Monthly Archives: April 2017


April 28th, 2017 1 Comment



For twenty years, Bill O’Reilly has been reporting (perhaps I should say interpreting) the news.


Now he is the news.




The answer is simple.


Bill committed the unpardonable sin.


He got caught.


It was an unfortunate, completely unexpected blunder on his part. He is, after all, a sophisticated, experienced man of the world. He knows how things work. His carelessness is and will remain a mystery.


As for the dozen or so accusations of sexual harassment, they are simply evidence that Bill has been upholding a noble, long-standing tradition of the entertainment world: the liberal use of the casting couch.


Now some of you might argue that Bill is in news, not entertainment, but such an argument reveals an appalling ignorance of the glorious revolution Fox brought to the world of news, transforming it virtually overnight from a matter of dull facts to provocative, stimulating, sometimes thrilling entertainment.


It began with the introduction of long blonde hair and jiggle to weather reporting and moved out in ever widening circles until, in no time at all, newsmen and newswomen were superstars—superstars like Bill O’Reilly.


As a star, Bill was simply exercising a prerogative shared by many at the top of the Hollywood and Broadway pyramids.


By making himself available to young ladies much further down the ladder of success than he, he was offering them opportunity—the opportunity to keep the jobs they already had and possibly even the opportunity to become stars themselves.


It is, as I suggested earlier, a venerable tradition that dates back to the very beginnings of theatre and film and that reached its fullest expression in the heyday of the studio system.


No one—not Howard Hughes, not Harry Cohn, not Jack Warner—was a more accomplished practitioner of the art of the casting couch than Darryl F. Zanuck.


In fact, there are even those who say he invented it!


Zanuck was devoted to his art.


Every afternoon at four o’clock, no matter how busy he might have been (and he was a busy, busy man), he would take half an hour to entertain one of the many starlets at 20th Century Fox and encourage them in their hopes for a big career opportunity.


His generosity was legendary—he shared himself (well, at least a part of himself) with virtually every aspiring actress he had under contract.


While the couch never again attained this level of perfection and institutionalization, it continued to play an important role both in Hollywood and on Broadway for decades to come.


In fact, my lovely wife Sonja was offered its comforts many times during her decade as an actress in New York.


A wide-eyed Minnesota girl who, like Gatsby, saw in the City nothing but beauty, promise and wonder, she once arrived for an interview at the office of a well-known producer who proceeded to chase her around his desk…until, breathless, she stopped…and started to laugh.


He, having lost his…enthusiasm…and realizing that she was not going to take advantage of the opportunity he was offering her, shifted course and began to tell her how much she’d like his handsome young son.


She, for reasons I’ll never understand, rejected both father and son and the big break that might have come with them.


On another occasion, she walked into the office of another big-time producer, and as she was sitting down, he asked, “Shall we fornicate?”


(He actually used a somewhat stronger term.)


Her answer?


She stood up, and without speaking a word, left the office.


Opportunity knocked at her door so many times, but talented as she was, she never answered it.

Then there was the case of a close friend—an actress, blonde and blue-eyed like Sonja but much better known—who was discovered by one of the best-known directors of stage and screen.


(I can vouch that she’s a hell of an actress because she has always insisted that her initial encounter with said director occurred when she was thirteen or fourteen when, according to the IMDB, she was, in fact, twenty. Okay, she fudged a bit, but she had me convinced for years. That is what I call acting!)


In any case, the great man cast her as a teenaged seductress in what turned out to be a classic play, and in his selfless attempt to prepare her for the role, he worked very hard to seduce her.


It was the quintessence of Method acting and direction, with its heavy reliance on associative memory: he was, I’m sure, simply trying to give her some memories she could draw upon to enhance her performance.


She, however, rebuffed him, and as a result of her obstinate refusal to take his direction, never worked for him again.


Though I myself never witnessed it during my years in Hollywood (possibly because I was neither blonde, blue-eyed, sexy or female), I’ve always suspected that there are still those out there working diligently to perpetuate the custom of the couch.


And now we have such sterling types as O’Reilly and his former boss, Roger Ailes, confirming my suspicion—along with Bill Cosby, who has taken the ritual to a whole new level.


In a world suffering future shock, a world reeling and writhing with unprecedented change, it’s reassuring to know that certain revered practices abide—fixed, immutable, imperishable.


If only the current custodians of the couch had had the wisdom of their predecessors—the wisdom to keep their generosity a closely held secret from the public, we’d still have Ailes sharing his fair and balanced view of the world, O’Reilly spinning his stories freely, and Cosby telling his big lies in one of his Little Bill Books for Beginning Readers.

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April 21st, 2017 2 Comments


I have a confession to make.


I’m guilty.


Guilty of a terrible error of omission.


(Along with a lot of other things that we won’t go into right now.)


Yes, it’s true.


In my last blog extolling the junk food glories of Kong: Skull Island, I neglected to mention the remarkable performance of Brie Larson as Mason Weaver, a photojournalist who has covered wars all over this conflicted globe of ours.


Like most war photographers, she is beautiful, sexy (in her case, clothes, skimpy as they may be, do indeed make the woman), possessed of a wonderful freshness, altruism and sensitivity, a sensitivity reflected in her appreciation of nature and her feelings for that lovable old ape named Kong.


In fact, Larson’s portrait of Weaver is, quite possibly, the most convincing portrait of a professional woman to hit the big screen since Denise Richards’ Dr. Christmas Jones.


As I’m sure you recall, Christmas…




No one among you remembers Christmas?


Surely you’ve not forgotten the late, great James Bond thriller, The World Is Not Enough.


All right.


Now we’re getting somewhere.


Do you also remember a tank top, a bare midriff, and a pair of impossibly tight short shorts?


Of course you do!


Well…that, my friends, was the official uniform of Dr. Christmas Jones, the lab coat she donned when working to dismantle nuclear warheads in Kazihkstan.


Ably played by the brainy Richards who swayed with a wiggle when she walked, Dr. Christmas Jones was a nuclear scientist like no other.


Oppenheimer may have fathered the atomic bomb.  He may, as he himself acknowledged, “have become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”  But Christmas, by helping Bond foil the plot of a nuclear terrorist, was the savior of our world.


And she was amply rewarded for her efforts…by a tryst with the sexy superspy at the end of the film, a tryst that concluded with his romantic observation that he’d always thought Christmas came only once a year.


It should, I suppose, be no surprise that Larson’s Weaver equals or, quite possibly, surpasses Richards’ Jones.


It was, after all, Larson who triumphed over such notables as Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence, Charlotte Rampling and Saoirse Ronan in last year’s Academy Awards, taking home the Best Actress trophy for her compelling turn as Ma, the abused mother in Room.


Think of it!


From Ma to Mason.


From one of the most complex and layered performances of the decade to

a dazzling turn as obligatory sex object.


Now that’s what I call an actress!


Some of you might be tempted to use another word, but you would be wrong.


Every working actor, regardless of his or her place on the Hollywood pyramid, knows an acting career is a very slippery slope.


They know that regardless of what they’ve achieved, it can all go away in an instant.


The fame, the glamour, the wealth can disappear overnight.


You can be sexy, smoldering Veronica Lake—the star of This Gun for Hire, I Married a Witch and Sullivan’s Travels—once minute, and the next, a waitress in a cocktail bar.


And so the working actor…works.


Oh, all of them want the complex, layered, challenging roles that will cast a long shadow in the annals of film, but at the most basic level, they simply want to…work.


To put food on the table, a roof over their head, and if they get very, very lucky, an occasional Louis Vuitton on their shoulders.


As a result, they often end up accepting roles that, in an ideal world, they could contemptuously reject.


What does this get them?


Some degree of financial security.


I would, for example, bet big money that Larson’s fee for Kong was substantially higher than it was for Room.


And it gets them opportunity, the opportunity to do the sorts of roles they’d prefer because they’re perceived as bankable.


Agents and producers and execs saying, ”Her last film went through the roof.”


And so it is that a Brie Larson goes from Room to Kong…or an Eddie Redmayne moves from The Theory of Everything and The Danish Girl to Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them.


They follow the example of Irving Thalberg, who was convinced that he had to make three big commercial successes in order to earn the right to make a little film he really cared about.


Actors do it.


Writers do it.


Directors do it.


They take on potentially popular schlock to earn the right to make movies that matter.


My dear friend and colleague, director William A. Graham, had a strong grasp of this Hollywood reality.


Billy directed countless series episodes, eight or ten features, and literally dozens of television movies.


He never stopped working.


He told his wife Janet that he had to do three projects a year—one for expenses, one for retirement, and one for their boat, which he had sailed around Cape Horn.


Many of them were straight-forward programmers, but Billy’s motto was “Quality…whether they want it or not,” and his obsessive work ethic brought him the opportunity to do the occasional classic—like The Amazing Howard Hughes, Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones, The Man Who Captured Eichmann, and of course, the unforgettable Death of a Cheerleader.


It’s easy to condemn this approach to a career in Hollywood—to chant with Terence Howard, in that Academy Award winning song, “It’s hard out there for a pimp/When you gotta get the money for the rent.”


It is hard out there.


But it’s not pimping when you choose to do the work that comes your way.



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April 7th, 2017 7 Comments



I’ve always loved junk food.


Heaps of sugar?




A high content of artery-clogging fat?


Bring it on!


Obscene amounts of preservatives?


The obvious explanation for my youthful good looks.


The faster the food, the more furious the gastric distress, the greater the appeal.


I have, in fact, been a veritable gourmand of empty calories since the age of consciousness.


The power of Hormel canned chili!


The glory of the Hostess Snowball!


And the sinful satisfaction of cherry Kool-Aid!


Deliver these evils to me, Lord, and I am yours.


I freely confess that from boyhood on, I have demonstrated similar taste in art, music, literature and film.


Norman Rockwell?


Now there was a painter, incomparable, unmatched…until, of course, Thomas Kinkade came along.


The Hollywood Argyles?


Who could have guessed that a bunch of unknowns recruited from a busy street corner in TinselTown could produce a wonder like “Alley-Oop”?


Archie comics?


So glorious, so innovative, so original that decades after their first appearance, they have inspired a brilliant new television series.


Roger Corman’s The Little Shop of Horrors?


An afterlife on stage, film and video rivaling that of Kryptonite!


When it comes to junk…


…I know whereof I speak.


And that, my friends, brings me to the latest entry in Hollywood’s on-going marathon of tent pole pictures—the supremely silly Kong: Skull Island.


Now, given the current climate of critical correctness, I probably shouldn’t admit that I have even seen the film in question, let alone that I enjoyed it, but I’m going to trust your discretion and ask you to keep my dirty little secret, secret.


To begin…


Kong is an epic so vast in scope that it took four credited (and God only knows how many uncredited) writers to conceive and execute the screenplay.


Everyone knows that four are better than one…and no one knows it better than today’s corporate studio executives, who compulsively throw writer after writer at projects until they achieve perfection.


Well, these four have really delivered, creating a story that one of them claims was inspired by…are you ready for this?


Apocalypse Now!


It hadn’t occurred to me…until the writer pointed it out…but once he had, the comparison was inescapable: both are built around a journey up a river and climax in a confrontation with an unspeakable horror.


In the case of Apocalypse Now! the horror was Marlon Brando’s performance as Colonel Kurtz.


In the case of Skull Island, it is the battle between Kong and “The Big One”—the granddaddy of all the Skullcrawlers that infest the aforementioned island.


So this masterful new film has an honored place in our cinematic heritage…and just in case you, like me, missed the connection, the writers have named one of their characters…Conrad.




You know.


Wink, wink.


The character has the same name as that forgotten writer whose Heart of Darkness was the basis for Apocalypse.


The Conrad/Coppola connection is the first major contribution of this distinguished quartet of writers.


The second is…






They have not only made Kong bigger than ever before—he looks to be at least 200 feet tall, and of course, just as four are better than one, bigger is always best…


To repeat…


…they’ve not only made him bigger than before…


…they have made him the misunderstood hero of this epic extravaganza, the protector of the island and its people, their sole defense against the hideous Skullcrawlers.


This was a brilliant stroke on their part.




Because most of the other players in the story are about as colorful and exciting as yesterday’s dishwater.


(Even Sam Jackson’s energetic chewing of the scenery fails to make much of an impression…or much sense.)


When it comes to a character the audience can relate to, the big ape is it.








And well-groomed!


He even maintains good dental hygiene.


No gorilla breath for him, thank you very much.


Without his obvious conviction that cleanliness is next to godliness, we would never have gotten the intensely moving scene in which the heroine, standing on a cliff, reaches out and touches Kong’s nose.


It is a scene that rivals the unforgettable close-up of Romeo and Juliet’s hands reaching out to each other in Zeffirelli’s masterful adaptation of the classic love story.


A scene that recalls Michelangelo’s depiction of God’s hand reaching out to Adam to bestow the gift of life.


A sensitive moment so sensitively acted that I’m tempted to propose that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences create a new category for next year’s awards…




Kong would eat his rivals.



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