Posts Tagged ‘Katharine Hepburn’


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)

Helen mirren_2

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)


“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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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.



What do I do for a living? I spend my weekdays fixing mistakes. When book publishers enter their data into my company’s system, it’s my job to adjust their misplaced prefixes, remove the first names that they entered into the “last name” field of an author record, or correct the despicable mistreatment of “too” or “your” in their online copy. I provide my publishers with suggested word counts for areas of their descriptive copy; I advise on categorization for their upcoming titles (no, you need to be more specific than NONFICTION: GENERAL); and I beg and plead with them to use the Spelling and Grammar tool on their word processors. Yes, these are book publishers who (or . . . um, is it “that”?) are making these grammatical errors, and although I’m guilty of the cursed typo here and there, I would never provide a marketing point that tells consumers, “you’re mother will love this book, and it makes a great gift to.”

However charming it is to anticipate and eventually witness our publishers’ seasonal bloopers, equally baffling to me is the amount of communication lost between a publisher and its art designer. Certain online accounts (one in particular seeking world domination, but here will remain nameless) turn into incredibly grouchy ladybugs when a cover image we supply does not match the title line word for word. Therefore my job demands that I scan every cover before it is sent out to the accounts, making sure the title, subtitle, and author name printed on the image match the title line that the publisher entered into our database. Either the publishers are failin’ to communicate with the designers, or these bullheaded designers are trying to tell the publishers something about the poorly worded subtitles . . . after your eye is trained to spot them, mismatches are everywhere you look. I’m no stranger to a breakdown of communication in the workplace, and several of my clients have published books on the subject, but oh, if only I could figure out a way for the data entry side to mend fences with the designers and match a title line and its cover! You Should Feel the Wrath of the World Domination Account Only Once, publishers; I warn thee about Capitalization.

Speaking of wrath, the data manager side of my personality showed up at my house last night. He’s supposed to sleep at the office, but in these I-can’t-lose-this-job days that we live in, who doesn’t work remotely?


“Youth has its hour of glory, but too often it’s only a morning glory, the flower that fades before the sun is very high.”

Every winter we trudge through the Hollywood awards season that we all love to hate and hate and hate (but, oh, of COURSE I’m going to watch; what, are ya nuts?).  There is quality entertainment and rewarding validation to be gained from community grumbling, and the Academy Awards may be the official grumble-athon. Always the professional blogger, I was browsing what has replaced the video stores of our childhood, in search of any Oscar winners that should be placed snuggly into the queue. Never will there be enough time to experience the work of every artist who was once deemed “the best,” but my heart rests easier knowing they sit patiently in my own Netflix waiting room. This year, however, as I scrolled through the assorted lists of past winners, my well-trained data eye stumbled upon an unforgivable atrocity, one that I am unable to fix; one that jolted that aforementioned resting heart of mine.

Let us all take a breath and prepare ourselves – Netflix has the wrong cover image posted for Katharine Hepburn’s first Academy Award–winning performance, Morning Glory (1933).  In 2010, another film was produced bearing the same name, and during the 2014 Academy Awards, its stylish, perky poster will hang on Netflix’s wall where Ms. Hepburn ought to be.

During Oscar week . . . Hepburn . . . record-setting number of wins . . . wrong cover image . . . Hepburn . . . now I must spend my weeknights fixing mistakes.

With no other obvious methods to report content errors, I found on Netflix a “Call Us” option on its contact page, boasting a wait time of less than a minute. As much as I appreciate the word “curmudgeon,” was my love for the four-time Academy Award–winning Katharine Hepburn strong enough to turn me into such a bellyacher? My universe froze. I could be speaking with Mr. or Mrs. Netflix in less than a minute . . . should I? Having worked retail, ordinarily I am a very kind and polite customer, but could I trust myself to behave if I made such a phone call? I felt the eerie presence of a Fairy Godmother – but one who looked less like Grandma and more like Archie Bunker – and he was lingering quietly in the corner of the room, eager for the chance to transform my fitted tee and jeans into a cranky old man’s flannel bathrobe. The phone stayed on the other side of the room, having been switched to silent mode hours earlier. This, my friends, was a defining line in those pesky sands of time.

Perhaps I was not ready to cross it, but I could sure feel my toe on that line, grinding it brutally into the ground.


Academy Award for Morning Glory (1934): Best Actress in a Leading Role

Add Morning Glory to your queue.


While working her way through the novel for the first time, my dear friend advocated strongly to host a little To Kill a Mockingbird evening. She would provide dinner for me and a few others; in exchange I would provide one life’s practically perfect pairings – a bottle of wine and Gregory Peck on DVD. Although I had seen the film years ago but remember enjoying it, my memory of the Finch family wasn’t as sharp as I’d have liked. Regardless of their quality, once again I’m guilty of remembering very little when it comes to the books I was forced to read. Stubborn little bugger, I was.

I was well aware of Mr. Peck’s Academy Award-winning performance of Atticus Finch, every film list’s number-one hero, but when it came to the 1963 Oscar race, I was more familiar with the ladies of 1962. From the Coke versus Pepsi battles on the set of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? blossomed equally enticing rumors about Joan Crawford’s “Anybody but Bette Davis” Oscar campaign. As a morphine-addicted matriarch withstanding the judgments of her alcoholic husbands and sons, Katharine Hepburn reached unbelievably new highs and lows in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Eventually on Oscar night Anne Bancroft’s name was announced for The Miracle Worker, an award that Miss Crawford graciously accepted on her behalf while those famous Bette Davis eyes threw daggers. While the world celebrated Mr. Peck and Mrs. Bancroft-Brooks, toasting the good-hearted lawyer Atticus Finch and Anne Sullivan, the strong-willed tutor of Helen Keller, the remaining drug addicts and alcoholics on the Oscar ballot gathered together their empty bottles and went home with nothing.

According to a few sources, Gregory Peck did not expect to win for his performance in To Kill a Mockingbird. His money was on his good friend Jack Lemmon for his chillingly stunning performance of an alcoholic in Days of Wine and Roses. Always the shrinking violet, Bette “Baby Jane” Davis expected to be the first woman ever to win three Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role but admitted, “Miss Remick’s performance astonished me, and I thought, if I lose the Oscar, it will be to her.” Lee Remick joined the above women on the list of nominees for Best Actress for her portrayal of Jack Lemmon’s wife; a woman who matches and eventually surpasses her husband’s drinking habits. Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer were awarded golden statues for their song of the same name, but the Days of Wine and Roses couple, who gave two exhausting performances that caused me to reflect on more than I cared to, were forced to drown their Oscar sorrows.


Do we all have the capacity for alcoholism?  Is there a “potato chip factor” we should factor in during a first round of happy hour cocktails? Along with scrunchies, slap bracelets, and eventually flannel shirts, my Thanksgiving tables were made up of mostly passive drinkers who passed out on the couch after dessert every year. You can only sell that “turkey makes them sleepy” jazz to a kid for so long, but truthfully I was relieved to see some of the more unpleasant members of the extended family settle into unconsciousness. Perhaps they weren’t particularly kind people, but as far as I remember, they weren’t angry drunks. Anger, it seemed, was reserved for the sober; the drinkers just figured out how to get away from it. Watching Lemmon and Remick dive into the roles of two alcoholics who spiral out of control, together and separately, implored me to consider my own youthful days of adulthood when life’s vices were everywhere, our bodies were indestructible, and no one gave a second thought to opening another bottle. Physical and emotional consequences were for old people who had lost some sort of battle with life’s hourglass, a battle we were winning during our days of wine of roses.

Strolling through North Beach with a bottle of Coppola Chardonnay and Gregory Peck in my bag, I made a point to walk by an old theatre where I used to work as an usher. Often I’m able to catch a few old friends between or after shows for a quick hi-there-and-hello hug and a few drinks. I ran into one old buddy that evening and bragged about the fact that I was on my way up the hill for a To Kill a Mockingbird party. His face lit up (at first I wondered if he thought I said “Tequila Mockingbird”), but then he started asking if I remembered “this part” or “that part” of that glorious film. Unfortunately I was running a bit behind schedule and still had three uphill blocks of North Beach to conquer, so I had to leave behind what may have been a wonderful chit-chat. Next time, my friend. Yes, I was on my way up that hill to a dignified, adult dinner party followed by a relaxed viewing of a classic black-and-white film. I continued down the block, and before I started hoofing it up that hill, I had a quick glimpse into my own days of wine and roses and beer and Jägermeister – a blessed little bar next to the theatre was a clubhouse to us all, and yes, there was wine. Lots of wine. And Rose was servin’ it.

When she wasn’t swamped with customers who were crazed with thirst, Rose and I had some pretty gratifying discussions. The two of us had a little five-minute book club that would meet immediately after my shift but before the bar filled up with audience members, cast, and crew from the show. Although we never had the same book on our nightstands at the same time, we were able to catch each other up quickly on what each of us was reading. When Rose was working, magically a glass of Sangiovese would appear on the bar without my ordering it . . . and when I say “glass,” I mean that thing was filled to the brim. If I hadn’t been such a gentleman, I’d have leaned down on the bar and slurped up the first few sips just to keep from spilling. Eventually the bar would fill up with new and old friends, we’d all drink until we fell off our stools and before anyone had time to pass out, we’d hop in cabs and go dancing. It was splendid; it was simple; it was a wonderful year in the toddler years of adulthood . . . and if I hadn’t left when I did, I think I may have died in the bathroom of that bar.


Days of Wine and Roses is a dark and emotionally draining view into the world of alcoholics, addiction, love, and survival. When Joe Clay (Lemmon) meets Kirsten Arnesen (Remick) at the beginning of Days of Wine and Roses, he’s as boozy as they come, while the only addiction she reveals is one of the chocolate variety. A harmless Brandy Alexander ushers Kirsten into more and more binge drinking with her new husband, and the two begin to create a life free from the perils of sobriety. If that one cocktail could unleash a beast of an alcoholic in Kirsten, is it possible we all go through an alcoholic phase in life, a time when we could all benefit from a Step or Twelve? The dangerous edge of that cliff – Mount Mid-20s, let’s call it – was treacherous, and I was eager to peer(-pressure) over it. When you’re a happy drunk and choose to drink yourself up to that edge, nothing can touch you, nothing can hurt you, and everyone loves you, whether they do or not. Somewhere in my mind, the immortality that I felt I had been promised would allow me to fly if ever I did leap off that blasted edge. But poor Kirsten . . . she hadn’t been promised a thing, and it turns out, neither had I.

Like Dad always says, everything in moderation. I loved my time at the bottom of that hill, and I had a wonderful evening when finally I made it up those three steep San Francisco blocks with Gregory Peck in tow. Last time I checked, Rose was still going strong, pouring generous glasses only to those who deserved them. My days of wine and Rose and roses may not be behind me completely, but they have certainly mellowed out over the years. My edge was at the bottom of that hill, not the top, but today I’m able to look both down and back without regret. Cheers!


Academy Award for Days of Wine and Roses (1963): Best Music, Original Song

Add Days of Wine and Roses to your queue.


I was raised by a group of fugitives. As a family, we have been on the run from the authorities since I was young enough to bring my Bette Midler records to preschool for show-and-tell. When I was around seven years old, we took a trip to Yosemite and shared one of those large tent cabins with other families . . . looking back on that experience now, we’re all a bit baffled by my parents’ decision to go against our “excuse me, you’re in my space” personalities. As it has been since the dawn of time and plumbing, the line for the men’s showers in Yosemite was much shorter than that for the women’s, and after a few days, a small group of female campers, my mother included, decided to get in the men’s line.

While I stood innocently in line with Mom, my fellow men, and five or six disobedient women in need of a shower, the good-hearted Yosemite security guards came rolling up, determined to kick these evil ladies out of line. Despite arguments from the equally good-hearted men who stood in line with us (none of them objected to the situation or its possibilities), eventually all of the women gave in and returned to wait in their assigned shower line . . . well, almost all of them. As the security guards strolled through the men’s showers, they belted out every few seconds, “Any women in here?” Deciding for once in my life to act like “one of the guys” and do what everybody else is doing, I looked one of those guards right in the face and answered with a firm, “No!” On other side of the stall door behind me, Mom quietly showered under the protection of her son and her fellow male campers. Not that she needed us.

A few years after Yosemite had given us a taste for crime and defying of authority, we spent a long summer afternoon at our favorite vacation spot in San Diego, just 20 minutes from our house. It was there that we waited . . . and waited . . . and waited for a lunch check that was never to arrive. In those days, when Dad got that look on his face and said, “That’s it,” it really was. He and my sister snuck out of the restaurant first, while Mom and I waited a few minutes before making our final dine-and-dash. The two of us were already experienced criminals, so the exit order made sense to all involved parties. Mom and I learned after the fact that my father and sister spotted a police car on their way out but left us to fend for ourselves. Not that we needed them.

It didn’t take long for us to graduate to movie-theatre-hopping on those scorching summer days before air conditioning. Under the large and anonymous cover of a chilled movie theatre, one could, oh, hypothetically, buy a ticket for one film and casually stroll into a second or third. Our mug shots could very well be taped up behind a couple of restaurant counters or shower stalls, and perhaps we haven’t always behaved as model citizens . . . but what family doesn’t have its ups and downs?


The Lion in Winter . . . saying enough is saying too much about this marvel of a film. I have given copies as birthday gifts; I have forced friends to stay in on their Saturday nights for wine and a viewing; I have recited quotes both in my head and aloud when I needed a boost of confidence . . . this one is not to be missed! James Goldman’s Academy Award-winning script based on his own play is the perfect tool for talents such as Katharine Hepburn and her king, played with relish by Peter O’Toole. As Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, the two giants feed off of one another, both as characters and as actors. The story of a king in a fierce battle with his queen over which son will inherit the throne sets the stage for what I have crowned as my favorite Hepburn performance. In a rare tie with Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl (1968), it is with this delectable role that Hepburn became the first and only woman (as of 2013) to win three Oscars for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

On Thanksgiving we convinced Mom to watch The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Although I can’t seem to find a written or digital record of it, I remember hearing that Anthony Hopkins considered his depiction of Hannibal Lecter to be a combination of Charles Manson and Katharine Hepburn. Even if I’m creating this fact entirely in my head, it is absolutely an accurate description of the man who beats the Wicked Witch of the West on those frivolous “All-Time Greatest Movie Villains” lists. Anthony Hopkins makes one of his first appearances in The Lion in Winter as the son for whom Hepburn’s character is determined to win the throne. Praising his skills, she informed him that he didn’t need to act; he could let the camera do all the work. “Leave the acting to me,” she said. “I act all over the place.” Years later when Hopkins walked up on to the stage and accepted an Academy Award for Lambs, somewhere there must have been a grateful little Lion in him.


“Henry, I have a confession . . . I don’t much like our children.” As alliances within the royal family change at the blink of a sly eye, The Lion in Winter reminds its audience that no one can press emotional buttons like the members of one’s family. While oftentimes they can love us in the ways we need to be loved, this also gives them the power of knowing precisely which sword can cause the greatest amount of pain. Henry’s fear of death is well known by his wife and three sons, providing Eleanor (to our delight) with numerous opportunities to slay her man. When he asks her for a little peace after all the years of brawling, Eleanor replies in the most Hepburn of voices, “A little? Why so modest? How about eternal peace . . . now there’s a thought.” When I first saw the beautiful mountains of Switzerland, I was so mesmerized, that I had to remind myself to breathe. The same is true for a climactic scene during which Henry and Eleanor, in mere seconds, dart back and forth between loving and despising one another. Switzerland and Hepburn . . . the two experiences for which I need an inhaler.

“Oh, my piglets, we are the origins of war: not history’s forces, nor the times, nor justice, nor the lack of it, nor causes, nor religions, nor ideas, nor kinds of government, nor any other thing. We are the killers. We breed wars. We carry it like syphilis inside. Dead bodies rot in field and stream because the living ones are rotten. For the love of God, can’t we love one another just a little? That’s how peace begins. We have so much to love each other for. We have such possibilities, my children. We could change the world.”


Academy Awards for The Lion in Winter (1969): Best Actress in a Leading Role (tied with Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl), Best Writing (Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium), and Best Music (Original Score)

Add The Lion in Winter to your queue.


Everyone’s a winner at Camp So-and-So. With each passing summer, this phrase plagued any sense of healthy competition or social development, and eventually we campers used it only with the snippiest of snippy mocking tones. The dreaded summer day that was devoted completely to team sports found the entire camp divided into three teams. Although the team that accumulated the most points throughout the blistering day was declared the winner, the two other teams were awarded titles along the lines of “most spirit” or “most creative outfits” or “least amount of whining.” But what can you expect when you’re dealing with a group of children who moan and groan because one day each summer, they’re forced to go on a day-hike? Now, I treasure absolutely nothing in the way that I treasure my camp memories . . . but good gravy; we were a bunch of spoiled brats who got our way every time, winning even when we lost.

Long ago the beginning of the year evolved into so much more than simply “Academy Award” season. Last year was the first time I ever gave voice to the thought, “Even with Billy Crystal and a win for Meryl Streep, this show is boring and predictable.” Those of us who enjoy tracking the ins and outs of the film industry try to keep up with the Oscars, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the Golden Globes, the Satellite Awards, the Least Whining During Production . . . you see where I’m going with this.

Perhaps it’s just a side effect of youth, but I used to count down the days until the Academy Awards. In my excitement I would research Oscar winners of the past and try to establish any kind of pattern that would allow me to predict an upcoming outcome. I’m still baffled by how poorly I did on tests in high school, when I could memorize lists of Oscar-winning names and years with very little effort. Today I look back on the winners of many moons ago and wonder who can give me goose bumps like Bogie’s Charlie Allnut, Liza’s Sally Bowles, or . . . c’mon, you know I’d bring her up eventually . . . Hepburn’s Queen Eleanor?

The goose bumps of today may not be quite as bumpy, but still every year we fasten our seat belts in anticipation, hoping for a night of turbulence.


“Nice speech, Eve. But I wouldn’t worry too much about your heart;
you can always put that award where your heart ought to be.”

Margo Channing


Dear 2012,

For the horror and wretchedness you threw at us in the last 12 months, I could peel you like a pear, and God Himself would call it justice. As satisfying as that would feel, it turns out that life’s good times were made that much sweeter by the bitterness of your reign. It’s with a smile that I reflect upon some of the highlights.

The year began with my falling deeper in love with Bogie in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). Not too stinkin’ of a start!

The year ended a week ago, as I unwrapped not one but two copies of David Thomson’s The Big Screen for my birthday. Autumn brought me not two but three text messages quoting Katharine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter: “Henry, I have a confession . . . I don’t much like our children.”

A summer visit from Dad brought into my life not four but five films of Mae West’s, a sharp and shapely woman admired by generations of fathers and sons for countless reasons.

Right before Thanksgiving, Olympia Dukakis reminded me of her limitless acting abilities in Elektra.

Two blessed friendships led me on trips to Hollywood, Dollywood and Graceland. Keeping me company on the road to each, Judy was right there for my entertainment, forgetting the words to “You Go to My Head” during every Carnegie Hall performance.

Idina Menzel walked barefoot on to the stage at Davies Hall and sang “Over the Rainbow.” A few months later, the San Francisco Symphony performed flawlessly the score of The Wizard of OzSandy and I each got a permanent, just for the occasion.

It was in my favorite restaurant where my favorite waiter told me Americans had elected in favor of protecting Big Bird . . . Michelle and I celebrated by ordering the chicken.

On October 6th, 2012, my love was justified, as no song lyric can touch the likes of “Rita Hayworth gave good face.”

And for all the other wonderful times and films that filled the year, I am grateful to you, dear and wretched 2012, for I predict that your successor will succeed where you failed.

Now be gone, before somebody drops a house on you!


In the darkness two white lights travel slowly up the three black screens on stage. The sound of a single click-and-flash of the paparazzi is joined by a second, then a third, as together male and female models trickle on to the stage. Each is in a black-and-white outfit that suits his or her body to perfection, regardless of the gender for which the outfit may have been intended. As the two white lights brighten and merge into one before splitting again, a platform emerges above the models, delivering unto us once again a woman with a redesigned but very familiar pointed bust. Once again she demanded to know, “What are you lookin’ at?”

“Funny business, a woman’s career – the things you drop on your way up the ladder so you can move faster. You forget you’ll need them again when you get back to being a woman. That’s one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not: being a woman. Sooner or later, we’ve got to work at it, no matter how many other careers we’ve had or wanted.”
— Margo Channing, All About Eve (1950)

In November of 2008, I saw Madonna perform “Vogue” live for the first time, and for a brief moment, Bette Davis stole her thunder. At that time I had just begun my journey into classic films and was working my way through each of Bette’s 11 Academy Award-nominated roles. As Madonna strutted down her catwalk and away from the audience, reciting all those names that I was beginning to know quite well, I could feel my voice was already beginning to go. Her back was to us all the way through this wonderful roll call, but suddenly she turned around and pointed (right at me, I know it!), as she said “Bette Davis, we love you.” And still, somehow, the night continued to improve.

I even made poor Louis take me on Crusade. How’s that for blasphemy? I dressed my maids as Amazons and rode bare-breasted halfway to Damascus. Louis had a seizure, and I damn near died of windburn . . . but the troops were dazzled.”
— Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Lion in Winter (1968)

An early week in October of 2012 brought Madonna back to me, as it did the loss of control I have over the majority of my body when I see her. The Masculine/Feminine portion of the show began with a performance of “Vogue,” and this time for me, it was all about Hepburn. When she got to the name-dropping that starts with Greta Garbo and Monroe (two other loves of mine, not to be sniffed at!), I felt a “hurry up and get to Katharine!” rise up in that old soul of mine. Dash it all, I couldn’t wait to say Katharine Hepburn’s name along with . . . yes WITH . . . Madonna. Right there between Lauren and Lana too was my beloved Katharine, whose name came out of me in one respectful syllable. Up went my hands, with or without the go-ahead from my brain; I watched my arms do their thing as both Hepburn and Madonna took complete control, as they tend to do.

Am I too much sometimes?

Nope, I’m just lucky that something as simple as hearing a first name can fill me with an unbelievable, lose-control-of-myself sense of joy; a joy that most of us don’t feel often enough. May you all have equal luck and know a place where you can get away . . .

I’ve never considered myself a “Bachelorette Party” kind of guy. Remember when we had to do group projects back in school? And remember those teachers who were really bad about hiding the fact that the academic subject in question wasn’t actually the point—it was all about learning how to work in a group? Well yes indeed, that’s how I always felt about gatherings along the lines of a bachelorette party. The few that I had attended brought out in me all the things I couldn’t stand about group projects. But when one of the nearest and dearest tells you to save the date before plowing you with wine, appetizers, wine, pasta, wine, and dessert, it’s time to “man up” and start preparing the necessary outfits and playlists.

Horror stories easily write themselves when it comes to these wedding rituals, but this Hollywood story was blissfully unpredictable. From dancing on the tabletops to watching movies on the couch, we had practically every kind of fun there is to have, but it always helps to cook with the right ingredients. Oh my dear sweet boys, if only you could have seen the eight gorgeous women I was surrounded by that weekend . . . to passersby on Hollywood Boulevard, I may have looked a touch out of place, and admittedly the only thing I was checking out was their shoes (aces, all of them!). Once we hit the street, my blissfully predictable inner tourist come bursting from within—all due respect to my travel companions, I walked about seven blocks with my eyes planted firmly on every star of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Since I set out this little movie project of mine, I have come to know not only the great legends of the Golden Age but also those behind the scenes who penned the words, pulled the strings, built the staircases, fluffed the bustles, or rubied the shoes. Since she doesn’t have one herself, I was determined to find the Walk of Fame star for every idol Madonna names in “Vogue,” and had we spent the weekend more sober than we did, I would have had my picture taken with them all. Out of almost 2,500 stars, fortunately the one at the top of my list was right outside our hotel. The other one—okay, she’s also at the top of my list (why can’t I have two?)—was right outside the restaurant where we had our first dinner. I’ll find Miss Davis next time . . . but ladies, excellent planning!

Like visiting Graceland or seeing Coppola’s Oscars at his winery, there was an exciting, almost hunter-gatherer feeling about finding the stars I was looking for on the Walk of Fame. For just a moment, these great (and some terrible) figures from what have become my history textbooks felt closer, as if I were standing there with them (but I promise, not in a Joanne-Woodward or I’m-hearing-voices kind of way). Something new was happening for me, hopefully as a writer and otherwise, but this time I wasn’t afraid of not knowing what it was. Like that Hollywood sign that, despite our amazing daytime view of it, did not light up at night, it was comforting to know something was there, waiting in the darkness.

In the hills behind that well-lit Capitol Records Tower, something was downing its martini and telling me tantalizingly to fasten my seat belt.

Just how blissful is ignorance? From day one we’re pumped full of should-be useful slogans and general guidance — knowledge is power, stay in school, graduate, get a job, make money, go back to school, make more money, change the world . . . the more knowledge we absorb, the happier we’ll become. While that may be the case, the flipside of that shiny penny reveals that, at times, with great knowledge comes great stress. If it’s true that the more you know, the more you worry, is there a happy medium for happiness? Feh, okay enough of that analytical fiddle-faddle . . . too much talking spoils the movie.

Based on the 1946 play by Garson Kanin, Born Yesterday stars Judy Holliday as Billie Dawn, the role she originated earlier on the Broadway stage. With hilarious one-liners and a killer wardrobe, Billie is straight out of the How to Make a Ditzy Blonde cookbook. In a predictable, Pygmalionesque storyline, Paul (a witty Washington, D.C. reporter played by William Holden) is brought in by Billie’s boorish boyfriend to smarten her up. “I’m stupid, and I like it,” she tells Paul with a smile. Although she gets whatever she wants (two mink coats, everything!), she has a yen for the fortuneless Paul immediately and makes no secret of it. Paul gets Billie reading books and newspapers (the front part: the not-so-funnies), takes her around D.C., and slowly introduces her to our country’s history. As her education continues, Billie and her teacher start to fall for each other. No, really they do!

It’s unfair, I know — my indirect anger towards Judy Holliday is nowhere near justified. An incredibly talented actress who perfected the art of comedic timing, she also comes with the Katharine Hepburn stamp of approval, in part due to their work together in Adam’s Rib (1949). Miss Hepburn was certainly not one to give those stamps away and became a vocal supporter of casting Holliday in Born Yesterday. That certainly paid off! The race of 1951 placed not one but two women from All About Eve in the Oscar ring, facing off against Gloria Swanson’s tour de fabulous in Sunset Boulevard, and of course, Judy Holliday. This had to be one of the most exciting and unfair competitions in history; if ever a tie were needed, it was the year Margo Channing, Eve Harrington, Norma Desmond, and Billie Dawn faced off in a battle for the gold. The lawyer part of my brain has prepared cases in which each actress deserved a win (à la Oscar ballot counting that must have occurred in Florida, that sort of thing). Despite overwhelming evidence from all parties concerned, the only decision I can arrive at is a tie that does not include the wonderful Judy Holliday.

Although I would have handed an Oscar to both Bette Davis and Gloria Swanson, I do have to gush a bit over Miss Holliday. She makes me chuckle all the way through, bringing an innocent, and often wordless, humor to something as simple as a card game. My favorite scene puts her at a table with her boyfriend (played by the husky Broderick Crawford) and involves very little dialogue as the two play a little gin rummy. The way Holliday shuffles the deck, deals, and wins every game is delightful to watch, and I’m hardly aware of how much she’s making me smile. As Billie continues to win, she also starts to hum preciously the right tune to drive her man up the wall, and eventually her sore loser of opponent explodes with a “Do you mind?!?!” Much more enjoyable than the love affair between Holliday and Holden was the chemistry between Holliday and Crawford . . . not to be missed.

To this day it’s true that many remain content as long as they have their two mink coats, but blissful ignorance didn’t work for Billie. I look around at the Billies of today who seem happy and stress-free as long as they don’t have to think or worry too much, and I begin to think too much about them, sometimes with a twinge of jealousy. But I realized that these people tend to be the very same folks who, well, talk endlessly during a movie and spoil the experience. When that dawned on me, instantly I became grateful for the mind and the life that I have. So if you need the Cliffs Notes version, Born Yesterday is one of those easy ones I start while dinner is cooking and finish off with a bowl of Oreo ice cream later that night. But remember, nothing brings out the flavor of a simple bowl of ice cream better than a good, informative hour with Rachel Maddow.

Now that’s a happy medium . . .

Academy Award for Born Yesterday (1951): Best Actress in a Leading Role

Add Born Yesterday to your queue.

Today is Mom’s birthday, a perfect opportunity to say a brief word about one of her favorite films. Funny Girl follows the rise of comedienne Fanny Brice and her early career in as a Ziegfeld girl in New York City. The film adaptation is a merry roller coaster through Barbraland, yet another one of our beloved oh-that’s-where-that-song-is-from musicals. You’ll find “Don’t Rain on My Parade” on practically every mixed CD in Mom’s car (okay yes, that’s partially my doing), and the remaining lively soundtrack is scattered throughout the labyrinth of her glove box.

To those of you who have developed an aversion to Barbra and shy away from films like Funny Girl (I’ve met more of you than I expected), here is the strongest piece of evidence I can offer in its defense. At the 1969 Academy Awards, Ingrid Bergman was stunned to find not one but two names in the envelope for Best Actress in a Leading Role. In this incredibly rare but warranted tie, Barbra Streisand was humbled to be in the regal company of Katharine Hepburn, who also won for her phenomenal performance in The Lion in Winter. Now I ask you, with a Hepburn Oscar staring you in the face, how can you resist comparing these two incomparable performances?

For once in my life, just once, I didn’t say too much, I didn’t say too little; I said just enough, then I walked . . . Happy birthday, Mom!

Add Funny Girl to your queue.

In the depths of Hollywood’s everlasting award season, both the veterans and rookies of the silver screen continue to perfect the “if I lose” facial expression, a moment often filled with greater entertainment value than the winner’s acceptance speech. It’s an honor just to be nominated? We’re all winners just to have made it this far? Perhaps yes, but come now . . . the diva lobe of my brain would be throwing an imaginary glass across the room, cursing the wench who won what should have been mine. Fortunately shattering that one glass can cut through a wall that was keeping out a much-needed sense of relief. As the cursing subsided, slowly I’d gather up the broken pieces and then begin combing through new scripts.

The agonizing race in job market can lead to similarly impetuous flinging of imaginary glassware. In these, the years of ghastly Economigeddon, it turns out that we are genuinely tickled just to be “nominated,” or called in for an interview. Recently members of the film industry familiarized themselves with my range, background, and training before I charmed them with a memorable performance, highlighted with (trust me) an exquisite costume design. Predictable nail-biting seized the following day’s schedule, but sadly it turned out that the name enclosed in the dreaded golden envelope was not to be mine.

There was only one thing to do — slip into my fancy green sweatpants that are polka-dotted with the Grinch’s face, crack open a bottle of red (conveniently a line of Coppola’s called “Director’s Cut”), and watch the should-have-won-the-Oscar performance given by Miss Judy Garland in A Star Is Born (1954). The night was bitter; the stars had lost their glitter, but three hours later I was asleep . . . today it’s a new world, and yes, it was an honor just to be considered, let alone nominated. Despite any broken glass on the floor, I am confident that somewhere there’s a “some job” that’s a “some job” for me.

There will never be another face . . .

There will never be another voice . . .

No one will ever have the indescribable screen presence or skateboarding abilities of Miss Katharine Hepburn. Although I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of her work on film, I know for certain there’s a “Hepburn” out there for every possible mood, from “knee-slappers” to “pass the Kleenex.” Happy birthday to the woman who sits atop my list of “All-time Favorites.”

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1962)

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

Desk Set (1957)

Adam’s Rib (1949)

Add Katharine Hepburn to your queue.