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Oscar’s Hosts, Hollywood Hit? and Passings…

November 30th, 2010 No comments

And the Oscar Comes From…

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has announced its hosts for the 83rd Annual Academy Awards, which are scheduled for Sunday, March 7, 2011. As with last year’s choice of “It’s Complicated” co-stars Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, producers Dan Jinks and Don Mischer opted for Hollywood star wattage over comedy hosting credits this year and cast Hollywood stars (and potential nominees) James Franco and Anne Hathaway as show co-hosts, the Academy announced yesterday. Neither actor is a newcomer to the Oscars: Franco was a presenter in 2009, and performed in a filmed spoof of his stoner character with “Pineapple Express”  co-star Seth Rogen. And Anne Hathaway proved a pleasant surprise when she ‘spontaneously’ sang and danced with  Hugh Jackman during his opening number the same year.

It’s  no coincidence that the Academy aimed younger and more mainstream for its hosts this year; the ratings for the Oscar telecast, a mainstay of Academy funding, have eroded in recent years, and clearly the Academy hopes to stanch this loss. Franco is a likely Oscar nominee for his lead role in the intense “127 Hours,” and Hathaway will soon appear – with an emphasis on appear – opposite Jake Gyllenhaal in Ed Zwick’s “Love and Other Drugs,” in which the pair perform explicit nude scenes together. Owing to Hathaway’s character’s developing malady, she, too, stands a chance of an Oscar nomination. It’s a fervent hope of the Academy powers-that-be that this year’s telecast will reverse the trend of slipping ratings – and making the hosts younger and sexier is obviously a strategic move toward that goal. Will it work? Check in on Monday, March 8, 2011…

Beverly Hills Murder Mystery

Hollywood is still talking about the murder of successful publicist Ronni Chasen, who was shot multiple times early Tuesday, November 16th,  as she waited for a traffic light in her Mercedes on Sunset Boulevard in a quiet stretch of Beverly Hills. The murder of the diminutive publicist, who was hailed by clients and studio heads alike as tops in her field, has shocked the moviemaking community. Chasen was returning home from attending a premiere and after-party for Screen Gems’ “Burlesque,” when she was apparently targeted at the traffic light at Whittier Drive. Beverly Hills Police, who rarely see homicides, are keeping mum, although they have reportedly turned down offers of assistance from the Los Angeles Sheriff and the L.A.P.D.. Within hours of the killing, B.H. Police confiscated computers and other items from Chasen’s home and publicity firm office, but in the weeks that have passed no further information has been forthcoming. Even still, rumors circulate, including a disputed suggestion today that red-light cameras at the intersection had been tampered with to make them inoperable.  

Chasen, 64, was credited with creating the modern ‘Oscar’ campaign that is so ubiquitous at year’s end in Hollywood. The “For Your Consideration” ads that pepper Hollywood trade publications are a testimony to Chasen, whose publicity efforts brought Oscar gold (and instant credibility and higher salaries) to actors, producers and composers involved with films like “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Shakespeare in Love,” “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Hurt Locker,” to name a few. In a rare show of Hollywood unity, six major film companies joined to honor Chasen with a memorial service a week after her death. She is survived by her brother, filmmaker Larry Cohen (“Q,””Phone Booth”).

Darth is Dad? Surely You’re Not Serious…

As the year winds down, there are more losses from old Hollywood… Irvin Kirshner, perhaps best known as the director of “The Empire Strikes Back,” died Saturday at age 87. Kershner, who studied film at USC, began his career producing documentaries for the U.S. Information Service in the Middle East, then turned his attentions toward television, where he directed documentaries and episodes of popular shows like “Ben Casey” and “Naked City.” Kirshner transitioned into feature films, earning a distinction as one of producer Roger Corman’s first proteges when he was handed the directing reins for 1958’s “Stakeout on Dope Street.” A-list films (and stars) followed, including “A Fine Madness” and “Never Say Never Again” with Sean Connery, “Up the Sandbox” with Barbra Streisand, and “Eyes of Laura Mars,” with Faye Dunaway (featuring a young Tommy Lee Jones as a killer). But Kirshner had his greatest commercial success with “The Empire Strikes Back,” a substantially darker film than its “Star Wars” predecessor; while critical reaction was muted at the time of its release, now the film is often referred to as the best of the original three “Star Wars” movies.

Leslie Nielsen, whose career as a dramatic leading man took a left turn to embrace comedy stardom in his mid 50s, died from complications of pneumonia in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He was 84. Born in Canada, the handsome young Nielsen studied acting at the Academy of Radio Arts in Toronto, and later at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City. Live television roles followed on shows like “Goodyear Playhouse,” “Tales of Tomorrow” and “Kraft Theatre.” Before long, the much-in-demand Nielsen was making feature films, including “Forbidden Planet,” while he continued working steadily as a TV guest star for the next 20 years. Although he remained busy, his roles grew increasingly colorless until he was cast in 1980’s “Airplane!” as Dr. Rumack. His deadpan delivery of lines like “Don’t call me Shirley” and “I’m a doctor, you can tell me anything” revitalized his career, and Leslie Nielsen was ‘rediscovered,’ at age 54, as a comedic star. He went on to star in a TV series, “Police Squad!,” as well as 3 “The Naked Gun” feature film spinoffs starring that series’ main character, Police Lieutenant Frank Drebin. All told, Nielsen’s career covered over 60 years and resulted in 239 TV and movie roles; his credits ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime, but he will surely be remembered for making us laugh.

Hollywood Autumn

September 30th, 2010 No comments

It has been a tough week for Hollywood and Broadway, not to mention the comedy world, in terms of losses. In just the last week, four Hollywood legends have passed away and two younger talents, a renowned editor and popular comic, have died unexpectedly. Most of us have heard the old saying about losses coming in threes, but multiples of three? That’s hard to take.

Eddie Fisher died at his home in Berkeley, California on September 23, 2010 from complications of hip surgery. He was 82. A singer and actor, Eddie Fisher was a top performer whose tumultuous love life commanded headlines throughout the 1950s. As a teen heartthrob, he scored four number-one hits, and his good looks and charm won him his first wife, Debbie Reynolds, with whom he had two children, including writer-actress Carrie Fisher of “Star Wars” and “Postcards From the Edge” fame. In 1959, Fisher earned notoreity and public scorn when he left Reynolds for Elizabeth Taylor in a messy breakup, complicated by the fact that Taylor had recently been widowed when her husband Michael Todd died in an air crash – and Eddie Fisher was Todd’s best friend. Fisher married actress Connie Stevens after Taylor left him for co-star Richard Burton while she was making the ill-fated “Cleopatra” in Rome. A period of decline, due to personal, financial and drug problems, ensued in the 1970s. Fisher married twice more, and wrote about his vicissitudes in two autobiographical tomes: “Eddie Fisher: My Life, My Loves,” and “Been There, Done That.”  In addition to Carrie Fisher, he is survived by actress Joely Fisher, his daughter by Connie Stevens, two other children, and six grand-children.

Gloria Stuart (nee Stewart) passed away September 26, 2010. She had turned 100 years old on July 4, 2010, but earned her current celebrity from her role as 101 year-old Rose in James Cameron’s 1997 “Titanic.” Oddly, Stuart’s long life makes the fictional Rose’s look mundane: born in Santa Monica in 1910, Gloria attended University of California at Berkeley, where she met her first husband, a sculptor. Living in an artists’ colony with the likes of photographer Edward Weston and journalist Lincoln Steffens, Gloria acted in a local theater and wrote for newspapers. In 1932 a trip to the Pasadena Playhouse earned Gloria a newfound respect for theater – and a 7 year contract with Universal Pictures. One of the founding members of the Screen Actors Guild and a regular at the famed Algonquin ‘Round Table,’ over the next 14 years she performed in 46 films, acting beside Claude Rains in “The Invisible Man” and opposite Boris Karloff in “The Old Dark House,” both directed by “Frankenstein” director James Whale. Eventually the roles grew increasingly undemanding, and, in 1946, Gloria Stuart (she changed the last name for marquee symmetry) bid her Hollywood career goodbye. Remarried, she traveled around the world, settled in New York City, had a daughter, taught herself to paint, moved to Italy, later began a new career as a master print maker, and eventually wound up as Rose in Cameron’s epic film, playing 101 years old at age 87. A full life, indeed.

As we already noted in For Bards Blog, Academy Award nominated film editor Sally Menke was found dead on September 28, 2010 after failing to return from a trail walk during a record heatwave. In addition to editing all of Quentin Tarantino’s films, Sally also edited two films for Billy Bob Thornton. She was 56 years old; she leaves behind a husband, TV director Dean Parisot, and two daughters.

Arthur Penn died on September 28, 2010 of congestive heart failure, one day after his 88th birthday. Arthur Penn was born in Philadelphia in 1922; his older brother Irving earned international fame as a photographer, but Arthur followed his interests into theater after serving in WWII, working with then-unknown director Joshua Logan. Eventually he garnered a job as a floor manager for the “Colgate Comedy Hour” in New York City, and worked his way up to directing live TV dramas on “Goodyear TV Playhouse,”  “Philco TV Playhouse” and “Playhouse 90.” Before too long, Penn was dividing his time between Hollywood and New York City, directing Broadway hits like “The Miracle Worker,” “Two for the Seesaw”  and “Wait Until Dark.” After winning a Tony for directing “The Miracle Worker,” Arthur Penn directed his Broadway stars Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke in the film version of William Gibson’s drama, earning his first Oscar nomination and winning Oscars for both Bancroft and Duke. Penn only made a dozen theatrical feature films, most notably “Bonnie and Clyde,” the 1967 film whose over-the-top violent ending polarized critics of the day. While a string of Broadway successes and quirky films like “Little Big Man” and “Night Moves” followed, Penn will forever be known as the ‘bloodthirsty’ director of “Bonnie and Clyde,” opening the door for cinema followers like Sam Peckinpah, although Penn himself likened the 1967 film to the Vietnam War, exposing the grittiness of violence to give it value.

Comedian Greg Giraldo died Wednesday, September 29, 2010, five days after falling into a coma after an apparent accidental prescription overdose. He was 44 years old. The comedian was a Comedy Central cable TV network mainstay, appearing regularly on “Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn” and Lewis Black’s “Root of All Evil,” and earning special acclaim as host of Comedy Central’s ‘roasts,’ where his sarcastic humor and semi-serious rants offered a glimpse into the comedian’s darker side. Initially educated as a lawyer, Giraldo gave up the legal profession to tour as a successful comedian, and his popularity soon earned him appearances on late night talk shows. His ascendancy on Comedy Central followed. Giraldo, a divorced father of three, was set to perform in New Brunswick, New Jersey when he was discovered unresponsive and taken to a local hospital.

Hollywood legend Tony Curtis died in his home in Henderson, Nevada, also on September 29, 2010, of cardiac arrest. He was 85. Born Bernard Schwartz in the Bronx on June 3, 1925, Curtis faced a bleak future when his parents, Hungarian immigrants, placed him and his brother in a state-run institution during the height of the Depression. Toughened by street life and anti-Semitism, Curtis entered the US Navy during WWII, serving on the submarine tender U.S.S. Proteus. After his service, he gravitated toward theater, working in the Catskills until a casting agent saw him and invited him to Hollywood. Signing a contract with Universal, he settled on the pseudonym Anthony Curtis. By 1951 he was the Tony Curtis; it was also the year he married actress Janet Leigh. They had two daughters, including actress-author Jamie Lee Curtis. Curtis carved out a successful career during the 1950s and 60s, forming alliances with directors Richard Fleischer and Blake Edwards, among others. As his Hollywood film career stalled, Curtis tried his hand at two television shows, “The Persuaders” and “McCoy.” After a stint at the Betty Ford Center to deal with alcohol and drug issues, Curtis re-invented himself as a fine artist, painting boldly-signed, Matisse-influenced works. After his divorce from Leigh, Curtis married five more times. He is survived by 5 children; one son died in 1994 of a drug overdose.

It certainly is a lot of loss to deal with in a short period of time, but we can take comfort in the fact that all these talents left behind works we can continue to enjoy.