Saturday, November 18, 2017

What Happens on Board ...



Frasier (Kelsey Grammer): Latin singing sensation, Carlos 'the Barracuda' del Gato?

Roz (Peri Gilpin): Don't you remember him from the '70s? He invented that big dance craze, the Barracuda.

Niles (David Hyde Pierce): Believe it or not, Maris was a big fan of his.

Frasier: No.

Niles: Yes, that was the one dance she could do. The Hustle was too strenuous. She had no booty to shake.

It was common knowledge in the Frasier series that Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) liked rubbing elbows with celebrities.

Ordinarily he had a policy against doing commercial endorsements so when Roz (Peri Gilpin) approached him about an offer from a cruise line — a celebrity entertainer had canceled on a trip to Alaska, and if Frasier would give a lecture on the ship, he and Roz could travel for free — he was hesitant.

Until Roz dropped a few names of well–known folks who had gone on the cruises. Then Frasier was eager to go.

But Frasier's party didn't stop at two. The rest of the family came along as well. Frasier invited his father (John Mahoney) to accompany him — although I believe that must have happened off camera — then he invited Niles (David Hyde Pierce), who was despondent because his estranged wife, the often–mentioned but never truly seen Maris, was skipping town on their anniversary. Niles had hoped they could spark a reconciliation on their anniversary, but that had been taken away. To Switzerland.

So Frasier invited Niles along to help him forget.

Once on board the ship, Frasier discovered that the accommodations were not as lavish as he had been led to believe, and the other celebrities were far from A–listers. The only one the audience saw, other than Frasier, was Carlos "The Barracuda" Del Gato (Miguel Perez) — and he seemed to be primarily interested in Roz.

And then Maris showed up. The audience never saw her, but she was there. She kept sending waiters over to Niles' table to throw glasses of champagne in his face after he fell into the clutches of a man–crazy woman from his country club.

Apparently Maris had seen them together and concluded that Niles was cheating on her.

And Niles concluded that, if Maris thought Niles was having an affair, she would have one, too, to punish him. The Barracuda appeared to be made to order.

Frasier and Roz set out to talk to Maris, but she wasn't in her stateroom when they got there (they were let in by a maid who assumed they were the guests who were staying in that room). But when Maris arrived and was opening the door, Frasier and Roz slipped into the bathroom.

"Why are we hiding?" Roz wanted to know. "We came here to talk to her."

"Because it's impossible to extol the virtues of trust," Frasier replied, "to someone whose room you've just broken into."

But it turned out to be Martin, who came into the bathroom — sending Frasier and Roz scurrying for the shower, prompting Frasier to exclaim, "The shower is bigger than my entire cabin!"

Anyway, it turned out that Niles and Maris had begun a reconciliation of sorts. They had taken a stroll on deck and talked things out, and Maris had invited Niles back to her cabin for a glass of champagne.

Niles found Frasier, Martin and Roz hiding in the bathroom — and shooed them away so he and Maris could be alone.

Nothing special to take away from this episode, I suppose. Just one of those episodes that I always enjoy.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Debut of Steely Dan



Forty–five years ago this month, the concept of fusion wasn't new, but Steely Dan was.

Fusion has evolved, I suppose, from earlier uses in science and medicine to computing, and somewhere along the way it came to describe the result of the combinations of two musical genres. Like restaurants that try to join two kinds of food, it hasn't always been successful. I mean, some things work when they are combined with other things. Some things don't.

Steely Dan, which released its debut album, "Can't Buy a Thrill," in November 1972, was a unique fusion of jazz and rock.

Oh, that wasn't exactly new in 1972, either, and as Henry David Thoreau once observed, when a person is familiar with the truth of a concept or principle, that person loses interest in its many applications. Fusion wasn't a hot topic in 1972. There had already been decades of talk of nuclear fusion.

In fact, if time travel was possible and you could go back to November 1972, you most likely would find that the primary topics of conversation were President Nixon's landslide victory over George McGovern or Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's declaration that peace was "at hand" in Vietnam. Sports fans would probably talk about the undefeated Miami Dolphins.

But "Can't Buy a Thrill" was a musical triumph in late 1972, spawning a huge hit in "Reelin' in the Years," which reached No. 11 on the charts. Elliott Randall's guitar solo was named by Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page as his favorite solo of all time.

One of the things I remember from my childhood was how "Reelin' in the Years" was the favorite of a friend of mine who was probably a year or so older than I was. He was an aspiring guitarist, and he learned to play that song. He was pretty good, too.

But the bigger hit on the album was always my favorite — "Do It Again," which climbed to No. 6 on the charts.

Steely Dan's style leaned strongly to soft rock. That worked better with other styles, mostly jazz sprinkled with a little blues and some R&B.

Steely Dan never really seemed comfortable with anything stronger, as if fusing hard rock with jazz wouldn't work because jazz is too fragile.

I suppose that's in the way you look at it, but Steely Dan's fusion seemed new and fresh, even if it really wasn't.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Standing Up to Bullies



I have often mentioned that I believe Andy Griffith was the best TV dad anyone could have, and I also believe he was the best friend anyone could have. And one of the qualities that makes someone a good friend is the capacity to help somebody face difficult situations — like bullying.

It isn't a one–size–fits–all solution, of course. But it is one of those things that friends do for each other.

The episode of the Andy Griffith Show that first aired on this day in 1962, "Lawman Barney," proved that not only was he the best sheriff on TV — and the best friend — but, well, he was just the best everything.

Do people like that really exist? Or are they the creations of TV writers? Perhaps, as Forrest Gump might say, it's a little of both.

No doubt Andy Taylor had his flaws, but the ones the audience saw were comparatively minor. He possessed some kind of insight that enabled him to make all the best choices — even inspired ones — at all the right times.

It was a gift, all right — but did it come from the writers or someone/somewhere else?

Clearly there were times when he took calculated risks, and sometimes that appeared to backfire on Andy, but things usually seemed to work out. One such time was in "Lawman Barney."

When the episode began, Barney was telling a couple of street peddlers (Allan Melvin and Orville Sherman) to move their truck outside the city limits because what they were doing was against the law. But they didn't take Barney seriously, and they ran him off.

The experience was quite a blow to Barney's ego, and it was clear when he returned to the courthouse that all was not well. Andy put two and two together and figured out what the problem was — especially after Andy encountered the peddlers and told them to pack up their stuff and move outside the town limits. The peddlers took Andy seriously, and Andy learned through them what had happened.

So he made up a story about how tough Barney really was — and how, when people didn't do as he told them, he played an "ugly game" with them. Andy told the peddlers that Barney had a lot of tough–guy nicknames — "Barney the Beast," "Fife the Fierce," "Crazy Gun Barney."

Then, after Andy had thrown a real scare into the peddlers, he went back to the courthouse and told Barney that he had heard about some street peddlers and he needed Barney to "take care of it."

That was the gamble — or at least the first one — of the episode.

When Barney reluctantly returned to the spot where the street peddlers had been selling their produce, they were still there but packing to leave and they scattered, leaving behind a now–pompous Barney, who returned to the courthouse brimming with confidence.

On their way out of town, the peddlers stopped off at Wally's filling station for some water. Barney happened to drive by, and one thing led to another. The peddlers said they had heard that Barney was a tough guy, and the fellows who were gathered at the filling station to drink soda pop convulsed in laughter.

The peddlers left, but not before telling those guys at the filling station to tell Barney that they were back in business — and wanted him for a customer.

When that message was relayed to Andy back at the courthouse, Barney realized why the peddlers had run off when he returned, and he was, as you can imagine, deflated by that knowledge.

Andy told Barney to forget it and started to go run the peddlers off once and for all, but Barney told Andy he wanted to go with him. Andy agreed.

Then when they were a short distance from the peddlers, Barney told Andy to get out of the car. He wanted to take care of things himself. Andy agreed again.

And Barney proceeded to run off the peddlers, encouraged to stand up to his tormentors thanks to Andy's example — and without the safety net that Andy tended to provide.

That is why, even after half a century, I believe this episode should be shown to all children, especially those who have faced bullying. There were several Andy Griffith Show episodes like that. Sometimes they involved Barney, and sometimes they involved Opie (Ron Howard).

In each one, Andy showed the same sure instincts that made his character such a legendary one on TV.

By the way, if Melvin looks familiar to you, he should. He was a fixture on TV in those days, appearing on many of the most popular TV series. He made seven separate appearances on the Andy Griffith Show alone.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Walking the Walk



Kathy (Dorothy McGuire): You think I'm an anti–Semite.

Phil (Gregory Peck): No, I don't. But I've come to see lots of nice people who hate it and deplore it and protest their own innocence, then help it along and wonder why it grows. People who would never beat up a Jew. People who think anti–Semitism is far away in some dark place with low–class morons. That's the biggest discovery I've made. The good people. The nice people.

There have always been personal comfort zones, I suppose, and people become more inclined to guard them and hold on to them tightly as time passes.

That which is different and unfamiliar can be very frightening, very threatening. I suppose that is some sort of primitive self–defense mechanism buried deep in our DNA. It's there to protect us.

And that was probably a good thing up until a certain point in human development. It was prudent to be wary of people and things that were unfamiliar. Changes came slowly and gradually gained acceptance once people discovered they could trust those changes — like giving up a horse and buggy for one of them newfangled automobiles.

It is probably a byproduct of technological development, but changes happen at a more rapid pace now than they did for previous generations. Those generations could continue to live in their comfort zones for most, if not all, of their lives, but that really isn't possible today.

I often find myself lamenting changes — and I know that some are just minor annoyances, really. No big deal. For example, I used to enjoy watching the marching bands at halftime of football games on TV. Some were really good. I'm sure some are really good today, too, but you never know unless you attend the game in person and remain in your seat at halftime — or unless whoever is televising the game shows a five–second snippet of the band (most likely on the sideline waiting for the half to begin).

Otherwise they are treated as afterthoughts.

But as I say, that's a minor thing. There are bigger things, like human relations. People are more sensitive to how they treat others and the language that they use than I can remember at any other time in my lifetime — and that's a good thing, even though there are times when I think things get taken too far.

There is much progress still to be made, but I am a student of history, and I believe it is always important to remember how far we have come. Without that memory, no matter how painful it might be, permanent progress isn't possible.

And "Gentleman's Agreement," which premiered 70 years ago today, is a reminder of how far we have come — and perhaps how far we have yet to go.

Granted, the story is a bit dated now, but the message is still good.

Gregory Peck played a writer for a progressive magazine who had agreed to write about anti–Semitism, but he struggled to think of a good angle — until he came up with the idea of posing as Jewish to see what kind of reactions he received. He was new to the magazine so most of the people who worked there knew little about him, and he felt he could use that in his article.

He didn't intend to confine himself to the magazine staff, though. He planned to explore New York City and see how a Jewish man was received.

He encountered anti–Semitic behavior from predictable and not–so–predictable sources. One of the unpredictable ones was his new girlfriend (Dorothy McGuire). Her character, like so many others in the movie — including the magazine's publisher, a crusading liberal who was eager to expose anti–Semitism but wasn't prepared for the revelation that things weren't so squeaky clean in his own domain — talked the talk but didn't exactly walk the walk.

As Peck's character discovered, there are always people who give lip service to racial and religious tolerance but don't apply it to their actions.

Oh, he encountered the usual suspects, the ones you always expect to find — but he almost preferred them. They were honest if misguided. But Peck's character found "[t]he good people, [t]he nice people" to be disappointments.

At one point, for example, one of the minor characters asserted that "some of my best friends are Jewish," which drew a telling response from Celeste Holm, who won Best Supporting Actress: "I know, dear, and some of your other best friends are Methodist, but you never bother to say it."

Holm, by the way, wasn't the only Oscar nominee from "Gentleman's Agreement." Ann Revere, who played Peck's mother, also received a nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Peck was nominated for Best Actor, and McGuire was nominated for Best Actress.

The movie received Best Picture and Elia Kazan won Best Director.

Jewish actor John Garfield, who played a Jewish friend of Peck's, wasn't nominated — but he, along with other members of the cast and crew (including Revere and Kazan), was brought before the House Un–American Activities Committee. Because his wife was found to be a member of the Communist Party, Garfield, in fact, was brought before the committee twice, was blacklisted, then removed from the blacklist, then put back on it.

There were many who believed at the time that the stress of this experience led to Garfield's death of a heart attack at the age of 39.

Following One's Calling



Niles (David Hyde Pierce): Sorry I'm late, I stopped half way to listen to a jolly band of Frasier Crane Day carolers. I tried to join in on "The Twelve Days Of Frasier" but forgot the words around day seven. How does it go again?

Frasier (Kelsey Grammer): I believe it's "seven snobs a–sniping."

As anyone who saw him on Cheers! or Frasier could tell you, Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) was as elitist and narcissistic as they come. He seldom failed to exploit an opportunity to be the center of attention.

But he was also deeply devoted to his work as a psychiatrist and truly did want to help people. Sometimes that was a problem for him.

Case in point: In the episode of Frasier that first aired on this night in 1997, "The 1,000th Show," those two elements of Frasier's decidedly complex personality came into direct conflict.

Frasier was about to mark his 1,000th program on fictional radio station KACL, and the station was making a big to–do over the externally modest but secretly — or, at least, not so secretly as far as his brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce) was concerned — pleased Frasier.

Frasier had given the impression that he found all this fuss distasteful, but the truth was that it gave his ego the stroking he so desperately craved.

And it drove Niles mad.

To be fair, Niles was already a little put out. When the episode began, he was peeved because the waiter at the cafe knew Frasier's "usual" but didn't have a clue what Niles' "usual" was — even though Niles frequented the cafe about as often as Frasier did.

But when he learned of Frasier's honor, he became extremely jealous. The series was into its fifth season, and the sibling rivalry between Frasier and Niles had been well established by this time so Niles' reaction was good for some laughs.

But the episode took something of a turn in the second half.

Frasier was feeling a bit jittery prior to the Frasier Crane Day celebration at the base of the Space Needle, and he suggested that he and Niles go for a walk to relax and clear their heads. A series of events — not all of which were seen by the viewing audience — left Frasier with ruined shoes and no money (after they had been mugged), and they could see the Space Needle from where they were but it was still a long way away.

Niles, who had been consumed with envy earlier, suddenly had a change of heart — and the true nature of the Crane brothers' sibling relationship became apparent.

Niles had begrudged his brother's big fuss, but now he was determined to see to it that Frasier got to the Space Needle, if only for a curtain call.

So Niles went off with a quarter they had taken from a blind street musician (it's a side story that has to be seen) to call for a cab. But just after he left, a limo driver pulled up in front of Frasier and offered him a ride to the Space Needle. Frasier accepted.

On the ride, Frasier learned that the driver was trying to decide whether to catch a flight to Pennsylvania for his ex–wife's wedding. His main motivation was to see his two children, who had lived with their mother since the divorce. Apparently, they didn't have a very good relationship, and the viewers got the sense that he wanted to make it up to them in some way, but he was torn. Perhaps they would be better off if he didn't go.

About that time the limo arrived at the Space Needle, but Frasier's commitment to helping others was getting the better of his desire to be the center of attention, and he started asking the driver — who said his name was John — about his kids.

I guess Frasier never made it to his big day, but one got the sense that he would be much happier counseling John. I guess that is the test of a true professional.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Losing Grasp of Reality



"I had a dream last night that I was asleep, and I dreamed it while I was awake!"

Hawkeye (Alan Alda)

In the episode of MASH that first aired on this night in 1972, "Bananas, Crackers and Nuts," the staff had just put in a brutal stretch of surgery — but the word was that the enemy had pulled back to regroup and no further action was expected for a week.

Immediately Hawkeye (Alan Alda) and Trapper John (Wayne Rogers) lobbied for some R&R, but Henry (McLean Stevenson) was leaving the camp for awhile, which left Frank (Larry Linville) in command. And Hawkeye and Trapper knew Frank wouldn't approve a leave for them.

So they came up with a scheme to try to persuade Frank that Hawkeye was losing his grip on reality and would need time off in Tokyo. In their plan, Trapper would accompany him because Trapper was "the only one that can handle him." It seemed like a foolproof plan.

They staged a scene in the mess tent in which Hawkeye, dressed in surgical garb, came in with a plate of freshly cooked liver and sat down within arm's reach of a bottle of ketchup. In his conversation with Frank and Hot Lips (Loretta Swit), Hawkeye strongly implied that the liver came from the corpse of a North Korean.

Frank agreed to authorize the time off.

But Hot Lips wasn't convinced and suggested that they summon a psychiatrist to examine Hawkeye. It turned out that Hot Lips knew a brilliant psychiatrist (Stuart Margolin) who had been crazy about her for years.

When they first met, Hawkeye implied that he was in love with Frank — an eyebrow–raising confession as far as the psychiatrist was concerned. And the psychiatrist decided to take Hawkeye back to Tokyo with him for observation.

That was when the episode really took off. Hawkeye and Trapper hatched another plan — with the help of Radar (Gary Burghoff) — to set up the psychiatrist using the object of his affections as the unwitting bait.

They switched the signs on Hot Lips' tent so the psychiatrist would think he was going into the visitors' tent. Then, once he was inside, the sign was switched again. When Hot Lips went into the tent, the psychiatrist grabbed her, Hot Lips screamed and the rest of the camp came running.

It was still early in the series' first season, but Hawkeye was establishing a reputation for resisting authority. OK, his character had already established that in the movie — but a TV series is a different animal. Each sitcom must have its own running jokes to succeed and must maintain them regularly. MASH did a pretty good job with that. After all, it lasted 11 seasons.

Margolin made another appearance on MASH — in its second season — as yet another specialist, summoned to the camp to perform nose surgery.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

The Maturing of Natalie Wood



"After three husbands, it takes a lot of butter to get you back in the frying pan."

Rose (Rosalind Russell)

Natalie Wood was in a distinctly different phase of her career when she appeared in "Gypsy," which premiered on this day in 1962.

She began her career just shy of her fifth birthday and made more than 20 films as a child — including "Miracle on 34th Street."

But as Wood got older, she began transitioning into more mature roles in the 1950s and early 1960s — and her performance in "Gypsy" was, to say the least, mature.

Or, to be more specific, for mature audiences.

It didn't begin that way. It started innocently enough.

But the young girl who captured the nation's hearts in "Miracle on 34th Street" grew into a complex young woman, alternately enchanting, captivating and beguiling on the silver screen.

Sometimes she was all three. That was how it was in "Gypsy."

When the movie began, Wood played Rosalind Russell's supportive daughter. Russell was the epitome of a stage mother, but she wanted Wood's older sister (Ann Jillian) to be the star so, with the help of an agent (Karl Malden), she formed a Vaudeville act around the girls and took it on the road. That wasn't what Jillian wanted, though, and she eloped.

That left Wood, and Russell's character pushed her onto the stage — but it turned out to be a different kind of stage.

See, part of Russell's pitch was presenting her daughters as young girls. But, of course, no one stays young forever, and that illusion became harder and harder to maintain as the years went by.

Jillian just couldn't keep doing it and eloped with one of the dancers in the sisters' Vaudeville act, which left Wood — Russell's less talented daughter — and Russell poured everything she had into promoting her.

But there was a complication.

The rising popularity of movies with sound was causing a decline in the popularity of stage entertainment, and work was scarce. To make ends meet the act took a job at a burlesque house, in effect providing cover for the more unsavory activities that went on there.

One day one of the strippers was arrested for shoplifting, and Wood was more or less drafted to fill in for her. She didn't make much of an initial impression, but as she gained confidence in herself, the audience responded.

And a star was born.

Inevitably, though, Wood's stardom clashed with her mother's obsessive behavior. Something had to give.

The audience got to witness a remarkable transformation. The first time Wood was seen, she was about 13. Roughly 15 years passed by the end of the movie, and Wood had turned from a rather ordinary young girl into a self–assured and beautiful young woman.

I always thought she deserved an Oscar nomination, but "Gypsy" received no nominations for acting. It did, however, receive three Oscar nominations — ironically, given the subject matter, one of the nominations was for costume design.

The Return of the Anti-Hero



"What we have here is failure to communicate."

Captain (Strother Martin)

It is often said — and justifiably, too — that 1939 was the greatest year for movies.

And it was.

But the runnerup on that list has to be 1967. It produced "Bonnie and Clyde," "The Graduate," "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," "In Cold Blood," "In the Heat of the Night" and so many others — and then, on this day, two months before the end of the year, the hits just kept on coming.

On this day in 1967 America first watched "Cool Hand Luke" on its movie screens.

And, while it is hard to single out one performance from all the performances in his career, Paul Newman's work as the nonconformist Luke may well have been his best.

Luke was a cool customer, all right, just like the tagline for the movie said — "He was a cool customer ... until the law made it hot for him!"

He was a member of a Southern chain gang who absolutely would not give in to authority. It was a trait he paid for, frequently.

His fellow prisoners admired that quality.

"You're an original," George Kennedy, who won Best Supporting Actor, told him at one point. "That's what you are!"

The audience learned fairly early just how much of a nonconformist Luke was. In the service he had been awarded a bronze star and became a sergeant — but was a private when he was discharged.

The men all seemed drawn to Luke. They looked up to him. He was a hero to them. He wasn't comfortable in that role, though. It wasn't one he sought. After all, it required him to live up to others' expectations, and he was still trying to find his own way.

The prison staff took every opportunity to break Luke, even putting him in solitary after his mother had died.

The guard who put him in solitary tried to justify it by saying, "Sorry, Luke. Just doin' my job. You gotta appreciate that."

Defiant as ever, Luke replied, "Callin' it your job don't make it right, Boss."

The prisoners called everyone on the staff boss, but I guess the only true boss was Strother Martin, who played the Captain — and uttered the line that everyone always remembers from that movie: "What we have here is failure to communicate."

And the scene everyone always remembers — well, all the guys for sure — is the one in which actress Joy Harmon, known only as The Girl (Kennedy's character called her Lucille), washed a car in full view of the spellbound prisoners.

There was a void left in the cinematic role of anti–hero when James Dean died. Newman, who was nominated for Best Actor (and would have been a better choice than the winner, Rod Steiger), stepped forward to fill that void along with Warren Beatty and Steve McQueen.

A persuasive case can be made that each man proved himself worthy of being Dean's heir as the anti–hero, but Newman's body of work was the most convincing.

And "Cool Hand Luke" was his best work, signaling the true return of the anti–hero.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Bette Davis Eyes



"I didn't bring your breakfast because you didn't eat your din–din!"

Baby Jane Hudson (Bette Davis)

If it is true what they say about the eyes being the windows of the soul, then Bette Davis' eyes spoke volumes in "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

Davis' and Joan Crawford's hatred for each other was probably the worst–kept secret in Hollywood — ever — which made them the perfect choices to play sisters who hated each other in "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" which premiered on this day in 1962.

You may think that you know all about sibling rivalry. You may even think that you know all about it from personal experience. But trust me, you don't know sibling rivalry until you have seen "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

Davis and Crawford weren't siblings, of course. They only played siblings in the movie. But their loathing for each other was at the heart of the movie's initial appeal.

When the movie began and the siblings were young girls, Baby Jane was the star of the family while her older sister Blanche toiled in her shadow. But as they got older, their roles reversed. Blanche (Crawford played the adult version) was the success while Jane (played by Davis) was a flop.

Blanche's career came to an abrupt end when she was paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident that was shrouded in mystery. Unofficially it was blamed on Jane — who became Blanche's caretaker and lived with her in a house that had been bought with Blanche's movie earnings.

But caretaker was far from the right word for Jane. She was a mentally ill alcoholic who believed she should have been a star but that Blanche had stolen it from her. Consequently she was abusive and cruel to her sister, who told her one day that she had decided to sell the house. Jane descended further into her mental abyss, removing the telephone from her sister's room and serving her a dead parakeet and a dead rat for her meals.

Jane also became obsessed with reviving her career and began looking for a pianist to accompany her on the songs she used to sing when, as Baby Jane, she had enchanted audiences everywhere. Victor Buono, as a down–on–his–luck pianist, responded to an ad she had placed in a local newspaper and encouraged her to seek the spotlight again.

He was unaware of some of the things Jane had already done to keep her dream alive — she had severely beaten her sister and she had killed the housekeeper when she became too inquisitive.

But when he discovered Blanche bound in her bed, he left to notify the authorities.

I always felt the Buono–Davis relationship was intriguing. When I was a young reporter at my first newspaper job, one of my standing assignments was to cover the police beat. In the process, I learned a lot more about the law and law enforcement than I ever did in my college courses.

One of the things I learned was how, sometimes, two people brought together become capable of things that neither would have done alone. It's like they create a third personality. I have always seen Buono and Davis as being that way — or, at least, they could have been.

There is no telling what would have happened if they had continued to work together, but when Buono bailed, Jane took her emaciated sister to the beach, which led to the climax of the story. I won't share that with you. Everyone should see it.

And today, being Halloween, would be a good time to see it.

It wouldn't be right to wrap this up without saying a little more about the Davis–Crawford feud.

"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane" was nominated for five Oscars. Davis was nominated for Best Actress, and Buono was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Neither won.

Crawford contacted the other Best Actress nominees and offered to accept the award on their behalf if they won but could not attend. Anne Bancroft, the eventual winner, took Crawford up on the offer. She was performing in a play in New York the night of the Oscars ceremony.

Davis claimed that Crawford lobbied against her with Oscar voters — in spite of the fact that an Oscar for Davis would have meant considerably more money at the box office. Both actresses had agreed to lower salaries so they could share in the movie's profits.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Unholy Matrimony



"Ever hear of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire? That was our crowd."

Jennifer (Veronica Lake)

It would be an understandable — but false — conclusion that "I Married a Witch," which premiered on this day in 1942, was the genre predecessor to TV's Bewitched. I've always felt it had more in common with "Bell, Book and Candle," which, in turn, was probably more of an inspiration for Bewitched. But that is really just my own opinion.

The story dated back to the famed witch hunts of colonial days. Two witches (Veronica Lake and Cecil Kellaway) were burned at the stake after being denounced by Frederic March. The witches' ashes were buried beneath a tree to imprison their spirits. Lake put a curse on March and his descendants — they would all marry the wrong women.

And, as the movie showed through the generations, March's descendants (all played by March) did indeed end up with the wrong women. One of March's descendants, who was living at the time of the Civil War, opted to sign up to fight in the war rather than stay at home with his wife.

Then one day lightning split open the tree, and the spirits were freed. Lake and Kellaway, who played her father, went looking for the latest member of March's family. He was running for governor and was about to marry perhaps the greatest shrew of them all (Susan Hayward).

The wedding was to be held on Election Day — a little publicity stunt dreamed up by March's soon–to–be father–in–law.

It was a slapstick love story in the same kind of mistaken–identity way as "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Lake originally intended to torment March, but she ended up accidentally drinking a love potion that had been meant for him — and she became determined to help him in any way she could.

Her father was against helping anyone in March's family so he and Lake were at cross purposes. It seemed he would win out when Hayward found March and Lake embracing and called off the wedding. Her father embarked on an 11th–hour campaign against March in all of his newspapers, and March went from a heavy favorite to a heavy underdog.

But Lake turned things around, engineering a unanimous landslide for March in which even his opponent didn't vote against him.

Who would need to collude with the Russians — or anyone — with a lover who could do that?

(In hindsight, it is rather astonishing that Lake was able to generate a persuasive on–scene attraction to March. She didn't have much good to say about working with him. "He treated me like dirt under his talented feet," Lake said. "Of all actors to end up under the covers with. That happened in one scene, and Mr. March is lucky he didn't get my knee in his groin."

(March didn't regard "I Married a Witch" to be a highlight of his career, either. He said it was the worst experience he had ever had.)

Considering the chemistry that Lake and March had on the screen, it can be a bit of a letdown to learn that they really didn't care for each other. But that is the magic of Hollywood, isn't it? They certainly weren't the first co–stars who couldn't stand each other — nor were they the last.

It is hard to know which, if either, was right, but the evidence I have seen suggests that Lake was the problem. Actor Joel McCrea was considered for the role that eventually went to March. He was even announced as the lead actor in the movie, but he backed out, later claiming it was because he did not want to work with Lake again. The two had been paired in 1941's "Sullivan's Travels."

Well, she may have been hard to work with, but she got results.

The slapstick nature of the story was aided by what I thought was one of Cecil Kellaway's most enjoyable performances — and the South African character actor had a lengthy movie resume that included a rather brief but still memorable role in "Harvey".

"I Married a Witch" received one Oscar nomination — for Best Dramatic Score — but lost to "Now, Voyager."