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UNSUNG HEROES

March 1st, 2017 4 Comments

 

 

Some of you may have noticed a certain absence of seriousness in my blogs, an ironic, mocking tone designed primarily to deflate my own sense of importance.

 

Well…

 

…no more.

 

I hereby take a vow of sobriety.

 

You have my promise—my word of honor—that I will renounce irony and wit, that I will embrace seriousness, gravity and thoughtfulness…for today’s blog.

 

(Don’t expect to see such straight-forwardness in these pages ever again.)

 

With this prelude, let me turn to the subject of the recent Academy Awards.

 

The whole town’s talking about the mistake at the climax of the show—La La Land winning the Best Picture award before losing it to Moonlight.

 

Shocking as this was, it was nothing compared to another mistake the public is unaware of—the inexcusable omission of at least three major names from “In Memoriam” segment.

 

CHARMIAN CARR

ROBERT ELLIS MILLER

DAVID SHEPARD

 

Charmian was, of course, Liesl, in Robert Wise’s wondrous screen adaptation of The Sound of Music.

 

 

I remember where I first saw the film.

 

I remember my date for the evening.

 

I remember that amazing opening shot with the camera swooping down to meet Maria as she rushes forward into those hills filled with the sound of music.

 

I remember bits of dialogue, lyrics, scenes.

 

But most of all, I remember Charmian.

 

Her beauty.

 

Her charm.

 

Her innocence.

 

Her sensuality.

 

I fell in love with her that night in that theatre in Beverly Hills.

 

I’m in love with her to this day.

 

In fact, when I was privileged to spend some time in conversation with her a few years ago, I was tongue-tied until I finally managed to blurt out, “It’s about time we’ve met. I’ve been in lust with you for almost fifty years.”

 

How, I wonder, could the Academy have neglected mention of her passing?

 

Yes, her career in film was brief.

 

Yes, she is known primarily for one role.

 

But what a role! What a performance! What a movie!

 

A movie that shines forever in the memories of those who have seen it.

 

I’m shocked by her omission from the Academy tribute, and so I pay tribute to her here, in this little-read column,

 

Thank you, Charmian.

 

Thank you for lighting up my life and the lives of so many millions.

 

May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

 

Then there’s my old friend Robert Ellis Miller.

 

 

Robert directed The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and Rueben, Rueben—two of the finest films ever made.

 

He orchestrated what Alan Arkin himself considers his best performance.

 

He discovered both Sondra Locke and Kellie McGillis.

 

And yet he was not worthy of inclusion in the Academy’s tribute.

 

If he had done nothing but The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, he would have deserved special mention.

 

I discovered Heart while a graduate student at Princeton.

 

I used it to introduce my students to the vocabulary of the cinema while teaching film at DePauw University.

 

I went nuts when I eventually met Robert himself at a Hollywood party—“Oh, my God, are you Robert Ellis Miller?!?”

 

And I went crazier still when he expressed an interest in directing one of my screenplays—an event that, alas, was not to be.

 

One of the proudest accomplishments of my years in Hollywood was my friendship with Robert.

 

I tried to express my feelings about him and his work a couple of years ago in an article for CineMontage, and given the Academy’s shocking failure to acknowledge the passing of this amazing talent, I am trying again here.

 

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is one of the films that gave me the resolve to turn my back on the security of a tenured professorship and ride the rollercoaster of Hollywood. But it did more than inspire me. It moved me. And that is what all great movies do. The best of them will tear your heart in two.

 

Robert did that, and so I say…

 

Shame.

 

Shame upon the Academy.

 

I find it astonishing that Charmian and Robert were not enough for them: they also ignored the death of one of the greatest behind-the-scene figures in town—David Shepard.

 

 

 

His is, I suspect, a name unknown to most of you, and frankly, that’s the way he preferred it, for David, unlike most of us in Hollywood, was an advocate not for himself but for the art of the cinema—especially the art of the silent cinema.

 

David did things for people.

 

If Confessions of a Hollywood Nobody had an index, his name would have the largest number of entries. I will simply say that without his support, I would have been nothing more than a nameless casualty of the town.

 

He did things for people.

 

He brought people together.

 

He got things done.

 

The thing he did best was the preservation of our silent film heritage.

 

As Curator of Film at the late, lamented Blackhawk films and at the AFI, Director of Special Projects at The Directors Guild, Professor of Film at USC, and head of Film Preservation Associates, he—perhaps more than any other single individual—saved silent film for posterity, finding it, restoring it and reintroducing it to the public.

 

His friend Leonard Maltin wrote in a recent blog, “If you’ve seen a superior print of a film by Chaplin or Keaton, Griffith or Murnau, chances are David had a hand in restoring it.”

 

My last conversation with him concerned his friend King Vidor.

 

I had recently watched Vidor’s The Fountainhead, finding it stunning in its visuals and almost operatic in its storytelling, and I’d hoped to gain some insight into his work by peppering David with questions about him. David, not surprisingly, felt that Vidor’s best work was in silent cinema, and our relatively brief exchange was almost the equivalent of a graduate seminar. He followed it up a few days later with a typically generous gesture: I found an inscribed copy of the oral history he’d done with Vidor waiting for me in the mail.

 

David knew virtually everyone in town, everyone from George Cukor to Alexander Payne, and he’d done something for everyone he knew.

 

I think of the narrator’s lament in “Crazy Sunday,” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fictionalized version of the death of Irving Thalberg: “What a hell of a hole he leaves in this damn wilderness.”

 

In my case, it’s a hole in my heart.

 

And so I raise my glass to you, David, and to you, Robert and Charmian.

 

May you live long and prosper in the hearts of all those to whom you brought so much joy.

 

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4 thoughts on “UNSUNG HEROES

  1. Mary D

    I could not believe that they left out Chairman Carr in the retrospect, Not only did they leave her out they put in someone who was very much alive. Who could forget the song “You are sixteen going on seventeen.” I had a crush on Rolf, I think that was his name. I know he turned out badly, but I was just a kid at the time.

    It seems to me they left out other people too. They left out David Bowie who was in a few movies.

    Reply
    1. Dan Bronson Post author

      There were some serious omissions. It would be interesting to know exactly what their criteria for inclusion are. As for Charmian, she will always be sixteen going on seventeen.

      Reply

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