Sunday, January 25, 2015

HEALTHWATCH: JOANNE WOODWARD

Hollywood legend Joanne Woodward is nearing her final days after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease according to reports by the Associated Press. The 84-year-old film legend and widow of actor, the late Paul Newman's deteriorating health issues became more evident and concerning for friends and fans after Woodward was a no show recently at a scheduled appearance a the Westport Country Playhouse in Connecticut.

Taking Woodward's place was her daughter Clea Newman. It was revealed that soon after the event started and it was evident that Joanne was unable to attend that friends and fans began realizing that Woodward's health was the cause of her absence. The Associated Press also revealed that Woodward is being cared for in her home in Westport by her daughter Melissa.Woodward is best known for long Hollywood film career and her Oscar win for her role in the 1957 film “The Three Faces of Eve."

Joanne, who is ravaged by Alzheimer’s disease, hasn’t been seen at public events since early 2013.Woodward married Newman in 1958 and share three daughters, Nell Newman, Melissa Newman, Claire Olivia Newman. Joanne Woodward began her log running Hollywood film career in 1955. During this time she continued her career move between Hollywood and Broadway, before becoming the understudy in the production of Picnic, which featured Paul Newman.

Newman and Woodward met and fell in love on the set and later married in 1958 after their work together in the film "The Long, Hot Summer." Throughout their career's Joanne and Paul appeared alongside each other in ten films. Woodward also starred in five feature films directed by her late husband Paul Newman. Newman married Woodward on February 2, 1958, in Las Vegas and remained married for 50 years until Newman's death from lung cancer in 2008.

Woodward's friends and fans are wishing her and her family comfort and peace throughout her final days....


Saturday, January 24, 2015

RIP: JOE FRANKLIN

Joe Franklin, known as The King Of Nostalgia has died. He was 88. Franklin was an American radio and television host personality from New York City, best known for pioneering the television talk-and-variety show format that set the standard for television talk shows. His show began in 1950 on WJZ-TV (later WABC-TV) and moved to WOR-TV (later WWOR-TV) from 1962 to 1993. He interviewed over 300,000 guests during his 43 year television career.

Born in the Bronx, New York in 1926, as a teenager Franklin "followed around" Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor, who eventually began buying jokes from the young Franklin and whose Carnegie Hall show he later produced. At age fourteen, Franklin began working behind the scenes for The Kate Smith Hour and at sixteen, Franklin officially began his entertainment career as a record picker on radio sensation Martin Block's Make Believe Ballroom where he became known as "The Young Wreck with the Old Records". He is considered an authority on popular culture of the first half of the 20th century, including silent film. He has been called "The King of Nostalgia" and "The Wizard of Was" for focusing on old-time show-business personalities. Franklin was also a pioneer in promoting products such as Hoffman Beverages and Ginger Ale on the air.

A&E's documentary It's Only Talk, The Real Story Of America's Talk Shows, (Actuality Productions) credits Franklin as the creator of the TV talk show. Franklin is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the Longest Running Continuous On-Air TV Talk Show Host, more than a decade longer than Johnny Carson's legendary run.


After retiring from his television show, Franklin concentrated on his overnight radio show, playing old records on WOR-AM on Saturday evenings, and mentoring thousands of aspiring entertainers who for decades have sought an audience with him at his notoriously cluttered Times Square office. Through mid-January 2015, in spite of failing health, Franklin continued working and his celebrity interviews called "Nostalgia Moments" could be heard daily on the Bloomberg Radio Network.

Franklin's guests included (sometimes on the same panel) Charlie Chaplin, John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe (with whom Franklin co-authored "The Marilyn Monroe Story" in 1953), Jayne Mansfield, Cary Grant, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, Rudy Vallee, Jimmy Durante, Madonna, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Bing Crosby, The Ramones, Captain Lou Albano, and five U.S. Presidents juxtaposed with countless unknown local performers, fringe bands, balloon-folders, self-published authors, celebrity impersonators and lounge singers, all of whom gave the show a surreal atmosphere.

Joe died on January 24, 2015 after a lengthy illness. Joe Franklin will be greatly missed...


Thursday, January 22, 2015

COMING SOON: AFRICAN-AMERICAN HISTORY MONTH

Since February is African-American history month, we are dedicating the entire month to the artistic merits of African-American entertainers during the golden age of Hollywood. African-Americans did not get the roles that they deserved in the 1930s and 1940s, and the roles they did get were as "waiters", "porters", or "mammies".

Join us for the whole month of February as we celebrate the lasting contributions of African-Americans in entertainment...


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

FOR SALE: BOB HOPE'S LAST HOME


Bob Hope's Toluca Lake home, the place the entertainer and later his wife Dolores spent their final days, has returned to Los Angeles market -- this time with a $23 million price tag.

Toluca Lake is a neighborhood just north of Universal Studios where Steve Carell, Zac Efron, Kiefer Sutherland, Miley Cyrus and Melissa McCarthy also live. The Hopes' English traditional house, just a half mile from where buddy Bing Crosby lived, is far less spectacular than the couple's Palm Springs contemporary, also on the market with a 50 percent price slash to $25 million.

The 5.6-acre Toluca Lake property -- really, a gated compound –- was "the" place for entertainers and politicians to meet and greet in the 1940s and 1950s. Richard Nixon reportedly once landed his helicopter on the grounds on his way to play golf.


At one time, the Hopes were considered among the largest private landowners in California. But of their many properties, this Toluca Lake estate is where they called home. Hope would often drive a golf cart around the neighborhood on his way to the Lakeside Golf Club down the street. Obituaries for the couple say they both died at home in Toluca Lake -– Bob at 100 in 2003 and Dolores at 102 in 2011.

The property spans four parcels and clearly dwarfs anything in that neighborhood. It has a large main house, pool house, and staff quarters/production office. It originally was listed for $27.5 million in 2013, then reduced to $21.8 million when two acres were lopped off the listing, taken off the market for about five months, then returned with those two acres for $23 million.

The 15,000 square-foot mansion was built in 1939 for the Hopes by architect Richard Finkelhor (who also designed homes for Zeppo Marx and Barbara Stanwyck), and later renovated in the 1950s by John Elgin Woolf, known as the king of the Hollywood Regency style that melds 19th-century French, Greek Revival and Modernist styles into a glitz-glam look. Woolf's celebrity-studded client list included Judy Garland, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy and Lillian Gish...

Sunday, January 18, 2015

RECENTLY VIEWED: THE EDDIE CANTOR STORY

After the life stories of Al Jolson and George M. Cohan were turned into successful movies in the 1940s, Hollywood was trying to find their next subject. The life of Eddie Cantor had everything that would make a good movie, and it is one of those movies you really want to like. While the real life Eddie Cantor is seen going into a screening room at Warner Brothers to watch this movie with his beloved wife Ida, you sort of have to wonder what he really thought about it. The story and songs are there, but it is really an imitation of his life with a poorly cast Keefe Brasselle (1923-1981) in the title role. He's sort of creepy for the most part with enlarged eyes that seem to parody Cantor rather than portray him, and even without the eyes, he really doesn't resemble Cantor, with a speaking voice too shrill to match Cantor's real voice for those of us familiar with the real deal.

What starts off as "The Bowery Boys Meet Banjo Eyes" turns into "Cantor Sings Again", covering his discovery by Gus Edwards as a child (after being used by some street gang members to distract audience members from their pick-pocketing), his struggles to get into the "Ziegfeld Follies", and then his moving on to light-hearted book musicals like "Kid Boots" and "Whoopee!". Dramatically, it also tells of his childhood romance with Ida, their issues with his constantly being away, and finally some health issues which threaten to curtail his career for good.



There is also of course, his use of blackface, but it never really goes into detail of why he chose that route since he had been popular as himself. Certainly, that aspect of his entertainment personality is dated now and quite offensive, but it is a part of our history that we can't change and certainly shouldn't repeat. Of course, there's going to be comparisons to "The Jolson Story", and the one good thing which can be said is that Cantor didn't have Jolson's massive ego, and mentions of him in Broadway and Hollywood memoirs describe him as a very giving performer. What is interesting is Larry Parks was supposed to recreate his role as Al Jolson for this Cantor film, but Parks was blacklisted during the Red Scare and was dropped from the film.



Cantor's marriage to Ida (Marilyn Erskine) wasn't nearly as troubled as Jolson's to Ruby Keeler, but the real love of his life seems to have been his delightfully spry grandmother (lovingly played by Aline MacMahon). One very touching moment in the film is Cantor's Follies debut where he looks out into the audience and sees only her.


As Cantor does get to do all his own singing, there are all those great numbers, and Brasselle, at least in the black face, does capture his glove hand clapping and prancing routines downpacked. The various Ziegfeld production numbers, however, seem more 50's in style than 20's and 30's. When the movie came out, it was not successful and many people blamed Brasselle himself. It is not entirely his fault, because it is virtually impossible for anyone else to capture the real Eddie Cantor. (On HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” Stephen DeRosa portrays Eddie very convincingly though).
The soundtrack to the movie is the big draw, and even as Eddie’s health was beginning to suffer in 1953, he still could sing his songs. The movie is not good, but it is worth watching. Eddie Cantor’s personality was so much more than this movie managed to capture. His movies, his recordings, and his generosity to charities and social issues really make one think that Eddie Cantor was the true greatest entertainer of all time...

MY RATING: 5 OUT OF 10…

Thursday, January 15, 2015

NICO CHARISSE: A HOLLYWOOD OFFSPRING STORY

You probably do not recognize the name Nico Charisse, but he is the son of famous parents dancer Cyd Charisse (1921-2008) and singer Tony Martin (1913-2012). Actually his real father was Nico Charisse Sr (1906-1971). Nico Sr. was actually his mother's dance teacher and Cyd married the much older dance teacher in 1939 at the young age of 18. The age difference and Cyd making a move to Hollywood was too much for the marriage, and the couple divorced on February 17, 1947. The elder Nico would remarry and have another child in the 1950s.


Nico Jr. would be pratically adopted by Tony Martin after Martin married Cyd on May 18, 1948. With two parents now happy and in love, as well as with a new half brother Tony Martin Jr born on August 28, 1950, Nico had pretty much a perfect Hollywood family and upbringing. His parents were both healthy and raised their sons without the drama that face other Hollywood families.

In the late 1960s, Nico met the beautiful Shelia Marie Snodgrass. They were married and life seemed pretty good for the couple. Nico was going to school to become a lawyer, and he was admitted to the star bar in 1977 and began practicing law in California. Tragedy would strike the family when Shelia was killed on May 25, 1979 when the American Airlines Flight 191 crashed just outside of Chicago. All 258 passengers and 13 crew on board were killed, along with two people on the ground. It is the deadliest aviation accident to occur on U.S. soil. The disaster and investigation received widespread coverage in the media, assisted by new news gathering technologies. The impact on the public was increased by the dramatic effect of an amateur photo taken of the aircraft rolling which was published on the front page of the Chicago Tribune on the Sunday following the crash (the crash was on a Friday).


Nico remarried a second time - unfortunately unsuccessfully. His career as a lawyer was almost ruined when he was disciplined for misconduct. Charisse's misconduct involved three separate clients and included failing to properly maintain and supervise his client trust account, keep clients informed about the status of their case, perform legal services competently, and improper withdrawal from representation.

In one instance, Charisse was employed by a client who maintained that trees in his orchard were damaged by a crop dusting company. Charisse filed the complaint but did not comply with fast track rules; the case was dismissed and he was sanctioned for failing to appear at a hearing.

His client was unsuccessful at many attempts to check on the status of his case and Charisse did not tell him that the case was dismissed. The client requested an accounting and refund of unearned fees, which Charisse neglected to do.

In mitigation, Charisse was suffering from extreme clinical depression which was exacerbated by a personal family law matter, including a child custody fight from his second wife. Charisse was suffering from alcoholism at the time of his misconduct, but has received inpatient treatment and is involved in a continuing program of sobriety. Nico rose above these tough times and continued to practice law until he retired in 2007.

After receiving the National Medal Of Freedom from President George Bush in 2006, Cyd Charisse began having heart troubles. She suffered a massive heart attack on June 16, 2008 and died the following day at the age of 86. Nico openly wept at the funeral of his mother who was buried at the Hillside Memorial Park.

More tragedy struck on April 10, 2011 when his half brother Tony Martin Jr died at the age of 60. I have not discovered the exact cause of death, but it was reported that Tony Martin Jr had been in ill health for years, and his parents had to pay most of the medical bills. It was also reported that Tony Jr was in a car accident in 2001, but I am not sure if that contributed to his death.

At this point Nico helped to care for the now elderly Tony Martin Sr. Tony was always a pillar of health and energy and performed into 2008, but after the death of his beloved Cyd and then the death of their only son together, Tony Sr. stopped performing. Tony Martin Sr. died on the evening of July 27, 2012 at the age of 98. Nico Jr has had a lot of tragedy in his life, and despite having a happy upbringing from his famous parents, you never quite know where life will take you.



Tuesday, January 13, 2015

WHAT A CHARACTER: PATSY KELLY

I think there are not a lot of good roles for women in Hollywood these days. If I think it is bad now, it was even harder for women to get good roles in Hollywood in the 1930s. There were a steady group of wonderful woman characters during that time. In my humble opinion, one of the funniest comedy character actresses was the great Patsy Kelly.

Kelly was born Sarah Veronica Rose Kelly on January 12, 1910 in Brooklyn to Irish immigrants parents John (died 1942) and Delia Kelly (1875-1930). She began her career in vaudeville as a dancer at the age of 12. While in vaudeville, she performed in Frank Fay's act, first in a song-and-dance routine and later as Fay's comic foil.  She remained with Fay for several seasons until Fay eventually dismissed her. Kelly made her Broadway debut in 1928. In 1930 and 1931, she performed for producer Earl Carroll in his popular Sketches and Vanities musicals.

Kelly, like other New York actors, made her screen debut in a Vitaphone short subject filmed there. In 1933 producer Hal Roach hired Kelly to co-star with Thelma Todd in a series of short-subject comedies. (Kelly replaced ZaSu Pitts, who left Roach after a salary dispute). The Todd-Kelly shorts cemented Patsy Kelly's image: a brash, wisecracking woman who frequently punctured the pomposity of other characters. Later entries in the series showcased Kelly's dancing skills. Kelly made 35 shorts with Todd before Todd died in 1935. Lyda Roberti replaced Todd, but died of heart failure in 1938.

After the popularity of shorts began to wane, Kelly moved to full length feature films, often playing working-class character roles in comedies and musicals. One of her memorable roles was as Etta, the cook, in the five Academy Awards-nominated 1938 comedy movie Merrily We Live. By 1943, Kelly's film career had began to decline. She appeared in films for Producers Releasing Corporation, the smallest and cheapest of the movie studios. Her last starring roles were in two PRC comedies, My Son, the Hero and Danger! Women at Work, both released in 1943. Kelly left Hollywood and would not make another film for 17 years.

After leaving Hollywood, Kelly returned to New York City where she worked in radio and did summer stock. She also worked as a personal assistant to Tallulah Bankhead (whom she later claimed she had a sexual relationship with). Kelly returned to the screen in the 1950s with television and sporadic film roles. On television she appeared in guest roles on 26 Men, Kraft Television Theatre, The Man from U.N.C.L.E, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Wild Wild West, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, as well as many unsold pilots. She also made a memorable appearance as Laura-Louise in the film thriller Rosemary's Baby (1968), directed by Roman Polanski, alongside veteran actors Sidney Blackmer, Ruth Gordon, and Maurice Evans.


She returned to Broadway in 1971 in the revival of No, No, Nanette with fellow hoofers Ruby Keeler and Helen Gallagher. Kelly scored a huge success as the wisecracking, tap-dancing maid, and won Broadway's 1971 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her performance in the show. She matched that success the following year when she starred in Irene with Debbie Reynolds, and was again nominated for a Tony.

In 1976, she appeared as the housekeeper Mrs. Schmauss in the film Freaky Friday starring Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris. Her final movie appearance came in the 1979 Disney comedy The North Avenue Irregulars, also co-starring Harris, along with Cloris Leachman, Edward Herrmann and Karen Valentine. Kelly's last onscreen appearance was a guest spot in a two-part episode of The Love Boat in 1979. In January 1980, Kelly suffered a stroke while in San Francisco which caused her to lose the ability to speak. She was admitted to Englewood Nursing Home in Englewood, New Jersey, on the advice of her old friend Ruby Keeler where she underwent therapy. 

She slowly began recovering from the stroke, when cancer was detected. On September 24, 1981, Kelly died of cancer at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California. She is buried with her parents, John and Delia Kelly, in Calvary Cemetery in Queens. Patsy Kelly remained quite a character through nearly six decades of entertaining. Not a bad run by Hollywood standards at all...