Sunday, April 29, 2012

On "The Painted Veil" (2006)

There were two things I loved about seeing The Painted Veil one weekday afternoon in New York City. One was the film itself.  The other was the sense of community with a few other audience members.  This was an mid-afternoon showing at the local cineplex in my former neighborhood.  It wasn't a packed house but you knew that the folks present would be paying attention to the film.  This was Edward Norton and Naomi Watts acting a screenplay based on literature by W. Somerset Maugham and set in the 1920s.  Top critics praised this picture.  But it got meager studio promotion.  A half hour into it, some of us strangers glanced at each other in the audience and mouthed "This is really good!"  The Painted Veil  was one of the finest films of 2006 that hardly anyone saw.
It reminded you of why we went to the movies.  We were transported by this big screen production.  Stellar acting, an intelligent script and complex characters we could connect to.  The cinematography was lush, the original score was lovely and memorable and the other production values were also first-rate.  Had this film been released in the 1970s or '80s, it would've racked up half a dozen Oscar nominations.  At least.  Including Best Picture.  Instead, The Painted Veil was one of the best reviewed films of the year and totally snubbed in Oscar nominations.  It opens with a majestic panorama of verdant countryside.  A man and a woman, well-dressed and with matching luggage, appear to be sophisticated travelers.  They stand silent with their backs to each other, distance between them.  That visual is film literature for emotional tension between the characters.
They are unhappily married Brits in China.  Kitty came from an upper class family in which a daughter was pretty much like goods on a store shelf.  The parents wanted her to marry well and move out because father couldn't afford to keep taking care of her.  Walter, a reserved and shy bacteriologist from   the middle class, falls madly in love with cynical and blunt Kitty.  He sees something dear in her that she perhaps doesn't even see in herself.  He will do anything to make her happy.  You like Walter.  You can see the love in his eyes for Kitty.  That love isn't mutual but she enters into a marriage of convenience with him nonetheless.  Walter's acquaintance, Charlie, is more Kitty's type.  Handsome, sexy, assertive, butch, brawny and upper class.  He's married too but he and Kitty make time for some steamy afternoon delight.
Walter volunteers to go to China to help combat a cholera epidemic.  He finds out about the affair.  Knowing that his image-conscious Londoner wife would not want him to file for divorce and charge her with adultery, he manipulates things so that she must appear to be a good wife and accompany him to China.  This is a young woman who thinks buying and arranging flowers is a bother.  Kitty:  "To put all that effort into something that's just going to die."  Imagine being dropkicked from your life of privilege into a poverty-stricken and plague-ridden foreign location.  Walter will inconvenience Kitty as payback.  Walter Fane is now one of my favorite Edward Norton roles.  He shows that you should never judge a bookworm by its cover.  Many of us guys can relate to him.  No matter which league you're batting in -- straight or gay -- if you're the polite, somewhat shy and dependable fellow, you've been kicked to the curb romantically by someone solely because you didn't appear to be the "bad boy."  This has happened to be and, in time, I admit that the rejections did toughen my heart up a bit.  I was interested in a guy for quite some time a few years ago.  The interest wasn't mutual because he liked muscular, sexy, darkly handsome dudes.  He found one.  He moved in.  Then he discovered that the handsome sexy man was a physically abusive drinker.  He called me one evening in distress.  My initial urge was to say, "Oh, I see.  Now that you're in a crisis, I've suddenly become beautiful.  Well, too late.  Find another place to stay tonight."  I didn't though.  But that flash of spitefulness I felt in myself surprised me.  I saw some of myself in Walter.  I saw some of how I wanted to be.  Walter hardens into an assertive, masculine "bad boy" by simply holding self-absorbed Kitty to her marriage contract.
The Painted Veil is a tale of infection.  Walter battles a virus that has infected China.  The Chinese hate foreigners whom, they feel, have infected their land politically.  Charlie, played by the square-faced and solid Liev Schreiber, has infected Dr. Fane's marriage.
Kitty has much to learn.  She will get wise life lessons for a worldly nun at a French convent in China.  In any other year, this rich and inspired performance by Diana Rigg would have landed her in the Oscar category for Best Supporting Actress.  Yes, the same Diana Rigg who was so marvelous as sleek  crimefighter Emma Peel on the classic 1960s British import TV series, The Avengers.
Rigg as Mother Superior comments to Kitty:  "When love and duty are one, grace is within you."  Will Kitty leave China in a state of grace?  That's a big question.  To me, this film is one of those remakes that's better than the original.  The previous version was a property powerful Hollywood studio MGM tailored for one of its top stars, screen legend Greta Garbo, in 1934. George Brent played the lover.
Herbert Marshall co-starred as Dr. Fane.  Marshall must've been Old Hollywood's go-to guy for W. Somerset Maugham screen adaptations.  He did MGM's The Painted Veil. 
He also did 1929's The Letter with Jeanne Eagels, the 1940 William Wyler remake of The Letter with Bette Davis, The Moon and Sixpence in 1942 and 20th Century Fox's Oscar-winning 1946 production of The Razor's Edge starring Tyrone Power, Gene Tierney and Anne Baxter.  Oscar-nominated actor Edward Norton further proved his versatility as Dr. Fane in his remake of The Painted Veil.  He was star and producer.  Norton isn't a celebrity regularly highlighted in entertainment news.  We don't know a lot about his private life. We do know his acting talent is a knock-out.   There's Fight Club.  There's his frightening and brilliant turn as the skinhead racist in American History X.  He did a Bobby Van-like musical comedy turn in Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You.  He was outstanding as the delusional Southern California modern-day cowboy outsider in Down in the Valley.  Norton was Oscar-nomination worthy as Dr. Fane.  The same goes for Naomi Watts as the complicated Kitty.  Director John Curran gave us the kind of film that moviegoers got from Fred Zinnemann, William Wyler and David Lean decades ago.  I loved seeing it on a big screen.  I loved how it brought an appreciative audience together, turning strangers into a community for a couple of hours.  That's the power of movies.


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Sandra Bullock as Harper Lee

I still hold firm to my opinion that the first Oscar nomination Sandra Bullock received should have been in the Best Supporting Actress category.  Bullock should've been in that category for her intelligent, subtle and nuanced performance as Harper Lee, the novelist who wrote To Kill A Mockingbird.  Today is Miss Lee's 86th birthday.  Sandra Bullock portrayed her in the 2006 film, Infamous.  It's another biopic about writer Truman Capote at the time he was researching his book, In Cold Blood.
Bullock's work as Harper Lee in this look at Truman Capote's life really touches something in my soul.  There's a wisdom and honesty about it.  At the end, she gives voice to a certain unexpressed weight in the heart of artists -- anyone who works hard, digs down deep inside to be raw, true and give a good performance of some sort.  Catherine Keener was a Best Supporting Actress contender for her portrayal of Harper Lee in 2005's Capote starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. He won the Best Actor Oscar for playing Lee's best friend and fellow writer.
Bullock gave her interpretation of Lee opposite Toby Jones as Truman Capote in Infamous. 
 In Hollywood history, it's rare for studios to release two biographical pictures about the same famous modern figure at about the same time.  In 1965, Paramount Pictures highly promoted Carroll Baker as the late 1930s Hollywood sex symbol, Jean Harlow, in Harlow.
That same year, in an independent film release, Carol Lynley also played the platinum blonde movie superstar in a biopic also called Harlow.
As I recall, Warner Brothers pushed back the release of its Capote biopic because the indie feature with Philip Seymour Hoffman was wowing the critics and building up major Oscar buzz.  I'm pretty sure the studio didn't want "Dueling Capotes" in the same year.
I was a movie critic on national radio when I saw Infamous.  The studio seemed be giving it mild promotion.  Odd, because Sigourney Weaver, Jeff Daniels, Gwyneth Paltrow and Daniel Craig are co-stars. When the movie was over, I left the screening room and told the publicist present that the studio should campaign for Sandra Bullock as Best Supporting Actress.  I put those sentiments for Sandra in my review.  But that didn't help turn up the heat any for the movie's publicity.  Studio promotion remained lukewarm.  And Bullock wasn't the only actor who gave a praise-worthy performance in it.
The two movies have different tones.  Capote drives us to that questionable media intersection of celebrity, crime and journalism.  We see how lines get blurred.  Think of the O. J. Simpson trial.  A crime involving a celebrity.  People who had to take the witness stand, like Kato Kaelin, became celebrities.  People who covered the case, like Star Jones, became celebrities.  Infamous is more about Truman Capote's internal tug-of-war with truth and fiction.  It's about truth vs. self-deception.  It's about the painful process of trying to be creative, about giving the public a good and emotionally honest product.  And then trying to give the public another one.  That's what I loved about Sandra Bullock's turn as Harper Lee.  She stays on her course. She's an honest friend. A voice of reason.  She knows why Truman has recreated himself in Manhattan and why he hungers to be a celebrity while being an artist.  But, unlike him, she realizes that there could be land mines under that Red Carpet he craves to walk.  She will use a real life crime and trial (the race hate murder of black teen Emmett Till) to inspire her famous work of fiction, To Kill A Mockingbird.  He will take researched facts and alter them to suit his masterpiece non-fiction novel, In Cold Blood, based on a real life murder case in Kansas.  Truman will make those alterations in his art and in his life.  Daniel Craig plays one of the killers Capote interviews for his book.
Harper senses that her friend's self-deception and neediness will lead him to cross a line that should not be crossed.  He can't be an objective journalist/writer if he develops romantic feelings for his subject.
Bullock's Harper Lee is complex.  She's an honest and loyal friend but that's not all there is to her.  There's a dissonance behind her eyes.  And we sense an occasional jealousy.  She struggles to come up with the next thing after her hugely successful first novel.  We don't get that element from Keener's Lee in Capote so much.  In Infamous, Harper (Truman calls her "Nell") watches Truman change quotes to make them more interesting.  She does not approve of that.  Yet he's produced more work.  They argue.  They love each dearly.  These are friends who know each other well.  She's knows Truman perhaps better than he knows himself.
We don't think ever of Harper Lee frustrated while trying to produce something to follow her acclaimed novel.  When Bullock as Lee says "It just not coming together," I felt a certain twinge of connection in my heart.  It made her so much more real to me.  The film adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird is very faithful to her novel.  It's a classic film based on classic modern literature.  I wish one of the three senior networks would air it annually in prime time like it does It's A Wonderful Life -- like it used to air The Wizard of Oz.  There are lessons in To Kill A Mockingbird that we need to learn again.
Lawyer Atticus Finch (as superbly played by Gregory Peck) needs to be an American role model and deserves as much prime time network exposure one night as "The Bachelor" gets.  More so, in fact.  I remember being  a youngster and watching To Kill A Mockingbird on NBC with my parents.  It would be wonderful if families could gather and watch this film as a once-a-year special network presentation nowadays.
Happy Birthday, Harper Lee.  Thank you for Atticus, Jem, Scout, Dill, Tom Robinson, Boo Radley and all the other memorable characters in your novel, To Kill A Mockingbird.  What a fascinating friendship you must have had with Truman Capote.  (Look at the two writers in this pic below.  He's autographing copies of his best-seller, In Cold Blood.)
Sandra Bullock -- excellent work as Harper Lee in Infamous.  Your challenged yourself in that character role.  It's not the Sandra Bullock of Speed, While You Were Sleeping or Miss Congeniality.  It was solid dramatic work that should've made you an Oscar contender before The Blind Side did.  Your tender monologue at the end of Infamous always puts a tear in my eye.  What you say as Harper is so...right. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

"In This Our Life" (1942)

When talking about movie classics directed by John Huston, this film doesn't get mentioned right up top along with The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, The Asphalt Jungle and The African Queen.  But In This Our Life does have boldness and merit worth noting coupled with social comments about race that still command attention.  Those are worth noting now that we realize America did not become "post-racial" just because Barack Obama was elected President.  In This Our Life also gave Hattie McDaniel the best role of her career after her historic Best Supporting Actress Academy Award victory for Gone With The Wind.  This 1942 drama directed by Huston is a mainly a star vehicle for the reigning queen of the Warner Brothers studio lot, Bette Davis.  This is one of those Bette Davis W.O.W. roles -- Witch on Wheels.
She and fellow Warner Brothers contract player Olivia de Havilland play sisters.  Olivia plays the good sister, Bette plays the bad one.  It's the kind of part Davis could sink her teeth into like a Yankee pot roast.  She's the Timberlake daughter who always gets what she wants -- even if what she wants is the man who belongs to her sister.  The girls were given boys names, for reasons unexplained.  Bette is Stanley.  Olivia is Roy.
Olivia and Bette starred in 1939's The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, featuring Davis as Queen Elizabeth.  Also in 1939, movie audiences saw de Havilland team for the first time with Hattie McDaniel.  The Civil War epic became a Hollywood legend.  In Gone With The Wind, de Havilland was the unselfishness Melanie Wilkes and Hattie McDaniel was Mammy, the longtime maid to Scarlett O'Hara.  This epic put both women in the Oscar category for Best Supporting Actress of 1939.  McDaniel was the first black person to be nominated for an Oscar.  She was the first to win.
She's a maid for a white Southern family in Huston's movie too but with an added contemporary depth.  Minerva is a modern woman and a working mother.
In This Our Life, based on a Pulitzer Prize winning book, is a tale of neurotic family betrayal, family seediness and sibling rivalry. It's also a sharp, honest and daring look at modern-day race relations.  We watch basically for the bad sister/good sister drama but, in the opening shot, Huston sets us up for a strong racial element.  We see a loading dock on an elevated platform.  The dock divides the screen in half.  White men work on top.  Black men on the bottom.  McDaniel's Minerva, like Mammy, is a family maid.  But here, McDaniel is given more to play than she often was.  She works to help put her son, Parry, through law school.  He's head of his class scholastically.  She works for white people to give her son a better life than she's had...and her son makes her proud.  Parry also works and Roy Timberlake admires the intelligent, well-spoken young man.  He's had educational opportunities his mother didn't.  Times have changed.  Somewhat.
In friendly chat about his career plans, Parry comments to Roy that it seems easier for a black person to move up within a black-owned business than it does for a black person to move up within a white-owned business.  Slavery no longer exists. Black people can no longer be sold and purchased like in Gone With The Wind.  Yet, Minerva is well-aware that her freedom in America is limited.  Some of Stanley's "broomstick" antics include drinking and driving too fast.  She gets behind the wheel one night and hits two pedestrians.  A mother and child.  The child dies after the hit and run accident.  Stanley blames the crime on Parry.  Authorities are quick to  believe that a black man did it and Parry is immediately jailed.  Like his mother, he's aware that his freedom in America is limited.  It's like Huston's establishing shot -- white men on top.  Black men on the bottom.
Don't think this element is 1940s Hollywood melodrama.  Remember the Susan Smith case of 1994?  She told national press that a black man had carjacked and kidnapped her two little children.  The country immediately believed her.  Then it was discovered she herself had killed her kids.  Roy visits the grieving Minerva.  Watch how McDaniel plays Minerva as trying to "keep her place" opposite the compassionate white woman but also determined to tell her truth -- that Parry was home with her studying that night and could not have been driving Stanley Timberlake's car.  Minerva looks caught between barbed invisible margins of racism in the Land of the Free.  The protective mother is afraid of crossing a racial line in pleading her child's case.  Fortunately, Roy believes her.  Another bold move for a 1940s Hollywood film.  A white person will do the right thing by a black person in the name of justice, even if it means exposing a family member as a liar.  You only wish McDaniel had had more screen time with this role.  It's evident that she and de Havilland had great rapport onscreen.  They were excellent together again.  In the trailer for In This Our Life, Hattie McDaniel's name is not seen.  Neither is her face.  And she was an Oscar winner.  Parry was played by Ernest Anderson.  This was his first film and, reportedly, Bette Davis pushed to get him the role and to let him play it his way.  He didn't feel Parry would have the usual dialect Hollywood assigned black performer's to do back then -- like "Yassuh, Boss.  She sho' is pretty."  Bette Davis and John Huston enabled him to play Parry Clay with dignity.  Mr. Anderson made the right choices for his character.
Ironically Ernest Anderson was a black actor in a white-owned industry.  After working with John Huston, Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland in this A-list film, his following roles were "Elevator Operator," "Houseboy" or "Train Porter."  In Vincente Minnelli's 1953 musical classic, The Band Wagon, he has lines with Fred Astaire at the beginning as a train porter.  In 1959, he played a train porter doing dialogue with Eva Marie Saint in Hitchcock's North By Northwest.  Come the 1960s, television let the actor once again play featured characters with names.  He reteamed with Bette Davis in the film that earned her her 10th Oscar nomination for Best Actress.  The 1962 trend-setting box office hit was What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?  It co-starred Joan Crawford.
Again, we saw Bette showcasing sibling rivalry between sisters.  This time, older decaying sisters who live in an older decaying Hollywood mansion.  Bette as Baby Jane decides to drag her sister, Blanche, out of the house for a day at the beach.  (And I do mean drag her out of the house.)  Jane goes to buy them ice cream cones.  Guess who plays the guy behind the counter at the refreshment stand?  Yes, sir.  Ernest Anderson.
In This Our Life.  Directed by John Huston.  Starring Oscar winners Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland and Hattie McDaniel.  It's available, thanks to Warner Archive, as part of the Bette Davis Collection: Volume 3.




Wednesday, April 25, 2012

On "The Notorious Bettie Page" (2005)

In  The Notorious Bettie Page, the charismatic 1950s pin-up model innocently says, "I'm not ashamed.  Adam and Eve were naked in the Garden of Eden, weren't they?  When they sinned, they put on clothes."  How the camera loved her!  Page was a sexy kitten with a whip in girlie magazines that were hot stuff in their day.  She combined that kitten with a whip erotica persona with a sunny girl next door personality.
Gretchen Mol is so very good as Bettie in this very satisfying bio pic.  It's a gem of a performance in an under-noticed film.  Mol plays Bettie as a voluptuous young woman who, yes, may be posing in her panties -- or less.  But don't be surprised if you discover that she carries a Bible in her purse.  If anyone had the right to go through life angry, it was Bettie Page.  Her father was abusive.  She was a rape victim.  She was poor. But she seemed to leave the South and relocate to Manhattan with a Christian spirit of "Be kind" in her heart and a refreshingly healthy attitude towards sex in her mind.  Nonetheless, conservative politicians felt that her photos could lead to the downfall of a nation.  She had to appear before the Senate.  Fully dressed.
The raven-haired beauty had a love affair with the camera in poses that are, by today's standards, innocent.  Her outfits were scandalous then.  That attire was just another day at the office, if you will, for Madonna in her 1980s music videos.  For all the stripping and undressing in this appealing film, the biggest revelation is the performance given by  Gretchen Mol.  In the 1990s, Mol was the "It" girl for a month or so.
But the blonde's movie career didn't seem to get a big upgrade even after she made the cover of a top magazine like Vanity Fair.  In the following decade, she did the actor's task.  She made her own luck.  She got a meeting/audition for a role many Hollywood execs probably would not consider her to play, based on her looks.  She showed the folks who do the casting that she could be a serious contender.
Mol reinvented herself and made the role her own.  Initially, the director and writer of The Notorious Bettie Page didn't want to meet with Mol because she had the magazine cover image of the actress in her head.  Canadian Mary Harron directed the 90-minute feature.
In an interview, Harron admitted that she didn't want to test Mol for the lead role until Mol appeared for their meeting.  She came styled with a 1950s attitude and hair like the film's character.  Mol went the extra mile to make a visual impression.  Very wise.  As a performer, you can't leave it all to an agent or a manager.  If you're lucky enough to have representation.  You have to show industry folks how to cast you.  Mol did her homework, changed her look and became the "It" girl for that project.
In 1999-2000, I hosted a weekly New York cable TV show called Metro Movies with Bobby Rivers.  I loved doing that show and working with that crew.  We weren't cancelled.  The entire channel was switched to an all-sports format.  Our show was a hit in Manhattan with independent filmmakers because we gave a lot of attention to up-and-coming or not-widely-publicized indie filmmakers.  We were never at a loss for program material there in New York.  If I had a project like that today, I'd salute Women Directors for one whole show.  Or two.  In March, I blogged on "Women in the Director's Chair."  Add filmmaker Mary Harron to that list.  She also directed Christian Bale in American Psycho co-starring Reese Witherspoon and Willem Dafoe.  BBC News reported this week that a stage musical version of American Psycho, based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis, is in the works.  The songs will be supplied by Duncan Sheik.
Bettie Page became a mysterious pop culture media star.  She quit the pin-up trade and apparently had a quiet simple life with her Bible.  She passed way in 2008 at age 85.  It's reported that the former sex icon did see Mary Harron's feature film and liked it very much.  The pin-up legend's friend, Hugh Hefner, held a private screening for her and a few other guests.  Ms. Harron's The Notorious Bettie Page is worth a weekend rental.  Page was a fascinating character.  Gretchen Mol gives a fascinating performance.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tracey Ullman Trivia

Ray:         "Frenchy, what would you say if I told you that you were married to a very brilliant man."
Frenchy:  "I'd say I'd have to be a bigamist."

He was a numbers runner.  She was an exotic dancer.  They met.  They married.  And now they're a middle-aged New York City couple that she describes this way:  "We're poor but we're happy."  She bakes cookies, she watches Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous on TV, she works in a nails salon.  But Ray, not the brightest bulb on the chandelier, still dreams of a big heist.  This Woody Allen comedy from 2000 is Small Time Crooks.  Frenchy, the wisecracking and loyal wife, was played by Tracey Ullman.  I think she's wonderful in the role who the lady who blends a big heart with bad taste.
Ray wants to rob a bank.  Not with a stick-up but by tunneling underground with a few other clueless crooks.  To plan is to have Frenchy bake and sell cookies in the front of a shop while they're tunneling in the bank.  But Frenchy's sweets become a big hit with New Yorkers, like Mrs. Fields® cookies, and they get rich in a legit way.  Now the lovable low class couple can afford to socialize with upper class people.  Some of those folks may be socially refined but, at heart, they prove to be small time crooks themselves.
Tracey Ullman took the role of Frenchy after it was rejected by the two-time Oscar winner, Grammy winner, Tony winner and Emmy winner who celebrates her 70th birthday today.  Barbra Streisand.  She was Woody Allen's first choice.  Tracey told me herself when I interviewed her for the ABC News magazine show, Lifetime Live, on Lifetime Television.
Playing Frenchy could've taken Streisand back to some of her early movie comedy character roots -- like when she played Doris, the motor-mouthed model/actress and part-time exotic dancer/hooker in The Owl and the Pussycat.
Remember how Doris couldn't sleep without the TV on?  Remember how unsuccessful writer Felix Sherman discovers the name of the loud, annoying woman who barged into his apartment very late at night?  Doris:  "Who gave you permission to read my panties?"  Babs turned down the offer to star opposite Woody Allen.  Tracey Ullman jumped at the offer and gave a delightful performance.  The Brit sounded like a native New Yorker.
The Small Time Crooks cast included Elaine May, Elaine Stritch, Hugh Grant and Jon Lovitz.  During my VH1 talk show host & veejay years in the late 1980s, I had dinner with a couple of buddies and one invited a friend along.  That friend was Jon Lovitz.  The three of us said "No!" when Lovitz told us about a comedy role he turned down because he didn't think the movie would do well.  He could've played one of the burglars in Home Alone.  And, yes, he regretted letting that one get away.

Monday, April 23, 2012

NBC's Marilyn Monroe Doctrine

I'm not a regular viewer of NBC's "Smash."  I did watch the first three episodes to see how the show would present Marilyn Monroe.  If you saw the hard-driving network promotion leading up to the premiere episode, you know that two young actresses would vie for the role of the late Hollywood legend in a Broadway musical based on her life.  That's why I wanted to watch the opening episodes.  I am a Monroe fan. She was not a belter in her movie musicals.  Not like a Patti LuPone, Liza Minnelli or Kristin Chenoweth on Broadway.  Marilyn Monroe was not designed for theatre.  She created herself for intimacy with a movie camera.  She cooed.  She purred.  She was a satiny jazz baby singing "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  But she wasn't a belter.
In "Smash," she's a belter.  And the "Smash" Marilyn doesn't have that sexy subtlety.  Instead of pushing her dress down when the breeze from the subway blows her dress up, the NBC Marilyn assertively lifted her skirt up in a number without any breeze at all.  But they probably had to add that kind of brassiness to make the Monroe character work onstage and play to the MTV-generation folks in the balcony.  The "Smash" version of the Blonde Bombshell seems more Joey Heatherton than Marilyn Monroe.  Joey did movies and musical work on TV shows.  Joey could belt a tune. She could dance.  She hurled sexy in your face like a custard pie.  She hoped to follow in Monroe's footsteps starring in Sugar.  That was the 1972 Broadway musical version of Some Like It Hot
But Joey had back luck in her career and private life.  Marilyn Monroe was famously wed to New York Yankees legend, Joe DiMaggio.
Joey was wed to NFL Dallas Cowboys star, wide receiver Lance Rentzel.
This union didn't have same show biz cachet, class and fascinating star quality as the Monroe-DiMaggio marriage...
...but it was a talented sexy 1960s movie blonde married to a professional star athlete.  Their problems kept gossip columnists busy.  Especially in the early 1970s when he was arrested for exposing himself.
Looking back, Joey was more the "Dance: 10, Looks: 3" number from A Chorus Line compared to Marilyn's rendition of "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend." But I get that T&A vibe from the Marilyns in "Smash" which is why I feel it's more Heatherton than Monroe.  In the NBC series, all the stuff about the "real" Marilyn and the sadness in her life is pretty much standard Hollywood lore by now.  The networks have been called on their need to embrace diversity more.  That could be done on "Smash" by incorporating the true story of how Marilyn Monroe embraced diversity.  She used her sex symbol Hollywood star clout in the 1950s to help Ella Fitzgerald break through the wall of racism.  An internationally famous vocalist, she could not get booked into top Hollywood nightclubs because she was black.  Monroe, an ardent Fitzgerald fan, stepped in and helped knock the wall down.  The jazz vocalist never had that problem again.  Monroe made her movie studio nervous with her bold act of Civil Rights for Ella Fitzgerald.
"Smash" could have actresses auditioning to sing the Ella role coupled with a storyline about Broadway  looking at its own embrace of diversity.  I've not watched the show regularly.  If you do, have you seen any black casting directors?  Agents? Music composers? Show directors? Theatrical producers?  Theatre critics?  Publicists?  Just wondering.  If "Smash" finished with the Marilyn Monroe storyline, what about a Broadway musical based on the life of a Monroe friend?  Dorothy Dandridge was the second black woman in Hollywood history to get an Oscar nomination.  She was the first black woman to be nominated in the Best Actress Academy Award category for her incendiary performance in the 1954 musical drama Carmen Jones.  She was a Hollywood extra and featured performer in 1940s musical comedies and dramas before that breakthrough starring role.  Racism still existed in Hollywood after her historic nomination.  Sadly, it crippled her film career opportunities after Carmen Jones.
African-American star Lena Horne called the singer/actress "our Marilyn Monroe."  If Billy Wilder's classic Some Like It Hot had been made with an all-black cast, gorgeous Dorothy Dandridge would have rocked as Sugar Kane.  Her life had enough drama for an award-winning HBO bio pic starring Halle Berry.  A Dorothy Dandridge storyline on a show like "Smash" could let us see some black and black/Hispanic actresses vie for the role.  That would be some tasty diversity.

GMA Avoids the Gay

Friday, November 17th.  As usual, I was watching the network morning shows.  I wanted to catch the last half-hour of GOOD MORNING AMERICA be...