A BROADWAY AWARDS SHOW – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Tom was in charge of the audio for the Outer Critics Circle award show at Sardi’s in New York City on May 23, 2019. So Tom and I got to have a unique and fun and very ‘New York’ experience. The show is a mini version of the Tony Awards but done in the afternoon, so no glamorous evening gowns.

Event program
We had to drive into the city the night before to bring in all the audio equipment and set it up on site. My job was to gaffer tape the endless wires to the carpet and walls so no one tripped over them. It was interesting to watch the event coordinators set the tables (it was a lunch/dinner at 3 PM), decide who sat where and set out the place cards.

The 27 awards were announced beforehand so only the winners showed up, which limited the guest list to 120, or twelve tables of ten each. Most of the people were behind the scene stars who I didn’t recognize. People like producers, directors, composers, sets, costumes and lighting people, agents, publicists, etc. The room covered all aspects of what it takes to put together a theatrical production, both musicals, and straight plays.

Page in program listing award winners
The audio table was set up for Tom and me in the back near the back door so I didn’t expect to see any celebrities close up. Surprise! They had set up a black curtain with the Outer Circle Critics logo all over it right next to me, near the back door. I thought it was just for decoration and name placement. I didn’t realize that that door was where everyone entered so they could be photographed in front of the black curtain.

The press corps, photo, and video were directly right in front of me. The celebrities entered, one by one, and posed for the press in front of the curtain/backdrop.

They chatted briefly with the press. All this took place three feet in front of me! I was taking photos too and the press photographers moved out of the way so I could get good shots. I told them it was just for a blog, but I got professional courtesy and was treated like a member of the press corps.

Photographers lined up to take pictures of celebrities
I also got to see some video interviews — a real treat.

Tina Fey was one of the presenters/masters of ceremony and she was charming and funny, as usual. I got some close ups of her as she entered and posed for the cameras and I also took pictures of her talking at the podium.

Tina posing for the photographers.

A film and TV actor, Hamish Linklatter was also very funny as a presenter,  The Big Short, and Fantastic Four movies as well as The Newsroom and The Good Wife on TV. He did a dramatic reading of his presenter speech, which was hilarious.

Hamish Linklatter

Bryan Cranston gave a delightful acceptance speech too — “Breaking Bad,” “Malcolm In The Middle,” and “All The Way” (TV) and the movie “Trumbo.”

Joel Grey
It was a thrill to see classic stars like Joel Grey — “Cabaret,” the play and movie. John Callum — “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever” among numerous stage credits as well as TV’s “Northern Exposure,” and “Madame Secretary.”

John Callum
The legendary costume designer, Bob Mackie was also there. He did all of Cher’s clothes for her TV show as well as the costumes for the Carol Burnett Show. He also dressed many stars, like Judy Garland and Liz Minnelli, to name a few.

Bob Mackle

Another charming actress who got an award was Stephanie J. Block for her role as the older Cher in the musical based on her life. She said she had 29 costume changes during each show, eight times a week!

Stephanie J. Block
I also saw a favorite of mine, Brian D’Arcy James, who was in the TV musical Smash as well as originating lead roles in the musicals “Shrek the Musical,” “Next To Normal” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”

Brian D’Arcy James
Our friend, Barbara Rosenblat was in the audience. She is a member of our Audio Theater Group, Voicescapes Audio Theater as well as being a world-renowned, award-winning audiobook narrator.

She has also appeared many times on the Broadway stage. She was in the original cast of “The Secret Garden” and got her caricature drawn and hung in Sardi’s. The restaurant opened in 1921 and is known for these caricature drawings covering all of its walls, representing the Broadway stars from the 1920s to today.

Barbara Rosenblat
I knew Barbara’s drawing was there but I had never seen it. We, along with the rest of the crew, were treated to a dinner at Sardi’s restaurant downstairs after the show. Coincidentally, I was seated directly in front of Barbara’s drawing. So Cool!

Barbara’s caricature on Sardi’s wall
All in all, it was an exhausting but wonderful adventure.

A PILGRIM’S TALE – Garry Armstrong

Our Arizona vacations were trips back in time to some of my favorite western movies and TV shows.

Those cactus covered fields and surrounding mountains evoked memories, especially of the John Wayne-John Ford classic Westerns and the areas around Phoenix are similar to some of the areas in Utah where Wayne and Ford made many of their iconic films.

In the aftermath of my first Arizona post, there were requests for my oft-told story about meeting Duke Wayne. So now, a few years after the second trip, here it is again. 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 the surrounding areas of The People’s Republic of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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.

I called in a few favors and somehow, Duke and his entourage slipped into an empty theater. What felt like an eternity to me, I waited alone on stage for John Wayne to appear. Suddenly, the stage lit up. I froze.

“Hello, Garry!” boomed the Duke in a friendly voice as he ambled in that familiar gait across the stage. After the greeting,  my TV persona kicked in. I shook hands with my hero, beaming with pleasure.

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

The interview ran long. Towards the end, a press agent 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 crowd dispersed, Wayne approached me and said, “Good to see ya again, Gyrene”.

I offered what must’ve been a dumb smile and said, “Good to see you again, Duke.” I could see, over my shoulders, my crew smirking and giggling. I didn’t care. This was the interview I’d dreamed about.

Back in the newsroom, I walked around the newsroom repeatedly asking everyone if they knew who shook my hand that day. Finally, someone told me to throw some cold water on my face and get on with my job.

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 so many 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 artifacts.

Ironically, this gesture apparently opened the door for more candid conversations and some unforgettable social afternoons and evenings with Hollywood legends, Royalty, Presidents, sports heroes, wise guys, godfathers and 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!

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.

HANGING OUT WITH ROBERT “MITCH” MITCHUM – Garry Armstrong

Marilyn and I watched an old Dick Cavett interview with Robert Mitchum on TCM (Turner Classic Movies) last night. We laughed a lot. It was a reminder of how good late night talk shows were. It also showed the legendary tough guy Mitchum as an affable and literate man who didn’t take himself seriously.

The Cavett show originally aired in 1970. I met Robert Mitchum the following year. Turned out to be a memorable encounter.

Robert Mitchum was in Boston to shoot “The Friends of Eddie Coyle”, a film about small-time criminals. There was nothing small-time about Mitchum. I lobbied for and got the TV interview assignment. Those were the days of “The big three” television stations in Boston. Two of the stations had prominent entertainment reporters. I was the “go to guy” at my station.

The established entertainment reporters had first dibs on Mitchum. Fine by me. I waited until shooting had wrapped for the day. I lucked out because they finished just before 1pm. The star was in a good mood because his workday was over. We shot one reel of film and I got everything I needed.

Mitchum seemed surprised we weren’t shooting more. Actually, he smiled when I said we had a wrap.

I was getting ready to leave when Robert Mitchum asked what was next for me.

Nothing, I told him. I was through for the day unless I was called for a breaking news story. I also assured him I probably would not be reachable. He smiled. He asked if I knew any quiet places where he could have lunch without being bothered. I nodded and he invited me to join him.

It was a small, dark place. It could’ve been a setting from one of Mitchum’s film noir of the 1940s. He smiled approvingly as we walked in. Several people greeted me. No one gave Mitchum a second look. We settled back with the first of many rounds that afternoon. At one point, Mitchum took off his tinted glasses, looked around the place and said I should call him “Mitch”. I nodded. He wanted to know how I could just disappear for the rest of the day. I told him I had recorded my voice tracks, shot all my on-camera stuff and relayed cutting instructions after the film was “souped”. Mitch smiled broadly and went to the bar for another round of drinks.

robert_mitchum_by_robertobizama-d4ktib7We spent the next couple of hours talking about sports, music, women, work, and celebrity. He noticed how people would look and nod but not bother us. I told him this was one of my secret places. Blue collar. No suits. He wondered why I hadn’t asked him about the “Eddie Coyle” movie or shooting in Boston.

Not necessary, I told him. Everyone knew about that stuff and it would be mentioned by the anchors introducing my stories. He smiled again, lit one more cigarette, and ordered another round.

It dawned on me that Mitch was leading the conversation. Talking about me. How I was faring as a minority in a predominantly white profession. Just like the movies, I told him. I explained I did spot news stories to get the opportunity to do features which I really enjoyed. He laughed and we did an early version of the high 5.

We swapped some more war stories, including a couple about Katherine Hepburn. He talked about working with her in “Undercurrent” with Robert Taylor when he was still a young actor. Mitch said Hepburn was just like a guy, professional, and lots of fun.

I mentioned meeting the legendary actress after I was summoned to her Connecticut home during my stint at another TV station. Mitch stared as I talked. I had tea with Katherine Hepburn who had seen me on the Connecticut TV station. She liked what she saw but had some suggestions about how I could improve what I did. I never could fathom why Katherine Hepburn would choose to spend time with this young reporter. No modesty. Just puzzlement. Mitch loved the story and ordered another round.

I glanced at my watch and figured I couldn’t stay incognito much longer. This was before pagers, beepers and, mercifully, long before cell phones. Mitch caught the look on my face and nodded.

Mitch walked me to my car and asked if I was good to drive. I tried to give him a Mitchum look and he just laughed. We shook hands and vowed to do it again.

Mitch headed back to the bar as I drove away.

SELFIES AND AUTOGRAPHS – Garry Armstrong

Across New England, the Blizzard from hell takes second place to the Patriots’ latest melodramatic postseason victory and relentless march in search of yet another Superbowl championship.

We are literally iced in but that won’t stop die-hard Pats’ fans in their quest for selfies and autographs with their favorite football players. Patriots’ fans, oblivious to the numbing cold are lined up outside numerous venues for a magical second with their heroes. A long second to secure a selfie and an autograph for posterity.

It raises questions about how far people will go for the celebrity snap or signature. What’s the intrinsic value of such possessions?  It varies from financial worth to bragging rights.

Selfies are part of our daily lives now. People documenting the magical and the mundane. There’s a narcissist air to selfies of people wolfing down their favorite food or bathroom mirror closeups to show you’re forever young. If you are compassionate, you will typically post a thumbs-up note of congratulations.

Which invites more such selfies.

But no signature!

That’s a part of our social media lives. The smallest moment gets big attention.

People have always wanted pics or autographs with celebrities. It’s their golden moment! As a kid, I yearned for such mementos with my favorite baseball players or movie stars. I really wanted a photo with Roy Rogers, the king of the Cowboys.

During my working years as a TV News reporter, I met many celebrities, socialized with a few but have very few autographs or pictures. I felt awkward about it.

Even when socializing with the cameras somewhere else, the conversations were relaxed, easy and I thought it would be rude to ask for the pic or autograph. Sometimes the celebs were pleasantly surprised. Robert Mitchum, with a sly grin, asked: “Dude, no pics or autographs?” I smiled, shaking my head and wondering why I just didn’t ask.

Garry with Tip O’Neill – without an autograph

I always thought the legends were more comfortable with my not asking for the snapshot “for my aging aunt who’s a big fan”.  It always sounded so lame and obvious. James Cagney, at his Martha’s Vineyard farm, proudly showed me autographed photos of his early Hollywood friends and peers. He clearly was very proud of the array and talked about his nervousness in approaching William S. Hart, Tom Mix and John Barrymore among other luminaries. I thought it was fine for Cagney because he was a legend. I was just a local TV News reporter.

My biggest regret might be not having asked John Wayne for a picture (1974 – before selfies) even though he was very cordial during our interview. I certainly acted like a fanboy that day, telling everyone – over and over – that John Wayne actually shook my hand.   Eyes rolled in the newsroom as I gushed about meeting “The Duke”.

His shirt says “Living Legend.” AND he gives autographs!

I’ve been retired almost 18 years now and people still stop me for pictures and autographs, usually apologizing for interrupting my grocery shopping. I’m always flattered even surprised, given the length of time I’ve been away from the spotlight. It always “makes my day” when someone says “Hey, I grew up watching you on TV. Would it be okay to take a picture if you don’t mind?” It’s so funny — and the joke is on me, I guess.

Garry getting ready to do his selfie and autograph at Imperial Motors

I was just thinking — who would I love a picture with now?  Most of my heroes are gone. A casual list of “Hey, would you mind if I took a picture with you?” would include Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Alfred Einstein, Robert Frost (I did an interview but again froze on the picture request), FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt, Vin Scully, Sidney Poitier, and Bette Davis — to name just a few.  Mr. Poitier is still around. I’ve met him once or twice. Maybe he would appreciate this longtime fan.

Garry and Harvey Leonard, famed meteorologist sharing old Dodger baseball memories – Almost as good as an autograph

There are so many “celeb stories” in my memory. I wish I’d had the nerve to ask for that pic.

Selfie?  No, I just looked in the mirror. No, no selfie.

DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? – Marilyn Armstrong

This story has been on the news for the past few days. Every time it has been on, Garry and I had a good laugh.

There was a zesty little scuffle between Bill Murray, actor, and Peter Simon, a photographer who is, incidentally, Carly’s brother. And it was at “the restaurant” to which everybody who is anybody goes so that everybody knows they were there.

We used to go there once every vacation. It was wildly expensive, so not the sort of place you visited often. Or at least, not a place we visited often. Mostly, I prepared our meals at the house.

The Simon’s are permanent Martha’s Vineyard residents (and you should see their house — it’s amazing) which means something on the Vineyard. They do a lot to try to help feed the people who get hungry in the winter when all the tourists are gone and there’s no work.

The Taylor family (James, et al) are also Vineyard residents, so even though Carly and James are no longer married, they sometimes get together and do a show that will raise money to feed and house the hungry.

Thus, when Bill Murray asked Peter Simon “Do you know who I am?” and Peter answered with “Do you know who I am?” it was like a Vineyard joke.

Photo: Washington Post – Bill Murray

The thing is if you’ve spent any amount of time on the Vineyard — not as a two-day visitor but weeks at a time — you realize that everybody on the Vineyard is somebody, or is related to somebody, married to somebody, used to be somebody or is about to become somebody.

It’s a very somebody kind of place.

Peter Simon, photographer

I remember when Garry spotted Patricia Neal at a store in Edgartown. He whispered to me to wander over and find out if that was really Patricia Neal.

It is considered uncool on the Vineyard to ask for autographs or anything like that. People come to the Vineyard to get away from that … but they do want to make sure you know who they are. This can be difficult if they are on the naked beach in Aquinnah, by the way. Naked people just don’t look like their picture in the newspaper.

So as I was sashaying over to see if I can overhear relevant conversation (yes, she was), someone else was pointing at Garry because that was when he was somebody, too.

Lucky for me, I wasn’t anybody. Pat did give me some good advice which was “The most important thing for a woman is to have someone who’s good with hair and great with makeup.” Not that I have anyone, but if I had become a star, I would have taken that to heart because I’m sure she was right.

Patricia Neal – PHOTO: JAIMIE RODRIGUEZ-GLOBE PHOTOS, INC

There’s no point to this story except that if you are going to vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, be careful about assuming you are more important than that other guy. His face may not be familiar, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t own a movie studio. Or his father does.

RDP #74 – ZEST

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.