Friday, December 4, 2009

Voice-Over for Animation by Jean Ann Wright and M.J. Lallo

Jean Ann Wright and M.J. Lallo. Voice-Over for Animation. Burlington, Ma.: Focal Press, 2009.

Voice-over is non-visual speaking used in several media, from movies, TV, radio, games, etc.

Voice-over in animation often starts with a script, then records the voice-over, and then creates the animation to fit the vocals. There is no set industry standard method on using storyboards, backgrounds, changing colors, etc.

Professional animators advise people entering the field to be passionate about their work and to keep at it even though it is a tough field. Men get 70% to 75% of the voice-over employment. Things that will destroy a career are having a bad or negative attitude, poor acting ability, not following directions, not being versatile, having the wrong type of voice (except an accent will limit hirings for that accent), being late for work, not being flexible, and not professional.

Most voice over employment requires membership in SAG or AFTRA. There is a one production exception and a financial exception that is difficult to obtain. The financial core exception status allows non-union work yet the union, realizing this reducing its strength when granted, seldom grants this exception.

Some cartoons are recorded in Canada. This is sometimes done to avoid paying foreign broadcast residuals that are required to be paid for American recorded cartoons.

Voice professionals recommend exercising before doing voice over work. This relaxes the body and reduces stress on the vocal cords. It is recommended to exercise one’s voice. Practice speaking with a relaxed and open throat and using visualization to help guide vocal changes. Relax to avoid feeling nervous. Use god posture to assist your voice. Breathe by inflating your diaphragm to 80% to 85%. Breathe enough to have enough air without running out while speaking. Avoid using a nasal voice when pronouncing vowels before m, n, or ng. Avoid emitting too much air that causes plosives for letters b, c (k sound), d, g, k, p, and t. Plosives can create a popping noise in microphones. Avoid sibilance with s words by putting the sides of the tongue along the inner molars and keeping the tongue tip around a quarter inch from the upper teeth, and perhaps standing a little further away from the microphone.

Staying healthy with proper eating and rest, being relaxed, drinking water to keep vocal cords moist, noting that menthol and eucalyptus can freeze and shrink the vocal cords, caffeine can constrict the throats and/or sinuses, some juices can cause mucus for some, smoke and smoking can hamper vocal cords, taking breaks when speaking, noting that aspirin things the blood and can cause vocal cord hemorrhaging if yelling is required, stop speaking when hoarseness occurs, and avoid touching the face and wearing ear muffs during cold to ward off ear and throat infections.

If a voice is strained, biting a green apple lubricates the mouth. Lemon herbal tea with no sugar helps some minor problems. Raspberry zinc lozenges can help sore throats. Other remedies for vocal problems include a handful of salted potato chips with water as well as warm ginger root with lemon rind.

Drinking two glasses of water a day before eating or drinking helps, as does singing in the shower and humming to oneself.

There are different kinds of microphones. Omni-directional or non-directional microphones receive sound the same from any direction. Bidirectional microphones receive sound from its front and back. Supercardioid, hypercardioid, or shotgun microphones receive sound from a narrow corridor but do so far a long distance. Cardioid microphones receive sounds from a 120 degree radium in front and are the ones more frequently used in voice over work.

There are several kinds of hand or stand microphones. Dynamic or moving coil microphones, used often in voice-overs, are mostly non-directional but can be directional when higher frequencies are omitted. Condenser, electrostatic, or fixed plate microphones also are often used in voice-over work, are most costly but receive a crisp sound. Electric condenser microphones tend to pick up more background noise. Ribbon microphones receive sound from two directions yet can fail with a nearby loud sound.

Boom microphones can reduce popping sounds. D-Esser booms can muffle sound and are usually positioned in front or to the side of what is being recorded.

Microphones are usually placed 3 to 14 inches from the mouth, with louder voices requiring more distance.

A held microphone should be vertical or slightly angled to the mouth about one inch below the lips and not touching the face. Do not breathe into the microphone. Avoid the cord as cord noises can affect the sound.

Avoid making noises with the script. A script can be marked with vocal instructions, such as notes on changing pitch.

Improvisation helps learning about developing characters. It is advised to say the first thought, always agree with your improvisation partner, and remember to make your improvisation partner look good. Some cartoon companies allow voice-over actors to improvise.

It is advised to study comedy to learn the rhythm of humor and how it can result from exaggeration, discomfort, tension, parody, whimsy, etc.

Voice-over can sometimes be improved by risking a new voice or adding a wrinkle to an old voice.

Getting into a bent knee process can lower a voice.

Vibrating the uvula can help make some animal sounds.

Using emotion and energy helps voice over work.

When reading copy, keep your eyes on the copy, don’t self-evaluate during a reading, aim for being heard clearly, tend for exaggeration, maintain a high energy level, if you require more energy place your arms over your head for additional energy, avoid decreasing energy and pitch at the end of sentences (even though sentences often will decrease in pitch), aim for intensity over volume, establish a rhythm, be consistent but variable in range and pace. Visualize the dialogue, emphasize adjectives, smile for vocal warmth, speak naturally, and don’t overlap another’s voice. To speak like a person who has been running, breathe three times before speaking.

To appear professional, always be friendly, don’t focus on mistakes but keep moving forward, have a set cell phone number to be quickly reached, have a fax to receive copy keep paper business records, write thank you notes, develop specific vocal skills, take classes, and be willing to work for scale when there is no other work. Learning dialects broadens one’s appeal for more work. Learn specific characteristics of a dialect.

Comedic voice-over often exaggerates their voices.

Most demos for animators last about 90 seconds. Some are for 60 seconds. Laser printer packaging is recommended. Paper sleeves are often preferred. Make certain your demo plays, as some don’t. Have a short but personalized cover letter informing how you can be of use to them.

Do not hire agents who ask for marketing cost payments or who are connected to acting schools. When you have an agent, check with the agent weekly. Be friendly. Let the agent handle negotiations.

Some voice over actors obtain notice through volunteering in vocalizing Reading for the Blind or on You Tube.

A home studio for attempting Internet castings should include a USB microphone that fits the computer you’re using, such as the AKG 400 series or Samsung USB, recording and editing software such as Sound Forge, headphones or computer monitor speakers, a mic stand, preferably with a boom, and an adjustable stand. A professional studio can be created for under $2,000 to include microphone cable, USB interact, analog studio mixer, timing stopwatch, soundproofing, and a patch phone.

During taping, remember only a director can stop a tape. If you make a mistake, don’t stop unless the director says to stop. If you don’t understand what a director seeks, request a line read from the director.

When finished, ask the engineer for a CD copy, but don’t be offended if the request is denied. It is easier for the engineer to make a copy at that time. Offer to pay for it, although you’ll likely get it as an emailed MP3 file for free. Tape it when it airs. Give you agent a copy.

Automated dialogue replacement replaces original dialogue.

Dubbing involved recording a foreign film into another language.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Call Me Crazy by Anne Heche

Anne Heche. Call Me Crazy. New York: Washington Square Press, 2001.

The author was sexually abused from when she was a baby. Sexual abuse is something that happens to one sixth of all minor females. Only about one tenth ever will discuss it. Heche copes by splitting her personality into two, and later in adulthood, into three.

Anne Heche grew up in a strict household where a sister had died and was seldom mentioned. Her bisexual father contracted hepatitis while claiming it was from eating raw fish with a mother who insisted they had never eaten raw fish. Anne was raped by her father while her mother never intervened. The author contracted herpes at age eight. Her parents didn’t believe in doctors, which meant her mother preferred to keep her father’s secret hidden.

Anne Heche’s father taught his children to be creative. When her father boasted of being friends with Teri and Brooke Shields, young Anne began wondering if her own father would love her more if she were an actress like Brooke Shields.

The family fell into hard times. Each family member sought additional work. Anne was a baby sitter for a family that owned a dinner theater. They agreed to let Anne audition with an equal chance against other auditioners. She won a part and became the local theater group’s youngest actor. While working in theater, she heard about homosexuality and came to realize her father and his male roommate were gay. Her father died of AIDS in 1983.

Anne Heche went into therapy, including illegal LSD therapy based on the ideas of Dr. Timothy Leary. In exploring her inner mind, she found herself feeling as if she were her own feces.

Anne Heche moved to Los Angeles. During her first week there, she got a role on the TV series “Murphy Brown”. A few weeks later shoe won the lead in a play. She met musician Lindsay Buckingham and dated him for about a year.

Heche appeared in the movie “Volcano” and then “Stripping for Jesus”. She met Ellen DeGeneres and they dated. When she announced she was bringing Ellen DeGeneres as her date to the “Volcano” premiere, she was warned she would be blacklisted from movie roles. Some blamed the poor attendance figures for “Volcano” on her announcement she was gay. Her next movie’s co-star Harrison Ford called to support her. They filmed “Six Days Seven Nights” together.

The public relationship took its toll on Ellen DeGeneres, who became depressed as her TV show’s ratings dropped./ Anne hid what she wanted from Ellen DeGenere,. Heche broke into another personality who was gathering people on a spaceship to Heaven. Heche was hospitalized.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Goodnight, John-Boy

Earl Hammer and Ralph Griffin. Goodnight John-Boy. A Celebration of an American Family and the Values That Have Sustained Us Through Good Times and Bad. Nashville, Tn.: Cumberland House, 2002.

The television show “The Waltons” demonstrated how a family that stuck together survived the Depression. It was shown during the cynical era of the 1970s when the public faced disillusionment from Watergate and the Vietnam War. The show tackled sensitive subjects such as prejudice, poverty, abuse, censorship, and education.

Earl Hammer grew up in Schuyler, Virginia, where hw was born in 1923. His writings about his “familyism”, where family is the most important social group, inspired the movie “Spencer’s Mountain” followed by the TV series “The Waltons”.

Hammer knew from childhood he wanted to write. He was a writer on the “Today Show” and for NBC documentaries. He published a novel “Spencer’s Mountain” in 1951. The movie was based on the novel. Hammer was upset over the addition of some sexually suggestive dialogue.

Hammer wrote TV scripts for shows such as “Wagon Train” and “Nanny and the Professor”. He also wrote a sequel novel “The Homecoming”.

“The Waltons” premiered in 1972 to critical acclaim yet was 57th in the Nielsen ratings. The network believed the series would fail and didn’t spend much effort on publicizing the show. “The Waltons” rose to the top of the ratings and won the 1975 Emmy for Best Series along with five other Emmys.

Hammer advised on “The Waltons” storyline. As he notes in working with the show’s writers, “most of television is written from the groin. We wrote stories from the heart.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

It Only Hurts When I Laugh by Stan Freberg

Stan Freberg. It Only Hurts When I Laugh. New York: Times Books, Random House, Inc., 1988.

Freberg first worked in show business as a child in his uncle’s magic act. He would be picked from the audience to go on stage to state there was no rabbit in his uncle’s hat, when there was a rabbit that would then be pulled out by his uncle.

Freberg went to work in Hollywood, despite recalling Fred Allen’s warning that “you could fit all the sincerity of Hollywood into a flea’s navel and still have room left over for two caraway seeds and an agent’s heart.”

Freberg graduated high school, took a bus to Hollywood, walked into a randomly selected agency in front of him, and was interviewed and offering an audition doing cartoon voices at Warner Brothers. Friz Freleng hired him on the spot. He would do cartoon voices for many years.

In 1945, one needed permission to imitate the voice of the President of the United States. Freberg did an impression of Franklin Roosevelt on CBS Radio two days before Roosevelt died, making him the last person to imitate Roosevelt on the air while FDR was still alive.

Freberg was drafted into the Army even though World War II was over. He worked on the “Fort McArthur Alert” base newspaper under editor Forest J. Ackerman. Freberg kept requesting to be placed, and eventually was, into the Special Services, the theater entertainment branch. He worked with Harpo Marx. The soldiers roared with laughter as Harpo shook a General’s hand, refused to let go, and then performed his classic routine with silverware falls from his sleeve. Freberg got a job playing guitar, which he didn’t play, so he quickly learned and faked it and often pretended to be playing.

Freberg landed a job on the children’s show “Time for Beans” in 1949. It was the top rate children’s show that often had a 70 share. For awhile the show’s officers and writers worked in a condemned building. The building was finally torn down with the TV people inside given 15 minutes warning.

Freberg wrote some music for the Fox studio. The TV show refused to let him leave to write music for a Marilyn Monroe movies. Freberg would alter be allowed to do movie roles when not working on the TV show. He would do the show live at 6:30 am and then race to MGM.

Freberg began writing satires of popular songs. He even spoofed Senator Joe McCarthy, with a song “Little Blue Riding Hood”, while McCarthy was still popular.

Freberg was recruited to work in advertising. He focused on comedic ads. He wrote a marketing campaign on Contadina that “Advertising Age” declared one of the two best ads of the year.

Freberg got a radio series. CBS censored his show. They didn’t like a skit about Las Vegas being destroyed by a hydrogen bomb. Instead, they allowed it to be destroyed in the skit by an earthquake. Freberg also had his contract state his show could refuse sponsors he felt were undesirable. Two potential sponsors were turned away. CBS canceled the show after 15 weeks.

Freberg continued writing commercials. One commercial ran six and a half minutes and was releaseds as a record. He also commercials promoting the movie “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Did You Grow Up With Me, Too? by June Foray

June Foray with Mark Evanier and Earl Kress. Did You Grow Up With Me, Too?: The Autobiography of June Foray. Albany, Ga.: BearManor Media, 2009.

Foray knew as a child she wanted to act. Her parents were opposed to the idea. They decided to allow her to take elocution classes. She then joined the extra’s guilde by paying a $25 initiation fee. Her first job paid $25. She auditioned for Bud Edwards who advised her to give up acting. She though later would work as a radio scriptwriter for Bud Edwards. Working on this radio show allowed her to obtain membership in the American Federation of Radio Artists. She then received a job on the radio show “Smile Time” with Steve Allen, which lasted for two and a half years.

Foray did voice work on Stan Freeberg’s comedy records. This led to her recording “Fractured Fairy Tales for Rocky and His Friends:. In 1957, “The Stan Freeberg” radio show took over for Jack Benny’s time slot when Benny moved his show to TV. Freeberg disliked cigarettes and asked CBS to not have American Tobacco be a show sponsor. This helped to the show lasing just 15 weeks.

Foray then worked as the voice of Witch Hazel for Chuck Jones cartoons. Her character would speak with characters voiced by Mel Blanc even though they were recorded separately.

Foray was cast as several characters on “Rocky and His Friends”, including Rocky, Natasha, and Nell. The cast would read their lines and then record them. A typical show took two hours to record. She then did the voice of Ursula on “George of the Jungle” television cartoon series.

Foray provided the voice of the Chatty Cathy talking doll. When “Twilight Zone” did an episode with a threatening Talking Tina doll, Foray was hired to provide that voice.

Foray gave up on-camera appearances after doing an episode of “Green Acres” in 1967. She liked the pace of providing voices rather than the longer pace of filming.

Foray urges people to work towards their dream. As she puts it, “whatever I’ve achieved, I made happen.”

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Reel Tears by Beverly Washburn

Beverly Washburn with David Vaughan. Reel Tears: The Beverly Washburn Story. Albany, Ga.: BearManor Media, 2009.

Beverly Washburn did not come from an acting family, although she had an uncle in vaudeville. She, though, became a child actor with non-entertainment industry parents. She could cry on cue, which was a skill in demand for child actors. Her earnings enabled her to grow up in a larger house. Her pay often was $250 a week. Yet, when she grew up, she discovered her parents had lost most of her earnings through unwise investments.

Washburn’s first performance, at age 6 in 1950, was in the movie “The Killer That Stalked New York”. She recalls the audition and her mother explaining to her beforehand that she probably wouldn’t get the part but that she still do her best. She got the part.

After that, she received a role in “Superman and the Mole Men”, portraying a girl in bed who screams when the mole men enter her room. She found her co-stars playing the mole men were cute and did not realize they would scare movie goers.

Several more TV and film jobs followed. By 1952, she would be cast in “The Greatest Show on Earth” without having to audition. Her co-star Bing Crosby asked her to appear with him on a telethon where her character had to cry. She impressed people with being able to spontaneously cry real tears.

Washburn recalls working with Alan Ladd, who had a fear of heights. His fright was so bad that he refused to return on a chairlift that had brought him up a mountain. A helicopter had to rescue him.

Washburn worked with Jack Benny. He liked her and kept In touch with her and her family. He put him on his radio shows and traveling live shows.

Washburn met Sammy Davis, Jr. , who commented upon meeting this young girl, “I’ve got cufflinks bigger than you.”

Once while traveling with the Jack Benny show, Ida Mae McKenzie was brought on suddenly to join the cast. Sensing her nervousness, Jack Benny successfully calmed her by declaring “well, Ida Mae, go out there and give it your best. Show and if it doesn’t work…fuck it!”

Washburn was cast, in 1955, in the CBS series “Professional Father”. It ran for 26 weeks. The show was broadcast live. Washburn had to ad lib once while a costar’s entrance was delayed by a stuck zipper. The director thanked her for her quick thinking.

At age 19, Washburn was on the TV series “The New Loretta Young Show”. The shaw bas been released on DVD as “Christine’s Children”.

Washburn appeared on “Leave it to Beaver”. She fake dated Tony Dow for the publicity.

As an adult, has castings dwindled. Washburn worked as an extra for income. She was thrilled to receive a two line speaking part on “Murder She Wrote”. Her career was revitalized when a movie she had filmed, but was never released, “Spider Baby”, finally was released and developed a cult following.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

High on Arrival by Mackenzie Phillips

Mackenzie Phillips with Hilary Liftin. High on Arrival: A Memoir. New York: Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2009.

Laura Mackenzie Phillips’s father John Phillips was a member of the rock band Mams & the Poppas. He left Mackenzie and her mother when she was two years old for a 16 year old Michelle. Mackenzie’s mother did not have much money and worked at the Pentagon as an assistant to Secretary Robert McNamara.

Mackenzie attended Summerhill School, where teachers taught about dumpster diving and smoking was allowed. When she was ten, while visiting her father in his rock and roll lifestyle, her father taught her how to roll and smoke marijuana joints. She began drinking alcohol and using acid.

Mackenzie went to her first audition at the age of 12 for a role in the movie “American Graffiti”. Out of 250 girls who auditioned for the part, she was chosen. While filming, she had to sit for hours with costar Paul LeMat as cameras blocked both exits of the car scene that was being filmed. She recalls Paul LeMat as being wild and once climbed to the top of a hotel sign and refused to be coaxed down. Six years later, while filming “More American Graffiti”, she had a romantic liaison with LeMat.

Phillips suffered the trauma of being raped at knifepoint by a hitchhiker she picked up. Her father came to her side in one of the two times she saw him in a supportive role and he helped her through the past-ordeal.

Phillips auditioned for more movie roles but wasn’t chosen. She finally won a role on a new TV series, “One Day at a Time”. Initially, the show was going to revolve around her character. CBS viewed the pilot and asked that a sibling be added. Valerie Bertinelli was chosen to play her sister. They were schooled at the Hollywood Professional School from 8:45 am to 12:45 am. Her civics teacher was arrested for prostitution just outside the school.

Phillips began appearing on the game show “Hollywood Squares” as well.

Life with a drug addicted father left Phillips with few roles when she was with her father. Her mother was more traditionally functional. Among the oddities Mackenzie faced was entering her father’s apartment and finding him naked, rolled entirely in saran wrap which he explained as “killing the bugs. They can’t breathe.”

Phillips was arrested for drug possession. Being a TV star, this made the news. The negative press caused Michelle Phillips, John Phillip’s second wife, to read a t-shirt that read “No, I’m not Mackenzie’s mother”. Mackenzie’s drug use escalated.

Having a father on drugs when she was on drugs led to her coming out of a blackout and discovering she was being raped by her father. She later confronted her father who didn’t deny it happened but insisted it was not rape since she hadn’t protested. She kept in touch with her father, explaining “my father abused me, but he wasn’t a monster.” Shortly afterwards, she spontaneously married her boyfriend. Meanwhile, her drug use grew worse still.

Phillips was suspended from “One Day at a Time” due to her inability to act at times due to drug use. When she returned to the show, the ratings improved. She was then shocked when she was fired from the show. She writes she did not realize how much the drugs were affecting her. This ruined her reputation and she found no one else would hire her. She started fighting with her husband, as they had gone through $700,000 in seven months, much of it for drugs. She once overdosed, nearly died, and was in intensive care.

Phillip’s father recreated the Mommas & the Poppas. Mackenzie took over the role Michelle Phillips, who by then had divorced John, used to have. The New Mommas & the Poppas were born. There was a lot of alcohol drinking and stage appearances where they were stoned.

Once while doing drugs, she was kidnapped for four days. A friend of her father’s entered her kidnapper’s apartment and successfully demanded she be returned.

In 1994, Phillips left her home near Stroudsburg, Pa. and asked the William Morris Agency to find her work. She made appearances on several TV shows.

In September, 2008, Phillips was arrested at LAX for possessing heroin. She went into rehab. As she puts it. “I don’t feel like an addict. I don’t fight an urge to use drugs. But I don’t ever forget who I am.”

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Twelve Big Lessons Learned as a Little Rascal by Ernie Wechbaugh

Ernie Weckbaugh. Twelve Big Lessons Learned as a Little Rascal. Best-Seller Books, 2009.

Director William McGann and Warner Brothers, observing the success of ShirleyTemple movies, sought to create more films with children. McGann hired Weckbaugh and remaned him Ernie Lewis, and Lewis is his middle name. The author was signed for 12 “Our Gang” movies, also known as the “Little Rascals” movies.

The author was “christened” as “Stinky” in these movies. The author recalls how his classmates didn’t like that he would take time away from school to work at a studio. Plus, he was ridiculed when he was to attend class with his hair in curlers and a hairnet in preparation for a role. Weckbaugh notes how this all affected him as a young boy, also as he knew with his father unemployed with a Depression underway that he had the duty of supporting his family.

Weckbaugh had a five year acting career. He was also in “Sons of Liberty” with Claude Rains, which won as Best Short Subject in 1940. He writes he has no bad feelings that the career did not last longer.

The author attended Hollywood Children’s School which taught acting, dancing, and singing. The author became interested in art in high school. He realized that art, not acting, was his passion.

Acting as a child with African American children Ernie Morrison (“Sunshine Sammy”), Billy Thomas (“Buckwheat”), Matthew Beard (“Stymie”), Allen Hoskins (“Farina”), and Eugene Jackson (“Pineapple”) allowed the children to not think of race. This sensitized the author to racism later on in life.

The author writes a weekly column for the Los Angeles Daily News and produced Trodent, a University of Southern California Dental School Alumni publication.

Weckbaugh notes there are three reasons an actor is hired. The most important reason is the actor looks like what is needed for the role. The second more important reasons is that the actor is able to follow direction. The third most important reason is that the actor is talented. Another criteria is the actor has to be available for the role.

A problem arises when actors, even child actors, are provided drugs or alcohol in an effort to improve their acting. This can lead to long term psychological problems.

Weckbaugh observed some bad behaviors from some of the mothers of child actors. They placed too much worry onto their child or were extraordinarily overbearing. The children often became very upset and developed problems in the long run. He is glad his mother was not a stage mother.

Weckbaugh believes “Little Rascals” was popular because children would see themselves in the characters. This was an empowering experience.

Weckbaugh explains how faith and inspiration got him through his performances and through much in life.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin by Kathy Griffin

Kathy Griffin. A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin. New York: Ballantine Books, 2009.

Griffin’s mother was the youngest of 16 siblings. Her father was the youngest of five siblings. Griffin’s mother used amphetamines while pregnant with her.

At 19, Griffin wanted to learn about acing. She walked backstage at the Groundlings and asked for advice. Phil Hartman answered her questions. It would take Griffin several years of paying dues before she then joined Groundlings.

Griffin attended the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. Sally Kirkland was one of her teachers. Kirkland would tell of famous actors she had sex with. Then these same actors would appear as guest speakers.

Griffin joined Groundlings with Laraine Newman, Paul Reubens, Cassandra Peterson, and Edie McClurg.

Griffin worked as a stand-up comic. Janeane Garafalo advised her not to care about the audience as a performer should concentrate on what feels is funny. Griffin found that advice “liberating”.

Griffin appeared on some episodes of the “Ned & Stacy” TV series. She observed that series star Thomas Haden Church on “Ned & Stacy” was a demanding comedic actor. He was driven, funnier than the writers, and upset that his co-star Debra Messing who was a great comedic actor, wasn’t a comedian. He was very temperamental about the scripts and performances.

Griffin was cast in the part of Vicki in a series “Suddenly Susan”. Maggie Wheeler had the role in the pilot. Griffin is convinced she was hired for the part because they desperately needed someone quickly. She was called in to audition the Friday before filming began in three days. She got the part. Her salary was $15,000 per episode.

Co-star Brooke Shields, married to tennis star Andre Agassi, told her there are divisions among the wealthy, stating “I have money. Andre has real money.”

Co-star David Strickland, who battled drug addiction, committed suicide during the third season. The death fractured the cast. Griffin didn’t like a co-star’s flippant attitude. Brooke Shields gave an interview about the death that some took issue towards. Griffin thought the farewell episode for David Strickland was filmed too soon afterwards and was “tacky”.

Griffin got liposuction. It almost damaged her kidneys and could have killed her.

“Suddenly Susan” was cancelled after four seasons. Griffin claims she spent the next year sleeping until it was afternoon from depression over no longer having work. MTV gave her a show that last six episodes.

Jeff Gaspin, head of NBC’s cable division, offered Griffin a $200,000 per episode reality show. Griffin was considering what to do with the show. While she was attending the “American Idol” finale, got was not invited to the VIP reception. She asked Camryn Manheim to sneak her in, but Manheim declined. It was then that Griffin realized she was in a A list world but her life was D list. That was the idea for her reality show, “Kathy Griffin My Life on the D List”. Griffin further noted she was on the D list when her agent wouldn’t go with her to pitch meetings. The show was sold to Bravo.

A critical time in Griffin’s life came when it was discovered someone had stolen $200,000 from her bank account. Only when she announced that the bank was looking at tapes to see who did it did her husband confess. She then learned her husband life about how much he worked. He entered Debtors Anonymous as well as Overeaters Anonymous. They divorced.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I'll Scream Later by Marlee Matlin

Marlee Matlin with Betsy Sharkey. I’ll Scream Later. New York: Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2009.

The author lost her hearing at the age of 18 months. She became the youngest woman to win an Academy Award for her performance in “Children of a Lesser God”.

Matlin started dating actor and co-star William Hurt when she was 19. Over the next two years, she became wrongly attached to a life of cocaine and marijuana addiction. As her life was crumbling around her, she was a Golden Globe award. Instead of doing the interviews that were part of publicity for awards voting, Matlin declined participating in them. She quietly entered rehabilitation for her addictions, something that actors could do without notice in 1987. William Hurt helped convince her that she needed to go into rehab.

Matlin’s parents chose to have her live at home and attend mainstream schools. She learned to read lips. Matlin learned to speak and sing, feeling the music’s vibrations. She appears in a Billy Joel video and appeared with Billy Joel on “Sesame Street”.

When Matlin was 12, Henry Winkler and his wife Stacey visited the Creative Arts Festival where Matlin was part of a singing group called Traveling Hands. The Winklers saw that Matlin was a natural actor and moving singer and encouraged her to pursue a career in entertainment. Matlin’s mother disagreed and objected to Matlin going into acting. Henry Winkler became a mentor and advisor to Matlin.

Martlin started smoking up to 20 marijuana joints a day in high school.

Matlin auditioned for the Immediate Theatre Company in Rogers Park, Illinois for “Children of a Lesser God”. She got the role. Her portrayal attracted interest and she flew to New York to audition for the movie version with William Hurt. She was offered
$50,000 and asked if she would do a nude scene. She agreed and got the part. Many deaf actors, who were a small group fighting for rare parts, were upset that Matlin, an unknown, got the film role.

Matlin learned the details of film. She learned not to eat prop food, as it is meant to be filmed, and to eat the catered food instead.

Matlin and costar William Hurt often fought. They both were intense actors and their emotions while acting were absorbed by each other. This worked well on film but the emotions spilled off screen and created problems. Her cocaine use and his alcohol drinking made things worse. Hurt went to the Betty Ford rehab center for his drinking.

“Children of a Lesser God” wsa the first English speaking movie to be close captioned. “Three’s Company” in 1977 was the first TV series to be close captioned. This opened film up to 24 million people. In addition it helped people learn to speak English. Matlin testified before Congress in favor of a law that would place closed captioned circuits in all new TVs. The bill passed and the law became effective in 1993.

Matlin stopped using drugs on January 10, 1987. Matlin also went to Betty Ford Center for 26 days.

Matlin filmed the movie “Walter” for a month in Nicaragua. An American embargo required shipping all props and supplies from other countries.

Matlin worked with Lee Remick. Yet she naturally didn’t move her lips much so Matlin had trouble following where in the script they were.

Matlin advises actors to keep pushing their careers forward. It can be a struggle but she calls on actors to use their desires to keep fighting. She recommends to always do your best and to seek to learn something from every role.

Matlin dated David E. Kelly, noted TV show producer and writer. She found his devotion to his work drove them apart.

Matlin portrayed a deaf attorney on the TV series “Reasonable Doubts”. A network executive commented “that Marlee Matlin is terrific. Is she going to be deaf the entire series?”

Matlin was upset while filming the movie “Hear No Evil” when a bubble bath scene she filmed showed her nude, which she was not expecting. She now has clauses in her film
contracts that there be no nudity nor any body double without her consent.

Matlin worked with Melissa Gilbert in the movie “Against Her Will: The Carne Buck Story”. She found Gilbert a talent who could easily switch emotions in sales.

Matlin appeared on “Seinfeld. It is noted for its memorable line where she misread Seinfeld’s “six” for “sex”. She was nominated in 1994 for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy for that role. That same year, she was also nominated for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama for an episode of “Picket Fences” written by her former boyfriend David E. Kelly. Ironically, she gave birth the same night television showed her character giving birth on “Picket Fences”.

Matlin appeared on the TV series “The West Wing”. She credits the realism that writer Aaron Sorkin created for the show’s success.

Matlin received another nomination with a guest appearance on “The Practice”, another show done by David E. Kelly.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Wisdom of Big Bird by Caroll Spinney

Caroll Spinney with J. Millison. The Wisdom of Big Bird (and the Dark Genius of Oscar the Grouch): Lessons from a Life in Feathers. New York, Villard, 2003.

The author portrays Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on “Sesame Street”. The author began doing puppet shows as a child for six neighbors in 1942. His mother then bought him a puppet theater. He continued working at puppet shows through high school. He then went to college for commercial art studies and then joined the Air Force before graduating. Assigned to the desert and a 5:30 am to 2 0m schedule due to heat, he obtained an afternoon job at a local TV station making advertising cards. He talked the station manager into a weekly half hour children’s puppet show, “Rascal Rabbit.” It lasted a few months until he was transferred. Yet a desire to continue acting hit him and he knew then what he wanted to do. After military service, he returned to and graduated from college. He then found animation work. He had two local puppet shows on a Boston TV station. On one show, he performed in full body costumes, something that prepared him to his later work on “Sesame Street”. Yet he admit he “was basically phoning it in” as he desired something more interesting.

After attending the 1968 Puppeteers of American festival, he was inspired to create moving animated backgrounds. He built a 3 ½ foot high by 7 foot wide stage for $250 that required him to work on his knees, operating the puppets as well as handing the visuals and the sound. He presented his show at the next festival. Jim Henson saw his show. A spotlight ruined the image. He used humor to make up for the difficulties. Jim Henson, though, recognized what he was attempting and appreciated it. Henson asked Spinney to work on a new show he was creating, “Sesame Street”. Spinney accepted, even though it meant $7,000 a year less than what he made on a local show in Boston.

The early show was filmed in 16 millimeter film. The early shows didn’t have scripts. Spinney’s first line as Big Bird was his going to a girl on a man’s shoulders and stating “wow! You’re the tallest little girl I’ve ever seen.” Big Bird began as a comedic diversion.

Big Bird descended from an earlier Jim Henson puppet La Choy Dragon. It similar had a complex head puppet. Frank Oz was inside the La Choy Dragon costume and disliked being in the suit. He thus did not want to be in the Big Bird suit.

Spinney initially could see very little out the costume. Thus, Big Bird had trouble moving properly. A small TV monitor was placed inside the costume.

Big Bird was changed in the second season. The new image has been the same since.

Young children like continuity. In 2002, the show’s 32nd season, “Sesame Street” switched to being a show where children could find continuity. There was a 31% increase in viewership.

Spinney was considering what voice to use for Oscar the Grouch when he heard a New York cab driver with a voice he liked. That is the voice he chose. Oscar was popular and did the Dick Cavett Show, Flip Wilson Show, Hollywood Squares, and several variety shows.

Big Bird was put on a postage stamp, leading him to respond “I’m really delighted to be on a stamp without having to die first.”

Big Bird appeared with Bob Hope. The toured China, which upset Hope when he realized no one in China had heard of him. Spinney adlibbed some lines, including Big Bird telling Hole “I thought I had a funny looking beak.” Hope the adlibs and told Spinney to keep them in the act.

Spinney was not a good dancer and found it hard to dance in the Big Bird outfit. A Muppetter, Richard Hunt. Told Spinney to have Big Bird think he is a great dancer. Spinney discovered that his thinking he could dance allowed him to dance. Big Bird even got to dance with the Rockettes.

Jim Henson and Fran Oz would often work all night and sometimes work two days nonstop. They often had several projects going concurrently. Henson enjoyed working well with others. He always remained calm/

There are 20 different “Sesame Street” variations in different countries. None were permitted to have a Big Bird. The Chinese version insisted on having a Big Bird since they had already seen Big Bird when Spinney toured China. Spinner returned to China to show actor Da Niao how to be Big Bird for Chinese television.

As Spinney noted. “I may be the most unknown famous person in America” because people know who Big Bird is but not the person inside Big Bird. Of course, not everyone is impressed with this. He recalls telling a stranger in line once that he is Big Bird and the woman responded “well, I wouldn’t tell people that.”

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Prairie Tale by Melissa Gilbert

Melissa Gilbert. Prairie Talk: A Memoir. New York: Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2009.

Gilbert was adopted a day after her birth by her parents. Her factor was actor Paul Gilbert, who had to change his name from his real name because the Screen Actors Guild already had someone registered as Ed McMahon. Her father was married 13 times, a fact incorporated in his act by stating “it’s true I have a number of wives. I don’t believe in premarital sex.” Her mother was engaged to Don Rickles when her father broke up that engagement. When her mother informed her father, comic Harry Crane, she had married Paul Gilbert, Crane responded “take a sweater”.

Gilbert began acting as a child. She observed that many children would audition, but the job usually went to herself, Jodie Foster, Kristy McNichol, or Dawn Lynn. Gilbert’s first TV show was a Dean Martin Christmas special. This was followed by an episode of “Emergency”.

At the age of 9, she auditioned for an NBC movie “Little House on the Prairie”. She got the part. She worked for four weeks of shooting.

A TV series sprang from the movie. Gilbert went to school on set with the same teacher from 4th grade through high school.

Actor Michael Landon taught Gilbert “not to settle for anything less than my best.”

When Gilbert filmed the movie “The Christmas Coal Mine Miracle”, costar Kurt Russell pulled a prank on costar Andy Prine. Russell wired Prine’s van and hired a woman to fool around with Prine. He then hired people to pretend they were local police enter the van with the woman pretending she was only 16.

To prepare for playing Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker”, Gilbert’s acting coast blindfolded her in a dark room for 45 minutes and let her trip, fall, and experience frustration.

14 year old Rob Lowe made a point of meeting Gilbert. Several years later they would meet when their cars were at the same traffic stop. They shouted at each other to meet later. He stood her up, but he returned her call. They began dating.

Shannon Doherty, at age 12, told Gilbert she wanted to be just like her. Gilbert notes that, years later, this included Doherty having a one night stand with her husband.

Martin Sheen told Gilbert that, while filming “Apocalypse Now”, director Francis Coppola told Sheen “you know, I could cut that opening footage and make you look like Mickey Mouse” to which Sheen replied “well, that would make you Walt Disney, wouldn’t it?”

“Little House on the Prairie” was canceled. Three TV movies were filmed and the series was over. Landon was upset at how the network handled not telling him the series was over. He had the entire set, except the church, blown up.

Gilbert caught Rob Lowe cheating on her with Nastassja Kinski. She went up to Lowe, announced to him that “you don’t fuck with America’s sweetheart” and she left him. Later Gilbert found it ironic that Lowe’s trailer was next to a church with a sign reading ‘Hollywood is the devil’s toilet.”

Gilbert and Lowe reconciled. He proposed marriage, she accepted, they moved in together, and she became pregnant. Lowe, though, stated he didn’t want to be a father. They broke up. She miscarried.

Gilbert sued the National Enquirer for libel. Richard Masur, Screen Actors Guild (SAG) President, was working for a privacy law that would restrict tabloid journalism and the paparazzi in what they could do. Masur offered Gilbert help for the lawsuit from the SAG. The lawsuit cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. They settled out of court.

Gilbert felt the 2000 SAG strike lasted too long and that SAG’s reputation had been diminished. Gilbert was elected to the SAG Board of Directors. Gilbert found the first six hour meeting to be out of control and a waste of time.

SAG had two divisions. Bill Daniels was then SAG President, whose Performers Alliance, later called Membership First, had led the strike. Others, like Gilbert, thought the strike had been a mistake.

Gilbert was perplexed by the arguing over rules. She felt little was being accomplished. Richard Masur and members of the alternative faction, United Screen Actors Nationwide, asked Gilbert to run for SAG President.

To run for SAG President, one either went before a Nominations Committee or obtained a petition from sufficient SAG members. The nomination committee was composed mostly of William Daniels proponents. Gilbert petitioned to run.

Gilbert ran on the Restore Respect ticket against Valerie Harper and the Membership First group. Gilbert proposed to Harper they run SAG together. She offered Harper could pick whether she wanted to be President or Vice President. Harper declined. Harper stated she was committed to her group of supporters.

Gilbert asked Mike Farrell to run for the Board with the intention of being her First Vice President. He agreed.

Gilbert ran on a platform of using negotiations first and striking as a last resort. She was supported by Debra Messing, Rob Lowe, and Toby Maguire. Harper was supported by Sarah Jessica Parker, Martin Sheen, and Gregory Peck.

Harper accused Gilbert of having violated SAG rules in the past. Gilbert admitted it was true, that she hadn’t been aware of the rules and had been sanctioned, and she had formed a Young Performers Committee to see that other actors turning 17 were aware of the rules.

Gilbert was also accused of owning a Canadian production company named for her daughter. Gilbert denied owning such a company or even having a daughter with that name.

Gilbert received 45% of the vote to Harper’s 39%. Harper claimed there were voting irregularities. New York ballots had different signature lines. A new election was called.

Gilbert operated as President through the new election. In the second election, Gilbert received 56.6% to Harper’s 33.4%.

Under Gilbert, meetings that once ran from six hours to two days took less than two hours.

Gilbert tried to merge SAG and AFTRA. 58% of SAG voters approved the merger, yet it required 60% to be approved. Gilbert ran for a second term as SAG President because she wanted to keep working on the merger. She won reelection.

Gilbert worked on a three year contract with the studios. SAG and AFTRA members both approved the deal. Gilbert considers the deal the most important thing she accomplished as SAG President.

Monday, August 3, 2009

It's Not Necessarily Not the Truth by Jaime Pressly

Jaime Pressly. It’s Not Necessarily Not the Truth: Dreaming Bigger than the Town You’re From. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009.

This book is mostly a good collection of events and personalities met before the author became an actress. For instance, her grandmother advised her, when she was a teenager, that “men are like parkin’ spaces. All the good ones are taken an’ the ones left are handicapped.”

When the author went to read for the part of Joy Hickey Turner in the TV show “My Name is Earl”, she did not dress for the part. Other actresses there did. Pressly arrived directly from another audition.

Pressly, though, entered the room for her reading as her character. The people conducting the auditions immediately realized this and appreciated her interpretation of Joy. She received a callback.

Pressly read with lead actor, Jason Lee, at the callback. It was agreed that when she delivered a class line “who’s the whore” so well, without a sense of remorse for her character’s storied past, that she won the role.

There are parts of the show that made her relate to her own colorful grandmother. Joy comments on the show that her wedding dress “is making me sweat like a whore in church.” Her grandmother used to say “that went over as well as a fart in church.”

Out of Hollywood by Robert Dix

Robert Dix. Out of Hollywood: An Autobiography. Chatsworth, Ca.: Ernest Publishing Company, 2008.

The author was born into an acting family He grew up studying acting, learned the importance of practicing one’s craft, demonstrating emotions through body language, and improved with the Method school of acting, He has also learned the importance of inner peace.

The authors’ actor father, Richard Dix, died when the author was 14 in 1949. He recalls the large amount of mail his father received and he, with help from secretaries, answered them.

Dix majored in English with a Theater Arts minor at U.C. at Santa Barbara. He mentioned his interest in acting a wedding whereupon the Assistant Talent Head of MGM asked him to call. Dix took a screen test and was offered a six month contract, optioned twice after six month intervals, and then optioned annually for up to seven years. Being under 21, his mother signed consent. Dix received $75 a week for the first six months and then received a $125 a week.

Dix had a publicist who also represented another young star, Debbie Reynolds. The two did publicity appearances together. He was presented to the world as her boyfriend, he fell for her in real life, but their relationship never went beyond kissing.

Dix received a role in “Forbidden Planet”. This remains a cult favorite film.

The popularity of TV made movie executives worried about the future profitability of movies. They cut costs in anticipation of a financial downturn. Among those MGM cut was Dix, who had been there a year and a half.

Dix took a job at Universal Studios dubbing squeaking noises at Universal. He was paid $80 for two hours work.

Dix studied acting from Seymour Malkin. Malkin also introduced Dix to the Baha’I faith and its foundations of spirituality based on love and fellowship. Dix joined the faith.

Dix received a role in the movie “Forty Guns”. Legal difficulties over rights to the Wyatt Earp story required changing the characters’ names. Dix is proud of a 150 foot dolly shot he was in that required just one take.

Dix received a lead role in the movie “The 11th Commandment”. It was filmed in Taiwan and Hong Kong. The movie was shown on WPIX in New York City. Dix began the show with a plea for public reaction and then led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance. WPIX received thousands of phone calls and hundreds of mail supporting the movie. The movie played in a third run (i.e. small) theater in New York followed by some Texas theaters. A Baptist group objected to a scene where two soldiers toast with alcoholic drinks. The movie won the Freedom Foundation’s Best Picture Award in 1960.

Dix starred in a movie whose title kept audiences away from a good movie, “Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come”.

Dix was stunned to see a screenplay he wrote was done by someone else. He couldn’t afford an attorney to sue. He tried to forget about it.
Dix fought and overcame alcoholism. He found Alcoholics Anonymous helpful. He became himself again

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Fan Guide to Charlie's Angels by Mike Pingel

Mike Pingel. Angelic Heaven: A Fan Guide to Charlie’s Angles. Henderson, NV.: Signing Stars Publishing, 2006.

Producers Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg first partnered together to produce the TV series “The Rookies” in 1972, a series that co-starred Kate Jackson. This partnership went on to producer other series including “Chopper One” in 1974 and “Starsky and Hutch” in 1975. In 1974, they got an idea for another detective show with three women named Alison, Catherine, and Lee with a title taken from their three names combined, “The Alley Cats.” The idea was pitched to ABC’s Barry Diller and Michael Eisner who responded it was the worse idea they’d ever heard.

Ironically, the same week “Alley Cats” was turned down, ABC approved a TV movie “Murder on Flight 502” starring Farrah Fawcett. A pilot was made from the movie called “The Family”, yet it was not picked up as a series.

Meanwhile, ABC had a contract paying the producers Spelling, Goldberg, Robert Wagner, and Natalie Wood $25,000 a week. Yet they were not producing anything for their contracted money as ABC had turned down their ideas. Eisner agreed to Goldberg’s suggestion that could create whatever they wanted. So Spelling and Goldberg produced what they wanted to do, which was “The Alley Cats”. A script was produced and ABC rejected it.

In 1975, Barry Diller went from CBS’s Director of Programming to accept third place ABC’s Director of Programming position. He came across the rejected ideas of “The Alley Cats” and “The Family.” He reignited interest in these ventures.

“The Alley Cats” was seen as a vehicle for Kate Jackson. The producers wanted an unseen boss. Jackson thought the title was inappropriate and pointing to a painting over Aaron Spelling’s desk offered the idea of naming the series “Harry’s Angels”.

The writers of the TV show “Maxim”, Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, were hired to write the show. The pilot included an attorney portrayed by David Ogden Stiles. Neither male character was to be involved in the crime solving. Stiles’ character was deemed unnecessary and was cut from the series.

Farrah Fawcett Majors (then married to actor Lee Majors) was cast as the second “Angel”. Jacklyn Smith was chosen over Loni Anderson and Lynda Carter. Anderson and Carter would later be cast together in “Partners in Crime”. David Doyle was hired as the male office manager.

Michael Eisner did not like Jacklyn Smith and asked her part be recast. The producer refused to do this.

CBS had a show “Harry O” so the show was re-titled “Charlie’s Angels”.

John Forsythe and Aaron Spelling were old friends. Spelling asked Forsythe to be the telephone voice of Charlie.

Fred Pierce, ABC President, asked about the show’s background. Spelling instantly created an answer that the tree private detectives were Police Academy graduates given menial jobs that Charlie then lured to his crime solving agency. That because the basis for the opening title.

“Charlie’s Angels” went before a test audience. It had one of the worst tests in ABC history. It was taken out of the prospective fall 1976 lineup. The pilot was aired as a TV movie with no promotion. The movie drew a very high 59% audience share. “Charlie’s Angels” was then placed onto the fall lineup,

Wella Balsom Shampoo was fortunate to have signed the three lead actresses for commercials before the show was a hit.

The show’s formula involved several outfit changes. Some feminists protested the sexuality of the show. The actresses believed the show demonstrated women could be strong and do what men could do, from driving sports care to playing football. It was also the first hit TV show with three leading female characters.

The show spent $46,000 a year and two and a half hours a day on hair styling.

The show’s original $110,000 per episode budget increased to $2 million a show. Jackson received $10,000 a show while Fawcett Majors and Smith received $5,000 a show. Fawcett Majors and Smith though were given an extra $5,000 a week in product endorsements.

Merchandising of products connected to the show began. Dolls, toys, and jewelry were among these products.

The show received numerous Emmy nominations and won for Best New Series and Best Actress for Farrah Fawcett Majors.

Farrah Fawcett did a posted that sold eight million copies.

Fawcett in particular and the women in general became dissatisfied with the lack of character growth in the scripts. The producers insisted on keeping a successful formula.

Fawcett also had not signed a contract. She wanted 10% of merchandising. Fawcett quit filming the show. The producers sued her for breach of contract for $7 million. The producers claimed her working a year without a contract demonstrated a legal commitment to the show. The producers got the court to prevent Fawcett from accepting any other work. This almost killed her career, Fawcett lost out on filming two movies, “Foul Play” and “Coma”, which were both successful.

Cheryl Ladd was hired to replace Fawcett. She arrived on set wearing a t-shirt with the slogan “Farrah Fawcett Minor”. Ladd had worked with Spelling and Goldberg in a movie “Satan’s School for Girls” which also starred Kate Jackson.

Ladd at first declined Spelling’s offer to test for the role. She feared replacing a popular actress. The lawsuit threatened to delay the second season filming and all hopes of getting Fawcett back were abandoned. Spelling offered that the new character would be more comedic and very different from Fawcett’s character. Ladd filmed an episode with the knowledge that her role could easily be reshot should Fawcett return. A limo was sent daily in hopes Fawcett would get in and return to work.

Fawcett agreed to appear on six episodes over two seasons and was obligated to fulfill her five year contract

The stars received death threats. The FBI investigated a kidnapping threat.

The audience accepted Ladd and the show’s success continued. The show even increased its ratings and its standing improved to fifth place.

Ladd did a poster that sold one million copies

Jackson negotiated a $6 million three movie deal with ABC. Smith and Forsythe did an ABC TV movie “The Users”.

Fawcett did a movie “Somebody Killed Her Husband” for Spelling and Goldberg.

Jackson wanted to film “Kramer vs. Kramer” on weekends while filming the TV show on weekdays. She was upset when the producers refused to allow this.

When Fawcett returned to film the show, she and Ladd agreed to break the tension for all on the set with a practical joke. They ran towards each other for a hug, missed each others, and kept running past each. This broke the tension.

Fawcett received a salary similar to the $15,000 to $20,000 per episode paid to Jackson and Smith.

Lee Strasberg taught acting at the The Actors Studio. He refused to allow any students to act on TV. A student, Sally Kirkland, pleaded that she needed the money to appear on an episode of “Charlie’s Angels”. Strasberg relented. When Strasberg saw the episode, he announced that Kirkland was “doing feature film acting on episodic TV” and that she and Ladd were both excellent. He dropped his prohibition against having students who appear on TV.

Jackson was upset over losing the role in “Kramer vs. Kramer” as it became a big hit. Jackson then argued over scripts and help up shoots. The producers agreed to let er out of her contract.

150 actresses were considered to replace Jackson. Shelley Hack was picked. When Hack was told she had to take a personality test with a screen test, she replied “I didn’t rehearse my personality this morning.” Spelling stated Hack was chosen 60% from her personality test indicating how nice she was and 40% from her screen test.

Forsythe recorded his voice in a recording studio away from the show’s film studio.

The ratings dropped, even on the episodes where Fawcett appeared. The show was 20th in ratings. Hack was dropped from the show but professionally finished the season. Hack then landed a role on the TV series “Dallas”.

Tanya Roberts was added to the show at $12,000 per episode. The producers tried to reignite interest in the show by filming the first five episodes in Hawaii with many swimsuit costume changes. A SAG strike led to three months without filming. “Charlie’s Angels” was slotted against other hit shows “Archie Bunker’s Place” on CBS and “Chips” on NBC.

Wagner and Wood sued Spelling and Goldberg claiming they had been denied $30,000 per episode of profits they claimed were due them. Spelling and Goldberg took money from “Charlie’s Angels” and applied it to a show they did not co-own with Wagner and Wood, “Starsky and Hutch”. ABC paid an unknown term “exclusivity fee” to Spelling and Goldberg that was hidden from Wagner and Wood. An attorney at ABC, Jennifer Martin, discovered this, was praised for his discovery, and then was fired. The matter was settled out of court.

“Charlie’s Angels” finished the season at 47th place. The show was moved to Saturdays but ratings did not improve. It was cancelled after 109 episodes. It aired in over 90 countries including being the first American TV show broadcast in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

In 1999, Telemundo reshot “Charlie’s Angels” scripts for a new series “Angeles”.

A “Charlie’s Angels” movie was made by Drew Barrymore’s production company. 15 screenwriters were involved with the script. The movie starred Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu, and Bill Murray. John Forsythe returned as Charlie. It grossed $264 million worldwide. A sequel earned $259 million worldwide.

Short and Sweet by Jerry Maren

Jerry Maren with Steve Cox. Short and Sweet: The Life and Times of the Lollipop Munchkin. Nashville: Cumberland House, 2008.

The little people in “The Wizard of Oz” were managed by “Papa” Leo Singer and are credited as a group as the Singer Midgets.

MGM Studio, as well as Singer, preferred using midgets, who are the category of dwarfism where their bodies to proportional compared to most larger people. Thus, there was a movie industry discrimination against non-midget dwarfs.

Midgets, whose population was larger in the past than now, composed several touring performing groups and circus clowns in Europe through the 19th century into the mid-20th century.

Jerry Maren is the stage name of actor and midget Gerald Marenghi. “The Wizard of Oz” was his first film. During the filming, he became long friends with fellow Munchkin Mickey Carroll. The co-author Steve Cox befriended them and began searching for the whereabouts of the rest of the Munchkins. Several remaining Munchkins did a national tour in 1995.

Maren loved movies as a child. His sister Anita was in a chorus line in a local theater. Anita began taking Jerry with her to her dancing lessons. The dance teachers asked Jerry to tour New England with them one summer. He was later offered a role in an all-midget Western movie but he was still in high school and his father refused to let him be in the movie.

Later Leo Singer offered him around $50 a week plus food, hotels, and transportation to perform in his traveling midget group. Jerry Maren’s pay was later increased to $75 a week, although he recalls Singer deducting about $25 for himself. Maren for the first time in his life met another midget.

Maren was 3’5” when he filmed “The Wizard of Oz”. The movie used 124 midgets with about a dozen children blending in the background. They sang their songs on the set yet their voices were dubbed by professional singers.

Maren hands a Dorothy a lollipop as she arrives to Munchkinland. Early script descriptions have Maren’s character as one of the Little Tough Guys or Little Tough Boys whose weapons were lollipops. Their wardrobe was to show they were part of the juvenile delinquent underclass. One enters from a manhole while smoking.

Most Munkins were well behaved on the set. A few did drink but maren states they all behaved appropriated on the set. Maren was in the most Munchkin scenes and was usually the first to go through makeup.

During filming with Margaret Hamilton, as she disappeared around flames through a trap door, a malfunction set her on fire. Her makeup was toxic, so it was fortunate the flames were quickly extinguished.

Maren worked for almost two months on “The Wizard of Oz”. He was hired to be in costume at the premiere, where he was given the Mayor’s costume.

Maren next worked in an Our Gang film, “Tiny Troubles”. He got an agent Frank Ryan who then got Maren work in the Marx Brothers movies “At the Circus”. He has the role of Professor Atom. This was followed by several radio shows, commercials, and MGM short subject films. Maren was not a stuntman, but he was hired to do a few stunts. One stunt was to be on the back of a wagon that crashed. He often would be a a stunt double for child actors.

Maren did local shows and commercials at the beginning of TV in the 1940s. He recalls acting in freshly constructed TV studios. He was Boko on an early syndicated TV series “Magic Lady & Boko”.

Maren played a mole creature in the first Superman movie “Superman and the Mole Men”. He had a ray gun constructed by placing a tin funnel on a modified vacuum cleaner.

Maren played Buster Brown in a series of commercials. When the company decided to replace him, probably because he and his voice had grown too old for their image, he demanded they remove his picture from all their advertising. Maren was then provided $25,000 additional for his work.

Maren landed a job as a public appearance character Little Oscar for Oscar Mayer.

Maren was in the first live color TV show on NBC, “The Lord Don’t Play Favorites”.

Maren was on the “Andy Williams Show” for several years. He did several comedy routines. In 1967, he did a “Star Trek” episode.

Maren also appeared in the movie “Silent Movie”.

Maren had several roles on Sid and Morty Kroft’s “Lidsville”. The little people wore interchangeable costumes so no one had set roles. Charles Nelson Reilly outwardly disliked being on the show and would cause delays by not showing up to work, sometimes with absences a week long. These delays helped kill the show after two seasons.

Maren also did appearances on “Bewitched”, “Laugh-In”, “The Beverly Hillbillies”, “The Lucy Show”, “Julia”, and “Daniel Boone”.

Maren and his wife Elizabeth did commercial work together as Santa’s elves. Maren was a chimp in “Battle for the Planet of the Apes”. He did an episode of “The Odd Couple” which he considered to be one of the best roles. He then worked as a stand-in for children on the TV series “Bad News Bears”.

Maren had a large role in the movie “The Little Cigars Movie”.

Maren’s next big role was working for ten years in McDonald’s commercials. He did 10 to 15 commercials a day. It was an unusual set as it had been available during shots for one the actors who demanded it. The actors would switch roles. Maren was Mayor McCheese, Big Mac, and the Hamburglar. The costumes were heavy and were very warm to wear while working.

A stage production of “The Wizard of Oz” cast Maren as the Mayor of Munchkinland. Maren also performed a children’s show in the White House.

Maren was a regular these years of “The Gong Show” as the winner greeter. He later was a regular on the TV show “All New Truth or Consequences” and a sitcom “No Soap, Radio.”

Maren and his wife Elizabeth both appeared on the famous “Yada, Yada, Yada” episode of “Seinfeld” portraying Kramer’s girlfriend’s parents.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Groucho by Stefan Kanfer

Stefan Kanfer. Groucho: The Lives and Times of Julius Henry Marx. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.

Groucho Marx was known for his human that ridiculed high society and the world around him, with lines such as being asked “if we tear down all the dormitories, where will the students sleep” to which his character replied “where they always slept, in the classroom.” He would joke about social clubs, proclaiming “I don’t want to join any organization that would have me as a member” and asked of an anti-Semitic swimming club about his daughter “she’s only half Jewish. How about if she only goes in up to her waist”. He left us with many famous quote including “outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

Marx Brothers films impacted culture and politics. “Duck Soup” which had a humorous dictator was banned in Mussolini’s Italy. On the other side, Winston Churchill enjoyed the film.

Jewish communities often had a badkhn, a town jester, who kept people amused. They were independent with no boss and not set hours.

Napoleon gave Jews more freedom. The Jewish population of Alsace-Lorrane, ceded from France to Germany, continued speaking French and resisted assimilating into Germany. Simon Marix, refusing to join the German army, moved to lower Manhattan and worked with Tammany Hall politicians. Discovering his relatives spelled their name “Marx”, Simon became a tailor, Simon Marx. Since other tailors with the name Marx had developed a good reputation, Simon Marx received many customers. Unfortunately, Simon Marx didn’t use a tape measure and he was a good tailor. Simon married Minnie Schoenberg. They were the parents to Julius/Groucho and the other Marx Brothers.

Minnie encouraged her boys to go into show business. They found work in vaudeville. Chicago was a lead city for three vaudeville circuits that toured the MidWest and South. Minnie took her sons to Chicago. While comedy was their only ability, they worked hard at fine tuning their comedic talents.

The flu epidemic hurt vaudeville. Theaters were not allowed to have people sitting next to each other so half the seats could not be sold. Many patrons wore masks which duller any laughter.

Actors were not highly regarded. Gummo Marx dated a girl whose father threatened to kill him when the father heard her daughter was dating an actor.

The Marx Brothers found representation with the William Morris Agency. Variety reviewed their act with the headline “Marx Brothers Not So Good”. Groucho quipped about the British audiences “they must know some language, but what the hell is it?”

The Marx Brothers made it to Broadway with lines “you are charged with murder, and if you are convicted, you will be charged with electricity.” By then, they had 15 years of vaudeville experience and they knew what made audiences laugh. Critical comments mentioned their humor was conventional. Groucho began adding some new styles of jokes. The audiences laughed and critics praised them.

The Marx Brothers’ Broadway play “I’ll Say She Is” reportedly earned investors ten times what they invested. Yet some leading investors were put off by the undisciplined vaudeville nature of the brothers and were hesitant to invest in them again. Irving Berlin vouched for the, and investors then reappeared.

The next Marx Brothers play was “The Cocoanuts”, written by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind. Writing for Harp, who never spoke, was challenging. Kaufman questioned what to do other than write “Harpo enters, and then he’s on his own.” The Marx Brothers were known for adlibbing. Kaufman was once quoted backstage as saying “I may be wrong, but I think I just heard one of the original lines.” The adlibs kept making the play longer. Each night was a different play, especially as Harpo varied his unspoken antics.

Film scholar Mark Winokler notes Groucho used an “aggressive and hostile” voice in an ironic comedic fashion.

One of the main investors demanded that the Marx Brothers have a more disciplined show, especially before critics. The Marx Brothers responded by not wearing any clothes at the meeting. The investor left the meeting. Yet when Irving Berlin and George Kaufman entered the room afterwards, the Marx Brothers engaged in a serious discussion and agreed to revisions.

“The Cocoanuts” included political humor. Told by Groucho he had to register to vote, Chico responded “you’re crazy. Last year, I no register and I vote six times.” When Mayor Jimmy Walker was in the audience, Groucho said in the middle of the play to Walker “what are you doing here? Why aren’t you out stuffing ballot boxes?”

George Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind wrote the next Marx Brothers Broadway play “Animal Crackers”. This play had the famous Groucho line “one morning I show an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don’t know.” The show was a hit. Even critic Walter Winchell admitted he went prepared to salvage the show only to find he enjoyed it.

The Marx Brothers did a silent film “Humorisk” that flopped. The William Morris Agency attempted to turn “The Cocoanuts” into a movie. They told Adolph Zukor of Paramount they wanted $75,000 to do the movie. Chico Marx met with Zukor, praised Zukor, told him how much they wanted to work with such a legend as Zukor, and explained how much and how long they had invested in “The Cocoanuts” and got Zukor to agree to $100,000.

Filming then amplified noise. Rumpling paper sounded much louder than it should. Paper was drenched in water to remove the sound.

Groucho viewed the movie and proclaimed “we’re going to have to buy back the print. This will ruin our careers.” He was wrong. The film was a hit. In fact, the fast paced dialogue resulted in many repeat attendees who sought to find jokes they missed before.

Groucho, a liberal Democrat, agreed to campaign for journalist Haywood Broun running as a Socialist for Congress. Groucho remained the wise cracker, with lines such as “I have known Heywood Broun for 30 years. He had known me for 30 years. That makes a total of 60 years.”

Groucho once wrote to S.J. Perelman about a book Perelman wrote, “from the moment I picked up your book until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend to read it.”

Groucho’s joking sometimes led to trouble. On a customs form, he listed his occupation as “smuggler” and for items to declare he wrote “wouldn’t you like to know?”
Paramount increased their payment for the next Marx Brothers movice to $200,000 and 30% of profits. Herman Mankiewicz supervised the movie. Mankiewicz advised the screenwriters “the Marx Brothers are mercurial, devious, and ungrateful. I hate to depress you, but you’ll rue the day you ever took the assignment. This is an ordeal by fire. Make sure you were asbestos pants.” The writers discovered the Marx Brothers didn’t laugh during their script readings, but that was because they were seriously considering their craft. At the end of the first reading, Groucho announced “It stinks.’ This began a long and complex partnership between Groucho and screenwriter Sid Perelman. The author believes Groucho felt threatened by the better educated Perelman and compensated by belittling Perelman even as he recognized his writings were good.

Cinematography had improved in 1931 since their previous film, making it easier to shoot a Marx Brothers film.

The Marx Brothers had a dispute with the William Morris Agency. They claimed their agreement had terminated. The William Morris Agency sued and won the fee dispute.

“Horse Feathers” was the next Marx Brothers film. Groucho and Perelman fought incessantly. Chico broke ribs and a knee in a car accident that delayed shooting for two months. The movie was a box office hit.

Groucho and Chico were offered and they accepted a radio show “Fly Wheel” for $6,500 a week, which was what Greta Garbo received for her movie work. Harpo received a salary not to be on the show. Arthur Shenkman and Nat Perrin were the writers. Since NBC had no studios then in California, a studio was rented from RKO. Their material was considered by Variety as offensive to “family programming”.

Groucho and Chico delivered the commercials for the sponsor Esso flatly. The early 8 pm time slot last not a popular listening time. The show ended after 26 weeks when Esso withdrew its sponsorship.

“Duck Soup” contained more visual gags for Groucho. While it was claimed to be a movie of comedic entertainment, its anti-fascist tone in 1933 served as an early warning to emerging fascism. It also contained tones that would resonate decades later. Chico argued for a standing army “because then we save money on chairs”. Told it was a gala day for Groucho, Groucho replied “that’s plenty. I don’t think I could handle more than a gal a day.” Film historian Andrew Bergman called “Duck Soup” “a vaudeville “All Quiet of the Western Front.””

The American Oil Company sponsored a radio show “Marx of Time” with Groucho and Chico. It last eight weeks.

Groucho presumed that was the end of his film career. Yet Irving Thalberg at MGM saw a future in more Marx Brothers films. Thalberg wanted to make movies with more stories and less laughs. The story had meant little in previous Marx Brothers films. Chico demanded the brothers received 15% of gross. Thalberg agreed. Groucho insisted Kaufman and Ryskind write their next movie, “A Night at the Opera”. Kaufman received $5,000 a week with $100,000 minimum. Ryskind received $1,000 a week.

Ryskind recalls giving Thalberg the opening dialogue to the movie. Thalberg read it without laughing or displaying any emotion. Thalberg then announced it was the funniest thing he had ever read.

Thalberg kept delaying negotiations with the Marx Brothers. During their meeting, he left them alone in his office. When he returned, he found the brothers totally nude pretending to cook in his fake fireplace. When he delayed a meeting a second time, the brothers blocked his door with a cabinet that took an hour to get the door open.

MGM hired two sets of writers to work on a final script and, which was custom then, did not tell either set of writers about the other set.

The film industry, which had been hurt by the Depression since 1931, returned to profitability in 1936. Groucho was worried about financial security, especially as he noticed actors who once earned $1,000 a week being grateful for walk-on roles in his movies.

For their next film, “A Night at the Opera”, the Marx Brothers again tried routines before live audiences. They hired actors to play their roles for the last two weeks while they watched from the orchestra.

Irving Thalberg had been warned by doctors that his heart needed to avoid stress. Yet Thalberg worked long hours. Thalberg died suddenly. Groucho stated “After Thalberg died, my interest in the movies waned…The fun had gone out of filmmaking. I was like an old pug, still going through the motions, but now doing it solely for the money.”

Laurence Weingarten, Thalberg’s brother in law, became the Marx Brothers’ new producer. Weingarten believed in keeping Marx Brothers movies to a set formula. “A Day at the Races” was the most profitable Marx Brothers movie, grossing $5 million, which was five times more than it cost. Louis B. Mayer wasn’t a fan of the Marx Brothers but he liked the profits they brought the studio.

Groucho and Chico were criminally indicted for plagiarism. Garnett Graham and Carroll Graham, brothers, claimed they wrote a radio sketch Groucho and Chico performed. The Marx brothers claimed the skit was written by Al Boasberg and that the Graham brothers at most had made minimal contributions. Boasberg had since died. The court ruled for the Grahams. Groucho and Chico could have been imprisoned for one year yet they were fined $1,000 each.

Groucho and Charlie Chaplin played tennis. In the middle of the match, Groucho set up a tablecloth on the court and gave sandwiches to those around them. Chaplin told Groucho “I didn’t come here to be your straight man” and didn’t forgive Groucho years afterwards.

Groucho was a New Dealer. He met Hollywood Reds and concluded they were “the kind of hypocrites who would sing “Arise You Prisoners of Starvation” inbetween laps around their swimming pools.”

RKO spent half a million dollars for the talent and set of the next Marx Brothers movie “Room Service”, Yet one elaborate set is not good for the movies, where audiences expect more diverse scenes. A new talent, Lucille Ball, appears in the film yet her comedic skills had yet to be discovered and she has a straight role.

The Marx Brothers worked hurriedly. Groucho explained “it was the first time we tried doing a play we hadn’t created ourselves. We can’t do that. We’ve got to organize the characters and situations ourselves. Then we can do them. Then they’re us. Groucho was convinced the film would bomb and was surprised at the good reviews. The movie, though, made 7% less than the average RKO film made. The Marx Brothers went back to MGM, where they were still contracted to produce two more films, and where Groucho feared Louis B. Mayer wanted them to fail. Mayer had a reputation for being vindictive.

The next movie “At the Circus” required a man in a gorilla suit. The suit was hot, so the actor cut holes in the suit for ventilation. This upset the owner of the gorilla suit who stormed off with the suit. A orangutan suit was purchased, which Groucho noted “even a child knows an orangutan is much smaller than a gorilla. The actor could not fit into the orangutan suit and broke into tears. Another actor who could fit into the suit was hired. Union demands required paying both actors as well as the first actor’s psychiatric help for the trauma of not fitting into the orangutan suit. The movie included Groucho singing a song that included “when she stands the world grows littler, when she sits, she sits on Hitler.”

Buster Keaton, who once made $150,000 a week as a silent movie star, was then a $100 a week gag writer at MGM. Keaton suggested a few gags for “At the Circus” which Groucho rejected.

“At the Circus” suffered from continuity problems. Groucho appears on a train that had left without him. A scene getting Groucho on the train was cut by MGM to save money by reducing the shooting schedule. MGM presumed audiences wouldn’t expect continuity in a Marx Brothers film. In addition, MGM gave Grouch such a manufactured look with a toupee that the poster used for the film had screenwriter Irving Brechler made to look like Groucho in the photo with Chico and Harpo. The movie also suffered from exaggerated racial stereotyped scenes.

Jack Cummings, nephew to Louis B. Mayer, was assigned as the new producer of Marx Brothers movies. He, like his uncle, also did not care for their movies. Yet he believe the way to increase profits was to return to their old formula. For the next film, “Go West”, they tried routines in front of theater audiences.

The Marx Brothers approaches their next film “The Big Store” unenthusiastically. Nat Perrin wrote the script with the help of gag writers Hal Fimberg and two others who used to write for the Ritz Brothers, Ray Golden and Sid Kuller. The gag writers were more experienced with slap stick comedy. Only Chico approached the first script reading with any enthusiasm. Yet by page 15, Chico fell asleep.

During filming, Groucho added a life after Margaret Dumont’s line “I’m afraid after we’ve been married awhile, a beautiful girl will come along and you’ll forget all about me” to which Groucho added “Nonsense! I’ll write you twice a week.” Producer L.K Sidney cut the line and was upset at a preview to see the line reappear. Louis B. Mayer, though, proclaimed it the “greatest line in the picture” and it remained.

Groucho and Harpo, with Chico’s consent due to his gambling habit, placed he Chico couldn’t touch that was kept for his retirement. Chico obtained gambling debts and feared the mob he owed money to would kill him. Groucho and Harpo refused to advance Chico the money. Thus, during the filming of “The Big Store”, a scared Chico was in the midst of suing his brothers to get money. Groucho told a reporter this would be the last time he worked with his brothers. The film opened to positive critical acclaim in 1941.

Groucho was once tending to his garden when someone drove by and asked him “oh, gardner, how much does the lady of the house pay you a month?” Groucho replied “oh, I don’t get paid in dollars. The lady of the house just lets me sleep with her.”

Groucho made numerous radio show appearances and appeared regularly on a Sealtest Rudy Vallee and Joan Davis show. Abbott and Costello became the new big comedy movie stars.

In 1943, Groucho’s agent brothers Gummo and Zeppo get Groucho a radio show for $2,500 a show. Leo Gorcey was a co-star, who at the time was going through a very volatile marriage.

The Marx Brothers formed their own film company, Lorna Vista, and made plans to film to movie “A Night at Casablanca”. Warner Brothers had released the movie “Casablanca” four years earlier. Their legal department wrote to inquire if Warner Brothers property rights were being violated. Groucho, tongue in cheek, wrote back “I had no idea that the city of Casablanca belonged exclusively to Warner Brothers…I am sure that the average movie fan could learn in time to distinguish between Ingrid Bergman and Harpo. I don’t know whether I could, but I would certainly like to try…What about Warner Brothers? Do you own that, too? You probably have the right to Warner, but who about Brothers? Professionally, we were brothers long before you were.”

Margaret Dumont feared being in Marx Brothers movies ruined her dramatic career. She declined to be in “A Night in Casablanca”.

Groucho returned to radio and then to Broadway.

In 1949, Groucho won radio’s top honor, the Peabody Award. ABC Radio was concerned that ratings dropped sharply for substitute programming during the time Groucho was on vacation. Groucho impressed ABC executives with figures he made up claiming that a typical listener only catches a show once every 3.4 times. He offered that ratings during his time slot when he was away would be higher if people who missed an original broadcast could catchy a repeat broadcast. The ABC brass was impressed. Thus, Groucho invented the re-run.

There were ten TV stations broadcasting to 160,000 TV sets in 1947. In 1948, over a million TV sets were sold.

The Marx Brothers filmed the movie “Love Happy”. Groucho happily took a smaller role and let Chico and Harpo have large roles. Groucho, though, was displeased to receive only $15,000, half what he usually received. Political humor included a Congressman telling Groucho’s character “this is my third term” to which Groucho replied, “better look out. One more offense and you’ll get life.” The movie is noted for Groucho’s casting decision of Marilyn Monroe for a one line part. Monroe’s character stated “ten men are following me” to which Groucho replied “I can’t understand why”.

William Palen, CBS President, tried to get Groucho to switch to CBS. Paley told Groucho “look, you’re a Jew and I’m a Jews. We should stick together.” Groucho found that insulting. Further, David Sarnoff at NBC was also Jewish. Groucho signed with NBC for $760,000 a year guaranteed for 10 years plus $48,000 a week during 39 weeks of broadcasting. Thus, a TV version of “You Bet Your Life” was created.

Groucho filmed “Double Dynamite” with Frank Sinatra. Groucho was upset at Sinatra’s frequent tardiness and warned him “I believe in being on time to work. The next time you show up late, you’d better be prepared to act for two because I won’t be there.” Sinatra was then always on time.

Groucho appeared in producer Irwin Allen’s “The Story of Mankind”. Allen also hired Chico and Harpo to appear in different scenes. Although none of the brothers appeared together, the movie was advertised as a Marx Brothers film.

A scandal involved big money quiz show helped boost Groucho’s small money, more entertainment intent quiz show to the top of the quiz show ratings.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Bonnie Blue Butler by Cammie King Conlon

Cammie King Conlon. Bonnie Blue Butler: A Gone With the Wind Memoir. Fort Braggs, Ca.: Cypress House, 2009.

The author was chosen for a role in “Gone With the Wind” at age five. Years later she would read of imposters claiming to have been her in that role.

There was much media speculation for years over who would be cast in this movie. Many wanted Clark Gable to star. Yet Clark Gable feared people were placing too high expectations on the role. Gable needed to be coaxed into accepting the part.

The author was told she was cast because someone at Selznick Studios had stated that her older sister Diane looked like she could be the daughter of the leaders Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh, who would play her parents in the movie. Yet six months later, Diane looked too old for the role and Cammie, the younger sister, was cast. Cammie disbelieves this casting story. Only four months stood between when Vivian Leigh and she were cast. She found records stating she had passed intelligence and acting abilities tests. Plus, she was being promoted for the role. She now believe her mother invented the story so her sister wouldn’t feel jealous.

The author remembers filming at the Selznick Studios lot, where the house known as Tara was a studio home. She notes that several times people have insisted to her they lived in an actual house that was used as Tara.

The author remembers how hot it was to wear heavy 19th century costumes under movie lights. Lights in 1939 were indeed warmer than lights used today. She also recalls the smell of heated metal and wood. The smell was one that felt enticing to be an actress.

One the author forgot her lines. The director Victor Fleming made her feel guilty, although she never again forgot her line. He did this by telling her “Cammie, do you see all these men working with us…They all have little girls and boys at home to take care of and that’s why they come to work every day. And Cammie, when you don’t know your lines, we can’t do our jobs and take care of our children.”

The author went to a riding academy to learn to ride a horse for her part. She learned to do more than what was needed within a month. During filming, she was surprised to learn her horse had a double for when the lead horse wouldn’t follow directions.

The author was also surprised to learn that she had a stunt double when she saw someone dressed just like her on another horse. She was further surprised to discover her double was a 30 year old man.

A mask was made of the author’s face. She blinked when her eyes closed, so a still mask was placed over her face for the scene when her character dies. Clark Gable is seen holding her while wearing the mask.

The author’s mother was her hairdresser, something in retrospect means union rules were likely circumvented.

The crew spoiled her by giving her gifts and sneaking her gum, which her parents did not allow. A camera operator, Arthur Arling, told her years later she stuck her gum on is camera.

King recalls Clark Gable’s moustache scratched when, as playing her father, he kissed her.

King’s mother was, in her opinion, a stage mother. They lived near the studios. Her mother took publicity shots and ran them in industry publications when she was three.

King was the voice of Faline in “Bambi”. She then received a role in the movie “Men in White”. Yet she developed chicken pox on the first day of shooting. Her movie career was over.

King knew Judy Lewis, Gable’s illegitimate daughter who did not receive final confirmation that Gable was her father until 2000. King learned later while reading Lewis’s autobiography that she used to pretend that Gable was thinking of her when he held King in the movie. King never realized the extent of her friend’s pain prior to that.

King filmed a scene with Vivian Leigh discussing their hopes that Leigh’s character would reunite with Gable’s character. The scene was cut from the movei.

King worked for four weeks on “Gone With the Wind” for which she was paid $250.

Year later King learned four girls read her lines to dub voice. She is not certain whose voice was used. One movie expert told her the voice used sounds the same as her voice in “Bambi”.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Any Which Way I Can by John Gay

John Gay with Jennifer Gay Summers. Any Way I Can: 50 Years in Show Business. Albany, Ga.: Bear Manor Media, 2009.

The author graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. His first job was an acting role on Broadway. He needed the approval of the star, Ruth Chatterton, to play the part. She looked him over for a moment and then replied “Perfect. He’s perfect.” Chatterton advised him to “be prepared” in acting as it can be tough and critics can be rough. While the show closed after a few performances, Gay always remembered the advice to “be prepared”.

Auditioning for parts led to a role on New York’s Channel 9 WOR. They wanted a 15 minute comedy show five days a week. Even though he had never written before, it fell upon him to write the show. The first review, from the New York Times, was negative. Yet it was an inexpensive show and WOR kept it.

Gay learned how to handle being on live TV. Actors would forget their lines and they would ad lib. Another actor once hit him, as was in the script, but the blow was so hard it almost knocked him out. During another show he cut his hand on some glass and kept his bleeding hand in his pants pocket for the rest of the show. He had to drink Miller High Life, the show’s sponsor, during the commercial portion of the show per the sponsor’s request. Yet drinking beer would cause live belching on the air. The Miller company shifted the commercial to the end of the show. The show lasted from 1950 to 1952.

A columnist wanted actors to be screened to see that no Communist sympathizers worked on TV. Gay says his show never screened actors and only hired according to talent. Gay was upset to learn that people he knew were accused of being Communist sympathizers and their careers were destroyed. One friend committed suicide.

Gay’s writings on the show led him to land his next job as a writer on a Dumont network show. His short TV play then led to him writing a half hour drama.

His next job was writing a daily children’s show, “Atom Squad”. With another writer, one would determine the week’s plot, the other would write the dialogue, and they’d switch roles the following week. He received $350 a week. The show last six months.

The Neighborhood School of the Theater asked Gay, for little pay, to write the dialogue for a musical to be performed by their graduating class. Among those in his play were Robert Duvall, Suzanne Pleshette, and Sydney Pollack. The school liked it so much they had the following year’s graduates perform the same play.

Gay wrote television plays. Writers then were present during rehearsals. He was dubious at first about talents of a new actor, Lee Marvin, who suddenly transformed into the part once he got into costume.

Gay wrote stage plays. He observed a bit of racism when a restaurant in Delaware in 1955 refused to serve an African American actor. He also observed the Red scare where an actor, Phil Leeds, refused to give any names of suspected Reds in the film industry when called to testify before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. Leeds was unable to find any industry work for a long time afterwards.

Writing plays for live TV had its moments, Gay discovered. A child actor’s mind blanked and he forgot to recite a critical line.

Burt Lancaster, Harold Hecht, and James Hill were impressed by one of Gay’s TV plays. They hired Gay to write a movie for their film company, H.H.K. for $1,000 a week. They didn’t like his treatment for the first project they assigned him. They asked him to work on another movie, “Run Silent, Run Deep”. In the midst of writing, a drunk Burt Lancaster refused to do the movie. Later a sober Lancaster stated he would do the movie. The Navy assisted with the movie as they saw it as promoting their submarine program. Model submarines at one fifth actual scale were used in filming some scenes.

Clark Gable was in the movie “Run Silent, Run Deep”. He had a strong work ethic and arrived prepared, knowing his lines. He expected the same from his costars. An unprepared actor was promptly replaced with Jack Warden. Gable also insisted that shooting stop, at a cost of $50,000 per day, when he insisted there be a rewrite of a mutiny scene. Although the scene was in the book from which the script adapted, Gable, a World War II veteran, did not believe any mutiny occurred during the war and insisted the scene be changed. Gay rewrote the scene so that Gable’s character instead was wounded. Gable accepted the change.

Don Rickles was in the movie. Rickles in real life loved insulting everyone, as in his act. Harld Hecht, though, was offended and avoided Rickles.

“Run Silent, Run Deep” has been show on TV many times. Gay nor any of the actors receive any residuals from those broadcasts.

Gay had an emotional severing with his New York agent, Blanche Gaines. Het he realized film writing jobs were moving to Los Angeles and he needed an agent in Los Angeles. His new agent, H.N. Swanson, had Gay collaborate with Ray Bradbury. Unfortunately, their differing writing styles didn’t mesh and they had a friendly parting. The script they wrote together, White Hunter, Black Heart” was produced 20 years after they wrote it.

“Playhouse 90: wanted an hour long script Gay had written expanded into their 90 minute format. The additional 30 minutes Gay wrote were a battlefield scene which director Ralph Nelson decided to take and interweave into the show’s live presentation. This was the first taped segment used on “Playhouse 90”. Soon afterwards, all the shows would be taped.

Wendy Hiller was an actor who disliked having a rewriter author, namely Gay, at rehearsals for a movie “Separate Tables”. She wanted lines from the original screenplay kept. Rex Harrison was also known to have done something similar as he kept a copy of the play “Pygmallion” with him to refer to while filming its film version “My Fair Lady”.

David Nelson was Best Actor and Wendy Hiller for Best Supporting Actress for “Separate Tables”. Gay and the original screenwriter were nominated for Best Screenplay but the award went to the writers of “Gigi”.

Gay and Martin Borowsky were assigned by H.H.L. to rewrite a 300 page screenplay written by Clifford Oders. Harold Hecht and Jim Hill disagreed on how the script should appear.

Gay write some of the screenplay to “The Unforgiven”. He was not credited for this work. Gay noted that director John Huston communicated little with actors that he was directing. His only instructions usually were “Do it again”. Huston believed in giving actors with much leeway in the acting interpretations. He also noted Huston often praised one person while criticizing another. Huston also preferred continuous shots over standard cuts. Huston did this to reduce studio interference and to give him more say on final cuts. Gay also noted the Mexican locals used as extras in the film had to bring their own food to the set while American cast and crew separately ate catered food. This struck Gay as ironic as the movie about racism would have its own racial segregation. Jim Hill, though, did see this and then had all eating together.

One extra, a Mexican Indian in his 80s, accepted a role where his character was killed, believing he would actually die. He was relieved to learn his death was not required. He stated he accepted the role, even though he thought he would die, because his family needed the money.

Lillian Gish has very expressive eyes. Burt Lancaster jokingly suggested Gay write a line in an attack scene for someone to say to Gish “close your eyes, mama, you’re giving away our position.” Audie Murphy was unimpressed with Gish’s acting in a scene, to which he commented “I never claimed to be an actor, but if that’s acting, then I’m Laurence Olivier.”

When Uta Hagen acted in a “Playhouse 90” show that Gay had written, she asked him to write a three page biographical background concerning her character’s past. Gay appreciates the dedication that showed.

Gay worked on the script “How the West Was Won” which won a Best Screenplay Award. Unfortunately for Gay, the Screenwriters Guild awarded sole screenwriting credit to Jim Webber.

Gay rewrote a script for director Vincente Minnelli, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. Hired to rewrite two scene in two weeks before shooting commenced, Minnelli then asked Gay to rewrite the whole script. Gay spent a lot of time mediating disputes between Minnelli and the producer Julian Blaustein. Minnelli as a director sought to create artistic statements throughout his movies. He liked visual statements of intended moods.

Gay was hired by MGM to write a screenplay adaptation of “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father”. Joe Pasternak produced it. Pasternak’s accent led him to say things like “Give me an outline first so I can maul it over”. Gay notes he has earned more TV royalties from this movie than from any other.

Gay recalls Mark Reed’s recommendation that comedy works better when you play it straight rather than for laughs.

Gay wrote the screenplay “The Last Safari”. Working in Africa, he once had to escape a rhinoceros charging his open jeep.

Gay wrote the screenplay “No Way to Treat a Lady”. Rod Steiger experimented with different ethnic characters during rehearals and sought to use his versatility to find the best character for the role.

Gay wrote the play “Soldier Blue”. It portrayal of the brutality of a massacre won both praise and scorn.

Gay negotiated a job with Universal. He was first offered a portion of profits, which he knew would be nothing as film accountancy saw to it that no movies made any profits according to their financial records. He then offered his price, to which Universal expressed its shock. Gay knew studios did that as a bargaining tool.

From that job, Gay presented an outline to a 600 page book on logging that Paul Newman liked. Gay visited a lumber company to see first hand what it was like. Gray then wrote the screenplay. Paul Newman was actively involved in providing ideas on the script. Later, Gay was surprised when Newman started making substantial criticisms during reading with actors of things he had earlier approved. Gay stayed up all night making changes according to Newman’s new wishes. Newman loved the changes.

Henry Fonda, who emerged from the theater, treated every word in a script as definitive. He suggested no changes.

A woman once approached Paul Newman and Henry Fonda for autographs. Newman declined. Henry Fonda accepted and wrote “Dear Nancy, Paul Newman is a shit. Henry Fonda”.

Gay walked picket lines when the Writers Guild called for a strike for a higher minimum wage and health and retirement benefits.

Gay continues writing. As he puts it, “It’s always the work the counts.”