We could toss about many so-little known (or unknown). We’ll choose two: Benoît-Constant Coquelin, Edmond Rostand. We’ll add a third: Sir Paul Cicchini.
Yet they all are related. Sort of. Coquelin was a legendary French actor who originated the role of real-life Hercule Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac whose life was fictionalized in Rostand’s legendary play Cyrano de Bergerac back in 1897. Yep, he’s the Cyrano known for his large, misshapen proboscis; (mis)adventures of fighting, courageous sword fighting, action and, of course, the kiss given to gal pal Roxanne.
Cyrano was, and remains, hot. There have been many stage and screen adaptations. A new stage version starring James McAvoy takes centerstage at Brooklyn’s Academy of Music; little person and Big Star Peter Dinklage stars in the new big-screen musicalization. And so enters New Jersey school psychologist Cicchini.
He has written Young Cyrano ($12.99), a novel that takes a breezy look at Cyrano when he was an awkward teenager. Before he became a self-assured hero, Cyrano and his best friends Le Bret and Roxanne took part in many of those teenage exploits with which today’s teens find pleasure . . . and perhaps pain. Young Cyrano is written with a flair that guides those in grades 7 through 12 into playful and perplexing periods of youth, mystery and mayhem with the welcoming and wonder of what is to become.
To learn more about Young Cyrano or its author Sir Paul Cicchini, visit paulcicchini.com.
It’s a large, lavish coffeetable book, this expensive ($50) book that celebrates the fashions of Mackie and the women he (un)dresses. The Art of Bob Mackie(Simon & Schuster) has Mackie’s approval, but it was written by two die-hard fans.
Yet nearly 50 years, Mackie himself wrote (with co-author Gerry Bremer) Designing for Glamour (A& W Publishers), a smaller $14.95 volume that is packed with lots of color BM costume photos,
scores of dos and don’ts for fashion-driven success, even a (first) foreword by Carol Burnett. Sure, the book is long out of print,. but I stole a copy on eBay for $5, postage included. The Art of Bob Mackie is an embarrassment of riches. Balancing the book on your lap is tough enough, but after a while, page after page after page of Mackie illustrations look that same, as seen below.
Most of the same ladies are covered in both books (Carol, Cher, Diana, Ann, Mitzi, Bette, Barbra) and some of the photos are duplicated.
Perhaps if Dressing for Glamour was updated, and there was less Carol Burnett gab and more of Cher’s (or reversing the two). The Art of Bob Mackie would have more style.
As Santa’s elves—sometimes known as book publicists—continue to drop “gifts”—sometimes known as review copies—under our tree, we remain steadfast, promising to find the best of the best.
And then recommending those titles.
When we stumbled across Carole Estby Dagg’s new book, The Year We Were Famous: Helga and Clara’s Estby’s Walk Across a Changing America ($15.49), we were as impressed not only by the subject (more in a bit) but by her professional tagline, that she spends her time “writing about history as ordinary people lived it”.
In this, Estby novelizes the true tale of her her suffragist great grandmother, Helga Estby, and Helga’s daughter, Carole’s grand aunt Clara, who walked 4,000 miles from their farm in Mica Creek, Washington, to New York City in 1896 in a heroic attempt to win $10,000 that would save the family’s farm . . . and prove women were invincible.
Equipped only with satchels containing compass and maps, first-aid supplies, journals, pistol and a curling iron (!), they headed east along the railroad tracks. The walk began on May 6, 1896 in Spokane, Washington, and ended in New York City 232 days later, on December 23. The women crossed mountains, deserts and plains; survived a highwayman attack, a flash flood and several blizzards; and went days without food and water. Let’s not forget that Helga and Clara wore out a total of 32 pairs of shoes.
During the year they walked and talked, they became famous, meeting governors and mayors, camping with Indians, and visiting the new president-elect, William McKinley.
Helga and Clara intended to write a book about their adventures, but the publisher reneged on her big-buck promise. Fortunately, newspapers across the country reported on their travels, so Carole was able to write her book based on those articles, with her imagination filling the gaps between facts.
By the way, we aren’t the only ones who were pleased by such a gift from the Jolly Fat Man’s helpers: The Year We Were Famous
won the Will Rogers Medallion; the Sue Alexander Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators; and the Willa award from Women Writing the West. It was also selected by the American Library Association for its 2012 Amelia Bloomer List of Best Feminist Fiction.
Santa’s elves have delivered a perfect pick for gift giving.
To order the book and for more info on the author, click caroleestbydagg.
Old-time actor [read: great actor] Brian Donlevy stars in the old-time TV series [read: great TV series from yesteryear] DangerousAssignment: The Complete Series (MPI Media Group]. Here, the veteran plays U.S. Government Agent Steve Mitchell, who travels the globe investigating cases of espionage, sabotage and threats to National Security.
Sound familiar? Donlevy originated the character on NBC Radio. The set includes all 39 episodes of the action-packed TV series from the 1950s.
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.
Like its sister series Dragnet, Code 3 featured true crime cases–this time from the files of the search and rescue branch of the Los Angeles Police Department–always “changing the names to protect the innocent.” At the end of most of the broadcasts, the real-life Sheriff of Los Angeles County, Eugene W. Biscailuz, made an appearance to recap that night’s adventure.
Code 3 enjoyed a healthy run in television syndication and featured lots of guest stars. Instead of naming names, we are going to tease you by tossing out the names of other TV series from which the guests were imported . . . Star Trek, The Patty Duke Show, Bewitched, Gilligan’s Island, Mannix, Zorro and The Dukes of Hazard.
Die-hard film fans know that Alain Delon (a) French actor is a handsome hunk and (b) Jacques Deray is a daring director. Pair them together, and French fireworks explode.
Save the date: On August 31, Cohen Film Collection releases “Three Men to Kill: Two New Restored Films by Jacque Deray.”
The Gang (1977): In 1945, as World War Two comes to a close, five small time crooks unite to form a gang lead by Delon. After several bold robberies they become notorious as “the front-wheel drive gang.” The police attempt to stop their crime spree with little success . . . but how long will their luck last?
Three Men to Kill(1980): In this gritty, violent and suspenseful thriller, Delon plays Gerfaut who comes to the aid of a man laying wounded in the road, not knowing the man has taken two bullets to the belly.
Soon he becomes the target for the killers, who see him as a dangerous witness. But Gerfaut has been around the block a couple of times and he won’t be so easily eliminated.
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.
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).