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July 2012 Archives

July 15, 2012

Andy Griffith

I was saddened by the recent passing of Andy Griffith. Of course I will miss his uniquely likable, reassuring presence; who couldn't feel sorrow that Sheriff Andy and Ben Matlock are with us no longer? But once upon a time--before "Matlock" or even "The Andy Griffith Show" ever aired--Griffith showed a completely different, and monumentally deeper, side of his talents.

In Elia Kazan's "A Face in the Crowd," released in 1957, Griffith played Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes, one of the most hateful characters ever committed to celluloid. From the beginning, when radio producer Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) discovers Rhodes in an Arkansas jail cell, to the end, when Rhodes raves maniacally in his New York penthouse, Rhodes is the ultimate mass-media con man. He fools all of America--and, for a time, even those closest to him--into accepting his Will Rogers facade, when underneath lurks the heart and mind of Joseph Goebbels.

Griffith reveals the successive layers of Rhodes' treachery with feral intensity as he persuades America to buy first a worthless patent medicine, then a worthless presidential candidate--both of course backed by the right-wing, big-money men who pay Rhodes' princely salary. Anyone who sees a parallel between "A Face in the Crowd" and the currrent political scene is free to do so; I will merely say that "A Face in the Crowd" is even more relevant today than when it was made 55 years ago.

Griffith's performance is frightening even today, and all evidence suggests that it even frightened Griffith himself. (According to Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies, Griffith was so immersed in Rhodes that he brought the role home with him--a situation that nearly destroyed his marriage.) In any case, Griffith never played a character like Rhodes again, although he did occasionally play a villain in the odd TV-movie. Griffith's last big-screen appearance was in Adrienne Shelly's "Waitress," playing a cynical old curmudgeon who turns out to be a softy in the end. It was nice to see him blend Sheriff Andy and Lonesome Rhodes, with the skill of the old master that he was.

The world lost a great dramatic actor when Andy Griffith pinned on his sheriff's badge and headed toward the fishing hole with little Ronny Howard. However, the world undoubtedly was happier to go fishing with Sheriff Andy and leave Lonesome Rhodes to rant by himself.

July 21, 2012

Celeste Holm

Reading Celeste Holm's obituary, I was saddened to learn that she died in serious financial straits while her fifth husband and her sons from previous marriages battled over her estate. This is an all-too-common ending for performers who live a long time, and it was one Ms. Holm emphatically did not deserve.

All her life, Celeste Holm was what has come to be known as a class act. She specialized in playing the smartest person in any given room, and one suspects that wasn't too far from the truth in real life. Always impeccably elegant and--though some may object to the term--ladylike, Ms. Holm nevertheless projected such intelligence, wit and independence of spirit that those who crossed her did so at their peril. She achieved stardom as the original Ado Annie in "Oklahoma!", but it was Elia Kazan and Moss Hart's 1947 indictment of anti-Semitism, "Gentleman's Agreement," that won her worldwide fame and an Oscar. In that film, her putdown of a jerk who uses the dreaded phrase, "Some of my best friends are Jews," is classic: "Yes, dear, and some of your other best friends are Methodists, but you never bother to say so." Playwrights and filmmakers were delighted to entrust some of their juiciest lines to her. Some of the best lines Ms. Holm ever had were in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's "All About Eve," where she played Karen Richards, the wife of playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe). At one point, in an argument over the eponymous character, Lloyd yells, "That bitter cynicism of yours is something you acquired since you left Radcliffe!" With perfect timing and diction, Karen replies, "That cynicism you refer to I acquired when I discovered little girls were different from little boys!"

I saw Celeste Holm live only once, about a dozen years ago, when she gave a speech at the National Press Club. Though in her eighties, she was still ethereally lovely, dressed in what appeared to be gossamer. (She played the Fairy Godmother in a telecast of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella," and few actresses were ever better suited to the role) The topic--arts education for children--was one dear to her heart, but she soon gave up any pretense of giving a speech and took questions from the audience. One audience member asked her about her experience starring opposite Frank Sinatra in "High Society." "Frank and I were great friends," she said. "I've always had a good rapport with children."

Another asked her about her infamously rocky relationship with Bette Davis. She told of how she and Bette met at a cocktail party just before "All About Eve" started filming, and had a perfectly friendly conversation about how delighted they were at the prospect of working together. The day filming began, Ms. Holm went over to Bette and greeted her warmly.

"Bette said, 'Oh, shit! Good manners!'" Ms. Holm said. "And things went downhill from there." (Ms. Holm has much more to say in the "Making Of" documentary on the "All About Eve" DVD.)

Celeste Holm continued to act to the end of her life, in the theater, movies and TV; the Internet Movie Database shows her with roles in two movies awaiting release. She was knighted by the King of Norway, where her parents were born; she appeared as Aunt Polly in a movie musical of "Tom Sawyer" that also featured a little girl named Jodie Foster as Becky Thatcher. Throughout it all, Ms. Holm was the amused but engaged observer, conducting her life with wit, courage, and--oh, shit!--good manners. All I can say is that I am very suspicious of anyone who doesn't love Celeste Holm.

Nowhere to hide

One of the last bastions of refuge and safety in our world has been breached, probably forever. Certainly it is no longer a haven for the lifetimes of anyone old enough to pick up a newspaper or listen to a news program and comprehend the message: "Deadly rampage at Colorado theater."

I've always looked on a movie theater as a place of escape, where I can visit another world for two hours and come home refreshed. Certainly that is the way Alex Sullivan felt when he went to the theater in Aurora, Colo. to see a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises"to celebrate his 27th birthday. Or Jessica Ghawi, who escaped a mall shooting in Toronto earlier this year and must have thought such a thing could only happen once in a lifetime.

What else can I say? The grief and despair I feel at this news is the same being felt by millions of people across this country. I think of interviewing Gabrielle Giffords shortly after she entered Congress--a pleasant, unmomentous interview, based on the fact that she was the only former tire dealer in Congress. James Holmes hasn't yet been charged with any crime, but in the picture of him published in the Washington Post, he has the same tight, mirthless smile as in the file picture of Jared Loughner.

All sorts of thoughts are swimming incoherently in my head. I think of the neat row of hunting rifles my father kept in our walk-in closet at home. He was no longer a hunter by the time I was old enough to notice them, but I remember the gleaming wood and metal well, cold and unyielding to the touch. I remember the announcements over the P.A. system at school every year, that every student who asked for it got the first day of deer season as a holiday.

Those memories have nothing to do with what James Holmes allegedly did. And this is what we must conclude as a society, in our legislatures and in the ballot box: that taking away a madman's Glock today does not mean, and never will mean, that we will take away a deer hunter's rifle tomorrow. The second does not follow the first, but we must have the first.

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July 29, 2012

Ernest Borgnine

Last week, Turner Classic Movies rebroadcast Robert Osborne's 2009 interview with the late Ernest Borgnine, as part of an all-day tribute. If the honor roll of films TCM showed that day--Marty, From Here to Eternity, Bad Day at Black Rock, The Wild Bunch--wasn't enough to remind us what a welcome presence we lost in Borgnine, the interview certainly was. Borgnine--then 92 and just coming off an Emmy nomination for a guest appearance on "ER"--was genial and self-deprecating, full of fascinating stories about his life and career, and making no bones about the fact that he lived to be recognized by his fans. That was the reason, he told Osborne, why he accepted the lead in McHale's Navy--his paperboy knew James Arness and Richard Boone, but not him. In fact, he said, McHale's Navy was the reason his marriage to Ethel Merman lasted only five weeks. Ernie and Ethel went to Japan and Hong Kong for their honeymoon; everywhere they went, everybody knew Ernie. But Ethel who? (Borgnine got a belly laugh out of the chapter in Merman's memoirs titled, "Ernest Borgnine." Underneath the title was a blank page.)

Jeff Krulik's 1995 documentary, "Ernest Borgnine on the Bus," is more of the same, and equally welcome. This one-of-a-kind film simply shows the then-78-year-old Borgnine driving around the Midwest in his luxury RV bus, going from campground to shoe factory outlet to frozen custard stand, talking about his life and career. The documentary has been broadcast on public television, but is virtually impossible to find now; a VHS copy goes for $100 on Amazon. This is too bad, because Borgnine was as much fun hanging out with Krulik as he was with Osborne.

Borgnine was a late bloomer as an actor--he started his career at 30, after 10 years in the Navy--but once he started he rose rapidly to the top, and never came back down. Like his contemporary Karl Malden, he virtually defined the concept of "star character actor." That famous, beaming, gap-toothed grin of his could express either radiant kindness or the most bone-chilling evil; in either mode, he was always a compelling screen presence. I wish I could have been like his buddy Ange in "Marty" and settled down sometime to have a beer with him. Maybe in the next life.

July 31, 2012

A Message to Dan Cathy

Dear Mr. Cathy:

I have no trouble whatever with your Christian commitment, which to all appearances is deep and sincere. I applaud your closing Chick-Fil-A stores on Sunday so your employees can have a day of rest, relaxation, and--yes--worship. And if you don't believe in gay marriage, all I can say is that I disagree. It's a free country, and we can both believe what we want, as our consciences dictate.

But when you give money to the so-called Family Research Council, a group devoted to advancing the idea that I and everyone like me is an evil, subhuman criminal, I draw the line.

I really do like your fried chicken sandwiches. They're among the few fast-food items I still enjoy. But I'm better off without fast food anyway. How do you get me to change my mind? You can start by cutting off funds to the Family Research Council.

Best always,

Miles David Moore

About July 2012

This page contains all entries posted to MDM in July 2012. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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