Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Talented Chris Pine

Hearing the latest news about that guy some Americans elected into the White House was enough to make me scream.  So I turned the channel to see if there was something else that could calm me down.  WONDER WOMAN was on HBO.  Perfect.  That hit movie was so entertaining and so well-cast.  If you've seen it, the scene in which Diana is taken into the London department store and tries on a few unflattering and uncomfortable outfits always makes me laugh.  The movie had the kind of fun scenes that Old Hollywood used to give us on a regular basis.  Director Patty Jenkins, who directed Charlize Theron to a Best Actress Oscar win for MONSTER, did a great job with WONDER WOMAN.  I loved the chemistry between Gal Gadot as Diana, the hero, and Chris Pine as Steve.  They believed in their characters and in the story -- a key ingredient in making the action/fantasy work.  I first noticed Chris Pine when he played young Captain Kirk in the STAR TREK movies.  I'm sure I'm not the only person who thought, "Damn! He is one handsome dude!"
While I watched some of WONDER WOMAN today, it thoroughly confirmed the rightness of my opinion that, if we were in the 1930s and 40s days of Old Hollywood, Chris Pine would be a very busy leading man in movies.  And he'd be introducing original songs by top songwriters the way Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire and Dick Powell did.
Buddies of mine in New York, guys who aren't hardcore fans of musicals the way I am, saw INTO THE WOODS because they were doing entertainment reports on the movie.  They contacted me enthusiastically praising the work of Chris Pine as The Prince.  And the main thing they all said was, "Wait till you hear him sing!"  Even though Meryl Streep is in the movie, and got another one of her annual Oscar nominations for her performance, the storybook movie is pretty much stolen by Chris Pine as the comically self-absorbed and charmingly horny Prince.  Here's a scene with Pine and, as The Baker's Wife, Emily Blunt.  Click onto the link.

https://youtu.be/FK2OMXqiuq4.

In Old Hollywood studio days, he'd have been offered another musical immediately after that 2014 release.  Also, Chris Pine is not "just another pretty face."  He's got a classic movie star face.  It's a face so fine that he could easily coast on those good looks for a time and get attention.  But he doesn't coast.  He's got solid acting skills.  The modern-day western and Recession Era cops and robbers drama, HELL OR HIGH WATER, was one of my favorite films of 2016.  A very scruffy Pine played one of the two bank robbers.  I said on National Public Radio a week before the Oscars telecast of 2017 that I wished HELL OR HIGH WATER had made it into the Best Picture Oscar race.  Take a look at the trailer.
Crackle TV is under the Sony corporate umbrella.  A few years ago, back in Manhattan, Crackle TV held a promotional morning event in a theater.  Clips of its new season were shown onscreen.  There was good press turnout for this event.  (Also, complimentary food and beverages were available in the lobby.)  One of the shows was a loopy new animated comedy series called SUPER MANSION about a group of dysfunctional superheroes.  Pine does voice work on the series.

When the onscreen presentation ended and press folks were standing up to gather their things and head up the aisles to the exit, a montage of outtakes from the SUPER MANSION voiceover session started.

People stopped leaving.  Why?  Because Chris Pine was so hysterically funny ad libbing different voices and lines of dialogue.  He was like Robin William in his MORK AND MINDY years funny.  Chris Pine made the crowd break up laughing and his outtakes got applause.  So, in addition to other musicals, why isn't he getting top comedy script offers?

Hollywood may not be giving you the message but, believe me.  Chris Pine is one terrifically talented actor.  And handsome.




Monday, May 21, 2018

What Would Harvey Milk Have Said About That?

MILK.  It was another of the many times I gave thanks to SAG-AFTRA, my union.  As a member, I was lucky enough to get an invite to a preview screening of MILK, the 2008 biopic starring Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, the slain openly gay San Francisco politician.  Harvey Milk, one of America's top gay activists, was elected to San Francisco's Board of Supervisors.  He and the city's Mayor George Moscone were shot and killed in San Francisco City Hall in 1978.  They were shot by a disgruntled former member of their Board of Supervisors. This hate crime, this assassination is in the movie, MILK.  Victor Garber (right) co-starred with Penn as Mayor Moscone.
My first professional broadcast job, after I graduated from college in Milwaukee, was on radio.  I was the new morning news reader for an FM rock radio station in that same city.  I read news reports about Harvey Milk's activism and the public campaign of former Miss Oklahoma pageant winner/singer Anita Bryant.  Bryant, in those days, was a very popular singer who got lots of national TV exposure singing in commercials as the pitchperson for Florida orange juice. Then she waged her Christian campaign to ban gay people from working as teachers on Florida schools.  If you're too young to remember those days, you can well imagine how much network news coverage she got in her opposition to Harvey Milk.  Then one day on the air, I read the bulletin that Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone had been shot and killed.
This was back in the day when there were no openly gay people working regularly on TV.  There were no openly gay network news anchors, daytime talk show hosts and no gay fashion consultants doing network red carpet coverage at the Oscars.  There were no openly gay actors on TV playing straight men (HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER) and no straight men playing openly gay men (MODERN FAMILY) and there surely weren't any drag queens competing in network singing talent competition shows (AMERICAN IDOL this season).  And no one back in the 1970s ever dreamed that a straight actor could play a gay character in a major movie and win an Oscar for the performance.

I was gay but not publicly out in my early radio days.  Why?  For fear of losing that job...a job I really needed.  Come 2008, I was publicly out.  I was on national radio in New York City working with Whoopi Goldberg.  Our crew, including Whoopi, participated in an AIDS Walk New York.  On Whoopi's show, I told how the GMHC (Gay Men's Health Crisis) fundraiser is very dear to my heart because, in the early 90s when my late partner was diagnosed, the GMHC gave me great counseling in how to be a better caregiver in those dark days of the disease.

The Recession hit -- and I was hit hard.  Twice.  Whoopi's radio show was cancelled. A bunch of us were out of work.  It took me a little over a year to find a new job -- and then that job went belly-up with layoffs.

Hard times forced me into a spot of needing to accept a friend's invite to live with him in San Francisco and attempt to start over.  I lived in San Francisco for most of 2011.  I lived in his apartment which was about a 15-minute walk from City Hall. In fact, we could see City Hall from our window.  I'd gaze at the beautiful building and think about the gay history of Harvey Milk.
I pitched myself to local TV stations for work.  Before doing so, I did what I usually do before pitching my services to a TV station.  I watched the station to get a feel for its tone, the diversity and style of its on-air team and overall quality.  I do this homework to see where I could fit in.

Here's what hit me in the face like a big splash of ice water.  There was no openly gay reporter or contributor doing features on local San Francisco Bay Area television.  San Francisco.  The home of Castro Street.  The place where Harvey Milk started his forceful gay activism.  A city The Village People sang about.  Not that there weren't gay people working at the stations. I met one lovely gent who did a weekly restaurant segment on a station's news programs.

But, in June -- which is Gay Pride Month -- there was no openly gay contributor on a Bay Area local TV news station reporting on Gay Pride Month issues and activities.  Again, this was 2011.  How would Harvey Milk have felt about that?  He fought hard for our visibility and equality.  But there was no one openly gay and bringing LGBT visibility via features for a newscast in his city.  We had gay contributors do features on AIDS prevention and Gay Price Month events for the popular all-news local cable station NY1 (New York One) back in New York.

So, I pitched myself to stations like KRON to be a contributor covering LGBT issues and events. I pitched myself as such to other local Bay Area stations.  No luck.

However, I did get meetings so I could pitch myself.  Some executives were aware of my national gigs on Food Network and VH1.  That was nice. I did get any of the "Have you ever done TV work?" ignorance that I'd gotten two years before when I met with agents and network news producers in Manhattan.

I wonder if that's changed on local TV in the Bay Area since I lived there in 2011.  Is there someone openly gay doing informative and helpful features on the LGBTQ community?  I'd like to know.

By the way, if you never saw Sean Penn's Best Actor Oscar-winning performance in MILK... you should.  An outstanding film and an outstanding performance.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

A Royal Weddding, a Touch of Sidney Poitier

A lovely couple, a lovely ceremony and a most beautiful bride.  I was wide awake well before the crack of dawn to watch live network news coverage of the Royal Wedding.  I admit that I've been thrilled for him ever since they announced their engagement.  And Meghan Markle makes my heart take wing.  Harry is one lucky bloke.  The actress/humanitarian and fellow Los Angeleno brings some radiant light and fresh air to the Royal Family.  They are a modern picture of equality, inclusion and love in the monarchy.
I did not expect to be as touched by the events of the ceremony as I was.  But, when I saw Doria Ragland, Meghan Markle's mother, with her in the backseat of the burgundy Rolls-Royce on their way from the hotel to the chapel, I got tears in eyes.  Can you just imagine the extreme joy in that sweet woman's heart?  In California, did she ever in her wildest dreams think that her daughter's engagement would lead to Ms. Ragland having tea with the Queen of England and attending a wedding ceremony that would be an international live telecast? Wow. Now she is known as....the mother of the Duchess of Sussex.
About the touch of Sidney Poitier:  When Prince Harry and Meghan walked out of the church and onto the entrance as the newlywed Duke and Duchess of Sussex, they kissed and we got another song from that wonderful choir.  During the ceremony, the choir sang "Stand By Me."  Outside, before the Duke and Duchess took to the carriage ride, the choir sang "Amen."  I never thought I'd hear that spiritual sung at a Royal Wedding.
A lot of us in the baby boomer category remember it as the song sung by Sidney Poitier's character in LILIES OF THE FIELD, the feel-good comedy/drama that brought Sidney Poitier the Oscar for Best Actor of 1963.
"Amen" was written by actor, singer, songwriter Jester Hairston.  The dubbed singing voice you heard come out of Sidney Poitier is another Jester Hairston credit. He did that singing.
Jester Hairston and Sidney Poitier appeared together in the Oscar winner for Best Picture of 1967, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT.  Jester Hairston played the butler, standing in between Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier.
He's in the famous scene where Sidney as Detective Virgil Tibbs slaps the saliva out that racist white man's mouth.

The multi-talented Jester Hairston was also a regular in the long-running NBC sitcom, AMEN, starring Sherman Hemsley. It aired from 1986 to 1991.

There you have it. There was a touch of Sidney Poitier film classics in today's absolutely gorgeous and heartwarming Royal Wedding.  Cheers to the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex.






Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Leslie Uggams Blind Again for DEADPOOL 2

The top reason why I wanted to see DEADPOOL a couple of years ago is because I read so many comments on Twitter from moviegoers saying how much they loved the blind black lady in the movie with Ryan Reynolds.  Then I read one tweet with the message that the actress was Leslie Uggams.  "Leslie Uggams!" I said out loud.  Yes, Leslie Uggams.  The groundbreaking African American singer/actress who, thanks to Mom and Dad, I'd followed on TV ever since I was in elementary school.  When I finally got around to seeing DEADPOOL, I saw that the folks on Twitter were absolutely correct. Leslie Uggams rocked that role of Blind Al.
On Monday, I let out a "Wow!" when I saw her in a shot on ABC's GOOD MORNING AMERICA.  Six of the DEADPOOL 2 cast members were present for a live in-studio group appearance to promote the opening of the sequel.  I assumed that Ryan Reynolds would be present, but no announcement had been made that Leslie Uggams was also in the bunch.  There is some golden TV and Broadway history in her bio.  It's Black History.
Personally, as a TV veteran, I don't like when the celebs are in a group like that for an interview -- especially on a live network morning show where time is limited and you have to make room for a cooking segment.  With a group of six, like the DEADPOOL 2 group on Monday, you have to ask a general question that will get short answers or do something gimmicky like give them pads and pens and ask, "If you were really a superhero who could fly, what color would you cape be?"  Then you let the celebrities write down answers and hold them up to the camera.  Ryan Reynolds and Josh Brolin gave individual verbal answers. So did a couple of the new young stars.  Leslie Uggams didn't get a direct question and no major mention was made of her previous credits.
Before I give you some background about Ms. Uggams, here's a trailer for DEADPOOL 2.  Watch the volume.  There's naughty language in it.
Back in the early 1960s, when Leslie Uggams was a talented girl and American was still grappling with Civil Rights, she was the only black talent on a very popular Friday night NBC show hosted by the influential musician and record producer, Mitch Miller.  The music variety show was called SING ALONG WITH MITCH and she was a regular talent on the show.  Keep in mind it was rare then for a black person to get a network guest appearance.  Mitch gave Leslie a regular gig.  And this was during a decade when network TV execs did not want black and white artists touching each other in a friendly way for fear of losing sponsors.  NBC execs considered Dr. Martin Luther King a radical and didn't want him on the TONIGHT SHOW with guest host Harry Belafonte.  Harry overruled them and Dr. King did appear.  NBC ordered Petula Clark not to touch Harry Belafonte as they sang a duet on her NBC special.  She defied NBC brass and held Harry's arm as they sang.  Both those NBC shows happened in 1968 alone. No sponsors were lost.  Leslie Uggams was a TV trailblazer who broke through a color barrier in the early 1960s.  With her full, thrilling voice and down-to-earth sophistication, she was Must-See TV in our South Central L.A. community.  She made us proud.

Years later, she was the second African American woman to win the Tony for Best Actress in a Broadway musical.  The play about a young woman in South Carolina who's determined not to be a maid -- determined to have a show business career and persevere through the Great Depression, World War II and into the dawn of the Civil Rights era was called HALLELUJAH, BABY!  Here's Leslie Uggams performing on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW.
1967's HALLELUJAH, BABY! should have been made into a Hollywood movie.  But this was the 1960s. Hollywood studios couldn't take that story and change the lead female character into a spunky white girl played by Julie Andrews or Ann-Margret.  Diahann Carroll, the first African American woman to win the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical, should've also done a Hollywood version of her Tony-winning performance.  She starred in NO STRINGS, a 1962 musical with a score by the famed Richard Rodgers.  Richard Kiley was her leading man.  Diahann Carroll played a Harlem native who is a high fashion model living and working in Paris.  She has more racial freedom there.  She meets a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist who's sort of drifting through France.  A fellow American in Paris, he's white and has writer's block. He starts to come out of his creative slump when he meets and falls in love with the high fashion model.  But can those two take their interracial romance back to the States the way things are there in those turbulent early years of the Civil Rights movement?

Paris, high fashion, beautiful music by Richard Rodgers -- this could've also made a good movie.  I recall reading an entertainment news item about NO STRINGS in THE HERALD EXAMINER when I was a youngster.  There was brief Hollywood interest in making a movie version -- if the Diahann Carroll character could be changed from black to Asian.  It never got made.

Go to YouTube and play "The Sweetest Sounds" from the NO STRINGS original Broadway cast recording.  That's the gorgeous love song Diahann Carroll and Richard Kiley introduced in the musical.

Leslie Uggams was also a major character in the historic 1977 network mini-series that became a cultural landmark and a ratings champ -- ROOTS based on the book by Alex Haley.  It aired on ABC.

My friend Keith Price said that maybe the GOOD MORNING AMERICA team of segment producers is so young that the members don't know about Leslie's ABC connection.  I think they're probably so young, they don't even know about Ryan Reynolds' ABC connection.  Remember his sitcom TWO GUYS, A GIRL AND A PIZZA PLACE in the late 90s?

Oh. Ms. Uggams is also seen on the hit Fox TV series, EMPIRE.

There you have it. Some Black History, Broadway History and some background on Leslie Uggams before millions of DEADPOLL fans have come to know her as Blind Al.


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Always Relevant Rita Moreno

There is so much history and talent contained in that remarkable package known as Rita Moreno.  She's excelled on TV.  In fact, I still feel it was a crime she never got an Emmy nomination for her years of great acting on the HBO prison series, OZ.  Her Sister Peter Marie, the Catholic nun who was the prison's drug counselor and psychologist, was one of the boldest, most original female characters I'd seen on TV in years.  She's done Broadway.  Did you that Rita Moreno was the female lead in the play from groundbreaking playwright Lorraine Hansberry that followed Hansberry's A RAISIN IN THE SUN?  And we all continue to be dazzled by Moreno's Best Supporting Actress Oscar-winning performance in WEST SIDE STORY.  She also participated in the historic March on Washington in 1963 headed by Dr. Martin Luther King.  She continues to be an activist, pushing for more equal opportunities, more inclusion for people of color in the entertainment industry.  Over the weekend, She was on National Public Radio.  Rita Moreno was relevant and right on during that WEEKEND EDITION SUNDAY interview.
If you've read my blog posts, you already know that Rita Moreno has been a role model to me ever since I was in high school because of her activism and because she refused to be stereotyped and limited in work opportunities.  When you hear her interview, and you should, listen to her tell why she didn't work for seven years after she won her Oscar.  Listen to the kind of roles she was offered.  Then you'll know why she went to TV shows like THE ELECTRIC COMPANY and THE ROCKFORD FILES.  That part really hit me.
As I told my friend Keith Price in a podcast, on the other side of the coin that showed disrespect for women is racism.  When women said that they kept quiet on harassment they experienced for fear of losing their jobs and income, I knew EXACTLY what they meant and how they felt.

When I felt that I was not getting the same opportunities that white males when far less experience got in the same TV workplace, when I wanted to know why my pay was way below theirs...I was told to keep quiet for fear of losing the job I had.

Agents turned me down for representation even when I was on national TV.  Why?  Because black talent was not seen as marketable or in high demand.

Enough of that crap.  People of color are marketable. We are watchable. We can play characters, have on-camera jobs that respectfully reflect our community, our skills, and the world we know.

"Me Too," "Times Up" and the Frances McDormand Oscar night announcement about "inclusion riders" uncorked a big bottle of strong conversation that needed to be poured out.

You've got to hear the Rita Moreno interview segment.  At the top of the NPR page, look for *programs & podcasts*.  Click onto that, scroll down to WEEKEND EDITION SUNDAY.  Click onto WEEKEND EDITION SUNDAY and look for "Rita Moreno To "My Gente': Be Proud Of Who You Are, And Don't Give Up".  Go here to get started: NPR.org.

Ms. Moreno said that she was positive she'd get a few good script offers after she won the Oscar.  I was positive I'd get an entertainment talk show host offer after my VH1 years.  I never did.  I got offered auditions to play characters such as half of the thug duo in WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S 2.  Two black thugs in New York City performing voodoo on a corpse in a ratty Times Square movie theater men's room with a boombox and a bucket of fried chicken.  That was the audition scene. That scene is in the 1993 movie. I kid you not.  I'll post some of my VH1 work... but, more importantly, go listen to Rita Moreno. She rocks and she's still relevant. Also, she is comedy gold on the bright, Latino-flavored reboot of Norman Lear's ONE DAY AT A TIME sitcom.
The ONE DAY AT A TIME reboot is on Netflix.






Monday, May 14, 2018

Hot Lips vs Helen Hayes, a 1970 Oscar Race

What a podcast party!  I was absolutely thrilled and honored when Nathaniel Rogers, a classic film enthusiast writer and podcaster I follow on Twitter, asked me to be a panelists in one of his Oscar history podcasts.  I immediately emailed a "YES!" response.  I've written several blog posts detailing my frustration that African Americans and other people of color have been ignored for decades in the classic film discussion -- especially on television.  We're rarely, if ever, seen as hosts of classic films on TV nor are we tapped to talk about classic film history on TV unless the topic is specifically black.  Let's face it.  The white guys are asked to talk about CASABLANCA, CITIZEN KANE, SOME LIKE IT HOT, SINGIN' IN THE RAIN and ALL ABOUT EVE.  We black folks could contribute to the discussion, but we're not invited. We're saved for topics like "Blaxploitation Movies," "Slavery in Cinema" or "Classic Films to Rent for Martin Luther King Jr Day."  I was asked to discuss if the Academy got it right in the Best Supporting Actress of 1970 Oscar race.  Four of the nominees were in films that were three of the five nominees for Best Picture of 1970.  There was Karen Black in FIVE EASY PIECES...
 ...Sally Kellerman in MASH, the hit movie that inspired a long-running sitcom of the same name...
 ...Helen Hayes in AIRPORT ...
...and Maureen Stapleton in AIRPORT.
 It's easy to see how and how much of that in-flight cheese platter inspired the hit comedy take-off, AIRPLANE!

FIVE EASY PIECES, MASH and, hard to believe, AIRPORT were nominated for Best Picture of 1970.  The other two nominees were LOVE STORY and PATTON.  PATTON won the Oscar.

Last but so not least in the Best Supporting Actress Oscar category is Lee Grant as a lady of white privilege in the under-seen and under-appreciated Hal Ashby race/class satire, THE LANDLORD.
Want to hear the podcast?  It's pretty cool and informative with a festive moment or two.  Also, I had the opportunity to talk about the late, great Diana Sands.  She was also in THE LANDLORD.
She was a sensational Broadway actress whose film career was cut short by cancer.
Please go here to read about our Best Supporting Actress of 1970 Smackdown and to hear the podcast:  http://thefilmexperience.net/blog/tag/smackdown.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Before LADY BIRD, There Was OTHER PEOPLE

Remember when MOLLY SHANNON played the awkward but spunky Catholic high school girl on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE?  I loved that character.  I knew girls like that when I was in Catholic school and they provided some colorful memories of my plaid-ridden parochial school years.
Before the excellent Laurie Metcalf got a well-deserved Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for playing the overworked, judgmental but loving Sacramento mother of a Catholic high school girl who calls herself LADY BIRD, Molly Shannon also played a mother in the beige working class Sacramento suburbs.  She has a grown son who has come to visit.  The movie is OTHER PEOPLE.
Shannon will be seen on HBO come May 19th doing some comic coverage with Will Ferrell of the Royal Wedding.  Between SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE and that upcoming HBO appearance, she has knocked out a couple of dramatic home runs in independent films.  One of them, the strongest one, has just hit Netflix.  Here's a short video I did with high praise for OTHER PEOPLE.

Here's a clip.  Go over the Netflix if you're able and check out this Molly Shannon performance.






Talented Chris Pine

Hearing the latest news about that guy some Americans elected into the White House was enough to make me scream.  So I turned the channel to...