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This week I noticed how many musical biographies I have on that little iDevice of mine, each one more educational than the last (history books teach us nothing, you hear me, nothing!). To help create snappy headlines for a catalog that I’m working on for my book publishers, I’ve relied heavily on lines from these musicals and amused myself in the process. To help promote a collection of books that have been translated into English, I stole from Yentl the line “Tell me where, where is it written?” to use as its headline. The wine titles and their purple covers will be promoted with the handle borrowed from Fiddler on the Roof, “To life, to life, l’chaim.” The list of books on climate change could very well end up under the header, “Don’t rain on my parade,” but I should go for subtlety here if I want to keep it up.

Biopics have also entered my watch history in the last few months, as I just wrapped up the brilliant miniseries, John Adams (2008), starring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney, two people who should be married in real life. It was such a gratifying and addictive series, that naturally I scoured my shelves in search of others from the same genre. Ranking one’s favorite biopics turned into wonderfully frustrating task, as feelings of neglect and betrayal surfaced with each resort. But we gave it a go . . .

 

15) Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II, The Queen (2006)

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The movie itself, not my favorite, but with every hand gesture and tilt of her head, Helen Mirren unveils the broaches and emotions of Her Majesty The Queen, eventually taking home the Oscar.

 

 

14) Judi Dench as Queen Victoria, Mrs. Brown (1997)

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“No one should think themselves wiser than me!” Dame Judi Dench is the aunt we all wish we had, am I right? I think her earrings move only in the direction that she commands – wind and gravity are nothing to this woman.

 

 

13) Anne Bancroft as Annie Sullivan, The Miracle Worker (1962)

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As Helen Keller’s tutor, Anne Bancroft’s miraculous scenes with Patty Duke include only grunts of frustration instead of dialogue. Astounding, but once was enough.

 

 

12) Meryl Streep as Julia Child, Julie and Julia (2009)

Meryl Streep as "Julia Child" in Columbia Pictures' JULIE & JULIA.

Julia Child now looks like Meryl Streep to me, and Stanley Tucci is delicious, as always. Sandra Bullock seems like a lovely person, but in 2010 the Academy really should have given more thought to its choice in the Best Actress category.

 

 

11) William Powell as Florenz Ziegfeld, The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

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It clocks in at just under three hours, but who could have too many helpings of William Powell? During the elaborate numbers of the Ziegfeld Follies, I could be found adding three different biographies on Flo to my wish list.

 

 

10) Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan, Boys Town (1938)

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In a pinch he can be tougher than you are, and I guess maybe this is the pinch.

 

 

9) Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne as Ike and Tina Turner, What’s Love Got to Do with It (1993)

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Have you ever wanted to knock the television off its stand just to stop what’s happening in the movie? Taking logical action and switching it off won’t help a thing; the only way for me to save Tina from Ike is to throw that television to the floor with all my might. There were no instructions in the box telling me not to do this.

 

 

8) Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker, Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

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Love for Mr. Beatty and all, but every shot (ha!) of Faye Dunaway in this film is exquisite and should be framed on my wall.

 

 

7) Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote, Capote (2005)

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At Harper Lee’s party celebrating To Kill a Mockingbird, he sits at the bar and mutters, “I frankly don’t see what all the fuss is about.” Ten seconds in a film can be more heartbreaking than all of its seconds combined.

 

 

6) Jessica Lange as Frances Farmer, Frances (1982)

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Reaching for the moon? No, just one little star . . . on a dressing room door. Once again, the supreme Jessica Lange gives voice to every rejection, deception, and ambition through which her audience itself has suffered. It must have been by one vote when Meryl took Oscar home that year for Sophie’s Choice.

 

 

5) Greta Garbo as Christina, Queen of Sweden, Queen Christina (1933)

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This list overflows with royalty, but Garbo was the Queen before them all, including Capote. Unconvinced that a queen requires a king for a successful rule, Christina promises that she will die a bachelor.

 

 

4) James Cagney as George M. Cohan, Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

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Sometimes a gangster; sometimes a vaudevillian who can tap-dance down a staircase at the White House. As entertainer George Cohan, James Cagney was living proof that magic exists . . . no one can dance like that without assistance.

 

 

3) Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I, Elizabeth (1998)

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I was torn between listing this or Blanchett’s Oscar-winning performance as Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator (2004). Her transformation into the Virgin Queen at the end of the film helped tip the scale.

 

 

2) Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, Milk (2008)

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When I first saw Milk, I don’t think I said as much as two words after I left the theatre. When I saw it again, the second time at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, I had the same reaction. Luckily there were bars in every direction, and we sat for hours at Twin Peaks, drinking our drinks and smelling the fresh cookies next door until the words and tears came.

 

 

1) Madonna as Eva Perón, Evita (1996)

Madonna in Evita

Never been a lady loved as much as a desperate, misunderstood, driven woman who was hurt and disappointed by life at a young age. After the erotic, bedtime story days of the early 1990s, Madonna revealed more of herself in Evita than she ever showed us during those equally magnificent naked years. You must love her.

On Oscar night, our happiness and delight for the winners vanish in comparison to the rage that we feel for those who went home with only a magnificent career and millions of dollars in the bank, but no award. We are only a few years away from what I predict will be called Participation Oscars being awarded to all who show up, so let us relish these last few years of cutthroat competition, boycotts, and fashion victims (shout-out to Miss Rivers).

Before they eliminate the barroom brawls of Oscar rivalries, perhaps we’ll see a few more categories added to the list, and therefore I propose an Academy Award for Best Movie Line. Below we remember a few of our favorites from movies that took home nothing more than a program on Oscar night . . . but don’t let’s ask for the moon; we have the stars.

 

AnnaChr“You was going on as if one of you had to own me. But, nobody owns me, see; excepting myself. I’ll do what I please and no man, I don’t give a darn who he is, can tell me what to do. I haven’t asked either of you for a living. I’ll make it myself, one way or another. I am my own boss. So put that in your pipe and smoke it!” – Anna, Anna Christie (1930)

 

 

PublicEn“There you go with that wishin’ stuff again. I wish you was a wishing well. So that I could tie a bucket to ya and sink ya.” – Tom Powers, The Public Enemy (1931)

 

 

KlondikeAnn“When I’m caught between two evils, I generally like to take the one I never tried.” – Rose Carlton, Klondike Annie (1936)

 

 

DarkPass“You know, it’s wonderful when guys like you lose out. Makes guys like me think maybe we got a chance in this world.” – Vincent Parry, Dark Passage (1947)

 

 

TheRose“So what do you do when he comes home with the smell of another woman on him? Do you say, ‘Oh honey, let me open up my lovin’ arms and my lovin’ legs. Dive right in, baby, the water is fine?’ Is that what you say, girls? Or do you say, ‘Fuck this shit! I’ve had enough of you, you asshole! Pack your bags. I’m putting on my little waitress cap and my fancy high-heeled shoes, I’m gonna go find me a real man, a good man, a true man. A man to love me for sure.’ ” Mary Rose Foster, The Rose (1979)

 

 

NinetoFive“If you ever say another word about me or make another indecent proposal, I’m gonna get that gun of mine, and I’m gonna change you from a rooster to a hen with one shot!” – Doralee Rhodes, Nine to Five (1980)

 

 

Clue“Husbands should be like Kleenex: soft, strong, and disposable.” – Mrs. White, Clue (1985)

 

 

Heathers“Come on, it’ll be very. The note’ll give her shower-nozzle masturbation material for weeks.” – Heather Chandler, Heathers (1988)

 

 

LarryF“Now I have a message for all you good, moral, Christian people who are complaining that breasts and vaginas are obscene. Hey, don’t complain to me. Complain to the manufacturer.” – Larry Flynt, The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996)

 

 

“He never spoke up to you, because you would never listen. I never spoke up to you, because I could never get a word in!” – LV, Little Voice (1998)

 

 

MSDTWHU EC005“You could stand there naked with a mattress strapped to your back and still look like a vestal virgin.” – Monica, 200 Cigarettes (1999)

 

 

Devil1“Is there some reason that my coffee isn’t here? Has she died or something?” – Miranda Priestly, The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

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Click here to read Part I.

 

I fall asleep. Or do I pass out and pass back in? Do people pass in, like they tiptoe into a room? I guess hazily that we touched down and came back up somewhere over Las Vegas, so that first pill must have worked.

 

“Did it?” Judy asks, still sitting next to me but with greater distance between us. We no longer shared an armrest in coach but now each of us has our own – somehow we had moved up to the first class cabin. I have no recollection of taking such a status leap or, in the process, transferring my rattling knapsack down what a potentially resentful aisle. Like denying a memory before someone produces photographic evidence, in those first few moments I would have sworn on a stack of Judy albums that our arms still remained locked in battle over an armrest back in coach. But here we are, Judy Garland and little old me, soaring over Las Vegas on the first anti-anxiety pill that I have taken for its intended purpose.

 

“I passed out for, what, ten minutes? I ask her. “That’s gotta be some kind of record for my sleeping on a plane. Draining the consciousness out of a plane ride is a dream scenario.” I lean back into my roomy seat. “That, and flying first class with Judy Garland,” I add, unable to delay the precious moments between thoughts and words.

 

And yet she doesn’t take the compliment, no doubt immune to gay men gushing over her after so many years, at times, sadly, by way of a marriage license. After decades of living next to the gay track, I suppose she has to make an effort just to notice the train . . . the rambunctiously flaming train, emitting rainbow-colored smoke that was probably good for the environment. I knew it well, for recently I began to feel like just another faceless passenger.

 

Planes, trains, contraltos.

 

Gotta get off, gonna get

Have to get off from this ride

 

“You never told me what happened on the Valley of the Dolls set,” I tell her, shifting into “tabloid reporter” mode, listlessly filling in the plot holes for myself.

 

“The truth is what you choose to believe,” she whispers coyly, popping another is-it-a breath mint. But like any good reporter, I do not accept that kind of answer, especially from someone whose mind and words I love to pieces.

 

“Oh don’t give me that crap, Judy,” I hiss with an eye roll. Heavens, I never thought I’d take such a tone with her and surprise myself with such an outburst. I pivot back to the compliment, giving the approach a second try. “You’re smarter than that.”

 

She turns and looks out her window. “She’s smarter than that,” Judy echoes to the clouds outside. And she was, for it must have been only a day or two out of infancy when she learned the harsh ways of the stage and the harsher personalities that appear on, behind, above, and below it. On-the-job training at its most brutal – at an age when I was cheating on spelling tests, Judy Garland was seeing the business side of the The Business.

 

She turns her head back towards me, her body still pointed towards the window. “Okay, kid. If I’m so smart . . . ma’am, a scotch and soda, please.”

 

Finally, a flight attendant appears to give our necks a break. Definitely breath mints.

 

“If I’m so smart, why didn’t I make it to 50? If I’m so smart, why was always I broke the harder I worked? If I’m so smart, how did . . .” She stops. “Oh, you’re right; I have more answers than you have excuses.”

 

She is feisty but not restless. Good God, where was her drink?

 

“You’re not afraid that you’re going to choke on these pills, are you?” she asks. “They’re flea-sized, for Heaven’s sake.”

 

“No, of course not. But you’re avoiding my question. C’mon, tell me about the Valley.”

 

“You have a favorite truth already, and what’s wrong with that one?”

 

“Is that what happened?” I ask. “The way that Patty Duke said? Did the director purposely keep you waiting in your dressing room, hoping that anxiety would pave the way for some addiction to come knocking?”

 

Addiction.

 

There it was. The word I dread. Pills equaled addiction equaled loss of control equaled rock bottom equaled asking for help equaled codependence. And other than flying, there is nothing worse than codependence. Am I right?

 

Gotta get hold, gonna get

Need to get hold of my pride

 

The scotch and soda arrives as the word “addiction” floats above us, pushed down by those plane air vents that drive everyone mad. Although Judy had ordered only one, the flight attendant puts down a second one in front of me.

 

“Patty talks a good game. Her acting . . . well . . .” She gives the thought a half-smile. “And is that what you’re searching for now, before popping another one of those flea pills?” she wonders. “A director to take direct responsibility for you?”

 

“It worked for you. Or, at least for your legacy.”

 

“Darling, I got fired. Or I quit seconds before the bastard fired me; I can’t remember which.” Pinky in the air, she breaks ground on her cocktail. I’m surprised it took her so long.

 

“Well sure.” I admit. “In a perfect world, I’d throw an entire bottle down my throat before every flight and knock myself out. Hell I’d do it before every bridge crossing or before leaving the house to face the crack heads of San Francisco. But I choose not to conquer anxiety with science. I do it the old-fashioned Jewish way – ignore the problem and never talk about it, until eventually it doesn’t exist. Compared to pills, don’t tell me that’s unhealthy.”

 

I hope for a full smile from her, and I get one.

 

“Perhaps moderation is the key,” Judy admits, raising her cocktail and giving a modest cheers to no one in particular. I still haven’t touched mine, and she’s noticed.

 

She looks at my drink, the ice slowly watering down its potency, and I see a light bulb flicker above her head. Either she’s just had a revelation, or she’s ringing for the flight attendant in preparation for round two. “You know what your problem is,” she starts, clang, clang, clanging the ice cubes in her glass and pointing it at me. “Your problem is that you don’t think you deserve to relax.”

 

When did I get, where did I

Why am I lost as a lamb

 

“That’s not true,” I argue. “I think I deserve to relax. I just don’t feel it. I can’t get my body to catch up with that nagging part of my brain that keeps shrieking, ‘Relax!’ Thinking and feeling – huge difference there, ma’am.” I hope she’s buzzed enough to let me get away with a touch of sass.

 

“Don’t start with that ‘ma’am’ business, like I’m your aging neighborhood drag queen.” Didn’t think so. No way Judy Garland gets buzzed from one drink (but then again, those breath mints), especially a drink ordered on an airplane. Seriously, first class? I expected more from you.

 

But she’s on to something, and she’s not sure where her thoughts (or drinks or mints) are leading us. She sets down her cocktail and inches her body in my direction. Gently she puts her tiny elbow on that armrest that’s still obsessing my thoughts, her tiny hand supporting her tiny chin. Her gaze drifts over and then behind me, out the window on the other side of the aisle.

 

Suddenly I get butterflies. They start in my stomach and fly up into my chest and out of my mouth like a hiccup and land on my left shoulder where all my stress gathers due to a broken arm of my childhood. Stress and butterflies swarm to the same location – the body is such a puzzle.

 

Chin on elbow means serious business. On this plane ride to who knows where, Judy Garland was about to tell me something that was going to change my life. It’s that magical movie moment when, with 15 minutes remaining, the damaged character delivers a life-altering lecture to the I-have-my-act-together character, ultimately revealing that it’s the latter who needed guidance all along. Formula? What formula?

 

I prepare myself, and in those few precious seconds, I am ready. I am ready for the letters and words and sentences of Judy Garland that will change how my brain and body communicate and react. Her words will unblock that blockage forever, leading me to the tiptop of Mount Happiness, where a beautiful man in a loin cloth (probably named Bart) was waiting for me with his devoted love and a glass of rosé and the key to my dream house where I would find an indoor pool, a private screening room, and winning lottery ticket that I would donate to a cat shelter (let’s not get too selfish). All of this is about to happen right after she says whatever glorious words are gathering speed on the runway of her multitalented tongue.

 

“Y’know,” she sighs. “I never got to do a cover of that Dolls theme song.”

 

Excuse me?

 

That’s all I get? No mountain. No key. No loin cloth (Bart, by the way, would have known every single word to every single song on the Judy at Carnegie Hall album, including the words that she forgets). But that’s what she gave me. A missed opportunity to cover a song from a dreadful film that she quit working on, or got fired from almost 50 years ago?!?

 

I am let down by this scrawny Buddha of mine; devastated; far from over the rainbow; crushed and defeated . . . for about five seconds. Fuck it.

 

I reach into my bag and take a second pill with a sip of the second scotch and soda that she has already made her own. I mirror her pose, my elbow a tad fleshier than hers. Those front teeth of hers announce the rest of her smile, and she knows what I was about to do, probably before I know myself. I start her off, singing the first few lines.

 

Gotta get off, gonna get

Have to get off from this ride

 

She stands up and takes it from there. What else could she do?

 

Gotta get hold, gonna get

Need to get hold of my pride

When did I get, where did I

How was I caught in this game

When will I know, where will I

How will I think of my name

 

Sure, my voice lives in a slightly seedier neighborhood than hers, but I refuse to pass up an opportunity for a little duet action. I stand up join in.

 

When did I stop feeling sure, feeling safe

And start wondering why, wondering why

Is this a dream, am I here, where are you

What’s in back of the sky, why do we cry

 

Looking back, I thought we sounded good together, and it’s not like the flight attendant was rushing over to shush us. Okay, first class, maybe you’re not so bad.

 

Gotta get off, gonna get

Out of this merry-go-round

Gotta get off, gonna get

Need to get on where I’m bound

When did I get, where did I

Why am I lost as a lamb

When will I know, where will I

How will I learn who I am

Is this a dream, am I here, where are you

Tell me, when will I know, how will I know

When will I know why?

 

The plane touches down and knocks me awake. I feel sleepy and confused, like I was about to take a final exam the morning after I pulled raging all-nighter dancing at the Cat Club. I hum the theme as I walk up the jetway, a survivor of yet another scenario into which I put myself willingly, unsure if it would end in my fiery demise. But I arrived, and I know that love was waiting outside at the curb to pick me up.

 

In the end, Judy Garland was right. Judy was right, and I was wrong – even in moderation, Valley of the Dolls is a truly dreadful movie.

 

What’s in back of the sky

Why do we cry

 

jg9

 

vall3

 

“I have to travel how far? To climb what? To reach where? The valley of the pills? Oh, Valley of the Dolls.”

 

My ears were popping already. I hate flying.

 

“I had Jem dolls and She-ra dolls when I was a kid. Do those count? I bet they relieved anxiety, and I didn’t have to take them with water. Anxiety relief and drought awareness. I was such a responsible kid.”

 

“And your Judy doll was where?” she asks from the seat next to me.

 

“I didn’t have one, Miss Garland,” I admit. “But when I watched The Wizard of Oz, sometimes I wore Mom’s black pumps and carried a mini basket with a mini Pound Puppy in it, if that counts.”

 

“Count, count. Does anything count, you keep asking,” she says.

 

Keep asking? How long had we been talking? How long was this flight?

 

Is this a dream; am I here? Where are you?

 

“My doctor brought up the idea of pills when I told him I was afraid of flying.” I think I was asking her a question.

 

“Pills, darling. What kind?” How and when did Judy Garland become my pharmacist?

 

“Lorazepam, I think it’s called. The name reminded me of Gonzo, that blue Muppet with the banana nose. Everyone and their mother told me not to drink on those pills if I try them, or I’ll . . . ”

 

“End up like me, darling?” Judy smiles. Her imperfect front teeth seem to nudge themselves far out in front of her face, but not at all unattractive. Humanity is so enticing when it appears in a creature of such immaculate talents.

 

“From what I read, I think most doctors mention Janis or Jimi Hendrix,” I say, as she glances over me, scanning the aisle for the flight attendant. “My ‘Piece of my Heart’ is decent in the shower, but I’m no Janis. And I always thought heroin was her pleasure.”

 

With no attendant in sight, her gaze drifts back to me, and before she can accuse, I blurt out, “I mean, of course I sing all of yours first.”

 

What, like I’m going miss an opportunity to suck up to Judy Garland? How often do you end up liking the person sitting next to you on a long flight? Judy Garland was to be my conversation pill, and she always takes effect quickly.

 

When will I know; where will I

How will I think of my name?

 

“I get panicky when it comes to pills,” I breathe in and admit. “I’ve seen addiction up close, and I’m terrified of becoming an addict or going through any of the crap that I saw when it happened to others. I don’t want to lose control.”

 

She eyeballs the aisle again and without looking at me says, “Yes, you do.”

 

Excuse me? Angry. I get a little angry. I get a little angry with Judy Garland who is sitting next to me on a plane with a destination that is still unknown.

 

Is this a dream?

 

“I do? You think I want to lose control? I get on the Oakland Bay Bridge every day to leave San Francisco, and when I get in the car, I put on the song that I want to be listening to if I happen to die that day. If the bridge blows up, I want to be listening to a song that I love, not the morning talk radio with their ‘Hipster versus Geezer’ call-in games.” I’m getting angrier. I’m getting close to shouting, as close as I’ll allow myself in a public place, or anywhere, really. I stop and look up and down the aisle myself.

 

In a low voice she begins to ask, “Who are you . . . ?”

 

“Never mind what song I’m listening to!” I interrupt, even though her question calms me slightly. “I’m thinking that if the terrorists chose that morning to come after the liberal, green, free-love loving hippies and hipsters with their billions of dollars and ridiculous trigger warnings (we’re all such victims, pass me a pill), that I want to be listening to one of my favorite songs if I die on the commute to a job that bores me to tears. I do this on the bridge. I do this on BART . . .”

 

“The who, darling?” Judy asks. “So you have a boyfriend? Not sure I enjoy his name all that much, but if . . .”

 

“No, no BART is the Bay Area subway that goes under the water. And since it’ll make my ears pop seconds before I’m killed in an underwater tunnel, the music is crucial.”

 

“Still, dreadful name. Sounds like a placeholder name in a cartoon script.” She takes one last look up and down the aisle before reaching for her purse. I hear the subtle yet familiar rattle before her hand meets her mouth, and she swallows dramatically.

 

“I’m sorry not to offer, darling. Breath mint?”

 

“Nice touch,” I tell her, the anger subsiding. “Can I get back to me?”

 

“Oh, had we left you? I had no idea.” Okay, I loved her again.

 

“I get on BART (Judy rolls her eyes), and I’m convinced that the day has come when they decide to blow up the tunnel and kill thousands of heathens with one stone. On planes I grip the armrest so tightly turning takeoff or (god forbid) turbulence, that I’m afraid my knuckles will start bleeding. I look around and realize that I’m sitting in a flying murder weapon, and you think this sounds like someone who wants to lose control?”

 

She looks at me puzzled, an expression not unlike the ones that I used to give an algebra pop quiz in middle school. Why are they quizzing me on things I haven’t learned yet?

 

Still clutching her purse, she pulls out a cigarette. A cigarette after a breath mint? Eh, who am I to judge? After an exhale to the ceiling (they were polite smokers in her day), she shifts her tiny body weight so she’s facing me with her entire being, which isn’t much. It’s the itty-bitty Judy Garland Show Judy who’s daintily sitting next to me. I think I hear “You Go to My Head” start to play through the earphones that sit in my lap, but I ignore it. Why does that thing start playing randomly when it’s been sitting turned off for hours?

 

“Your bridge. Your car. Your train. Your DART (I don’t correct her) Your bay. Your death. Why, may I ask, are all the terrorists after you in particular, darling? If you sounded this way and were on pills, I’d have little to no concern for you at t’all. But if this is how you are without pills, maybe you should try one.”

 

I can’t contain my smile. I always smile when someone exposes a trait or behavior that I thought I kept hidden from the world. And I both love and hate that she knows it.

 

Judy leans in a bit more, and I focus not on her teeth but on those eyes. “You’re trying to stay in control in situations when your own only guarantee is that you have absolutely none. You try so hard that you even set the score to the disaster scene. I bet you have a playlist ready for morning.”

 

How will I think of my name?

 

“Oh no, you do, don’t you, darling?” She leans back, perhaps debating whether to poke me with her cigarette. “Which ones are . . .”

 

“Many,” I promise quickly, “but ‘The Man That Got Away’ has always been at the top of the list.”

 

“Fine.” Phew, she’s satisfied and can get it together enough to continue. “Of course you want to lose control. What else is there to do at a time when you have zero chance of gaining it? It’s the trying that makes your knuckles bleed, darling. That, and you need a good moisturizer.”

 

She places her hand on mine. Judy Garland – singer, dancer, actress, therapist, beautician.

 

“You watched Valley of the Dolls recently, didn’t you?” she asks, changing and not changing the subject.

 

“Yeah, one of my publishers is about to release a 50th anniversary edition of the book, which I’ve still never read. I watched it the night my doctor brought up the idea of pills.”

 

“It’s a dreadful movie, isn’t it?” She is starting to fish; I can tell. We all know tales of her preproduction history with the film.

 

“I guess it made its point pretty quickly. k.d. lang’s cover of the theme song was in the first and last episodes of Nurse Jackie, so with that and the book, it’s been on my mind.”

 

Judy’s face lights up. “Edie Falco, I like that gal.”

 

Obviously I agree, but I’m a tad startled by her praising another actor. It was like the bad girl in detention admitting that she loves the homecoming queen’s performance in the school play. And talk about control – show me a scene when Edie Falco is not in complete control. Judy locked horns with director in the business, and probably maimed a few, but I can’t imagine a director ever taking issue with Edie Falco, onset or off.

 

So Judy Garland knows who Edie Falco is, but she doesn’t know that BART is a subway train, not my boyfriend? Although I’m still unsure of this plane’s destination, I am sure that I need my hallucinations to be consistent in their knowledge of modern day life. I reach for the rattling bag underneath the seat in front of me, wondering if there’s a pill for such a thing.

jgv1

 

Click here to read Part II.

I haven’t found the right words yet, but I’m still here, loving my old movies more than ever. New posts to come soon . . .

FionaGoode1

Until Jessica Lange emerged as the Supreme in American Horror Story: Coven, my life had lacked the presence of modern witchcraft, and admittedly this had gone unnoticed. For decades I have surrounded myself with my own coven of crafty conjurers, and it’s been quite some time since I have initiated any new members. Lange’s Fiona Goode is blessed with style, wit, and absolutely zero patience for those who attempt, unsuccessfully, to outsass her. Your welcoming to The Ticket Booth’s coven is long overdue, Fiona . . . please come meet the rest of the girls.

 

Jennifer, I Married a Witch (1942):

imarr

Bolts of lightning probably followed Veronica Lake wherever she went, and Samantha Stephens can’t hog all the attention – I think we need more blond witches out there.

 

Endora, Bewitched (1964–1972):

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If Endora ever lost her powers in some freak curse or power outage, undoubtedly the fashion house that she would open to function as a mortal would lead her to world domination. Ah, Agnes Moorehead and her eyeshadow for days . . . the show hinted at some interesting points about prejudices that American Horror Story: Coven would violently incorporate decades later.

 

Carrie White, Carrie (1976):

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Since the late 1930s, witches tend to joke about the whole “dumping buckets of liquid on them” situation, but Carrie has no sense of humor when it comes to that kind of thing.

 

Princess Mombi, Return to Oz (1985):

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A blond witch at times, I guess . . . Jean Marsh’s demonic portrayal of Mombi and her habitual head swapping had children of the 80s hitting the fast-forward button just to make it end. I, instead, elected to rewind. A dear friend of Alice’s Queen of Hearts, this one.

 

Alex, Jane, and Sukie, The Witches of Eastwick (1987):

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With Pfeiffer popping up in here, maybe the list is filled with Goldilockses! The film that either ruined or enchanted the act of eating cherries also reminds me that, in fact, Cher is not a foot taller than Jack Nicholson. Why do I have that idea in my head as an uncontested truth?

 

Ursula the Sea Witch, The Little Mermaid (1989):

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It’s never easy to select only one villain from Disney’s powder room, but let’s go with the one who has “witch” on her birth certificate. I will never forget sitting in the movie theatre during a friend’s ninth birthday and thinking, “This isn’t how the story goes.” The 1975 Japanese anime film was “Mermaid truth” to me, and its Sea Witch had no motive other than to cause pain and heartbreak. Yes, when Ursula started singing, the truth was rewritten for me and coven admission was granted, but we all know that she stole her color scheme from her predecessor.

 

Miranda, Wicked Stepmother (1989):

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Because she’s Bette Davis, so shut up about it.

 

Miss Ernst/The Grand High Witch, The Witches (1990):

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Aside from yours truly, writers are a stubborn, picky, unyielding squad of artists who refuse to have their visions tampered with by any mortal, mere or miraculous. Therefore it thaws out our hearts to hear that Roald Dahl fully supported the casting of Anjelica Huston as his Grand High Witch. An offensive Oscar snub for both the actress and her makeup team.

 

Lisle Von Rhuman, Death Becomes Her (1992):

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She is the one who understands; she is the one who knows your secret. What we will never understand is the spell that she used to keep those beads in place for a PG-13 rating. Clearly the witchcraft of Miss Isabella Rossellini is one of our coven’s most advanced and mysterious. Maybe it’s genetic . . .

 

The Sanderson Sisters, Hocus Pocus (1993):

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The Internet machines have teased us with rumors of sequels and musicals, but alas, nothing. Damn, damn, double damn! Now if only I could find truth to the other rumors I’m hearing (or did I start them?) about Bette Midler and a biopic of Mae West.

 

Then, of course, there’s the original Supreme. I believe you’ve been introduced . . .

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Happy Halloween!

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The month of September makes us think about New York City, and New York City makes me think about movies. To be fair, carpet samples make me think about movies, so our autumn leap from the Big Apple to the silver screen is one to be expected. This year I mulled over all of those films whose characters force me to my rooftop where I shout, “I’m moving to New York so I can live just like . . . !” I can bellow my fantasy to the world only for so long before the family of crack heads living across the street asks me to keep it down.

Based on the dollars and cents needed for San Francisco housing these days, shouting from a Manhattan rooftop may be a cheaper option for us nontechies, so until I load up the car and head east, I’ll stick with what I have. I’m moving to New York City so I can live just like . . .

 

Gregory Peck in Gentleman’s Agreement (1947):

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A heroic writer sets out to expose anti-Semitism in New York City, looking more handsome than any writer one could possibly hope to meet – I could think of worse role models.

 

The three sailors in On the Town (1949):

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Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin visit New York only for 24 hours, but in that time they destroy a dinosaur exhibit at a museum, get seduced by cab drivers, sing and dance on the Empire State Building, and finish the night by dressing in drag as cooch dancers on Coney Island. Yes, fine, I did most of those things on my last trip to the island, too.

 

Bette Davis in All About Eve (1950):

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Always in the running as one of my all-time favorite films, I would put up with anything Eve had to throw at me, if only I could have Margo Channing’s sunken living room, golden staircase, and Thelma Ritter as my personal assistant.

 

Jack Lemmon in The Apartment (1960):

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Because of Lemmon’s brilliance (culinary and otherwise), I keep a tennis racket in my kitchen as a backup colander. Not to mention the fact that he’s thrilled beyond belief when he almost gets to watch Grand Hotel (1932) from the very beginning. What the heck, Miss MacClaine? I would marry C. C. Baxter in the first ten minutes.

 

Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961):

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You know that pastry in the opening scene is the most exquisite treat prepared in the early hours of some exquisite New York bakery. Of course Holly Golightly ate carbs; don’t start with me.

 

Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl (1968):

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Primarily for the matching leopard coat and hat . . . and the name of her manicurist.

 

Dianne Wiest in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986):

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Some love him; some hate him, but no one makes New York City look more desirable than Woody Allen does in his films. After disastrous attempts at becoming an actress and a hilarious bout with cocaine, eventually Wiest’s character, Holly, finds her calling as a writer, and Wiest found herself with her first Academy Award.

 

Bette Midler in Big Business (1988):

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Do I really have to explain this one? Two Midlers, two Tomlins, a “usual suite” at the Plaza, and special effects at their absolute finest! For most of my childhood I was convinced that I had an identical twin brother . . . sadly I had no clear route to Manhattan for our tearful and polka-dotted reunion.

Cheers and tipped hats to all of New York’s characters, then and now.

You enjoy watching old movies or listening to Billie Holiday or Nina Simone while you cook? Me too! Immediately I feel like we have a deep, dark secret that has bonded us forever, and I’ve already begun designing the interiors of our clubhouse, searching for a tree that will support it, and debating how many pauses our secret knock should include. Will our secret handshake involve footwork, and how hard will we have to work at not making others feel excluded by our superior, special bond? This is how everyone reacts to a shared love of classic film and jazzy tunes, right?

Headphones in place, slowly and silently the singer leans into the microphone. Only she hears the music; I hear only her voice, and at that moment stirs the irregular feeling in my gut where tears get their running start. My tummy tightens, my breathing shortens, and I smile in one final attempt to stop the crying from bursting through its barrier. I’ve come to know my body well enough to recognize this particular smile; one that’s practically a laugh is also the one that announces the arrival of tears. As the singer moves deeper into the first verse, I can see the music slithering slowly up her microphone until it seems to come out of her mouth as smoothly as the lyrics. At this point I’m as close as I will allow myself to be out of control, sitting in a dark movie theatre next to a good friend, both of us crying our eyes out. Two friends on two separate occasions guessed that I would pin the blue ribbon on “Me and Mr. Jones,” but no, “Back to Black” has always been my favorite of Amy Winehouse’s songs. After the take, she smiles and says, “Ooo it’s a bit upsetting at the end, isn’t it?” Smiling at heartbreak . . . I know the feeling.

Before hitting the movie theatre to see Amy (2015), my friend and I enjoyed a sneak peak at Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait, “a personal and intimate exhibition about Amy Winehouse (1983-2011), curated by the Jewish Museum London with help from her brother Alex and sister-in-law Riva. The Winehouse family gave the Jewish Museum unprecedented access to Amy’s belongings, including her guitar, record collection, and iconic outfits.” (Contemporary Jewish Museum website).

Read more about the exhibition on Little Magazine by clicking here.

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I fell deeper in love with Amy Winehouse and her music that day, despite the emotionally draining and soul-punching effect of Asif Kapadia’s documentary. The nauseating dizziness that forced me to shut my eyes several times may be the greatest praise that I can shower on this film. I wanted it to end immediately, and I wanted it to go on forever. Having been a fan of Winehouse’s for years, I avoided the movie for weeks, knowing full well what I would be walking into if and when I chose to see it. And let’s face it, folks, we’ve been here before – maybe the Titanic will make it to New York this time; maybe Sean Penn’s Milk will walk out of City Hall; maybe Amy Winehouse will survive it all, record ten more albums, and sing both herself and the world to a happier existence. Alas! I shut my eyes before the film reached its three-minute mark.

At the time when I was just beginning to educate myself on the black-and-white world of classic film, Amy Winehouse’s star was rising. Along with millions of others I was drawn to her voice, her constant nod to the girl groups of the 1950s and 60s, and her inability to be anyone other than the imperfect artist she was at heart. If your exposure to Winehouse was limited to the tabloids, the documentary may not hand you the emotional ass-kicking that it gave me, but for the fans of her music, personality and wardrobe choices, brace yourself – this one’s a troubled track wrapped up in an extraordinary film. When I woke up the next morning, I knew that something more than just the life and death of Ms. Winehouse had kept me from sleeping more than two hours on Tuesday night. But I’ve never been able to ask myself, “What’s wrong?” Instead I have to ask, “Do you know what’s wrong?” I didn’t until I picked up my pen a few hours ago.

Movie theatres, movie rental stores, the used DVD sections of music shops . . . they were all my “safe” places. I can have chats with myself about how living cooped up in an apartment riddled with fear is not truly living, but this one-man self-help seminar doesn’t always do the trick. I wish that I could banish all fear from my body and soul forever, or at least swat it away like a fly when it comes buzzing around my ear. I’m already vulnerable on this particular afternoon – logical or not, the Aurora movie theatre shooting planted a permanent sense of fear in my brain. I was able to tame it a bit on that Tuesday with the very thought that it was a Tuesday, it was the middle of the day, and along with about seven other people in the theatre, I was at a documentary, not a summer blockbuster. Aside from the tears caused by the subject of the film, I remained relatively in control except once, when a man sitting a few rows ahead of us stood up. I followed his every step from his seat to the door and waited anxiously for him to return. Why did he need to get up? Did he have something again fans of Amy Winehouse? Was he a crazed, number-one type fan who felt threatened by the rest of us? Or was it just a case of too much soda and a tiny bladder? The man returned minutes later, my eyes cautiously retraced his steps along with him, and my attention went back to Amy in her final days. After the film we slumped down on a couch in a wine bar across the street from the theatre, discussed it at length, and, as weakened as we felt, admitted that it had been a very pleasant Tuesday.

On Thursday there was another shooting at a movie theatre in Lafayette, Louisiana. The country closed its eyes again, somewhere before the three-minute mark.

Once again I’m left with too many questions . . . what can we do to keep it from always being upsetting at the end?

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It cost me a lot, but I happen to have four versions of “My Man” at my disposal. I could slide down the wall and weep in the corner for days when a heartbroken Billie Holiday asks, “What can I do?” Years later Ella Fitzgerald peps it up slightly, and trust me, if Peggy Lee comes back on her knee someday, her man is sure to get a foot-stompin’ earful about how he’s treated her . . . cold and wet tired, you bet, but all that she won’t soon forget.

At the age of 83, Omar Sharif died today. When Barbra closes out Funny Girl (1968) with “My Man,” tears streaming all the way down to her pantyhose, my skin tingles with the desire both to punch and kiss Sharif’s Nick Arnstein. Although well known for Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Doctor Zhivago (1965), to me Omar Sharif will always be Nicky Arnstein (he’s got polish on his nails!), the gorgeous man who leads Barbra Streisand’s Fanny Brice gently into womanhood, only to leave her singing and crying and finger-nailing her way through the grand finale of Funny Girl.

Today Barbra Streisand called Omar Sharif “handsome, sophisticated, and charming. He was a proud Egyptian, and in some people’s eyes, the idea of casting him in Funny Girl was considered controversial. Yet somehow, under the direction of William Wyler, the romantic chemistry between Nicky Arnstein and Fanny Brice transcended stereotypes and prejudice.”

We lost Mr. Sharif at a ripe old age, sure, but after I heard the news, I wanted to hop on a tugboat and scream, “Hey Mr. Arrrrrrnstein!” until I felt enough respect had been paid, or an arrest was made . . . either way, he’d get a kick out of it.

Remembering Omar Sharif (1932–2015)

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I’ve been stuck in the 1970s lately. Your parents had that orange couch, too, didn’t they?

I have no one in particular to whom I direct my sporadic prayers, but I do believe in sending positive vibes wrapped with a pastel bow to Valerie Harper. The uncontrollable giggle fits given to me by dear, sweet Miss Morgenstern have certified Rhoda (1974–1978) as solid, runaway in my household. I went on a few dates with a flight attendant who once had Ms. Harper on a trip of his, and I was fully prepared to marry this man purely because he had been in her presence. If life’s first goal is to take a trip to Minneapolis to kiss the Mary Tyler Moore statue (on a clean spot), the second is to kick off my campaign to erect a Valerie Harper statue somewhere in Manhattan.

Because of her new show with Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda edged her way up towards the top of my queue, and along came Klute (1971) a few weeks ago. Although I’ve always liked Jane Fonda, I’m not planning to hang a framed picture of her any time soon, unless Lily and Dolly happen to be standing there with her, throwing dead bodies into the trunk of a car. That, I would hang proudly on any wall. As she’s never been one of my favorite actors, pangs of guilt never kept me awake at night over neglecting Ms. Fonda’s Oscar-winning performances (oh, it’s happened over others), but it was time. Except during a few scenes and monologues with her analyst that I found crept up on mesmerizing, my mind drifted without losing track of the story. Not the best; not the worst; but oh, the colors of the 70s; the clothes; the furniture; the hairstyles; the nonexistent body fat percentages . . . and of course; the movies. I thought Klute would have soothed the decade craving that plagued me, but it wasn’t enough. The color of my mood ring still matched nothing in my wardrobe.

I’ve been on countless dance floors in my day, but one I’ll never forget is the 1970s party given by one of the dirty ol’ co-ops back in college. I still reminisce with a good friend about the boisterous shenanigans that went on that evening, all without the druggie drugs of the honored decade. A pinch of vodka, perhaps, flowed through our veins, but we didn’t need much else. It’s fitting that this same friend and I bonded over the Tales of the City series 14 years later, as we walked together to our first Cher concert. When I’m bummed out on modern life in San Francisco and search for mementos of the fun that was once and still may be out there, I return to Tales. When I need the television equivalent of comfort food, I return to Tales. Perhaps not as light of a comfort food meal is the 30s of the 70s I find in Cabaret (1972). Respectful hats off, yes, to Ms. Fonda and her hair trendsetting prostitute in Klute, but she ain’t no Sally Bowles. When the world of film and television places the 1970s in another decade, it still feels like the 70s to me – the best and worst aspects are exaggerated for any period piece, and what can be more fun than a 70s soundtrack created in the 90s? Having read all of the Tales of the City books, some twice, often I turn to that delightful 1993 miniseries starring everyone’s favorite person on the planet, Olympia Dukakis. Not to mention the actor who plays the character of Michael Tolliver, my book husband, is a super-duper cutiepants whom I’ve never seen again. He’s ideal, my friends . . . the perfect onscreen one-night stand. Michael dutifully cleans his apartment while Bette Midler’s flawless version of “Am I Blue?” plays in the background. I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m in love, I feel love!

I’m convinced that this tidal craving all comes back to Soap (1977–1981). The television show emerged early in life as my primary happy place, defining not only experiences of love, family, and belonging through our nightly gatherings over Oreo ice cream, but also it set the standard that I still use to determine whether or not entertainment may be considered “quality.” Precious to many are those protected moments of childhood, a time when family surrounded us, and we had much more future than we had past. We knew everything that we needed to know, and we knew nothing of what we didn’t know yet. Soap was the family bible, and at that age, I had only one gash on my heart when a character died in season two. The 1970s of Soap bring back to the surface a time when no one had rejected me, no company had turned me down for a job, no nightclub made me feel like I wasn’t listed on the correct clipboard, and I was frightened of nothing. I could take to a ski slope brimming with confidence and absolutely no fear, knowing full well that the snow would catch and cushion and rock and soothe and love me if I fell.

The 1970s and their renditions, enhanced throughout my workday with a bit of “Stoney End” Barbra, sewed themselves together this week, forming a comfort quilt of dreadfully horrible colors, but comforting just the same. It involves some industrious searching to find the perfect combination of fabrics and Rhoda headscarves, but those quilts that eventually we sew for ourselves provide as much comfort as knowing that somewhere, out there in this confusing, overwhelming, frightening, sometimes lonely modern world stands a statue of Mary Tyler Moore with a clean spot waiting to be kissed. And just when we’re about to surrender and call off the search, remember the dance floors of days past and then throw an impromptu party in the kitchen. Mine looks something like this:

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At times I don’t want to think about it; I don’t want to know; I don’t want to be wrong, and I don’t want to be responsible for the next step if I’m right. With the death penalty in and out of our recent news cycles, t’was perhaps not a coincidence that I Want to Live! (1958) ended up doing time in my mailbox. A potpourri of Oscar winners and should-have-won’s spruce up my Netflix queue, and until now my exposure to Susan Hayward’s winning performance was limited to only a brief mention in The Golden Girls. It was time to knock off this one, but after its arrival, bizarrely it sat on the couch for weeks, quite out of character for me. Sometimes it’s not just a popcorn-in-hand, tushy-on-couch kind of movie.

The film tells the stories of Barbara Graham, her murder trial, and a potential execution by gas. Although I was meeting Barbara for the first time, something kept me on the outside of I Want to Live!, admiring not the first-rate performance but instead the frame around it. A bit more wear and tear on the poor “Rewind” and “Pause” buttons this time around, because throughout the film I found myself thinking, “Ooo I liked that shot,” distracting me from following the uncomplicated storyline. Usually I become so enamored with a character or the actor playing her, that I commit the unforgivable crime of overlooking the artists behind the camera. For it was Addison DeWitt who taught us that, at least in the theatre, their function is merely to construct a tower so that the world can applaud a light which flashes on top of it. Eloquently put, yes? Addison was kind of a prick.

Yes, let’s tip our hats to the cinematographers then and face the topic head on – I don’t know where I stand on the death penalty. As I age, my emotional reaction to social issues, political situations, and amount of mustard on my sandwich is harder to predict, much less control. If god forbid a trillion times the death penalty personally touched a part of my life, how on earth could I predict what kind of emotional response I would have? Can I take a firm stand on such an issue when it’s happening to someone else? The ability to see both sides and neither side of an issue is a blessed curse, and every time that happens, my brain commences its automated shutdown process . . . ooo, I liked that shot. And in this case, those exceptional shots kept me safely disassociated from an unthinkable issue and an endless “what if” game – what if we execute her and she didn’t do it? What if we let her go, and she did do it and does it again? What if we lock her up forever, and she feels no remorse? What if we lock her up forever, and she’s innocent? Before Wicked, did we indeed have all of the facts in the case of Water versus Wicked Witch of the West? Did she deserve to be liquidated simply for wanting her dead sister’s shoes back? Other than air pollution via skywriting, what were her real crimes? What if Oz police started to target green-skinned women? What if mistakes are made legally, and the mistake itself becomes the process?

Mulling over something as incompressible as the death penalty, I distracted myself with the technical elements of the film (again, not to be disparaged), which proved the safer escape vehicle. When a piece of art forces its audience to scrutinize and come to terms with their own feelings on such dilemmas, we can hardly classify it as a flaw; I knew that one day I would revisit I Want to Live!, perhaps at a time when the news gives me less to escape from and more to hope for . . . now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go to my local bookstore and lay myself down on the Personal Growth table.

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Academy Award for I Want to Live! (1959): Best Actress in a Leading Role

Add I Want to Live! to your Netflix queue.

 

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When a friend invited me to guest host on her radio show and discuss the great mothers of TV, in my mind a fierce battle erupted between the leading ladies of television and the grand mothers of film. Place your bets, anyone? Roseanne versus Mo’Nique from Precious? For every television mother I chose as a potential topic of discussion, at least five from the silver screen appeared in my head, each one drowning me in guilt as only a movie mother can for not mentioning her. On this Mother’s Day we offer a bit of advice, a few pearls of wisdom, and perhaps gardening tips for your rose gardens from the most beloved mothers (and a few mother figures) of film.

 

10) Mrs. Flax – Mermaids (1990), played by Cher

“Charlotte, I know you’re planning a celibate life, but with half my chromosomes, I think that might be tough.”

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9) Carolyn Burnham – American Beauty (1999), played by Annette Bening

“Honey, I’m so proud of you. You know, I watched you very closely; you didn’t screw up once!”

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8) Joan Crawford – Mommie Dearest (1981), played by Faye Dunaway

“When I told you to call me that, I wanted you to mean it.”

 

 

7) Mame Dennis – Auntie Mame (1958), played by Rosalind Russell

“A divine man, such talented fingers . . . oh, what he did to my bust. That’s the head, you know.”

 

 

6) Mildred Pierce – Mildred Pierce (1945), played by Joan Crawford

“I never used to drink at all . . . just a little habit I picked up from men.”

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5) Regina Giddens – The Little Foxes (1941), played by Bette Davis

“Why, Alexandra! You have spirit after all. I used to think you were all sugar water.”

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4) Rose Castorini – Moonstruck (1987), played by Olympia Dukakis

“When you love ‘em, they drive you crazy, ‘cause they know they can.”

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3) Mrs. Robinson – The Graduate (1967), played by Anne Bancroft

“I’m getting pretty tired of all this suspicion. Now if you won’t do me a simple favor, I don’t know what!”

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2) Eleanor of Aquitaine – The Lion in Winter (1968), played by Katharine Hepburn

“Henry, I have a confession . . . I don’t much like our children.”

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1) Mrs. Bates – Psycho (1960)

She had no lines – more often than not, mothers gave us only a single look that could communicate their feelings of love and devotion. Either that, or “watch it, Buster; the ice under your feet is beginning to crack.”

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When you love her, she drives you crazy, ‘cause she knows she can. Thanks for everything, Mom . . . Happy Mother’s Day!