Friday, May 29, 2015

Susan Sarandon Mama Dramas

THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW.  THE HUNGER.  BULL DURHAM.  THELMA & LOUISE.  Since the 1970s, Susan Sarandon with her big bright eyes has slammed across some smart and lively work in films that became high points in baby boomer pop culture.
She went from musical comedy with a sweet transvestite to being seduced into lesbian sex with a vampire to leading male cops on a wild car chase with her best friend to winning an Oscar for playing a real-life nun who helps a death row inmate in 1995's Dead Man Walking co-starring Sean Penn.
               

On Saturday and Sunday, May 30th and 31st, Susan Sarandon will play the mother of Hollywood's legendary sex symbol and movie superstar, Marilyn Monroe.  Lifetime TV presents  The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe.  The mother of the talented and troubled film star was schizophrenic.  Here's a trailer for the Lifetime TV two-part original movie.
Last year, I saw Sarandon give one juicy performance as a stage mother in another movie star biopic.  It only played at a few movie theaters and it's now available on DVD.  Two terrific performances graced an indie film with a bad title.  The Last of Robin Hood sounds like an action/adventure or perhaps even a comedy.  It was neither.  It is a very respectful, revealing and often heartbreaking look at the last love and years of the Hollywood actor who famously starred in 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood for the Warner Brothers studio -- Errol Flynn.                                                                                                                      

Kevin Kline gave one of the best performances of his film career as Errol Flynn.  I like Kline.  I have ever since I saw him in Sophie's Choice way back in 1982.  I've seen him on stage.  On the big screen, he can often do a little too much.  On stage, that excess works well.  But on film, it can make him come off a bit hammy.  He was excessive in A Fish Called Wanda and it was just fine.  That was a comedy and he, as mean Otto, was basically a live action Yosemite Sam.  Think of Otto's final moment with a steamroller.  The 1989 comedy earned Kline the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.  I wish he'd gotten some award nomination consideration for his The Last of Robin Hood work.
In The Last of Robin Hood, Kevin Kline did less and delivered more.  He was really in the weary, spoiled soul of Errol Flynn with that fine, subtle performance.  What must have made the movie a hard sell was the fact that it details Flynn's relationship with Beverly Aadland.  She was a showbiz hopeful.  Flynn met her in his later years thinking she was of legal age.  They met in a Hollywood studio environment.  She'd lied about her age to get film employment.  She and Flynn started a relationship when she was really 15.  He thought she was older.  She was 17 when he died.
Susan Sarandon played the driven, one-legged mother of Beverly who practically dropkicks her daughter into a relationship with the scandalous action movie star, feeling it would be a financial touchdown for the family.  The mother is the one who'd like to be courted by Errol Flynn and attend some Hollywood functions.  Beverly's father opposes his wife's manipulative intentions.  Here's a trailer for The Last of Robin Hood.
The mama hungered for Hollywood fame and money more than her daughter did.  Today, reality TV has made achieving celebrity status a microwave experience.  TV programming is bloated with instant celebs, folks who want face time on a red carpet.  Young Beverly (played by Dakota Fanning) comes to care for Errol Flynn.  And he needs someone to care for him.  He's still famous but his studio star power, his movie star good looks and his good health have faded.  He meets with Stanley Kubrick and is disappointed that he can't get the male lead in a film he seemed perfect for -- Lolita.  But his real-life courtroom woes with almost legal females made hiring him risky business.  Errol Flynn went charmingly to seed because he couldn't curb the party animal in him.  The popular yet under-rated actor was a notorious ladies' man and a heavy drinker.
In the biopic, Beverly (seen in the black and white photo with the actor) was a loyal friend to Flynn during their relationship.  She didn't seek fortune or fame from him.  She never wrote a tell-all book, never talked to the press and never capitalized on her relationship with the Hollywood star after his death.  He died at age 50 in 1959.  She went on to marry and become a mother.  Beverly died in 2010 at 67.  She'd been a wife of 40 years.
Susan Sarandon and Kevin Kline are in top form together in the Flynn biopic.  Sarandon really rips into the role of the fierce mom in the Hollywood jungle who will keep pushing her daughter into a possible Hollywood spotlight...as long as she has a leg to stand on.  Literally.  Check Sarandon out in the 2014 release now on DVD, The Last of Robin Hood.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Unfocused UNFREEDOM

There's nudity, sex, lesbianism, violence, politics and a piece of modern art in the shape of a giant erect penis.  The name of this political thriller, opening May 29th, is UNFREEDOM.  The writer/director, Raj Amit Kumar, sets out  to make a big statement about terrorism and intolerance.  In this one movie, he tells two stories at the same time.  But the final product feels unfocused and unbalanced.  This film was banned in India.                                                                                                                        
Honestly, I can't see how he expected it ever to be accepted in India with the whole explicit same-sex relationship alone.  I review Unfreedom for this weekend's ARISE ON SCREEN show on cable's Arise TV.  (I'll give you showtimes at the end of this post.)  I looked forward to watching the movie because it stars Victor Banerjee as the peaceful, liberal Muslin intellectual in New York City.  He's a Gandhi-like figure who publicly speaks out against violence.  That makes him a threat to radical Muslims overseas.
I've not seen a film performance of his in quite some time.  When I was new in television and working at my first professional TV job, I saw him deliver one terrific performance in David Lean's 1984 adaptation of A Passage to India.


Victor Banerjee co-starred with Judy Davis, Dame Peggy Ashcroft and James Fox. He's excellent in Unfreedom.  The film isn't.                                                                                                                    
One story has a Pakistani radical heading to New York to assassinate the peaceful Muslim intellectual.  The other story has an Indian runaway bride.  She does not want to marry the man her strict, bigoted father expects her to marry.  She is in love with and wants to marry another woman.  The other woman is a rebellious, outspoken artist.  Both women are young, lovely and shapely and get totally naked to have lesbian sex.  That bothered me.  Not the women being lesbians.  But the fact that the director spent so much time on those two sexy women being totally naked.  It was like a story based on a man's fantasy letter published in the old Playboy Forum.  There was a leering quality about the direction of their segments that, to me, threw the film off balance.  Is this film about political and social turmoil or hot naked lesbians making out?
The liberal Muslim scholar is kidnapped and tortured.  The director went too far with the torture for my taste.  Here's a trailer for Unfreedom.
The section in which the terrorist kidnaps the scholar had more loose ends than a nudist beach in Florida.  Police visit the scholar's city townhouse to see if he needs an escort.  Cops know he's a target.  For days he's been stalked by bad guys noting his daily schedule.  The cops didn't notice that?  Neighbors didn't notice that?  New York is now in the age of "If you see something, say something" because of Sept. 11th.  The scholar speaks in public, then he and a young Caucasian assistant are kidnapped in the parking lot at gunpoint.  They're driven to another location and gruesomely tortured.  In New York, even the 711s have surveillance cameras.  There was no parking lot attendant or surveillance camera?  There was no reporter at the home of this missing internationally known Muslim pacifist?  If he was a blonde college girl named Tiffani who hadn't been seen for two hours after she went to get a strawberry Margarita during spring break, Tiffani would've been a lead story on the news.  His home is invaded by a lone terrorist.  No one upstairs in his nice townhouse thinks of calling 911 or opening a window to yell for help on that upscale city block.  And another thing -- if a terrorist tied up your relative and wielded a meat cleaver and you had a choice between taking the terrorist down with a gun or hitting him with a golf club, which would you choose? In Unfreedom...she pretty much went with a putter.  And never once did it occur to her to scream even though the front door was open during the daytime attack.  Unfreedom -- poverty and ignorance have created fundamentalist terrorists who are loose in the world.  But, first...take a look at these titties.  Too much sex and torture porn diluted the movie's message.

But Victor Banerjee was excellent.

Unfreedom is playing in theaters and it's also on VOD.  Arise On Screen host, Mike Sargent, has us discuss this movie and others this weekend.  Check your local cable listings to see if you get Arise TV. If you're in the New York area, you'll find Arise on Time Warner Ch. 92 and Verizon/Fios Ch. 481.

Arise On Screen airs Friday night at 8pm EST
Saturday at 8:30am EST, 1:30pm EST and Midnight EST
and Sunday at 8:30am EST.

For the website, go here:  Arise.TV.




Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Louis Gossett, Jr. in Class with Marilyn Monroe

AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN put him in the Hollywood history books.                        
Louis Gossett, Jr. got the role originally intended for a white actor (Scott Glenn of Urban Cowboy and The Right Stuff.)  Gossett starred opposite actor Richard Gere.
The Academy Awards nominations for the Best of 1982 made the acting categories exciting.  And no  reporters asked "Who are you wearing?" back then.  There were new faces and there were veteran faces in the competition.  Big screen newcomers Meryl Streep and Jessica Lange won Oscars -- Streep was Best Actress for Sophie's Choice and Jessica Lange was Best Supporting Actress for Tootsie.  In the Best Actor category, screen veteran Paul Newman was a nominee for his remarkable work in The Verdict.  Yes, we film fans knew Newman as The Hustler, Hud and Cool Hand Luke, but he really hit a new height in that legal drama.  He played an alcoholic lawyer who finds redemption and self-respect while taking on a difficult David versus Goliath legal battle.  He's on the David side.  Newman was outstanding in this film directed by Sidney Lumet.
Matching him in that quality was James Mason, nominated for Best Supporting Actor.  He played the crafty, high-powered lawyer on the Goliath side of the complicated medical malpractice case.  Like Newman, Mason was at his peak in this movie.
If you're a classic film fan, the type that watches Turner Classic Movies, you know that James Mason got Hollywood attention with his performance in the British classic, Odd Man Out.  After that 1947 production, he went on to give memorable performances in the 1954 remake of A Star Is Born with Judy Garland, Hitchcock's North by Northwest, Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Kubrick's Lolita and 1966's popular British import, Georgy Girl.  And many others.  But American fans probably didn't know that he'd been the leading man in British films since the 1930s -- films such as 1939's I Met a Murderer, 1942's Hatter's Castle (co-starring Deborah Kerr) and the Oscar-winning 1945 British psychological drama, The Seventh Veil.

Mason, who'd never won an Oscar nor ever received a well-deserved Honorary Oscar, was a favorite to win.  The award went to Gossett for An Officer and A Gentleman.
His excellent work as the tough-as-nails Marine sergeant drill instructor made Gossett the first African-American actor to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.  In the Best Actor category, veteran Paul Newman lost to newcomer Ben Kingsley for Gandhi.  Gossett felt a bit of a chill from longtime buddy Paul Newman after he won his Oscar.  He thinks it might have been because he won over Newman's The Verdict co-star, James Mason.  Gossett told me this when I was in his Malibu home a couple of summers ago to tape an interview for a TV pilot.  We talked about his script offers after he won his Oscar.  We talked about his work in the original Broadway cast of the landmark play A Raisin in the Sun and in the film version with fellow members of the original cast.  He talked about having to withdraw from the hit 1971 made-for-ABC TV movie Brian's Song due to a foot injury sustained while preparing to play football star Gale Sayers.  The role went to Billy Dee Williams.  We talked about his work in Roots.

And we talked about Marilyn Monroe.

Lou Gossett studied at The Actors' Studio in New York City.  So did Paul Newman.
So did the lady he knew as Norma Jeane, known worldwide as Marilyn Monroe.
She was the reigning sex symbol and movie queen of the day.
She was a gifted musical comedy film actress, although under-appreciated in her day, and she was serious about studying to improve her skills and branch out into drama.  At the time, she was married to acclaimed playwright, Arthur Miller.
Marilyn attended the New York City premiere for the film version of Tennessee Williams' The Rose Tattoo.  It was a benefit for The Actors' Studio.  Fellow student Marlon Brando pitched in to help.
In class, Marilyn wanted to do a scene from The Rose Tattoo.  And she wanted to do it with Lou.   Marilyn was already quite a dish and a glamorous Hollywood superstar.
On top of that, she carried the fragrance of a certain bath soap that had Lou Gossett's hormones spinning like they were in those giant teacups at Disneyland.  He told me about being in his apartment and getting a phone call from Marilyn Monroe:

I asked Mr. Gossett how the Monroe performances in their Actors' Studio classes differed from the famous Monroe work on the big screen in comedies such as How To Marry a Millionaire, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Seven Year Itch and Some Like It Hot.
Oscar and Emmy winner Louis Gossett, Jr. was born on May 27th.  This year, he's been seen in the historical TV mini-series, The Book of Negroes, on BET.  Happy Birthday, Mr. Gossett.




Sunday, May 24, 2015

A New POLTERGEIST

It's a rare remake that can match or even surpass the qualities of the original.  The new POLTERGEIST is not a rare remake.  It doesn't stand a ghost of a chance to be as popular as the original.
With today's technology, it's got some impressive special effects that we didn't see in Tobe Hooper's 1982 original.  But I really missed the giant tissue monster and the possessed closet that looked like a giant vagina trying to supernaturally suck little Carol Anne into it.                                        
The remake is, at best, fair.  The scariest thing about this 20th Century Fox release is that Hollywood seems to have forgotten how to write good material for actresses.  One element that won us over about the original was how the married couple played by Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams totally loved each other and their kids.  That suburban husband and wife had a fun marriage.  We got wit and humor in their relationship.  He was a big lovable papa bear.  She was the smart, energetic and ultimate cheerleader -- a cheerleader who turns into the family quarterback as she charges down a hall to rescue her child from a demon. The suburban mom and the short psychic lady were vivid characters and memorable women.  The daughters in the poltergeist-plagued family stood out too.  In the remake, the writing is average and the women are a bit dull.  The dad is now portrayed by talented Sam Rockwell.
He's one of those actors -- like Guy Pearce and Ewan McGregor -- who should have an Oscar nomination or two to his credit, but doesn't.  Rockwell plays the father who has been laid off from work.  Recession hit the family.  He's frustrated. He may drink a wee bit too much.  Husband, wife and the three kids need to move to a smaller house.  Wait till you see the house.  I grew up in a family of five in Los Angeles.  The five of us shared one bathroom in a ranch-style house.  Their new downscale house in the suburbs is the size of a bed and breakfast. It's big.  With lots of closet space.  Rockwell's character hopes he can afford this new house.  His wife is a writer, but we never see her write.  She's pleasantly bland.  She doesn't have the verve JoBeth Williams had in the original.  The oldest daughter is a teen brat.  The little girl has imaginary friends (always a red flag in a horror movie) and the youngest boy is basically ignored by his parents when he professes that he has some serious fears about things in the new house.  We, of course, know that it's a huge mistake for the parents to ignore his expressed fears.  In the first 10 minutes of the movie, the boy finds his little sister talking to a closed closet.  She's got an invisible friend.  Then they both experience a hair-raising force. It really does raise their hair.  And then there's the flatscreen television.  The little sister puts her hand to the screen, hands appear through the static on the other side of the screen and her brother freaks out when the TV stays on even though he yanks out the plug.

Being that this is a Caucasian family in a horror movie, when they see that something abnormal, supernatural and scary has happened in the house...they decide to stay in it.  Here's the trailer.
If that had been a black family like in a Tyler Perry movie, Madea would've tracked down the lady realtor who sold them the house and gone upside her head with a skillet.  In the remake, the parents eventually do learn to listen to their son.  It's a lesson they had to learn the hard way.

The little psychic lady from the original has now been changed to a macho male ghost hunter who has a reality TV show.  The female paranormal expert with him seems rather passive in his presence.  Another woman character who wasn't exactly vivid.  Why was she written to be so drab?

In the original, we really connected to that family.  I would've loved to have them as neighbors -- if it wasn't for all those spooks in their house.  In the remake, the family is nice but it's not like they're so charismatic you want to invite them over for a cookout.  Like the walls in their new living room, they're sort of beige.  And so is the movie.

This Poltergeist has more ghosts than the original but none of its spirit.  It runs about 90 minutes.

To see the gifted Sam Rockwell at his best with much better material, try these 5 movies:

The Green Mile (1999)
Galaxy Quest (1999)
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)
Moon (2009)
Conviction (2010).

Oh...and rent the original Poltergeist, if you haven't seen it.





Thursday, May 21, 2015

Diversity and Disney's TOMORROWLAND

If you have kids -- especially girls -- 14 years of age or younger, this new Disney feature will be fun weekend family entertainment with them.  The special effects are dazzling and there's plenty of action.  At its heart, TOMORROWLAND shows kids that they have the chance to change the present and improve the future if they use their imagination in a positive way.  That's a great message.  However, Disney missed a great chance to embrace diversity in the lead role female casting.  The leading man is George Clooney.  The movie opens with Clooney in a close-up alone on screen talking to the audience.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with having to look at the face of George Clooney.
As his character talks about the mess today's world is in with wars, poverty, global warming and such, he's interrupted by an off-screen young female voice.  She wants to present a brighter view of things.  They bicker in a friendly way.  He's a lovable grouch.  We then go back in time to 1964 and see Frank (Clooney's character) as a little boy arriving at the World's Fair.  Something extraordinary and unexplainable happens.  He has a jetpack he invented.  Frank's a boy-genius and this jetpack flies him through the air.  He and it are noticed by a little girl.  I was wondering what parents would let their youngster go to a World's Fair alone on a bus whether he's a boy-genius or not.  Frank notices the little girl.  She smiles at him.  He follows her on one of the Disneyland-like boat rides.  The boat sails him into an alternate universe.  Say "hello" to Tomorrowland.  He's got his jetpack.  He's got colossal robots trying to confiscate it.  And, yes, I'm still wondering if Frank's parents realize that their kid has not come home for dinner.

Then we jump to the modern-day story of Casey.  She was the off-screen female voice who interrupted grumpy grown-up Frank in the opening scene.  She lives with her dad, an out of work NASA genius and, we guess, a widower.  She's a smart girl who wants to change things for the better -- even if that means getting in trouble with social protest type of activity.  The transition from young Frank's story to her story is clunky.  But she will find a magic pin that will transport her instantly to Tomorrowland.  When these experiences happen, she can be in two places at the same time.  For instance, she's in the car with her hot papa (played by country music star Tim McGraw) but, when she touches the pin, she's magically whizzing through a futuristic wheat field while her dad sees her still seated next to him in the car.  Casey will have thrilling, dangerous adventures as she goes back and forth from ordinary life to Tomorrowland.  She wears her dad's red NASA cap during these adventures.  The main thing is the pin.  When she gets that, she gets chased by killer robots in human form.  She also gets saved by the little girl who smiled at young Frank and prompted him to take a strange boat ride at the World's Fair.  She hasn't aged since 1964.  That's because Athena (played by Raffey Cassidy) is a robot in little girl form.  Athena was young Frank's big love in the 1960s.

Casey needs to find Frank.  Athena needs to help.  And Frank is now middle-aged and cynical because he was kicked out of Tomorrowland in his youth.  Athena still holds a special place in his frustrated heart.  This is why the film needs fabulous special effects and lots of action --- because the story is awkwardly written and directed.  The studio obviously had make sure the film didn't come off like a Disney version of Lolita when modern day Frank sees little Athena.  And this story is much too complicated a way to tell youngsters that global warming is bad.  George Clooney keeps it grounded.  He brings a certain world weariness to older Frank without making him sour.  After all, this is a Disney feature.  He's funny and fun to watch.  The chase scenes are exciting and he knows how to make older Frank's scenes with Athena tender without seeming creepy.  You can also tell that he believes in the ultimate message of the feature.  Here's a trailer.
Now let's talk diversity.  The non-aging Athena sounds like a little Mary Poppins.  She has a British accent.  She can be stern and direct.  Casey is another spunky young blonde who comes to us from under the Disney corporate umbrella.  Look at Elsa from Frozen, the star of Disney's recent live action remake of Cinderella, the lead female character on ABC/Disney's Once Upon a Time  series (a fantasy series that repurposes characters from Disney classics)...even look at Kelly Ripa, the co-host of Disney daytime TV hit, Live with Kelly and Michael.  Disney is the parent company of ABC.  Count the number of blondes as anchors and contributors on Good Morning America.  Britt Robertson does a fine job as Casey in Tomorrowland.
But Casey did not have to be blonde. Or Caucasian. She could've been a brunette Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican...she could've been African-American or she could've been Asian-American.  Such diverse casting would've been a welcomed Disney sight nowadays.  Elsa from the huge 2013 hit, Frozen, already had a short feature sequel.  I saw it paired with this year's Cinderella.  How many sequels or live action remakes have we seen for Disney's Asian heroine Mulan (1998) or for Disney's first African-American princess, Tiana, seen in The Princess and The Frog (2009)?

One Tomorrowland  highlight is the very funny Keegan Michael-Key as Hugo.
He's half of the award-winning Key & Peele team on Comedy Central.  Keegan has got the gift.  He doesn't even need dialogue to break you up laughing.  He's only in this movie for about ten minutes but he's a talent that Disney should tap for lead roles.  If the company continues to repurpose/remake its classics like The Absent-Minded Professor and Son of Flubber, he's the guy for the lead roles.  He's perfect for Disney features.

For a Disney feature, Tomorrowland has some un-Disneylike violent images.  What appears to be a child getting run over by a pickup truck on a highway...kids being shot at...dismembered body parts....we get that in Tomorrowland.

There's a touch of The Terminator about this screenplay and a little bit of Big tossed into a bowl of Kim Possible episodes from the Disney Channel.  Disney's Tomorrowland   was directed by Brad Bird.  He gave us the animated features The Incredibles, Ratatouille and Iron Giant.  Those stories flowed better than this one.  But, as I wrote, children 14 and under will dig it.  Tomorrowland runs 2 hours and 10 minutes.  That's a good half-hour longer than it needs to be.  The movie ends with a most optimistic montage that looks more like an upscale credit card commercial.

If anything, it's a commercial to inspire kids use their skills and talents to join Team Disney where anything's possible.  But, if the company's consistent casting in big screen releases implies that young blondes get the spotlight and special treatment, can young girls of color really feel that anything's possible for them?  They need to see a reflection of themselves in the spotlight as the special female.




Just a thought from a longtime Disney fan.  Tomorrowland opens May 22nd.



Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Letterman Leaves LATE SHOW

I've been watching him since he was on early in the morning.  Many full time and not-so-full time media critics will be analyzing the late night TV magic David Letterman had for decades.  It started on NBC then transferred to CBS.  This blog post of mine is written as a viewer and a longtime fan.  I will miss him.
I started laughing out loud at David Letterman during my days at my first professional television job.  I worked at the ABC affiliate in Milwaukee on the city's edition of PM Magazine.  I also did appearances on the station's live afternoon shows.  When we got to the PM Magazine offices early in the morning for work, we'd watch Letterman's short-lived morning show.  Our little ragtag Midwest crew really dug his loopy sense of humor.  His elevator races were a hoot.  We fully recognized the Midwest vibe underneath the on-camera goofiness, a goofiness the edged more into brashness during his NBC years.  I was still working in Milwaukee when NBC gave Dave Late Night with David Letterman.  That show quickly became required viewing for all us young professionals.  Heck, back in those days, we could actually stay up late without nodding off.  He was in our age group.  He was younger than the Elder Statesman of Late Night,  the renowned Johnny Carson.  Letterman did his monologues wearing a jacket, tie...and sneakers.  He had a gap-toothed smile and his tall frame was topped with a generous amount of curly hair.                                                                                                                              
His material was different and fresh -- a bit on the smart aleck-y college boy side -- his band was groovy and hip and his segments were wacky in their originality.  Stupid Pet Tricks made my nights!  So did Stupid Human Tricks.  And his "Top Ten" lists were priceless.  When it came to his guests...he could be fun with Carol Channing.  He could be a terrific straight man to a very animated and funny Bette Davis in her latter years.
And he could knock young stars off-balance by saying something we viewers would be thinking but never expected a late night host to say.  Remember the exotic-looking Natassja Kinski when she starred in movies such as Tess and the remake of Cat People?  She was a guest on his NBC show.  She'd been given a piled up, hipster hair style.  Letterman asked, "Is that your hair or do you have a barn owl on your head?"  She was not amused.  I laughed so hard my sides ached.

That's what I meant about the brashness.  He wasn't easy on stars simply because they were stars.  That was Letterman's trademark then.  He was still at NBC when I was new to New York City.  Stars would be nervous before going onto his show.  How do I know?  They'd say so to me in our green room.  Several times celebrities came to VH1 to tape interviews for my talk show and they'd remark "I have to do Letterman's show later today" and they'd say that with the same dread as a 7th grader saying "I have to go to the principal's office."  Tony Danza moaned the most.  He really hoped that Dave would be nice to him.  Cher got bleeped for casually calling Dave "an asshole" on the show  Shirley MacLaine casually repeated Cher's sentiments.  His brashness would be replaced by a maturity because life knocks you around as yet get older.  He grew out of the brash smart aleck phase and into more of an informed, embraceable curmudgeon.  And we watched him get older over the years.  Just like we viewers did, he experienced workplace disappointment, sexual immaturity, health problems, love, death, changes in family life and aging.  We watched him flop.  Remember when he hosted the Oscars?  I started watching David Letterman when he was the new kid on the late night block.  This week, I heard a reporter refer to him as the "elder statesman" of late night hosts.  For us baby boomers, Dave reflects our growing older and our life experiences.
I really wanted Dave to succeed Johnny Carson on the Tonight show.  I was stunned when he wasn't selected and Jay Leno got the gig.  Probably not nearly as stunned as Dave was by NBC's decision.  His disappointment made me even more of a fan.  I, in my own way, knew the feeling.  I was blessed with an A-list roster of guests for my VH1 weeknight talk show.  After my wonderful VH1 years, I was approached to be a regular on a new WNBC weekend morning news program.  I'd do celebrity interviews, film reviews, and humorous human interest features.  That appealed to me.  I'll admit it, in taking that part-time weekend gig, my goal was to be so good that I'd be promoted to doing entertainment features and interviews for the network's weekend Today show.  Our local show premiered in the fall of 1992.  Management changed my duties in the show's first week and assigned me a steady beat as the "wacky" correspondent in the field.  That meant doing live segments from shopping malls and street fairs.  The film review spots disappeared and I had to push to do occasional celebrity interviews.  It was as if I'd never hosted a national TV talk show that got me excellent reviews from The New York Times, People magazine and TV Guide.  But I was under contract and did the work.  In December 1995, management told me that I was doing quality work and I was very popular with viewers.  However, I'd no longer be under contract, I'd only be working two days a week -- just weekends -- and I would not be moving up to any network opportunities.  One more thing:  If I was offered any other on-camera work during the week -- such as TV commercials or small acting roles that could bring me in extra income to supplement my part-time TV wages -- I'd need WNBC's approval to accept the work.  Even though I was not under contract.  (You can see samples of my VH1 talk show work here:  YouTube.com/BobbyRiversTV.)

I gave two weeks notice and quit in January 1995.  Yes, I understood Dave's disappointment at 30 Rock.  I was thrilled when he relocated to CBS.  His gifts, his hard work that made comedy look easy, had been validated, appreciated and highlighted.  And his artistic gifts grew.  A Kennedy Center Honor was bestowed upon him for his intelligent and innovative comedy.  Our President made guest appearances on his show.


I watched David Letterman at night from the days of my first professional TV job at a local station in Milwaukee, my days as a national talk show host for VH1 and my days of disappointment in the same building for the same corporation for which Dave worked.  I've watched him from when I found true love to when I lost my love to AIDS in 1994.  I watched Dave when he returned to work in the days following our enormous September 11th tragedies.  Those shows displayed Dave at his respectful, mature, tender-hearted best.  When he felt comfortable to make us laugh again, I felt ready to laugh again.  He helped heal millions of broken hearts in the TV audience.

We watched him through major changes in television, in our society and in the world around us.  I've continued to watch him over the last few years as I attempt to revive a career and rejoin the workplace.  I was hit hard and rendered unemployed by The Great Recession.  Like Dave, I'm older now too.  And still in need of a laugh.
I have a feeling that David Letterman has been to many like a friend or family relative we really do love but don't always make time for.  He's that friend we'd call at the last minute to cancel and postpone, the friend we'd call at the last minute if we couldn't find a more fabulous date, the relative whom we knew whose birthday we could forget because he or she was always understanding.  You assume that friend or relative will always be around.  When you're hit with the reality the person is leaving, you're driven to make up for lost quality time.  You realize how special that person really is.  This week, millions of folks probably returned to the Late Show on CBS because this was its last week.  They loved Dave but hadn't been paying attention to his show in a long, long while.

I've never met Mr. Letterman.  But I stood close to him in the NBC lobby by an elevator once as he chatted with Bob Costas.  I've had tickets to a few tapings of Letterman's show.  However, he did mention some of my past work in one of his monologues.  In between my VH1 and WNBC years, I was the host of a syndicated late night summer replacement game show.  It was called Bedroom Buddies.  I had a great time with a great crew taping that awful show in Los Angeles.  The show was like a very low-rent version of The Newlywed Game -- only the couples weren't married.  I did my best with that cheesy material because the gig, quite honestly, helped me pay off some bills.

I was told that Letterman mentioned seeing Bedroom Buddies.  He did not say my name but he reportedly did say Bedroom Buddies "...marks the end of civilization as we know it."

It was a bad show.  But I take comfort in the fact that both David Letterman and I have lived long enough to see even worse shows premiere on network television.  Some even in prime time.

So long, David Letterman. I'm gonna miss you.  A lot.  Thanks for the laughs when I really needed them.





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