This is a low-key but very nice feature and interview with Harrison Ford at his home in Wyoming, that was aired recently on CBS Sunday Morning.
Yesterday, when writing about Ruth Gordon, I mentioned that she was married to screenwriter-director Garson Kanin, and together they wrote two classic movie comedies, Adam’s Rib and Pat and Mike. I realized that that lets me tell one of the great Hollywood stories about kindness and subterfuge all rolled into one.
Garson Kanin wrote the 1946 Broadway play, Born Yesterday, which made a big star of Judy Holliday, playing the role for 1,200 performances, which is three years. When the movie was in the planning stages, to be directed by George Cukor, both wanted the actress to repeat her brilliant performance as ‘Billie Dawn.’ The problem was that she hadn’t starred in a movie before, in fact she only had three tiny roles in movies (two of them so small they were uncredited). So, the studio balked and refused to hire her.
That’s where the kindness and subterfuge kicked in. All helped by the kismet of timing. In 1949, Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon wrote the screenplay for Adam’s Rib, which was going to be directed by the same George Cukor. He – like Kanin and Gordon – knew Judy Holliday and wanted her for Born Yesterday, which was to be make into a film the next year. So, the three of them hatched a plan, and took it to Katharine Hepburn – who was the female lead in Adam’s Rib, getting ready to be made.
The plot of Adam’s Rib is about husband and wife lawyers (to be played by Spencer Tracy as the D.A. and Hepburn as defense attorney) on opposite sides of a case where a woman shoots and wounds her husband having an affair. The character of the woman under arrest only has one scene in the movie, in a prison conference room where Hepburn meets with her before deciding to take the case. Kanin, Gordon and Cukor came up with the idea of hiring Judy Holliday for the very small (though important) role, and not shooting the scene as normal -- with close-ups, wide shots, two-shots and such, with lots of editing, cutting back and forth between characters -- but instead to have only a single, stationary shot for five, full minutes with Judy Holliday in the main focus, no cuts, just one take, the sole point being to make this a screen test for Holliday, something the studio wouldn’t give her for Born Yesterday. And show the studio that she could be compelling and hold the screen on her own, be a star. The only thing, though, was that they needed Katharine Hepburn’s approval. But since Hepburn also knew Judy Holliday and knew, too, that Holliday deserved to repeat her classic performance as ‘Billie Dawn,’ she agreed.
And so, when the film comedy Adam’s Rib would be released, the unsuspecting studio and audience would watch the interview scene with the camera focused only on Judy Holliday in the center, despite Big Hollywood Star Katherine Hepburn in the scene, and not a single cut.
George Cukor, Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon took that scene to studio heads to show it to them as Judy Holliday’s screen test. It convinced the studio. She got hired to star in Born Yesterday. And won the Academy Award as Best Actress.
Here’s the scene. You can see for yourself:
Judy Holliday in the center -- full-on, the camera doesn't move, no cuts, Katharine Hepburn off to the side only in profile, for five minutes.
This isn’t a movie recommendation for everyone -- however, for those to whom it sounds interesting it’s highly enjoyable with great pedigree, and doesn’t get shown often.
The movie in question is a charming 1953 film, The Actress. It’s written by Ruth Gordon, which in turn is based on her semi-autobiographical novel about growing up in a conservative, straight-laced New England home at the turn-of-the-century and wanting to become an actress against everyone – at home and in town -- saying she’s foolish. It stars Jean Simmons (who was my dad’s favorite actress…) and Spencer Tracy as her father, and directed by George Cukor. And features Teresa Wright and Anthony Perkins. As I said, it’s got great pedigree.
And though it doesn’t air often, Turner Classic Movies will show this tomorrow, very early morning in Los Angeles, Tuesday, January 31 – at 4 AM Pacific Coast time (7 AM in the East). So, if it intrigues you, set the DVR. I don't suspect most of you will be up to watch, especially out here.
For those who don’t know Ruth Gordon, she was a spitfire actress who is probably best known for starring in Harold and Maude, and also won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1969 for Rosemary’s Baby. She had three other Oscar nominations – though only one for acting, in Inside Daisy Clover. She also has two nominations for writing: she co-wrote the classic comedies, Adam’s Rib and Pat and Mike, with her husband, the writer-director Garson Kanin. (She got an Emmy nomination, as well, as a guest star on the series Rhoda, playing the mother of the unseen Carlton the Doorman.) Though personally, I particularly think of her fondly for playing an Agatha Christie-type novelist who’s the pixie-ish murderer on a very good episode of Columbo, getting revenge on the young man she is certain killed her niece. Her stage, screen and TV career – which began in silent movies – is much too long to add more than that, but I’d be remiss in not mentioning that she played Mary Todd Lincoln in Abe Lincoln in Illinois, opposite Raymond Massie.
So, as a reminder, here she is in a scene with Peter Falk from Columbo, “Try and Catch Me” –
Anyway, back to The Actress, it’s very enjoyable. One of the fascinating things (which shows Jean Simmons’ great skill) is that Simmons is one of the great screen beauties, but playing a character who everyone ridicules for trying to be an actress because “You’re so funny looking” – and yet you buy her performance. (No, you don’t buy that she’s funny looking, that’s impossible, but you believe that everyone thinks she is, and that, as a gawky teenage girl, she accepts that and thinks so, too, but doesn’t care because it’s her dream to be an actress)
How semi-autobiographical is it? The character’s name is “Ruth.”
Though it’s not a classic film, if it's the type of movie that interests you, it's worth checking out because it's a very good one (6.4 stars on iMDB), and little-known that doesn’t get shown often -- with great pedigree of those involved.
Here's the trailer. It doesn’t do the movie justice, but gets across its sensibility –
And to close things off, it’s only appropriate to have Ruth Gordon’s Oscar acceptance speech – with it’s now-famous first line –
Though I have thoughts about the tragic shooting deaths on the set of the movie Rust, they are just personal presumptions, and I don’t have nearly enough information to make them even remotely meaningful.
However, after indictments came down last week, I’ve seen a bit of professional commentary that tried to add legal and social perspective, but didn’t have much sense of what a movie set is like. And two reactions in particular struck me as -- well, I think the best way to describe them is “nuts.” And those are worth addressing.
To be clear, this is a deeply serious matter, and I'm not dismissing that. In fact, that's the very point. Because it is so serious, that's why I think the analysis of it should be as accurate as possible, to reach the best understanding and ultimately the best results.
The first was from a legal expert on MSNBC. While he thought certain people would be in trouble, he felt that the indictments against Alec Baldwin were wrong-headed and likely to go nowhere. Now, that might be true -- but if so, not for the reasons he gave. I was not surprised to find out later in the report that he was a defense attorney. But if he was the one in court, he'd likely be laughed out of the building.
What he said was that there was no case against Baldwin because a prop gun is like giving a brick to an actor. The actor would have no expectation to think a brick can shoot a bullet and kill anyone, and so by the same token there’s no expectation an actor would ever have that a prop gun, which has been checked and given to him, is unsafe. It’s like a toy gun, the attorney said.
He’s wrong. Incredibly wrong. A prop gun is a real gun. It’s called a “prop gun” because it’s used in the scene as a prop, not because it’s fake. Everything used in a scene is a prop. A car used on a movie set will be called a “prop car”…but it’s quite obviously a very real car. A prop kitchen knife, prop chair, prop rug are all real knives, real chairs and real rugs. And a prop gun is a very real gun, that can shoot very real bullets, as we tragically found out.
When a prop gun is brought onto a movie set, the assistant director will call out a warning -- “Gun on set!!” They want everyone to know they should extra special care. No A.D. I’ve ever worked with has ever yet called out “Brick on set!!!” Nor do I expect ever will.
If a defense attorney tried to make this same case, I'd love to see the prosecutor traipse in an endless line of people who have ever worked on a movie crew and asked under oath, "Do you consider a gun on the set to be nothing more than just like a brick?" The outraged laughter and cries of "Hell, no!!" would echo through the chambers.
And a prop gun is not a toy gun. It’s a real gun. That has the capability to shoot very real bullets. (An episode of Columbo with William Shatner as the murderer has him breaking into the prop room of the TV show that his character is working on and taking the gun to use for committing his murder.) It's certainly possible to have a toy prop gun on a movie set -- but they don't shoot blanks, they don't shoot anything, they don't make noise, they don't emit smoke, and they most certainly aren't cared for protectively, cautiously as if they could. And no one on a movie set thinks real prop guns inherently are just toys. And even when they are toys, you make darn sure of it.
Further, what the attorney overlooked is that Alec Baldwin was a producer of the movie and had a leadership responsibility for the safety of the crew. The lawyer did eventually address this, but only tangentially and dismissively, as if an afterthought and a minor matter. While some actors are just a producer in name only, and get the title merely as "vanity credit," which happens in Hollywood, that would indeed be a minor matter here. But if that’s not the case on Rust, a “name only” thing, then being the producer is a very real, very serious matter. And ultimately, the legal analyst was not addressing that, he was only focusing on the indictment as being actor-related, which it most definitely was not.
The other instance was an editorial in the Los Angeles Times. Which, being the Los Angeles Times -- the paper of record in the movie capital of the world -- should know better. Should have a sense of how movies are made. If they didn't, well, there is no dearth of of people in town to ask. Like, even perhaps your waiter.
It caught my eye when reading through Twitter last week, and I saw this --
I read that and thought, surely this was just poorly phrased as a tweet. So, I checked out the day's newspaper and, no, the tweet got it right. That’s what the editorial was suggesting -- banning guns from movie sets.
You can read the full editorial here. It actually makes some good points in its opening discussion of the Rust tragedy. But then it plummeted into the abyss when it attempted to make suggestions that sounded like it knew what it was talking about.
The point is that no one has to use any kind of gun on a movie or TV set. Even though accidental shootings like this are thankfully rare, too many things have to go right so that nothing goes horribly wrong. “Under the best circumstances, mistakes can be made, props that purposely look identical to each other can get mixed up, and the necessary handling of these props can cause malfunction,” says Spencer Parsons, associate professor and head of production at Northwestern University in the School of Communication’s Department of Radio/Television/Film.
To start with, no, the point actually is that guns are not a danger on a movie set at all. Bullets are. Live ammo. The issue with Rust is not that there was a gun on the set, but that somehow real bullets were in the barrel, rather than blanks. With blanks in the gun, the tragedy wouldn't have occurred.
(We mustn't conflate guns and ammo on a movie set with the Fourth Amendment. Guns exist perfectly fine on movie sets without ever touching a bullet.)
There also are not "too many things" that have to go right. Very few things do. The armorer has to check the barrel to make sure it has blanks, and the assistant director has to do the same.
As for the lightbulb suggestion of, hey, here's an idea to try, why can't special effects be created to simulate the discharge of gun shots from live guns, in fact that's already done and has been in use for a while – and should be used when it can. It's don't done as often as it should, though, because special effects are expensive and especially would be prohibitive for a low-budget movie, or even perhaps a TV episode.
But the "point" of the editorial was not about simulating the effects of a gun shot (which should be done when it can), but to literally get rid of the guns themselves, indeed very specifically recommending that movies be made “without having a real weapon on set.” Really?? How is that supposed to work?? Imagine now making a Western. Or a cop show. Or an action movie with big shoot-outs. Without having guns on the set. Never mind, again, that guns aren't the problem on a movie set, live ammo is.
While it might sound technologically adept to throw in phrases like “Hollywood screen wizards” and reference an AI doll from a current hit, they have no bearing on the special effects work required to bizarrely replace how guns are used in a movie. Could it be done? Replacing all guns, rifles and semi-automatic weapons in movies with special effects? Whether it could or couldn't be accomplished some day, it's a false argument because the issue is not how they created “M3GAN,” and suggesting that they’re the same is like saying, “If we can put a man on the moon, why can’t my TV get better sound?”
And again, having real guns on a set, rather than special effects ones is not the problem -- live ammunition is.
A personal disclaimer. I wish I didn’t have to address the comment from the professor at Northwestern who heads the Radio/TV/Film production department. In part for what was said, but more because I not only went to the beloved Northwestern, but got my degree from that very department. It sounded scholarly on the surface, but in the real world I don’t have a clue what he’s talking about. An issue like the one on Rust had absolutely nothing to do with mixing up similar looking props, nor a malfunction. The gun tragically worked like a gun is supposed to -- the problem was the mishandling of protocol.
Further, to be clear, accidental shooting deaths like this are not only “thankfully rare,” as the editorial calls them, but in the over 100 years of making movies, they are almost unprecedented. There have tragically been far more deaths from other causes on movie sets than because of gun shots. That is not to dismiss them or excuse them, but to put a perspective on the problem. Deaths from gun shots are so monumentally rare over 100+ years because there are procedures in place to keep them monumentally rare. The reason it occurred here, with Rust, is what is being investigated because those safety procedures -- that keep movie sets very safe from such things -- weren’t followed.
What I do agree with in the editorial is that efforts, whether within in the film industry or labor regulations, should be made to ensure that movie sets are as safe as possible. But for situations like this, solutions can be far simpler and significantly more basic.
For instance, as long as we're on the topic of safety suggestions, here's one: require that the armorer on a movie set has to not only check a gun before handing it over to the assistant director, but sign off on a form that it was done, which creates proof of accountability. And then, the A.D. has to additionally check the gun and also sign the form that it was, creating extra proof of accountability. And then, the actor shouldn't be allowed to just accept that the gun given is fine…but also must check the gun and sign the form. Three levels of documented accountability. Without which, it wouldn't just be someone's word that they checked or were told everything was okay, but creating a level of individual responsibility on the record. And if you wanted to add a fourth level, with a separate producer or director checking and signing, fine, all the more protective.
Again, I don’t know how live ammunition got on the Rust movie set. I don’t know where procedures broke down. But when analyzing the outside analysis, I know two things -- that a prop gun is not the same as a brick, and that guns are not the problem on a movie set, bullets are.
Yes, it's that time again. I posted this last year -- and have, in fact, posted it annually, here and on the Huffington Post, where it initially appeared in 2007, for the past 16 years. I almost didn't post it last year, though, because no TV network would broadcast the Golden Globes due to a major racism scandal in the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.
The HFPA basically said, oops, my bad, we'll fix that, for sure, really, honest -- never mind all the other scandals and emptiness and problems and utter meaningless of the Golden Globes and its parent organization -- and NBC, the network that brought you Donald Trump on The Apprentice pedestal, figured, okay that sounds good enough for us, and decided to bring it back, just because.
So, with the Golden Globes broadcast set for tomorrow night, here we go again.
* * *
The PreCurse of the Golden Globes Rides Again
'Tis the season for awards - and that means on Sunday it was time to read and hear (repeatedly) how the Golden Globes matter because they are "precursors to the Oscars," remarkable for their mystical ability to predict the Academy Awards. Of course, if you repeat any mantra enough, people will believe almost anything But then reality rears its pesky head and gets in the way.
Indeed, the dirty little secret about the Golden Globes is that they're the biggest flim-flam scam on the American public today. Okay, other than "Mitt Romney is a far-right conservative."
(And one of the main reasons that keeps it such a "secret" is because most people don't have the slightest clue who in the world the Hollywood Foreign Press is that gives these awards. That's a little sending a congratulations gift to someone who was named "Man of the Year" and not realizing that the honor was given by an online website that sends out the certificates for $18.)
I have absolutely no idea who "won" what last night. Alas, the depth of human caring simply doesn't stretch that low. Mind you, it's not because they're just awards - hey, awards are entertainment, and can be as fun as anything. It's because the Golden Globes are to awards what a Black Hole is to French toast. There's no connection, but at least with French toast you can pour on syrup and not have human existence sucked out of the universe.
When someone said, "The show must go on," clearly the Golden Globes hadn't been invented yet.
Four years ago, I wrote about the Golden Globes, and because they keep coming back unrelentingly like a crazed zombie, I updated and edited it a year later. And now it's become a bit of an annual tradition, the same as one calls in a gardener to stop the crab grass from spreading any further. Because the foolish hype gets more out of control each year - and since if I saw someone crossing the street into an oncoming truck I'd always yell to stop - I figure it's worth revisiting that piece.
Until recently the Globes were so comatose that even a new health care system couldn't have diagnosed them to life. But three things changed: movie studios realized they could get massive free publicity. Television recognized that if celebrities attended, people would watch anything. And actors grasped they'd get to appear on TV and receive awards. It was the Holy Trinity of PR.
Before even attempting to dismiss or defend the Golden Globes, however, it's important to understand what exactly what it is. And it starts with a bit of flim-flammery.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which presents the Golden Globes, has always had only one thing going for it - an incredible-sounding name. That name comes across like A-list journalists in trenchcoats from Paris Match, Die Welt and the Neptune Gazette. In fact, however, the HFPA, while representing many fine, individual, full-time reporters, is largely comprised of stringers (part-timers whose day job is other than journalism). And many are neither foreign, nor active in the press. Membership is whimsical: some get permanent status; others are inexplicably refused even entry. (The London Times is not a member. A reporter from the renowned Le Monde has been turned down for years. Happily there is a representative from the movie hotbed of Bangladesh. Honest.)
Yes, of course, movie awards are utterly pointless to all human life forms, except the winners. It's just faflooey. Nothing more than fluff. And the Globes are the fluff on top of the fluff. But before dismissing them further, remember: around 20 million viewers tune in to the Golden Globes. If that many people are going to spend their time on Earth watching the circus, it's at least nice to know who sent in the clowns.
And that's the kicker. At last count, the Globes are voted on by just...get this...86 people. Yes, you read that correctly. 86. For comparison, the Oscars, Emmys, and Writers Guild/Directors Guild/SAG awards are each voted on by about 6,000 professionals of their respective industries.
The good news is that with only 86 people voting it cuts down on the hanging-chad problem.
Any club is entitled to give awards. But most don't get to take over three hours of prime time on national network television.
The history of the Golden Globes is peppered with so many scandals about buying awards that Frequent Shopper points should be instituted. The most famous is when Pia Zadora's then-husband gave lavish parties to the HFPA, and she won New Star of the Year - for the ridiculed disaster Butterfly. For the 2000 Awards Sharon Stone's representative sent gold watches to all then-82 voters. Only after this became a public embarrassment was the plunder returned. And Ms. Stone received a best actress nomination for The Muse.
But the big myth about the Golden Globes - indeed their one false hope to even a wisp of validity - is that they are an impeccable predictor of the Academy Awards.
(Why anyone cares about predicting the Oscars is another matter entirely.)
But the reality is - the Golden Globes as a "Precursor to the Oscars" is not only not close to true, it's worse than not close to true. Which is near-impossible.
Keep in mind that six of the 13 Globe categories are split into drama and musical-comedy - which allows for twice as many chances to be "right." Some categories have had as many as nine nominees. People watching at home eating cheese dip probably get half the Oscar winners right by pure guessing. (My mother correctly predicted Philip Seymour Hoffman's win, and she hadn't even seen Capote at the time.) Yet it's almost impressive how wrong the Globes are at "precursing."
Last year, the Golden Globes did well in all the acting categories, picking all four winners (keeping in mind that they give twice as many acting awards as the Oscars, so they have twice as many chances to be right). But they got Best Picture wrong, Best Director wrong, Best Screenplay wrong, and Best Foreign Language Picture wrong.
Going back to the year before, here are all the Golden Globe categories.
Best Picture (drama) - right
Best Picture (comedy) - wrong, not even nominated for an Oscar.
Best Actor (drama) - wrong
Best Actor (comedy) - wrong, not even nominated for an Oscar.
Best Actress (drama) - right
Best Actress (comedy) - wrong, not even nominated for an Oscar
Best Supporting Actor - right
Best Supporting Actress - wrong, not nominated for an Oscar.
Best Director - right
Best Screenplay - right, but the Oscar-winner for Original Screenplay wasn't nominated by the Golden Globes
Best Foreign Language Film - wrong
Best Animated Feature - right
Best Score - right
Best Song - wrong, not nominated for an Oscar.
It is unlikely that these results over the past two years would win your office pool. If you want to be considered a precursor, that would seem to be the minimum requirement.
And these were both pretty good years for the Golden Globes.
In 2006, the Oscar for Best Picture was Crash. The Golden Globes didn't even nominate it among their 10 finalists!
It becomes scary bad when you delve deeper. But having a limit on my Care-o-Meter, with zero interest to go back and check year-after-every-year, I decided to try an experiment. To be very clear, there is absolutely nothing even remotely scientific about it. Rather, it's the testing equivalent of throwing darts. No scientific meaning. Just picking a totally random year. But in its randomness, it has a separate meaning: it could have been any year.
I closed my eyes, pointed at the screen blindly and grabbed a year. The lucky winner was 2001. It looked good - it even had the name of a movie ("2001") about it. Alas, "lucky winner" turned out to be a contradiction.
The Globe winner in 2001 for Best Picture musical/comedy (Almost Famous) wasn't even nominated for the Oscar. The two Golden Globe winners for Best Actor were Tom Hanks and George Clooney. Swell actors, but the Oscar went to Russell Crowe (Gladiator) - and Globe-winner Clooney didn't even get an Oscar nomination.
Renee Zellwegger (Nurse Betty) won the Globe's Best Actress, musical/comedy. Alas, she didn't get nominated for an Oscar either.
It gets worse.
For supporting actress, Marcia Gay Harden won the Academy Award...but didn't even receive a Globe nomination.
In fairness, that was a random choice and therefore hardly definitive, as I said. Not proof of anything. Unfortunately, to be fair, I figured I'd at least go back one more year, and the results were as dismal. The year before, in 2000, the Golden Globes gave their two Best Actor awards to Denzel Washington and Jim Carrey - but the Oscar winner was Kevin Spacey (and Carrey wasn't nominated). Tom Cruise won the Globe for Supporting Actor - but Michel Caine got the Oscar. And remarkably, although there were nine Globe nominees for Best Original Score, their winner didn't even get nominated by the Academy, and the Oscar winner (The Red Violin) wasn't nominatedby the Globes!!
Not good as far as precursors go.
Certainly, other years may show better results. Or...okay, maybe not. But the bottom line is not whether the Golden Globes are right some years or really wrong others. It's that if you're doing to be a "precursor," if you're going to be predictive, then you have to have a steady standard that can be relied upon. Every single year. And the only thing steady about the Golden Globes is that they do not "predict" anything. Set that in granite and plant the gravestone, once and for all.
All this said, this year the Golden Globes actually do have a reason to watch. Ricky Gervais is hosting again. It's why God created the DVR and fast-forward button.
Of course, underlying all of this is that the Golden Globes or Oscars are all just awards. They have no real meaning, except to those who win. For the rest of the planet, they're just entertainment. Still, even entertainment is more substantive when we value those behind it. There's a reason TV doesn't broadcast your office pool.
Further, for as little meaning that all awards shows have (including those given out by an industry to itself), the reality is that people watch the broadcasts. And they watch them because there's a perception - as in the Emmys, Tonys, Grammys and Oscars - that the people giving the awards know what they're doing. It's a perception the Golden Globes have falsely milked for decades, scamming the public.
In the end, for those who insist on watching the Golden Globes, watch them and accept them for what they are, and you can live in blissful peace - 86 members of a shaky organization that stumbled onto a goldmine with studios and networks, and who present a lively TV kegger.
And that's why Globe winners appear so goofy on the air. Because they understand what you now know. Everyone loves a good joke.
One day after writing this above, Patrick Goldstein in the L.A. Times, wrote an article about a story broken by The Wrap about the longtime, former publicist of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association suing the organization.
"Michael Russell, who ran press for the show for 17 years, has charged the HFPA with fraud and corrupt practices. He claims that a number of members of the organization accepted money, vacations and gifts from studios in exchange for nominating their films in addition to selling media credentials and red carpet space for gifts. He also says the HFPA accepted payment from studios and producers for lobbying other members for award nominations."
As I’ve written in the past here, I dearly love the movie Joe vs. the Volcano, written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, and starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan (in three roles, as sisters). The romantic comedy/drama is essentially a modern fairy tale about a lot of things, but mainly about being heartsick and feeling insignificant in a world that requires traveling a jagged path to find what you need, even if that means maybe jumping into a volcano.
It was on the other day, and I was reminded again how much I love the gorgeous, tender song, “Marooned Without You,” which is written by Georges Delerue and John Patrick Shanley. It’s only heard quietly in the background during the movie, but also over the end credits. I couldn’t find a film clip of the song, but this is from the soundtrack played over a still photograph. Let me repeat, I love this song.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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