Tuesday, December 18, 2018

RIP: PENNY MARSHALL

Penny Marshall, who starred in "Laverne & Shirley," has died. She was 75.

A publicist for Marshall told Fox News that the actress died "peacefully at her Hollywood Hills home" from complications due to diabetes on Monday.

"Our family is heartbroken over the passing of Penny Marshall," the Marshall family told us in a statement.

"Penny was a girl from the Bronx, who came out West, put a cursive 'L' on her sweater and transformed herself into a Hollywood success story," the statement added. "We hope her life continues to inspire others to spend time with family, work hard and make all of their dreams come true."

The New York-born actress rose to fame from her hit 1970s sitcom "Laverne & Shirley." She starred as Laverne DeFazio, the Milwaukee brewery worker, alongside Cindy Williams in the hit ABC comedy show. The series, which aired from 1976 to 1983, was among the biggest hits of its era.

It also gave Marshall her start as a filmmaker. She directed several episodes of "Laverne & Shirley" before making her feature film directorial debut in Jumpin' Jack Flash, the 1986 comedy starring Whoopi Goldberg.


Her next film made Marshall the first woman to direct a film that grossed more than $100 million. Her 1988 hit comedy Big starring Tom Hanks, was about a 12-year-old boy who wakes up in the body of a 30-year-old New York City man. The film earned Hanks an Oscar nomination.

Marshall reteamed with Hanks for A League of Their Own, the 1992 comedy about the women's professional baseball league begun during World War II. That, too, crossed $100 million, making $107.5 million domestically.

Marshall also directed Geena Davis, Robert De Niro, Robin Williams, Madonna, Denzel Washington, Rosie O’Donnell and the late Whitney Houston.

Per the statement, a celebration of Marshall's life will be held at a later date.

Marshall is survived by her older sister Ronny, daughter Tracy Reiner, and grandchildren Spencer, Bella and Viva...


Saturday, December 15, 2018

MY FIVE FAVORITE VERA-ELLEN FILMS

As a lifelong fans of movie musicals, I have always loved the dancing in movies. Vera-Ellen was never my favorite dancer growing up. (Eleanor Powell was always my favorite.) However as I get older I have come to really appreciate the movies of Vera-Ellen more. Here are my five favorite Vera-Ellen musicals...



5. THE BELLE OF NEW YORK (1952)
Set in turn-of-the-century New York, wealthy playboy Charles Hill (Fred Astaire) falls in love with Angela (Vera-Ellen) a Salvation Army worker. The plot is slight but the musical numbers are top notch. The highlights was the musical number "Baby Doll" , which was sung by Astaire and danced by Astaire and Vera-Ellen with much emphasis  on twirling motifs and platform work and "Naughty But Nice", which was sung by ghost singer Anita Ellis but danced beautifully by Vera. The film lost money in its initial release, but it is a cute movie.

4. THREE LITTLE WORDS (1950)
This film was a "biography" of songwriters Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. Fred Astaire played Kalmar and Red Skelton played Ruby. Vera-Ellen's role was not great, but he played Fred Astaire's wife in this fictional biography. The best number was 'Where Did You Get That Girl" which was danced by Astaire and Vera-Ellen. It was the highlight of the film and most of the other numbers went to Fred Astaire and Red Skelton. Another number not to miss was "Come On Papa". It was another high-kicking song and dance routine, this time for Vera-Ellen though!



3. WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954)
This film is the movie that Vera is most remembered for. It also was her last big movie musical appearance, which is a pity. Vera got the chance to perform some great Irving Berlin numbers, and she never looked lovelier dancing to Berlin songs like: "Abraham" and "Mandy". The film belonged to Bing Crosby, but Vera-Ellen was great as Rosemary Clooney's sister and Danny Kaye's love interest. Vera and Danny Kaye had a beautiful musical dancing to a newer Irving Berlin song "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing". The movie was a great end to a short movie musical career.

2.WORDS AND MUSIC (1948)
This film was another musical biography that MGM was famous for. This time it was the life story of composers Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. It is sad that Vera-Ellen is only in the movie for one number, but it was one of the greatest dances ever captured on film. Vera dances with Gene Kelly to the classic number "Slaughter On Tenth Avenue". The movie is basically fiction but the appearance that Vera makes in the film is definitely the best part of the film.



1. ON THE TOWN (1949)
Set in New York City, this classic movie musical probably featured Vera-Ellen the most. The whole film is spent with three soldiers (Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin) trying to find Miss Turnstiles (Vera). I am not a big ballet fan, but I love the "Miss Turnstiles Ballet" (an instrumental number from Leonard Bernstein's score). Vera's dance numbers in the movie tended to be more of a ballet orgin, but the dances were flawless. Although Vera appeared with Fred Astaire and Danny Kaye in a lot of movies, I think the screen chemistry of Vera and Gene Kelly were the best. Vera possessed that athletic and enthusiastic dancing ability that Gene Kelly possessed.

Friday, December 14, 2018

RIP: NANCY WILSON

Nancy Wilson, the Grammy-winning “song stylist” and torch singer whose polished pop-jazz vocals made her a platinum artist and top concert performer, has died.

Wilson, who retired from touring in 2011, died after a long illness at her home in Pioneertown, a California desert community near Joshua Tree National Park, her manager and publicist Devra Hall Levy told The Associated Press late Thursday night. She was 81.

Influenced by Dinah Washington, Nat “King” Cole and other stars, Wilson covered everything from jazz standards to “Little Green Apples” and in the 1960s alone released eight albums that reached the top 20 on Billboard’s pop charts. Sometimes elegant and understated, or quick and conversational and a little naughty, she was best known for such songs as her breakthrough “Guess Who I Saw Today” and the 1964 hit ”(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am,” which drew upon Broadway, pop and jazz.

She resisted being identified with a single category, especially jazz, and referred to herself as a “song stylist.”

“The music that I sing today was the pop music of the 1960s,” she told The San Francisco Chronicle in 2010. “I just never considered myself a jazz singer. I do not do runs and — you know. I take a lyric and make it mine. I consider myself an interpreter of the lyric.”


Wilson’s dozens of albums included a celebrated collaboration with Cannonball Adderley, “Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley,” a small group setting which understandably could be called jazz; “Broadway — My Way”; “Lush Life”; and “The Nancy Wilson Show!” a best-selling concert recording. “How Glad I Am” brought her a Grammy in 1965 for best R&B performance, and she later won Grammys for best jazz vocal album in 2005 for the intimate “R.S.V.P (Rare Songs, Very Personal)” and in 2007 for “Turned to Blue,” a showcase for the relaxed, confident swing she mastered later in life. The National Endowment for the Arts awarded her a “Jazz Masters Fellowship” in 2004 for lifetime achievement.

Wilson was married twice — to drummer Kenny Dennis, whom she divorced in 1970; and to Wiley Burton, who died in 2008. She had three children.

Born in Chillicothe, Ohio, the eldest of six children of an iron foundry worker and a maid, Wilson sang in church as a girl and by age 4 had decided on her profession. She was in high school when she won a talent contest sponsored by a local TV station and was given her own program. After briefly attending Central State College, she toured Ohio with the Rusty Bryant’s Carolyn Club Big Band and met such jazz artists as Adderley, who encouraged her to move to New York.


She soon had a regular gig at The Blue Morocco, and got in touch with Adderley’s manager, John Levy.

“He set up a session to record a demo,” Wilson later observed during an interview for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. “Ray Bryant and I went in and recorded ‘Guess Who I Saw Today,’ ‘Sometimes I’m Happy,’ and two other songs. We sent them to Capitol and within five days the phone rang. Within six weeks I had all the things I wanted.”

Her first album, “Like in Love!”, came out in 1959, and she had her greatest commercial success over the following decade despite contending at times with the latest sounds. Gamely, she covered Beatles songs (“And I Love Her” became “And I Love Him”), Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” and “Son of a Preacher Man,” on which she strained to mimic Aretha Franklin’s fiery gospel style. She was so outside the contemporary music scene an interviewer once stumped her by asking about Cream, the million-selling rock trio featuring Eric Clapton.

“It took me years to know what that question was about. Remember, I was constantly working or I was traveling to perform. The ’60s for me were about work,” she told JazzWax in 2010.


In the 1970s and after, she continued to record regularly and perform worldwide, at home in nightclubs, concert halls and open-air settings, singing at jazz festivals from Newport to Tokyo. She officially stopped touring with a show at Ohio University in September 2011, but had been thinking of stepping back for years. When she turned 70, in 2007, she was guest of honor at a Carnegie Hall gala. The show ended with Wilson performing such favorites as “Never, Never Will I Marry,” ″I Can’t Make You Love Me” and the Gershwin classic “How Long Has This Been Going On?”

“After 55 years of doing what I do professionally, I have a right to ask how long? I’m trying to retire, people,” she said with a laugh before leaving the stage to a standing ovation.

In accordance with Wilson’s wishes, there will be no funeral service, a family statement said. A celebration of her life will be held most likely in February, the month of her birth.

She is survived by her son, Kacy Dennis; daughters Samantha Burton and Sheryl Burton; sisters Karen Davis and Brenda Vann and five grandchildren...


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A TRIBUTE TO MY GRANDFATHER - HIS 90TH BIRTHDAY

I wanted to take a break from our Vera-Ellen month to remember my Grandfather who would have been 90 today. He left us way too soon in 2002, but he is the reason for who I was, who I am, and who I will continue to become...


Friday, December 7, 2018

THE LAST DAYS OF VERA-ELLEN

With the internet, I get a lot of spam and junk email. I nearly deleted an email I got from an address I didn't recognize. However, I read it, and it was from someone who had read one of my stories about the great Vera-Ellen. It was more than just a fan, it was a nurse that took care of Vera while the dancer was a patient at the University of California Los Angeles Medical Center when Vera-Ellen died on August 30, 1981. I was still skeptical at this email, but I called the medical center and verified this nurse worked there. She did not want me to publish her name, even though she retired from the hospital in 2002. She got to know Vera-Ellen briefly...



QUESTION: Many people say Vera-Ellen was a recluse in her final years, so people have no clue what Vera-Ellen was like when she got older. What was she like when you knew her?

NURSE: I didn't meet Vera until she was diagnosed with cancer a few months before she died. She was quiet and petite, and she had the most beautiful eyes


QUESTION: There has been rumors that Vera-Ellen suffered from anorexia. Do you know if there is any truth of this?

NURSE: When I was assigned to be her nurse, I got to look at her file. At the time, around 1981, she was not suffering from anorexia, but her medical history did mention she suffered from anorexia when she was younger.



QUESTION: How was Vera during her final days?

NURSE: I was on vacation when Vera died so I did not see her on her final days. However, the other nurses say she died peacefully in her sleep. She was highly sedated on her final days, but she was a very sweet and kind woman.


QUESTION: Did Vera ever talk about her days in Hollywood?

NURSE: If you would not know who she was, you would never have known she was a Hollywood star or even in the movies. The only thing that she got in the hospital was a bouquet of flowers from a Fred. We later learned they were from Fred Astaire.


QUESTION: What do you remember most about Vera?

NURSE: What I remember most is she seemed a little sad. However, no matter how bad she was feeling, to the end she would ask how I was and what was going on in my life? I have had a few other famous people as my patients, but Vera-Ellen was the nicest and sweetest...







Saturday, December 1, 2018

THE BELLE OF NEW YORK: A 1952 REVIEW

To start off our month of Vera-Ellen, here is the original review of the forgotten Vera-Ellen/Fred Astaire gem The Belle of New York (1952). This was written by Bosley Crowther and appeared in the NY Times of  March 6, 1952...

Add to the list of young ladies who have danced on the screen with Fred Astaire the name of Vera-Ellen and mark it with a star. For this agile and twinkling charmer, who accompanies the ageless Mr. A. in his latest if not his greatest Metro musical, "The Belle of New York," is as graceful and pleasing a dancer as any that has gone before, and she adds a considerable presence to this trifle at Loew's State.

And, believe us, a presence is needed, in addition to that of Mr. A., for little of any marked distinction is in evidence, outside the two stars. A couple of bright production numbers, including a series of Currier & Ives tableaux that have a beguiling sparkle in the Technicolor used; a couple of Johnny Mercer lyrics, attached to some Harry Warren tunes, and that is about the total—outside of Vera-Ellen and Mr. A. If it weren't for them and their dancing, "The Belle of New York" would be kaput.

As it is, the two nimble performers have just about all they can do to keep this slight musical moving for the brief hour and twenty minutes that it runs. Somehow the script about a playboy who falls wildly and buoyantly in love with a prim hallelujah singer on the sidewalks of gaslit New York is so thin and dramatically boneless that it couldn't possibly move from here to there on the strength of the trifling complications with which it is barely endowed or the mild incidental assistance of Keenan Wynn. Alice Pearce and Marjorie Main.


And so Director Charles Walters desperately calls upon his stars to remedy the vast emaciation with the frequent use of their muscular limbs, to which enterprise of salvation they apply themselves with a will. Together they cut some darling figures in those Currier & Ives tableaux, directed by Robert Alton in a cutely exaggerated style. A game of old-fashioned badminton is burlesqued with delicacy and grace and a gay figure-dance on an ice pond is actually done by the two on skates. Together they also scamper to a nice tune called "Baby Doll" and frolic all over a horse-car to a frivolous jingle called "Oops!"


It is separately, however, that they deliver their best, to our taste—as if vyeing with one another in pedal dexterity. Mr. A. gets first go with a dizzying and reminiscent tap, in top hat and tails, while perched precariously atop the Arch in Washington Square. That is put in the shade by Vera-Ellen when she does a delicious pantomime, in opera-length hose and ruffled scanties, to the tune of "Naughty But Nice." And just when you're starting to pity the old master for being outclassed Mr. A. pops back in a honey of a soft-shoe sand dance that takes the prize. The title of the tune to which he does it? With pleasure: "I Wanna Be a Dancin' Man!"

But again, as we say, there's little cooking but Vera-Ellen and Mr. Astaire in this handsomely costumed, brightly lighted, dramatically empty film. Punning upon the nursery jingle, "The Belle of New York" has only toes.



Wednesday, November 28, 2018

RECENTLY VIEWED: RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET

Since I have two young children, I end up watching a lot of cartoons. I especially see a lot of children's movies in the theater. I am so glad that studios make cartoons that can appeal to children and adults alike. One example of this is the great cartoon "Ralph Breaks The Internet" which I went to see with my two children during Thanksgiving break.

Ralph Breaks the Internet is a 2018 American 3D computer-animated comedy film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Pictures as well as the studio's 57th feature-length film. It is the second installment of the Wreck-It Ralph film series and the sequel to the 2012 film Wreck-It Ralph. It is directed by Rich Moore and Phil Johnston, written by Johnston and Pamela Ribon, and executive-produced by John Lasseter, Chris Williams, and Jennifer Lee. It features John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, and Ed O'Neill reprising their roles from the first film, with Alan Tudyk returning to voice a new character, alongside new additions to the cast including Gal Gadot, Taraji P. Henson, Bill Hader (in an uncredited role), and Alfred Molina.

Talks for a Wreck-It Ralph sequel began in October 2012, and went through three different scripts before settling on the final plot. The film was officially announced in June 2016, with much of the original cast confirming they had signed on, with new members being added in 2018. It marks the first feature-length theatrical sequel from Walt Disney Animation Studios since Winnie the Pooh in 2011, which was a sequel to the 1977 animated film The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. It is also the studio's first animated sequel to be created by the original film's writing/directing team.


Similar to the first film, which included a number of cameos and references to video games, Ralph Breaks the Internet has additional features to Internet culture and to various Disney properties, including their own films, Pixar films, the Star Wars, Marvel Comics, and The Muppets franchises. Mickey Mouse, Grumpy,Dumbo, Buzz Lightyear,C-3PO,R2-D2,Yoda, First Order Stormtroopers, Iron Man, and Rocket Raccoon also appear in the film, along with the video game characters Q*Bert, Pac-Man, Clyde, Inky, Taizo Hori, Ken Masters, Chun-Li, Ryu, Zangief, M. Bison, Peter Pepper, Frogger, Tapper, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Doctor Eggman from the original film. The band Imagine Dragons (whose song "Zero" is featured in a trailer for the film, as well as its soundtrack) make a cameo appearance in the film, with the members voicing themselves. Stan Lee, Marvel Comics' former writer, editor and publisher, makes a posthumous cameo appearance in the film talking to Iron Man. The filmmakers revealed that the film originally featured a joke about Kylo Ren being a "spoiled child", which was later cut from the film by request from Lucasfilm.


One of the best moments in the film is when all of the Disney princesses makes appearances. The original actresses provided the voices, except for the older movie princesses like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella. Reportedly this is the first time all of them appeared together on film. Their appearance was much more than a cameo, and they are important to the end of the film. 

Ralph Breaks The Internet has it all. The cartoon part of the film is enjoyable for kids, but the spoofing of ebay, amazon, and other internet hot spots will make the older viewers laugh. It's a great film, and all three of us enjoyed the trip to the movies...

MY RATING: 10 OUT OF 10