Saturday, 16 April 2016

William Holden in Network (1976)

Today Network (1976)  remains not only one of the best remembered films of the Seventies, but it is also widely considered a classic. The film permeates pop culture to the point that the phrase, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this any more," is recognisable even to those who have never seen the film. Network was nominated for no less than ten Oscars, four of which it won. It remains only one of two films to win three out of the four Academy Awards for acting (the other film is A Streetcar Named Desire).  The one acting award it did not win was Best Actor for William Holden, perhaps only because Peter Finch won for his role in Network.

For those who have never seen Network, the film was written by the legendary Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet. It centred on the perennially low rated television network UBS. The decision of the network to fire their long-time evening news anchor Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch) after his mental condition deteriorates. After he has an angry outburst on his final night on the air, UBS does not fire Beale and instead capitalises on his  mental condition as a means of increasing ratings. William Holden played news director Max Schumacher, who finds himself consistently disapproving of what the network was doing. Faye Dunaway played the head of UBS's programming department, who keeps pushing the network's programming further towards exploitation. Network is essentially a black comedy that also acted as a satire on network television.

While the role of Max Schumacher would become one of the better known roles of William Holden's later career, he was not the only actor considered for the role. Paddy Chayefsky thought Henry Fonda or Gene Hackman could also play the role. Charlton Heston, Marlon Brando, and Robert Mitchum were also considered. Ultimately William Holden was signed for the role of Max Schumacher. Sidney Lumet had noticed a look of sadness in many of Mr. Holden's more recent roles that would endow Max Schumacher with the sense of dignity that the character should have.

It would be difficult to argue that William Holden was not the best choice for the role of Max Schumacher. Mr. Holden certainly did give Schumacher that sense of dignity that Sidney Lumet and Paddy Chayefsky wanted the character to have. Indeed, while Schumacher doesn't always do the right thing, in some respects he is the moral centre of the film. Howard Beale is utterly insane, something that is not lost on the network even as they exploit him. Faye Duanway's character, Diana Christensen, long ago lost touch with humanity, although it is possible she never was in touch with it. As Max Schumacher says of her, "I'm not sure she's capable of any real feelings."

Of the major characters it is Max Schumacher is the only one who has any sort of human feelings at all. He feels remorse when UBS wants to fire Howard Beale and he wants Beale to have a dignified departure. He begins experiencing a very real sense of his own mortality. He feels guilt about everything he has put his family through. While Max Schumacher might not always do what is right in the film, he seems to be the only major character who knows what is right and what is wrong. Quite simply, he is a holdover from the days of Edward R. Murrow, when truthfulness and honesty mattered in the news, lost in an era when ratings are the only thing that matters in television.

Max Schumacher would be a difficult role for many actors to play, but William Holden succeeded in the role quite well. He endowed Schumacher, in many ways a flawed man among people who are much more flawed than he is, with a sense of self-respect while at the same time making him very vulnerable. It would be difficult thinking that anyone would identify with Howard Beale or Diana Christensen, but one has to suspect that many people could easily identify with Max Schumacher.

William Holden was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for the role of Max Schumacher. Unfortunately Peter Finch would also be nominated for the role of Howard Beale. This essentially put Network in competition with itself for the Oscar for Best Actor. As great a job as William Holden did in playing Max Schumacher, it was perhaps inevitable that he would lose to Mr. Finch playing the more flamboyant role of Howard Beale.

While Network might have seemed far-fetched to some in the Seventies, the film has proven prescient. Today it is often difficult to tell where entertainment begins and the news ends. One has to suspect the Diana Christensens at the networks and cable channels outnumber the Max Schumachers and have for some years. One can only hope that many starting work at the networks and cable channels might watch Network and chose to pattern themselves after Max Schumacher and not the others in power at UBS in the film.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Godspeed Adrienne Corri

Adrienne Corri, who appeared in such films as Doctor Zhivago (1965) and Vampire Circus (1972) as well as the TV show Sword of Freedom, died on March 13 2016 at the age of 85. The cause was coronary artery disease.

Adrienne Corri was born Adrienne Riccoboni in Glasgow on November 13 1930. Her mother was Olive Smethurst. Her father was Luigi Riccoboni, who ran the Crown Hotel in Callander, Perthshire. She was still a teenager when she attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She made her television debut in an adaptation of Jean Cocteau's The Infernal Machine in 1949. That same year she made her film debut in The Romantic Age (1949). In 1949 she also appeared in the television production Summer Day's Dream.

In the Fifties she played Milady de Winter in a TV mini-series adaptation of The Three Musketeers. She was a regular on the TV shows Opportunity Murder and Sword of Freedom. She guest starred on such shows as Celanese Theatre, Robert Montgomery Presents, Rheingold Theatre, Colonel March of Scotland Yard, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Vise, The Buccaneers, William Tell, The Invisible Man, and Armchair Mystery Theatre. She also appeared in such films as The River (1951), The Kidnappers (1953), Devil Girl from Mars (1954), Meet Mr. Callaghan (1954), The Feminine Touch (1956), Behind the Headlines (1956), Second Fiddle (1957), The Big Chance (1957), Corridors of Blood (1958), The Rough and the Smooth (1959), and The Tell-Tale Heart (1960).

In the Sixties she appeared in such films as The Hellfire Club (1961), Dynamite Jack (1961), Lancelot and Guinevere (1963), Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965), A Study in Terror (1965), Doctor Zhivago (1965), The Viking Queen (1967), Africa: Texas Style (1967), and Moon Zero Two (1969). She guest starred on such shows as One Step Beyond, ITV Television Theatre, Paris 1900, Danger Man, Armchair Theatre, Adam Adamant Lives!, Journey into the Unknown, The Champions, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), Department S, and UFO.

In the Seventies Adrienne Corri starred on the TV series and mini-series You're Only Young Twice, Eyeless in Gaza, A Family at War, and Love in a Cold Climate. She guest starred on such shows as The Adventurer, Bedtime Stories, and Doctor Who. She appeared in the films A Clockwork Orange (1971), Vampire Circus (1972), Madhouse (1974), Rosebud (1975), Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978), and The Human Factor (1979).

From the Eighties to the Nineties she guest starred on the shows Dramarama, Shades of Darkness, Sunday Premiere, and Lovejoy.

Adrienne Corri also performed on stage. She was part of the Old Vic Company from 1962 to 1963. In 1963 she appeared on Broadway in The Rehearsal.

Adrienne Corri also wrote the book The Search for Gainsborough in which she sought to prove a portrait of  David Garrick had been painted by a young Thomas Gainsborough.

While Adrienne Corri often played the lead in films and TV shows, she should perhaps best be considered a character actress. Throughout her career she played a wide variety of roles. In fact, it was not unusual for her to look extremely different from role to role. She played noblewomen many times, in everything from the horror movie The Hellfire Club to the action movie Rosebud. Despite this she played the disfigured prostitute Angela in A Study in Scarlett, the cigar smoking brothel operator Mistress Overdone in a 1979 television adaptation of Measure for Measure, a Gypsy woman in Vampire Circus, and disfigured, crazed former horror movie star Faye Carstairs Flay in Madhouse. Adrienne Corri was certainly not afraid to play roles in which she sometimes looked less than attractive. Regardless of whether she was playing a beautiful noblewoman or a disfigured madwoman, Adrienne Corri always gave a good performance. What is more, she gave good performances regardless of the material in which she appeared, whether it was a low budget horror movie, a Shakespeare play, or a big budget blockbuster. Quite simply, she was a character actress of remarkable talent.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

The Late Great Gareth Thomas

Gareth Thomas, who played Roj Blake on the British sci-fi show Blake's 7, died yesterday, April 13 2016, at the age of 71. The cause was heart failure.

Gareth Thomas was born on February 12 1945 in Wales. He attended The King's School, Canterbury. He studied acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and later became a RADA associate. He made his television debut playing Benvolio in a television production of Romeo and Juliet. He was one of the stars of the crime drama Parkin's Patch from 1969 to 1970. In the late Sixties he also guest starred on The Avengers and The Wednesday Play. He made his film debut in Quatermass and the Pit in 1967.

The Seventies saw Gareth Thomas appearing in recurring roles on several TV series and mini-series. He had a recurring role as a chauffeur on Harriet's Back in Town. He had a recurring role in the first series of the legal drama Sutherland's Law. He played Mr. Murdstone in an adaptation of David Copperfield. He played Rev. Gruffydd in a multi-part adaptation of How Green Was My Valley. He was one of the stars of Star Maidens and the star of the mini-series Children of the Stones. It was in 1978 that Blake's 7 debuted, starring Gareth Thomas as political dissident Roj Blake. He appeared on the show from 1978 to 1981 before Blake was controversially killed off.

In the Seventies Gareth Thomas also guest starred on such shows as Coronation Street, Man at the TopZ Cars, Public Eye, Special Branch, Justice, Jackanory, Hallmark Hall of Fame, Victorian Scandals, and Hammer House of Horror. He appeared in the films The Ragman's Daughter (1972), Si può essere più bastardi dell'ispettore Cliff? (1973), Smokey Joe's Revenge (1974), and Juggernaut (1974).

In the Eighties Gareth Thomas starred in the series The Bell, The Citadel, Morgan's Boy, Knights of God, Chelworth, and Emlyn's Moon. He guest starred on Bergerac, Shades of Darkness, Love and Marriage, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Dramarama, Tales of the Unexpected, and Boon.

In the Nineties Gareth Thomas starred on the series The Chestnut Soldier, London's Burning, and Heartbeat. He guest starred on Maigret, Medics, Wales Playhouse, Crown Prosecutor, Animal Ark, The Strangerers, and Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased). He appeared in the films Waterland (1992) and Storia di una capinera (1993).

In the Naughts Gareth Thomas starred in the series Distant Shores. He guest starred on Baddiel's Syndrome, Casualty, Taggart, Torchwood, Midsomer Murders, M.I.High, and Personal Affairs. He appeared in the films Imaginary Summer (2008) and Made in Romania (2010). His last appearance was in 2011 in an episode of Holby City.

Gareth Thomas also acted extensively on the stage and acted in many productions by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Among these productions were Twelfth Night, Othello, and  Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie.

Gareth Thomas was an immensely talented actor. This is borne out by his work on Blake's 7. Blake's 7 had production values that were sometimes derided when it first aired, with inexpensive sets and poor special effects. The reason it was so popular with viewers was in large part due to the performances of its cast. As lead character Roj Blake, Gareth Thomas was crucial to the show's success. There can be little doubt that much of the show's continued popularity is partly due to the strength of his performance as Blake.

Of course, Gareth Thomas played much more than Roj Blake. Among his better known roles was that of Charles McCallister in Distant Shores, a comedy about as far from Blake's 7 as one could get. He appeared as Idris Llewellyn in the adaptations of Emlyn's Moon and The Chestnut Soldier (the last two books in Jenny Nimmo's "The Magician Trilogy"). Over the years Gareth Thomas played a wide variety of roles and did well in all of them. While he may be best known as Roj Blake, he did so much more.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Happy Birthday, Beverly Cleary

Today children's author Beverly Cleary turns 100. She was born Beverly Bunn on April 12 1916 in McMinnville, Oregon. Short of Dr. Seuss, it seems quite possible that she could be the most successful American children's writer of the 20th Century. Her books have been literally read by generations of children, starting with Henry Huggins in 1950. In her long career Mrs. Cleary has sold 91 million copies copies of her books worldwide.

Beverly Cleary spent her earliest years on a farm. She was six years old when her family moved to Portland, Oregon. Strangely enough for someone who would become a highly successful author, when Mrs. Cleary was in first grade she struggled with reading. It was a school librarian who helped her learn to read. By third grade she was not only caught up with other students, but she was very proficient at reading and spent much of her time in the library. It should then come no surprise that Beverly Cleary aspired to be a librarian. She attended  Chaffey Junior College  and then transferred to the University of California at Berkeley where she received a bachelor of arts in English. In 1939 she received a degree in library science at the University of Washington.

It was her career as a children's librarian that led to her career as a children's author. A boy complained to her that he couldn't find any books he related to. Beverly Cleary then decided to write a book that young boys could relate to. The end result was Henry Huggins, a typical boy in elementary school in Portland, Oregon. His best friend was his dog Ribsy. Henry Huggins proved successful enough that it would be followed by five more books centring on the character.

It would be the "Henry Huggins" books that led to the introduction of Beverly Cleary's next successful character. Among Henry's friends was a girl named Beezus Quimby. Since none of the children in the "Henry Huggins" books had siblings, Mrs. Cleary gave Beezus a little sister named Ramona. It was because of Ramona that Beezus got her nickname, the young Ramona being unable to pronounce "Beatrice". Ramona was a few years younger than Henry and Beezus and as a result was regarded as somewhat of a pest by the older children, particularly as she wanted to do what they did. Beezus took centre stage in the book Beezus and Ramona, published in 1955. It was followed by the first book in which Ramona was the star, Ramona the Pest, in 1968. This led to an entire series of Ramona books, eight in all.

Beverly Cleary's third highly successful character differed from Henry, Beezus, and Ramona in that he was not a child--not a human child, anyway. Ralph S. Mouse was a young mouse living in a colony in the Mountain View Inn. Much to the chagrin of the rest of the mouse colony, Ralph wanted to lead a life of adventure. He got his wish when a young boy with a toy motorcycle visited the inn. Ralph learned how to make the motorcycle go and how to ride it. Ralph first appeared in The Mouse and the Motorcycle in 1965. It proved successful enough to be followed by two more books, Runaway Ralph and Ralph S. Mouse.

Mrs. Cleary has as much a gift for writing about animals as she does children. Her 1964 book Ribsy centred on Henry Huggins's dog, with Henry making only a small appearance in the book. Her 1973 book Socks dealt with the cat of the title, who feels neglected when his humans have a new baby.

Socks was only one of many books Beverly Cleary wrote outside of those dealing with Henry Huggins, Beezus and Ramona, and Ralph S. Mouse. Among her other works are Fifteen (about a teenage girl experiencing her first romance), Emily's Runaway Imagination (a book set in the Twenties about a girl with an overactive imagination), Mitch and Amy (about a pair of fraternal twins), and Dear Mr. Henshaw (about a boy who writes his favourite author). Beverly Cleary even wrote three books based on the TV show Leave It to BeaverLeave It to Beaver, Here's Beaver!, and Beaver and Wally.

Beverly Cleary also wrote two autobiographies:  A Girl from Yamhill, published in 1988, and My Own Two Feet, published in 1995.

The phenomenal success of Beverly Cleary's books are due to a number of factors, not the least of which is that she apparently never forgot what it was like to be a child. In her books Mrs. Cleary addresses the sort of concerns common to most children. Beezus and Ramona worry about their father's smoking. Henry wants a new bicycle and has to figure out how to get one. Ramona finds herself constantly getting in trouble in kindergarten. Even her Ralph S. Mouse books touch upon the sort of things children worry about. Namely, Ralph wants a life of adventure beyond his mouse colony.

Not only do Beverly Cleary's books deal with children whose concerns reflect those of children in real life, but they are set in, for lack of a better term, the real world. Unlike many children's books at the time, Beverly Cleary's "Henry Huggins" and "Ramona" books were set in Portland, Oregon in the mid-20th Century. It is a world with which children are still somewhat familiar. What is more, unlike many books at the time, Beverly Cleary never sought to teach moral lessons in her books. This reflected her own tastes as a child. On the occasion of her 95th birthday she said, "If I suspected the author was trying to show me how to be a better behaved girl, I shut the book."

One more factor in Beverly Cleary's success is that her books could be enjoyed by children of both sexes. Girls could easily enjoy the "Henry Huggins" books while boys could enjoy the "Ramona" books. Quite simply, most girls probably knew a boy like Henry and most boys probably knew a girl like Ramona. This certainly sets Beverly Cleary's books apart from today's books, most of which seem to be written for only boys or only girls.

On her 100th birthday the extent of Beverly Cleary's impact on young lives is plain to see, with several news articles and opinion pieces discussing her career. On social media sites across the Web individuals have expressed how much they love her books. Indeed, the whole reason I wrote this blog post is to show my own appreciation of Mrs. Clearly. I read many of her books growing up. My favourite has always been the "Ralph S. Mouse" books. She is one of a number of writers who inspired a love of reading in me and one whose books I enjoyed a good deal. I am then very happy she has seen her 100th year and she has been able to see the impact she has had on literally generations of children.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Rita Gam Passes On

Rita Gam, who appeared in such films as The Thief (1952) and No Exit (1962), died on March 22 2016 at the age of 88.

Rita Gam was born Rita MacKay in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on April 2 1927. She grew up in New York City. She took her stage name by adopting the surname of her stepfather, Benjamin Gam. She had a career in modelling before she was cast in a role on Broadway in A Flag is Born in 1946. In the late Forties she also appeared on Broadway in A Temporary Island, The Insect Comedy, and The Young and Fair. She made her television debut on an episode of Believe It or Not in 1950.

In 1952 Rita Gam made her film debut in The Thief. That same year she signed a contract with MGM. In the Fifties she appeared in such films as Saadia (1953), Night People (1954), Sign of the Pagan (1954), Magic Fire (1955), Mohawk (1956), Sierra Baron (1958), Costa Azzurra (1959), and Annibale (1959). She guest starred on such shows as Lights Out, Trapped, Danger, Lux Video Theatre, The Motorola Television Hour, The Jack Benny Program, The Ford Television Theatre, Kraft Theatre, Studio One, The Steve Allen Plymouth Show, Armchair Theatre, and The United States Steel Hour.

In the Sixties Rita Gam appeared in the films King of Kings (1961) and No Exit (1962). She guest starred on such shows as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Jackie Gleason Show, Family Affair, and Hidden Faces. She appeared on Broadway in There's a Girl in My Soup.

In the Seventies Miss Gam appeared in the films Klute (1971), Shoot Out (1971), Such Good Friends (1971), The Gardener (1974), and Law and Disorder (1974). She appeared on the soap opera Love of Life and guest starred on the shows McMillan & Wife, Mannix, Matt Helm, Harry O, Greatest Heroes of the Bible, and The Rockford Files.

In the Eighties Miss Gam appeared on the TV shows Romance Theatre and The Edge of Night. She guest starred on the shows Tales of the Unexpected and Tucker's Witch. She appeared in the films Distortions (1987) and Midnight (1989). In the Nineties she appeared in the film Rowing Through (1996). She appeared on Broadway in Uncle Vanya. In the Naughts she appeared on Broadway in Fortune's Fool.