Friday, June 9, 2017

TCR on Films: Roger Moore (1927-2017), Actor and Surprisingly Busy Author

Actor Roger Moore, who died two weeks ago at age 89, became a prolific author in his last decade. Semi-retired and dividing his time between homes in Monaco and Switzerland, the octogenarian Moore turned out three books -- My Word is My Bond: A Memoir (2008), Bond on Bond: Reflections on 50 Years of James Bond Movies (2012), and One Lucky Bastard: Tales from Tinseltown (2014).

According to The Independent, shortly before his death Moore sent a manuscript for a fourth book to his publisher.

Moore writes in a droll, anecdotal manner similar to the authorial style of his old friend, David Niven, who penned the bestselling memoirs The Moon's a Balloon (1971) and Bring on the Empty Horses (1975).

In My Word is My Bond Moore offers a full life story beginning with his lower-middle class London childhood and ending with his volunteer work for UNICEF. In between, of course, is the acting career that started when he was still a teenager and cast as an extra in the British produced film Caesar and Cleopatra (1945) starring Vivien Leigh and Claude Rains. The first half of the book has lots of name dropping, especially those of long bygone British stars. Following the trajectory of Moore's career, his twelve-year stint as James Bond isn't addressed until the second half of the book.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

TCR Celebrates National Classic Movie Day, May 16.

The Committee Room wishes you a Happy National Classic Movie Day! To celebrate classic movies, TCR is taking part in the Five Stars Blogathon, hosted by Classic Film and TV Cafe.

Five Stars Blogathon participants list five of their favorite classic-era stars and offer a brief explanation as to why these stars are favorites. In putting together its list, TCR chose to move past stardom's top, instantly recognizable folks (the level depicted in the illustration above) and give a nod to five less exalted but highly deserving performers. Perhaps reflecting their B list status, all of TCR's favorites may be best known more for their work on television than on the big screen.

Monday, May 15, 2017

TCR on Film: An Interview with Mark A. Vieira, author of "Into the Dark -- The Hidden World of Film Noir, 1941-1950."

In the excellent new book Into the Dark: The Hidden World of Film Noir, 1941 -1950  (Running Press, 2016) veteran author Mark A. Vieira uses first hand accounts to take readers back to the 1940s. Instead of latter day critical analysis, we get reviews and comments from the film noir era along with the reminiscences of performers, including noir specialists Jane Greer and Claire Trevor, and other personnel who were part of the film noir world.

"I determined that film noir truly began in 1941 by reading Los Angeles Times articles of the period," Vieira explained to The Committee Room. "They cited Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon as the first of the 'hard-boiled' trend."

As Vieira points out in Into the Dark, the term film noir was unknown to those who made these films. The term was coined by a French critic in 1946 to describe the large number of crime thrillers and murder dramas coming out of Hollywood but did not come into general use until the 1970s when these stylish films were rediscovered by a new generation of critics and moviegoers.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

TCR on Film: "Unsinkable: A Memoir" by Debbie Reynolds

In tribute to the late Debbie Reynolds, one of the last stars produced by the old Hollywood studio system, The Committee Room takes a look at her memoir Unsinkable (William Morrow, 2013).

In the preface to Unsinkable, Reynolds mentions her first book, Debbie: My Life (William Morrow, 1988), written when the actress was in her fifties and, it would seem, still had a lot of living left to do.  "I can't believe how naive I was when I wrote it," Reynolds in Unsinkable says of the earlier book. She explains that at the time she was writing the first book she was in what she believed was a happy marriage to her third husband, a Virginia real estate developer named Richard Hamlett.

In Unsinkable, Reynolds offers a detailed portrait of Hamlett as a handsome, smooth-talking scoundrel who, she maintains, cold-heartedly entered into marriage with the intention of swindling her. The first third of the book is Reynolds' painstaking and angrily told account of how Hamlett's unscrupulous behavior led to the bankruptcy of her Las Vegas hotel, a venture which she hoped would provide a regular venue for her talents along with a steady income. Consequently, in Unsinkable there is much talk, perhaps too much talk, of lawyers and property deeds and promissory notes.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

An Interview with Brian Kellow, author of "Can I Go Now? The Life of Sue Mengers, Hollywood's First Superagent."

Superagent Sue Mengers. Do any other three words better conjure up the enormous energy, creativity and free-wheeling social life of Hollywood in the 1970s?

Mengers is the subject of an excellent new biography Can I Go Now? The Life of Hollywood's First Superagent by Brian Kellow. The title of the book comes from Mengers' passive-aggressive way of ending phone conversations.

Kellow's previous work includes books on Broadway legend Ethel Merman (Ethel Merman: A Life, 2007) and film critic Pauline Kael (Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark, 2011). He was also on the staff of Opera News for many years.

The idea of writing a biography of Mengers came to Kellow from his own (literary) agent. At first Kellow was skeptical, thinking that there wasn't enough substance in the life of Sue Mengers to warrant a biography. "My last book had been a biography of Pauline Kael, and I was very keen to follow it up with another biography of a writer," Kellow told The Committee Room. "To write a book about an agent seemed like a questionable project, especially after having written about someone as complex and brilliant as Pauline. But I was wrong: Sue was complex and brilliant in her own right, and once I began the research, I knew that this was a great topic. It was also a wonderful opportunity to write about the films and stars and filmmakers of the late '60s, the '70s and early '80s--still, to my mind, the most stimulating era in American movie-making."

Monday, October 26, 2015

TCR on Show Business: "Judy + Liza + Robert + Freddie + David + Sue + ME" by Stevie Phillips

"What is an agent?" asks Stevie Phillips in her recently published memoir Judy + Liza + Robert + Freddie + David + Sue + ME  (St. Martin's Press). Phillips knows the answer. She was once among the most powerful talent agents in the entertainment industry, having shepherded Liza Minnelli and Robert Redford to superstardom.

"An agent is a fraud, but a fraud with good intentions...someone totally willing to sublimate herself to be the person the client wants her to be. Do you want me to be angry on your behalf? Here I am. Do you want me to be docile for you? Here I am. But regardless of what role-playing takes place, an agent must always maintain integrity and never lead a client knowingly in the wrong direction," Phillips writes.

Unlike the legendary agent Irving "Swifty" Lazar, whose Oscar night parties were the height of Hollywood A-list gatherings. or the world class schmoozer Sue Mengers, such a big personality that she was brought back to life in 2013 by Bette Midler in the one-character Broadway play I'll Eat You Last and is the subject of a just published biography (Can I Go Now? by Brian Kellow) Phillips never became more famous than a lot of her clients. Her stock in trade was cool, calm, behind the scenes efficiency.

Friday, September 4, 2015

TCR on Television: A Salute to Two Great TV Stalwarts: Dick Van Patten and Anne Meara

Meara plays a big part in husband Jerry
Stiller's autobiography.
In recent months, American television lost two of its most familiar faces: Dick Van Patten and Anne Meara. The careers of these hard-working performers began in television's earliest years. Their passing takes us farther away from the days of huge audience broadcast TV, when even flop shows (and both Van Patten and Meara had their share of failures) drew more viewers than the biggest hits of today.

Van Patten, who died on June 23 at age 86, is best remembered as the father on Eight is Enough, a comedy-drama that ran on ABC from 1977 to 1981. However, those four years were just a short chapter in a remarkably busy career in theater, television, and film that spanned more than seven decades.

Meara, who died on May 23 at age 85, rose to fame in the early 1960s as partner to her husband Jerry Stiller in the comedy team Stiller and Meara. However, she always considered herself an actress, not a comedienne. Meara made numerous appearances in both comedic and dramatic acting roles mainly on television but also on film and stage from the early 1950s onward.

In his breezy autobiography, Eighty is Not Enough: One Actor's Journey Through American Entertainment (2009), the upbeat Van Patten shares happy memories of being one of Broadway's top juvenile actors of the 1930s and 1940s. Billed as Dickie Van Patten and sporting a great shock of blond hair, Van Patten made his Broadway debut at age seven in a play called Tapestry in Grey. While still a boy Van Patten appeared the original productions of the classics On Borrowed Time by Paul Osborn and Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth. As a teenager Van Patten spent three years on Broadway and on tour with the legendary acting couple Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in Terence Rattigan's O Mistress Mine and became one of the many young actors over the years, including Montgomery Clift, who the Lunts took under their wing.

"I enjoyed my life as a child actor," Van Patten writes in Eighty is Not Enough, adding that his employment provided his family with a comfortable existence while others were suffering through the Depression and gave him the opportunity to work with legendary stars of the era. He points out that while many child actors, including some of those who played his children on Eight is Enough, fall prey to drug addiction and other misfortunes, such problems are also widespread among people with supposedly normal childhoods.