Sunday, December 30, 2012

DELICIOUS REMEMBERS the great Charles Durning

Charles Durning, Prolific Character Actor, Dies at 89
by Robert Berkvist, New York Times

Charles Durning, who overcame poverty, battlefield trauma and nagging self-doubt to become an acclaimed character actor, whether on stage as Big Daddy in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" or in film as the lonely widower smitten with a cross-dressing Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie died on December 24 at his home in Manhattan. He was 89.

His daughter Michele Durning confirmed the death.

Charles Durning may not have been a household name, but with his pugnacious features and imposing bulk he was a familiar presence in American movies, television and theater, even if often overshadowed by the headliners.

Alongside Paul Newman and Robert Redford’s con men, Mr. Durning was a crooked cop in the 1973 movie The Sting; starring with Nick Nolte, he was a dedicated assistant football coach in North Dallas Forty (1979); in the shadow of Robert De Niro, he was a hypocritical power broker in True Confessions (1981).

If his ordinary-guy looks deprived him of leading-man roles, they did not leave him typecast. He could play gruff and combative or gentle and funny. In the comedy Tootsie (1982) he was a little of each, playing Jessica Lange’s unsuspecting father, who falls for a television actor masquerading as a woman.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Durning’s two Oscar nominations were for supporting roles, as a slippery governor in the Burt Reynolds-Dolly Parton musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982) and as a lustful Nazi colonel in the 1983 remake of To Be or Not To Be (1983), starring Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft.

His television credits were voluminous, from guest spots to substantial parts in TV movies and mini-series. He was a regular on “Evening Shade,” the 1990s sitcom that starred Burt Reynolds, and “First Monday,” a short-lived 2002 drama about the Supreme Court. He had recurring roles as a priest on “Everybody Loves Raymond” and as the ex-firefighter father of Denis Leary’s Tommy in the firehouse series “Rescue Me.” In all, Mr. Durning received nine Emmy Award nominations, although he never won.

His Big Daddy, the bullying, dying plantation owner in a 1990 Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” brought him a Tony Award for best featured actor in a play. Frank Rich, then the chief drama critic for The New York Times, likened the performance to “a dying volcano, in final, sputtering eruption.” “Cat” was Mr. Durning’s first Broadway hit since 1972, when he drew praise as a small-town mayor seeking re-election in “That Championship Season,” Jason Miller’s Tony-winning drama about the reunion of a high school basketball team.

He went on to appear in a pair of short-lived 1973 Broadway productions — David Rabe’s “Boom Boom Room” and Hugh Leonard’s “Au Pair Man,” in which he co-starred with Julie Harris — and, three years later, in Jules Feiffer’s comedy “Knock Knock.”

Despite his success, Mr. Durning fought a lifelong battle with himself.

“I lack confidence as an actor,” he told The Toronto Star in 1988. When asked what he thought his image was, he replied: “Image? Hell, I don’t have an image.” He later told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he was “driven by fear — the fear of not being recognized by your peers.”

Charles Edward Durning was born into poverty on Feb. 28, 1923, in Highland Falls, N.Y., a Hudson River village. His father, James, an Irish immigrant, had been sickened by mustard gas and lost a leg in World War I and died when Charles was 16. Charles was the ninth of 10 children, and five of his sisters died of smallpox or scarlet fever in childhood, three of them within two weeks.

Never a good student, young Charles dropped out of school and eventually left for Pennsylvania, deciding that his mother, Louise, a laundress at the United States Military Academy at West Point, would fare better with one less mouth to feed. He worked as a farmhand and did other menial jobs before moving to Buffalo, where again he took odd jobs. One, opportunely, was as an usher in a burlesque house.

One night a frequently drunk comedian failed to show up, and Mr. Durning, who had memorized the comic’s jokes, persuaded the manager to let him go on. He “got laughs,” he later recalled, and was “hooked” on show business. He made his stage debut in Buffalo.

Then came World War II, and he enlisted in the Army. His combat experiences were harrowing. He was in the first wave of troops to land on Omaha Beach on D-Day and his unit’s lone survivor of a machine-gun ambush. In Belgium he was stabbed in hand-to-hand combat with a German soldier, whom he bludgeoned to death with a rock. Fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, he and the rest of his company were captured and forced to march through a pine forest at Malmedy, the scene of an infamous massacre in which the Germans opened fire on almost 90 prisoners. Mr. Durning was among the few to escape.

By the war’s end he had been awarded a Silver Star for valor and three Purple Hearts, having suffered gunshot and shrapnel wounds as well. He spent months in hospitals and was treated for psychological trauma.

After the war, still mentally troubled, Mr. Durning “dropped into a void for almost a decade” before deciding to study acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, he told Parade magazine in 1993. The school dismissed him within a year. “They basically said you have no talent and you couldn’t even buy a dime’s worth of it if it was for sale,” he told The Times in 1997.

He went from job to job, from doorman to dishwasher to cabdriver. He boxed professionally for a time, delivered telegrams and taught ballroom dancing, meeting his first wife, Carole, at an Arthur Murray studio. Every so often he landed a bit part in a play.

His big break came in 1962, when Joseph Papp, founder of the Public Theater and the New York Shakespeare Festival, invited him to audition. It was the start of a long association with Papp, who cast him, often as a clown, in 35 plays, many by Shakespeare.

Mr. Durning preferred the stage to movies, finding roles in “The World of Günter Grass,” Dennis J. Reardon’s “Happiness Cage” and Ernest Thompson’s “On Golden Pond,” among other plays.

His work in “That Championship Season,” first produced at the Public Theater, led the film director George Roy Hill to tap Mr. Durning for the part of a corrupt police lieutenant in The Sting. Two years later he played a beleaguered police hostage negotiator squaring off against Al Pacino’s manic bank robber in Sidney Lumet’s celebrated Dog Day Afternoon.

The 1970s and ’80s were fruitful years. Mr. Durning received Emmy nominations for supporting performances in the mini-series “Captains and the Kings” (1976), the prison drama “Attica” (1980) and a CBS production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” (1985), in which he played Charley, the sympathetic neighbor of Willy Loman (Dustin Hoffman). He was also nominated for his starring performance as a mailman romancing a lonely widow (Maureen Stapleton) in the 1975 CBS television movie “Queen of the Stardust Ballroom.”

In 1977 he played an American president held hostage by rogue military men in Robert Aldrich’s film Twilight’s Last Gleaming. His many other film roles include Chief Brandon in Warren Beatty’s colorful Dick Tracy (1990), Holly Hunter’s kindhearted father in Home for the Holidays (1995) and, in a pair of Coen brothers films, a suicidal industrialist in The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) and a gruff Southern governor in O Brother, Where Art Thou (2000) .

He tried to perform in at least one play a year. In 1996 he fought a courtroom duel with George C. Scott in the Broadway revival of “Inherit the Wind,” the drama by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee based on the Scopes “monkey trial” of 1925. Mr. Durning played the prosecutor, a character based on William Jennings Bryan, and Scott, in his last Broadway role, was the defense attorney, modeled on Clarence Darrow.

The next year Mr. Durning starred with Julie Harris in a Broadway revival of “The Gin Game,” D. L. Coburn’s Pulitzer-winning play about two nursing home residents whose game of cards becomes a clash of wills. In 2000, in a retitled revival called “Gore Vidal’s ‘The Best Man,’ ” he played an ailing former president who tries to mediate a power struggle between two candidates. In 2002 he appeared with Mr. Pacino in an Off Broadway production of Bertolt Brecht’s “Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.” At Lincoln Center in 2005 he was the senile father of a college professor (Dianne Wiest) in Wendy Wasserstein’s “Third.”

He continued to act almost until his death. “Scavenger Killers,” a crime thriller in which he stars with Eric Roberts and Robert Loggia, is scheduled to open next year.

Mr. Durning’s first marriage, to Carole Doughty, ended in divorce; he was separated from his second wife, Mary Ann Amelio. Besides his daughter Michele, he is survived by another daughter, Jeanine Durning, and a son, Douglas, all from his first marriage.

In 2008 the Screen Actors Guild gave Mr. Durning its Life Achievement Award, as if to dispel any lingering doubts he had about being recognized by his peers. And in 2007 the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, the school that he said had long ago rejected him, created a scholarship in honor of him and two other alumni, Anne Bancroft and Gena Rowlands.

Mr. Durning was also remembered for his combat service, which he avoided discussing publicly until later in life. He spoke at memorial ceremonies in Washington, and in 2008 France awarded him the National Order of the Legion of Honor.
In the Parade interview, he recalled the hand-to-hand combat. “I was crossing a field somewhere in Belgium,” he said. “A German soldier ran toward me carrying a bayonet. He couldn’t have been more than 14 or 15. I didn’t see a soldier. I saw a boy. Even though he was coming at me, I couldn’t shoot.”

They grappled, he recounted later — he was stabbed seven or eight times — until finally he grasped a rock and made it a weapon. After killing the youth, he said, he held him in his arms and wept.

Mr. Durning said the memories never left him, even when performing, even when he became, however briefly, someone else.

“There are many secrets in us, in the depths of our souls, that we don’t want anyone to know about,” he told Parade. “There’s terror and repulsion in us, the terrible spot that we don’t talk about. That place that no one knows about — horrifying things we keep secret. A lot of that is released through acting.”

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

LES MIZ: A delicious holiday gift from Universal Pictures

It has finally arrived. The all-star movie version of the 1980's megahit musical LES MISERABLES.

Full disclosure - I have never been a huge fan of Les Miz since its beginnings. My greatest memory of the show was meeting the late Davy (the Monkees) Jones in the audience during the perfomance that I attended. My problem with Les Miz? While I do find the score beautiful, I found the direction and the set design in the original production far too dark and dreary. And after the interminable length of the first act (two hours, if memory serves me right), the second act consisted of one endless reprise after another with just a smatterng of new tunes. (Composers, if you are going to keep an audience captive for nearly 4 hours, PLEASE, write some new songs for the second act.  And, at the very least, divide the show into three acts so that we can stretch our legs.)

Like the broadway hit EVITA, I thought the show would improve dramatically in a cinematic incarnation. This proved true with the Lloyd Webber- Rice musical when Hollywood came calling (despite Madonna) and I held similarly high hopes that a good screenwriter/director would whittle Les Miz down to its essentials and streamline it into a great peice of film.

Well, chiclets - the reviews are in - and they have been generally favorable. I shall not pass judgement until I have seen it for myself. But here's the review from the New York Times plus a link to metacritic. I shall let you read them for yourselves. Perhaps you can comment afterwards and see whether you find them fair or unfair.

The Wretched Lift Their Voices
by Manohla Dargis, New York Times

In the first long act of Les Miserables, Anne Hathaway opens her mouth, and the agony, passion and violence that have decorously idled in the background of this all-singing, all-suffering pop opera pour out. It’s a gusher! She’s playing Fantine, the factory worker turned prostitute turned martyr, and singing the showstopping “I Dreamed a Dream,” her gaunt face splotched red and brown. The artful grunge layered onto the cast can be a distraction, as you imagine assistant dirt wranglers anxiously hovering off camera. Ms. Hathaway, though, holds you rapt with raw, trembling emotion. She devours the song, the scene, the movie, and turns her astonishing, cavernous mouth into a vision of the void.

The director Tom Hooper can be a maddening busybody behind the camera, but this is one number in which he doesn’t try to upstage his performers. Maybe he was worried that Ms. Hathaway would wolf him down too. Whatever the case, he keeps it relatively simple. Moving the camera slightly with her — she lurches somewhat out of frame at one point, suggesting a violent, existential wrenching — he shoots the song in a head-and-shoulder close-up, with the background blurred. By that point, with her dignity and most of her pretty hair gone, Fantine has fallen as far as she can. She has become one of the abject castaways of the musical’s title, a wretched of the earth.

Written by Alain Boublil and the composer Claude-Michel Schönberg (with English-language lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer), the musical Les Misérables is of course one really big show, perhaps the biggest and certainly one of the longest-running. Its Web site hints at its reach: Since the English-language version was first performed in London in 1985, it has been translated into 21 languages, performed in 43 countries, won almost 100 awards (Tony, Grammy) and been seen by more than 60 million people. In 1996 Hong Kong mourners sang “Do You Hear the People Sing” to memorialize Tiananmen Square. In 2009 the awkward duckling Susan Boyle became a swan and a world brand with her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” on the television show “Britain’s Got Talent.”

Somewhere amid the grime, power ballads and surging strings there is also Victor Hugo, whose monumental 1862 humanistic novel, Les Misérables, was, along with the musical Oliver!, Mr. Boublil’s original inspiration. Like the show, Mr. Hooper’s movie opens in 1815 and closes shortly after the quashed June Rebellion of 1832, boiling the story down to a pair of intertwined relationships.

The first pivots on the antagonism of a onetime prison guard, now inspector, Javert (Russell Crowe, strained) toward a former convict, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman, earnest); the secone involves the love-at-first swooning between Cisette (Amanda Seyfried) and Marius (Eddie Redmayne), a revolutionary firebrand. As a child, Cosette was rescued by Valjean from her caretakers, the Thénardiers (the energetic Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, who nicely stir, and stink up, the air).

Part of the tug of Les Misérables is that it recounts a familiar, reassuring story of oppression, liberation and redemption, complete with period costumes and tear-yanking songs. Georges Sand apparently felt that there was too much Christianity in Hugo’s novel; Mr. Hooper seems to have felt that there wasn’t enough in the musical and, using his camera like a Magic Marker, repeatedly underlines the religious themes that are already narratively and lyrically manifest. In the first number (“Look Down”), set against a digitally enhanced, visibly artificial port, Valjean helps haul an enormous ship into a dock. Dressed mainly in cardinal red, the prisoners pull on ropes, while singing during a lashing rain, with Javert glaring down at them. (And, yes, he will fall.)

By the time the scene ends, Valjean hasn’t just been handed his release papers after 19 years as a prisoner, he has also become a Christ figure, hoisting a preposterously large wooden pole on to his shoulder. Mr. Hooper’s maximalist approach is evident the very moment the scene begins — the camera swooping, as waves and music crash — setting an overblown tone that rarely quiets. His work in this passage, from the roller-coaster moves of the cameras to the loud incidental noise that muffles the lyrics, undermines his actors and begins to push the musical from spectacle toward bloat. Mr. Jackman suffers the most from Mr. Hooper’s approach, as when Valjean paces up and down a hallway while delivering “What Have I Done,” a to-and-fro that witlessly, needlessly, literalizes the character’s internal struggle.

Mr. Hooper’s decision to shoot the singing live, as opposed to having the singers lip-sync recorded songs, as has been customary in movie musicals since the 1930s, yields benefits. That’s especially the case with Ms. Hathaway, Mr. Redmayne and Daniel Huttlestone, a scene-stealer who plays the Thénardiers’ young son. (This isn’t the first contemporary musical to resurrect the practice of live singing, which was used for both At Long Last Love, directed by Peter Bodgandovich, and The Commitments, directed by Alan Parker.) It’s touching, watching performers like Ms. Hathaway and Mr. Redmayne giving it their all, complete with quavering chins and straining tendons. Mr. Redmayne, an appealing actor with a freckled face built for wonder, at times seems to be stretching his long body to hit his higher notes.

Mr. Redmayne’s sincerity complements Ms. Seyfried’s old-fashioned trilling and her wide-eyed appearance, even if their romance lacks spark. Then again, so does the movie. Song after song, as relationships and rebellion bloom, you wait in vain for the movie to, as well, and for the filmmaking to rise to the occasion of both its source material and its hard-working performers.

As he showed in The King's Speech and in the television series “John Adams,” Mr. Hooper can be very good with actors. But his inability to leave any lily ungilded — to direct a scene without tilting or hurtling or throwing the camera around — is bludgeoning and deadly. By the grand finale, when tout le monde is waving the French tricolor in victory, you may instead be raising the white flag in exhausted defeat.

Les Misérables is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Gun death, poverty, face boils and revolution.

Les Misérables opened on December 25, 2012 nationwide.

Directed by Tom Hooper; written by William Nicholson, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer; based on the novel by Victor Hugo and the stage musical by Mr. Boublil and Mr. Schönberg; music by Mr. Schönberg; lyrics by Mr. Kretzmer; director of photography, Danny Cohen; edited by Melanie Ann Oliver and Chris Dickens; production design by Eve Stewart; costumes by Paco Delgado; produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward and Cameron Mackintosh; released by Universal Pictures. Running time: 2 hours 37 minutes.

WITH: Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean), Russell Crowe (Javert), Anne Hathaway (Fantine), Amanda Seyfried (Cosette), Eddie Redmayne (Marius), Samantha Barks (Éponine), Helena Bonham Carter (Madame Thénardier) and Sacha Baron Cohen (Thénardier).

Monday, December 24, 2012

An unexpected development.

Dear friends, family, and Austrian nobility,

Captain Von Trapp and I are very sorry to inform you that we no longer plan to wed. We offer our deepest apologies to those of you who have already made plans to travel to Salzburg this summer.

Those of you on the Captain’s side of the guest list are probably aware of the reason for the change of plans. I’m sure by now you have received that charming “Save the date!” card in the shape of a mountain goat from the Captain and his new fiancée, Maria.

I must confess to being rather blindsided by the end of our relationship. It seems Captain Von Trapp and I misunderstood each other. I assumed he was looking for a wife of taste and sophistication, who was a dead ringer for Tippi Hedren; instead he wanted to marry a curtain-wearing religious fanatic who shouts every word she says.

But I don’t want you to be angry at him. We are all adults here. “But Baroness,” so many of my friends have said, “you must be devastated. You yourself are fabulously wealthy, so you cannot have wanted the Captain for his money—you must have truly loved him.” It’s true. But so, I am sure, does his new fiancée, his children’s nanny. Her wardrobe is made of curtains. She’s definitely not a gold digger or anything. (I’m sorry. That was crude of me.) She seems like a lovely person, and she and the children have a great deal in common. (A great, great, great deal.)

Since I will no longer be a part of their lives, I do hope you will all keep an eye on the Captain’s children. I am not terribly maternal but I was very fond of them in my own way and I must admit I am worried what will become of them now that I have gone. I had planned to send them to boarding school, since their education at the moment seems to consist mostly of marching around Salzburg singing scales. I think it would have been particularly helpful for the eldest daughter, who seems intent on losing her virginity to the mailman.

Please, friends, don’t worry about me. While I was a bit startled to be thrown aside for someone who flunked out of nun school, I assure you that I will be fine, and my main pursuits in life shall continue to be martinis, bon mots, and looking fabulous. You’ll also be glad to know I have retained custody of the Captain’s hard-drinking gay friend, Max. Anyone who gets tired of sing-a-longs should feel free to look us up.

Again, my deepest apologies for this disruption to your plans. I am currently sorting through the wedding gifts we’ve already received and I will send them back as soon as possible. The Captain would help, but he is busy learning to play a song about cuckoo clocks on his guitar.

Baroness Elsa Schraeder

Sunday, July 15, 2012

DELICIOUS remembers actress Celeste Holm

The original "girl who cain't say no" in Oklahoma! (1943) on stage, a supporting Oscar winner for her incisive portrait of a witty but lovelorn secretary in Gentleman's Agreement (1947), the best friend of tempestuous Margo Channing (Bette Davis) in the film All About Eve (1950) and a brittle newspaper photographer feigning indifference to riches in High Society (1956), Celeste Holm was a versatile actress with a flair for droll humour.

She created one of the classic musical comedy characters, Ado Annie, in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma!, in which her rendition of "I Cain't Say No" regularly stopped the show. She was nominated for two further Oscars, for her game tennis pro turned nun in Come to the Stable (1949), and her warm but gullible playwright's wife who introduces the deceitful Eve Harrington to Margo Channing in All About Eve (1950).

Noted for her untiring work for charities, she saw her final days troubled by litigation by her two estranged sons, who refused to acknowledge her fifth husband and caused her to pay such huge legal fees that she finally had to depend on Social Security.

Born in 1919 in New York City, she was the daughter of Norwegians. Her father worked for the American branch of Lloyds of London; her mother was a portrait painter. After studying ballet for 10 years, and singing for three, she joined a repertory company in Pennsylvania in 1936. She made her Broadway debut in a short-lived comedy Gloriana (1938). In 1942 she was supporting Flora Robson in John Van Druten's The Damask Cheek when she auditioned for the role of Ado Annie.

"When I finished my audition piece, 'Who Is Sylvia?', Richard Rodgers said disappointedly, "But you have a trained voice. Can you sing as if you've never had a lesson in your life?" "You mean I've studied for three years for that?" "Oh, you have to know how to in order to know how not to."

Holm would never forget the first performance. "I'd never been in a musical before, so I didn't know what to do when the audience didn't stop applauding after I'd finished 'I Cain't Say No'. I kept trying to continue with the dialogue but they wouldn't let me. It was embarrassing, but it was glorious." She went on to her own star vehicle, Bloomer Girl (1944), in which she played a follower of Dolly Bloomer, champion of women's rights and a leader of the clandestine railroad that helped runaway slaves during the Civil War. The Arlen-Harburg score included several appealing songs for Holm, including "What's Good Enough for Grandma" and two romantic duets, "Right as the Rain" and "Evalina".

The show ran for over 600 performances, after which Holm made her screen debut in Three Little Girls in Blue (1946). An enjoyable version of one of the studio's favourite plots –three girls pool their funds to masquerade as an heiress, her secretary and maid in order to snare a millionaire – the film starts to sag before Holm steals the show with her sassy rendition of "Always a Lady". She won the Oscar for her third film, Hollywood's first major movie to tackle anti-semitism, Gentleman's Agreement.

In Joseph Mankiewicz's sparkling romantic comedy A Letter to Three Wives (1949), she was heard but not seen as the catty Addie Ross, who leaves a letter for the wives stating that she has run off with one of their husbands. She was a would-be opera singer in the mildly amusing Everybody Does It (1949), then had one of her best remembered roles as playwright's wife Karen in Mankiewicz's brilliant portrait of theatre life, All About Eve.

Holm told the story of her relationship with Bette Davis. "On the first day of shooting, I walked on the set and said 'Good morning' to Davis. She said, 'Oh shit, good manners,' and I never spoke to her again." Daryl F Zanuck had not wanted to give Holm the role of Karen ("I was told he only signed me to stop Louis B Mayer from doing so") and when she asked for the raise called for in her contract, he fired her. "Then he called the head of every other studio and said he had fired me because I was too difficult to work with."

Holm returned to Broadway to play Kate Hardcastle in She Stoops to Conquer (1949), then the French playwright Louis Verneuil wrote a comedy, Affairs of State (1950) specially for her, and it was a huge hit, running for over 600 performances and giving Holm a role that fully exploited her droll comic touch and flawless timing. The critic John Chapman described her as "One of the few intelligent beauties on the stage." She was impressive the same year when she replaced Gertrude Lawrence in The King and I in 1952.

She made only a few more films, including The Tender Trap (1955), in which she was one of playboy Frank Sinatra's sweethearts, losing him to virginal Debbie Reynolds. The patchy comedy's funniest scene was Holm's wicked parody of Reynolds. The following year she and her friend Sinatra were teamed again as reporters covering a society wedding in a remake of The Philadelphia Story titled High Society. One of the film's highlights is the couple's rendition of Cole Porter's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"

Holm's charitable deeds included raising $20,000 for Unicef over the years by charging 50 cents for autographs. In the UK, she starred in Nottingham in the musical Lady in the Dark (1981), and more recently she appeared at Pizza in the Park in London in 2003, reminiscing and singing songs that had been part of her life. She was accompanied (and occasionally prompted) by her fifth husband, the former opera singer Frank Basile.

It was her marriage to Basile, over 45 years her junior, in 2004, that prompted the litigation that marred her final years, but friends state that Basile was very good to her. She was latterly plagued with illness, and was taken to hospital two weeks ago with dehydration after a fire in Robert De Niro's apartment in the Central Park building where the Basiles lived. Last Friday she asked Basile to take her home, where she died.

Celeste Holm, actress and singer: born 29 April 1919 New York City; married 1938 Ralph Nelson (divorced 1939; one son), 1940 Francis Davies (divorced 1945), 1946 A Schuyler Dunning (divorced 1952; one son), 1966 Robert Wesley Addy (died 1996), 2004 Frank Basile; died New York 15 July 2012.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

DELICIOUSLY Historic News!


President Obama declared for the first time on Wednesday that he supports same-sex marriage, putting the moral power of his presidency behind a social issue that continues to divide the country.

“At a certain point,” Mr. Obama said in an interview in the Cabinet Room at the White House with ABC’s Robin Roberts, “I’ve just concluded that for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.”

The comments end years of public equivocating over the divisive social issue for the president, who has previously said he opposed gay marriage but repeatedly said he was “evolving” on the issue because of contact with friends and others who are gay.

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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

DELICIOUS remembers our favorite Monkee: Davy Jones

Singer Davy Jones of The Monkees Dies in Fla at 66

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Davy Jones, the diminutive heartthrob who rocketed to the top of the 1960s music charts by beckoning millions of adoring fans while singing the catchy refrains of The Monkees, died Wednesday. He was 66.

His publicist, Helen Kensick, confirmed that Jones died of a heart attack near his home in Indiantown. Jones complained of breathing troubles early in the morning and was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead, said Rhonda Irons, spokeswoman of the Martin County Sheriff's Office.

In a 911 call released Wednesday night, an unidentified woman anxiously pleads "Ambulance, please, hurry!" His home was about 27 miles from the hospital and a fire rescue unit rushed him to the hospital.

Jones' moppish long hair, boyish good looks and his British accent endeared him to legions of screaming young fans after "The Monkees" premiered on NBC in 1966 as a made-for-TV band seeking to capitalize on Beatlemania sweeping the world.

Aspirations of Beatles-like fame were never fully achieved, with the TV show lasting just two years. But The Monkees made rock 'n roll history as the band garnered a wide American following with love-struck hits such as "Daydream Believer" and "I'm a Believer" that endure to this day.

Born in Manchester, England, on Dec. 30, 1945, Jones became a child star in his native England who appeared on television and stage, including a heralded role as "The Artful Dodger" in the musical play Oliver.

He earned a Tony nomination at 16 when he reprised that role in the show's Broadway production, a success that brought him to the attention of Columbia Pictures/Screen Gems Television, which created The Monkees. Hundreds turned out for auditions, but the young men who became the Monkees had no idea what ultimately awaited them.

"They had an ad in the newspaper," Jones recalled on NBC's "Today Show" last year, "and then we all showed up."

"The Monkees" was a band clearly patterned on the Beatle's film A Hard Days Night, chronicling the comic trials and tribulations of a rock group whose four members lived together and traveled to gigs in a tricked-out car called the Monkeemobile. Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz starred with him. Each part was loosely created to resemble one of the Beatles.

At 5-feet-3 inches, Jones was by far the shortest member of the group — a fact often made light of on the show. But he also was its dreamboat, mirroring Paul McCartney's role in the Beatles. And as the only Briton among the four, Jones was in some ways the Monkees' direct connection to the Beatlemania still strong in the U.S. when the TV show made its debut.

In August 1966, the Beatles performed in San Francisco, playing their last live set for a paying audience. The same month, the Monkees released their first album, introducing the group to the world.

The first single, "Last Train to Clarksville," became a No. 1 hit. And the TV show would caught on quickly with audiences, featuring fast-paced, helter-skelter comedy inspired as much by the Marx Brothers as the Beatles.

It was a shrewd case of cross-platform promotion. As David Bianculli noted in his "Dictionary of Teleliteracy," ''The show's self-contained music videos, clear forerunners of MTV, propelled the group's first seven singles to enviable positions of the pop charts: three number ones, two number twos, two number threes."

Yet after the show's launch, The Monkees came under fire from music critics when it was learned that session musicians — and not the group's members — had played the instruments on their recordings. They were derided as the "Prefab Four," an insulting comparison to the Beatles' nickname, the "Fab Four."

In reality, Jones could play the drums and guitar, and although Dolenz learned to play the drums after he joined the group, he also could play guitar, as could Nesmith.

Nesmith also wrote several of The Monkees' songs, as well as songs for others. Tork, who played bass and keyboards on the TV show, was a multi-instrumentalist.

The group eventually prevailed over the show's producers, including music director Don Kirchner, and began to play their own instruments. Regardless, the group was supported by enviable talent.

Carole King and Gerry Goffin wrote "Pleasant Valley Sunday," and Neil Diamond penned "I'm a Believer." Musicians who played on their records included Billy Preston, who later played with the Beatles, Glen Campbell, Leon Russell, Ry Cooder and Neil Young.

Young tweeted Wednesday that he was saddened by Jones' death. "The Monkees were such a sensation that it was a thrill for me to have them record some of my early songs," he added.

The group also released the 1968 film Head, derided at the time as a psychedelic mishmash notable only for an appearance by Jack Nicholson. It has since come to be considered a cult classic by Monkees fans.

After two seasons, the TV series had flared out and was canceled after 58 episodes in the summer of 1968. But The Monkees remained a nostalgia act for decades. And Jones maintained that the stage was the only place he truly felt at home.

"Even today, I have an inferiority complex," he told the Daily Mail in an interview last year. "I always feel I'm there at the window, looking in. Except when I'm on stage, and then I really come alive."

After the TV show ended, Jones continued to tour with the other Monkees for a time, sometimes playing the drums at concerts when Dolenz came up front to sing.

Many also remember Jones from a widely seen episode of "The Brady Bunch" that aired in 1971, in which he makes an appearance at Marcia Brady's school dance. In the episode, Marcia Brady, president of her school's Davy Jones Fan Club, promised she could get him to appear before her classmates.

The group eventually broke up over creative differences, although it did reunite from time to time for brief tours over the years, usually without Nesmith.

In 1987, Jones, Tork, and Dolenz recorded a new album, "Pool It." And two years later, the group received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. On Wednesday, flowers were placed on Jones' own Hollywood star nearby as fans mourned.

All four of the Monkees came together for a 1996 album, "Justus," and a subsequent TV movie "Hey, Hey, It's The Monkees!" that saw them still living in the same house and still traveling in the Monkeemobile — just like old times.

Tork spoke of his former bandmate in an interview Wednesday night, saying "He was one of the funniest men and most talented I have ever known." Nesmith said in a statement "David's spirit and soul live well in my heart, among all the lovely people," using a phrase from a Beatles song that seemed to again cement the two groups' ties.

Jones, who is survived by his wife Jessica Pacheco and four daughters from previous marriages, continued to make appearances on television and stage later. But it was the fame of The Monkees that pulled him back to that era time and time again. On his website, he recalled during auditions for the show when all four men finally were put together in a scene.

"That's it," he recalled everyone around him saying: "Magic."

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Nekesa Mumbi Moody, Frazier Moore and Hillel Italie in New York, Mike Gracia in Washington and John Rogers in Los Angeles.

Monday, February 13, 2012

DELICIOUS TV: NBC offers up a delicous new musical series smash with 'SMASH'

The reviews are in, chiclets! Anyone who's anyone is watching the latest must-see series offering - monday nights at 10 pm on NBC. Delicious says don't miss it! 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

CARRIE THE MUSICAL: a DELICIOUS look back at the closing of the legendary 1988 cult musical

“Surprise, Surprise! Terry Hands blood, sweat and tears staging of Carrie for his Royal Shakespeare Company works. ...a project that seemed unlikely from the outset, has unexpectedly emerged as a strong, effective and remarkably coherent piece of terrific total theatre.”   ~ Clive Barnes, New York Post

“...the fiercely concentrated Ms. [Betty] Buckley brings theatrical heat to every slap-happy bout of corporal punishment, every masturbatory hand gesture indicating her sexual repression, and every aria invoking Jesus and Satan.”   ~ Frank Rich, New York Times

“CARRIE MAKES A POWERFUL MUSICAL. ... [It] brings together all the forces that make live theatre so exciting: brilliant performances and an exciting story, reinforced by the physical production and fashions them into a truly unforgettable event.”      ~ Ernest Albrect, The Home News

“...compellingly written and overpoweringly performed...the scenes between Carrie and her mother crackle with longing. ...The conflict between the girl’s aching to be normal and the mother’s fear that she will go astray aspires to metaphysical tragedy.”    ~ William A. Henry III, Time Magazine

“I had a bloody good time. Carrie is edge-of-your-seat all-out entertainment.”   ~ Larry S. Ledford, The Monitor

These are some of the things written about the 1988 cult-flop musical CARRIE (I bet you heard there were no good reviews.) In honor of the newly rewritten off-Broadway revival opening in March 2012 (just 24 years after the originals disastrous 5 performance run) I thought we should go back in time to 1988 to revisit the drama behind the spectacular closing of one of Broadway’s most enduring legends. Enjoy!

Carrie’s $7 million close shows why musicals are like dinosaurs
by William A. Henry III, Time Magazine/ May 30, 1988

Just a few days earlier, Choreographer Debbie Allen had been counseling the young performers of Carrie about how to handle sudden stardom. But as the disheartening word spread backstage, the ensemble members realized that they might have to learn instead to handle sudden unemployment. Last week, less than 72 hours after it opened as the Broadway season’s most opulent American musical, Carrie closed. Stephen King’s 1974 novel about a tormented teenager with psychic powers became a best seller, then a multiple Oscar nominee as a 1976 movie. But onstage it set records of a different sort: losing more than $7 million made it Broadway’s biggest failure ever.* Said President Rocco Landesman of Jujamcyn Theaters, which invested $500,000 and provided a house for the show: “This is the biggest flop in the world history of theater, going all the way back to Aristophanes.”

Carrie is just one more example, if an especially lurid one, of the self-destructive expansion of the Broadway musical. The form has become as ungainly and vulnerable as the dinosaur. Although the season just past is regarded as the strongest for musicals in a decade, eight of its 15 musical productions have just closed, and two may soon join them.

Still, with Carrie the actors were not the only ones startled by the abruptness of the shutdown. The technical staff, the press agent, even the creators thought they had been assured of at least one more week by Producer Friedrich Kurz, 39, a West German impresario making his Broadway debut. Although most of the reviews had been scathing – particularly about the superannuated kick line of high school girls, cumbersomely elaborate sets and an inadvertently hilarious dance number about slaughtering a pig – a number of critics nonetheless expected the show to find an audience and thrive. That is what happened , despite savage reviews from the London critics, during a four-week British run at the Stratford-upon-Avon home of the co-producer, the Royal Shakespeare Company. And night after nighr during Broadway previews, while some audience members laughed derisively, others thundered applause for the pelvic dances, the pyrotechnic effects and the open-throttle singing of Stars Linzi Hateley and Betty Buckley.

But after surveying the prospects, Kurz, who has prospered by importing Cats into his home country, flew back to Europe without telling Landesman or many of his other collaborators that he had ordered a closing notice to be put up at the theater. According to investors, Kurz thereby saved an estimated $150,000 to $175,000, the difference between another week’s operating costs and the projected box-office income. He was really prompted, however, by what usually determines the fate of unfavorably reviewed shows: he had run out of money. To have any hope of turning things around, he needed an additional $2 million or more. That would pay for TV advertising and cover losses for up to two months until the ads and word-of-mouth might bring in a profitably large audience. “I made an economic decision to cut my losses,” said Kurz in his Hamburg office. “Broadway is Russian roulette, and I’m not a gambler.”

The advertising-and-word-of-mouth strategy worked for Evita (1979), which opened to unenthusiastic reviews yet ran for almost four years. But it is not infallible: an additional $1 million enabled the 1985 Singin’ in the Rain to survive almost a year, yet apparently did not recoup theshow’s $5 million-plus investment. Still, says Carrie’s composer Michael Gore, whose credits include the movie Fame, “you can’t produce a Broadway show without a reserve fund. That is my major dissatisfaction with the show.”

Carrie might have had just such a reserve if it held to its original $5 million budget. The show was eventually capitalized at $7 million, primarily by British and West German investors who had scant Broadway experience. But runaway costs reached, by some accounts, about $8 million, attributable partly to high-tech fashion in current musicals, partly to the complexity of multinational production, partly to old-fashioned indulgence. Says the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Terry Hands, who staged the show: “It started to be laded with lavish trappings, none of which I believe were necessary.” Sources involved in financing the project estimate that the show’s design elements alone cost nearly $4 million, including about $1 million each for costumes, sound and the elaborate hydraulically powered sets. About a third of Jujamcyn’s $500.000 investment was spent on repainting its Virginia Theater black, to suit Carrie’s somber theme, and on installing electrical wiring for the laser barrage at the climax, when Carrie burns down her school gym.

The Royal Shakespeare Company was paid for mounting Carrie as part of its season, and thus secured a profit fo roughly $500,000. As a result of the unusual transatlantic production, there was a hefty bill for transport and lodging of the creators and the Anglo-American cast. On Broadway, some 20% of each week’s box-office income was set aside for royalties to the creative team, including Novelist King, who otherwise had no role in the show. Another debated expenditure was $500,000 plus for a print, poster and TV ad campaign in New York City before the show opened, much of it teasingly mysterious rather than hard sell.
As a result of all these costs, Carrie barely had carfare home after its Broadway opening night. There was no contingency play, just a hope against hope for generosity form the critics. When that failed, Gore, Librettist Lawrence D. Cohen and Lyricist Dean Pitchford started shopping for emergency investors to create an instant reserve fund. Landesman pondered stepping in with more cash from Jujamcyn but in the end decided not to underwrite even one additional week’s losses so the search for investors could go on. Explains Landesman: “I would have put up $500.000, but I didn’t see the rest of the $2 million coming from anywhere.” After a last forlorn scramble, neither did anyone else.

And the rest is theater history. TTFN my darlings. See you all at the new CARRIE.

* This dubious honor has been handed over to many, many other Broadway flops since then.

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