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.

Alicia Keyes produces the riveting, important “How It Feels to Be Free”, a look at six Black Legends

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 hosts essential “The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is Our Song”

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.

Gates

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).

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.

“The Sound of Silence” offers listening to the world with fresh ears

Ssssh.

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.​

Save the date! “Forever Free” calls necessary attention to the iniquities in public education

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.

“Unmarked”: A history lesson in 40 mesmerizing minutes

This is a grave documentary. The motto is simple: If we don’t save our past, we’ll lose it.

First Run Features has released the DVD of Unmarked not only explores these untold stories of the past but also the efforts underway to preserve them.

Throughout the South, vast numbers of African-American gravesites and burial grounds for enslaved persons have been lost or are disappearing through neglect and nature reclaiming the solemn tombstones and markers.

Recently, there has been a rise in the restoration and preservation of these forgotten sites by those who have a personal connection with the deceased or an appreciation of their historical significance.

A history lesson in 40 mesmerizing minutes.

Take a “Spacewalk” with a couple of Russians. This is a true story, unlike most “news” exported from the country

Who says all Russians are evil criminals who hack America?

Meet Oleg Pogodin, Irina Pivovarova, Sergey Korotkov, Dmitry Pinchukov and Dmitry Kiselev, the team who wrote (first 4) and directed Spacewalker, a nifty thrilling flick.

In the heat of the Cold War, the USSR and USA compete for supremacy in outer space. Both superpowers race to be the first nation to have a man complete a spacewalk. No price is too high and no risk is too great.

To set off one of man kind’s most ambitious missions, the USSR pair the unlikely duo of a seasoned war veteran, Pavel Belyayev, and a fearless test-pilot, Alexei Leonov. Without proper testing, and inside a tiny spaceship, the two astronauts launch into the unknown to take on what no man has done before . . .
Catch the action when the DVD is released on January 17, courtesy of Capelight Pictures and MPI Media Group.

Transgender titillation: Warhol’s he/she chronicled in “Candy Darling”

Poor Candy. She got more than 15 minutes of fame, but died at age 29 . . . four years before he became as she. Her fame was fleeting. Chronicling the short but influential life of transgender pioneer Candy Darling, a major part of Andy Warhol’s entourage, Beautiful Darling delivers audiences to a bygone era, recapturing the excitement of a long lost New York City to recount the story of Darling, a star in the constellation of Warhol’s Factory.
Candy Darling on her death bed
By the mid-’60s Jimmy Slattery, born in the Long Island suburb of Massapequa in ’44, had become Candy, a gorgeous blond actress and throwback to Hollywood’s golden age. This persona won her starring roles in two Warhol movies, parts in mainstream films and a lead role in Tennessee Williams’ play. Her ethereal beauty attracted such taste-making photographers as Robert Mapplethorpe, Cecil Beaton, Richard Avedon and Peter Beard. She was the inspiration behind two of Lou Reed’s best known songs, Candy Says and Walk on the Wild Side, and was one of the most unusual and charismatic fixtures in the explosive downtown, underground scene of late ’60s/early ’70s New York.

Candy’s journey of self-discovery and transformation becomes, for director James Rasin, a tragic allegory for our fame and media obsessed times. But it is also a gripping story with a simple, universal theme: One person’s pursuit of their own American Dream. The film interweaves rare archival footage and both historical and contemporary interviews (Tennessee Williams, Paul Morrissey,  Fran Lebowitz, Holly Woodlawn among many others) with excerpts from Candy’s own diaries and letters, which are voiced, to devastating effect, by Oscar nominee and Golden Globe Award-winning actress Chloë Sevigny.

Betty White and Allen Ludden return, of sorts. The passwords are: ‘Pet Set’.

And the password is . . .
Animals.
Every one knows that Betty White loves animals, especially dogs. Every one she still loves Allan Ludden, her husband of a mere 17 years, who died from complications of  stomach cancer on June 9, 1981, at age 63.
Fifty years ago, the Luddens came up with an idea that remains a a project still close to White’s heart:  The Pet Set, a TV series that she conceived, wrote and produced (and on which Ludden served as announcer).
The show, alas, lasted just one year, and 39 episodes.
According to her autobiography, White recalls that the show was cancelled when Carnation Company decided to put their advertising budget exclusively to commercials rather than having an amount aside for programming.
Finally, the show is back making its debut on digital platforms and DVD on February 23, 2021. Celebrating the show’s 50th anniversary and renamed for publicity push,  Betty White’s Pet Set will be released by MPI Media Group in partnership with Darren Wadyko Media and Albets Enterprises. The three entities have come together to make this series available to fans, marking the first time it will be seen in decades. “If I haven’t told you already, I will now. The Pet Set is one of my favorite shows. I’m thrilled it’s going to be seen again after all these years,” coos White.
The show featured Ludden and White welcoming their celebrity friends with their dogs, cats and horses, in addition to a wide range of wild animals including tigers, bears, elephants, lions, wolves, gorillas, chimps, cougars, cheetahs, seals, kangaroos, zebras, eagles, snakes and penguins––both in the studio and on location.
The 39 episodes of the series, unseen for decades, feature such guests as Carol Burnett, Doris Day, Eva Gabor, Paul Lynda, Agnes Moorehead, Jimmy Stewart, Mary Tyler Moore, Burt Reynolds, Shirley Jones, Michael Landon, Bob Crane, Amanda Blake, Vikki Carr, Barbara Eden, James Brolin, Della Reese, Vincent Price and Rod Serling.
Special features on the set includes a  look behind the scenes of the series, original promotional spots, the featurettes Betty White: Game Show Goddess and Daytime Hostess: The Betty White Show, Betty’s Photo Album and her public service ads.
Bet it becomes your pet set!