Interested in binging on an arresting (but forgotten) police series? All 1020 minutes spanning 39 episodes? Then mark July 20 on your must-get list; that’s the date Code 3: LA Sheriff’s Case Files hits the shelves.
In 1957, Hal Roach Studios and producer Ben Fox brought the fast-paced drama to television, starring Richard Travis as Sheriff George Barrett of the Los Angeles County Police Department, Denver Pyle as Sgt. Murchison and Fredd Wayne as Sgt. Bill Hollis.
Read it. Digest it. And after coming up for air after a whirlwind read of George Chakiris’ autobiography, My West Side Story: A Memoir (Lyons Press, $24.95), you realize you were dazzled.
We will explain.
It’s obvious Chakiris loved dancing, a skill so streamlined and stylized that it launched him into a pretty nice career, most notably for West Side Story.
The actor/dancer was first cast in the London production as Riff, gang leader of the Jets. The musical premiered in London in late 1958, and Chakiris received rave reviews, playing the role for almost two years.
The actor, who is of Greek descent, then auditioned for the film version, but the producers thought Chakiris’ dark complexion made him more suitable for the role of Bernardo, leader of the Sharks. (Russ Tamblyn got the role of Riff.)
Switching sides to play Bernardo, brother to Natalie Wood’s Maria and partner to Rita Moreno’s Anita, secured him the role on Broadway after seven months of filming. The film (also co-directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins) returns to theaters for two days only as part of Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies’ TCM Big Screen Classics series with an introduction from TCM host Ben Mankiewicz. The beloved movie musical will play in select theaters June 24 and 27 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. local time both days.
The movie not only gained Chakiris a huge following but also the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor in Motion Picture.
West Side Story, all three versions, made him a star.
“I know exactly where my gratitude belongs,” Chakiris writes, “and I still marvel at how, unbeknownst to me at the time, the joyful path of my life was paved one night in 1949 when Jerome Robbins sat Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents down in his apartment and announced, ‘I have an idea.'”
It’s obviously Chakiris was not best friends with Jerome Robbins, the legendary choreographer who was a former Communist Party member and named 10 communists in his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Robbins did propel Chakiris into WSS stardom and the actor dishes Robbins. Up to a point. He doesn’t tap dance the legendary truths about the mercurial, relentless Robbins, but in a few breaths he credits him with shaping Bernardo into such a memorable character.
Yet, before his became known for his stage work, Chakiris had made a bunch of films—dancing, of course, but unbilled and in teeny roles He was one of the dancers in Marilyn Monroe’ “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” number in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953).
It’s sad to know that, though Monroe was 23 years old and Chakiris was 19, they did not became friends, something he misses.
As he writes: “Marilyn had a quality that can’t be taught, or created with wardrobe and makeup, a quality you’re either born with or not. . . . Many decades later I accepted an invitation to participate in a documentary about her. I said then what I’ll always say—I’m sorry I didn’t get to know her, but I’ll always be grateful I had the pleasure working with her.”
Can you spot him in the snippet below?
He appeared as a dancer alongside Rosemary Clooney, as she warbled “Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me” in White Christmas (1954). See him?
TV shows, two record albums, sundry stage work and more films were wedges between his years. It’s sad that his film career was so spotty. Two films made in France—Is Paris Burning? (1966) and Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967) are really good and still hold up; The Big Cube (1969, watch Lana Turner on LSD!) and Jekyll and Hyde…Together Again (1982) are jokes.
Today, the 86-year-old thespian still creates, this time making sterling silver jewelry—pendants, bracelets, earrings. What started as a hobby blossomed into a full-time business. Chakiris’ stunning works can be seen (and bought) at georgechakiris.com/jewelry.
And before you ask, the answer is no. In the book, Chakiris refuses to confirm his sexual orientation.
He has kept details of his love life hidden from the media’s attention, yet it is widely believed among Hollywood actors and actresses that he is gay – even the popular movie and TV series rating website IMDb has featured him in their “500 Gay Actors & Personalities” list. Some have even claimed that George secretly married his long-term partner sometime in the 2000s, but no proof has been provided to support the claims.
His is a terrible bother to me, born one day after Chakiris came out (of his mother) and into the world. If he is gay, it would serve as a great benefit to those boys and girls, men and women, questioning their sexuality, fighting the bullying, dancing around suicidal thoughts. I have the same feeling about Lily Tomlin and Barry Manilow’s queer denials—the singer especially. Everyone knew he was gay yet for decades he made up girlfriends and excuses. When he finally married his long-time partner and manager Gary Keif in 2004, his excuse for the delay: “I thought it would hurt my career.”
That’s why my Manilow CDs have been destroyed and why Chakiris book was given away.
Not all acting succeeds.
I knew Dolly Rebecca Parton and I would become fast friends when she let me hold her left breast. Before you start calling the tabloids or TMZ, let me explain. It was 1987, and we were in a photographer’s studio on the Upper East Side where Dolly was being photographed for the cover of Redbook.
She was dressed in a handmade denim blouse (size 0), the wig was perfectly placed, the makeup flawless. She eyed the catered buffet and picked up a piece of chicken with her two fire-engine red (fake) fingernails, brought it to her mouth and, plop!, the sliver landed on her blouse, smack-dab on her left . . . well, you get the picture.
The adrenaline kicked in. “Quick, Dolly!” I said. “You hold and I’ll wipe.” I poured water on a paper towel and began to very gently dab the spot. Dolly grabbed a portable hair-dryer and with that infectious giggle cooed, “Now quick! You hold and I’ll dry.”
With those seven simple words, my entry into the dizzy, delightful world of Dolly Parton—40DD-17-36—had begun. “One day,” I thought to myself, “I will live to write about this.”
The shoot was a success, and as Dolly climbed into her limo, I whispered, “I feel like your bosom buddy.” Without missing a beat, she said, “And my breast friend.”
And so Dolly—so surgically streamlined so many times she’s starting to look like a Siamese cat—continues to be honored and remembered, in books, TV specials, films, a failed Broadway musical, a Time-Life super-duper (and expen$ive) DVD box set and the marvelous PBS program Dolly Parton: 50 Years at the Opry.
The Queen of Country Music celebrates 50 years as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Recorded live in Nashville, this amazing special pays tribute to her songs and career with special performances from Dolly and her star guests, including Lady A, Emmylou Harris and Hank Williams, Jr. This incredible concert brings together five decades of hits & memories into one unforgettable evening of entertainment for everyone to enjoy.
Black lives matter. And 15-Time Grammy Winner Alicia Keys knows it so well, she executive produced How It Feels to Be Free (PBS Distribution), an essential documentary that takes an unprecedented look at the intersection of African American women artists, politics and entertainment and tells the story of how six trailblazing performers—Lena Horne, Abbey Lincoln, Diahann Carroll, Nina Simone, Cicely Tyson and Pam Grier—changed American culture through their films, fashion, music and politics while challenged by entertainment industry deeply complicit in perpetuating racist stereotypes, and transformed themselves and their audiences in the process.
The film features interviews and archival performances with all six women, as well as original conversations with contemporary artists influenced by them, including Keys, Halle Berry, Lena Waithe, Meagan Good, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Samuel L. Jackson and other luminaries, as well as family members, including Horne’s daughter Gail Lumet Buckley.
Based on the book How It Feels To Be Free: Black Women Entertainers and the Civil Rights Movement by Ruth Feldstein, the film highlights how each woman — singer, dancer and actress Lena Horne; jazz vocalist, songwriter and actress Abbey Lincoln; Tony-winning actress, singer and model Diahann Carroll; jazz, blues and folk singer Nina Simone; actress and model Cicely Tyson; and actress Pam Grier — harnessed their celebrity to advance the civil rights movement.
“These revolutionary Black women embody stories of courage, resilience and heroism. They fought for representation and economic, social and political equality through their artistry and activism,” said Michael Kantor, American Masters series executive producer. “We are proud to share the stories of how each left an indelible mark on our culture and inspired a new generation.”
Executive producer Alicia Keys adds, “I am proud to be a part of such a meaningful, important project. Art is the most powerful medium on the planet, and I continue to be inspired by and learn from these powerful, brave and stereotype-shattering women who leveraged their success as artists to fearlessly stand up against racism, sexism, exclusion and harassment. I honor their courage by celebrating their stories and continuing the work they started.”
Henry Louis Gates Jr. hosts some pretty heady programs. His latest: The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is Our Song (PBS Distribution). This powerful history of the Black church in America takes us from his own experience onto a 400-year journey throughout which the church has been the Black community’s abiding rock and its fortress. As Gates brilliantly shows, the Black church has never been only one thing, and its story lies at the vital center of the civil rights movement, having produced leaders such as Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
also penned an essential companion to the series of the same name (Penguin Press, $30); a tome loaded with countless photos, as written as the special is hosted.
Also hosted by Gates: Gates Finding Your Roots: Season 6 (PBS Distribution).
There are a symphony of almost undetectable sounds that make up a moment of silence, and Peter Lucian (portrayed by Peter Sarsgaard) is determined to catalogue them all.
Through his job as a New York City “house tuner,” the hyper-methodical Peter works meticulously to diagnose the discordant ambient noises—produced by everything from wind patterns to humming electrical appliances—adversely affecting his clients’ moods.
When he takes on the particularly difficult case of Ellen (Rashida Jones), a lonely woman plagued by chronic exhaustion before Peter offers the opportunity to help her. He finds that the mysteries of the soul may be even greater than the mysteries of sound. Harmony and romance is in the air. Hear them?
You will hear the quiet sound of a DVD spinning in your player . . . welcome to The Sound of Silence (IFC Films), a quietly moving portrait of a harmony-obsessed man learning to embrace the dissonances of human emotion, inviting viewers to hear the world with fresh ears.
Another essential tool in how we can breakdown the long history of systematic barriers, both racial and socioeconomic, that have hindered equity in educational opportunity within America’s public schools.
Tracy Swinton Bailey’s Forever Free: A True Story of Hope in the Fight for Child Literacy (Other Press Hardcover) doesn’t go on sale until August 3, 2021—save the date!) offers an intimate look at the those barriers that have hindered equity in schools; forces, which undergird the modern policy debate around education in the United States. The gap between white academic achievement and that of students of color is widening, and that statistic holds true even when data from upper social economic levels are examined.
At the root many of the important problems we face, from mass incarceration to income inequality, is an education system influenced by our nation’s flawed history. Just as we saw the assertion of power by black voting blocks helping to determine the political direction of our country in the last election, a result of a long and relentless push for voting rights, so too, in Bailey’s view, must we rally tirelessly to move forward an educational agenda that promotes equity and inclusion.
Children of color are being suspended and expelled at higher rates than white children. African American girls are perceived to be adults and treated as such by school officials long before they are ready to make adult decisions. Punishments are harsher. The stakes for children of color are indeterminable. With echoes of Nikole Hannah-Jones, Dr. Eve L. Ewing and the work of Adaku Onyeka-Crawford, Director of Educational Equity & Senior Counsel at the National Women’s Law Center, Forever Free begs the essential question, how to get a nourishing education to all? A large part of the solution lies with the willingness of our nation to recognize the darkness and then take steps to shine a light.
The book is an urgent call to action for racial and socioeconomic justice by way of education policy reform for vulnerable populations that have long been exploited and underserved. As a part of this call to action, Bailey relates the creation of her childhood literacy nonprofit Freedom Readers, that began in an affordable housing development in Conway, South Carolina; an after-school and summer program designed and implemented to support families in low-income areas and assist children in achieving their academic goals in reading. Bailey has seen it work firsthand in rural southern communities, and is convinced that it can work around the country.
Here, Bailey explains that a person’s literacy level is inextricably tied to their prospects and highlights the tactics employed by Freedom Readers, such as one-on-one tutoring and habitual reading engagement, offering a proven roadmap and template for sustainable advancement.
Timed to publish just as back-to-school season approaches, the book calls necessary attention to the iniquities in public education, delineates actionable steps classroom teachers and extracurricular educators can take to close the achievement gap, and illuminates why overcoming these barriers is critical, not just because of the moral and humane imperative to serve those that have been disenfranchised but because it points to a direct line between the achievement in our public schools and the economic, social and political fate and the future of all Americans.