets from classic film enthusiasts.  We baby boomers loved him as a Disney dad in popular 1950s and 1960s films before his years on the hit sitcom, MY THREE SONS.  But he was a handsome leading man for Paramount Pictures in the 1930s and 40s.  A handsome leading man who could handle drama, action, history-based stories and he could sing.  Maybe he didn't become a huge, famous movie star like Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, James Cagney or Humphrey Bogart, but he racked up an impressive list of screen credits starring opposite some of Hollywood's top star actresses.  MacMurray was a fine leading man to Claudette Colbert, Carole Lombard, Barbara Stanwyck, Marlene Dietrich, Rosalind Russell, Madeleine Carroll, Irene Dunne and Jean Arthur.  He had a big, strong, good guy image in movies with them.  Then Billy Wilder came along on the Paramount lot and challenged Freddie Mac to change that image in a new movie.  He'd reunite with his co-star from REMEMBER THE NIGHT, a 1940 romantic drama set during the Christmas season.  That co-star was Barbara Stanwyck.  She'd be changing her image in Wilder's movie too.  Now considered a film noir classic, the Billy Wilder film was the brilliant DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944).  She played the cold-blooded blonde vamp in L.A. who wants her husband knocked off.  He's the horny insurance agent who gets suckered into carrying out her lethal ambitions so she can claim a big insurance pay-out.  He's Walter Neff.
When we first see him in the movie, he's speeding to his insurance office in the pre-dawn hours to record some notes.  He's not doing too well.  He's got a bullet in him.  It's a product of Phyllis Dietrichson's blonde ambition.
Walter Neff works for Pacific All Risk.  Click onto this link and watch this DOUBLE INDEMNITY clip:

My suggestion for a Billy Wilder DVD double feature is DOUBLE INDEMNITY and Wilder's now-appreciated classic, ACE IN THE HOLE.  That 1951 drama foresaw the "media circus" before it became a regular event and a journalism term in the 1990s.  Only in the last ten to fifteen years has ACE IN THE HOLE received the respect, the restoration and the revival due it.  When originally released, critics hated it and the public didn't go to see it.  Under a new title, THE BIG CARNIVAL, it was kicked to the public domain curb.  Tired, worn-out prints of it frequently turned up on late night local TV.

A hotshot New York City reporter whose moral compass is not where it should be winds up in New Mexico.  This arid town is not where he wants to be.  Then a local married guy gets trapped in a cave collapse while hunting for ancient Indian collectibles.  His wife is back at their local diner business.  The unscrupulous newspaper reporter senses a story -- a story he can work to get fame and fortune.  He manipulates a way of keeping the trapped guy from being saved quickly.  The story of the man trapped in the cave gets bigger and bigger.  Will he get out alive? Soon curious onlookers flock to the location -- and so do newspaper and TV news outlets.  The cave site becomes a media circus that shows what can happen when the art of journalism goes to the dark side.  Kirk Douglas played the fame and fortune-hungry reporter, Chuck Tatum.
So, why do I recommend this as half of a double feature.  Soon after Chuck Tatum gets wind of the story, a married couple on vacation drives up to visit the site.
This couple is so eager to see the cave site they heard it's the main attraction in that New Mexico town.  They're the first indicator that this story has legs.  When the TV news trucks arrive, the couple is still around.  The husband is not at all shy about being interviewed.
And he seizes upon the airtime opportunity to try to get a plug in for his business.  He works for....Pacific All Risk.  The same insurance company that Walter Neff worked for in DOUBLE INDEMNITY.

In his way, Mr. Federber (played by Frank Cady) seizes an opportunity using a man's 5-day crisis to increase his business -- just like reporter Chuck Tatum is doing.  Billy Wilder's ACE IN THE HOLE was 40 years ahead of its time.  It's one of Wilder's best and one of Kirk Douglas' best.

And there you have it.  My tip for a Billy Wilder DVD double feature.  Both films have the same insurance company.

A final bit of info about Fred MacMurray:  As I wrote earlier...maybe he wasn't a huge, famous Hollywood legend like a Gable, Bogart or Kirk Douglas, but his bank account probably made up for it.  Thanks to real smart real estate investments early in his film career, Fred MacMurray was one of Hollywood's richest actors.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Talented Della Reese

She was a trailblazer who really did make it all look easy -- when it really wasn't.  And she demanded to be paid well for hard work well done.  I loved that.  When I was a kid, Della Reese was an entertainer our family always watched on TV.  We had Della Reese albums.  She had a comfortable and colorful personality that made her a good TV show guest. She had that rich, full voice.  And she'd cook!  THE MIKE DOUGLAS SHOW was a daytime talk/variety show that watch when I got home from school.  Della was a frequent guest and, one time, made a dessert.  Viewers could send in a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a copy of "Della's Deep-Dish Apple Pie."  That was one of the first pieces of mail I received when I was a kid because I begged Mom to let me send in for it.  And Mom, bless her heart, made Della's dessert so I'd simmer down and move on with my little life.  (Della's pie was delicious.)  Two black woman who were pianists and vocalists had shows on TV in the 1950s.  The first was Hazel Scott.  Her 15-minute music show aired three times a week.  I believe it was national.  Then Hadda Brooks (seen playing piano and singing in 1950's IN A LONELY PLACE starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame and 1952's THE BAD AND THE BEAUTFUL starring Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner and Gloria Grahame) had a show that aired on local Los Angeles TV with repeats up in San Francisco.  But, come the 1960s, Della Reese made broadcast history when she was the first black woman to host her own weeknight syndicated talk/variety show. She sang and did interviews.  Della gave us solid entertainment.
Did you know that Della Reese was the first black woman to substitute for Johnny Carson as host of NBC's TONIGHT Show?
The first time I met her was in 1984.  I was the cohost of a live weekday afternoon show that aired on Milwaukee's ABC affiliate.  She was in town for an engagement and to pitch a food product.  I think it was Campbell's Soups and she was promoting quick recipes that would include the soups.  Della Reese was friendly and formidable.  You knew she was a no-nonsense dame who wanted to make sure her product was promoted and that she'd be treated respectfully.  We had a kitchen on the set and she'd brought some items, so the segments worked out perfectly.  Also, she liked me.  She made a casserole using cans of a certain soup.  When the segment and the show were over, the crew from the control room didn't get to taste the food as it usually did when we had cooking segments.  Why?  Because when Della Reese had completed her guest segments on our live show, she went back to the hotel -- and took the casserole with her.
The next time I interviewed her was in New York City.  I was on Fox5's GOOD DAY NEW YORK and, by that time, she'd gained millions of TV fans from her work on the hit CBS series, TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL.  Previously, Della had been a TV cast member on CHICO AND THE MAN and she starred on TV's THE ROYAL FAMILY with her dear friend, Redd Foxx.  He died during the 1991-1992 run of the show.  TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL became one of CBS' biggest hits.  However, when it was making the Top Ten, star Roma Downey reportedly got a 100% raise and Della got something like a 12% raise.  Remember, I said that Della was "formidable."  She went public with her pay inequality.  She said, "It's tough to be an angel in Hollywood when you're underpaid."
In my New York City interview of Della Reese, around 1999, she was promoting a book she'd written for youngsters.  A book to help them know God.
With her TV performances and her scene-stealing film work in HARLEM NIGHTS with Eddie Murphy, I was curious how she so effectively made the transition to acting.  I asked if she had acting classes or a coach and she immediately, proudly declared "Jeff Corey!"  She credited him with her acting success.
His was not a household name when it came to discussing movie stars but his was a face many classic film fans would quickly recognize.  He was one of those character actors who was always good.  His film credits included THE KILLERS (1946) and BRUTE FORCE (1947), both with Burt Lancaster, HOME OF THE BRAVE (1949) as the Army psychoanalyst trying to root out the cause of an African American GI's nervous breakdown....
....LADY IN A CAGE (1964), THE CINCINNATI KID (1965), TRUE GRIT (1969), BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969) and LITTLE BIG MAN (1970) as Wild Bill Hickok.

Corey was one of those 1950s actors who, unfortunately, was blacklisted.  He became a respected acting coach.  Eventually, he got a lot of future work in TV and went back to films.
I knew who Jeff Corey was from classic films that I'd seen.  But, until that late 1990s interview of Della Reese, I had not known that Mr. Corey was a top acting coach.

And there you have it.  A little something you didn't know about the very talented Della Reese.  The actress/singer died this week at age 86.  She was wonderful.

Friday, November 17, 2017

GMA Avoids the Gay

Friday, November 17th.  As usual, I was watching the network morning shows.  I wanted to catch the last half-hour of GOOD MORNING AMERICA because actor Armie Hammer was slated to be a guest and talk about his new movie.  OK, let me tell you about that movie first.  It's based on a celebrated novel.  The title of the film is CALL ME BY YOUR NAME.                                     
Over the summer, I noticed glowing reviews for it showing up on social media.  Many of these excellent notices came from female critics who wrote about how lyrical and emotionally satisfying this film is.  I am so eager to see it because, frankly, those were Oscar reviews that I read.  Those were the kind of reviews that make a movie an Oscar contender.  Across the board, all the reviews told you that the story takes place in the 1980s, in Italy, and that a talented 17-year-old male develops romantic feelings for a male doctoral student he meets through his academic father.  This tale of young love unfolds against a gorgeous Italian landscape.  Armie Hammer plays the doctoral student.
There sat Armie Hammer, totally charming with the GMA anchors as he talked about his family's holiday plans.  Then, one of the anchors finally brings up the movie.  We didn't get a clip with the audio up.  We saw him rockin' out -- his character dancing at a music concert.  The GMA crew talked over that clip and asked Armie about his lovably awkward dance moves.
Then Robin Roberts mentioned that she saw the movie, praised it and described it to the viewers and the studio audience as a story of "young love."  There was no mention of a same-sex romance angle at all.  So...with the dance clip that GMA showed, a clip that got laughs from the audience...and the description of the movie being about "young love," you might think this is a mainstream romantic comedy -- like something starring Emma Thompson and Ryan Gosling.
Was ABC/Disney afraid of something?  I have been a GMA fan for decades.  I have worked on morning news programs in New York City.  There is a way of writing a more accurate, non-generic description of a critically acclaimed dramatic film that will not "shock" a morning show audience.  I could have written that description.  Also, this is a morning show that brings on contestants from THE BACHELOR and THE BACHELORETTE, a prime time show in which young attractive contestants who claim to be looking for marriage get drunk, get naked and use such foul language that they have to be bleeped.

After he won his first Oscar, for PHILADELPHIA, Tom Hanks and I talked about Hollywood's resistance to hire openly gay actors.  Straight actors were warned about playing gay characters for fear they'd be stereotyped and would not get as many employment opportunities in the future.  William Hurt for KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN (1985) and Tom Hanks for PHILADELPHIA (1993) were trailblazers and broke ground winning Oscars for playing openly gay actors.

Now we have straight actors unafraid to play gay characters on network TV and on film.  Heck, look at the other actors who went on to get Oscar nominations for playing gay men -- Greg Kinnear in AS GOOD AS IT GETS, Javier Bardem in BEFORE NIGHT FALLS, Sean Penn in MILK, Philip Seymour Hoffman in CAPOTE, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and Colin Firth for A SINGLE MAN.

That could've been mentioned to Armie Hammer.  The rave reviews could've been mentioned during the interview.  (They weren't.)  The Oscar buzz could've been mentioned.  (It wasn't.)  The fact that the young gay romance is tastefully done could've been mentioned.

I was really surprised that a network morning news show, with an openly gay anchor, took such a timid approach in 2017 to a mature new film that's gotten great reviews here and in Great Britain.  This timidity came at the end of a week in which actor Terry Crews was live in the GMA studio to talk about his sexual misconduct allegations against a male Hollywood agent.  Crews said, "He touched my junk!"  But CALL ME BY YOUR NAME got a generic description.  That irked me.  Here's a trailer for the film:
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME opens November 24th.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Plugging Our Podcast

My comedian/actor friend, KEITH PRICE, and I have been doing a podcast that I beg you to hear once in a while.  If I say so myself, we are fun and pretty well informed as we bring you a different view on the arts -- new and old.  Just today, I watched GOOD MORNING AMERICA and, during its last half hour, I said "They need to hire me as a segment producer." Here I am on the set of cable TV film review show, about to go on as a guest critic.
Michael Strahan and Lara Spencer were interviewing Josh Hutcherson, young star of FUTURE MAN on Hulu.  They showed a clip.  Who was opposite him as the mother in the clip?  Glenne Headley -- the wonderful actress who starred as Tess Trueheart in DICK TRACY (1990) and starred with Michael Caine and Steve Martin in DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS.  She died in June of this year.  Michael Strahan and Lara Spencer didn't know that.  Then Amy Robach interviewed Joely Fisher, sister of the late Carrie Fisher, about her new memoir.  Amy mentioned Joely's mom -- but she didn't seem to know that Connie Stevens (once married to Eddie Fisher, Carrie's dad), was an ABC network TV star back in the day on the hit private eye TV series, HAWAIIAN EYE.  Joely was a regular on the landmark Ellen DeGeneres ABC sitcom, ELLEN.
In host notes, I would have written for Strahan and Spencer to mention the late Glenne Headley when they came out of the clip for FUTURE MAN.  I would've had Amy Robach intro Joely as being a one-time member of the ABC prime time family --- just like her mom.  Robach mentioned that Joely's mother once had an affair with Elvis Presley, but she didn't set up that Connie Stevens was also a TV and movie star.  I would've given her that info.
 But that's just me.

One stimulus that prompted Keith and me to do the podcast is that fact that you have rarely seen racial diversity in the field of film and theater reviewers on network news programs or other programming.  Did you ever see a weekly African American film critic on one of the network morning news programs?  How many times you have seen a black person on TV review a Broadway or off-Broadway play?  When cable's AMC was American Movie Classics, did you ever see a black person as one of the regular film hosts?  How many times have you seen an African American guest host or co-host on Turner Classic Movies?  Early this year when ABC's GOOD MORNING AMERICA was the only place where you saw the live announcement of the Oscar nominations, neither one of the white male national entertainment reporters on the GMA set (Chris Connelly and Jess Cagle) knew that Viola Davis had just become a groundbreaker with her third Oscar nomination -- thus making her the most Oscar-nominated black actress in all Hollywood history. Nor did they know that Denzel Washington had just become the most Oscar-nominated black actor in Hollywood history.  They mentioned Meryl Streep's 20th nomination.

Here's a short video I posted on YouTube two months before the Oscar nominations were announced on ABC:
Here's my friend/producer Keith Price when he was on Sirius Radio. Yes, he's with the legendary Carol Burnett plus Tim Conway and Vicki Lawrence from Carol's classic CBS variety series.
The arts thrive on diversity.  Just as they thrive on that, there must also be diversity in the discussion of the arts.  The podcast is called MOCHAA (like mocha the flavor) and it stands for Man Of A Certain Hue And Age.  Let's face it.  Being black and AARP-eligible has a big ol' impact on our views and reviews.  Hear us out!  Check out our podcast at:

Monday, November 13, 2017

Underrated Talent, Whoopi Goldberg

I saw that November 13th is Whoopi Goldberg's birthday.  She will celebrate.  I sat next to her just about every week for two consecutive years and I know that she digs a celebration and also digs getting gifts.  She still has such a youthful glee about that.  I continue to be extremely grateful to her.  I continue to hold that she is one of the most underrated acting talents who is a member of the Screen Actors Guild.  When's the last time you saw THE COLOR PURPLE?  That Steven Spielberg film made her one of the few black women in Hollywood history to be an Oscar nominee for Best Actress.  If you haven't seen it lately, you need to see it again.  Whoopi Goldberg's performance in it will lay you out.  It is one of the best performances delivered by an actor in a Hollywood studio film during the 1980s.  It holds up.  It is as raw, fresh, poignant and soul-stirring now as it was in 1985.
I met and interviewed Whoopi Goldberg when she was promoting her 1988 movie, CLARA'S HEART.  Her co-star in that movie was a teen actor named...Neil Patrick Harris.  I had my own prime time celebrity talk show on VH1.  A half-hour show that I absolutely loved.  I loved working on that show and I loved my crew.  Whoopi was one of our premiere guests.  I was lucky enough to get great guests -- most of whom I interviewed one-on-one for the whole show.  Kirk Douglas, Meryl Streep, Mel Gibson, Marlo Thomas, John Lithgow...and Whoopi Goldberg were some of those guests.  I had been in awe of Whoopi's versatility before THE COLOR PURPLE thanks to multiple VHS video rentals of her acclaimed stage show, WHOOPI GOLDBERG: DIRECT FROM BROADWAY.  This was the one-woman show in which she played several memorable and very funny, very touching characters.  The legendary Mike Nichols had spotted her, taken her to Broadway and become her mentor.

We didn't have a studio audience and a band for my talk show.  We did it live to tape and I wrote and performed it as if it was onstage.  That was my choice.  When Whoopi came on to be a guest, she was the first guest who noticed that I didn't have an earpiece, a TelePrompTer or cue cards.  I had a few notes on the desk and the rest was in my head.  I wanted to be in the moment.  That impressed her and, man, was I proud of that!
When she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for GHOST (1990), she made history as the first black actress to win the Oscar in that category since Hattie McDaniel's groundbreaking nomination and win for 1939's GONE WITH THE WIND.  For quite a long time, Whoopi Goldberg -- with her two nominations -- was the most Oscar-nominated black actress in Hollywood history until Viola Davis got her third nomination and won Best Supporting Actress early this year for FENCES (2016).

When Whoopi got her own weekday live morning radio show in New York City, a show that aired nationally on 16 stations across the country, she tapped me to be the weekly entertainment contributor and film reviewer.  I am still thankful to Whoopi for that opportunity.  And, I must admit, going to work and sitting next to a show biz icon as we both did live morning radio was a very surreal experience.  It was during our two years of her show that Whoopi became a full-time popular regular on ABC's THE VIEW.
Like Rita Moreno, Cicely Tyson, Angela Bassett, Alfre Woodard, Diahann Carroll, Taraji P. Henson, Gabourey Sidibe, Jennifer Hudson and even Viola Davis...Whoopi Goldberg turned to television after one or two Oscar nominations because Hollywood had no more good script opportunities for them, women of color.  And they wanted work.  Through the years, they did not get numbers of script offers like white actresses such as Meryl Streep, Michelle Pfeiffer, Demi Moore, Sharon Stone, Julia Roberts. Jennifer Aniston and Jennifer Lawrence.

If you can ever find a copy of WHOOPI GOLDERG, DIRECTOR FROM BROADWAY, I urge you to watch it.  Also, THE COLOR PURPLE and GHOST were not the only films in which she slammed across a solid performance.  I also recommend these films that often get overlooked when folks talk about their favorite Whoopi Goldberg films:
THE LONG WALK HOME (1990).  Whoopi and Sissy Spacek star in this fine, mature Civil Rights film.  Two women. One black and one white, both mothers in Montgomery, Alabama during the famous 1950s bus boycott lead by Martin Luther King, Jr.  One of Whoopi's finest film performances.

THE PLAYER (1992).  A Robert Altman film.  A Hollywood studio executive gets mysterious death threats from a screenwriter whose script he rejected.  Tim Robbins plays the executive.  Whoopi plays Detective Avery, the cop on the case.  The movie is packed with star cameos -- Jack Lemmon, Cher, Bruce Willis, Burt Reynolds and more.  Enjoy.

CORRINA, CORRINA (1994).  This is a feel-good comedy romance that I love to watch as weekend entertainment.  Whoopi plays the maid working for a widower dad with a sweet little girl.  Ray Liotta gets to exercise his comedy acting muscles as the lovable dad.  He tries to make money writing commercial jingles and, since the death of his wife, he needs help around the house while he's at work.  Corrina, the maid, helps the little girl out of her grief.  The main thing here is the delicious chemistry between Whoopi and Ray Liotta.  In the film, you see that romance quietly starts to bloom between Corrina and Manny (Ray Liotta).  But...the year is 1959.  When Whoopi and I worked together, I told her that CORRINA, CORRINA should be turned into a Broadway musical.

GHOSTS OF MISSISSIPPI (1996).  A true story and another dramatic film triumph for Whoopi Goldberg.  If you saw the movie, THE HELP, a major turning point is when the black characters watch the network news bulletin that Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers had been shot and killed in front of his home.  The year was 1963.  Years later, with the steely determination of his widow, the racist killer is brought to justice.  In GHOSTS OF MISSISSIPPI, Whoopi plays Myrlie Evers, widow of the slain activist.  James Woods is chilling as the cold-blooded racist killer. He got a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his performance.  GHOSTS OF MISSISSIPPI was directed by Rob Reiner.  Alec Baldwin co-stars.
I wish Whoopi Goldberg a most fabulous birthday.  By the way, she's now on the Motion Picture Academy's Board of Governors.

One more thing:  Whoopi Goldberg does a terrific lip sync of Judy Garland singing "Come Rain or Come Shine" on her famous Live at Carnegie Hall concert album.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Black Is Beautiful in CASABLANCA

The Oscar-winning Hollywood classic celebrates a 75th anniversary this year.  It's returned to big screens for anniversary showings thanks to Fathom Events in conjunction with TCM (Turner Classic Movies).  CASABLANCA is a love story set against the tense backdrop of WW2 with Nazis devouring Europe.  We see bravery, sacrifice, loyalty, patriotism and true love.  We see all this while enjoying excellent performances and some of the most quoted lines of dialogue to come out of one movie.  Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid and Claude Rains keep attracting new generations to this early 1940s Warner Brothers drama.
I've written about this before and I'll touch on it again because CASABLANCA is getting publicity thanks to its upcoming anniversary.  It was the focus of a segment on CBS SUNDAY MORNING and there's a new book out by author Noah Isenberg that I must purchase.  It's called WE'LL ALWAYS HAVE CASABLANCA.  He covers the life, legend and afterlife of this beloved Hollywood movie.  He was included in the November 12th CBS SUNDAY news program feature in which we saw a current interview of Bogart's son, Paul Henreid's daughter and Claude Rains' daughter talking about their parents' classic film.  Isenberg seems like a pretty cool dude.
One of the other members of the famous cast, a performer who sings the song most closely associated with the love story, is Dooley Wilson as Rick Blaine's good friend, Sam.  Sam is the headliner in Rick's swanky nightclub/gambling joint.  African American actor/singer Dooley Wilson had Broadway credits on his resume.  He was Ethel Waters' leading man in the hit Broadway musical fable, CABIN IN THE SKY.  The property was purchased by MGM and made into a top MGM musical which marked Lena Horne's first Hollywood film role and Vincente Minnelli's 1943 debut as a film director. Wilson didn't recreate his Broadway role in the movie opposite Ethel Waters.  The role went to the popular Jack Benny radio show regular, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson.

A TV exec once asked me what classic films I would air during a Black History Month.  One of the movies I mentioned was CASABLANCA.  Let me tell you why.

CASABLANCA was released in December 1942.  This is just a few years after Hattie McDaniel made Hollywood history as the first black person nominated for an Oscar and the first to win.  Hattie McDaniel won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for playing "Mammy," the all-wise house servant in 1939's Civil War epic, GONE WITH THE WIND.

In Hollywood at that time, black actors and actresses were usually in servant roles.  Mammies, maids, butlers, domestics, porters, cooks, field hands, stable boys and such.
Sam is a sophisticated black character.  He's not a second class citizen.  He's important to the two lead white characters.  Dooley Wilson has a key scene with each star, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.  Sam is Rick Blaine's friend and confidante.  He's Ilsa's friend.  He saw their romance blossom.  He was there at its abrupt end.  He knows their story.  He knows that their song is "As Time Goes By."  Also, Sam dresses like he's ready to be photographed for ESQUIRE Magazine.  He's lookin' sharp.
 In how many other Hollywood films of that era did the you see the black character sharing a bottle of champagne with not just one, but two white characters both of whom were the stars of the film?  THAT was major.
And another thing, notice the dialogue near the end when Rick has to sell his nightclub.  All the employees keep their jobs.  Including Sam, the star entertainer.  Rick negotiates to get Sam double what his previous salary was.
Again...THAT was major.  A white guy got a black guy a sizeable increase in salary.  I wish I had an agent like Rick in CASABLANCA.  Keep in mind this was an era when Hollywood was still giving us blackface musical numbers (1942's HOLIDAY INN, 1943's DIXIE, 1944's HERE COME THE WAVES). 1942's CASABLANCA gave us a bold, refreshing image of a black person in a 1940s Hollywood film.  There's a lot more to Dooley Wilson's Sam to consider.  We wouldn't see more of that kind of upscale image until the 1950s.

Until next time..."Here's looking at you, kid."

Saturday, November 11, 2017


SAYONARA, THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, THE DEFIANT ONES, ELMER GANTRY, EL CID, HUD, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, A RAISIN IN THE SUN, PARIS BLUES, SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, THE PRIDE AND THE PASSION, THE WORLD OF SUZIE WONG, SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER, Disney's THE PARENT TRAP, BYE BYE BIRDIE, THE BIG COUNTRY and the foreign film starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW.  All those movies I watched in the back seat of the family car.  For most of the, I had my pajamas on underneath my street clothes so I could be put to bed faster when we got home.  I'd surely be asleep in the backseat on the way home.  I was a little boy.  My sister was even...more little by a few years.  We saw all those movies at the drive-in.  Going to the drive-in, falling in love with films in the backseat as Mom and Dad sat up front, was some of my all-time favorite family entertainment when I was growing up in South Central Los Angeles.  But, if you watched TV news reports -- local and national -- about life in South Central L.A., you'd never guess that black people paid to see such cinema entertainment.  And ours was not the only car with black people in it at the drive-in when we saw those movies either.  I bet filmmaker Charles Burnett knew that working class black families in South Central L.A. went to see such features at drive-ins called the Twin-Vue, The Vermont, The Compton and The Century.  Charles Burnett is an independent filmmaker.  He's familiar with life in South Central L.A.
From our house, I would often walk or take the bus up Central Avenue to high school.  I attended and graduated from a parochial all-boys high school in Watts.  This was the Watts just a few years after being in the national news headlines for The Watts Riots.  The late Karl Fleming was a NEWSWEEK reporter who covered the Birmingham Church Bombing, the Watts Riots, and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.  He was a Southern-born white man.  He wrote about this in his memoir, SON OF THE ROUGH SOUTH.  I mention that 2005 book because Fleming noted his surprise to be visiting THE LOS ANGELES TIMES when the Watts Riots had erupted.  He was surprised...well, more accurately, stunned to see that there was not one single black reporter on the staff. That was 1965.
 In 1970, I saw a notice in THE LOS ANGELES TIMES Classified Ads seeking film buffs for a new TV game show.  A written test had to be taken.  I talked my mother into taking me to Hollywood to take the test about classic film trivia.  I did better on that test than I would on my SATs.  In a few weeks that summer, I'd be the youngest and first black contestant on a syndicated show called THE MOVIE GAME.  It aired on Channel 9 in Los Angeles.  Army Archerd of VARIETY co-hosted with a guy named Sonny Fox.  With my mother and sister in the Goldwyn Studios TV audience, I became the show's first black winner.  Me. A kid from a high school in Watts who had Phyllis Diller and Hugh O'Brian as his celebrity teammates on THE MOVIE GAME.  My high school, faculty and fellow students, saw the show when it aired and I felt their pride at how I represented our community.  My grandparents in New Jersey saw it.  There was no mention of my national TV game show victory in THE L.A. TIMES or any other local newspaper.

In many ways. our black community was invisible to mainstream reporting in L.A. during my youth.  It irritated me, starting back in my high school years, that South Central L.A. was seen solely by mainstream media through lenses of Watts Riots footage or the sitcom SANFORD AND SON.  But we were not invisible to Charles Burnett.  He reflected the rhythm and beauty of African American working class South Central L.A. life in KILLER OF SHEEP (1977).
This weekend, Charles Burnett receives an Honorary Oscar for his contributions to world cinema.   Here is a trailer for one of his works, KILLER OF SHEEP.
We are so very, very proud of Mr. Burnett.  Other films talents receiving Honorary Oscars along with Charles Burnett this weekend are cinematographer Owen Roizman, Belgian director Agnes Varda and actor Donald Sutherland.

Billy Wilder DVD Double Feature

Fred MacMurray.  Man, there was an actor who deserves more attention than he gets from classic film enthusiasts.  We baby boomers loved him ...