Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Notable Passings, 2013, M-R

Milo O'Shea as Friar Laurence
in the 1968 film version of "Romeo and Juliet"
Not only did Peter O'Toole pass away this year, but also Ruth Maleczech of Mabou Mines, Paul Rogers who won a Tony for Harold Pinter's "The Homecoming," porn star Harry Reems, and Milo O'Shea, who I interviewed in 1988 when he played Friar Laurence in "Romeo and Juliet" at the Public Theater with Cynthia Nixon and Peter McNichol as the young lovers. (He also played the role in Zefferelli's brilliant 1968 film version.) I saw O'Toole in the 1987 revival of "Pygmalion" and he seemed to be as high as a kite the entire performance, as he did when presenting an Oscar with Sissy Spacek.
Ruth Maleczech, 74, Obie-winning actress, co-artistic director and co-founder of the avant-garde theatrical troupe Mabou Mines where she played King Lear as a Southern matriarch, received Obies for her design for “Vanishing Pictures” (with Julie Archer) and for performances in “Hajj” and “Through the Leaves,” outside of Mabou Mines, she co-directed “The Tempest” with Lee Breuer, her artistic and life partner, for the Public Theater at Central Park’s Delacorte stage, and appeared in “Henry IV,” “Woyzeck,” “First Love,” and “Belle Epoque.”

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Notable Passing, 2013, H-L

This group of obits runs the gamut from a former stripper to the greatest actress of her generation (Julie Harris) to one of my favorite comic book artists to Trixie Norton (who was also a former stripper). Jane Kean played Trixie of "The Honeymooners" when Jackie Gleason recast the wives of Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton with musical actresses so he could incorporate elaborate production numbers and comedy songs; Sheila MacRae was the new Alice. We would watch the Gleason show every Saturday night. It used to come on right after "Sea Hunt" with Lloyd Bridges ("By now my lungs were aching for air.") I saw Kean play Sally in a summer stock production of "Follies" at the Valley Forge Music Fair with Robert Alda, Vivian Blaine, and Selma Diamond. I was about 12 years old and had saved up my allowance to pay for the ticket (It had to be $10 or so.)
Gleason's variety show ran until the early 1970s and CBS  then replaced the middlebrow humor exemplified by Gleason, Lucille Ball, and shows like "The Beverly Hillbillies," "Petticoat Junction," and "Green Acres" to be replaced by more sophisticated sitcoms like "All in the Family," "MASH," and the Bob Newhart and Mary Tyler Moore shows. These shows were much more adult, but I did miss the innocent silliness of Ralph and Ed, Alice and Trixie arguing in that tiny Brooklyn apartment. (There were many jokes about Trixie's past as an exotic dancer.)
Harris was also a sitcom actor, appearing in an awful piece of tripe about a family that made pickles. It was ridiculous, but she was brilliant of course and I suppose she had to pay the rent. I only met her once, when she was appearing Off-Broadway in a play called "The Fiery Furnace" and I got her autograph. She was charming and gracious. 
Haji, 67, Canadian actress and former exotic dancer who starred in several Russ Myers sexploitation films including “Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” and “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” as well as John Cassavettes’ “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie,” her last film was the memorably titled “Killer Drag Queens on Dope.”
Helen Hanft, 79, leading actress of the Off-Off-Broadway theater movement of the 1960s and ‘70s, best known for Tom Eyen’s “Why Hanna’s Skirt Won’t Stay Down,” also appeared in such plays as “Women Benhind Bars,” “In the Boom Boom Room,” and “Gus and Al,” and the films “Next Stop, Greenwich Village” and “Manhattan.”
Julie Harris and James Dean in "East of Eden"
Julie Harris, 87, winner of five Tony Awards for Best Actress in a Play (“I Am a Camera,” “The Lark,” “Forty Carats,” “The Last of Mrs. Lincoln,” “The Belle of Amherst”), one of the American theater’s treasures, she also starred in “Member of the Wedding,” “Marathon 33,” “Skyscraper,” “The Au Pair Man,” “Lucifer’s Child,” “The Fiery Furnace,” “The Glass Menagerie,” “The Gin Game,” and the film version of “Member of the Wedding” (Oscar nomination), other films include “East of Eden,” “The Haunting,” “Harper,” “Reflections in a Golden Eye,” Emmy Awards for “Little Moon of Alban” and “Victoria Regina,” played Lilimae Clements on “Knots Landing” and made several guest shots including “Columbo,” “Medical Center,” “The Big Valley,” and “The Virginian.”

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Notable Passings, 2013, D-G

Joan Fontaine (l.) with her sister Olivia DeHavilland
Here's part 2 of notable passings in 2013. There are plenty of well known people in this installment including Joan Fontaine, Roger Ebert, James Gandolfini, Edyie Gorme, etc. There is one person who may have been forgotten: Kelly Garrett, not to be confused with the Charlie's Angels character, she was a terrific singer who appeared in three Broadway shows in the 1970s and seemed t be on TV all the time back then. I always loved her powerful voice.

Deanna Durbin, 91, songbird of Hollywood’s Golden Age, she warbled her way through such films as “Three Smart Girls,” “One Hundred Men and a Girl,” and “Can’t Help Singing.”
Roger Ebert, 70, influential film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, in 1975, he became the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize, co-hosted popular film-review programs first on PBS, then in syndication, these included “Sneak Previews” and “At the Movies” with Gene Siskel, then, after Siskel’s death, “Roger Ebert & the Movies” with rotating co-hosts and “Ebert & Roeper” with Richard Roeper, also of the Sun-Times.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Notable Passings, 2013, A-C

Allan Arbus, Dr. Sydney Freedman of "MASH"
As I get older, it seems more and more people die. But the number of deaths hasn't increased, it's the fact that more and more individuals I was familiar with while growing up are passing away. This year there seemed to be quite a few and I wanted to acknowledge them. Not just the really famous like Peter O'Toole and Joan Fontaine, but those who achieved a measure of notoriety like the puppeteer on Captain Kangaroo who did the voice for Mr. Moose, the lady who sang the Chock Full of Nuts jingle, and Sally Starr, the kiddie show hostess from the Philadelphia area who used to babysit me, my sister and brother on long afternoons after school before dinner. Not in person, of course, but on the TV. She would dress up in a spangled cowgirl's outfit and introduce Popeye, Courageous Cat, and Clutch Cargo cartoons. 
There are so many, I've broken them up into separate posts: 
Cosmo Allegretti, 86, puppeteer who gave life to such characters as the smart-alecky Mister Moose, the mischevious Bunny Rabbit, and the wise Grandfather Clock on the long-running “Captain Kangaroo” children’s TV series, appeared as an actor in such films as “Prince of the City” and “Author! Author!,” appeared on Broadway in “Requiem for a Heavyweight” with John Lithgow.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

'Duck Dynasty' and Utah/NM Rulings

A transgendered Bugs Bunny encounters
 the Duck Dynasty family.
I really can't get too upset about the controversy surrounding this Duck Dynasty guy--I don't even feel like looking up his name--because history is on my side. The very same week that this 67-year-old, self-proclaimed bible-thumper spouted the usual bigoted homophobic thrash in GQ, the states of New Mexico and Utah declared gay marriage legal. Yes, I know the Utah decision was made by a federal judge and is being appealed by the Republican governor and his attorney general. Those two are trying to stop their clerks from issuing same-sex marriage licenses. But for the moment, that means 18 states have gay marriage. The judge's ruling can potentially be applied in other states with a gay marriage ban. (New Mexico had no law one way or the other so that decision is on firmer ground.) This Utah case might go all the way to the Supreme Court and that might lead to national gay marriage. Also on the up side, President Obama is sending openly gay athletes to the Winter Olympics in anti-gay Russia as part of our official delegation. This forced closeted skater Brian Boitano to officially come out.

But what's more disgusting is the Duck guy's stupid comments about African-Americans being happier before the Civil Rights era. Now if he had just said that would he have received as much support from the Christian community and the Duck viewers? I wonder if these right-wingers screaming about freedom of speech felt the same way about Martin Bashir and the Dixie Chicks?

This whole thing made me think of that Warner Brothers cartoon where Bugs Bunny encounters two long-bearded hillbillies (who look suspiciously like the Duck Dynasty clan) and foils them by dressing in drag and leading them in a violent square dance.

So like Megyn Kelly's white Santa brouhaha, who really cares what Papa Duck says? He's apologized and been suspended. Let him have his show back so he can collect his millions for crappy Walmart T-shirts. Like Bugs Bunny, I'm going to win in the long run.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Film Awards Season Overview: 'Gravity' vs. '12 Years a Slave'

Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong'o, and Chiwetel Ejiofor in
12 Years a Slave
The film award season has already started and the battle lines are drawn: 12 Years a Slave and Gravity are the main contenders for Best Picture, with Her a possible spoiler. I can't believe Gravity is actually a possibility to take the top Oscar. Special effects, OK. Maybe even Best Director. But the Best Picture Award over the masterful 12 Years? My partner points out that Gravity is an "up" picture (no pun intended) with Sandra Bullock triumphing over adversity in the end (just like Tom Hanks in Capt. Phillips and Robert Redford in All Is Lost). Yes, Chiwetel Ejiofor does escape from his bondage at the end of 12 Years, but the film is so dark and uncompromising in its depiction of a national disgrace many would rather forget, it may be bypassed.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

B'way Update: Parsons and Spinella in 'Autumn'

Estelle Parsons and Stephen Spinella in The Velocity of Autumn at Arena Stage
Credit: Teresa Wood
The long-delayed production of The Velocity of Autumn is finally coming to Broadway. The two-character play by Eric Coble about an elderly woman threatening to blow up her Brooklyn brownstone if she can't stay there, has been on the "upcoming" list for what seems like decades now. Estelle Parsons and Stephen Spinella will repeat their performances from the original Arena Stage, Washington DC production when the show begins previews at the Booth Theater (currently home to The Glass Menagerie) on April 1 in advance of an April 21 opening. Spinella plays her son who tries to negotiate with her not to light the match. BTW, Spinella will be appearing the CSC production of Brecht's A Man's a Man opening Jan. 30 for a limited run through Feb. 16. Parsons leaps to the head of the list of frontrunners for the Best Actress in a Play Tony since she is 86 and has never won one before, though she's been nominated four times (The Seven Descents of Myrtle, And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little, Miss Margarida's Way, Morning's at Seven.) Her biggest competition are two other "mothers": Tyne Daly in Mothers and Sons and Diahann Carroll in A Raisin in the Sun.That means the only announced Broadway show without a theater is The Realistic Joneses which will probably go into the Cort once Waiting for Godot/No Man's Land ends its limited run. So I updated the my Broadway/Off-Broadway calendar and added a few new shows:

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

'Mothers and Sons' Finds a Home; B'way Season Almost Complete?

Tyne Daly and Manoel Felciano in
Mothers and Sons
at the Bucks County Playhouse
(Credit: Mandee Kuenzle)
Terrence McNally's Mothers and Sons has finally found a home. The drama which had its world premiere at the Bucks County Playhouse earlier this year will begin previews at the Golden Theatre, formerly occupied by the short-lived A Time to Kill, on Feb. 23 and then open on March 24. Tyne Daly will star as the mother from McNally's one-act and teleplay Andre's Mother, several years later. She plays an unexpected call on the partner of her son who died of AIDS, and has a cultural shock when she realizes the man is now happily married to a new partner with a young son. 

That makes the Broadway season almost complete. The long-awaited Houdini with Hugh Jackman looks as if it's been put off for another two seasons. The only major show which had announced for this season and still has no theater is Will Eno's The Realistic Joneses which features an all-star cast (Toni Collette, Michael C. Hall, Tracey Letts, Marisa Tomei). I don't know where they are going to go. They could take the Booth if The Glass Menagerie does not extend again. Or the Cort once Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen are finished waiting for Godot in no man's land. 

Here's an updated list of the upcoming Broadway and major Off-Broadway openings through the end of the season and beyond: