Thursday, September 3, 2020

The Late Great Chadwick Boseman

Chadwick Boseman, who played Jackie Robinson in 42 (2013), James Brown in Get On Up (2014), Thurgood Marshall in Marshall (2017), and T'Challa/The Black Panther in Black Panther (2018) and related Marvel Cinematic Universe films, died on August 28 2020 at the age of 43. The cause was stage IV colon cancer.

Chadwick Boseman was born on November 29 1976 in Anderson, South Carolina. It was during his junior year at T. L. Hanna High School that he wrote and staged his first play, Crossroads. He attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. and graduated in 2000 with Bachelor of Fine Arts. Among his teachers was Phylicia Rashad, who also served as his mentor. Chadwick Boseman was among the students who had been accepted into the British American Drama Academy's Midsummer program, but could not attend because they couldn't afford it. Phylicia Rashad contacted her friend Denzel Washington, who paid money so that Mr. Boseman and other students could attend the program.

Chadwick Boseman made his television debut in an episode of Third Watch in 2003. In the Naughts he was a regular on the TV shows Lincoln Heights and Persons Unknown. He guest starred on Law & Order, CSI: NY, ER, Cold Case, Lie to Me, and The Glades. He made his film debut in The Express in 2008. He continued work as a playwright. His Deep Azure was performed at the Congo Square Theatre Company in Chicago. He also wrote the plays Rhyme Deferred and Hieroglyphic Graffiti.

In the Teens, Chadwick Boseman guest starred on the TV shows Castle, Detroit 1-8-7, Justified, and Fringe. It was in 2013 that he appeared in his first lead role, playing baseball legend Jackie Robinson in 42. The following year he starred as music legend James Brown in Get On Up (2014). He first appeared as T'Challa in the movie Captain America: Civil War (2016). He reprised the role in Black Panther (2018), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and Avengers: Endgame (2019). In 2017 he appeared as Thurgood Marshall in Marshall, which centred around an early case from Thurgood Marshall's career, State of Connecticut v. Joseph Spell. He also appeared in the movies The Kill Hole (2012), Draft Day (2014), Gods of Egypt (2016), Message from the King (2016), 21 Bridges (2019), and Da 5 Bloods (2020). He is set to appear in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, which will premiere on Netflix.

That Chadwick Boseman was an incredible actor can be seen by his performances in a variety of roles. He was totally convincing as baseball player Jackie Robinson. As soul music legend James Brown his dance moves were virtually the same as the genuine article. He was impressive as lawyer Thurgood Marshall. As to his best known role, T'Challa, King of Wakanda and the superhero known as The Black Panther, it is hard to see anyone else in the role. Chadwick Boseman was also incredibly devoted to his craft. He was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016. In the intervening years he made nine movies. There can be no doubt that many times he was in pain and suffering from chemotherapy.

Chadwick Boseman was not simply an incredible actor, but he was also an incredible human being. He was known for raising awareness and money for children's charities. In 2018 he bought hundreds of movie tickets for underprivileged children in his hometown of Anderson. He continued to visit children in hospitals even as he was dying from a terminal illness. Chadwick Boseman not only played a superhero on screen. He was a superhero in real life too.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

A Letter to Vanessa Marquez

It was two years ago today that officers from the South Pasadena Police Department shot my dearest Vanessa Marquez in the back and killed her. For obvious reasons this is an anniversary that is very difficult for me. Vanessa and I were never in a relationship, but we were very, very close friends. She once told me that I was her favourite friend and I considered her my best friend. We were in touch on nearly a daily basis for literally years. For my part, I was and still am in love with her.

Regardless, my feelings for Vanessa make writing a blog post on the anniversary of her death very difficult. I could have foregone writing a blog post on the anniversary of her death entirely, but that simply did not seem right to me. I certainly don't want to address her death as I have done that often on this blog. I have also addressed both Vanessa's career and our friendship at length on this blog before. Given there were things left unsaid between us when she died, it then occurred to me that I could write a letter to Vanessa, even though she might not be able to read it (I have no idea what they have access to in the afterlife). I have to admit that I was hesitant to write such a letter and post it to my blog. Some might think it a bit self-serving. After all, a letter from me to Vanessa would be as much about me as it would Vanessa. I also have to admit that I am a bit uncomfortable addressing my feelings in a public forum. For most of my life I have been a very private person. That having been said, after two years I am still working through my grief over Vanessa's death. A part of grief is regret over things left unsaid, and there was so much more I wanted to tell Vanessa. The second anniversary of her death then seems as good a time as any to write a letter to my beloved Vanessa Marquez.

Dearest Vanessa,

It has been two years since you've died and I wanted to let you know that I am doing fine. I can now make it through most days without breaking down crying and I have learned to enjoy myself again. I am doing much better than I was a year ago and much, much better than I was in the days following your death. That having been said, I still miss you very much. There is a hole in my life where you belong and that hole will never be filled. And there are so many things left that I wanted to tell you.

Indeed, perhaps the greatest regret of my life is that I never told you, "I love you."  I am fairly certain that you knew anyway. Looking back, it was fairly obvious. Let's face it, I doted upon you. I always worried about you when you were sick, to the point that I sometimes went into a blind panic. When someone attacked you, I always defended you. I remember when Twitter suspended your first account, I not only tweeted at Twitter Support, but I filled out a support ticket and eventually I even wrote Jack Dorsey himself. I always told you that you were beautiful, even when you didn't think so yourself. On more than one occasion I told you that you were the most wonderful woman in the world. It really would not surprise me if you knew I was in love with you before I did. The simple fact is that I loved you more than anyone else I have ever known. Still, I should have told you so.
Regardless, I told our friend Paula after your death that you were very easy to love. And you certainly were. The only downside to our friendship was the distance between us. I live in Missouri and you lived in Los Angeles County. I'm sure you remember  how often we wound up talking about Los Angeles, both of us being history buffs and classic movie buffs. I'm sure you also remember that as fascinated as I am by the history of Los Angeles, I was a bit intimidated by its sheer size. How could I ever get around if I visited there?  I remember how when you would ease my mind about how big Los Angeles was, you would say, "If you ever move here..."  Once you even said, "When you move here...." Vanessa, I wanted to move there more than anything, just to be near you. I'm sure you remember that we talked a lot about the day I could visit and I would tease you that if I ever got to go to the TCM Classic Film Festival I would drag you along, even if I had to carry you. Since your death I have been to Hollywood and I loved it. I can see why you never wanted to move from Los Angeles County.

Of course, there should be little wonder that I loved you. I know some people might think it was because you were drop dead gorgeous or because you were a famous actress, but it wasn't that at all. It wasn't even because we had so much in common, everything from a love of science fiction to a love of classic movies. It was because you were one of the warmest, sweetest, and gentlest people I have ever known, if not the absolutely warmest, sweetest, and gentlest. One of the first things I learned about you is that when Jaime Escalante had cancer you were relentless in raising money for his medical bills. I remember you volunteered at one of the Pasadena animal shelters. You were always there for your friends, expressing sympathy when something sad happened to them or joy when something happy happened to them.

I know you were always there for me, and I regret that I never thanked you enough for that. I think sometimes you worried over me when I was sick more than my own family.  You were always happy when I had something momentous happen. You watched me when I introduced A Hard Day's Night (1964) with Ben Mankiewicz on TCM as part of their Fan Favourites series, and you made sure to tell me how good I was. When I won the 50 States in 50 Movies contest on TCM Backlot for Missouri you kept asking me what I had won. Sadly, my prize arrived the day you died. It was the TCM Classic Quotes coffee mug for 42nd Street (1933). It is still in the box on a shelf simply because I can't bear to open it. I remember that you called me "cute" and even said that I was "handsome" once. I can't tell you what a beautiful, Hollywood actress telling a fellow that he is "cute" or "handsome" does for his ego, but I appreciated it very much.  You were always very defensive of me. If anyone crossed me, you were always swift to take up for me. I have to thank you for always supporting me.

A lot has happened since you died. I have to think you know that Turner Classic Movies included you in the TCM Remembers for 2018. What is more, they gave you something of a place of honour. It is the most I have ever cried during a TCM Remembers segment. I also have to think you know that there was a campaign to include you in the on-air In Memoriam segment of the Academy Awards ceremony. Ultimately, they didn't, but it showed just how much people love you. The petition for you to be included in the televised In Memoriam segment on the Oscars reached around 9000 signatures.

Since your death you probably realize that the most important event in which I took part was scattering your ashes  at the Hollywood Sign on Mount Lee. I even got up early to do so. It was an incredible honour to be able to take part, and it was in some ways overwhelmingly emotional for me. For the first time in my life I broke down crying in front of people who were not my immediate family.  I am sure you know I am now friends with some of your co-stars from Stand and Deliver (1988). You probably also know that your mother and I have become very close.

I think you also know that last September I went to St. Louis for TCM Backlot's "TCM in Your Hometown" event. They showed Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) at the Tivoli in University City. Before the movie they had a VIP Meet and Greet at the Moonrise Hotel that I attended. You would love the Moonrise Hotel. It is filled with all kinds of sci-fi memorabilia, including items from Star Wars and Space 1999. Anyway, the VIP Meet and Greet was a lot of fun. I got to meet Yacov Freedman of TCM Backlot and we talked for a while. He agrees with me--one can never have enough pinback buttons! After having talked to him on video chat for the Fan Favourites series, I got to meet Ben Mankiewicz in person. Ben is so very nice. He remembered you and he remembered that you and I were close friends. Of course, I also got to meet Margaret O'Brien, who is, along with June Lockhart, the last surviving member of the cast of Meet Me in St. Louis. She is so sweet, very funny, and totally cool. She was delighted when I brought up her guest appearance on Perry Mason. As to Meet Me in St. Louis, you know I have always loved that film and it was incredible on the big screen. Of course, I cried a little given I can't see Judy Garland without thinking of you. Anyway, I am sure you also know that I set up an ofrenda for you on Dia de Muertos last year. I do hope you appreciated it. I plan to set up another one this year.

Since your death I have sometimes heard from your many fans. I sometimes got the impression from you that you thought you would only be remembered for Stand and Deliver, but that certainly isn't the case. The fans who reach out to me want to let me know how sad they are that you're gone and how much they appreciated and admired you. They have cited everything from Stand and Deliver to ER to Twenty Bucks (1993) to Blood In Blood Out (1993). Vanessa, you have fans from all over the world. I heard from one young man in Italy. I was particularly touched by a young lady from Mexico who found out you died through my social media and was very upset by it. She loved the movie Blood In Blood Out.  Dearest one, I always told you that people loved you and you have legions of fans. I learned that to be true ever since you died.

I am sure you are aware that I am still very angry at the way you died and that to this day I cry over you regularly. Despite the grief I have experienced since your death, I have to tell you that I feel lucky to have even known you, let alone to have been as close to you as I was. You were an altogether remarkable woman. It wasn't simply because you were an extremely talented and well known actress. It wasn't even because you were an incredibly beautiful woman blessed with a mellifluous voice. It was because you were blessed with a keen wit, a great sense of humour, and, most of all, a warm and loving heart. I have never known anyone who cared as much for her friends as you did. I have never known anyone who cared as much for me as you did. Despite the vagaries of your life, you were never bitter, and it showed in how you treated other people. You were always sweet, gentle, warm-hearted, and loving. That is the reason I love you and it is the reason I miss you so much. Vanessa, I will never forget you and I will miss you until the day I die.

Yours Always,