Thursday, November 29, 2012

Judy Garland and THE FAMILY STONE

I think it touches me more now that I'm older and living in a post-September 11th world.  I'm referring to the song written for and sung by Judy Garland in Vincente Minnelli's original movie musical, Meet Me in St. Louis (1944).  The song is "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas."  I heard Christina Aguilera's recording of that holiday standard.  Ms. Aguilera has a big, wonderful voice -- but she could take a lesson from actress Judy Garland.  First of all, she got the lyrics wrong. Second, she's so busy doing pop music vocal gymnastics to show off her pipes that she ignored the heart of the song.  This is a problem I have with some young vocalists.  They're either replicating what they've heard before or they're showing off their vocal skills like a vain muscleman flexing his pecs in the health club mirror.  If I'd been Christina's producer, I would've had her do another take after we talked about the song.  I don't feel that her version is one of her better efforts. Not like "Beautiful."  Let me tell you of a tender moment with a movie audience one holiday season in a New York City cineplex.  We were at the preview of a new movie that incorporated the poignant Judy Garland number into its action.
The new movie was 2005's The Family Stone.  Sarah Jessica Parker starred as an uptight, conservative city girl who goes home with her boyfriend for Christmas to meet his free-spirited, liberal family.  Diane Keaton and Craig T. Nelson star as the parents.
This holiday comedy did have one thing in common with Vincente Minnelli's classic film.  It focuses on one year in the life of an American family.  The Family Stone takes us from Christmas to Christmas. One sequence has a family member sit down to watch Meet Me in St. Louis.  She watches Esther, played by Judy Garland, sing "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" to her sad sister.  We hear Garland sing the entire song over a montage of what other main characters are doing at that moment in preparation for the annual Stone Family yuletide gathering.  It's the highlight of The Family Stone, the thing that raised it from being pleasantly average to special in those few sentimental minutes with Garland's lovely, heartfelt vocal.  People near me in the audience were moved to tears.  There were sniffles.  I saw a couple of babyboomer moviegoers dab at their eyes.  I was a bit misty-eyed too.  We were touched by the song and the way the actress delivered it.

A good song -- especially a good song in movie -- is like a monologue.  It moves the action along.  It reveals character.  It reveals emotions when spoken words aren't enough.  Garland, the actress, understood this.  She acted her songs.  Minnelli flipped the script on Garland's MGM image.  She was usually the young show biz trouper with the dream of being on Broadway with her big voice.  Think of her movies Babes in Arms, Babes on Broadway, For Me and My Gal and Presenting Lily Mars.  In the director's turn-of-the-20th-century valentine to Americana, made during World War 2, Garland plays a member of a happy family in St. Louis.  Happy, that is, until the father gets a job offer that will uproot and relocate them to New York City.  He's the only one in multi-generational Smith household excited about the move.  All will pack and prepare to move because, after all, they are family.  Happy or not, they stick together.  It's a melancholy holiday.  It could be their last Christmas in their beloved St. Louis.  Little Tootie, in modern times, would've been called a "Goth" kid.  She's mischievous, fascinated with death and the macabre.  Played by Margaret O'Brien, she's a lovable child whose emotions run deep.  Dad doesn't realize how deep her feelings are.  She hates that the family is moving.  Her world is shattered.  She wonders if Santa Claus will be able to find her if she's no longer at that address.  Esther's heart is also heavy.  She's been in love with "The Boy Next Door."  The feeling is mutual.  He proposes to her that Christmas Eve night.
How will the move to New York affect their engagement?  Will their love survive?  Esther goes back inside her house and finds Tootie crying.  She understands and comforts her little sister.  They both look up and out the window.  Tootie watches for Santa Claus.  She wonders if he'll be able to find her in New York.  Esther watches as the boy next door pulls down his shade.  She wonders if she'll lose him.  Esther lovingly tries to lift her sister's spirits with a Christmas song.


Garland, the gifted actress/singer, knows the tone and emotions of the intimate scene.  She performs the lyrics with attention to that.  Compare this to the Christina Aguilera rendition.  With all the pop vocal loop-dee-loops she does, you wonder if she's ever really paid any attention to what the song says.  You wonder if she did any homework and knows its roots.  Another song written for a movie further illustrates my point.  "At Last" was first heard in the 1942 movie Orchestra Wives and performed by the renowned Glenn Milller Orchestra.  The 1942 comedy is available on DVD.  Several pop singers of that decade recorded the new hit tune.  In the early 1950s, Etta James covered "At Last" with a R&B flavor.  Singers have imitated her fabulous record ever since.  If a music hopeful gets on a TV show like The Voice or America's Got Talent and announces that he or she will do "At Last," you can bet you'll hear a replica of the Etta James rendition.  Even Christina gave us a vocal Xerox copy of Etta's version.  No new interpretation, no new phrasing, no new musical arrangement.  Today, Christina Aguilera is a judge on The Voice.  She helps groom the singing stars of tomorrow. We see so many show biz hopefuls and wannabes performing on reality TV shows.  I wish a network would bring back a weekend variety program like The Ed Sullivan Show or The Hollywood Palace.  Let us see the professionals and veterans doing what they do best.  Present some polished entertainment.  And let the amateur singers be able to watch and learn a thing or two.

I wish I could sing.  And, frankly, so do those who've heard me.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hope, Hepburn, THE IRON PETTICOAT

Sad but true.  The Iron Petticoat goes over like a lead balloon.  This 1956 film features an unlikely duo for a romantic comedy:  Katharine Hepburn and Bob Hope.  These two major stars did different kinds of comedy.  She was more Bringing Up Baby and Adam's Rib.  Screwball and sophisticated comedies.  He was more the gag-meister, never at a loss for a wisecrack in very funny "Road" movies with Bing Crosby and never above some broad vaudeville-like slapstick business in all his comedies.  The Iron Petticoat is a curiosity piece.  This 1950s Ninotchka knock-off is so clunky, so quirky that you just have to watch it at least once if you're a classic film fan.  Katharine Hepburn plays Captain Vinka Kovelenko, a distinguished Soviet army pilot who defects.  The thing is, Kate still sounds like she's doing The Philadelphia Story.  Hope plays the American officer in London assigned to introduce the Communist to the joys of capitalism.  Vinka defected to London because Russia kept making an issue of her womanhood.  The feminist pilot wasn't getting equal respect from male superiors.  The KGB wants Vinka back.
 Capt. Chuck Lockwood is romantically attached to a stuffy British society dame.
That's all you need to know about the plot.  Vinka will fall in love with Chuck.  Vinka will go shopping for "girly" clothes.  The Ben Hecht screenplay gives you a few smiles but no big laughs.  Kate seems to have leaped into the project with a "Just have fun with it, take the money and run" attitude.  When The Iron Petticoat does work, that's why.  Personally, I dug seeing her in the mannish military attire.  Kate rocked that Russian army drag.
When Vinka gathers up her courage and goes to a boutique to buy sexy undergarments, that's pretty cool too.  When she gets all gussied up and arrives at a dinner party where she shows off some leg, she looks gorgeous.  Her Ninotchka-like fashion makeover is mighty fine.  Of course, Chuck's stuffy British fianceé will get her knickers in a bundle because she doesn't understand that he's following military orders.
The Iron Petticoat was unavailable to American viewers for over 40 years.  It aired on local Los Angeles TV way back when I was a kid.  Then it was off the market due to legalities.  I was lucky enough to do a celebrity interview in London during my VH1 years.  I discovered that The Iron Petticoat was on television for British viewers and, later, on DVD for them.  A British buddy hooked me up so I could see it.  The comedy was as bland as I'd read it was.  The studio probably expected it to have a champagne fizz because of its two stars.  The result is more like seltzer water.  Hepburn supplies what little fizz it has.  Bob Hope, to me, was surprisingly flat.  In his comedies, leading ladies like Dorothy Lamour, Madeleine Carroll, Hedy Lamarr and Jane Russell were the eye candy and love interest.  Basically, they were the straight men to Hope.  In a vehicle like this, as in the sparkling Ninotchka starring Greta Garbo in 1939, the woman is the main focus.  Her transformation is the main attraction.  We wait to see that strict icy Russian thaw out politically and sexually, get a fashion makeover , then fall in love.  Hope never grew dramatically the way famed co-star Bing Crosby did.  Crosby, winner of the 1944 Best Actor Academy Award for playing a Catholic priest in Going My Way, went on to explore the dark side of his breezy persona and earn another Best Actor Oscar nomination.  He got it for the 1954 adaptation of The Country Girl as the alcoholic former singing star whose drinking and neediness emotionally drain his loyal wife.  Crosby was fierce and fantastic in that film.  He ended his acting career with another strong performance.  In a made-for-TV drama, he played a lethal Dexter-like character.  He's the small-town physician who secretly decides who should live or die in the 1971 thriller, Dr. Cook's Garden.  Crosby branched out.  Hope pretty much kept doing the same thing in his movies.  His role opposite Hepburn is a departure.  Hope's Capt. Lockwood is not Fancy Pants, The Paleface or The Lemon Drop Kid.  You get the feeling the comedian contacted his own team of writers to inject the script with some "Bob Hope" one-liners.  Those throw the script off-balance.  Vinka should not be the straight man to Chuck.  The Iron Petticoat might have been better if Hepburn had no Hope.  Perhaps a leading man like Van JohnsonJohn Payne, Bob Cummings or Alice Adams co-star Fred MacMurray would've been more at ease in Hope's military officer role.  The ski-nosed comedian was an NBC radio star, so we get a bit of "product placement" at the end.  But this Odd Couple romantic comedy didn't deliver the hilarity promised in the poster.
Whenever I see a caricature of Bob Hope, I wonder if young TV viewers realize that his face inspired the look of a character on the Fox animated series, Family Guy.
Yep.  Quagmire.  The guy with the hyper hormones.  As for the battle of the sexes in The Iron Petticoat, the Bob Hope and Katharine Hepburn Cold War comedy premieres on TCM (Turner Classic Movies) Thursday, November 29th at 8pm ET.  It's finally defected to American DVD so hardcore classic film fans here in the U.S. can now see it.
In men's wear or "girly" clothes, Kate looks great -- in a comedy that isn't.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

MILK: This Day in History

"All men are created equal.  No matter how hard you try, you can never erase those words.  That is what America is." ~Sean Penn as the late San Francisco gay rights icon Harvey Milk in Milk
On a chilly night in 2008, the Screen Actors Guild held a preview of Milk, starring Sean Penn as the man who became the first openly gay person to hold political office in California.  I remember the news bulletin on this day back in 1978 that became the national headline.  Harvey Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were shot and killed in City Hall.  The assassin was disgruntled former city supervisor Dan White.  Harvey Milk was nationally known for his activism.  His face grew familiar in the national news.  To see an outspoken, charismatic, ambitious and passionate openly gay person fighting for rights was a new thing to see on television.  He was a hero to young people struggling with the truth of their sexual identities then.  The news of his death and the mayor's was a shock.  Victor Garber co-starred with Penn as Mayor Moscone.
We SAG members stood on line, waiting with our passes to be admitted into the cineplex on West 34th Street for the preview.  There was a couple behind me, also eager and excited to see the film.  There'd been great buzz about this Sean Penn performance.  The two fellows, in their 20s, and I started chatting.  They knew that Harvey Milk was an icon who was slain in office but they didn't really know much more about him.  I told them that, if the movie had a character named Anita Bryant, a popular TV personality who publicly came out against gays having civil rights, she was a real life character.  Their response was, "Seriously?"  "Seriously," I responded.  I told them that, in TV terms, she had a Kathie Lee Gifford kind of national popularity, appeal and Christian wholesomeness.  She was a singer.  She was a former Miss America finalist.  She did national TV commercials.  Unlike Kathie Lee, she condemned gays. She fought against gay people being allowed to become schoolteachers.  The two young men were stunned.  These were guys of the Will & Grace generation.  They sat near me during Milk.  When it was over, they looked at me and said, "Wow.  We didn't know all that."  They loved it.  As did I.
There was so much history in it.  And such an amazing, passionate transformation by Penn in that character role.  His second Best Actor Academy Award was well-deserved.
When I lived in New York, there was an openly gay news contributor who did excellent features of interest to the gay and lesbian community.  He was on NY1, the New York 1 channel.  Through the years, it was not unusual to see an openly gay contributor on local New York news talking about entertainment and/or fashion.  Early last year, due to this Wicked Witch of a Recession, I was financially flat and wound up living in a spare room at a college buddy's place in San Francisco.  His apartment was a short walking distance from City Hall.  In fact, the golden dome could be seen from his place.  Just about every time I looked at that shining dome, I thought of Harvey Milk.  Every time I passed City Hall on my way down Van Ness to Market Street or headed to a Peet's Coffee shop, I thought of Harvey Milk.  And there I was, unemployed and trying to start my life over in his town.

Maybe this is the New Yorker in me, but one thing struck me as odd when I watched the local Bay Area news programs.  There was no openly gay reporter covering gay-related issues or stories of interest.  Not that you'd have to have one.  But we had one in New York City --- and that was San Francisco, famous as a Gay Mecca in the U.S.A.  I pitched my skills and ideas to executives at San Francisco TV news stations.  In person, I told them I could be a contributor and do such pieces.  I have network TV credits to my resumé.  I did ten years of local morning TV news contributor work in New York City.  I'm a member of the community.  One year when I was a regular on the Whoopi Goldberg syndicated radio show, we told listeners that our morning show team was participating in New York's annual Gay Men's Health Crisis AIDS Walk during Gay Pride month.  On the air, I expressed my deep gratitude to the GMHC for helping me help my late partner when he was diagnosed with AIDS.  In the Bay Area, I pitched myself.  But no one caught me.  Oh, well.  That's how it goes.

If given the chance, I believe I could've done some good features for one of those San Francisco news programs.  Maybe I'm making too much of it.  But, if any major U.S. city would have openly gay talent on a news program who did features on the LGBT community, wouldn't you expect it to be the city that gave America "The Mayor of Castro Street"?  That's what Harvey was called.

We lost him on this day in history.  Suddenly.  Senselessly.  He changed lives before he died.  To get a feel for what he did and what we lost, see Sean Penn give that outstanding performance in Milk.



Monday, November 26, 2012

Overlooked By Oscars: Stephen Boyd

Loved Hur.  Hated him.  Is there a 1950s movie character who grows more despicable than Stephen Boyd as Messala in William Wyler's Oscar-winning remake of Ben-Hur?  Boyd is a charismatic combination of unrequited love, political ambition and hate mixed with an electric sexuality that hums right beneath the surface of his actions.  Before the Roman tribune reunites with his boyhood best friend, a Jewish prince, he surveys his garrison.  There's almost a glint of sexual delight in his eyes when he says, "I am in command."  Power and Judah Ben-Hur are the two great stimulants in Messala's life.
Ben-Hur is a big Hollywood movie that should be seen on a big screen.  The action is big.  The emotions are big.  The characters are larger-than-life.  Even Jesus is a character in this spectacle.  Ben-Hur made big money at the box office for years.  When I was a kid, it was re-released to play exclusively at a Hollywood theater before going back into the MGM studio vaults and, eventually, debut on network television.  Why did this classic get the royal treatment?  Because it won 11 Academy Awards, making it the most successful remake in Hollywood history.  The original was a silent film, a hit in 1925.  The 1959 remake won for Best Picture, William Wyler took home another Oscar for Best Director, Charlton Heston was Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor was...British actor Hugh Griffith for donning dark make-up and playing an Arab sheikh who likes Judah.
Griffith was a versatile character actor who did some fine work in two other Best Picture Oscar winners -- Tom Jones (1963) and Carol Reed's Oliver! (1968).  He was hilarious and the totally clueless King Louis of France in Start the Revolution Without Me (1970).
However, it's Stephen Boyd who really sets the screen on fire with his supporting work in Ben-Hur.  The late Irish actor made Messala complicated, vivid, human.  When he says, "Look to the West, Judah...look to Rome," it's not just a polite warning.  There's an air of seduction about Messala's statement.  It's been noted that director Wyler had Boyd play Messala as a spurned lover.  The two had been extremely close in Jerusalem when they were teens.  Messala saved Judah's life.  "The best thing I ever did," Messala says.  The homoerotic subtext Stephen Boyd gives his relationship with Judah Ben-Hur is the lightning bolt that makes his performance so remarkable.  Look at the radiance in Messala's face when the two friends are reunited and hugging.  He looks like he wants to grab that big hunk o' Jewish beefcake and roll around with him by the Sea of Galilee like Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr on the beach in From Here To Eternity.  Judah, a pacifist, still loves his Roman soldier friend and gives him a gift.  A beautiful stallion.  In a bromance, that's the equivalent of a nice little bauble from Tiffany's.
When they drink, it's almost as romantic as Nellie Forbush and Emile de Becque sipping from brandy snifters in South Pacific before the "Some Enchanted Evening" number.
In the first half hour, one of Messala's officers refers to Jesus Christ as being a young man who does "magic tricks.  Miracles..."  The story takes place in Biblical times.  We Christians accepted tales of the Savior making the blind see, turning water into wine and even walking on water before He was crucified and resurrected from the dead.  We know those were ancient, brutal, carnal times.  But we never think of same-sex attraction as having existed then.  Can you just imagine a Roman bathhouse on a Saturday night?
Boyd's acting choice is brave and memorable.  Especially for the 1950s.  With Judah, he displays both a giddy man-crush and a macho military swagger.   It's a nuanced performance.  He begs Judah, the son of a rich and influential Jewish family, to betray some Jews.  The tribune would benefit.  He'd become feared, gaining more favor with the Emperor to conquer and kill for Rome.  He is a man at war with the world and at war with himself due to his quest for power.  This quest will turn the two friends into enemies.
Judah will learn hate too when he is unjustly exiled and banished to a slave ship.
A signature of William Wyler films is a key scene in which there's little or no dialogue.  Think of the opening of The Letter with Bette Davis as the proper British housewife who pumps six bullets into her lover point blank.  Davis as Regina in The Little Foxes staying seated as her husband suffers a heart attack.  Dana Andrews as the out-of-work World War 2 veteran pilot in a dive bomber graveyard in The Best Years of Our Lives.  The princess meets the press at the end of Roman Holiday.  In Ben-Hur, it's the famous chariot race with the two ex-friends.  Messala is now a walking furnace of intense hate for the Jew he once loved.  This is reflected in the design for Messala and his team of horses.  The predominant colors are black and red -- like the inside of a furnace.
Messala embraced the dark side of a corporate mentality.  He learned bigotry.  He embraced diversity once in his affection for Judah Ben-Hur and his family.  Now he will fall victim to his own acquired venom.  He will not change his heart.  He has lost his soul.  He had it when he loved Judah.  In their final meeting, Messala will be a bloodied mass of rage.  Yes, Heston won for Best Actor.  But, admit it.  Whenever Stephen Boyd is in a scene with him, your eye goes right to handsome, corrupted Messala.  Hugh Griffith gave a good performance.  But I would have given that Best Supporting Actor Academy Award to the Ben-Hur star who wasn't even nominated -- Stephen Boyd.




Saturday, November 24, 2012

Anne Hathaway: Look Familiar?

National entertainment columnist Roger Friedman attended the first screening of Les Misérables, the film version of the long-running hit Broadway musical.  Friedman wrote that the afternoon preview yesterday met with "Cheers and a standing ovation" adding that "Anne Hathaway sings the heck out of the film's big numbers," "Hugh Jackman is a triumph" and "Russell Crowe makes a solid Javert."

I don't know about you, but I never miss a Russell Crowe musical.
Director Tom Hooper made The King's Speech get golden attention come Oscar time.  It received Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Actor (Colin Firth) and Best Picture of 2010.  If I could interview Tom Hooper, I'd ask him what classic films have influenced his work as a director.  Did Billy Wilder have an impact on him with his classic Sunset Blvd.?  You're familiar with that famous film, a modern-day Frankenstein story.  The monster made in a big house on a Hollywood hill is Norma Desmond, the faded silent film star played terrifically by real-life silent film star Gloria Swanson.  Max, her co-dependent and creepily devoted chauffer, is the Dr. Frankenstein in Wilder's original screenplay.  He's played by former acclaimed silent film director and actor, Erich von Stroheim.
Mr. von Stroheim actually did direct Swanson in a silent movie.  Or tried to.  Had 1929's Queen Kelly been completed with his vision realized, it would've run about 4 hours.  He was one of the top directors of that era, but he didn't get to complete the film because of his directorial excess which irritated producer/star Gloria Swanson.  The other producer was Joseph P. Kennedy.  Yes -- the rich, powerful family patriarch and father of the future political legend, President John F. Kennedy.  Swanson had Kennedy fire von Stroheim.
The film went over budget.  It had censorship problems because of its sexual content (like a violent, whoring older guy with syphilis) and Star/Producer clashed with Director.
Footage from Queen Kelly plays when predatory Norma Desmond makes broke screenwriter Joe Gillis sit through one of her movies again in her private screening room.  She vainly remarks about herself, "We didn't need dialogue.  We had faces!"
I didn't attend at preview screening of Tom Hooper's Les Misérables.  But I did see one photo of Anne Hathaway in it that caught my eye.  This shot of Hathaway....
...reminded me of this shot from 1929's Queen Kelly shown in 1950's Sunset Blvd.
See what I mean?  I think Tom Hooper got a little Wilder directing Les Misérables.  The reaction columnist Roger Friedman and others had to it could mean a Best Picture Oscar.  It could be 1968 all over again.  The Academy loves poor people in a period piece who sing and dance.  You think British director Carol Reed won his Oscar for his masterful 1949 thriller, The Third Man?
Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles starred in this beautifully, creatively photographed, scored and written feature that truly is an iconic must-see for classic film fans.
Did Carol Reed win his Oscar for that?  No.  Did it win Best Picture?  Not even nominated.  Reed won his Oscar for directing the film version of the Broadway musical, Oliver!  This period piece combined festive showtunes and fabulous choreography with abject poverty, child labor, kidnapping and murder.  Oliver! won for Best Picture of 1968.
Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, Buñuel's Belle du Jour and Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey weren't even nominated.  The Academy went with musical orphans in a work inspired by a Charles Dickens classic.  Annie in a 19th century workhouse, if you will.  Those starving kids hadn't had a decent meal in weeks but somehow they had enough energy to sing at the top of their lungs and do hitch kicks in a dance number.
Reed was influenced by a sequence from a silent film too.  Watch the opening "Food, Glorious, Food" number in Oliver!  It begins with an inspired and respectful nod to Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927) as the mistreated orphan workers march in for their meager portions of a bad meal.  Let's see if Academy history repeats itself when the Oscar nominations are announced early in the morning on Thursday, January 10th.  Les Misérables has socially oppressed people in a period piece singing out loud in a production inspired by a piece of classic literature.  The Academy loves that.




Friday, November 23, 2012

My Ideas for Oscars 2013

There was a nationwide chorus of "Seriously?" when The Academy announced that its host for next year's Oscars telecast will be Seth MacFarlane, the irreverent talent behind the hit animated TV series Family Guy and American Dad!  Last month, I blogged about him going from "Family Guy" to "Oscar Guy."  Reportedly, the Academy is out to woo younger male viewers.  Well...that's not really the Oscars audience.  That's the crowd that watches the MTV Awards.  Those young dudes aren't paying to sit through mature Meryl Streep movies, Brokeback Mountain, The King's Speech, There Will Be Blood, The Queen, The Artist and The Help.  They want to see Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Knocked Up, The Hangover and The Avengers.  The Oscars are about film art and excellence.  The MTV Awards are about commerce and marketing.  The MTV Awards are a high school popularity contest.  The Academy roster is full of the kind of folks attending a staff meeting in the teachers' lounge.  But every year there's that big question of "How Do We Improve the Oscars® Telecast?"  I've got some ideas.
First, the producers should watch the show the way average viewers do.  DVR the complete show from the previous year, sit down at home and watch the whole thing the way we ordinary people do.  Not in a busy, crowded network TV control room.  Ben Stiller as a blue character from Avatar makes the minutes fly by like hours now, doesn't it?  Then watch the BAFTA Awards, the British Oscars telecast on BBC America, and take notes.  Less "shtick" moves the show along.  Instead of cute scripted banter betweem two celebrity presenters, try something different. The Oscars are broadcast around the world.  We viewers are told that our troops overseas watch.  Let a few members of our armed forces present an Oscar with a celebrity -- like the Oscars for Best Editing, Best Sound,  Best Cinematography or Best Costume Design.  Trust me, there are many members of our armed forces who are quite comfortable onstage, can read TelePrompTer and are terrific representatives for our men and women in uniform.  Pair a GI with a star.
Wouldn't that be a great "thank you" and a sweet American show biz salute to our troops?  I think so.  Invite a few to Hollywood Prom Night.  Make them feel like stars.  Put them on the A-List.  The Academy may be jones-ing to put young male butts in the home seats to watch the Oscars but it should not ignore the young women.  Nor the older women, for that matter.  One such woman won her first Oscar for playing Funny Girl in 1968.  She won her second Oscar for co-writing the "Evergreen," the Best Song of 1976 in the last (hopefully) remake of A Star Is Born.  Hollywood's Oscar winning actress/singer/songwriter-turned-film director, Barbra Streisand, was the last woman to present the Oscar for Best Picture reportedly.  That was in 1991.  The Best Picture winner was Dances With Wolves.  Let's change that presenter sexism with some legendary Hollywood class in the mix next year.  My suggestions for the Best Picture presenter: Shirley MacLaine.  She starred in three Best Picture Oscar winners -- Around the World in 80 Days (1956)....Billy Wilder's The Apartment (1960) co-starring Jack Lemmon...
...and Terms of Endearment (1983) which also brought her the Best Actress Oscar.
She gave another knock-out performance in this year's Bernie, co-starring Jack Black.
MacLaine rates a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Bernie.  If she's too busy shooting Downton Abbey, consider Mary Poppins Oscar winner Julie Andrews, star of the big box office champ, The Sound of Music (Best Picture, 1965)...
or Rita Moreno, star of West Side Story (Best Picture, 1961), which also brought her the Best Supporting Actress Oscar and made her the first Puerto Rican to win one for playing a Puerto Rican.  (José Ferrer won for playing Cyrano de Bergerac.)
The Academy should name an award and/or Women in Film scholarship in honor of the groundbreaking and glass ceiling-shattering Warner Brothers actress who paved the way for Barbra Streisand, Penny Marshall and Jodie Foster.  Ida Lupino was a Hollywood star and a respected actress winning critical praise in the 1930s and '40s.
She showed her acting chops in films such as They Drive By Night, High Sierra, The Man I Love, The Hard Way, Deep Valley, Lust for Gold and The Big Knife.  While acting, she also studied what her directors were doing.  When opportunity knocked, she was ready.
By the early 1950s, Lupino was still acting and had brought diversity into the Boys' Club of Movie Directors.  She started her long and respected career as a film and TV director.  No woman in Hollywood had pulled this off before Ida Lupino did.  She was a pioneer.
When we babyboomers were kids, if a woman had directed a Hollywood film or TV episode, that woman was actress/director Ida Lupino.  For episodic television, she directed dramas, westerns, thrillers, sitcoms and cop shows from the 1950s into the late '60s.  She acted into the late 1970s.  Lupino never got an Oscar nomination in her career, but she started a great new chapter in the Hollywood history for Women in Film.  Today, Kathryn Bigelow made history as the first woman to win the Best Director Academy Award (for The Hurt Locker).  Stars such as Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks Salma Hayek, Nick Nolte, Annette Bening, Bill Murray and Jeremy Renner have Oscar nominations to their credit thanks to taking direction from women.  High time the Academy put a major spotlight on the memory and contributions of Ida Lupino.  They are still significant today for women.  Director Lisa Cholodenko's Best Picture nominee, The Kids Are All Right, is a wonderful film about family.  Mia Wasikowska won my heart as the college-bound California teen of suburban lesbian parents played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore.
Then Wasikowska wowed me with her acting range as Jane Eyre, heading the fine Cary Fukunaga adaptation that should've been a contender for Best Picture of 2011.
That's my next to last point.  If the Academy is going to kick the number of Best Picture nominees back up to ten -- which is the number it was until reduced to five during the 1940s -- then give us ten nominees like the Academy used to do.  Don't give us nine and not include a worthy production like Fukunaga's Jane Eyre or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows:  Part 2, a beautiful and touching conclusion to that successful fantasy franchise.  Give us ten or five nominees.  Pick a number and stay with it.  The same goes for Best Song category.  Five nominees are now the norm.  It used to be ten.  "The Way You Look Tonight," "Over the Rainbow," "White Christmas," "Secret Love," "It Might As Well Be Spring," "The Way We Were" and "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" all won the Oscar for Best Song. Last year, there were only two nominees.  Elton John and Bernie Taupin could've been contenders for their delightful tunes in the animated feature, Gnomeo & Juliet.  They weren't.  "The Living Proof," the excellent song from Mary J. Blige that was such a perfect fit for The Help, was shut out.  It should've been nominated.  Mary J. should've won.  If we get five good songs nominated, let Seth MacFarlane sing one.  He's got a good voice.  Had he been a 1950s/60s hit vocalist like a Frank Sinatra, Jack Jones and Andy Williams, he have recorded Best Song Oscar nominees like "Dear Heart," "Charade" and "Moon River" on an album called MacFarlane Does Mancini.   Finally, he may not have been a star like Andy Griffith, Ernest Borgnine, Celeste Holm and Whitney Houston...but I wish the In Memoriam segment would include Damien Bona.  He was most kind to me in my early TV days in New York City.  He loved Hollywood history and the Academy Awards.  His encyclopedic books, Inside Oscar: The Unofficial History of the Academy Awards, were great fun to read and still are a top resource when doing my entertainment journalism research.  His research on the Oscars from its first awards ceremony was extensive.  We lost Damien this year at age 56.
For all his inexhaustible and passionate work covering the Academy Awards history, it would be a lovely gesture to see that the Oscars note his loss and appreciate his memory.  Finally, there should be a 4-star, deluxe musical tribute to the late Oscar winner Marvin Hamlisch.  That could be a highlight of the show.  And there you have it....a few thoughts from me for Oscars 2013.








Shots of ADAM'S RIB (1949)

With a bright, original screenplay by actress/writer Ruth Gordon and her husband, Garson Kanin, this is my favorite of the films that starre...