Thursday, May 6, 2021

TCM Classic Film Festival Opening Night

Tonight the 2021 edition of the TCM Classic Film Festival opens with West Side Story (1961), complete with a cast reunion featuring Rita Moreno, George Chakiris and Russ Tamblyn. Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this year's TCMFF (as it is abbreviated by Turner Classic Movies and its fans) is virtual. Movies will be shown on both TCM and HBO Max, with various events unfolding on both. As might be expected, much of the action will be on Twitter, with various live tweets (both official and unofficial).

I am certainly looking forward to this year's TCM Classic Film Festival. Later today there will be an Opening Night Toast with the Hosts at Club TCM on Zoom. Over the next few days there will be other Club TCM Zoom events, including Curating the Classics on Friday, Sight and Sound Makers: A Chat with Ben Burtt & Craig Barron on Saturday, and She May Be a Movie Star, But She’s Just Mom to Me on Sunday. On TCM there will be the interview with Sophia Loren from the 2016 TCMFF, a table read of Plan 9 from Outer Space by SF Sketchfest, and documentaries on legendary animator Tex Avery and comedy team Nichols & May.

And, of course, there are movies. I am particularly looking forward to the world premiere of a 4K restoration of They Won't Believe Me (1947). They are showing many of my favourites, although I will have to DVR some of them because they are on late at night: Ocean's 11 (1960), My Favorite Wife (1940), The Man Who Would Be King (1975), The Producers (1968), Strangers on a Train (1951), and Breathless (1960). Saturday I will be hosting the TCMParty live tweet for Bullitt (1968). It's a way of honouring local boy Steve McQueen (he spent much of his youth in Slater, Missouri, which is only a few miles away from my hometown).

If I had ever attended the TCM Classic Film Festival in person, I had always planned on dressing up. I would wear a suit and tie for the entirety of the festival. Given this is a virtual festival, I will likely wear a t-shirt and sweatpants. That having been said, I will wear the prerequisite pins and buttons. I have several TCM pins, as well as the TCMFF 2021 pin. I will also wear the Vanessa Marquez pin that I designed and was distributed at the 2019 TCM Classic Film Festival, as well as the one my friend Pam designed and also distributed at the same festival. I always told Vanessa that if I got to go to TCMFF I would drag her along, even if I had to carry her. This way she can be at this year's TCMFF after a fashion.

Anyway, this year's TCMFF looks to be three and a half days of fun. I certainly look forward to interacting with my friends and fellow TCM fans this weekend!

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Billie Hayes Passes On

Billie Hayes, who played Mammy Yokum in Li'l Abner (1959) and Witchiepoo in the Saturday morning show H. R. Pufnstuf, died on April 29 2021 at the age of 96.

Billie Hayes was born Billie Armstrong Brosch on August 5 1924 in Du Quoin, Illinois. She began her career when she was only nine years old, tap dancing in local clubs. It was while she was in high school that she began playing with Vince Genovese's orchestra. Afterwards she toured with her own solo act in Chicago and around the Midwest. Eventually she moved to New York City.

After performing around New York City, Billie Hayes played lead roles in producer J. J. Shubert's roadshow productions of The Student Prince, The Merry Widow, and Blossom Time. She made her debut on Broadway in New Faces of 1956. She replaced Charlotte Rae was Mammy Yokum on Broadway in Li'l Abner. She reprised the role when it was adapted as the 1959 movie.

In the Sixties Billie Hayes guest starred on the TV shows The Monroes and The Monkees. She played Witchiepoo in the single season of H. R. Pufnstuf. She reprised the role in the movie spun off from the TV series, Pufnstuf.

In the Seventies Billie Hayes reprised her role as Mammy Yokum in a television adaptation of the musical Li'l Abner. She guest starred on Bewitched, Donnie and Marie, Wonderbug, Tabitha, and The Krofft Superstar Hour. She reprised her role as Witchiepoo in  The Paul Lynde Halloween Special. She played the regular role of Weenie the Genie in the Saturday morning show Lidsville.

In the Eighties Billie Hayes's career started including a good deal of voice work. She performed additional voices on the television cartoon Trollkins, as well as the series Paw Paws. She was a guest voice on such animated TV series as The Gary Coleman Show, The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries, The Real Ghostbusters, and The Further Adventures of SuperTed. She guest starred on the shows Trapper John, M.D.; Murder, She Wrote; General Hospital; Mathnet, and Square One TV. She appeared in the movie Snowballing (1985) and was one of the voices in the classic Disney animated movie The Black Cauldron (1985).

In the Nineties Billie Hayes regularly provided voices for the animated TV shows Problem Child and The Brothers Flub. She provided guest voices for the animated shows TaleSpin, Darkwing Duck, Bokners, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man, Rugrats, and Johnny Bravo. She provided additional voices for The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). In the Naughts she was a guest voice on the animated series The Powerpuff Girls, Teen Titans, Grim & Evil, The Batman, and W.I.T.C.H. She provided a voice for the animated movie Shrek Forever After (2010).  In the Naught she was a guest voice on the animated shows Bubble Guppies and Teen Titans Go!. She was the voice of Mrs. Neederlander on Transformers: Rescue Bots.

Billie Hayes was a wonderful actress. Indeed, she was only in her thirties when she first played Mammy Yokum on Broadway and in the feature film Li'l Abner. For those of you unfamiliar with Li'l Abner, Mammy was well past her thirties. And while I am not familiar with H. R. Pufnstuf (the title character creeped me out as a child), I know from The Paul Lynde Halloween Special she was excellent as Witchiepoo.  Of course, Billie Hayes played more than old hillbilly women and witches. She did well Weenie the Genie, the friend of protagonist Mark (Butch Patrick) on Lidsville. Whether as the ancient hillbilly Maw on The Monkees or a witch on Bewitched, Billie Hayes was a delight to see. Of course, she was also a gifted voice artist, lending her voice to hundreds of hours of cartoons. She was a remarkable character actress who could play a wide array of roles.

Monday, May 3, 2021

The Late Great Olympia Dukakis

Olympia Dukakis who starred in such movies as Moonstruck (1987) and Steel Magnolias (1989), died at age 89.

Olympia Dukakis was born on June 20 1931 in Lowell, Massachusetts. She graduated from Boston University, where she majored in physical therapy. She would later return to Boston University to receive a Master's degree in performing arts. In 1958 she moved to New York City where she taught drama at New York University while pursuing her acting career. In 1962 she was an understudy for the role of Miss Bordereau in the play The Aspen Papers on Broadway. In 1964 she appeared on Broadway in Abraham Cochrane. She made her television debut in a guest appearance on The Nurses in 1962. That same year she guest starred on Dr. Kildare. She made her television debut in a bit part in the movie Twice a Man (1964). In the Sixties she also appeared in the movies Lilith (1964), Stiletto (1969), and John and Mary (1969).

In the Seventies Miss Dukakis appeared on Broadway in Who's Who in Hell. On television she guest starred on the shows Great Performances, The Andros Targets, The Doctors, and Breaking Away. She appeared in the movies Made for Each Other (1971), Sisters (1972), Death Wish (1974), The Wanderers (1979), Rich Kids (1979), and The Idolmaker (1980).

In the Eighties Olympia Dukakis had a recurring role on the soap opera Search for Tomorrow. She guest starred on the television shows American Playhouse, One of the Boys, and The Equalizer.  She appeared on Broadway in  Social Security. Arguably, the Eighties were the height of Olympia Dukakis's movie career. She played Rose Castorini, the mother of Cher's character, in Moonstruck, for which she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Two years later she played Clairee Belcher in Steel Magnolias. During the decade she also appeared in the movies Movie Madness (1982), Wall of Glass (1985), Working Girl (1988), Look Who's Talking (1989), Dad (1990), In the Spirit (1990), and Look Who's Talking Too (1990).

In the Nineties Olympia Dukakis appeared in the mini-series Sinatra and Tales of the City. She guest starred on the shows The General Motors Playwrights Theatre, Touched by an Angel, and Joan of Arc. She also appeared in several TV movies. She appeared in the movies Over the Hill (1992), Look Who's Talking Now (1993), The Cemetery Club (1993), Digger (1993), Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994),  I Love Trouble (1994), Dead Badge (1995), Jeffrey (1995), Mighty Aphrodite (1995), Mr. Holland's Opus (1995), Never Too Late (1996), Jerusalem (1996), Milk & Money (1996), Picture Perfect (1997), Balkan Island: The Last Story of the Century (1997), Jane Austen's Mafia! (1998), Better Living (1998), and Brooklyn Sonnet (2000). She appeared on Broadway in Rose.

In the Naughts Olympia Dukakis had recurring roles in the television shows Center of the Universe and Bored to Death. She appeared in the mini-series Further Tales of the City. She guest starred on the shows The Wonderful World of Disney, The Simpsons, Frasier, It's All Relative, Numb3rs, and Worst Week. She appeared in the TV movies The Librarian: Quest for the Spear and The Librarian: Return to King Solomon's Mines. She appeared in the films The Intended (2002), The Event (2003), Charlie's War (2003), The Thing About My Parents (2005), The Great New Wonderful (2005), 3 Needles (2005), Whiskey School (2005), Jesus, Mary and Joey (2005), Away from Her (2006), Day on Fire (2006), Upside Out (2006), and In the Land of Women (2007).

In the Teens Olympia Dukakis had a recurring role on the shows Sex & Violence, Forgive Me, Switch, and Tales of the City. She guest starred on the show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and F to 7th. She appeared in the movies Birds of a Feather (2011), Cloudburst (2011), Montana Amazon (2012), The Last Keepers (2013), A Little Game (2014), 7 Chinese Brothers (2015), Emily & Tim (2015), The Infiltrator (106), Broken Links (2016), and Change in the Air (2018). She is set to appear in the film Not to Forget later this year.

Olympia Dukakis was a wonderful actress and she played a number of great characters. She was Loretta's exacting mother in Moostruck. In Steel Magnolias she played strong willed widow Clairee. In Mr. Holland's Opus she was the tough Principal Helen Jacobs, who stresses to the title character the importance of teaching. Through the years Olympia Dukakis gave a number of great performances and played a number of great roles.