I've written previously about the lack of race and gender diversity in the decades-long field of film critics on network morning news programs and syndicated film review shows. When the network morning news programs had a Friday film review segment, each network had a white male critic. The syndicated film review shows had pairs of white males from the iconic team of Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert to Ben Mankiewicz and Ben Lyons. If you're a classic film fan and remember when AMC was American Movie Classics before the change in format and the advent of fine original programming like MAD MEN, you saw white males as the regular, daily hosts. I've been a hardcore TCM fan since the 1999 and the appearance of a black guest solo host on TCM has been a rare sight. That is why I joyously gasped last night when I saw the groundbreaking African American film director Julie Dash deliver her first segment as a guest host. I didn't even know she'd be on TCM as a host for its "Golden Years" spotlight salute to films about senior citizens. Ms. Dash introduced a classic that's one of my favorites, the extraordinary and heartbreaking MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW (1937). How fabulous to that diversity in the booking of a TCM guest host.
I made my first ever TV appearance as the youngest and first black contestant on a syndicated film trivia game show called THE MOVIE GAME. I was a high school student in Watts in South Central L.A. at the time. The show was shot in Hollywood. I had Hugh O'Brian and Phyllis Diller on my team for the special teen edition of the show. I won. We beat my opponent and his teammates -- David Janssen and Dyan Cannon.
In New York City, in the late 80s, I was the first black person to get a prime time celebrity talk show, a show that got an excellent review in The New York Times and put my photo on the front page of its "Arts & Leisure" section. After my VH1 years, in the early 90s, my wonderful TV commercial agent was frustrated because she could not get me into the auditions that AMC was having for new classic film hosts. Some of the guests on my VH1 talk show were Kirk Douglas, Don Ameche, Fay Wray, Debbie Reynolds, Shirley MacLaine, Michael Caine, Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. They were all stars of classic films. But AMC wouldn't book me for an audition. But it booked another one of my agent's clients -- a very handsome blue-eyed guy who never had his own celebrity talk show on national TV.
There was a reflection of myself on TCM last night. Seeing director Julie Dash as a solo guest host was a "Hallelujah!" moment for me. Thank you, TCM.
Other films airing on TCM this month for its spotlight on "The Golden Years" will be the 1952 Vittorio De Sica gem, UMBERTO D. Have tissues handy for this tale of a elderly man on a pension whose only companion is a little dog.