Archive for March, 2020|Monthly archive page

Happy Birthday, Tamara Toumanova, Prima Ballerina Assoluta

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2020 at 5:03 pm

defining ‘dervish,’ definitively


and she even made occasional stabs at cinema, with a memorable cameo in Billy Wilder’s last good film, ‘The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes,” although its gay shenanigans today would probably appall the p.c. brigade.

playing French music hall legend Gaby Deslys, althogh looking quite different


the real Gaby, as seen by Drian and Cecil Beaton


and in DAYS OF GLORY, RKO tried to do what Paramount was trying to do with Vera Zorina




The Blacklist’s Laila Robbins, an Actor’s Actor

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2020 at 4:36 pm

 If this wintry weather finds you wanting to cosy up with a compelling, if dark, psychological thriller, invariably described as “Hitchcockian,” then debut director/writer Nathan Catucci’s “Impossible Monsters” (Cinema Village with a dvd/streaming drop on March 3) may be just the ticket. It revolves around a university psychology professor (Santino Fontana), aiming for a prestigious grant offered by a pharmaceutical company, who conducts a study of sleep phenomena , including dreams, nightmares and – most terrifyingly – paralysis. His three participants are damaged souls whose waking hours are spent rather in dread of their unconscious ones and he becomes romantically involved with one of them, as things get creepier for the other two, resulting in the death of one of them.


A handsome, highly suspenseful atmosphere, recalling such upscale horror classics like “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Innocents” is impressively sustained by Catucci, and the film is exceedingly well-acted by a host of skilled NY-based actors. Besides Fontana, their number includes Dennis Boutsikaras, Donall O Healai, Devika Bhis, Natalie Knepp, Geoffrey Owens, the one-time “Cosby” actor who was disgracefully internet-shamed when he was discovered working at a Trader Joe’s to support his family, and, in the role of the enigmatic school dean who must sign off on Fontana’s project, Laila Robins.


Ever since seeing her ably face down the formidable Uta Hagen onstage in “Mrs. Klein,” I have always been impressed by this elegantly powerful actress who excels in everything from Shakespeare to more modern masters like Williams and Albee, and non-stop impressive TV/film work that has included stints on “Handmaid’s Tale,” “Homeland,” playing a lesbian in “Murder on the First” (which she finds no different really from playing any other character, except she got to deliver the delectable line, “Without me, you would be just some Bay Area dyke teaching crafting out of your garage”) and the current season of “The Blacklist.”


“I was intrigued and struck by the intelligence and strong atmosphere of Catucci’s script when it was sent to me,” she told me, as we settled in for a chat at Manhattan’s venerable landmark, the Fairway Market cafe. “I was impressed by what he put on the screen, for a first-time director, and really enjoyed the brief but fun shoot. He’s assembled quite an impressive cast, and I was impressed by how relaxed, fun and loose Santino Fontana was, in the lead role.”


Robins hails from St. Paul Minnesota, one of four daughters born to Latvian immigrants who arrived here after five years in a German refugee camp and found work picking broccoli for $5 a day. Her father got a chance to go to the University of Washington where he became a chemistry professor and moved the family to Minnesota. There, he got a job at 3M where he invented a catalyst procedure that is responsible for 90% of all metal casting in this country. [The company got all the money, not Dad.] She went to Yale drama school and appeared on stage as Glenn Close’s replacement in Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing,” before heading West to seek her fortune in film.


Robins was especially eloquent and funny, recounting that period, when she thinks she might have “sold” herself more in terms of sexuality and physical attributes to land the big roles (“I just had so little awareness of myself in those terms”). She nearly was cast in “Roxanne,” until the producers decided to go a different route and hired Darryl Hannah. Then there was the time she gathered friends at her place to watch her in “the fastest pilot that ever got canceled,” with Glenn Frey of The Eagles, called “South of Sunset.” A man came on instead of her – she had been replaced by him and no one had told her. She proudly admits to being cast in one role over Julia Roberts, “An Innocent Man,” and there was also the ABC TV series, “Gabriel’s Fire,” opposite James Earl Jones, canceled after one season (“We ended up moving back here and live a stone’s throw away from each other on the Upper West Side.”) Her thriving TV career now is especially gratifying to her now and she’s excited about her return to “The Blacklist,” wherein she plays a much-talked about villainous Russian woman who makes big trouble for series lead James Spader.


I see Robins, sometimes alone, at the theater, in the audience more than any other actor I can think of and this is typical I think of this highly intelligent player, who is always curious and filling her creative well. She, however, is hardly alone in life, for she has a longtime partner, actor Robert Cuccioli, and the two make just the coolest theatrical couple. “I can tell you exactly how long we’ve been together – 20 years – because Albee’s “Tiny Alice,” was the first time he ever saw me in a play. Proving once more that the Internet is not always reliable, I made the faux pas of calling Cuccioli her husband. “We’re not married,” she said, laughing. “Bob and I were up at the McCarter Theater, doing ‘Fiction,’ and one morning, he said, ‘Honey, Playbill says we’re married. See, it’s not so bad!”


I had to ask her about working with Uta Hagen: “She was more than a co-actor or teacher to me, although I learned so much from her. She was a friend and I treasure all the after-show nights when we’d go out for a drink and I would just listen to her talk, so fascinated. Well, she drank, and I would have tea until she said, ‘Have a goddam wine spritzer, already!’


Her acting was so specific and I have never seen anyone who was so precise with her props. For instance, if she made a pot of coffee, she would do it, and then return to the dialogue but all the time aware of that coffee and her inevitable return to it.  When she did Desdemona to Paul Robeson’s Othello [with whom she had an affair], in the death scene she was no shrinking violet, using every muscle in her body to get away from him, rather than just subject herself to a beautiful strangling.


“She was always very anti-actorish. Didn’t like it when an actress wafted across the stage: “Just walk like person! Be a visceral human being. Don’t be an actress on the stage!”


I met her briefly, and, knowing she replaced Margaret Sullavan, one of my very favorite actresses in Terence Rattigan’s brilliant “The Deep Blue Sea,” asked her about that. Her reply: “Sullavan was all wrong for it!”


Robins smiled: “ “She loved Laurette Taylor in ‘The Glass Menagerie.’ She said, ‘You’d go to see her again and think , ‘Ok, here’s the part where she…’ And she wouldn’t do that particular thing but something else and be just as brilliant. She used to talk about actors getting too attached to what she called ‘your darlings,’ relying on things that worked in the past. The thing is not to do them and see what happens. Yet we do love our darlings…”


Two roles which Robins would love to sink her teeth into are Eugene O’Neill’s Mary Tyrone of that “Long Day’s Journey” and Martha in “Virginia Woolf.”


“I had done ‘Tiny Alice,’ and was happy when Irene Worth came to see it unannounced. She originated the role and I was relieved when she said, ‘I think I’m beginning to understand it,’ in the Green Room after the performance. Neither I or my director Mark Lamos who chose me for it understood it, either. When I did ‘Lady from Dubuque,’ Albee himself said he was mellowing with age and he was lovely to me. He didn’t rewrite anything but was very open to whatever we were doing..


“I went to visit him in the hospital when he was ill. He still had to okay all his casts, and I said, ‘Oh, Edward, could you ever see me doing Martha?’


“‘Well, maybe, but you’re not exactly right.’


“‘What’s missing?’


‘You aren’t vulgar enough.’


While the very warm and real, Robins realizes she is often typecast as the chilly, somewhat forbidding and officious type, she assured me, “I can be vulgar, for sure. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

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Neurotic, Haunting, and Versatile

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2020 at 4:20 pm
Happy birthday Jennifer Jones – with your cherubic, apple-cheeked beauty, lithe, graceful body which moved with a unique sensuality whatever the role and camera-riveting innate neuroticism, you were one of the most striking screen actresses. Although you played more great heroines of literature than any other star, your husband David O. Selznick only seeing you in big tragic roles, you had a real forte for comedy, as evinced in Lubitsch’s enchanting Cluny Brown and Huston’s wackola Beat the Devil.
It has taken me years to realize that -despite MGM’s overt lavishness of production, your Madame Bovary was the most accurate and heartbreaking of any filmed. And you brought great conviction and a beautiful dignity to the sentimental distaff Goodbye Mr. Chips, Good Morning Miss Dove. I had always considered the superbly Gothic romance Love Letters to contain your finest, most elementally “Jennifer” performance. That was until I caught the amazing, restored Gone to Earth in which Michael Powell got you to fearlessly do things, as a basic child of nature no one else has even thought of doing, like running breathlessly barefoot through forests, while holding a fox.
And, while you were too old to play Hemingway’s Catherine Barkley, although you invested that with your always fascinating intensity, your Nicole Diver in Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night really did capture the glamour, madness and heartbreak of that Jazz Age vision of married hell.
Although a favorite movie parlor game of mine was always “Name one film in which Jennifer Jones was normal,” and Joan Blondell bitchily observed that you confused acting with deep knee bends, while Gregory Peck came away with blood on his face, as you did not fake clawing him in the big fight scene in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, there can be no denying that you were astonishingly versatile and, when it came to making some good juicy trash, Duel in the Sun and Ruby Gentry – both directed by King Vidor at his most deliriously Freudian – are pretty hard to beat, and you were one sexy bitch in both of them.
P.S. And anyone who has the style to – after hearing that Montgomery Clift was gay and therefore not automatic catnip for you – try to flush a mink coat gifted to you by your overbearing husband/boss down the toilet is aces in my book, girl!

Future Superstar

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2020 at 4:16 pm
Gerard Alessandrini’s just-closed “Forbidden Broadway: the Next Generation” was a most welcome addition to the fall season in its perfect new home at the York Theater. A stand-out in its wonderfully gifted cast was the beautiful and beautifully funny Aline Mayagoitia, who nailed divas diverse as Karen Olivo, Caisie Levy (“Frozen”) and Bernadette Peters, and I see stardom winking at her already.
aline 2020 headshot small (2)The daughter of Albeto Mayagoitia, a well-known Telenovela star and a musical theater hyphenate Mom, she was born in Mexico City and grew up in Austin, immersed in theater from an early age. She studied at Ballet Austin and, as she said, did “ a bunch of questionably inappropriate sexy musical roles in high school (lots of prostitutes). By some miracle, I got into the University of Michigan’s Musical Theatre program.  You can’t graduate from Michigan without knowing every word to ‘You’re The Top’ or writing a 50 page paper on “South Pacific”. This came in handy when it came time to communicate with the likes of Gerard Alessandrini. Right out of school, I did every single regional production of” ‘In the Heights’ in the country.
“I’ve been here for almost three years, and I’m more in love with the city than ever before. I think part of it is living in Brooklyn right next to Prospect Park which makes me feel like I have some goddam breathing room in this hell hole.
“I’ve done lots of babysitting which is fun if the kids are well behaved, and catering which sucks when the guests act like toddlers. My favorite is that I’ve gotten to coach people on how to sing in Spanish as well as translate some songs. If I could live from that I’d be the happiest little bilingual clam.
Her audition for “Forbidden” only called for her to do Olivo and “Let It Go,”  “So I just came with my little notebook where I wrote down my impressions: some classic divas like Bernadette and Patti, because I knew my audience (wassup Gay City News!) but also some newer ones like Anais Mitchell, the composer of “Hadestown,’ playing the guitar and singing her song ‘Flowers’ in her little croaky squeaky voice, just cause it made me laugh. Then Gerard just started throwing ideas at me: ‘Can you do Gwen Verdon? Can you sing the end of “At The Ballet?”’ Which the actor’s answer – as we meat puppets know – is always “Yes.” I got the part and started rehearsals that week.
Among Mayagoitia’s favorite impressions in the show is Rebecca Naomi Jones in “Oklahoma”. “I’ve seen her in everything, her biggest fan.  I thought it would be funny if I played Laurie as if I was doing Rebecca in ‘American Idiot’ instead. And it worked with the joke Gerard wrote so we kept it. And of course, singing like Bernadette Peters has been my drunk party trick since freshman year! Look I went to a school where our version of hazing was to listen to Broadway overtures and have to guess what show it was from or take another drink.
The Olympic marathon costume changes were such that sometimes she’d have to do a scene barefoot. “Better than no wig, but my savior was [cast member] Jenny Lee Stern and her excellent ear for comedic timing.  She understands how this team works and could also serve as an interpreter for me when I got notes from Gerard I didn’t quite understand: ‘When in doubt just sing like Judy, kid.’ She’s a star.”
Mayagoitia still takes voice lessons “as often as I can afford them and a weekly acting class. I feel like these in combination with the ‘Forbidden Broadway’ process has been like grad school. If nothing else , it gives you some street cred. Everyone that has seen or done this show knows how much of a marathon it is. I feel so damn lucky I got to run it.”

Malone’s Molly

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2020 at 4:03 pm

do not miss Beth Malone playing Molly Brown better than Debbie Reynolds in the film version, and probably better than Tammy Grimes in the original Broadway production


David Aron Damane and Beth Malone star in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” directed by Kathleen Marshall, at Abrons Arts Center through April 5.

Beth Malone’s Molly Brown

Definite progress is being made in the theater these days when an out gay actor like Isaac Powell can star as Tony in the Broadway revival of “West Side Story,” while way downtown, at Abrons Arts Center, out and proud lesbian performer Beth Malone, a memorable Tony nominee as dyke cartoonist Alison Bechdel in “Fun Home,” is also playing a traditional “straight” musical role, doing “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” directed by Kathleen Marshall.

The Transport Group is staging the first New York revival of this show, which opened in 1960, won Tammy Grimes a Tony Award, and was followed by Oscar-nominated Debbie Reynolds in the 1964 film version.

Molly, that legendary Titanic survivor, Denver mining tycoon, and bighearted philanthropist, is a neat fit for Malone, who also hails from Colorado, has always considered herself a tomboy, is active in a number of charities, and, has, indeed, already played the part, in Denver as well as at St. Louis’ Muny Theatre.

“So I’ve got the woman in my bones,” Malone told me. “Everything about the role is as different as can be from ‘Fun Home,’ which really kind of put me on the map, changed my career, and was such a privilege to do, with everything very specific in our collective desire to honor Alison Bechdel. There was something so special about that show, how even when it came out, everything seemed so positive, what with gay marriage and more equality — our fans were beyond devoted as it was life-changing for some of them, and now we’re back in the shit.

“As opposed to Alison, Molly is a much more traditional musical heroine, bigger than life, although Dick Scanlan has completely rewritten the book, basing it more on the reality of her life. Along with the familiar songs from the Broadway show, there are some brand new ones, adapted from the music of Meredith Willson by Michael Rafter. I love my new 11 o’clock number, “Wait for Me,” which uses a melody Wilson composed for a commercial for the [wartime] Chemical Warfare Service.”

Malone has stated that if she must play a traditional girly-girl, she merely channels the hyper-femininity of drag queens.

“I’m still doing that, especially when Molly gets all dressed up in the big red dress for the party scene, and I actually enjoy playing a heterosexual woman,” she said. “I have a great leading man, David Aron Damane, such a beautiful actor, and so big and handsome and masculine yet gentle. I just have to look up at him and done! We’re the couple. My role is a workout, no denying it though, and my body is feeling every bit of it, along with the long schlep from the Upper West Side where I live to the Lower East. But I’m definitely loving it!”

I had to hear Malone’s coming out story, and it was a beautifully funny/ sad account: “I was always the class clown, trying to make girls like me, doing something crazy or stupid to try to make them laugh. I didn’t notice boys at all. They started noticing me when I was in high school and I had boyfriends, but one time in high school after a rehearsal I remember being in front of a pop machine and I had this a-ha moment: ‘You’re gay!’ And I was like, ‘Huh,’ and then, ‘Nah.’ And then for years I didn’t think about it until I was engaged to a boy who I loved but also was in love with this other girl that I was on a tour with in FX, a rock band, which entertained the military at bases all across the South Pacific — Hawaii, Guam, South Korea.

“It was such a weird point in my life. I didn’t know what to do with myself, going out of my skin wanting to do something with this girl, thinking I’m gonna fucking die. But I never did anything with her, never told her because we were on the road together in college, and she had a boyfriend. I was 18.

“I moved to New York after that, still had that boyfriend, but I was also trying to find like a girl to date through the Village Voice back pages. So tragic. I was 20 and had a fake ID and went to these gay bars but I was always wrong place/ wrong time: I didn’t find the right lesbians. It was an epic fail — in New York in my 20s as a lesbian who couldn’t get anything going. I think back on it now: Ohmigod, if I’d just had some skills!

“I went back to Colorado and Michael put a ring on my finger when I said, ‘Yes,’ and I was with him for five years, a long distance relationship from the age 18 to 22. That winter I moved to Aspen because there was this dinner theater where you could make a ton of cash, like ten grand, singing and serving to pay for my wedding [laughs]. There, I met Rochelle Schoppert, who is now my wife. She was this girl who was running the office for the dinner theater. The day I saw her, I clocked her and she asked if I wanted to go skiing and I was like, ‘Okay.’ It was Gay Ski Week in Aspen, so I took off my ring, stuck it in my jeans pocket, went to the opening night, and there she was.

“‘Aha! I knew it,’” I thought and walked across that crowded room and said to her, ‘Hi. I am engaged but I want to have sex with a girl before I get married. Want to?’

“That was it — no game! And she’s like, ‘No.’ But we started skiing together and then kissing a little and I took the ring off and the rest is history. That was 1992 and I’ve been with Shelley 27 years now, Ohmigod!”

Malone totally understands now why she got an initial refusal.

“You know, whiny straight girls who go, ‘Can you help me?’ ‘I’m not here to be your diary entry.’”

Malone describes her partner as a Muggle: “You’ve never read ‘Harry Potter?’ That means she’s a civilian, not in showbiz, which is dreamy. She’s a realtor and a technician who rebuilds pianos, the most industrious person I’ve ever met, never sits still, and thank God, takes care of all my practical stuff.”

Malone’s coming out to her family resulted in her not speaking to her father for seven years, something many of us can relate to.

“My mother is a country singer, ‘Pickin’ Peggy’ Malone, who’s very big in the cowboy culture, which involves cowboy poetry, Native American culture, rodeos, bull-riding — a way of life that is dying out. My Dad is a Fox News-watching, Trump-supporting old racist Irishman from South Boston. He was my hero, my first friend, and he’s fallen so far off the pedestal that I now cannot have a conversation with him. He now has a kind of dementia and I have to attribute some of his toxicity to mental illness and having drunk a ton of whiskey. Being in this play has been an amazing vacation from that, not having to process and suck up all the shit that he says and is and still find a way to love him.

“I grew up in super-white Castle Rock, Colorado, the youngest of four and the only girl. I was his pet plus a tomboy who held his hammer while he did the drill. What did he expect? All he had to do was open his eyes! We got a VCR and he once came in, while I paused it, because I was drawing Cybill Shepherd’s face. I would rent ‘Little Darlings’ from Hy’s Western Wear and Video Rental over and over. Kristy McNichol was magic. I didn’t know what to do with myself but, ohmigod, I want to watch her again and again, Holly Hunter, and Jodie Foster in ‘Candleshoe.’ That’s me! I certainly didn’t identify with Tatum O’Neill!”

Besides all those early idols, Malone says she is in love with her “Molly Brown” cast, and freely confesses to be something of a Pollyanna in her life: “I can find something to absolutely adore about everybody, especially actors. They’re so delectably broken yet optimistic at the same time, ever hopeful, trying to figure it all out and actively engaged in their lives. That never-ending process of breaking it all up until you feel something and then busting it all up and starting over. There’s something so admirable about that, and brave, and weird. Why would you even do that? But the alternative is death. If I was in the suburbs with two cars and three kids I would not recognize myself.”

THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN | Abrons Arts Center, 466 Grand St., btwn. Pitt St. & E. Broadway | Through Apr. 5| : Tue.-Sun. at 7:30 p.m.; weekend matinees on varying schedule | $65-$85 at Two hrs., 30 mins., with intermission


published in Gay City News

Happy birthday, Jennifer Jones

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2020 at 3:58 pm

Screenshot 2020-03-02 at 10.18.26 AM


Jennifer Jones in Love Letters (c.1945). Original Aris Bacci Poster Concept Gouache Painting (11.75″ X 18.75″)
Hailing from the controversial artistic school of Futurism, Aristide “Aris” Bacci gained his commercial start as an intimate of renown automobile designer Ettore Bugatti, becoming his artistic advisor and ad director for the famed Bugatti line in the 1920s. Bacci’s career crossed the pond from Europe to Hollywood later in the decade, first creating designs at Warner Brothers Studios, then branching out to Paramount and MGM where he produced splendid and stylized artwork for such films as The Ziegfeld Follies and the acclaimed Lillian Gish feature,The Wind. This lovely pastel artwork was perhaps done as a preliminary concept piece for the film Love Letters (Paramount, 1945), as is marked on the verso. Very Fine+ on Paper.