Aug 132014
Lauren Bacall One Of The Last Stars Of Hollywood’s Golden Era Has Died

Lauren Bacall One Of The Last Stars Of Hollywood’s Golden Era Has Died

Beautiful and distinctive, Lauren Bacall was a talented film and stage actress and a dame in her own right. In her later years she portrayed proud, intelligent and elegant women… like herself. She was a lady with a history.

Lauren Bacall started as a model. Her stunning looks landed her on the cover of the Harper’s Bazaar. It was how she became noticed by Hollywood. She took Hollywood by storm. Her first role in 1944 To Have and Have Not (opposite Humphrey Bogart) established her as an actress. It introduced her also to the love of her life. In 1944, Lauren was 19. Humphrey Bogart was 44. They were married within one year. (The couple had two children and remained together until Bogart’s death.)

She co-starred with Bogie in The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948). In 1950 Lauren co-starred with Gary Cooper in Bright Leaf. How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) was Bacall’s introduction to comedy. (Her co-stars were Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable.)
After she completed filming Designing Woman (co-starring Gregory Peck) in 1957, she lost her husband to throat cancer. Lauren turned to work for solace. After The Gift Of Love with Robert Stack failed, she left Hollywood for New York City and launched a career as a stage actress on Broadway to a critical acclaim. (Few film actresses have managed this transition successfully!)

From then on Lauren Bacall divided her time between the stage, film and – on occasion – television.
She starred and appeared in many movies from 1964 to 2004. Some of them were:

  • Shock Treatment (1964)
  • Sex and the Single Girl (1964) starring Henry Fonda and Tony Curtis.
  • In Harper (1966) Lauren starred in with Paul Newman and Julie Harris.
  • Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
  • In The Shootist (1976) Lauren Bacall co-starred with John Wayne. (It was John Wayne’s last film. Wayne succumbed to cancer in 1979.)
  • There were other movie roles (most notably perhaps 1996’s comedy My Fellow Americans with Jack Lemmon and James Garner) and stage characters she portrayed.

In recognition of her film career the Academy awarded Lauren Bacall an Honorary Oscar in 2009.

In her personal life, Lauren was briefly engaged to Frank Sinatra (the relationship fell apart). She remarried (fellow actor Jason Robards with whom she had one child); the marriage ended in divorce. In a later interview Lauren admitted that it wasn’t possible to find a replacement for Humphrey Bogart.

It’s been said that at Bogie’s funeral, she put a whistle in his coffin. (Think of her memorable lines: “You know how to whistle, don’t you? You just put your lips together and blow.” from To Have and Have Not, the film that first brought them together.) Apparently, a whistle had a special meaning to the couple.

Lauren Bacall had many famous friends (Katharine Hepburn and George Peck were among them).

There’s something to be said about Lauren Bacall’s distinctiveness which she successfully asserted. Her beauty wasn’t conventional; neither was her height or voice. Her liberal values were not widely accepted. And yet, Lauren Bacall – the artist and the person – was well-liked and highly respected.

Personality and uniqueness used to be valuable. Uniqueness is what stars – of the old school – were made of. Not every major star from the past would be considered beautiful by today’s standards. Many however brought an element of their personal uniqueness to their public personas which made them different from the rest and in many ways timeless. There is no shortage of talent or beauty today. Uniqueness, on the other hand, is in short supply.

As we are saying goodbye to yet another Hollywood Legend we appreciate Lauren Bacall’s talent as well as her strength, courage and yes, her uniqueness.

Aug 122014

The talented actor who made us laugh, cry and feel is no longer with us. The lastRobin Williams Everybody’s Favorite Comedian Has Died chapter of his life was a tragedy. Robin Williams – apparently – committed suicide.

We all know Robin Williams’ successful career which begun with the role of Mork on TV’s Happy Days (1978-1979) and took off on Mork & Mindy (1978-1982). Robin Williams’ transition from television to the Big Screen seemed effortless and the smashing triumph of Good Morning Vietnam (1988) affirmed his status as a film actor. In 1989 Williams regaled us with Dead Poets Society. 1993 brought us Mrs. Doubtfire. 1997 Good Will Hunting. 1998 Patch Adams….
Robin Williams was hard at work and his schedule was always filled. Television’s “The Crazy Ones” didn’t fulfill its promise but just last summer Robin portrayed Dwight Eisenhower in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”. In the upcoming “Night At the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” (scheduled for release this coming holiday season) Robin Williams reprised his role as Teddy Roosevelt… We’ll see him also in another film which he’s completed, “Merry Friggin’ Christmas,” which is planned for release in November.

Robin Williams has proven the versatility of his talent as a dramatic actor and one of the world’s most brilliant comedians. He received nearly every award of the entertainment industry. His work earned him four Golden Globes, five Grammys, two Emmys and two SAG Awards.
Having three Oscar nominations for his performances in Good Morning Vietnam, The Fisher King and Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams received the prestigious Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Good Will Hunting in 1998.

Family, friends, entertainment industry insiders and yes, fans are all equally stunned by the loss. Everybody, including the President of the United States, expressed their high regard for Robin Williams the artist and the man. Robin Williams wasn’t “only” a comedic genius but also a survivor: he overcame substance addiction and survived a major heart surgery… He had the priceless ability to laugh at life and at himself.

Even though his artistic legacy survives him, we won’t be laughing the priceless belly-laugh Robin Williams bestowed on us so generously, for quite a while… Instead, we’ll be wondering what caused the energetic, easy going, happy-go-lucky actor to give up on life.

Sep 062012
Michael Clarke Duncan

Photo by Jean-Paul Aussenard – © WireImage.com – Image courtesy WireImage.com

We all loved him in the “The Green Mile” and it seems that the warmth and integrity of his screen character was in fact his own.

Michael Duncan – with his gorgeous, deep voice and imposing presence of 6’5” – was born in Chicago. He dreamt of a career in football but was not allowed to pursue it by his mother. Unfazed by drugs and crime that surrounded him, he focused on education instead. Michael graduated from high school and went to a community college, all along dreaming of becoming an actor. The dream came true but neither fast, nor easily. To get to where he wanted to be, he had to dig ditches for a Chicago gas company for a while and earn a living as a bouncer and a bodyguard.

His acting career’s begun about 1995 with bit roles. In 1998 he played a small role in “Armageddon”. This role – or perhaps the connections he made during the filming of “Armageddon” – led to his role and breakthrough performance in “The Green Mile” (1999). At this time Big Mike was 42.  His career continued successfully ever since. He was recognized for his acting talent as well his sense of humor: it’s been said that he would pay $5 to any fan that recognized him on the street and knew his full name.

On February 12th of 2012 he proposed to Omarosa Manigault and the two were planning a wedding in Africa. Omarosa distinguished herself as a less than sympathetic character on The Apprentice, but it was Omarosa who found Michael unconscious following a heart attack, was able to resuscitate him and summon help. She was at his bedside throughout his ordeal. Unfortunately, and in spite the doctors’ prognosis, Michael didn’t recover from his heart attack. Big Mike died – from complications following the original heart attack – on September 3rd 2012 at the age of 54. His fiancé, Omarosa Manigault, his many friends and fans will miss him.

Michael Duncan fulfilled his dreams. He made it as an actor, earned fame and found love, in the end that’s all that counts.

Aug 212012

Phyllis Diller was well-loved and respected by the entertainment industry. Highly intelligent, sharp and witty writer, multi-talented, renowned for her work ethic, she did it her way and all the way to the top at a time when there were no female comediennes.

Phyllis Diller

Phyllis Diller in 1969 performance

Phyllis Diller was born on July 17, 1917 in Lima, Ohio. She studied the piano at the Sherwood Music Conservatory in Chicago and then continued at the Bluffton College in Ohio. It was there that she begun writing humorous material for the school’s newspaper and it was there that she met Sherwood Diller and fell in love. Shortly after, she dropped out of college; the two married and eventually had six children (one of them died early). With her domestic and motherly duties, Phyllis had no time to entertain professional ambitions. The times however were tough; World War II was on, the family moved from place to place following Sherwood Diller jobs and didn’t fare well when he couldn’t find employment. When the Diller family moved to San Francisco, Phyllis started working to help support the family. She held a few jobs writing advertising copy for a department store and in a radio station’s marketing and advertising department. Through thick and thin however Phyllis maintained her sense of humor; her friends and her husband noticed it and encouraged her to try her skills. She did – at 37 and with five kids to tend to – two or three times (at the radio station where she worked; to benefit Red Cross and at the Purple Onion club). The latter became Phyllis Diller’s breakthrough (her two week original engagement led to a record-breaking one and half year stint that established her as a brilliant stand up comic.) and as they say, the rest is history.

Phyllis Diller was launched into stardom with an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar. She was an instant hit on television. Diller was a frequent guest on top TV talk shows of the time. Later, she became even more popular, appearing in Bob Hopes TV specials (she took part in Bob Hope USO tour in Vietnam as well); making appearances on Dean Martin’s roasts and such shows as “Laugh-In”; “The Hollywood Squares” and “The Gong Show”. She’s made two attempts at her own TV series (“The Phyllis Diller Show” in 1966 and “The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show” in 1968); the fact that neither one was long lived didn’t faze her.
She appeared in several movies and on stage. Phyllis fulfilled her dream of performing as a pianist as well: she toured the country performing with nearly hundred symphony orchestras. Still, she continued to blossom in comedy club setting and on television; she participated in many TV projects until 2009.

Frustrated with her appearance, Phyllis Diller created an outrageous on-stage persona. (Overtime she underwent several plastic surgeries and spoke about them candidly and was one of the first celebrities to do so.) Extra-ordinarily gifted as a comedic writer, she became known for delivering multiple punch lines at a record speed. Finally, the angle of her material – from family issues to self-deprecation – delivered without a shade of self pity and with her one of a kind, distinctive laugh, made her an icon.

Phyllis Diller earned many recognitions, including a Star at the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She has also authored a book, her autobiography.

Unlike her career, her personal life had its ups and downs. Her first marriage (to Sherwood Diller) didn’t last. Her second (to actor, Warde Donovan) lasted mere 9 weeks. Phyllis lost three of her six children. In 1986 however she found true love with a lawyer, Robert Hastings. They never married but were together for10 years, until his death.

If you’re very young you may not understand the phenomenon of Phyllis Diller. She wasn’t just another comedienne with a longer career than most. She was the pioneer who made the careers of other female comediennes possible. (Joan Rivers has begun her career by writing jokes for Phyllis Diller.) Today’s female comedy stars like Ellen DeGeneres, Roseanne Barr, Tina Fey and others are traveling the trail blasted by Phyllis Diller.

Phyllis Diller had a long, rich, productive and accomplished life. Ourselves, we remember Phyllis Diller – whom we’ve met during a brief interview for Cultural Events in Los Angeles  – for her generosity, intellect and passion for youth and education.

In spite of her age, Phyllis Diller’s death caught us by surprise. She died but was loved by many and will be remembered for a long time to come. May she rest in peace – and to paraphrase Henry Winkler – she will make even God laugh…