Friday, August 31, 2018

My Beloved Vanessa Marquez

"Grief is the price we pay for love." HRM Queen Elizabeth II

This is the hardest blog post I will ever have to write. Yesterday actress Vanessa Marquez was shot and killed by the South Pasadena Police Department. She was probably best known as Nurse Wendy Goldman on the TV series ER and Ana Delgado in the classic film Stand and Deliver (1988). I knew her as my dear friend. In fact, I have to  admit that I was in love with Vanessa. She was one of the sweetest, kindest, gentlest people I have ever known. We shared a love of classic films, classic television shows, Star Wars, and pop culture. We interacted on several social media platforms, from Twitter to Facebook to Instagram. We texted each other nearly every day and talked on the phone for hours at least once a week.

Vanessa Rosalia Marquez was born on December 21 1968 in Los Angeles County, California. Her father, John Marquez, died when she was only 1 1/2 years old in the Vietnam War. She took an interest in acting while very young, especially after seeing The Wizard of Oz (1939) for the first time when she was three or four. When she was 8 years old she wrote Paramount Studios telling them she was ready to audition for any parts. Even as a child she was a fan of classic films, particularly Judy Garland and Shirley Temple. She studied tap dancing while she was very young.

Vanessa made her film debut in the role of Ana Delgado in the classic Stand and Deliver in 1988.  The film was based on the true story of math teacher Jaime Escalante. In 2011 Stand and Deliver was added to the National Film Registry with the comment that it was "...one of the most popular of a new wave of narrative feature films produced in the 1980s by Latino filmmakers." The following year she appeared in the film Night Children (1989).  It was also in 1989 that she appeared in the play Demon Wine at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in the role of Wanda. Vanessa made her television debut in the TV movie To My Daughter in 1990. That same year she appeared in the TV movie Sweet 15 and she guest starred on the TV show Wiseguy.

The early Nineties saw Vanessa Marquez appear in the films Twenty Bucks (1993), Bound by Honour (1993), Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence (1993), Blood in, Blood Out (1993), and Father Hood (1993). In 1991 she appeared in the TV movie Locked Up: A Mother's Rage and in 1994 in the TV movie State of Emergency. She guest starred on the TV shows Tequilla and Bonetti, Seinfeld, Nurses and Melrose Place. She was part of the ensemble of the comedy sketch show Culture Clash in 1993. In 1991 she appeared at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in the one act play La Pinta.

In 1994 she began appearing in what may be her best known role, as Nurse Wendy on the TV show ER.  She appeared on the show through its third season. Vanessa spoke out about sexual harassment and the use of ethnic slurs towards her on the set of ER. She said that she was subsequently blacklisted for reporting the harassment. Regardless, her credits became fewer after her stint on ER. While still on ER, she voiced six different fairies in the episode "Sleeping Beauty" of the HBO animated series Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child. She appeared in the 1997 TV movie All Lies End in Murder and made three guest appearances on the show Malcolm & Eddie. She provided the voice of a singer in the film Under Suspicion (2000).

Vanessa Marquez's only scripted television credit in the Naughts was the TV movie Fire & Ice. In 2005 she appeared in an episode of the A&E reality series Intervention, on which she attempted to deal with her shopping addiction. She appeared in the Star Wars fan video short Return of Pink Five in 2006. Her last film appearances were in the 2013 movie Shift and the 2017 short subject The Problem of Evolution. In 2010 she appeared in Anna in the Tropics at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, playing the role of Marela. In 2011 she appeared in the lead role in Sylvia at the Sierra Madre Playhouse.

In 2010 Vanessa helped raise money for cancer treatment for James Escalante, the teacher upon whom  the movie Stand and Deliver was based.

When I first learned of Vanessa' death last night I began crying and I did not sleep at all. I would not stop crying until nearly 1 PM Central Time. Vanessa was very special to me. In fact, I am not sure how long we had actually known each other. It seemed as if we had known each other forever. We met through live tweeting the TV show Mad Men and bonded further through live tweets to movies on Turner Classic Movies using the hashtag #TCMParty. We eventually became very close friends. We interacted on several social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. We texted each other nearly every day. We talked on the phone about once a week, and our conversations could last upwards of four hours. We had a good deal in common. We were both close to the same age (I was five years older than Vanessa) and we shared a love of classic movies, classic television shows, and pop culture in general. I loved Vanessa Marquez very dearly, as did all of her friends in the #TCMParty community. She was an absolutely wonderful person, beautiful inside and out.

As wonderful as Vanessa was, she did have her share of difficulties. She had a terminal illness, refractory coeliac disease. She experienced seizures on a regular basis. Vanessa also experienced her share of financial difficulties. Despite her ill heath, Vanessa was generally in good spirits. She enjoyed interacting with her friends and expressed concern for them when they were sick or feeling down. If one was having a bad day, he or she could always count on Vanessa to cheer him or her up.

Of course, she was also an immensely talented actress. As Nurse Wendy Goldman on ER there were a few times when Vanessa was required to speak Spanish. At the time, Vanessa did not speak Spanish. She had to learn her lines phonetically with a friend who did speak Spanish. Watching those episodes of ER, one would never know Vanessa did not know Spanish. She also gave a bravura performance in Stand and Deliver, easily one of the best in a film filled with great performances. As a guest voice on Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child she voiced six different fairies, none of which sounded alike and none of which sounded like Vanessa. In her various appearances on television and in film, no matter how brief her roles may have been, Vanessa Marquez was always guaranteed to give a good performance.

In the end I would like for Vanessa Marquez to be remembered as the wonderful person and the talented actress that she was rather than her tragic end. I will remember her as a woman that I loved dearly. In the coming weeks it is going to be very difficult not picking up the phone to call her or text her. And, of course, I know that in the coming weeks there will be even more tears. I loved Vanessa more than I would care to admit, and I know that I will miss her for the rest of my life.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Ingrid Bergman in Spellbound (1945)

Ingrid Bergman made three films with Alfred Hitchcock: Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946), and Under Capricorn  (1949). Spellbound and Notorious would both prove to be very influential. In the case of Spellbound, it would inspire such similar thrillers involving psychiatry as Shock (1946) and Whirlpool (1949). Its dream sequences would have an influence lasting into the Sixties in such films as Rosemary's Baby (1968).

Spellbound was based on the 1927 novel The House of Dr. Edwardes by Hilary Saint George Saunders and John Palmer. Spellbound centres on psychiatrist Dr. Constance Peterson (played by Ingrid Bergman), who soon learns that the new director of her hospital, Dr. Anthony Edwardes (played by Gregory Peck) is an impostor. What is more, the real Dr. Edwardes may have very well been murdered.

Given how well Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck played their roles, it seems inconceivable that anyone else was considered for their roles. That having been said. David O. Selznick (whom Alfred Hitchcock was under contract to at the time) wanted Joseph Cotten, Dorothy McGuire, and Paul Lukas to play the lead roles in Spellbound. Selznick also considered Greta Garbo for the role of Dr. Peterson, although that would have involved somehow luring her out of retirement. He also considered Jennifer Jones for the role, although Alfred Hitchcock rejected her for the part. In the end Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck were cast in the parts of Dr. Peterson and Anthony Edwardes.

Although it might seem amazing today, Ingrid Bergman initially rejected the script because she thought the film's love story seemed unbelievable. Alfred Hitchcock then oversaw rewrites of the script that would place more emphasis on what he called "a manhunt wrapped up in pseudo-psychoanalysis."

Spellbound entered production on July 7 1944, which also happened to be Ingrid Bergman's wedding anniversary. Alfred Hitchcock then ordered a cake to be delivered after shooting wrapped up at the end of the day. Ingrid Bergman would become one of Alfred Hitchcock's favourite leading ladies. Even though they only made two films together, they would remain close friends for the rest of their lives. Miss Bergman also had a good relationship with her co-star Gregory Peck, in some respects perhaps too good. The two had a brief affair during the filming of Spellbound.

Ingrid Bergman credits Alfred Hitchcock with the best piece of direction she ever received. She was having problems with one of the more emotional scenes in Spellbound. She told Hitchcock of her difficulties and, in response, he told her, "Ingrid, fake it!" For the rest of her career she would remember Alfred Hitchcock's advice any time she encountered similar problems with a scene.

Of course, Spellbound is well known for its dream sequences designed by Salvador Dali and Alfred Hitchcock. As originally conceived, Dali's dream sequences would have cost $150,000. This did not sit well with David O. Selznick, who seriously considered doing away with the dream sequences entirely. Fortunately, Hitchcock figured out a means using special effects and projections of Dali's art work that would only cost $20,000. Worse yet, David O. Selznick thought the dream sequences as initially shot were too pedestrian. He then turned to the legendary William Cameron Menzies, who developed a new scenario for the dream sequences.  Both Dali and Hitchcock approved the revised dream sequences. Initially conceived as lasting 22 minutes, the dream sequences in Spellbound were eventually reduced to only two minutes of the film's running time.

Originally Spellbound was to be titled after the novel upon which it was based, The House of Dr. Edwardes. Eventually Selznick decided that he did not like that title and a contest was held at Selznick International Pictures for a new name. A secretary, Ruth Batchelor, won $50 for coming up with the title Spellbound.

Upon its release Spellbound received positive reviews over all. It also performed relatively well at the box office. While Spellbound is not often counted among Alfred Hitchcock's greatest films, it would have a lasting impact on cinema, as mentioned above. It would also be the start of a lifelong friendship between Ingrid Bergman and Alfred Hitchcock.


Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Fredd Wayne Passes On

Fredd Wayne, best known for his portrayal of Benjamin Franklin, died on August 27 2018 at the age of 93.

Fredd Wayne was born Frederick Weiner on October 17 1924 in Akron, Ohio. It was only two days after he graduated from high school that he went to Hollywood to visit his cousin Lester Cowan, who had served as a producer on You Can't Cheat an Honest Man (1939) and My Little Chickadee (1939). Lester Cowan could find nothing for young Fredd Wayne, but fortunately he got a job in the mailroom at Warner Bros.

Fredd Wayne was drafted into the United States Army during World War II. He served in Special Services for the 253rd Infantry Regiment of the 63rd Infantry Division. Among his duties were running movie projectors as well as writing and performing in shows for soldiers. He would eventually serve in Europe where he fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He later created G.I. Carmen, a comedic version of Carmen in which the female parts were all played by male soldiers. It proved to be one of the most successful G.I. shows of the war.

Following the war Fredd Wayne got a job at the offices of J.C. Penney and at night studied acting at the American Theatre Wing. Among his classmates were Lee Marvin and Martin Balsam. In 1949 he appeared on Broadway in Texas, L'il Darlin. He later appeared in London in the original British production of South Pacific and on Broadway in Not for Children. Mr. Wayne made his television debut in an episode of The Philco Television Playhouse. In the Fifties he guest starred on such shows as The Ford Television Theatre, Studio One, Kraft Television Theatre, Robert Montgomery Presents, Omnibus, Armstrong Circle Theatre, Matinee Theatre, Gunsmoke, Make Room for Daddy, Lux Video Theatre, General Electric Theatre, Alcoa Theatre, Richard Diamond Private Detective, Maverick, Wagon Train, M Squad, The Untouchables, and 77 Sunset Strip. He made his movie debut in Seagulls Over Sorrento in 1954. During the Fifties he appeared in the movies The Man is Armed (1956) and Torpedo Run (1958).

It was in 1964 that Fredd Wayne came up with the idea of a one-man show based on Benjamin Franklin. After considerable research he made appearances as Benjamin Franklin on Today and The Tonight Show. He then launched his one-man show Benjamin Franklin, Citizen in upstate New York. The show would lead to his 1966 guest appearance on Bewitched as Benjamin Franklin. During the Sixties Mr. Wayne also guest starred on such shows as Have Gun--Will Travel, Perry Mason, The Real McCoys, The Twilight Zone, Dr. Kildare, Bachelor Father, The Defenders, Rawhide, Hogan's Heroes, My Three Sons, Daniel Boone (once more as Benjamin Franklin), The Wonderful World of Disney, and Nanny and the Professor. He appeared in the films Twenty Plus Two (1961), The Spiral Road (1962), Seven Days in May (1964), Sex and the Single Girl (1964), and Chamber of Horrors (1966).

In the Seventies he guest starred on the shows The Young Lawyers, Ironside, Cade's County, Banacek, The Rockford Files, Wonder Woman, and Trapper John M.D. He played George Washington in the TV movie A Picture of Us. He appeared in the movie Hangup (1974). In the Eighties he played Benjamin Franklin in episodes of the shows Voyagers! and Simon & Simon. He guest starred on Quincy M.E., Lou Grant, One Day at a Time, It's a Living, St. Elsewhere, Matlock, and Cagney & Lacey. He voiced seven different roles in the animated film American Pop (1981). He appeared in the movies Dutch Treat  (1987) and A More Perfect Union: America Becomes a Nation (1989--once more playing Benjamin Franklin).

In the Nineties he appeared in the film Man on the Moon (1999). He guest starred on the TV shows Cheers, The Trials of Rosie O'Neill, and Encore! Encore!.

Perhaps no other man was as convincing as Fredd Wayne was as Benjamin Franklin. In fact, I would say that for Baby Boomers and Gen Xers he was Benjamin Franklin. He played Ben Franklin many, many times. Not only did he play him on various TV shows (Bewitched, Daniel Boone, Voyagers! and Simon & Simon) and his own one-man show, but in the Bob Hope special America is 200 Years Old and at colleges and conventions across the United States. Perhaps no other actor was ever so well suited to the role. Of course, he also played many other roles through the years. He was actress Liz Powell's agent Barney in the classic Twilight Zone episode "Twenty Two".  He played corrupt saloon owner Carl Jimson in the Maverick episode "Relic of Fort Tejon". Over the years he played everything from police officers to medical doctors to lawyers. And he played all of them well.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Late Great Neil Simon

Neil Simon, the playwright and screenwriter who wrote such classics as Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, and Plaza Suite, as well as writing for such classic TV shows as Your Show of Shows and The Phil Silvers Show, died today at the age of 91. The cause was renal failure. He had suffered from Alzheimer's disease.

Neil Simon was born on July 4 1927 in The Bronx, New York City.  He had one older brother, television writer Danny Simon. He was raised in Washington Heights in Manhattan, and graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School. With a difficult home life, young Neil Simon found escape in the movies. He particularly enjoyed the silent comedies of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Laurel & Hardy. He began writing comedy while still in high school. When he was 15 he and his brother Danny Simon wrote comedy sketches for department store employees at their annual event.

After his graduation from high school Neil Simon enlisted in the Army Air Force Reserve at New York University. He was eventually stationed at Lowry Field in Colorado with the rank of corporal. He later attended the University of Denver from 1945 to 1946. For a time he worked as a mailroom clerk at Warner Bros.' office in Manhattan. He eventually quit this job to write radio and television scripts with his brother Danny Simon. Among the radio shows for which the Simon brothers was The Robert Q. Lewis Show.

Neil Simon's earliest work in television was an episode of The Arrow Show in 1948 that he wrote with his brother. In the late Forties he went onto write for Cavalcade of Stars (which starred Jackie Gleason), The Garry Moore Show, and Your Show of Shows. Along with his brother Danny, Mr. Simon was one of several legendary writers to emerge from Your Show of Shows, along with Mel Brooks, Selma Diamond, and Mel Tonkin. He continued to work on Your Show of Shows into the Fifties. Afterwards he worked on several of Max Liebman's spectaculars (including Dearest Enemy, Heidi, Paris in Springtime, and Heaven Will Protect the Working Girl), as well as such classic TV shows as Caesar's Hour The Phil Silvers Show, and The Garry Moore Show. He wrote several television specials in the Fifties, including Babes in Toyland, A Connecticut Yankee, The Chocolate Soldier, and The Adventures of Marco Polo. His plays would late provide the basis for several TV shows and TV movies, most notably the 1970 TV shows The Odd Couple and Barefoot in the Park.

While Neil Simon began in radio and television, arguably his greatest success would come on Broadway. His first work on Broadway were sketches for the revue Catch a Star! in 1955. He also contributed sketches to New Faces of 1956. His first play on Broadway was Come Blow Your Horn, which premiered in 1961 and ran for 678 performances. His play Little Me premiered in 1962. He met with major success with his next two plays, Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple. He met with continued success on Broadway in the Sixties with such plays as Sweet Charity, The Star-Spangled Girl, There's a Girl in My Soup, Plaza Suite, Promises Promises, and Last of the Red Hot Lovers.

In the Seventies he saw continued success with such plays as The Sunshine Boys, The Good Doctor, California Suite, Chapter Two, and I Ought to Be in Pictures. In the Eighties he wrote such plays as Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, Broadway Bound, and Rumours. In the Nineties he wrote Lost in Yonkers, Jake's Women, Laughter on the 23rd Floor, London Suite, Proposals, and The Dinner Party. In the Naughts he wrote 45 Seconds from Broadway and Rose's Dilemma. Over the years several of his plays were adapted as films, including Come Blow Your Horn, Sweet Charity, Star-Spangled Girl, and many others.

Of course, Neil Simon would adapt his own plays for the screen, as well as write original screenplays for films. In the Sixties he adapted his plays Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple for the big screen. His first original screenplay was The Out-of-Towners, released in 1970. The Seventies he would write such screenplays (both adaptations of his plays and originals) as Plaza Suite (1971), Last of the Red Hot Lovers (1972), The Heartbreak Kid (1972), The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975), The Sunshine Boys (1975), Murder by Death (1976), The Goodbye Girl (1977), The Cheap Detective (1978), California Suite (1978), Chapter Two (1979), and Seems Like Old Times (1980).

In the Eighties Mr. Simon wrote the screenplays for such films as Only When I Laugh (1981), I Ought to Be in Pictures (1982), Max Dugan Returns (1983), The Slugger's Wife (1985), Brighton Beach Memoirs (1986), and Biloxi Blues (1988). During the Nineties he wrote the screenplays for such films as The Marrying Man (1991), Lost in Yonkers (1993), and The Odd Couple II (1998).

Neil Simon won more Academy Awards and Tony Awards combined than any other writer. There should be little wonder why. Mr. Simon had a gift for knowing what was funny. What is more, no one was perhaps more adept than drawing upon his own life for humour than Neil Simon was. While they were often very funny and sometimes the situations were somewhat exaggerated, his plays seemed very true to life. Quite simply, many of us know someone like Felix Unger or Oscar Madison. It was among Neil Simon's gifts that he had a knack for creating true-to-life characters in true-to-life situations.

With regards to his comedy style, Neil Simon was very versatile. Much of his comedy was verbal and much of it relied on humorous situations, but at the same time he was capable of writing fine physical humour. One does not have to look very closely to see the influence of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton upon Neil Simon. In the end it can perhaps be said simply that Neil Simon had a gift for making people laugh.