Category Archives: Movies

Arthur Lyons Palm Springs Film Noir Festival Celebrates 25 Shadowy Years

There’s no shadow of a doubt that Palm Springs will soon be swarming with damsels in distress, gregarious gangsters, diminutive dicks, lascivious ladies and odoriferous oddballs.
Welcome to the 25th Annual Palm Springs  Film Noir Festival, officially known as the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival.
The festival runs May 9-12 at the Palm Springs Cultural Center,  where 12 films will be screened all for the first time, along with a small handful of special guest appearances.  It takes about a half a year to pull together this excursion into shadowy cinema. The festival was founded in 2000 by noir enthusiast and film historian Arthur Lyons; when he died in 2008, the festival was renamed in his honor.
“I’ve always defined ‘noir’ as films that treat light and shadow like characters,” explains Eric Smith, General Manager of the Palm Springs Cultural Center at The Historic Camelot Theatre.
2024 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival
Opening night’s film is Body and Soul, the 1947 gem starring John Garfield and Lilli Palmer (below), Anne Revere and Canada Lee.  The flick is described as “the undisputed champion of boxing movies” [that] “depicts the seamy world of the so-called ‘sweet science’ as an unforgettable metaphor for loss and redemption.” Scheduled special guest is actor/writer Jim Beaver, who also wrote a biography of Garfield.
All access pass holders and special guests are invited to the opening night reception. Expect to see the wild and wooly: One patron likes dressing as Mickey Spillane; one year the celebratory cake featured an inside filling resembling blood. More food for thought: The center’s cafe has been renamed Mildred’s, as in Mildred Pierce.
None of the films shown since 2001 have been repeated, not an easy task since films are always undergoing restoration and being pulled from circulation. This is one of the reasons the festival has been successful every year;  Smith says that the festival has continually made money. He’s proud to admit that 29% of attendees are repeat customers.
Body and Soul (1947)
Why has the festival lasted a quarter of a century?
“There’s nothing better than sitting together in a  dark theater with like-minded people watching rare, lost and rarely-seen films,”  explains Smith. “These films are black-and-white classics. And they’re never seen on Netflix.”

For a complete schedule of films and screening times, visit arthurlyonsfilmnoir.org/schedule

TICKETS
Tickets can be purchased at the Cultural Center’s box office (2300 East Baristo Road, Palm Springs, CA) or in advance at eventbrite.com/e/2024-arthur-lyons-film-noir-festival-tickets-849709693567?aff=oddtdtcreator

Charles Busch’s “Leading Lady: A Memoir of a Most Unusual Boy” is a Delicious Romp

Charles Busch is not the boy next door.

He’s not the girl next door either.

What he is is a legendary drag performer who has proven throughout the decades that he is a damn good writer… think Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, The Lady in Question, Red Square on Sunset, Psycho Beach Party, Die Mommie Die!

Now Busch has unleased Leading Lady: A Memoir of a Most Unusual Boy (Smart Pop Books, $27.95), an autobiography that’s fast and furious and funny, funny, funny and at times, sad, but not as sad as you will be when you’re on the last page.

The LGBTG+ icon takes us from Hartsdale, New York (with references to dead celebrity-studded Ferncliff, Westchester County’s take on Forest Lawn) to losing his mother to a damaged heart before he turned eight to his love of theatre (given to him by his father, a failed opera singer) to losing his virginity at sixteen  to his colorful, outlandish friends and family members (including sisters Betsy and Margaret) to the onslaught of AIDS to being nominated for a Tony for The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife to his near-death experience to . . . well, you get the idea.

Busch is a rambunctious raconteur. There are no chapters, but dozens of short tantalizing time capsules. The book is a magnificent mosaic, crammed with so many delicious anecdotes that blindingly shine and rival any cubic zirconia jewel Joan Rivers sold during her QVC career. The gems will have you laughing and crying, though the emphasis is on laughing. The stories are sassy (this is where Claudette Colbert and Kim Novak come in); sinful (this is where Esther Williams and Michele Lee come in); sentimental (this is where Carol Channing and Stephen Sondheim come in) and (bitter)sweet (this is where Liza Minnelli and Valerie Harper come in).

Leading Lady is not the lugubrious diary of some displaced cross dresser who longs to tackle RuPaul; it’s the best (read: candid, honest) autobiography since Joan Rivers’ Enter Talking. Joan pops up several times, beginning on page one. “Joan was the most prominent in a long line of smart, bigger-than-life mother figures I’ve attached myself to,” he writes. “All my life I’ve been in search for a maternal woman whose lap I could rest my head on.”

His life was guided, perhaps sometimes misguided, by his mother’s oldest sister, Aunt Lil Blum, who Busch saw as an Auntie Mame and whose ritzy Park Avenue apartment is where he lived as a teen. Aunt Lil had faith in her nephew since Day One and began taking him to Broadway shows when he was nine years old. “Some, like the talky and sexually explicit John Osborne British drama Inadmissible Evidence, were a bit of an intellectual stretch for a third grader, but Aunt Lil never explained anything to me. There was the assumption that I’d either figure it out or let it pass over my head,” he writes.

Busch cannot remember not wanting to be on stage. “I was desperate to be a child star, but my ambitions were always foiled,” he writes. He recalls auditioning for a Yonkers, New York community theater production of Oliver! — losing the role after five auditions. “In the end, they cast some dreadful butch child without a shred of sensitivity.”

It was Aunt Lil who sent Busch to acting school on Saturdays; he recalls the very first lesson. “The teacher taught us how to make an entrance down a staircase wearing a gown with a long train without ever looking down at our feet—a skill that has proved invaluable in my career in the theater.” Ironically, Aunt Lil never saw Busch on stage in drag. “I’d be worried that the audience might not like you or be unkind,” he recalls she told him.

Aunt Lil supported him when Busch needed the money; before fame hit, part-time jobs usually didn’t work out. Busch acknowledges that in so many ways that she was the one who nourished his dreams, especially before he discovered his gift for writing plays and making a living as a male actress.

Busch witnessed Aunt Lil’s decline for eight years. Her death crumbled him. “Entering the hospital room . . . I climbed onto the bed, snuggling next to her, and buried my face in her long beautiful grey hair,” he writes. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. . . I had so much to thank her for. She had saved my life. She made everything possible. . . . Everything leads me to Aunt Lil.”

The end of Aunt Lil, but not the end of Leading Lady. Even with all the sissified innuendos and campy asides, the book ends up centering around love: love of theatre, of film, of family, of friends and ultimately love of oneself.  To give away much more is to give away the heart and soul of the book. Read it, wander off to the 24 pages of (mostly) color photos, then roam back into Busch’s valentine of memories and magic, vim and vitality.

Here’s Lucie! Lucie Arnaz on her one-woman show, gay icons, Michael Bennett and, of course, her mom

Lucie Arnaz can precisely remember the moment she wanted to be in show business. It had nothing to do with her mom, Lucille Ball, stomping around in a huge vat of grapes.  It had nothing to do with watching her dad, Desi Arnaz, bang out “Babalu on the bongos. It had to do with loving another lady: Mame. It was in 1966 and Lucie, then 15 and in New York City, caught Angela Lansbury in the Jerry Herman musical.
“I remember watching Angela having all this fun, getting to sing all these great songs and dance all these wonderful numbers,” Lucie recalls. “I thought, ‘That’s it! That’s what I’m going to do with my life. I’m going to sing and dance!’”
And she did. And then some.
Her career began with occasional appearances on her mother’s’ 60s  TV series The Lucy Show; Lucie was also a regular (along with her brother Desi Jr.) on Ball’s third series, Here’s Lucy. Regional tours followed; in 1979, Lucie won awards and accolades for her splashy Broadway debut in They’re Playing Our Song. On the day she left the show, Lucie flew to Los Angeles to begin work on the 1980 musical remake of The Jazz Singer starring Neil Diamond and Sir Laurence OIivier.
Other stage and screen work followed. In 1993,  Lucie produced the small-screen documentary Lucy and Desi: A Home Movie, for which she won an Emmy. In 2000, she starred in the London musical The Witches of Eastwick.  Since then, her resume has bulged and broken its seams. There were TV appearances (including the highly-regarded guest starring role in the 2003 episode of Law & Order, Bitch); the CD Latin Roots, the 2010 homage to her father; and various Broadway and national tours, including the 2014 revival of Pippin, in which Lucie jaw-droppingly performed on a trapeze .
All this while maintaining a life with actor Laurence Luckinbill, 16 years her senior, to whom she has been married since June 1980. (The couple have five children.) During the COVID self-isolation years, Lucie edited her husband’s autobiography Effective Memories: How Chance  and the Theatre Saved My Life (Sunbury Press, $34.95) being released next April. She learned to cut her own hair; chronicled the growing years of her grandchildren; dabbled with Facebook and listened to “lots” of audible books.
This month, Lucie returns to New York City with I Got the Job! Songs From My Musical Past. She’s bringing the show back after four years of cancelling because of COVID and last year’s knee replacement surgery.
But that was then. On July 19, 2023, two days after her 72nd birthday, Lucie returns to Below 54 for four nights of proving life is a cabaret, accompanied by her good friend, musical director/pianist Ron Abel.  Call 646.476.3551 for reservations.
Here, Lucie proves she’s still on the ball as she chats about her one-woman show, her new hairdo, imitating Cher, working with Sir Laurence Olivier and Michael Bennett, and gay icons.
Before we go into any hair-raising topics, let’s chat about your gorgeous hair! It’s snow white!
This is my COVID cut and color do. What can I say? I couldn’t go anywhere to get it cut or colored, so when the roots got too long, I cut it all off down to the nubbies. I wore a hat for a few weeks and  thought , ‘Let me see what I look like.’ I’ve been able to cut it myself, and for two years, I have kept it cropped.  It’s white, my dad’s color, but sometimes it shocks me in the morning because I expect a brunette to pop up.  But I like it a lot.  It looks cute, doesn’t it?

Lucie now and with her mom, then

Tease us a bit about I Got the Job! 
This is the first show I’ve done that has a theme. I talk about what I learned from working with people. I remember mistakes I made. I sing songs— whether I sang them or someone else did—and tell stories from my musical theater career.  I’ve been indeed fortunate to have the opportunity being in shows written by some great composers.

One reviewer said you sound like a meld of Liza Minnelli and Barbra Streisand and a shot of Eydie Gorme. What think?
Oh my God! Kill me now! I’m so happy l’ll never have to sing again! It never occurs to me to sound like anybody else. With Liza, it must have to do with energy and tone and song interpretation. I certainly don’t sing like Streisand. I don’t have her notes at all. Maybe there’s a nasal quality. And Eydie! I love her. She and Rosemary Clooney are the kind of singers I listen to.

Speaking of Cher . . . you did a smash-on imitation of her (with Frankie Avalon doing Sonny) singing “I Got You Babe” on Here’s Lucy. Was that fun?
Oh yes! The writers knew Frankie could do Sonny and figured I could do Cher. We went to see Sonny and Cher doing their show to get some ideas. We watched the show and Cher—who I did not know—said, ‘C’mon to my dressing room.’ She asked, ‘Do you have a wig?’ I told her I did, but she handed me one and said, ‘Here, take this. It’s mine and it’s better.’ She also gave me the pair of earrings I wear. Everything that was Cher she gave me. I loved her for doing that. And I loved doing that song. It’s a favorite.

Frankie Avalon as Sonny and Lucie as Cher on “Here’s Lucy”

Any recollections of working with Sir Laurence Olivier on The Jazz Singer?
He was so ill making the movie. His cancer was not in remission and he was in terrible pain. He was always sitting in his dressing room with his head in his hands. When he heard his call—‘Sir Larry, we’re ready for you’—he’d get right up and get to the set.  I had only one scene with him, about two words. I would look at the call sheet to find out whenever he was going to be working and I’d make sure I was also on the set, watching his work. [Pauses] I think the film is underrated. The critics didn’t like it. It was as if they were thinking, ‘You’re Sir Laurence Olivier. How dare you be in a movie with a singer who can’t act [Neil Diamond].’ So they cut him and the film down a few notches.

A vintage 1980 promo ad for “The Jazz Singer”

What was it like working with Michael Bennett on Seesaw?
I was the luckiest girl on the planet.  I got my first legit equity tour working with him and Tommy Tune. He had a tough reputation and he wasn’t diplomatic.  If he didn’t like something he would hurt my feelings and make me cry all night long. We’d come in the next morning and fix what was wrong. It was usually a simple fix. And I’d think, ‘Michael, couldn’t you have been more tactful so I could have gotten some sleep?’ He was a complicated little character. One day he invited me to his apartment, made dinner and said, ‘You could be one of the great ladies of the American theater if you take it seriously.’ So I did exactly what he told me to do: I moved to New York, took acting classes with Herbert Berghof and made people know I was serious about my career. [Laughs] That changed my life. If I didn’t listen to Michael, I would have gotten back into a TV series  . . . and been much wealthier than I am today!

Michael Bennett and Lucie Arnaz

Let’s talk about your creepiest role . . . Elizabeth Short.
Oh, The Black Dahlia. I was surprised I got the role because I hardly had any credits. A friend took me to [executive producer] Doug Cramer who had newspaper clippings of her death on his desk. He took a look at them and me and said, ‘Oh my God! You look just like her!’ I think that’s why I got the role.  It was a great film to make; the movie had lots of famous, amazing cameos. Mercedes McCambridge played my grandmother. But everything was so fast. I was asked to choose between two black stretch wigs and two black dresses and we began filming. The first scene was the one in the coffee shop in which I am named The Black Dahlia. There was no rehearsal period. We did a take, adjusted the lighting, did the take again and that was it. Thank God I had training from summer stock where I learned things fast. I am pleased with that movie and I get asked a lot about her, who wasn’t the sharpest pencil in the box.

Lucie as Elizabeth Short
Lucy and Lucie

I’ve heard your mom lowered her voice through an unusual way of driving. Do you know what I am talking about?
Yes. When she was starting out, someone at the studio told her that her voice was too tinny, that it had no tone or presence.  My mother asked, ‘What the hell am I going to do about that?’ She was told to drive her car down the middle of the road, screaming at the top of her lungs into the wind. I’ve heard my mother say this many times, but she may have exaggerated the story since she’s been known to exaggerate. I don’t know if she actually drove at 90 miles-per-hour or how long she did this. It’s suicide for any singer or actor who tries this today.

We’ve already mentioned Liza and Cher and Barbra. Let’s toss in Dolly and Bette . Are you a gay icon?
I don’t see myself as a gay icon—Minnelli, Cher and Dolly are significant arena fillers. I  think I have a respectable gay following. Let’s put it this way: We like each other.  I have lots of gay friends. They like fun. They like laughter. They like dressing up and having a good time. That’s what it’s all about, no?

.
A triumvirate of gay icons: Liza, Lucie and Joan

 

Ignite Films ignites film fan fervor with restored ‘Invaders From Mars’

Ignite Films, the Dutch company formed in 2005 by Jan Willem Bosman Jansen, lives up to its motto, “Classics for the Future,” with the award-winning sensational 4K restoration of William Cameron Menzies’ Invaders From Mars, the first title released under the Ignite Films label. The groundbreaking sci-fi classic will be released in partnership with MVD for retail sales in stores including Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, Target, Walmart, and through online retailers including Amazon.com, on 4K UHD, Blu-ray and DVD on July 11, 2023, with pre-orders open now, announced Jan Willem Bosman Jansen, founder of Ignite Films.

Special bonus features include a restored 4K version of the original 1953 trailer and a newly commissioned 2022 trailer, an interview with the film’s star, Jimmy Hunt, an in-depth look at the restoration process led by Scott MacQueen, Restoration Supervisor, plus a new documentary about the film featuring interviews with directors Joe Dante, John Landis, Multiple Visual Effects Academy-Award winner Robert Skotak and other luminaries. These extras and the documentary were produced and directed by award-winning

filmmaker Jeremy Alter.

“I’m excited for audiences, old and new, to finally be able to watch this masterpiece of both film and restoration on Blu-ray and 4K UHD,” says  Ignite Films Director Jan Willem Bosman Jansen.
“We have taken great care to cover as many aspects of the movie in our bonus materials and design to bring it back to life for as wide an audience as possible. The work we have done is also a homage to the overall genius of William Cameron Menzies, and I cannot speak for him of course, but I think he would be thrilled with how his movie looks today.”
Fearful memories of this timeless 1953 bone-chiller still haunt the dreams of fans who have never forgotten the story of David MacLean, a young boy (portrayed by Jimmy Hunt) who witnesses an alien invasion. Invaders from Mars was filmed from a child’s point of view, using exaggerated sets and upward angles. It became a modern classic and was also one of two early ’50s classic alien-invasion science fiction films (the other is Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still) reflecting Cold War tensions, the Red Scare and paranoid anxiety typical of many films in the ’50s.
The restoration of Invaders from Mars has been much hoped for and a long time coming. But the process was not an easy one. Leading the effort was longtime enthusiast and preservationist of classic cinema Scott MacQueen, who previously was head of preservation at UCLA Film & Television Archive for more than a decade, before retiring in 2021.
The biggest challenge for MacQueen was that the color negative confirmed for printing in SUPERcineCOLOR lacked many shots and needed to be sourced from 70-year-old prints.
Invaders from Mars was one of the most complex projects I have ever undertaken,” MacQueen says.  “In the days of analog restoration, it would not have been possible, but 21st century digital tools have been game-changers. Released in an archaic process that is irretrievable today Invaders from Mars was pieced together from five different sources. Additionally, eight minutes of European scenes and an alternate ending, and the original trailer, have been preserved. As star Jimmy Hunt says, ‘Invaders from Mars has never looked so good.'”

The 4K restoration process of the sci-fi classic required a lengthy search for the final elements, which was conducted by Ignite’s Janet Schorer. Additionally, it was imperative to locate the elements necessary to fill in the gaps in the original camera negative, which was stored with great care at the UCLA Film & Television Archive. The George Eastman Museum and National Film and Sound Archive of Australia were instrumental in supplying additional key elements which were essential to completing the film.

Bonus Features
  • Restored 4K original 1953 trailer AND a newly commissioned 2022 trailer
  • Interviews with star Jimmy Hunt, William Cameron Menzies’ biographer James Curtis and recollections of Menzies’ eldest granddaughter Pamela Lauesen
  • Featurette with acclaimed film directors John Landis, Joe Dante, editor Mark Goldblatt, special visual effects artist and two time Oscar Winner Robert Skotak (foremost expert on Invaders from Mars), and enthusiast and film preservationist Scott MacQueen
  • John Sayles’ introduction at Turner Classic Movie Festival in Hollywood, April 2022
  • Before/after clips of restoration: Original negative and archival film elements,  with film restoration supervisor Scott MacQueen
  • Restored segments in 2K of the Alternate International Version– alternative ending and extended Planetarium scene
  • Gallery with original Press Book pages, behind the scenes photos from the restoration process
  • Twenty page extensive essay on the restoration process: Invaders From Mars: A Nightmare of Restoration by Scott MacQueen

Cohen Film Collection offers two important French classics

One of Cohen Film Collection’s August DVD and Blu-ray releases feature two titans of French Cinema: Simone Signoret and Alain Delon.  They are brought together for The Burned Burns, a crime drama set in the snow-covered French countryside on the border with Switzerland. The body of a young woman is found savagely murdered near the isolated Burned Barns farm run by Rose (Signoret ) and her family.

The police work begins and the investigating judge, Pierre Larcher (Delon), soon comes to suspect that Rose’s family, and in particular her sons, may have played a role. Signoret and Delon are outstanding as two forces playing a game of wits with profound consequences. Keep your eyes and ears open—Jean Chapot’s film features a stunning soundtrack by electronic music pioneer Jean-Michel Jarre.

The second must-have flick: Symphony for a Massacre. In this stylish heist noir from director Jacques Deray, master director of the French crime film, five men tied to businesses with varying degrees of legality pool their money to go in on one huge narcotics deal that can set them up for life—and test their loyalties.

Restored in 2K from a 4K scan of the surviving 35MM interpositive (the negative is lost), the film boasts stunning black and white photography, supported by a lush and memorable score. Deray assembled an impressive cast of stars, including Charles Vanel, Michel Auclair, future director José Giovanni who also co-wrote the film, and Jean Rochefort, in a brilliant casting against type from his largely comedic roles up until then. This rediscovered crime thriller is sure to please fans of classic film noir.

“Pack rat” doesn’t begin to describe Andy Warhol . . . Hoarder, indeed!

He wore a toupee and a girdle, suffered from bad, pasty skin and disdained physical contact. Yet he would be seen at all the big events and major openings, rubbing tuxedo-clad elbows with the rich and (in)famous, the high and the sober. He was a celeb’s celeb, posing with, then photographing, the likes of Liza and Dolly and Diana and Liz, then painting their portraits … then asking them for their autographs.

You and I know him as Andy Warhol, the Pop Art prophet whose posthumous profits have earned him first place among artists at auction and who is forever honored with his own artful museum.

Yet to paint an accurate portrait of Andy, we need to forget (just for a few paragraphs) Marilyn and Mao and those dollar signs he so obsessively silk-screened. The real star in Andy’s life was his obsession with “stuff.” He collected everything — and, after a recent visit to the Warhol archives proved — I mean everything.

He was the ultimate Pack Rat, and I don’t use the capitalization lightly.

Starting in 1974 and continuing through 1987, Andy would toss this and that into corrugated cardboard boxes — things he bought, things he was given, things he got for free, things he “borrowed” from hotels — “time capsules,” he called them.

Image 1 - Andy Warhol Signed Photo with Beckett Letter of Authenticity 8" x 11"

Armed with a $650,000 grant from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, The Andy Warhol Museum is embarking on an effort to photograph, digitally scan, catalog and preserve the contents of hundreds of capsules. They’ve already opened and begun to inventory 100, and have 472 more to go, a project that should take six years.

During a recent visit, I browsed through Time Capsule No. 20, the contents of which spanned 1982-85. The latter was the year Andy went to Los Angeles for a guest spot on “The Love Boat” — there’s a healthy stack of unused stationery from Beverly Hills Hotel, a box of bath soap, a pile of phone messages, one of which is from B-actress Mamie Van Doren.

Wearing ill-fitting white gloves that allow me to safely handle the “art,” I open a small sampling of the many letters and notes addressed to the artist (no gossip, no secrets, just cryptic missives from unknowns). There’s a rough skin scraper (bought in Manhattan at Duane Reade), hair dye, mascara, nail polish, lipstick, vials of perfume samples. There’s junk jewelry, a gay porno magazine, a promotional brochure from a Russian airline, several bottles of homeopathic drugs and enough pimple medicine to keep the teens of Fox Chapel acne-free for years.

And I haven’t even begun to snoop what’s on the other shelves.

Some people would call it junk. It’s a word at which archivist and project supervisor Matt Wrbican bristles. “Andy considered the capsules to be works of art — they are pieces of a larger historical timeline,” he  said, adding that the “strangest thing” found to date was a mummified human foot, analyzed by scientists at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and confirmed to be a relic from Ancient Egypt.

But sometimes even timelines show their age, and lines must be drawn. For a Time Capsule, that means destruction. Collections manager Allison Smith reveals the museum junked a “leaking half-empty bottle of Chloraseptic,” but not before the over-the-counter medicine was photographed and all pertinent info logged into the database.

Many people have trashed Warhol while he was alive, but this causes a lump in my throat. Maybe a spritz of Chloraseptic would help?

Matthew points to a sandwich bag of AA batteries that have leaked; they will also hit the garbage bin. “Actually,” he explains, “we’ll put them in a battery recycling program.” Once, of course, they are photographed and cataloged.

I ask nicely if I can have the batteries, sort of an awesome alkaline souvenir from my visit.

I also figure that in some circles, I could claim to have an original Warhol.

I am nicely told, “No.”

I leave empty-handed, but brimming with reminders to do some spring cleaning.

And have that garage sale.

IF YOU GO
The Andy Warhol Museum
117 Sandusky Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
412.237.8300
warhol.org

Alain Delon + Jacques Deray + Cohen Film Collection = Three French Films that are Must-See

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.

George Chakiris’ autobiography will leave some readers (dis)pleased

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.

And duped.

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.

 

How and why Dolly and I are bosom buddies and breast friends…from 9 to 5 and beyond

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.

Cohen Film Collection releases Rene Clair’s sparkling, restored “It Happened Tomorrow”

Cohen Film Collection’s latest release is Rene Clair’s sparking, yet underrated, 1944 gem It Happened Tomorrow. What would happen if someone could get tomorrow’s newspaper headlines today? This charming period comedy tells the story of a reporter (played by Dick Powell) who wishes he could scoop his colleagues by knowing about events before they occur.
Only in Hollywood . . .
When a mysterious old man gives him the news a day in advance, his life is turned upside down. Racing to prevent a headline predicting his own death, he gets mixed up with a beautiful fortune teller (Linda Darnell) and her overprotective uncle (Jack Oakie).
It Happened Tomorrow was acclaimed French director René Clair’s follow up to his equally enchanting I Married a Witch, both made during his exile in Hollywood during World War II. Clair’s famous whimsical style is evident in this cautionary tale; be careful—what you wish for might come true.
This black and white film was restored from a 4K scan.