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MOSES, PETER AND MEL

Before I put one finger to type, I acknowledge this may be heresy to some people. On this day of days, one simply doesn’t make fun of religious movies. But I do.

Last night, Marilyn and I had our traditional viewing of “The Ten Commandments”. Marilyn has already posted a piece on this event which expresses our sentiments about Mr. Demille’s final epic. Cecil B was, once again, going for life altering moments. He gave us, instead, much-needed laughter.

Today’s lineup of movies on our favorite cable station includes almost all of the familiar biblical movies. Few stand the test of time. Some are really well intended like George Stevens’, “The Greatest Story Ever Told”. But the man who gave us classics like “Shane”, “A Place In The Sun” and “Giant”, wound up with a ponderous and static film in “The Greatest Story”. It’s biggest sin? It is boring!

As I write, we are watching Mel Brooks’, “History of the World-Part One” which is the perfect antidote to historical films that have become parodies or that were really never good. The ironic thing is that we have a greater appreciation of history because of Mel’s equal opportunity insults than the cardboard epics which play fast and loose with facts.

I must admit I love watching gladiator movies. It’s a guy thing like war films.  I also enjoy seeing semi clad (or even less clad) young women engaging us in erotic dances before evil monarchs who are not playing with a full deck. But we’re not talking about great cinema here.

HistoryOfTheWorldPartI

Charlton “call me Chuck” Heston was really honest when he talked about playing Moses. He told me it was a good gig. Working with Cecil B. DeMille (for a second time) was nice for his résumé. It actually gave him a boost for a religious film he really wanted to do. “Ben Hur” is one of the best religious films out of Hollywood. It stands the test of time because of William Wyler’s fine direction. And, yes, the chariot race alone is still worth the price of admission.

This really is obviously subjective. If you love Cecil B’s forceful (?) narration of his take on the old testament, so be it. So let it be written, so let it be done,

We’re back with Mel. Now, it’s the French Revolution and those girls in their generously cut costumes.

It’s good to be king!

MOSES, MOSES!

Last night was our annual viewing of Demille’s “The Ten Commandments.” It’s one of those epic movies that hasn’t held up well to time.

10 commandments

That being said, it is always fun to watch. We know the lines. Tonight’s best moment was when Moses is coming back from seeing God as The Burning Bush.

I was saying that God had taken Chuck’s nice hair and given him a bad rug – and just as I said it, his wife sees him and cries out: “OH MOSES! Your HAIR!”

Garry and I haven’t had such a good laugh in a while.

Oh Moses, Moses. In their cruelty, they made you wear a bad rug and always say your name twice. Oh Moses, Moses …

So shall it be written. So shall it be done.

MY HOLLYWOOD FANTASY – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I love movies. Old movies  Movies from the 30′s, 40′s and 50′s. I grew up watching these films. They were movies from Hollywood’s golden age when fantasy really trumped reality. These were films seen in theaters. First, second and the beloved third run or neighborhood movies houses.

This was before television. The movie theater experience was as much fun as seeing the film. That’s where the fantasy began.

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I saw my first movie in 1946. I was four years old. The movie was “The Best Years Of Our Lives”. My Mom and Dad took me to see the film in a big glittery theater in Manhattan. New York. The city that never sleeps. My Dad, in his Army dress uniform with ribbons and medals, had just returned from Europe. World War Two had ended less than a year earlier. I vaguely remembered the headlines. My Dad seemed ten feet tall in his uniform. My Mom was more beautiful than I could ever recall. She looked like a movie actress in one of those popular magazines of the day. I felt as if we were in a movie that evening. It was magical!

The_Best_Years_of_Our_Lives_film_posterI don’t remember much about the movie. I remember some of the scenes. The returning GI’s looking down at their hometown from the air. The scenes of the town as the taxi took the men to their respective homes. The family reunions. The men looked like my father and yet they didn’t. I was vaguely disturbed but didn’t understand. I dreamed about the movie that night. My Dad was the star. My Mom was the lady played by Myrna Loy. I was the son receiving souvenirs from my Dad. Yes, I could see myself in the movie.

That fantasy would replay itself many times over ensuing decades. But it grew with the films of my youth. The westerns, especially. I adored westerns. I liked seeing the good guys always beat the bad guys. I liked the way the good guys dressed and the horses they rode. Curiously, none of the guys — good or bad — looked like anyone in my family but that didn’t matter to me. Didn’t think much about it. I was  all of those good guys! Most of all, I was John Wayne. Later, I was so much John Wayne I enlisted in the Marine Corps right out of high school. Another story.

As my fantasy grew, I also discovered I was a romantic. This is a guy secret. I liked romantic movies with happy endings. I was Joseph Cotten pursuing Jennifer Jones in “Love Letters” and “Portrait of Jennie”. I was Spencer Tracy, the underdog to Clark Gable, vying for the affections of Myrna Loy and Claudette Colbert.

Somewhere, stashed away, I have an old notebook. One of those notebooks with lined pages used for compositions in grade school. I used to write imaginary castings for movies with myself as the star opposite Hollywood legends. Actually, I added some reality. I worked my way up from “and introducing Garry Armstrong”, to co-star and finally star. Fortunately, that notebook was never discovered in class.

Duke and Lone

Marilyn and I have been watching (again) a series, “MGM – WHEN THE LION ROARED”. It’s a fascinating look at the rise and fall of Hollywood’s most prestigious studio. As we look at the series, I fantasize again, now at age 72, about being there in Hollywood during its golden age.

Fantasy dissolved into a dream last night. I was in 1930′s Hollywood. I was at MGM. I saw the legends. Gable, Tracy, Garbo, Crawford and all the others. The dream unfolded rather skillfully. I was a freelance writer working under a pseudonym in separate quarters. This is how I, a man of color, could exist in that world. It was perfectly splendid. My work was excellent. Others took credit but all knew who I was, especially Louis B. Mayer. I never asked for a raise. My scripts all had the MGM touch.

In real life, I’ve had the chance to meet many of those legends who’ve been part of my dreams. As a TV news reporter, I’ve actually had the opportunity to socialize with some of the legends. You’ve read about some of them in other blogs. It’s funny when reality meets your dreams and fantasies.

I’ve done some extra or background acting. It’s been interesting but the hours are too long, like those I logged for almost 40 years in television. I don’t like getting up early anymore. I haven’t quite closed the door, mind you. I hang onto the fantasy I’ll get “the call” for a lead role in a major movie.

And, the Oscar goes to …

MARILYN IN RECOVERY: LAZY SATURDAY

This is Marilyn’s 6th full day back home after complex heart valve surgery at Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital. We’re both tired. Marilyn for multiple reasons, me just for fatigue. So, this is a short update. It’s a day for watching silly movies that don’t tax our minds. So far, we’ve seen “Hot Shots! Part Deux” and “Airplane!” The stack of waiting movies includes  “Galaxy Quest,” “Crazy People,” “The Court Jester” and a deluxe set of Mel Brooks comedies.

Marilyn is moving around more on her own. Slowly but without assistance. We received a truly nice gift from an old friend. One of those elongated bathroom seat risers with removable arms. It enables Marilyn to take care of business without help. That’s a big boost for privacy and self-accomplishment. If you’ve been there, you know it’s no small thing.

No visiting nurse or physical therapist visits today. Marilyn is in one of her bright red nightgowns. I’m wearing my “Dog Father” casual bottoms and dog-eared top. The furry kids are taking their afternoon siestas. Dinner is still to be discussed. I’m hoping to keep it simple. That’s my speed.

Marilyn wants to write a blog. She tried valiantly this morning. The brain is working but not her arms or fingers. Matter of fact, Marilyn’s mind is like that of HEDley Lamaar — ‘a raging torrent of brilliant ideas’. She’ll try her next blog when more body parts are in sync.

My usual baseball passion is slightly dormant right now for obvious reasons. I didn’t read the pre-season predictions or watch the Red Sox home opener. Sheer heresy in any other year. It’s a long season. Here’s hoping the team is doing well when Marilyn and I can give them more attention.

Surely, you understand our priorities here. And don’t call me Shirley!!

 

 

Stay In The Car and Other Classic Lines – Marilyn Armstrong

In the spirit of clichés that pop out of the mouths of Our Heroes with alarming frequency, despite the fact that they have become standing jokes for the audience (apparently nobody mentioned this to the script writers), our personal favorite in this house is “Stay in the car.”

On the NBC TV series “Chuck.” it’s a gag line. Unfortunately, on most shows it is supposed to be real dialogue  and not cause hilarity … but it does. Every time.

I checked on Subzin, a movie database that lets you enter a piece of dialogue, then reports in how many and in the specific movies where you’ll find it. According to Subzin, “Stay in the car”  can be found in 356 phrases from 296 movies and series. Yet, they continue to use it.

Lethal Weapon 2: (1989)

uses the line a lot.

Then, there’s  Last Action Hero (1993), my favorite Arnold Schwarznegger movie in which the line is understood to be a cliché , which is more than you can say for most of the places you will hear it:

But don’t feel that this is confined to modern movies. High Sierra, with Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino, 1941 used the line too.
Speaking of Humph, there’s one great line in Treasure of the Sierra Madres that has become, by its utter perfection, a cliché or maybe … a laugh line?
And again, from Blazing Saddles (1974), a movie so quotable that we can recite the entire dialogue as we watch:
And then there is:
Ah, so many clichés. So little time. And then … they all walk away …

VISITING MOCKINGBIRD’S WORLD WHILE WAITING FOR A FEW GREAT BOOKS

Recently, we watched To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) on Blu-ray. I bought it months ago and planned to watch it, but hadn’t gotten to it. After we settled in, we remembered why we love it.

It’s a great movie, a wonderful story. Brilliant acting. Gregory Peck in the defining role he chose for himself. In many way, he was Atticus Finch.

A rare movie in which all pieces fit. It never hits a false note. It takes its time. It’s about justice and injustice, racism, the legal system. It’s also about family and love, relationships, coming of age and learning the world is a bigger, better and worse place than you imagined.

Front CoverCoincidentally, my granddaughter was assigned to read the book. She thinks it’s boring, and though I don’t agree with her, I understand her world is far removed from the world of Mockingbird … so far she can’t relate to it. She’s coming into adulthood in a world where the President is Black, where her white grandma is married to a brown man and no one finds anything odd about this.

She’s part of the generation in which everything has been instant. You don’t have to read books to do research. You just Google it. There’s no time for books that move slowly in an unhurried world. Harper Lee wrote about a world without cell phones or email. People walked more often than they drove. Food grew in gardens.

The world was segregated and separated by class, religion, ethnicity. Compared to the world in Mockingbird, our sleepy little town is a metropolitan hub. Kaity cannot relate to that other world and has no patience for it. I understand why she feels the way she does, but I wish it were different.

I’ve read dozens or books during the past year, probably three-quarters of them for review … and the majority were awful.

These books would be considered “serious literature.” Serious seems to have become synonymous with boring, which is totally wrong.These books don’t seem to contain special meaning or lessons. Nothing happens except everyone is unhappy and as the books go on, they become unhappier.

Most are written well, if by “well” you mean good grammar and properly constructed sentences. They offer slices of lives we are glad we don’t live. Missing are plots, action, or any reason I — or you — would want to read them. The authors appear to be trying to do what Harper Lee did … recreate a world, a time, a place. But Harper Lee also had a story to tell. Things happened, events occurred. There were bad people, but good people, too. The story includes ugliness, but also characters worthy of admiration. Atticus Finch is a great man, a fighter for truth and justice. The world is a better place because he is in it.to-kill-a-mockingbird2_9855

The new authors don’t get it. They have forgotten a book is more than description. It needs to tell a story, to involve readers, to draw them in. If my granddaughter is finding To Kill A Mockingbird dull, it’s hard to imagine her enjoying any of these new books. They may describe a world she recognizes, but they are unlikely to lure her into wanting to partake of them.

It’s no wonder that the fastest growing segments of fiction are fantasy, mysteries, thrillers and so on. We have lost touch with the entertainment function of serious literature. If a book makes us think, teaches us, provides moral guidance, delves into serious issues, it should also make us laugh and cry, take us out of our ordinary lives. The magic of any good book is that it lets us become part of other lives and see the world through their eyes.

Call me old-fashioned, but I have my standards. I don’t read books that don’t meet them.

First and foremost, I want a story. I want a plot and I want something to happen. I don’t want to just hear what people are thinking. I want them to also do something. I want to meet characters who develop and grow. I can cope with bad guys, but I need heroes too. I am glad to learn, I’m glad to be enlightened, but I want to be absorbed and entertained. Otherwise, it isn’t a novel: it’s a textbook or maybe a sermon.

I bet there are great authors out there writing terrific books who can’t get them published. For anyone who has tried to get a book published, you know what a battle it is. Manuscripts are submitted electronically and screened  by software looking for keywords. If you can’t write a proposal containing the right buzzwords, your manuscript will never be read by a human being. Using software to judge literature is probably why so many of these books are so dreadful. Human beings should judge literature, not computers. Computers don’t read. People read. More people should read than do.

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Faulkner, Wolfe, Hemingway … or for that matter, Harper Lee … none of them would get their books read much less published today. Unless we want all our literature to consist of science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, and mysteries — if we want any other kind of literature worth reading — it’s time to take a few chances and publish books that people will enjoy. I love science fiction and fantasy, but I grew up reading all kinds of books.

I miss books that take place on this planet, in this world, in my lifetime and don’t necessarily involve magic, time travel, cops, serial killers, courts, vampires, or terrorists. Surely there are stories about our world worth publishing.

Publish more interesting books and I bet there will be more interested readers.

BERT LAHR – NOTES ON A COWARDLY LION, GARRY ARMSTRONG

It’s been a while since I finished reading the Bert Lahr biography, “Notes on a Cowardly Lion“, written by his son, John. I am still emotionally involved. Why?

Why does a book written more than 40 years ago about a show business figure who peaked more than 70 years ago still sit front and center in my mind? I’m a retired TV and radio news reporter with more than 40 years in “the business”. The “news biz” is journalism, but it’s also performance, even for those of us who strive for objectivity.

Part of the job is celebrity too. When you appear on television five or six days a week for more than four decades, you become a household face. People ask for your autograph. You receive special treatment in stores and restaurants. Twelve years into retirement, folks still recognize me, tell how they grew up watching me on TV and ask for autographs. Mine is a regional celebrity although I’ve encountered fans almost everywhere I’ve travelled in the United States and overseas. I’ve always enjoyed and appreciated my celebrity. Yes, I miss it a bit when I’m not recognized but I don’t get depressed if I go unnoticed. I needed to share a little of my life because it puts my feelings about the story of Bert Lahr’s life into perspective. I really understood in a very personal way where the man was coming from.

Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion in Wizard of Oz...

I enjoyed the biographical side of the book. It speaks to history, the history of vaudeville and burlesque, show business venues that are frequently misrepresented. As a self-proclaimed trivia maven, I received a little education. Case in point: Clifton Webb, long perceived as a middle-aged effete, film actor actually was a well-received song and dance man in vaudeville. I learned the difference between vaudeville and burlesque. I came to appreciate the art form of what I used to perceive as Bert Lahr’s overly broad slapstick comedy. I understood how Lahr’s art form suffered at the hands of Hollywood film directors who tried to minimize his well honed craft and squeeze it into their movie concept of musical comedy.

Lahr’s comic genius never really had a chance  to shine in Hollywood. “The Wizard of Oz” was the exception. But that success also spelled disaster in Tinseltown because Lahr never again received a film role like the Cowardly Lion. Years later, he would find similar frustration with television which tried to restrict his comedic moves in variety shows. Lahr didn’t think much of TV comic legends like Milton Berle and Sid Caesar. Ironically, both Berle and Caesar spoke highly of Lahr in lengthy interviews with me — even as they lamented the fading of their celebrity. But that’s another story. Back to Bert Lahr.  Born into poverty, Lahr was always very conscious about being financially secure.

BertLahrEven when he returned to Broadway where he found his greatest success over the years, Lahr never felt financially secure even though he was earning top star salaries. In later years, as a TV pitchman for Potato Chips, Lahr earned more money for a thirty-second commercial than he ever did for starring in a play, movie or TV special. He still didn’t feel financially secure.

Bert Lahr did find some unexpected late professional success with surprising turns in work like “Waiting For Godot” co-starring with the likes of E.G. Marshall. Lahr savored critical acclaim, but was never satisfied even when he received it. For all of his professional and financial success, he was an unhappy man. He was insecure as an aspiring comedian/actor seeking stardom. He was insecure as a star thinking others were always trying to undermine him. He was insecure as an aging, respected legend believing people had forgotten him even though he was recognized everywhere he went. Lahr was miserable as a husband and father — demanding but not giving. Lahr desperately needed the audience — the laughter, the applause — throughout his life. Sadly,  he never appreciated the love and admiration he got from his family.

As the curtain closed on his life — with his loved ones gathered around him — Lahr still longed for his audience and their laughter and applause. He couldn’t let it go and move on, nor appreciate the good things life offered him. Lahr’s loneliness haunted me. The deeper I got into the book, the more painful I found reading his biography. I know first-hand how intoxicating and addictive celebrity is, especially when you fail to appreciate real life. Bert Lahr was never able to see the joys and sorrows of family and friends as “the real thing” that makes it all worthwhile. It’s the celebrity that is unreal and ephemeral.

It’s the people who love you who will sustain you after the curtain closes and the audience departs the theatre. That Lahr was never able to recognize what he had and accept the love that was there for him was his personal tragedy.

It’s a fine biography, but not a joyful reading experience. It is in many ways a cautionary tale, a reminder of how important it is to keep ones perspective and ones feet on the ground.

ROKU – BETTER THAN EVER AND JUST AS CHEAP

Every once in a while, someone invents something that makes life a little brighter. 

Enter the Roku, a little streaming device that runs off your WiFi so you can stream movies, TV shows and other channels both free and subscription-based on your television. The price is right: the entry-level model is $49.99, and even the top of the line is less than $100, cheaper than a modest game system.

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The Roku comes in different flavors though they all work the same way. Advanced models offer additional bells and whistles including an earphone connection through the remote control. In our case, there is no point in getting an advanced model. Both our television have just one high-definition port and it’s already in use by the cable box. Also, we have wireless Sennheiser headphones hook-ups for both televisions.

plugs roku and headphones

Roku is small, the size of a little bar of soap. Connecting is simple. I did it alone and despite a few humorous moments caused when I didn’t notice I’d accidentally turned off the power strip, it went smoothly. Roku is as easy to install as the ads promise. It works. And keeps working.

Plug A into B, B into C. Insert batteries (2 AAAs, included) into the remote. Turn on the TV and follow the prompts. The single item the instructions don’t cover is reminding you to switch your TV input to whatever input you are using for Roku. This was easy on the newer TV in the bedroom where inputs on the back of the set are labeled. The bigger (older) TV in the living room makes you guess, so you have to click through the inputs until Roku appears. Mostly, you need to know to take this step or you will sit there staring at an empty screen, wondering why you aren’t seeing Roku.

roku to TV + headphones

The instructions promise installing the Roku will bring out your inner geek. My inner geek is not hidden. I just don’t like hardware. In my secret heart, I believe electricity is waiting for the right moment to spill out of the walls. I don’t trust hardware and I believe the feeling is mutual.

Regardless, I set it up and by golly, it works. This was my second installation, so I’m two for two. Yay me. It took about half an hour, most of which involved getting the wires out of the way and finding a place to put Roku where it is accessible yet close enough to plug into a power strip. Compromise was required. I wish manufacturers would include longer power cords longer on electronic devices. They are all — including Roku — about a foot short of convenient.

Despite advertisements to the contrary, there are only few free services. Almost everything is either subscription (Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime) or pay-per-use (Blockbuster On Demand).

I was pleased to see that improvements have been made to the remote. The older version works, but it’s awkward and not very responsive.The newer unit has dedicated keys for major channels (nice!) and the unit is much more responsive. I wonder if I can get a newer remote for an older Roku? I’ll have to check.

The “search” capabilities are primitive using the remote, so search on a computer and put everything you want to watch on wish lists. Use the remote only to make selections. I think that’s the way it’s supposed to work. Be aware: You can’t install Roku without a computer. To activate your unit, you must enter a generated code from the television into your account on the computer. 

Closed captions are available on almost everything. Some old television series and movies don’t have them, but that’s true on cable too.

roku and headphones

Is Roku going to replace expensive movie packages from your cable or satellite company? Maybe. It depends on your viewing habits, your technical aptitude, creativity and how your cable company has structured their prices. They don’t make it easy to delete pieces of your package. However, if you currently can’t afford movie packages from your cable or dish provider, this is affordable and easy to use — as easy as they say it is and getting more versatile every day. You will find that Netflix streaming video does not include most popular movies. For that, you need to sign up for their DVD service too … and I won’t do it. I’m not really thrilled with Netflix, by the way. Just thought I’d mention that. I’m tempted to try a different streaming service to see if it’s any better. I’m an Amazon Prime member and while their free selection is smaller than Netflix, it is higher quality.

You need one Roku per television, but you don’t need a different account for each Roku. One account for a household, no matter how many televisions you have, is enough.

Roku is great addition to your entertainment package, especially for the price. It delivers the goods, is more than worth the money, whether you buy the economy model or top of the line. Whether or not it can replace other services is subjective.

LOVE TO READ – HOW HARRY POTTER CHANGED THE WORLD

Recently I saw the 8th and final Harry Potter movie on Blue Ray DVD. In an introduction to the movie celebrated author of the seven Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling, talked about the 13 year adventure from the time the first Harry Potter book was published until the time the 8th movie was finished. In case you did not know, the 7th book was long and made into two movies. They probably should have made books five and six into two movies each, but I digress.

harryPotter

The really remarkable thing about the series was not that it made eight movies, turned Daniel Radcliffe into one of the richest people in England and Rowling into a Billionaire. It is not that Radcliffe and his costars, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, are now the most famous wizards of all time, or even that a wonderful theme park was opened in Florida to celebrate the worldwide phenomenon. The remarkable thing is that it got generations of people to read. They were not reading because they were assigned these books. They were all reading because they wanted to do it.

The movie adventures came as a result of a global desire to read about Harry Potter.  It was not just hitting the New York Times bestseller list. It was rocketing through the roof.  Books were flying off the shelves like Harry in a game of Quidditch. If you don’t know that reference, than you missed out on something most of the world knows.

When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was finally published, almost exactly ten years after the first book was published, I wisely put a copy in reserve so I would not have to stand in line for the midnight release or miss out on getting a copy.

When I went to pick up my copy the following day I said to the clerk, “It must have been crazy here last night with all the kids screaming and pushing their way through.”

“The kids were not the problem,” she told me, “It was all the 20-year-olds pushing and shouting.”

It was the earliest generations of little wizards that were standing in line. Just imagine, some of them had waited half of their lives to find out what happened to the “Chosen One.” Many stayed up all night, not playing video games, but reading.

Yes, people all over the world were reading about Harry Potter, the boy wizard.

Nothing has captivated the reading public in that way since and perhaps nothing ever will again. It was the perfect mix of magic and wonder. And as Harry grew to be an adult, the stories grew to be more serious and complex. Just as Harry grew up, so did the books and with them, so did the reading public. No series had ever brought along a generation of readers from youth to adulthood merely through the pages of books.

It was the power of the books and the opinions of the followers of the boy wizard that the movies had to live up to. That is why movies five and six disappointed so many Potter fans. The books had spun the imaginations of readers into a marvelous vision of what these stories were and the movies had to cut much of the story to keep the length manageable. Reading had already painted the picture, but the movie screen did not display the scenes painted on the canvass of the mind.

Harry-Potter-And-The-Deathly-Hallows-Part-2

Thus book seven became movies seven and eight. There was no way to turn the long book into a two-hour and 25 minute movie. The only smart thing to do was exactly what the public was demanding. Film the entire book.

When book seven hit the shelves it sold 15 million copies in the first 24 hours. It has been translated into 120 languages. I bet you did not know there were that many languages. In its first week out, not only was it number one, but the other six books were in the top 20 best sellers. Everyone was loving to read the most fascinating series ever.

What about now? What about the next generation of readers? Will there be a next generation of readers? If you read the Potter series, then you know the joy of a good book. Many of us know the joy of many good books. If I had not already run up my word count with my joy of Harry Potter, I might list some of the great reads I have encountered in life.

There is nothing like a good book. It would be highly unfortunate for future generations if they did not know that. Harry Potter proves it, not just by the sales numbers but by the reaction of the reading public to the movies. Yes, they wanted the boy wizard to come to life, but they already knew what he should look like and what was happening at all the locations in the story.

Radcliffe may have come to be the Potter we saw as we read the books, but our imaginations took us to worlds only the mind can take us. Movie makers knew by book seven, they had to try to deliver something they could not, movies that matched the stories that already played out in our minds.

Teach your children or your grandchildren or your little brother or sister to read. It is not just about learning the words, it is about engaging the mind. They will find that a good book holds more excitement and wonder than a You Tube video or X-Box game. It is better than any 3-D spectacular or animated feature. The pictures it presents are the best pictures of all time, the pictures generated by the mind.

LEDA AND THE SWAN – THE MUSICAL

Back in my bright college days, I was a music major. I hung out on the quad with other wannabe musicians on warm sunny days where we planned projects which would make us famous. Symphonies. Great achievements as conductors and composers though my class never produced anyone huge. Medium is as good as we got.

The Concept

My great project was going to be musical comedy based on the myth of Leda and the Swan.

In the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan, Zeus, in the form of a swan, seduces — or rapes – Leda. I vote for seduction since I have a lot of trouble visualizing being rape by a swan.

Zeus or not, swans are slow and clumsy on land, unlikely to successfully attack anyone or anything. Being heavy-bodied, they have trouble getting airborne. Without hands or arms, rape seems unlikely.

Leda becomes pregnant from the experience. She bears Helen and Polydeuces, both children of Zeus. Simultaneously (and I’d like to know how she managed this), she gives birth to Castor and Clytemnestra – the offspring of her human husband Tyndareus, King of Sparta.

96-SwansPost-NK_13

Leda is able to convince her parents and husband that her extraneous pregnancy is not the result of a lover or promiscuity. “No! Honest to gods, really, no kidding, Mom, Dad, Tyndy … it was Zeus! Not some guy. He was a swan! Really.” Right.

The first … and perhaps my favorite scene … would have to be the first act closer. In this highly emotional musical extravaganza, Leda pours out her distress in a heart-rending lyric soprano rich with passion. In it, she explains that it really truly was Zeus.

I could imagine another hilarious show-stopping moment. The eggs. Her Zeus children are born as eggs. Who sat on the eggs? Did they build a nest on her throne? Did she get her ladies-in-waiting to sit on them while she did her Queen business?

Dialog Tidbit

Leda: The swan didn’t fool me. I knew it was Zeus. You all know how much I love birds and feathers, right? I mean … what girl could resist such a gorgeous bird? No kidding. I wouldn’t lie to you.

Tyndareus, King of Sparta: I want to believe you, but I’m having some problems.

Leda: Trust me, dear. It was Zeus. As a swan. You know how tricky he is.

The All-Important Dream Ballet

In a brilliantly choreographed dream sequence, Leda relives the heady romance of the seduction. Some of the technical aspects of the experience make interesting mental meanderings. How, exactly, did … well … ? It will make a heck of a scene.

How Many Curtain Calls?

I’m telling you — the audience will be on its collective feet! I can hear the applause already. I see the royalties rolling in.

Swan's Nest

I’m a bit long in the tooth now for to write a musical comedy, but I freely offer this incredible concept to anyone who wants to flush it out. It might launch more than one career.

You think?

REMEMBERING RICHARD JAECKEL – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Boston, 1973.

I don’t remember the exact date, but it was warm. We shot in shirtsleeves in the lobby of the TV station. I couldn’t get a studio and was being urged to get the shoot finished as quickly as possible. The “suits” were unimpressed with Richard Jaeckel. James Coburn was the hot interview on the circuit as “Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid” was being pushed by publicists. Richard Jaeckel was very pleasant and friendly even before we rolled the camera.

jaeckel -1He asked about what I did. I gave him a snapshot biography back to my radio days and shooting my own film at a previous TV station. He grinned and said it was good to be working with a “grunt”. The rapport was established.

I mentioned having interviewed Gregory Peck a decade earlier, how well we got along. Jaeckel segued into working with Peck in one of his earliest films, “The Gunfighter” (1950).

As Jaeckel talked, I nodded for my cameraman to begin shooting. He smiled. He’d been shooting since Jaeckel and I began swapping war stories. The interview flowed smoothly.

It was more like a conversation between friends than an interview to promote a film. We chatted more than 10 minutes before I mentioned “Pat Garrett” and Jaeckel again smiled, saying he’d forgotten he was supposed to be promoting the film.

He discussed working with the quirky Sam Peckinpah and scene-stealers like Chill Wills. I asked about Bob Dylan, also in the film. Jaeckel’s smile got bigger as he recalled the folk singer’s kid-like behavior working with “movie stars”.

About 20 minutes later, we wrapped the interview. I asked Jaeckel what was next on his schedule. He said he was free for the afternoon. I suggested a pub near the station might be fine for lunch. He quickly agreed.

Drinks and meals ordered, Jaeckel and I began a three-hour conversation touching on family, movie making and the business of promoting movies. We found a common thread in our roots in New York, in our frustration with management and “the suits.”

I mentioned how I was always “the kid” at every stop in my career. He nodded and jumped in with stories about working with Richard Widmark, John Wayne, Karl Malden and Richard Boone in some of his very early movies. He said they all treated him well but he was always called “the kid”.

richard-jaeckel-dirtydozen-7Jaeckel broke into guffaws when I asked about working with character actors like Jack Elam, Lee Van Cleef and Jack Lambert — all well established screen villains. He said they were the easiest and nicest people to work “jobs” (films) in the business. Jaeckel slid into a brief note about his son, Barry who was a rising tennis player. I quoted some stats which prompted a very pleased grin and a final round of drinks. We ended the afternoon with him picking up the tab, saying he had really enjoyed the day and would check me out on the tube before leaving Boston.

The next evening, just after the 6 pm newscast, I got a call. It was Richard Jaeckel. He’d caught me doing a news piece.

“Good job, Kid”, he said.

“Thanks, Kid”, I replied. We both laughed and wished each other well.

More

“Chisum” is a goodie directed by Vic McLaglen’s son, Andrew. Jaeckel had made it 3 years before “Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid.” It was, he said, fun working with Wayne and a many from the John Ford stock company.

BanacekS1During our lunch,  Jaeckel recounted the off-camera sparring between vets like Bruce Cabot, Ben Johnson,  Forrest Tucker and Duke Wayne versus “kids” like Andrew Prine, Geoff Duel and Christopher George. There were drinking contests with the old guys daring the younger guys to match them shot-for-shot of the hard stuff. The old guys won.

Jaeckel said by the time he made “Chisum” he was regarded as a “tweener” by Wayne and his buddies. He wasn’t harassed like “the kids” but wasn’t quite accepted by the old guys.

Jaeckel said Bruce Cabot was a mean drunk and was reprimanded by Wayne, who himself wasn’t always friendly when he was loaded. Ben Johnson was a friendly, easy-going guy who wasn’t intimated by Wayne who tried to goad his old pal. Christopher George who I met on another occasion confirmed Jaeckel’s stories.

Another Meeting

The second meeting with Richard Jaeckel occurred when “Banacek” was shooting in Boston. We used to have a charity softball game on Boston Common. This time, it was the media all-stars versus George Peppard, the “Banacek” crew and the Playboy Bunnies.

Kegs of beer were set up for both benches. The drinking began before the game and never stopped. Before the first game, the flacks were introducing Peppard to media folks. Jaeckel was a guest star on the “Banacek” series. He pulled Peppard over and introduced me as his buddy, a “grunt” who knew his stuff a holdover from our initial meeting.

Peppard grinned broadly, shook hands and led us behind the bench where he had a carton of his private stock of “the good stuff.” I don’t remember much about the game. I do recall we did justice to the carton of the good stuff. The following day, Peppard –notoriously difficult with the press — turned up for an interview I hadn’t scheduled.

Richard Jaeckel was his driver.

IN MEMORIUM, MARIA VON TRAPP

See on Scoop.itMovies From Mavens

Maria Von Trapp died today at the age of 99. Here’s a bit of her real story.

Prologue Magazine: The real story of the  Von Trapp Family. The real story is a lot less sweet than “The Sound of Music,” but far more interesting and believable.

English: The Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe.

English: The Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you enjoy history and like to know the real story behind the Hollywood version, this is wonderful information that will make “The Sound of Music” more than just a pretty movie with nice music.

If you just happen to  live in New England, you may already know most of this since the Von Trapp family settled in Vermont and were/are well-known local celebrities.

See on www.archives.gov

THE LAST STAND (2013) – BEST MOVIE EVER STARRING A FORMER GOVERNOR

Last_Stand_2013Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Rodrigo Santoro. Jaimie Alexander and lots of other people, this is absolutely the best movie ever made by a former governor of California. Or any former governor.

I’m not a very intellectual movie reviewer. That’s just as well, since there is nothing intellectual about this movie.

It’s pretty good. Lots of shooting. Blood spurting. Vicious bad guys. It has the grace to not take itself too seriously, with enough humorous moments and entirely predictable but nonetheless funny lines to make it easy to watch.

“I’m The Sheriff!” growls Arnold and by golly, he is, though Garry and I simultaneously pointed out that he used to be The Governor.

There are a lot of car chases … or maybe not really chases. More accurately, it is exceptionally good stunt driving. They actually did some stunts I’ve never seen before and I really thought I’d seen them all.

Plot? Oh, right. Plot. Okay. Think “High Noon” with a strong whiff of “Terminator.” Or any western movie where the sheriff stands up to some incredibly evil guys and whups their collective asses with the help of his faithful deputies and one old lady with a shot-gun. You’ll be glad to know that Arnold Schwarzenegger, senior citizen, ex-governor gets shot, stabbed and beat up, but walks away proudly in the end. Not into the sunset, but into the local diner. Irv’s Diner. Killing people and catching malevolent drug lords gives him an appetite. I’m just sorry I forgot to buy popcorn. It’s a beautiful, deeply touching, moment.

If you need a violence fix, this is a pretty good choice. It’s well made. Moves right along. Some great artillery and the aforementioned stunt driving.

It’s available on Amazon — free for Prime members. Probably on Netflix too. I haven’t checked but usually if it’s on one, you’ll find it on the other.

MARILYN MEETS MOSES AND MR. ROBERTS – GARRY ARMSTRONG

midway-poster“Call me Chuck”,  Charlton Heston beamed down as Marilyn stared up. Manhattan, 1976 and a gathering for the world première of “Midway”. Marilyn and I were in the middle of what they used to call a “gang bang” press conference to publicize the new blockbuster movie. There were scores of writers and columnists from around the world seated at dozens of tables in the posh mid-town restaurant. Everyone wanted scoops from the handful of super stars assembled to meet and greet the media. Think of a wedding where hundreds of people want quality time with the bride and groom. Never happens. Almost never.

“Chuck” Heston and I had met several times in recent years when he stopped in Boston to promote films. Somehow, we became “friends” of a sort. He was fascinated by the TV film equipment we used. I scored a few points when I told him I used to shoot my own film earlier in my career. I never mentioned the mediocrity of my work at a small station where I had to shoot my stories.

We compared notes about film style. He’d shot film when he was in college. I segued to Heston’s first film, “Dark City” and – voila – the “friendship” began. When I mentioned “Will Penny”, an underrated western classic, Heston beamed and we were on a roll. We swapped stories about working for “suits” and laughed a lot. He would always ask for me whenever he visited Boston.

CharltonHeston6X9

Chuck held Marilyn’s hand tightly at the “Midway” press luncheon. She stared up at him. His teeth were yellow. His white turtleneck looked worn and his plaid sports jacket was a bit frumpy. No matter. He looked directly at Marilyn as if no one else was at our table. The well-known entertainment scribes around us seemed a bit agitated. No matter. Chuck told Marilyn he was tired and felt like these PR luncheons were meat markets. Marilyn stared and nodded. He patted her hand, glanced at me and told Marilyn that I was ‘a good man and a fun guy who knew his stuff ‘. I beamed. The other people grew more agitated. Marilyn’s stare turned into a smile. Chuck excused himself for a moment saying he wanted us to meet some friends.

“Hank, I want you to meet a couple of friends”, Chuck introduced Henry Fonda to Marilyn and me. The familiar, laconic gait was very real. “Hank” Fonda took Marilyn’s hand looking a little like Wyatt Earp meeting Clementine.

henry-fonda

Marilyn stared up at the film legend. He had incredibly thick, gray eyebrows and, like Chuck Heston, looked very tired. But he smiled as he chatted with Marilyn and said something about how nice it was meeting Chuck’s friends. My, oh, my!!

A notoriously reclusive man who disdained doing publicity things, “Hank” actually seemed at ease as he chatted with Marilyn and acknowledged me. The other people at the table had moved from agitation to resentment while pretending to enjoy the attention we were receiving. Marilyn seemed a bit more relaxed as Fonda continued to chat with her. Chuck nodded in approval as Hank talked briefly about dealing with the press. He talked about the “Mr. Roberts” publicity campaign two decades earlier. That had been personal for him because “Mr. Roberts” had been his baby from stage to screen.

“Hank” looked down at Marilyn and said something about getting too old for ‘this stuff’. He did look very thin and sallow. Fonda’s smile and good humor covered up his physical weariness. Little did we know that his body would give out five years later. Hank and Chuck said goodbye to Marilyn (and me), waved to the others at our table, and walked into the crowd. Marilyn was beaming.

REVIEWING THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY, 1964

Cover of "The Americanization of Emily"

The Americanization of Emily (1964) is an American comedy-drama war film written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Arthur Hiller, loosely adapted from the novel of the same name by William Bradford Huie who had been a SeaBee officer on D-Day.

With a brilliant script by Paddy Chayefsky, it features impeccable direction by Arthur Hill and a radiant Julie Andrews in her first non-musical feature role. James Coburn displays his comedic chops,  which are considerable, and James Garner is perfect as the Admiral’s dog robber … a role he also played in The Great Escape, released the previous year (1963). Chayefsky put a strongly anti-war slant on the story and the film includes some of the most memorable monologues in any movie ever made.

I first saw this in the theatre when it was newly released. It was a powerful experience and stayed with me since. It was a premium time for anti-war sentiment here and abroad, but the movie still suffered from being seen as unpatriotic.

This isn’t a movie that you hear about much although it was nominated for two Oscars – Best Art Direction – (George W. Davis, Hans Peters, Elliot Scott, Henry Grace, Robert R. Benton and Best Cinematography – (Philip H. Lathrop). Julie Andrews was nominated by BAFTA for Best Actress.

It is not available on DVD at the moment, but is available as a download from Amazon.com. It will probably become available again at some point. How and when movies are released or dropped seems whimsical and without any particular logic.

Right before it stopped being available, I made sure to get a copy for us. Many of my favorite movies from the 60s and even through the 1990s are no longer available. I know that downloading and streaming video is all the thing, but I don’t want to be limited to watching movies on my computer nor do I want to be entirely dependent on the whimsical technical capabilities of my cable company. I prefer owning my own media and frankly, I neither like nor trust my cable company. They already have much too much power and charge much more money than they ought.

Garner’s role as Charlie Madison was originally slated for William Holden, with Garner set for the Bus Cummings role played ultimately played by Coburn. Holden dropped out of the project. This was great from Garner’s point of view. He viewed The Americanization of Emily as the best role he had in his long movie career. In interviews, Coburn echoes the sentiment. If one wanted to judge a role by the number of brilliant speeches the leads get to make, this has to be the top vehicle for Garner, Coburn and Andrews. Paddy Chayefsky wrote some of the best dialogue ever heard on stage or screen. He was an actor’s gift and well they knew it.

 

The actors in The Americanization of Emily were aware how important an opportunity the film offered. Great movie roles don’t come along everyday in any actor’s career.

If you can catch this on cable or anywhere, watch it. The script is brilliant, the kind of scriptwriting that’s becoming extinct. For me, the language, the words, will always be the best part of a great film. If you are a “word person,” this is your movie. The acting is first-rate, the photography is perfect. It’s everything you want a movie to be.

THE GARNER FILES: A MEMOIR – JAMES GARNER AND JON WINOKUR (2012)

By James Garner and Jon Winokur - Release date: October 23, 2012

garnerfiles

From the first time I saw James Garner on TV as Bret Maverick, I was ever so slightly in love. I watched the show faithfully whenever Garner starred in the episode. They tried adding more Mavericks, but for me, there was only one. Apparently that’s how most viewers felt — when Garner was gone, the show was gone.

When I saw him in “The Americanization of Emily,” our relationship was sealed. I was a fan  for life. Although I have not seen every movie he ever made, I’ve seen most of them. I’ve liked some, loved most. Whenever one of his movies shows up on cable, it goes on the DVR. Fortunately Garry is a fan too.

Now, about the book. If you had the impression that Jim Garner is a plain-spoken guy with strong opinions, you would be right. He has a great many opinions and no reticence about expressing them. He’s an unabashed liberal, egalitarian, man of the people who made good.

He thinks acting should come naturally and claims he’s never taken acting lessons.

It’s true. He never took any formal acting lesson. That he spent weeks huddled with Marlon Brando when he was shooting “Sayonara” and learned an incredible amount from the man he considers the best actor ever … I guess that doesn’t count as acting lessons. And lessons or no, this is an actor who’s easy-going, deceptively relaxed acting style makes it look easy. Making it look easy took a lot of hard work which seems to be the way it works with so many things that appear easy … when someone else does it.

Garner is an honest guy. He tells it like he sees it, or at least remembers it. He ruthlessly reviews every television series he made in detail, including his favorite episodes with lots of back stories and anecdotes. He reviews and rates every movie he made. I like some of them better than he did, but mostly I agree with his assessments. We all agree “The Americanization of Emily” was not only his best movie, but maybe the best movie of that type. Ever. I’m inclined to agree. “Emily” was not merely a movie but an ideal. He spent the rest of his life trying to live up to.

Probably the one that has given me the most laughs is “Support Your Local Sheriff” in which he reprised his Maverick persona.

If “Emily” was his best movie, “Grand Prix” was his favorite. Like many other Hollywood stars, he’s in love with fast cars and racing. Grand Prix was pure fun for the entire cast.

Who he likes and doesn’t like? You won’t have to guess. He tells you exactly how he feels about everyone. He’s not big on forgiving or forgetting. Given that he shares his birthday with my husband, I’m not surprised.

Grand Prix (1966 film)

He came from a  poor, rough, abusive childhood. He worked hard and is the only person who seems to have had more surgery than me. That’s a lot of surgery, believe me.

It never occurred to me that acting was so physically taxing, but apparently he is by no means the only performer to have broken just about everything at one time or another.

His two famous battles with studios were history-making because he won. The second lawsuit revolved around “The Rockford Files” and the issue was shady bookkeeping practices employed by studios to avoid paying performers. Technically he settled out of court for what was (apparently) so much money he’s still laughing about it. He wanted to keep fighting because there was a principle involved. His friends told him to shut up and take the money. Eventually, he decided they were right. It must have been a lot of money. My guess is that the studios continue to play fast and loose with bookkeeping and will … as long as they get away with it.

I enjoyed reading the book on Kindle and then enjoyed it a second time as an audiobook. I wish Garner had done the narration himself. Although Audible found a narrator whose voice and intonation resemble Garner’s and it’s good, it’s still not the same as having Garner do it.

This is a must-read for anyone who’s a fan of James Garner and his movies … or for anyone who likes knowing what was going on behind the scenes. It’s entertaining, honest, surprising and often funny. I enjoyed it a lot and I’ll probably read it again. I’d give this one a solid 9 out of 10.

It’s a fine autobiography. It’s available on Kindle, Audible.com, in paperback and hardcover (large print).

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