Thursday, March 5, 2015

HEALTHWATCH: CHEVY CHASE

Chevy Chase’s health is being questioned by fans after the legendary comedian and movie star made an appearance at the SNL 40 event, which celebrated Saturday Night Live‘s 40th anniversary.

According to the Associated Press, fans first began to question Chevy Chase’s health during his appearance on the red carpet before the event. Chase, who was a part of the original Saturday Night Live cast, stopped to do a quick interview with Carson Daly when viewers immediately took notice of his very much altered voice.

Chevy’s voice was once one of the most recognizable in Hollywood, and yet on Sunday night at the live event in New York City to commemorate SNL‘s long history, he sounded nothing like his former self, but that wasn’t all. The report claims that Chase also rambled on during the red carpet interview and made little sense when he was asked about his time on the show:

“I left after the first year because I thought this isn’t going anywhere… I liked [hosting]. I liked it. But I missed it more for not being a part of the cast because I left after one year, I had reasons to leave. I’m sorry if I’m perspiring, but I just had to run through a gauntlet. But I liked it a lot, and I still like it. I love Lorne. We’re like brothers now.”

The Internet Business Times reports that Twitter began to blow up with tweets about Chevy Chase’s possible health problems after his red carpet appearance and then again when he was front and center during the show’s life anniversary special. Most fans seemed worried for Chase’s health and well being.

The 71-year-old Hollywood legend appeared nervous and confused when interviewed by SNL host Carson Daly. While answering questions, Chevy wiped sweat from his brow as he apologised for sweating.

Chase was previously regarded as one of Hollywood’s finest comic talents, commanding a fee of €8 million per film in the 1980s.

There have been former rumors that Chase’s health has been failing, but after Sunday’s SNL 40 special, it seems more and more fans may believe the stories...


Monday, March 2, 2015

RIP: DANIEL VON BARGEN

Character actor Daniel Von Bargen has sadly passed away after a lengthy illness. Best known for his roles as Mr. Kruger on Seinfeld (1997–98) and Commandant Edwin Spangler on the TV comedy Malcolm in the Middle (2000–01), the actor died on March 1st at the age of 64.

Von Bargen's film credits include London Betty, RoboCop 3,Basic Instinct, Broken Arrow, Universal Soldier: The Return, Truman, The Majestic, Philadelphia, A Civil Action, Thinner, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Snow Falling on Cedars, Disney's The Kid, and Super Troopers. He played the maniacal sorcerer Nix in Clive Barker's Lord of Illusions, and the Sheriff in The Postman. He played a terrorist in a season 5 episode of The X-Files.

His distinguished stage career included a long residency with Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, Rhode Island; he made his Off-Broadway debut in 1981 in Missing Persons. He also appeared in the premiere of Larry Gelbart's Mastergate and other plays at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and made his Broadway debut when the show went to New York.

Fellow actor and friend Bob Colonna had this to say about Daniel: "I feel a huge wave of sorrow and relief at the passing of this remarkable man, Dan Von Bargen. I treasure the years when I worked with him at Trinity Rep and in a couple of TV films. I admire his excellent body of work in the movies. And I mourn for the darkness and pain that were his final years. God bless him. He was a hell of a guy."


Daniel von Bargen was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on June 5, 1950, to Juanita (Bustle) and Donald L. von Bargen, of German and English descent. He grew up in Cincinnati for most of his childhood before moving with his family to Southern California. He attended Purdue University, majoring in drama.

His role in The Postman (1997) as the Pineview sheriff who suspects 'Kevin Costner''s character of being a fraud, was a stand-out as von Bargen infused the role with the pathos of a man caught between just trying to survive and wanting to believe in the hope the Postman represents. His performance, which was an amalgam of characters from the Novel, contained just the perfect blend of world-weary skepticism and desperate hope.

Suffering from diabetes in recent years, the actor attempted to commit suicide on February 22, 2012. He was scheduled to have some toe amputated due to the diabetes. Despite shooting himself in the temple with a gun, he survived although his health continued to worsen. The immediate cause of death is not known at this time...




OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND AT 98

At 98, Olivia de Havilland is the last great star of Hollywood’s golden age, a woman who began her career during the rise of Technicolor in 1935, formed one of the most indelible screen couples of all time with Errol Flynn, and went on to work with James Cagney, Rita Hayworth, Montgomery Clift, Bette Davis, Richard Burton, Clark Gable, and Vivien Leigh. With her deep brown doe eyes and apple-cheeked smile, the two-time Best Actress winner excelled at playing heroines whose demure bearing belied a feisty core. The most famous of these great ladies was Melanie Hamilton, the tenderhearted foil to Leigh’s scheming Scarlett O’Hara in 1939’s Gone With the Wind. Based on Margaret Mitchell’s best-seller, the beloved epic has sold more tickets in its lifetime than any other film. And 75 years ago it cleaned up at the Academy Awards, winning eight of its 13 nominations.

Having outlived all of her costars (as well as the movie’s mad-genius producer, David O. Selznick, and the three directors he hired to steer the massive ship), de Havilland has been GWTW’s principal spokesperson for almost five decades, the sole bearer of the Tara torch. It’s a privilege she calls “rather wonderful,” as her affection for the film is genuine and deep. She’s seen GWTW “about 30 times,” she says, and still enjoys watching it for the emotional jolt it brings as she reconnects with those costars—Gable, Leigh, Hattie McDaniel, and Leslie Howard—who have long since passed on.

Her memory is enviable: She vividly recalls lying in her crib as a baby and hearing the clink-clink of her nanny preparing her bottle. And she is delightfully open about her age. While discussing her day-to-day life at the hotel, for instance, she gets a mischievous twinkle in her eye as she describes the handsome fellows from room service. “How many women in this world are served breakfast in bed every morning by a gorgeous young man? I am,” she says. “So how do I feel about older age? Crazy about it! Wouldn’t trade it for anything!”


When de Havilland moved to France in 1953 to marry her second husband, a Frenchman, she was all too happy to bid adieu to Hollywood, where television had begun to eclipse film. “The Golden Era…was dying and I knew that whatever replaced it would not be its equal,” she writes. So she focused on her children, Benjamin and Gisèle, took the occasional job by “commuting to Hollywood,” as her son once put it, and earned an Emmy nomination in 1987 for her role as a Russian empress in the NBC miniseries Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna. Even after her second divorce in 1979, living abroad afforded her a life of great privacy, which she continues to cherish. Tabloids frothed for years over her relationship with her sister, the actress Joan Fontaine, which was famously strained, at least according to Fontaine, who wrote about it in her 1978 autobiography. De Havilland, however, does not discuss it. (Fontaine died in 2013.)

Though she lives alone, de Havilland is far from lonely. She regularly speaks on the phone with Gisèle, who lives in California. (Benjamin passed away in 1991 from over-radiation following his treatment for cancer.) Depending on her energy level, she entertains about once a week. She is still a dues-paying member of the Academy and follows nomination season “with extreme interest,” but because of her declining eyesight, she no longer watches many films and does not vote. She can still do crossword puzzles, though, and in the coming months she hopes to make progress on the autobiography she began a few years ago. She’s written five chapters in the same buoyant style that she used in her charming 1962 book of essays, Every Frenchman Has One. A lover of words, she is enjoying mining her rich, long life for remembrances.

And if she has anything to do with it, she will collect many, many more. Because this formidable woman has every intention of celebrating her 100th birthday come July 1, 2016. “Oh, I can’t wait for it,” she says. “I’m certainly relishing the idea of living a century. Can you imagine that? What an achievement.”




Friday, February 27, 2015

LOUIS ARMSTRONG AND RACISM

On October 31, 1965, Louis (Satchmo) Armstrong gave his first performance in New Orleans, his home town, in nine years. As a boy, he had busked on street corners. At twelve, he marched in parades for the Colored Waif’s Home for Boys, where he was given his first cornet. But he had publicly boycotted the city since its banning of integrated bands, in 1956. It took the Civil Rights Act, of 1964, to undo the law. Returning should have been a victory lap. At sixty-four, his popular appeal had never been broader. His recording of “Hello, Dolly!,” from the musical then in its initial run on Broadway, bumped the Beatles’ ”Can’t Buy Me Love” from its No. 1 slot on the Billboard Top 100 chart, and the song carried him to the Grammys; it won the 1964 Best Vocal Performance award. By the time the movie version came out, in 1969, he was brought in to duet with Barbra Streisand.

Armstrong was then widely known as America’s gravel-voiced, lovable grandpa of jazz. Yet it was a low point for his critical estimation. “The square’s jazzman,” the journalist Andrew Kopkind called him, while covering Armstrong’s return to New Orleans for The New Republic. Kopkind added that “Among Negroes across the country he occupies a special position as success symbol, cultural hero, and racial cop-out.” Kopkind was not entirely wrong in this, and hardly alone in saying so. Armstrong was regularly called an Uncle Tom.

Detractors wanted Armstrong on the front lines, marching, but he refused. He had already been the target of a bombing, during an integrated performance at Knoxville’s Chilhowee Park auditorium, in February, 1957. In 1965, the year Armstrong returned to New Orleans, Malcolm X was killed on February 21st, and on March 7th, known as Bloody Sunday, Alabama state troopers armed with billy clubs, tear gas, and bull whips attacked nearly six hundred marchers protesting a police shooting of a voter-registration activist near Selma. Armstrong flatly stated in interviews that he refused to march, feeling that he would be a target. “My life is my music. They would beat me on the mouth if I marched, and without my mouth I wouldn’t be able to blow my horn … they would beat Jesus if he was black and marched.”


When local kids asked Armstrong to join them in a homecoming parade, as he had done with the Colored Waif’s Home in his youth, he said no. He knew the 1964 Civil Rights Act was federal law, not local fiat. Armstrong had happily joined in the home’s parades in the past, but his refusal here can be read as a sign of the times. The Birmingham church bombings in 1963 had shown that even children were not off limits.

And yet little of what Armstrong said about the civil-rights struggle registered. The public image of him, that wide performance smile, the rumbling lilt of his “Hello, Dolly!,” obviated everything else. “As for Satchmo himself,” Kopkind wrote, “he seems untouched by all the doubts around him. He is a New Orleans trumpet player who loves to entertain. He is not very serious about art or politics, or even life.”


Armstrong grew up poor and powerless, and he never forgot it. Despite his fame, he understood the repercussions for a community after the celebrity savior jets home. “I don’t socialize with the top dogs of society after a dance or concert,” he said in a 1964 profile in Ebony. “These same society people may go around the corner and lynch a Negro.”

Armstrong chose his battles carefully. In September, 1957, seven months after the bombing attempt in Knoxville, he grew strident when President Eisenhower did not compel Arkansas to allow nine students to attend Little Rock Central High School. As Teachout recounts in “Pops,” here Armstrong had leverage, and spoke out. Armstrong was then an unofficial goodwill ambassador for the State Department. Armstrong stated publicly that Eisenhower was “two-faced” and had “no guts.” He told one reporter, “It’s getting almost so bad a colored man hasn’t got any country.”


Doing things Armstrong’s way, no one had to accept responsibility for his actions but Louis Armstrong. When Eisenhower did force the schools to integrate, Armstrong’s tone was friendlier. “Daddy,” he telegrammed the President, “You have a good heart.”

As the pieces come together, a consistency of thought in Armstrong once obscured to us has finally become clear: “You name the country and we’ve just about been there,” he said of his travels with his wife Lucille. “We’ve been wined and dined by all kinds of royalty. We’ve had an audience with the Pope. We’ve even slept in Hitler’s bed. But regardless of all that kind of stuff, I’ve got sense enough to know that I’m still Louis Armstrong—colored.”

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

THE NICHOLAS BROTHERS: DANCE STEPS IN TIME

Many people regard Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire as the greatest dancers the movies have even seen and rightfully so. However, one of the most amazing dancers that film ever captured were The Nicholas Brothers The Nicholas Brothers were a famous African American team of dancing brothers, Fayard (1914–2006) and Harold (1921–2000). With their highly acrobatic technique ("flash dancing"), high level of artistry and daring innovations, they were considered by many the greatest tap dancers of their day. Growing up surrounded by Vaudeville acts as children, they became stars of the jazz circuit during the heyday of the Harlem Renaissance and went on to have successful careers performing on stage, film, and television well into the 1990s.

Because of the racial prejudice of the 1930s and 1940s, many of the dance scenes that The Nicholas Brothers filmed were not part of the plots of the films, so they could be cut out depending on where the movie was being shown. It is such a shame, because like other African-American entertainers at time (i.e.-Lena Horne and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson) they deserved to be superstars. I remember seeing them as young teenagers in the Eddie Cantor movie Kid Millions (1934). Reportedly they did not want Eddie to dance on screen with them, but Cantor (a major star at the time) threatened to walk from the film. All three talents introduced the Irving Berlin song “Mandy” in the film.
The Nicholas Brothers grew up in Philadelphia, the sons of musicians who played in their own band at the old Standard Theater, their mother at the piano and father on drums. At the age of three, Fayard was always seated in the front row while his parents worked, and by the time he was ten, he had seen most of the great African American Vaudeville acts, particularly the dancers, including such notables of the time as Alice Whitman, Willie Bryant and Bill Robinson. They were fascinated by the combination of tap dancing and acrobatics. Fayard often imitated their acrobatics and clowning for the kids in his neighborhood.
Neither Fayard nor Harold had any formal dance training. Fayard taught himself how to dance, sing, and perform by watching and imitating the professional entertainers on stage. He then taught his younger siblings, first performing with Dorothy as the Nicholas Kids; they were later joined by Harold. Harold idolized his older brother and learned by copying his moves and distinct style. Dorothy later opted out of the act, and the Nicholas Kids became known as the Nicholas Brothers.



The Brothers moved to Philadelphia in 1926 and gave their first performance at the Standard a few years later. By 1932 they became the featured act at Harlem's Cotton Club, when Harold was 11 and Fayard was 18. They astonished their mainly white audiences dancing to the Jazz tempos of "Bugle Call Rag" and they were the only entertainers in the African American cast allowed to mingle with white patrons. They performed at the Cotton Club for two years, working with the orchestras of Lucky Millinder, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington and Jimmy Lunceford. During this time they filmed their first movie short, "Pie Pie Blackbird" in 1932, with Eubie Blake and his orchestra.
In that exhilarating hybrid of tap dance, ballet and acrobatics, sometimes called acrobatic dancing or "flash dancing," no individual or group surpassed the effect that the Nicholas Brothers had on audiences and on other dancers. The brothers attribute their enormous success to this unique style of dancing that was greatly in demand during this time.
The brothers made their Broadway debut in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 and also appeared in Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's legendary musical Babes in Arms in 1937. They made a huge impression on their choreographer, Balanchine. The impression was so great that he was the one who invited them to appear in Babes in Arms. With Balanchine's training they learned many new stunts and because of how talented they were, many people assumed they were trained ballet dancers.



It was their tour of England with a production of "Blackbirds" that gave the Nicholas Brothers an opportunity to see and appreciate several of the great European Ballet companies.  In 1948, they gave a royal command performance for the King of England at the London Palladium. Later, they danced for nine different presidents of the United States. Also in 1948 they filmed a classic number in the MGM musical The Pirate. The movie was a forgettable bomb, but their performance of “Be A Clown” with Gene Kelly is among the best remembered they captured on film.
With the decline of the movie musical, the Brothers left Hollywood.  They later taught master classes in tap dance as teachers-in-residence at Harvard University and Radcliffe as Ruth Page Visiting Artists. Among their known students are Debbie Allen, Janet Jackson, and Michael Jackson. Several of today's master tap dancers have performed with or been taught by the brothers.
Fayard was married three times, and two of his granddaughters are now performing as dancers. Harold was married 4 times. He was first married to singer and actress Dorothy Dandridge from 1942 to 1951. The couple had one child, Harolyn Nicholas, who was born severely mentally handicapped. In Paris, he had a son, Melih Nicholas, by his second wife.



Both brothers continued to dance until the mid-1990s.  Harold died July 3, 2000 of a heart attack following minor surgery. Fayard died January 24, 2006 of pneumonia after having a stroke. Upon his death his memorial service was standing room only. Presided over by Mary Jean Valente of A Ceremony of the Heart, the service was a moving collection of personal tributes, music and dance and as appropriate, one last standing ovation.

A signature move of theirs was to leapfrog down a long, broad flight of stairs, while completing each step with a split. Its most famous performance formed the finale of the movie, Stormy Weather.  Fred Astaire once told the brothers that the "Jumpin' Jive" dance number in Stormy Weather was the greatest movie musical sequence he had ever seen. In that famous routine, the Nicholas Brothers leapt exuberantly across the orchestra's music stands and danced on the top of a grand piano in a call and response act with the pianist. Another signature move was to arise from a split without using the hands.  Gregory Hines declared that if their biography were ever filmed, their dance numbers would have to be computer generated because no one now could emulate them. Ballet legend Mikhail Baryshnikov once called them the most amazing dancers he had ever seen in his life. Looking back at their performances 70 years later, it is amazing the dancing ability they had. It is unfortunate that due to their race, they did not receive the fame that they deserved. However, audiences now can marvel at their abilities regardless or who they were or where they came from. Forever the Nicholas Brothers will be dancing in our memories…



Monday, February 23, 2015

HATTIE MCDANIEL: THE LATER YEARS

You would think that after winning the Academy Award for her role in Gone With The Wind, that it would open doors for actresses like Hattie McDaniel in better movie roles. Unfortunately it did not, and McDaniel fell back to more roles as just sassy maids. In the 1942 Warner Bros. film In This Our Life, starring Bette Davis and directed by John Huston, McDaniel once again played a domestic, but one who confronts racial issues, as her law student son is wrongly accused of manslaughter.

The following year, McDaniel was in Warner Bros' Thank Your Lucky Stars with Eddie Cantor, Humphrey Bogart, and Bette Davis. In its review of the film, Time wrote that McDaniel was comic relief in an otherwise "grim study," writing, "...Hattie McDaniel, whose bubbling, blaring good humor more than redeems the roaring bad taste of a Harlem number called Ice Cold Katie."

Hattie McDaniel continued to play maids during the war years in Warner Bros' The Male Animal (1942) and United Artists' Since You Went Away (1944), but her feistiness was toned down to reflect the era's somber news.

She made her last film appearances in Mickey (1948) and Family Honeymoon (1949). She remained active on radio and television in her final years, becoming the first black American to star in her own radio show with the comedy series Beulah. She also starred in the ABC television version of the show, replacing Ethel Waters after the first season. (Waters had apparently expressed concerns over stereotypes in the role.) Beulah was a hit, however, and earned McDaniel $2,000 a week. But the show was controversial. In 1951, the United States Army ceased broadcasting The Beulah Show in Asia because troops complained that the show perpetuated negative stereotypes of black men as shiftless and lazy and interfered with the ability of black troops to perform their mission. After filming a handful of episodes, however, McDaniel learned she had breast cancer. By the spring of 1952, she was too ill to work and was replaced by Louise Beavers.


McDaniel died at age 57 on October 26, 1952, of breast cancer in the hospital on the grounds of the Motion Picture House in Woodland Hills. McDaniel was survived by her brother, Sam McDaniel. Thousands of mourners turned out to celebrate her life and achievements. In her will, McDaniel wrote: "I desire a white casket and a white shroud; white gardenias in my hair and in my hands, together with a white gardenia blanket and a pillow of red roses. I also wish to be buried in the Hollywood Cemetery." The Hollywood Cemetery on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood is the resting place of movie stars such as Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino, and others. Hollywood Cemetery refused to allow her to be buried there, because it, too, practiced racial segregation and would not accept for burial the bodies of black people. Her second choice was Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery, where she lies today.


In 1999, Tyler Cassidy, the new owner of the Hollywood Cemetery that had renamed it Hollywood Forever Cemetery, offered to have McDaniel re-interred at his cemetery. Her family did not wish to disturb her remains and declined the offer. Instead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery built a large cenotaph on the lawn overlooking its lake. It is one of Hollywood's most popular tourist attractions.

McDaniel's last will and testament of December 1951 awarded her Oscar to Howard University, where she had been honored by the students with a luncheon after she had won her Oscar. At the time of her death, McDaniel would have had few options. Very few white institutions in that day preserved black history. Historically, black colleges had been where such artifacts were placed. Despite evidence McDaniel had earned an excellent income as an actor, her final estate was less than $10,000. The IRS claimed the estate owed more than $11,000 in taxes. In the end, the probate court ordered all of her property, including her Oscar, sold to pay off creditors. Years later, the Oscar turned up where McDaniel wanted it to be: Howard University, where, according to reports, it was displayed in a glass case in the University's drama department. Hattie McDaniel never got the roles she deserved, but she helped to pave a way for African American actresses even now some 75 years after her monumental Oscar win...


Friday, February 20, 2015

BORN ON THIS DAY: SYDNEY POITIER

It is hard to believe that someone like Sydney Poitier is 88 years ago. The images he displayed on the film made him seem so timeless. Sir Sidney Poitier was born February 20, 1927. In 1964, Poitier became the first black person to win an Academy Award for Best Actor,  for his role in Lilies of the Field. The significance of this achievement was later bolstered in 1967 when he starred in three successful films, all of which dealt with issues involving race: To Sir, with Love; In the Heat of the Night; and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, making him the top box-office star of that year. In 1999, the American Film Institute named Poitier among the Greatest Male Stars of All Time, ranking 22nd on the list of 25.

Sidney Poitier's parents were Evelyn (née Outten) and Reginald James Poitier, Bahamian farmers who owned a farm on Cat Island and traveled to Miami in the U.S.A. to sell tomatoes and other produce. Reginald worked as a cab driver in Nassau, Bahamas.  Poitier was born in Miami while his parents were visiting. His birth was two months premature and he was not expected to survive, but his parents remained three months in Miami to nurse him to health. Poitier grew up in the Bahamas (then a British colony) but because of his birth in the U.S., he automatically gained U.S. citizenship. Poitier's uncle has claimed that the Poitier ancestors on his father's side had migrated from Haiti and were probably a part of the runaway slaves which had established maroon communities throughout the Bahamas, including Cat Island. He mentions that the surname Poitier is a French name, and there were no white Poitiers from the Bahamas.

At the age of 15 he was sent to Miami to live with his brother. At the age of 17, he moved to New York City and held a string of jobs as a dishwasher. A Jewish waiter sat with him every night for several weeks helping him learn to read the newspaper. He then decided to join the United States Army after which he worked as a dishwasher until a successful audition landed him a spot with the American Negro Theatre.


Poitier joined the American Negro Theater, but was rejected by audiences. Contrary to what was expected of African American actors at the time, Poitier's tone deafness made him unable to sing. Determined to refine his acting skills and rid himself of his noticeable Bahamian accent, he spent the next six months dedicating himself to achieving theatrical success. On his second attempt at the theater, he was noticed and given a leading role in the Broadway production Lysistrata, for which he received good reviews. By the end of 1949, he had to choose between leading roles on stage and an offer to work for Darryl F. Zanuck in the film No Way Out (1950). His performance in No Way Out, as a doctor treating a Caucasian bigot (played by Richard Widmark), was noticed and led to more roles, each considerably more interesting and more prominent than those most African American actors of the time were offered. Poitier's breakout role was as a member of an incorrigible high school class in Blackboard Jungle (1955).

Poitier began to be criticized for being typecast as over-idealized African American characters who were not permitted to have any sexuality or personality faults, such as his character in Guess Who's Coming To Dinner (1967). Poitier was aware of this pattern himself, but was conflicted on the matter: he wanted more varied roles, but also felt obliged to set a good example with his characters to defy previous stereotypes, as he was the only major actor of African descent in the American film industry at the time. For instance, in 1966 he turned down an opportunity to play the lead in an NBC production of Othello with that spirit in mind. In 2001, Poitier received an Honorary Academy Award for his overall contribution to American cinema. With the death of Ernest Borgnine in 2012, Poitier became the oldest living man to have won the Academy Award for Best Actor. On March 2, 2014, Poitier appeared with Angelina Jolie at the 86th Academy Awards, to present the Best Director award. He was given a standing ovation, as Jolie thanked him for all his Hollywood contributions, stating "we are in your debt". Poitier gave a small speech telling his peers to "keep up the wonderful work" to emotional applause...