Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Oscar Hosts

When my fellow gal pals Aurora of Once Upon A Screen and Paula of Paula's Cinema Club and I decided to do another blogathon, #31DaysOfOscar was created. The idea was to bring together film bloggers of all genres to blog about the very best in film as celebrated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science's Oscar. Be it the best in film, directing, actor, actress, editing, costume, song, screenplay or ANY aspect of the Oscar's 85 storied and sometimes scandalous years, there is a wealth of blogging material to cover a 5 week period of Oscar season. And how perfect to do so during the peak of awards season and to coincide throughout Turner Classic Movie's 31 Days of Oscar event. The following piece is my blog entry for this mega blogathon event.

In writing about some aspect of the Oscars, it's frankly tough to narrow down. So I decided to take a stab at a topic generally forgotten shortly after the Oscars takes place- the hosts. There has been a countless variety of hosts for the Oscar ceremonies over the past 85 years. Some years, hosts have pitched it solo and many years it was presented in a co-hosted or an assemble format. Historically, folks have been often quick to criticize the hosts' performances as the pressure is incredibly intense to please a large audience celebrating well... the very best in performing!

Not unlike the Saturday Night Live hosts across the years, only those hosts who truly possess mass appeal, can entertain with a universal humor, and ad lib on-the-fly with rapid-fire delivery if needed are popular enough asked to return again. I can only imagine the challenge of being the host of the biggest party of the year to honor and stand in front of some of the biggest talent in cinema (not to mention likely some of the biggest egos as well.)  Not an easy gig. 
 Of those hosts asked to return for repeated Oscar hosting, there are a couple that clearly stand out- Bob Hope and Billy Crystal. Bob Hope hosted a staggering EIGHTEEN times. While skipping some years and done in both solo and co-hosting formats, Hope started hosting in 1940 with the 12th year of Oscars and his final Oscar hosting took place in 1978 in its 50th year. It's certainly no surprise to me why he was the Academy's favorite pick to honor the finest in film. Bob Hope had many advantages. He was from the industry as actor himself but as someone who mostly took comedy roles, he was extremely well-liked but not likely ever to be a competitor. As matter of fact, he even poked fun of this fact in his "Road" movies. With his ongoing work with the USO to support our military troops, he was not only very popular at a mass level, but he was also highly respected. The most clear advantage was Hope's style of humor. This was a man who had uncanny comic timing and lightning speed ability to think on his feet. And unlike many modern comedians, he could deliver jokes without the worry from censors of crossing a line or completely insulting key members of the audience. No wonder he was the ultimate Oscar host.
 The second most beloved Oscar host is Billy Crystal. Crystal has hosted an impressive nine times. Starting with the 62nd Oscar show in 1992, Crystal has continued his popular run as recent as last year. Possessing similar traits and advantages as Hope, Crystal has played up his strengths to charm the Academy Awards' viewing audience with wide-appeal humor and even some song and dance. His own funny "shout out" to nominees via opening monologue song was a signature Billy Crystal move and a HUGE hit that others have attempted to replicate since.        
Each host/hostess has projected their own sense of style to the role of host. As 'multi-hosting club' past host Whoopi Goldberg advised: “There are hosts for different eras. I kind of like it old school… because they knew what they were there for,” said Goldberg, who has hosted the Oscars four times and has the distinction of being the first woman to host by herself. “They were just funny, they didn’t have to prove it. Hosting is not an easy thing and not everyone can do it.”*
 "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane is slotted to host the 85th annual Academy Awards. He's nominated this year for Best Original Song for his work in "TED" (2012). Personally, I find him hilarious and multi-talented as a man who knows a thing or two about humor, and song & dance, as well. So, I'm hopeful he will do well this year in the host role. As Billy Crystal summed up the job: “Look like you really want to be there,” Crystal advised. “Really love the job and have fun. The moments you can shine, shine, and then get out of the way.”*

As I do every year, I thoroughly look forward to watching the annual Academy Awards. And like always, my husband, my four kids and I will excitedly start watching from the very first moment of red carpet coverage to review all the Hollywood glitz and glamor of the most beautiful and talented stars to the last closing moments as this year's Oscars show has ended. A tradition we will undoubtedly continue throughout the years... see you on the red carpet!

The Daily Scandal; "Billy Crystal's Advice For This Year's Oscar's Host" :

Sunday, February 17, 2013

CMBA's Fab Films of the 40's Blogathon: Shadow of a Doubt

The following post is an entry to the CMBA Blogathon, "Fabulous films of the 1940's." As a new member to the Classic Movie Blog Association, I am happy to participate in this event taking place Feb. 17-22. With so many gems available in films from this decade, it was tough to narrow down to just one. But here we go with my choice... Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller, SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943).

Like countless classic film fans, I have spent a lifetime in love with the mystique of Hitch films. The man was no doubt a master in suspense and thrill. While many of the films in his library of work are better known, SHADOW OF A DOUBT should not be over-looked as a definitive classic and a 1940's treasure. (Be forewarned that spoilers may come out in the paragraphs to follow as I plan to discuss details of the plot...)  
 Our story begins with a restless teenager, Charlotte "Charlie" Newton (portrayed by Teresa Wright), who is bored by the hum-drum routine of her hometown of Santa Rosa, California.  The void she feels is about to be filled by the arrival of her uncle and namesake, Charles "Charlie" Oakley (portrayed by Joseph Cotten). The entire delightful Newton family, their charming home and little hometown are soon to be forever changed.  

We are introduced to the warm and affable cast of characters of the Newton family, just as the surprising news breaks that Uncle Charles is soon to arrive. Young Charlie, her 2 younger siblings and father rush down to the train station to greet her mother's younger brother. Though they barely know each other as the elder Charlie has been absent from the Newton's family's life minus the occasional parcels of gifts from afar, younger Charlie feels a strange connection to her mysterious uncle that goes beyond a shared name.  She adores her uncle because of the pedestal that her mother has built up of him over the years, but the mysteries begin from the moment he steps off the train. At the family dinner that evening, young Charlie tells her visiting uncle that she can see something in him no one else can. She knows he has "wonderful secrets." During dinner when Charlie starts humming a tune she complains she can't get out of her head, she starts to blurt out the song's title, "The Merry Widow Waltz..." but then her uncle tips over his wine glass as a distraction before she finishes saying it. Clear only to the audience, she's somehow hit a nerve.
Shortly after uncle Charlie settles into the Newton family home, two men, Mr. Graham and Mr. Saunders, arrive disguised as survey-takers to interview the Newtons to journal the typical American lifestyle. Uncle Charlie is less than pleased to hear of this and what he believes is a privacy intrusion and makes it apparent he will do everything in his power to avoid having his photo taken. The truth is soon revealed when one of the men (Mr. Jack Graham) takes young Charlie out on the town and explains that they are actually federal agents looking for the "Merry Widow Murderer" serial killer. They are tracking down 2 different men, one on each coast, as their top suspects and her uncle is one of them. He desperately needs her cooperation as an insider to narrow their list to just one. Young Charlie is infuriated initially of the deception and accusations against her beloved uncle. She reluctantly complies but feels conflicted; torn in the obligation as a good citizen and obligation to her family.  She decides to research more on the Merry Widow killer story with a mad dash to the local library. She discovers this story is the very same that her uncle tore from her father's paper earlier which also caused such an unexpectedly strong reaction. She recalls the expensive emerald ring her uncle gave her as gift upon his arrival and the engraving "to T.S. from B.M." - clearly not intended for her. And his odd behavior while at her father's bank with unusual attentive charm to a local widow has popped questions in her head, too. The seed of doubt has been firmly planted now.
 After dinner one evening, Charlie confronts her uncle privately, unveiling her discovery that she believes in his guilt and describes her disgust in what he's done. He then shows the dark shadows of his true self through his negative ramblings of a cold world view, as he slowly twists paper in his hand in a strangling motion. He's now completely removed his charming mask of compliments. Instead he insults her life as naive and thoroughly ordinary; confirming her suspicions. 
The agents inform young Charlie that they believe they've caught their serial killer on the East coast and that her uncle is no longer under watch. In the family garage, Agent Graham steals a private moment to say goodbye to pretty young Charlie while confessing his true feelings for her are much more romantic than an investigation, planning to return again. The garage door gets stuck as they attempt to leave and agent Graham bids goodbye to uncle Charlie as he is just steps away in the yard. But it's too late for the Charlies- they both know he's guilty. Young Charlie nearly escapes death twice- one evening with a bad fall from a 'loose' board in the backstairs and again in the garage when she's trapped inside with the car running and the key missing from the ignition (both were traps set by her uncle, she is certain). She demands that he leave but her villainous uncle insists that it would be too hard on her mother and he felt confident with no proof (he lets her know he's taken back the ring), no one would believe her anyway. Feeling arrogantly assured that his cover is secure and that he can literally get away with murder, he toasts members of local society in the parlor just as Charlie slowly cascades down the stairs wearing the emerald ring. She found the proof to expose his guilt- and he immediately changes his toast to announce his departure the next day. His sister is visibly heart-broken and young Charlie feels torn again. On the train to say goodbye, young Charlie is physically held captive by uncle Charlie. He makes his third and final attempt to kill her- this time by throwing her off the moving train. But in the struggle, she is the one who survives and her evil uncle does not. 

The details of uncle Charlie's darkness and callous ethics are revealed in bits and pieces throughout the film. It slowly builds the tension as each occurrence tests Charlie's and the Newton family's loyalties. When Charles first settles into his new dwellings (young Charlie's room), he goes to throw his hat on the bed but is stopped by Joe Newton due to superstition: "I just don't want bad things to come." As soon Mr. Newton leaves, Charles casually tosses his hat on the bed; sealing the fate of what evil lurks in his heart. Another example is when uncle Charles mocks Joe Newton's bank job upon opening an account at his bank, coldly displaying disrespect. And yet another is when all are seated at the dinner table and he refers to widows and "silly wives" as fat, wheezing animals with no purpose... his face grows cold; his head turning a transparent icy gaze at young Charlie.   
What this film and it's talented cast do so well is cast shadows of doubt on Charlie Oakley's character in the subtlety of building moments. Because of the family's, and especially young Charlie's, devotion and assumption of good, Charles Oakley has the perfect set-up for his sociopathic plot to mask his true self. And because the Newtons are essentially good people, the clues about uncle Charlie are everywhere before young Charlie adds it up. It begs the question as to whether his true identity would have ever surfaced if certain factors had not intervened and how many real-life Charles Oakleys have gotten away with murder? As an enormous fan of the psychological thriller, especially of Alfred Hitchcock's, I loved this film and delighted in the constant internal conflicts of character relationships. And as a Hitch fan, I also found joy in the dark humor detail of Hume Cronyn's character as the quirky neighbor next door who has an ongoing game with Joe Newton of discussing the best methods to deceptively murder. A true signature Hitch touch, I'd say.

If you found it difficult to follow from time to time with the duality of Charlies, keep in mind that the name "Charlie" is said a whopping 170 times in this film. On a personal note, we have an ongoing little joke in our family about this film. My 12 year-old son starting watching this with me one day and ever since then, in quiet moments, we utter "Charlie" out loud to each other as our inside joke to mock how many times that name's repeated. Sorry Charlie...

Teresa Wright ... Young Charlie
Joseph Cotten ... Uncle Charlie
Macdonald Carey ... Jack Graham
Henry Travers ... Joseph Newton
Patricia Collinge ... Emma Newton
Hume Cronyn ... Herbie Hawkins
Wallace Ford ... Fred Saunders
Edna May Wonacott ... Ann Newton
Charles Bates ... Roger Newton

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Flip Wilson Show: Variety Show Pioneer

When I heard that Rick of the Classic TV Blog Association was to host the CLASSIC TV VARIETY SHOW BLOGATHON, my mind flooded with all the possibilities. The variety show format was in its hey-day in the 1950's through 1970's. With much of my childhood spanning the late 60's and 70's, I have fond memories of some entertaining, funny and well.. very groovy variety shows. Some of my favorites include "Donny and Marie", "The Captain and Tennille", "The Sonny and Cher Show", "The Smothers Brothers Show" "The Dean Martin Comedy Hour" and "The Carol Burnett Show." But I narrowed my pick to a true pioneer for its time, "The Flip Wilson Show."

I'm a fan of this hour long variety show that ran for four seasons on NBC from September 17, 1970 to June 27, 1974. The main star was comedian Flip Wilson. And while hard to imagine now, it was ground-breaking 43 years ago to have an African American headline such a hugely successful primetime show on network television, with a mostly white audience. Not to mention this premiered only 6 years after the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act. Yet by its 2nd season, it was the 2nd most watched television show in the nation.

Flip Wilson started his career playing to small clubs doing stand-up then rose to fame thanks greatly to Redd Foxx. After Foxx discovered this bright new talent, he overwhelming endorsed Flip to Johnny Carson. Consequently, Flip appeared on The Tonight Show more than 25 times with guest spots on "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" and "Love American Style." NBC offered him a multi-year contract for his own show following his part of a Bob Hope special that showcased a parade of young comedic talent.

The format was comprised of comedy skits starring Flip himself as a variety of characters, along with popular stars of that time and music acts of the highest caliber. These music performances reflected some of the best and hottest in the industry: Louis Armstrong, James Brown, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Roberta Flack, Aretha Franklin, Mahilia Jackson, Lena Horne, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Pointer Sisters, The Supremes, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder and the Jackson Five were some of the legendary highlights. Also ground-breaking was the stage itself. Flip's opening monologues and skits were performed in a "theater-in-the-round" stage set with the audience wrapped around practically every side of it; a first in variety show style. The sets were often sparse too, which was intentional to focus on the talent.

The Flip Wilson Show became the platform for some hilarious characters that nearly pushed the society envelope such as con-artist Reverend Leroy, Freddy the unsuccessful Playboy, and Sonny the White House janitor who always outsmarted the President. But my favorite of all of his characters was the ever sassy, brash and flirty Geraldine Jones. When Geraldine came on stage, the audience would roar. Dressed in drag in the latest 70's minidress fashions, Flip Wilson portrayed Geraldine as the confident 'tell it like it is' hip gal with charasmatic charm. Inspired by Butterly McQueen's Prissy in GONE WITH THE WIND (1940), Geraldine was always outspoken, loyal to her beau "Killer" (never actually seen on screen) and known for her hilarious one-liners and taglines... "The devil made me do it!", "what you see is what you get, honey!"

What's memorable about this variety show was the diverse and long list of celebrity guests. Many times the musical acts would partake in the skits. Some key regulars were some of the funniest talent in television. Tim Conway, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx, Melba Moore, Bobby Darin and Roy Clark all made repeated appearances. In addition, dozens more of the most popular names in comedy and entertainment made guest spots over the 96 episodes... Bing Crosby, Bill Cosby, Ruth Buzzi, Lily Tomlin, Phyllis Diller, Don Rickles, Tony Randall, Johnny Cash, Jack Benny, Sammy Davis, Jr., Marty Feldman... the impressive list goes on and on.

One of the reasons for the show's extraordinary popularity besides showcasing the biggest stars of the entertainment industry, was the writing talent. Flip was the creator behind many of his characters and shared his writing talent along with the rest of the top-notch writing team of Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Herbert Baker, Hal Goldman, Hal Goodman, Al Gordon, Don Hinkley, Sidney Green, Larry Klein, Richard Hills, Stan Burns, Mark Marmer, Bob Schiller, Peter Gallway, Paul McCauley, Norman Steinberg, Bob Weiskopf and Winston Moss. The Flip Wilson show earned 16 Emmy nominations and won 2 of the golden statues for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Variety or Music (1971) and Outstanding Variety Series- Musical (1971).
The Flip Wilson Show was cancelled after it's fourth season, just as television began to transition away from the variety show format. It will forever be remembered for being a hilarious show of many monumental firsts and one of the last great variety shows from that era. A few years ago and because of my nostalgic memories of this show, my sister gave me the DVD collection of these shows as a very sweet gift to me. But my strongest memory related to this show was my Flip Wilson/Geraldine doll. As a little girl I owned a soft doll that had colorful fabric sewn of Flip on one side and Geraldine on the other. It had a pull string with a plastic ring that played several pre-recorded taglines that either Flip or Geraldine would say. I LOVED that doll. Who knows whatever happended to it but if you ever run across one that has actual working sound- please alert me! 

Friday, February 1, 2013

1st Week of #31DaysofOSCAR Blogathon!

The red carpet is rolled out, the limos are lined up, the Harry Winston jewelry and hottest designer gowns are perfectly fitted and the envelopes are sealed ... it's time for Oscar. Well, almost. To add to the building excitement of this momentous showcase of the very best in cinema, Aurora of Once Upon A Screen (aka @citizenscreen) and Paula of Paula's Cinema Club (aka @Paula_guthat) and myself decided to follow along with Turner Classic Movie's month long tribute, 31 Days of Oscar with our very own 31 DAYS OF OSCAR Blogathon. 

And to kick off the very first week, here are your bloggers' contributions and passions on what inspires them for Oscar...

1. Vanessa of "Stardust" at  gives us a glimpse into Hollywood's famed golden year (indeed it was!) in "Hollywood's Triumph: 1939"  (tweet Vanessa at @callmeveebee )

2. Co-host Aurora of "Once Upon A Screen" at delights us with Oscar "Firsts"  and her own Oscar memories that highlight why the Oscars still matter. (tweet Aurora at @citizenscreen )

3. Lindsey of "The Motion Pictures" at treats us with TWO entries! First up is "Oscar recollections: 10 favorite Best Actress winners"
... what a wonderful list of leading ladies. Next, Lindsey takes on the opposite gender with her list of talented leading men ...  "Oscar recollections: 10 favorite Best Actor winners." (tweet Lindsey at @TMPLindsey )

4.  Pete of "Furious Cinema" ... also spoils us with TWO entries! First up is a personal fave of mine (I've seen this THREE times already and yes, the "D" is silent)
"DJANGO UNCHAINED" then he flips into classic Chicago gangsta-style with "Little Caesar" (tweet Pete at @furiouscinema )

5.  Kevin aka "Jack Deth"... (hosted by) waxes 70's nostalgia with a heady brew in "1973: A Very Good Year"

6.  The Gal Herself of "One Gal's Musings" ...
shows us it's a Battle of the Blondes or Girls Gone Wild! with "1960 Best Supporting Actress"

7.  David of "Be Careful! Your Hand!" ... 
charms us with a contentious collection of animated amazing features: "Oscars: Best Animated Feature 2009- Who Should Have Won?"   But why stop there? David adds ANOTHER blog entry- to celebrate the unsung category of voice talent with "And The Oscar for Best Voice Acting Goes To..."   (tweet David at @DavidOpie )

8.  Ratnakar of "Seetimaar- Diary Of A Movie Lover" ...
composes a beautiful symphony of a cinematic Mozart masterpiece in "Amadeus"   (tweet Ratnakar at @ScorpiusMaximus )     

9.  Ruth of "Silver Screenings" ...
brightens our day with an early classic masterpiece of stunning cinema photography: "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans"  ( tweet Ruth at @925screenings )

10. Murtaza of "A Potpourri of Vestiges" ... serves up "The Silence of the Lambs (1991): American Film- Maker Jonathan Demme's Case Study on Human Psychology" with some fava beans and a nice chianti. ( tweet Murtaza at @apotofvestiges ) 

Please savor these delicious blog entries as contributed by our blogger extraordinaires. This is only the first week and we are already brimming with talent. Be sure to add your feedback to these blog entries, follow along with TCM's 31 Days of Oscar this month and stayed tuned to our 31 DAYS OF OSCAR Blogathon in the weeks to come for the very best in Oscar blogging fun!

Cinematically yours,
~Kellee (aka @IrishJayhawk66)
along with Aurora ( @citizenscreen ) and Paula ( @Paula_guthat )