IN THE MAINSTREAM – RICH PASCHALL

LGBTQ in cinema, by Rich Paschall

We don’t need a declaration from an orange politician to know that June is the national Pride month. There may not be Pride parades this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions that followed, but we have a Pride list of movies for your viewing enjoyment. Stay home, save lives, watch movies.

Pride parade

For this list, we have chosen films that have made it into the mainstream of cinema. Most enjoyed wide distribution and many found commercial success. There are many award winners including some that received Oscars at the annual Academy Awards. You should be able to find all of these screen gems on DVD or online.

In some of these movies, gay issues are the main topic. In others, it is just a part of the storyline and not necessarily the main theme or focus of the film. I have seen all of the films on the following list, or I would not have included them. There may be many other commendable films that could easily be included. Rotten Tomatoes, the movie review site, has a list of 200 best LGBTQ movies of all time, although many are foreign films that would not be considered mainstream here.

I will start with an honorable mention from the foreign film category, however, and offer you the critically acclaimed Brazilian film, Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho, entitled “The Way He Looks” for American audiences. The feature is based on the hugely successful 2010 short film that instantly went viral on YouTube. It now has over 8 million views and you can find it here, although I recommend finding the feature-length film.  The language is Portuguese. Both the short film and the feature have English subtitles.

Now grab your popcorn and be prepared to be entertained by some of the best movies ever made. A few are of historical interest, so you may learn a little history along the way. When I compiled the list there were 20, so I decided to rank them all.

20. Weekend. (2011) The British feature concerns two men who meet and spend the weekend together. After that…well, there will be no spoilers today.
19. The Children’s Hour. (1961). Based on the 1934 Lillian Hellman play, the film downplayed the whispered lie about a gay love affair between the two female teachers. Audrey Hepburn and Shirley Maclaine star. The film was nominated for five Oscars.
18. I Am Michael. (2015) The biographical drama concerns a gay activist turned Christian preacher. James Franco stars as the conflicted main character.
17. Dog Day Afternoon. (1975). Based on the true story of a bank robbery gone wrong, Al Pacino stars as real-life Sonny Wortzik trying to steal money for his transgender mate’s surgery. It was nominated for five Oscars, winning one.
16. I Love You Phillip Morris. (2009) Based on the true-life story of the con artist Steven Jay Russell and the man with whom he falls in love in prison. Jim Carrey gives a strong performance in the comedy-drama.

15. The Crying Game. (1992) The tense drama is set during the conflict in Northern Ireland. A member of the IRA promises to protect Dil, the mate of a rival fighter. The film picked up six Oscar nominations, winning one for Best Screenplay. The story included an element most audience members did not see coming.
14. Mysterious Skin. (2004)  Joseph Gordon-Levitt in an early film role as a male prostitute. Set in the 1980s, the storyline follows the life of two friends and their separate paths following a childhood incident. It’s not for the squeamish.
13. My Own Private Idaho(1991) The cult classic stars River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves as street hustlers and friends.  It picked up a variety of Film Critics and Film Festival awards.
12. Another Country. (1984) The British historical drama stars Ruppert Everett and is set in the public schools in the 1930s. The story concerns the openly gay student, Guy Bennett, who is based on the real-life spy Guy Burgess.

11. Howl. (2010) James Franco stars as Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg. The experimental film style concentrates on Ginsberg’s poem of the same name and the 1957 obscenity trial that followed. The reenactment of the Six Gallery Reading in 1955, spread throughout the film, is often illustrated through animation. Franco also relives a Ginsberg interview where his comments about the poem and the trial are being recorded. Franco carries the movie as Ginsberg with his top-notch performance.

Like many good movies, we are ending with a cliff hanger. The top ten movies will be up tomorrow, but you can start on this list today. The above includes comedy, drama, and comedy-drama. There is romance and there is history. There is mysterious skin and there are mysterious people.

For a look at the trailer of any of the above movies, just click on the title. If you want to play them all and get a sneak peek at tomorrow’s list, click here.

WHEN MOVIE MAVENS MEET – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Movie Trivia, once a parlor game among friends, has grown into a worldwide, billion-dollar industry including databases, online fan clubs, and television stations like Turner Classic Movies, The Movie Channel, and American Classic Movies.

Gene Freese

People, like me, fancied themselves as experts on classic movies. Over the decades, I’ve devoured dozens of books on films, the stars, the old studios, the Hollywood power brokers, and, yes, the juicy gossip about legendary actors, actresses, and directors.

During my TV News career, as many of you know, I had the good fortune of meeting many of the old Hollywood legends who shared stories with me. Inside stories. Stuff that prompted me to proclaim myself as the movie maven. My knowledge has often been tested over the years by prominent public figures. movie stars and friends.  The queries sometimes included dead of night phone calls for trivia that had stumped someone.

The Superstitions

Social media and online fan clubs have recently dimmed the luster of my maven title.  Lots of folks know their movie trivia and are quick to share. A little humility — this know-it-all doesn’t go down easily.

Gene’s dad Marty Freese in Old Tuscon

One of the traits of a genuine movie maven is knowledge of character actors, the names way below the title in a movie. You’ve seen them often but can’t remember their names. I always could, dating back to the first movie I saw as a 4-year-old in a first-run theater.  It was “The Best Years Of Our Lives” from 1946.  I quickly picked up names like Steve Cochran, Ray Teal, Gladys George, and Roman Bohman. They played small but vital roles and I looked for them in future films.

Sedona from Schnebly Hill

Three years ago, I wrote a piece about Richard Jaeckel, a character actor whose face you probably recall if not his name. Jaeckel played “the kid” in numerous war and western films, he was perpetually young for almost four decades in films like “Sands Of Iwo Jima”, The Gunfighter” and “Comeback Little Sheba” which was an “against typecasting” role.

I met Jaeckel in Boston in the early ’70s during a film promotion tour. The interview turned into a long afternoon of social chit chat which was the basis of my piece.

One of the online responses came from a gentleman very familiar with Richard Jaeckel. It turns out Mr. Freese was writing a book about Jaeckel.  I easily shared anecdotes about Jaeckel with Gene who, in turn, shared some of his stories.  It turned out Gene, an Arizona native is a prolific author with a keen knowledge of many of the character and stunt actors whose faces are familiar — if not their names.

Many of you, of a certain age, recall TV series like “Yancey Derringer” and “Laredo”. The former starred Jack (Jock) Mahoney as a gambler and upholder of the law. The Latter,  William Smith as one of a quartet of happy go lucky Texas Rangers.

I was thrilled to be the recipient of numerous anecdotes from Gene Freese about the likes of Mahoney, Smith, L.Q. Jones, Leo Gordon (remember the bad guy in the mudslide fight with Duke Wayne in “McLintock”?  Leo V. Gordon was the dean of bad guys in many films over four decades. He was a scary dude.

As was the previously mentioned William Smith who often played vicious psychopaths — you may recall him as the sailor thug in “Rich Man, Poor Man.”  Gene Freese floored me with tales of the real William Smith, a gentle poet, and a folk singer.

If you love old westerns, you’ll find Gene’s books take you to the locations of films like “Winchester 73,” “Pat Garrett And Billy the Kid,” and “The Last Hard Men,” as well as TV series like “The High Chaparral” and “Have Gun, Will Travel.”  Gene has walked the desert trails and climbed the mountains of films like “3 Godfathers,” “3:10 To Yuma,” and “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon.”

Gene Freese is an avid outdoorsman. He and his family share a love of hiking and mountain climbing.  Gene is an “always there Dad” for his children’s sports and social activities. His dad set the tone for movie stunt and character work. They are familiar figures at Arizona’s old west venues that draw many fans.  Freese has the sensitivity to give fan besieged western actors space and garners many wonderful anecdotes from movie people who are normally reticent. Stunt actors are especially wary of “Pilgrims.”

I just finished “The Western Films of Robert Mitchum,” Freese’s latest book.  It gives you a fresh look at “Mitch,” an actor with whom I spent time and whose professional legend is too often reduced to tawdry gossip and an over-hyped drug arrest early in his career.  You’ll appreciate Mitchum’s work ethic as well as his varied talents which included writing poetry and composing music.

Gene Freese got to the heart and soul of Robert Mitchum as no else has.  It’s a tribute to Gene’s ability. Yes, there will be a review of the Mitch book — coming soon at this address.

Thanks, Gene. I look forward to our next share.

HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY – GREEN SCREEN, COMMENTARY & REBLOG BY SEAN MUNGER

We have long known — more than a hundred years and I suspect a lot longer than that — how what we do to Earth is a tragedy in slow motion. But the tragedy is not slow anymore. There is little time to fix it before it fixes us.

Each time I pass the river’s edge and see all the garbage thrown from passing cars, I feel sick. Each day if weather allows, we go to the road to clean up the mess passing cars have made by throwing bags from fast food joints into our woods. 

Now that America has moved most of our polluting industrial companies overseas, they are free to pollute in another place rather than here. As long as it isn’t next door, we feel free to ignore it. Nonetheless, we continue to wreak havoc with leaking pipelines, drilling rigs, and of course, fracking.

Digging down into the center of the earth for natural gas? What could possibly go wrong?  In case you would like to really watch the movie, here is the entire movie, straight from YouTube.

This wonderful movie was made by John Ford in 1941 about a coal slag destroying a once beautiful town. It is worth watching for many reasons including a highly intelligent script and fine acting, It’s also a reminder that today’s tragedy didn’t begin this year or even this century. We humans have been diligently working at destroying our home planet as long as we have been “civilized.”

🛑

The history of coal mining in Wales, spoil tip disasters and Roddy McDowall’s eternal youth are up for debate in our examination of this 1941 Best Picture Oscar winner.

Source: Episode 4: How Green Was My Valley – Green Screen

ALMOST INTERVIEWING JIMMY STEWART – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Full disclosure upfront. I never met Jimmy Stewart. No interviews. No emails. No phone conversations. But I’ve got Jimmy Stewart in my brain, maybe because Stewart is TCM’s “Star of the month.” They’ve been airing most of the legendary star’s films from the ’30s through the ’80s. There was a masterful Stewart profile hosted by Stewart’s good friend, Johnny Carson. He made it feel like two buddies reminiscing about the best years of their lives.

Stewart, (center) with Amos on his right, and the B-52 crew moments after safely landing at Andersen. Before leaving Guam the next morning, Stewart again thanked Amos for his professionalism during the emergency and presented him with signed prints for each of the crewmen. (Courtesy Bob Amos)

The other night might have been my first (Yes!) viewing of 1954’s “The Glenn Miller Story.” Somehow, “The Miller Story” escaped me during those years when I went to the movies 3 or more times a week. I absolutely enjoyed the warmth and nostalgia of the movie in a way I rarely feel about contemporary films. I’ve been steadily humming “Moonlight Serenade” for the last two or three days.

Jimmy Stewart is stuck in my mind. I’m doing an interview with him — but it never really occurred. I’ve been digging through my mental folders and files for why I feel this link to Stewart. I’m aware of all his unforgettable film performances, from “Mr. Smith” to “Wonderful Life” to “Harvey.” And all those rugged 1950s and 1960s westerns — including “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”

I couldn’t find that link.  It’s more than just the fan and movie maven thing going on.  What was it?

It hit me as I was cleaning my hearing aids. The answer!

During the late 1980s — maybe 1988 or 1989 — during Ronald Reagan’s second term in the White House, life was changing for me. Marilyn was back in my life after spending almost a decade in Israel. And I finally was able to wear the new, smaller hearing aids that are nearly invisible to onlookers.

I was elated!  No more of those ugly, big hearing aids. I was always sure people stared at them while I worked on local TV News. That was when I remembered — a conversation I had with a colleague. She was the station’s entertainment reporter and had noticed me talking to myself as I checked the audio of my tiny new hearing aids with a big smile on my face.

I was in the middle of covering a major trial that was getting international attention. I saw my image on network news shows. No hearing aids were visible. Oh, the vanity! I explained to my colleague what the tiny hearing aids meant to me. How I’d coped with a major hearing loss most of my life and the adjustments I had made to succeed in TV News.  She was genuinely surprised and smiled with an appreciative tap on my shoulder. We’d sat close to each other in the newsroom for months, talked about business and personal things — but I’d never mentioned my hearing loss.

That was also the summer Marilyn and I entertained actress Patricia Neal and legendary photographer Alfred Eisenstadt at our Martha’s Vineyard cottage, a rented place we shared with other TV news friends. Word of our friendship with Neal and Eisenstadt made the rounds in the local entertainment news world. I remember sharing stories with my entertainment reporter colleague. Sometimes name dropping can be a lot of fun … and this was one of those times.

“I met Jimmy Stewart at a Washington, D.C. cocktail party,” my colleague told me one afternoon. She had my complete attention.  “Poor Jimmy. He was struggling with his gigantic hearings aids.”

I listened with fascination. I didn’t know Jimmy Stewart needed hearing aids. It never showed in his movies or TV interviews. I listened closely for details on Stewart’s dilemma.

“Jimmy couldn’t hear what was being said at the party,” my colleague told me, “He kept looking at me awkwardly and fumbled with the conversation.”

I had an epiphany.  Jimmy Stewart fumbled with a conversation because he was trying to absorb and register what people were saying to him. The famous Jimmy Stewart verbal fumble was his way of coping with hearing problems. I probably smiled to myself as my colleague went on with her description of Jimmy Stewart’s cocktail party struggles. Fascination turned to compassion as I imagined myself in Stewart’s place, trying to filter our multiple conversations, loud music, and ambient background noise.

The Stewart story quickly faded out from my mind as I returned to my story and a pressing news deadline.

There was a letter on my desk a few days later. I was running late for the trial and was worried about getting a good seat so I could hear the lawyers and the judge,, so I didn’t get to it that day.

Trials were always a major headache for me. Years earlier, I’d taken my situation to myriad judges, court officers, and lawyers. I wanted everyone to know I was working with this handicap and wanted to be sure I got all their wise words accurately. They appreciated my candor and efforts were made to make sure I could get the information accurately and efficiently.  My best, most sincere face helped my cause. If you’ve heard this from me before, know it was the prologue for my relationship with Jimmy Stewart.

I finally opened the letter a day or two after it arrived. I was immediately suspicious. Phony, threatening, and suggestive letters are common for a TV news reporter. This one wasn’t in thick crayon or illegible ink scrawl, but I was still suspicious.


“Dear Garry,

I hope you don’t mind my assumption of friendship since we’ve never met. I deal with this business of celebrity all the time and it is presumptuous.”


I continued to read with skepticism until I realized this missive was from Jimmy Stewart. He went on to explain his cocktail party hearing problems, his encounter with my colleague who apparently talked about me and my hearing problems. Jimmy Stewart heard about this Garry Armstrong guy who was a success on Boston television news despite hearing problems. I blushed a little as I read Stewart’s account of my bravery. Most of the letter, however, dealt with Stewart’s details about his hearing aids, its components. He wanted my take on the efficiency of these new little hearing aids.

I put the letter in my desk, planning to take it home and show to Marilyn because I wasn’t good at holding on to such possessions in my professional life. My attention turned to the trial and my report for the six o’clock news.

Fast forward several hours, including my ritual, stop at the local bar before heading home — without the letter. Out of sight and mind.

I did manage to write Jimmy Stewart a few days later. I spent most of the letter talking about how I struggled with my hearing and the use of the aids. I must have appeared awfully vain, talking about overcoming my reluctance to wear hearing aids because I thought it was a stigma. My vanity was probably also obvious when I mentioned some of Stewart’s colleagues I’d met in my career.  I was young and lacked humility, telling Stewart about time I’d spent with Katherine Hepburn, Jimmy Cagney, Gregory Peck, and other stars. I forgot to mention the other stars, like Albert DiSalvo, Whitey Bulger, and Tip O’Neil.

In retrospect, I can only wonder what Jimmy Stewart thought as he read this silly, name dropping letter from a young Boston reporter.

Another Stewart letter arrived several days later. No indication of displeasure in my letter. He asked lots of questions about my hearing aids, my interview tact, and how I handled myself in large crowds. There was a hint of getting together when he came east again.

The meeting never occurred. Perhaps that’s why I’m now having these dreams about the sit-down interview that might have been.

Me and Jimmy Stewart. It never happened, but it could have. It almost happened.

HOLLYWOOD AND MORAL CHARACTER – Marilyn Armstrong

Blitzen Trapper

How stupid are we? This post in its various permutations has gotten nearly 5,000 hits. Not recently, but in the first few years of posting.

For several years, whenever I got more than 1000 hits in about half an hour, I knew that they must be rebroadcasting the eighth season’s first episode of Criminal Minds. I’ve written more than 10,500 posts, but this one always got the most hits.

So, it must be the perfect time to re-post this piece. The question is whether or not the plot used in the premier show of season 8 of “Criminal Minds” is based on a song by a group named Blitzen Trapper, whose lead singer/lyricist is Eric Earley. This comes up each time the show airs, which is how come I get all these hits on that post.

To settle the issue, one of my correspondents was a producer on Criminal Minds. He assured me the group is being compensated and nothing underhanded is going on. I’m grateful to discover things are not as bad as they seem. It’s rare. Usually, whatever is going on is worse than I imagined.

A screenshot of the BAU Team on the jet.
A screenshot of the BAU Team on the jet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve gotten a bunch of emails from people who seem otherwise intelligent yet against all reason think conglomerates would never take advantage of we “little people,” and certainly would never commit (gasp) plagiarism.

What makes this belief bizarre is that the corporations under discussion are run for and by people in show business. Unless my correspondents are living on a different planet than me, why would they think this? Have these people displayed such high moral character that they are incapable of illegal or immoral behavior? Could anyone be that naïve? Remember Harvey Weinstein? Or for that matter, Jack Warner? And lord knows how many casting directors for television and movies.

Apparently yes, they really are that stupid.

Big corporations spend millions of dollars on public relations and advertising campaigns designed to convince us they have our best interests at heart. They are entitled to give it their best shot, but why would anyone believe them? In what way has any corporation ever shown itself to be on any side but its own?


As for show business folks? These are not people famous for moral turpitude. They are sexual predators, so plagiarism is nothing to them. I don’t know a writer with hopes of breaking into “the business” who hasn’t had a piece of work stolen. Here’s how it works.

You go for an interview. You bring your story idea, your script, manuscript, lyrics, arrangement, proposal, whatever. You present it to the person to whom you hope to sell it. You make your pitch, praying this is the big score you’ve been waiting for. Alas, it is another rejection. You’re used to rejection. It comes with the territory.

A few months later, a new television series is introduced that has an identical storyline to the one you were trying to sell to that very production studio. A few relatively minor details have been altered, but you recognize it and so do all your friends.

What shall you do, eh? You’re going to sue the studio? Take the network to court? Bring suit against the record label? You have that kind of money and clout? If you were pitching your material, you are probably broke. They’ve got armies of lawyers. You’ve got your paycheck and tips from waiting on tables while you try to get into the business. Only in the Bible does David win. In the big wide world, Goliath always wins.

There is a great deal of plagiarism in television and movies, so much that the relevant lawsuits rarely make the news anymore.

In the software world, accusations of intellectual property theft have reached the point where, after endless legal battles between Microsoft and Apple, every major manufacturer is suing every other manufacturer for copyright infringement. Who wins? Since everyone steals from everyone else and everyone is guilty to some extent, the winner is the company with the best lawyers or the most political influence. And of course, who paid off who.

Oh no, that doesn’t happen, you cry! Our legal system can’t be bought and sold. Right. And the tooth fairy left you a buck under your pillow last night. No really, she did. Honest! My congressman told me, so it must be true.

Public servants are as honest as the day is long. Corporations care about you and me. Hollywood and television executives are persons of the highest moral character. The moon is made of green cheese. Tomorrow I’m going to sprout wings and fly.

Just when I think maybe we aren’t as dumb as corporations think we are, I get letters from readers proving that too many people really are that dumb, or at least that naïve. I find this scary. These people are allowed to vote!

My signature line on email uses the following quote:

“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”
– Robert Hanlon

In this case, for this show, I may have attributed to malice that which was in fact adequately explained by stupidity. That’s their excuse, but what excuse do you have for believing propaganda paid for by people who would squash you like a bug without a second thought?

I don’t get it. Maybe someone can explain it to me,

HOLLYWOOD, JACK WARNER, AND NAZIS – By GARRY 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 more concerned about their overseas markets, especially Germany where American movies were big sellers. As always,  it was about money. Greed is forever with us.

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.” After all, Germany was the largest 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 leaped 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. She didn’t have to answer the question. The smile was enough.


Also see: What Charlie Chaplin Got Right

HOLLYWOOD FANTASIES, GARRY ARMSTRONG

I love movies. Old movies  Movies from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s. 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 movie houses.

old hollywood glamor shots

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

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!

I remember some of the scenes from the movie. The returning GIs, looking down on their hometown from the air. The family reunions. The men looked like my father and yet they didn’t. I was bothered but didn’t understand. I dreamed about the movie that night. My Dad was the star. My Mom was Myrna Loy. I was the son receiving souvenirs from my Dad. I could see myself in the movie.

astair and rogers

That fantasy would replay itself many times over the following decades. 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. I 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. That’s 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 as a star. Fortunately, that notebook was never discovered in class.

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 about being there in Hollywood during its golden age.

MGM_backlot

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 them. You’ve read about some of them in other posts. It’s funny when reality meets your dreams and fantasies.

I’ve done some extra or background acting. It was interesting but the hours are long, like those I logged for almost 40 years on 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 …

FILMS ALL GUYS SHOULD SEE – RICH PASCHALL

My personal top 20, by Rich Paschall

Since you are likely hiding out at home and looking for something to do, I offer again my top films for you to watch. Yes, I said at the beginning “films all guys should see”, but a lot of gals will enjoy these as well. They are examples of solid film making with strong casts. If you don’t own a copy, you can likely order them online.

These movies are the opposite of “chick flicks.”  You know what I mean, the romantic comedies starring Sandra Bullock or Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Lopez, or Zac Efron.  You may have to see those as a consequence of the long tradition of “date nights,” but let us move onto something with a little more substance. If your “date” does not want to watch any of the movies listed below, go to another room.

There could be hundreds of good films for this list.  The heroes are strong, the action is intense, the dialogue is smart and every guy in the theater (or living room) would like to be the leading man of the story.  They speak not only of good versus evil or right versus wrong, but they also include noble intentions… most of the time anyway.

Since I had to stick with movies I have seen, the list will probably date me to a time when I went to the movie theater more often.  A few of these I have only seen at home, but on a much larger television than when I was young.  Whether you are a Citizen Kane or a Raging Bull, it will be a Bad Day At Black Rock if you do not see all of these.  I normally do a top ten but I could not fit The Great Escape on the list and M.A.S.H. them down to 10.  It may not yet be High Noon, but it is time for the list.

The Magnificent Seven
The Magnificent Seven

20.  The Magnificent Seven. An outstanding remake of the Japanese classic The Seven Samurai, but set in the old West
19.  Dirty Harry. “I know what you’re thinking.”  This movie contains some of the greatest film quotes of all time.
18.  On The Waterfront. Marlon Brando could have been a contender. In fact, he won an Oscar.
17.  Patton.  George C. Scott will scare the heck out of you as the American General and war hero.
16.  Von Ryan’s Express.  A mesmerizing performance by Frank Sinatra trying to lead his troops to safety.
15.  Rocky.  Admit it, you love it.  It is a triumph of the spirit.  The sequels … not so much.
14.  Run Silent, Run Deep.  Burt Lancaster and Clark Gable face intrigue and insurrection on a submarine.
13.  The Bridge on the River Kwai.  Alec Guinness as the noble British officer forced to build a bridge with his fellow prisoners.  And the Oscar goes to…
12. The French Connection.  New York, France, drugs, car chases, cops, and the perfect cast.  An Academy Award winner.
11. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. Il Buono, il Brutto, il Cattivo. The ultimate “Spaghetti Western.”

10.  Dr. NoBond, James Bond  If it is not exactly what Ian Fleming had in mind for his spy hero, it is nonetheless a great start to the ongoing series of action-adventure movies.  If it were not for Sean Connery, would this series have gone very far?

The Maltese Falcon

09.  The Maltese Falcon.  Humphrey Bogart plays the detective who hunts down those responsible for the death of his partner.  It’s an odd speech he gives to Mary Astor at the end, but the final scene remains a classic.

08.  North by Northwest.  Cary Grant is forced to find the killer of an official at the United Nations.  The cross-country thriller is one of the finest works of director Alfred Hitchcock.

07.  Cool Hand Luke.  Paul Newman is a hero of another kind in the 1967 prison movie which earned an academy award for George Kennedy.

06.  Glory.  I loved Matthew Broderick in a number of lightweight movies, but here he rises to the dramatic occasion as the young officer who leads a troop of black soldiers into battle during the Civil War.  Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman also head the stellar cast.

05.  12 Angry Men.  One room, 12 men, one case, all dialogue.  Henry Fonda leads the powerful cast as the hold-out jury member who is not convinced of one boy’s guilt.  The confined setting adds to the unfolding tension.

04.  Jaws.  This movie made a lot of people afraid to go into the water.  Three unlikely people (Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider, and Richard Dreyfuss) go shark hunting in this 1975 thriller, directed by Steven Spielberg.

03.  In The Heat Of The Night.  Sydney Poitier commands the screen as the Philadelphia detective in the wrong place in the South. Rod Steiger is the ultimate racist southern sheriff.  The movie should make you squirm just a bit (or a lot) no matter what side of the color line you are on.  This is way beyond the sanitized television series and an important movie in 1967.

02.  The Godfather.  While some will not agree, I find this the best of the trilogy.  Marlon Brando is the Godfather, the Italian don, head of the crime family.  The 1972 film is a movie you can not refuse.

01.  Casablanca.  If you did not know this was coming, you have not been following me for very long.  It may be Casablanca, but we’ll always have Paris.  Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and a supporting cast that looks like they belong in the French Moroccan city.

Find trailers for the top 10 here on my YouTube channel.

2019 MOVIES IN REVIEW – Marilyn Armstrong

We’ve been catching up with the movies we never got to see in 2019. Many — maybe most — of them have been available on Netflix, Hulu, or Prime for a while, but we never got around to viewing them. A few more we got as gifts. So this is what we’ve seen of this year’s movies.

The first movie we watched was “Little Women.” I’ve read the book who knows how many times and visited Orchard House many times. I’ve also seen all the productions of the movie, my favorite being the 1994 version with Winona Ryder as Jo March. It’s still my favorite version. This one was weirdly disjointed.

I understand what the director was trying to do, but I didn’t think it worked. If I hadn’t read the book many times and seen all the other versions of it, I wouldn’t have had any idea what was going on. It’s not terrible, but it’s not exceptional in any way. With a cast of such great stars, it should have been better. A lot better.

Our next movie was “Harriet,” the story of Harriet Tubman. Garry has an issue watching movies about slavery in the same way I have an issue watching stuff about the Holocaust. We were both over-exposed to our collective history in early childhood.

I pointed out that “Harriet” actually had — as much as any movie of its kind can have — a “happy” ending. She was a historical figure, so we knew how it worked out. It wasn’t just all your ancestors lining up naked to be gassed en masse. He agreed to watch it. I don’t carry the weight of slavery as my personal history, but it turns out you don’t have to be Black to hate slavery and slave owners on southern plantations.

By the end of the movie, when Harriet rides off with a rifle on a white horse, I was cheering. Garry thought it might make a good television series. Harriet could rescue slaves every week and maybe blow away a slave owner or two.

We were so encouraged that the next movie we watched — or tried to watch — was “A Marriage Story.” I don’t care how many Oscars it won. By about an hour into it, neither one of us could watch any more of it. It’s available on Netflix, by the way, so if you are in the mood to watch a couple tearing each other to pieces while getting a divorce, feel free to watch it. How interesting that this movie won Oscars, but “Harriet” didn’t. Make of this what you like, but Harriet was by far the better movie with better action and acting top to bottom.

Even after turning it off, “Marriage Story” left a bad taste in our mouths. Garry suggested “The Two Popes,” a movie I had marked for viewing a few weeks ago. We hadn’t gotten to it.

It was about the papacy of Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) and the 2013 election of Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce). Two great actors dominating the movie and I thought it was excellent. I don’t know how accurate it is, but it was gripping and often quite funny. It’s also playing on Netflix, so if you can, it is definitely worth seeing.

We took a pass on “The Irishman,” also on Netflix.

We also saw “1917.” Garry liked it more than I did. The pointlessness (futility?) of war and all that. I thought it was a good movie but not a great one. Garry may differ on this one.


And this is as far as we’ve gotten with last year’s movies. I’m not sure there are any more in which we are interested.

And having run out of new movies, we settled happily last night into a rerun of “The Mask of Zorro.” Give me a handsome dude in a mask, riding a glorious horse and I’m a happy camper.

ME AND DUKE WAYNE – BY GARRY ARMSTRONG

I liked him so much I named a dog after him. Now that is appreciation.

Our Arizona vacation is a trip back in time to some of my favorite western movies and TV shows. The cactus covered fields and surrounding mountains evoke memories, especially of John Wayne-John Ford classics.

The locales around Phoenix are similar to areas in Utah where Wayne and Ford made some of their iconic films. In the aftermath of two vacations in Arizona, there were requests for my oft-told story about meeting Duke Wayne. If you’ve heard it before, head for the nearest saloon, Pilgrim.

Forty-three winters ago, as I reckon, it was John Wayne versus the anti-Vietnam War crowd at Harvard and surrounding areas of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Sunset reflected on the Superstition Mountains

Duke was cheered and jeered as he sat atop an armored “half-track” which moved slowly through the crowd as light snow fell. Some dissidents lobbed snowballs at Wayne as they shouted in derision. The Duke smiled and waved.

At one point, everything stopped as the legendary star hopped out to shake hands amid a flurry of snowballs. It was a bad situation for a reporter attempting an interview.

Me in Arizona

I remember calling in a few favors. Somehow, Duke and his entourage slipped into an empty theater. Long moments — to me, it was an eternity — followed as I waited alone on stage. Suddenly, the stage lit up. I froze.

“Hello, Garry!” Duke Wayne boomed in a friendly voice as he ambled in that familiar gait across the stage and greeted me. My TV persona kicked in as I shook hands with my hero, beaming with a happy smile.

I was oblivious to the cameras and time. Later, I would learn that it was a pretty fair interview with me swapping stories with Wayne including some anecdotes about my stint in the Marine Corps. Apparently, that impressed the Duke. He laughed when I recalled how I’d upset several drill instructors during basic training with my irreverent behavior.

72-GAR-Sunset-Phoenix-01062015_239

The interview apparently ran long because a press agent finally had to pry Duke loose to resume his “march” to Harvard.

During a formal, group interview at Harvard, Wayne singled me out as “his pal and former Gyrene”. I remember basking in the glow of that moment as other reporters glared at me. Later, as the gathering dispersed, Wayne approached me and said, “Good to see ya again, Gyrene”.

I offered what must’ve been a broad, idiotic smile and said, “Good to see YOU again, Duke.” I could see, over my shoulders, my crew smirking and laughing. It didn’t matter to me. Back in the newsroom, I walked around repeatedly asking people if they knew who shook my hand that day. Finally, someone told me to throw some cold water in my face and get on with my job.

Prickly and then some!

They didn’t get it. I had spent “private” time with the Duke. With Hondo, Sgt. Stryker, Ethan Edwards, Capt. Nathan Brittles, and Rooster Cogburn … among others. Damn, I had swapped stories with the man who really shot Liberty Valance.

Sadly, there were no personal pictures from that memorable day. No autograph. I’d always felt uneasy about asking celebrities for these signatures and autographed pictures. Not asking did open the door for more candid conversations and some unforgettable social afternoons and evenings with Hollywood legends, royalty, presidents, sports heroes, wise guys, godfathers.

Even Mother Theresa who singled me out from a crowd, chastising me about news coverage. I never figured that one out.

Topping all those memorable days and nights was my afternoon with the Duke. Back here in Arizona, where the Duke galloped through so many westerns, I think maybe … mebbe … I can top that encounter in the future.

That’ll be the day!

SIGNS OF OUR TIMES AND FAREWELL MY LOVELY – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Last night, I was gritting my teeth over the Senate Impeachment travesty and another household repair issue. The tank on the toilet in our primary bathroom cracked just hours after Marilyn had workers back to redo problems on our new shower. All this while we’re figuring out how to pay for a newer version of our 31-year-old oil burner, the baseball sign-stealing scandal, the recent bitterly cold winter, never-ending begathon calls from political candidates, not to mention marathon barkathons from our furry kids, I was ready for the cuckoos’ nest.  (Yes, I know this is exhibit A of a run-on sentence.)

I opted for the MLB Channel and Ken Burns’ “Baseball’ series. Marilyn had bought me the boxed DVD series but this was running, so I tuned in. We got the 1960s episode.  As only Burns, Lynn Novak and company can do it, it was a Ph.D. on the good, bad, and ugly of the 60s which remain etched in most of our memories. Certainly, it’s etched in mine since I was in the middle of many of its biggest stories.

1969 The Amazing Mets!

The Curt Flood saga is always good to see. I think most people don’t remember Flood’s contribution to the game and the price he paid for going up against the establishment. Today’s free agents and their agents should be forever grateful to Curt Flood and maybe send him a cut of their deals.

It was also good to see Casey and his Amazin’ Mets. I had the good luck to be a young newsie, covering Casey, Marvelous Marv, Elio Chacon and those loveable, bumbling guys who would blossom into Seaver and the ’69 World Champs. I loved seeing Casey, the 70+ loveable legend who gave me some of the funniest interviews ever. I usually forgot the question I asked as Casey continued talking in Stengelese –10 minutes or more, uninterrupted.

Ebbets Field

The eulogies to Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds, Shibe Park and other ancient stadiums paving the way for domed stadiums and fake grass would make another great post.

Profiles on Sandy Koufax (what a handsome dude), Stan Musial, Earl Weaver, Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Ty Cobb (his last days, never to be mourned at this address),  Marvin Miller, Yaz, and Bob Gibson were so well done. Bob Costas, the perennial Boy Scout with the great pipes and memories of the game — and Billy Crystal, The Yankee fan, recollecting the flight of the Dodgers and demise of Ebbets Field.

Then it was time for my bedroom movie. Robert Mitchum in his 1975, “Farewell, My Lovely.”  I’d seen it first run in the movies and didn’t fully appreciate Mitch. I thought he was too old.

Time makes all the difference. Last night’s viewing was a revelation. Mitch was perfect as the aging, tired, down-on-his-luck private eye. He brought a new meaning to world-weary. He was the best Phillip Marlowe of them all. His narration of the film was an added delight. I listened carefully to the narration.  A lesson for would-be narrators or audiobook performers.

Although in color, director Dick Richards used washed out hues to give it a film noir look. It should’ve been in B&W – but I guess the AVCO Embassy suits nixed the idea.  Mitchum’s work was masterful and now is in my top five ratings of his body of work.

John Ireland was sublimely good as Mitch’s cop pal.  Ditto the rest of the cast including Harry Dean Stanton, Sylvia Miles (Oscar-winning best-supporting actress), Charlotte Rampling, Anthony Zerbe, and a young Sly Stallone.

I waited for and enjoyed Mitch’s weary line to Ireland. “Dave, why is it that everything I touch turns to shit?” Mitch gave a Tom Selleck mega-sigh and Ireland stares at him with compassion.  Great scene.

What a guy!

THE WORLD WAR ONE CHRISTMAS TRUCE – 1914 – Marilyn Armstrong

The Christmas truce (German: Waffenstillstand; French: Trêve de Noël) was a series of widespread but unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front during the Christmas season of 1914. During the days leading to Christmas day, German and British soldiers left their trenches to exchange greetings. To talk man-to-man, exchange personal information, share food and drink.

From The Illustrated London News of January 9, 1915: "British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches"
From The Illustrated London News of January 9, 1915: “British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches”

World War I had been raging for only four months. Soldiers on both sides were trapped in trenches and extremely wary of sniper fire. On battlefields mired in mud, frozen with snow and ice, soldiers emerged from their holes in a rare, spontaneous outbreak of peace.

Both sides — most notably in the southern portion of the Ypres Salient — combatants briefly laid down their weapons and met in No Man’s Land.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, they mingled. Exchanged food and souvenirs. There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps. Several meetings ended in carol-singing.

The high command on both sides issued warnings to all soldiers that such fraternization would make participating soldiers subject to charges of treason. Not surprisingly, there were far fewer spontaneous truces the following year and virtually none by 1916.

A sad commentary on human “civilization” when peace, however temporary, is called treason.