Archive for March, 2020|Monthly archive page

Goodbye Columbus, Hello Medecine

In Uncategorized on March 12, 2020 at 10:06 pm


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That was the title of the book written by former actor Michael Meyers, so memorable as Ali McGraw’s jock bro in Goodbye, Columbus in 1969.


from wiki:

graduated from Lafayette College in 1968.

Dr. Meyers was a medical director of the Brotman Medical Center’s Chemical Dependency Treatment Program in Culver City, and worked exclusively in the field of chemical dependency since his own recovery from drug addiction.
Former drug addict who made a full recovery.
Qualified as an M.D. later specializing in chemical addiction.

Personal Quotes (5)

I really didn’t start to drink or use drugs at all until medical school.
I was dying and I had no other place to go. I crawled into a hospital on my belly, helpless, hopeless and too chicken to kill myself, but feeling there was no way to go on doing what I was doing. I didn’t think I could survive without my medication and drugs. In a blackout trying to get off of all of the stuff, I almost killed myself in an auto accident.
The statistics are that 10% of the general population are alcoholics or addicts, but it is felt, and some of the statistics bear this out, there is a higher proportion in the medical professions. At least 10% and probably closer to 15 to 18% of physicians are addicts. It’s staggering to think that one out of six doctors has a problem.
Actually, “Goodbye, Columbus” came along right in that summer between graduating from college and beginning medical school. I suddenly found myself as a first-year medical student who was scared to death whether I was going to make the grade as a doctor-in-training. I also had this fantasmagorical summer of being pampered and treated as this movie star. That following summer, the movie broke and it really got a lot of good play, good reviews and my character certainly stuck out. I started to get acting offers and I had to make a decision whether to go back to a second year of medical school.
So I came into work in the treatment field 8 1/2 years ago and I really have built a reputation as a real specialist and expert in the area of chemical dependency. (From a 1991 interview with The Los Angeles Times).As I got more years of sobriety and there was less of the stigma in the world to accept me back as a doctor, I was able to be much more open with my own recovery.That is why I work with physicians and other professionals. I know what they are going through. You can’t figure your own addiction in your intellectual head. A high IQ can be a detriment to recovery. You can be too smart to recover, but you can’t be too dumb.

In Uncategorized on March 10, 2020 at 4:15 am

Happy Birthday, Taina Elg!

In Uncategorized on March 9, 2020 at 6:44 am
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Yes, heartiest 90th birthday wishes to a truly lovely and warm lady, Taina Elg, who gave me one of the most charming and real interviews ever.
This dancer/actress, Finnish and six feet tall, once with the Marquis de Cuevas troupe, was enchanting in George Cukor’s ultra-stylish underrated musical, LES GIRLS, and this was the best song in the score. Note note George von Hoyningen-Huene’s striking color design.
I interviewed Mitzi Gaynor, Elg’s LES GIRLS co-star, whom Cukor had not really wanted for the film, and she said, “but I was already signed with Gene Kelly, so he had to take me. He wanted to give somebody a hard time, but it couldn’t be me, because I was a Hungarian pain the ass, just like him, and I’d sock him. It couldn’t be Gene Kelly, because Gene would just roll his eyes and say, “Oh, get over yourself, Mary!” And it couldn’t be Kay Kendall, because she was going with Rex Harrison at the time – excuse me! So, poor Taina Elg got it – he’d slap her hand and say, “You silly girl!” But Taina was Nordic and very cool and she’d just say, “Oh, George….”


In Uncategorized on March 7, 2020 at 9:20 pm
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This much is true: there is just no denying the excitement generated by the Ivo van Hove-directed revival of WEST SIDE STORY in its initial moments, as the actors file onstage to the opening bars of the greatest of all musical scores, as you scramble to make up your mind about the director’s ubiquitous use of huge video projections of the onstage action running simultaneously. These are intrusive throughout the show, but helpful if you want a better look at the actors’ faces from your front mezzanine seat, which is actually ideal, better than the orchestra as you are able to see the patterns and viscerally feel the real impact  of  Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s brilliant, brilliantly modern, sexy and funky yet breathlessly lyrical  choreography), and the details of the now not-period almost too modish costumes by An D’Huys (they’re actually terrific).
Overall, however, the videos are distracting, and I’d advise you, in the interests of actually experiencing live theater,  to try and keep your eyes trained on the actors, with maybe an occasional peep at the screen if you really have to. ]
Whatever hesitations you may feel about the staging – which too often has the action frustratingly taking place offstage or obscured, at the very back of the stage, lost in a set dwarfed by that giant screen – initially are soon swept away by the beauty and vitality of its young cast, joyously being put through their rigorous dance moves and, when everything finally settles down enough for Isaac Powell’s Tony – the best I’ve ever seen – to sing “Something’s Coming” in a voice of near-unearthly loveliness, possessing a sexy croon, the most meltingly sweet head voice and – Allah be praised – a throbbing vibrato which he, unlike every other Broadway singer basically, is not afraid to use – magic truly happens.
Powell, who somewhat resembles Shia LeBeouf, has all the requisite galvanizing youth, endless energy and innocence, with an authentic layering of street savvy, to BE Tony not just act him, and he brings exhilarating fresh choices to his interpretation, like the way he stumbles over the name which becomes, of course, the show’s immortally gorgeous love anthem, “Maria,” repeating it in various iterations as if he’s trying it on for size, wondering how it will fit into his young life, before positively soaring to the ceiling of the Broadway Theater with it. His Maria, Shereen Pimental, has all of Powell’s qualities, and how refreshing it is to see the character played as tougher than the usual dewy-eyed virgin, sticking a hesitant toe into the waters of life, not to mention fuller-bodied. This Maria is so hungry for life and experience, especially before she has to marry her boring, assigned mate for life, Chino (Jacob Guzman), she fairly belly flops into a charged, all too brief first adult experience (as van Hoeve keeps reminding us with above-the-stage flashes of the exact time as the play progresses). If Pimental does not emerge as fully as Powell, it is largely because, until her final, very powerfully acted big showdown with both gangs, who’ve all had a hand in Tony’s demise, she simply is not given that much to do, and you realize how unlike its Shakespeare original the show is, for it is Romeo not Juliet, who is catalyst for what happens, and he gets all the songs.
Maria actually only has one song which could be considered a solo, “I Feel Pretty,” which has been cut. A mistake, I think, as the character needs it, as does the show, which has all those comic – tiresome – moments for the Jets and yet nothing light-hearted for the ladies. I’m sure it did not fit in with von Hoeve’s relentless gloom & doom vision of inner city life, which like, if you’ll excuse me, composer Stephen Sondheim’s avowed dislike of the song as being too lyrically sophisticated for a Puerto Rican immigrant girl, I find condescending and rather racially insensitive. Who’s not to say that Maria was maybe a bookworm, wanting to improve her English if nothing else, so rhyming “alarming” and “charming” ain’t that much of a stretch? (We expect the leads of any musical to be exceptional in some ways, so why not?) And Ivo, Ivo, Ivo, Latinos do more than just fight.

Whatever, the imbalance in terms of character development, there’s no denying the riveting, earthy chemistry between the two leads. Without it, notions like throwing out the balcony/fire escape gimmick for their first big love scene, and replacing that with the different gangs literally pulling them away from each other, would never have worked as effectively and heart-stoppingly as it does, underlining the impossibility of their love with such obviousness.
A song that I would have gladly seen cut is “Gee, Officer Krupke.” (It’s like those bloody two songs in “My Fair Lady” for old Doolittle – tiresome highjinks when we wanna get back to the story.) All of the cop scenes here play with an uncertainty and faulty tone which maybe bespeaks the charged times we are living in, outside the theater, regarding hyper-sensitivity about the law and how it deals with minorities. Thomas Jay Ryan, ordinarily an excellent actor, is seriously off-key as the menacing racist Lt. Schrank, bringing the wrong kind of old movie tough guy period flavor.  And the song, as with all the Jets songs here, with its antiquated slang, is a most uneasy fit with the boldly contemporary dance moves. As your eye thrills to those spectacular dervish bodies, your ear is rejecting dated lyrics seemingly culled from overheard conversation in a 1950s beatnik dive
Amar Ramasar makes a fine, smoulderingly dangerous, sexy Bernardo, but his partner, Yesenia Ayala, is surprisingly tepid in the always surefire role of Anita; time may find her finding her way more into the part, and bringing some real color and passion to it.
The other gang members are ably acted and superlatively danced, and whether anachronistic or not, I was thrilled by the presence of that male same sex couple also being permitted to express their love and life, dancing to that superlative music. (Personally, I haven’t seen a show that actually made me want to dance as this one does, in eons.) And here, I believe I should tip my hat to the entire ensemble, who were said to have also had a choreographic hand in things, for, after presenting them with the steps, De Keersmaeker relied on them to tweak it into something more ethnic, funkier and sensual, which they have. (“So they basically all start in fourth position,” I overheard one very impressed and stunning, young black male dancer say to his equally comely friend, as they exited, afterwards.)
The multi-ethnic casting and similar chic streetwear of both gangs has baffled some, it not being easy to tell them apart, especially in the fight scenes. This I did not mind so much, as they’re all equally culpable and tragic; it’s not about rooting for one gang over the other. What I did find objectionable and a near total show ruiner for me was the director’s decision, after Tony kills Bernardo, to show him running away in an interminable, downright stupid, huge hokey closeup, his shirt bloodied and face distraught. Von Hoeve’s timing, pretty accurate up to that point, couldn’t have been worse,and it’s a blessed shame that not one person on the production stepped up to him and said, “We’ve given your head with the rain effects – AGAIN – never mind how perilous it is for the performers, as the stage becomes ultra-slippery. But that bloody video of Isaac is way too cornball.”
The man, who obviously has designs on directing a movie, just needs to have someone needlepoint a cushion – or else a neon sign – for his office reading “Stage is stage/Film is film/Never the twain shall meet.” So, yes, the new WEST SIDE STORY is a mixed bag, but what is good is pretty damn glorious.   

Happy Birthday, Edmund Lowe!

In Uncategorized on March 4, 2020 at 4:09 pm

A silent movie star, who segued into character roles in the talkies, your personal life was more interesting than any performance you ever gave. As Lilyan Tashman, your first wife, was noted to be the chicest women in Hollywood (with the best figure, according to Cecil Beaton), you exuded some pretty serious style yourself, rivaling Adolphe Menjou as Hollywood’s most dapper toff. You shared a Beverly Hills home with her on Linden Drive in what was rumored to be a mariage blanc, as she was a noted, rather aggressive lesbian about whom it was warned, a lady NEVER accompanied her to the powder room.  But the fun really happened at your cunning red and white beach house in Santa Monica, decorated by your pal William Haines. After Tash’s tragic early 1934 demise from cancer – perhaps brought on by a lifelong habit of bulimia to stay thin for those bias -cut satins – you were desperate to marry Marian Marsh but settled down with pushy careerist Rita Kauffman, the  Fox costume designer who stole the job away from my friend Earl Luick in 1933.


A favorite of Cukor’s, as was Lil, you appeared in his DINNER AT 8 (1933) and then, years later in HELLER IN PINK TIGHTS (1958), with another old Cukor crony, Ramon Novarro.

Happy Birthday, Canada Lee!

In Uncategorized on March 4, 2020 at 7:18 am

Screenshot 2020-03-03 at 11.02.47 PMPerhaps the most shamefully neglected of all great American actors, he is rarely mentioned, although he took up the mantle of Paul Robeson and helped pave the way for Sidney Poitier, etc. Before he found himself as an actor he worked a myriad of jobs including as a quite successful welterweight boxer who, unfortunately, lost an eye after a particularly savage bout.

It was Orson Welles who made his acting career when he cast him in his legendary all black MACBETH in 1936, in the role of Banquo, and Welles became a lifelong theatrical impetus to Lee, probably most known today for his role in Hitchcock’s queasy LIFEBOAT. He broke all kinds of grounds in the theater: first black actor to play Caliban in THE TEMPEST, first black producer on Broadway with “On Whitman Avenue,” a race play admired by Eleanor Roosevelt, in which he also starred in 1946. In ‘The Duchess of Malfi” that same year, he became the first black actor  to play a white role. To change races he used, for the first time onstage, a whitening paste originally devised to conceal burn marks.


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Langston Hughes wrote a couple of plays for him that never got produced and I am dying to know what they’re like.


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summit of talent

And, this country being – forever – the big ole, stupid, roiling race mess that it has always been and continues to be, he rose to the heights and was brought down during the shameful McCarthy era, like Robeson, whom he refused to name and was blacklisted for it. The stress undoubtedly contributed to the heart attack he died of at the ridiculously young age of 45, in 1952. You can visit him in Woodlawn cemetery – and I dearly hope that someone gets to work on a major play film about this tragic titan, who deserves a fitting tribute far more than anyone I can think of.



Happy birthday, Jean Harlow

In Uncategorized on March 3, 2020 at 4:43 pm

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Here you are, in the role of Kitty Packard, Manhattan trophy wife, dressed by your fellow birthday boy, Adrian, and surrounded by three gay – if not bisexual – men: the directors George Cukor and Edmund Goulding and your co-star Edmund Lowe, who also shares your natal day today, on the set of “Dinner at Eight.”


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It is 1933, your absolute peak as a movie star (the year in which you did two other honeys, “Hold Your Man” and the scintillatingly bawdy satire of your industry, “Bombshell.”) For “Dinner,” MGM gave you the full treatment: you were gleamingly photographed by William Daniels, and art directors Frederick Hope and Hobe Erwin framed you in the most enviable of all movie boudoirs, white on white on white (11 shades in all), inspired by Oliver Messel’s set for “Helen”, produced in London the year before. It helped land you the cover of Time magazine and make you a household name.

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Shot in a breathless two weeks, Cukor polished the comic skills you had evinced the year before – after a somewhat torturous histrionic start in films (your “high-toned” socialite in “The Public Enemy” is almost as funny as your Kitty), in Anita Loos’ “screw you”-to- censorship raunchfest, “Red-Headed Woman” (which brought on the Hays Code). Your scenes with Wallace Beery as a Trumplike boorish asshole of a businessmen were hilarious in their savagery, as was your brutal relationship with your snakelike maid, watchfully played by the serpentine Hilda Vaughn.

Few women on film have ever displayed such brazen, take-no-prisoners charisma, for, although you played a selfish, thoughtless, vain, greedy, adulterous arriviste bitch, the entire world fell in love with you.


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All this, plus you got one of cinema’s greatest closing scenes, although Marie Dressler got the punchline (an insert by Donald Ogden Stewart, which has now, sadly, been rendered virtually moot by present-day cellphones and sex toys).



Happy birthday, Gilbert Adrian!

In Uncategorized on March 3, 2020 at 10:19 am

Screenshot 2020-03-03 at 4.43.14 AMNo other Hollywood designer fed the imagination and fantasies of an entire planet as did he. And practically every modern designer from his time on has cited him as a huge influence, while constantly borrowing ideas formulated by him in the MGM wardrobe department and, later, in his own salon, when he left movie work in 1942.

His clothes gave Garbo her mystery, Crawford her brash and bracing American  glamour, Shearer her sexiness, Harlow ditto (although she never needed any help in that department), and he transformed Jeanette MacDonald into a beruffled and beribboned human Valentine, most appropriate for the fanciful operettas which shot her to super stardom.


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Norma Shearer, ‘Strangers May Kiss’ 1931

His final diva was Julie Andrews who played Guinevere in ‘Camelot’ on Broadway which brought him out of a happy retirement in South Brazil with longtime wife Janet Gaynor, whom he transformed from a little brown wren into an immaculate icon of fashion, and an internationally best-dressed list staple. Sadly, he died of a heart attack at age 58 in 1959, before seeing his last production through to opening night.

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Julie Andrews in ‘Camelot’

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with Janet Gaynor


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a design from CAMELOT for which he was given a posthumous Tony award for best costumes



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Garbo, ‘Inspiration’ 1931

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Jean Harlow, ‘Dinner at Eight,’ 1933

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Jeanette MacDonald (1934)


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Joan Crawford in ‘Letty Lynton’ 1932

Happy Birthday Kurt Weill

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2020 at 8:28 pm

Screenshot 2020-03-02 at 3.09.50 PMCoincidentally born the same day as Marc Blitzstein, who translated his Threepenny Opera, your music will always be essential to any life claiming a modicum of smarts and sophistication. And your range was phenomenal – hard to beleve that the same man could write The Bilbao Song, Surabaya Johnny, September Song, Pirate Jenny, My Ship, That’s Him and that  complete ravishment, Speak Low.



I was so lucky to this production …3 times!


The Triumphs and Tragedy of Marc Blitzstein, Born Today in Phildelphia

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2020 at 6:38 pm

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He gave the world the revolutionary show THE CRADLE WILL ROCK (1937), his friend Leonard Bernstein lifted a theme from REGINA (1949), his operatic adaptation of THE LITTLE FOXES, which wound up being SOMEWHERE in WEST SIDE STORY, followed by JUNO (1959), inspired by Sean O’Casey’s JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK.


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He lived openly as a gay man, but unfortunately this courage was accompanied by self-hatred as he wrote to his sister,  “It is absurd to assume there are no sins; there are definitely Cardinal sins — sins against oneself, against one’s law. My sin is, has been… the willingness to corrupt my nature.”


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His first lover was the conductor Alexander Smallens, traveling to Europe with him in 1924. However, in 1933, he married novelist Eva Gildbeck, whose mother was the Berlin-born opera singer, Lina Arbanell*. The couple was childless,  although he dedicated a number of his works to his wife. She died of anorexia in 1936, spurring him to write THE CRADLE WILL ROCK. He also did the adaptaion of THREEPENNY OPERA with Lotte Lenya which enjoyed a long run at what is now the Lucille Lortel theater on Christopher Street. He and his wife were longtime residents of the West Village.


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While vacationing in Martinique  in 1964,  Blitzstein, 58,  was murdered by three sailors he had picked up in a bar, one of whom he was said to have propositioned, and left naked and dead, in an alley. A letter from Bernstein’s archive from him states: ““Marc is dead, & I’ve lost an arm. Felicia [Mrs. Bernstein] can’t stop crying.”

He is buried at Chelton Hills Cemetery in Phildelphia.

*Arbanell was a real stage star, credited with bringing the Viennese style of performance to operetta in America, THE MERRY WDOW being one of her most popular roles. She was pictured on the sheet music for the song Every Little Movement, which she popularized. After her husband died in 1934, she retired from singing but became a powerful casting director, with credits including  I Married an Angel, Street Scene, the world tour of Porgy and Bess in the early 1950s, and the film version of Carmen Jones, as well as Blitzstein’s Regina and Juno when she was in her 80s, working until she died in 1963

Marc Blitzstein and Abarbanell remained close friends long after Eva, Blitzstein’s wife and Abarbanell’s daughter, died in 1936. Abarbanell cast Blitzstein’s opera Regina in 1949 and his musical Juno in 1959, when she had already passed the age of eighty.

Lina Abarbanell continued working in the theater almost until the day she died, on January 6, 1963.

Blitzstein’s horrific end has – like every gay murder – obsessed me my whole life. The best account is from the book, Marc Blitzstein: His Life, His Work, His World, by Howard Pollack: