Sunday, December 19, 2010

Neon eye candy is sole strength of 'Tron: Legacy'


By Steve Crum

First, foremost, and out front literally and figuratively, Tron: Legacy is in 3-D. Without this in your face effect, Tron: Legacy would hardly be worth one’s time. Well, to be fair, the neon-like images are spectacular, as neon tends to be. Stars Jeff Bridges and Garrett Hedlund play second or third fiddle to the glitz, so place your movie ticket bet on vibrant reds and blues that reach out of the screen to be the main attraction here. It’s all in the eye candy.

What first strikes one about this sequel to the first Tron movie, coincidentally called Tron and released in 1982, is that it was even considered box office worthy enough for a repeat try. That is because the first film, also starring Jeff Bridges, was only a minor monetary success. Maybe that’s why it took 28 years to come back? Actually, Tron: Legacy has been “re-imagined” by director Joseph Kosinski and his team of eight (count ‘em) screenwriters. Included are digital tech advances, CGI effects, and a dash of 3-D. (The 3-D here is used sparsely, and seldom noticeable.) On the plus side, there was and has remained a cult following for the original Tron movie. In 1982, its hand drawn special effects and unusual story line were cutting edge.

All this discussion presents what appears to be a major roadblock toward Tron: Legacy’s success. That is, what about today’s younger audience who has never seen the first Tron? Seeing the first movie would definitely help explain why Jeff Bridges’ Kevin Flynn character is still missing from the real world, and living inside a computer grid. Sure there is a flashback of Kevin telling his son goodbye, as he ventures off two decades past. Warp speed forward to the present, and 27 year-old Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) is at last determined to track down his MIA papa. This means a trip to dad’s old computer warehouse haunt, and a plug-in trip zapping him small enough to fit on a mini-chip. Once inside the neon laced kingdom, he continues his search.

Tron: Legacy is technically a stand-alone film, so you can come to this movie clean and enjoy it, and the story will hold up for what it is.” So says the film’s producer, Sean Bailey. Again, I beg to differ. Certainly one who has never seen the first flick will catch on to what is transpiring in this second “imagining,” at least in a general way. However, one also needs to understand Kevin Flynn’s trials, tribulations, and obsessive drive that led him to discovering and carrying through with his original journey inside computer-land. All that is in 1982’s Tron. Not that either movie is that deep or layered. Rephrase Bailey’s statement to include, “...And enjoy it to a degree....”

Really, there are three reasons to appreciate Tron: Legacy. First is the incredible CGI effect of duplicating the Jeff Bridges of nearly 30 years ago in face and body. A nearby fellow critic asked me if these scenes were pulled from the original Tron. They were not. The “youthful” Bridges is seen both in flashback and as a clone within the cyber grid. There is also the present day, somewhat aged Bridges depicted (no CGI for this).

Secondly, the neon-graced highways, buildings, weapons, vehicles, and human types within the computer are dazzling. Lastly, the races between illuminated Lightcyles and airplanes are delightful. That goes for the numerous stand-offs between the gladiators as they whirl their life discs at each other, shattering opponents upon contact.

But the biggest complaint about Tron: Legacy is its script, particularly the weak plot line. It makes one wonder about Kosinski’s next project, a “re-imagining” of the Disney flop of 1979, The Black Hole. If at first one does not succeed...?

GRADE: On an A to F Scale: C-
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Take the neon tour with the trailer to TRON: LEGACY: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9szn1QQfas

Friday, December 17, 2010

Ballet mixes with psychotic terror in edgy 'Black Swan'


By Steve Crum

It takes only 20 minutes into Black Swan for its familiarity to surface. Somewhere we have seen this troubled central character, Nina, before. Her paranoid, driven personality has been a fascinating, and always disturbing, fixture in a number of motion pictures. For one, Humphrey Bogart’s Fred. C. Dobbs in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre comes to mind. But Black Swan really has the stylized, frenetic look and feel of Roman Polanski’s The Tenant, in particular. Like The Tenant, Black Swan digs under one’s skin in creepy ways.

Aptly called a “psycho, sexual thriller” by National Public Radio, Black Swan is a story told from the Nina’s point of view. Knowing this before seeing the movie is a spoiler edge, so I apologize. Realize, however, it is nearly impossible to critique the film without this reference tab. Here we have Nina, brilliantly played by Natalie Portman in an Oscar worthy performance. Portman succeeds in both credibly acting the tortured, tormented ballerina, as well as playing out the dancing sequences quite incredibly. Portman obviously desired this part to the max through six months of ballet training so she would look the part without using a double. It was worth it. Black Swan is the high point of Portman’s acting career thus far.

As relentlessly as Portman  trained for her role, her Nina Sayers character is even more obsessed with dance perfectionism. Director Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, released a year ago, dealt with a similar theme of an athlete (a wrestler) driven to perfection at risk of body and mind. Aronofsky and screenwriters Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin fashioned Black Swan around a ballerina on the verge of stardom via her casting as the lead in Swan Lake.

She is one of two understudies being considered to replace reluctantly outgoing prima ballerina Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) in the upcoming Swan Lake production. As if Nina herself is not already driven over the proverbial top in her strive, she has to deal with both the dance director’s incessant criticisms regarding her perceived faults and her stage mother’s overindulgence in her life and career in the apartment they share. Her mother Erica is played with cold reserve by Barbara Hershey, who at first glance resembles Geraldine Chaplin. Added to these pressures, along with Nina’s self doubts and stresses, is Nina’s understudy rival, Lily (Mila Kunis).

It is apropos that Swan Lake is the featured ballet since it traditionally features the prima ballerina portraying both the white and black swans, which represents Nina’s split, and corrupted, personality. “I want to be perfect,” says Nina early on. Her perfectionist desire drives the story.

The film includes images of sex acts, bloody murder, and creature transformations. But are we witnessing reality or illusion, and why? (Again, I cannot divulge too much.) Just realize the setting of Black Swan is the world of ballet, an art which explores love and death through the symbolism of music and dance. Mix in a ballerina with extreme self esteem issues, and you get a fascinating, edgy film.

GRADE: On an A to F Scale: A-
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Friday, November 19, 2010

'Deathly Hallows' is more spectacular, brooding than ever


By Steve Crum

Spectacular and increasingly brooding as ever, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 marks the near end of the series and--we assume--franchise. (Spinoffs, anyone?) It is, for the 11 souls unaware, the film version of J. K. Rowling’s final Harry Potter novel. Forgive the half-truth. The grand finale (Part 2) plays mid-July, 2011.

Yes, Deathly Hallows 1 is a cliffhanger that abruptly, yet elegantly, concludes after nearly two and a half hours, Do not look for a ”To Be Continued” insert, however. This lack of story resolution will still disappoint Potter fans, even though they knew it was coming. Anticipation is everything, isn’t it? When Star Wars originally baited us to wait three years between chapters, it was a killer. Prepare for more pain.

The Potters have now stretched through seven magical films, or eight including the second half out next summer, over the last decade. Even more incredible is its three main stars have not totally outgrown their characters. Of course, their book counterparts also aged. In either case, these more mature Deathly Hallows actors are a long stretch from retirement age.

Each Potter episode offers its own character revelations, its own visual dazzles. Deathly Hallows is the most foreboding and shocking of them all, Steve Kloves, who has written all the Potter screenplays, has faithfully adapted Rowling’s final chapter to emphasize the book’s tensions on the race to resolution. David Yates’ crisp, fast paced direction helps.

Among the myriad delights, Deathly Hallows features multiple Harrys, a clever, fun ID safeguard for our central wizard boy. Essentially, Harry’s clones guard Harry’s life. In addition, there are group scenes and interactions of all Hogwarts’ good guys as well as all its villains, including the giant serpent. (It becomes more than a mere man eater here.) Central to Deathly Hallows hype is the well publicized death of one of the major characters. I don’t know about Part 2, but there are at least three well knowns who violently kick off (SPOILER DANGER) in Part 1. Enough, maybe too much, said on this grim point.

Briefly, the story follows two plot lines, one being the Dark Lord Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) control of the Ministry of Magic and Hogwarts. The grand old wizard academy has transitioned from a warm, eccentric, learned institution of wizardry to a cold, dungeon-like, warehouse of evil. Quidditch has given way to Voldemort’s Death Eaters. Unfriendly skies, indeed.

Harry, Ron and Herione (Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) team to finish the late Prof. Dumbledore’s quest to find the rest of the Horcruxes to defeat Voldemort. Despite sparse hope to succeed, they race cross country to attain the Deathly Hallows trifecta: The Elder Wand (buried with Dumbledore), a Resurrecting Stone, and The Invisibility Cloak. (Another spoiler: Michael Gambon has a cameo as Dumbledore.)

It is no shock that the friendship between Harry, Hermione and Ron is further tested, since that has been the case in every Potter movie so far. However, this time around, their comradery veers toward tragedy. Just a side note: As the three actors have aged since the first Potter film premiered in 2001, so have their acting skills. Unknowns then, they are forever a well known, vital part of the Potter legacy. There will no doubt be a rerun of this and similar nostalgic thoughts in my Part 2 review next year.

Maybe I am a bigger Harry Potter fan that I have thought all these years.

A TRIVIA TONGUE IN CHEEK: Look for an Equus poster on the background wall in the London diner scene with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Daniel Radcliffe starred in that very play.
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GRADE On an A to F Scale: B
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The Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YzfEH0UPEBo

Thursday, November 18, 2010

RICHARD BOONE, from 'Medea' to 'Medic' to Paladin


Pictured: RICHARD BOONE as DR. KONRAD STYNER in MEDIC. [From Steve Crum's showbiz memorabilia collection.]
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By Steve Crum

Although he will be forever known as Paladin in the long running (1957-63) TV western, Have Gun-Will Travel, RICHARD BOONE (June 18, 1917-Jan. 10, 1981) had a life and career worthy of his own reality series, had such existed in those days. Boone appeared in over 50 movies and TV shows, as well as acting on Broadway.

After serving in the Navy during WWII, Boone used his GI Bill opportunity to take acting lessons. His talent and drive were immediately obvious, sparking a short run of plays on Broadway in 1947, beginning with Medea and Macbeth. Contracted by Twentieth Century Fox, Boone’s first film was The Halls of Montezuma (1950), starring Richard Widmark. Segue to television, and Richard Boone portrayed Dr. Konrad Styner in the early, influential medical series, Medic (1954-56). Boone introduced each episode as Styner, and acted in many of them. Incidentally, the series’ theme music, Blue Star, composed by Victor Young, is considered one of the most memorable TV themes of all time. Boone received his first Emmy nomination for his portrayal.

Boone received two Emmy nominations for playing the highly educated and moralistic hired gun with a conscience in Have Gun-Will Travel. Following his departure from the series, he developed and starred in The Richard Boone Show, a dramatic anthology series that regrettably ran only one season, from 1963-64. After his family moved to Hawaii, Boone was offered the title role of Steve McGarrett in the upcoming series, Hawaii Five-0, but turned it down. (Jack Lord then got the part.) It is interesting to note that Boone is responsible for convincing the show’s producer to film the series in Hawaii, a decision that benefitted not only the show’s ratings, but Hawaii’s Tourism Dept.

Other TV roles followed, most notably Boone’s Hec Ramsey western-detective series, which ran from 1972-74. Movie appearances, over the years, include three with John Wayne (The Alamo, Big Jake, The Shootist), The Night of the Following Day (with Marlon Brando), and The Big Sleep (with Robert Mitchum).

Shortly before Richard Boone died of throat cancer in 1981, he wrote a newspaper column for a Florida newspaper, and taught acting.
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Some Richard Boone Family Trivia: He was a descendant of Squire Boone, Daniel Boone’s brother. 
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A Personal Note: In the late 1950’s, during Have Gun’s run, my Aunt Ada Holley bumped into Richard Boone. Literally. While shopping with her family in Tijuana, Aunt Ada was chasing her young son through the aisles of a shop. Partially bent down as she ran, she turned a corner, and head butted Richard Boone in his chest. He was taken aback, but laughed, as she nervously did too. She apologized, he accepted such, and off she went to grab her little boy. Have Kid-Will Travel.
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A complete episode of the classic TV show, MEDIC, starring RICHARD BOONE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xErX5vN4s4o&list=PLmHgXUJMN1TVRnTnRJKZ9cUSZA6YRDuQa&index=2

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Eastwood's 'Hereafter' is heartfelt, sensitive storytelling


By Steve Crum
Clint Eastwood has chosen to tell the compelling Hereafter as three stories set in a like number of international locations with Matt Damon’s character serving as the interconnecting lightning rod. As its title suggests, Hereafter deals with death; however, its focus is on departed souls’ influence on and communication with the living. Although various precepts of love are plot elements, the film is not so much a love story as it is a story of loving in humane ways. Hereafter is a heartfelt, sensitive film, qualities inherent in most of Eastwood’s directed work, particularly over the past decade.
Matt Damon is George Lonegan, a laborer working in San Francisco with his brother Billy (Jay Mohr). Lonegan used to have a much more lucrative job, at least potentially so, when he discovered his ability to connect with the afterlife. His brother relentlessly encourages him to take advantage of his gift, but George has found it to be more of a curse. The emotional impact of his readings (he merely touches the person to connect with his or her dearly departed) has worn him down to the extent he avoids socializing with virtually everybody. Yet potential clients seek him out to speak to a departed loved one.
There is a particularly telling sequence wherein George takes a chance in exposing his celebrity as a psychic, and enrolls in a cooking class, which he feels will be a safe and fun way way to socialize while avoiding death issues. What he does not count on is being partnered with cute redhead Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard--Ron Howard’s daughter). Their blindfolded, taste-testing scenes are charming and funny. In fact, they border on the erotic with close-ups of lips and tongues, reminiscent of the eating scene in Tom Jones. (This is a new Eastwood turn.) As their food partnership segues into a serious relationship outside of class, the plot takes serious, sad turns.
Concurrently, French journalist Marie Leley (Cecile de France) is vacationing with her boyfriend when a Tsunami hits their island resort. (Actually, this spectacular sequence opens the movie.) The tidal wave hits while she is shopping downtown, with disastrous results. Without giving away far too much, I will say her experience will later inspire her to write a memoir about the incident. Eastwood’s recreation of the Tsunami is realistic and terrifying, certainly an achievement for his digital/special effects gurus.
Eastwood and screenscribe Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon) add the story of London schoolboys Marcus and Jason, well acted by twin brothers Frankie and George McLaren, to the plot triad. Not long into its initial sequence, wherein the boys’ wretched life with their alcoholic mother is depicted, a turn of events puts Marcus on his own. Without getting too specific, this eventually triggers a search to personally meet with George, whose reputation as a legitimate psychic is well known. Scenes of Marcus as he stubbornly pursues George are alternately humorous and disturbing. Eastwood handles the material superbly.
It is no coincidence that George Lonegan a super fan of Charles Dickens, and that Hereafter plays out much like a Dickens novel. Chance meetings, coincidence, characters (in this case George, Marie and Marcus) crossing paths later in the story, a search for the truth, and destiny are elements familiar to Dickens’ readers.
Eastwood has used subtitles before, as in the Japanese sequences of Letters From Iwo Jima, and he uses them here, sparingly, in the French portions. Factoring in the on location filming in Paris and London, low key dialogue-speak, the multiple plot structure, and long takes, Hereafter has a foreign film look and feel.
It should not be surprising that Clint Eastwood has created a thoughtful work with exemplary acting (Damon, de France and McLaren), and a compelling story that wrenches and tugs at tears and heart. He continues to reinforce his reputation as one of the most important filmmakers of our time.
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GRADE: On an A to F Scale: A
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Friday, October 1, 2010

Absorbing 'Social Network' is high profile, fascinating


By Steve Crum
Ironies abound in The Social Network, a fact-based, fictional film about the creation, impact, and financial gold strike of Facebook. The first irony is that I had to tear myself away from Facebook at home to drive to a screening of a movie about the very addictive site I just left. Irony 2 involves the story’s main character, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), who conceived the idea for the world’s largest Internet chat room, yet has scarce public social mores himself. In fact (Irony 3), virtually everyone involved with the technical and business parts of Facebook appears to have negligible one-to-one communication skills.

The Social Network is a fascinating, absorbing film well worth friending.

Opening at a Boston bar in 2003, the story focuses on nerdy Harvard sophomore Zuckerberg as he repeatedly, dare say intellectually, insults his girlfriend (Rooney Mara). After she sharply tells him off and leaves, he storms back to his dorm room, determined to revenge himself by posting negatives about her on his blog. It turns out to be a near lethal move on his part. His displeasure then turns to rampage against all female students. Zuckerberg hacks into Harvard’s main frame to access sorority photos he then exploits via “Hot or Not” beauty contests posted on Harvard’s network. Feedback is immediate and lasting; thousands of Harvard students are viewing his postings.

A couple of steps down the line, Zuckerberg’s genius computer skills further refined, the origins of Facebook emerge. Like Facebook, the plot is about the step-by-step connections that led to its creation and popularity.

The Social Network’s credentials are stellar. Director David Finch also helmed Zodiac and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, two superb films noted for their innovative, precise storytelling. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin penned Charlie Wilson’s War as well as 154 episodes of TV’s The West Wing. Sorkin has taken Ben Mezrich’s book, The Accidental Billionaires, and structured TSN around the numerous lawsuit hearings that occurred as Facebook grew to worldwide popularity. For example, litigant Zuckerberg and his attorney face off behind closed doors against former Facebook partner Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and his counsel. Flash back to the origin of their conflict when the two were Harvard roommates just beginning their website.

The flashbacks reveal the growing problems, many of them ego-based, that led to to mistrust and legal backstabbing. Amongst the fray is Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), who befriends Zuckerberg not long after Facebook launch, and immediately causes more rifts within the growing Facebook empire. Timberlake, incidentally, does a fine job as the Napster music site entrepreneur.

The two leads, however, give the film its credible base. Saverin portrays Garfield as an insecure, constant whiner, contrasted to Eisenberg’s rapidly speaking, distant, and pretty much emotionless egghead, Zuckerberg. He comes across as a close cousin of The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper, minus the humor.

It is difficult to feel empathy when the lead characters are millionaires beset by lawsuits threatening their megabucks. An on-screen tag informs us that Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in the world.

Witnessing their ego-based tantrums certainly does not trigger our tear ducts either. It is sort of like observing a fender bender between two Rolls-Royces. However, the attraction of wealth colliding with wealth is unique voyeurism. Fincher and Sorkin understand that tableau quite well, being very good storytellers.

GRADE on Scale of A to F: A-
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Trailer of The Social Network: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lB95KLmpLR4

Friday, September 17, 2010

Affleck's direction, not acting, makes 'The Town' watchable


By Steve Crum
Ben Affleck is a far better director (and writer) than he is an actor. Gone Baby Gone, the 2007 kidnapping drama wherein he directed his brother Casey, asserted such; The Town tries hard for confirmation. Affleck wrote, directed, and stars in The Town, an above average heist flick. Don’t be misled, however. The Town has exciting action sequences, including cleverly staged car chases and bank/armored car robberies. The down side is its long stretches of talk, talk pleading for edits. Just as we are beginning to nod off from a combination of Affleck’s slurring words and wordy dialogue, a cut to the bad guys dressed as nuns in fright masks awakens us again.
Affleck’s acting deficiency stems from his stiff body language and mumbling speech pattern. NOTE TO MR. AFFLECK: Ben, e-n-u-n-c-i-a-t-e. Project a bit, actually a lot more. You’ve written yourself a slew of intimate dialogue scenes in "The Town," yet you could barely be understood. Your rigid, tight lips make reading them impossible. Regards, A Wannabe Fan of Your Acting.
The Town’s real acting honors go not to Mad Men’s Jon Hamm, who does an admirable, credible job as the lead FBI agent, but to Jeremy Renner, last year’s Oscar nominee for The Hurt Locker, itself a Best Picture winner. You just cannot take your eyes off of Renner in any scene. He is a charismatic, dynamite performer. That he portrays a psychopathic killer, with a hint of Joe Pesci’s style, accentuates his presence even more.
The movie’s preamble explains the setting, the Boston suburb of Charlestown, a neighborhood that accounts for most of the 300 bank and armored car robberies occurring in Boston each year. In fact (we assume it is actual fact), Charlestown leads the nation in bank robbers, per capita. The robbers are highly organized, efficiently operating like a family run, albeit mafia-type, business, One of its lieutenants, Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck), has tried to break out of the “family,” but is harkened back again and again. He is estranged from his father (Chris Cooper), who is serving prison time.
MacRay has a tenuous relationship with his closest friend since childhood, Jem (Jeremy Renner), despite Jem’s tendency to explode at virtually nothing. After a heist wherein Jem viciously kills a bank officer, a witness (Rebecca Hall) just happens to cross paths with McCray at a laundramat. Who would have thunk? Since he was masked during the robbery, she does not recognize him, but he soon recognizes her. No surprise they fall in lust and love, and that is where this plot revelation ends. Their relationship becomes more and more complicated, let’s say.
Cut to FBI agent Frawley (Jon Hamm), who is leading a task force to outwit and stop the slew of robberies. Each crime is planned and executed to the hilt, leaving behind zero clues. Robbery in this neighborhood has become precision art. Like most crime films, the back and forth interplay between police and criminals is key. Outwitting each other is the game.
The Town features powerhouse actors, besides those already mentioned, Pete Postlethwaite, Blake Lively, and Titus Welliver. Postlethwaite is always a presence, and particularly strong here.
Add to the pluses a riveting, action score by composers Harry Gregson-Williams and David Buckley.
GRADE on a Scale of A to F: B-
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Top Photo: Ben Affleck directs Jon Hamm on location.
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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A morning conference with JERRY LEWIS


By Steve Crum
On Nov. 8, 1995 at 10 a.m., if memory serves, I was among 20 reporters awaiting the entrance of Jerry Lewis in the large dining room of the then Alameda Plaza Hotel, located on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Mo. Folding chairs were set up, and TV cameras topped tripods, all facing the podium where Lewis would soon stand. My front row seat would provide close proximity to one of my show business idols.
Lewis was in town as part of the five year, cross country tour of his hit Broadway revival, the musical Damn Yankees. Lewis portrayed the glitzy dressed devil, the part Ray Walston had introduced four decades before. This press conference was undoubtedly an event repeated in city after Damn Yankees city. It was a hammy event, to be sure. Lewis entered from the back of the room, which gave sustained time for awaiting reporters to stand and wildly applaud. Lewis walked very much like Benny or Hope, his arms swinging in cadence, his walk an ego strut. He wore a dark sweater with large, yellow and red diamond shapes on front, both long sleeves pulled up to mid-arm. Chic casual. He looked very healthy then at 69. Fifteen years later, the contrast is stark.
Behind the rostrum, Lewis acknowledged our applause, shouting into the mike, “I’ll just stand here for a few minutes. I know you want to look at me.” And we did. The applause continued for another 30 seconds. Finally, he began the session with cordial remarks about his happiness at being in KC, particularly in a Broadway musical venue. The Q & A went on for about 45 minutes.
Lewis joked that playing the devil was perfect for him since he “has had years of experience with it.” He reminisced, speculated and philosophized about show business and his life. “I wake up every day and I’m a smash hit,” he said. He spoke of what fuels him, of his incentive and drive. Of his excitement to perform, even after 64 years, he said, “There is a misconception of boredom I feel fulfilled in a rush, and I don’t have turbulent innards.” As to why he was taking five years to tour, he answered, “I don’t believe in doing things half way.” His own favorite films are The Nutty Professor and The King of Comedy. His mentors are Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin.
Define laughter. “It’s a safety valve that shuts off everyting else for a moment.” What about your heir-apparent, Jim Carrey? ”If we’re not careful, we’re gonna lose him due to studio control and burnout.” Where do you get inspiration? “The information you take from people like Al Jolson is infinite.” When will you stop doing the MDA telethon? “When they lay me in the box. I started something and I plan to finish it.”
Lewis was surprisingly polite, reserved, and focused. When one reporter made a semi-intellectual observation about the persona of the Buddy Love character in Lewis’ classic comedy, The Nutty Professor, Lewis complimented him for asking “the best, most incisive question I have heard today.” I felt compelled to one-up the guy, and dazzle Jerry Lewis with an even better question, one that no one else had even come close to asking.
“Jerry, what is the possibility of your movie, The Day the Clown Cried, finally being released?” I know I heard a gasp from at least five reporters seated around me. THIS was a question that had not been asked because no one was supposed to ask it! I had not been clued in. The Day the Clown Cried had supposedly been completed overseas, possibly shot in Poland, some time back. No one asked about it because Jerry did not want to discuss it. Ever. I have learned since that it will never be shown. Supposedly, the only copy of it rests in Jerry’s vault, and only a handful of cherished pals have ever seen even a snippet of it. The film has become urban legend.
Here is why. In it, Jerry portrays a Jewish inmate in a Nazi concentration camp who is also a professional clown. His job is to dress as a clown and lead Jewish children to the gas chambers, giving them their literal last laugh. Supposedly, Lewis took the role to showcase both his dramatic and comedic skills. This would be the ultimate challenge for an artist, outdoing even Chaplin. Then the production ran short of money to finish the film. There were legal conflicts regarding who owned the property. Orson Welles had nothing compared to this fiasco.
It was an unmentionable around Lewis. So I unwittingly dropped it on him like a pregnant cassowary. He did not explode, he did not falter. He answered that the film will never be publicly shown, and that he has not even seen it. Lewis said the print was still in Sweden, and that he was legally fighting to own it. “It is like losing a child,” he said. That was that.
Incidentally, two things happened during and after the press conference that made me take Jerry’s reputation of being irrascible and prone to verbal explosions with a grain of Morton. First, there was the incident right in the middle of the press conference, when two numbskulls from a local radio station crashed the proceedings by rudely walking up to Lewis as he was answering someone’s question. They were holding a portable tape recorder, and kept pushing it into Jerry’s face, almost pressing his lips, demandingly asking, “Jerry, we want you to be our guest on Q-104 today. Will you answer questions about the telethon and your movies?” 

They kept shouting at him, yet Lewis remained calm as his people standing on the sidelines rushed to stop this madness. Lewis kept saying, “Just see my staff, and they will arrange an interview, fellas. There’s no need to interrupt here. Please leave.” Suddenly, the two lame brains stopped pressing Lewis, and left. Within an hour, I later heard, a doctored audio clip of Jerry Lewis was heard, and then repeated, on that radio station via their shock jock. They had edited what Jerry had said, down to, “No interview...Leave,” “No interview...Leave,” “No interview...Leave.” The words, out of context, were looped and played throughout the day to show what a rude dude Lewis is. Jerry Lewis has always beaten his own image to the ground enough without having some radio jerks falsify it. This time Jerry was on extremely good behavior, and did not deserve the negatives.
The second thing that endeared me to Jerry occurred after the press conference. He stayed around for autographs. About half the press stuck around to get his signature. I brought the two Decca record albums I had owned since I was in high school. He looked at the second, more rare, of the two, and asked, “WHERE did you find this one?” As he signed it, I had to open my idiot mouth and say, “I’m getting a Jerry Lewis autograph.” I said this in mock Lewis voice, a terrible impression, but close enough for him to realize I was doing his “kid” voice. What did he then do? He stopped signing, glanced up at me, and said, “Ahem,” unsmilingly. Then he finished his signature.
To me, suffering from temporary insanity, it was a mini standing ovation. I am lucky he didn’t take me to the back of the hotel and beat me over the head with my record albums for bringing up the clown movie.
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In 2013, Jerry Lewis was once again asked the dreaded question concerning The Day The Clown Cried: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xD-BYt8KiwA

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Worth 1,000 Words: JOHN CHARLES THOMAS of The Metropolitan Opera


By Steve Crum

For nearly 30 years, JOHN CHARLES THOMAS [Sept. 6, 1891-Dec. 13, 1960] was widely regarded as one of the most gifted operatic baritones of his day. Thomas sang in operas and operettas, as well as in concert recitals, and on records, radio and film. (Well, he appeared in one obscure movie, a silent movie, no less. No singing even in the subtitles.) His repertoire included works by Gilbert and Sullivan, Victor Herbert, and Sigmund Romberg. Sort of a pre-Nelson Eddy, Thomas performed on Broadway in Maytime and Naughty Marietta. His venues included the Washington National Opera, Carnegie Hall, and finally, the Metropolitan Opera in New York City (1934-43). Two years after touring Australia and New Zealand, from 1947-48, he retired.

Thomas was also a rigorous sportsman whose interests were golf, yachting, speedboat racing, and deep sea fishing.
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The autographed photo of JOHN CHARLES THOMAS is one of my prized possessions, and it is partially because of Bing Crosby and Al Jolson. I admit I am neither an opera nor operetta fan, but I am a huge fan of Crosby and Jolson. About 40 years ago, I first heard John Charles via a taped Philco Radio Time show broadcast on Armed Forces Radio, Germany, where I was stationed. The show had originally aired April 2, 1947. Crosby's guests were Thomas and the great Jolson.

The show's format was unusual, since the entire half hour was performed as an old time minstrel show. This gave Jolson a chance to sing a rousing "My Mammy"; Crosby soloed on Bert Williams' immortal "Nobody"; and Thomas performed the semi-spiritual, "Gwine to Heaven." All three told corny jokes, kidded each other in the process, and teamed for a grand finale of "Alabamy Bound." Heard today, as 40 years ago and originally, the program is absolutely sensational. Three of the most charismatic performers of all time teamed for arguably the best Crosby radio show ever. THIS is why I purchased the John Charles Thomas signed photo many moons ago, and this is why I still treasure it. Sure the Thomas voice is great, but he also has an infectious laugh and sense of humor. It was all showcased that April evening, 63 years ago, a month before I was born. [from Steve Crum's showbiz memorabilia collection]
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After he officially retired, John Charles Thomas joked and sang on You Bet Your Life with Groucho Marx...1957: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=askyshysvbw

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Worth 1,000 Words: EDDIE CANTOR & DINAH SHORE


By Steve Crum

This NBC-Radio gag publicity photo features EDDIE CANTOR with his protege and singer DINAH SHORE. Evidently, as they would have us believe, the piano keyboard cover has been slammed on Eddie's hands as Dinah feigns shock mixed with amusement. Probably photographed between 1940 and 1943, when Dinah was the female singer on Cantor's weekly "Time to Smile" radio show, it is a unique posing to say the least. Cantor had "discovered" Shore on NBC-radio's "The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street," and then signed her to his program. Stage techniques Cantor then taught her on his show were carried on by Shore for the rest of her long career. [from Steve Crum's show biz memorabilia collection]
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"The Apostle of Pep" and "Banjo Eyes" were two nicknames given to EDDIE CANTOR, and which he embraced, during a career that enveloped vaudeville, Broadway, radio, records, motion pictures and TV. Cantor, born Edward Israel Iskowitz [Jan. 31, 1892-Oct. 10, 1964], was a dean of show business, talented as a comedian, singer, dancer, actor, composer, and author. He is considered a close runner-up to Al Jolson as one of the greatest entertainers of all time. Cantor was a sensation in radio (#1 in ratings), Broadway (#1 attraction of the Ziegfeld Follies), and movies (#1 box office in Samuel Goldwyn musicals like Whoopee!). He was also an outspoken political progressive, which at one time cost him a radio program.
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DINAH SHORE, born Frances Rose Shore in Tennessee [Feb. 29, 1916-Feb. 24, 1994], was a singing star (80 charted pop hits, 1940's-1950's), television star (Chevy Shows, 1951-63; daytime talk shows, 1970-80), and successful promoter of women's professional golf, via her Colgate Dinah Shore Golf Tournament (now called the Kraft Nabisco Championships). Despite an early childhood polio affliction, she became one of golf's best players.

Some of Dinah's biggest hits were Blues in the Night, I'll Walk Alone, The Last time I Saw Paris, and You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To. Her weekly singing of her sponsor's signature song, See the USA in Your Chevrolet (followed by her pronounced, thrown kiss to the audience) is probably better remembered than her commercial recordings. She also appeared in several movies, including Up in Arms (1944) with Danny Kaye.

Before and after her celebrated marriage to B-western cowboy star George Montgomery (1943-62), Dinah Shore was linked with Gene Krupa, James Stewart, Gen. George Patton (!), Frank Sinatra, Dick Martin, Eddie Fisher, Rod Taylor, Andy Williams, Ron Ely, Wayne Rogers, and Dean Martin. The most famous, and most public, of her relationships was with Burt Reynolds.

Dinah Shore won nine Emmy Awards, a Peabody, and a Golden Globe for her television work.
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"See the USA in your Chevrolet..." Here, let DINAH SHORE sing it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQ5tKh0aBDc