Saturday, December 21, 2019

The 51st Birthday of My Beloved Vanessa Marquez

“He felt now that he was not simply close to her, but that he did not know where he ended and she began.” Leo Tolstoy. Anna Karenina, Chapter XIV, Part V

"If the people we love are stolen from us, the way they live on is to never stop loving them. Buildings burn, people die, but real love is forever." Sarah, The Crow (1994)

Vanessa Marquez on her 48th birthday.
It was fifty-one years ago today that actress Vanessa Marquez, best known as Ana Delgado in the classic film Stand and Deliver (1988) and Nurse Wendy Goldman on ER, was born. Vanessa was not only a talented and beautiful actress, but she was also a kind, compassionate, loving, and intelligent woman. Vanessa and I were very close. I considered her my best friend and, in fact, even after nearly a year and four months after her death, I am still very much in love with her. I have never loved anyone as much as I love Vanessa and I know I never will again. It should come as no surprise, then, that I sometimes teased Vanessa about being my Christmas present for when I was five years old, even though I wouldn't know about it until years later. Regardless, she was always proud of being a solstice baby and she loved the holiday season.

Given December 21 1968 is the date of birth of my dearest Vanessa Marquez, I have researched the day to get an idea of what else happened on that date.  As near as I can tell from searching old newspapers, the weather in Los Angeles County on December 21 1968 was fair with northerly wind gusts up to 25 miles per hour. The high temperature was around 56 degrees and the low was around 38 degrees. The big news item that day was the launch of the Apollo 8 mission. It took place at 7:51 AM Eastern time. Apollo 8 was historic as the first manned spacecraft to orbit the Moon. Given how much Vanessa loved science fiction, it is only fitting that she was born the same day that a NASA mission launched. Vanessa was not only the biggest Star Wars fan I knew, but she was also a fan of Star Trek, Space 1999, The Twilight Zone, and The X-Files, among others.

For the most part the television schedule for December 21 1968 was nothing remarkable, with the networks sticking to their usual schedules. NBC aired Adam-12, Get Smart, The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, and NBC Saturday Night at the Movies. CBS aired The Jackie Gleason Show, My Three Sons, Hogan's Heroes, Petticoat Junction, and Mannix. ABC aired The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, The Lawrence Welk Show, and The Hollywood Palace. The only programming of note was NBC Saturday Night at the Movies and The Hollywood Palace. NBC Saturday Night at the Movies aired the movie White Christmas (1954). It would be the third or fourth annual airing of White Christmas on NBC Saturday Night at the Movies, as well as the last. The following season it moved to NBC Tuesday Night at the Movies. Given how much Vanessa loved Christmas and classic movies, it was a fitting film to air on the day of her birth. The Hollywood Palace aired its annual Christmas edition, featuring Bing Crosby and his family, as well as guests John Byner, Glenn Campbell, The Lennon Sisters, and Nicolai Olkovikov (a Russian juggler). Strangely enough, given White Christmas aired opposite The Hollywood Palace, Bing Crosby was in competition with himself on television that night.

The number one show for the week of December 15 1968-December 21 1968 was Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C., although the only reason it was at no. 1 was perhaps because Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In (the no. 1 show of the 1968-1969 season) didn't air that week. The number one song on the Billboard Hot 100 was "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye. In Canada "Wichita Lineman" by Glenn Campbell was at no. 1 and in the United Kingdom "Lilly the Pink" by The Scaffold was at no. 1. I was unable to find out what the no. 1 movie was for that weekend.

The card I made for Vanessa's 48th birthday.
As important a day as December 21 1968 would turn out to be for me, I have no memory what I might have done that day. I was barely five years old, after all. I assume that coverage of Apollo 8 might have at least pre-empted some of the cartoons I usually watched every Saturday at that age. Born in the Space Age and fascinated by NASA even then, I probably watched it if they did. If not, I probably watched my usual cartoons. I remember being a loyal viewer of The Banana Splits Adventure Hour and Underdog was my favourite cartoon.  I don't know what my family would have watched that night, but I know for certain that it was not on ABC (the Columbia/Jefferson City metropolitan area wouldn't get an ABC affiliate until 1971). That having been said, I don't know if we watched White Christmas on NBC or CBS's usual Saturday night line-up. Regardless, at that time I had no way of knowing the importance of December 21 1968 in my life. I rather doubt that I would have believed anyone if they had told me that when I grew up I would become close friends with a beautiful actress and that I would fall in love with her.

Of course, December 21 1968 wasn't just an important day for me or for Vanessa's family. It was also an important day for a good many people. Vanessa had a large number of friends who dearly love her and a number of fans who admire her to this day.  And there should be little wonder why she should be so adored. Vanessa Marquez was an extremely talented actress. Strangely enough, Vanessa once told me that she was always passed up when it came to school plays. Despite this, while still a teenager she was cast in the movie Stand and Deliver. According to the film's producer and screenwriter Tom Musca, Vanessa was a natural when it came to acting. Over the next several years Vanessa would get many opportunities to display her talent as an actress, on such shows as Wiseguy, Nurses, and, most notably, ER and in such movies as Twenty Bucks (1993).

A headshot from 2010
It was because Vanessa was just so talented, not to mention very beautiful, that she has a large number of fans around the world. Following her death I saw an outpouring of love for Vanessa from fans who never even knew her. A petition to have her included in the Academy Awards' on-air In Memoriam reached over 12,000 signatures. When the Academy failed to include her in the on-air In Memoriam, national media outlets took note of the fact. I always got the feeling that Vanessa thought she would be remembered for nothing more than Stand and Deliver. She didn't even think she would be remembered for ER. I always told her that she was wrong, that people loved her and would remember her. I am glad to say that in this instance it turns out I was right.

While Vanessa was certainly a talented actress and she was certainly beautiful, there were many more reasons why her friends love her. Vanessa was an intelligent, kind, caring, and loving woman with a good sense of humour. Vanessa cared deeply for her friends and was always quick to help them and quick to defend them if they were attacked. When Jaime Escalante (the teacher upon whom the movie Stand and Deliver was based) developed cancer, she was relentless in raising funds for his treatment. Vanessa not only cared for human beings, but for animals as well. For a time she volunteered at a local animal shelter. I am sure all of her friends have stories about just how compassionate Vanessa was. I know I have more than one. For example, when I had a particularly virulent case of the norovirus a few summers ago, Vanessa worried about me as much as my own family.

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, Vanessa had a wonderful sense of humour. It is little wonder why she was so good when it came to performing comedy. Not only did Vanessa maintain her sunny disposition even when she was at her sickest, but she had an uncanny ability to cheer people up even when she felt poorly herself. I could have an absolutely horrible day and talking to Vanessa could make everything better. Vanessa could brighten even the darkest of nights. Many of Vanessa's other friends have told me the same thing. Not only did Vanessa have a need to cheer her friends up when they were unhappy, but more often than not she succeeded.

A headshot from 1996 or 1997
What made Vanessa all the more remarkable is that despite being a well-known, talented actress and an extremely beautiful woman as well, she was entirely down-to-earth and unassuming. Having starred in a classic movie (Stand and Deliver) and the no. 1 show of its time (ER) I don't think anyone would have blamed Vanessa if she had a little bit of an ego, but she never did. In fact, despite the fact that nearly everyone considered her stunning, Vanessa would only admit to being cute at best. Vanessa never considered herself better than anyone else, despite her considerable achievements as an actress. So loved was Vanessa by her friends in #TCMParty, the group of TCM fans who live tweet movies on TCM using that hashtag, that our mutual friend Paula Guthat called her, "the Sweetheart of #TCMParty."

Given how bright, sweet, warm-hearted, and compassionate Vanessa was, there should be little wonder that her friends loved her deeply. As for myself, I don't think there is any way I could have not loved Vanessa. Not only was she an entirely beautiful, intelligent, and sweet woman, but we had so much in common as well. We both loved Star Wars, Mad Men, The X-Files, Star Trek, the 1966 TV series Batman, The Monkees, The Andy Griffith Show, and classic movies. Our views on politics and life ran parallel to each other. We could even complete each others' sentences. I sometimes told Vanessa that she was perfect (something she strenuously denied) and I do believe that for me she was.

Even now I cannot say how Vanessa felt about me beyond that she considered me a close friend. She did tell me that she loved me, but I cannot say with any certainty whether she meant it as a friend or something more. As to myself, Vanessa is ultimately the one person I have loved more than anyone else in my life. I have called her my soulmate, the love of my life, and the girl of my dreams, and none of that is hyperbole. Indeed, to this day I find it difficult to use the past tense, "loved," when discussing Vanessa. My love for her did not end when she died. I still love her more than anyone or anything. Because of this, the past year and four months have been the hardest of my life. Even now it is not unusual for me to break down crying at odd moments.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, as sad as I am that Vanessa is no longer with us, I know I can speak not only for myself but for her other friends as well in saying that the anniversary of her birth is reason to celebrate. Vanessa Marquez was an altogether remarkable woman who made all of her friends richer for having known her. I don't know about her other friends, but if I had to do it all over again, even if I knew I could not change the end, I would. Vanessa was an intelligent, beautiful, talented, compassionate, and warm-hearted woman who cared deeply for her friends and helped so many. While she deserved much better than to die the way she did, the fact that she was born at all is reason to rejoice.

Friday, December 20, 2019

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by Judy Garland

This September I had the opportunity to see one of my all time favourite movies, Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), on the big screen. Not only was this a special event for me because it was the first time I had ever seen it in the theatre, but because there was a question and answer session between Ben Mankiewicz and Margaret O'Brien (who played Tootie in the film). While I have never thought of Meet Me in St. Louis as a Christmas movie, there can be no doubt that it has one of the most Christmasy scenes in a movie and that it produced one of the greatest Christmas songs of all time, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." It was sung by Judy Garland in the movie and, while the song has been covered many times, in my humble opinion no one has ever sung it better.

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" was written specifically for Meet Me in St. Louis by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, who wrote all of the original songs for the movie. Judy Garland, her co-star Tom Drake (who played her love interest, John Truitt), and director Vincent Minelli were all of the opinion that the original lyrics for "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" were too depressing. Hugh Martin was initially resistant to the idea of changing the lyrics, but eventually re-wrote them to be more upbeat. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" recorded as a single by Judy Garland and released on Decca Records. It proved to be a big hit and it would become a Christmas standard.

Since then "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" has been recorded by many artists. It has also been revised since its initial appearance in Meet Me in St. Louis. When Frank Sinatra recorded the song in 1957 for his album A Jolly Little Christmas, he asked Hugh Martin to revise the line "Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow" to something happier. The line was changed to "Hang a shining star upon the highest bough." Many artists have since followed Frank Sinatra is using the new line in the song. Personally, I have always preferred the original line.

Without further ado, here is the original scene from Meet Me in St. Louis featuring Judy Garland.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

"The Christmas Song"

"The Christmas Song" by Robert Wells and Mel Tormé remains one of the most popular holiday songs of all time. It has sometimes been claimed that it is the most recorded Christmas song of all time, a title often applied to Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" as well. According to Spotify in 2015, "The Christmas Song" was the third most covered holiday tune on the music service, after "Silent Night" and "White Christmas." Regardless, there can be no doubt that "The Christmas Song" is one of the most successful, well, Christmas songs of all time.

Strangely enough, the song's origins go back to a particularly hot summer day. That day composer and singer Mel Tormé went to visit his writing partner Robert Wells. Initially he couldn't find Mr. Wells, but he did find a spiral pad with the opening lines of what would become "The Christmas Song." Eventually Robert Wells showed up and he explained to Mr. Tormé that he was trying to cool off by writing wintry lines, essentially an attempt at mind over matter. It was after forty five minutes that Mesrs. Wells and Tormé completed the song.

"The Christmas Song" was originally subtitled "Merry Christmas to You," although later it would be subtitled with its opening line "Chestnuts Roasting on An Open Fire." The song was first recorded by The King Cole Trio at WMCA Radio Studios in New York City on June 14 1946. A second recording was made at WMCA Radio Studios on August 19 1946. This version differed from the first in that a small string section was added. It was this second version of "The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You)" that proved to be an enormous hit, going to no. 3 on the Billboard chart. Nat King Cole would record "The Christmas Song" again in 1953 and 1961.

"The Christmas Song" would be covered multiple times not long after its initial release in the Forties. Eddy Howard, Dick Haymes, Bing Crosby, and others covered the song in the years following its release. Since then it has been covered by such artists as Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and many others. Mel Tormé himself recorded the song multiple times.

Without further ado, here is The King Cole Trio's original recording of "The Christmas Song."

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

White Christmas on NBC

White Christmas (1954) is counted by many classic movie fans among their favourite Christmas movies. While I would not necessarily rank it among my absolute favourites alongside The Apartment (1960), It's a Wonderful Life (1946), Christmas in Connecticut (1944), and The Bishop's Wife (1947), it is not at all hard to like a movie that stars Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen, and Rosemary Clooney and features songs by Irving Berlin. Like many of the holiday classics, White Christmas would see a good deal of success in annual airings on television, creating a number of new fans for the movie. Indeed, for a time it aired annually on NBC.

White Christmas takes its name from the song of the same name, which was first used in the movie Holiday Inn (1942). It was originally planned for the song "Be Careful, It's My Heart" to be the big hit from the movie, but then "White Christmas" began to take it off. Holiday Inn having been released in August 1942, the song "White Christmas" topped the Your Hit Parade chart by October 1942. It stayed in the no. 1 spot into early 1943. It would spend eleven weeks on the Billboard charts alone. It would eventually become the biggest selling single of all time.

Given the success of "White Christmas," it was quite natural for individuals to want to capitalise on that success with a movie. As early as 1948 composer Irving Berlin, who had written "White Christmas" and the other songs in Holiday Inn, suggested a movie based on the song. Initially the movie was meant to reunite the stars of Holiday Inn, but while Bing Crosby would star in White Christmas, the other male lead would ultimately be Danny Kaye. White Christmas has often been described as a remake of Holiday Inn, something I am not sure I agree with. About the only things White Christmas has in common with Holiday Inn are an inn as a setting, songs written by Irving Berlin, and star Bing Crosby. That having been said, it certainly does use many elements from the earlier film (songs by Irving Berlin, an inn as a setting, Bing Crosby, et. al.).

Regardless of whether one considers White Christmas a remake of Holiday Inn or not, the movie proved extremely popular. It was the second highest grossing film of 1954, second only to Rear Window (1954). Even today it ranks among the highest grossing musicals of all time. Paramount re-released White Christmas theatrically in 1961, where it once more performed very well.

Of course, White Christmas would eventually find its way to television. In 1961 NBC debuted NBC Saturday Night at the Movies, the first network movie anthology series to feature relatively recent films. It premiered on September 23 1961 with an airing of How to Marry a Millionaire (1953). NBC Saturday Night at the Movies proved to enormously successful, inspiring so many other movie anthology series that by the 1966-1967 that there was a movie anthology series six out of the seven nights of the week. Given the success of White Christmas and the success of NBC Saturday Night at the Movies, it was quite natural for the movie to make its network debut on the movie anthology series. It first aired on NBC Saturday Night at the Movies on December 19 1964.

White Christmas does not appear to have aired on NBC in 1965 (at least I could not find any television listings for it), but it returned to NBC Saturday Night at the Movies on December 17 1966. It would continue to air annually on NBC Saturday Night at the Movies on the Saturday immediately preceding Christmas until 1968. In 1969 it moved to NBC Tuesday Night at the Movies, where it first aired on December 23 1969. It aired for one last time on NBC on NBC Tuesday Night at the Movies on December 22 1970. Below is a list of when White Christmas aired on NBC.

NBC Saturday Night at the Movies
December 19 1964
December 17 1966
December 16 1967
December 21 1968 (the exact date of Vanessa's birth)
NBC Tuesday Night at the Movies
December 22 1969
December 23 1970

After White Christmas last aired on NBC it would go into syndication to air on local stations across the country. I have a vague memory of White Christmas returning to network television to air on CBS in the Eighties, but I have found no television listings to confirm that memory. If anyone could confirm whether it aired on CBS in the Eighties, please let me know. Regardless, at no point since 1966 has there probably ever been time that White Christmas has not aired on some local station or cable channel sometime during the holiday season.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The 70th Anniversary of Holiday Affair (1949)

Today when classic movie fans are asked what their favourite Christmas movies are, they are apt to answer with such films as It's a Wonderful Life (1946), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), or The Bishop's Wife (1947). Although not as well known as those films, many fans might well answer, Holiday Affair (1949). A box office failure upon its initial release, Holiday Affair would find popularity through repeated airings on television. Holiday Affair premiered at Loew's State Theatre in New York City on November 23 1949. It went into wide release throughout the United States on Christmas Eve, December 24 1949.

Holiday Affair centres on young war widow Connie Ennis (played by Janet Leigh) with a young son, Timmy (played by Gordon Gebert). For the past few years she has been seeing lawyer Carl Davis (played by Wendell Corey), who has proposed to her multiple times to no avail. Connie's life is turned upside down when she meets drifter and veteran Steve Mason (played by Robert Mitchum). Connie then finds herself having to choose between the two men. 

Holiday Affair was based on the original story "Christmas Gift" by John D. Weaver. In fact, its working title was Christmas Gift and it would go through one other title, The Man Who Played Santa Claus, before receiving its name "Holiday Affair." The film was directed by Don Hartman, who had written the screenplays for Road to Morocco (1942) and Wonder Man (1945) among other movies. Prior to Holiday Affair he had directed the films It Had to Be You (1947) and Every Girl Should Be Married (1948). The screenplay was written by Isobel Lennart, who had earlier written the screenplays for Anchors Aweigh (1945) based on a story by Natalie Marcin and It Happened in Brooklyn  (1947) with J.P. McGowan. She would later write screenplays for such films as Love Me or Leave Me (1955) and Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956).

Among other things, today Holiday Affair is known for its unusual casting. In 1949 Robert Mitchum was best known for his "tough guy" roles in film noirs such as Crossfire (1947) and Out of the Past (1947). Contrary to popular belief, Robert Mitchum does not appear to have been cast in Holiday Affair in an effort to soften his image after his September 1 1948 marijuana bust with actress Lila Leeds. In fact, the drug bust appears to have had little to no impact on his career. Howard Hughes, who had control of RKO, was clearly not worried about Mr. Mitchum's arrest. Following the arrest, he moved up the release of Rachel and the Stranger (1948), which proved to be a box office hit. With regards to Holiday Affair, production on the film began in July 1949 in order for the film to be released in November or December of that year. Regardless of having been arrested for possession of marijuana, Robert Mitchum was an unusual choice for a romantic comedy.

While in 1949 Robert Mitchum was already an established actor with an established image, Janet Leigh was still relatively new to films. She had signed with MGM and made her film debut in 1947 in The Romance of Rosy Ridge. Afterwards she appeared in such high profile films for the studio as Words and Music (1948) and Little Women (1949). Among the people who took notice of Janet Leigh was none other than Howard Hughes. Hughes made a deal with MGM to loan Miss Leigh to RKO for three movies. MGM never bothered to ask her permission or to even ask if she wanted to be loaned out.

Unfortunately, Janet Leigh's experiences with Hughes would be unpleasant, to say the least. According to the biography Robert Mitchum: "Baby I Don't Care" by Lee Server, in one scene Hughes had Miss Leigh wear an extremely tight sweater. That would hardly be the worst of her experiences with Howard Hughes. It was towards the end of production on Holiday Affair that Hughes called Miss Leigh into a meeting. Once there he showed her a report made by private eyes on her activities and claimed that her current boyfriend, Arthur Loew, Jr., had been keeping track of her out of jealousy. Janet Leigh knew right then that it was Hughes himself who had ordered the investigation. She told him in no uncertain terms that any further meetings would strictly be business.

While her experiences with Howard Hughes were unpleasant, Janet Leigh enjoyed working with co-stars Robert Mitchum and Wendell Corey. The two men liked to pull practical jokes on the young actress, some of which actually helped her performance in the film. In a scene in which Steve is supposed to plant a surprise kiss on Connie, Robert Mitchum planted a real kiss on Janet Leigh instead of a stage kiss. The surprised look on her face is then quite genuine. In a later scene, in which Steve and Carl are sitting on either of side of Connie, each man placed a hand on each of Miss Leigh's knees, making her look uncomfortable in a scene that called for her to look uncomfortable. Janet Leigh would later say that she learned a great deal about acting from Robert Mitchum.

While Wendell Corey's stage career went back to the Thirties, he was still relatively new to movies when he appeared in Holiday Affair. He had made his film debut in Desert Fury in 1947 and soon found his niche playing the secondary male lead in most of his films. Holiday Affair would be his first comedy, having appeared in thrillers and dramas up to that point.

Today the promotional campaign for Holiday Affair must seem odd for a romantic comedy, so much so that one must suspect that Howard Hughes had a hand in the campaign. One poster looks more like it is from one of Robert Mitchum's film noirs, with Mr. Mitchum grabbing Janet Leigh's arm and the tagline, "It happened in December...but it's hotter than July!" Another poster features Janet Leigh in shorts (something she did not wear in the movie) with the tagline, "Baby, you're just what I want for Christmas!" Of course, not every poster tried to make Holiday Affair look like a film noir or a salacious sex comedy. One poster advertised Holiday Affair for what it was, with the tagline, "Mr. Hard-to-Get goes romantic and you will go wild about Mitchum in his new kind of role!"

Variety gave Holiday Affair a positive review, describing it as "...a warm Christmas offering." Showman's Trade Review also gave the movie a good review, calling it an "...amusing romantic comedy that is certain to delightfully and thoroughly entertain everyone." The New York Times was a bit more critical of the film. While it refers to Holiday Affair as "an amiable little romance," the review also says, "This corner finds it much too saccharine for either credibility or delight."

While Holiday Affair received fairly good reviews, it performed dismally at the box office. It lost $300,000. Today the reason for the failure of Holiday Affair is difficult to say. It  is possible that audiences in 1949 could not accept "tough guy" Robert Mitchum as a romantic lead. It is also possible that the promotional campaign backfired, as audiences might not have known what to expect from posters that made it look like a film noir or a sex comedy. It also seems possible that its release date may have played a role in its failure at the box office. Although it premiered in New York City on November 23, it was not released to the rest of the United States until December 24. That means that for most of its initial run Christmas Day was already past. Particularly after New Year's Day, audiences may not have been in the mood for a holiday themed romantic comedy.

While Holiday Affair failed at the box office, it would become a holiday favourite through repeated showings on television. According to film critic and expert on when feature films first aired on television, Lou Lumenick, the earliest showings of Holiday Affair on television in the United States were in December 1958. It may have first aired in New York City on December 12 1960 on Million Dollar Movie on WOR, although it is possible it could have aired earlier on Sneak Preview, a movie anthology on which titles were not announced ahead of time (hence they do not appear in TV listings). Regardless, Holiday Affair would become a staple on television stations throughout the United States during the Sixties. Contrary to popular belief, Turner Classic Movies did not save Holiday Affair from obscurity. The film was still being shown frequently on local television stations throughout the Nineties. That having been said, there can be no doubt that TCM helped expose Holiday Affair to many who had never seen it before.

Holiday Affair would be remade as a TV movie in 1996 by the USA Network with Cynthia Gibb as Connie Ennis and David James Elliott as Steve Mason. Unlike the original movie, the TV movie has long since been forgotten and is rarely seen today. 

As to why Holiday Affair would prove to be a success, it may well be because it is a romantic comedy that is very different from any made before or since. In many romantic comedies one of the rivals vying for the heroine's hand will either be a bore (an example being John Sloan in Christmas in Connecticut) or an outright cad (a recent example being Glenn in The Wedding Singer). In Holiday Affair, however, both Steve and Carl are totally nice guys. In fact, I have heard quite a few women say that they would have chosen Carl instead of Steve.

Another way in which Holiday Affair is a bit more sophisticated than films made before and since is its portrayal of Connie's son Timmy. In many movies, even from the Golden Age of Hollywood, children are either portrayed as saccharine sweet angels or as total brats. This is not the case with Timmy, who comes off as a real kid. Much of this is by Gordon Gebert's performance, which is entirely naturalistic.

Of course, much of the success of Holiday Affair is probably due to the performance of the leads. Janet Leigh, Robert Mitchum, and Wendell Corey all do very well in their respective roles. Indeed, many watching Holiday Affair may well regret that Robert Mitchum didn't make more comedies. In addition to the leads, Holiday Affair also has a good supporting cast. In one of the earliest roles of his career and what may be the movie's standout scene, Harry Morgan (later known for Pete and Gladys and M*A*S*H) plays a wisecracking police lieutenant. It is quite possibly one of the best performances of Harry Morgan's career.

At the core of Holiday Affair, and what may be responsible for much of its success, is Isobel Lennart's screenplay. She could have easily written Carl as a total heel so that audience's sympathies would be firmly with Steve, but instead she wrote him as a nice guy, making him a much more viable romantic rival. She could have easily written Timmy as a brat, given him funny one-liners and having him engage in humorous hijinks in an effort to make the movie funnier. Instead she wrote him as a more realistic little boy, making the film both more poignant and more true-to -life. She also provided the movie with some truly great lines (particularly the ones coming from Harry Morgan's police lieutenant).

Holiday Affair bombed at the box office upon its initial release, but through repeated showings on television it has become a beloved holiday classic. If it hasn't done so already, it seems possible that one day it could be included in the top tier of classic Christmas movies alongside It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, and The Bishop's Wife.

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Late Great Danny Aiello

Danny Aiello, who starred in such films as Moonstruck (1987) and Do the Right Thing (1989), as well as having a successful career on Broadway and on television, died on December 12 2019 at the age of 86 following a brief illness.

Danny Aiello was born on June 20 1933 in Manhattan, New York City. His family move to the South Bronx when he was seven years old. His father was largely absent from the family for much of his childhood, and his mother eventually lost her eyesight and became legally blind. When he was 17 years old he left James Monroe High School to enlist in the United States Army. Following his service he became a package handler for Greyhound and then became the public announcer for the bus terminal on 50th Street in Manhattan. He was elected as president of Local 1202 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, but was fired following a wildcat strike on the part of the employees. He later went to work as a bouncer and occasional master of ceremonies at the Improv. There he met playwright Louis La Russo II, who asked him to appear in a play he had written. Mr. Aiello informed Mr. Russo that he was not an actor, to which Mr. Russo replied "Yes, you are. You just don't know it." Danny Aiello then appeared as the pop singer Biggie in Louis La Russo II's Lamppost Reunion. The play eventually moved to Broadway in 1975, and Danny Aiello made his debut on Broadway in the play.

Mr. Aiello would have a fairly successful career on Broadway. In the Seventies he appeared in the productions Wheelbarrow Chasers, Gemini, and Knockout. In the Eighties he appeared in The Floating Light Bulb, Hurly Burly, and The House of Blue Leaves. He made one last appearance on Broadway in 2017 in Home for the Holidays.

Of course, Danny Aiello would be best known for his work in film. He made his movie debut in 1973 in Bang the Drum Slowly. In the Seventies he appeared in the films The Godfather Part II (1974), The Front (1976), Hooch (1977), Fingers (1978), Bloodbrothers (1978), Defiance (1980), and Hide in Plain Sight.

Arguably, the Eighties would be the height of Danny Aiello's movie career. He played the lovestruck fiance of Loretta Castorini (played by Cher), Johnny Cammareri, in Moonstruck (1987). Arguably his best known role came in 1989 with Do the Right Thing, in which he played the sympathetic yet somewhat clueless pizzeria owner Sal. For the role he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He also appeared in several other profile films in the Eighties, including Fort Apache the Bronx (1981), Once Upon a Time in America (1984), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), and Harlem Nights (1989). He also appeared in such films as Chu Chu and the Philly Flash (1981), Old Enough (1984), The Stuff (1985), The Protector (1985), Key Exchange (1985), Radio Days (1987), Daddy (1987), Man on Fire (1987), The Pick-up Artist (1987), Russicum - I giorni del diavolo (1988), White Hot (1988), The January Man (1989), Shocktroop (1989), Jacob's Ladder (1990), and The Closer.

In the Nineties Mr. Aiello appeared in the films Once Around (1991), Hudson Hawk (1992), 29th Street (1991), Death Mask (1992), Ruby (1992), Mistress (1992), The Cemetery Club (1993), The Pickle (1993), Me and the Kid (1994), Léon (1994), Prêt-à-Porter (1995), Two Much (1995), City Hall (1996), 2 Days in the Valley (1996), Mojave Moon (1997), Bring Me the Head of Mavis Davis (1997), Brooklyn State of Mind (1998), Wilbur Falls (1998), 18 Shades of Dust (1999), Mambo Café (2000), Dinner Rush (2000), and Prince of Central Park (2000).

In the Naughts Danny Aiello appeared in the films Off Key (2001), Mail Order Bride (2003), Zeyda and the Hitman (2004), Brooklyn Lobster (2005), Lucky Number Slevin (2006), The Last Request (2006), A Broken Sole (2006), and Stiffs (2010). In the Teens he appeared in the movies Reach Me (2014), The Neighbourhood (2017), Little Italy (2018), The Last Big Save (2019), and Making a Deal with the Devil (2019).

As if having successful careers on Broadway and in film were not enough, Mr. Aiello also had a successful career on television. In the Seventies he was a regular on the TV show The Andros Targets. He guest starred on the shows on Kojak, On Our Own, and ABC Afterschool Specials. He won a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in Children's Programming for the ABC Afterschool Special "Family of Strangers."

In the Eighties he had a regular role on the TV show Lady Blue. He guest starred on ABC Afternoon Specials, Nurse, Tales from the Darkside, The Lucie Arnaz Show, Saturday Night Live, and Night Heat. He also appeared in several TV movies. Mr. Aiello starred as the title character on the TV show Dellaventura. He appeared in the mini-series The Last Don and The Last Don II. In the Teens he guest starred on the shows Fielders Choice and Difficult People. His last appearance was on television was in the TV movie Broken Dreams Blvd.

Danny Aiello was also a talented singer, occasionally getting a chance to sing in his movies. He released three albums, not counting the soundtrack to the movie Once Around (in which he sang "Fly Me to the Moon).

As hard as it is to believe, Danny Aiello had no formal training as an actor. He never took even one acting class. Despite this, he was one of the most talented actors of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries, a true natural if there ever was one.  Throughout his career he played a variety of roles. He often played gangsters and other tough guys in movies, including Tony Rosato, who garrotted Pentangeli in The Godfather Part II. While Mr. Aiello often played tough guys, he was capable of many other sorts of roles. In fact, his two most famous roles could not be described as tough guys. He was Sal in Do the Right Thing?, who has a temper and whose attitudes about race are questionable, but who really can't be said to be a "tough guy (at least not in the same way as Tony Rosato)." In Moonstruck Danny Aiello's character was even further removed from the tough guys he had played. Johnny Cammareri was gentle and prone to crying, a soft-hearted human being if ever there was one. Throughout his career Danny Aiello played a wide variety of roles, from police officers to gangsters to everything in between. What is more, he was equally good at both comedy and drama. Danny Aiello was an enormous talent, and one who will be missed. 

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Late Great Anna Karina

Legendary actress Anna Karina died yesterday, December 14 2019, at the age of 79. The cause was cancer.

Anna Karina was born Hanne Karin Bayer on September 22 1940 in Solbjerg, Denmark. Her father left the family when she was only about a year old. Her grandparents cared for her until she was four years old. She was in foster care for four years until she was finally returned to her mother. She was a teenager when she began working, singing in cabarets and working as a model. She moved to Paris when she was 17 and began working as a model there. She appeared in such magazines as Elle.

It was a series of ads for Palmolive that brought Anna Karina to the attention of director Jean-Luc Godard. He offered a role in À bout de souffle (1960--in English, Breathless), but she refused because it would have required a nude scene. She then made her film debut in Ce soir ou jamais (1961) before appearing in Mr. Godard's film Un femme est un femme (1961). Miss Karina would be very much in demand in the Sixties. She appeared in Jean-Luc Godard's feature films Vivre sa vie: Film en douze tableaux (1962), Le petit soldat (1963), Bande à part (1964), Alphaville (1965), and Pierrot le fou (1965), Made in U.S.A (1966). She also appeared in the anthology film Le plus vieux métier du monde (1967), in the segment "Anticipation," directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Anna Karina also appeared in Agnes Varda's Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962), Pierre Gaspard-Huit's Shéhérazade (1963), Roger Vadim's La ronde (1964), and  Jean Aurel's De l'amour (1964). She also appeared in the films She'll Have to Go (1962), Le soleil dans l'oeil (1962), Les quatre vérités (1962), Dragées au poivre (1963), Le voleur de Tibidabo (1965), Le soldatesse (1965), Un mari à prix fixe (1965), La religieuse (1966), Zärtliche Haie (1967), Lamiel (1967), Lo straniero (1967), The Magus (1968), Before Winter Comes (1968), Michael Kohlhaas - Der Rebell (1969), Laughter in the Dark (1968), Justine (1969), Dämonische Leinwand (1969), Le temps de mourir (1970), and L'alliance (1970). On television she guest starred on the American series I Spy, as well as the show Les fables de La Fontaine. She also appeared in the TV movie based on the musical of the same name, Anna.

In the Seventies Anna Karina appeared in the films Rendez-vous à Bray (1971), The Salzburg Connection (1972), Vivre ensemble (1973), Pane e cioccolata (1974), L'invenzione di Morel (1974), L'assassin musicien (1976), Les oeufs brouillés (1976), Chinesisches Roulette (1976), Chaussette surprise (1978), Olyan, mint otthon (1978), Ausgerechnet Bananen (1978), Historien om en moder (1979), and Charlotte, dis à ta mère que je l'aime (1980). On television she guest starred on the British TV show Z Cars as well as the TV shows Cinéma 16, Dossiers: Danger immédiat, and Madame le juge. She also appeared in several TV movies.

In the Eighties Anna Karina appeared in the movies L'ami de Vincent (1983), Regina Roma (1983), Ave Maria (1984), Treasure Island (1985), Last Song (1987), Dernier été à Tanger (1987), Cayenne Palace (1987), L'oeuvre au noir (1988), and Manden der ville være skyldig (1990). She appeared in the TV movies Chambre 17, La dame des dunes, and Moravagine.

From the Eighties into the Naughts she appeared in the films Haut bas fragile (1995), The Truth About Charlie (2002), Moi César, 10 ans 1/2, 1m39 (2003) and Victoria (2008--she also directed).  She appeared in the TV movie Chloé.

Anna Karina also had a career as a singer. In the late Sixties she had hits with Serge Gainsbourg's songs "Sous le soleil exactement" and "Roller Girl." She recorded the albums Une histoire d'amour and Chansons de films. She also wrote four novels: Vivre ensemble (1973), Golden City (1983), On n'achète pas le soleil (1988), and Jusqu'au bout du hasard (1998).

Perhaps no other actress has ever been as connected with the French New Wave than Anna Karina. She not only made several films with Jean-Luc Godard (to whom she was married from 1961 to 1964), but she also made films with several other major figures in the movement. On the screen Anna Karina was a true chameleon. She could project charm, vulnerability, and self-confidence, sometimes all at the same time. She could be mysterious or straight-forward. Anna Karina played characters who were young and impetuous as well as characters who were extremely serious Anna Karina was an actress with a good deal of depth, something made her very much in demand throughout her career.