Max von Sydow: 1929 - 2020
March 10, 2020
Max von Sydow, the Swedish born actor best known for his longtime collaboration with Ingmar Bergman, died on March 8th. He was 90.
Von Sydow had a unique screen presence, becoming a well-known art house figure in the 1950s for his early roles in Bergman classics like The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries (both in 1957) and later works like The Virgin Spring (1960), Through a Glass Darkly (1961), and Winter Light (1963). In total, von Sydow appeared in 11 Bergman films.
He became known to mainstream audiences for playing Jesus in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), Father Lankester Merrin in The Excorist (1973), and Ming the Merciless in the camp sci-fi spectacle Flash Gordon (1980).
My personal favorite role was of his was in Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), in which he portrayed Frederick, a misanthropic artist keeping house with a much younger woman (Barbara Hershey) who is cheating on him with her brother-in-law (Michael Caine). It was a brooding, complex performance in which he was able to convey the pain and pessimism of a man who intentionally isolates himself from the world. The scene where Hershey comes home after a tryst with Caine to Frederick, sitting at a table in the kitchen area, drinking a cup of coffee and reading the paper, is a practical master class in dramatic acting. He rants about the sad state of media, culture, and television, uttering such Allen gems as, "If Jesus came back, and saw what's going on in his name, he'd never stop throwing up."
Von Sydow was twice nominated for an Oscar, in 1988 for his leading role in the beautiful Danish film Pelle the Conqueror and for his supporting turn in 2011's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. For years, I said the Academy should have awarded him an honorary Oscar but they clearly did not find him as deserving as such recent recepients as Jackie Chan (I'll never understand that one).
For the last two decades, von Sydow made France his home, and in 2002 became a French citizen, which required him to give up his Swedish citizenship. He died in Provence (no cause of death was announced) and is survived his his second wife and four sons.
Scroll down to my entry from June 4, 2015 where, clearly having nothing better to do, I mulled what it might be like if Max von Sydow did his own grocery shipping.
Danny Aiello: 1933 - 2019
December 19, 2019
Danny Aiello, the consummate New York character actor who broke into show business at an age when many consider leaving it, died on December 12th at age 86. According to reports, Aiello died in a New Jersey hospital after a brief but undisclosed illness.
Aiello was raised by a single mother on West 68th Street in Manhattan before the family moved to the South Bronx. At age nine, Aiello was shining shoes in Grand Central Station. He lied about his age to get into the Army, where his athletic talent led him to play baseball to entertain the troops.
Upon his return home to the Bronx, Aiello met Sandy Cohen. "She was the most beautiful thing - I swear to you - that I had ever seen," he said of Sandy, whom he married in 1955. Catholic Aiello and Jewish Cohen would have three sons and a daughter.
To support his family, Aiello worked for Greyhound, first as a baggage handler and later as a the bus station's public address
announcer. He rose the ranks to become a union delegate, but was fired following an unauthorized strike. Not knowing where his next job would come from, he resorted to burglarly (he was
never caught) before being hired as a bouncer at the legendary Improv comedy club. He began filling in as emcee and found he had a gift for performing. He started to seriously pursue
acting, and, at age 40, landed his first film role in the 1973 Robert DeNiro film Bang the Drum Slowly. The roles kept coming in such films as The Godfather: Part II (1974),
The Front (1976), and Fort Apache the Bronx (1981).
In 1981, he appeared on Broadway opposite Bea Arthur in Woody Allen's play The Floating Lightbulb (he would go on to play roles
as a heavy in Allen's 1985 The Purple Rose of Cairo and 1987 Radio Days).
Aiello worked steadily in film in the 1980s, but his first megahit was as Cher's beleagured fiancé in Moonstruck (1987), a role he admitted hating because his character was such a wimp. Two years later he landed the part that would define his career in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing. As Sal, the caring yet conflicted Italian American owner of a pizzeria in a predominantly black Brooklyn neighborhood, Aiello dislayed humor, humanity, and rage as a man who took pride that the locals "grew up on my food." The film earned Aiello an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. I still remember my reaction on Oscar night 1990 when Aiello lost to Denzel Washington in Glory. I consider it one of the biggest Oscar slights ever.
Though Aiello mostly appeared in supporting roles, he occasionally was the lead in some outstanding (and very underrated) independent films such as 29th Street (1991), a fanciful comedy-drama based on an amazing true story, and Brooklyn Lobster (2005), where he played opposite Jane Curtin.
But he defined tour de force with his performance as Louis Cropa in Dinner Rush (2000), a wildly entertaining comedy/crime drama about a restaurant owner being shaken down by the Mob. The role was classic Aiello, and he more than proved he could carry a picture on his own.
Aiello was also an accomplished singer, something he first displayed as Holly Hunter's father in Once Around (1991). He performed in small clubs in New York, as well as Atlantic City, and released several CD's, including the superb Live from Atlantic City and I Just Wanted to Hear the Words.
In addition to his Oscar nomination, he won supporting actor honors for Do the Right Thing from the Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles film critics associations. He won a Daytime Emmy Award in 1981 for the ABC Afterschool Special "A Family of Strangers."
I was lucky enough to meet Aiello a few times over the years, and he was always very nice. I have a great photo of us together from a gala - I want to say it was a Catholic Charities event but it might have been the Italian Catholic Federation (either way, it wasn't the B'nai B'rith). I was about 19 and we were both dressed up, he tightly squeezing me as we had our arms around each other. I kinda know where the picture is but stupid me never scanned it.
Aiello was always one of my favorite actors. He made any project he was in a little extra special.
In an industry known for its liberal politics, Aiello was an admitted but quiet conservative who never touched liquor ("I'm to the right
of Ronald Reagan," he once said).
In addition to his wife of 64 years, he is survived by two sons, Rick and Jaime; a daughter, Stacey; ten grandchildren; and a nephew, the sportscaster Michael Kay. His son Daniel III, an actor and stuntman, died of pancreatic cancer in 2010.
A memorial was held for Aiello today in Manhattan at Riverside Memorial Chapel. I was able to pay my respects to Sandy and several of his grandchildren. Afterwards I was interviewed by our local Fox 5 news station. Click here to watch.
September 16, 2019
As a right-leaning independent, there was no way I could bring myself to vote for Hillary. If you want to blame anyone for Trump's presidency, blame her. I was largely supportive of Trump until he just went too far with his sick love affair with himself. I was no Obama fan but at least Obama was dignified, eloquent, and yes, presidential.
I cannot vote for Trump again, and I think the Dems are totally nuts. Biden is the only candidate I can feel comfortable supporting. He is a stand-up guy whose reputation for bipartisanship impresses me. He's also seen more tragedy than any one person should have to endure, and he's proven he is a man of fortitude, a very admirable quality in a leader.
I can deal with his gaffes, as he is the most common sense of any of these far left loonies. I think he will restore the presidency to what it used to be, if that's even possible. The more his own party attacks him, the more I like him. (I wanted to slap that pipsqueak Castro for his unnecessarily nasty digs at Biden's age during last week's debate.)
Biden may not be the ideal choice but considering the options, for me, he is the only choice. And if his frontrunner status continues into the new year, he will likely be the nominee. I thought Trump was unbeatable but when you lose people like me, I can see he's not. It's rare for me to agree with anything in The New York Times beyond its cooking section, but Frank Bruni's recent piece about how Trump will never go away (not unlike the Clintons) will likely be very prescient.
I would hate to see a Democratic House and Senate, but I believe balance of power is good for the country. A Republican congress with a Democrat president like Biden - who knows how to negotiate with the other side - may be just what we need.
I shudder to think of a Sanders or Warren presidency, but I would be pleased with a President Biden. This is his to lose.
A Mama's Boy Without His Mama
August 22, 2019
"I am a Mama’s Boy, a description often viewed as disparaging, but it is not. It is a compliment—any boy who is not a mama’s boy is either an evil space alien, or Lizzie Borden. A mama’s boy is a manifestation and consequence of something great: a great mother."
- Greg Gutfeld
I realize I did not post anything last year about the seventh anniversary of the death of my beloved parents. Now it's eight years. My father died on August 22, 2011, my mother two days later.
Some of what I am writing is a rehash of my 2016 post when it was five years since their death. My mother died due to the incompetence of the doctors and staff at the hospital she was staying at. She went in for a bone infection in her foot and never left. My father was in a rehab facility nearby where he was going to learn how to walk following the amputation of a toe due to diabetes.
My mother was in a coma and would never come out of it. My father was confused but when I told him that I had to decide when to "take mommy off the breathing machine," he sank. "Just sell the house and put me in a room somewhere," he said, a more beaten up man I had never seen. He died in his sleep the next morning. I was devastated. This cannot be possible, I thought. How could I lose them both at the same time? That day I took my mother off the machine. She held on for two days. She was 75, he was 72. "So young," is what I am constantly told by anyone I relay this story to.
Yes, I tried to sue the hospital. Went to three different lawyers - one the top malpractice attorney in Manhattan - and while they all agreed there was negligence, they also all agreed I would never win if I sued. These hospitals are so lawyered up, it is nearly impossible to bring a case against them.
My parents both dealt with many health problems but they were not ready to die when they did. I used to think my parents were safer in the hospital than at home with me looking after them. How wrong I was. I lost all faith in the medical profession. To them, our parents, children, and loved ones are just another patient, nothing more.
Every year I write to the president and CEO of the hospital, a corporate coward named Andrew J. Mitchell, and cc at least one board member. Last year I received a call from the hospital's security department asking me to stop the annual letters. In the letter I sent earlier this week, I wrote, "I am still trembling."
The name of this death trap is Peconic Bay Medical Center, located in the armpit of suburban New York, a sad place called Riverhead, LI. If I had the money, I would take out full-page newspaper ads to get the message out about how dangerous this place is.
"You and your doctors have no shame," I wrote. "You feel no guilt. You simply do not care. Your mistakes take and ruin lives. You are a disgrace."
As I get older and deal with the health problems that accompany middle age, bad genes, and a lifetime of bad habits, I only wish I had faith. I wish I could believe that I will be with them and Daisy one day. But I know that is just fantasy. I had my first colonoscopy a few months ago. I was nervous until right before they put me under. The room was all white and clean and calming. The temperature was very cool, just how I like it when I want to go to sleep. My doctor asked me what kind of music I liked. Instantly Sinatra was singing (I think it was "Fly Me to the Moon"). They were all so nice and told me to relax. I jokingly asked if they could come to my apartment and do this every night when I am ready to go to bed - sure beats Ambien. And then I was out. Blackness. Nothingness. No nightmares, no bad thoughts. Just blackness. And then I woke up in recovery.
Woody Allen joked that the wonderful feeling right before going under for a colonoscopy is what death must be like...but that life is like the prep day. Truer words were never said.
Roger Ebert said towards the end of his life that he did not remember anything before he was born, it was all blackness, and he imagined death to be just the same.
My best friend knows my final wishes are to have my ashes and Daisy's scattered on my parents' graves (I also asked if he could reserve just a little to scatter at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas).
I am grateful my parents lived to see my first book published, especially since they knew it was a fifteen-year passion project that I had almost given up on. I am also glad that brought a little bit of showbiz into our lives, enabling my mother to meet and talk with some celebrities through me. But I never lived up to my potential to make them really proud, make it big in film and TV, make millions, give them grandchildren.
I long for one more Chinese dinner like the ones we frequently had at home or in a nice restaurant. We always got a booth. My mother sat next to me, my father across from us with our jackets and her bag. We'd always start with tea and soup, then split an order of spareribs before our main courses. And, of course, there were always doggie bags. One of my loveliest memories is how my mother would occasionally hold my hand before the food came. I had a very rough childhood for reasons I can't get into, but the one constant, into adulthood, was my mother's unwavering love and faith in me. She was the most selfless person I have ever known. She put me ahead of everything. When I was not living at home, if she and my father tried a new restaurant and liked it, the first thing out of her mouth would be, "Brian would love this. We gotta take him here when he visits."
There is a story I think of often from when I was in kindergarten when we lived in Brooklyn. During show and tell, some boy brought in this Godzilla toy he had just gotten. It was pretty neat, made sounds and maybe even moved. I do not remember but I liked it. The next morning, as they drove me to school, I told my parents about it but - seriously - did not ask them to buy it for me. Having not yet perfected the art of manipulation, I did not even express interest in wanting my own one. I simply told them about it.
That afternoon when they picked me up, what do you think they presented me with? Yep. I was thrilled, of course, and surprised. And I appreciated and loved them for it. I am sure my mother said to my father that morning, "Marty, let's find him Godzilla." She did it out of love. My father only knew how to show love by buying me things. He thought going to work, bringing in a paycheck, and buying me lots of toys made him a good husband or father. Hugs and kisses he knew nothing about. We fought like crazy, often going for weeks without speaking.
Less than a year before they died, my father was in the hospital. I had moved back with them and took care of them, doing all the shopping, driving them back and forth to doctor's appointments, walking Daisy, etc. During this stay, my father said, "I'm sorry you have no life. I'm sorry you have to take care of us." It was the only time he ever expressed anything vaguely emotional and sincere to me. "It's okay," I quietly said. I did not realize until he died that I really did love him.
I did feel shortchanged that I had to put my life on hold for two years to care for them. But they cared for me my whole life. I was their only child. I had to do what I had to do. And believe me, I am no hero. I still suffer from tremendous guilt for not doing more. If only I stayed with my mother every second of the day while she was in the hospital, maybe I could have saved her. I could have seen her fall and gotten her help before it was too late. And the screwed up thing is that I would gladly exchange the past eight years without them for the last two that I took care of them. I hated seeing them deal with their illnesses, but it was better than being without them now.
My grief has gotten more intense with the years. My father was a gun collector. When I cleared out their house, I came across the guns. They were loaded. I am not a gun person, but I cocked one. I thought this nightmare could end right now. First I'd have to shoot Daisy, though. Then what if after I shot her, I changed my mind? I threw the gun aside. I still often think I could have ended it just like that.
People who I thought were my friends drifted away as if death and grieving were contagious. When I started college and was depressed because I was not able to find a girlfriend and new friends were not being very nice to me, I told my mother one night over the phone, "There's you, there's me, and there's everyone else." Pretty profound for 18 years old. Now there's just me and everyone else.
I curse that hospital for taking my life eight years ago. I long for one last Chinese dinner with them. I hate I cannot pick up the phone when a celebrity dies and say to my mother, "Did ya hear?" And I would love to know her take on Trump.
People who don't like me (and even the few who do) will say I am a whiny, self-pitying mama's boy who blames everyone but himself for his misery. Part of that is true, but one thing you can never call me is dishonest.
When my time comes, I hope I go as peacefully as my colonoscopy began. Maybe Sinatra will be singing "That's Life" as I take my final curtain (I'd prefer "My Way" but my regrets are too many to mention). And instead of waking up in recovery, I will be in that booth at that restaurant, eating wonton soup and ribs, smiling and holding my beautiful mother's hand.
July 17, 2019
Prosecutors in Nantucket today dropped a felony sexual assault charge against Kevin Spacey after it became apparent the accuser's claims were baseless. I knew all along this was a farce, a pathetic attempt for some punk and his overbearing mother to profit by defaming Spacey with bogus groping allegations.
Spacey has been through hell for nearly two years. Thankfully he has enough money that he never has to work another day in his life, but that's not the point. Spacey has been cleared. Now how does he get his reptuation and career back?
These days you are guilty until proven innocent. Look at Brett Kavanaugh and others who have been wrongly accused. I know someone who was fired because his cowardly employers found out he posted something online, in his private time, in defense of Kavanaugh. Dangerous times.
Hollywood is the phoniest, most backstabbing industry there is. Everyone who was so quick to distance themselves from Spacey should be ashamed. This man is a brilliant artist. His loyal fans miss seeing him on stage and screen. I would applaud any major producer or director who has the courage to cast Spacey in a high-profile project. Spacey has been the victim of a movement that has ruined too many lives and careers.
The public can be very forgiving, especially of somebody who has been so wronged. I suggest he write a book, do interviews with anyone who will give him air time, do book signings, and put himself out there. Maybe that's the first step to getting his career back. I personally would be first in line to buy the book (title suggestion: Unusual Suspect.)
30 Years Later, It's Still Always Something
May 20, 2019
Hard to believe today is thirty years since we lost dear Gilda Radner. I remember the day vividly. It was a Saturday morning. I was having Corn Flakes with a banana for breakfast. I asked my mother what the weather was, and she turned on the radio. 1010WINS. As I was enjoying my cereal, I heard the announcer say, "The comedy world has lost one of its greats today..." I was expecting to hear that someone really old like George Burns or Milton Berle had died. The next words out the announcer's mouth were, "Gilda Radner died today..." Shock! Total shock! I got up and looked at the radio as I heard the news. She was just six weeks shy of her 43rd birthday.
Gene's See No Evil, Hear No Evil was at the top of the box office. He had just said on Bob Costas' talk show that she was doing well. How could this be?
Making matters worse, this was before the internet and 24/7 cable news. I had to wait until 6:00 p.m. to watch the local newscasts. Was a terrible day...and no, I didn't finish my Corn Flakes.
I could go on about how wonderful Gilda was - funny, beautiful, full of life and positive energy. A fighter. A doting wife, a dog lover, unquestionably needy and clingy, but always loving and well-meaning. As they used to say, one great broad.
One could only imagine what work Gilda would have done had she lived. There were talks of her own sitcom. Maybe a return to Broadway? More films with Gene? More books? We can only ponder but at least we can appreciate that in her short life, she left behind a comic legacy that is truly special.
Funny Man/Funny and Sad
May 15, 2019
So I was in Barnes & Noble today perusing the new Mel Brooks biography by Patrick McGilligan. I noticed one of the chapter
titles is the same as in Gene Wilder: Funny and Sad - total coincidence, I am sure. I then was looking through the notes
section in the back, and was thrilled to see that Patrick used my Wilder bio as a resource, calling it "insightful."
If you have already bought Gene Wilder: Funny and Sad, I recommend buying this. If you haven't bought Gene Wilder: Funny and Sad, buy that first, then buy Funny Man: Mel Brooks. Thanks to Patrick McGilligan - I wish his book much success.
Thumb Kind of Wonderful
April 10, 2019
I've been watching a lot of great clips on YouTube from Siskel & Ebert's shows and their many talk show appearances. I really miss these guys. Today I came across this article Roger wrote on the 10th anniversary of Gene's death (hard to believe he is gone 20 years already). When I got to the end, I was in tears. These guys had a fascinating friendship. Click here to read - but grab a few Kleenex first.
The Original Piano Man
February 4, 2019
32 years ago today, we lost one of the world's greatest entertainers. Liberace was nicknamed Mr. Showmanship, and with good reason. His musical talent was often overlooked because of his flamboyant costumes, rhinestone studded pianos, and grand entrances. But he was a gifted musician. Listen to his "Liberace and the London Philharmonic Orchestra" CD (sadly out of print, although luckily I bought it years ago), and you will hear the artistry in such numbers as a rousing 10-minute Gershwin medley and the enthusiasm of his audience as they sing the lyrics to "You Made Me Love You." Great stuff.
He was an easy target to parody, but in the end he had the last laugh. When asked how he felt about nasty reviews from critics, he replied, "I cried...all the way to the bank."
Liberace had a turbulent private life as he strived to hide his homosexuality, even though it was so blatantly on display. On a 1985 Donahue appearance, when an audience member asked him if there was anyone "special" in his life, he replied, "Oh, yeah, everybody." His death from AIDS, which he tried concealing until the very end, saddened his legions of fans, me chief among them, but it did not diminish our love, respect, and admiration for the man.
My mother took me to see Lee, as his friends called him, at Radio City Music Hall when I was 12. It was me who wanted to see him (yes, strange kid), and, thanks to some savvy finagling, my mother was able to get us tickets. It was a great treat and just another example of my mother's love for me. We were both the youngest people in the audience. We sat in the last row of the orchestra level. This was before giant screens that allowed the cheap seats to see what was happening up close, so Lee basically looked like a very colorful dot, but it still remains one of the very best live shows I have ever seen. At the end of the show, I ran down to the stage as he sang his signature closing song, "I'll Be Seeing You," and got to shake his hand, touch his candelabra ring, and take the great photo below.
Liberace was 67 when he died (his 100th birthday is in May). It was a huge loss for the entertainment world. Search for him on YouTube where thankully there are endless clips of him.
How Could Anyone Not Love, Gilda?
January 2, 2019
I hope you caught the documentary Love, Gilda on CNN last night. Very moving and well-made, capturing the essence, spirit, and humanity of Gilda Radner. But the film really takes off when Gene enters the picture. Despite Gene himself admitting he and Gilda had problems, none of that was evident in the priceless home movies and rare material featured here. He deeply cared for her, and was so good to her when she was sick. Particularly moving was a scene where Gene plops their beloved Yorkshire terrier Sparkle on Gilda's hospital bed as Gene greets Gilda with the kind of affection that cannot be faked. For those of us who already knew Gene Wilder was a great guy, this film confirms it. Highly recommended!
George H.W. Bush: 1924 - 2018
December 9, 2019
The outpouring of affection for George H.W. Bush has been quite overwhelming - and deserving. The 41st president, who died on November 30th at 94, was not one of the great modern presidents per se, but he was a decent man whose life and service made for an amazing American success story.
It's interesting how short America's memory seems to be, as the Bushes were reviled not long ago, but, due to the current divisive tone in this country, they are now looked upon in a favorable light for their civility and gravitas. How could anyone, regardless of political party, not be moved at George W. Bush's emotional eulogy for his father?
Bush's death was not unexpected, as he had been in ill health for years and, worse, lost his beloved Barbara after 63 years of marriage in April. She was a first class first lady, he a gentle, dedicated public servant. Forgive the cliche, but we need people like them now more than ever.
May George and Barbara Bush both rest in peace.
Eric Bolling Speaks About Son's Death
November 4, 2018
Came across this heartbreaking interview with Eric Bolling on Glenn Beck's podcast. Bolling opens up about his son Eric Chase's death
from an accidental opioid overdose. He breaks down as he recounts getting the phone call that is every parent's worst nightmare.
I was particularly moved and a bit surprised at Bolling's admission that he has lost his faith and no longer attends church, something he used to do six days a week.
I have always liked Eric Bolling and felt horrible when I heard about his son's death. Watching this interview has given me even more respect for the man. He was totally screwed by Fox, and I found it very telling that he says his liberal competitors reached out to offer comfort more than his former colleagues at Fox.
Few public figures are as honest and open as Bolling is in this interview. I know from experience the pain will never go away - and it shouldn't. Eric Bolling is a mensch, and I hope he and his wife are eventually able to find some kind of peace of mind.
These Kids Definitely Are All Right
November 3, 2018
Haven't posted in a while. Not because there's nothing going on in the news but perhaps because there is just too much going on, and sadly none of it is pleasant. With all the violence and divisiveness, I thought I'd share this video, which is the most moving, hopeful thing I have seen in quite a while. Almost makes me change my mind about kids. Almost!
Burt Reynolds: 1936 - 2018
September 7, 2018
Burt Reynolds, the epitome of 1970s movie machismo, died yesterday at age 82. Reynolds, the top box office draw for five years in row, had been in failing health for years. He died of cardiac arrest in Jupiter, FL.
Reynolds was equally as known for his infectious laugh and innate charm as he was for his movies, of which he starred in more than 140.
His private life often overshadowed his acting, having been involved with such notable women as Dinah Shore, Farrah Fawcett, Sally Field, and Loni Anderson. Reynolds was one of the all-time great talk show guests, never failing to provide laughs during his numerous appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, most memorably the whipped cream and egg incident involving him, Carson, and Dom DeLuise.
When Gene Wilder died, all the press focused mainly on his role as Willy Wonka. When Reynolds died yesterday, for him it was Smokey and the Bandit. I do not know what role he wanted to be remembered for - I am ashamed to admit I have never seen Deliverance or Smokey - but one of my favorite films of his was one he directed in 1978 called The End. It really shows Reynolds knew how to direct comedy - and, even harder, direct himself. As always he surrounded himself with a great cast of friends - DeLuise, Field, David Steinberg, and Joanne Woodward. It also has one of the most underrated and hard-to-find movie songs, Glen Campbell's "Another Fine Mess," which plays over the end credits.
Reynolds' career waned in the mid 1980s, but he made two huge comebacks - on television with the early '90s sitcom Evening Shade, which won him an Emmy and Golden Globe, and in film with 1997's Boogie Nights. Playing a slick adult film director, Reynolds' performance earned him raves, as well as another Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor (he lost to Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting).
Reynolds taught acting at his dinner theater in Jupiter, and he was known for generously mentoring many young actors.
As his health declined over the years, he sadly saw many of his closest friends die - DeLuise, Charles Nelson Reilly, Hal Needham, Jerry Reed, and Charles Durning, to name a few. He wrote two memoirs, My Life in 1994 and the wildly entertaining But Enough About Me in 2015, in which he turned name-dropping into an art form. He got to be on friendly terms with ex-wife Anderson, and lamented letting Field get away, alluding that she was "the one." Despite at one time being the number one star in Hollywood, he was plagued for years by financial troubles, leading him to delcare bankruptcy and auction off many of his personal belongings, including his Emmy Award.
And - always the first to laugh at himself - who can forget his priceless cameo in one of the very best episodes of The Golden Girls in 1986?
At a time when there seems be a total void of authentic stars who can be funny, sexy, and charismatic both on and offscreen, Reynolds was one of the last his kind.
Reynolds is survived by his son Quinton, whom he and Anderson adopted in 1988.
Christopher Lawford: 1955 - 2018
September 6, 2018
Was saddened to hear this morning that Christopher Lawford died of a heart attack at 63. Many, many moons ago I produced a radio show dedicated to daytime soaps. Chris was on All My Children at the time and was a guest. We had dinner and he was a really nice guy - even for a Kennedy (sorry, I can't help it).
Lawford was the son of Peter Lawford and Patricia Kennedy. His uncles were JFK, RFK, and Teddy Kennedy, and among his cousins were JFK Jr. and Caroline. I do not remember the exact conversation we had during dinner and the interview, but we definitely discussed his lineage, but not to the point of being overly intrusive. He was pretty open and willing to talk about being a Kennedy. From the picture below, you can see he was a dead ringer for his father with the addition of Kennedy hair - a very handsome guy.
About 20 years ago I wrote him about a screenplay I was trying to get produced. He personally called and we discussed the project. Naturally, nothing came out of it but it says a lot about him that he called. I had a great photo of us together and have no idea where it is (buried in a box with thousands of others).
He had a lot of personal problems (again, a Kennedy), but from my experience, he was pretty terrific. He leaves behind two sons and a daughter.
August 29, 2018
Two years ago today we lost our dear Gene Wilder. Earlier this year I was a guest on The Wilder Ride, an excellent podcast hosted by Alan J. Sanders. On this sad anniversary, Alan has chosen to post the interview. Click here to listen.
It was a pleasure speaking with Alan and Walt Murray. I look forward to hopefully doing it again. Thanks, guys!
Neil Simon: 1927 - 2018
August 26, 2018
Neil Simon, arguably the greatest writer of American stage comedy, died today at 91. Simon, whose later years were marked by health problems, was on life support while hospitalized for renal failure. He also had Alzheimer's disease. According to Simon's publicist, Bill Evans, the cause of death was complications of pneumonia. Simon received a kidney transplant from Evans, his closest friend, in 2004.
From his early years as a writer on Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows to his unstoppable string of Broadway successes starting in the 1960s, Simon was one of America's most prolific writers, penning over 30 plays and over 20 screenplays, many of which were adapations of his stage work.
I saw a number of Simon's later plays on Broadway, the funniest being Laughter on the 23rd Floor (1993), based on his time as a writer for Caesar. The Odd Couple (1965) may be his masterpiece (I recently rewatched the 1968 film with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, and it is still laugh-out-loud hysterical), but then again, how can you leave out his autobiographical 1980s trifecta of Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, and Broadway Bound? Or The Sunshine Boys (1972) and The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1971), both also terrific movies? Or original screenplays, his best being the cult classic Murder by Death (1976)? But then there's also The Goodbye Girl (1977). And has a married couple ever fought with such elegance and venom as Maggie Smith and Michael Caine in his 1978 screen adaptation of California Suite?
His body of work was extraordinary. He also left behind a great gift to fellow writers and fans, two memoirs - Rewrites (1996) and The Play Goes On (1999) - that detail both the ups and downs of his personal and professional life.
Simon was the only living playwright to have a Broadway theater named after him. He was also honored with 3 Tony Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, 4 Oscar nominations, a Golden Globe Award, and the 2006 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
Neil Simon was the gold standard for American comedy. He is survived by his fifth wife, the actress Elaine Joyce, and three children.
Sen. John McCain: 1936 - 2018
August 25, 2018
We knew for some time this day would come, but it does not make the loss any easier. John McCain, the Republican U.S. Senator from Arizona, died today after a yearlong battle with brain cancer. He was 81.
McCain was a war hero, and all the vitriol and ignorance that has eminated from the current occupant of the White House cannot diminish that. He went through five years of hell, returning home permanently disabled but determined to forge a career in public service.
McCain was frustrating to many, myself included. He waivered on issues, sometimes seeming to have no real convictions. He called himself a maverick, and while overall I believe he was his own man, he himself recently admitted choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate when he ran for president in 2008 was a mistake. McCain caved in to advisers who persuaded him to choose Palin when he wanted to make history by forming a fusion ticket with Joe Lieberman as his VP running mate. He ran his presidential campaign with class, always showing the utmost respect for his opponent. He often voted against his party line (sometimes a good thing, sometimes not) and was accused of being that worst thing in modern politics - a moderate (a really good thing).
He could be difficult and feisty - and always had a quick wit - but he was never undignified, always willing to work with the other side of the aisle (I actually think he had more friends in the Senate who were Democrats than Republicans). It's that kind of bipartisanship that made McCain so special. I long for the days when being a moderate Republican was not something to be mocked or demeaned.
Politics has become a very ugly business in the last few years - without people like John McCain, I fear it's only going to get uglier.
With his passing, we lose a patriot, a gentleman, and, without question, a hero.
"Melania, Get Your Coupons and Immigration Papers. We're Going to Costco."
August 2, 2018
Went to Fairway last night for pork chops, broccoli, juice, bread, and eggs. Had two credit cards, one debit card, and $80 in cash. Left my ID at home. Had to put everything back and order in Chinese, which under current New York state law only requires a letter from your rabbi.
For Pete's Sake, Vote for Holmberg!
August 1, 2018
Met this great guy named Pete Holmberg this past weekend while he was campaigning. He is running for state senate. He was a lifelong Democrat who opened his eyes and is now a Republican. He is my kind of Republican - moderate, common sense, not a Trump nut, and totally frustrated with how de Blasio has run this city to the ground.
The seat he is running for has been occupied by Democrat Liz Krueger for years. It's time for some fresh young blood. Pete Holmberg is the guy who will get things done. He will be on the ballot on Nov. 6th. Vote for Pete!
Meeting the Great Renee Taylor
July 21, 2018
Had a great afternoon seeing the legendary Renee Taylor in her one-woman off-Broadway show My Life on a Diet. If you're in NYC, don't miss this very funny and moving performance that closes next month. My friend Michael and I met Renee afterwards, and I gave her a copy of Gene Wilder: Funny and Sad. Renee and her late husband Joe were friends of Gene's when they were all starting out in New York. I told her she and Joe are mentioned several times in the book. "What did he say about me?" she asked. Nothing bad, I assured her.
The 90-minute show, written by Renee and her late husband, reveals Renee's lifelong struggles with weight along with some intriguing stories about such notables as Marilyn Monroe, Lenny Bruce, Jerry Lewis, Elaine May, and many others. If you only know Renee Taylor from The Nanny, you'll be in for quite a surprise. She has led a fascinating life. Very sweet lady.
Gary Beach: 1947 - 2018
July 18, 2018
Bummed to hear that Gary Beach, so brilliant as Roger DeBris in the Broadway musical of The Producers, died yesterday. He was 70 and no cause of death was given.
I had the fortune of seeing Beach perform his Tony-winning role several times during the original run The Producers. He took camp to a new level as both the flamboyant director and Adolf Hitler himself in the "Springtime for Hitler" number, in which he invokes past musical theater icons such as Judy Garland and Ethel Merman. He reprised his role in the 2005 film version.
He appeared in many other shows, as well as many TV series and movies, including Albert Brooks' Defending Your Life.
Click here to see Beach doing his standout number from the recording session of The Producers. Easy to see why he won the Tony.
Another great Mel Brooks alum is gone. RIP.
Charles Krauthammer: 1950 - 2018
June 21, 2018
There are few truly brilliant minds in this country. Today we have one less. Charles Krauthammer, who died today at age 68, defined the word mensch - the total opposite of the arrogant, foul-mouthed, and selfish Anthony Bourdain. Here was a man who had so many obstacles in his life but never complained. He cherished every minute of his life and wanted to live.
True conservatism’s voice was lost a long time ago, but Dr. Krauthammer kept it alive with his urbane columns, thoughtful commentary, and charming television presence. This was a true gentleman and thinker. This is a sad loss for his family, fans, and colleagues, and a real loss for those of us who cherish engaging in mature and civil political debate.
85 Years Ago Today...
June 11, 2018
...the world became a funnier place. Happy Birthday, my friend, my hero, my inspiration.
June 8, 2018
What is going on with these celeb suicides? I am Mr. Depression so I can understand grief but these people are leaving young children without a parent. If they were struggling financially or artistically unfulfilled or had no love in their life, then I could certainly see checking out. But you do not do this to your family. Kate Spade leaves behind a 13-year-old daughter and Anthony Bourdain an 11-year-old one. These girls are scarred for life.
I really didn't know anything about Kate Spade except that she was a fancy bag lady. Ironically, the night before she took her life, I got into a discussion about her with my friend, who said she was David Spade's sister. Incredulous, I looked her up on Wikipedia to see she was actually his sister-in-law. So to see "Kate Spade Dead" splashed across the NY Post online the next day was a shock indeed.
Anthony Bourdain was a legend in his field. An unapologetically arrogant and foul-mouthed left winger, he nonetheless made for good television. I was looking for a linguine and clam sauce recipe on YouTube a few weeks ago and stumbled across a video of him preparing the dish. I then proceeded to watch a really interesting interview he did with Oprah many years ago.
Again, I know from darkness and hopelessness. It's terrible. And no, you can't just "snap out of it." But these people were rich enough to get the best help possible (even though I think psychiatry is a total crock). You just do not to this to your family! Get drunk, eat six double bacon cheeseburgers in a row, bang eight midget prostitutes over a long (or short) weekend. But come back to your children!
No Place Like Home
May 22, 2018
So these parents sued their 30-year-old son to get him out of their house. My parents would would have sued to keep me there.
Wilder Like a Fox
May 9, 2018
So I am perusing Fox News' website this morning, as is my wont, and I see on the main page a story about Gene Wilder and how this author of a new book claims Gene wanted to be remembered for Young Frankenstein over Willy Wonka. Great, I thought. Some amateur wrote a new Gene Wilder bio to compete with mine. I then click on the story and the author they are referring to is ME! The interview I recently did for Woman's World was picked up by Fox! This is HUGE publicity. No fake news here. I'm waiting for Hannity to call any minute. Click here. Read, enjoy, share!
New Interview About Gene Wilder
May 8, 2018
I was recently contacted by a talented writer named Ed Gross for an interview about Gene Wilder. Click here to read Ed's terrific piece on Woman's World's website. Thanks, Ed!
Rudy Jumps the Shark
May 7, 2018
This opinion piece by Jimmy Gagliano is spot-on! I used to have such high regard
for Rudy, but, as this piece so eloquently illustrates, he has jumped the shark. Huge disappointment.
Here's to You, Ma
May 5, 2018
It didn't occur to me that after I ordered this $14.00 cocktail called Daisy's Dock that if my mother would have chosen anything on this cocktail menu it would have been this in honor of our Daisy, who she loved as much as me. Miss them both so much on what would have been her 82nd birthday today.
April 20, 2018
So my boss tells me he's closing the office an hour early today. Great. I asked why. He said, "Well, it's Friday...it's a nice day...it's Hitler's birthday..."
All the Pretty Trees
April 5, 2018
I took this photo at around 7:00 p.m. earlier this week as I passed Central Park. It is not a black and white picture. This is what my brain looks like.
Vote for Cuomo, Not...
April 3, 2018
This Democratic primary race for governor in New York is getting nasty. Gov. Cuomo announced his new campaign slogan: VOTE FOR CUOMO NOT THE...ACTRESS WHO PLAYED MIRANDA ON SEX AND THE CITY.
Keep Your Jaws Shut
April 1, 2018
Steven Spielberg donated a significant amount of money to the farcical March For Our Lives movement. He said young people have always changed the world, they ended the Vietnam War. Uh...no, they didn't. #shutupanddirect
March 30, 2018
If you want to read the irrational ravings of a true leftist feminist wacko, look no further than the dependable NY Times. I was never a fan of Roseanne Barr and do not think I watched a full episode of the original run of her series. I watched the reboot out of curiosity on Tuesday, and frankly was blown away. This is one of the best written, most entertaining sitcoms I have seen in years. I am not big on reviving shows from several decades ago because the networks can't come up with original material, but Roseanne is a definite exception. I certainly will keep watching.
March 24, 2018
I have zero sympathy for these spoiled brats marching and believing their own press that they are our future and are going to change the world. They pop off on guns and politics as if they really know something. They are brainwashed by their leftist parents and teachers to recite lines that are predictable and by now boring.
They may have book smarts but the more they talk the more they reveal that they are indeed children. And what do most children dream of being? Movie and TV stars. They make pathetic confessional videos that go viral, they are on cable news nightly, and they grace the covers of major national magazines.
They are whores. The worst is that little punk David Hogg, last seen using the kind of language a child would have been slapped for decades ago. He always looks so sullen and serious. Good actor. The Parkland shooting was his calling card. He has a genuine TV career. This kid made it big. I'm sure he has an agent already.
The only ones I have sympathy for are the true victims, who are dead. These survivors are not victims. They are part of an affluent, predominately Jewish community. They have no idea what real life or real suffering is. Shame on their parents for pimping them out like this. I agree they are our future - and that is a very sad thing.
March 16, 2018
Don't know why
Trump's so wrapped up in a lie
Since he and the porn star got together
Gossip's rainin' all the time
Her breasts are bare
Fake news everywhere
March 7, 2018
The Parkland students came to NYC yesterday to perform at Carnegie Hall. Considering the weather we're having, I think it's appropriate that the snowflakes are here to see the snowflakes.
The Kids Are Not All Right
February 21, 2018
Of course what happened at that Florida school was terrible. Yes, something needs to be done, but I am not smart enough to know what it is. BUT, this punk "survivor" David Hogg, the FBI guy's son who is all over the news, is getting on my nerves. Notice how most of the "kids" who survived and are speaking just so happen to be - both the boys and the girls - very good-looking, well-spoken, and telegenic? Were there no pimply faced, overweight students who stutter at that school? These "brave young people" may mean well but they are taking advantage of the situation by getting their fifteen minutes of fame. They know nothing of the world or politics or much of anything else really.
The girls I have seen speak, well, you can tell they are typical stuck-up females vacant of any interest of anything substantive beyond texting and coloring their hair. These are the future ball-breakers of America, ready to start the next generation of #MeToo and "he touched my shoulder, that's sexual assault." I see it in girls as young as 7 on the bus and subways. Their mothers are total nightmares and they are turning their little darlings into replicas of them, brainwashed to believe they can achieve anything they want in life, no man can stop them, and all men are sexual predators.
I am not making light of those sickening and totally unnecessary deaths of 17 students and teachers. But kids are inherently mean. These few who are promoting their future acting and media careers because of their looks and speaking ability masked as grieving and anger are not doing anything commendable. How many of them bullied someone in school? How many of them exclude the kids from their little circle who they don't deem cool? Do they ever once consider the feelings of those with no friends who cry every night because they don't even have one person they can eat lunch with? How many of these "heroes" get drunk every weekend at parties that turn into underage orgies? Believe me, these kids are no angels.
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rex
January 10, 2018
If you have the slightest interest in film, old Hollywood or the lost days of real show biz, you must read this fascinating NY Times interview with the legendary Rex Reed. They don't make movies like they used to and they certainly don't make people like him anymore.
November 23, 2017
Had a wonderful Thanksgiving with my dear old friends Dene and Jay. (L-R) Laura, Jay, Marta, Me, Michael, and Dene. Dene says I look like Donnie Wahlberg here - that's a first!
We Still Need to Talk About Kevin
November 9, 2017
Don't tell me they're not out to get Kevin Spacey. Now a guy says he had an ongoing sexual relationship with Spacey when he was 14
and Spacey was 24. Young male production assistants on House of Cards say he flirted with them, touched them, and one says Spacey put his hand down his pants while Spacey was driving him to
the set. The production assistant would have been likely out of college, making him around 22 or 23. Are young people so sensitive these days that they can't deal with a touch here or an
innocent hand down their pants? And as for the alleged relationship with the 14-year-old, it is another termite coming out of the woodwork. Whether it happened or not, I do
not care! This is ancient history. How would you like to be judged for every mistake you made thirty-plus years ago? Enough already. They're destroying a man's whole life and career for
And every day it seems there is a new Spacey allegation. This never-been news anchor Heather Unruh thinks she is a good mother to hop on the let's-get-Spacey bandwagon. If she is such a good mother, why didn't she know her 18-year-old angel - who she highlighted as "straight" - was getting sloshed after his shift ended at the restaurant he worked?
He was cunning enough to drink underage at his job but he runs home to mommy because big bad Kevin Spacey groped him? Really? These sickening stories about Spacey are following the same pattern and getting more obvious each day. This twerp should have been honored that Spacey was nice enough to buy him drinks or have any interest in him at all. Again, another leech out to destroy a good man - plus, the mother has a legal and civil case due to the fact this happened last year. Wonder how much she will settle for. As for her delicate snowflake, I would like to get him in a room with that Rapp skunk and a few guys from Brooklyn with baseball bats.
At least there is a glimmer of common sense out there. Veteran journalist and author Gay Talese says that punk Rapp should
have "sucked it up" (well, not the exact choice of words I would have used), and I totally agree with him!
And then last night it was announced Spacey's entire performance in an upcoming Ridley Scott film called All the Money in
World will be cut, and he will be replaced by Christopher Plummer. This man is being denied his livelihood, his reptutation, and a career he worked very hard for.
This is a witch hunt, and Spacey is unjustly being made an example of. I wish him well. His "accusers" and detractors should be ashamed of themselves.
We Need to Talk About Kevin
October 31, 2017
Okay, this has got to stop. Everyone is ripping into Kevin Spacey for using coming out as a way to deflect from the sexual assault allegation raised by Anthony Rapp. I feel bad for Spacey. He was in a tough situation. He has always been very protective of his privacy, even though his being gay was the biggest non-secret in Hollywood.
I met Spacey years ago at the New York Film Critics Awards. He was drinking a lot, very happy, and amazingly nice. He was seated next to The Usual Suspects director Bryan Singer, and had his hands all over him the entire night. I must have been 23 at the time. Thinking back, I don't know why he didn't try hitting on me (after all, I was still in my adorable post-college period), but now I realize 23 must have been over the hill for him (cheap shot, Kev - sorry).
They're considering cancelling his TV show because this little punk claims Spacey tried to get in his pants 31 years ago? Enough already. Kevin Spacey should not be put in the same league as Cosby or Weinstein or Polanski. Terrible what is happening to him. This Rapp twerp is a little troublemaker who should have kept his mouth shut. And remember, back in 1986, Spacey was not a star, just a working actor. He did not have any power like Harvey Weinstein.
Today it was announced that the International Television Academy is revoking an honory Emmy Spacey was planned to receive later this month. What's next? Are they going to force him to give back his Oscars?
I think Kevin Spacey should have totally denied this runt's accusations and sued him for defamation. Is his career over now? One of the great modern actors is ruined by this B-level talent? Spacey was a 26-year-old working actor 31 years ago - a kid himself. He was drunk, he was randy, and remember: NOTHING HAPPENED! Is every drunk guy who hit on someone after knocking back a few now supposed to be considered a sex offender? I'd like to get my hands on this Rapp jerk and punch him in the face.
These are dangerous new times we live in, and sadly Kevin Spacey is a victim of them. The suspects are far from
Eric Chase Bolling: 1998 - 2017
September 12, 2017
What shocking, horrible news to hear about the death of former Fox News host Eric Bolling's only son. Eric Chase Bolling was just nineteen when he was found dead Friday night in Boulder, where he was studying economics at the University of Colorado Boulder. He died just hours after his father was officially terminated from Fox News amid sexual harassment allegations.
The senior Bolling was nuts about his son, always doting on him back when he was on The Five, and posting photos of them on social media, such as a father/son Easter weekend the two spent together in Colorado earlier this year. I cannot imagine the agony he and his wife are going through, especially at an already tough time.
An autopsy was performed yesterday but the Colorado coroner's office will not release an official cause of death until toxicology tests are completed, which could take six to eight weeks. A source told TMZ that Eric Chase was suffering "emotional torture" because of his father's suspension following the sex allegations, intimating that he either accidentally overdosed or committed suicide. Friends of Eric Chase disputed such speculation, saying he was a very strong person who loved life.
Whatever happened, this is just a terrible family tragedy. Thoughts go out to the Bolling family.
Gene Wilder: A Year Later
August 29, 2017
Hard to believe today is one year since we lost our dear Gene Wilder.
IMDb did a very nice photo tribute to Gene today. I particularly like this photo below of him with Sparkle. This is actually the Gilda's Club 5k walk event from 1993 where I met Gene.
His family had a memorial yesterday where his ashes were scattered in the garden of his beloved Stamford, CT home, which he once called "my greatest treasure, for the peace and tranquility that surrounds it."
August 24, 2017
So another year has passed as I mourn the sixth anniversary of my parents' deaths (my father was Tuesday, my mother today). My friend says it's stupid to take off from work and sit home and drink and mourn. I disagree but I had to meet my obligations, go to work, and tough it out until the weekend tomorrow when I shall sink into that dark place that I am always in anyway.
I am told to "get over it" and "move on." Hmmm - slavery ended 152 years ago and apparently many do not want to "get over" that. Check in on me in another 146 years to see how I am doing - maybe I'll have a girlfriend by then. Schmucks.
Losing them two days apart when they were my whole world is not something I will ever "get over."
Jerry Lewis: 1926 - 2017
August 21, 2017
"I shall pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again."
- Jerry Lewis
Jerry Lewis has died. I hate writing those words. News of his death yesterday came as a shock for many. He was 91 and, according to his family, died peacefully at his home in Las Vegas of natural causes.
The word legend is used rather loosely these days but he was the very definition of it, a master comedian, actor, filmmaker, singer, and humanitarian. If you never had the pleasure of seeing him in person, you truly missed out on something. Luckily I saw him perform his act twice, once at the Westbury Music Fair in New York and once at the Orleans Hotel in Las Vegas. Both shows were among the very best live performances I have ever seen, the others being Liberace, Dom DeLuise, and Joan Rivers.
I also was lucky enough to see his tour de force turn on Broadway in Damn Yankees, which I don't consider a great musical, but he brought such magic to his role as the devil that it was one of those once in a lifetime theater experiences that you never forget.
As an actor, Jerry never got the respect he deserved. His role as Jerry Langford, a Carson like talk show host kidnapped by Robert DeNiro in The King of Comedy (1983), is the best work he has done onscreen, a surprisingly low-key, nuanced performance that showed a serious side he rarely ever displayed in the movies. It's a crime he was not nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the role, but thankfully he received a much overdue Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 2009.
One of the great thrills in my life was answering the telephone one day in 2002 and hearing a crazy voice at the other end asking to speak to me. Yep, it was Jerry, actually responding personally to a letter I sent him asking if he would let me interview him. We had a series of phone conversations in the following weeks as we tried to arrange a time to meet when he was in New York. I consider one of my biggest accomplishments the fact that I actually was able to make him laugh a few times. He even sent me a comedy CD of crank phone calls he had put out after I told him that I loved his Just Sings CD. Alas, Jerry's schedule was very hectic and the in-person interview never happened.
If you go to YouTube and simply type in Jerry Lewis, you will find enough priceless clips of him to keep you entertained for hours. There are too many to link to here, but among the ones I recommend most are his live performance in Vegas from the 1980s and his guest spot on Dick Cavett's show from the early 1970s. On the latter, he spoke very eloquently about his reputation for being a perfectionist, saying that when he would direct a movie, the first day on the set he would fire the first crew member he caught yawning. He felt laziness was contagious. He despised incompetence. He thought that an incompetent is taking a job away from someone who is competent. Can't argue with that.
Jerry Lewis had a tumultuous life both professionally and personally - few stars have suffered as many career highs and lows and health problems, yet he always managed to bounce back with his dignity and humor intact.
There were many stories about how difficult Lewis could be, both on the set and in his private life. His kids supposedly panicked when he'd arrive home. He constantly cheated on his first wife of 36 years. He had mood swings that sometimes were obvious in interviews (look for his very dark demeanor in an interview he did with Bill Boggs in the early 1980s). He had a temper. He often took himself too seriously. He also could be incredibly nice and generous, though in his later years he made some statements that were so baffling one could only imagine his mind was going. He said he felt all women comics were unfunny, including Lucy. He bashed Joan Rivers for no reason just months before her death, going so far to say she "set the Jews back a thousand years." And early this year, he gave an interview to The Hollywood Reporter where he appeared so angry that it went viral and had many wondering if he was putting on an act and it just wasn't funny or if he was genuinely pissed off.
He was complicated, tormented, and absolutely brilliant - in other words, a true artist. Generations grew up on, idolized, and were inspired by him. Aside from Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, also well into their nineties, I cannot think of anyone else of his era left. A terrible loss. Thoughts go out to his wife SanDee and sons and daughter.
Joseph Bologna: 1934 - 2017
August 15, 2017
Joe Bologna was not only a great actor but a nice man. Very sad to hear of his passing at age 82 from pancreatic cancer on Sunday.
The Brooklyn-born Bologna was rarely seen without the company of his wife of 52 years, Renee Taylor. The two wrote the play and movie Lovers and Other Strangers (1970), which earned them a screenwriting Oscar nomination. They later collaborated on the 1971 film Made for Each Other, and won an Emmy for writing the 1973 Marlo Thomas comedy special Acts of Love...and Other Comedies, which also featured Gene Wilder, who was an old friend of the couple (one of Bologna's best performances was as a philandering husband in Gene's 1984 The Woman in Red).
The 1980s saw Bologna in one plum supporting role after another in such memorable comedies as My Favorite Year, Blame It on Rio, and Transylvania 6-5000.
I saw him and Renee twice live in shows they wrote together. After one of their Broadway matinees, they stayed at the stage door for the longest time, shaking hands, signing autographs, and posing for pictures. Very down to earth and real, talking to fans like regular people.
I am sure Renee is devastated. Thoughts go out to her and their son Gabriel.
August 12, 2017
After nearly a year of no activity, I am pleased to welcome you to the revamped brianscottmednick.com.
I wish the reason for my disappearance was more interesting than the truth, which is that the provider who hosts my site began migrating to a new format. I found it very unappealing, confusing to navigate, and planned to switch providers. So I was basically paying them to keep the site up but I could not make any updates.
I was unable to make any progress with a new provider, so I stuck with my original domain host and, although it took a lot of work, was able to switch over to the new site, which I actually think has a sleeker, more modern, minimalist look. There are not a lot of bells and whistles but I really do not need that. The site has always been a simple platform for me to share my thoughts, promote my books, and hopefully piss a few people off.
In the migration to the new site, the formatting got totally screwed up. So I must slowly put my older posts up manually, one by one. I've already gotten back to two years ago, but eventually most of the old posts will be back up as I also aim to post new content relating to things that happened in the last year and current events (I have such good Jared Kushner material!).
I actually received emails from several visitors to the site who were asking if I was okay since I had not posted anything new in so long, which I thought was very nice.
I am pleased to have the site active again, and hope you enjoy reading, as Dr. Fronkensteen might say, "the nonsensical ravings of a lunatic mind."
September 10, 2016
It's been nearly two weeks since Gene Wilder left us. The shock has given way to tears, yet I still do not know what to say. I am not going to write a typical tribute because I wrote so many about him while he was alive. I'll just say some random thoughts.
First, I want to relay how I heard the news. I was at work when I got a text message from an old friend that read, "Just heard the news. So very sorry." Instinctively I just knew what it had to be - what else could it be? I nervously fumbled through various news sites and did not see anything. Less than a minute later another old friend texted me, "Did you hear about Gene Wilder?" I went to Google and typed in his name. There it was. I was just totally in shock.
I knew Gene was very frail - a photo taken of him at last year's U.S. Open showing him extremely gaunt and old-looking immediately prompted rumors he was dying. But I just attributed it to age. He was an old 83, as opposed to Mel Brooks, who is a youthful 90 (and may very well live to be 2,000 at the rate he's going). I had no idea he was suffering from Alzheimer's. Gene was always an intensely private person, and this was not something he wanted to share with the public.
I must say I am overwhelmed by the amount of coverage and the worldwide reaction to is death. Ever the pessimist, I did not think
he would get this kind of attention. It is not only very moving but undeniably deserved. Almost as soon as the news broke, I was contacted by various media outlets for interviews. Gene was apparently
very big in Australia - I had to turn down two separate interviews with Australian morning TV shows because of the time difference. I did, however, do an interview with an Australian radio network and BBC Radio 5 the day he died, and then one the next day with Mike Slater, who broadcasts out of San Diego. Several publications also
On a personal level, people I had not talked to in years reached out to me with condolences - an old flame, a fellow film student
I went to NYU with, various friends I hadn't spoken to in years. All said they immediately thought of me when they heard the news and that they knew how much I loved him. (I wish this many people
reached out when my parents died.)
I am flattered that people who know or used to know me think of me when they think of him. And yes, I did love him, not like some
star-crossed, obsessive fan (which is what I initially was as a young boy) but as someone I respected both personally and professionally. Whenever I am asked why I chose to spend so many years
writing a book about him, I explain it this way: growing up, every lonely moviegoer has one actor or actress they identify with, who they feel speaks directly to them. For me, it was Gene Wilder. In
every character he played, I saw a little bit of me. I still do. There is a very fine line between comedy and tragedy, and no other actor has ever walked that tightrope better.
The weekend following his death, AMC Theaters re-released Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and Blazing
Saddles in 55 movie theaters across the country, an unprecedented move that I cannot recall ever being done for any other actor immediately following their death. More tributes are to come. On
October 5th, Young Frankenstein will be shown in theaters throughout the country with a live stream tribute from Mel Brooks. On September 29th, TCM will honor him by airing several of his
films. And I have something up my sleeve that's a little ambitious but I'm hoping to get it done.
Ah, Gene. I cannot believe you are gone. Your work and humanity had an immeasurable impact on so many people. You changed my life. To paraphrase something you once said about Charlie Chaplin, you were my hero, my patron saint, my spiritual father. You brought happiness and laughter to a world filled with sadness and misery. Most of all, you brought love to your dear wife of 25 years Karen, your nephew Jordan, and your late sister Corinne and brother-in-law Gil. You said you did not believe in Heaven in the traditional sense. You said Heaven exists here on Earth - whatever happens later, who knows. I feel the same way but what I do know is that every person you touched got to feel like they were indeed in Heaven here on Earth. I join your millions of fans in saying we will never forget you, we will always miss you, and we will always be grateful for making us smile. Rest in peace, my friend.
August 30, 2016
I am just in shock. What sad news the world received yesterday. Proper tribute to follow.
Five Years an Orphan
August 24, 2016
Hard to believe it's been five years since I lost my dear parents. My father died on August 22, 2011, my mother two days later. I never got into the details of their death on here, but it was due to the negligence of those who claim to heal us. My mother died due to the incompetence of the doctors and staff at the hospital she was staying at. She went in for a foot infection and never left. My father was in a rehab facility, learning to walk following the amputation of a toe due to diabetes.
My mother was in a coma and would never come out of it. My father was confused but when I told him that I had to decide when to "take mommy off the breathing machine," he sank. He died in his sleep the next morning. I was devastated. This cannot be possible, I thought. That day I took my mother off the machine. She held on for two days. She was 75, he was 72. "So young," is what I am constantly told by anyone I relay this story to.
Yes, I tried to sue the hospital. Went to three different lawyers - one the top malpractice attorney in Manhattan - and while they all agreed there was negligence, they also all agreed I would never win if I sued. These hospitals are so lawyered up, it is nearly impossible to bring a case against them. If I were Melissa Rivers, I feel things would have been different, but alas my parents were just regular working people, not celebrities.
My parents both dealt with many health problems but they were not ready to die when they did. I used to think my parents were safer in the hospital than at home with me looking after them. How wrong I was. I lost all faith in the medical profession. To them, our parents, children, and loved ones are just another patient, nothing more.
I wrote a very long letter to the hospital last week, copying the whole board of directors and including my past correspondence. "I do not know what the purpose of this letter is," I wrote. "I am not writing this letter in the hopes of 'letting go.' I'll never let go. I do not want to let go. But I do want to shame you, to try to get it into your thick heads and cold hearts how you do the opposite of helping people. But you know no shame. You feel no guilt. You simply do not care." I concluded the letter by writing, "You are not healers, you are murderers."
Well, I usually make these tributes to my parents much shorter, but so much for keeping it pithy this year.
This is the first anniversary of their deaths without Daisy. The "shrine" now includes her - I want them together. I wish I could believe they were. The loneliness and loss will never go away. I said it before but I will say it again - I just wish I could have one more Chinese dinner with them.
Love and miss you all.
Arthur Hiller: 1923 - 2016
August 20, 2016
Arthur Hiller, the highly respected director of such film classics as Love Story and Silver Streak, died on August 17th at age 92.
Hiller may not have had his own particularly recognizable style as a director but he was an accomplished one nonetheless. He made one of my all-time favorite films, Silver Streak (1976), the first - and best - film to pair Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. A Hitchcockian romantic comedy/action buddy movie, the film was a box office hit that, despite receiving mixed reviews at the time, is now regarded as a classic, in no small part because of Hiller's crackerjack direction, displaying his knack for blending several different genres seamlessly into one hugely entertaining experience.
A dozen years later he would again direct Wilder and Pryor in See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989), a far inferior film to Silver Streak but a very funny movie nonetheless.
Other Hiller films include Author! Author! (1982) with Al Pacino and The Lonely Guy (1984) with Steve Martin, both very underrated.
Showing what an accessible mensch he was, I had reviewed See No Evil, Hear No Evil for my high school newspaper and gave it a rave. I sent him my review and he responded with a beautiful two- (it could have been three - I need to check) page handwritten letter thanking me for the praise.
Years later, I got to interview him for Gene Wilder: Funny and Sad, and he gave me some great stuff, reminiscing me about dinners he had with Gene and Gilda, as well as telling me he saw no signs of a romance brewing on the set between Gene and now wife Karen, who was Gene's deaf coach for See No Evil, Hear No Evil.
Hiller was nominated for one Oscar for directing Love Story (1970). In 2001, the motion picture academy gave him the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. He served as the academy's president from 1993 - 1997 and as president of the Directors Guild of America from 1989 - 1993.
His wife of 68 years died in June, also at 92.
Great director. Great guy. Great loss.
John McLaughlin: 1927 - 2016
August 16, 2016
John McLaughlin, whose pioneering political shootout The McLaughlin Group was a Sunday morning mainstay for those of us for whom politics is sport, died today at age 89. McLaughlin had appeared very frail in recent months, but when he missed his first appearance in his show's 34-year run this past Sunday, it became obvious he was gravely ill.
A former Jesuit priest, McLaughlin made a run for the U.S. Senate from Rhode Island in 1970 before joining the Nixon administration as a speechwriter. He left the church following Nixon's resignation. His two marriages ended in divorce, producing no children.
McLaughlin moderated his show with two panelists on each side of him of various political leanings, including regulars Pat Buchanan, Eleanor Clift, and Clarence Page. With its rambling style and McLaughlin's quick-witted, rapid-fire questioning ("Predictions!"), The McLaughlin Group became something of a pop culture phenomenon, culminating in Dana Carvey's spot-on impersonation of McLaughlin on Saturday Night Live.
It is unclear what the future of The McLaughlin Group is, but his death leaves a huge hole in Sunday morning political television. As McLaughlin himself used to say as he closed each show, "Bye! Bye!"
Springtime in July
July 29, 2016
My third essay for the Library of Congress' Film Preservation Board went online today. The film I wrote about is The Producers, the 1968 comedy classic that made Gene Wilder a star. It was added to the National Film Registry in 1996.
So cuddle up with your favorite little old lady, grab your little blue blanket, and click here to read.
Happy 80th, Mom
May 5, 2016
Tough day. My mother would have been 80 today. She was my best friend, the person I cared about more than anyone and she for me was born 80 years ago today.
I remember her 70th. I was living and working in Manhattan. Came for the weekend. I think I sent her flowers with a note saying "here's to the next 70." I got her her favorite perfume - but got it from Saks, wrapped in an elegant grey box and in a fancy Saks gift bag. What did my father get her? Bubkes. A landmark birthday and he got her nothing. Jerk.
She was okay health-wise at 70. The following months and years would see her deteriorate as I, woefully unemployed and unable to keep my apartment, became full-time live-in caretaker for the both of them.
It is almost five years since I lost them, and with Daisy now gone, I really have no family whatsoever. I miss them. Enough time has passed, though, that I also find myself criticizing them about certain things. No one is perfect. My mother was no exception. But she always had one thing that mattered to her above everything else: me. I was her world, and yes, she was mine.
I took today and tomorrow off from work - was going to go away but cannot afford it and realize it just is not a good idea. My mother would not want me to grieve for her, but she would also know that I just can't help it. I have been grieving every day for nearly five years. I can't move on and I don't want to move on. Yes, she would want me to have a girlfriend and even a family of my own - I only want the former. She would want me to be a big success, make a lot of money, be surrounded by good friends. Alas, that is not the case.
There is a story I think of often from when I was in kindergarten when we lived in Brooklyn. During show and tell, some boy brought in this Godzilla toy he had just gotten. It was pretty neat, made sounds and maybe even moved. I do not remember but I liked it. The next morning, as they drove me to school, I told my parents about it but - seriously - did not ask them to buy it for me. I did not even express interest in wanting my own one. I simply told them about it.
That afternoon when they picked me up, what do you think they presented me with? Yep. I was thrilled, of course, and surprised. I did not know the art of coercion then. And I appreciated and loved them for it. I am sure my mother said to my father that morning, "Marty, let's find him Godzilla." She did it out of love. My father only knew how to show love by buying me things. He thought going to work, bringing in a paycheck, and buying me lots of toys made him a good husband or father. Hugs and kisses he knew nothing about.
So Bella. 80 years old. You left me at 75. For years I always thought you looked so much younger than whatever age you were. I
know you would kill me for making this video public on YouTube but I did it anyway (mainly to never lose it). This was us
visiting daddy when he was in rehab for something related to his kidney disease and dialysis. I now see you looked older than you were here. A few months later I would lose you both. And yes, those
pork chops were delicious. I am so glad you liked them.
You spoiled me, ma. You made me the ultimate mama's boy, a title I take great pride in, but it is hard being one when you can no longer can pick up the phone to speak to the woman who gave you life, love, and everything good and meaningful. I can only imagine all the hours we would have spent talking about the election and all the craziness going on. Can't do that anymore. I don't care what anyone says but Norman Bates was right: a boy's best friend is his mother.
Daisy Mednick: 1994 - 2016
April 3, 2016
I had to do one of the hardest things in my life on Monday, March 28th. I had to put my Daisy down. My best friend. She was 11.
My mother always made me promise to take care of Daisy if something happened to them. For nearly five years, I did the best I could. No more pain. I wish I had faith and could believe they are all together now but I can't.
Daisy was not herself for a long time. She had "doggie Alzheimer's," in addition to several physical problems. But I miss the Daisy who would spoon with me in bed, like we were a couple. The Daisy who knew when I was sad and crawled over and put her paw on me, hating to see me weep.
I regret all the horrible things I said when she upset me. She was sick. She meant well. I used to complain about having to get up early to feed and walk her before work and do the same when I came home from work. Now, aside from going to work and the supermarket, I have no reason to leave my apartment. I wish I had to walk her.
I had three other dogs since I was six years old. But my mother always did all the hard work. I just played with them and loved them. Daisy was different - she was mine. I spent my money on her, she lived in my apartment, I took care of her.
I thank my friend Michael, who adored Daisy, for going with me to the vet on that horrible, appropriately rainy day. I thank my vet, Dr. Sasha Hilchuck, for not only taking such good care of Daisy for the four years I have lived here but also comforting me, hugging me, and assuring me I did the right thing. It simply was her time. I also am very moved by the kindness of my Facebook friends, who are always there for me, and their sympathetic words.
Daisy was a kind, loving, adorable little girl. I now officially have no family. I am heartbroken - a cork floating in the ocean.
Garry Shandling: 1949 - 2016
March 25, 2016
Shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of Garry Shandling. The beloved comedian died of a heart attack yesterday at age 66.
I grew up on Shandling. Always enjoyed him guesting or hosting The Tonight Show. It's Garry Shandling's Show was one of the most inventive sitcoms of the 1980s (remember when Gilda made a guest spot as herself and joked about her cancer battle?). For whatever reason, I have never seen a single episode of The Larry Sanders Show, but I am sure it merits all the praise that has been heaped upon it.
Shandling made a few films as well, most notably Mike Nichols' underrated What Planet Are You From? (2000), which co-starred Annette Bening. Shandling was a good friend of Warren Beatty, and also appeared with Beatty and Bening in the 1994 film Love Affair.
I most recently watched Shandling commenting on the "2000 Year Old Man" on The Incredible Mel Brooks DVD set. Shandling kept joking that Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner had to be lovers.
Shandling never married or had children. Was a funny guy, gone way too soon.
Go, Tootsie, Go!
March 23, 2016
Back in October, the Library of Congress asked me to write an essay for their National Film Registry website about Young Frankenstein. Being one of the more savvy government agencies, they came back and asked me to write another essay, this time about one of my five favorite films of all time, Sydney Pollack's Tootsie.
I got the Criterion Collection special edition DVD in December, and watching it again and the great special features reminded me why I have been in love with this film since first seeing it when I was nine years old (and also why I have owned a framed, ridiculously oversized poster of the film for over twenty years!).
Click here to read the essay.
Nancy Reagan: 1921 - 2016
March 8, 2016
I think Nancy Reagan got a bad rap. She was everything a first lady should be - elegant, strong, and totally devoted to her husband. I was saddened to hear of her passing at age 94 on Sunday. 94 is a great run - she lived a year longer than Ronnie - but a good woman's death is never welcomed.
Unlike the Clintons, the Reagans had a real marriage, not a business arrangement. They genuinely loved each other. Nancy was criticized by many for the influence she had on the president. Well, I think most first ladies have a lot of influence but this was different. Only two months into his first term, the president was nearly killed after an assassination attempt. Reagan recovered but Nancy was as protective as ever.
They complained when she got new china for the White House - which was paid for by private donations, not taxpayer dollars as her haters claimed. She brought style and class back to the White House after the disastrous Carter years. Just as Reagan brought the country back and made us once again proud to be Americans, Nancy made the White House the showplace it should be.
The anti-Reagan crowd wasted no time on Sunday saying hateful things about the couple, the most ridiculous being that Nancy herself denied Rock Hudson treatment for AIDS! Hudson was a friend of the Reagans. As much as I admire Ronald Reagan, he was flawed like any other human. The biggest mistake of his administration was the failure to acknowledge the growing AIDS crisis. People were dying. They were afraid. They wanted leadership from their president. Reagan did not even utter the word AIDS until 1986. On this, he was sadly out of touch. But he was not a homophobe and it is absurd to suggest he had no compassion for the sick and dying.
Ronald Reagan's final years were, of course, marked by his slow decline from Alzheimer's. Nancy stood by him bravely, speaking out
against the GOP in support of stem cell research. When Reagan died in 2004, the sight of Nancy saying good-bye to his flag draped coffin brought anyone with a heart to tears.
Nancy Reagan was a devoted wife, mother, and advocate. She will hopefully be remembered as one of our great first ladies.
Kasich for President
February 19, 2016
So I re-registered as a Republican recently to vote in the upcoming New York primary. I got my confirmation a couple of weeks ago. For whatever reason, I was looking at it last night and noticed it said my current registration was no affiliation and after Nov. 15th I would be a Republican. Seemed strange, especially since the general election is before then.
So I called the Board of Elections. Turns out there is a screwed up law in New York state that does not allow you to change parties in advance of a primary. The guy said after Nov. 15th I will be a Repub and can vote in primaries. I said I don't want to be a Republican, I just wanted to vote in this primary because NY does not have open primaries. What a crock! He even agreed and said it is an arcane law that benefits incumbents.
If John Kasich loses the NY primary by one vote, I will be livid. Voting laws need to be changed in this country so everybody can vote...except Hillary supporters (okay, even they should have the right).
I was for Trump in the beginning but with each passing month, then week, now day, it becomes clearer and clearer this guy is nuttier than a Snickers bar. Cruz I hated from the beginning with his Jesus schtick (and can you imagine having to look at that meeskite's face for four years?). I considered Rubio for a time, but as I studied him I could tell that behind that boyish face is a typical politician who will say whatever needs to get elected. Carson is likeable and funny (I'm talking about Ben, not Johnny, although the adjectives can be applied to both). But while I may want Carson if I needed brain surgery, he has zero experience when it comes to government and, alas, is another religious right-winger. I always thought Jeb was the smartest of his family (actually, it's his mother) but he has proven to be an incredibly weak candidate who just cannot gain traction. He would be my second choice, but not one I would be enthusiastic about.
So that leaves John Kasich, who, with two decades in congress and two terms as Ohio governor, is clearly the smartest, most experienced, and most capable candidate to lead our country. He took Ohio out of financial turmoil. He is not a religious freak, even though he knows he has to pepper his rhetoric with his "faith" every now and then because you have to if you want the GOP vote. He is that most maligned of Republicans - a moderate. His response in one of the early debates about how, even though he opposed gay marriage, he believes it's the law of land, it must be obeyed, and we should move on showed genuine courage. If that wasn't enough, his remarks about how he would love his daughters just as much if they were lesbians or straight shows he is the lone bagel on a plate of stale onion rolls in this election.
Kasich has the most appeal to independents. He does not seem scripted. And he comes across as genuinely likeable, compassionate, and down to earth.
His second place finish in New Hampshire was very encouraging. Now he's trailing Trump and Cruz in nearly every poll. If anyone but Kasich gets the Republican nomination, the election is Hillary or Bernie's.
I hope Kasich makes it to the New York primary. I just hate that I won't be able to cast my ballot for him, but I hope I can come November.
December 6, 2015
"Making movies is the most wonderful thing in the world."
- Ian McKellen as James Whale in Gods and Monsters (1998)
I am happy to announce that, after 23 years, my first short film is finally online! Confessions of a Male Prostitute is a 17-minute film I made when I was a freshman at NYU. It stars John Aprea, who was on Another World at the time and a good friend who did this for me as a favor.
He is amazing in it. My friend Dene - also superb - plays Helen, the quintessential hooker with a heart of gold. The kid who plays Jamie was a classmate of mine - huge diva - who is supposedly a big soap star in China now.
Rex Reed said the following about it: "I am a bit speechless. This is exemplary work...revealing much sensitivity and intelligence. The actors were absolutely first-rate and directed with skill, precision and naturalism… I actually could have hung in there with [these] characters for another hour or so. I am really most impressed with by the writing more than anything else – an economy of words, a wealth of style, an almost minimal thrust in dialogue but with maximum believability. [Brian Scott Mednick] has obvious talent... This short film is so good I would be very keen to see what [Mednick comes] up with in the next few years."
Click here to watch. Enjoy!
"You Talkin' Turkey to Me?"
November 25, 2015
So tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Robert DeNiro will undoubtedly enjoy himself some dark meat. I understand he's also having turkey.
November 21, 2015
So I was talking on the phone with Charlie Sheen last night. We spoke about our Thanksgiving plans, and he said his family came over on the Mayflower. I told him he had to be joking. "No," he said, "it's true. On my mother's side." I said, "Are you sure?" He said, "I'm positive!"
Marty and Bella
November 20, 2015
Was going through some old photo albums the other day. Found one of the few photos of my parents together. How screwed up is it that I have so many of Gene & Gilda and almost none of Marty & Bella together? Miss them so much.
November 18, 2015
I am not a judgmental person. As a writer, I would like to interview Charlie Sheen. I called his manager and was told I should expect to hear from his aides.
Fred Thompson: 1942 - 2015
November 7, 2015
I was very upset to hear about the passing of Fred Thompson, who died on November 1st at 73 from a recurrence of lymphoma. Thompson had an amazing career in politics and show business. He was a lawyer who served as a U.S. attorney for three years before being appointed minority counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee.
He made his film debut playing himself in the 1985 Sissy Spacek film Marie, about a whistleblower who exposed corruption in the administration of Tennessee Governor Ray Blanton. More film roles followed, including No Way Out, The Hunt for Red October, and In the Line of Fire.
After Al Gore became vice president, Thompson ran to fill the remaining two years of Gore's Senate seat in a special election, winning in a landslide over Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper. Two years later, he won a full six-year term.
He decided not to run again, devoting his time to his acting career, most notably as Manhattan District Attorney Arthur Branch on Law & Order. One of my favorite roles of his was as himself in Albert Brooks' Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World.
In 2008, Thompson ran for the GOP nomination for president. Despite his natural charisma and likeability, his campaign never gained traction and he withdrew after four months.
I liked Fred Thompson. I don't think he was necessarily presidential material (I mean an actor becoming president?) but he was smart, meant well, and wanted nothing to do with the extreme rightwing religious sect of his party.
He is survived by his second wife Jeri and four children (he lost a daughter from his first marriage to an accidental prescription drug overdose in 2002). Thompson was a good guy. He'll be missed.
October 10, 2015
I was recently contacted by the Library of Congress. Great, I thought. They found out about those library books I never returned. But alas, they wanted to know if I would write an essay about Young Frankenstein for their National Film Registry website. Well, knowing very little about the film or its star, I reluctantly agreed. The essay - pulled mostly from the chapter on the film from Gene Wilder: Funny and Sad with a few tweaks - is now alive - ALIVE!!! - on the site.
After Congress passed the National Film Preservation Act of 1988 (Congress actually gets things right on occasion), the National Film Preservation Board was established to ensure the survival, conservation, and increased public availability of America's film heritage. The Registry adds 25 films every year.
Young Frankenstein is among four Gene Wilder films on the Registry, the others being Bonnie and Clyde, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, and Blazing Saddles. It's a great organization.
So get comfortable, pour yourself a brandy or zum Ovaltine perhaps, and click here to read my thoughts on this enduring classic.
October 1, 2015
Wow! I do not know what else to say. Courage, strength, fortitude, chutzpah - words that can not be applied to many on the world scene today. But Benjamin Netanyahu gave one of the all-time great speeches today at the UN. Forget the best of FDR, Churchill, King, JFK, Reagan or Sally Field. His 45 seconds of silence was filled with more substance than anything Obama has said in 6 years.
September 4, 2015
Hard to believe it's one year today that we lost our dear Joan Rivers. Such a senseless death. She was an amazing person.
My Best Friend
August 24, 2015
Lost my best friend, my world, my everything four years ago today. I will never "get over it" and I don't want to. Miss her so much.
Four Years Later
August 22, 2015
Four years ago my world came to an end. My father died on this day, my mother two days later. Words are futile. Miss them, cry for them, wish I could have one more Chinese dinner with them.
Covering the National Dream Beat
June 15, 2015
Stumbled upon this excellent, very long interview Siskel & Ebert did with Playboy in 1991. Great stuff.
I think of them often. I didn't know it at the time but now I realize they were probably the main reason I wanted to go to film school (the irony is that watching them for free growing up was a much better film school than the hundred grand that was wasted on NYU).
Having had many jobs that I had zero passion for, I was reminded of something Gene Siskel said about a year before he died. He knew he had a brain tumor and was going to be operated on. His son was only about three years old. During a ceremony where he and Roger were being honored, Gene said to his daughters - and I paraphrase - "Do me a favor and tell your brother when he gets older to find something he loves and do it. Roger and I are lucky because we get to do what we love. Do something that you could not imagine not doing. Something that makes you want to get out of bed each morning. If you girls could tell your brother that, I would appreciate it."
I was trying to tell this to a friend last week and I could not finish the story. I welled up - and I was sober! So moving. He feared he would not live to see his son grow up. His son is now in his early twenties, a college graduate, and very handsome.
Reading this interview also made me weep when Siskel talked about his mother's death. He lost both of his parents in the same year when he was a young child. His aunt and uncle raised him.
Life sucks. These guys knew the value of great movies. A great movie could be life changing. A great movie could help you escape from life's miseries for two hours. As Siskel said, they had the best job in the world because they covered "the national dream beat." They had a deeper impact on movies than most of the people who made them.
Happy Birthday, Gene Wilder
June 11, 2015
Today Gene Wilder turns 82 years young (as Mel Brooks' 2000 Year Old Man would say). One of the first things people often ask me when I tell them I wrote a book about him is, "Is he still alive?" To which I respond, "Very much so." Of course, he's retired from acting (his last feature film was, sadly, one of his worst, the 1991 "comedy" Another You, his fourth and final film with Richard Pryor).
Wilder writes now. His memoir came out in 1995, and since then he has penned four rather charming works of fiction. He spends most days in his study at his home in Stamford, CT. He writes for a few hours, exchanges e-mails with friends, comes out for a cup of tea and maybe some yogurt, kisses his wife, and then goes back to writing until about four or five o'clock when it comes time to contemplate dinner.
He and wife Karen both like to cook. As Gene told Martha Stewart, Karen tackles the more complicated dishes that require a recipe while he is comfortable preparing steak, leg of lamb or what he claims is his best dish - his "method of seduction" as he calls it because he often prepared it for women he was dating the first time they would come to his home for dinner - roast chicken.
Though he has been in remission from a grueling battle with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma for fifteen years, he rarely goes out, except for doctor's appointments and occasional trips to the supermarket. He is the anti-Joan Rivers, having no desire to be back in the Hollywood spotlight. I'm not trying to make him sound like a total recluse - he still attends the U.S. Open every year and will do a speaking engagement here and there. Charles Grodin, who has been friends with Wilder for nearly sixty years, lives twenty minutes from Gene in Wilton, CT, and usually stops by to visit a few times a month. Grodin himself just became an octogenarian back in April.
In September, Gene will celebrate 24 years of marriage to Karen, his fourth and longest lasting (and happiest) marriage.
So happy 82, Mr. Wilder. May you have many more. But can you get out of the house for a few weeks and maybe do a nice supporting role in a movie? You could play Ben Stiller's father or Seth Rogen's grandfather or Morgan Freeman's wacky best friend. Your fans miss you!
Happy Birthday, Daisy
June 5, 2015
Happy birthday to my Daisy. She turns 11 today. Unfortunately, her age is catching up with her. She has very bad arthritis but it's under control with medication. But she cannot jump on the bed anymore, I have to help her. I live in a fourth-floor walkup, and it takes her a long time to walk down the stairs. Some days are better than others. I am just thankful that she still has a voracious appetite.
My mother always said that if anything happened to her or my father, I had to take care of Daisy. She made me promise. As much as I complain about her at times, she really is a good dog, my best friend, and the only connection I have left to my mother. I cannot imagine her not sleeping next to me every night.
Do You Think Max von Sydow Does His Own Grocery Shopping?
June 4, 2015
I am trying to picture him walking down the aisle at Waldbaum's, picking up a cantaloupe and smelling it. "Another two days maybe," he says, possibly in Swedish.
He goes to the customer service counter and says, "You are out of the Canada Dry 12-packs on sale. I want a rain check. If Jesus came back and saw how you stocked your shelves, he'd never stop throwing up."
Then he goes to the deli counter. "I want half a pound of the Boar's Head low sodium ham, not too thin." He solemnly looks at the potato salad and wonders if it was made today. He isn't sure so he only gets a quarter pound.
He proceeds to check out and presents his coupons. He insists on paper and plastic. He wheels his cart to his car - a Volvo, of course - and puts the groceries in the trunk. The gray sky opens up and it starts raining. He drives home consumed with thoughts of death and potato salad.
The King of Late Night
May 22, 2015
As what has inadvertently turned into talk show week here on the site comes to an end, it does so, most appropriately, on the 23rd anniversary of Johnny Carson's last Tonight Show. Carson was the undisputed king of late night. His Midwestern charm, quick wit, and mastery of the medium made him the last face millions chose to see before going to sleep at night.
And, unlike some of these little pishers who are the new face of late night, Carson possessed the most important trait a talk show host should have: he listened. Unlike Conan O'Brien, who interrupts his guests and tries to one-up them, Carson loved sitting back and watching his guests shine. So confident was Carson that he found no need to try being funnier than a guest who was on a roll. We all remember how he would react to something he found beyond hysterical, turning and looking as if he was going to fall off his chair.
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson is probably my favorite TV show of all time. It was old-fashioned in a good way - everyone dressed nice, and Doc Severinsen's orchestra was truly an orchestra (no one looked like they just came from a Bob Marley concert). The Carson era was about martinis, not marijuana.
Carson was a very lonely, unhappy person off-camera. He had no close friends and apparently had a very bad temper. But for that one hour, he felt alive, he once said. And so did we.