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Show Business Snow Business

With the monster storm hitting New York at the moment, all Broadway shows have been canceled for tonight as have several other tapings. According to this, David Letterman is planning on doing a show. No word on The Daily Show or The Nightly Show. I don't know if The Late Late Show hosted by Regis Philbin was pre-taped and if not, if it'll be taping this evening. They do have a couple of episodes hosted by Drew Carey on the shelf and that might make it easier for them to decide to cancel. Seth Meyers and Jimmy Fallon are in reruns.

Today's Video Link

John Oliver auditions for Fifty Shades of Grey. I haven't read the book and don't know much about it but I'm sure he'd be perfect for the role…

Later Monday Morning

I feel a tad guilty checking the weather forecast this morning. I'm seeing when over the next day or two, we might get the less-than-a-tenth-of-an-inch of rain that's about a 40% probability for Los Angeles. Folks in and around New York are checking on the almost-certain 28+ inches of snow that's already beginning to fall.

A year or two ago, the grief this blizzard will cause back there would have been frosted with an insult to everyone's intelligence. We would have heard that all this snow and ice is proof that there's no such thing as Global Warming. And we'll probably still hear that from someone but most of that faction seems to have thrown in the terrycloth on that line of unreasoning. The new stance is that, yes, there is Climate Change happening but it's arrogant and idiotic to suggest that Man could have caused it or could possibly undo it.

For years, we've heard from these folks that American ingenuity and exceptionalism can achieve anything. Odd how they seem to draw the line at preventing mass shootings or improving the environment.

Early Monday Morning

To all those who stand to be impacted by Tropical Storm Juno: Good luck. I hope it won't be as bad as they're saying it'll be.

Blacklist Memories

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I posted this here on March 6, 2004. I don't have anything in particular to add to it now other than that the Writers Guild apparently decided not to change the credits on the film Old Yeller to reflect the claims by Al and Helen Levitt that they were the true authors of that screenplay. I have no idea how strong or weak their case was for that but, as noted, their work on several other Disney films is now noted. And whether he was ever up for the lead or not, I still think The Front would have been an even better movie with Jack Gilford instead of Woody Allen…

For no better reason than that it was on a movie channel I receive, I found myself re-watching The Front, the 1976 movie about blacklisting written by Walter Bernstein and directed by Martin Ritt. Both gents actually were blacklisted, as were several cast members including Zero Mostel and Herschel Bernardi. When first I saw the film, I suspected that its makers had originally intended that the lead role by filled by another blacklisted actor, Jack Gilford — it was not long after Gilford had been nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Save the Tiger — but that for billing reasons, they wound up with Woody Allen. Later, I read an interview with Ritt or Bernstein (I forget which) and the person said something that suggested Allen had been their first and only choice…but I'm only half-convinced.

Allen was fine in the film, of course, but I later heard a top studio executive cite this among films he felt were harmed, not helped, by the presence of a star whose very name defined the film wrongly. In this case, the theory was that people came expecting a Woody Allen film, while others saw the names of Allen and Mostel and expected a zany comedy. Whatever, he said, good movies sometimes flop because the advertising doesn't draw in the kind of people likely to enjoy the film and/or it causes audience to walk in the door expecting the wrong thing.

I thought The Front was a good movie which presented a good, non-hysterical view of that period in entertainment history when actors and writers were being ostracized either for their political beliefs or because someone had claimed they'd done something left-wing which they might or might not have actually done. I once discussed that era with Al and Helen Levitt, who were among the many blacklisted screenwriters, and they both made the point that even if you bought the premise that it was okay to pressure producers to not hire certain folks because of political activities, you should have objected to how inaccurate the process was. Without a trial or any avenue of appeal, people were "convicted" based on rumors, innuendos and things like someone who "thought" he'd seen them at a certain rally. There were cases of Joe Smith getting blacklisted because someone had confused him with John Smith. When radio personality John Henry Faulk brought his successful lawsuit against the company that compiled lists of those to not be hired, one of the key components in his victory was convincing the jury that the blacklisters routinely made whopping errors and never corrected them.

Obviously, the Levitts did not agree that someone could or should be fired because of their politics but they made the point that it was like someone who believed in the death penalty so strongly that they didn't care if the wrong people were being executed. They said this to me some time before DNA testing began proving that a shocking percentage of murder convictions are erroneous. I think of them every time I see some death penalty proponent who views executing the innocent as a minor, acceptable flaw in the system.

Al and Helen wrote for years through fronts or under the names of "Tom and Helen August." Though we hear stories of Walt Disney being a rabid anti-Communist, he routinely employed them and knew full well who he was hiring. The Writers Guild later "corrected" credits on The Monkey's Uncle and The Misadventures of Merlin Jones to put the Levitts' real names in place of their pen names. The couple, both of whom have passed on, felt they should have received credit on several others, including Old Yeller — and they still may, albeit posthumously. Anyway, they both liked The Front and felt it was an accurate portrayal, confirming what I had sensed. They especially liked the end credits which list not only the names of those who worked on the film but the date when some of them were blacklisted, thereby driving home the point that this really happened.

One blacklisted actor who wasn't in The Front was John Randolph, a veteran of stage and film who died February 24 at the age of 88. Randolph was blacklisted in 1955 and like many in that situation, fled to the stage. He got no work in TV or movies until 1966 when John Frankenheimer cast him in the film, Seconds. Thereafter, he turned up on screens rather steadily, though not in The Front. For some reason though, people think he was in that movie.

There have been two exhaustive biographies of Zero Mostel — Zero Mostel: A Biography by Jared Brown (out of print) and Zero Dances by Arthur Sainer. Both mention John Randolph being in The Front and both are wrong. Quite a few articles that were written about the film at the time of its release and since have listed Randolph among its cast members and they're all wrong. Maybe he filmed some scenes for it but he's not in the finished picture. Oddly enough, the same year he wasn't in this movie that he keeps being credited for, Randolph got into a public dispute with the producers of All the President's Men for not giving him credit on a movie he was in…or at least, his voice was. He provided the sound of Attorney General John Mitchell in the phone conversation with Dustin Hoffman and was quite distressed to find his name unlisted in the closing crawl. There's some sort of odd irony in there: A blacklisted actor being "named" in the wrong time and place.

The Bradbury Building

Some folks on the 'net still seem riled about the demolition of Ray Bradbury's home in Cheviot Hills. As I wrote here, I have fond memories of that house and its owner in it but I don't see the harm in the new owner wanting to build a new building on that property. Here is an interview with the new owner which may make some see his decision in a different light.

Today's Video Link

Dick Cavett interviews Martin Short for an hour and 17 minutes…

It's Time for Regis!

As I mentioned here the other day, Regis Philbin is guest-hosting The Late, Late Show on Monday and Tuesday nights. I pointed out that he was taking no chances with his guest list on Monday night: Alan Alda, Martin Short, Tony Danza and Susan Sarandon.

Well, Tuesday night he has David Letterman, Martha Stewart and Tracy Wolfson. Since Letterman is in New York and is not in reruns next week, my first thought was that he'd be on via satellite since The Late, Late Show is done out here. But then I realized: Martin Short is currently appearing on Broadway in It's Only a Play and Tony Danza is in Honeymoon in Vegas. So maybe they're taping in New York, which is where I think all of the guests over those two nights are based, as is Regis. That would be kinda interesting, right?

Assuming that's true, here's what I think is happening. They're taping episodes this week here in L.A. with Kunal Nayaar and Billy Gardell hosting…episodes that are not scheduled to run until sometime in February. They've already taped some more episodes ahead with Drew Carey hosting. James Corden takes over late in March so what they seem to be doing is taping ahead — with shows this week taping on both coasts — so that they'll be done with all the guest host shows in time to not be taping in L.A. in March. That would then allow time to redo the studio for Corden and for him to do test shows in there. I can't recall any late night network talk show ever taping more than a few days ahead but I think that's the plan here.

[UPDATE, fifteen minutes later: Yeah, just found a couple of online news stories saying Late, Late Show is taping in New York this week. None of them mention though that they're apparently also taping in Los Angeles this week.]

Joe Franklin, R.I.P.

The New York Times says Joe Franklin has died at the age of 88 and that's good enough for me.

Since I wasn't a New Yorker, I saw very little of Mr. Franklin's legendary TV show. It occasionally made it onto Los Angeles TV in brief spurts of unsuccessful syndication but I suspect more people saw the Billy Crystal parodies than saw the real program. It was a show where Franklin interviewed guests, usually all at once, jumping from guest to guest and therefore from topic to topic. He sometimes had on some Big Stars and when he couldn't get Big Stars, he got whoever he could get and treated them as Big Stars.

In 1983, my friend Marv Wolfman was booked on the show to promote a series of Teen Titans comics he'd written with an anti-drug theme. Franklin quizzed him a bit on the project, then asked some unrelated questions of an unrelated guest. Then he asked some unrelated questions to another unrelated guest. Then completely non sequitur, he turned back to Marv and said —

"Marv Wolfman! Eddie Cantor…any anecdotes?"

I didn't see that episode but when Marv told that to me, I laughed for about twenty minutes. It so perfectly encapsulated the Franklin style that I had witnessed.

I never met the man but I know a lot of people who did. They all said he was nice, caring and eager to help any talented person with any kind of problem. I hope he's remembered with the same enthusiasm that he gave to remembering the greats of show business before him.

Joe Franklin Watch

Okay, the New York Daily News says Joe Franklin has died. I'm going to wait until a real newspaper says so.

Joe Franklin, Still Alive?

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Is he? It's all over the 'net that Talk Show Legend Joe Franklin has left us…but at this moment, it's not on any official news site. We're waiting until it's on several — or from a reliable source — before we believe it.

Soaring Prices

Yesterday, we were jesting about the announced bankruptcy of SkyMall, the store whose showroom is right next to the airsick bag. I've never ordered anything from them though I must confess that at least twice, I've seen an item in there that I thought might come in handy in my life…then done an Internet search and ordered it elsewhere. Maybe everyone's doing that and that's why they're bankrupt.

No, that can't be the problem and it isn't. This article will tell you what is.

Ernie

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Baseball Legend Ernie Banks has died and people in and from Chicago feel a special sense of loss. One of them, our friend Bob Elisberg, explains why.

Time To Do This Again…

Okay, let's all go see if Abe Vigoda is still alive.

Carlotta Monti

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I put this up here on 12/29/03. It's about me meeting the woman who lived for years with W.C. Fields. Looking back, I see that for some reason, I left out my favorite of all the W.C. lines she quoted for me. One time when Fields was out of work, his agent suggested he go play golf with the powerful producer, Jack L. Warner. Fields immediately responded, "If I want to play with a prick, I'll play with my own." I wish I'd taken notes on the other ones…

I mentioned meeting Carlotta Monti the other day and a reader made me promise I'd tell how that happened and all that I recalled. It was around 1974, a period when I often found myself in Westwood Village, right outside the U.C.L.A. campus. My Aunt Dot was donating two days a week as a saleslady at the United Nations Gift Shop, which was a charity enterprise that sold globes and flags and little sculptures that you'd never want in your house. When I was in the area, I'd drop in and say howdy to Aunt Dot and one day, she introduced me to another of the women who volunteered their time in the store. When she said, "This is Carlotta Monti," little bells went off in my head and I thought, "Hey, I think this is the lady who was W.C. Fields' mistress." She seemed about the right age (just shy of 70) but I wasn't sure enough to say anything other than, "Oh, I certainly know of you." Matter of fact, I think I changed the subject swiftly and awkwardly and hurried off. Once home, I consulted her autobiography, W.C. Fields and Me and, sure enough, it was the same lady.

I checked with Aunt Dot to find out when Ms. Monti would be there again and took the book up to get it signed. We wound up going to a shop down the street for cola and coffee, and I could see that Ms. Monti was thrilled to have a new audience for her tales of "Woody," as she called him. The way she pronounced it, it rhymed with "moody" and no, I have no idea where the nickname came from. She was proud of the book and upset that "certain people" who knew Fields or defended his memory felt she'd exploited her relationship with him. These "certain people" (unnamed) were also upset that she had sold or was about to sell the film rights…and I recall thinking to myself, "That's one movie that will never get made." Two years later, it was. Filmdom would have been much better off if I'd been right.

She kept coming back to the fact that she was being criticized for writing about her life. Her side of it, which did not surprise me and which I am not suggesting was at all wrong, was that she'd given "the best years" of her life to Fields and received precious little. So selling her life story was her inheritance, and "Woody" would have wanted her to be comfortable in her old age. She said she had plenty more stories…enough to fill several more books, but would have to wait a few years before embarking on one.

I asked her to tell me one of these stories and she mulled several possibilities before telling of an aging prostitute Fields knew. She wasn't sure if "Woody" had ever been a patron but they were friends, and Fields was always trying to find a way to throw her a few bucks since she was too old to get much work in her main occupation. There's a tale that makes the rounds about some guy who's in the hospital, attended by nurses and/or nuns and one day, one comes in, locks the door and begins ripping off her clothes and performing sex acts on his person. This of course shocks the patient who is unaware the nun (or nurse) is a hooker that his friends have hired for this treat/trick. Well, according to Ms. Monti, Fields's friend specialized in such missions and owned all the necessary costuming. Now that she was older, he occasionally hired her for non-carnal nun impersonation. He'd arrange for her to be in some restaurant or other public place when he was with some pals and he'd start verbally abusing this nun and saying foul, vulgar things to her. This would horrify Fields' friends who would try to shut him up but he would persist…until finally, the "nun" would start firing back with even better obscenities, and Fields' cronies would realize they'd been had. According to Ms. Monti, "Woody" loved the reactions.

The other main thing I recall beyond the talk about him wanting to play Scrooge was that she felt Fields's last few years had been squandered by Hollywood. He'd had a bad check-up and from that point on, no studio wanted to start a movie with him in the lead. He was in constant demand for short cameos but many offers fell through and some of what he did film was never released. She made the comment that he might have lived longer if the business hadn't decided prematurely that he was dying.

She didn't have a lot of time that day so we agreed to get together again for a longer chat but never did. And though she lived almost two decades after our chat, she never wrote that second book. I'm sorry I didn't spend more time with her because…well, how often do you get to talk to someone who slept with W.C. Fields? These days, hardly ever.