JACK WARNER, NAZIS, AND HOLLYWOOD – By Garry Armstrong, with a bit of inspiration from Marilyn Armstrong

I was usually able to get candid comments from “old Hollywood” people because I didn’t ask the typical questions about favorite co-stars, celebrity perks, or favorite roles. I frequently shared my disdain for the “suits” in my business who tried to interfere with my work. This attitude, along with being a minority,  got me some sympathetic responses from people who normally just gave standard sound bites. It also helped that I was a movie “maven,”  more knowledgable than many so-called ‘entertainment reporters’ famous for fluff questions.

Jack L Warner, 1970. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

The topic of Jack Warner came up this morning. Marilyn is reading his biography, a book called “We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Legend and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Film” by Noah Isenberg. Do NOT buy the book, by the way. It’s written well — and completely wrong about pretty much everything.

Marilyn said the author apparently believes that Jack Warner was a man with a conscience who claimed to go the “extra mile,” slipping anti-Nazi stuff into Warner Brothers films in the late 1930s and early 1940s when it was “dangerous” to speak out against the Nazis.

Much of this country’s population was essentially isolationist.  Businessmen didn’t want to rock the boat,  including many Hollywood moguls concerned more about their overseas markets, especially Germany.

As always,  it was all about the money.

So, here’s a list of a couple of Hollywood legends from Tinseltown’s golden years and their takes on Jack Warner and his “anti-Nazi” stance.

JAMES CAGNEY

Probably Warner Brothers’ most bankable star from 1930 to 1950. In a 1971 conversation with James Cagney (an informal afternoon chat on Martha’s Vineyard),  the star gave full credit to Warner Brothers for giving him his breakthrough roles. Cagney got his “Public Enemy” role when the director switched Cagney’s supporting role with the star,  favoring Cagney’s energy.  Despite his “gangster” popularity, Cagney had to fight the Warners for diversity in roles.

Cagney and his horses on Martha’s Vineyard.

In Hollywood back then it was not uncommon for big studios to keep a tight rein on their stars.

James Cagney with chickens

Cagney was still doing gangster films in 1939 as the Nazis flexed their muscles. In Hollywood, big and small studios were nervous about doing films that might jeopardize their lucrative overseas market. The inside word was: “Don’t antagonize the Nazis in your films.” Germany was a large market for American films.

There was a film waiting to be ‘greenlighted called “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” at Warner Brothers. The director, European expatriate Anatole Litvak, was eager to get started. The project sat for months. The behind-the-scenes arguments between the Brothers Warner could be heard throughout Hollywood. They were the butt of jokes, concern. and anxiety by other studios who wanted to tackle Nazi Germany on film. Someone had to be the first to do it.

Sam and Harry Warner were decidedly in favor of taking it to Adolph Hitler.  They held the keys to the studio’s financial and legal coffers.  Jack was the smiling front in Hollywood, dealing with actors, directors, and writers.  He was the public face. With his big, broad smile, pearly whites who some people likened to those of a great white shark, Jack was regularly bashed by actors and actresses as gross, a sexual predator, a philanderer, and a fraud — which was typical stuff for Hollywood suits.

When “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” came across his desk, Jack Warner blanched and balked. He didn’t want to touch it. The first-generation immigrant mogul didn’t want to risk losing his studio and power to Nazi pressure.  His brothers disagreed saying it was their duty to do the film.

Jack disagreed until a lackey suggested they could do it as a gangster film with underworld bad guys subbing for Nazis.  His brothers refused to do it that way. Jack started leaning on his stable of stars — James Cagney, George Raft, Paul Muni, Edward G. Robinson and others. They surely could pull off the film as a Tommy-gun melodrama.

No one wanted to do that film.

Jack Warner fumed! Meanwhile, Edward G. Robinson, widely admired in Hollywood as a Rennaissance Man of courage way beyond his screen image, lobbied for the film as an out and out warning against Nazism.  He even put up some of his personal earnings to back the script while agreeing to take on the lead role as a Federal Agent ferreting out Nazi spies in the U.S.

Edward G. Robinson

Jack Warner winced. Other prominent actors including George Sanders and Paul Lukas, encouraged by Robinson, agreed to join the film, playing unsympathetic Nazi spy roles. They didn’t care if it jeopardized their careers.  If “Eddie G.” was doing it, that was good enough for them.

Over Jack Warners’ private arguments, “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” was made in 1939.  Surprising many insiders, it was a box-office success and nominated for several Oscars.  During the Oscar Ceremony, Jack Warner leapt past the winner to embrace the award and give a big patriotic speech about the courage of fighting Nazis at a dire historic time.

Warner talked humbly about ‘tuning up’ the script to bash the Nazis without endangering the film.  Insiders just smiled.  The cast and crew of the film fumed silently. Thirty years later, James Cagney recalled Jack Warner’s antics. Cagney had a strange smile on his face as he talked about Jack Warner.

“The man had chutzpah,  I’ll give him that. He certainly gave me my chance. But, young fella, he was the epitome of a two-faced, hypocritical ‘suit’.  You think you have worked for bad guys.  Give yourself a few more years.

“Jack Warner took credit for everything he rejected. He loved getting awards. I remember attending award ceremonies. I had to do them.  Part of my job.  The VFW, DAR, Sons Of American Freedom. You name the award ceremony and Jack Warner was there, big teeth and phony smile, to accept the honor.

“He was always ‘umble.  Young fella, I had to hold my stomach and breath around the guy. He loved garlic bread and used to sit close to me.  I was his pet or so he thought.  Jack Warner a hero and anti-Nazi fighter?  No!  He was even a bigger problem when we did “Yankee Doodle Dandy”.  He didn’t want any strong anti-Nazi bias in the film. He said it was just a song and dance film,  nothing more.

“George M. Cohan was around one day and wanted to deck smilin’ Jack. Sorry to drift on about Jack Warner but even in my so call mellow years, the man still angers me.”

That’s an unfiltered remembrance of my conversation with James Cagney.  It was a wide-ranging talk that included his not so fond memories of Jack Warner — years after his final film for the studio.

CHARLTON HESTON

 In 6 or 7 meetings, ranging over a similar number of years, Charlton “Call me Chuck” Heston gave me wide-ranging inside looks at Hollywood. Once he talked about Edward G. Robinson who was one of “Chuck’s” heroes. They made “Soylent Green” together which turned out to be Robinson’s last film.  He died a short time after the film was completed.

The movie “Soylent Green”

Heston talked warmly about Robinson and his gentle “man of the world” presence.  Heston volunteered the information about “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” and Edward G. Robinson’s pivotal part in getting the movie made with its strong anti-Nazi message.

Heston relayed stories Robinson shared with him about Jack Warner.  They weren’t flattering. Heston had a few encounters with Warner as a young and rising Hollywood star.

I gave him a look and Heston just smiled, shaking his head.  No words needed.

RUTH DONNELLY

She was a contract player at Warners in the 1930s.  She usually played ditzy friends of lead actresses like Bette Davis, Miriam Hopkins, Olivia DeHavilland, Barbara Stanwyck, and other stars.  Often Donnelly was paired with Eve Arden as a comedy foil in melodramas and romantic comedies.

“A Slight Case of Murder” starring Ruth Donnelly

Donnelly was on the Warners lot when “Confessions of A Nazi Spy” was in production. She remembered, in a 1970 interview,  how Jack Warner used to interrupt scenes being shot. This is a big NO-NO unless you held the money for the film. Warner, Donnelly recalled, was boorish and intimidating. He tried to bully writers on the “Confessions” film, demanding they change their scripts and then feigning ignorance when asked by Anatole Litvak, the director if it was true.  Warner even tried to get the writers fired for the controversy he created.

Ruth Donnelly smiled when I asked what she would say to Jack Warner in 1970.


Also see: What Charlie Chaplin Got Right

SEEING THE NEW “DUMBO” – Marilyn Armstrong

Release date: March 29, 2019 (USA)
Director: Tim Burton
Budget: 170 million USD
Producers: Ehren Kruger, Derek Frey, Justin Springer, Katterli Frauenfelder
Production companies: Walt Disney Pictures, Tim Burton Productions.


So what can you do in Uxbridge for four hours? We had the exterminators coming and I didn’t want to put it off again. This meant four hours outside for the dogs — and four hours for us to use up. If the day had been even a little brighter, we would have headed for the canal, but it was gray and dim. Not much of a shooting day.

So first, we went to the pot shop. I figured I’d take some new pictures, but there was a line. I was in no mood to stand in line. I suppose it’s like going to the liquor store on Friday. You need to buy enough beer for the weekend. I still wasn’t interested in standing in line, especially since I wasn’t intending to buy anything and I am never in the mood to stand in line. For anything.

Garry said, “Let’s go to the movies.”

“Is anything playing we want to see?”

“I have no idea,” he said, “but what have we got to lose?”

So we went to the movies. I didn’t want to see Captain Marvel. I have overdosed on Marvel movies. Garry didn’t want to see the one about the Black guy who gets into the Klan. That left a couple of things we never heard of … and Dumbo. I voted strongly for Dumbo. And that’s what we saw.

It was directed by Tim Burton. I’ve never liked anything he made in the past. If I’d known he was the director, I’d probably have skipped it. I’m glad we didn’t.

It’s the “Dumbo” that we needed. Happy endings, no need for a crate of tissues … and all the racism snipped out. They use just enough computer graphics to make the little (absolutely adorable) elephant fly, but not too much. It was a really perfect blend of  CGI and human casting.

The reviews were mostly positive and I think should have been even better. It’s an ideal “take the whole family” movie. It has a great cast including  Eva Green, Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, and Alan Arkin. Set in American in 1919, it’s about a family circus. It’s not the “real” America, but I like it better. Real America wasn’t all that lovely back then.

It isn’t as sentimental as the original and that was fine with me. It’s quite sentimental enough and no one kills any animals. Garry and I liked it just the way it way. Moist eyes without hysterical sobbing.

Between the dozen trailers before the movie as well as a few advertisements, we got out at the perfect time to get home to feed the starving puppies.

I don’t think they realized I decided against a sushi dinner because I knew they would be hungry. They don’t appreciate us.

A SUMMER AFTERNOON WITH JIMMY CAGNEY – Garry Armstrong

This story goes back to the early ’70s. My mind gets a little bit hazy. I always thought I’d remember everything, but it turns out, you forget. It’s not dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Other stuff happens and the older stuff gets pushed back into the hard drive. We are older computers, you know? We need a faster operating system, bigger drives. Maybe solid state and definitely a much better graphics board, or anyway, that’s what my wife tells me.

I knew he had a house on the Vineyard, but I was a bit shy about personal — non-work meetings — with celebrities, especially Hollywood people. I was ( still am) a serious fanboy. I loved old movies and admire the stars. I grew up with them. I wanted to be them. I settled for reporting, but it wasn’t, as it turned out, such a big step after all.

About James Cagney

I’d just come into Oak Bluffs aboard the Island Queen ferry.  It was the first or second year of nearly twenty summers I’d spend on the Vineyard, sharing a home with a small group of other Boston TV friends and colleagues.

Our first summer home was in Edgartown, off Tilton Street. We laughingly called it “The Tilton Hilton.”

I’d been on Channel 7 for maybe 2 or 3 years at that time. My face was just becoming familiar. I was also starting to get used to being recognized in public. This was a long way for a shy kid from Long Island to come in a short period of time. I was growing into myself.

The Island Queen

I had just turned thirty, the end of “kidhood” and the start of being a man.

As I was getting off the ferry, I noticed a familiar-looking elderly gentleman. I couldn’t quite place his name. As I started towards a cab, the gentleman stopped me and said something like, “Hello, young fella. I hope you don’t mind me you interrupting you. I’ve watched you on television and just wanted to say I enjoy your work”.

I looked more closely and the face was suddenly and immediately familiar.

He said, “I used to be James Cagney. Now I’m just another old guy.”

We both laughed. We shared a bit of small talk about the weather, the ‘touristas’ coming to the Vineyard for the weekend, then more about the weather. People in New England spend an inordinate amount of time discussing the weather. It’s a thing.

There was an awkward silence and James Cagney said, “Would you like to have a beverage and some doughnuts. My place is just down the street a bit.”

I stammered “Ye-Yes, thank you.”

We laughed again and walked away to Cagney’s “cottage” which was a respectable residence covered with the light green or gray Vineyard paint color required for all cottages. Really, it was a small farm, but that would have been bragging. He didn’t brag.

Inside, it was a bit sparse. Neat. Just a few paintings and pictures, all depicting Vineyard and Cape locales. No Hollywood stuff. Cagney saw me staring and smiled, “Yeah, I dabble a bit but I’m really just a hack”.

In the kitchen, over tea and cookies, we had a long, rambling conversation with me talking about my then relatively brief career and James Cagney talking about his (long) career. He called them “jobs” or “shows.” That’s how I learned how most working actors and techs described movies.

I wanted to ask so many questions, but he persisted in talking about the “working part” of filming his pictures. He was “wet behind the ears” when he did “Public Enemy,” the film that shot him to stardom.

Originally he had been a supporting player. The director liked his feisty brashness more than the star’s blandness, so the roles got switched and show biz history was made.

We went on for two or three hours, swapping stories about “suits” we despised.

Our bosses. His studio bosses: the Warner Brothers and my news directors and general managers. I told Cagney about the suit I worked for at Channel 18 in Hartford before I came to Boston. My news director used to sit in the dark, mumbling to no one, like a punch drunk fighter.

Cagney cracked that familiar laughter and told me about working with directors he liked and didn’t like. He said he always focused on getting the job done, using the basics.

Show up on time, meet your mark. Know your lines. It sounded like what Spencer Tracy always said. Cagney nodded in agreement. Just before parting, I told him about my love of westerns.

He grinned, saying, “No way, I’m gonna tell ya about the ‘Oklahoma Kid.’ Bogie and I detested that show. We felt like idiots, kids playing grownups … but I enjoyed riding. I love horses. I have a farm hereabouts.

“The invite is open if you wanna come riding.”

I wasn’t much of a rider at that point. I did learn later, but I had little experience then. I should’ve accepted James Cagney’s invitation anyway. I really wish I had.

And, that’s a wrap. One of those wonderful afternoons. Just talking. Not business. No cameras. A summer afternoon on Martha’s Vineyard. Two guys, cookies, and tea.

FRANK CAPRA – THE ODD BOID – Garry Armstrong

I was thumbing through an old magazine when I remembered this one. Don’t think I’ve ever shared it.

Early in the 1970’s at the Boston television station where I worked.  The newsroom was on the third floor and we had a lobby receptionist who looked and sounded like Thelma Ritter.

The phone rings at my newsroom desk. It’s the receptionist in the lobby.  “Hey, Geeery,  got a guest fer ya.  An old guy. Odd ‘boid.’  Sez his name is Frankie and he’s gotta book fer ya.”

Frank Capra

I was puzzled.  Didn’t have any celeb guests booked.  Who was this “Frankie?”

“Geeery, Hon. Ya still there?   Frankie’s got this book fer ya?  Whadda I do, Hon?”

I was still puzzled.  I didn’t play the ponies and I didn’t know any bookies. I asked him to send the guest up on the elevator, then I raced out to meet him. The elevator opens and out steps … FRANK CAPRA. I simply stared with my mouth wide open.

Capra laughed at me. “Hi Garry, will you interview me?” Capra continued laughing as I continued to stare.

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington – Frank Capra, Director

Of course,  we went out for a few drinks afterward. He shared some great stories about working with Harry Cohn at Columbia.  Capra had “director’s final cut” in all his contracts.

Harry used to go wild. He wanted a different ending for “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.” Frank told Harry where to go.

BOND REBOOT

Casting is now taking place for Bond 25 (working title) and Daniel Craig will return as “007.” The movie is set for a Fall 2019 release, so there will be plenty of talk for the next year about the next film and the next Bond, if Craig does not return.  In his work preparing for Bond, Craig recently visit CIA headquarters. According to the Guardian: “The agency said its motivation was ‘to combat misrepresentations and assist in balanced and accurate portrayals’ of the intelligence community.”

The Daniel Craig Years, by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

After 20 James Bond films and 40 years, EON Productions finally had something that eluded them from the start.  They obtained the rights to the first Ian Fleming novel, 1953’s Casino Royale.  The story had been adapted into a 1954 American television drama and a 1967 comedy spoof, but had never been given a serious big screen treatment.  The chance was at hand when Pierce Brosnan declined the opportunity to go on as 007.

Daniel Craig is James Bond

The change to a new Bond also meant another change in attitude at the studio now run by Barbara Broccoli, the daughter of original Producer, Albert R. Broccoli, and by his stepson, Michael Wilson.  Other studios had given their heroes a new start to great success, so why not Bond?  Comic book characters had moved away from cartoon portrayals to serious action heroes.  It was time to move Bond away from the comic quips and amazing gadgets.  With an eye towards a more faithful portrayal of the book than any of the previous Bond movies had done, Casino Royale starring Daniel Craig took the story back to the beginning as secret agent Bond becomes 007.

Interestingly, the series did retain one cast member.  Judi Dench returned as the head of MI6 and the boss of James Bond.  She sends him on his first mission to Casino Royale.  Only Timothy Dalton gave us such a serious Bond, but Craig shows less emotion than any previous version of our favorite spy.  He is serious and calculating in his efforts to defeat the bad guys and serve his country.  If you were a fan of the novels and a more serious Bond, the “reboot” might be much to your liking.

In Casino Royale, Bond must defeat the terrorist financier Le Chiffre at the Casino.  Taking away the bad guy’s money is a dangerous plan for both players.  There will be no spoiler alerts, but Bond will not escape with a few double meaning quips and hidden gadgets.  This will be a painful ordeal.

Not everything is resolved at the end of the movie which allows for something the series has not tried before, a story arc.  Elements are carried into Quantum of Solace as Bond seeks revenge for a murder and tries to learn about the organization, Quantum.  It is a more serious and more violent film than any Bond movie we have had so far.  An interesting side note is that Craig and director Marc Forster wrote sections of the script due to a screenwriter’s strike.  They did not receive screen credit. The role of Judi Dench is expanded this time out.  It make sense to make greater use of an actor of this stature.

The third Daniel Craig movie, Skyfall, may be the best so far.  It honors the Bond canon by bringing back some favorite characters in the person of new actors while making reference to times past.  This time out the story centers around  M (Judi Dench) and the challenges to MI6 from outside and in.  The only agent she can really trust to hunt down the threat is, of course Bond, James Bond.  Already in her late 70s at the time, Dench is featured in the trap that Bond lays for the bad guys and the action sequences that follow.  Javier Bardem is the evil trouble maker who is out to destroy the spy agency and get M.  The action is intense.

Skyfall picked up a collection of nominations and awards.  Adele sang the title song which you could not escape on the radio for a long time.  It won the Oscar.  Miss Moneypenny returns to the franchise.  If you have not seen it, I will leave the surprising revelation for you.  The Quartermaster (Q) returns and he is not the old-timer we were used to seeing in Desmond Llewelyn and John Cleese.  Of course, Llewelyn was a lot younger when he first appeared in a 1963 Bond film.  British stage and film star Ben Whishaw is the younger Q, much to the surprise of Bond.  He is more of a computer geek than a developer of gadgets, although he does have something for Bond.  He is the perfect 21st century Q and a clever return for the character.

Ralph Fiennes is on hand as Mallory, M’s boss, and will play a continuing role into the next feature.  Veteran Albert Finney is also on hand to support Bond in the late action sequences.  All things considered, I liked the casting, the return of certain characters and even bringing back the Aston Martin.  It is clever script writing by people familiar with the Bond legacy. It is directed by  Sam Mendes, who returns for the 4th Craig film.

If you saw the early Bond films or read the books, you knew that James Bond was often on the trail of members of the criminal organization, SPECTRE.  So it should be no surprise that the Bond reboot will find our hero on the search for information about the organization and its leader.  We find another name from the past as the leader of SPECTRE, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

SPECTRE contains all the right elements: M, Q, Moneypenny, evil villains and beautiful “Bond Girls.”  The storyline incorporates elements from early Bond stories by Ian Fleming.  It will be interesting to see where they go from here.  Will the next storyline continue to look for elements from Fleming novels and bring them up to date?

It is impossible to compare the Craig portrayal of Bond with the previous actors.  The series “reboot” has given us a Bond for the 21st century, different from what we had before.  I think it was the only way to go.  The Connery, Lazenby, Moore and Brosnan portrayals are charming, yet dated.  Like Bond, Craig will be back.

Just for fun, even the Queen is willing to appear in a James Bond film.  You will have to click the link over to You Tube to watch, as they have now blocked it from playing on other sites.

Sources Include: “Daniel Craig visits CIA in run-up to shooting new James Bond film,” TheGuardian.com, July, 6, 2018.

RELATED:
Bond, James Bond, The Sean Connery Years, Part 1
Never Say Never Again, The Sean Connery Years, Part 2
Moore Bond, The Roger Moore Years, Part 1
For Your Eyes Only, The Roger More Years, Part 2
Bond Is Back, The Timothy Dalton Years
Goldeneye, The Pierce Brosnan Years

DEBONAIR – IT’S A HARD ACT TO LIVE UP TO! – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC

And the word of the day is DEBONAIR!

My husband used to be the best dresser in Boston. He spent a fortune on clothing. He loved looking good. His father was a tailor and for him, a suit that fit perfectly was like a hot sports car — and he had one of them, too. Did I mention his 1969 hot orange convertible Challenger? He actually had a matching wristwatch — gold with an orange background. That’s what he was showing Tip O’Neill in this now almost-famous photograph.

Garry wanted to be debonair. Like Cary Grant. He loved the way Cary Grant wore clothing and over time, Garry became quite a clothes-horse. You’d never know it from his stretchy pants these days, but in his time, he was quite the dresser. He still irons a crease in his jeans because they need that crease or they don’t look right.

Except he almost never wears jeans anymore. He is retired and so is his wardrobe. But he keeps a few things because every now and then, he has to stand in front of an audience and look good.

He looks good!

Recently – Photo: Garry Armstrong

I always felt slightly underdressed in his company — even when he was wearing shorts and a tee-shirt. Even my father — who rarely noticed anything other than himself (a consummate narcissist) — remarked that Garry looked better dressed in a grungy pair of shorts and shirt than most people looked in a tuxedo.

It was hard for me to live up to that, but Garry was a big help to me in finding clothing that looked good on me. He had an eye for drape and line. Even our granddaughter wouldn’t go shopping for a prom dress without his help. That is something!

At Broadcasting Hall Of Fame, September 2013

He never managed to help Owen much, though, but Owen was allergic to nice clothing. Greasy jeans and tee shirts with holes were his thing from very early on. Clothing that didn’t have paint stains on them wasn’t worth wearing. I guess that’s the flip side of debonair? Anti-debonair?

These days, it’s all about comfort. Elastic. I warned him, though. Once you discover elastic, you’ll never go back. it’s true. After you have learned to love stretch, nothing else feels right.

Yoga pants forever!

THE BARRYMORES: AMERICA’S ROYAL FAMILY OF ACTORS

This week, we tuned into Drew Barrymore’s latest show on Netflix. It’s called “The Santa Clarita Diet.” She has, in this story, become a zombie. It’s funny because she’s a very suburban and rather bouncy zombie. She certainly dresses a lot better than any other zombie I’ve seen on the screen.

If you are a huge fan of blood, gore, and massive quantities of vomit, this might be the right show for you.

Garry commented that “It’s probably a matter of personal taste.” That was his way of saying “Ew, disgusting, yuck, I’ll never watch it again.” She’s a Barrymore, so he’s being polite. She has a heritage. If anyone in the movie world could be considered royalty, Drew Barrymore has got to be “it.” Regardless, I don’t think I’ll be watching this show ever. I’m pretty sure this could have been a witty, entertaining show without the massive quantities of vomit, blood, and torn out internal organs.

Probably we’re a bit old-fashioned, but all that stuff does is turn my stomach.

For a few years, Drew Barrymore was working on Turner Classic movies with Robert Osborne, discussing and introducing classic movies. It was a treat listening to her observations. She should know, after all.

Drew Barrymore by David Shankbone

She was on Colbert last week, too. Her face has changed in recent years. Now, she really looks like a Barrymore.

John Barrymore as Hamlet, 1922
John Barrymore as Hamlet, 1922

That’s no small thing because she is this generation’s only representative of what is the longest running act in show business.

Several families have two or three generations of actors and a couple of families have three or more generations of directors. Only one has been on stage and screen for more than 100 years, the royal family of stage and screen, the Barrymores.

As of this writing, Drew Barrymore is her generation’s only working actor. John Drew, Diana, Drew, and John Blyth are the only descendants of John Barrymore who became actors.

Garry and I were trying to guess how many acting dynasties include at least three generations, in which at least one family member in each generation has done something noteworthy as an actor. Not as a director, producer, or writer. Only actors.

dynasties_01

Define “noteworthy” please!

It started when we noticed a Capra listed as a crew member of an NCIS episode. Garry wondered if this was a fourth generation of Capras. There was a Frank Capra I, II and III, so it seemed likely to be members of the same family. The Capras are directors. No actors, so they don’t count for the purposes of this post.

Reality shows do not count. Non-speaking and cameo roles do not count, nor does work as a TV announcer, talk show host, or sportscaster. Mere celebrity does not count. Only acting.

The Barrymore genealogy is complicated because it is extensive. There have many marriages and a slew of children. Most of the men in the family are named John, which doesn’t make it easier to follow the trail.

Other acting families are even more confusing. Actors marry each other, divorce frequently, and have children by many partners. They adopt and raise children from former marriages and from spouses’ former relationships. It’s hard to keep track and sometimes, relationships intertwine to such a degree it’s impossible to say to which family a particular person belongs. Not unlike European royal families.

If you count only acting families — and only family members who have had a real acting careers — the number of entries in the field are manageable. You’ll quite a few 2-generation families. A handful of 3-generation families.

Only one family has four generations of working actors.

The Barrymore family.

Barrymore family tree graphic
A very simplified Barrymore family tree

Drew Barrymore is the family’s current representative.There are many other family members, but none are acting, as of this writing. It doesn’t mean they or their offspring won’t enter the family business in the future. It’s quite a legacy. Talk about family pressure.

If you want to see the other families, or at least most of them, you can look them up. Google “multi-generational acting families“. Wikipedia has a good write-up, but omits significant British families.

This link takes you to an alphabetical list of show business families. The intricacies of the marriages, divorces and resulting complex relationships will make your head spin.

The Barrymore family reigns. No other family comes near the prominence or longevity of this family of actors.

Wikipedia’s entry on the Barrymores includes actors and non-actors. There are quite a few family members who are not in show business. The acting family members are shown in blue.

BRUSHES WITH FAME – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My grandparents, parents and I have crossed paths over the years with some famous people. I grew up hearing stories about people I had heard about in the news and in the popular culture.

For example, at one point, in the early 1900’s, my grandmother lived in a tenement building in the Jewish section of the lower east side of New York City. A cousin of hers lived in the same building. This cousin had a piano. The cousin also had a neighbor whose son was a talented pianist. The problem was that the neighbor didn’t have a piano. So the son, Georgie, would go to my cousin’s apartment to practice piano. Often people gathered at the cousin’s to listen to Georgie play. He was that good. My grandmother went often. Georgie’s full name was George Gershwin.

George Gershwin

In the late 1930’s and early1940’s, my mother pursued a career in the theater in New York City. She studied acting at the Actor’s Studio with people like Karl Malden, Susan Strasberg, Stella Adler, Buddy Epson, Gypsy Rose Lee and her good friend, Judy Holliday. The actors hung out with each other at night, often performing for each other. Many famous comedy routines, like Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks’ “2000 Year Old Man” were created and honed at these parties.

My mom particularly remembers watching Zero Mostel, in person, in a living room, perfect his famous imitation of a percolator. He also did imitations of other household appliances. It’s a hilarious bit and I was thrilled to get to see it performed on television after hearing about it from my mom.

Zero Mostel

Judy Holliday was originally Judy Tuvim and my mom was Ethel Tumen. Judy changed her last name to Holliday and mom took Diana Charles as her stage name. Both girls were asked to come to Hollywood for a screen test. Both were told that they had to lose ten pounds because the camera made you look heavier. So to celebrate the test and mourn the diet, they went out for a last malted together. Soon after, my mom got rheumatic fever and was an invalid for two years. After that, she had to give up dancing, tennis and acting. Judy went on to a stellar theater and movie career until her untimely death at 46 of breast cancer.

Judy Holliday

Gypsy Rose Lee was the stripper that the musical “Gypsy” was based on. She was a passionate progressive politically and got my mother involved in protesting on behalf of the nascent labor union movement. One day, when they were picketing for the unions, a fight broke out near them and the police moved in. Gypsy got mom out before people started getting arrested.

Gypsy Rose Lee

Stella Adler was a theater actress who later became a famous acting teacher in New York. She was very well-known within the theater community. I have two quotes from her that are worth repeating. At one point, she was giving my mother advice on how to dress to make an entrance and get attention. She told Mom to “Make sure that you wear the dress and the dress doesn’t wear you!” Great advice for anyone, in any era.

The other Stella Adler quote requires a little explanation. For a time, the Yiddish Theater in New York was dominated by two Jewish families, the Adlers (Stella’s family) and the Abramsons (my family). A famous Adler had an infamous affair with an equally famous Abramson. So when Stella was asked how she knew my mother, she replied, “We’re related by bed!”

Stella Adler

In 1948, Alger Hiss was accused of being a Soviet spy. His indictment and trial was a huge story. Hiss vehemently protested his innocence for the rest of his life and many people believed that he took the fall in order to protect someone else. His case also catapulted an unknown Congressman named Richard Nixon to national fame.

Alger Hiss was my father’s patient. So my father knew the true story – he was protecting his son, who actually was an agent for the Soviets. The son wrote a damning piece of correspondence on his father’s typewriter, and this document became the lynchpin in the State’s case against his father. I checked Wikipedia and this is still considered to be an unsolved mystery, although historians are now tending to believe in Hiss’s guilt.

Alger Hiss

The musician, Artie Shaw, was another famous patient of my father’s. One of Shaw’s claims to fame was that he was married to Ava Gardner after she divorced Frank Sinatra.

Artie Shaw

I’m sure my father told us many of Shaw’s fascinating stories about Hollywood in its heyday. But the only one I remember is purely prurient gossip. Artie Shaw told my father that one of the reasons Ava Gardner left Sinatra after a short-lived marriage, was that Sinatra was not very good in bed. He apparently had trouble getting and maintaining erections and Ava Gardner had no patience for less than stellar performance in the bedroom.

Artie Shaw and Ava Gardner

Another Hollywood connection my parents had was their friendship with a movie and theater producer named Henry Weinstein. He was apparently one of the few people in Hollywood who could work effectively with and ‘handle’ Marilyn Monroe. He was the producer of the movie she was working on at the time of her death, “Something’s Got To Give”.

Marilyn was in a very bad place emotionally when she was working on this movie. To make a bad situation worse, her regular therapist and 24/7 hand holder was out-of-town on vacation for several weeks. Even Henry was having trouble with Marilyn. She would show up to the set late, if at all. She had trouble remembering her lines and required an obscene number of takes for every scene. She required constant TLC to get her through the day.

Henry Weinstein and Marilyn Monroe

Henry was getting desperate. He called my mom, who was a psychologist, and pleaded with her to come out to LA to help Marilyn. My mom refused because she believed that Marilyn was beyond out-patient help.

Marilyn had also recently been banned from seeing anyone in the Kennedy clan. She was feeling isolated, rejected and alone. Henry said that she sought solace in an affair with the script girl on the set. This was her last relationship. Henry had to fire Marilyn from the movie for excessive absenteeism a few weeks before her death.

Henry’s wife, Irena, was staying with us in Connecticut when Marilyn died in August of 1962. Irena got a call from Henry telling her of Marilyn’s death before the news was reported on TV or in the press. The press kept trying to reach Irena at our house in the hopes of getting more information about Marilyn. So we had to say ‘No Comment’ to multiple callers from the news media.

Henry and Marilyn

My own brush with fame came before the person became famous. There was a Black scholarship kid in my high school class named Gil Scott Heron. He was a bright, charming and talented young man who went on to become a well-known soul,d jazz poet, and musician. He was also considered the godfather of rap, specializing in political and social topics.

But when I knew him, he was a mature and rather worldly teenager. He started hanging out with me at school and often called on the phone to talk. One day, in our senior year, he asked me out. I really liked him but I turned him down. This is going to sound silly, but I only wanted to date Jewish boys. So I turned him down, not because he was Black, but because he wasn’t Jewish. So ironic and clearly my loss.

Gil Scott Heron

I also went to elementary and high school with Jeffrey Katzenberg, the studio executive and film producer. His older sister was my good friend for several years and we all took the same bus to school. Jeffrey was the one kid who always made the whole bus wait for him. He was always late or he would forget something and would have to go back upstairs to get it. Everyone on the bus hated him. He obviously had ADD or ADHD as a kid. He still has it as an adult and I’ve read that his staff have to go to great lengths to work around it.

Jeffrey Katzenberg

My parents were good friends with the mother and step dad of “Saturday Night Live’s” Chevy Chase. I went out on one terrible date with Chevy Chase’s brother and was in therapy with his step father for a while. I was shocked to read Chevy’s autobiography and find out that the gentle, quiet step father who I knew as a friend and a therapist, was actually a brutal, autocratic, abusive sadist! You never know what goes on behind closed doors.

Chevy Chase

My parents were also old friends with the author, Howard Fast and I went out a few times with his son as well. That son went on to marry Erica Jong, for whatever that’s worth!

Howard Fast’s most famous book

So these are some of my family’s brushes with fame. Most of them are pretty minor, but the stories were cherished by the family and retold often. They are part of the family lore. So they get a blog of their own.

SEAN MUNGER – SUNN CLASSIC PICTURES: HOW HOLLYWOOD INTRODUCED AMERICA TO FAKE HISTORY

At the end of the 1970s–I was about seven years old–our family was one of the earliest in our area to get cable TV. Cable was quite a luxury in 1979, and it worked very differently than it does today: there were a few basic channels, most of which did not broadcast 24 hours a day; you had your choice of movie service (we got Showtime), and there were no commercials. Showtime was a favorite at our house. They showed a lot of movies that we were unable to see anywhere else–my dad had not yet bought our infamous CED video disc player–and it was really my first foray into the world of film. I vividly remember seeing a film on Showtime back in that era that I found quite fascinating. It was a documentary called In Search of Historic Jesus, and it was released by a strange little company called Sunn Classic Pictures. Though our family was not religious, at age seven I thought In Search of Historic Jesus was gospel (no pun intended) truth.

This was only my first encounter with Sunn Classic Pictures. A couple of years later, when videocassette players started to seep into homes and schools, I remember our social studies teacher showed us a movie to fill up some class time. The film was called The Lincoln Conspiracy and portrayed, as history, a shadowy plot by Edwin Stanton and others to ice the Great Emancipator and set up John Wilkes Booth as a patsy. The Lincoln Conspiracy was also a Sunn Classic release. A few years after that, at an other school, in the school library I found a paperback book that was a tie-in for The Lincoln Conspiracy movie. It seemed that Sunn Classic Pictures was everywhere and had a surprising reach into the classrooms and minds of America’s youth.

THE FULL MOVIE OF THE LINCOLN CONSPIRACY IS AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE, BUT JUST WATCH THE FIRST 40 SECONDS. IT WILL TELL YOU EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE FILM.

Sunn Classic was indeed big business in the late 1970s. Perhaps the only example of a film studio owned by a razor company, Sunn was a subsidiary of the Schick company that made shaving razors. Started in 1971 in Salt Lake City by a man named Rayland Jensen, Sunn specialized in family fare, making G-rated pictures for working class families who weren’t habitual moviegoers. More importantly for Sunn’s business model, they exhibited their films through a technique called “four-walling.” That is, Sunn would buy out every seat in a particular theater for a weekend or two–presumably at a discount–and then resell the seats to the public, keeping 100% of the box office take while the theater owner raked in all of the concessions. Four-walling was a fad in the film industry in the 1960s and 1970s–Orson Welles was said to be quite interested in it–and, in small-market places like Oregon and Texas, it got Sunn’s odd little films in front of more hoi polloi eyeballs than would have been possible otherwise.

At least from the standpoint of a historian, though, Sunn Classic’s catalogue proves somewhat problematic. Their first big score was the American release of a European-made documentary, an adaptation of Erich von Däniken’s fraudulent but highly popular 1968 book Chariots of the Gods?, which introduced America to the ludicrous “ancient aliens” hypothesis that has proven as difficult to eradicate as syphilis in a brothel. (In this decade, for example, I have had college students assert “ancient aliens” claims in my class on climate change). Sunn also released several other “ancient aliens” pictures including The Outer Space Connection. While Sunn’s biggest hit, 1974’s The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, was an inoffensive and charming story about a man and the bear he loves–it even spawned a television series–some of its later releases ventured into theological and religious territory and made a number of spurious historical claims. The title of In Search of Noah’s Ark (1977) is self-explanatory. In Search of Historic Jesus was only slightly less fanciful, but still very far from historically responsible. The unhinged conspiracy theories of The Lincoln Conspiracy are scarcely worth dignifying with a refutation. Yet, in the late 1970s, Sunn basically owned these topics, and were very successful in marketing them.

THE 1979 “DOCUMENTARY” IN SEARCH OF HISTORIC JESUS WAS VERY TYPICAL OF SUNN CLASSIC PICTURES’S FARE.

In a certain sense you can’t blame them. Thinking in terms of American society and the history of the film industry, the late 1970s represented a perfect storm of cultural factors that was keen to be exploited by a company like Sunn. The final years of that decade, especially during the troubled presidency of Jimmy Carter, saw a marked resurgence in the cultural power of evangelical Protestant Christianity. This was the era in which Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority, Phyllis Schalfly was canvassing against equal rights for women and Anita Bryant was grinding her ax against the LGBT community. The exact sort of working-class families with young kids that Sunn saw as their target audience were, between 1976 and 1980, the kind of people who responded well to an affirmation of religious values and particularly Christian reinterpretations of history. Incidentally these were also the voters who brought Ronald Reagan to power in 1980–despite the fact that the president who Reagan unseated, Carter, a born-again Southern Baptist from Georgia, was a closer match to their values. This is one of the key stories in recent American history.

Sunn Classic, though, was not in the history business. They were (and evidently still are) in the entertainment business. Selling someone a story about a thrilling chase up the slopes of Mt. Ararat to find petrified timbers that “prove” the literal historicity of the Noah story in Genesis was an attractive business proposition in 1977, however much it may have distorted the historical realities. (There is no historical evidence for the actual existence of an Ark as described in Genesis, despite numerous attempts, most by Christian evangelicals, to find it). Whether historically responsible or not, Sunn Classic Pictures filled a cultural need incipient in its audience. History does sell, but history that validates a particular world-view tends to command a higher price in the marketplace than history done, as academics strive to do it, without as much overt bias.

SEE ORIGINAL POST AT: Sunn Classic Pictures: how Hollywood introduced America to fake history. – SEAN MUNGER

IF TELEVISION WAS REAL – BY TOM CURLEY

I watch a lot of TV. Probably too much. I’m fond of action shows. I’m really fond of all the various comic book shows.


The single thing these shows have in common is they all have at least one computer genius. A girl or guy geek who’s the best hacker in the business. They always have at least a half-dozen computer monitors in front of them. Each one has 10 or more windows open with lines of data scrolling by at about a hundred miles an hour. They can do anything and everything. Instantly.

falcontradingsystems.com

falcontradingsystems.com

BOSS: I know this is illegal, but I need you to hack into the CIA, NSA and FBI servers. They have the most secure and impenetrable firewalls ever designed. Can you do it?

COMPUTER GENIUS: I was into all three 15 seconds ago, sir. The ones that work for the FBI can find anything in 10 seconds or less.

FBI BOSS: Our serial killer is male, early thirties, white, and probably living in a two square mile region south of Albany, Georgia. He’s left handed  and likes string cheese. We need to narrow our search …

FBI COMPUTER GENIUS: Found him! His photo, home address and a copy of his permanent High School record have already been sent to your phone.

Not the real bad guy

Probably not the real bad guy, but this got me to thinking. What would these shows look like if they were happening in the real world?

BOSS OF SUPER SECRET GOVERNMENT ORGANIZATION TASKED WITH SAVING THE WORLD FROM SUPER BAD EVIL DOERS:  OK, listen up. You two are the world’s best black hat and white hat hackers. We’ve brought you here because a Super Bad Evil Doer has stolen software that will allow him to access all the world powers’ nuclear codes. He is demanding 1 trillion dollars in ransom or he will launch all the missiles at once and destroy the Earth. You each have a whole bunch of computer screens in front of you with dozens of boxes open scrolling lines and lines of stuff. You have less than 10 minutes to somehow find our Evil Doer and figure out a way to block him from launching those missiles. Can you do it?

HACKER #1: Yes, but we will need to write some specialized software, at least 10 to 20 thousand lines of code.

BOSS: My God!  Can you do it in time???

HACKER #2: Already done sir. Now all we have to do is upload it to the Evil Doer’s computer. Ready to send in 3, 2 ….

HACKER #1: NO! NO! NO!

HACKER #2: What’s wrong? OH GOD NO! NO! NO!

BOSS: What’s happening?!

HACKER #1: My computer is shutting down!!

HACKER #2: MINE TOO!

BOSS: Are you being hacked? Have your computers been infiltrated by some kind of malicious software? Does the Evil Doer have a genius hacker of his own???

HACKER #1: WORSE! Windows just installed updates! It’s rebooting so the updates can take effect!

windows shut down

BOSS: Can you stop it!??

HACKER #2: It’s too late! Look! It’s already started rebooting and configuring the updates!

windowsupdateinstalling_40853_l

BOSS: There’s nothing you can do???!

HACKER #2: No sir. Look at the screen. It says “Please do not power off or unplug your machine while updates are in progress”!

windows updates 1

BOSS: How long will it take to reboot?

HACKER #1: God only knows! Look! It’s still installing update six of ten! This could take an hour! Even more.

BOSS: We have less than ten minutes before nuclear Armageddon! What are we going to?

HACKER #1: Wait! I’ve got it! I can use my smart phone!

HACKER #2: Yes! We will have to adapt about 15 thousand lines of code but …

HACKER #1: It’s done! OK now all I have to do is input and send the kill command. “NEUTRALIZE ALL NUCLEAR LAUNCH CODES”. And … done!

BOSS: Thank God!

HACKER #2: Oh NO! You entered “NEUTRALIZE ALL NUCLEAR LUNCH CODES”!!

HACKER #1: What?! Damn you AUTOCORRECT!

autocorrect

BOSS: What do we do now!!

HACKER #2: You know what? Pay the ransom. I’ve had it with Windows. I mean look, it’s still on update 6 of 10! We’re going to be here all day!

HACKER #1: I agree. Pay the money. This is just too much trouble. I’m telling you, ever since my phone updated to iOS 9.0.1, nothing works right.

HACKER #2: Tell me about it.

ios-9-overnight-update

As the two hackers walk off into the sunset discussing whether or not upgrading to Windows 10 would make the situation better or worse, small mushroom clouds appear in the distance.

doodleordie.com

doodleordie.com

Yeah, that’s pretty much how it would happen. Here’s the actual TV show.

 

WHAT’S “TRADITIONAL”?

There was a time … long, long ago … when I had traditions. Celebrating Passover. The rituals of Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Day. New Years Eve and New Year’s Day Feasting. The decorating and piling presents under the tree. Carving a pumpkin. Putting out the little gourds for Autumn.

Oh (little) Christmas Tree

As time moved on, everything slowed. then stopped. We celebrate a semblance of Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, but the piles of gifts are gone. I save the best gift for my granddaughter, then nice ones to both parents. Garry and I go shopping during the sale following the holiday when everything is half price.

Uxbridge Common

We don’t need that stuff anymore. We haven’t changed sizes in years. We have plenty of clothing, sweaters, shoes and lord knows I do not want another decorative item for shelves or walls. We were full up on that stuff a long time ago. A particularly interesting book from one of the used bookstores can be interesting and small things that go with the cameras — bags, cleaning cloths, and spare lens caps — are good. Especially spare lens caps. A new camera strap? Okay.

Otherwise, what we really need are things no one can afford. A better screen door for the kitchen and, for that matter, if one exists — a new Dutch door too. And maybe everyone would come over and spent four hours cleaning a couple of times a year — I’d jump for joy on that one!

Even so, we seem to be getting along very well without a lot of the stuff that seemed such a big deal years ago. I don’t miss the 8 foot tree with the falling needles that were still under the rugs two years later.

Or all the broken class ornaments knocked down by cats and dogs. I don’t mind figuring out how we are going to fit a tree into the house. We have a wee little 4-foot table tree that lives (decorated, no lights) in the attic, covered, and can be comfortably plopped on the table in season then covered up and moved back to the attic.

I always wondered why Garry’s parents used to more or less beg us to NOT put up another tree. We were young and we didn’t get that they’d had a lifetime of trees and were perfectly happy to celebrate without the symbols.

Maybe that’s the real truth of it. We like the “feelings” of the holidays, but we don’t need the panoply, the endless decoration, the expense of wrapping papers and tapes and ribbons and cards, then are bagged and dumped. No one needs all the inexpensive little things we gave each other, just to fill up the corners of the holidays.

I miss the family dinners. so if someone else is willing to cook? I’ll put my bells on! I think I have cooked enough family dinners for several lifetimes. And it’s okay. Paper plates work for me!

I remember the first time I told my mom I thought it was time for me to make Thanksgiving. The look of relief that swept over her. I had been expecting an objection, maybe even a complaint … until I realized my mother hated cooking. It was usually my father who cooked with all the resulting bedlam — and even had we been a more “normal” family, they had been hosting family dinners since before I was born. And it was a big family.

 

After I took over that first year, I did it every year. I liked it. I messed around with different versions of turkey, discovered I should never, ever serve soup before the big bird. Stick with simple stuffing. Also, don’t let the bird cool on the counter when you have hungry cats.

There is a time for The Traditions. And then, there is a time to pass traditions slide down the tree to the next generation and the one after that. Sliding down the tree of life, if you think about it, makes sense. That’s the way of it.

When the kids are young — and even when the grandchildren are young — there’s a surprise and a certain bubbly excitement to oncoming holidays. But by the time all three top generations in the family are adults, that magic has quietly faded away. Hopefully leaving some good memories.

We had good holidays. No family battles. No shouting or sniping or ugliness. We didn’t hate each other.

We merely grew older and got tired. Now, the best part is watching old Christmas movies. Bring on “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Going My Way” and “Holiday Inn” and more. Each generation will have their own. Thanksgiving? “Wizard of Oz,” of course! And every single American holiday, it’s “Yankee Doodle Dandy” at least twice, with reruns of the best dancing.

Bring on traditions — and don’t forget the music and movies!

A LATE QUARTET – BEAUTIFUL MUSIC AND FILM

A LATE QUARTET (2012)

Director: Yaron Zilberman
Writers (screenplay): Seth Grossman, Yaron Zilberman

The Cast:

Philip Seymour Hoffman, as Robert Gelbart
Christopher Walken, as Peter Mitchell
Catherine Keener, as Juliette Gelbart
Mark Ivanir, as Daniel Lerner
Imogen Poots, as Alexandra Gelbart
Wallace Shawn, as Gideon Rosen
Anne Sofie von Otter, as Miriam.


Garry and I watched A Late Quartet  the other day. We read the reviews — and it sounded like a movie for grown-ups. There have been a dearth movies starring adults — men and women — which are not about getting old. Jokes about getting old begin to get old after a while, so we were ready for a grown-up movie about life and living.

The reviews were right. It’s a fine movie.

If the movie has a “hero,” that would be Christopher Walken who plays against type with elegance and grace. Add Marc Ivanir — usually playing an Israeli CIA sort-of-bad-guy on NCIS (he actually is Israeli and a hero) — as the dedicated, haunted first violin. Phillip Seymour Hoffman did his usual excellent job as the quartet’s jealous second violin. Catherine Keener (on viola) is the “could be better” wife to Hoffman  It’s a great mix of characters and some of the best work done by Walken and company.

Their movie musicianship is realistic. They did not actually perform the music on the sound track, but it looked like they knew their way around string instruments. Some of them may have had some early training, the rest were coached for the movie. However it was accomplished, the cinematographer was able to follow the actors’ performances closely, without resorting to long shots to disguise their identities. Well done!

While doing a little research on the stars, I discovered that Walken attended the same university as Garry and I. He was probably there during one of Garry’s years at Hofstra University. Walken was there for just a year, then left for a gig in an off-broadway show. It was news to us that he’d been there at all.

It is one of the many ironies of Garry and my education that most of Hofstra’s most famous graduates are not graduates, but attendees who left before getting a degree. We had a good drama department. Perhaps the biggest measure of its success is how many of its students were “discovered” before they got degrees, then went on to fame and fortune. No formal degrees, but plenty of magic.

Although it doesn’t hurt if you know some classical music, the movie works just fine if you don’t.

The Story

It’s the 25th anniversary of “The Fugue”, a classical string quartet. Time is catching up with them. Christopher Walken, their cellist and oldest member of the quartet has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and needs to retire. The first violinist is in love with the second violinist’s daughter, and the second violinist wants to be the first violinist … and sex in the form of “oops” infidelity adds enough spice to imperil the survival of the quartet if the rest of their problems were not disruptive enough.

Walken as the sensible, down-to-earth member of the group, dealing with his own burdens and unwilling to tolerate the childish carryings-on by the other performers, is wonderful. “The Fugue comes first,” he says, or words to that effect. It’s interesting to see Walken cast as the stable, adult, not even slightly crazy, member of the group.

The Music

A Late Quartet refers to Opus 131, one of a group of string quartets written by Beethoven towards the end of his life. It is magnificent. I’ve rarely heard this piece performed at all. It’s challenging music, written when Beethoven had already lost his hearing, yet was still able to hear it in his head. It’s one of Beethoven’s most complex, intense pieces and it’s beautifully performed.

I love the music, studied classical music for many years. I love Beethoven. He is my favorite composer, whose music I play as I drift off to sleep at night and whose symphonies have been my companion on many journeys through my life.

It did not disappoint us. It’s not a light piece of fluff, nor is it depressing or hopeless. Problems come, problems are addressed, problems are resolved. Not everything has a happy ending but within the limits of what’s possible, these adults work out through their issues — music, health, personal, and relationships — like … adults.

How refreshing!

BOND REBOOT

The Daniel Craig Years, by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

After 20 James Bond films and 40 years, EON Productions finally had something that eluded them from the start.  They obtained the rights to the first Ian Fleming novel, 1953’s Casino Royale.  The story had been adapted into a 1954 American television drama and a 1967 comedy spoof, but had never been given a serious big screen treatment.  The chance was at hand when Pierce Brosnan declined the opportunity to go on as 007.

The change to a new Bond also meant another change in attitude at the studio now run by the daughter of original Producer, Albert R. Broccoli.  Other studios had given their heroes a new start to great success, so why not Bond?  Comic book characters had moved away from cartoon portrayals to serious action heroes.  It was time to move Bond away from the comic quips and amazing gadgets.  With an eye towards a more faithful portrayal of the book than any of the previous Bond movies had done, Casino Royale, starring Daniel Craig took the story back to the beginning as secret agent Bond becomes 007.

Interestingly, the series did retain one cast member.  Judi Dench returned as the head of MI6 and the boss of James Bond.  She sends him on his first mission to Casino Royale.  Only Timothy Dalton gave us such a serious Bond, but Craig shows less emotion than any previous version of our favorite spy.  He is serious and calculating in his efforts to defeat the bad guys and serve his country.  If you were a fan of the novels and a more serious Bond, the “reboot” might be much to your liking.

In Casino Royale, Bond must defeat the terrorist financier Le Chiffre at the Casino.  Taking away the bad guy’s money is a dangerous plan for both players.  There will be no spoiler alerts, but Bond will not escape with a few double meaning quips and hidden gadgets.  This will be a painful ordeal.

Not everything is resolved at the end of the movie which allows for something the series has not tried before, a story arc.  Elements are carried into Quantum of Solace as Bond seeks revenge for a murder and tries to learn about the organization, Quantum.  It is clearly a more serious and more violent film than any Bond movie we have had so far.  An interesting side note is that Craig and director Marc Forster wrote sections of the script due to a screenwriter’s strike.  They did not receive screen credit. The role of Judi Dench is expanded this time out.  It make sense to make greater use of an actor of this stature.

The third Daniel Craig movie, Skyfall, may be the best so far.  It honors the Bond canon by bringing back some favorite characters in the person of new actors while making reference to times past.  This time out the story centers around  M (Judi Dench) and the challenges to MI6 from outside and in.  The only agent she can really trust to hunt down the threat is, of course Bond, James Bond.  Already in her late 70s at the time, Dench is featured in the trap that Bond lays for the bad guys and the action sequences that follow.  Javier Bardem is the evil trouble maker who is out to destroy the spy agency and get M.  The action is intense.

Skyfall picked up a collection of nominations and awards.  Adele sang the title song which you could not escape on the radio for a long time.  It won the Oscar.  Miss Moneypenny returns to the franchise.  If you have not seen it, I will leave the surprising revelation for you.  The Quartermaster (Q) returns and he is not the old-timer we were used to seeing in Desmond Llewelyn and John Cleese.  Of course, Llewelyn was a lot younger when he first appeared in a 1963 Bond film.  British stage and film star Ben Whishaw is the younger Q, much to the surprise of Bond.  He is more of a computer geek than a developer of gadgets, although he does have something for Bond.  He is the perfect 21st century Q and a clever return for the character.

Ralph Fiennes is on hand as Mallory, M’s boss, and will play a continuing role into the next feature.  Veteran Albert Finney is also on hand to support Bond in the late action sequences.  All things considered, I liked the casting, the return of certain characters and even bringing back the Aston Martin.  It is clever script writing by people familiar with the Bond legacy. It is directed by  Sam Mendes, who returns for the 4th Craig film.

If you saw the early Bond films or read the books, you knew that James Bond was often on the trail of members of the criminal organization, SPECTRE.  So it should be no surprise that the Bond reboot will find our hero on the search for information about the organization and its leader.  We find another name from the past as the leader of SPECTRE, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

SPECTRE contains all the right elements: M, Q, Moneypenny, evil villains and beautiful “Bond Girls.”  The storyline incorporates elements from early Bond stories by Ian Fleming.  It will be interesting to see where they go from here.  Will Craig be back?  Will the newly reintroduced regulars be back with the same actors?  Will the storylines continue to look for elements from Fleming novels and bring them up to date?

It is impossible to compare the Craig portrayal of Bond with the previous actors.  The series “reboot” has given us a Bond for the 21st century, different from what we had before.  I think it was the only way to go.  The Connery, Lazenby, Moore and Brosnan portrayals are charming, yet dated.  I hope Craig is back, or someone who can bring the same level of action and intensity.

Just for fun, even the Queen is willing to appear in a James Bond film:

Related:
Bond, James Bond
Never Say Never Again
Moore Bond
For Your Eyes Only
Bond Is Back
Goldeneye
A Tale of Three James Bonds

WHEN STARS WERE STARS – GARRY ARMSTRONG

It’s Academy Awards weekend and the buzz is on about the contenders. Who’ll win, who should win, who’s been snubbed, who’ll be wearing what, etc ad nauseam. It used to be an exciting period for me as a life long movie lover. Not any more!

We haven’t seen any of the nominated films this year. I can only judge by word of mouth. I know “La La Land” is everyone’s favorite, with 14 nominations. It’s a hot ticket with Hollywood heavyweights because it pays tribute to the golden age of movies. We should go see it.

Yet, therein lies the rub.

I grew up watching movies from the golden age. Almost all the legends were live and working. I read fan magazines about John Wayne, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn and other iconic figures. Stuff about their home life and upcoming projects. Lux Radio Theater carried adaptations of film hits featuring the likes of Tyrone Power, Alan Ladd and Myrna Loy. Billboards featured Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland and Clark Gable.

New kids on the Hollywood block included Montgomery Clift, James Dean, Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen, and Paul Newman. Sid Caesar made fun of Brando’s method school mumbling on his “Show of Shows” skits. Grownups snickered at Brando, saying “his kind” would never replace greats like Ronald Coleman and Leslie Howard.

My parents refused to buy me the motorcycle jacket and cap Brando wore in “The Wild One”. Geez, they were so cool and I desperately wanted to look cool. I copied John Wayne’s laconic walk and measured speech pattern. It made me feel 6-inches taller.

Movie stars were truly larger than life in those days. You didn’t see them often. Guest appearances on radio and television were special. I recall watching one Oscar telecast. It might have been 1953. The black and white images sparkled with shots of stars in the audience. Everywhere the camera turned, there were famous faces. It was wonderful to see “old” stars like Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, Lillian Gish and Mae West. There were the veterans like Robert Taylor, Stewart Granger, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Fredric March, to name a few.

I got a kick when they focused on the newer, more “hip” stars like  Newman, Dean, Brando, Poitier, James Garner, Audrey Hepburn and Leslie Caron.  My jeans stiffened when I saw closeups of Mamie Van Doren, Edie Williams and Rhonda Fleming. Lordy! Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas did a song and dance act that stole the show. The applause was long and deafening. The smiles from Kirk and Burt could’ve lit up a dozen cities. Bob Hope was funny as usual, joking about being snubbed by Oscar. It never occurred to me that someone other than Bob Hope could host the Academy Awards show.

Mom, my frequent movie date, smiled widely as she watched the stars. I think she was recalling her youth. I might’ve noticed a tinge of sadness but it was fleeting.

All those images are filed away in my sense memory this Oscar awards weekend. I don’t know many of the stars. George Clooney, Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio are now veterans.

Dare I mention that so many of the “new” celebrities all look alike? My wife says it’s all about plastic surgery. Yet there are plenty of serious  stars. The Streeps, Washingtons, Berrys. The new old timers — Pacino and DeNiro. They’re no younger than we are. Some are older. They aren’t getting big roles, either.

So, rather than disparage the youngest group of stars, I shall simply admit time has left me in the dust.

How did this happen?