Saturday, August 31, 2019

Godspeed Valerie Harper

Valerie Harper, best known for playing Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the spinoff Rhoda, died yesterday, August 30 2019, at the age of 80. She had been diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009 and leptomeningeal carcinomatosis in 2013.

Valerie Harper was born on August 22 1939 in New York City. Because her father's work, the family moved frequently, so that Valerie Harper lived in South Orange, New Jersey; Pasadena, California; Monroe, Michigan; Ashland, Oregon; and Jersey City, New Jersey.  Valerie Harper studied ballet in New York City and attended the Quintano School for Young Professionals there, alongside classmates Carol Lynley, Sal Mineo, and Tuesday Weld.

Valerie Harper began her career as a dancer on Broadway. She made her debut on Broadway in Take Me Along in 1959 and appeared in Wildcat in 1960. In the Sixties she appeared in the productions Subways Are for Sleeping, Something Different, and Paul Sills' Story Theatre. She made her film debut as an uncredited dancer in Rock Rock Rock! in 1956 and appeared in an uncredited role in Li'l Abner (1959).

In the Sixties Miss Harper appeared on Broadway in Ovid's Metamorphoses. She made her television debut in an episode of The Doctors in 1963. It was in 1970 that Valerie Harper began playing Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Rhoda was Mary Richards's wisecracking neighbour from New York City on the show. The character proved popular enough that she would be spun off into her own show, Rhoda, in 1974.

In the Seventies Valerie Harper continued playing Rhoda on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and starred as Rhoda on the sitcom of the same name. Rhoda lasted for five seasons. She also guest starred on such shows as Love, American Style; Story Theatre; Columbo, and The Muppet Show. She appeared in the films Freebie and the Bean (1974), Chapter Two (1980), and The Last Married Couple in America (1980).

In the Eighties Valerie Harper played the lead role on the sitcom Valerie until she was fired from the show due to a salary dispute.  She won a wrongful termination lawsuit against Lorimar Television. Later in the decade she starred in the TV series City. Miss Harper guest starred on The Love Boat and also appeared in several TV movies throughout the decade. She appeared in the feature film Blame It On Rio (1984).

In the Nineties she starred in the short-lived TV series The Office (not to be confused with the later British and American shows of the same name) and was a semi-regular on the TV series Missing Persons. She guest starred on the shows Promised Land, Melrose Place, Touched by an Angel, Sex and the City, and Beggars and Choosers. She starred along side Mary Tyler Moore in the TV reunion movie Mary and Rhoda, and also appeared in several TV movies throughout the decade. She returned to Broadway in The Tale of the Allergist's Wife.

In the Naughts Valerie Harper guest starred on the TV shows That 70's Show, Family Law, Three Sisters, As Told by Ginger, Less Than Perfect, Committed, and 'Til Death. She starred as Golda Meir in the film Golda's Balcony (2007). Miss Harper appeared one last time on Broadway win Looped. In the Teens she guest starred on the shows Desperate Housewives; Drop Dead Diva; Hot in Cleveland; Signed, Sealed, Delivered, Melissa & Joey, 2 Broke Girls, and Children's Hospital. She was a frequent guest voice on The Simpsons for much of the decade was also a guest voice on American Dad!. She appeared in the movies Certainty (2011), Shiver (2012), The Town That Came A-Courtin' (2014), and Stars in Shorts: No Ordinary Love (2016).

Valerie Harper had a gift for comedy and a gift for fully realising characters. There should be little wonder that Rhoda remains one of the best remembered characters from The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the character proved so popular. While it is a certainty that Valerie Harper will always be best remembered as Rhoda, she played a wide array of characters throughout her career, particularly on stage. She played Golda Meir in the one woman stage show Golda's Balcony. She played Tallulah Bankhead in the play Looped. In her various TV movies she played everything from a divorced mother (The Day the Loving Stopped) to the mother of a schizophrenic (Strange Voices) to the editor of a fashion magazine (Perry Mason: The Case of the Fatal Fashion). Valerie Harper admittedly had a gift for comedy, but her talents lent themselves to drama as well. She was an immensely talented actress.

Friday, August 30, 2019

One Year Later

"What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies." Aristotle

"The pain of grief is just as much part of life as the joy of love: it is perhaps the price we pay for love, the cost of commitment." Dr. Colin Murray Parkes

It was one year ago today that actress Vanessa Marquez died. For many Vanessa was Ana Delgado in Stand and Deliver (1988) or Nurse Wendy Goldman on ER. For me she was my dearest friend, the one person I love more than any other in my life. Her death is the most traumatic event in my entire life and August 30 2018 will forever be the worst day of my life.

My memories of that day are still not entirely clear. I have no doubt that I have repressed much of it. Anyway, I called Vanessa that day and she did not answer. I then texted her, figuring that if she was asleep she could answer when she woke up. Vanessa texted me back and let me know that she was having very severe seizures. I asked her if she wanted me to call the paramedics. She said that she did. It was then that I called the paramedics directly. Given the timing of the events that day, I am still convinced that her landlord (according to many news reports) called the police or South Pasadena decided to send them on their own. After all, they were there before the paramedics even arrived.  Anyway, I had to go to work at our local historical society's museum that afternoon. I texted Vanessa when I got back. I waited a long time for a reply and then searched the internet to see if perhaps she had been taken to hospital. It was around 8:00 PM Central Time that I learned that there had been an officer invovled shooting involving an unnamed 49 year old woman at the address of Vanessa's apartment. I knew right then it was Vanessa.  It was only a little before 11:00 PM Central that The South Pasadenan confirmed the woman was Vanessa. I broke down crying immediately. I let some of our mutual friends know, and then posted the news to Facebook and Twitter. By that point I have to believe I was in shock. I did not sleep the entire night and I cried until 1:00 PM the next day. In the early morning of August 31 2018 I actually thought of suicide. I dismissed it as I realised I should stay alive to preserve Vanessa's legacy and try to get her justice, and I didn't want my friends and family mourning the way I was. Of course, I also realized that Vanessa would be very angry with me if I took my own life. I would sleep very little for the next few nights and I wouldn't eat anything at all until Sunday evening. I had absolutely no appetite at all.

Here I want to stress that Vanessa Marquez was not mentally ill, nor was she suicidal. In our last conversation we talked about The X-Files 25th anniversary marathon set to air on BBCAmerica and a John Williams concert in the area that she was looking forward to. She talked to a mutual friend about a sale at Sephora that weekend. Even though she had been sick all summer, she was still enthusiastic about life. What is more, she still had her sense of humour. It is why I am convinced that the South Pasadena police officers present that day are guilty of utter incompetence, gross negligence, criminal irresponsibility, inappropriate behaviour, and extremely unprofessional conduct. I am convinced that none of them should ever have been police officers and that they belong in prison or a mental institution. I have written the South Pasadena City Council repeatedly telling them just that. As to the city of South Pasadena, they have responded to none of my letters and have released no information, not even the names of her killers.

Since Vanessa's death my mental health has taken a beating. In the month following her death I slept very little. When I did sleep I often had nightmares. I cried every day the whole month of September, usually multiple times. In the following months I would still be apt to break down crying at any given moment, particularly if I heard certain songs or experienced other reminders of Vanessa. When I first saw TCM Remembers 2018 I broke down crying when they got to Vanessa and I cried for a whole half hour. I still cry on a regular basis. From the very beginning I have had difficulty thinking about Vanessa's death, let alone discussing it at length. I literally have to prepare myself to do so. Even now I feel anxiety and it is not unusual for me to have panic attacks. There are some days I just don't want to get up in the morning. And I still feel a great deal of anger at both the police officers who murdered Vanessa and the city of South Pasadena who have done nothing about it. I have to admit that I regularly feel guilt, pondering if there was something I could have done differently or something more I could have done. Even now I have trouble concentrating and my memory isn't what it once was. If my behaviour has seemed a bit strange the past year, then the reason is quite simply that I am still dealing with the after effects of Vanessa's death.

The plain truth was that I considered Vanessa my best friend. In fact, I was and still am in love with her. One of my biggest regrets is that I never told her that I love her, although given Vanessa's intelligence I am fairly certain she knew anyway. I cannot speak for how Vanessa felt about me. I know she loved me, as she told me that she did, although I cannot say whether it was as a friend or something more. She certainly thought a lot of me, as she would never let me use my typical self-deprecating humour (for instance if I said, "When I was young and cute," she would respond, "You're still cute, silly!"). She worried about me a good deal, and I have no doubt that she is concerned for what has become of me the past year. Quite simply, we were very close. We had known each other for years. We communicated on an almost daily basis, whether on social media sites, through texts, or through phone calls for many of those years. Our discussions could last hours. Our mutual friend Paula told me that she thought no one made Vanessa happier than I did. Is it any wonder then that when Vanessa died I felt as if part of my soul had been torn away and I still feel as if part of me is missing?

Of course, I am not the only one mourning Vanessa Marquez. She had many friends and fans who loved her. Acclaimed cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz did a tribute to her in his comic strip La Cucaracha. She was included in the 2018 edition of TCM Remembers and in something of a place of honour, immediately following one of the breaks in the video so there was no way anyone could miss her. One of her co-stars from Stand and Deliver, Lydia Nicole, set up a petition to have Vanessa included in the on-air In Memoriams of the SAG Awards and the Oscars. The petition received national attention in such media outlets as The Los Angeles Times and Deadline. It is a mark of just how loved Vanessa is that the petition reached over 12,000 signatures. When the Academy failed to include her in the on-air In Memoriam, their omission of Vanessa also received national attention. Of course, as her inclusion in TCM Remembers 2018 shows, Vanessa was well-loved in the TCM community. She was one of the original members of #TCMParty, the group of Turner Classic Movies fans who live tweet movies on that channel using that hashtag. Vanessa had many friends among #TCMParty and everyone adored her, and not simply because she was a famous actress. Vanessa had an enthusiasm for classic movies that was absolutely contagious and she had considerable knowledge of classic film as well. When Vanessa died #TCMParty mourned her more than many better known celebrities, perhaps more than anyone except Robert Osborne. And I have to say that #TCMParty has supported me throughout this rough year. When she died I got many tweets and messages from fellow #TCMParty members who would tell me, "I am so sorry, Terry. I know you two were close." I think it is fully possible that I would not have survived without them. 

While I must admit to some bias where Vanessa Marquez is concerned, there should be little wonder that she is so loved by so many people. She was a talented actress who starred in a classic film (Stand and Deliver), a cult movie (Twenty Bucks),  and the no. 1 TV show of its time (ER). That is not why people love her though. She was also stunningly beautiful, with big dark eyes and a dazzling smile. That is not why people love her either. Instead people love Vanessa because she was an entirely wonderful woman. She was warm hearted. If someone was feeling down they could always count on Vanessa to cheer them up. If one of her friends was attacked by a troll on Facebook or Twitter, Vanessa was always the first to come to his or her defence. She was happy when something good happened to one of her friends and sad when something bad happened to them. And she was always eager to help others. When Jaime Escalante, the teacher upon whom Stand and Deliver was based, developed cancer, Vanessa was relentless in raising money for his medical bills. In my entire life I have never known anyone as loving, as giving, or as sweet as Vanessa.

As hard as this past year has been for me, I must admit that several good things have happened. As I mentioned above, Vanessa was included in TCM Remembers 2018, alongside classic actors, directors, and producers she adored. While she was not included in either the SAG Awards' or the Oscars' on-air In Memoriams, as I mentioned above, the petition to have her included in both on air In Memoriams reached over 12,000 signatures, proving once and for all that she was a major star. Two memorials were held in her honour, and more recently she was remembered when the LA Plaza de Cultures y Artes held a screening of Stand and Deliver. I had the honour of assisting in the scattering her ashes and I am now in regular contact with her mother. If there is one thing this past year has shown me, it is that the woman I love more than anyone else in my life is loved by many others and will not be forgotten.

As difficult as life can still be for me, I have slowly been recovering from my grief. I no longer cry every single day, multiple times a day. I can laugh again and find enjoyment in life more often than I had in the months immediately following Vanessa's death. I know I will miss Vanessa until the day I die, and there will always be this hole in my life where she should be, but I have to believe that one day I will be able to go without sorrow overtaking me on a regular basis. Ultimately, I feel lucky to have known Vanessa as well as I did and to have been so close to her. As strange as it sounds, if I had to do it all over again I would, even if I could not change the end (although I would try). Vanessa was the most remarkable, the most wonderful woman I ever knew. And I will always love her.

Vanessa Rosalia Marquez, December 21 1968-August 30 2018

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Sidney Poitier on Tuesday in September on TCM

During the month of September, Turner Classic Movies is dedicating Tuesday nights to Sir Sidney Poitier. They start things off on September 3 2019 with Mr. Poitier's film debut in the classic noir No Way Out (1950). While viewers will probably want to tune in every Tuesday, I would say that if you can only watch one night it should be September 17 2019, when TCM shows To Sir with Love (1967), Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), and In the Heat of the Night (1967) back to back. Other films that viewers will want to check out include Edge of the City (1957) on September 3,  A Raisin in the Sun (1961) and Lilies of the Field (1963) on September 10, and Buck and the Preacher (1972) on

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

James Bond Movies on TCM in September

This September on Turner Classic Movies, Thursday nights will be dedicated to James Bond. On September 5 TCM will star with Dr. No (1962) and then proceed to show the Bond movies in chronological order every Thursday night right up to 1999's The World is Not Enough.

Here I have to point out that this is not the first time that James Bond movies have aired on TCM. Dr. No (1962), From Russia with Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967), and Diamonds Are Forever (1971) have all previously aired on TCM. Of course, Casino Royale (1967), the James Bond film that was not produced by Eon Productions, has also aired on TCM before (it is not airing in September). Regardless, this will be the first time that this many James Bond movies will be shown in one month on Turner Classic Movies.

As to my opinion on which James Bond movies viewers absolutely should watch, I would say that they are Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Goldfiinger, all of which air on September 5; On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) and Live and Let Die (1972) on September 12; The Spy Loved Me (1977) on September 19; The Living Daylights (1987) and Goldeneye (1995). As to what to avoid, I think one can skip Moonraker (1979) and A View to a Kill (1985).

Anyhow, as a fan of the James Bond movies, I have to say that I am very happy Turner Classic Movies is showing them.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Dates Set for the 11th Annual TCM Classic Film Festival

Today Turner Classic Movies announced the dates for the 11th Annual TCM Classic Film Festival. It is being held from April 16 to April 19 2020. The theme this year is "Grand Illusions: Fantastic Worlds on Film." Of course, the festival will take place in Hollywood.

In the official announcement, TCM states, "You're invited on a wondrous journey to enchanted worlds of fantasy and stories beyond belief. From myths and magical creatures to ghostly encounters and travels through time, you'll escape with fellow movie lovers to places that will ignite your imagination."

Given the theme I have to think this year's festival will feature several fantasy and science fiction movies. I am hoping that I can make it to the TCM Classic Film Festival this year. I have wanted to go for years and I have never gotten the chance. I am hoping that this year will be different!

Monday, August 26, 2019

The 10 Greatest Dogs in Movie History

Today is International Dog Day. For that reason I thought I would do a list of what I considered the 10 greatest dogs in movie history. Here I have to point out that the list is limited to real dogs only, so that such movie dogs as Tramp from Lady and the Tramp (1955) and Spike from the "Tom and Jerry" theatrical shorts didn't qualify for the list. Without further ado, here is my list of the 10 greatest dogs in movie history, from no. 10 to no. 1.

10. Einstein (from the Back to the Future trilogy): In the Back to the Future movies Einstein is Doc Brown's loyal Catalan sheepdog. In the movies he has the honour of being the first animal to ever time travel, even if it was only one minute into the future. He was played by a dog named Tiger in the first film and a dog named Freddie in the other two. Here I must give an honourable mention to Copernicus, Doc Brown's Catalan sheepdog in 1955.

9. Old Yeller (from the movie of the same name): Old Yeller is one of the most famous movies about a dog ever. It is also one of the most tragic, so much so that most people remember the first time they saw it as children as a traumatic experience (at least if they were dog lovers, as I am). Old Yeller was played by cross between a Mastiff and a Labrador Retriever named Spike. Spike was trained by Frank Weatherwax, who trained many animal stars through the years. Spike also starred in the movies A Dog of Flanders and The Silent Call. He was Brian Keith's co-star in the short-lived Western The Westerner.

8. Sounder (from the movie of the same name):  Sounder is a remarkable movie in many respects. It was a family film about African Americans released at the height of the Blaxploitation cycle. It also presented the life of a black family during the Great Depression without resorting to stereotypes. Sounder is the family's hunting dog. What is more, he is an extremely faithful dog, even to the point of putting himself in danger for his master.

7. Petey (from the "Our Gang" comedy shorts): Also known as "Pete," Petey was the American Pit Bull Terrier who was the constant companion of the kids in the "Our Gang" comedies. The original Petey was played by a Pit Bull named "Pal." Pal had an auspicious film debut, appearing in the Harold Lloyd movie The Freshman. Afterwards he played Tige in "Buster Brown" two reelers. He first appeared in an "Our Gang" short in 1927, at which time the series was still being called "Hal Roach's Rascals." Pal died from poisoning in 1930, after which his son Pete took over the role of Pete in the "Our Gang" comedies. After Pete's trainer, Harry Lucenay, was fired from the series in 1932, a number of other unrelated dogs played the role of Pete until 1938.

6. Benji: Benji originated in the 1974 movie of the same name. In the original film Benji is a mixed breed, stray dog that the children of the Chapman family want to adopt. In the first movie Benji was played by Higgins, a dog who already had considerable experience in front of the camera. Higgins is probably best known as the dog on the TV show Petticoat Junction and also appeared on the shows The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Lassie. His two movie appearances were in Village of the Giants and Benji (which would be his last film).  While Higgins would appear in no more Benji movies (he died in 1975 at the age of 17), the first movie would spawn a franchise Higgins's descendants would continue to play the role of Benji for some time.

5. Jack (from The Artist): Jack was George's faithful Parson Russell Terrier in the movie The Artist. Jack is highly intelligent. He knows a number of tricks and seems to understand human language. He is also loyal and brave. Not only is he constantly with George, but he even saves George from a house fire. Of course, Jack is also a star in his own right. Jack was played by possibly the most famous dog in modern day movies, Uggie. Uggie not only starred in The Artist, but also in Water for Elephants as well. There was a campaign to have Uggie given a special Academy Award for The Artist and members of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts actually asked the academy if they could vote for Uggie for the BAFTA Award for Best Actor. So beloved was Uggie that his paw prints were placed at Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

4. Toto (from The Wizard of Oz): Toto has to be one of the most famous dogs in the history of film, and it is all because of one movie. Of course, that movie is The Wizard of Oz. In many ways Toto is a typical pooch. He chases Almira Gulch's cat. He eats hot dogs without having been asked first. That having been said, in other ways Toto is a very remarkable dog. He displays more bravery than some of the humanoid characters while in Oz. He is also very intelligent. After all, without Toto we might never have known about the Man Behind the Curtain. Toto was played by a female Cairn Terrier named Terry. Prior to The Wizard of Oz she had appeared in such films as Bright Eyes and Fury. After The Wizard of Oz she would appear in The Women and George Washington Slept Here.

3.  Rin Tin Tin: Rin Tin Tin was one of the major stars of the Silent Era. In fact, there is a legend that for the first Academy Awards Rin Tin Tin received more votes than anyone else for Best Actor, but the Academy thought it would be embarrassing for a dog to win, so they gave the award to Emil Jannings instead (given Jannings would later become a loyal Nazi, in hindsight they were probably better off giving Rin Tin Tin the award...). Rin Tin Tin received his first starring role in Where the North Begins in 1923. Both the film and the dog would prove so successful that he would star in 24 more movies. The popularity of Rin Tin Tin made German Shepherds one of the most popular dog breeds in the United States in the Twenties. Following Rin Tin Tin's death in 1932, his son would begin a film career. It was the original Rin Tin Tin's grandson who would star in the Fifties TV series.

2. Lassie: Lassie is arguably the most famous dog of all time. Lassie first appeared in the short story "Lassie Come Home" by Eric Knight and published in The Saturday Evening Post. Mr. Knight expanded the story into the novel Lassie Come Home, which was adapted as the 1943 MGM feature film of the same name. The film would launch a franchise that would include several films and five different TV shows (two of them animated). Although Lassie is a female Rough Collie she has always been played by male Collies. The first of these was Pal, who played Lassie in a succession of films for the next fourteen films. Pal's descendants would play the role until 1997, when Animal Planet made the controversial decision to cast an unrelated Collie in a new TV series.

1. Asta (from the "Thin Man" movies): In Dashiell Hammett's original novel, The Thin Man, Asta was a female Schnauzer. This would be changed for the movies, where Asta was a male Wire Haired Fox Terrier. And while Asta may not be as famous as Lassie or even Rin Tin Tin, he is quite possibly the most popular dog among classic film fans. There should be little wonder why. Asta is remarkably intelligent, with an understanding of the English language better than some humans. He also comes in very handy when Nick and Nora Charles are on a case, with a remarkable ability to sniff out corpses. Nick tells Asta in The Thin Man, "You're not a terrier, you're a police dog!" That having been said, Asta is not particularly brave, often running and hiding at the first sign of trouble, leaving Nick to deal with it. Asta was originally played by one of the greatest dog stars of all time, Skippy. Skippy made his debut in an uncredited role in The Half-Naked Truth in 1932. Afterwards he would appear in such films as The Awful Truth, Bringing Up Baby, and many others. Skippy would continue to appear in the "Thin Man" movies until Another Thin Man in 1939. Other terriers would take over the role in later movies and the Fifties TV series.