post

Why the Academy Awards Go On and On

f144265d51c086ec961ead58743145d8

“I just want to thank everybody I’ve ever met in my entire life.”

—  Kim Basinger,

winning Best Supporting Actress for  “L.A. Confidential” in 1998

Advertisements
post

A Hard Day’s Night

31st_Acad_Awards

Johnny Carson hosted the Academy Awards in 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, and again in 1984.  In his first appearance he quipped, “Welcome to the 51st Academy Awards, two hours of sparkling entertainment spread over a four-hour show.”

While the telecast might seem to go on for hours and hours, the awards ceremony did not go over four hours until March 1999 when Whoopi Goldberg hosted. At two minutes after the four-hour mark, Shakespeare in Love took Best Picture.  The following year when Billy Crystal was host and American Beauty won, the show went 4 hours 4 minutes.

Ever since, the telecast has been under four hours, except in March 2002 when, again, Whoopi Goldberg hosted. Lasting 4 hours 23 minutes, the evening finally ended when A Beautiful Mind took Best Picture.

How will Ellen DeGeneres do?  She received a Primetime Emmy nomination for “Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program” when she hosted the 79th Academy Awards in 2007.  In case you’re wondering, the show went 3 hours 51 minutes and The Departed won.

As for her appearance this year, she says, “I am so excited to be hosting the Oscars for the second time. You know what they say — the third time’s the charm.”

They also say, “It’s been a hard day’s night, I should be sleeping like a log…”

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

post

Remembering Funny Men

1946 W.C. Fields Christmas card

1946 W.C. Fields Christmas card

Despite appearances, W.C. Fields and Charlie Chaplin had a lot in common.

They were both born into poor families in the late nineteenth century, Fields near Philadelphia in 1880 and Chaplin in London in 1889.  Before catapulting to fame during the silent movie era, Fields was in vaudeville.  He started as a juggler, appearing as a genteel tramp with a scruffy beard and shabby tuxedo, somehow managing to keep cigar boxes, hats, and other flying objects up in the air.

Chaplin, too, began on the vaudeville stage doing comedy sketches.  His impersonation of a drunk dressed in evening attire and top hat, attempting to light a cigar on a light bulb, was one of his most popular roles.

In character, Fields was a hard-drinking misanthrope, playing hustlers and card sharks with an animosity towards dogs and children.  Disputing this, Fields declared, “I like children – fried.”

Chaplin’s “the Tramp” was a good-hearted character who, regardless of his predicament which he often brought upon himself, acted like the perfect gentleman.  The Kid, “a picture with a smile – and perhaps, a tear,” featured seven-year old Jackie Coogan as “the Tramp’s” adopted son and sidekick.

The public adored both Fields and Chaplin, but both were lonely. “I was loved by crowds, but I didn’t have a single close friend,” Chaplin once bemoaned.

Explaining to his family his aversion to Christmas and other “silly holidays”, Fields lamented, “It’s because those days point up a thing called loneliness. An actor on the road — as I was for so long . . . and around the world seven times–finds himself all alone on the days when everyone else has friends and companionship. It’s not too good to be in Australia, or in Scotland, or in South Africa, as I was on tour, all alone on Christmas Day, and to see and hear a lot of happy strangers welcoming that two-faced merriment-monger Santa Claus, who passes you by.”

"Christmas Charlie" -- By: Mike Margolis

“Christmas Charlie” — By: Mike Margolis

Still Fields would boast, “Christmas at my house is always at least six or seven times more pleasant than anywhere else. We start drinking early. And while everyone else is seeing only one Santa Claus, we’ll be seeing six or seven.”

Ironically, Fields died on Christmas day, 1946.  In his will, later contested by his estranged wife and one of his two sons (both named William, after the old man), he left a portion of his estate to an orphanage “where no religion of any sort is preached.”

By coincidence, Chaplin, too, passed away on Christmas day, 1977, survived by two sons (including Charles Spencer Chaplin III) from an early marriage and eight children from his fourth and last marriage with Oona O’Neill.

What tremendous legacies these funny men left. They always made us laugh and sometimes made us cry. We remember them with joy in our hearts and good will to all.

© 2013 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

post

85 Years Ago: Oh, What a Doll!

You can buy a Madame Alexander doll wherever fine toys are sold.  Saks Fifth Avenue, for example, has a wide selection from babies to ballerinas, including Fancy Nancy and Pinkalicious Cloth Dolls.

Photo by: Jennie Ivins

Photo by: Jennie Ivins

Or you can buy a vintage Madame Alexander doll on E-Bay.

Beatrice Alexander, the founder and namesake of the doll company, began her business from her kitchen table in Brooklyn, New York in 1923. The daughter of Russian immigrants, she learned her craft by the side of her father who operated the first-of-its-kind doll hospital.

Initially the Madame Alexander Dolls were homemade from cloth, but the business soon expanded. In the 1930s, Alexander added lifelike details.  With synthetics introduced in the 1940s, she began using plastic to create vinyl heads and hair that could be styled.

In the 1950s advertisements touted various models:

Madeline – fully jointed at wrist, shoulder, hip and knee for pretty posing.

Kate Smith’s Annabelle – with the pixie look.

Rosebud – soft plastic baby with voice and moving eyes.

Maggie Walker – walks where you lead her.

Dryper Baby Doll – let her drink, change her real Dryper pantie pad insert.

Alexander believed that dolls could be used to educate and created collections based on historic events, literature, music, art and film. Some of the well-known personages on whom she based her designs include Jacqueline Kennedy, Coco Chanel, the Dionne Quintuplets, and Queen Elizabeth and her daughters (at the royal family’s request). A Scarlett O’Hara doll is housed at the Smithsonian.

My mother received a Madame Alexander doll on her eighth or ninth birthday.  It was the height of the depression, so my mother wonders how her parents had the money for such a wonderful gift.  She still exclaims, “Oh, such a beautiful doll.”

© 2013 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

post

100 Years Ago in Pop Culture: The Birth of a Filmmaker

In 1913 actor and filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille began shooting The Squaw Man In Hollywood.

A romance? A Western? Hollywood's first feature-length film

A romance? A Western? Hollywood’s first feature-length film

It was a bit of an accident that DeMille and his crew were there.  They had planned to locate to Flagstaff, Arizona, but the weather was so bad that December, nor were the vistas as spectacular as expected, that they took the train to the end of the line and decided to stay, the California climate and scenery being perfect for their endeavor.

The Squaw Man, a romantic drama based on a play, involves an English peer falsely accused of a crime his cousin had committed.  He escapes to the American West and marries an Indian woman, only to return home, without his wife who had died, when he is cleared of all charges.

The six-reeler, the first feature length film made in Hollywood, was a huge success.  DeMille, rather taken with the story, remade the move twice, again as a silent in 1918 and then as a talkie in 1931.

Tyrannical on the set, he wore a whistle around his neck and carried a large megaphone, so his instructions were loud and clear.  Although not an actor’s director, he was loyal to his actors, casting Claudette Colbert, Gloria Swanson, Gary Cooper, Robert Preston, Paulette Goddard, and Charlton Heston in multiple pictures.

DeMille became a celebrity in his own right, dressing the part in an open-necked shirt, riding pants, and boots. However, in his cameo appearance as himself in Sunset Boulevard (1950), he wore a conservative dark suit and tie.

The director’s best known endeavors came late in his career.  He made Samson and Delilah in 1949, The Greatest Show on Earth in 1952, and The Ten Commandments in 1956.  In Egypt filming the Exodus scene for the later, then-75-year-old DeMille climbed to the top of the massive Ramesses set and suffered a near-fatal heart attack. Against his doctor’s orders, DeMille was back directing the film within a week.

Setting his sights on the stars, DeMille was planning a movie about space travel, when he died of a heart ailment in January, 1958.

© 2013 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

 

post

From the Small Screen to the Silver Screen

In its November 4, 2013 issue, New York magazine released its second annual assessment of “Hollywood’s 100 Most Valuable Stars”.  Their ranking took into account such variables as box office, likability, and Oscar wins and nominations.  Mentions on Twitter counted, too.

From one to one hundred. Photo by: Mark Morgan

From one to one hundred. Photo by: Mark Morgan

Surprise!  Robert Downey Jr. was number one, again, as Iron Man 3 smashed records at the 2013 box office.  Ok, if we’re going by the numbers determined by a formula.

Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Sandra Bullock, and Brad Pitt follow on the list. No surprise there, considering such movies as Django, Silver Linings Playbook, The Heat and Gravity, and World War Z, respectively.

However, it was Will Smith at number 6 who caught my eye.  His stated goal was to become “the biggest movie star in the world,” and that he probably was – at some point in time. Smith began making movies while his sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996) was still on the air.  Blockbusters came next.

That got me thinking. What other actors have made the transition from television to the movies and are considered “valuable” in 2013? There are many of them still going strong, per New York.

Tom Hanks (Bosom Buddies), Johnny Depp (21 Jump Street, not to be confused wtih the 2012 comedy starring Jonah Hill), and Jennifer Aniston (Friends) are in the top sixteen.

If we consider SNL cast members, there’s Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell, both of whom have had quite fruitful movie careers, as well as Tina Fey and Kristen Wiig, who write as well as perform.

Freaks and Greeks was a jumping off point for James Franco, Seth Rogen, and Jason Segel, although the series was cancelled after twelve episodes.  We loved Mila Kunis in That ’70s Show, Jennifer Garner in Alias, Steve Carrell in The Office, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Third Rock from the Sun, and we love them today.

Justin Timberlake appeared on The New Mickey Mouse Club.  I think that counts.

Do you remember Rawhide? That goes back a while. It was a Western in black and white, no less.  Well, Clint Eastwood is still around, still valuable. So, too, is Bruce Willis, having a huge career playing the fast-talking wiseguy from Moonlighting.

I’m sure I missed some.  I’m not as up on television, as I used to be. But ask me about Mad Men or The Good Wife.  Go ahead, ask me.  As for Jon Hamm and Julianne Margulies, I think their stars are golden in any medium.  And that’s worth something.

© 2013 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

——–

To see New York’s “Hollywood’s 100 Most Valuable Stars,” visit: http://www.vulture.com/2013/10/most-valuable-movie-stars.html#/all/vulture-rankings

post

Five Years Ago in Popular Culture: The Death of a Gentleman

Newman and Woodard 1960.

Newman and Woodard 1960.

Unflappable, Unbeatable. Unforgettable. Paul Newman, also known as King Cool, died five years ago at the age of 83.  Known for his philanthropic generosity and passion racing cars, as well as his stage and screen presence, his career spanned decades.

Newman made his movie debut in 1954 in The Silver Chalice, a historical drama, for which he later apologized for his performance.  No matter.  By 1958 he was one of the hottest new stars in Hollywood, going tête-à-tête with Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and Eva Marie Saint in Exodus (1960).

Newman also went mano a mano with his equally celebrated male costars. In 1961 he appeared on the silver screen in The Hustler with Jackie Gleason.  Twenty-five years later he reprised his role as “Fast Eddie” in The Color of Money with Tom Cruise.

Fellow actor Robert Redford and Newman formed a special bond.  Their easy-going camaraderie, in evidence in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and The Sting (1973), spilled over to life itself.

When asked if he would make a sequel with Redford following Redford’s Indecent Proposal (1993), Newman replied, “”Like a rocket!” Then he added, “I’d shack up with anyone for a million dollars. I’d shack up with a gorilla for a million, plus 10 percent.”

Redford might not have been as pleased to be on a set with Newman again.  “He tells the worst jokes.  And that wouldn’t be so bad if he didn’t keep repeating them over and over.”

Newman’s relationship with actress Joanne Woodward also began on a movie set.  Their marriage, his second, reached the fifty-year mark, one of Hollywood’s longest lasting.  Although they briefly separated because Newman had an affair during the filming of Butch Cassidy, he famously paid her the ultimate compliment: “Why fool around with hamburger when you have steak at home?”

If those aren’t the words spoken by a gentleman, what are?

© 2013 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

 

post

Fall is in the Air: Read a Book

The 99 most banned books from 1990-2000. Photo by: The East Branch of the Dayton Metro Library

The 99 most banned books from 1990-2000. Photo by: The East Branch of the Dayton Metro Library

Even if you’re not heading back to school, it’s a great time to read a book.  In fact, read a banned book.

Banned Books Week this year is September 22 to September 28.  The annual celebration began in 1982 to promote freedom from censorship.

You’ll be shocked at the books that libraries and bookstores have been kept from putting on their shelves over the years, if you aren’t already familiar with their history.  To name just a few*, which were required reading when I was in school:

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, 1855.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, 1884.

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, 1906.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, 1939.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, 1952.

To protect their children from the ugly and offensive, parents persist in protesting many noteworthy tomes long after they were first published. In 1977 one school district pronounced The Scarlet Letter (1850) by Nathaniel Hawthorne “pornographic and obscene.” In 1996 another school district prohibited Moby Dick (1851) by Herman Melville from its classrooms because it “conflicted with their community values,” whatever they were.

Critics have called J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye (1951) unacceptable, blasphemous, negative, foul, and filthy. Some terms applied to other literary classics include trash, violent, sexually graphic, and potentially controversial.

Although just about anyone is able to find just about anything on the Internet, there are those who continue to try to impose their opinion on everyone else. Why not let the reader decide: to read or not to read?

Just last year self-appointed censors attempted to keep Fifty Shades of Grey, an erotic romance by E.L. Grey, out of the hands of the public.  Now, I’m pretty sure that the book and its sequels don’t appear on any required reading lists, except, perhaps, for an advanced college course in Women’s Studies.  Still, the trilogy has topped best-seller lists around the world, selling over seventy million copies. It will be made into a movie, its success all but insured.

The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls’ 2005 memoir, which spent over 260 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list, has its share of critics, as well.  It recounts the author’s unconventional childhood, dealing with such issues as poverty and mental illness.  Yes, let’s keep this book out of the hands of anyone who can’t address these issues head on.  Meanwhile, it, too, is being made into a movie.

Can’t wait for the movie?  Read a book, and celebrate your right to read. You might gain a new perspective. Isn’t that what books are all about?

© 2013 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

For a more complete list of books that have been banned or challenged, visit: bannedbooksweek.org.

post

Hear Ye Hear Ye: Talking About the Stars

Book CoverYesterday afternoon I had the pleasure of chatting with Betty Jo Tucker, movie critic extraordinaire and the editor/lead critic of ReelTalk Movie Reviews, and her co-host James Colt Harrison, also an author of thousands of reviews and articles about Hollywood, on Betty Jo’s radio program “Movie Addict Headquarters.”

My book Hollywood or Bust was the central point of our conversation, and I was peppered with lots of questions.  Where did the idea come from?  What was the biggest challenge in writing the book?  How did you decide on the themes in the book?  What are your favorite quotes in the book?

Oh, there are so many.  I like the first quote in the book from Hilary Swank: “I’m just a girl from a trailer park who had a dream.”  I think that sets the tone of the book because Hollywood and the movies, even life itself, are all about dreams.

On the loss of privacy that comes with fame, I like Jennifer Aniston’s quote: “When someone follows you all the way to the shop and watches you buy a roll of toilet paper, you know your life has changed.”  The lesson here is to be careful for what you wish.

Betty Jo had her favorite quotes, too.  She pointed out how touched she was by Charlie Chaplin saying, “I was loved by crowds, but I didn’t have a single close friend. I felt like the loneliest man alive,” and she played a few minutes of music Chaplin had composed for Modern Times.  Afterwards she noted, “There he is making everyone else laugh, but he has such feeling.”  And, then we moved on to more amusing topics.

James shared a story relating a chance meeting between Clark Gable and William Faulkner on the MGM lot where they were both working in the 1930s.  Clark Gable knew who William Faulkner was, but Faulkner couldn’t return the compliment.  Ah, writers.  What would the movies be without them?

As screenwriter Joe Eszterhas noted: “Screenplays are a bitch to write.  One man wrote War and Peace.  Thirty-five screenwriters wrote The Flintstones.” Ah, Hollywood.

© 2013 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Here’s the link for your listening pleasure:

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/movieaddictheadquarters/2013/07/30/hollywood-or-bust

post

It’s Summertime. Read a Book.

Photo by: Vicki Ashton

Photo by: Vicki Ashton

Looking for a good book to read?  Sometimes one’s hard to find.

Nothing in the reviews in the New York Times and the New Yorker jumps out at you.  Scouring your local newspaper, if you still take a local newspaper, hasn’t yielded just the right result.  And you don’t trust the reviews in People magazine.

So check out what “the people” have to say.

In its own words, “Goodreads is a free website for book lovers. Imagine it as a large library that you can wander through and see everyone’s bookshelves, their reviews, and their ratings.”  With eighteen million members it must be doing something right.  And all those members have posted twenty-four million reviews and counting.

Books are organized by category, such as art, biography, comedy, history, and mystery.  Simply skim the recommendations that are tailored to your interests.

Alternatively, peruse ”Recent Updates From the Community” on the home page. There should be something that appeals to you.

Did you miss the Hunger Games craze?  Well, a reader gives the first book in the series by Suzanne Collins five stars, but no synopsis. There’s always Amazon to find out what it’s all about.

Do you like the classics?  One reader recommends the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird.  I recommend seeing the movie starring Gregory Peck.

Want to be frightened into action?  Books by both Stephen King and Dean Kootz are mentioned.  The Shining was described as “the scariest book ever.”   But who hasn’t seen the movie?

Does it sound like I’m mocking the efforts of these critics? I’m not.  Really.

On a recent search I was reminded that I have been intending to read Abraham Verghese’s 2009 novel Cutting the Stone.  It’s about conjoined twins separated at birth who follow in their father’s path to become doctors.  I added it to my “want to read” list.

And I’ve devoured many of Barbara Kingsolver’s books, but I missed The Poisonwood Bible.  It, too, now resides on my list.

Someone somewhere has written just the book for which you’re looking, and someone on Goodreads has written a review about it.

© 2013 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

——–

P.S. I also joined the program as a Goodreads author to promote my book Hollywood or Bust.  Type in my name.  Sign up for the free giveaway (winners are picked randomly at the end of July).  Write a review, if that’s your thing.  Thank you.