Children of Hollywood

The granddaughter of Melvyn Douglas appeared this spring in the room where the first Academy Awards were held to moderate a discussion with Cary Grant’s, Charlton Heston’s and Ruby Dee’s adult children on being a child of Hollywood. It happened at the classic movies festival.

Douglas, Grant, Muhammad and Heston at TCMFF 2019

I wrote about the insightful panel discussion, dubbed ‘the descendants’ by Turner Classic Movies for their 10th annual TCM Classic Film Festival, for Flicker Alley’s online classic film journal. The Hollywood-based company, which creates, distributes and sponsors top caliber movie restorations and releases, kindly announced that “[o]ur Flicker Alley Team attended the TCM Film Festival in April, where we met the talented Scott Holleran who graciously shares his experience in this month’s blog.”

Read my article about surviving Hollywood parents — besides Melvyn Douglas, these include Dyan Cannon, Ossie Davis, Charlton Heston, Ruby Dee and Cary Grant — here.


This Month on TCM

The Manchurian Candidate (1962), a strangely prophetic film starring Laurence Harvey (Butterfield 8), airs this month on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). John Frankenheimer’s controversial conspiracy-themed movie, withdrawn by the studio from distribution after the assassination of President Kennedy, shows on May 18 (check local listings for all movies in May).

Another conspiracy-themed film, the sterling Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), shows on May 23. So does the fine little British war movie, Hope and Glory (1987). On the following day, May 24, TCM airs three unforgettable movies with extremely dark themes about the child in mortal danger: Barbara Stanwyck in 1931’s chillingly exquisite Night Nurse (I rarely say this but do not miss this movie, especially if you like to see strong women depicted in proximity to heroic men); 1955’s Night of the Hunter, based on the novel, starring Lillian Gish and Robert Mitchum as good and evil religious practitioners and John Wayne in The Searchers (1956).

Inherit the Wind, the 1960 motion picture version of the stage play about the trial of a Tennessee teacher who dared to teach Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, shows the next day (May 25), followed by a 1973 romp starring Richard Chamberlain, Charlton Heston and Faye Dunaway based on Alexandre Dumas’ novel The Three Musketeers.

The 1989 movie about an all-black unit of the Union Army in the Civil War, Glory, starring Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington, screens on May 27 after a showing of the World War 2-era film From Here to Eternity (1953) starring Montgomery Clift, Donna Reed, Ernest Borgnine, Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster. Two classics by director Howard Hawks, 1959’s outstanding moral alternative to the anti-heroic High Noon (1952), Rio Bravo (1959) starring John Wayne, and the romantically heroic Only Angels Have Wings (1939), air on May 30.

On the last day of May, May 31st, TCM features Steven Spielberg’s prelude to his 1982 masterpiece E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, the marvelous 1977 hit Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Each movie airs on Turner Classic Movies, founded by Ted Turner 25 years ago this spring, uncut and commercial-free.

Spring Announcements

This is my fifth year of delivering writing and media adult instruction in Southern California. I’m pleased to announce a new summer series in both Writing Boot Camp and Maximizing Social Media. I enjoy teaching the courses, which I created to foster practicing virtue in media and writing. Recently, I extended an offer to my ‘alumni’ to attend private networking mixers near Burbank’s movie studios. This week, I will share details of my recent literary agency representation.

Recent developments integrate the lessons from both courses; specifically, my thesis in Maximizing Social Media that one must commit, create and cash in using today’s media to advance one’s self-interest. Writing Boot Camp‘s thesis is the same idea in reverse; that the writer must devote himself to the writing process and to being explicitly social in disseminating his work.

Details of my discovery by a literary agent prove that both approaches yield results.

In the meantime, I’m happy to report that I recently interviewed one of my favorite filmmakers. Stand by for details on my exclusive interview with the director of Paramount Pictures’ Grease, Randal Kleiser, in Hollywood. We talked about his new virtual reality series, his stories for television, including episodes of The Rookies and Marcus Welby, M.D., as well as his movies The Blue Lagoon and Summer Lovers, a new book on Grease, his studies at the University of Southern California (USC) and working with the late Patrick Swayze. Mr. Kleiser is an amazing man of ability. What a privilege to meet and interview one of Hollywood’s best directors.

I’m currently writing articles about new books, events and old movies, including this season’s 10th annual Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Classic Film Festival in Hollywood. The annual festival celebrated the 25th anniversary of Turner Classic Movies with a visit from Cable News Network (CNN), TBS and TCM founder Ted Turner.

So, look for new analyses of Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah (1949) and James Stewart in Winchester ’73 (1950) as well as a roundup of last week’s events. I also plan to write an analysis of the motion picture version of Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel, Gone With the Wind, starring Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable and Hattie McDaniel.

Seeing David O. Selznick’s production of Gone With the Wind (1939), directed by Victor Fleming, on screen at Grauman’s Chinese Theater for the first time, I found the movie simply brilliant and astonishing. The epic remains powerful, vibrant and penetrating. This time, watching with an appreciative audience of hundreds, I noticed new aspects. I discovered new insights. Seeing the remarkable four-hour movie again, this time inside the grand Chinese Theater, made me want to re-read the novel, which is better than the movie. That I saw the movie which initiated Turner Classic Movies 25 years to the day after the breakthrough channel’s debut was the ideal way to honor what TCM does, is and means at its best.

Megyn Kelly, FilmStruck and Media

The recent cancellation of Megyn Kelly Today demonstrates the folly of putting popularity above good business principles. When NBC, which is owned by NBCUniversal (which is owned by cable corporation Comcast), recently signed the Fox News personality to a reported $69 million contract, the broadcasting unit severely overestimated Kelly’s value.

NBC’s executives should’ve read my review of her debut on Fox News. Kelly’s hard, self-centered manner may have been suited to the Fox News cable television brand, but her brand is defective. It’s not surprising that audience reception and ratings have been mediocre at best.

The astronomical price tag for such a vapid hostess, or, if you insist, “celebrity journalist”, underscores the media industry’s fixation on ratings, metrics and short-term gain to the detriment of quality and credibility, proper standards and practices and long-term profit and progress.

Megyn Kelly, an intelligent lawyer who has more in common with the president and other vulgar, showboating sensationalists than she does with able-minded journalists, has never been serious (read my comparison of Kelly and NBC’s other overpaid darling, Trump, here). By hiring Megyn Kelly as it did, NBC showed its desperation and a willingness to do anything for a hit as a presumably non-leftist counterpoint to its leftist brand. Unfortunately, NBC’s supposed goal to gain intellectual balance probably will be abandoned, as against the network’s fixation on getting up fast hits.

While NBC backtracks on Megyn Kelly, with whom it’s apparently still negotiating, for dubious reasons, Comast’s competitor AT&T has made the call to cancel its Turner-branded streaming service for independent films, FilmStruck. This service, affiliated with the Criterion Collection and Turner Classic Movies (TCM), represented a real commitment to streaming thoughtful, harder-to-find motion pictures. AT&T terminated FilmStruck, which was part of Turner’s parent WarnerMedia company, for FilmStruck’s lack of a wider audience. WarnerMedia may launch its own streaming service to compete with Disney’s proprietary streaming service and outlets such as Netflix.

The termination is another AT&T mistake. As Comcast fails to grasp why metrics and popularity alone are not proper tools for forecasting success, AT&T’s decision to nix FilmStruck shows the media corporation’s failure to understand the same idea. While FilmStruck, which for full disclosure I wrote scripts for last season, was too focused on intellectuals and with an ivory tower slant, as a brand FilmStruck showed potential for appealing to wider audiences.

Experimenting with new ideas is crucial for media success. AT&T, which, in my experience is mostly incompetent at delivering goods and services, doesn’t know how to cultivate its assets any better than NBC knows how to apply better judgment to the business of earning its television, streaming or media customers’ trust (i.e., NBC News, especially MSNBC).

FilmStruck ends its operations in America and the world late next month. I think that, in the current cultural context, it’s unlikely that WarnerMedia will replace it with a classic movie streaming service or brand, though the company, with its vast Warner Bros. archive of great movies, should do exactly that. Cynical Megyn Kelly, on the other hand (or more empty vessels like her), is unfortunately likely to return to media in some other program or format.

Both cancellations, with Kelly’s cancellation coming in the aftermath of her controversial comments — further eroding the media industry’s commitment to defending the freedom of speech — are a sign that the culture’s plunging down. Ditching Megyn Kelly for being controversial — her problem is lack of coherence, consistency and authenticity, not any among her ginned up controversies — and abandoning movie streaming for being intellectual portend more of the anti-intellectualism already spreading fast in American culture.

America is already besieged by increasingly bloodthirsty irrationalists, from assaults on softball diamonds and gay nightclubs to mass shootings at the nation’s churches and synagogues. The United States needs more serious, controversial and thoughtful programming, not fewer choices among the status quo.

Americans in media, producers and consumers alike, should ease up on the asinine pictures, memes and clips and focus instead on producing and consuming more intelligent, radical material and make and watch it faster than ever. Comcast and AT&T, through whomever remains subversive at NBC, Universal, Turner and Warner Bros., and I know you’re out there, should take note: replace Kelly and FilmStruck with more rational programs, discourse and ideas, not more pap. There’s value to gain. There’s little value, such as credibility, left to lose.

Roundup: 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival

Roundup: 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival

With a festival theme of classic movies originating with literature, Turner Classic Movies’ 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood satiated, enticed and, on occasion, stirred in audiences the power and wonder that the original filmmakers intended decades ago.

Event planning in one of the city’s seediest neighborhoods is a challenge. In today’s cultural void, creating a sense of purpose, let alone eliciting an emotional response, around a particular idea is an impressive achievement. That Turner Classic Movies attempts, executes and sustains this festival every year, especially soon after losing its defining host and ambassador, Robert Osborne, and that brand TCM does this in Hollywood, which increasingly resembles a horror film set, astounds.

Senior programmer Charlie Tabesh, as Robert Osborne told me more than once while persuading me to attend the festival, has mastered the metrics of showcasing classic movies. TCM’s theme this year, films based upon a piece of writing, has renewed meaning and relevance. As I told them both, programmers Stephanie Thames and Scott McGee assembled an outstanding program.

New tours and venues, courtesy of the American Society of Cinematographers and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, were on the bill. Grand Prix (1966) screened in the ArcLight Hollywood’s Cinerama Dome. Interviews with movie makers James Ivory, Gilliam Armstrong and Robert Benton added value to the festival. So did the presentation of the first Robert Osborne Award, which went to Martin Scorsese at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Other welcome additions include a tear-out schedule in the program guide. Familiar guest speakers and moderators, such as Cari Beauchamp, Ben Burtt, Leonard Maltin, Wyatt McCrea and Donald Bogle returned for stimulating, thoughtful commentary, perspective and insights.

TCM does get in its own way. I watched A Woman Rebels (1936), a compelling movie starring Katharine Hepburn, on TCM after the festival and learned of its literary origins. This made me wonder what classic movie scholar and author Cari Beauchamp would have to say about it and wish the movie had also been featured. The event lacks wider and deeper philosophical perspectives (as I pointed out in my preview) and this year’s festival is no exception. In retrospect, TCM missed key literary-based pictures, though there are often good reasons, including rights, quality and recent festival screenings.

Other gripes or suggested steps in progress include better red carpet positioning — having movie stars, especially those in their nineties, posing in LA’s late afternoon sun is brutal — handling and presentation of talent. A stellar event such as this requires hands-on attention to detail. It was disappointing that few among the press pool knew that Sounder‘s Cicely Tyson, for instance, had portrayed both Marva Collins and Kunta Kinte’s mother on ABC’s epic Roots.

Speaking of Miss Tyson, whose tale of being tossed out by her mother as a kid for wanting to be an actress is wrenching, the interview with TCM’s host Ben Mankiewicz before Martin Ritt’s Sounder contained one question about the 1972 movie. Sounder co-starred the late Paul Winfield and introduced Kevin Hooks in his film debut. An actress of Miss Tyson’s caliber calls for delving deeper into the movie the audience is about to see.

Speaking of longtime host Ben Mankiewicz, he visibly makes every effort to be his best. Ben treats every festival gathering to his sense of humor. However, segments such as the “Growing Up Mankiewicz” feature, which packed a standing room only audience into Hollywood Roosevelt’s Club TCM, take time from festival programming for and about classic movies qua classic movies.

Indeed, TCM thrives on worshipping movies as movies, down to cinematography, storyboarding, lighting, casting, marketing and that which makes it all possible, the screenwriting. An emphasis on facts, analysis and context for classic movies ought to trump having a blood relation to those who made them. I enjoy witty and knowledgeable commentary by hosts such as Illeana Douglas, for instance, but it’s primarily because she demonstrates enthusiasm for the movies. Part of what makes Robert Osborne an enduring figure in TCM’s legacy is his experience and mastery of movies as a performer, columnist and, ultimately, as a television interviewer and host.

Robert Osborne’s proximity and connection to movie stars and filmmakers informed his insight, wisdom and passion for movies but knowing that he knew Lucille Ball and Olivia De Havilland was not fundamental to appreciating TCM’s brand; it was co-incidental, icing on the cake. What sealed his viewer relationship was his apparent and abundant love for classic movies and, crucially, his accessibility to the audience in sharing what he loved. He always sought to ground his experience in being the boy from Colfax, Washington, who’d immersed himself in the movies. That he later made a living from it was a happy fact which he cherished. He wanted you to cherish it, too.

Robert Osborne’s reverence for movies was the byproduct of, not an afterthought to, his experience and knowledge. He always sought to forge a connection with the audience rather than magnify any other connection he might have had. In every case, he always brought the focus back to classic movies.

Classic movies this year were, as always and in general, superb. Sounder moved me to appreciate rational parenting from the perspective of a poor, black family during the Great Depression. Places in the Heart had a similar impact, though about a family made by choice, not simply by blood. Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound was something of a marvel in nitrate at Sid Grauman’s Egyptian Theater. I Take This Woman (1931) allowed me to experience the chemistry of young Gary Cooper and Carole Lombard. Kramer vs. Kramer, written and directed by Robert Benton, whom I had the pleasure to meet and interview during the festival, reminds me that life’s smallest moments, recreated with deliberation, can pack the most attuned emotional wallop.

The single movie that made the most searing impression is William Wellman’s A Star is Born (1937). This film, like 2016’s best movie, La La Land, revels in its screenwriting. The motion picture spins a tantalizing story of abiding romantic love, intoxicating glamour and the unspeakable agony of losing one’s highest value. Like that recent film, and like Hollywood and everything decent, honorable and larger than life about it, particularly as a microcosm for the best of America, this less jaded, more wholesome version of A Star is Born is cautionary, resplendent and redemptive.

The often remade movie ultimately depicts ambition. Wanting more of work one loves is not enough, this classic movie suggests, to fuel one’s life, let alone to let one live large. Whether this desire to create destroys or inspires the one wanting goes to whose sake for which one wants and whether the want is deserved. This makes all the difference.

As cinematic drama, so does A Star is Born, yesteryear, now and, with luck, always. The intelligent movie radiates a kind of glow born of combing through the details of hardship, strength and the relentless, not to be confused with ruthless, pursuit of one’s happiness. This makes the classic movie, the forerunner to another upcoming remake by two talented and luminous stars, a perfect ending for this year’s writing-themed classic film festival.